Saturday, January 30, 2010

Ten Things I Love About You

Well, if the truth be told, you needed only two things ...

But, as it turns out, there are many things other things I admire and love about you, so here are eight more of them:

 3.   That you challenge my sister to be the best she can be: that you support her, encourage her, that you've "got her back". That the two of you are a team. That you love her.

 4.   How you celebrate Christmas with our family.

 5.   For introducing me to one of the people I value the most in this world:

 6.   Your amazing culinary skills! Really, if your current career doesn't work out ... 

 7.   That you love spending time talking with Dad.

 8.   Your thirst for knowledge, but not knowledge in a vacuum; you also desire wisdom and context.

 9.   That when you were a student you took on your professor to get your mark changed from an A- to an A: you knew you deserved it, and he came to agree! I love how you believe in yourself.

10.   That in your remarks as you accepted your new position, you spelled out Jesus' being the core, the focus of Ambrose and how it is your intent - through the truly formidable list of responsibilities your President laid upon you in his charge to you - to honour Him and serve Him. Because I have been privileged to know you over these past years, I can say with confidence that you will be the man of Micah 6:8 (ESV), the man who does justice, who loves kindness and who walks humbly with your God.  

Happy Birthday, Paul!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Forty-year Cycles

Due to inclement weather I had to skip going to Penhold to play the piano for their church service, and instead went to PTC with Dad. My "inside source" had already told me that the sermon was going to be about Moses and holy ground, and that she was having a bit of a hard time selecting appropriate music.

I went to church with no real expectations of anything out of the ordinary -- and of course, that was my first mistake ...

A song I had never heard before started to play, and the team on the stage began to sing, and all the mundane distractions and petty irritations vanished as I was made aware of the reality that I was in the presence of God just as surely as Moses was that heretofore desultory afternoon in the wilderness:

This is holy ground, we're standing on holy ground
for the Lord is present, and where He is, is holy
This is holy ground, we're standing on holy ground
for the Lord is present, and where He is, is holy

God was present: I wanted to hide my face; I wanted to catch a glimpse of God's face. I wanted to approach the throne of the Almighty; I wanted to flee from the unconsuming fire. 

And then Pastor Tim Strickland began to preach from Exodus chapter 3. He talked about Moses' three 40-year cycles and what brought him to this place in the wilderness.

I pictured Moses' life up to this day. He spent the first 40 years of his life a prince in the court of the Pharaoh, with the exception of the first crucial, formative months where he was under the protection and influence of his birth mother and his birth family. After that, all the education and the wealth and the privilege of the ruler were at his disposal. Yet he was not impervious to the cruelty meted out to his own people by his adopted people; he felt their despair and impulsively took matters into his own hands, seeking to save the Israelites, to identify with them, by destroying an Egyptian.

Consequently he had to flee for his life and ended up in the desert, a herdsman. He settled for a spouse from the people of Midian and used his powerful intellect to watch over his father-in-law's livestock. He did this for FORTY YEARS.

I imagined some of the mental roads he would have traversed during that time: he would have started with fear for his life, tinged with relief that he had escaped with it; then he might have moved into indignation and a sense of pique that his own people didn't recognize the grand gesture he had made in slaying the Egyptian -- after all, he had gone out on a limb to bring justice to an Israelite when he could have remained in the insular comfort of his own adoptive surroundings! Maybe he worked through a period of remorse for having taken a life. He might have thought initially that watching his new family's animals would free him up to strategize his return to Egypt and his subsequent liberation of his people. He might have anticipated some of the Jews coming to seek him out, recognizing him as the one who could spearhead the freedom movement, coming to beg him to rescue them.

But as year followed year, his resentment and resolve would have dwindled to resignation. His fear of discovery by the Pharaoh would have faded -- no one was even looking for him! So much for the importance he had placed on his personage. The doors of wealth and culture and learning and debate were but a distant memory as he trudged, with less and less and finally no expectations, through the desert, through his tedious life, his daily companions the herd of sheep belonging to someone else.

Slowly he lost his edge, his edginess. Slowly he learnt how to take direction. Slowly he developed patience with the dumb dependent animals. And with no one to speak to except those animals for most of the time, he spoke less and less, losing the eloquence he had been known for in his youth. Slowly he acquired the ways of the desert, the skills of the nomad. No one here knew or cared that he was a prince in disguise. Or was it that he had been in the disguise of a prince? Slowly he, too, forgot.

No wonder he was mildly intrigued when he saw a fire that appeared not to incinerate the shrub it had set alight! He ambled toward it and heard a voice calling his name from the bush, "Moses!" 

"I'm here!" Moses responded, as he came closer, peering now with genuine curiosity at this fire, perhaps wondering if the desert had finally gotten to him in that he was seeing fire that did not burn its source and was hearing voices calling his name.

The voice continued, "Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground." And then the Voice reminded him of his true heritage - Abraham, Isaac, Jacob.

This scrabbling desert was holy ground? But now was not the time for questions or intellectual debate: all Moses wanted to do was hide his face for fear of seeing God and being consumed himself.

Tim observed, "God is a personal God, but He is not a casual God." (As if to confirm the veracity of these words, here is what the Choice Gleanings calendar reading is for this same Sunday, January 24:

Sadly today there seems to be a lack of reverence for the Lord in many local churches. Appealing to the listener's emotions appears to be the primary objective when God's people gather. The psalmist [Psalm 89:7] reminds us that we are to demonstrate reverence, respect mingled with awe, adoration and affection to the Lord of heaven and earth. Let this be our focus when we gather unto His name. - Bob Cretney)

God wants us to come to Him without fear - indeed, with "affection" - but this must be tempered by the reverence due to Him.

God reminded Moses that these people under oppression were His people. Seven times in the next four verses He uses the first person pronoun ..."My people ...I have seen ... I know ... I am come ... I will send ..."

And after 40 years of this life of existing, of not really fulfilling what Moses and others might have seen as his potential, of reaping the whirlwind of his own unconsidered actions, Moses is about to hear what God had in store for him: "I will send you unto Pharaoh ..".

And with that statement, all the pieces of Moses's jigsaw-puzzle life started to fall into place. Who better than he knew the workings of the Egyptian kingdom? He had studied its laws, absorbed its culture, reasoned with its brightest minds. He knew its strengths and its vulnerabilities. He knew its aggressions and its stubbornness. He could speak the language! And yet his time in the desert had taught him humility, moderation, patience, watchfulness (but he could still argue! He took on God Himself, saying that he couldn't possibly speak any more and no one would believe him). I love God's response, cutting through all the protestations to the heart of the matter: "Certainly I will be with you."

As I left Church that morning, with Tim's aside at the end of the sermon ringing as a reproach in my ears ("You did come expecting to meet with God, didn't you?"), it struck me forcibly that this year will mark 40 years since Mum led me to the feet of Jesus and I trusted Him as my own saviour.

And, 40 years later, what have I really accomplished? Thanks to the ramifications of some of my own unconsidered actions, I have often felt like a wanderer, a nomad. I have frequently been conscious that I have squandered opportunities for service. I feel dull witted at times and out of synch with what I perceive to be my talents and skill set.

But yet I feel that God is seeking me out to some purpose this year. And, if the story of Moses is any indication, nothing that I have learnt and experienced in the past 40 years will go to waste if I choose to discover what it is I am being called to do and then simply acquiesce. What is the point of questioning? He promises that He will be with me. What better guide and travelling companion could I desire? 

And the other thing of which I was made keenly aware is that if - since - God is with me, everywhere I am is holy ground. How this simple fact needs to dictate my day-to-day behaviour!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Oh, Alana Davina Porr

Thanks for the sheet music for the TH! It is from the perfect era and it is in the perfect condition -- well loved -- for that piano!

I heart you, little one!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Lyle and the Ladies

The long, tall Texan was back in town, and I and five of the women I love most in this world went to see him on Monday ...

Lyle Lovett is the thinking woman's man. A degree in journalism honed his observational and writing skills so that his lyrics range from wry to reflective to spiritual to melancholic to outright humourous, and he writes music that matches the many moods and genres reflected in his repertoire. He can make other musicians' songs his own too - when he sings "Smile", from the movie Hope Floats, he surgically removes your heart, meticulously sews you up, washes away the blood spatters and then politely offers it back to you on a bone china platter.

The casual observer might remember his crazy hair from the 80s and see only the irregular planes of his face, a face truly "carved by the wind and the sun", as they used to say in old Harlequin romance novels (I wonder, did they have Lyle's face in mind when they described their heroes thus?!). Lyle Lovett himself said, in 1996,

"There was a piece in Newsweek a while back, and they used a picture of Denzel Washington as an example of what people find attractive, and they used my picture as an example of what people find unattractive. I thought, " ... this is like having your picture next to the definition of 'ugly' in the dictionary!"

But if eyes are windows to the soul, when you look through those windows there's a magnicent view, encompassing far more than the Lone Star State but encapsulating everything good about it ... 

After the previous weekend, which I had put exhaustedly and thankfully behind me, I woke up at 5:30 a.m. on Monday with the happiness that I was seeing this singer with these women and the day started to get brighter. First thing in the morning I shot them all an email that read in part, "Well, it’s a special occasion – hearing my favourite artist in the company of my favourite women – and so I’m wearing red (it is such a special occasion for me that If I were an old woman, I would wear purple …!)"

And right after I sent it, I started to miss Mum. I think that if she'd had a chance she might have enjoyed Lyle. I wished that she could have been one of the women with me on this evening. As I went on with the business of the day, some of the lustre seemed to have been dimmed. Feeling somewhat maudlin, I moped Godward, "I know you love me, but I really, really want to know that you love me today."

Later on in the morning I was talking with Dad on the phone about picking up a book I had left in his car, which I had used for the grocery run on Friday. He mentioned that he had also found a brown wallet in the car. I told him I didn't have a brown wallet, but I would be seeing the sisters and would take it along with me in case it was one of theirs.

Right before I left for Calgary -- dressed in red, from coat to dress to  4-inch "chip-kicker" (as Lyle would call them!) shoes I stopped at Dad's place. Dad was going to be in a meeting and so I had asked him to leave the book and wallet outside for me. As soon as I saw the wallet, I knew it didn't belong to any of the girls: it was red and it was Mum's! It was a gift from her, and from God, to me -- Dad came outside to confirm that he had realized it was indeed hers. All this time and all those car cleanings and that wallet had never surfaced; and just on the morning I had made my bold red outfit statement and was desperately missing my other favourite lady who would have "got it," her wallet showed up ... I told Dad that I was keeping it; there could be no question it was meant for me!

After that, how could the evening be anything but wonderful? The sound quality at some points in the concert left something to be desired, but Lyle was his charming, self-deprecating, genius self. And as if to weave all the threads of the day together for me, he sang the song he had written for his father upon the latter's death, "You were always there." And we all knew exactly what he meant:

One unexpected joy was the presence of Arnold McCuller, in my opinion one of the best back-up singers anywhere; he records his own music too, but he is in his glory duelling in duets with James Taylor and Lyle Lovett. Arnold was in fine form this evening and his clear tenor soared throughout the Jubilee auditorium, a celestial complement to Lyle's spare, precise vocals.

All of us left the concert hall feeling like we had been sprinkled with Texas-sized fairy dust.

Mum would have been charmed. I have to think she knew about the evening, knew that her girl was wishing she were there.

Here's a song Lyle sang at the concert that has also been used as an advertisement for Texas tourism and that will give you a glimpse into his style, his wit and his subtle humour (scroll down to the 15th clip -- but hey, check 'em all out! Maybe we'll see you on his next trip to Alberta!):

Oh, and my ticket is in Mum's wallet, tucked away with my most treasured souvenirs.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

For N

Is this it? Is this the year
where dreams and hopes so long cocooned
are broken free
and as we struggle with the shell
of silken ties that bind so tight
and as we push against the walls
that sheltered us, that held us back,
our wings are given life and strength
our selves emerge
and we will lift into the sky,
a lovely offering of praise.

written in response to the following story:

The Cocoon
A man found a cocoon of a butterfly. One day a small opening appeared; he sat and watched the butterfly for several hours as it struggled to force its body through that little hole. Then it seemed to stop making any progress - it appeared as if it had gotten as far as it could and it could go no farther. The man decided to help the butterfly, so he took a pair of scissors and snipped off the remaining bit of the cocoon. The butterfly then emerged easily.
But it had a swollen body and small, shriveled wings. The man continued to watch the butterfly because he expected that at any moment the wings would enlarge and expand to be able to support the body, which would contract in time. Neither happened: the butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings. It never was able to fly.
What the man in his kindness and haste did not understand was that the restricting cocoon and the struggle required for the butterfly to get through the tiny opening were God's way of forcing fluid from the body of the butterfly into its wings so that it would be ready for flight once it achieved its freedom from the cocoon.

Bruised Reeds

On Christmas day I received a little ornament – a rough-hewn house, with a violin player standing on the thatched roof playing his instrument.

Before I even read the card, I knew. And last Thursday was the night.

The back story to this evening is that Hebron put on a production of Fiddler on the Roof in 1976. I had the privilege of playing Chava, the third daughter.

However, because I was involved in every performance, I had never seen Fiddler; I relaized that I had not seen even the movie! Bronwyn knew this somehow and so she and Paul, Elliot and Oliver decided to give me my own special “Christmas event” this winter …

The evening started in their home with a magnificent lamb dinner complete with mint sauce, roast potatoes and a cornucopia of root vegetables, each individually garnished and served by candlelight on a table set lovingly with linens of burnished gold and with beaded rings encircling the matching napkins.

Then we piled into the van and drove to the Jubilee Auditorium.

As the lights went down and the curtain rose the first familiar, sweetly plaintive notes of the fiddler filled the house.

What followed in the next three hours was magical, a glimpse into the mundane life of "tumble-down, work-a-day" Anatevka, the tiny Jewish village occupied by Tevye (played with aplomb and great compassion by the renowned Theodor Bikel, at a mere 85 years of age!), his wife Golde, their five daughters and the people who were a part of their daily lives. It chronicles the daily showers of travail and trial that rain on the family and village -- the horse is lame, there is no money, the daughters are changing: TRADITION is being cut systematically into tatters with blunt, dull scissors.

Until there is a pogrom, followed some time later by the announcement that all the Jews in the village must sell their houses and disperse. Tsar's orders. One of the last scenes in the play shows the villagers walking slowly in a circle, singing "Soon I'll be a stranger in a strange new place", evoking images of Moses and the 40 years of wilderness circling ... of the captivities and exiles ... of the perpetual looking for a home, trying to attain the promised land.

But through it all, Tevye talks to God. He discusses everything with God, from his horse dropping a shoe to his wife's nagging to his daughters' drifting further away from their father's spiritual and secular traditions. He is never afraid to approach God to question, to share, to acknowledge, to thank.

Tears coursed down my face at several points of the performance and by the end my heart ached. How much the "chosen ones" have suffered and continue to suffer to this day! Still they wander; still they wait.

I have been haunted by the stories woven together to comprise this wonderful performance. My soul has been weighed down with the sadness and valour and humour and moral compass of this story, of what this story represents. How do people hold on to hope? How do they go on? How much apparent abandonment can be endured?

Oh, Haiti ...

... On Sunday morning I was at Penhold with Dad. He had a full sermon prepared - complete with typed-out notes! - but minutes before he had to take the pulpit, God impressed upon him another text from which to speak, a completely different sermon to impart.

The text was Psalm 40:17, "But I am poor and needy; yet the Lord thinketh upon me. Thou art my help and my deliverer; make no tarrying, O my God."

To gain context, verse 11 lets us know that King David, who wrote the Psalm, was beset with troubles from within and without. (Dad didn't point this out, but in studying the Psalm later I counted that David lists seven things that God has done for him; seven things he has done to honour God; and nine things that he asks of God, excluding the one in verse 17.)

Dad showed us that verse 17 reveals four things:
  • the Condition - "poor and needy", physically, mentally and / or spiritually
  • the Comfort - "the Lord thinketh upon me", even when it seems no one else does
  • the Confession - "Thou art my help and my deliverer"
  • the Cry - "make no tarrying, O my God"
And then Dad told a story I had never heard before.

My grandfather Patrick Charles O'Halloran was a business man with a great love for the Jews. Once he was at the Magen David Synagogue in Bombay and was speaking with a prominent rabbi from New York who had come to give a series of lectures at the synagogue. As the two men spoke together the rabbi commented painfully, "God has forgotten us."

"Look at the palms of your hands," my grandfather responded. "Rub the lines of your hands out. Erase the lines if you can." And then he quoted the great prophet Isaiah: "Can it be that a woman would forget her nursing child, or that a mother should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, even these may forget you; yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands!" (Isaiah 49:15, 16)

"God has not forgotten you," my grandfather told the rabbi.

... On Sunday evening I had the chance to visit briefly with one of my five favourite men in the world. This man has been through deep waters of testing and trials in the past two or more years. Sunday night I was praying for him and his wife but I had no idea of how to pray for them or for what to ask. I finally simply asked for a word of encouragement to pass on to him.

"A bruised reed shall He not break, and smoking flax shall He not quench, till He send forth justice into victory" (both Isaiah and Matthew).

... And then on Monday morning I finally got to read Sunday's dictionary Word of the Day: "apposite"

apposite \AP-uh-zit\, adjective:

Being of striking appropriateness and relevance; very applicable; apt.

As we survey Jewish history as a whole from the vantage point of the late twentieth century, Judah Halevi's phrase "prisoner of hope" seems entirely apposite. The prisoner of hope is sustained and encouraged by his hope, even as he is confined by it.
-- Jane S. Gerber (Editor), The Illustrated History of the Jewish People

The ancient prophet Zechariah, too, talked to the prisoner of hope:

"Return to the strong room, O you prisoners of hope; this very day I am declaring that I will restore double to you ..." (Zechariah 9:12)

The fiddler in Fiddler on the Roof symbolizes how fragile life is. As Tevye puts it, "Every one of us is a fiddler on the roof, trying to scratch out a pleasant simple tune without breaking his neck." The fiddler shows up at key moments of grief or of joy fraught with change. At times Tevye would wave him off; but in the last scene, as the family is leaving Anatevka and the fiddler appears, Tevye signals to the fiddler to join them in the cart. It is like Tevye has finally accepted that no matter where you are, there is no escaping the challenges and hardships that life presents.

But it also spoke to me of the fact that wherever there are difficulties, there is also the music of remembrance, the melody of hope.

God's people - whether wandering in a desert or buried under rubble or immobilized by circumstances out of their hands - have not been forgotten.

The bruised reed will not be broken.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Happy Birthday, Maureen Dowd!

The woman who said, "The minute you settle for less than you deserve, you get even less than you settled for."

Never settle ...

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

And on another note
- after the Manor Tuesday Bible Study Group's post-Christmas Turkey Dinner

Brenda, if I ever tell you again that it is in everyone's best interest that I eat the crisp turkey skin -- all of it -- to spare "my oldies" from cholesterol attacks and that everyone will have more real meat if I take the skin as my portion, please scoff directly in my face and throw it out (the turkey skin, not my face ...).

Where are those Tums?!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

"Love Served Here"

Jeanie, Mr. Erickson's daughter, created an electronic memory album of a lunch I was privileged to host for the Ericksons and their close friends the day after Mr. Erickson's funeral.

We served butter chicken curry and chai, of course ...

The title of this post comes from something Jeanie wrote on the back page of the photo album. Thanks, Jeanie, for this beautiful memento.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Empty chairs

Today marks the first Anniversary of the Empty Chair. Our beloved Steve Erickson left this world on January 11, 2009.

The Ironside - Erickson family friendship goes back several decades, to the days when Steve and Joan and Allan and Pat were missionaries in India. One of my few clear boarding school memories from my stint in grade three was of Jeanie being in the bed next to mine. When I went on to university I was welcomed by Sharon. Steven became one of my best friends, my trusted confidant, during my time there.

And when I moved back to Three Hills, Mr. Erickson was one of the first people through the doors of Nilgiris.

He brought gifts: a print of the road to Mysore, little booklets and pamphlets, chocolates. He brought business: he got Gary and Carolyn hooked on butter chicken curry, he invited his friends and family to come for a coffee or for a meal. He brought stories: about his brother who played professional baseball, about his times in India, about "Mama", about his grandkids. He brought encouragement: he would always be ready with a word spoken in season, with a listening ear and an open heart.

And he brought roses. How thrilled we were whenever it was the season for roses! His magnificent, award-winning garden blessed the TH each season with blooms that were sturdy and bright and had the delicate perfume roses produce only when they have been nurtured and cared for and tended to. Mr. Erickson knew the value of time and he refused to rush it, whether it was with roses or whether it was with people.

When he left this world for one far better, Steven and Jeanie gave me his old cane swivel chair. Jeanie told me that she could remember sitting in his lap in it when she was quite small. Dad and friends of Mr. Erickson told me that this was the chair they would occupy when they were visiting him at his home.

Children have a special affinity for "Mr. Erickson's chair," as it is known in the TH. It is low enough that their feet can reach the ground, but it's a grown-up chair that makes them feel like a bigger person when they're in it. College students gravitate to it as well. It's near a corner and its high back offers protection from outside intrusion into private soul searching and confidential college-level conversation. And older people see it as a place of rest and comfort from the trials and the vicissitudes of the day.

I myself sit in it every Wednesday night at our Bible study. Mr. Erickson loved people and he loved his chair and he LOVED the Bible. On any given day he could be seen with little typed lists of Bible references in his shirt pocket. He memorized scripture constantly and even into his last year he kept learning. My choosing his chair for Bible study combines all three of those things in my mind and I am comforted and challenged to follow his footsteps.

But yet, no matter who sits in the chair, there is a feeling of something missing, of someone missing. That empty chair is a reminder to me that my days are numbered and that I should fill them with life and beauty and meaning.

He loved the TH, and would always loyally say that everything was "First class plus." He teased "the cook," as he would affectionately call Brenda. His favourite foods were butter chicken curry, hot chocolate and "sticky buns." 

I wonder what Mr. Erickson's new chair looks like? A humble man, he wouldn't ask for or expect much. But as one of the saints who has heard the words, "Well done, good and faithful servant!" he is probably sitting in splendour with Mama and other members of his family and friends. And he knows that empty chairs on earth mean more full ones up in Heaven.

Maybe that's why he would always leave you with these words: "Keep looking up ..."

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Parties within parties

December got away from me somehow, and it looks like January has headed off in search of it ... I feel I've been catapulted into this new year, this new decade, with a force and a fury I have never experienced in previous years.  

But just before I pick myself up and dust myself off, I want to capture some of the moments of the Christmas party season at Nilgiris. Many of the evenings were memorable (the night of the Citizens on Patrol dinner, for example, given to them to congratulate the faithful patrollers for a job well done but where the chief topic of conversation was how three business had been broken into the night before!); some were poignant (like the medical office staff's chocolate fondue which, as it turns out, will be without both doctors' wives next Christmas); and some parties introduced me to new groups of people who were not familiar with the TH before and who have subsequently come back for a New Year's visit! There is one party I have catered a couple of times where I grit my teeth, compromise my Coke standards and principles and buy a bottle of Pepsi for a staunch P-brain dinner guest (once a year, but that's it!) ...
The secrets to a successful party at the TH seem to include these: ambience, food, congenial people, and The Volunteers. It amazes me what gets done at this place thanks to people who phone me up and say they would like to give me an hour of their precious time to wash dishes or an afternoon of food prep or a thorough vacuum of the TH between events or a meat carving job or a waitress's hands and energy. I am notoriously understaffed at the best of times, and these people are sent to me exactly when I need them most.

The kitchen is where the magic happens, and the kitchen is where we conduct the party within the main party. The kitchen is where some of the happiest times take place. We prepare a table in the kitchen, complete with table cloths and stemware, and we join together to eat our dinner, in triumph and exhaustion and with a weather eye out for our guests! I am sorry I don't have pictures of all the people who've been such a help to me in November and December; but from the pictures I do have, you can get the drift.

So in alphabetical order, thank you Agatha, BethAnne, Bob, Brenda, Cathryn, Cindy, Dad, Deborah Joy, Dianne, Doreen, Jackie, Leona, Marlowe, Matthew, Rosalind, Ted, Theresa; as well as the staff who worked extra shifts: Brent, Corinne, Curtis, Krista, Lois. This place is blessed by you -- I am blessed by you. When you're in my kitchen, joys are truly multiplied and burdens are truly halved.

When you're in my kitchen, that's my favourite place to be!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Philo of Alexandria: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”

Sunday, January 3, 2010

New Year's Resolutions

Did you make any?

There are two quotes given me quite early this year that I have kept in Nilgiris and that have burrowed into my consciousness, and on which I base my resolution for the little TH in 2010.

On a magnet given me by one of my sisters:

"I felt like my little home wasn't big enough for all the beauty I wanted to cram into it. But then I'd think of it like a heart, and how when you want to love more people, it just stretches."

Typed on a piece of paper and given to me by Dad:

"The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet."

Both of those statements find me at the TH!

So my resolution for Nilgiris Tea House for 2010 is simply this:

Keep my eyes, my hands and my heart wide open, in order that the TH (and I!) is always ready to see a need or a moment of beauty and is not too busy with everyday cares to be able to appreciate either; to give - as well as to receive - gifts and blessings from whomever would be encouraged by or profers them; and to have a tender heart with the desire and the ability to pass on the joy I find in my life, in God and my family, friends, the TH staff and guests ... and all in this beautiful place that has been entrusted to me for this time and for this purpose.

Happy New Year!

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Year's Eve Promises

It has long been a tradition in our family to get together on New Year's Eve for games, snacks, singing and - the highlight of the evening - choosing a promise for the year ahead.

How it works is this: Dad lovingly undertakes the labourious task of selecting promises from the Bible; then he types them into his old word processor and prints them off on regular sheets of paper. After that, he cuts lengths of satin ribbon in a variety of colours and tapes the ribbon over the paper. Then he runs the whole thing through the word processor again, and the verses are perfectly aligned on the ribbon. He then untapes each ribbon from the paper and cuts the ends of the ribbons to avoid fraying.

Finally, he places them, upside down and with the colours arranged for symmetry and beauty, on a special antique china tray, ribbons anchored in the centre by an old brass bell polished for the occasion. He brings the tray to wherever we are gathering for the evening, and where he knows that there will already be a place of honour set up for the tray to be displayed.

Some years it is just our immediate family who meets; at other times we have friends over; when we were in India, it was the entire student body and Dad would type upwards of 700 verses out so that each person would get their promise for the year!

Each of the verses is chosen with great care and with a prayer that the person who selects the verse will be blessed, directed, sustained in some way. As Dad always makes clear, this is not a fortune-cookie exercise, nor is it the usual way he would recommend finding out the will of God for a person's life. However, it does seem that the verses people choose are so very often relevant to their particular situation, their individual cares and concerns.

This year we gathered at the TH and this year the verse I drew, on a pink satin ribbon, was from the gospel of John, chapter 14 and verse 27:

       Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you; not as the world giveth, give I unto you.

Out of the 20 words, seven of them are pronouns -- I  and you pronouns. This is a very personal message. And four of the words are verbs -- but how great is this?!  in not one of the verbs am I required to do anything! One of the verbs tells me the calibre of peace that the activites the world and my own efforts will provide me; the other three verbs tell me what Jesus will do for me. Notice also that the verbs are in the present tense, active voice. He gives me peace and he leaves it with me.

The message is succinct and direct. There is not a single superfluous syllable.

At the end of a year where I have worked probably 355 of the 365 days, where I have experienced being pulled in various directions - personally and professionally - and have been spread too thin at times; where I have been so busy and often felt quite ambiguous as to what it is I should be doing at any given time, this verse offers
                  the tranquility
                  the quietude
                  the repose
                  the calm
                               I cannot purchase or barter for, or even hire someone to accomplish for me.

The only thing I have to do is accept.