Friday, May 29, 2015

Just in Time

Mum often told me about the night that I was born. The tale had all the elements of a great story, with drama, tension, conflict: and since I was the happy ending, of course I loved it. I also liked the part about my being born exactly at midnight and Mum having the choice between May 31st or June 1st for my birthday. She chose June 1st.

Maybe that's where it all began, my fuzzy relationship with time. I've often thought that I must have been born 5 minutes late because ever since I can remember, my internal clock seemed that much behind. Left to my natural bent, even though I think that I am planning to be on time, inevitably, like clockwork, I have rolled up to church, meetings, lunch dates with friends; for life; 5 minutes late. Consistently. And exactly.

I am not proud of this bad habit but I used to rationalize that if punctuality is a continuum, then 5 minutes late is not horrible. I owned the trait as though it was part of me, like a cat whose whiskers had been trimmed and which could no longer gauge the size of the space to squeeze its body through. Part of my problem was that I lacked a realistic sense of what I could accomplish in a given space of time, always over estimating and I tended to notice things when leaving and try to do "one more thing" on the way out.

I recently faced the reality that being late was a choice and decided to choose to be on time instead. But as I was trying, something happened that hit home so hard it became the turning point for all time because it made me realize the cost of my habit.

 It was the night of our youngest granddaughter's dance recital. Paul was at a conference and was sad to miss it, but I would be there for both of us, and be taking photos as I always do, to capture the memories for all of us. I was already working on my new resolution to be on time, so I had timed out the route to the theatre and was home on time from work.

I still lagged behind though, and as my time to leave approached, I ended up rushing to eat dinner before leaving in a hurry, knowing that I was cutting it fine, especially for going to a place I'd never been before.

I was half an hour into my journey when I looked around the car and didn't see my camera and knew it was still on my kitchen counter-top  where I'd put it so I wouldn't forget it. The show was to start at 6.00 p.m. and the story can best be continued in the series of texts between our son Pete (he was already at the theatre) and me (only when briefly stopped at the side of the road before turning around.)

5:18 pm Pete: We'll save you a seat
5:20 pm Me:Ok
5:33 pm Me: Pete I forgot my camera. Going back to get it
5:34 pm Pete: We're in the middle section. Third row from front. Come down the aisle on the right.
5.43 pm Pete: Are you sure you have time--you wouldn't want to miss Em
5:45 pm Pete: She is only in one number
5.54 pm Pete: She's in the fourth number of night--more important that you're here
6.08 p.m. Pete: Starting soon--are you close?
6:12 p.m. Pete: Still have a seat saved at end of row

Imagine the insanity of committing myself to doing the impossible by going back; then sticking to this crazy course of action; realizing with a growing sense of panic that I might have the camera, but miss the whole purpose for being there.

The theatre was on an army base and I finally found my way there, to the check point at the entrance; dropping the contents of my wallet over my car seat as I hastily fumbled with nervous hands for my drivers license ID. I drove the long network of roads in, and found a parking space on a grass verge because the parking lot was full.

Camera in hand I dashed to the theatre, praying, "I don't deserve this but PLEASE don't let me miss Em unless I need to learn a harder lesson than I already have."

As I stumbled past the ticket collector, who wished me, "Good luck," at finding my way into the dark theatre, I could see her, still on stage with her dance troupe; a dainty, dark haired princess in a sparkly pink costume, and I breathed, "Thank you God." 

My eyes were still adjusting to the dark as I took out the camera. I tried to find in vain to find the seat Pete saved for me. The best I could do was aim in the general direction as I remembered it from his instructions, while snapping photos from the aisle to the embarrassing whispers of, "Can you please sit down?"

It was all totally humiliating and almost a disaster. Nothing could have driven home the point any clearer. If I needed a turning point--a booster rocket to a new way of being; this was it.

Later Pete joked that I was like Honda with their "just in time" inventory management system. I thought about the word "just" and decided that I would turn around that phrase for myself by choosing a different definition. Instead of "just," as in "at the last possible moment," for me it would be the adverb "just," meaning, "exactly," which has the following synonyms: precisely, absolutely, completely, totally, entirely, perfectly. That was how I wanted to be in future, "Perfectly in Time."

The next morning I had my first opportunity to practice the "New Me." I was meeting someone at a coffee shop in a neighbouring town at 10.00. Some people do this naturally but for me it was new to calculate the time needed to get there and add a comfortable margin of extra time to that amount. I got there half an hour early and was settled and drinking a cup of coffee when the person I was meeting arrived--20 minutes early! My reward was the wonderful feeling of being there first, and comparing that with that person being there 20 minutes early and me arriving 25 minutes later.

I have not been late since.I am truly cured my friends. We can choose to change! 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Let the Best of the Story Begin

As we had hoped, Paul came home on the Monday morning after his Friday heart attack. 
Over the weekend we had existed in a sort of bubble in the hospital; insulated from the rest of the world,which seemed to have faded into insignificance for us. 
On Sunday I thought I would be able to keep my two work appointments on Monday and pick Paul up in between when I got the call that he was ready. I was so out of touch with reality! 

In fact, we both needed me to just focus on him. He was recovering from an uncomfortably close brush with death and I was cruising on superficial calm, quite out of touch with my emotions. Below the surface lay turbulence I had not acknowledged.

On Monday I began to get an inkling of that when I felt panicked at the thought of going to talk with someone about fire regulations while Paul might be waiting for pick up. With the help of my coworkers I managed to adjust my commitments. 

At the hospital an efficient nurse named Emily; the epitome of organization and careful communication; went over discharge papers as she placed them one by one into a brown envelope. She also gave us a white envelope with 8 prescriptions which she went over equally thoroughly. Satisfied that we understood everything we left for home. We were just about to leave the parking lot when Emily called me on my cell phone. She had a correction to make to one of the prescriptions. I went back, she made the change and then we were off.

On the way home we filled the prescriptions and then at last we were both home together after a weekend that had felt like an eternity.

We both felt dazed and Paul began to experience the overwhelming emotions that run their course after a heart attack. Our children both dropped by and friends sent emails and messages with kind offers of help where needed. Even talking was exhausting to Paul and I felt protective of his energy levels. I felt unexpectedly fragile and vulnerable myself. That was when I sent a personal emergency email to the prayer team of The Word Guild (a writers' association I belong to). Knowing that this dear group of prayer warriors would be supporting us as well felt extremely comforting.

In the evening I tackled filling a dosette from the 8 bottles of medication and planning to get the paperwork sent home, organized, looked for the brown envelope. I couldn't find it anywhere. I didn't want to stress Paul out and decided to look in the morning--perhaps it was in the car. 

But the next morning it was clear that somewhere along the way we had lost that envelope. I had a meeting scheduled but this was critical to sort out so I sent my regrets and decided to retrace my steps of Monday. 

I went to the drug store but no one there had seen it so I went back to the hospital, to the cardiac floor, and I explained my dilemma to the first nurse I saw. I was clarifying what I remembered of the envelope's contents and that it was "Emily" who had filled it, when Emily herself appeared. I greeted her with the enthusiasm normally reserved for long lost family members!

As I poured out my story Emily's brow furrowed thoughtfully. It appeared that once information leaves the floor, it is "somewhere" in the system, but not necessarily easily accessible, at least for a couple of days while it is still "in transit,"  but she got on the phone to Health Records and then told me to report there and they would try to fix the problem. Happily they did and I left the office clutching the recreated envelope to my chest as if my life depended on it.

As I walked past the hospital gift store on my way out, a card caught my eye. Shiny diamond-like stones dotted the letters on the front, which read, "Angels From Above Watch Over Those We Love." It expressed my conviction so perfectly that I bought it for Paul.

On the way home I stopped at our local No Frills grocery store and stocked up on all the healthy food I had wanted to buy the day before but had no time or energy to buy. I felt so much better going home with both the envelope and bags filled with fruit, vegetables and brown bread. All was well in Belinda-Land again.

Since that day we have gone from strength to strength. Paul is ahead of schedule according to his Recovery Road book. We are both deeply grateful for God's grace, prayers of friends, and for every moment that we have together.

I was at the hospital on Mother's Day and my gift from Pete and Sue was a plaque, which she chose for its reference to writing and my love of story. "Let the Best of Your Story Begin," it says. It seems the perfect start to the rest of our lives; there is still more for us to do. The adventure continues...

Sunday, May 10, 2015

God in the Details

I drove to the city early Friday morning beneath a sky washed in vibrant pink, to join a team of staff helping to host a conference at the beautiful new campus of Tyndale University College and Seminary. Paul left the house early too, he was part of Faith and Culture Inclusion Network hosting OASIS 2015 at the Sheraton Hotel in Richmond Hill and Friday was the last day of that conference.

It was just before 3.30 that I returned to my seat and saw a call from Paul coming in on my silenced cell phone. Had I not returned at that moment I wouldn't have seen it but I did and answered it. I heard Paul say deliberately, "Love, I'm okay, but I've had a heart attack," and then more shakily, "It would be very good if you could be here." He told me which hospital he was in. All I could say was, "I'm on my way. I'll be right there!" And on my way out, I told people in my path what had happened, leaving shocked faces in my wake, and prayers following me to my car. 

I called our children quickly from the car and headed into Friday afternoon rush hour going north to South Lake hospital. On the way I was flooded with emotion, but also peace. I had so many unanswered questions, and when I finally got to the hospital, and found him, looking weak and vulnerable and attached to many monitoring devices, the details of what had happened amazed me.

Instead of heading up highway 404 to go home; as he had on the other days; at noon when the conference ended, he decided that because it was such a lovely day he would take the slower drive along Yonge Street from Richmond Hill. 

As he drove north, a burning sensation started in his chest, then intensified to severe pain that radiated into his jaw. He knew he had to get to a hospital. At first he thought he would keep heading for South Lake hospital in Newmarket, but quickly realized he couldn't make it, so he turned the car around and headed for McKenzie Health in Richmond Hill. In the lane beside him he noticed a police car at one point and considered honking the horn to get their attention, but thinking that if they called an ambulance it would take longer to get there, he kept driving. In under 10 minutes he parked his car outside the door of the emergency department, walked in, and said he had severe chest pain.

The medical staff at McKenzie Health immediately went into action, with 4 nitro-glycerine pills under his tongue and more nitro sprayed into his mouth. They called ahead to have a team prepared at South Lake, then got him into an ambulance and headed up the highway. The major left ventricle to the heart was 90% blocked. At South Lake the blockage was removed and a stent put in.

Besides the fact that he was alive there were so many details to thank God for; so many decisions made that were the right ones.

Over this weekend he has continued to amaze us with his recovery. On Saturday his heart was functioning at 63% capacity. Today (Sunday,) the doctor told him that it was barely possible to see any damage on the sonogram. I arrived this morning to find him dressed in street clothes and dress shoes and having walked several laps of the cardiac floor. He should be coming home tomorrow; there is still a road to be traveled; we are so very thankful...

This photo of Paul was taken while still at the OASIS conference on Friday by our friend and coworker Dwayne Milley. Dwayne said, "He told me not to take the pic. He's laughing because he knew I was ignoring his request."

Proverbs 4:23New International Version (NIV)

23 Above all else, guard your heart,
    for everything you do flows from it.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

In Loving Memory and Tribute

This afternoon I stopped at the post office, and found among the assortment of advertisements and bills that passes for mail these days, an air mail envelope.  And the handwriting I was sure was my brother Rob's. A real letter is a rare treasure!

I opened it as soon as I got into my car and it was indeed from Rob. He had sent a short letter along with an enclosed tribute to Mum's old and dear friend, Trudy Cluderay, I have written about her now and again on this blog and always made a point of visiting her when I was in Alvechurch. Rob told me that she had died recently at the age of a hundred and one, when we last spoke on the phone, and said that he had saved the tribute that was published in the church of St. Laurence's newsletter: The Grapevine, which is delivered to all the villagers monthly. 

Rob signed off his letter by saying that he really must do better than a letter every thirty years or so! 

To read the tribute to Trudy, you can find the May edition of The Grapevine online here on page 13.Since she was born in 1914, the story of her life is a fascinating snapshot of a life lived faithfully and well, over a century of change. She was born in the era of Downton Abbey after all!

And here is an excerpt from a blog post in which I wrote about her in 2011, called All on a Summer's Sunday. She would have been 97 at the time.

Today from afar, I honour her memory and thank God for her life, spent quietly in a small village but sending a ripple around the world.

I walked to Snake Lane, to visit our friend Trudy. I hadn't wanted to knock on the door before, in case she couldn't come to open it, but at church Anne told me to just go in through the door and call out, "Is anybody home?" so that is what I did.

I found Trudy in the kitchen, struggling with the cap of a medication container. She is losing her sight and could not read the instructions that said to line up the raised arrow on the top and bottom of the opening. The pills got sorted out and Trudy came and sat down. At the church I had been told that the rule was to keep visits to ten minutes so as not to tire Trudy out, but she had so much to tell me that I know we went way over that limit. It was good to see this wonderful, faithful friend and hear all about her recent adventures.

This photo is of her late husband. I took it years ago at Alvechurch Baptist Church, as he played the piano during the coffee time after church. Trudy treasured the photo as she didn't have any recent ones of him. She keeps it on top of the piano.

Approximately 45 years ago Mr. Cluderay was Mum's piano teacher. She strove to practice faithfully after work, but although she played the accordian beautifully by ear, she didn't keep up her piano lessons for very long.

Trudy was thrilled to show me the photos below, of her granddaughter in New Zeeland, with her two children. For years this granddaughter was prayed for as she had a serious medical condition.

Eventually she had a bone marrow transplant and recovered, but was told she would never be able to have children due to the effects of heavy duty medications she had taken.

A young man fell in love with her and wanted to marry her in spite of the fact that she couldn't have children. God had other plans and, as Trudy put it, "Here are the children who were not supposed to be."

Before I left I asked if I could pray with her. Trudy eagerly said yes, and we clasped hands. I thanked God for her friendship, prayed for recovery from her ailments and thanked him for the light that she is in Alvechurch. She is a great example of faithfulness to God and of what
Friedrich Nietzsche wrote:

 "The essential thing 'in heaven and earth' is...that there should be long obedience in the same direction; there thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living."