Friday, February 25, 2011

My Valentine, Part 2 - The Rest of the Story

Antique Valentine card -
doesn't it suit the TH?!
After receiving the one Valentine's gift on Saturday, it seemed like God decided to have some fun. "Valentine's Day? Just the one day is enough for you?" he seemed to chortle. And these are some of the other Valentine gifts He has had delivered over the past days and weeks through various carefully selected cupids:

My lovely cousin, my own dear Sharon, pushed the cart for me at Costco and then bought me dinner afterwards. This after having popped a V-card in the mail for me. How I am enjoying getting to know this woman! To think that such a treasure has existed in my own back yard, within my grasp, for all these years ...

Music at church was made richer by my beautiful nephew Luke. This boy has been through fire and rain in his life already, and he is emerging tempered, malleable, strong, and with a spirit of generosity that reveals itself just when it's needed most.

Tuesday at first blush might have seemed like an odd Valentine's gift: I sat in ER with Dad for several hours. We shuffled about from the waiting room to the examination cubicle to the x-ray and lab areas and back to the examination cubicle again. There were no magazines anywhere. We got to chat and laugh and visit. There are so many demands on his time that the memory of these hours will be a keepsake I treasure.

One morning I was blind-sided. Literally. Five beautiful blinds were brought, already sized, to Nilgiris and then hung with care and obvious delight. Don and Norma had seen people squinting in the sunlight and found the perfect solution. "Some are for Valentines and some are for your birthday," they conceded when they realized that they had rendered me speechless.

As Sunday transitioned into Monday BA arrived at the TH. She had just returned from Calgary and came bearing a gift: a card and a red velvet heart-shaped cupcake filled and decorated with cream cheese icing from Deborah Joy. Deb also helped me enormously with the preparations for the Valentine's weekend ... 

Naomi, treasured friend, invited me for coffee and gave me the "purse" notepaper holder, complete with miniature pen that she had found separately and attached to the handle.

Brent came over for coffee and a chat in the purple chairs - the first time we have really been able to catch up since he started university. How gratifying it is to see one of "my" kids going forward academically, spiritually, socially. As his grandfather says, "That boy's one of a kind."

Tulips from Jackie. Jackie never forgets ...

And I received in the mail a book of the writings of Dorothy Wordsworth from my esteemed colleague and dear friend Bruce ...

And the Event this month with one of my favourite guys was enhanced by the presence of another one ...

I was given a heart-shaped tea strainer from Doreen and a card with 34 roses on it ...

... an hour of BA's time where we just sat by the fire and caught up; and another hour when she figured out how to hook my CD player to my iPod speaker in the dining room ...

 ... an entire bag of Georgette Heyer books from Kathryn, a woman after my own heart ...

...a visit from an old friend, Frances Ann, orchestrated by Cathryn ...

... and love in the key of A minor from Dan, who brought his lovely Missy for tea on a Saturday afternoon but also brought his violin and graced the TH with melodies floating unobtrusively over the chatter, swirling blissfully into the nooks and crannies of the place.

I also had a visit from my grandbabies and their mother and dad, Terri-Lyn and Collin. Terri-Lyn saw that I needed desserts and without missing a beat went back to the kitchen and cooked up a banana cream pie, just as if she had never left (Why did she leave, again ...?!) ...

... and a postcard from my Brenda in South Africa ...

... and a run to the Tilly shop on my behalf from Angela, who mercifully never gives up hope that some day I will be organized! ...

... and a flirty dress and frivolous scarf from Bronwyn ...

"And did she say she needed to be invited out for dinner?" God must have mused. Lo and behold, Dad and I were invited to the home of David and Elfie for a phenomenal dinner including her specialty, kartoffelkloesse, and a conversation that saw us in various parts of the world and at various times of history.

There were other little gifts slipped to me as well in the last few days, some tangible, many not. All of them exactly what I would want or need.

What a wonderful Valentine's time I experienced this year.  And all He asked in return was found in the message on a crazy little Valentine's candy heart:


If someone shows you like I've been shown how much he loves you, wouldn't you WANT to be his?!

Happy Valentine's, little TH!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

February 22, 1937

Seventy-four years ago today, God gave the world an extraordinary gift - Patricia Christeen O'Halloran. He loaded her with talents and abilities, and then throughout her life He taught her how to hone these talents and develop her abilities and share them with others. I was thinking the other day about how she lives on through her children, each clearly inheriting certain characteristics of her person.

Deborah Joy, you have her hands. Hands that help carry the load of all and sundry, strong hands that administer healing and nurture and comfort. And your hands also know how simply to hold the hand of another and reassure him or her that someone is there, that someone cares.

BA, you have her voice. I was listening to you reading a passage last Wednesday in the TH and you read it with exactly the same expression and feeling she would have. You shriek excitedly at sporting events like she did. You also do not hesitate to speak up for justice, for the underrepresented.

Cathryn, you have her artistry. You paint and write and dance with passion. Your art, like hers, seeks to uncover the mystery, to understand the meaning, and you have the ability to translate the inner workings of the heart into outward manifestations of beauty and grace.

Allan, you have her capacity for deep friendship. Like her, you never meet a stranger. People are drawn to you as they were to her. You care profoundly for people and do your best to be a blessing wherever you go, in whatever way you can.

Bronwyn, you have her beautiful brown eyes, eyes that discover the good in people, that discover avenues for ministry. Eyes that weep with those who weep and sparkle with joy when there is rejoicing. Eyes conveying glimpses into an abundant soul.

I was given her gift of music. My first music lessons were on her lap. One of the last things she did with me in her hospital room was teach me one more hymn. And with the music she provided me an avenue for solace, for both myself and others. 

All of these gifts have the power to continue blessing others because Dad, you have her heart. After she gave it to God, He let her give it to you. Because you were able to fill her heart and her days with love, she was able - that heart overflowing with gratitude - to love almost everyone with whom she came into contact.

And because, like 1 Corinthians 13 says, without love everything else is for naught.

The greatest of all of her gifts was love.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

My Valentine's Week, Part 1 - The Backstory

Oddly enough, it had been a rather solitary week for me. I am a person who loves being alone, who enjoys solitude. I was not used to feeling lonely.

I was preparing for Valentine's Weekend at the TH: the ads were in the paper; the TH voicemail was full with requests for reservations; I was chatting to Karl about the music and the set-up; the grocery list was nearing completion; and the table layout for the Sunday and Monday evenings was taking shape. In addition, I was having a productive week at Carswell.

So why was I experiencing this unaccountable sensation of invisibility, of displacement?

Of course! - In the bustling around to ensure Valentine's Day would be wonderful for everyone who was planning on coming to the TH, I was trying to shush the whisper in my brain and my heart reminding me that I would not be sitting at one of those intimate little candle-lit tables for two, that I would not be getting flowers and a card.

And so on the Friday before Valentine's Weekend kicked off I started to feel sorry for myself. I charged around Costco and Superstore, fake-smiling at the people who inevitably comment on my lovely red coat and hat. I rounded up strawberries and chocolate and aged cheddar cheese. I piled everything into Josephine and huffed my way home, trying not to think of the grocery bills and the hours of work ahead.

That Friday night at about 1:00 a.m. as I was leaving the kitchen, something else struck me: When Dad, Deb and I were making our reservations to go to India, I was fortunate enough to have saved enough Aeroplan points to get my ticket. However, the taxes came to around $500 ... and I hadn't that amount of money on hand. Dad gave me the money and - over his protests - I promised to pay him back. I had been saving my pennies, and had managed to gather together the right amount when I had to get new glasses. There went my savings! Just before I went to bed I was praying (whining, really), and I grumbled to God, "Now I don't even have the money to pay Dad back for India - why can't somebody love me and take care of me?"

And on that cheerful note, I fell asleep.

Saturday morning dawned bright and sunny and filled with waffles and whipped cream and strawberries. Everyone was so happy that my mood lightened and it was easy to rush around with the coffee pot and a genuine smile on my face. I remembered again why I love this place.

That afternoon, as I turned back to the kitchen from the dining room, I noticed an infrequent guest standing at the counter. "Just dropping off something for you ..." and then he was off.

When I had the time I opened the package. In addition to a new treasure for the TH was a card. And in the card was written, in part

"... Mom wanted you to have a little something for your trip to India"

Enclosed were five $100 bills wrapped in a separate piece of paper.

At that moment, everything in the bustling TH went quiet for me. So quiet, in fact, that I could hear a still, small voice whispering in my ear:

I love you.

I care for you.

Happy Valentine's Day.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Things That Make You Go "H'mmmmm ..."

Seen in the Sarcee Superstore parking lot (Calgary) late this afternoon...

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Valentine's Weekend, Day 3 - The Cats Are Back ...

At about 5:30 on Valentine's Day the Men in Black swept up to the front door of Nilgiris and started unloading their gear: guitar, amps, cords, and the tiny electric violin that comes to life under its master's touch.

They checked out the place; we adjusted a table or two; they pronounced it good. A brief sound check followed. Strong coffee was poured, and ribs - a couple of racks squirreled away for them from yesterday's dinner - were served. Guests started to arrive and chose where they'd like to sit. Linda and Henry sat close to the fireplace; Tricia and Aaron nestled down into the deep encompassing chairs we call The Hug.

BA poured pink lemonade punch for everyone as the Men went outside for a last-minute chat.

Jocelyn and Norma bustled about the kitchen, cutting fruit, grating cheese, tossing salad. When most of our guests had arrived, we started to serve dinner.

Chicken crêpes were accompanied by a cup of butternut squash soup and organic greens tossed with fresh raspberries, blackberries and blueberries in a raspberry vinaigrette and finished with a sprinkle of feta cheese. As the last couples were served the music started, low and sweet.

Dave Hamilton, guitar; Karl Roth, violin and vocals

Karl and Dave were in the house.

Lewis & Dawn - the third time they've heard
Karl in the TH. The first time they've had to
drive from Stettler to do so ...
 Fingers of music reached out to every corner of the room, to every table, gently smoothing a furrowed brow, caressing the curve of a cheek, touching the corner of a mouth.  Couples moved a little closer, smiled a little more mysteriously, whispered secrets to each other. Kal and Sylvia gazed into each other's eyes in a way that brought a lump to my throat.

BA moved about quietly, filling tea pots and coffee cups, clearing plates. Norma washed fondue bowls. Josie started melting chocolate for the next course.

And I stole moments away from the busyness to prop in the entrance and let the music wash over me and once again allow myself to become bewitched by the magic of these two fine musicians.

Newlyweds Ruth & Dawson.
"It's my favourite time of the week,"
Dawson commented about coming to the TH.

They were particularly good tonight, with easy camaraderie between themselves and a real connection with their rapt audience. A few of the people this evening had heard Karl and Dave playing at the TH before; but for most of them, it was a brand new experience. The old songs danced across the strings and the first time Karl sang people looked at each other in delight.

Scott & Heather chose the romantic loveseat
in the corner. It was they who first got the
ball rolling to get Karl and Dave back for
a Valentine's Day special event 

After about an hour of playing the Men took a break, the lights were raised slightly and the all-important decision of what chocolate to choose - white, milk or dark - was presented to the tables.

As I recapped the first set in my mind, something struck me as odd. There was another musician in the audience and he was talking quietly while Karl and Dave played. Some artists of my acquaintance do this to let the performer know that the latter is not such hot stuff; this particular musician is not one of those artists. I had not much time to ponder this anomaly, however, as fondue plates had to be filled with luscious strawberries, seedless green and red grapes, miniature honey mandarins, gala apple wedges and banana coins. Toss on some cream puffs, shortbread and pretzel twists and the second set was ready to be served.

Our own Lois Lewis's parents, and two of our
TH favourites, Marlowe & Dorothy

I heard a snippet of Ain't Misbehavin' and dashed out to witness Karl at his most charmingly tongue-in-cheek. Soon World On A String teased its way into the room. At that moment he had the TH on a string and all its habitués wrapped around his little finger.

Dianna & Bob. Two treasured members of
Dad's Wednesday TH Bible study group,
and true jazz aficionados to boot! 

I looked around the room at all the happy, loving couples enjoying their Valentine's evening. I looked at Karl, one of my oldest friends from Calgary. I saw BA, Norma and Jocelyn, my capable and cheerful team who made this evening possible in the first place. My heart sang.

Beth and Chris.
Fairly new to the TH,
they've quickly made themselves
part of the Nilgiris family.

Miss Patsy and Sweet William.
The way that man looks at her sometimes!
It makes you go,
"Ohhhhhh - to have a love like that ..."

Finally Karl glanced over at Dave and said, "It's about that time ..."
"Yes," replied Dave. And softly he played the intro and Karl started to sing:

Rebecca and Mike. What an encouragement
she has been to me during a couple of
particularly low periods in my life ...

Here we are, out of cigarettes Holding hands and yawning -
Look how late it gets! -
Two sleepy people
by dawn's early light
But too much in love to say goodnight

Here we are in a cozy chair,
Pickin' on a wishbone
from the Frigidaire
Two sleepy people
with nothing to say
But too much in love to
break away

Ken and Bernadette: Was it almost two years
ago that you danced at your wedding
reception in this sweet place?!

 Do you remember the nights
we used to linger in the hall?
(To absolutely no one's surprise)
your father didn't like me at all
Do you remember the reason
we married in the fall?
To rent this little nest
and get a bit of rest

Murray and Jean - I have had the privilege
of playing a couple of times in church
with Murray, a proficient guitarist
in his own right

Well, here we are,
just about the same,
Foggy little fella, drowsy little dame
Two sleepy people
by dawn's early light,
And too much in love to say  Goodnight ... 
The town's cutest sisters-in-law,
arguing over the bill ...
Pat came to every event this weekend!

The crowning touch to an
unforgettable evening!

As people reluctantly started to get up and I took a few more pictures, the other musician in the audience urgently beckoned me over. "Please?" he said. And he put his arm around his sweetheart and held her hand in his - a hand freshly adorned with a sparkling diamond ring, which in no way came close to the sparkle in two sets of eyes as they smiled for the camera ... And then it became clear to me why Lewis had to speak when he did. Best wishes for the happiest of life together!

Peter with his vivacious wife Wendy - first-time visitors to the TH this Valentine's evening - commented as he prepared to leave: "I'm from Edmonton, and it's taken me coming to Three Hills and hearing these men tonight to realize that I should be taking advantage of the opportunity to listen to live music like this every weekend. Thank you."

Thank you, all of you, for a wonderful Valentine's evening. And thank you, Karl and Dave, for coming out from Calgary to scatter pixie dust over the whole TH for three magical hours.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine's Weekend, Day 2 - It All Started With a Rib ...

Valentine's Dinner this year promised to be truly romantic: so many people called well in advance to make dinner dates with their sweethearts, relating to me some happy anecdote from their lives together or requesting a special favourite table in the TH. Here's a snapshot of some of them: 

George called before anyone else. Some years ago he and his beautiful bride Loretta did me the honour of asking me to cater their wedding - the first off-site event Nilgiris catered, and a particularly happy memory. Tonight George and Loretta got the fireplace table with the purple chairs.

Laurence came by, booking a quiet corner for him and his lovely Bobbi, Bobbi's sister Carol and her devoted Gerry. I thought back to the time we did an Indian buffet for Laurence and Bobbi's wedding anniversary; how Dad went to college with Gerry and how when Mum and Dad were in that awful car accident shortly after the TH opened, it was to Gerry and Carol - who were in the TH when the call came - that I went and how Gerry just dropped everything, took my hand and prayed for M&D right then and there.

Char phoned me and reserved a spot for her and Brian; later they invited Ted to join them for dinner. How these three bless and encourage me every Saturday morning that they are able to come to the TH. Let me guess: coffee, Earl Grey and Cream Earl Grey to drink?!

The always vivacious Miss Patsy called for a table for her and Sweet William. They would be bringing two friends with them. It doesn't seem so long ago that Pat along with Bill's sister Joanne sat down with me in the TH one afternoon and we made arrangements for the TH to take dinner three times a week to Ray and Margaret, Bill's and Joanne's parents who lived half a block away in Porchlight Village. My favourite memory of all those deliveries is this: I was standing at the kitchen counter and setting out Margaret's good china for them and listening to Margaret, who was propped on her walker, telling me a story. Ray, well over 90 years old, slowly emerged from the living room, balancing himself with his walking stick. As he made his way past Margaret, he reached out and gave her a little pat on her posterior. And - no word of a lie - Margaret flushed to the roots of the snowy halo of her hair, giggled like a teenager whose secret crush has just noticed her for the first time, and completely lost her train of thought! Margaret had gone on to heaven some time back, and Ray joined her a few months ago. I couldn't help but wonder what this Valentine's day would hold for the sweethearts who are together once again ...

Barbara and Fred, two of the most gracious people ever to enter our dining room doors, also came for dinner. Fred teases me mercilessly; but he can also take it as well as give it, and his humble and gentle spirit is evident through all he says and does. Fred shouldn't be walking - he shouldn't be with us, really, due to what could have been a fatal farm accident - but he persevered patiently and with quiet determination through the pain that continues to this day, coming to the TH when he could. I never once heard him complain or bemoan his fate. He and Barb are truly among those who can rejoice when someone is rejoicing and weep when a heart is breaking.

Kevin and Laurel were a wonderful addition to our Valentine's celebration. And Laurel took the honours for the most romantic gesture of the evening: she placed on their table a heart-shaped rock that Kevin had given her one summer when they were tree planting and still in the dating stage of their relationship. Laughingly he confessed that he didn't remember it; she, gazing at him, said, "But I still treasure it ..." Kevin and Laurel have borne so much in their life together, and their love remains strong and steadfast. Now I know how - it is anchored to the Rock which cannot move, which does not change.

Jamie and Jill were with us through a gift from Jamie's parents, Claudia and Don. About one week ago, Jill gave birth to their daughter Annie - and Claudia and Don wanted to treat them to some time together before the ecstatic grandparents went south. Jamie, bursting with pride, demanded, "Just look at her! Can you believe she had a baby a few days ago?" And Jill, glowing and radiant, mother of four and an old hand at this by now, still beamed back at him like a newlywed.

Jackie and Oswaldo came and shared our "Sweets to the Sweet" dessert sampler tray. These two are such a part of the TH family now, not just because all three of their children work or worked here but because each time they come here I can sense their deep care and love for this place and for me. And Jackie has bailed me out a number of times when I needed staff. She has a broken foot right now or I know she would have been in the kitchen right alongside of Don and Norma and the girls, doing whatever needed to be done.

There are two other couples I wanted to tell you about; however, my camera lost its charge and so I was unable to take their pictures:

Sharon and Vernon have been regular customers since the day we opened in 2003. And over the years they have also grown to be dear friends. Right from the start they made a commitment to support Nilgiris through their patronage and their prayers. We have each been through deep waters in the past eight years but we have drawn comfort from being able to talk with one another, from just being in the TH, from knowing someone is there who cares.

(c) Ron Nickel Photography
My lovely Krista and her inamorato, Ben, came for dinner and sat at the table we call Hidden Valley. Krista helped me in the kitchen some months ago and to this day will pop in when things seem crazy and lend a hand and a calming presence. She is truly a Renaissance woman, cooking, writing, perfecting her talents in photography, directing the music program at church, caring for two small children, speaking out with a strong advocate's voice for Down syndrome children. Ben is an up-and-coming conductor, and is the Director of the Three Hills Arts Academy: one of the highlights of my musical experience in Three Hills was his production of Fauré's Requiem. He also managed to put together a spectacular Beauty and the Beast last year, drawing audiences from Edmonton and Calgary as well as from the neighbouring towns and villages. The title characters? Our own Krista and Ben ... 

Alicia and Daryl slipped in late on Saturday evening for a quiet tête-à-tête by the fireplace. Alicia is someone I am starting to get to know - her glorious hair grabbed my attention the first time I saw her; it is her quiet radiance that draws me to her now.

There were other guests, of course, so many stories that deserve to be told. 

The rack of ribs was accompanied by a baked potato, corn and a cup of jello salad containing lime, cream cheese and pineapple. No one left hungry; and I think their hearts were full too. Happy Heart Day, all of you. I look forward to reading more chapters in the love stories that were celebrated in the TH last evening! 

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Valentine's Weekend, Day 1 - Long Live the King!

The day started way too early for my liking. Is this Valentine's thing really all that it's cracked up to be, I asked myself. I formed cinnamon rolls and whipped up mango mousse and wondered if it would be a good day at Nilgiris.

Then he landed at the TH at 9 a.m. sharp, armed with apron and attitude. He set up extension cords and tested waffle irons: "Our biggest fear is if we blow breakers," he pronounced. My biggest fear was that no one would show.

Don and Norma were taking over the kitchen to show us how it was done in the good old days, the days of the Dairy King where people came for a coffee, stayed for a burger and ended up befriended by the genial proprietors.

Even though the place has changed ownership several times and is unrecognizable today, people still call it "The King" and Don and Norma get asked almost every week if they would take it over again so that everyone could once again meet their friends at their favourite hangout.

Debs and Caite arrived from Calgary and got into the action: Debs started whipping up vats of batter and cooking the sausages; Caite arranged the tulips on each table. BA walked in and made beverages for the sanctioned early birds. She had come in the night before too, and had written the menu board:

And just before 10 a.m., a line started forming outside the front door.

Norma spooned strawberries on piping hot, crisp Belgian waffles and piled on the whipped cream, aided by Angie, who kept up with all the other orders. The Sisters were everywhere, taking orders, getting coffees and teas, jollying Don along. And Don, back in his element, saw all his and Norma's old friends who love them and remember to this day that there was no place like the Dairy King in the days of Don and Norma, and there never will be. 

"It's time for some PR," stated Don and surged forth out of the kitchen. "Hey, Boy," he boomed to Ron. "Some places still haven't caught on to you - you're allowed in here?" "Fred, I saved that waffle for you from the King - it's 20 years old and still as good as ever! Eat up!" 

People wandered back into the kitchen to give Norma a kiss. The Sisters, who had come to have breakfast, rushed around filling up coffee cups and clearing tables, happily taking orders from one of the best bosses any of us had ever worked for.

The frenzy lasted until 2:15 when we ran out of sausages and there was just enough batter left for the staff to have a waffle each.

We had served over 50 Belgian waffles, topped with strawberries and whipped cream and accompanied by breakfast sausages.

It wasn't quite the Dairy King - we didn't have to wear brown pinafores! - but the spirit was the same and the people were the same and the love was the same.

Don and Norma came back for dinner later that evening.  They had had a rest and were talking and laughing, full of reminiscences. What a lovely time it had been!

Happy Valentines Day, you two. We love you more than you know.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Final Word

Monday was his funeral. That morning the wind sighed and the sky released icy tears. The sun did not show its face.

Flowers sent to the TH
in honour of George

The church groaned with the number of people who wanted to pay their last respects, groaned with grief at the loss of one of the town's authentically great men.

As Paul said in his eloquent eulogy for his father, "Dad was a true gentleman. A true gentle man."

Robert read Psalm 139:

O LORD, thou hast searched me, and known me.
Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, Thou understandest my thought afar off.
Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways.
For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O LORD, Thou knowest it altogether.
Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid Thine hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it.
Whither shall I go from Thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from Thy presence?
If I ascend up into heaven, Thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, Thou art there.
If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea;
Even there shall Thy hand lead me, and Thy right hand shall hold me.
If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me.
Yea, the darkness hideth not from Thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to Thee.
For Thou hast possessed my reins: Thou hast covered me in my mother's womb.
I will praise Thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are Thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.
My substance was not hid from Thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in Thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.
How precious also are Thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them!
If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand: when I awake, I am still with Thee.
Surely Thou wilt slay the wicked, O God: depart from me therefore, ye bloody men.
For they speak against Thee wickedly, and Thine enemies take Thy name in vain.
Do not I hate them, O LORD, that hate Thee? and am not I grieved with those that rise up against Thee?
I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies.
Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts:
And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

The music was exquisite: the hymns chosen included George's favourite - "How Great Thou Art" - and Diane's - "On Eagle's Wings". George's grandson Connor played one of his own compositions on the piano, a tribute to his Gramps.

But the most marvellous part of the service was when Paul and the Reverend Wendy Galloway talked about his father's last days in the hospital, his last words.

He had expressed these thoughts:

"God is looking after me."

"I'm 83 and I've had a good life."

When I heard those statements, I reflected that one of the things so endearing about George is that he never took anything for granted. He had been given much; but he had also experienced deep losses and sorrows, hardships and struggles. Each circumstance was accorded the weight and the thought, the action and the gratitude, that was due to it.

And finally,

"I am ready to meet God"

George was too weak to speak at the end, and so they gave him a tablet and a pen. This was the last thing he wrote before his hand could no longer muster the enormous effort required.

His last expressed word was God.

When it came to the waning moments of his life on earth, George was able to strip away all that was temporal and to focus on what was eternal.

His beloved Diane and his remaining children, Lewis, Tina, Robert and Paul, along with their families, had sustained him and comforted him and supported him up to this point. But they could go no further with him on this journey.

There was only One who could walk the final steps with him; and George turned to Him, confident that as He had promised George through his life on earth - "I will never leave you nor forsake you" - He would continue with him into, through and beyond the valley of the shadow of death.

We who remain will continue to sorrow, continue to remember, continue to profit from his example of kindness combined with resolution and his strength of character.

But we do not sorrow as those who have no hope.

For our dear George is free of pain, free of anxiety and troubles. He is with God. And as his beloved Di said, "At least he was spared prolonged suffering - we can be thankful for that."

As I came back to the TH and stood on the verandah looking out over the green space, thinking about the funeral, thinking about George, thinking about God's grace and comfort, the sun broke through the clouds, pale but golden, victorious, offering hope.

It had been there all along.