Sunday, March 30, 2014

Pure Gold

In 2006, our daughter Brenda used to volunteer at Maple Lanes Kennel, near Alliston. It was from that kennel that Molson, the most gentle of Golden Retrievers, came into our lives. He trained as a therapy dog himself and is father of three COPE service dogs. Now my friend and coworker Irene, is awaiting the imminent birth of a litter of his pups being carried by a dog named Lyric, and she'll be choosing one of them to share her life. Today here's the story of one very special dog from Sherri's kennel and then a link and video about COPE.

Back in 2006, Brenda recorded the details related to various litters of puppies on the computer--where the puppies went, to whom and for what purpose. The pure-bred dogs go all over the continent, some as far away as Yellowknife, Alaska, and some are trained for such unusual jobs as detecting bed bugs or termites!

One dog's name struck her as unusual; her registered name was "Maple Lanes--You'll Have to Tri Harder"--and her "call name" was Tri.

"Ah, now there's a story," Sherri, the kennel owner said when Brenda asked her about it.

Something had happened to one of the puppy's legs after birth--it was swollen and bruised and Sherri thought that maybe its mother had stepped on it. The puppy was put on antibiotics to try to save the leg.

Sherri's aunt--who was like a big sister to her--was dying of cancer, and the call that she'd been dreading came from her mother to say that it was time--her aunt was close to death. Sherri left to be with her mother and her aunt.

When she returned after three days, an awful smell of rotting flesh filled the house. Even though the puppy was otherwise healthy because of the antibiotics, the leg had died and was already decaying. Needing to make the arrangements for her aunt's funeral, Sherri took the puppy to a vet she doesn't usually use, to be euthanized--no-one would be likely to buy her and it just wasn't practical to keep her. Her heart was heavy as she dropped off the puppy, full of grief for the loss of her beloved aunt. She said she'd come by later that week after the funeral, to pay the bill.

When she returned to the vet's, just expecting to write a cheque, to her surprise, she found the puppy was still alive! A new, inexperienced but enthusiastic vet just out of veterinary college had taken it upon herself to amputate the leg and save the puppy, paying for the surgery herself. The other vets in the office told her she was crazy. She had put drinking straws into the stump where the leg had been, for drainage.

Sherri was a bundle of emotions but mainly overwhelmed. Still grieving the loss of her aunt, she took the puppy home, knowing that for the next eight weeks she would require intensive care.

Every three hours, around the clock, Sherri took the puppy to suckle at the mother dog, keeping all the other puppies away and preventing the mother dog from licking the site of the operation.

Thanks to a determined vet and Sherri's commitment the puppy survived. And the puppy, whom Sherri named Tri after she survived against all odds, has a very special job. She is now a St. Johns Ambulance therapy dog--with children who are amputees. 

It seemed that God had a purpose for this puppy who seemed to have no place to belong--and he made sure she survived. Tri the three legged dog has a bond with the children she works with that no other dog could have.

COPE, the organization we became aware of through three of Molson's pups being sponsored by McDonald's to become service dogs does amazing work in supporting people with service dogs.

You can follow this link to watch a video about COPE or view it below. On You Tube there are many more videos on the work of these wonderful partners in life. I love the fact that they include "at risk" youth in working with the dogs.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

One Chilly Rainy Wonderful Day

The March that is in my genes has "a host of golden daffodils," "fluttering and dancing in the breeze" (thank you William Wordsworth,) and although for a good two thirds of my life, I have lived with a very different reality, I can never quite shake the feeling that something is wrong in March--the weather angel didn't get the memo maybe. 

Today icy rain needled the snow on the ground until it shrank back several inches from the piercing fingers of "Spring North American Style." 

I was grateful to be cosily warm inside all day, but at 3.00 I decided to leave the house to run some errands, deciding that the efficiency of a Friday afternoon versus Saturday for shopping, would be worth braving the nasty weather. 

My first stop was our little post office, in the basement of the St. Catherine of Alexandria church hall. I recently lost the set of car keys that had my mailbox keys on it, so I had to get replacements. Laurie, the postmistress was discussing the high price of propane in Ontario, with two customers. The price has doubled and it has cost her $6000 to heat her home so far this year! She said that people she knows have had to leave their homes and move in with family to get through this bitterly cold winter. I had no idea!

When I got over the shock at what some poor souls are having to deal with, I asked for new keys. Laurie bustled about behind the mail boxes, then held up a key and said, "This is my master key. You're going to get it copied, or when you lose it you won't have a post box." Okay!

I went straight to Home Depot to get several copies made of that key and another couple of keys--three of each. Is this a sign of aging I wondered--making spare keys--and spare, spare keys? 

I enjoyed watching the silver haired man in the orange apron as he studied the wall of key templates with an expert eye. He carefully selected just the right one for each key, then the grinding wheel whined, as he concentrated on the keys and buffed the rough edges smooth, swiftly and skillfully. It did my soul good to watch his unhurried, quiet work, a job well done.

On to the library next--I was out of audio books, and I am afraid that I am addicted to James Patterson mystery thrillers. On my way in I noticed a book sale being set up in the foyer and an adjoining room. I could not walk past without having a look around, and before I knew it I was gathering books--they were $1 each except for one that cost $3-- several for granddaughters on topics they are interested in, and some, I admit for me.

I went with my pile of books to the cluster of busy people unpacking books, who looked at me and shook their heads. Didn't I know, they asked, the book sale starts tomorrow, and the Early Bird viewing, was tonight at 7.00 p.m.--for $10 admittance. I smiled and said, "I can put them back, I know where I got them, but I won't be back tonight, or tomorrow, and you know, there is no sign telling people they aren't for sale now," which they all admitted was true. Gentle persistence, nice negotiation, and I bought my books, having paid the Early Bird Admittance Fee, three hours early. The Earlier Bird gets the Books! :) Librarians are such sweet people. I told them that I'd never gate crashed a book sale before!

I went to Costco for a few things. How I could need a few things baffled me after having spent a fortune there just over a week ago, but it was true. And then my final stop was No Frills, back in Bradford.

Inside the door stood two young boys, Air Cadets, in pale blue gray uniform. The taller and older boy stood proudly, fair haired, with a friendly smile and responsible look about him. His younger and shorter buddy was dark eyed and dark haired. I thought that their parents should be proud of them, but my heart had a pang at the thought of where their youthful interest in the armed forces could take them in the future. By now it was around 6 o'clock, and I wondered how long they'd been standing there in that chilly doorway, with their trays of badges and collection cans. I fished in my purse for change and put some in both cans. They both offered me paper badges and I laughed, "One is enough. Thank you!" 

On the way through No Frills, I picked up two bars of Cadbury's Chocolate, with salty peanuts. Going through the cash register I pointed to them and said to the sales clerk, 'My Friday night guilty pleasure!" 

"Enjoy them," she said with a smile--and we did. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

On Second Thought!

This week, during some precious time off I have been taking care of some of the things that I have neglected for a while.

I was probably supposed to be doing something on my To Do list when I got sidetracked by an on-line ad for the Organ Donor Registry.

I went to the Service Canada website, followed the links and before long I was staring at a list of parts to potentially donate. I've always thought that carrying a permission slip in the depths of my purse was a rather tenuous means of communication; so deciding that there was no time like the present I decided to register officially which bits and pieces of me to pass on when I no longer need them. 

Later that evening, Paul and I were having dinner in front of the TV, when I told him that I had registered and which parts I was donating. I could tell that I'd been more drastic than he felt comfortable with. 

"So how are we going to have a funeral?" he said, and I could sense his discomfort with losing all of me at once.

"You can have a memorial service instead," I said, but I was already thinking of how important it was for me to have those tender last moments with Mum after she died; I'd been a little rash, I thought.

So I went back to the website and found that it had been easier to follow the links to give than to find out how to take back. Fortunately though, there was a place where you could enter a question and ask for a response by email so I left a message there then kept looking. 

Perseverance paid off, and soon I had found my way to a page where I could make my selection again. This time I made my choices with family in mind and felt relieved to be able to tell Paul that he would have something to hold onto after all, if I go before him!

When I checked my email later, there was a message from a Senior Inquiry Officer named Wally at Service Ontario, giving me the instructions I'd asked for.

I wrote back:
Thank you Wally, I managed to figure out how to rescue my bones, eyes and skin from the donation choices. It just seemed too hard on the family member I discussed it with!
All is well again in Belinda-land.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Take Time

I see the intensity and experience it personally too, sometimes we seem like so many tops, set spinning on Monday mornings by an invisible hand .

We hit the ground running (or spinning) and work hard; focused. So focused that often we don't stop for lunch. Sound familiar?

Slowing down in order to go farther and go better--that's what I'm suggesting. It's counterintuitive. We feel like we can't afford to miss a beat or take a breath--we fear that if we do, we'll drop the ball. And it's hardest when you work with people, because you feel guilty if you slow down, so much seems to depend on getting the work done.

But can we afford not to? 

And will we really drop the ball if we do? I think the answer is "No."

In their book, Slowing Down to the Speed of Life (How to Create a Simpler Life from the Inside Out, Richard Carlson and Joseph Bailey propose that slowing down your thoughts will result in greater productivity and creativity, while also resulting in a healthier state of mind. Slowing down, stepping back, and breathing, help us become less reactive and more responsive. We feel less at the mercy of the unexpected issues that insert themselves into our day if we realize that we can think about how to respond to them.

When we feel an emotional reaction to something, be it something someone said or did, or an email just read; take that as a signal to slow down and put some distance between it and your response. Sometimes the very same words read the next day, look so different. Maybe we're tired, or stressed, or maybe the words pushed a subconscious emotional button we aren't even aware of, but a little time helps that become more evident.

"Quick" is valued in our society--but think about joining that adjective to "judgements;" or "decisions;" is quick so valuable then? Maybe "hasty" is a more suitable adjective in these cases--a word equated with rushing. Rushing to judgment is not a positive thing, especially where people are involved.

Steven B. Sample, in his book, The Contrarian's Guide to Leadership talks about the deficits of instant judgements and binary thinking and the benefits of what he calls "thinking gray and free," which really describes suspending judgements and keeping the mind open to facts and different ways of looking at situations.  For a great summary of the chapters in the book, click here

Think of the time that is taken repairing the damage of a wrong decision, missed step in a protocol, quick judgement or hasty conversation; things that usually happen under pressure.

A final reason for slowing down is that if you don't, you can miss the really important. Judge Dan Butler, in an inspiring talk at a synagogue in Thornhill, on Saturday evening, reminded his audience that "life is full of incredible beauty--much of it is fleeting--you've got to watch for it."

He reminded us of that these moments can so easily pass us by if we aren't watching for them. He told us of his son Mikey, who lived with Cystic Fibrosis, a disease that took his life at 24. Mikey managed to inspire thousands of people with his incredible zest for life and living although he never got to experience one normal day. Dan Butler exhorted the audience to see the miracle that normalcy is--to grab it with both hands and make the most of it--while not allowing life to pass you by unseeing. 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Valued and Respected in Education

There was a 9 year chunk of time, over thirty years ago, when our family lived with a group of people with developmental disabilities.

That period formed my view of people with disabilities as people just like me, with the same human longings and weaknesses;  the same capacity for goodness or "Grinchiness;" greed or generosity; and any other virtue or vice. 

Since then, I've worked in a system where staff support people in group homes, or their own apartments. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the equal rights and freedoms of people with disabilities, but I've often struggled with the knowledge that they and people without disabilities in the community experience very different realities in day to day life. 

But change is happening as our agency and everyone in it, work towards our Vision Statement:
People with exceptional needs belong to communities in which their God-given gifts are valued and respected.
One important source of experiencing value and respect is education. Without it any people group is limited and vulnerable. With it they are equipped and empowered to exercise their rights and freedoms.

Advocates Against Abuse-AAA is one important and exciting educational initiative underway in many agencies, including ours. 
While there will be staff helpers, the trainers being recruited are people with disabilities, who will train their peers on protection from, and the reporting of, abuse.

On Friday morning there was a buzz in the air surrounding my office, which is downstairs in a group home. The job posting for trainers had been printed off for someone who seemed like a natural for the role, but one of her housemates had seen it. He bustled downstairs, rapped at my office door and waved the job posting at me, wanting to know more. I explained and he listened. He'd already signed his name on the line at the bottom saying he wanted to be a trainer. I asked if he'd like me to fax it to the person it needed to go to; he nodded.

I looked at the list of qualities required for the trainers and on the fax cover sheet I gave him a reference. Later in the day he came down to my office again, and I gave him the fax cover sheet, stapled to the job description. I read the lines I'd written about him, including the words, "He is a natural leader." He nodded his head, not with any pride or gratitude, but just at the truth of the words. Moments like that fill my cup.

Later that day as I was about to leave for home, I chatted with a staff member finishing off a task in the next office. She told me how the course she's been running on Friendship Skills was going; how she's used it to help people figure out the difference between strangers, acquaintances and friends. And then she laughed at herself as she told me about a recent incident where she found herself revealing too much personal information to a stranger at the gym and wondering why she just did that. 

Education teaches us all.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A Golden Evening

The writing topic for our writers group tonight was "Nature/Creation." I had no time to write, so I checked the blog archive knowing that I would be sure to find much on that topic, since I am so often overwhelmed by the beauty splashed so liberally around on every hand. 

I searched by the label "nature," and among the posts that came up, I saw this one, "A Golden Evening;" a description of one September evening, 41/2 years ago. The thing about writing is that you can capture a moment in time and relive it. The 10 and 11 year old granddaughters in the blog post are now 15 and 16, and so beautiful and sophisticated that I could have easily have forgotten who they were such a short time ago without this memory... 

I tie the laces on my well used, dusty brown Rockport walking shoes and clip my Walkman belt around my waist; then reach into the closet for the red leash. A call for my golden friend and he gallops up the stairs, followed by an eager , smiling granddaughter. Victoria's face asks the question, and I answer it, "Yes, I'm going for a walk. D'you want to come?"
She nods , eyes bright, and excitedly runs downstairs to get shoes.
"Does Tippy know we're going?" I call after her.
"Oh no! I forgot to tell her," she says, and yells, "Tippy! We're going for a walk!"
Tiffany-Amber emerges from their downstairs apartment and the computer game that she was playing and begins energetically putting on sandals and bike helmet in the garage.
The four of us launch into the evening. I take out my ear buds and fold them into the Walkman. The book on CD can wait for a different walk.
We pass a bank of goldenrod, breathtakingly beautiful; tall, gaudily glamorous spikes pointing heavenwards amid rich, green grasses. I regret not bringing my camera, but determine to remember the glory of this moment.
Above us the moon increases in brillance as the twilight gently falls around us. I point out its beauty and shape. I tell the girls that yesterday it was shaped like an American football. Tiffany-Amber laughs, "Tonight it's a soccer ball." Last week on a walk it had been a "cream-sickle" moon and I had explained the play on words and what a sickle is.
The village is as alive with dogs and owners, as a hedgehog is with fleas. As we pass one another; straining canines bark and leap while owners remonstrate and make apologies to one another. Molson whimpers sympathetically at passing pups, and lunges too, until we owners pull our wandering pooches back on course.
The park with its swings beckons. "Can we stop for a while?" the girls beg.
"For a little while; it's getting dark," I say, and find a seat. Bikes are flung down and helmets tossed aside, as two girls, 10 and 11, run, hair streaming, for the swings.
A bouncing beagle named Stanley, and his owner, take a seat close by and he and Molson make tentative sniffs at one another, Molson's ears cocked high and alert.
I calculate the moment when the urge to swing is sufficiently satisfied if not satieted, and call the girls back to the walk. We say goodbye to Stanley.
In the deepening dusk, other less fortunate dogs bark from behind fences and open windows as we pass by, or leap at us from chained posts on front lawns. I say to the girls that Bond Head should be renamed Dogville and they laugh their agreement.
Rounding the bend, close to home again; Molson pauses and looks up expectantly. I laugh and fold his leash and place it in his mouth. It is his routine to proudly trots the last leg of the walk, free of constraint, taking himself home.
Tippy has ridden on ahead and is already home, and Victoria walks her bike beside me, tired.
Goldenrod, golden moon, golden dog. Golden evening.

Psalm 8:3-9 (The Message)
3-4 I look up at your macro-skies, dark and enormous,
your handmade sky-jewelry,
Moon and stars mounted in their settings.
Then I look at my micro-self and wonder,
Why do you bother with us?
Why take a second look our way?
5-8 Yet we've so narrowly missed being gods,
bright with Eden's dawn light.
You put us in charge of your handcrafted world,
repeated to us your Genesis-charge,
Made us lords of sheep and cattle,
even animals out in the wild,
Birds flying and fish swimming,
whales singing in the ocean deeps.
9 God, brilliant Lord,
your name echoes around the world.

Monday, March 10, 2014

On Being the Recipient of Care

Being the recipient of care was on my mind ten years ago in the first three months of 2004. My mother had just come home after several months in  hospital, having had a stroke in the fall of 2003. I discovered that to need care is to be in a vulnerable place, where strangers have access to the most private places of our lives. 

Recently I spent some time with the grandmother of someone for whom our agency, Christian Horizons, is providing respite. A wonderful Italian "Nonna;" she had one daughter, whose genetic disease ultimately took her life in her forties.  When the time came when she could no longer care for her daughter, she went into a nursing home. With her permission, here are some thoughts she wrote about the people who cared for her daughter:

During my lifetime I have often visited hospitals, nursing homes, homes for the disabled and schools for day programs.

I would like to share my experiences and thoughts with doctors, nurses, social workers, family, friends, and those who stood close to my daughter and my granddaughter when they needed help....

The people who have to live in these places need love, attention and they need to be understood. The kindness that they are given is noted and makes a big difference in their well-being.

During the time that my daughter was hospitalized in critical condition, she told me that a male nurse had been very good, intuitive, patient and respectful. When I saw him for the first time, I told him that I would like to know how he treated his patients, and he responded that he did it with love, hoping that one day he would receive the same treatment. This touched my sensibility and heart and has made me realize that there are good people, and that many other nurses treated my daughter with love and kindness...

And here are some of my own memories:

By mid February 2004 I was already half way through the month I had come to spend in England. I had arrived with no plan but to get Mum's life back after finding her in hospital, depressed, and looking beaten at the start of the month. Within a week she was out of the hospital and home and we began recreating her world.

Each day Mum, my brother Rob and I navigated new territory, trying new things on for size and discarding those that didn't work for Mum and Rob. I made many phone calls, making arrangements for house calls for foot care, glaucoma tests, meals on wheels and the hairdresser. All the world was willing to come to Mum it seemed.

Just as we began to feel less freaked out about our lives being invaded by the Helping Hands carers who supported Mum three times a day, Mum's social worker  reminded us that they were purchasing the services of Helping Hands only because there were no council carers available and that if that changed, they might switch back to the council carers. 

She seemed to feel badly telling us that. It was hard for us to contemplate saying goodbye to the people we were just beginning to feel comfortable with and who knew Mum now. I had worked so hard to ensure that Mum wasn't just a time slot they had to fill. It was so important that they know her abilities and the little things, that mattered to her in a big way.

I met the first carer I worried about. I hoped that she would not be assigned to Mum too often. She was nice enough, but seemed very "slap-dash" and breezy. I wanted her to be careful and gentle and pay attention to what she was doing. I hoped that I would see her again just so that my mind would be at rest.

A few days later the social worker called again to say that the government had a new initiative called direct funding. She had approached her supervisor with a suggestion that Mum was an ideal candidate. What it meant was that Mum would be given the funds assigned to her to purchase the support she needed. This meant that Mum could continue to have Helping Hands and not have to change to new carers from the council.

As my time in Alvechurch drew to a close, Mum made her first visit to the Sycamore Club, a place she used to visit every Monday morning for tea, a chat with friends and lunch. I went with her, and enjoyed listening to the ladies, most of them  in their 80's chatting with one another.  

 All of the pieces of life were fitting back together again. It felt so good to see Mum in the mainstream of life although it remained hard that it was so difficult for her to communicate. If she tried harder it just made it less easy to find the words she was looking for.

I prepared for my return to Canada with a sense of a mission accomplished. Even attending Mum's church had been strategic. No one knew how she was or where she was until then. She had vanished into the medical system. I felt that I was there "for" her as well as for myself. I knew that I would bring her to the forefront of people's minds and caring by my presence; that I would make her "important" to them. The result was two bunches of flowers from the church soon after she arrived home; a visit from her old friend, Trudy, and communion being served to her at home; as well as hearing her name being lifted up in prayer in the church. 

Mum's friend Trudy assured me, "Don't worry, the church will look after your mum. We'll do our best." 

We were fortunate in experiencing the care of the careful--those with loving hands, observant eyes and kind hearts.

But I also learned how much easier it is to be the helper than it is to need help. I learned how it feels to give up the privacy of the inner sanctum that is family--to know that the flesh and blood you treasure more than your own body, is in the hands of strangers; to know what it is to feel invaded and exposed, but have no choice; to be dependant and vulnerable--and to have to trust where trustworthiness is not guaranteed.

And that is why I hope that people feel that we ''stand close" with them; as the grandmother put it;  when they need our help.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Your Mother is Always With You

I was in a day of training with my phone on silent, when I felt it buzzing and saw that it was Brenda calling. I left the room to answer, thinking that there must be an urgent need, for her to call me in the middle of the work day. 

"Hi Mom, are you busy?" she said, "I wanted you to know that I loved your blog post today, and I've been thinking about Omie all day today."

Later that evening, I got home from work and put the finishing touches to the dinner preparation for the cell group, and just before everyone was due to arrive, I called Brenda back because I felt badly that I hadn't had time to say more than a few words earlier. She told me how today she'd been telling everyone at the college she works at, about her Omie, and what she had meant to her. 

One of her friends asked her, "What has your Omie given to you today?" When Brenda asked her what she meant, she asked, "What did you like to do together?" Brenda thought for a minute and said, "We would always have tea together," then she suddenly realized that one of the parents had just put a cup of tea on her desk. A little while later, her friend and coworker, Tammi, also brought her a cup of tea. "Do you think I'm weird, Mom?" she asked, meaning that it felt like they were sent by Mum.

"If you're weird, then I'm a lot weirder!" I laughed. I knew exactly what she meant. 

We were still talking when the front door opened and Jane, Barb and Kathy came in, laughing and chatting. We were finishing our conversation and but before I said goodbye, I told her who had arrived. "Oh, say hello!" she said, and they chorused back, "Hello to you, Brenda, we miss you!"

"I miss you too," she called, and then was gone.

I told our friends the story about the tea, and just then, Kathy handed me a small bundle wrapped in a paper napkin. "Scott sent these for you Belinda," she said, "He made these Welsh cakes from my mother's recipe and wanted me to bring them to you."

My eyes filled with tears at the fact that Scott, not knowing that it was the anniversary of Mum's death, and never having done anything like this before, had sent me a tiny package of something made from a mother's recipe.

Just then Susan arrived, and put a piece of piece of paper on the counter top. She said it was something she had just come across this week, and thought of Mum. I picked it up and read it out loud to everyone in the kitchen. Michelle had also just arrived, with Paul, and the kitchen was full now, of people, and not a few moist eyes.

The piece by an unknown author was entitled:
Your Mother is Always With You
She's the whisper of the leaves as you walk down the street. She's the smell of certain foods you remember, flowers you pick, and perfume that she wore. She's the cool hand on your brow when you're not feeling well. She's your breath in the air on a cold winter's day. She is the sound of the rain that lulls you to sleep, the colours of the rainbow. She is Christmas morning.
Your Mother lives inside your laughter. She's chrystallized in every teardrop. A mother shows every emotion...happiness, sadness, fear, jealousy, love, hate, anger, helplessness, excitement, joy, sorrow...and all the while, hoping and praying that you will only know the good feelings in life.
She's the place you came from, your first home, and she's the map you follow with every step you take. She's your first love; your first friend, even your first enemy, but nothing on earth can separate you. Not time, not space...not even death.
All of these little gifts made this a day of celebration, not mourning. A day when I thought of a mum who filled our tanks full of enough love to carry us until we meet again.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

We Remember in Love

Rob's voice, deep and warm, from 3,000 miles away, sounded as close as the next room when I called him on Saturday. I told him that so many of my friends had been asking after him.  People know him well because I've written about him so often and he is such an important part of my life. 

As always, he managed to capture a moment so well in words that I could see it--Bruce pressing his rock solid little Staffordshire Bulldog body into a niche of Rob's, his furry eyebrows dancing in sequence above his eyes, half-moon whites showing, as he studied Rob. He put the phone close to Bruce so that I could hear  his snuffles, and then described his scent, a mixture of dog and new toy, that Rob inhaled with the obvious pleasure he takes in his small but mighty furry friend.

And then we talked about Mum, because it's almost exactly two years since she left us. To him I could say, "Do you think it's strange that I really haven't cried for Mum?" I always dreaded the day we would be parted, because we were to close. I couldn't imagine the grief I would feel, and yet, it hasn't been that way for me. I said, "It's kind of like we had so much when she was here, that she filled us all up, and this is just the in between time, a temporary break before we are together again in heaven."

Rob understood. He agreed, "We all had a little cry when she was dying, but we had the very best Belinda. Mum only ever thought of us, yes, we'll see her again--in heaven--if you like." It was Rob's nod to me. :)

So on March 6th she will especially be on my mind. Yes, there is the pressure of tears in my eyes as I think of her; not tears of sorrow, but love. I am so very grateful for her and she surrounds me in so many ways.

On Sunday after our family dinner, when we sat around relaxing together, I brought out a box with envelopes holding bits and pieces found among her things after she died; small scraps of paper fell into my lap. On them were Bible verses that had meant something to her; poems; recipes; old official documents; my Dutch Oma's passport; the footprints left behind of a good life. A life full of love.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Wrong Poem

Susan just emailed me about the poem I gave to Henri Nouwen. She said, "I'm probably wrong, but wasn't it "Simply Being"?  The one about the horses in the field near the Dawson Manor where Upper Canada Mall is now?" and she's right!

When Dave asked, in a comment on my previous blog post, if I still had the poem and could I share it, I had this feeling that it had been "Simply Being," but talked myself out of it and into the other one, "With Open Hands."

Anyway, with thanks to my intrepid fact editor, here is the correct poem, which was, as Susan said, inspired, by the sight of some horses galloping across a field that was beside the mall. With their manes flying, they were utterly free spirited. I was leaving the mall when I saw them, having found my joy in buying "stuff," and was struck by the contrast with their joy in "simply being."

What joy there is in simply being
Touching, tasting, thinking, seeing,
Could there be more joy than this?
Simply being is such bliss.

What joy there is in being simply
Whether we are young or wrinkly
Could there be more joy than this?
Being simply is such bliss.

Being simply, simply being,
All the wonder I am seeing,
Of the gift to simply "be,"
Being simply is such bliss.

Belinda--whose universe is now in sync! :)

With Open Hands

My friend Dave asked about the poem I mentioned in yesterday's post about Henri Nouwen. I am not sure if it was this poem that I wrote out on the scroll, but this one was inspired by his book,With Open Hands. I want to emphasize that the poem was written as an aspiration or prayer, and not reality lived! :) 

With open hands I stand before the world,
I lay my weapons down for Jesus' sake,
Naked, unclothed, defenceless--it's my choice
Because I know that he my hand will take.

With open arms, Lord, let me love the world,
And never fear rejection, scorn or pain,
Or, if I fear, don't let me falter Lord,
Remind me that our weakness is your gain.

With open heart, accepting, loving, kind,
With openness of spirit let me love,
Lord, take this hardened human heart and make,
A heart as warm and gentle as a dove.

With open eyes please let me see myself
And others as we are to you, dear Lord,
So precious in your sight because the price,
You paid for us, we never could afford.


Ezekiel 36:26

Living Bible (TLB)
26 And I will give you a new heart—I will give you new and right desires—and put a new spirit within you. I will take out your stony hearts of sin and give you new hearts of love.[a]

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Henri Nouwen -- On Finding Belonging

It was a warm July day in 1989 and on the lawns of a large, white clapboard farmhouse between Newmarket and Aurora; a Christian Horizons home for people with disabilities; a group of staff from Brampton, Richmond Hill and Stouffville had gathered.

The tall trees that dotted the two acres on which the house stood, dappled the circle of chairs on the grass with a reflection of the leaves dancing in the breeze overhead.

We could hardly believe who stood before us as the speaker at our staff day apart--the Dutch born theologian, author and priest, Father Henri Nouwen.

For the past three years, Henri had lived at L'Arche Daybreak, in nearby Richmond Hill, as an assistant to a young man named Adam, and through one of our staff, Henny, who also worked at Daybreak, he agreed to speak to us.

I was in awe at meeting the man whose books had impacted me so greatly. How could we prepare for such an honoured guest? But Henny said that the most appreciated thank you for his visit would be a bouquet of wildflowers. 

And then he stood before us, a slightly built man with kind, warm, smiling eyes, and a restless energy! He put us at ease immediately.

He told us his story; how he had lived with an inner struggle all of his life, between accomplishment, ambition and competitiveness on one hand, which he described as the voice of his father; and on the other hand, the voice of the Spirit; represented by the voice of his mother; a voice that said that life was not defined by accomplishments or strength, but rather by embracing weakness and vulnerability.

His journey from the halls of Academia to Daybreak, was a journey born of a longing for communion and intimacy. Although he was in great demand to speak at large conventions, he felt immensely lonely and empty spiritually. 

Henri's path crossed that of Jean Vanier, Canadian Catholic theologian, and philosopher, and the founder, in 1964, of the first L'Arche community for people with disabilities in Trosly Breuil, France. Vanier was motivated to create a place of belonging for people with disabilities, particularly out of concern for the plight of the thousands living in institutions, and he started by inviting two men with disabilities to live with him. 

By the time we met Henri, this complex and gifted man had found a place of belonging himself at L'Arche, and in serving someone with profound disabilities, he found a depth of connection he had never felt before.

In the question and answer period after his talk, Christian Horizons staff shared their own struggles. To someone who was feeling driven to academic pursuits, but striving to find balance, he said: "Don't give up on your studies--they are important. Motivation is the key. We must do it not to earn love, but to proclaim it..."

Another person, a volunteer, questioned her own motivation. She said that her contacts with people with disabilities made her feel like a princess.

Henri said, "Never worry about "Why." No one does anything with pure motives. We need to let the people for whom we do things purify our motives. Living purifies the motivation. If you feel like a princess--enjoy it!"

To someone who said that they received so much through their work with people with disabilities, he said that others grow through our receiving and reminded us that we don't know we have gifts unless someone receives our gifts.

As we shared the pot luck luncheon spread on the picnic benches , I noticed who Henri gravitated to. So many people wanted to talk to him, but it was a man with disabilities who sat down with us for lunch, that he gave his attention to, showing us in action how to give the gift of belonging.

We gave him the best bouquet of wildflowers that we could find, and I also gave him one of my poems that had been inspired by his writings, printed in calligraphy on a scroll. A week or so later, he wrote to say thank you, and said that he kept it in his room and looked at it often. In his kind words he showed how to make someone feel valued by affirming an gift.

Henri Nouwen died in September 1996, leaving a legacy of simplicity and vulnerability. 

Simply Being

What joy there is in simply being:
Touching, tasting, thinking, seeing.
Could there be more joy than this?
Simply being is such bliss.

What joy there is in being simply,
Whether we are young or wrinkly.
Could there be more joy than this?
Being simply is such bliss.

Being simply, simply being,
All the wonder I am seeing,
Of the gift to simply "be,"
Thank you Lord for making me.