Friday, June 27, 2014

Rest in Peace RM

I went to the funeral today of someone who mentored those paid to support him in how to make friends and influence people.

He taught us even through the boxes of Smarties that were handed out to each person who came to the funeral. They were donated by the manager of the No Frills shop where he and his staff shopped for groceries. He developed a close friendship with Annette and her husband at the store and always came home with candy. Often the staff was left to do the shopping alone, he was too busy connecting. I told the staff he used to shop with that she did a good job getting out of the way and letting the friendship happen. Some might have thought they needed to get him to focus on the grocery shopping. She knew what was most important.

From photos on display his handsome face looked out at us, beaming with serenity and contentment. At the front of the church was an array of his stuffed toys and two trophies won between illnesses for a bowling score no one has yet managed to beat.

The service was simple; three songs (I'll Fly Away; Amazing Grace and Jesus Loves Me,) a short sermon on Psalm 23 and tributes from his staff and friends. 

He loved suspenders and wore them with aplomb. He also loved tying people's shoe laces, and there was no stopping him if he decided he wanted to. Someone joked that the angels' shoes are all tightly laced and tied since he arrived.

I thought about how complicated life can sometimes be for most of us, and yet how simple it truly is. This man leaves no inheritance of wealth, but he leaves an inheritance of love, memories, and goodness. He will not be forgotten, but lovingly remembered by those who knew him.

He loved to take your hands in his, and loved to listen a wristwatch, drawing it to his ear and smiling as he listened to the tick, tick, tick like the beat of a small heart.

One of the staff found this poem forming involuntarily as soon as she heard he had died. It is so beautiful and she gave me permission to share it here.
by Joanna Goheen

I give you my hands, I'll make you smile and forget your troubles for a while

Give me your hands, I'll kiss them light and beam at you with sheer delight

I give  you my hands; I'll steal your heart and make you feel we're never far apart

Give me your hands; I'll fix you up, doing up buttons and zipping you up

I give you my hands; I want to say, stay a while relax and play, I have some toys I want to share, but mostly I just want you there

Give me your hands; I'll listen to your watch tick and forget for a while that I was sick

I give you my hands; and then I'm off to play, in heaven now but not far away

Give someone your hands; I always say you'll find it will make their day

In loving memory of RM

Friday, June 20, 2014


Four of us came home from the annual writing conference of The Word Guild last Saturday evening, driving as far as we could together in a small convoy of two cars. 

We stopped for supper at Angel's Diner before we had even left the city of Guelph and by the time we left we were full of old fashioned diner food, served by an older woman who made us feel like we'd come home to mom. No request was too much trouble.

We left town inspired; grateful; invested in by skilled and successful teachers; encouraged; mentored; and having been connected with new friends and old.

Our hearts, heads and souls were full, not to mention luggage (there is a book more need be said.)

As we unpacked and transferred cases, pillows and laptops from one car to another in our driveway, the unpacking had only just begun. There is so much information to process and solidify.

I thought that I would unpack some of the things that I learned here, too, as they surface, even if they are random thoughts that I just don't want to forget. The thoughts below are not writing related but they are part of what I brought home. 

One of the teachers in the continuing class I chose: The Spiritual Life of a Writer;  was author Mark Buchanan.  He shared two insights that I thought were interesting.

1) I've often pondered King David being described as "a man after God's own heart." Although he was a wonderful example to look up to in some ways, he failed rather spectacularly too, but then repented so transparently that his Psalm 51 is a template for thoroughly cleansing a heart before God. But why is he described as "a man after God's own heart?" Mark Buchanan explained that "a man after God's own heart" actually means "a man who is chosen not because of merit, but because of God's heart to use broken vessels."  I would love to think that is the meaning, because that means there is hope for us all...

2) The second insight was about the commandment that says we must not take the name of the Lord our God in vain, which I always thought meant using his name as a swear word. But Mark explained that it actually means misusing the authority of God's name, for example speaking as though you are speaking for God but not actually speaking in his Spirit --misrepresenting him or his heart; or attributing things to him falsely. Doesn't that make sense and wouldn't it make us more careful how we speak (or write) "in the authority of" his name?

Just two thoughts unpacked to consider. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Finding My Voice

Since 2007 I have written the Leslie K. Tarr Award speech, the prestigious award given for a major career contribution to Christian writing and usually presented in June at The Word Awards. It is an honour to make this small contribution to the work of The Word Guild, an organization that helped give me the courage to define myself as a writer. I love researching the winner's writing and the challenge of capturing the essence of their unique contribution to Canadian writing in only 500 words. I am always immeasurably enriched in the process.

The speech has previously been delivered by a series of distinguished looking men in tuxes, but this year the conference coordinator asked me to deliver the speech, as well as the acceptance speech for the winner, who was unable to attend! The prospect was as exciting and scary as riding an old fashioned roller coaster.

Once the speech was written, and rewritten, and I began to practice it, my insecurities surfaced. As a child I was so shy that could barely speak above a squeaky whisper. My voice is still quiet. Oh, how I envy people with strong, confident voices!

The night before the Awards Gala, I scanned You Tube to find tutorials on voice. I found a video clip of a silver haired man with compelling eyes and a rich, deep, resonant voice. His name was Jay Miller and he had what I wanted--well, the female version of it at least. :) 

I bought his MP3 lessons "Your Confident Voice," and the next afternoon--the day of the speech--I began to practice. This felt a little like starting piano lessons the afternoon of an evening concert performance. The lessons were meant to be taken and practiced at the rate of one a month--but I needed help as fast as I could get it. I got through 3 of the 5 lessons that afternoon!

Three of my grandchildren dropped by; I could hear them downstairs as I practiced up in our loft room. I couldn't bear to miss a chance to see them so I went and told them what I was doing and said, "Come and help!" 

Some day they may look back and howl with laughter about the day they did lip flutters and belly breathing with their crazy Omie, who sounded like a cow giving birth as she practiced "sighing out" various vowels! It was hilarious but it helped! When the time came to give the speech, I focused on breathing properly and felt grounded and relaxed.

My friend Claire Alexander sent me off with a wonderful memory of Lesley K. Tarr:

"Make a wonderful Tarr speech! I took an early writers' conference or two at the old Ontario Bible College on Spadina (under Billy Graham's School of Christian Writing, I imagine), when Les Tarr was very visible, and such a quiet, wise Canadian! He reached us far more than the first New York editor I ever saw in person, and understood what we really meant in our questions, and not just what we asked!"

With thanks to Susan Stewart, who took the photos, here are some glimpses of the evening. 

Here I am with my friend; writer, teacher and speaker Carolyn J. Morris.

I'm going to keep practicing the voice exercises. For who knows what my voice may find to do--now that I've found it?

Sunday, June 15, 2014


It is just over two years since Mum died. I loved her so much that I used to anticipate that inevitable day with anxiety, thinking that I would surely fall apart.

But when the time came, I didn't fall apart. I was raw and emotional in the time leading up to her funeral, but I felt so much gratitude for her life that it seemed almost inappropriate to weep for more.

It seemed as though one day she was in England, and the next in heaven, and in both she seemed equally close.

But I wondered about not weeping for her, as though not doing so dishonoured her somehow, and I felt I needed it for me, too--it just didn't happen.

My friend Adele Simmons led us in morning worship both mornings this weekend at the writers' conference I attended. These times are special--gathered together with other writers in God's presence. It always feels like a time of re-commissioning and consecration. But I hadn't expected to weep for Mum.

Adele spoke about missing someone in our lives. It could be a person we've lost, or it might be God, but she asked us to close our eyes and let the words of the song she would sing to us, speak to our hearts.

I closed my eyes, and Adele, with her lovely voice, accompanied by the acoustic guitar she played, sang the evocative Eva Cassidy song, I Know You by Heart. 

To the beautiful words of Eva's song, hot tears rolled down my cheeks, for Mum.

Friday, June 13, 2014

This Writer's Prayer

Creator of all art--consummate and eternal artist and source of all creativity

You communicate through beauty; song; music; words on a page; paint on canvas--and innumerable other forms of art.

Your Spirit in me continues that creation--a stream from the source. 

You choose human fingers, eyes, voices and minds to carry on your work; entrusting it to trembling hands and lips and flawed hearts, risking dangerously when you do so.

Thank you for calling me to engage with you in the work of creativity--to partner in showcasing your beauty, truth and faithfulness. 

Use me; remove any barriers to the flow of your Spirit and creativity; break any chains holding me back from the fullness of your purpose. Free me! Release me! 

Let me be soft and tender in your hands.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Surviving D-Day

Seventy years ago, on June 6, 1944, as part of the biggest seaborne invasion in history, the Canadian Army landed on Juno Beach in Normandy. This week, especially, we remember that day of costly heroism and bloody sacrifice; events of such bravery in the face of terror that would be unimaginable were it not for the film and photographic record. The world wide web and media are rich sources of the stories of eye witnesses. We will not forget.

I watched a veteran remember that day in the documentary: Normandy--Surviving D-Day. His name was Hal Bombeck. Hal had the option of changing the name of his religion on his dog tags in case he fell into enemy hands; it would have given him a better chance of surviving. He didn't change the name of his religion; in fact, he drew a large, yellow Star of David on the back of his jacket; with "The Bronx, New York;" so they'd have no trouble identifying him. Hal is Jewish.

Jews were a special target of hatred by the Nazis, along with other groups, including the disabled, who had been the first to be experimented on and exterminated.

For the Nazi's, living was for the Aryan race--selective breeding-- selected survival. Anyone different or deficient was simply done away with. They managed this with so little protest from their own population by deliberately "hardening" them  to accept the unacceptable. 

There are lessons we must learn from history and not forget, especially when learning them cost so many so much. And yet...
Have we... 


Why they died? 

Dave Hingsburger wrote a post on his blogRolling Around in My Head in which he referred to Denmark's proud boast that they will be "Downs Syndrome free by 2030" (see The Globe and Mail: Deselecting our Children.) 

My initial reaction was one of mourning and sadness, but the Globe and Mail article challenges our hypocrisy in condemning Denmark, when in North America "90% of Downs Syndrome babies are aborted." 

This morning I stood in the hallway outside my office. On the walls hang several portraits of people with disabilities I've known and who have passed on. I often pause before one or other of the photos and remember the lives of the people they represent. All of them were institutionalized for many decades of the one precious life they had to live. 

Jim's face has the recognizable features of Downs Syndrome. When I gaze at his face I see joy. I remember his mischief, and see his gentleness and humour.  I remember that this face could transform into an equally clear expression of displeasure. His words were few, and he got along just fine without needing too many.
I touch the faces as I remember them. Each person affected my life in some way and I will always be humbled and grateful that their lives crossed mine.

They endured. They survived. And with such grace, where surely I would have been bitter.They seized life in freedom with gusto and joy; visible; present; part of "us."

But it seems a genetic marker is a target for elimination as clear as the Star of David on Hal Bombeck's back. 

Please pray... 

We don't forget...

Why they died.