Sunday, October 31, 2010

Day 30: There's an Angel in my Kitchen

The hardest thing about the TH - about any business, really - is staffing. And so when Krista had to leave due to the increasing demands on her time, I found Michelle. When Michelle discovered that it wasn't really her thing, I shuffled through the resumes I had received this summer from people hopeful of employment.

Summer employment, it turned out. I was beside myself, trying to figure out what I could do. So I finally did what I should have done in the first place: asked God to take care of it and squared my shoulders and got on with the day at hand: I had it on good authority that that evil was sufficient!

That week, I got a call from Angie, Allan's wife: she would be willing to come and bail me out.

Angie started with the indepth Friday cleaning. I came home late that night and walked into a place that smelled fresh and that gleamed. She had even taken the glass window out of the gas fireplace and cleaned it, inside and out; I hadn't known that was even possible ...

The coat-rack was next: she moved out the boxes and mail and hats, and suddenly there was a place for people to hang up their jackets.

She and Allan fixed the men's urinal. She sweet-talked Allan into hanging pictures, doing the heavy lifting, running to the recycling depot.

Then I needed a kitchen leader, after Michelle was through. I piecemealed a couple of weekends together, and suddenly there Angie was. "I could come in on Saturdays and Sunday evenings, if you need me," she said diffidently.

And my kitchen, too, has not been the same. She combines her natural talents in the kitchen with extraordinary ability to guide the younger staff members - and me - to working more efficiently. No stirring spoon is safe when she's cleaning a counter! And desserts look beautiful and dinner plates are full.

However, everything changed for me when she invited me to go to their church one Sunday morning. Her music team was leading the service and she was playing the piano.

As I sat down, I realized that I had never heard her playing the piano in church before. Oh, I had heard her accompanying Allan or someone else for special music, but not leading the singing as she was this Sunday.

I was mesmerized by her hands: those little, square, efficient hands were giving the piano a workout; and somehow she managed to sing at the same time!

But when she led the song The name of the Lord is ~ ~ a strong tower, and those strong, capable hands went thump, thump on the chords where the ~ ~  marked time, I saw in my mind's eye those same hands scrubbing floors and bathrooms and pots and pans. I saw those hands getting burnt on gravy. I saw those hands pushing a mower and raking and filling bags. I saw those hands blistering on the end of a couple of leashes belonging to a pair of overexcited Mountain Bearnaise dogs as she was pulled along behind them. I saw those hands administering eye tests to tiny little Mennonite kids who were too scared to talk out loud.

I saw those hands hugging her tall sons, holding her husband's hand on her knee as we say grace at the dining table, dialling the phone to talk to her mother in Oregon, pulling weeds for her father-in-law, shaking as she held the notes for her tribute to our Uncle Gordon at his funeral.

I saw those hands knocking on the door of that strong tower.

And I lost my heart to those practical, magical hands. I lost my heart to Angela.

I've thought about it so often since then in this month where I've been pondering how blessed I am. I have known about Angela for almost 22 years now. We've been in each other's homes almost every week and we have frequently spoken and laughed together. 

But I never knew her until she came to work at the TH.

Twenty-two whole years.

I still don't know all there is to know, but I am so excited to uncover more about this woman who is integral to our family. I am starting to see glimpses into her heart and I know enough to say with certainty that her diligence and her commitment and her passion for things done right are exemplary. I can trust her implicitly and explicitly. She is brave and sweet and funny.

And my storage room is immaculate ...

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Day 29: The Importance of the Right Accessory

The other day I was getting ready to go home after running a couple of errands when a saleswoman - tall, striking, brunette - beckoned me over. How could I refuse?

It seems that from looking at me, she had decided she wanted to sell me on a particular belt that she was convinced would make my life oh so much better. I must admit that in a minute or two she started to irritate me, but there was no means of escape; she appeared to be the type who would follow me if I tried to get away.

When she told me the price, I swallowed hard - twice. But she had already gone to the trouble of writing up the invoice and I was pretty sure that she wasn't going to take it back so I reached out and took it from her.

I thought for a moment about my own sales target for Carswell, about how far out of reach it is for me this month. I wished I could achieve my target as easily as she was achieving hers. I wished I had put more thought into this belt in the first place.

So if you're out and about in our district, and you see Sheriff Hunt, be very careful what kind of accessories you are wearing, or she may call you over too; I hear she's got a lovely pair of cuffs that she might think suits you beautifully ...

Just don't tell her the Tea Bag sent you!

And remember, crime doesn't pay. At least - not me.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Day 28: Ties that Bind

It's taken way too long - 40-something years - for us to have lunch together, just the two of us.

Our parents are close, have always been close; somehow, though, we have skirted each other's periphery, catching glimpses of each other at anniversaries and birthdays but mainly at funerals.

Then she emailed me, and that's all it took.

My cousin Sharon and me. We chat a couple of times a week through email and we have far more in common than we might have guessed. Who knew that such a treasure was within grasp for all of these years?

It makes me wonder what else is in my view but not in my sights, gifts that I have been too busy or too preoccupied to notice, and to pick up, and to revel in.

While I plan to consider more closely each day all that has been given me, I don't plan to let this particular present of friendship and family slip out of my grasp. I don't really know any of my cousins all that well - growing up in India can do that to a person, I guess! - so I am going to make up for lost time with this one.

And I have to thank Reading the Leaves for this unexpected windfall: Sharon tracked me down through the Leaves ...

How many more gifts have been tucked into the wrapping of the TH, waiting for me to discover? I love this place and all that goes with it.

And I love my cousin Sharon.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Day 27: The Cute Little Redheaded Girl

How can they say
"You will mourn and then
you will get on with your life"
when your life
           has been
and what your brain tells you
("she's in a better place,
  free of suffering and pain")
doesn't reach your heart
("but I need her still!"
  it screams)

"Time heals all wounds"
is a fallacy when
the wound
     is an excision
         of the core
              of your world.

Drinking Star of India tea 
from Mary's cup
So the cute little red-headed girl
gathers up all the well-meaning advice
and writes it down
on one of her lists 
and budgets her life
on what she has left

And as the minutes
and the days
and the months

and the years
tick away

She will slowly come to find
that what she has left
is what she is -
the essence of Mary

but with some new subtlety
     added to it:

She offers her own essence
 to the Parfumier
      who is blending the two
in such a way
     that the new result
is a gift from
mother to daughter
a tribute from
daughter to mother,

And the cute little red-headed girl
  will find that
the new, whole fragrance is indeed more
 than the sum of
    its parts

And that what she has left
is enough.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Day 26: Slaying the Giant, One Harp at a Time

This Sunday I had the great privilege of hearing James Janzen speaking on Living in Spiritual Victory as an Artist; and I was delighted to discover, from his checklist of characteristics, that I might be one:
  • Wide mood swings
  • Misunderstandings
  • Tendency to question
  • Emotionalism
  • Sees time as flexible - the whole world can stop for the artist
  • Great need for feedback, even though the feedback itself is often not appreciated
  • Often weak in administration and organization*
Where are the characteristics that we more readily identify with being an artist, you ask? Oh. I just chose the ones off the list that matched my temperament, but maybe it's these that I should be looking at if I were to claim real artisticity:

  • Imagination
  • Creativity
  • Sensitivity
  • Intensity
  • Perfectionsim
  • A need to respond artistically
  • A great sense of freedom of expression*
So - on second thought, maybe I'm not quite the artist I would hope to be ... But what a wonderful essay on the greatest artist in the Bible!


Mr. Janzen said that there are 56 chapters about David in the Bible; and this doesn't count the Psalms he composed! Take those away, but also take away the impact David has had on church music down through the centuries, and the Christian life would be a lot bleaker.

Songs like the one we sang on Sunday morning, "As the deer pants for the water, so my soul longs after You."

Songs like "The King of love my Shepherd is," an old Irish hymn that paraphrases Psalm 23. As a matter of fact, how many riffs on just Psalm 23 are there? I flipped through a couple of the hymn books on the TH piano: "The Lord's my Shepherd; I'll not want"; "The Lord is my Shepherd, I'll walk with Him always"; "In God's green pastures feeding"; "Saviour, like a shepherd lead us"; "In shady green pastures so rich and so sweet"; "Safe in the Shepherd's care"; "Surely goodness and mercy".

Songs even like "Amazing Grace." John Newton, as we know, had been a slave trader until God drew him out of that horrific travesty of human life. And on New Year's Day in 1773 Newton preached a sermon whose title was "Faith's Review and Expectation" and whose text was I Chronicles 17:16-17. This passage is a prayer of David who cried out in wonder and gratitude to God for all He had done for David and for his people. Here are two translations of the verses that inspired John Newton to begin his new year, his new diary, with the wonderful words of that time-honoured hymn:

And David the king came and sat before the LORD, and said, Who am I, O LORD God, and what is mine house, that thou hast brought me hitherto? And yet this was a small thing in thine eyes, O God; for thou hast also spoken of thy servant's house for a great while to come, and hast regarded me according to the estate of a man of high degree, O LORD God. (KJV)

Then King David went in and sat before the LORD and said, "Who am I, O LORD God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far? And this was a small thing in your eyes, O God. You have also spoken of your servant’s house for a great while to come, and have shown me future generations, O LORD God! (ESV)

From writing his sermon based on this text, he was inspired to write "Amazing Grace."

What if "Amazing Grace" had never been written?

It just goes to show, continued Mr. Janzen, how significant the role of an artist is in the Bible and, by extension, in the church itself.

Who was David? he asked.
  • A shepherd
  • A harpist
  • An actor
  • A brilliant administrator
  • A charismatic leader
  • A Warrior
  • A guerilla fighter and hero
  • A king
  • A seducer
  • A consummate politician
  • A statesman
  • An instrument maker
  • A worship leader
  • An artist*
And through the life of David we can see how the artist who is able to balance talent and temperament can be of enormous service and impact in a church.

But what an uphill climb that can be! Mr. Janzen gave a great example: he extended one arm straight out at his shoulder, like he was going to fly. He explained that this is what it's like for many artists; they have developed their artistic side to the exclusion of balance in their lives. As a result - and here he imitated a plane trying to fly with only one wing - the person will crash and burn. It is only when the artist can develop and exercise the other wing so that it can extend equally with the artistic wing that his or her life will achieve balance.

Mr. Janzen talked about a plane; but in my mind's eye I saw a bird with one strong wing and the other having been shattered or bound in some way to prevent it from helping to support the bird or to free it.

And my mind went to my friend Maynard, as it frequently does. In a couple of weeks Maynard would have celebrated his 49th birthday. He was my oldest friend.

Maynard was a gifted musician: he played the piano, cornet and drums with equal skill and passion. He was an actor, a writer, and he could draw. He was an accomplished sportsman - he won awards in football, cricket, track and field. He was a craftsman, designing and creating pieces of furniture and able to fix almost anything. He was charming and popular and enjoyed the spotlight.

In turn, he was needy and fragile and insecure. He could never stick to anything for too long. His habits and addictions were always beckoning to him from just out of sight. He lost sight of time, of place, of perspective.

In the end, he never managed to achieve the balance and the peace he craved. As he himself recalled it, he had led an imbalanced, disjointed life beginning at the age of 5. Eventually his strong wing was no longer able to bear him up and he crashed to the ground for the last time in July 2005.

However, with that crash came freedom from the constrictions of imbalance, of ultimate self-destruction. Although Maynard had accepted Christ and loved God when he could, he felt that the church had failed him and couldn't accept him. But I believe that God never stopped loving Maynard and that as he hurtled to the ground that last time, the Everlasting Arms were there to catch him, and that as he was lifted from this mortal, messy coil, he was finally able to fly.

David, too, crashed to the ground on several occasions. For one thing, he spent 13 years in the wilderness after God had called him out as the next king ... 13 YEARS! For one of his gifts and temperament, that would have been excruciating. But God used this time to mould him, and to give him balance. When Nathan the prophet came and rebuked him for his sins of adultery and murder, when David was held accountable to the standard of right and wrong, he could have turned his back on the reproof and carried on; after all, he was the king! But he took it to heart and repented, allowing God and those God put in his life to encourage him back to discipline and balance, to help craft him into the person who would - despite his sins and failings - forever be known as the man after God's own heart.

There is hope and value in David's story, both for artists who are struggling for that balance and for those of us who love them and want to help them achieve it. Mr Janzen gave us six lessons we can draw from it:

  • David's story helps us to see that the artistic temperament and the resulting artistic output is a great gift to the church
  • David's story shows us how much God values character
  • David's story reflects the priesthood of every believer and in this case the priesthood of the artist
  • David's story shows us the great challenges of the artistic nature and the devastating result of sin
  • David's story gives us hope. THe artist can be a man (or woman) after God's own heart.
  • David's story shows us that path of transformation and discipline*
I have other artists in my life whom I love dearly but don't always understand how to be present to them in ways that they need, in ways that will encourage them both to pursue their consuming passion and at the same time to live passionately a full, disciplined life. I have misinterpreted their questioning of life, of the point of the church, of God Himself - but as Mr. Janzen pointed out, "Confusion exists in the church concerning the place and value of the artist ... [Their questioning] doesn't mean they've lost their faith; they're desperately trying to hold on to it!" They need feedback, but in constructive ways. And their tendency to emotional swings is part of who they are. As he pointed out, "The complete story is often found in the opposites."

It says in Romans, "Where sin did abound, grace did much more abound" - extremes if there ever were any ...

What a revelation this message was on Sunday! How we should be nurturing and treasuring the artists in our churches. David has brought so much to the worship and the growth of the church not only because he was allowed to develop and exercise his gifts but because he was able to do this in conjunction with self-discipline, guidance and support. The comment that stood out to me above all others was this: "Leadership and congregation [in the church] do not know how to respond to the artistic temperament and how to disciple the artist."  Disciple. Not discipline. It is up to them to start releasing the power that discipline and structure can provide. Our job as those who want to build up the artists in our lives is to come alongside of them, to encourage them and uphold them and show them perspective. To give them an alternate view to frustration and despair.

And if you yourself are an artist, you have the greatest role model, apart from Jesus Himself, to give you hope and encouragement that your talents are desperately needed in our churches and society today. Maybe you sing, or sew, or paint, or dance, or write, or perform beat poetry. Perhaps you act, or play an instrument, or arrange flowers and scenes for the front of the church. I remember how Mum prevailed against the prevailing train of thought that flowers on Sunday mornings in the church were nothing but a waste of time and money. But every Saturday evening she would go to the flower market and every Saturday night she would spent hours arranging vases of fresh flowers for church the next day. Hours.  And as worshippers walked in the next morning, those flowers were a visible reminder of the beauty and the majesty of God. They were the outpouring of worship and praise from a woman who saw beauty in everything and wanted to offer what she could back to the Giver of it all.

Think of the woman who broke the alabaster box and poured the precious ointment onto Jesus' feet! Drama queen, some might have said. But it was her wordless act of worship, and it was so worthwhile that it was recorded as one of the treasures, the memorable moments, in the life and ministry of Jesus.

There's an artist by the stage name of Robinella who wrote a song that makes me think of Maynard whenever I hear it. Until I can figure out a way to attach it to my blog so that you can experience its plaintive, haunting melody, I will leave you with the words:

Whippin' Wind

They were children when they met.
But he is someone she can't forget.
They were young still when they parted ways;
Ushered on into life's grey haze.

She has always had the best of luck
But when there's rain and mud, he gets stuck
When there's rainbows she's at the end
But he gets caught in the whippin' wind.

Why does she fly? Why does he fall?
She gets gifts of gold and he gets coal.
Someday his broken wing will mend
For now he's caught in the whippin'wind.

Many years have passed since they were friends
No one knows where they've both been
But each of their own sin
One of them loses, one of them wins

She had always thought that he could fly
So when he'd fall, she would cry
And wonder where is grace divine
And never see a single sign.

Why does he fall? Why does she fly?
Oh, some birds will never reach the sky.
But someday his broken wing will mend
For now he's caught in the whippin' wind.

He found out about her success
Singing songs of her happiness.
She found out about his death.
And the family that he left.

Oh one man's right is another man's wrong
Oh one man's story is another man's song.
She wonders why he had to go
But with his death she knows.

He came far and she can fall
He gets the greatest gift of all
His broken wing did mend.
He's flown away in the whippin' wind.


*Taken directly from Mr. James Janzen's sermon notes, Living in Spiritual Victory as an Artist.  If you are an artist yourself, or if you have artists in your life or your church that you seek to understand and walk alongside of, I can't encourage you strongly enough to listen to his sermon, which can be found at - click on the link entitled "Living in Spiritual Victory as an Artist" (October 24, 2010).
Day 25: Welcome, Your Worship!

How he loves our town! He has been working quietly behind the scenes for years, doing whatever was in his power to do to improve the quality of life for its citizens:

The Mural Committee; Main Street flower planters; the big bikes at Cruise Night; Boss's Christmas Party; Seniors Outreach Bus; Fiesta Days; Midnight Madness; changing the signage at the Highway 21 entrance to Trois Lumps, even in inclement weather; concerts and cultural events; Kids Festival; actively promoting Three Hills as a desirable place to run a business; supporting local businesses; rallying the town to get behind Prairie and keep it in Three Hills.

Mayor-elect Tim Shearlaw
entering the hall
 And - best of all - the "That's Life" column in the local weekly paper, where we are challenged to think, forced to consider alternate perspectives, cajoled into supporting our town, reminded of what a privileged life we lead in Three Hills.

These are only some of the activites that Tim Shearlaw, our new mayor, has conceived or spearheaded or thrown his support behind in just the last few years that I've lived here.

He is not alone in his efforts: his wife, Theresa, is a long-time board member of the local Food Bank and is involved in many community activities.

I went to witness the swearing in of the new mayor and council yesterday evening at the town offices. I was unprepared for the surge of emotion I experienced when I saw the mayor-elect being escorted into the small council room by an RCMP officer in full red serge dress uniform. I blinked away a sudden mist in my eyes as he respectfully and with resolution took the Oath of Office:

I, Timothy James Shearlaw,
of the Town of Three Hills
in the Province of Alberta
do swear that I will diligently, faithfully
and to the best of my ability
execute according to law
the office of Mayor
so help me God

Mrs. Ron Shearlaw, Tim's mother:
"His father would have been so proud"

He stood listening attentively as each of his councillors was sworn in.

He called for a moment of prayer led by Pastor Sweis Ubels just before the ceremony concluded.

And as we filed out of the room, I couldn't help but think what a privilege it is to live in freedom in this country, this province, this town.

God, keep our land glorious and free.

Mayor and Mrs Timothy Shearlaw

Monday, October 25, 2010

Day 24: "Let Me Tell You About My Grandchildren"

The first person we hired full-time at the TH was Terri-Lyn. And even before she finished her first shift, Brenda and I had pretty much adopted her.

So it follows that it was only logical for Terri-Lyn to call me up one day and say, "Guess what? You're going to be a grandma!"

Those were words I thought I would never get to hear, and it thrills me today in remembering them as much as it did hearing them that first time.

My beautiful "granddaughter" loves to dance and to create things. She has a mind of her own and loves my beautiful "grandson" . Any time I get to spend with them is a privilege, and on my way back from Edmonton on Friday I got to sneak in an hour as I was leaving that city to see them. 

James - and what better name is there for a boy than James?! - looks at me with his eyes and expression so much like his Dad's, who I have always believed has some of the kindest eyes I've ever encountered. Colin is a man of integrity and steadiness, and if James grows up to reflect his Dad's character the way he mirrors his looks, people who come into contact with him will be greatly blessed.

And how my heart swelled with pride to hear Mikayla talking in full sentences and calling me "Grandma Karyn" and giving me a picture of herself with the brim of her hat pulled down low over her face "so that you can't see my eyes!" Mikayla is the doppelganger of her mother in sweetness and mischievousness and social skills and in voice and in creativity and in determination and drive. The double gift to me in spending time with Mikayla is that now I can see how my Terri-Lyn quite likely was as a little girl. She is certainly a loving, patient, capable mother and does an exceptional job of maintaining balance in her life with husband, children, job, and time for friends and herself.

Terri-Lyn was a gift to me when I needed one like her the most. When we started the TH, frankly we had no idea what we had got ourselves into. But Terri-Lyn "happened" along, and she "happened" to have run a camp kitchen and she "happened" to love cooking and "happened" to be good at organization and she "happened" to be a person who could get along with almost anyone. She had a clear line of sight to what she believed God had for her future - Colin - and she didn't panic or rush to start things when all it seemed like the two of them shared was a tenuous friendship. "If God wants it to work, it'll work," she assured me when I started to be agitated on her behalf. 

Andy and Brenda and Terri-Lyn and I were the first little TH family. How I love that girl! And when I get notes addressed to "Grandma Karyn", I am so thankful and honoured that she continues to make room for me in her life, even to the next generation.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Day 23: Orange Gold

I'll freely admit it: I'm not a "natural" when it comes to cooking. When Don took that brave step of hiring me at the Dairy King those many years ago, he had a policy in place that everyone learnt to work both the front and the back of the house.

That policy changed after I took my turn in the kitchen and sliced my thumb open, burnt my arms and face, got hamburgers stuck in the grill, measured either too many or too few fries, forgot ingredients in burgers, locked myself in the freezer, dropped pails of batter, and in general made such a nuisance of myself that the regular kitchen staff begged Don to let me go back to the front.

Not much has changed at the TH. One of the things that escapes my capabilities is grating carrots: do you know that for each of our crazy-good carrot cakes we use six cups of carrots?

Grating carrots requires coordination, even when I do it with the food processor. Coordination is not one of even my hidden talents.

So when Linda said, "Karyn, I have way more carrots from my garden than I need - I'll give them to you," I had mixed feelings. On the one hand I was grateful for home-grown carrots; on the other, I pictured grating all those carrots and mentally tried to calculate what night I could budget for an hour less sleep and still remain on my feet the next day.

The next time my litle Jocelyn came to work, she came bearing gifts - her mother had not only grated the carrots for me, but she had measured them into two-cup bags ready to be frozen; all I have to do is grab three bags and the worst part of my carrot cake preparation is done!

I can see where Jocelyn gets her gift of checking out what needs to be done and where she can be the most helpful. Kindness runs in this family.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Day 22: Friday nights at the TH

At the end of a busy week, I look forward with unmixed anticipation to my regular Friday night date night.

With Costco and Superstore.

Unmixed anticipation because this is the most enervating time of my week. I drag myself and my cart around both places, grocery bags falling out of the small compartment, head down, hoping not to see anyone I know. I try to gauge which will be the fastest check-out line. I pray that I get a packer at Costco who knows that the roast beef should not be placed on top of the raspberries. In the parking lot I try to keep my cart from rolling away from me or from bashing into Josephine.  

And then when it's over, I drive home thinking about putting away the groceries and getting a start on Saturday morning. I think about how tired I am. I wonder how I'll get through the next two and a half days.

It's the only time of the week that I feel alone.

But even here, God shows me in gentle ways that, actually, I'm not.

On Friday evenings I have a small army of unofficial volunteers who lift me up in ways large and small. If I have a chance I stop at Deb's place for a china mug of fragrant tea, a few minutes of comforting conversation and some gift or other to get me on my way. Dad comes over almost every week to help me unload and put away the trunkload of groceries. Often Don and Norma join in, Norma with her hands in the sink getting all my prep dishes done and Don supervising. BA will drive by and pop in and quickly assess little things that can make a huge difference in my day, like writing the board, going to get ice, rushing to the store to buy a mixer to replace the one that has died in my hand. I get back to find that Allan has hung pictures, fixed plumbing, replaced lightbulbs earlier in the day. And Angie - there's a separate story about my Angela in the works ... 

And then this Friday, Brenda - my dear, treasured Brenda who is always quietly looking for ways to help me and the TH - came and made a start on my weekend baking, knowing that I had had an exhausting week of driving and appointments.

This is how I am able to go from utter depletion of mental and physical strength on Friday evening to the stamina I require to get through until Monday morning.

When Jesus said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you," He wasn't kidding. He's not there just for the big, life-changing events like birth, sickness, death. He's also there for the quiet life-changing moments like putting away groceries and doing dishes and writing the menu board and changing a lightbulb.

When my body and my mind are too tired, He brings in people to be His hands and His strength for me, to bear me up on eagle's wings.

I'm never alone.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Day 21: Dressing a Princess

One of the best things about working for Carswell is the people I get to serve. One such treasure is Steve, one of my Alberta librarians.

We met up in Edmonton, where both of us had business, and decided to go for Indian food. And as we ate, Steve told me about his wife Carol's latest dream and how it's become a reality.

Steve has told me quite a bit about Carol in the time that I have known him, to the point that I feel I almost know her too. To the point that I really, really want to know her! Steve is clearly crazy about her and so proud of what she's doing.

Carol is an advocate for Compassion Canada; and as such, she heard a story that changed her world. She was told of a little girl who wanted a new dress. She'd never had a new dress. Her family promised her that if she would marry the nice man, she would get a new dress. And so she did.

She was a little girl. He was 70.

When Carol heard that story, her heart was shattered.  She resolved that if there was anything in her power that she could do, she would do it so that no little girls would ever have to be sold for a dress.

Carol is a master dressmaker. She found some old gowns that she would never wear again, bridesmaid dresses, prom dresses, dresses with beautiful fabric. She set about taking these dresses apart and using the fabric to create beautiful new dresses for little girls who would otherwise never have anything like this to call their own.

And Destiny Dresses was born.

Destiny Dresses is on Facebook, and here is its mission statement:

Mission Statement for Destiny Dresses

Destiny Dresses seeks to demonstrate the extravagance of God's love and grace and beauty by providing the poorest little girls in the world with beautiful dresses in Jesus' name. These remade dresses are gifts sewn by volunteer dressmakers from donations of wedding dresses, graduation dresses, bridesmaid dresses, and other special dresses from the closets of women who care enough to donate to this cause.

The dressmakers of Destiny Dresses also remake other gently used articles of clothing into everyday clothes for boys and girls in great need.

The dressmakers of Destiny Dresses are a network of volunteers, working with donations of clothing, fabric, buttons, lace, and thread. They sew with excellence and purpose because they believe that children are precious, that they reflect the image of God, and that they have a future and a hope through Jesus Christ.
The distribution of dresses and other remade clothing by Destiny Dresses is conducted by various means following ethical practices to ensure that no dress or other clothing is used to lure, entice, or in any way harm a child or any other person.
Carol and her little band of dressmakers have seen their dresses bless girls in Brasil, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Honduras, Peru and Zambia.
Have you got any dresses with beautiful fabric that you loved once but you know in your heart will never again see the light of day? (I can think of several in my closet ...)
I'll be heading up north to Athabasca in a few months, and I would love to meet Carol for the first time with an armful of dresses! If any of you would like to send a dress, or some buttons or lace, please let me know. I'm in Calgary, Red Deer, Edmonton and regions beyond, and I would be overjoyed to pick up your contributions. Or if you're planning a visit to the TH, please feel free to bring them there.
Just think: our old dresses could have a date with destiny! Even more important, it could change the destiny of some beautiful little girl with dreams in her heart of a dress fit for a princess.
A princess just like her.

Please note: All pictures, as well as Destiny Dresses logo, are from the Destiny Dresses page on Facebook, and have been taken and posted by either Carol or Alison Schafer.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Day 20: Hiding Behind a Veil

A Muslim woman, who is accusing two of her Muslim relatives of sexually assaulting her, went to the Ontario Court of Appeal because the lower court judge ruled that she remove her niqab, her veil, when the matter eventually comes to trial.

Last week, the Ontario Court of Appeal unanimously acceded to her request in part, in what amounts to really quite a milquetoast decision to the effect that if it makes her feel more comfortable, she be permitted to wear her veil in court. And if she is forced to remove her veil, perhaps a solution is that she be permitted to wait until all the males in the courtroom are herded out before doing so.

But of course, any situation like this needs to be judged on a case-by-case basis, the judges tell us. And if in some way it could be prejudicial to the accused, something else will have to be figured out, because (para. 46 of 2010 ONTCA 670) "[i]n a very real sense, the rest of M — d.S.'s life depends on whether his counsel can show that N.S. is not a credible or reliable witness. No one can begrudge M — d.S.'s insistence that his lawyer have available all of the means that could reasonably assist in getting at the truth of the allegations made against him."

And this week in Calgary we elected the first Muslim (Ismaili) mayor of a large Canadian city.

Clouds playing hide-and-seek with the moon
The irony is not lost on me: on one side of the country we have a man who has embraced this country and its culture, who cares passionately about its people - ALL its people - and has promised to work toward improving the quality of life of his fellow-citizens. He has not asked for special rights and privileges. He has not made his religion a platform; indeed, it was scarcely mentioned during his campaign, by him or by others. He has made no bones about the fact that it will be hard and that compromises and even sacrifices will have to be made to attain socioeconomic stability for Calgary. And he was elected in the city that has the reputation of being red-necked, culturally insensitive, buffoonish even.

On the other side of the country we have a woman who wishes for justice Canadian-style, while retaining the trappings of sharia law. It's worth noting the appalling fact that her own father was against bringing the proceedings when she was 16 years old and five years after the alleged assaults had ceased and this poor young woman had finally mustered the courage to tell a teacher about them. It would be interesting to discover if the father's motivation to keep silent was to protect his daughter from the "shame" of the situation. Under normal circumstances, it's contemptible that a father wouldn't defend his daughter, wouldn't want true justice to be served. Maybe he wasn't willing to subject his beloved girl to the "justice" that would be meted out in a sharia court by the men who today keep her behind her veil as an overt symbol of modesty and as a covert method of control, and who historically have blamed the victim for "inciting" these incidents as the natural consequence of their immodesty?

The judge states that one reason for allowing her to wear her niqab is that it would be difficult for this woman to face the defendants, especially since one is a close relative. But children who have been assaulted have to face their perpetrators in court if the victims have reached 18 years of age at time of trial - even if it's a parent the child has to face. Priests who have abused people in their trust have the right to see their accusers' faces.

You can be sure that if Corporal Marie-France Comeau and Jessica Lloyd were alive today, they would be forced to face Russell Williams in court.

In the tradition of this country's legal system, victims face their accused, forcing the latter to acknowledge that it is a person they have injured.

This woman, hiding behind her veil, has no personhood that the accused will be forced to acknowledge. The pain that would flit unbidden across her face  - and that the jury would be privy to if her face was visible - as she dredges up the memories of what she says happened to her as a child will go unseen.

By covering up, she becomes anonymous. By covering up, she locks herself even more tightly in the prison of her "religious freedoms", to quote Justice Doherty at para. 98 of his reasons. And at para. 80 he states, with apparent absence of irony, "Permitting her to wear her niqab while testifying would recognize her as an individual ... Adjusting the process to ameliorate the hardships faced by a complainant like N.S. promotes gender equality."
And as I see it, there are two strikes against the niqab right in these words: it absolutely takes away the wearer's individuality (for heaven's sake, people have argued that even school uniforms accomplish this very thing - and those wearers are not covered from head to toe!); and it flagrantly undermines gender equality. How many Muslim men are covered except for glimpses of their eyes? How can it promote gender equality to cover up one gender only?
Another point against wearing the niqab in court comes from the woman's own explanation for wanting to wear it:
" ...the religious reason is to not show your face to men that you are able to marry. It's to conceal the beauty of a woman and, you know, we are in a courtroom full of men and one of the accused is not a direct family member. The other accused is a direct family member and I, you know, I would feel a lot more comfortable if I didn't have to, you know, reveal my face [my emphasis]."
Taking the words literally, this woman is already married. So technically, she is not able to marry ANY man in the courtroom - unlike Muslim men, who are permitted to marry several women, Muslim women can have only one husband. But that is the letter of the sharia law I am pointing out, not the spirit of the law ...
The other statement is very, very revealing: She would simply "feel a lot more comfortable" if she didn't have to reveal her face even to her "direct family member" - something that is actually permitted in her culture (in deference to Islam, I cannot call it her religion, as nowhere in the Qu'ran does it dictate that a woman's face must be hidden). Most people would "feel a lot more comfortable" not having to be seen by the person they are accusing. This woman's alleged assaults occurred between the ages of 6 and 11. Undoubtedly the men have seen her in the subsequent 20 years - they live in the same community; her husband and the men worship at the same place; and, even more telling, she started wearing the niqab only five years ago.

It will be interesting to watch what transpires now. What cannot be denied is that this 32-year-old woman has suffered for years and needs justice to be served. And so does her accused, who are technically innocent until proven guilty, but who already will be bearing the stigma attached to those who are sexual abusers, especially of children.

Tonight I see so clearly how we cannot have it both ways. Sharia law would say that this woman should be controlled in some way, mainly because she's a woman. Her own father would have had her just let it disappear. She sees in the Canadian court system her chance for freedom to restore to her what rights and perhaps innocence she has lost. But she still can't quite make the jump, still can't quite relinquish the veil to obtain true freedom.
Splitting the sky

And tonight I have a new, deep, not-to-be-taken-for-granted-again appreciation for the veil that was torn one horrible afternoon, torn from top to bottom, torn right in a house of worship, proclaiming freedom for all people regardless of gender who want to come and worship God and trust in Him. The veil was torn to symbolize this freedom.

I also take hope in this tremendous promise from 2 Corinthians chapter 3 and verse 18 (ESV): "But we all, with unveiled face beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit."

Moon behind a veil

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Day 19: Prairie Sunset Sky

One of the advantages of living in a small town is that you have to drive to get to anywhere you need to be. An advantage? you query. Yes, because look at the views I have had driving to Red Deer, Calgary and Edmonton in the last ten days.

It makes me think of a story my Mum delighted in telling: four-year-old Justin, the only child of Salvation Army friends in India, was outside with his parents one evening when the sun was setting. "Look Mum!" he exclaimed, "God's been painting again!!"