Sunday, September 30, 2012

Of Tea Cups and Hearts

You've heard me say it before when someone's broken a tea cup: "It's just a tea cup - it's not a heart ..."

Yesterday, it was a heart. It was your heart, broken for the very first time. And all I could do for you today was hug you as you cried and murmur, I'm so very sorry ...

And I didn't say it at the time, but I promise you, I promise you, things will get better. You are a strong, smart, savvy young woman. You have a sweet attitude and a heart that looks for ways to serve God and His people, especially kids. A heart like that is a treasure - to God, to us at the TH who get to work alongside of you, and to the kids to whom you give your time.

I'm not one of those people who feels that the first time your heart gets broken is the worst time and that if it happens again it will be easier. It won't necessarily be easier. There is no pain quite like that of a heart that's been trampled on and torn apart.

You will survive this and you will learn from this - because that's what you do, I've noticed - and you will go on to even more joy in your life than you have lost right now.

But how I wish it had been just a tea cup ... 

Monday, September 24, 2012

"I Made It! I'm Home!"

My little Jana, all of 14 years old, lives just across the park from me. This evening shortly after 11 o'clock, when all the guests had left and the kitchen was clean, she headed out into the dark in the direction of the welcoming lights of her home with nothing but an orange segment of a moon and the underwhelming rays of my ageing Blackberry, held at arm's length as I stood on the TH's front verandah, to illuminate her way.

She chattered away and whistled companionably at a decibel level easily audible to me the whole way: "Yikes! I never know if I'm going to bash into a tree out here! Keep your phone on! Ha-ha-ha!! Yuck! I think I ran into a spider web ..." Her light pink skirt glowed in the dark, but no more so than her vibrant spirit had shone all evening long as she worked away determinedly, even staying a few minutes after her shift ended to bleach the sink.

Finally she yelled out across the anonymous dark expanse, "I made it, Karyn - I'm home!"

She went inside and the porch lights were dimmed.

But that little exchange of perhaps a minute and a half reached something in my heart and mind tonight. As I sat on the verandah a little while later enjoying a perfect evening - no bugs, no wind, no dust, no noise, no vehicles, no sense of urgency - I was still smiling, still warmed.

And I thought, I'm home! 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Chatting to Mum

 Oh Mum, you would love this tea. I brought it into the TH as a reminder of you. I also have one called Irish Eyes, but this Irish Breakfast is a pukka morning tea. 

Last night I couldn't sleep at all. I think I get that from you ... I didn't even bother going to bed. There were so many thoughts in my mind, so many emotions bubbling up. I have five years of talking to catch up on ...

Has it really been five years? Some times the days and weeks seem to have gone by so quickly that I can almost convince myself you're just in another part of town. Other times the moments drag themselves along behind me, dreary and lethargic.

I wake up each morning and see the quilt you crafted for me hanging on my wall. It is so perfect: the colours are ones I would have chosen for myself, and everything is symmetrical and designed for a "counter" such as I.

If I look to the left I can see Jenny II, positioned on the centre of the shelf in my closet for that very reason. Do you remember Jenny? You had my name for the last Christmas gift exchange. You had asked me earlier that summer what I missed from my childhood. The spirit of whimsy took hold of me and I asked you if you remembered my doll Jenny. I had had more dolls than any little girl has a right to, but Jenny was my favourite. She had blue eyes that blinked solemnly at me when I sat her up or lay her down. One day someone punched in her eyes and drew with indelible ink on her face. An adult glued her eyes in, giving her a fixed, vacant perpetual stare. I remember loving her even more, perhaps, now that she wasn't perfect. 

I told you the story of my poor wounded Jenny that summer afternoon. And at Christmas, your last Christmas, you presented me with a new Jenny.

I saw the uncertainty, almost embarrassment, on your face as you hesitantly handed the wrapped box to me. "It's just for a laugh, to show you I was listening to you that day," you tried to explain.

I saw a hint of fear that I was going to scorn your gift, indirectly rejecting you.

 I can tell you unequivocally that Jenny II was one of the best Christmas gifts I have ever received; she remains one of my dearest treasures because every time I look at her, perched on her shelf, I am reminded that you know me and you love me, perhaps even more because I gave you ample evidence time and time again that I'm not perfect.

It's so hard some days, Mum. Often the TH is at sixes and sevens and I cast my mind back to the weeks we opened in 2003. We were utterly naive, horribly ill prepared; and you, Bonnie Cunningham, Don-and-Norma, BA and Dad stepped nobly into the breach. You taught me how to make desserts and roast beef; how to wash the dishes without wasting water; how the kitchen needed to be spotless before I staggered my weary self upstairs.

You were less than a year post-op from your first enormous cancer surgery. You were exhausted and physically fragile, but you never quit. You were the last person in the kitchen with me every night for several months.

I always seem to be tired these days. I wake up tired. I've been wondering lately if this is how you conducted your whole life from the time you started to teach at the College, plus all the music, plus Easter and Christmas cantatas, plus counselling and listening, plus matron duties for the women students, plus the endless entertaining every single day. I remember being irritated with you when you would express how tired you were; to my enduring shame I remember that I would snap at you, "Go to bed earlier then ..."

Now I realize that there are other priorities, that the night watch is my trusted friend as it must have been yours, that sometimes the midnight hour is the only time I have really to think. I wish you and I could sit together now throughout one night and I could ask you all the things I still don't know.

The headstone was installed last week. Dad did such a good job choosing the stone, picking out the font and the colour. He had already spent weeks polishing and perfecting the words and design to be engraved. The finished result is a strong, beautiful, enduring statement of the two of your faith and hope.

I stopped at your home briefly this afternoon to pick something up from Dad, and was greeted by the dulcet tones of Jim Reeves singing, "Have I told you lately that I love you?" He never forgets; and while he is not lonely, I think he yearns more and more to be with you, to share with you the fragile beauty that these past five years have managed to sprout and nurture in the often parched soil of mourning.

(I want to thank you for your choice of a father for your children. Dad soldiers on with grace and immense kindness. He loves each one of us and accepts all of us the way we are. Whenever he speaks at a church his teaching is rooted in love - love for God and love for his fellow-pilgrims. People of all ages and walks are drawn to him. There could be no better example of a godly life for your five grandsons than their grandpa.)

BA, always observant, walked to the rear of the stone when we were admiring it in the cemetery last Wednesday, and she took this picture. The stone itself is polished plain black, the picture on it the reflection of the sunset at that moment.

 This early morning as the first rays of the sun offered the promise of a glorious day, I couldn't help myself: I wanted to be near you. Of course I know you are not there; but there is a certain wistful comfort to be derived from the solace of the cemetery. I gathered some sweet peas from the TH and drove to the cemetery as the sun was rising.

I thought about your long, hard days in the hospital toward the end. For a few moments on the Saturday afternoon, September 15, 2007, no one else was with you except for me. You asked me to read Psalm 70:

Make haste, o God, to deliver me; make haste to help me, O Lord.
Let them be ashamed and confounded that seek after my soul: let them be turned backward, and put to confusion, that desire my hurt.
Let them be turned back for a reward of their shame that say, Aha, aha.
Let all those that seek thee rejoice and be glad in thee: and let such as love thy salvation say continually, Let God be magnified.
But I am poor and needy: make haste unto me, O God: thou art my help and my deliverer; O Lord, make no tarrying.

You were ready to go.

Today at lunch at the TH, as Dad was offering thanks for the food he prayed, "We thank You for this wonderful day, when you took Mum to be with You."

This is the day we celebrate your release from pain and suffering. 

But the flip side to the coin is this is the day we remember that your slipping this mortal coil signalled a new normal for those of us who remain. I would never wish you back, but what I wouldn't give for a few hours of your company!

I really wanted to know if heaven is indeed a wonderful place, as the children's chorus goes. I always want to know if you're happy, if people are treating you with kindness.

And then BA captured the most remarkable picture. When I saw it, it struck me that this was your message to us, that you are indeed happy; and so we continue to wait, people with hope who love you and want to be with you, thankful for your life and your ministry and your love.

It is truly a great privilege to be your daughter.


Saturday, September 15, 2012

Allan Ironside's 80th Birthday Tea

We had a small come-and-go birthday tea for Dad last Saturday afternoon.

Well, we thought it was going to be small; but it turns out that our shy, quiet Dad has more friends than all his kids put together do!
Dad's jam and cookies
for his siblings
Dad, BA and Deb welcoming everyone
to the table

Dad's remaining siblings, with the exception of Bruce who lives in America, came for lunch at the TH first. Welcome additions to the meal were Doreen, who was a dear friend to both our grandmother and to our Uncle Gordon, and our aunts' long-time friend Diane.
We were thrilled that Clark
was well enough to come
(with wonderful Ev)

"Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow!" 

The come-and-go tea started at 2 pm, and was graciously hosted by our friend Barb from Porchlight Village. Barb and Peter moved in to Porchlight at around the time that the TH opened. Her parents moved to Three Hills shortly thereafter, and immediately fell into my heart. Dad spent quite a bit of time with Peter when he was in hospital; he passed away shortly before my Mum did.

Dr and Mrs Ted S. Rendall could not attend, but he sent the following greeting, which Bronwyn read for us all:

(Reproduced by kind permission of Dr. T.S. Rendall)
Following this, Dad spoke briefly and movingly about how grateful he was to God for his physical life - he should not really have been here today - but how even more grateful he was for the life he has been privileged to lead because the gift of salvation gave him spiritual life. He thanked everyone for being there. "You are all, each one of you, precious," he said.
Then Allan, our brother, wrote a song for the occasion chronicling Dad's life to the tune of the theme from the Beverly Hillbillies.

At the end of the song, Dad said
"Thank you, Clark" - much to Clark's delight!
Listening to Allan

Last, Dad had a "Guess the number of Quarters" jar. The person who guessed the number of quarters, or the person who came the closest to the number (and you had to be within 20 quarters), would win the jar.

There were some crazy guesses ...

 Some of Dad's friends who could come for tea ...

"Uncle Lloyd" and Dad

 Uncle Lloyd and Auntie Hazel, two of Dad's dearest friends, had spent the night at his home a few days earlier. They weren't able to be with us in person; but we had this picture of the two friends on display, and I know they were with us in spirit!

How Mum loved Steve and Sarah!

What a splendid afternoon it was! Thanks to all of you for making an effort to honour this man who means so much to each one of us who were present.

Oh yes, and the winner of the quarters jar?
Elliot, who guessed 404 quarters; there were 412!

Dad, as someone sang, "May you live to be a hundred, and then one hundred more!"