Saturday, July 31, 2010


By Belinda

I first read about him in the book, Alvechurch Past and Present . He was known as "Workhouse Bill," or "Belfry Bill," but his proper name was William Bourne.

He was described in the Poor Law papers  as "imbecile," or as "Poor Will," and, in a newspaper article about the church renovations, as "demented."

The 1851 census notes Bill as living in Swan Street, (which was where Martha Harber, whom I wrote about recently, also lived) but he lived mostly in the church tower, sleeping in the belfry under a mat.

Bill was armed with a rusty sword and a pistol to guard the graveyard from "resurrection men," who stole recently buried bodies for the instruction of medical students.

When part of the old church was demolished for renovations, Bill roamed the ruins "like a raven," saying that, "The French be coming."

Bill was a gravedigger and rang the morning and evening bells, at 5.00 a.m. and 8.00 p.m. He was short, only about 4 ft 6 inches tall, but known sometimes as "Big Bill," and he was unkempt and dirty as his photograph attests.

He was well known for his skill at mending clocks and I wonder how he learned. Did he love to take things apart and put them back together, or did he learn by watching or apprenticing with someone when young?.

When I recently reread the little booklet about Martha's life, The Story of Martha; Bill showed up! The unnamed writer of the booklet writes:
 On the other side of the street, up on the bank, was the village Workhouse,--merely two or three cottages. How many of us can remember, "Big Will  o' the Work'us," with his skill in mending church clocks, and the old rusty sword that he kept for chasing imaginary "Rooshians," round the churchyard by night? "Where does the wind come from?" was one of his odd saying, often repeated.
In Martha's booklet the annual celebration of Oak-Apple Day is mentioned, which was observed by sticking oak boughs over the doors and windows of most of the houses. "Big Will" used to set a large bough on the top of the church tower, his favourite haunt.

Martha had worked as a servant to "old Mrs. Davis," who lived opposite the baker's in the square. The writer noted that Martha very likely gave support to her mother Molly, who had worked so hard all of her life, deserted by her husband and hearing impaired. She ended her days in the shelter of the almshouse.

One day in October, 1854, Mrs. Davis gave a party to the old almshouse people. It often gave Martha much interest to go over their names and ages, and the total of the years. And it is in this list that the last mention is made of Bill, for it notes his age as 55, by then, making the year of his birth, 1799. Here is the list:
Old Job, aged.....................81
Old John.............................74
Bobby Taylor......................69
"The King"...........................66
Molly Harber.......................81
Mrs. Davis...........................82
Bill .....................................55      (Total years lived by everyone at the party: 899)
It is interesting that Martha herself was not included in the list of guests she loved to recount. Of course she was a servant, but these were all the poor and humble of the village, including her mother, Molly.

The person named "Bourne," aged 77, could have been a relative of Bill's, perhaps his father, for Bill's last name was Bourne, and the age difference of 22 years makes that possible.

In all the descriptions of Bill, while he was a "character" among other characters in the village, he is just part of the beautiful patchwork quilt of people who walked the streets of Alvechurch a hundred and fifty years ago or so and what is written about him anecdotally describes him, and tells of his skills and unique place in the village. I love that.

Colleen Townsend, a friend who is a songwriter and singer, wrote this line in one of her songs:

In the choir of community I found my voice.

I loved that too.

Friday, July 30, 2010

How to Be Happy

Fridays with Susan...

If you were to ask what God is teaching me of late in The School of Prayer, I would have to share with you the following individualized course of study.   

School of Prayer
Post Grad Cerficate Program

Course Outlines:
1.   FORGIVENESS 101: 
Set yourself free from the prison of unforgiveness. You are really no better than anyone else. Your sin nature is capable of every bit as much evil as anyone else's sin nature.  We have all fallen short of God's glory.  Short of his glory is short of his glory.  A little short is of just as much consequence as a great deal short.  Forgive because whatever has been done to you (just like everything you have done to others) has been fully paid for.  God, the Father exacted the price of full justice for the sin perpetrated against you (and by you) on the back of his own Son.  Isaiah 53 says, "He was pleased to crush him..."   Pleased.  To crush his own son. For what was done to you, and for what was done by you...  Forgive.  It's not that hard when you take an honest look at yourself and acknowledge how much God and others have needed to forgive you.

2.  GRATITUDE 101:  
Be grateful.  In Christ Jesus we are lacking in nothing.  Remember this: "...The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want..."  and tell your heart to get in line with that fact.  Whatever your circumstances, you can choose to focus on what you have, and leave off thinking about what you think you don't have.  No matter how bad things get, my mother used to say, there is always someone worse off than you.  Gratitude is an attitude that frees your heart to sing - even in the rain.  Especially in the rain.  "Rejoice! I will say it again, rejoice!" Phil. 4:4 

3.  TRUST AND OBEY 101: 
Trust the Lord to direct your paths - every minute of every hour; every hour of every day.   "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not to your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him, and he will direct your paths..."  Prov 3:5,6.  When there's more to do than is humanly possible, if the task is God-sized, then trust that he will guide your steps to accomplish and complete whatever is most important to him.  You can't do it all, but you can do what is pleasing to the Father in this good day, this week, this year.  Trust him to show you which stepping stones to land on to get you safely through the river of pressing needs.  Trust him and just do it.  He will direct your steps and get you where he wants you to be, accomplishing what he wants you to get done. 

Claim your deliverance.  "Whom the son has set free is free indeed".  John 8:36  It's done.  It's accomplished.  Don't wait for deliverance to come to you as though it is something that hasn't happened yet or as though it is something you have to 'feel' first in order to be able to act upon.  You can choose the right thing, the righteous thing, right now, in this moment, in this situation, because Christ has set you free to be able to do so.  Deliverance isn't something that happens so much instantaneously, as something that needs to be walked out choice by choice, decision by decision, moment by moment.  Deliverance is something you choose to do.  I'm choosing this because I am delivered.  I'm not doing that because I am delivered.  It's not something you do because you necessarily want to, or because you feel like it right now, but because Christ has set you free to do it.

5.  DYING TO SELF 101: 
Get over yourself.  It's really not about "you".  Drop worrying about what you are or are not getting out of any given situation and/or relationship. Instead pick up on what God has placed you here to give.  Listen for the beating of his heart, and think on what He has brought you here to deliver to the person whose face you're looking into right now...  And then give it with all your heart.  Live for God's pleasure - for the affirmation and approval that comes only from him; and forget about trying to acquire it from others. 

There's no happiness like that which comes from knowing your obedience has brought some tiny little measure of joy to your Father.  Want to be happy in your heart?  Live to please him; his joy will overtake you.  And it's the very best kind - the only kind - of joy to have. 

Thursday, July 29, 2010


By Belinda

Our house has been in a hustle-bustle for the past week, rapidly approaching a crescendo of activity as this weekend draws closer.

Paul is leaving tomorrow morning for a three week trip  to Mishkeegogamang, a First Nations reserve about a 1000 kilometers north. He has been trying to take care of all of the things he would normally do at home in the next three weeks.

Brenda and the girls are packing for a trip to the cottage this weekend. But first they are going to their dad's overnight, and then they are going away to Circle Square Ranch for a week next weekend. Downstairs the washing machine and permanent markers are busy.

I'm not going anywhere! Molson and I,with two cockatiels and a chinchilla, will be at home.

The vacuum was whining downstairs tonight like a dentist's drill. I opened the door to the apartment down there and Molson, from his comfortable place on the couch, spotted me at once.

I flung words in his direction over the now amplified whining. I'm sure he heard only one important word: WALK No more needed to be said. He jumped from the couch as eagerly as a wallflower being asked to dance!

We are off, into the evening air scented with wood burning and fresh mown grass.

As we walk I pay special attention to the older houses in Bond Head.

Our post office has sets of books published by our local historical society. Laurie, the woman who runs the post office, seemed to have immersed herself in them for she thumbed through one and excitedly showed me photos.

"That's our mill, and here's "Murder Hill!'" she said. And she pointed out all sorts of buildings in Bond Head and their history. I could not resist the books, entitled, The Legacy of West Gwillimbury and bought them..

I  have already been fascinated by what I have read about Bond Head. This tiny hamlet has history.Looking at photographs of buildings and families who settled this area first, is so interesting.

I love the program Cold Case. The program has a unique way of telling the stories. The viewer sees flashbacks to the past, and younger versions of the key players in the stories. The way they age people for the current scenes, is amazing.

I want to take a leaf out of Cold Case and share some of the stories here, with a photo from the past and from the present.

Molson and I walked towards the park and find a soccer game in progress. A row of cars, face towards the game, families look on from the bleachers and a group of little girls are in their own world of play beneath a tree. I am so grateful to live here.

Bond Head---I am about to learn your history. Stay tuned over the next week: I also have another story to tell about somone else who lived in Alvechurch long ago. It will appear soon.

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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

So Send I You

Paula wrote to me today and said:
Thanks for bringing Margaret Clarkson to my mind - (I had chosen her revised version of the hymn, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, to use on a recent post.)

Paula continued:
How I have loved her hymn 'So send I you' - you know she wrote it first at age 22 when she went as a teacher to a remote and lonely logging camp.

So, send I you to labour unrewarded
To serve unpaid, unloved, unsung, unknown
To bear rebuke, to suffer scorn and scoffing
So send I you, to toil for me alone.

When more mature in grace, she saw it as far too 'one sided' and re-wrote it.

So send I you-by grace made strong to triumph
O'er hosts of hell, o'er darkness, death, and sin,
My name to bear, and in that name to conquer-
So send I you, my victory to win.

So send I you-to take to souls in bondage
The word of truth that sets the captive free,
To break the bonds of sin, to loose death's fetters-
So send I you, to bring the lost to me.

So send I you-my strength to know in weakness,
My joy in grief, my perfect peace in pain,
To prove My power, My grace, My promised presence-
So send I you, eternal fruit to gain.

So send I you-to bear My cross with patience,
And then one day with joy to lay it down,
To hear My voice, "well done, My faithful servant-
Come, share My throne, My kingdom, and My crown!"

"As the Father hath sent Me, so send I you."

I was fascinated when Paula sent this information and felt a sense of God at work! I have loved hymns all of my life and here was one I'd never heard, but loved on sight. I didn't recognize the author's name immediately but the more I thought of it, the more familiar it became, like an old friend, long forgotten.

Click on the name  Margaret Clarkson and you can read her story; a jewel among Canadian writers.

In 1992 she was the 4th recipient of the Leslie K. Tarr Award; which is given annually by The Word Guild  (of which Susan and I are both members) to celebrate a major career contribution to Christian Writing and publishing in Canada.

On The Word Guild website, her passing, just two years ago, is noted:
Canadian author/poet/hymnwriter E. Margaret Clarkson died in Toronto on March 17, 2008 at age 93 after a long struggle with physical illness and a 15-year disablement by Alzheimer's. She had published many hymn lyrics, including "So Send I You," and 17 books, including So You're Single, Destined for Glory, All Nature Sings and A Singing Heart.

Paula, thank you for leading us on a treasure hunt for today's post!

Late breaking post script: Magda, a faithful blog reader, sent me this by email and I share it because it rounds out the picture of a dear woman we can only now know through others:
Margaret Clarkson was a neighbor of mine who lived in a little cottage on the Don Valley Ravine at Yonge and Sheppard. She was an ardent bird watcher as well as hymn writer and I loved to visit her. I used to water her plants (lots of African Violets like me) when she went away. She was an amazing lady and I am so glad I had the opportunity to know her before she moved into a seniors' home when her health failed.


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

To Sleep....Yawn

By Belinda

Yes! It is my friend Brucie from England.

My nephew Tim sent me this photo by email today and it reminded me that I had not yet regaled you with the tale of my sleep clinic appointment of a week ago last Sunday.

I know, I know, you thought I would never get around to it! :)

The week before the long procrastinated over--but now much anticipated appointment, approached--I had a couple of calls from the clinic. One was to confirm the appointment and the other to help me prepare.

Never having been to a sleep clinic before I didn't know what to expect so I was pretty excited to hear that I would have a private room and a washroom with shower. And a television.

I didn't know--perhaps they would line us up in a row, I thought, dormitory style, all wired up. A private room sounded like luxury.

I have to say, this lulled me into a completely false impression of what the appointment would be like. It sounded As though I was booking in for my own private retreat.

I took them at their word. I didn't plan on watching television but I packed two books and I took along my laptop. What was I thinking? I don't know. But if you know nothing about me by now you must at least know this. I overpack wherever I go.

So, I set off for the spa--I mean sleep clinic. At 9.00 pm on Sunday I pulled into the deserted looking parking lot of the office building and was relieved to see another woman, with a sports bag over her shoulder, looking like she was going to the gym. I followed her closely, feeling like a stalker.

We both took the elevator to the third floor of the building. I had been yawning all the way to the sleep clinic, as if to prime the pump. It may have been the power of suggestion, but I was as sleepy as the dormouse in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

We checked in at the desk, under subdued lighting; and then were invited to wait in the next room until called.

Several  other people were sitting on couches and chairs in the room. The seating was arranged around the focal point of a large, flat screen television set, on the wall over a fireplace where a picture would typically be.

Staring at the screen felt strange. It meant that no one had to talk to anyone else, and so no one did, except for the woman I'd walked in with, who asked what the program was. We had watched a few minutes by then, of a man crashing through undergrowth, while other men on horse back seemed to be tracking something.

It seems that this was a game of hide and seek for grown-ups. Yes, the men on horseback were hunting the man in the bushes. Curiouser and curiouser indeed. :)

I was quite relieved to be summoned to my room.

The room contained everything needed but no frills.  There was a home-made looking, wooden framed, double bed, with brown sheets and blanket. This did not inspire me to want to actually get into it. The word clinic makes me think of crisp, white sheets. "Brown" made me suspect they were hiding something. I decided I would sleep on top of the bedding.

Amin, who would be in charge of me for the night, arrived to show me the ropes. He gave me a clipboard with a couple of forms to complete and then instructed me to go into the bathroom and get ready for bed. I saw at once that there would be no dallying around. He meant business. All thoughts of an evening at the spa evaporated.

One of the forms was a waiver, giving permission for the whole process to be videotaped. I looked up to see a camera in the upper right corner of the room.

I changed into t shirt and yoga pants, brushed my teeth and washed my face and then sat on the edge of the bed and waited for Amin.

He soon appeared and began a 40 minute process of attaching wires to my head, face, legs, chest and arms. The yoga pants were a bit of a challenge for us. I had to roll them up and be attached and then roll them down over the wires. Then came wide straps around my chest and middle, pulled snug.

I laughed at myself for bringing books and my laptop. I felt like Medusa from Greek mythology, with wires instead of snakes all over my head. I was firmly attached and grounded in one place and would not be having any private pyjama party in my room that night.

I begged Amin for one final trip to the washroom. He wound the wires around my neck, in a "necklace," and discretely left for a few minutes. When he came back he asked whether I wanted to read for 10-15 minutes or go to sleep. I opted for "go to sleep."

Amin flung open the bed and said, "Get into bed." There would be no lying on top of the sheets. I obediently got in.

He left the room and over the intercom instructed me to open and close my eyes; look right and left and move my stomach up and down, checking to see if the electrodes were all working. Then he turned out the light and left. It was 10 o'clock by then and I was asleep within minutes.

At 11 o'clock I was awake. Amin was back checking that all the wires were still attached. Like a desperate woman I took advantage of the fact that he was back, to ask if I could be freed up to go to the washroom again. He had said to call and he would hear me, but I had my doubts.

I was soon back in bed and he again turned the lights out. I was just drifting off to sleep again when his voice came over the intercom saying, "Please take of your glasses."

How did he know I had my glasses on? I didn't know I still had them on! I took them off and put them on the bedside table. I went to sleep.

The night passed with a pleasant intervals of sleep broken only by waking pretty much on the hour every hour to check the time.

In the morning I woke up at 6.00 and stayed awake. Amin came in at 6.30 to reverse the process of the night before, painstakingly taking off the wires, one by one.

I brushed my teeth, put in my contact lenses and gathered up my belongings. I went home to shower before work!

In about 3 weeks I will have a follow up appointment with a doctor from the clinic. I'm hoping that they don't say I'm a perfect sleeper and there's no problem. I have problems and I know it. Oh, stop it, stop it!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Heart to the Son

By Belinda

 3 And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. (Daniel 9:3, American Standard Version)

With golden sunshine as a backdrop, shoulders back, chest out and up, she balances on one foot while grasping the other across her thigh. With hard won grace she is demonstrating an exercise position.
"Heart to the sun..."

Brenda says it is the phrase her instructor uses as a prompt to good posture. She has been working hard of late to get in shape and has admirable focus and discipline.

Change "sun" to "Son" and it reminds me to keep myself in constant awareness of my need for God's grace.

For I am prone to slouching spiritual shoulders; slumping; drifting and to wobbly legs. I think that to be human is to be prone to wandering.

Heart to the Son.

I need a reminder often to turn Son-ward. To orient myself towards home.

Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing
Robert Robinson
The following version was adapted by E. Margaret Clarkson in 1973. [7]:

1. Come thou fount of every blessing
Tune my heart to sing thy grace
Streams of mercy never ceasing
Call for songs of loudest praise
Teach me some melodious sonnet
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise His Name I'm fixed upon it
Name of God's redeeming love.

2. Hither to thy love has blessed me
Thou has brought me to this place
And I know thy hand will bring me
Safely home by thy good grace
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Bought me with His precious blood.

3. O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I'm constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee:
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here's my heart, O take and seal it;
Seal it for Thy courts above.

 12 Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, saluteth you, always striving for you in his prayers, that ye may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God. (Colossians 4:12, American Standard Version)

Hebrews 12:12-13 (New Living Translation)

12 So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. 13 Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong.

Saturday, July 24, 2010


By Belinda

In a string of hot, steamy July days, this one dawned wet. We woke to the sound of rain drumming on skylights, from clouds of roiling gray.

The hills were overhung by mist and moisture, the dark skies deepening the gold and green of the fields.

Driving in to my office in Bradford, I glance at the sign at Sobey's grocery store. The message this morning isn't about this week's grocery specials, but tells of a community in mourning:

"Our Thoughts and Prayers Are With the Collier Family," it reads.

An article in the The Barrie Examiner carries the headline, Fallen Soldier on His Way Home.  "Home" is here; where we live. A place we are grateful to be. A place that Sapper Brian Collier of Bradford, Ont. and 1 Combat Engineer Regiment in Edmonton, won't be coming back to, really.

An photograph in the National Post shows a young man in the bloom of youth. It is so hard to make sense of such a tragic loss.

I drive on, and close to my office I pass an old man, carrying a white plastic shopping bag. I pass him often on my way to or from work.

He has white hair and a mustache and his military bearing and age, remind me of my father. I think that he might be a fellow "old soldier." Maybe one day I will stop and say, "Hello;" and ask.

Last night at cell group Paul mentioned his great, great, grandfather, Thomas Hartwright, who came back from the Boer War to Upton –upon-Severn in the Malvern Hills . It was the turn of the 19th century.

Thomas was taken in by an elderly Christian lady who found him drunk on her doorstep and he came to personal faith in Christ through her kindness. I wonder if drinking was his way to forget the awful things he had witnessed at war.

My own father carried shrapnel wounds that bothered him for the rest of his life, but the wounds we couldn't see, cut the deepest, and he was never free of those either. We all missed knowing the man he would have been if he had never gone to war.

I wish I had profound answers--easy rights and wrongs--but I don't. All that I can do is care for the Collier family in their loss, mourn with them, pray for them to feel God's strength and comfort, and honour the sacrifice their son Brian made for others.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Friendship Table Turns

Fridays with Susan...

I have a friend (who happens to read this blog on a regular basis, come to think of it) who uses this expression that is meant to be a little humourous, but when she says it, it is also laden with truth.  "That makes me happy in my heart," I've heard her crow more than once.  (Thanks,  Brave Raven. :) )

That's how I feel tonight.  Happy in my heart.  And like my friend, that's not meant to be the least bit corny - or sarcastic.

Today I put in three blessed hours at the church helping out with Vacation Bible School, and then went on to a full day at work and then some.  I was busy, but happy!  It was a great day from beginning to end.  There was a lot to do to get ready for another chock full afternoon tomorrow (right after VBS) so I stayed quite a bit later than I'd planned.  I kept watching the clock hoping I was going to make it to cell group in time for supper, albeit a bit late.  Suppertime came and went.  Then dessert.   Then the Bible study.  I was going to miss it all.  By the time I had finished up what I needed to, it was half past nine and I knew that by then, everyone would be gone home.  But I had told Belinda I was going to drop something off, so I picked up my cell phone to call her en route.

"Is there any coffee left?" I asked Belinda when she picked up the receiver.

"Yessss..." she said tentatively.  She hadn't heard my voice since before supper when I had called to say that I was going to try to make it at some point.  I had wanted her to know that if I didn't show up, to just to go ahead without me.  I imagined that by this time she was wondering what on earth had happened to me.

"I'll be there in five to seven minutes," I said.

"Okay...  See you then.

When I arrived, the  door was open just a crack as if someone was expecting someone to drop in and didn't want them to feel like they had to knock.  Mind you, I wouldn't be knocking anyway, as long as Belinda was expecting me.  That cracked open door sure made me feel welcome.  I slipped off my shoes in the terra-cotta tiled foyer and followed the noise of pots and pans banging together in the kitchen.

"You sure make it easy for someone to sneak into your house late at night," I said, referring to the noise of one pot falling and loudly banging into another.  It sounded to me like she was hurrying to get ready for my arrival.

"I heard the door," she laughed, turning her face, filled with warmth and welcoming, in my direction to lock her eyes on mine.  We hesitated for a second, who knows why, and then her arms were stretching out expectantly for a quick hug.

"Did you have supper?" she asked. "Would you like something to eat?" and then her head was in the refrigerator  moving things about and digging out some leftover basmati rice and butter chicken.  Hooray!  I didn't miss dinner after all!

I noted a difference in the air.  Usually on Thursday nights when I arrive for cell group, the kitchen is a-buzz with people and activity.  Tonight it was not only quiet, but everything had been restored to order.  The table, usually laden with dishes, cutlery, food and drinks, and surrounded by people, gave off the glow of polished golden oak.  Except for Belinda ( and for Paul who poked his head through the door a little later just to say goodnight!) the kitchen was unoccupied.  It was just what I needed on a day when everything else on the surface of my life had seemed so out of order. 

We sat at the kitchen table while I ate. Belinda watched and sipped coffee.  I sipped coffee too.  And we both talked. 

We had some work things to get out of the way, and I had a hard time shifting gears, but eventually we got to "us".  I had missed reading her post this morning, and she quickly fetched her laptop.  I told her that you never know what to expect on her blog - that her posts are an incredibly eclectic mix - and she smiled and said, "It's whatever he says.." and I said, "I know..."

An hour and a half flew by and I was driving home with two tubs of food beside me.  One with basmati rice, and the other with the butter chicken to drizzle over it.  I've been having difficulty eating the last couple of days and this was the first thing to go down easily and act like it wanted to stay there, so Belinda offered  the rest to take home.  I gratefully accepted.  Though before accepting I did make her twist my arm a little.

Belinda has many friends, and there is much diversity in the array of relationships in her life.  I'm only one of a long string of pearls.  I'm a grateful pearl, though.  How many people will take you in when you show up on their doorstep after the party is over. 

Come to think of it, didn't she show up on my doorstep last Saturday, long before the party had begun?

Thank God for friends!

Thursday, July 22, 2010


(Written in 2010 and updated for the 200th anniversary of Martha's birth: August 10, 2017)

Years ago, on one of my visits to Alvechurch, a friend gave me a great treasure; a little book, the story of a woman who lived in the village all of her life and loved it so much that she could not be away without becoming unbearably homesick.

The tiny book was written after she died in 1904 in her 87th year, by one of her many friends, so that her memory would not die. On the fly leaf it says simply:

 The Story of Martha

Written for her Neighbours and Friends

And there is a quote:
A good heart is the sun and the moon; or rather the sun, and not the moon,--for it shines bright, and never changes, but keeps his course truly

I wonder if the writer of the 27 page booklet ever imagined that 113 years later, a copy would sit upon a bookshelf on another continent, greatly treasured among other books of history.

And I wonder how many others visit her grave, as I do whenever I return to the village, and think of the fine soul whose mortal remains lie beneath the green grass, but who has long ago soared to the One whose character she represented so well.

I love the book because the writer describes the village as it was in the early eighteen hundreds and mentions in passing, villagers about whom I have snippets of information from other sources. It is fascinating to piece together tiny scraps of information about people that lived in the village long ago. Of no great worldly importance, I love to think about and remember them. It is also fascinating to read of the roles people played in the life of a village and how the villagers took care of their own.

Martha's mother Molly, who was hearing impaired, was abandoned, with her large family of children, by her husband, when Martha was small. He was never heard from again. Molly survived by doing laundry for others, starting the wash at nearby Lea End farm at 3.00 in the morning, winter and summer, after walking along dark roads for 2 miles.

She brought her children up to be honest and hardworking, and Martha, never having the luxury of attending school, began her life work as a servant, early. One of her places of service was with a Mrs Wainwright who kept a Dame School, a private form of elementary school. There Martha picked up reading, although writing was a "sealed mystery" to her all her life.

She worked for a Mrs. Davis for 30 years, and did have one brief chance at love during this period, although he was never spoken of by name. Martha simply said of him to someone, "He saw a prettier face, my dear." She wasn't sorry, she said, for if he was "that sort" she was better off without him.

When Mrs. Davis died, Martha was no longer young herself, and the old lady whom she had given her life to serve, left very little as a bequest and most of that was lost by the carelessness of the lawyer dealing with it. But Martha was not one to waste time on bitterness.

Martha survived in a little cottage by selling things, making and selling toffee, looking after children (who considered it a great treat to be in her care for a day) and by taking in a lodger.

All along she was becoming a beloved friend to all who knew her, young and old.

People gravitated to her cottage, often to share the latest news and listen to her stories of the past. Everyone knew this of her, though:
She was pleased to hear it all, although if anyone chanced, thoughtlessly, to repeat to her a piece of unkind gossip or scandal, it would be cut short by a very decided, " Thank you--that'll do!"

In her old age...Martha's homely kitchen was never far from the light of that Earthly Paradise (being thankfully and humbly at one with the blessed Will of God.) And so people went there with their troubles and their happiness, or the little affairs of everyday life. Now it would be a bride on her wedding day, running in at the last to let Martha look at her dress. Next it would be someone who wanted to pour out a grief or a difficulty...Whoever came or went, Martha was...happy herself, and making others happier...

Martha was born on August 10, 1817--the feast day of St. Lawrence, the saint after which the village church is named. She died on May 26th, 1904.

Her quiet, humble life affected the life of many others for good.  She loved to recite poems she had memorized and this is her special favourite, "taken from some newspaper clipping."

Religion is to do and say
The kindest things in the kindest way,
To follow truth, whatever it be,
Be nothing but sincerity.

Religion is the golden rule
Which we should practice in life's school;
'Tis not all doctrine or all creed,
But giving love to those in need

A kind and sympathetic heart,
In joy or sorrow to take a part.
If each obey his inward light
And do as conscience says is right

The world will then not go far wrong,
For God will guide us all day long;
He'll teach each soul its duty clear,
We need but disobeying, fear.

Were we religious, we should know
Our paths were not for all to go;
Each has his individual light
To show what work for him is right.

Matthew 5:16 (New International Version)
16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
(From the Daily Light for August 10th, Martha's birthday)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Valley

A few nights ago I wrote a post entitled, Head in the Clouds in which I mentioned my favourite psalm, Psalm 84, which refers to the Valley of Baca, or weeping.

Paula, a regular reader and friend wrote, "So often, your blog sparks me to action and I have to write what is 'burbling' inside me. Sort of like indigestion !"

Hmmm, Paula, I'm not sure I want to give people indigestion, but I'm grateful that you graciously agreed to let me post the result.

By Paula Walker

I entered the Valley of Baca ( of Weeping ) on a warm Sunday evening in August, 2008 when my cherished husband of 48 yrs died suddenly at home.

He had been, as the Brits say, poorly. On oxygen therapy for at least five years, others might have considered themselves disabled. Not Dale. He still worked at his accounting practice; was our church treasurer and helped me care for our nephew who was born with cerebral palsy. As far as we knew, his lung disease was definitely not 'end stage'. In fact, just three days before his death, Dale's Respirologist had pronounced him 'fit' to fly to PEI for our annual holiday.

Though we knew this miserable COPD could/would affect his life span, we chose to live each day to the full, ignoring the threat. During those long, hot Ontario summer days, our wonderful cottage overlooking the tidal Howe Bay kept calling our names ...... we had even counted the exact number of 'sleeps' until our arrival at this magical place. For Dale, a Maritimer, it was 'going home' and after just 14 more 'sleeps', we would be sitting on our deck, enjoying the golden sunset over the bay.

We could hardly wait.

But God had a different plan and after just 24,865 days on this earth, almost two thirds of them with me, Dale was called to take his final journey to his Heavenly home. And I; I started a journey through grief that I would have given anything not to be taking.

One of the decisions that came very easily in those first few days was that I would only cancel Dale's airline ticket. I would keep mine and head for the 'island' just a week after the memorial service. This may have surprised some people but there was never really any question in my mind.

Was it in part to continue what he and I had started together ? Possibly.

Was it in part, a flight from the pain here at home to a safer, happier space. Certainly.

Was it a need to be with the friends and family who always join us and in whose large noisy circle, I would find the love and support to keep on going ? Likely.

Was it the knowledge that I was safe to laugh with these people and to remember all the humourous things my ridiculously funny husband had done on other such holidays? Probably.

Was it the promise of music filled evenings as the family 'band' played melodies that made me sing and made me cry? I'm sure of it !

Over the next two weeks, I never was able to get through the singing of the 'grace' before our meals without breaking down. In our family, Dale has always lead this time and it represented all that was wonderful about our breaking bread together, whether it was 6 of us ... or, as was so often in our home, 26 of us !

Singing old hymns was impossible for me but I loved to sit and cry through them.

I needed to be bathed in their familiar, comforting words. To hear in my mind, Dale's very true bass voice singing the harmony. To listen to the gentle sounds of our oldest son playing his guitar and to watch our grandson thumping away on his jam bay drum. ( Did I mention that the airline compassionately gave me two tickets for Dale's cancelled one, so that both the 'boys' could be with me for those two weeks )?

The inexplicable, unending grace that was showered on me over that holiday time by those dozen or so people bathed me in its warmth and filled my heart with determination.

But I missed Dale with every particle of my being and I believe that out there on my pilgrimage through Baca on an island of red mud, God made it a place of beginning the long process of healing. It became not just a magical place but a miracle place of refreshing springs given to me through signs and wonders. And each person in their own unique way helped me in the process.

Let me explain.

As is our custom, after our first dinner together, we topped up our wine glasses and set out to 'walk our beach' and for the first time ever, we found loads of beach glass. Hundreds of diversely shaped and coloured pieces washed up on our beach by the ocean tides.

My dear cousin found a pearl shaded, heart shaped piece and brought it to me saying "I think this was sent for you." I took it in to the local jewellery maker to see if she thought it worth making into a necklace. "Oh my dear," she said, "on the island we say that finding a heart shaped piece means the Divine is reminding you that you are loved very much !"

She had no idea how very much I needed to hear those words.

Days later, several of us went to a nearby town to 'explore' and spent the afternoon in a very old cemetery reading the inscriptions to learn some local history. In a desolate part of the cemetery, in some deep grass, my friend found a small piece of crystal, exquisitely etched with a guardian angel.

He brought it to me, saying "I think this is meant for you" and although scratched and battered by many lawnmowers, the etching is clearly visible and reminded me yet again that I was loved.

And on our final evening after a day of heavy autumn rains, as my son and I walked our beach, a beach now covered with muddy puddles, the sky came alive. First, with rays of gorgeous sunshine and then with a brilliant, full rainbow that just lingered over us as we walked.

For us, it was both a promise that God's grace would be sufficient for our journey and also a blessing on our time together in that place. A time so bittersweet that we could scarcely even talk about what we had gone through just four weeks earlier, when together we had found Dale. His body, lifeless on the bathroom floor. His spirit, already soaring with the angels into God's presence.

We didn't need to say words. It was enough to be making our 'Baca pilgrimage' in that place of peace, a place of healing springs, of autumn rains and of muddy pools ! Psalm 84

Today, almost two years later, I am so very grateful for the visual reminders I have been given. For there are still many days when it seems overwhelming still to be without him but God graciously gave me, in those first days, reminders of His love. Reminders that I can look at, handle and even wear !

(In the first photo above are my brother, cousin and nephew, and my son on guitar !)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Not Late, At Least

By Belinda

The shower invitation arrived several weeks ago, sent out by an organized group of sisters. It came complete with a map to The Garden of Wonderland.

I did not need the map, which had the message at the top: "Don't be Late, for a Very Important Date!" for it was at the home of the daughter of one of my dearest friends in the world, Susan.

An Alice in Wonderland theme made this shower sound like a lot of fun.

The invitation hung on my fridge in a prominent place so that it wouldn't get lost amongst the paper that proliferates our house. Last week, as the date approached,  I went shopping at Babies R Us and planned my Saturday around going to the shower.

In the morning I did my usual Saturday morning thing: watering of plants;  tidying up; laundry and talking on the phone to Mum and Robert.

My nails were a disaster. I don't pay much attention to them unless there is a special occasion, and this qualified. I decided to haul out the vibrating foot bath that was one of Paul's Christmas gifts (this would be my first try at it.) Lest you think I'm an ungrateful receiver of gifts, let me explain. I am not a "sit in one place and soak my feet" kind of person--usually. But this was just the time for it to come into its own!

It worked perfectly, buzzing away, vibrating, while my feet soaked in warm water, softening them up.

I painted finger and toe nails, and then, noticing that the morning was rapidly slipping away, quickly got dressed. I was afraid that in spite of my efforts to be ready in lots of time, I was going to be at least five minutes late.

I shouted goodbye to Paul who was busy in the garden, and set out with all speed for the nearby town of Alliston, thinking to myself as I drove, "I'm late, I'm late, for a very important date."

The sun shone in a cloudless sky. I had taken along an umbrella to use for shade, as well as a lawn chair. The gift in beribboned bag, sat on the back seat of my car. I was prepared!

To my surprise I wasn't late after all. I arrived right on the dot of 2 o'clock. The unfamiliar experience of being on time felt good.

It was surprisingly quiet at Beth's house though. No cars to be seen, but I thought that perhaps everyone was inside hiding. Up the lane way at Susan's house, I could see cars. Maybe that was where they parked.

I knocked on Beth's side door. No one answered, although a barking dog came to look at me through the window.

Undeterred, I got in my car and drove up the lane way. The shower must have moved to Susan's for some reason!

I parked the car, walked up the tree shaded path to Susan and Ron's door and knocked. Ron opened the door, and to my, "Hello, where's the shower?" replied with a quizzical look, "Shower?"

"Ron must be out of the loop," I thought, until Susan appeared from behind him, dressed...well, I'll let her tell you. This is what she wrote later that day on Face book:

I love it when one of my BFF's shows up a week early all gussied up for Abby's baby shower, finds me in my jammies and totally unkempt, shoves the junk aside on my kitchen table and upon finding there's no party for another 8 days, ends up staying for tea instead!

Yes, dear friends, I was exactly 8 days early! I cannot explain why. I see that on the invitation, it quite clearly says, "July Twentyfifth."

As you see, Susan and I did not waste a serendipitous opportunity to have an unexpected tea party of our own.

And I'm hoping my nails hold out until next Sunday! :

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Head in the Clouds

By Belinda

Psalm 84:1-2 (New International Version)
For the director of music. According to gittith. Of the Sons of Korah. A psalm. [a]

1 How lovely is your dwelling place,
O LORD Almighty!
2 My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the LORD;
my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God.

The sun slid down the evening sky like a giant scoop of strawberry icecream melting in the evening heat and about to turn into a puddle on the horizon.

As we reached the corner of our street, Homer, the golden dog with a curly tail who always throws himself at us and gets rudely yanked back by his chain, was barking "Hello" and darting wildly from side to side. I think, "Poor Homer."

We pass the one fine dining restaurant, in our hamlet, Poco Cappello. Behind the well stocked, mature perennial garden, is a patio with tables and umbrellas. The restaurant is always busy and the murmer of voices wafts across the road from the patio tables as we pass.

Tonight the sky is a shield of pale, dusky rose, but a couple of evenings ago, when Molson had nudged me out for a walk, I had looked up after passing a girls soccer game in the park and been amazed at the dramatic cloud formations, which looked like a kingdom in the air, I was so glad that Molson had tempted me out of the house, darkened and air-conditioned against the  heat. What I would have missed.

The evening  sky that night, reminded me of a time many years ago--a less  happy time--when I sometimes looked up at the sky with longing, thinking of heaven. It is almost incomprehensible to me now that I ever felt that way, but more than once in my life, I have. Circumstances have been tough or sad--I was in the "Valley of Baca," the Valley of Weeping, spoken of in my favourite psalm: Psalm 84:

5 Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
who have set their hearts on pilgrimage.

6 As they pass through the Valley of Baca,
they make it a place of springs;
the autumn rains also cover it with pools. [a]

The old adage that "this too, thall pass" really is true. No difficulty lasts forever, and, if we only hang on, God brings us through painful times, as these lyrics by Yolanda Adams express so well.

In the middle of the turbulence surrounding you
These trying times that are so hard to endure
In the middle of what seems to be your darkest hour
Hold fast your heart and be assured

This too shall pass
Like every night that's come before it
He'll never give you more than you can bear
This too shall pass
So in this thought be comforted
It's in His Hands
This too shall pass

The Father knows the tears you cry before they fall
He feels your pain, His heart and yours are one
The Father knows that sorrow's heavy chains are strong
But with His strength, you'll overcome

This too shall pass
Like every night that's come before it
He'll never give you more than you can bear
This too shall pass
So in this thought be comforted
It's in His Hands
This too shall pass

So set your eyes upon the mountain
And lift your hands up to the sky
And let His arms of love surround you
And take you to the other side

This too shall pass
Like every night that's come before it
He'll never give you more than you can bear
This too shall pass
So in this thought be comforted
It's in His Hands
This too shall pass

I walked on that evening and the next time I looked up, to my amazement, I saw a cloud in the exact formation of a picture I had seen several years ago in The Angel Shop in the village of St. Jacobs. I was there with my daughter in law Sue and our foster daughter Tammy and I had an inexplicably emotional reaction to the photograph when the saleswoman told me the story behind it.

The photo had been taken by a woman whose daughter had given birth to a baby that was still-born. She had gone away to a cottage to mourn the loss of the grandchild she never got to know, and in the evening at sunset, took a photograph of the lake. When the film was developed, there in the sky was a cloud that looked distinctly like an angel, holding a child in it's arms. It was a source of great comfort to the woman and has been to many others since then.

I cried in the shop when I saw it, even though I didn't know why it affected me so strongly. I had to leave the store to compose myself. Exactly the same cloud formation was in the sky a couple of nights ago.

Soon, tonight, we were on our way home. We passed The Bond Head Restaurant; not a fine dining establishment, but a family friendly place where George has been serving the best pizza in the world for the 22 years that we have lived here. The neon light blinks, "Open." I don't think I've ever seen it closed, and I wonder when George ever goes home! Tonight that's where I soon will be, grateful for peace; grateful for joy; grateful for God's sustaining grace.

Psalm 84:11-12 (New International Version)

11 For the LORD God is a sun and shield;
the LORD bestows favor and honor;
no good thing does he withhold
from those whose walk is blameless.

12 O LORD Almighty,
blessed is the man who trusts in you.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Psalm 23 - according to me.

Fridays with Susan...

Are you tired of hearing how busy I am?   Take a peek at how I survive...

My day is laid out before me like a great drafting table in my mind's eye.  On the table are yesterday's projects waiting to be put away, along with files yet unopened, mixed with projects not yet started and others partially completed.  There are piles of paper which need to be processed and filed, and sticky notes galore.  I must not forget this, or that.  Or the other thing!  A significant portion of what is spread all over my imaginary table in haphazard fashion are photographs.  Photographs of people whose images are reminding me that they are waiting for things, important things. Things which only my hand can produce.  Things which were due yesterday or last week but which I have no hope of getting to today and maybe not for another month or even two.  If ever.  I shuffle the piles around and other faces appear, vulnerable faces, faces of those who are waiting for action on my part to influence others in a way which can make a significant difference in their very lives.  Those who have no voice to speak for themselves, or a very quiet voice, but who are depending on me to do my best to understand and to add my voice to theirs to make it louder and to affect change. That cannot wait.  None of it can wait.  Other faces appear.  Faces of more people who are waiting too.  Waiting for my presence; for my undivided attention; for me to come home or to where they are.  To those people I am irreplaceable.  They only have one wife, one Mom, one Grandma, one dear friend (one friend who fits my particular description and loves them back in my own inimitible way). And then there are the piles that need to be worked on and eventually filed under "me".  What about my writing?  My optional relationships - those who are my chosen family - my friends? My interests and passions?  What about those "five talents" the Master has entrusted me with?  They must be invested! And what about the need to protect certain non-negotiables, things like periods of solitude, which are essential to my sanity, which come along with the person God made me to be and for which I offer no apology.

I shuffle some more, trying to keep the pressure from overwhelming me, and another picture surfaces.  One yellow with age, taken over 50 years ago in Mrs. Brown's Grade 2 classroom.  I see children lined up three deep in the front of the classroom, practicing their recitation for the next school assembly.  I am in the front row where she can keep an eye on me, and we are saying together, directed by Mrs. Brown who stands in front of us and waves her arms to guide our cadence, the 23rd Psalm.

I have come back time and again, to those precious words hidden securely in my heart way back then.  I was only six at the time and truthfully, it didn't mean much to me then.  The King James English, though rhythmic and beautiful, seemed strange in an "other-worldly" poetic sort of way.  I didn't even know what a shepherd did, other than to stand in a field with his housecoat on and some sheep nearby while waiting for some angels to mysteriously appear on Christmas Eve.  Of the valley of death I had no knowledge or experience, and enemies, were naively non-existent.

This morning, as I contemplate that mess of need scattered across my drafting table, it bubbles out of my heart as a prayer...  As I wrote in another blog this week, it sounds something like this:

Lord, you are my shepherd, so I will not want for anything - ever. I have no needs that you cannot or will not meet!
You make sure that I  have green pastures to lie in - you feed me well from your Word and from the relationships and experiences you provide for me in everyday life.  You lead me beside still waters where my soul is calmed and I am able to drink deeply of your Spirit.  And there, beside those quiet waters, you restore my soul - where I find rest. Sigh!

You lead me in paths of righteousness - you show me your ways- your ways that are so much higher than mine - for your name's sake.  And as I follow you there, sometimes not understanding what you are doing but learning more and more to just trust in your ways, there is a harvest of glory, glory which rightly belongs to you, glory which becomes my evening sacrifice offered up to you in gratitude each day.

Even though that path gets so dark and I know that I am facing certain death - to self - I will not fear that anything bad is happening to me. You are good all the time.  You are right there with me, leading me not into but through that valley! Your rod and staff bring such comfort to me on the journey. Because I know you will discipline me, I am not afraid of my sin nature and where it could take me, but am comforted by the knowledge that you will only let me go so far - that you will let it hurt only enough to train me to forsake my own ways in favour of yours..

You prepare a table before me in front of my enemies - you show them (and me!) that as I wait for your goodness to appear, it surely will.  Wrong judgments made against me will be vindicated and accurate judgments will be forgiven and I will ever be restored to a place of intimate friendship with you.  You work it all out in such a way that there is no doubt that it was you and you alone. You pour the oil of "belonging" over my head, my cup of blessing overflows and spills over to others, because I am yours.  I belong to you alone, and you are so good to me!

Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and regardless of the situation, I will be where you are and you will be where I am - forever and always - "Thou my Great Father, and I thy true son, Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee, one."

While praying these thoughts, my heart becomes still.  He is near!  In  front of me still are the piles and piles of commitments, and deadlines, and responsibilities.  But they aren't mine alone.   I have a shepherd who guides me through them, never giving me more than He and I can handle together, and granting me his great friendship, and love unbounded, along the way.  On the outside it still looks pretty messy, and it is, but on the inside, I am walking a gently rolling path, with the Shepherd I live for, green grass on one side and the still water of a spring fed pond just ahead.

"For he himself is our peace..."  (Eph 2:14)  Ah, ain't that the truth!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

That'll be Grandma Gertrude

By Belinda

It was the cell night of the cinnamon toast dessert.

Brenda had gone away that morning for an annual girls weekend away, and we were looking after our granddaughters, Tippy and Tori, until their dad came to pick them up the next day.

They always look forward to cell group dinner when they come upstairs and join the party each week! They  help me get ready, join in the banter around the table, eat appreciatively and disappear downstairs again to play, once dessert is over.

With Brenda away, I popped downstairs to check on them after I'd said goodbye to everyone but Susan. She was staying for a few more precious moments and our ritual "second cup" of de-caff coffee before going home.

The girls, who are normally very independent, self reliant and happy in each other's company, looked a tiny bit lonely.

"Come upstairs, you don't have to stay down here you know," I said, and  promised them a few chapters read out loud from  Hey World, Here I Am! by Jean Little, after "Grandma Susan" and I finished our coffee.Their eyes sparkled at the thought.

Susan and I were deep in conversation on the couch, when we heard rustling and muffled giggles. It was the girls, hiding around the corner, waiting for our very long coffee to be over.

"We thought we'd been replaced," Torie said, laughing--the spot beside me on the couch belonged to them, after all.

"Hey," I said to Susan, "would you like to join us for one of the stories before you go? " and she said she'd love to.

Tippy chose her favourite story so far, Mr. Entwhistle, about a young, inexperienced and not very smart substitute teacher who picks on poor, unsuspecting Kate who inadvertently ignores a command he gives, and sets about "making an example" of her. It is so well written; the girls love the drama, being inside Kate's head as she makes a decision not to run away or fight back and thereby wins a battle she couldn't have won any other way. The teacher backs down, realizing he has made a mistake and she allows him to save face.

We all enjoyed it mightily again, including Grandma Susan, who was reminded of her own misbegotten youth and prompted to tell a story about a substitute teacher whom she brought to tears. Thus began the tale of Gertrude Zaharchuk.

The teacher was taking roll call when she came to Susan. She asked her name, and Susan, feigning reluctance, said, "They always laugh at my name."

"What is it dear?" asked the teacher.

"Gertrude Zaharchuk," said Susan, as the class collapsed into gales of laughter.

Susan buried her head in her arms on the desk. Her shoulders were shaking, not with tears as the poor teacher thought, but with laughter."

The mortified teacher thought that she was the cause of poor "Gertrude's" humiliation and tried to restore order to the class, while comforting the naughty Susan.

The girls' eyes were wide with delicious horror at the escapade as they giggled with delight.

Grandma Susan, satisfied with the rousing response to her story, basking in glory, rose to take her leave, and was followed to the front door by the still laughing girls, calling out, "Goodnight Gertrude!"

"That'll be Grandma Gertrude to you," said Susan.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

 By Belinda

It was a night to debrief.

Ten of us, all  writers, gathered at our first writers group meeting since the Write! Canada conference in Guelph last month.

We shared our "take-aways," our goals, epiphanies and excitement at what we had learned and experienced at this year conference.

Oh, it was a fun evening at Bonnie's place. We spilled stories like so many knocked over jugs of milk!

There were tales of roommates hand picked by God; of callings affirmed; "Divine Appointments;" gifts acknowledged; next steps already taken and wobbly but brave launches into new territory. And that with several of us  missing.

While getting ready to leave for the writers group meeting I came across a blog post I had printed off a friend's blog last December. Sharon Olson wrote Had Your Hamburg. It is an excellent post about a book I loved: Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.

Gladwell wrote about consistent practice over a long time (10,000 hours) resulting in mastery of a skill. It is so applicable to our little band of scribes.

I really just meant to commend Sharon's post to you and got carried away.

It is late. Adeiu!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Swifter than a Weaver's Shuttle

By Belinda

End of the day; a long one, and my lap top came home with me, but as I plan my last few hours of evening, he is there, standing silent, and waiting.

He moves with the stealth of a cat, this dog. He has learned to open the door from his apartment downstairs and pops in unannounced at odd moments. Like now.

I think of my supper; a little too large, a lot too fried. A walk would do us both a great deal of good. I cannot resist.

And so we go, out into the fresh air of evening, into the village filled with birds that are chirping and cheeping, trilling and peeping their evensong.

We hear voices from the park before we can see it, then come upon a row of parked cars, and bleachers full of parents cheering on two girls soccer teams in black and yellow jerseys. We pass by sedately and leave the running to them tonight.

Something about an evening game played in a park, is irresistably evocative to me. It feels timeless somehow, as though it could be a moment from the past, or future.

I had the same feeling when Brenda had her grade 2 school photograph taken at King George School in Newmarket. She had been off school not feeling well that day but didn't want to miss the photograph. She got dressed up in a pretty little dress, all floral frills and black velvet, her blonde hair, page boy cut, shiny and slightly fly away. I took her to the old school with the wide wooden staircases with curving polished wood bannisters, going up to the second floor and down to the basement. On the wall was a plaque with the date 1912. As I walked downstairs with her and she joined the other children, I felt an overwhelming wave of emotion at this one school photograph in a stream of other school photographs, of other children, over the years, right in this place.

You can tell from Brenda's eyes in the photo that she wasn't well. She is smiling, but her eyes have that slightly sunken look. She looks pitifully brave. It seems like only yesterday, and yet now she is the mother of two beautiful girls of her own who are on the cusp of their teen years.

We have walked all around the village now and are rounding the corner to pass the park again. It is eerily deserted. There is not a car or person in sight. The game ended and everyone left for home while we were short streets away. The silence is palpable, and poignant, where the air had so recently been filled with the noise of a game.

Job 7:6
6 "My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle,...

When have you felt a similar sense of life's brevity and swift cycle?

Monday, July 12, 2010

So Cinnamon

By Belinda

Last week, in a post entitled, The Cupboard Was Bare, I wrote of our daughter-in-law Sue's fruitless search through our cupboards for junk food. In a comment on the post, my friend Dave, wrote, "Gosh you've got to teach Sue that where ever there is a bowl of sugar, a bottle of cinnamon and a slice of hot buttered toast, you have dessert. Skinny people have no imagination!"

To Dave's astonishment, I wrote that I had never discovered the joy of cinnamon toast. I grew up in England where we ate Marmite instead. Yum! Dave was now on a mission. "Okay, Belinda, we have to fix this," he wrote, and sent me a recipe website for Cinnamon Toast.

He said, "I've never done it under the broiler, I just make buttered toast and then sprinkle it on ... but hey there are a million ways to happiness. I'll bet if you did surprise your cell group with it. They'd all have a cinnamon toast story or memory.

So I did! When Dave checked in on Friday for a report, I had one to give.

I bought a special fresh loaf of sliced raisin bread AND the recipe called for UNsalted butter, so I bought a pound of that as I never use unsalted usually. Why not have salt and fat at the same time--that's my theory! :)

Everyone but Susan was surprised that we were having cinnamon toast for dessert but promptly began to share their personal cinnamon toast recipes. No one could believe I'd never had it. Susan makes it by only toasting one side and then buttering the untoasted (but warm) side and sprinkling on the sugar mixture.

I made up the sugar cinnamon mixture as per the recipe, but I used partly demerara sugar and part white sugar. Next time I would just mix the cinnamon with white sugar because the demerara was so moist and sticky to begin with that it clumped and was hard to sprinkle.

I made the toast in the oven, under the broiler, faithfully following the preference expressed by the writer of the recipe (I am such an obedient Kiddo you know!) Susan, always happy to be a "useful engine" positioned herself at the mouth of the oven and kept her eye on the toasting bread, rotating it and turning it and making perfectly perfect toast. Then I slathered the unsalted butter on it and sprinkled it with the sticky sugar mix. Then we broiled it. The house filled with the scent of toasting bread and cinnamon.Mmmmm!

I sliced the resulting toffee covered toast in two and piled it up on a platter. Jane had already taken out several tubs of icecream and asked, "How do we eat it? Do we use a knife and fork?" We momentarily studied the question and then decreed that it was finger food. :) Thereupon we all went to town and enjoyed it mightily.

Susan took home all the leftover toast and after arriving home, wrote that David, her son who is home from university for the summer, was seated at the kitchen table, happily munching away on the toast, which he was dunking into a glass of milk.

Next time I'm going to try Susan's recipe.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

A Moment in Time

By Belinda

Last night at cell group we read and discussed, a chapter from Honest to God, by Bill Hybels. The book is a favourite that I've read  more than once. It's one of those keepers!

I like it because Bill Hybels isn't just honest to God, but he's honest with the reader too. I read a chapter in the morning, before taking Molson for a walk and it drew me closer to God than I've felt for a while.

Oh, I haven't drifted from God. I've just hit a stale spot in how I spend my time with him. The chapter Bill wrote on the spiritual disciplines that helped him; helped me. I felt God's presence closer than I've felt him for a while and as I walked along with Molson, I stayed with God, or maybe he stayed with me. Anyway--I could feel his peace.

One of the things Bill suggested was journaling by writing the word "Yesterday" at the top of a page and reflecting in writing on how things went the day before; reviewing conversations; interactions with people etc..

I used to do this faithfully and had forgotten how helpful it was. So tonight I was thinking back over the week and I thought I would share one moment that lingers with me like a beautiful fragrance:

We talked. Five of us in an airconditioned basement office,while the July heat hung outside like a heavy curtain waiting outside the front door.

It was a tough conversation and we didn't rush it. We talked and talked. Eyes glistened with tears at a reality that was hard to face. Through the talking a hard to swallow reality was gradually accepted.

We came to the end of words. Nothing more to be said, just next steps to be taken. It was time to go.

"Can we pray about this?" said my colleague.

The other four of us responded eagerly, "Yes, that would be wonderful."

She led us in a spontaneous prayer, and it brought peace.

I prayed too, then another in the room launched out, "Let's say some Hail Mary's."

My colleague and I are not Catholic but we listened to the prayer, repeated several times, and said, "Amen."

"Now let's say the Our Father," our Catholic friend said.

This time the prayer was familiar, and in the cool, shady room, as we five prayed the ancient words in unison out loud; the prayer taught by the Lord we all love and worship, it felt like holy ground.

A holy moment in time.

WHERE charity and love are, God is there.
Christ's love has gathered us into one.
Let us rejoice and be pleased in Him.
Let us fear, and let us love the living God.
And may we love each other with a sincere heart.

(From Ubi Caritas)

Friday, July 09, 2010

Behind Door # 2 - the adventure continues.

Fridays with Susan...

I just read my post of two weeks ago; I wrote about how I had a choice to take what looked like it might be the easier way out (my way), or to put my trust in God's goodness and in his ability to move me where he needed me to be (his way).  "I put you there," I heard him say.  "Can't you trust me to take you back out?"

I reported, two weeks ago, that there are lilies growing in the valley - exquisite blooms which can't be found anywhere else.  And there, the bright and morning star - Jesus - shines brighter than anywhere else.  I had chosen at that point not to manipulate my own circumstances, but to put my trust in Him. 

Little did I know that the very next day after choosing to give up my "solution" and trusting God for His,  I would be sinking into a chair in Belinda's gathering room at the back of her house, sighing aloud and shaking my head. while exclaiming,  "God sure knows what he's doing when he asks us to trust him!"

Belinda looked back at me from her lazy-boy across the room.  Her eyes were just a-sparkling and her grin was as wide as the Mississippi.  She was shaking her head too - just as amazed as I was at the developments which had begun to surface that very next day and which confirmed that God is so worthy of our trust.  Things may or may not pan out just the way it appeared that day to us, or continue in the quite the same direction, but it certainly is clear that there is a wild and exciting ride in store for me.  I am absolutely exhilarated at the thought.  Some people seek a nice safe level place next to quiet waters, where everything is predictable and there are no waves to disturb them. Not me. 

I mean, the quiet waters are great to come back to in order to rest and replenish regularly, but when God made me, he deposited an insatiable thirst for adventure, for taking risks, for jumping in where angels might fear to tread. Given a choice, you can take the smooth, safe path, but I'm heading for the high road - up the impossibly steep and rocky path that is the shortest route to the top of the cliff.  No long way around for me!  And once up there, I'm happiest skirting along the brink, even teetering on the edge. 

Two weeks later, the adventure continues.  I'm close to the edge all right.  Daily there is more to do than any two people can possibly accomplish.  But after a lifetime of learning the hard way, I am finding myself finally able to loosen my grip, to let go and know that God will order my day and enable me to get the most important things done..   Day by day, and by his grace, I know that my own strength is not enough to carry me through.  In true Upside-down Kingdom fashion, I am daily offering him my weakness, saying, "God I trust you to make yourself strong through my weakness right where I am.  I'm not looking for an escape, but I am looking for you to show yourself strong on my behalf." 

He sure does love to answer that prayer.  Ask me how I know.  :)

Thursday, July 08, 2010

For Star Woman

I have been sorting through more "stuff" in the loft room this week.

I spent months marooned up there for long evenings last winter, tidying it up. How could there still be so much excess paper?  But there is.

So I am in Phase 2 of The Cull; I was too gentle the first time.

But amid the trash, I find treasure. I found a bulletin from the funeral of a work colleague who died in 1997. On the back was a little poem that I love, written by Stan H. Smith. Stan was the executive director of an agency called New Leaf--Living and Learning Together. He died a few years ago. I wanted to share the poem here, but I didn't know the context in which I would share it. Tonight as I was driving, listening to the radio, I got the answer.

The CBC radio program Revision Quest was playing. (You can listen to the show as a podcast by going to CBC Radio .) The show was about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and its recent meeting in Winnipeg, Manitoba; where there is a platform for aboriginal survivors of the residential school system in Canada to tell their stories (telling The Truth,) and in doing so, take a step towards healing (Reconciliation.)

The host, Darrell Dennis, told of a man who as a child had run away from his school and walked 56 km back to his home. When he arrived there, the people in his community were shocked. They had not seen a child for a long time. But he was only there for a few days before he was forced to go back to the school by the authorities.

I listened to the voice of a woman who is a multi-generational survivor of the residential school system. She came from southern Alberta. She spoke her name in her First Nations language, and then her anglicized name. Her Indian name is Star Woman and her grandparents, parents, and she, had all endured separation from family and abuse within the system. It was hard to hear the devastation she described and the addictions, broken relationships and abuse she endured.

She had felt worthless and said that she was unable to forgive the people who perpetrated her abuse; until she met her Creator, the Lord Jesus Christ. Through her Roman Catholic faith she learned and accepted that she is loved unconditionally by God, and forgiven. Although it was difficult, she forgave her parents for the physical abuse they inflicted on her. She was able to acknowledge that they were broken human beings who made mistakes, as she had also made mistakes. She is working towards forgiving other perpetrators of abuse in her own community.

Star Woman brought a gift to the meeting in Winnipeg. She gave her moccasins. She said that she brought them on behalf of those who had traveled the path before her and made this day possible.

So here is Stan's poem, with which I honour Star Woman:

Consider, as you pass this way,

How smooth the road!

Remember, as you go, those who have gone before

And, as they passed, removed a pebble

from the path

To ease the way for those who followed.

Stan H. Smith