Monday, December 28, 2009

... but Joy Cometh in the Morning

How he would have loved this morning! Every tree turned into Christmas festooned with ribbons of sparkling hoar frost, lit by the glimmerings of a roseate sky. The intimate blanket of quiet resting lightly over this prairie town, the uncluttered peace of the horizon. And, just inside, sitting at the east window of the TH, the Monday morning men watching the sun rise and praying.

Our beloved Gordon departed from this world to enter into the next yesterday afternoon at 4:34, disappearing from our sight just as the sun slipped below the horizon. Deborah and Cathryn and his namesake Gordon were there, along with three of our aunts and two uncles.

As he was taking his leave of us, Debs held the phone to his ear and our Dad and their brother Clark spoke words of comfort and strength and release directly to his heart, that heart which had laboured long and hard over the previous 80 years and the past 17 days and was now about to enter its rest.

He left as he had lived, a man of deeply held convictions and strong opinions as to the correct order of things; but a quiet, unassuming man who didn't want to be a bother to anyone; a man who loved his family and his independence and his God.

He never forgot a birthday and called each year to wish us
He hated the metric system and daylight savings time
He spoke slowly but was a mental gymnast
He was a meticulous craftsman
He loved the outdoors
He would drive for miles to help someone in need

He was a good neighbour
He was a loyal friend
He was an attentive son
He was a devoted brother
He was a caring uncle
He was a faithful minister of the Gospel

Last night, at 6 o'clock, my Dad was scheduled to deliver the sermon at church. I took off from the TH's roast beef dinner hour to hear this other faithful man of God speak at such a difficult time. I know he had already been labouring and praying throughout the preceding Christmas week for the right message for this last Sunday of the decade. And now this.

The text he started with was John 1:1: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." With God translated literally is face to face, nothing coming between.

And then he took us to Exodus and the detailed instructions for building the Tabernacle. Chapter 25, verse 1 lays the structure's foundation, not one of bricks and mortar but of willing attitude - "... an offering: of every man that giveth it willingly with his heart ye shall take my offering."

From thence proceeds the list of materials, the dimensions of the courtyard, the layout and furnishings of the temple. Dad brought us from the gates to the outer court, where the sacrifices for cleansing and atonement were performed on the brass altar; through the outer veil into the chamber that contained the table of unleavened bread and the seven-branched golden lampstand and where the priests would worship; and finally back through the inner veil to the most sacred area, the Holy of holies. The Holy of holies housed the ark of the covenant. Once a year the high priest would enter this area through the inner veil. No natural light penetrated the temple and no external sources of light were permitted to be brought in - the priest's way was illuminated first by the lampstand and then, in the Holy of holies, by the Shekhinah glory of God. The word Shekhinah means literally to inhabit, to dwell, a royal residence, the presence of God. I can only imagine how the priest so honoured would be forever changed by the inestimable privilege of being in the presence of God. Why would he ever wish to go back to the everyday world?

But as Jesus cried out on the cross, "It is finished!" this inner veil was torn from top to bottom, giving free access to that same presence of God to all who came to him. And there, with the ark of the covenant, was housed the mercy seat, something that - prior to Jesus' death - only one priest had access to only once a year. Romans 3:25 says, "God has set forth [Jesus Christ] to be a propitiation ... for the remission of sins." That word propitiation is exactly the same word as the word mercy seat in Exodus!

Only faintly now I see Him, with the darkling veil between;
But a blessed day is coming when His glory shall be seen.
What rejoicing in His presence, when are banished grief and pain,
When the crooked ways are straightened, and the dark things shall be plain.

Face to face I shall behold Him, Far beyond the starry sky;
Face to face in all His glory, I shall see Him by and by.
                                                    (Mrs. Frank A. Breck)

And Gordon, our dear Gordon, who so many years ago came with a willing heart and attitude to the mercy seat, is now face to face with the glory of God. No veil. No external illumination. Nothing between.

The sunrise I witnessed this morning was just a glimpse I was given through a veil of the first dazzling sunrise he experienced in the presence of the Son himself.

Although we miss him fiercely, why would we wish him back?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Six of Us

Over this Christmas we sat in the ICU at various times and watched our Dad watch his brother labour through tubes and machines and fever and infection and the inability to speak, to move, to breathe on his own.

Gordon's eyes remained closed for much of the time. He seemed so small in that room, so helpless. And yet, when Dad spoke to him, when Dad quoted scripture and sang and held his hand, those tired blue eyes fluttered open and fixed themselves on his younger brother's face. Blood pressure measurements crept toward normal levels. And he was calmed in his soul.

Over this Christmas the six of us sat in one of our homes, surrounded by the people we love the most on earth. And as I looked at each dear face, I thought of Dad and Gordon gazing wordlessly at each other, speaking a language too deep for words, too profound for this world, linked by their earthly parents, their heavenly Father and their deep and abiding love and respect for each other.

Ecclesiastes 4:12 says, "If one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart."

Death, when it comes, will be unable to cut this cord: though one strand will be in heaven and another remain on earth, the golden strand of grace will lash them together until they can be reunited once more. They will never be alone.

Over this Christmas food was eaten, presents exchanged, stories told, games played and laughter shared. Kindness and goodwill abounded in that home.

I have come to realize that there is no one I would rather be with for special occasions than my siblings. It is to them that I come with my joys and sorrows. It is their joys I rejoice in as exuberantly as if they were mine. It is their sorrows and troubles that I agonize over more deeply than my own.

They know me with a knowledge far deeper than language. They love me more than I deserve and they accept me for who I am.

"You've been a good big brother," my Dad said to Gordon.

When it comes my time to leave this world I want one of my sisters or my brother standing at the side of my bed, holding my hand, reminding me that Jesus loves me and so do they, singing to me:

In the sweet bye and bye we shall meet on that beautiful shore
In the sweet bye and bye we shall meet on that beautiful shore


Goodnight, our God is watching o'er you
Goodnight, His mercies go before you
Goodnight, and we'll be praying for you
So goodnight, may God bless you

Or I want to be able to do the same for them.

Happy Christmas, Bronwyn, Allan, Cathryn, Beth and Deborah Joy. Being one of your siblings is the greatest earthly gift I could be given, at Christmas and throughout each year. You've been a good brother and good sisters.

I love you.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Snow Angels

Oh, the weather outside is frightful! During this past couple of weeks I could not imagine having to navigate the snow drifts that piled up around and in front of the TH.

Last Saturday Marlowe tunneled a passage from the parking lot to the verandah, as well as cleaning off the ramp and all the verandah. Later, Charles widened the passage. Bruce showed up on Sunday with the bobcat and cleared all of the big drifts. Ted shoveled the edges. And Brent swept off my car and cleared the back entrance.

Where would any of us be without friends?!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Wednesday evenings at the TH

Lots goes on at the TH between Monday and Friday; but the one thing that is immutable is our Wednesday evening Bible study group, led by my Dad. This group has been in existence for about ten years. It used to meet in Mum's and Dad's home; but in 2007 when they regrouped after Mum's passing away, I suggested that we meet in the TH as it was pretty central and had a lot of room.

Well, our last meeting involved turkey and Christmas crackers and carols and laughter. We remembered people who are no longer with us -- Dick and Thelma, Marion, Mum, Mae, Tina, Willie, Norma, Bill --  and held the ones who were left a little bit closer to our hearts.

This year Roselind -- a real pro in the kitchen with journeyman papers to prove it! -- came early and got everything into order and on schedule. Dianna, our intrepid nurse who with her husband Bob is spending Christmas in Nepal with their daughter and family, also arrived in plenty of time to allow me to relax and know that everything was going to go off like clockwork.

Ted carved the turkey, Leona made the salad, and Beth filled the glasses and then took on baby-sitting (or, to be more accurate, baby-carrying) duty for the entire evening so that the lovely Ruth Ann could have a break.

As is our tradition, we each received a Bible verse at our place settings. Mine was this:

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
                              (Gospel of Matthew 11:28)

To George and Leona, Ralph, Lynda, Brenda, Ted, Ed and Ruth-Ann and "our" beautiful little Anna Grace, Sherlotte and Marjory, Beth, Harvey, Bob and Dianna, Rich and Cindy and Joey and Caelynn, Charles and Roselind, Joyce, Betty, and of course to Dad, a happy Christmas! Wednesday evening is one of the highlights of my week. I feel honoured to belong to this special TH family.
The Linden Girls' Christmas Dinner

I'll be writing about other Christmas parties in posts to come; but this dinner is the one I was looking forward to all through the time leading up to Christmas parties, so I want to capture it for you while it remains fresh in my mind and heart ...

It all started when I got a call one day quite some weeks ago: "Karyn, this is Evange. Why can't us single girls from Linden have a Christmas dinner?" There was no reason I could see, and so the date and the choice of meat were set and I immediately began to count the days until Monday, December 7, at 6 p.m. I had no idea who would be in attendance. On Saturday I asked Max, a young single girl from Linden who comes to the TH frequently, if she would be there, but she said no. And I couldn't for the life of me put a face to Evange's voice or name. I was excited to see who would be coming to this dinner ...

And finally it was just about 6 o'clock. The dining room looked beautiful, with winter white linen, twinkling tea lights peeking out through ruby-red glass candle holders; champagne flutes bubbling with sparkling apple juice; gold chargers; silver party crackers; and the Christmas lights on the tree, the mantelpiece, the piano and the ceramic Christmas tree promising a warm welcome from the cold.

All was outshone when "the girls" started to arrive. So many of them were friends of my Mum's and I was immediately enveloped in hug after hug, with ladies murmuring to me how they missed her yet. I remembered Evangeline the minute I saw her -- how my Mum loved her, and Pearl, and so many of them!

They mingled around for a bit, helping each other with coats and checking out the Christmas decorations; and then they sat down in preparation for the evening.

"I think we'll have a table song," one of them suggested; and together they all bowed their heads and in three-part harmony sang the Doxology. The star above the manger scene seemed to glow just a little more intensely for the rest of the evening.

And then the girls settled back for some Christmas fun. First was the Christmas crackers: off they popped, to disgorge golden paper crowns, prizes like pens, picture frames, cuff links and the like, and of course the corny little riddles and jokes. Each lady put on her crown and read her riddle to the table. Little toasts were performed, with the delicate flutes clinking together across the table.

Curried butternut squash soup and dinner rolls were followed by a mixed berry salad tossed in a roasted peach and red onion vinaigrette.

And then we served the turkey. "We have turkey with mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes encrusted with pecans, green bean casserole, and turnips," I began.

With one voice they exclaimed, "Turnips!", beaming in such delight that I wanted to be adopted by all of them on the spot.

After a little break, dessert was offered: a choice between sticky toffee pudding drizzled with warm caramel sauce, carrot cake, and Skor cheesecake.

Coffee and tea and bursts of laughter and moments of companionable silence wove their way with rich hues throughout the tapestry of the evening. My dad dropped by to make sure all was well, and they called out to him joyfully: "Hello, Al! Checking up on things?" He had a plate of turkey dinner in the kitchen, perched on the little green stool in the corner; and then he went out to chat for a few more minutes to the girls before heading off back home.

My heart, which was already full, threatened to burst wide open when I mentioned offhandedly to one of the ladies that Miss Manners would not like the way I was stretching over her to fill up her water goblet. "Do you like Miss Manners?" she asked. When I confessed that I was addicted and recounted a typically pithy exchange from one of Miss Manners's books ("Dear Miss Manners, How do I walk in high heels?" "Gentle Reader, Left, right left, right."), my little lady burst out laughing and said, "I like that one too!" It turns out that she teaches grades eight and nine and tries to instruct her pupils in manners and ettiquette, basing her course material on Miss Manners's classic volume. "Outside in!" she prompted in a sing-song voice when there was some question as to which fork to use. Who knew that a gift I would receive today would be discovering another Miss Manners afficionada?!

Far too soon the evening came to a close. As these saints struggled into their coats and bundled up against the wind, it struck me that on this night Nilgiris had been transformed into a home filled with love and the true spirit of Christmas, from the kitchen where Lois, BA and I cheerfully and carefully worked to make sure everything was perfect for our girls, to "the girls" themselves with their full lives and yet their hopes and dreams and their courage in making some of them come true tonight. This turned out to be an evening that far exceeded any dream I had dreamt for my sweet little TH.

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Nilgiris Tea House 2009 Christmas Event / No More Mr Nice Guy

The Tea House staff went to Calgary on Thursday, December 3, for two reasons: to have our Christmas event and to celebrate Brent's 18th birthday, which was the next day.

First we went to dinner at Babylon Qithara, a wonderful Mediterranean eatery that Debs introduced me to. The pictures in this entry are from dinner. Eleven of us feasted on lamb, fragrant rice with nuts and raisins, moussaka, eggplant and potatoes, tabouli salad, hummus and pita, and baklava with Moroccan tea. BRENT DRANK TEA -- and LIKED IT! This from a person who will only drink coffee although employed at the tea house. I believe my sense of pique is entirely justified, don't you?!

Then we rushed down to SAIT's Jubilee auditorium where we met the three people in our party who could not join us for dinner but were able to make it to ... Stuart McLean's Vinyl Cafe Christmas concert! There was an old Dave and Morley favourite, as well as two new stories. John Sheard, the pianist and Vinyl Cafe music director, was brilliant and Stuart McLean was as endearing as always.
Two notable things happened: the first is that Brent and Curt got to meet Mr. McLean after the concert, when he autographed a copy of his latest book for Brent's birthday. And Oliver's extremely loose tooth wiggled free in the second half of the program!

After the concert the out-of-Calgary people stopped at Timmy's for one for the road. We caravanned home, with Brent driving the lead car. At midnight we in the second car called him and sang "Happy Birthday" to him, then I advised him that he could now be tried as an adult. He immediately responded, "That's why I'm keeping it at 110 ..."

On Sunday I wrote on the menu board, "Brent's now 18: No More Mr. Nice Guy!" No one believed me, of course ...

Happy birthday, dear man. We used to joke that if 17 was perfection, would it be all downhill for you when you turned 18? I think you're safe. You are one of the greatest forces for good to have ever been involved with the TH. Your life -- a beacon shining on a hill -- is a gift to all of us who are privileged to be illuminated by its rays.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Gifts of the Magi

So they came, my wonderful friends, bearing gifts for the season, telling me they know me and they love me.

Friday, December 4, 2009

"Comfort Ye, My People ..."

I felt imprisoned this afternoon, penned in by obligations and snow and this incessant wind. Today is the day I traditionally begin anticipating in August when I come to the realization that summer is drawing to a close and that tickets for the CPO fall and winter concerts will soon be for sale.

Today is the day my friend Mary and I were to attend the CPO's production of Handel's Messiah. It is no exaggeration to say that the Messiah is the musical highlight of my year. If it were at all possible - and, actually, before I reopened the teahouse it was possible - I would go to the Friday performance, the Saturday performance, and the Sunday sing-along. There is just something about this work, lifted from the poetry of the King James Version of the Bible and the lilting, joyful baroque musical stylings of Georg Frideric, that causes my heart to soar throughout the Christmas season.

But of course early today the wind started to mock my carefully laid plans. Highways were closed; YYC was shut down; reports of jack-knifed semis and buses stalled across two lanes of traffic were dutifully phoned in by concerned family and friends.

And at about 10:30 I yielded to the gale force and decided to take the safe route of staying put. After all, I know this music: I have performed in productions of it in India and in the U.S. and have enjoyed it almost every year in Canada. I even wrote my O Level music paper around the Nilgiris Choral Society's annual production of the Christmas and Easter portions of the work.  Did I really need to sit through another performance?

Ahhh, but I have also been privileged to see Mary herself singing with the CPO Chorus some Christmases ago under the testy, heady direction of the wonderful Ivars Taurins. Part of the magic of attending the annual performance with Mary is in seeing her eyes like stars, her beautiful face glowing like it's been lit by a hundred Christmas tree candles, as she disappears inside the music, occasionally consulting her well-marked score. Part of the joy is in knowing that she knows this music, both the score and the heart of it, the music and the meaning, outside and in. This is what she wrote me in one of our email exchanges in anticipation of the evening:

"And he shall purify -- all the lace of sixteenth notes coming in from all 4 corners of the world (SATB) ... I get teary eyed just thinking about it"

And I got teary eyed thinking about missing it. In fact, I wept, disconsolate, on the phone to my sisters as I asked one of them to go with Mary in my stead, as I stumbled over my phone request to the CPO to change the will-call tickets from my name to Mary's.

Mary and I met years ago when we both worked for Carswell. Somehow, despite all our differences, we became friends. Her two sons remind me of two of my nephews. Her husband has always welcomed me to their home with great kindness. When I have the chance to spend time with her or her family, I leap at it.

Finally late this afternoon I huddle in a purple chair in front of the fireplace, contemplating the driving snow and the driving conditions and the driving pain in my heart. I turn on no music. There are no melodies that can ease the catch in my throat, no lyrics that can compensate for the inexplicable feeling of desolation I labour under today.

I think it is because the realization has been brought to bear on me today for the first time that I am no longer a "city girl" who can pop down town in my own car or hail a cab or hop on the C-train -- for the first time I am unable to carry out my plan due to the weather. Never before in all these years of living in Three Hills have I missed an event due to weather. I can no longer pretend to myself that though I sleep and shower and work in Three Hills, my own life continues on in Calgary.

(The other thing the weather did was prevent me from buying the weekly groceries for the TH. But I did get the dining room pulled back into shape and cleaned, and we will muddle along through tomorrow as best we can.)

This evening, shortly after the real performance starts in Calgary, I finally put on the collection of Messiah arias and the Hallelujah chorus that are loaded on my iPod. The pace of the singers is brisk and business-like; a few of the notes do not ring completely true ... but it is the ancient words and age-old melodies that ease the futility of the day, that assuage the disappointment in the weather and in myself.

Then as I hear "Comfort Ye, My People" I am given a measure of reassurance that I am indeed in the right place at the right time. I am meant to be in Three Hills for now, despite the weather and the staffing and the sadness that days like this can conjure up:

...And cry unto her that her warfare, her warfare is accomplished,
that her iniquity is pardoned ...

And, as Mary and I have said for years now when there is nothing that can be done, Oh well.

Oh well.

The wind stops howling for a few moments, just long enough for the trumpet to sound. And I am comforted.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Story of the Traveller from the Parable of the Good Samaritan

A certain traveller went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves. The traveller was stripped of clothing, wounded, and abandoned, left half dead.

Now it happened that several travellers passed that way, some of them even religious types. And when they saw me, they passed by on the other side of the road so as not to have any contact with me.

But a certain Samaritan, journeying on the same road, came to where I was. And this Samaritan, having seen me, showed me compassion, the first I had experienced in a long, long time. My wounds were bandaged, oil and wine poured into them for cleansing and healing; and the Samaritan set me on an animal, brought me to an inn, and took care of me

The next morning, before this good, good Samaritan left, there was a soft conversation with the inn keeper. It seemed the Samaritan was paying the inn keeper to care for me! And the Samaritan promised to reimburse the inn keeper for anything extra that might be spent for my care.

I rested at the inn for a fortnight, my beaten body so broken that I could hardly move. I could scarcely drink even water for the first couple of days. But the inn keeper was very patient with me, cleaning my wounds, reapplying salve and bandages; bringing me simple, nutritious food and cool water.

More importantly, the inn keeper talked with me and listened to me. Wasn't I aware that that road was the stomping ground for nefarious types who would seek to do me wrong? And my kindly host gave me some tips on self defence and how to avoid being taken in by people who would prey on me.

My great Samaritan friend returned -- I had not been forgotten! I was treated to new clothes and a haircut and then was taken back to my home. Assured that everything was as it should be, the Samaritan left me alone with my gratitude and my thoughts.

The scare kept me anchored for quite a few months; but then I heard the road beckoning me again.

I've always been a bit restless, a bit of a wanderer. You see, I found out when I was quite young that my mother gave me up when I wasn't even a year old. I landed in a lovely family who treated me as their own. But still -- how awful must a kid be if a mother can give it up?

I think that because I felt so dispensable, so disposable, I decided that maybe life in general was this way too. I decided early on never to miss an opportunity for a thrill, because who knew if that chance would ever return?

And so I headed back on the road, full of anticipation as to what this new adventure might hold. Before long I caught up with a group of people heading in the same direction I was. We started to chat and they invited me to a party they were planning on attending -- as a matter of fact, one of them confided, they had already started partying. Would I like to join in? I felt the rubber tourniquet tighten around my arm and shivered as the needle pierced my skin. But in a few moments I was flying, laughing, happy like I always imagined I could be. I was the life of that party. My new friends couldn't get enought of my smile, my jokes, my kisses. I felt like I truly belonged.

The next day (or several next days -- who could keep track of time?) I awoke on the side of the road with my head in a puddle of my own vomit. My hair was matted, my nose broken; my backpack and coat stolen; and through the torn thin clothes still left on me I could seen the shadows of hideous bruising on my legs and arms. Too weak to walk, I crawled to the shade of a shrub nearby and prayed for death.

But instead of death finding me, a friend and fellow traveller came across me! Deeply distressed at my condition, my friend took me to the hospital and begged them to get treatment for me.

The nurse and the doctor did a thorough examination of my person, pausing at the tracks on my arms. Then after I had been hosed down they put me into lockdown while I came out of the effects of what I had had shot into my veins.

The night terrors started: any time I would fall asleep I would see the faces of my sisters, my children, my parents, the mystery woman who gave birth to me and then abandoned me to this slow death that my life had become. I would scream, imploring someone, anyone, to sit with me and talk me down, to bring me water, to give me something for the pain and the fear. The social worker assigned to my file assured me that I would be fine in a few days.

And in a few days or weeks I was fine. I contacted one of my friends, who picked me up and took me for a meal and then took me home to my empty apartment and the myriad pictures of my children.

I live for my children. After this last scare I determined that I would be a better parent to them. I found a job I enjoyed, and with the money I made I took my children on a little holiday. We had so much fun being together, being children together, being in this circle of acceptance and love.

When we returned home, they asked if they could stay with me for a few days. So I went out to buy some groceries; while I was gone, I bumped into an old friend and immediately felt the craving again.

Some hours later my friend dumped me off on my doorstep. My beautiful firstborn son helped me inside. He held my head while I retched and moaned; he piled warm blankets on me when I shuddered from the cold. In the early morning light he went to the store to buy eggs and milk with his own money and he fixed breakfast for his younger sister and brother. He gave me coffee, and finally I slept.

When I awoke, they were gone. How could they not go? I called another friend, a real friend who sighed, "Not again," but nonetheless came and picked me up and took me to yet another centre for yet another attempt to get me clean.

This has been the story of my life for about a decade now. You could play connect the dots on my arms and legs, even my feet and neck -- nowhere you can find a vein has been safe from the love-hate battle I have tried so hard to fight; but I am getting so tired and I fear I am losing this game.

Only three dots connect my heart. My children. It is for them that I have tried so hard to battle on, it is for them that I have wandered from place to place trying to find something to fill up this emptiness -- something that will last longer than the few moments of blissful oblivion, those few moments of feeling the emptiness inside filled up that my captor can provide -- so that I can make up for the holes in their hearts that having a part-time parent has caused.

I have left everyone who has loved me. I have left everyone who has been loved by me. Now that I have told you my whole story, will you leave me too?

"No," you reply. "Trust your children to me. I will never leave them nor forsake them. I will never leave you nor forsake you either. Come to me and I will give you the rest you need."

Why would you want me? I ask brokenly. Just look at me ... and I throw off my coat, exposing the piercings in my arms, the piercings in my legs and feet, the record of my pain. Just look at me, I whisper again.

"Just look at me ..." you whisper back. And you throw off your coat, exposing the piercings in your hands, the piercings in your side and feet, the record of your pain.

And as I reach my scarred arms out to you, you stretch your scarred hands out to me. And you lift me up into your arms and cradle me next to your heart. Your tears wash away the haunted facelessness of my past, the recurring terrors of my present, the dimming spectre of my future. Your hands gently touch my arms and with your touch my flesh is made new.

And as I close my eyes and relax in your embrace I know I can safely fall asleep, know that I am with the one who will always love me.

And finally I am at peace.
January 28, 1967 - November 21, 2009

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Andy's Speech

Sorry for interrupting your desserts andconversations; I'll try not to speak for too long. I have some inadequate thanks to offer. Before I say too much I would like to tell you all that one of the lingering effects of my strokes, or perhaps a side-effect of the pills is that I have become untrustrworthy as regards my emotions: I regularly collapse into tears -- thought the provokation may seem slight; and as there is nothining slight sbout the emotion I feel tonight, I apologize in advance for what I will not be able to prevent. Given the circumstances of my health, many good people have reacted with concerrn when I start to cry -- which is somethng those people have not been accustomed to seeing. So far my unimaginative response has been "don't concern yourselves until you hear a thump" I offer the same to you.tonight, please excuse my tears.
As long as I am on my feet I am physically Okay, I have been told that tears are no bad thing: A little inappropriate at times but nothing more.Please excuse me and do not concern yoursleves unless you hear that thump.The truly embarrassing lingering affect of these strokes is the necessity of using my sleeve to mop up around the left side of my mouth. Miss Manners, one of the authorative voices in the Teahouse from the beginning, would find such behavior utterly inappropriate: Gentle Reader,would it be so difficult to plan to have hankerchief about your person.My apologies to you all. I did bring tissues tonight, but have used them all.

With excuses for my current frailties, let me me thank you all for coming tonight, thank you for all the kind words you have spoken, for your prayers, your gifts, for the hands you have offered and for the embraces you have wrapped me in. One of the many warm things that Karyn has wrirtten in her blog speakes of the value physically and spiritually of a hug.On the basis of hugs alone, what you you have given me tonight is beyond measure -- how can any word of thanks be sufficient when the gift cannot be measured, The many prayers that have been offered up for me, are a clear sign that you have received and have been humbled by a gift that cannot be measured You understand my trouble tonight as I struggle to thank you for what has been given by you and through you. I have been told tonight that I was spared on that Sunday morning in October because there is still some small part of God's plan that I am to fulfill, Please pray that I don't foul that up as I did the opportunity of coming among you in the embrace of Karyn's love to participate in the TeaHouse. I was offered an unmeasurable gift when I was brought here but being to rooted in dreams of my own and ignorance, I turned away, and never even thought to offer thanks.Some of the mistakes we make can be corrected and some remain with us to steal our peace as we continue to torment ourselves for what we did or failed to do. The worst I have suffered is the knowledge that desipite the greatest forgiveness, I cannot forgive myself, I do not dream of the possibility of undoing what I have done -- I hope that I gain the wisdom to understand what I am doing and never again do something thing I cannot forgive..

As a step in that direction, let me continue giving thanks. Though my thanks to all who have come here is inadequate, your kind words and the warmth of each embrace has told me that whatever thanks I am able to give has been received in the spirit in which it is offered. Though I would not in so doing slight the contributions of any one of you, I would offer my particular thanks to Morley and Donna Ramsey. It was the two of them who concieved this night and helped bring it into being. Morley compensated for my inabily to drive by briniging me out here, And he and Donna offered me food and a welcome in their home, The first thought that ran between my ears on crossing their threshold was: " If Karyn had seen this she would have wanted the Teahouse to be here..Morley's continuing friendship has done so much for me since I made my great mistake. I need not repeat that there is no meaure of thanks that we can offer to our firends for what they give, but our friends forgive our shorcomings. Morley, thank you.

And Now let me offeer my thanks to Karyn. No amount of thanks is measurable to what Karyn has given to me. Nor is any amount of apology measureable to the failure I have been to what she expected I would be. I hope that the harm I have done to her fades into the forgotten past and does not affict her for another day. What she has given me is so great -- I look to her gifts to guide me through all the days yet to come.

When Morley first suggested the possibility of tonight to me; My first response was no -- I thought of the burden it would put on Karyn -- She works so long and hard already, I know what it is to add a event like tonight to the daily effort of operating the Teahouse. It is to my great shame that I have to acknowledge that had circumstances been different and I was still here and operating the Teahouse with Karyn,and someone else had been knocked down by a stroke or two. I would have objrected to to tonigght-- some complaint would have fallen from my lips and I would have created enough of a fuss to spoil the evening for Karyn and the memory of it for both of us. The event would have taken placedespite my objections because Karyn wanfed to happen and it was the "right" thing to do-- the kind of thing we had in mind when we talked about what tbe Teahouse could be. It would have happened but not until I had ruined the memory we wouqld have had of it of it, and I had mae i something that I would be embarrassed o recall. Again, my thanks, inadequate as the are, to Karyn for taking on the burden of opening her doors and alowing me to feel the love that I have felt tonight.

Something more than adding to Karyn's burden crossed my mind when Moley suggested this night: an apparently needless concern cossed my mind: I am always worried about how I will be received in Three Hills. As I drive up highway 21 with the lights of town in sight, it strikes me that there may be people who have sat at home on weeknights and have had it cross their minds that:"if only that guy had not been so weak and stupid, the Teahouse would be open tonight." And what about people trying to organize birthday lunches? I apologize to everyone for causing the Teahouse hours to be restricted. I have been amazed by Karyn from the first time I chatted with her in the coffee room in the office where we both worked -- that amazement has done nothing but grow , particularly when she told me she was going to reopen -- She is something else isn't she! I am so sorry for not carrying on with her dream-- may the Teahouse carry on as the treasure it is for many years to come.

As I have not been able to chat with everyone tonight,I thohgh I would say a few words about the path that broughf me here. I have been fortunate enough to spend most of the summer at my sister's home on lake MacGregor. My sister, Alison, is brilliant woman who has had a long successful career in the mortgage business.She has done this on her wits alone, after finishing high school in Montreal, she did not get any post seconary education, my parents University savings having been wasted on me. Fifteen years ago, Alison and her husband Mike bought 8 acres of waterfront oatfield on the east side of Lake MacGregor. I have been a regular there ever since. The first few years we were all in tents and touques. After that we put together a couple prefab sheds -- one became a bunkhouse for them and the other served as an outhouse -- I stayed in a tent. After a couple more years they built a garage--..some garage:it had a fridge, stove, microwave, and a bedroom for them, I slept on a couch or in the boat. Ten years or so later they built a house. I got the bedroom in the basement. A year and half ago they built a huge shop with an office for Mike, my brother christened it 'the Garagmahal, Soon after that they sold their house in Calgary and moved out to the lake fulltime. This spring, with me no longer working as a tech for a software company,.they invited me to live out there and handle chores they didin't have time for. As the downstairs basement had becomd my sister's office, I moved into the bedroom in the little garage. It was a beautiful arrangement.I called it my version of Walden. I spent my monings drinkinng coffee and writting a novel. I emerged at some time between one and two and did chores until suppertime at seven or eight. I was in that bedroom in the garage on Oct 2 when I woke up with a terrible cramp in my left leg.I tried tl ease it by pointing my toes at my chin, but that didn't work so I got out of bed and fell on the floor.I could squirm around on the floor but as I couldn't move my left asm or leg I couldn't get up. After what I guesses was about a half hour I regained ccontrol over my leg -- that was probably the longest, lonliest half hour of my life. I got up an managed to fall back into bed.I just stayed there for the rest of the morning. In the early afternoon Mike came out to the garage looking for me-- yelling about how lazy I was, -- he had been out doing what he usually does, helping a neighbour, and had come out to collect me so that we could go down th highway to a tree auction in the town of Blackie. My legs and arms were fine so I got out of bed and got dressed -- . I went up to the house like nothing was wrong and poured coffee in a go-cup for the trip, Everything was fine until I tried to drink s ome of the coffee -- as soon as it hit the back of my throat it came right back out, I tried a couple times and the same thing kept happening. Mike did a u-turn and said we were going back to the house; on the way I explained what had happened earlier, then I convinced Mike that going strght to the hospital was a bad idea. back at the house, I opened the door to the truck and tried getting out, I fell flat on the driveway. Mike was really rattled by this -- probably thinking that somehow this was going to end up being his fault when Alison got back from the business trip she was on. Mike got me back on my feet --I said I was okay but immediately pitched over and my head put a dent in the truck's passenger door. Mike then told me to stay put and went off to get a chair. with some struggle he got me into the chair -- I pitched forward out of it as soon as his back was turned. Again he told me not to wander off and that he was going for help. When he started the truckI thought he was going to run over me -- he didn't miss by much. He took off, leaving me rolling on the wet gravel drveway. Pretty soon a neighbour, John, came flying into the yard in his big white Crown Victoria. I was certain he was going to run me over. He and his buddy Neil got out and began yelling at me. When Mike got there, the three of them picked me up and pitched me into John's car. I was going to the hospital whether I liked it or not. I recovered the use of my left arm and leg in John's car during the wild ride to Milo -- It might have been a product of fear as we slid sideways toward the ditch. The road was a little washed out. John drove me to the firehall in Milo. A nice EMTive named Darlene checked me out. After a cosultation and some radio chatter an ambulance was called from Vulcan, with the idea of getting me to the hospital in High River..Later in hospital I was pleased to tell various doctors that I walked to the ambulance on my own. I was not so pleased to report that I had another stroke in the ambulance. In the ambulance all I could think of was the number of movies that include a scene where the ambulance doors pop open and the gurney and patient zip out onto the highway. The EMTs, two very professional guys did not let that happen, After some disscussion and more radio chatter during which I objected to being called middle-aged. The EMT said" you've had a stroke, you can't call yourself young anymore. The decision was made to skip High River and go straight to Calgary. The first thing they did in Calgary was a C/T Scan and give me the bad news that I didn' have a brain at all. The next day was wonderful. The curtains around the bed parted and there was Karyn smiling at me -- my condition began to improve immediately.

I thing nothing dramatic planned for the next while. The doctors told me two things when they let me out of the hospital: try to get back to your normal routine, and use common sense about what you do -- I told them I could do one or the other but not both. My medical condition is such that I am subject to seizures, which are no fun at all, so I am leaning toward the common sense option, The cause of the strokes has not gone away: it seems that the corated artery is built of a number of layers of tissue, On my right side the inside layers peeled away and folded over. completely blocking thr flow of blood, It seems that a clot formed on the downstream side. The doctors said that this makes corrective surgery too dangerous. They also said that I should avoid doing anything that included the chance of a blow to the head-- no more hockey or skiing. No one could be sure but it may be that the whole thing , the inner layer of the artery separating and folding over, was the result of a blow to the head, and from the timing it may have been trying for just too much 'air' while water skiing. It may turn out that in the long run, my last words were muttering to myself : a liitle more speed and I can land it.

Now I have to be wiser -- which has never been one of my strengths.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Tea house family gathers together ...

Morley and Donna hosted "An evening in support of Andy" on Wednesday, November 12.

Andy, one of the three founding members of Nilgiris, had a stroke at the beginning of October and -- of course -- with no supplemental insurance coverage and no way to work in the aftermath, his medical expenses had started to mount.

Over 40 people participated in the evening, which featured a dessert buffet, Holly Cole crooning on the sound system, Bernard Callebaut chocolates, lots of conversation interspersed with bursts of laughter ... and Andy himself, who was strong enough that day to be able to attend, visiting with each of the friends who came to wish him well.

People came from the Prairie Bible College community and also from the town community. And the lovely, magical thing about the evening is that -- for that evening -- we were all one community in support of someone we all care for.

Andy had wanted to make a speech that night; but he was too tired to be able to do so.

However, this week he emailed the gist of what he had planned on saying.

I am posting it under its own entry, called Andy's Speech.

Thanks to your generosity, Andy was able to cover all the medical bills he had incurred plus have enough to purchase refills of prescriptions.

And it also showed how people in our small community can pull together selflessly to impact someone's life. It took no legislation, no lobbying, no petitions. Just people who care and want to make a difference.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

- Nursery Rhymes -

Little Boy Blue, come blow on your horn
The sheep’s in the meadow, the cow’s in the corn
But where is the boy who looks after the sheep?
Is he under a haystack, fast asleep?

Little Boy Blue, come play us a tune
Of the yearning for peace in the soft summer moon
The gossamer silk of the dreams that you spun
Is ripped into threads when exposed to the sun.

From the depths of the song we learnt of your pain
Rejections and hurts that words couldn’t explain
The high notes hung trembling with teardrops unshed
A portent of thinly veiled darkness ahead.

Little Boy Blue, when you played on your horn
The darkness was light, the coldness was warm
Your melodies prisms, reflections of you –
Now who is to play for my Little Boy Blue?

July 4, 1990

Maynard Mark Schrag
November 16, 1961 - July 16, 2005

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Lest We Forget ...

On this Remembrance Day Nilgiris was privileged to include among its guests three veterans.

Dixon Carter lied about his age and joined the theatre of World War II as a 17-year-old. "By the time they found out, I was already deployed!" he chuckled. "Aaah, they didn't care. What they needed was bodies, and I was ready to go!"

He fought for five years and then gave the next two years to the Reserves.

Then he joined the Army. He would spend the next 22 years serving Canada in a variety of places around the globe. And now, at 86 years of age, his bearing is still upright and his manner engaging and sprightly. He is "proud of our great country," proud that he had the "privilege and opportunity" to serve.

Kathleen "Sandy" (Sandever) Head and Gordon Head

What a tale these two have to tell!

Gordon served in World War II in the Navy. A North Atlantic Submarine Detector, he worked on ("or, more accurately, 'in'," he commented drily) a corvette.

Wikipedia says this about the corvettes used in WWII:

"The first modern corvettes were the Flower class (Royal Navy corvettes were named after flowers, and ships in Royal Canadian Navy service took the name of smaller Canadian cities and towns). Their chief duty was to protect convoys in the North Atlantic and on the routes from the UK to Murmansk carrying supplies to the Soviet Union.

The Flower-class corvette was originally designed for offshore patrol work, and was not ideal as an anti-submarine escort; they were really too short for open ocean work, too lightly armed for anti-aircraft defence, and little faster than the merchantmen they escorted, a particular problem given the faster German U-boat designs then emerging. They were very seaworthy and maneuverable, but living conditions for ocean voyages were appalling."

Sandy served in the Army as the secretary to Chief Medical Officer Lieutenant Colonel Henry. She remembers being driven from the barracks to the offices in an army truck -- they would have to ride in the back of the truck, standing up, hanging on for dear life. "The barracks weren't too bad," Kathleen reflected. "When I was a young girl I would read British boarding school books and I always wished I could have gone to a school like that. Then when I went into the Army and was in the barracks, in a way it was a lot like what I had pictured my boarding school would be!"

When I asked her to give me her name, she said, "It's Kathleen. Put that down. Although no one would know who that was; everyone calls me Sandy. Do you want to know why?" And of course I did.

It seems that the Army has a way of stripping you down to nothing but your last name. Kathleen was called "Sandever" all the time. Finally, she said to the girls working with her, and to her Colonel, "IF you have to call me by my last name, could you at least call me Sandy?" And Sandy it was, and has been ever since. But sometimes she misses Kathleen ...

I was talking with Lois about Kathleen and she called her mother, who used to work with Kathleen some years ago at Prairie. Dorothy had this to add: there was no faster shorthand than Sandy's. She became secretary to the founder of Prairie, L.E. Maxwell, who would preach his Sunday sermon to her first thing on Sunday morning. She would take it all down, then type it all up at lightning speed, and give it to him in time for him to go to the pulpit and preach it to the congregation! It is because of Sandy's unique talents that Prairie has the wonderful collection of Mr. Maxwell's sermons it does.

What an honour to have these three brave veterans grace the TH today! Thanks to them and thousands like them, we are still able to sing:

"...with glowing hearts we see thee rise,
The True North strong and free,
From far and wide, O Canada,

We stand on guard for thee ..."

The last, little-known verse of our National anthem is this:
"Ruler supreme, who hearest humble prayer,
Hold our Dominion in thy loving care;
Help us to find, O God, in thee
A lasting, rich reward,
As waiting for the better Day,
We ever stand on guard.

God keep our land glorious and free!
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee."

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Ten things I love about you

  1. Somehow you managed to survive being the only boy planted in the middle of five sisters -- and you're still speaking to all of us!

  2. You are the hardest working person I know.

  3. You are passionate about your faith.

  4. You are devoted to your family, always seeking their best.

  5. You can walk into a room full of people standing awkwardly around, and within minutes you will have introduced yourself to each person and will have perfect strangers interacting most comfortably!

  6. You are, and always have been, generous with your time, your talents - which are many - and your treasures. There have been so many people who have been blessed through your anonymous working in the background.

  7. My Chev Cavalier: the Christmas Carswell deposited my paycheque in someone else's account and wouldn't pay me until they could reclaim the money from her -- and she was out of town! -- and I sold my Churchill books to pay for gas to come out to Youngstown in my beater car ... and you had this turquoise car waiting for me, bedecked with an enormous red bow. I still love my car ...

  8. You believed in my dream and created the tea house. More than that, you continue to support it and encourage it and me.

  9. You are so kind.

  10. You never give up.

Happy Birthday, Allan Patrick Ironside!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Thanksgiving Day 31: Trick or treat

Spider webs and pumpkins and orange twinkly lights and flickering mysterious candles and candy. Lots of candy. Hallowe'en fell on a Saturday, so the TH could get dressed for the occasion. We had quite a few trick or treaters, and our own Kurt came dressed as the Fonz and handed out the candy to the intrepid soldiers and hobos and baby bunny rabbits and the basketball team who were away from home and had nowhere to trick or treat unless they could do a quick run in Three Hlls!

I thought of my Mum a lot today, and this is why: shortly after her funeral a lady spoke to us at the post office. She said that she had met my Mum only once. The previous Hallowe'en evening this lady was taking her two small grandchildren trick or treating, and they ended up on my Mum's front step. My Mum came out and was duly terrified and very complimentary of the costumes and chatted to the two children and their grandma. She gave them candy and they melted back into the night.

And that was it. But Mum left such a great impression on the lady that chilly October night that she felt compelled to come to Mum's funeral to convey her respects and gratitude for the way Mum had made her grandchildren feel important and special.

This is how my Mum lived her life. An only child herself, she always loved children and entered enthusiastically into their schemes and imaginings. She loved playing games and got right into character with an uncharacteristic uninhibitedness that endeared her to those who were participating with her. She was a fierce competitor but hated for children to have to lose so she would bargain away her rights in order that they would succeed.

Mum created costumes for us at our school Hebron's annual birthday celebrations, part of which involved all the students dressing up in costumes and having a parade. We invariably took a prize! She worked with "her" college students in their Christmas drama and musicals, and she brought Sunday school to life for anyone privileged to sit in her classes.

And so on this last day of my month of thankfulness, I want to salute Mum, who would have loved the TH today and who would have made everyone in it, costumed or not, feel like they had an important part in the drama of the evening.

It was truly a treat to be her child at times like this. The real trick for me is developing her happy facility for passing on her joy in the occasion, her joy for life itself, on to others.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Thanksgiving Day 30: O Canada!

The following article was brought to my attention; written in April 2002, after we lost four of our soldiers to "friendly" fire from the US, it honours Canada's efforts in Afghanistan and in WW II.

This week we lost two more of our soldiers. How grateful I am that I live in this unbelievable country that seeks to preserve my freedom and promote freedom and democracy in far less privileged countries.

Remembrance Day will be upon us before we know it. Nilgiris will be open from after the service until 5 p.m. As is our custom, veterans who come to the TH that day will be our honoured guests for lunch.

"God keep our land glorious and free ..."
Salute to a brave and modest nation - Kevin Myers, 'The Sunday Telegraph' LONDON:

"Until the deaths of Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan , probably almost no one outside their home country had been aware that Canadian troops are deployed in the region.

And as always, Canada will bury its dead, just as the rest of the world, as always will forget its sacrifice, just as it always forgets nearly everything Canada ever does.. It seems that Canada's historic mission is to come to the selfless aid both of its friends and of complete strangers, and then, once the crisis is over, to be well and truly ignored.

Canada is the perpetual wallflower that stands on the edge of the hall, waiting for someone to come and ask her for a dance. A fire breaks out, she risks life and limb to rescue her fellow dance-goers, and suffers serious injuries. But when the hall is repaired and the dancing resumes, there is Canada, the wallflower still, while those she once helped Glamorously cavort across the floor, blithely neglecting her yet again.

That is the price Canada pays for sharing the North American continent with the United States, and for being a selfless friend of Britain in two global conflicts. For much of the 20th century, Canada was torn in two different directions: It seemed to be a part of the old world, yet had an address in the new one, and that divided identity ensured that it never fully got the gratitude it deserved. Yet its purely voluntary contribution to the cause of freedom in two world wars was perhaps the greatest of any democracy. Almost 10% of Canada 's entire population of seven million people served in the armed forces during the First World War, and nearly 60,000 died. The great Allied victories of 1918 were spearheaded by Canadian troops, perhaps the most capable soldiers in the entire British order of battle. Canada was repaid for its enormous sacrifice by downright neglect, it's unique contribution to victory being absorbed into the popular Memory as somehow or other the work of the 'British.' The Second World War provided a re-run. The Canadian navy began the war with a half dozen vessels, and ended up policing nearly half of the Atlantic against U-boat attack. More than 120 Canadian warships participated in the Normandy landings, during which 15,000 Canadian soldiers went ashore on D-Day alone.

Canada finished the war with the third-largest navy and the fourth largest air force in the world. The world thanked Canada with the same sublime indifference as it had the previous time. Canadian participation in the war was acknowledged in film only if it was necessary to give an American actor a part in a campaign in which the United States had clearly not participated - a touching scrupulousness which, of course, Hollywood has since abandoned, as it has any notion of a separate Canadian identity.

So it is a general rule that actors and filmmakers arriving in Hollywood keep their nationality - unless, that is, they are Canadian. Thus Mary Pickford, Walter Huston, Donald Sutherland, Michael J. Fox, William Shatner, Norman Jewison, David Cronenberg, Alex Trebek, Art Linkletter and Dan Aykroyd have in the popular perception become American, and Christopher Plummer, British. It is as if, in the very act of becoming famous, a Canadian ceases to be Canadian, unless she is Margaret Atwood, who is as unshakably Canadian as a moose, or Celine Dion, for whom Canada has proved quite unable to find any takers.

Moreover, Canada is every bit as querulously alert to the achievements of its sons and daughters as the rest of the world is completely unaware of them. The Canadians proudly say of themselves - and are unheard by anyone else - that 1% of the world's population has provided 10% of the world's peacekeeping forces.

Canadian soldiers in the past half century have been the greatest peacekeepers on Earth - in 39 missions on UN mandates, and six on non-UN peacekeeping duties, from Vietnam to East Timor, from Sinai to Bosnia.Yet the only foreign engagement that has entered the popular non-Canadian imagination was the sorry affair in Somalia, in which out-of-control paratroopers murdered two Somali infiltrators. Their regiment was then disbanded in disgrace - a uniquely Canadian act of self-abasement for which, naturally, the Canadians received no international credit.

So who today in the United States knows about the stoic and selfless friendship its northern neighbour has given it in Afghanistan? Rather like Cyrano de Bergerac, Canada repeatedly does honourable things for honourable motives, but instead of being thanked for it, it remains something of a figure of fun. It is the Canadian way, for which Canadians should be proud, yet such honour comes at a high cost. This past year more grieving Canadian families knew that cost all too tragically well.

Lest we forget."

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Thanksgiving Day 29: The gifts to the TH

Nilgiris is truly a group effort - I was sitting here this evening contemplating how much I have been given, and here is a brief, partial, list of the treasures that I see as I look around me: Piano, encyclopedia set, barn pictures, jigsaw puzzles, dining chairs, baskets and embroidery and pictures on walls, Mr. Erickson's chair, lamp, ornaments, tablecloths, tea cups (ALL the teacups currently on the Wall of Great China have been given to Nilgiris!), fridges, toaster oven, cooler, tea pots and kettles, cushions, books, almost all ornaments for the Tea Tree in the entrance ...

Then there's the gift of time: people who have stayed around to help me do dishes late on a Saturday evening; people who've visited in the kitchen and ended up stirring a pudding or pie on a Sunday morning; people who call up to say they're thinking about the TH and they're in the city -- do I need anything picked up?; people who shoot me an email; people who drop by for coffee during the week ...

Of course, my staff is one of my biggest gifts: almost all of them are willing to stay for an extra half hour if we're busy, or come in on short notice, or juggle three tasks at once, or work special functions out of TH hours ...

And one of my biggest treasures is the guestbook. Caite found it at an antique mall and it looked exactly like the ledger books we used to use to order and record delivery of bread and milk when we lived in the Nilgiris! So of course it became the guest book back in 2003. My brother was the first person to sign it on April 5, 2003, when we had the contractors' thank you party. Since then we have accumulated 273 pages full of records of people who have graced this little place. Regulars to the TH and my staff know that if Nilgiris suddenly goes up in flames, the one thing we need to grab is the guest book!

Thank you, all of you, for blessing this place and for being part of the reason it blesses other people.

Thanksgiving Day 28:

I met Karl at a house party in 1990 -- I was the one in the electric green sweater and he was the one with the electric blue violin.

The man can flirt and scold and tease and laugh and pout and charm ... and this just with his violin! When he opens his mouth and starts to sing the velvet bass of his voice can move you to tears or laughter, or sometimes both. He's well read and eloquent, a charming dinner companion and a genial host. He can be caustic; he can produce the "artistic temperament" at the drop of a hat; and occasionally he makes some of the most execrable puns I have ever heard! He says he looks like a biker; the oxblood electric violin is a dead giveaway, I would think. He is "built for comfort, not for speed," as one of the songs he sings attests.

But he has a heart to match his girth. He has played in the TH to help me promote Christmas concerts and Valentine's fondues, and at my South Africa fundraiser -- and then he's stuck around to help in the kitchen. He will do anything he can for his kids and for his friends. His parents know they can always turn to him.

Karl has opened my eyes to sushi and dim sum and Vietnamese food, and his own culinary forays leave nothing to be desired except for more. He sends me recipes and introduces me to tiny grocery shops with fragrant smells and magical ingredients.

And his music! A combination of jazz, swing, and "oddball treasures", woven together with his unmistakable self-deprecating patter makes for a delightful evening. But don't request a country tune whatever you do ...

I am so grateful to have met Karl all those years ago. We have talked extensively about music, politics, literature, travel, cooking, God, family, dreams. He likes my friend Jane and my Dad and he flirts shamelessly with my sisters and the safely married women in the audience at the TH!

He is one of those friends whom I have no doubt would catch me if I fell. Check out his website: . DEMAND that he bring "Everybody Wants to be a Cat" and "Almost Behavin' " back into circulation.

Put his CD on, pour yourself your favourite beverage, curl up on the couch with the one you love, and prepare to be beguiled.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Thanksgiving Day 27:
A cup of water

The beautiful Caite gave me this exquisite pottery tumbler a short while ago. It keeps water cool and steamed almond milk warm. Its size is perfect to rest between my two hands, its craggy surface somehow reassuring to the touch.

When we would arrive at someone's house in India on a hot day, invariably we would be offered something to drink -- our hosts in even the poorest of homes, where provisions might be scarce, would take out their best tumblers and offer some cool water to refresh us.

Each time I drink from this special cup I am reminded of how many blessings I have been given. And I think of how I am told that the simple act of offering someone a cup of water in Jesus' name will bless both the giver and the recipient.

I love that plain, basic, unglamourous water is the offering of choice. Water is integral to life. Villages and communities can die out when the well or the river dries up. The presence of potable water incites hope and optimism no matter how bleak other circumstances may appear.

The story is told of the man who was travelling between two cities when he was accosted by highwaymen and bandits, who beat him and robbed him and left him for dead at the side of the road. A religious leader happened to be travelling that way shortly after the incident occurred; perhaps thinking that the man was dead and maybe not wanting to defile himself, he moved to the other side of the road and kept going. Some time passed and then another spiritual leader appeared, one whose heritage was to serve in the place of worship and also to operate cities of refuge where people could find safety and solace. Even this man, bred to help others, gave him no more than a passing glance and continued on his way.

But then a third man, one with some substance but nevertheless one who would have been scorned because of his ethnicity by the two spiritual leaders, and even by the dying man were he not almost past the point of hope, happened by. He also noticed the beaten man; but instead of carrying on his way he stopped and took stock of his injuries and no doubt of his whole person too. The story recounts that he poured olive oil and wine into his wounds; it is probably not too big of a stretch to imagine that if the wounded man were conscious his rescuer would have offered him something to drink. When the injured man was able to travel his rescuer transported him to a nearby inn and tended to him through that night. The next morning he commissioned the inn keeper to look after him, giving the man an advance on his room charge and saying that he had to go on to fulfill the purpose of his trip, but that he would be back shortly and would settle the injured man's tab upon his return.

I have no doubt that the moment the injured man knew this last man could be trusted and had his best interests at heart was when his benefactor poured out some water, or the wine or oil, and tended to his needs. And he received hope that he would be taken care of, that he would recover, that he was not going to be just another statistic in the city's homicide countdown for the year.

Another story tells of a woman who had lost all sense of personal value and dignity, who was reduced to fetching water for her household at a time when none of the other women of the village were likely to be there because she couldn't bear the whispers, the knowing looks, the outright snubs.

Jesus arrived at the well and instantly recognized the one thing she would know she could do to help Him: "Please give me some water," he asked.

Such a simple request. But it uncovered the first faint hope that someone saw her for who she was and who she longed to be, not the outwardly brash woman cowering inwardly under the weight of her indiscretions and tarnished reputation and social leper status.

And once the spark of hope that she still had something valuable to offer was ignited, Jesus turned the tables on her and offered her unlimited quantities of living water that would wash away her sin and pain and renew her soul and refresh her spirit and outlook. When she received hope, and the forgiveness and love she so desperately craved, she couldn't wait to share it with her fellow citizens.

Even a small child can offer someone a cup of water -- and therein might lie the rub. It seems too simple, rather an anticlimactic gesture, to extend this simple courtesy to someone. But if we do it in the right spirit we might be the means of restoring hope and dignity and importance to someone's life.

The unknown writer commented, "Man can live about forty days without food, about three days without water, about eight minutes without air, but only for one second without hope."

That little cup of water, that kind word, even that simple wordless hug when I don't know what to say, might be the tiny nudge of encouragement that someone needs to help them bear their load, to help them on their way, to tell them that they are not alone. Everyone needs water. Everyone needs hope. Surely I can find moments during the course of my day to offer the former, which could very well lead down the road to the latter ...

I am so grateful for the water in my earthenware tumbler this evening.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Day 26: Management Tactics

Today's will be a short entry, because it is about one of the most private people I know. I debated not mentioning her at all this month; but it would be a terrible omission not to include someone who has been a friend to me for almost 15 years and who has impacted my life so profoundly and directly in the past three.

This woman possesses an enormous, tender heart squeezed into her compact fencer's body. She will go far above and beyond what anyone could expect in caring for those whom she loves and has a responsibility to.

She is well read and well travelled and can spin an entertaining yarn. But she also has the gift of being a thoughtful listener, with an ability to size up a situation objectively and then speak words of advice and comfort into it with a great deal of empathy.

She has my back. And she has my gratitude and affection and friendship.

Here's to you, my personal Divine Miss M!

Thanksgiving Day 25: A father to the fatherless

Right away, may I say that my Dad is fine! He is on a trip to India, where he got to visit Nagaland and many former students in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

But the day before he left it seems like some of the circumstances in my life became quite topsy-turvy. While Dave Epp and a couple of his friends were wrapping up their regular Monday morning meeting at the TH, I got the phone call from Mike that Andy was in the hospital, that he had, in fact, suffered a minor stroke.

Without hesitation Dave enveloped me in a comforting hug and he and his friends immediately prayed for Andy and for his recovery.

Dad and I went to Calgary shortly thereafter; and before Dad had to make final preparations for his trip, he got to spend some hours with Andy.

During these subsequent days, Dave has been an enormous encouragement and source of wisdom and guidance and strength for me. He was already scheduled to take Dad's Tuesday morning study at the Manor -- and in his three devotionals he reassured me of the power and omniscience of the eternal God. What a way to put things in perspective!

When I was questioning something I had heard in a sermon one Sunday, he gave me context; and when I wondered aloud about the motivation of a leader, Dave gently reminded me that it was not for us to judge - I could almost hear my Dad speaking thus to me too!

Dave and my Dad go back over 50 years; Dave mentioned that he was actually at the train station with the group of people who were seeing Dad off on the first leg of his journey to India in 1959! Dave and Shirley were such treasured friends of Dad and Mum. At one point Shirley and Mum were in the hospital at the same time; and when God released Shirley from all the pain and suffering she endured on this earth, Mum and Dad felt her loss to us who remained just as keenly as though she were their sister. Dave in turn ministered to Dad when Mum joined Shirley in heaven four years later.

Dave is a fascinating man: a missionary himself for many years, in his retirement he has taken on the chaplaincy of the Three Hills Health Centre; a heart attack survivor, this year he did a 200-km bike ride for cancer in honour of Shirley. He is sought out for his spiritual knowledge and insight. He likes both bowling and the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra. He's always up for an adventure, and he and his daughter have a major one planned for next year!

Thanks to Dave, in the last few weeks I have come to understand to a small extent the verse where God says that He will be "a father to the fatherless." When I read that verse previously I thought it was more cerebral, more spiritual than practical. But during these days when my own father has been out of reach for the most part and I needed the physical presence of a dad, God has graciously provided the perfect stand-in.

So in this month of thankfulness I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to a wonderful, wise, funny, caring man. Thank you, Dave.