Monday, January 30, 2012

The First Sabbatical Event - Aoife

I have loved this girl from the first time I saw her. The only daughter, with four elder brothers, somehow she holds her own in the family. And so it was natural that I should want to have my first El/Ol-less Event with her.

We browsed together in a quaint little store she'd been in previously - cowboy gumboots; really?! - which made me realize how much fun an Event with a girl could be. She had chosen Edo for dinner and we perched on the high stools and people-watched and chatted. She was the model of manners, consulting with me on what we should get, carrying the food-laden tray to the table, and clearing the table afterward.

Then we went to Chapters for the official Event. One of the topics of our conversation over dinner had been the children of the tsunami, whom I am hoping to visit again this year in India. I had mentioned that I wanted to get enough small stuffed animals to place one on each of the beds we had donated money to make. Aoife chose some she thought would be cute on kids' beds even before she went to find a book for herself.
When we had each found a book and paid for them, we went to Starbucks for coffee and a chat - and I received a text from her Dad.
I read it aloud to Aoife and she was rightfully indignant. I handed her my phone and let her respond, which she did with much seriousness:

The name Aoife means beautiful; radiant; joyful. Our Aoife is all of this and more. She is thoughtful, polite, intelligent, and caring of those less fortunate than herself. She's a good soccer player and loves to ski. She's also adventurous, and is going to learn to snowboard this year ... And she loves sock monkeys, so she's pretty spectacular company on an Event!

Today happens to be her 11th birthday. Happy birthday to one of the loveliest girls I know ... Can we do this again some time?!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Rites of Passage

The beautiful ring Richard and Lana gave her:
her birthstone in the middle, and Mary's and
Richard's on either side.The inscriptions:
"Love, Dad" and "Forever, Mom"
Yesterday was a landmark birthday for my friend Rebecca.

So a few of us gathered at the TH to celebrate her life and to rejoice in the difference she has made in the lives of each one of us who came to wish her.

Sweet Lana - who had conceived the idea and organized the event - spoke first. "Thank you," she said, "for the gift of being part of your family ... I'm so glad you live here because this has given us the opportunity to get to know each other and to become friends. Thank you for your friendship."

Lana and Richard

Lana is married to Rebecca's Dad, Richard, and he spoke next. "Who would have thought, all those years ago when I was still single, that I would one day be celebrating this birthday of my daughter? ... Happy birthday, honey," he finished softly.

The birthday girl and Angela
Beautiful Rennie and lovely John, tender, courageous pastors
and stalwart friends who have shared many seasons
of Rebecca's and her family's life
Each of us went around the room and spoke to Rebecca from our hearts. One of her newer friends, Angela from Lebanon, movingly remarked that she was so glad she had met Rebecca because now she could say she had a true friend in Canada.

And that's what Rebecca is - fiercely loyal, imaginatively thoughtful, extremely consistent. All the characteristics of a true friend.

Mary's friend Elaine. Exactly four months
earlier, she was in this very room for
another special occasion ...

Happy Birthday to you!

The life of the party!
I was thinking how proud Mary would have been of her beloved daughter, how grateful she would have been to see how far Rebecca has come in the last five years; of how much she would have loved to have been here on this occasion, raising a toast with us to our clever, complicated, compassionate friend who can bring together people from different life experiences to unite in celebration and fellowship.

And then, once again, I thought of the words of our wise friend Tony Hanson:

"She is with God, and God is with us, so she's not that far away ..."

Dear Rebecca, as you move into the next decade, may you accomplish what it is you set out to do; may you be shown much love; and may you revel in "the blessing of the Lord," which is where true wealth can be found and which adds no sorrow to it.

I am honoured to be your friend.

A toast to the birthday girl!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Year of the Nephew: Matthew ...

I got to be there when you were born.

You. Were. Perfect.

And as I watched you grow I learnt so much from you. You were the one who, at the ripe old age of 3, had this conversation with your Aunt Cathryn when we were all at a restaurant together:

You: Those people didn't say thank you to God for their food. I don't think they love God.

Cathryn: Matthew, you can't see what is in people's hearts. They might love God.

You: I know, Cath - sometimes I am so judgative ...

My mind often harks back to that conversation when I am ready to pass judgment on someone without knowing all the facts. Judgative has become part of my vocabulary. Your influence, even from a child, has been remarkable, all the more so because it is often unconscious.

You are an astute observer of the human condition; couple that with an incredibly sharp brain and a quick way with words, and a conversation with you is bound to be engaging and lively. But you also have an enormously compassionate streak in you that emerges at the most incredible times. Remember my friend Ron, the engineer-turned-bottle picker who lived under a parking slab near where we all were in Bankview? You reached out to him when you were a tiny boy, walking with him around our block and talking to him as he pushed his cart. You accepted him as he was and treated him with respect - probably the only child he knew who did so; he in turn loved you, calling you one of his friends and bringing you little treasures that he unearthed in his travels. You visited him in hospital some years later after he had had parts of both his legs amputated from remaining outside one bitterly cold winter's night. How you grieved at his funeral; but you derived reassurance that he had trusted in God and was now with Him, far better off than struggling on with the day-to-day that had become his life.

I used to love listening in on your conversations with your grandmother, my mother. The two of you would read stories together and then discuss them - the discussion was invariably more thought-provoking than the original story. To this day your grandfather loves it when you come by to see him. You are such a connection to your Grams for him.

On the "Action Couch" at the TH.
Now THERE's a story that should be told ...
And yes, you can have the couch when I die!
And the TH is always a brighter place when you grace it with your presence! Thank you for all the hours you worked here when I needed help. You did whatever you were asked, and that means a lot to me. You chatted with customers of all ages and they loved you. It's your picture that's the first picture people see on Nilgiris' web page ... you're standing there chatting to Oscar as he sits by the fire place. Our dear Oscar was in for coffee today, very frail and fading into the sunset of his life, but he still asked after you today. I told him it was your birthday and he remembered how you would talk to him when he was "a little low."

But then again, that's just you. Because you are so perceptive, you know who needs a word of encouragement and when. You have the power to move people and to leave them feeling better about themselves should you choose to do so.

As you start a new year, my wish for you is that you discover the true purpose for your life this year, and that you pursue it with all the intelligence, zeal and passion that you have inside you. You are one of the most interesting people I have ever met, and I can only imagine what you can accomplish when you channel all that you know, have experienced and can intuit into your life's calling, whatever that might end up looking like.

Happy birthday, my middle nephew. You are the bridge between the two elder and the two younger of your cousins. You are a vibrant thread weaving throughout all of our lives. You are a gift to our family. 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Year of the Nephew: Craig ...

Happy champagne birthday, Craig! It seems like such a very short time ago that we were visiting your newborn self. What a loving baby you were ... On the quilt your Grandma Ironside made for me is a picture of me holding you - you were so little, so sweet. I look at the pictures on my quilt each day and am grateful for the reminder of what it is to be part of a family who loves each other.

I loved how, almost from the start, you have liked things to be in order and each item in its own place. I remember your cars and trucks lined up meticulously in your room and admired you from afar as you have continued to strive for order even in times of chaos.

You have always cared very deeply for those you love. A favourite story to do with my nephews is the one where you and Luke, both little guys still, were playing outside and your Mom looked through the window to see you writhing on the ground in apparent pain while Luke stood nearby. When she went running out to see what had happened she saw you weeping for your brother, who had gashed himself on the fence and was standing there with blood dripping: "Why is he never spared?" you sobbed.

One of your most endearing characteristics is that you want to spare both animals and people pain.

My heart was warmed beyond words when I heard you were going on a missions trip to India to work with Dalit kids in the Delhi area. When you returned, the stories you related about some of your experiences showed me how your heart was expanding and your horizons were broadening and that your love for God and your fellow human beings had grown exponentially.

I'm certainly glad your heart has expanded to make room for the beautiful Kelsey. Our first niece at long last! and someone your aunts have been longing for and praying for for years ...

What a truly beautiful couple the two of you make. You each bring out such goodness in the other. Your goals and priorities are aligned. Your hearts are both tender and you are going to have an amazing life together.

Happy birthday, dear second nephew. I'm looking forward to seeing how the next 21 years unfold for you!

Friday, January 20, 2012

"That Went Well ..."

The dreaded quarterly "Funnel Review" is behind me for another couple of months, and I am still standing.

I acknowledge that I have been given quite a number of gifts; some that I have NOT been given are making projections and calculating what it will take to get me to my target. I work very hard at what I do, but forecasting numbers is a mystery to me. I am comfortable dealing with what I know.

And then when my VP said, "I would hedge your bets 3 - 1", I actually had to ask her what she meant ...

When she explained it, I understood her completely and her logic was impeccable.

As I was signing off, she said the sweetest words I have heard for a long time anywhere: "Well, that went well." 

I am so grateful to Carswell (a Thomson Reuters business!) for all it has given me over the years - I started with the company in 1992 as a contract worker; then was taken on permanently in 1993; resigned in 2003 to start the TH; they took me back in 2005; and in 2006 I was given the opportunity of moving into the role I'm in now. They have exercised enormous patience with me in my various roles and I couldn't be more grateful.

However, two thoughts came out of this morning's exercise:

First, when the final day rolls around for me, and I'm standing before God, is He going to say to me, "Well, that went well"? Or will I be as apprehensive, have as many knots in my stomach, then? It dawns on me that there won't be a chance to change my projections and resubmit at that point ...

And second, I'd better learn something about gambling before the next review!!

Monday, January 16, 2012

And the Two Shall Become ... Eight?

Winter wedding at the TH!
(Photo courtesy of the Jepsons)

The call came in one Sunday evening right in the middle of the dinner hour. I understood the gentleman to be asking if I rented out the Tea House rooms. Thinking he was interested in the two suites next door, I quickly gave him my friend Bonnie's number and carried on with my serving.

Later that evening I got a call from my dear Sharon. "Karyn, that was my son Ryan who called earlier, and I think there was some misunderstanding. He is going to get married at the beginning of January and they hoped they could have the wedding in the Tea House!"

I called Ryan back as soon as I could, apologizing profusely. He put me over to Jenna, his fiancee, who said that she had loved the TH from the time she had been in it, on one of their very first dates. It was going to be a tiny wedding ... she would love to get married from the Tea House ... would that be possible?

"Absolutely!" I exclaimed. "When? How many people? How do you want it set up? Ambiance? Food?"

"About 25 people, and just leave it looking like the Tea House," was the response. "It's going to be very casual, very low-key. Maybe just a short ceremony followed by desserts ...

"Oh - did I mention that we have six kids between us?"

Kids in the TH - and for a wedding, no less! How could my joy be any greater? Those of you who know me know that if I could figure out a way to do it, the whole TH would be based around kids and it would be one tea party after another. This wedding was going to be a great party!

"We're going to have to feed those kids something beside desserts," I laughed. And with that the very trusting bride-to-be, who didn't know me nor I her, left it all up to us. The only request for the day was fresh berry tarts, a particular favourite of the groom.

I gathered my women about me - Brenda, Doreen and Tiffany. I sort of had an idea of how I wanted it to look, and I knew that these three women could transform my tentative vision into reality. 

We had no idea of what to expect for the evening; we just wanted it to be beautiful and magical, especially for the six children whose lives would be bound together irrevocably from this day forward.

Doreen set to work creating the floral arrangements. Brenda came to rescue me in the kitchen. And Tiffany showed up to put the final touches on everything.

Here, primarily in pictures, is the story of the day from the point of view of Nilgiris:
Heart in the entrance-way mirror

They would exchange vows
in front of the fireplace ...

What had been my cardinal Christmas
tree was transformed by Doreen
into a white and gold "wedding tree"
festooned with ribbons, where
butterflies and doves could lightly rest
(see anyone looking pleased with himself
at the ring-side seat he scored?!) 

The simple beauty of Doreen's arrangement
for the registry table spoke to me 
of faith, of hope, of love.
It symbolised courage, a willingness
to become vulnerable again, to say
"Your people will be my people ..."

Trying to retain the "TH feel," I placed the
comfy chairs on the perimeter and
set the other chairs in the space they made

There would be other children present, but I
wanted The Six to feel important; we arranged
chairs for them on their own side ...

The set-up for the ceremony was complete!
The beverage table ...

... and the food table. We wanted it all ready for 
6 pm because the ceremony was going
to be short and everyone would be hungry
after the drive out from Calgary ...

The officiant, Cliff Pedersen,
had been Ryan's pastor when
Ryan was a child

Ryan was the first to arrive.
As soon as we caught a glimpse
of him in dress uniform, we
had to add one more thing ...

 ...As the first guests entered, we
quickly rolled out a white runner
to mark an "aisle" up which his bride
would come to meet him.
"It will make it more special for her,"
he said tenderly

The Six were some of the first people to be seated

Everyone was in his or her place by 6:00 p.m.

... and anxious for the first glimpse of the bride

Here comes the bride!
One of the most beautiful I've ever seen ...
(Photo courtesy of the Jepsons)

Jenna's exquisite elder daughter
held her mother's bouquet ...

Husband and wife!

"The Lord bless you and keep you
The Lord make His face to shine upon you
and be gracious unto you
The Lord lift up His countenance upon you
and give you peace."

Both Dads taking pictures

(Photo courtesy of the Jepsons)

We had read on the "wedding website" that
there were going to be crafts and games,
so we set up a kids' area ...

... which was filled with activity and great joy ...
... but there was still space for a very little girl
needing a little quiet time by herself ... 

Fresh berry tarts,
made especially for the groom!

First dance, to Van Morrison ...

As I observed the activity and listened to the happiness, two images caught the corner of my eye, and my heart: two couples who have already been there, who have faced adversity, who have known both joy and sorrow, and who would rather be with each other than with anyone else in the room.

This kind of love is what I wish for our beautiful couple and their vibrant family. The love between them is palpable. Their commitment to each other, to their children, and to God is deep.

With that kind of impetus spurring them forward, this was not a celebration of two becoming eight but, rather, of eight becoming one.

(Photo courtesy of the Jepsons)