Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Would You Buy This Cake?

I was asked by Marlene, manager of the local Credit Union, to make a cake for the annual "Santa Cause," a fundraiser hosted by our Chamber of Commerce and with all proceeds going to three local charities.

So I went with the carrot cake. I must say, it came out beautifully. AND I threw in a jar of tea. 

But that wasn't enough. Marlene said we had to write something to describe the cake, something that will garner interest in it and raise the bids. The MC will read aloud what we write, apparently, and get things going.

This is what I wrote, and some poor man will have to read it to the audience! I hope it works ...


Close your eyes for a moment …… Go on, do it. Now ……… What do you think of when you think of love? ……..  No, not THAT love, UNCONDITIONAL love. Love with no strings attached …

You can open your eyes now.

That’s the chief ingredient in this carrot cake. Love. From the second the first egg is cracked open and slips into the bowl to the moment the cake is taken out of the oven, precisely one hour and 17 minutes after it’s been gently placed onto the centre rack, every gesture in the measuring, mixing, stirring and baking includes affection and happy thoughts.

Thoughts of the person who will purchase this cake and will share it with their friends and family – they’ll be passing on that love. And people will want seconds.

There is no fruitiness or nuttiness in this cake – there’s been enough of that already … remember how you closed your eyes?!

It’s just lots of carrots kissed with the purest vanilla, baked especially for you.

But the luscious cream cheese icing that flirts with your taste buds and teases you with a hint of something spicy to come … it’s enough to make Santa give his list another look! 

Enjoy your cake with a pot of the Tea Bag’s favourite tea, Cream Earl Grey.

Hope for the Helpless - Josh on the Mountain

Josh's mother has so very graciously shared with us the picture of Josh that I was trying to describe in my last post.

I would ask you to take a moment to look into his beautiful, beautiful face. 

That face is now seeing Jesus' face. 

But, oh, the devastation that face's absence is causing here on earth!

In all the busyness and the bustle and the beauty of this season, please don't forget Josh. 

Please don't forget the other Joshes who are out there in our communities, who are struggling with unnamed, unspoken pain, pain that seems darker and heavier in this season of light and joy.

There are people from many countries all over the world who read the Leaves. Please, wherever you are ... take a moment to add Josh's family - his Mom and Dad, his elder sister and his two younger siblings - to your Christmas gift list this December. Give them the gift of your prayers and your love and your invisible support throughout the month as they now trudge the weary, anguished path up their own looming mountain.

And remember that there is hope. Underneath Josh's family - underneath each of us who cries out to Jesus - are the everlasting arms.

There is hope for the helpless, rest for the weary
Love for the broken heart
There is grace and forgiveness, mercy and healing
He'll meet you wherever you are
Just cry out to Jesus
Cry out to Jesus

When you're lonely and it feels like the whole world is falling on you
You just reach out, you just cry out to Jesus
Cry to Jesus

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Season of Advent, Week 1: Hope - "But For This Time We Have Jesus"

There is one image in that sad, sad afternoon which haunts me: They had both been so brave individually for the entire service. They had sung the songs; they had comforted their remaining children; he had given the eulogy himself. But during the last song, he stood up, indicated for his daughter to move over, and sat down beside his wife. In unison they reached for each other, cradling the other's head in their arms, cheek to cheek, clinging together, pressing closer than words, obliterating thought for one brief agonized moment.

The songs that are playing on RtL during Advent this year are ones my nephew's friend Josh had on his iPod and ones that were played and sung at his funeral.

At the beginning of the service Ian Trigg, the lead pastor at Foothills Alliance Church, gathered us all together with words along these lines:

We are here today to support a wonderful family

We are also here today to look at life and wonder
at family and hope
We will examine pain and sadness
loss and confusion
We will listen to His promptings
We will evaluate our lives

On the front of the stage was lovingly grouped a collection of Josh's treasures: books and games, his Kobo reader and iPod, a wooden castle complete with turrets and a draw bridge and sentinels en garde, his Scouts uniform and blanket with so many badges. There stood his ski equipment and his bike, packed tenderly for this day by his Dad and ready to go on one more trip. A picture of Josh and his siblings peeked out from one corner and flowers dotted the tableau.

And in the centre of it all was Josh's well-used, well-loved Bible.

"There are many questions that will never be answered," Ian cautioned us all. "We have all asked the question Why? 

"But in our looking for hope, I would suggest we answer the question Who?"

I looked at the items hanging against the backdrop of the stage, words etched on simple squares: 





And these: not a fan and Luke 9:23

And this drawing: three crosses sketched starkly on the right hand side of the square with what looks like the silhouettes of three people to the left of the square, their arms reaching toward the centre cross.

James Wheeler, another pastor, read from Isaiah chapter 57 and verse 1, the same text that Dad read at Mum's funeral:

The righteous man perishes,
and no one lays it to heart;
devout men are taken away,
while no one understands.

James commented that his child, who is a friend of Josh, said to him, "I don't get it ... If this kind of thing can happen to Josh, what makes our Christianity so special?"

What indeed ...

James's answer came in the form of a two-part question: "Does God know what it's like to lose a son?" and "Was Jesus' death on the cross the end - did Jesus stay in the grave?" He said that he was given the opportunity to discuss these two questions and the significance of their answers with his boy; and then at the end of their dialogue he asked his beloved son, "Is this the end of Josh's story? No way. No way."

After all the songs were sung, after the beautiful eulogy was given from a heart severed beyond relief, Ian again got up to speak.

No one saw this coming, he told us. As wonderful as we believe Heaven to be, Josh made a tragic decision ... he carried a burden that he didn't know how to talk about.

We can't explain life; we can't explain death; we can't explain tragedy, he went on. Death always seems unnatural - we are MADE for eternity. 

But despite the joy that we had heard about in Josh's life, pain was just under the surface. A sobering statistic: 15 - 40% of Canadian teenagers are suicidal at any given point.

Ian urged us all to take a look into our own hearts and ask ourselves, How well are we?

We have three choices, he suggested.
  1. Despair - we abandon hope. Despair narrows our capacity to think clearly. If you are in despair today, Ian urged, ask for help. Don't let despair win the day. We all lose when it does.
  2. Denial - strong, tough, brave, cynical. Hard on the outside to cover pain on the inside, we become numb. But the pain is still there. We have become experts at denial in our culture, as we ignore the quiet voice saying, What's your life all about? What about God? What about faith?
  3. Decision to make room for God - to choose this option is to choose to build an inner world. And this is the answer to Who?
Christianity is not a faith for people who have it all together, Ian reminded us. It is a faith for him, for Josh, for us. God loved this world so much that He gave His son, Jesus, who died for our ignorance, our arrogance, our despair. 

There is NO sin that He cannot forgive. He doesn't care about our church attendance or our giving. He just cares about us.

Josh made a terrible mistake, Ian mourned. But Jesus died for our screw-ups and our mistakes. The Jesus whom Josh knew and loved said, "I will never leave you or forsake you."

Josh's life and death has changed us all, Ian observed. We've lost our innocence; we see life is not as simple as we might think.

But it's not as complicated as we might think, either, he encouraged us. Let's embrace the truth. Let's have the important conversations.

Let's embrace life.

"But for this time, we have Jesus."

The service closed with this song by Robin Mark:

When it's all been said and done

There is just one thing that matters

Did I do my best to live for truth?

Did I live my life for you?

When it's all been said and done

All my treasures will mean nothing

Only what I have done

For love's rewards

Will stand the test of time

Lord, your mercy is so great

That you look beyond our weakness

That you found purest gold in miry clay

Turning sinners into saints

I will always sing your praise

Here on earth and in heaven after

For you've joined me at my true home

When it's all been said and done

You're my life when life is gone.

The other image of the afternoon that left a lasting imprint on my heart and mind and soul is the reason I chose to usher in this first week in Advent, the week in which we remember hope, by writing of the funeral that should not have been. So strong was my visceral reaction to this scene that I made a clumsy sketch of the image I saw in the tiny notebook I carry in my purse.

That image is this: on the screen at the front of the sanctuary was projected a picture of a smiling Josh in the foreground, just off to the left. Behind him, curving through the mountains and literally up into the clouds to the right of Josh at the top of the picture, is a path.

And halfway up that picture, halfway between Josh and the clouds of Heaven, the mountain slopes are cut away and rise up on either side of the path. These slopes are white, in contrast to all the green and brown surrounding them, and they look like the outstretched arms of someone wearing a cloak of protection.

The fifth book of the Bible, Deuteronomy, talks about these arms. In chapter 33 and verse 27, we read, "The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms."

The Everlasting Arms is the who Ian asked us to look toward. Those everlasting arms were with Josh on the day that picture was taken; and they were just as surely with him on the last day of his life, underneath him the entire time he fled up the path to his refuge, the eternal God.

And into this season of despair for one family who have had to give up their son speaks the words of hope from the prophet Isaiah of a Father who also gave up His son:

For unto us a child is born
Unto us a son is given
and the government shall be upon his shoulders
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counsellor
Mighty God
Everlasting Father
Prince of Peace

"But For This Time We Have Jesus." 

We have Hope.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Asher and Esmerelda

Meet the two new people in the TH. They're only seasonal help, though, so get to know them while you can!

That's Esmerelda on the left, and Asher on the right. Ez was named by Oliver and Ash is named after my new buddy Asher, a super cool guy who comes to the TH now and then.

Some of Ash and Ez's new friends:

The things you'll do to coax
your kids to make friends ...

Christmas question for December: Any kids under the age of the real Asher (12!) who come into the TH and can tell me the names of both the snowpeople get a free hot chocolate or hot apple cider (the first time you tell me!!) ...

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Year of the Nephew: Luke ...

I remember visiting you shortly after you were born: with your dark eyes and perfectly shaped head, you were one the most beautiful babies I had ever seen. 

Your good nature and sweet spirit, combined with your fearlessness, gave all of us no choice but to love you and cherish you and cheer you on. Oh ya, and pray for you. A lot.

You have never been afraid of a challenge, never afraid of hard work. You're a natural leader and the joy you convey is contagious, spreading to those who have the privilege of coming into contact with you.

One of my all-time favourite pictures, and the one on my desktop, is this one:

I love how you are standing guard over Matt and how Craig leans into you with complete confidence that his big brother will be there for him.

I've watched you grow and mature over the years until now I witness how you are there for so many people who might need a boost or an encouraging word. I love how you pop over to see your Grandpa when you're in town, and it means so much to him too. Whenever you have time to stop at the TH for a few  minutes, like last Sunday, it just makes my day. I admire how you are learning to cut to the chase of what's truly important and to focus on that.

You are a person with an enormous heart and a great capacity for love. I wish you much love in return. I am so proud of you, my first-born nephew. 

Happy birthday.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

50th Birthday

Today you would have turned 50. I wrote the following after we spoke on your birthday 32 years ago. How I miss you!

Phone Call from Kansas

The phone rings – I pick it up
and in an altered tone of voice
you state: “I’m living for myself.”
You – one of the most respected ones
with parents on the mission field
(How they have failed their closest ones
While striving for the “heathen lost”!)
You go on into the silence that follows,
“Now don’t you worry – I’ll be okay.”
But you won’t, for I can sense
that you’re puzzled and heartsore and lost inside,
disillusioned by the western dream
while scrabbling for the streets of gold
“I’ve got a head on my shoulders, you know.”
Yes, but for how much longer? I think,
as you tell of near-crashes, policemen and girls,
the drinks and the drugs, the friends that you’ve made
Your pitch gets higher and faster until
you suddenly stop.

“What do you think? Are you shocked?” you ask
No, not shocked – just helpless, scared
We begin to chat, and as I say
“I’m going to Greece on my honeymoon”
the mood again changes as you respond
“Marry me, you’ll have lots of fun …”
Oh, my friend, for you’ll always be that
no matter what happens in this life
Is fun the most important goal
to aim at while we’re on the earth?
As you go to hang up, you ask,
“Still my friend, Tinhead?” I want to weep
but I manage to stumblingly reply
“Always your friend, Maynard.”

    November 16, 1979

Monday, November 14, 2011

Weekend Pass

I can't remember the last time I sat as a
"regular customer," as Oliver put it,
being served my Cream Early Grey and
drinking from a cup Bronwyn gave me!
Don't get me wrong: it's not that I don't love all you people in my TH family.

But when someone who loves me said to me, "K, I'm coming down to work for you on November 12 and 13 so that you can hang out with Dad and the boys," I admit that I felt a bit like someone who has been given an unexpected weekend pass from a minimum security facility ...

The last few weeks have seen me stretched to my breaking point, what with Carswell, TH events, and - just in case I didn't have enough on my plate already - the first academic course I have taken in 27 years (which is the first online course I have ever taken) ...

Debs, observer of human nature that she is, saw I was starting to become a bit of an automaton and somehow sensed when the balance would tip out of my favour, and she made me this offer for this weekend, on one condition: I could hang out at the TH, but I was not allowed to work - I had simply to enjoy it.

Here's how my weekend gift was spent:

Friday night to Saturday, I slept for ten hours - TEN!!

I went into Airdrie with Don and Norma for lunch ...
Seriously, Norma? Do you REALLY
need all that stuff?!

and then Don dropped Norma and me off at HomeSense to get a couple of things for the TH while he dealt with window coverings at Lowe's...

As we approached the mall, I commented in shock that I had never seen the place so busy or the parking lot so full. Norma laughed out loud and said, "When's the last time you went shopping on a Saturday, Karyn?!"

We drove back to Three Hills and decided to drop in at the TH for dessert. There we found Dad, BA and the boys just pulling up.

Debs waited on us, and I can tell you that I need to smarten up if I don't want to find myself out of a job!

Deborah serving me scones
with special strawberry jam ...

Later that evening, I hung around the TH, visiting with Vernon and Sharon; then after closing time, I got to chat with Deb, who was cooking, and BA, who wrote the board for Sunday's offerings.

After a nine-hour sleep (to think that 19 hours is about what I've been getting for a whole week lately!) I charged down the stairs to go to Sunday School. Deb had already been working, and I was greeted by a cup of hot coffee and a chauffeured ride.

After Sunday School we went back to the TH with Elliot and Oliver, who did homework and worked on a project for their parents, and BA helped put up lights while Deb kept working away in the kitchen. A great moment was an unexpected visit from Luke and Craig. We made lattes and got a little bit caught up with them. It was lovely to see my big boys in the TH and I only wished that my Matt had been here too - that would have made the moment perfect ...

Then it was off to lunch at Dad's home. Usually when I actually get to eat Sunday lunch with my family, it's more a matter of inhaling my food and rushing back to the kitchen to continue preparing. This Sunday I had no such anxiety - Deb was in charge in the kitchen, God was in His heaven and all was right with the world!

Then it came 3 o'clock - and to my delight, who should walk in but Brent, who was meeting Coach for coffee. I got to sit and drink coffee with him for a few minutes ... and then suddenly the dining room was full. People were at every single table. Curt tore around getting orders, I made drinks and BA delivered them, while Deb kept up with all the dessert and food orders.

But by 3:45 all was calm and I grabbed my coffee cup and sat for a few minutes with Ed. Our conversation started with talking about his vacation but grew progressively darker. Sorry, Ed! Next time we'll stick with Hawaii!

At 5:45, my father walked through the door and I got to do something I haven't been able to do for a few years now - go to evening church and sit with my Dad! My Aunt Ev was playing the piano, and Cyril, the substitute pastor, asked a question that has stayed with me: Are you a thermometer or a thermostat? A thermometer is reactive - it can't do anything except show the temperature of the space it is occupying. A thermostat can change the temperature in a room - but it has to be plugged into a power source in order to do so. Do I reflect change or effect it? Am I connected to my power source at all times? 

Curt serving "Pastor Ironside"
After church, we had the Ironside standing reservation at the TH for 7:15 and five of us sat down to dinner at Quiet Corner. Curt was serving us, so it was far from quiet - that child is a stand-up comedian, if only he knew it!

Oswaldo had expertly concocted a delicious broccoli and cheddar soup; Deb had created an almond cup filled with lemon mousse, light as air and creamily delicious; and Tiffany with her magic touch brought the desserts to life ...
Lemon almond cup

Banana crepe

Meet Cinderella ...
After dinner I chatted with a few people, including the magical Rebecca who brought me the tiny pink flying pachyderm complete with little glass slippers, showing me that even elephants can have their Cinderella moment!

Alas, just like in all good fairy tales, the clock struck midnight and I had to return to my kitchen. But I went to bed that night feeling cared for and woke this morning wonderfully refreshed. 

I kept thinking of the verse, "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." I realize that Debs didn't have to lay down her life for me; but I had felt pretty close to being ready to drop from exhaustion and pressures within and without. Deb saw it and laid down her weekend for me. Her WHOLE weekend.

A pretty enormous amount of love, wouldn't you say? 

Thank you Deborah Joy.

Saturday, November 12, 2011


This is the first time in the history of the world that we have commemorated Remembrance Day on 11.11.11. The last 11.11.11 was 1911 - three years before "the shot heard around the world."

Today, in keeping with our Nilgiris Tea House tradition, we were open to the public from after the town's Remembrance Day service until 6 p.m., and veterans and service people were our honoured guests.

We made some new friends.

Some are old friends by now.

Some old friends' faces were missing this year.

Here is our 2011 Tea House Parade of Veterans:

Tillie Staples, a WREN who cooked in the Navy. Here she is with her daughter Heather who, along with Heather's husband Cliff,is a good friend to the TH.

I must confess to feeling a little inadequate when I learnt that Tillie had been a cook who could figure out how to make do with less; but she takes after her daughter and put me at ease completely! Please come back soon, Tillie!

Able Seaman Everett Kleven served at the end of WW2 and for five years afterward. He called up his friend ...

... Stoker First Class Bill Grier who, along with his daughter, joined us for lunch too.
Bill is a wonderful story teller and I wish I had been able just to sit down and listen to him for an afternoon. He served on HMCS LaChine, a Bangor class mine sweeper submarine. It had two Dominion Solser engines of 1000 HP each, and the regular crew slept in hammocks, which were better than bunks in rough seas. Once, off the coast of Cape Breton, they had to release one bomb and the water turned white all around them - they had struck a school of cod! They were so excited because that meant fresh food that day - and four of those fish fed 87 men; the cod were so big that it took two men to lift one of them aboard. I was delighted to be able to serve this man a fresh roast beef dinner, which he tucked into with great gusto. I thought about how, all these years later, his face lit up when he thought about that fresh fish for dinner.

(Please forgive my dreadful picture of Bill - he was in fine fettle and I couldn't get him to stop chatting for a moment to take the picture!) 

Ted came in with a couple of ladies. He just wanted dessert, so all three of them had pie. Ted didn't talk very much, apart from saying it was good chocolate pie. But just as he was getting ready to leave, I asked him if I could take his picture because I was going to write about all my veterans who came to visit me. 

He pulled himself up straight, said, "I don't take a good picture," and then when I asked him his name he said clearly and with confidence, "Captain Ted Garrett - Army - Korean War." Thank you, Captain Garrett.

Sergeant Dixon Carter is the only veteran who has never missed a Remembrance Day dinner at the tea house, and the day wouldn't be the same without him. His lovely daughter, Wendy, brings him faithfully each year and we always have a delightful chat. This year, however, was even more special: our own Tiffany proudly carried out her great-grandfather's dinner to him. Sergeant Carter served his Army stint in Great Britain during the War, and all over Canada in peace time, for a total of 28 years. As he was leaving, I said to him, "Have we got a date for this time, next year?"

He chuckled and said, "If the Lord wills - and if my great-granddaughter can serve me. Look after that great-granddaughter of mine ..."

Corporal Keith Leonard was brought for dinner by his daughter, who unfortunately couldn't stay. This lovely man, with a chest full of medals, told me that he would just wait to eat with her. "When's Rita coming back?" he asked several times. Brian Torpy, whose picture somehow I didn't take, gently told him to order the roast beef and talked with him about various experiences the two of them had had around the world. When it came time for dessert Corporal Leonard said he didn't want any, but he would eat some ice cream if it was put in front of him. As he said that, he smiled - the first smile he had given me, and it lit up his beautiful face and found its mark in my heart. 

"The Gang": A few less this year - my darling Jessie Howe couldn't join us and some of our other friends have been laid to rest - but the others were here, valiant soldiers all.

Margarite Paget, still feeling keenly the loss of her twin sister Marjorie who had also served with her ...

Margaret Trentham, President of the Legion, Three Hills Chapter #92 ...

Phil and Marion Johnson. Marion is a reminder of how hard it is to have to remain at home when your loved one is deployed; I think of the lines of John Milton - actually written about his own blindness but so appropriate for these spouses, who are as valiant and as brave as their partners - "They also serve who only stand and wait." When I was taking their picture Marion, laughing, said, "Make sure that light on his head doesn't look like a halo. I'm the one who should have the halo!"

Phil always teases me, and FINALLY I had a chance to get him back this year. He asked me how he could get hold of me to set up the Legion Christmas dinner. The Gang was sitting at the east window, so I asked Phil to look out the window to the empty lot at the end of the street. He did. Then I told him, "Go there and start a fire and send me smoke signals. If I happen to be home I'll see them. However, I'm not very good at reading smoke signals, so as an alternative, you could just telephone me ..."

The Legion Christmas dinner was my favourite of the whole season last year. Phil, let's not get our signals crossed - I'm already looking forward to this year!

Poppa, AKA Rifleman Philip Noble: A better name could not be found for this dear friend. Noble in spirit and noble in heart, he served in the Queen's Own Rifles Canada. He served in the Cold War and was actually in Germany as the War went up.

When Ilona, his bride of 51 years and counting, called to make a reservation, she said, "Phil is both a veteran and a victim." I asked her what she meant and she replied, "He was just a child in England when his area was bombed. They got out with their lives. We have hardly any pictures of Phil as a child ..."

I love this man. On weekends he can be seen, tough and leather clad, riding his motorbike. Yet he can shed tears as he and Ilona tell me about a play he has seen about Juno Beach. He lights up when his grandchildren - who clamber around him like puppies - are in the room. 

Want to hear a great love story? Phil was in a pub when Ilona walked in. (I think that's how it went, but that's not the important part anyway.) Somehow he manoeuvred his way over until he was next to her. He tried to chat her up, but she was having none of it. Finally he said to her, "At least tell me your name!" 

"Why?" she said. You won't remember it - you won't even be able to spell it!"

"Try me," he urged. She told him her name. He spelled it: I-L-O-N-A.

"We were engaged eleven days later," she told me, smirking. I glanced at him: his dimples were trying in vain not to make an appearance and he was looking out of the corner of his eye at her with ill-concealed pride and love.

This year, on their 51st wedding anniversary, Ilona presented me with a table cloth that had been given to them at their wedding. 

What a wonderful day in the TH! But of all the poppies I saw today, this is the one I loved the most. My little Tiffany, a food artist, created this design for mango mousse:

And this day would have been IMPOSSIBLE without the gift of time that BA and Brenda gave - both volunteered their services for hours, cooking, carving the roasts, cleaning up, serving, talking to our vets and making them feel like the true VIPS they are. 

How privileged we are to live in a country for which these brave men and women have risked so much to ensure we have our safety, our freedom and our unparalleled way of life! Thank you, all of you, from the bottom of our hearts. We will never forget.

Same time, next year?