Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Search to Belong ... Day 23

In the purple chair

I remember the day she walked into the TH. Maharani, surrounded by her courtiers!, I thought to myself. She was perfectly put together from the top of her head to the soles of her shoes. And she was accompanied by a phalanx of handsome men, albeit one still in a car seat ...

Chai, Italian sodas, pear quiche, cauliflower soup, and toasted tomato and brie sandwiches were quickly ordered and consumed, followed up with mango mousse and strawberry cheesecake. By the time they were done eating I had fallen for the whole family.

But there was something about her - something in her liquid nutmeg-and-clove eyes - that drew me to her. She was the centre of her family unit, it was clear to see. Her boys - all four of them! - revolved around her like planets around the sun. She was cheerful, positive, energetic and yet serene all at the same time. However, a faint note of reticence in those eyes silently contradicted her happy demeanour.

(Photo by her friend Christine Debruyn)
She and her husband came back the next week, for a quiet chai and a break from the routine. We had a bit of a chance to get acquainted. They met Dad and it turned out that some of their relatives live just up the street from where the College is in Richmond Town, Bangalore ...

Soon after that, Dad, BA and I were invited to their home for dinner. She had enquired some time earlier, and in completely another context, what food we liked; when we were seated at the dinner table, we discovered that she had made EVERYTHING I had told her we liked!

Feast fit for a maharajah!

Dad and Sameer
After dinner, with the dishes done and Dad and her husband chatting in comfortable chairs and BA playing with her new friend, the engaging Sameer - whose very name means entertaining companion! - I mentioned about a friend who sometimes struggled with the fact that she is adopted. And with that, she told me a little bit about her life.

She is a daughter much loved by her parents, whom when she was growing up she called aunt and uncle. You see, she was given as a baby by her paternal grandmother to her father's childless elder brother and his wife, to be raised as their own. Her grandmother had declared that the next baby born into the family would be given thus. 

The next baby was her. 

She had four parents who loved her desperately and wanted only what was best for her.

From a tiny child she knew something was a little bit askew - she felt it deep inside her - but she couldn't get answers. No one would talk to her about it. She watched her siblings, whom she called cousins, play together and bond together and she felt like she should be one of them; but, in deference to her parents - all four of them - she held herself back.

Slowly, as she grew older, the story started to trickle out. The more she learnt, the more untenable her situation seemed to become.

All her young life she felt torn - to whom did she belong? She loved her parents deeply, and they adored her; but yet there was a sometimes overwhelming pull just to be near her "aunt," to be embraced by her.

A girl with less courage might have collapsed. A girl with less depth of compassion might have turned the household and family upside down by demanding her rights. A girl with less strength of character might have imploded.

She did none of these things. Instead, she tended to her own bruised heart, building it up and constructing a fortress of protection around herself. Somehow, with preternatural maturity, she managed to forge deep relationships with both her mothers and fathers: Amma and Abba, Mummy and Papa. She walked a tightrope and never misstepped. But at the core, in the deepest recesses of her soul, she remained cautious. She guarded her heart.

She and her prince
He came into her life at the most opportune time. Here was someone who, she said, "understood completely what I had gone through." Here was a man with wisdom, kindness, integrity. Here was someone she could trust with her heart and her life.

Saad, Asad and Sameer -
outstanding young men ...
Now they have their own family - the Blessed/Happy One, the Lion, and the Entertaining Companion. Their boys' names were carefully selected to reflect how deeply they are loved ... although the eldest had a big hand in the naming of the youngest!

She has drawn her family into a tight, strong unit. Every day she leaves her boys with no doubt as to how much she loves them. She knows their temperaments. She applauds their strengths and buttresses up their weaknesses. She seeks their best at all times. She has built a home of security and understanding, of beauty and grace.
Welcome home! (taken from her FB page)

What she is learning is that her upbringing, though impossibly difficult, has stretched and grown her heart in ways most people can only long for. Because of the way she chose to respond to the life she was given, she is now able to look past what might appear at the surface to be unjust and to find the reasons behind actions that appear at first blush to be incomprehensible. She can respond to difficult situations without resentment or suspicion. She can include diverse people within the circle of her friends and make each one of them feel like they are unique. She is not afraid to ask the tough questions because she is able to take the tough answers in stride. She is generous with her time and her care. She knows what is appropriate in any situation, because she has had to deal with rejection, confusion, anger, anguish, shame, acceptance, love, not to mention varied cultures and climates. She has had to learn to trust. Most of all, she is learning to let go of the pain and the anxiety that for so long constricted her; and as a result she is revelling in new-found freedom to love all of these parents she holds so dear. "After hiding the real relationships for so long, I know how to value them now," she marvels.

Amma and her girl
Papa, reading a poem
he composed upon
seeing the mountains
Mummy and her girl

One of the greatest moments of her life came just three years ago. Her Abba was dying, and she was alone with him in the ICU. She had flown from England to India and that day - for the first time ever, in her life - he talked to her about their difficult family situation. 

She had the gift of that one day ("we managed a few laughs") and she was given one more, priceless, gift: she was the person who was with him when he drew his last breath. "He didn't have to say how much he loved me ... [my being able to be with him for that precious day] was enough indication from God."

The day you walked into the TH for the first time was a memorable one for me. I am so grateful to God for causing you to move to Three Hills and for permitting our paths to cross. We in the town love you. We in the TH love you. And every time I walk out of the front door and see the sign you gave us on the wall over the front door, I thank God - Who also loves you with an everlasting love - for you. 

For now, here is where you belong, my  छोटी-छोटी बहन. 

(Photo by Christine Debruyn)
Thank you for trusting me with your story, and for allowing me to tell it. I love you dearly.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Marriage Master Class ... Day 22

"How did the two of you get together anyway?" I asked her.

We were sipping coffee in the little sitting area just off Brian's palliative care room, waiting for the caregivers to finish washing him and dressing him for the day.

Char's tired eyes lit up. "His office was across the hall from mine and I had been friendly with them. As a matter of fact Betty, his first wife, had typed part of my thesis.

"Then some time after she passed away he started to pop into my office and chat for a few minutes. That was something new ..."

One thing led to another and he asked her to have dinner with him. At  La Chaumiere, of course - only the best would do on the occasion when he would declare to her that his intention was to "change [her] status ..."

He took her back there to propose.

Here was a woman who was perfectly content - thriving, even - with her life. Brilliant and articulate, her career as a teacher and in the upper ranks of administration in a Christian college was pointing in an upward trajectory. She hadn't been "looking for a man!"

And yet ... 

He got it out of her that when she was a little girl she had always dreamed of having an outdoor wedding.

He decreed that she should have the wedding of her dreams. And so it was that the sun shone bright for the beautiful bride as she walked, sedately but beaming, down the red-carpeted aisle toward her Prince Charming. The carpet came courtesy of the Calgary Flames, our nearest National Hockey League team - it was the one they used when they won the Stanley Cup and somehow Brian had managed to borrow it for the occasion of her wedding. Her processional was accompanied by the joyful serenade of trumpeters standing on the roof of the adjacent building.

They had so much fun together. "You know," she continued, "Not many men back then would have been willing to take on the challenges of marrying a woman who was independent and at what people might say was a higher level professionally ..."

I interrupted her: "And not many women of your stature would have been willing to 'submit' in the biblical sense ..."

She paused, and then said, "You know, it never felt like 'submission'. It was Brian. It wasn't difficult."

He took her travelling; they moved to Calgary and started a Bed and Breakfast; and together, over the years, they integrated the family until his children became "our children." He encouraged her intellectual pursuits and proudly touted her accomplishments. She told of one Bed and Breakfast meeting where he had just been elected president of the association. The person introducing him spoke of his many professional triumphs, how he had earned his PhD., how he travelled around giving lectures, how he had been a vice president of a college, etc., etc. He sat there listening, smiling broadly, as the accolades continued. Finally, when he got up to speak, he said, "Thank you for that wonderful introduction. Everything you said was about my wife!" 

He treated her like a queen; but he never pandered to her, gave in to her or lorded it over her. He had, as my Dad says, "nothing to prove, nothing to lose." Because he came into the relationship with open hands, as did she, their marriage thrived. This was no marriage of convenience, or of loneliness, or of desperation to lose the appellations spinster and widower. This was a rare true meeting of the minds, the bodies, the hearts, the souls. This was a master class on Two becoming One, made even more impressive than watching twenty-something newlyweds because these two were already established in their own ways of thinking and habits of living and they showed how to adapt with grace and style and humour and love. 

As the first signs of his illness became apparent, she never flinched. She made the minor adjustments required for them to continue with their full lives. And she started researching and seeking medical opinions and advice.
At Lois Lewis's wedding shower. Brian was
the only man who showed up! His advice
to the bride? "Be on time!"

When it became clear that this was not going to be a temporary setback, she adjusted her mindset and channelled her formidable skillset into how to make their life together as normal as it could possibly be under the circumstances. She found the best wheelchair, one that would be comfortable for him but still manageable for her to push, even uphill and on snowy surfaces when need be. Camping had always been a particular joy for them, and so she adapted their camper with some sort of contraption that would get Brian into a chair that she could hoist into the vehicle. She learnt how to bend and lift and move in ways that wouldn't do permanent damage to her back. She got a vehicle that made it easier for her to assist Brian in getting in and out of it; when the time came, she researched and tracked down a van that had a suitable wheelchair lift. She found the electric wheelchair so that he had some control of his movements.

She got their home adapted as well, so that they could be together. There were ramps and lifts and pulleys and all the equipment that home care could supply to enable them to carry on with their days. Then there was home care itself toward the end when it became too difficult for one person to move Brian.
At Naomi and John's wedding reception

And she learnt to ask for help. At first it was just someone to hold the wheelchair as she assisted Brian out of the car. It was an assist over the door jamb. It was moving a chair for the wheelchair to be able to pull up to a table.  Then it was counting on their dear, faithful neighbour John to help her get Brian into the van for their daily coffee with their morning coffee group. It was  accepting their close friend Ted's offer to go to Vancouver to pick up the new van. It was picking up the phone and calling Arnold, or Richard, or Dad, or Len, or other people to come and work on his shoulders, to massage his feet, to press on his spine for some relief of the ever present pain, the encroaching stiffness of his limbs.

She continued, as long as possible, to enable them to travel. Their greatest joy was going to visit Rebecca in British Columbia and Bob in Texas. How they delighted in their grandchildren and prayed for them daily!

But above everything that they accomplished together, the most admirable of all to me was this: she never saw herself as the caregiver or him as the patient. She would subtly direct the behind-the-scenes in order to enable him to participate as fully and as normally as possible, to retain his dignity. For example, as he was navigating his way into the TH on his motorized wheels she would come over to me and murmur, "Brian will need a larger spoon today ..."

A typical Saturday morning at the TH ...
And she continued to respect and admire and fully engage his formidable mind, which remained as strong and as sharp as ever until the very end. Even when his voice became weaker and weaker, she never spoke for him, and she never rushed him. In the hospital, when no one else could really make out what he was saying, she would put her ear right up to his mouth; invariably she would be able to transmit his exact words.

Lastly, what she gave to all of us who know and love them was themselves. They allowed themselves to be vulnerable, funny, ascerbic, serious, inclusive. No one who came to visit was ever turned away. They knew that people longed to help; and in accepting our help they showed us that sometimes it is okay - sometimes it is more blessed - to receive than to give.

One of the last times they were out and about was Prairie's homecoming this summer. Kim Wong, one of Brian's Hebrew language students, captured this "one brief shining moment." This extraordinary picture has been a great comfort to Brian's family. "He caught the old expression in my Dad's eyes ..." exclaimed Rebecca.

Shortly after the doctors told them that it was now more of a matter of eternity than of time, she met me at the entrance to the long corridor that would lead us to his room. Her face was drawn, ashen from days of vigil at his bedside and nights of snatched minutes of sleep. "I think we're losing him," she whispered and crumpled into my arms. We wept together for a few anguished moments. Then she straightened her shoulders, blew her nose and with deliberation walked the length of that hall, about the length of a great red carpet on a sunny day, to meet her groom. "Honey, I'm here!" she called out in a voice of cheer and love, showing not one iota of the wracking grief of moments earlier.

She is the one who, when the time came, planned the service and took care of the arrangements. She wrote the eulogy. She even spoke at the funeral, thanking people for their friendship and what they meant to Brian and her ... 

She will celebrate two Thanksgivings this year: the first, Canadian Thanksgiving, was spent with Rebecca and Tyler and their boys. The second, American Thanksgiving, will be spent with Bob and his family.

She is valiantly learning how to carry on in this amputated life. She carries herself with dignity and with poise, just like he would want her to.

And yet ... "I miss Brian desperately," she quietly admitted yesterday evening. My mind immediately cast back to about three and a half years earlier when we had a 20th anniversary morning tea in the TH for them. We went around the circle and everyone said how they knew Brian and Char and what they as a couple meant to the speaker.

Then it came to Char. She looked at Brian, who had just experienced one of those plunges into worse health a few days earlier. He was sitting in a chair near the fireplace, next to her. His voice was extremely weak but his eyes were sparkling as he looked back at her.

She thanked people for coming and then she fixed her eyes on him. "And I want to thank Brian for the past 20 years," she said softly. "If I had to go back and do it all again, I wouldn't change a thing."

Sunday, October 28, 2012

You've Got a Friend In Me ... Day 21

Dear Zae,

Thank you for giving me to your friend Miss Karyn. She told me when we were getting to know each other that you had thought we could be friends because I am a Friendosaurus and she needed a friend to go with her on her trip. At first I was scared, but then I thought, Everyone has to do scary things sometimes. God will be with me. And He was! I think I'll tell you all about it.

First of all, we went to the airport in Calgary. We got our tickets at the counter and then we had to go through security. Because I am so little, they just let me ride in Karyn's Dad's tray (she told me I could call her just Karyn).

Then we went down to our gate - C28. There was NOTHING to do at first except watch some kids playing. Then they stopped so I thought I would have a go. It was lots of fun!

Finally they called us to get on the plane. I had a seat all to myself! But then I got a little lonely so I asked Karyn if she would like to sit with me. She said OK.

We flew and flew for a long time. Then we got to the place. They said it was Chicago. We got off the plane and then we had to walk and walk. Fortunately they had these amazing moving sidewalks, so I hopped onto one of those. At first I was a bit scared, but then I thought, Everyone has to do scary things sometimes. God will be with me. And He was! 

There was a man who came and got us. He said his name was Pastor Shoaf. We got to ride in his car and he took us for supper and then to his house.

I was really tired by then. I just wanted some pink tea and a comfy bed. I got the tea, but then I didn't know where to sleep.

First Karyn said I could sleep with her. But she wasn't coming to bed right then and her bed seemed waaaaay too big for just me. So she asked me if I would like to sleep on the cushion which was on the little love seat. The love seat was so pretty, but the cushion made me think of how much Karyn's Mummy would have liked to have slept in this room, so that made me a little bit sad. I didn't know what to do exactly, because when you stay at someone else's home you have to be polite and sleep where people tell you. 

It was a good thing that Mrs Shoaf was there as well and she knew what to do. She had a bed just my size, and I had a GREAT sleep!

The next day I went with Mrs Shoaf and Karyn to Church. I couldn't believe we had to go to Church on Saturday! But then they explained to me that it was because a friend of Karyn's Dad, Philip, was going to be ordained. I didn't know what that meant, so they told me it meant that the Pastor and some of the leaders of the Church and pastors from other churches that believe the same things his church does have this special day in order to do what it says next (I got this out of Wikipedia, BTW):
  • recognize and confirm that an individual has been called by God to ministry,
  • acknowledge that the individual has gone through a period of discernment and training related to this call, and
  • authorize that individual to take on the office of ministry.
I don't really understand all of that, but what I do know is that they asked Philip some really, really hard questions and they were looking at sheets of paper that he had written. Mrs. Shoaf said that was his "doctrinal statement" which means that he wrote down what he believed about God and the Bible and other things. Some people really sounded stern when they were asking him questions. I felt scared for Philip, but then I thought, Everyone has to do scary things sometimes. God will be with him. And he was! And so were Pastor Shoaf and Karyn's Dad so I knew he would be okay.

Then came the good part. We went to a restaurant for lunch. It was a really nice restaurant and they had special menus for Philip's lunch. Karyn and I chose the chicken with mushrooms. Yummmmm!!!!!!

We went to the bathroom to wash our hands and I knew this would be a good, clean restaurant because of the sign.

Oh ya, something else, and that is that I met Philip's daughter. Her name is Natasha and she is 7 years old. She asked me to come to her house for supper.

After lunch we had to go to church AGAIN but this time everyone seemed really happy and we sang a song and then two men sang a song and then a few men got up to say a few words to Philip, about things that he should remember now that he is going to be a minister. One of them was Natasha's grandpa and one of them was Karyn's Dad. Karyn explained that this is one of the main reasons we had come to Bolingbrook, which is the town we came to from Chicago. Pastor Shoaf had asked Philip who he would like to have at his ordination and Philip had said Dr Ironside and that is Karyn's Dad so that is why we came.

Anyway, after all the men had finished speaking then Karyn's Dad spoke for about 33 minutes on the privileges and responsibilities of being called by God to be a minister. He talked about Jesus calling His disciples. The first thing they had to do was just be with Him. That would have been great, don't you think? Jesus loves kids. It wouldn't be scary, being with Jesus.

Then Pastor Shoaf called up four men. One was Karyn's Dad and one was Natasha's grandpa. Philip had to kneel down and each man had to put their hand on him and pray for him. They were all praying that God would bless Philip and his ministry, and that God would use him to help a lot of people come to know and love God and that Philip would stand true to God.

Then Pastor Shoaf prayed and then he got Philip to come on the stage and gave him his certificate.

Then the people went up to the front and hugged him and shook his hand.

That evening we went to Natasha's house and she showed me her room. It's a big room with a walk-in closet. They just moved into this house so she doesn't have a bed yet, and she gets to sleep on the floor just like camping!

On Sunday morning I went to Church early with Pastor Shoaf and Karyn and her Dad. They went to pray and Karyn went to the ladies' room. Just before she walked in she suddenly got a little pouty and told me that I couldn't come in with her - I was not "old enough." I had to sit on the water fountain and wait.

Church started soon after. They have two services in the morning and one in the evening. Everyone's super friendly at this Church. There was even a lady in a bright red beret who said hi to me and hugged me! The choir sang in the second service and it was so beautiful. I wish I could sing like that!

Then Pastor Shoaf called up Karyn's Dad to the stage so that he could preach. He said things like how they met in India in 1989 the first time and how Karyn's Dad had worked there for over 40 years (wow, he must be OLD!). Then they shook hands and Pastor Shoaf went and sat in the front row. You could tell they really liked each other a lot.

Karyn's Dad preached the message part of the service at all three times. The first time he preached about "The Saddest Song in the Bible." It came from Psalm 22, and those were the words that Jesus said when He hung on the cross, because SOMEONE had to be take the punishment for our sin or we would all die in our sin. That someone had to be completely without sin and Jesus was the only one. Can you imagine? Jesus was God's son and God had to watch while His son died so that all of us could have a way to come to God. (It seems to me like it was really God coming to us, though. He had to do all the work.) The thing is, God couldn't bear to watch as all of that sin came to rest on His son who had done nothing wrong. Jesus and God are one and had never been separated, EVER, by so much as a thought. But when Jesus hung on the cross he didn't feel the presence of His father's love and that's when he called out those sad words. I wonder if He was scared when He couldn't feel like God was with Him.

The second time he preached he talked about being sure not to miss "a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity." He talked about how Zechariah the priest and his wife, Elizabeth, couldn't have a baby. But then Zechariah was chosen  to offer incense in the holiest part of the temple, which was super rare to even be chosen because out of all the priests in his group of priests his name got drawn! This would only happen to someone once in his lifetime. And while he was in there, the angel of the Lord told him that he and Elizabeth would have a child. That child was John the Baptist, who told everybody that Jesus was coming!  Afterwards some people were crying and Pastor Shoaf went up to the pulpit and said, "I think there's some business that needs to be done with God this morning." And he also said that if you needed to talk to someone that you knew, if you need to tell someone you love them, do it today. (Karyn's Dad had said how he couldn't tell his wife any more that he loved her and he couldn't sing "Have I told you lately that I love you?" any more because she had died.)

After Church we took lots of pictures:
Karyn's Dad and Philip
Natasha's family and the Shoafs
and Ironsides. I must have
taken the picture because
I'm not in it!

Then the Shoafs and Karyn and her Dad went to the Olive Garden for lunch, but they forgot to take me. I wasn't very hungry anyway because I had a lot to think about from this morning.

Then after lunch the Shoafs and Karyn's Dad had a nap and Karyn and I sat in our chairs and she worked on the computer and we just talked. I was kind of sleepy and I think I might have had a tiny nap. I'm not sure.

Anyway, after nap time we got ready for Church again. When we drove up to the Church guess what? There was a sign to say welcome to Karyn's Dad! It had been there the whole time but Karyn and I saw it only on Sunday evening.

Here's something unbelievable. Pastor Jack, who helps Pastor Shoaf, showed me something that he had found not long ago. It was a receipt for his grandfather's salary as a pastor. Can you believe it? It's probably less than your allowance, if you get one!!

That night Karyn's Dad spoke about where God's blessings come from and how God works. In the story we looked at, everything that happened to bring food to the starving, desperate people happened in the night, when no one was expecting it! It was an amazing story. I wanted to read it again so I asked Karyn where it was found and she said in the Old Testament, in the book called 2 Kings and the end of chapter 6 but mainly chapter 7. After Church lots of people wanted Karyn's Dad to sign their Bibles. But there was one boy who was a little smaller than Asher, so about 11 I think, who was just standing there watching everybody but mainly Karyn's Dad. Finally he came up and stood in front of Karyn's Dad and shook his hand. "I just want to shake your hand and say I love you," he said to Karyn's Dad. Then he just slipped away. He had on a shirt that was the same colour as me. I thought he was the coolest of all the people who came up. I wondered if he was scared, because he took so long to actually walk up to Karyn's Dad. Then I thought, Everyone has to do scary things sometimes. God was with him. 

Then we went home and had tea and chocolate cake. My favourite!! After that Mrs Shoaf and I went to our beds and Pastor Shoaf, Karyn and her Dad started to read over the Statement of Faith for the Church. They stayed up till past 4 in the morning! But they seemed like they were having a good time.

 On Monday morning we had breakfast together at the Shoafs' home and then we started to pack. 

We had been invited for one last time to Natasha's house for lunch. But I was so sad to hear that Natasha had had to go to school. I was hoping I could play with her while the grown-ups talked and talked.  Her mommy said that she was sooooooo upset that she had to go to school that day and couldn't see us. Karyn and I wondered what we could do to make her happier. Both of us thought of it at the same time. Maybe I could stay when Karyn and her Dad go back to Canada! I was a little bit scared but then I thought, I've done other scary things on this holiday and God has been with me the whole time. So I wrote a letter to Natasha asking her if I could stay with her and be her friend. I didn't think you would mind because Natasha moved from Chicago to Bolingbrook just two weeks ago and I think she really needs a friend. (And Karyn's a bit boring anyway!) Natasha's mommy and grandma said they would love to have me stay with them. 

So that's what I did on my vacation. Thank you for sending me. Before we left Canada Karyn's Dad prayed that we would be a blessing to people in the town. And now all of us were!!!

I will miss you, because you were my first friend. But I hope you will understand because you know what it's like to have a friend and to be a friend.

I have sent a little tiny present back for you from Chicago with Karyn. I will not forget you and I hope you won't forget me.

Lots of love,

Shari Friendosaurus