Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Graduation Day!

Three of my TH kids achieved this milestone in their lives this afternoon. Anita, Brent, Alyssa, I am so very, very proud of you. My prayer for you is that you will continue to direct your heart toward God and that you will continue to discover your own voice. Each of you is a unique, spectacular person. Each of you has incredible talents and enormous potential. Each of you has something to say that people around you need to hear. It might be through music or public speaking, through sports or literature, through medicine or teaching. It might be through short-term missions, through waiting tables, through running a business, through setting up your own home. It might thunder throughout a crowded stadium; or it might be delivered in a whisper barely audible to the person sitting right next to you.

Whatever it might be, the message that YOU have to share is important and the world is waiting to hear it!

I am waiting to hear it.

I love you very much.


Monday, June 21, 2010

Words for Dad

One of the greatest gifts our Dad has bestowed on us is words.

Words he speaks. When we were very small, we would ask him please to tell us a "Johnny and Sam" story - about Sam, the hired hand and Johnny, his nephew, living and working on an old widow lady's farm. Dad would make these tales up as he lay down with us swarming all over him at our afternoon rest time or in the evenings when we were "camping" under our carport in front of our Range View home in Coonoor; through the stories we learnt much about his life as a farmer in the bleak badlands of Alberta. We learnt about loyalty and perseverence. We learnt about friendship and discipline.

He taught at the Bible College for 40 years, and his words have guided many students to life-altering pursuits throughout India: orphanages, deaf schools, work with HIV sufferers, other colleges. Now in his so-called retirement he preaches and teaches every week, challenging and changing people's perspective, showing them God's love and encouraging them to do the same for others. 

Words he reads. Dad loves to read. He has often said that one of the gifts God has given him is is love of the printed word. And we reaped the benefit of this. He would read us children's stories. He would read us Shakespeare (okay, maybe he was reading Mum the sonnets, but we were eavesdropping!). He would not only sing hymns but read the words to us. He would read to us from the Bible - not just the "kids' stories" parts but the poetry of the Psalms; the history of the generations through the Pentateuch; the dampening Ecclesiastes; the romance of Canticles; the great women Ruth and Esther and Rahab and Sara and the noble woman of Proverbs. He studies words -etymology fascinates him and we have spent wonderful times discussing shades of meaning. He loves getting mail: the written word has been a lifeline to him many times in his journey when he was travelling away from the family, and even now a trip to the post office is an important part of his daily routine.

Words he writes. Later, as we grew older and he saw less of us than he would have liked because the schools we went to were in one state and the college was a day's travel away, he would write us letters - individual letters to each of us. And when Bronwyn and I had to go to boarding school for a short spell when we were very young, he showed us that poetry wasn't just in the elusive realm of books: out of the depths of his pain at the parting he wrote a poem entitled "Two Empty White Beds". He wrote a poem for Mum almost every year. And he writes exquisite cards to this day, for Christmas, birthdays, other special events. He has written his memoirs, with the opening page customized for each of us, telling us of the first day he met us. He got Mum's edition completed for her 70th birthday in February, 2007.

Words he sings. There was always music in our home, and some of my earliest memories involve music, involve my Dad singing to me. I am told that when I was quite small and sustained a rather nasty hot-water burn, at the hospital I asked him, "Daddy, sing Jesus Loves Me." I recall so vividly, after he had put third-grade Allan into the boys boarding school located in another town, how he would pace the living room and dining room in Coonoor of an evening and sing:

Where is my boy tonight? Where is my boy tonight?
My heart o'erflows for I love him he knows
Oh, where is my boy tonight?

And then there are the cowboy songs ... those old ballads of lonely, dusty men - tough as leather on the outside but with poet's souls buried deep within them, every one of 'em - riding the range, mourning their dead horses. We learnt all about the sad fates of the brave horses starting from when we were very small. All it takes, to this day, for me to choke up is for Dad to start singing, "A bunch of us cowboys sittin' on the corral, Talkin' about Strawberry, a real cowboy's pal ..." And he knows it too: he always glances at me with a twinkle in his eye as he begins ...

Of course, he is well known in our family and circle of close friends for singing to Mum. He set the tone and provided such an example of love between a husband and wife when he sang to her. Even at her funeral he sang

Have I told you lately that I love you?
Can I tell it once again somehow
Have I told you lately that I love you, I adore you?
Then, darling, I'm telling you now

Words he leaves unsaid. How many times he must want to say something to us, to caution us and to guide us! But my Dad is a very wise man. He listens more than he speaks. If someone asks him for advice, he will share his wisdom and experience and insights. However, he does not judge people and he does not like other people's shortcomings to be discussed and gossipped about. "Tell it not in Gath!" he will plead, echoing King David's plea after the ignominious deaths of Saul and Jonathan. I learnt an enormous lesson from him after Mum's funeral. We were in the post office and a complete stranger came up to Dad and was talking about how she had met my Mum a few times and the impact on her life that had been. She was quite tearful and my Dad just gently patted her right forearm and all he said was, "Yes ... yes ... yes ..." hearing her out until she was done, not interjecting any of his own great sorrow into her story. It was her story, and he let her tell it her way. This happened many times too when we were in India earlier this year. I could see how his quiet, attentive listening to a person's narrative would give them confidence and comfort. It is a great comfort to know you are being heard and understood. And I realized that to listen is one of the greatest gifts I can give.

Words he prays. It might sound like our Dad is extremely gregarious; but in reality he is a shy, reserved man who has overcome a lot of his natural reticence to become the confident, courageous person he is today. And the secret is in the words only God hears. My Dad is a pray-er. My Dad's life is a prayer. I can say with absolute confidence that there have not been many days in my life that my Dad has not prayed for me, for each of the six of us. And I believe with all my heart that his prayers have sustained us and protected us and guided us. Even when he would discipline us as kids, the session would end with us kneeling down and talking to God. (Those sessions were harder on my Dad than on the culprit!) Speaking for myself, I know that often what would govern my behaviour was that if I did something questionable, "Dad will be hurt" - I dreaded the reproach of his looking at me sorrowfully and simply saying, "Oh, Karyn ..." And I knew that he would go and pray for me, pray that I would do the right thing.

And so, on this Father's Day, I want to say thanks for the words, Dad. In your generation of reticent men uncomfortable with expressing their thoughts and emotions, your words are like apples of silver in pictures of gold. Because of them I never doubt, even for a moment, how much you love me.

Happy Father's Day.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

You've Got a Friend in Me ...

This week I was enormously disturbed by an article in the NY Times saying how at least one school is trying to discourage "best friends" - pushing, rather, a casual group-type acquaintance for kids to pursue. Here's the link:


I read every follow-up comment, including the one from the teenager whose parents were split and she spent her time shuttled between their households, she was bullied at school, her male contemporaries had zero respect for her and her female classmates, and her best friend was her only lifeline; including the one from the young man in college who had had no friends in school and had spent his spare time wandering around wanting someone to be his friend and who had recently been diagnosed with Aspberger's syndrome and who really wanted a girlfriend or at least a friend before he graduated from college and he was getting more and more anxious; including the one from the almost-80-year-old man who met his best friend on their first day of grade one and who talked about how they had got each other through the highs and lows of their lives; including the ones saying that if people aren't given the opportunity to choose and be chosen, reject and be rejected, fight and make up, how will they ever be prepared for grown-up life, for marriage?

And then this evening I got to go see Toy Story 3 with two of my favourite people in the world, El and Ol, their beautiful faces partially obscured by the 3D glasses, sitting on the second row from the front of the theatre. I gazed at them in consternation as the movie started: it seemed so harsh, so rife with separation and fraught with potential grief. Randy Newman ripped my heart out with his music, as he frequently does. I wondered madly for a moment if I should suggest we leave.

But the boys were riveted to their seats, profiles glowing, more animated than any 3D special effect. We were clearly not going anywhere.

I sat back and gave in, and I watched one of the best movies that I have ever seen.

I'm not going to tell you anything more about it except that it is a funny, moving, profound essay on friendship and loyalty. I giggled at the drama as the Gypsy Kings sang "You Got a Friend in Me" in Spanish (go Buzz Lightyear!) and surreptitiously dabbed at the corner of my eyes while the credits rolled, not wanting to be the uncool aunty who embarrasses her nephews in public.

And as those credits rolled, the whole theatre broke out in spontaneous applause.

After our mandatory Chapters run and chat ("I'm sorry I cried," I began, and one of them said, "I almost started to as well, and then I reminded myself that it was Toy Story!" while the other one remarked that it was fine to cry as it was indeed a "bittersweet" story) and after we had started to eat our dinner, we ended up having a discussion about friends and I briefly described the NY Times article and asked them what they thought about the concept of not having particular friends. The elder one replied thoughtfully, "It would be a lot easier to interact in a group of people when you have a close friend because you would have more self-confidence." The younger one reached over and gently, sweetly, patted his brother's head and made a comment about how glad he was that he and his brother were friends.

My heart lifted as I thought of my own dear siblings.

And of Tara, Nadeera, Naomi and Edwin, Miriam, Janet, Greg, Steve, Michelle, Jane.

And of Brian.

And of Maynard.

People who've known me from when I was becoming who I am and who are inextricably woven into the fabric of my life's tapestry.

Go see the movie. And then recall and call your friends, just because.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Walk a Mile in My Shoes ...

One of the things I find wearying is being on my feet without a break for upwards of 17 hours on each Saturday and Sunday. And my sisters are always on the lookout for good shoes to help me make it through. Over the years, they have come up with lifesavers.

This weekend, one of them showed up at the TH with these:

She had got herself a pair and decided that they would be the very thing for me. And they are!

Turns out, I LOVE following in my sisters' footsteps ...

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Long Live the King!

Another of my favourite people has a birthday today.

In 1988, when I arrived back in Canada, pretty shattered and frightened, without a clue as to what I should do and with no job prospects on the horizon, I walked into his office at the Dairy King - linen skirt and jacket, 4" stilettos, hair piled up (it was the 80s, after all!).

Against his better judgment, he hired me.

And with that he brought back purpose, focus, dignity and routine into my life.

With that, he gave me hope again.

Twenty-two years later almost to the day, he is still bossing me around, still giving me advice. And I'm still listening ...

So this evening it seemed only right to have some of your friends and family over to say "Happy 75th Birthday, Don!" You are a treasure: to your friends, to your family, to your "other daughters", to God. We all love you!

And I'll beat you to it: "We have GOT to talk ..."
Birthday Girl

Do you realize that we've known each other for almost 18 years? We have supported each other through some rough times and have managed to pack in quite a bit of joy as well. Only a couple of weeks ago you made the trek from Victoria via Jean's old homestead to the TH so that we could pick up the threads once again. Do you have any idea what your going out of your way like that means to me?

Happy birthday, Sweet Jane, you of the halo of riotous curls and eyes of deep blue and heart of gold. How blessed I am to be your friend!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

" 'Til Death Us Do Part"?

It was June 10, 1961, when Allan Telfer Ironside took Patricia Christeen O'Halloran to be his lawful wedded wife ... in sickness and in health ... to love and to cherish ... 'til death them did part.

And I believe he has broken his vow.

I believe my father loves my mother even more now than he did two years and nine months ago, when death parted them. He learns more of her almost every day through her notations in journals and devotional books, from anecdotes people tell him, from memories we all share.

He learns more about himself too, now having the privilege of seeing himself through her eyes as he reads what she wrote about him. "Sometimes I think my wife was blind," he commented brokenly at our last Wednesday evening TH Bible study before the summer.

But we, who see him clearly, know she was not. She knew him in a way that seems increasingly rare these days for a person to know another, with her eyes wide open but her heart wide open too, for better, for worse, in sickness and in health ... loved and cherished with her whole heart; how could mere death put an end to that?

Dad, Matt and I had a short conversation a few days back about the church being the body of Christ. The whole church is the body of Christ, not just the infinitesimally small portion that is physically alive on the earth today. And as we know, bodies tend to remain connected, for the most part; some parts of our body might not be as visible as other parts, but they are all important and they are all working together for the good of the entire body. Therefore, as part of the church we are part of the same unified body of Christ that Mum is.

Of course I know she is not with us like she used to be, materially, maternally, matrimonially. But is it possible that, in some im-material way, we are more connected than we may think?

As dear Tony Hansen said to Dad shortly after Mum went to be with God, "She is with God. And God is with us. So she's not very far away."

Happy anniversary, you two.
Nurse Jackie

She is the daughter of one of my mother's best friends.

She is the wife of a man of enormous intelligence, compassion, dignity and integrity.

She is the mother of three of the greatest kids I have ever known.

She's a nurse.

She's a sports mom.

She's a confidante.

She's an amazing dancer!

She's resourceful, intelligent, brave, vulnerable, smart, funny, practical, whimsical, thoughtful, adventurous, home-loving.

And she's a wonderful friend. She weeps with me and she rejoices with me. She comforts and counsels. She shares - her time, her kids, her wisdom, her joys and sorrows. She has a wicked sense of humour. Her patience is indefatigable. Her loyalty to those she loves is true blue.

Ahhh, this bittersweet day, your first birthday without your beautiful Mom there to wish you herself.

I am sure that if she could she would tell you that her wishes for you  - her firstborn - from the day you were born are coming true: that you would be a loving, caring, intelligent, diligent, godly woman and that you would raise a family who would walk in your - and therefore her - footsteps.

Happy birthday, dear Jacqueline!

(Three down, two to go - you know who you are!)

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Heart's Desire

I was just driving back from Penhold and on the radio was Stuart McLean and the Vinyl Cafe. I caught the tail end of the show: he was sharing anecdotes of significant aspects of his life growing up in Montreal. The program ended with Reid Jamieson - accompanied on the piano by the incomparable John Sheard, Stuart's musical director - interpreting my favourite Beatles' song, "In My Life." Give it a listen: John Sheard is a genius and consistently one of the best parts of Vinyl Cafe.


The story that caught my ear was the one involving the girl in the green dress. Stuart was in the tenth grade of an all-boys school. He had bought himself a ticket for the dance, but couldn't muster the courage to ask any girl to be his date. He told his Dad, who was driving him, that he was meeting his date at the school. His plan was to go down the road a bit to a community dance being held the same evening, and ask some girl he would meet there to go to his school dance with him.

He quickly realized this was more daunting than he had imagined: it seemed that all the girls were clad in jeans; and, of course, he couldn't possibly take a jeans-wearing girl to his semi-formal school dance!

Almost all the girls - one girl had worn a dress. Stuart waited till there was a slow dance, and then he asked her if she would accompany him to his school dance.

Surprisingly, she agreed.

He walked her home after the dance. He wondered bemusedly if this would be the night ... the night his 16-year-old self would get kissed for the first time. "It was not," he stated succinctly, wryly.

He doesn't remember her name. He did remember that she wore a green dress. And, looking back, he realized that if he had just been open with her, she most likely would have kissed him goodnight. He also knew that if he had told his Dad or his best friend that he was dateless and in a bind, they would have stepped up and helped him out. His friend Mike, Stuart recalled, had even tried to set him up with someone.

But - and this is what reverberated with me - Stuart admitted, "I was too busy protecting my vulnerability ... If I just spoke the truth, I could have had my heart's desire."

And as I heard those words spoken by Stuart, my mind flashed immediately to the words of David, poet-king and author of Psalm 37: "Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart."

This is one of the verses I have struggled with for years. Delighting myself in God sounds really nice, with certainly a lovely outcome; but how does that translate in day-to-day living?

And it's come to me today: By speaking the truth.

These days we often hear the phrase speaking truth into - a life, or a situation. Yet as a follower of God, my responsibility is to delight in Him, which would require me to seek out and to live truth - from and before God, with myself, with all with whom I have to deal - at all times. It's not a faucet that can be turned on and off when the situation appears to demand it. It's a continuous, steady stream that will flow ultimately into my heart's desire if I follow its course.

But how do I know what my heart's true desire is? I've had many moments through the years where I thought that for sure this time I had discovered the desire of my heart. The TH is one of them.

As I pulled off Highway 21 into Three Hills, it came to me that if I can speak truth - if I can face truth - unflinchingly at every turn, the truth will set me free to recognize what it is I truly long for. What that is will be the ultimate desire of my heart. And I will then be ready to welcome it.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Ten Things I Love About You

You are the best housekeeper I know

Your cozy little study is such a sanctuary

You give joyfully of your time to music at church

The bond you shared with Uncle Gordon

How you work tirelessly in your garden

How you also take care of Dad's garden

You bail me out in time of need ...

How your two boys adore you

How your other boy could not live without you

That you managed to take on 5 sisters and turn us into 6

Happy Birthday,
Angela Dawn Eriksen Ironside!

"I don't know how you do it!"

After "What desserts do you have today?", the comment I hear the most is "I don't know how you do it!"

Of course, I have an excellent family of staff members. But there is no way we could make this place function as happily as it does without something more.

So I'm about to let you in on my secret weaponry:

Dad, who fetches and carries, who lends me his car and his wisdom, who restores my equilibrium. Who says, "I love to help you, Karyn ..."
Deborah Joy, who allows me to leave the TH, knowing it'll be just like Allstate
Don, who has a full-time job keeping up with maintenance at this place!
Norma, the person I can call on for help with any task, large or small
Brenda, my co-founder who still comes willingly to help out
BethAnne, my 911 call for anything
Sonnie, who organizes me and my stuff
Doreen, my private horticulturalist and prayer warrior and spontaneous dishwasher
Cathryn, who supplies the TH's graphic design and who can round up the troops
Lorraine, skilled turkey carver and direct answer to prayer on Easter Sunday
Matthew, my data entry clerk, computer wizard and back-up kitchen help
Craig, who has changed lightbulbs and worked weddings to help his old aunt
Bronwyn, who shows up at just the right times
Allan, who knows this TH better than I do and makes it cooperate for me
Angela, who stepped out of her comfort zone to help in time of need
Elliot and Oliver, plate scrapers extraordinaire and delights of my heart
Lois Lewis, event expediter and beautiful example of a servant's heart 
Terri-Lyn and My Little Dawn, my girls, who see what needs to be done and do it (and Collin, their chauffeur and the father of my "grandchildren"!)
Andy, who pitched in when I first reopened and who now encourages me via email 
Leslynn, behind-the-scenes magician
Alli, cool water girl
Nevan, who carefully collected tumbleweeds when I wanted them for decorations
Ron, who has fixed my banister and sanded down rough edges 
Otto, who kept my lawn mowed
Ed, seasonal outdoor furniture mover, who has even arranged flowers in a pinch!
Ted, who supplies me with the Capital and news of the real world each week
Maya, Sarah and Taylor, my junior staff, who fill the sugar bowls and Splenda wheelbarrows and jellybean cup on Saturday mornings 
Their parents, who bring them and patiently wait for them!
Vernon and Sharon, very special neighbours
Gerri, who invites me over for tea when I need a break
Richard and Alana, who are willing to make cooking supply runs
Heather, who keeps the menu on my website updated
Bonnie, who regularly hoses down the exterior of the building
Ken and Bernadette, who help me with after hours set-up on Sunday nights
Joan and Rick, without whom I could not have made cheesecake for 200 people
Theresa, for ads in the Capital and for stress breaks 
Jackie, for vacuuming and kitchen shifts in moments of dire need
Brian, for dishes and silky lattes and for cutting potatoes and for a shoulder to cry on PRN and for setting an example for my boys
The Monday-morning men, who cover this place in prayer

All these people, and countless more, have shown up at Nilgiris to help me out when it seems I most need someone to help me out. They don't ask for anything in return (they won't even accept a measly dessert!). They do it because they care for me and because they love the little TH.

There are also you guests, vast numbers of you, who see when I am short staffed in the dining room and cheerfully bus a table or two on your way to settling up your tab.

You grab the coffee pot or the water pitcher and do a quick turn about the room. You lend me pots and pans and ingredients.

You write me the most heartfelt notes and cards. You feed me sugar-coated fennel, a little sign that you remember what makes me happy.

You chase down my outdoor furniture in windstorms and you bring me flowers and china cups and recipes and elephants and treasured little objets d'arts that you know will suit the TH and that I will cherish.

You let me hold your babies and play tea parties with your kids.

You pray for me.

You encourage me.

And that's how I do it.