Thursday, June 27, 2013

"You Give Me Hope"

This wonderful video montage, created by Heather Rankin, illustrates many everyday people being the answers to people's prayers this week in Calgary. 

Particular gratitude goes out to the first responders and emergency / public safety workers, which includes our own Sonnie ...

(The first song, You Give Me Hope, is - fittingly - by Calgary's Paul Brandt.)

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

State of Emergency

In 1998 I found my dream house, built in 1920, the first house I had ever looked at with an eye to purchasing. 

Two years later I sold it to my sister, the artist who could - and did - take the charming old lady to new heights of beauty and comfort.

We celebrated her birthday earlier this year with an intimate soiree that blended family, friends, music, poetry, tears and laughter into a sublime evening.

Last Thursday at 4 pm my sister moved whatever she could in the very limited time she had left, water lapping at her sidewalk, and evacuated the little house as the rain came down and the floods went up.

Ducks near the water
(Mike Drew / Calgary Sun)
Deer stranded on the Deerfoot
(Marni McNaughton)

Vast swaths of Calgary were declared to be in a state of emergency, along with neighbouring towns Canmore and High River.

Within walking distance of the house, water roiled down Memorial Drive ...

Memorial Drive
(Photo credit Gavin Young / Calgary Herald)

  ... and surfaced in Sunnyside ...

(Gavin Young / Calgary Herald)

(Kyle Hagen)

Power was out and the neighbourhood sealed off.

Down town Calgary was in worse shape:

(Virgin Radio)
The Calgary Sun has put together an overview showing the incredible scope of the flood - please click on this link, then scroll down a bit and start the slide show:

She was finally allowed back to inspect her house: the basement floor and the drywall have had to be removed and will be replaced. But her prescience led her to move most of her valuables upstairs and so she was spared some of the devastation that many others are experiencing.

The newscast last evening still led with pictures of destruction and detritus. Mud is everywhere. Water fills up the smallest crack.

This is also becoming the story of people who care, who want to help out. When the call for 600 volunteers went out, almost 4000 people showed up.

Calgary's mayor, Naheed Nenshi, is everywhere at once, it seems. He has a way of rallying people to come together and help each other. There has even been a t-shirt created in his honour:

A man and his siblings drove in from Saskatchewan because they have a vacuum truck and they wanted to help - free of charge.

Volunteers have arrived from Ontario.

Our family in Calgary and many of our sister's numerous friends have turned out to help her drain water and rip out drywall and restore what order they can.

People for the most part are setting aside their own needs and are working to help their neighbours, friends, communities. They are reaching out their hands to help people they don't even know.

Yesterday morning at the Manor Dad spoke about the prophet Jeremiah. The context is this: the city of Jerusalem has been taken into captivity. When Jeremiah warned his people that this would come, he was viewed as a traitor and thrown into a dank, dark well. 

The book of Lamentations has five chapters: chapters 1 and 2, and 4 and 5, deal with the city and the people and the sufferings that they were undergoing.

Chapter 3 is very personal. Here Jeremiah identifies himself with his people; in many ways, he is a picture of what God can do with His people. Jeremiah was rescued from that pit into which he had been cast (the story is told in the book of Jeremiah chapter 38 and verses 7 - 13). His personal deliverance is an encouragement to the people of Jerusalem's ultimate deliverance.

The king's servant Ebedmelech was the answer to Jeremiah's prayer. He is the one who heard of Jeremiah's imprisonment and it was he who went and informed the king of the same and received permission to go in and rescue Jeremiah. 

Dad said: You may well be the answer to somebody's prayer. Jeremiah, of course, was crying out to God for help while he was in the pit. Ebedmelech did not know that; as far as he was concerned, he just knew that injustice had been done and he sought to right the situation. 

In the same way, Dad went on, in the grace and providence of God, a word you say, a deed you render, may be an answer to someone's desperate prayer - even though you might never know it!

In these awful times of flooding in southern Alberta, and in various places around the world (I am very mindful of the current tragic situation in northern India), while I feel like wringing my hands and retreating because I don't know what to do, I am challenged by Ebedmelech, a slave, doing what he could.

Faint but unmistakable: God's
promise arches over our
Alberta sky last Friday evening
Surely no less is required of me?

Read the simple, profound words written by my beautiful sister, who is a true standard-bearer for grace amidst shock and ongoing difficulty, as she saw the river coursing down the street near her home: 

Gratitude and Love.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Daddy, Sing "Jesus Loves Me ..."

On Father's Day, I want to share with you words my father wrote last year:

The morning began with laughter and chatter and then the little child ran off with Kirtan, the butler, to take Gumba and Nana their morning tea. She led the way up the stairs to their room, Kirtan following with the tray loaded with cups and saucers, a pot of freshly brewed tea, a jug of scalding hot milk, a few small biscuits and some fresh fruit. This was their chota hawzri, little breakfast.

Near the top of the stairs she stumbled and fell backwards. Kirtan reached forward to stop her fall, and in the process the hot tea and boiling milk were spilt on her. 

A loud cry was heard.

Her mother and father ran upstairs and found her being held at arm's length by Gumba, her light night dress soaking wet. He did not know what to do. Her parents quickly removed her undergarments as they were sealing the heat to her skin.

Gumba and Nana were totally distraught that this should happen to their granddaughter and in their house. Kirtan was crushed as he felt that he was responsible.

The father carried her down to their room and laid her on the white sheets that the mother had just smoothed out for her. 

There she lay for a moment, in desperate shock and pain; then she said softly and yet so earnestly words that can never be forgotten: "Daddy, sing Jesus Loves Me." 

The father felt that his heart was being pulled out of his chest by invisible cords of longing and anguish. He then sang, the best he could, to this little girl who was in such great pain and shock:

Jesus loves me, this I know
For the Bible tells me so
Little ones to Him belong -
They are weak, but He is strong

She lay quietly on the bed.

Wonderfully, they had a large medicated bandage that was suitable for such a burn; and then off to the doctor. Many weeks transpired in the treatment of this injury, which was oft times painful, until it was finally healed. Of course, a scar remains.

Many years have transpired since then. Calendars have been hung on the wall and taken down, and a new one hangs in its place. There have been many mornings of laughter and chatter and running to show the way. There have been days with family and friends, tea, lots of tea. There have been books and music; there have been singing and travel; there have been the Bible and Church and prayer. 

There have been burdens lifted from shoulders and hearts bowed down with despair. There has been great joy in the gladness of another and there has been deep grief in the loss of those most dear to the heart. There have been lonely hours and silent nights. There has been unknown and often unexpressed shock and pain - not the pain of burning flesh but the tearing and twisting of a wounded spirit and a pummeled heart and mind. There have been times when the only adequate prayer that could be uttered from the depths of the soul was "Oh God ..."

But there is triumph! The clock does not stay forever at midnight. There is new purpose, new beginnings, fresh hope. There have been many times when this little girl, now a woman caring and strong, has needed to hear those words, Jesus loves me, this I know for the Bible tells me so ... but they were not heard; the singer was silent!

But echoing from the mountains of God and distilling like falling dew upon the waiting heart comes the sure and sweet refrain, Jesus loves me, this I know for the Bible tells me so.

The daggers of doubt may shoot their arrows; the shadow of betrayal may cast its net; the poison of falsity may fill its vial. These and the ravaging hordes that follow them can never silence or change the eternal truth, settled in the eternal decree before the world and stars were hung in space, and sealed on Calvary's hill as the precious blood of the Lamb of God was spilt, that Jesus loves me, this I know for the Bible tells me so.

For fifty years it has been true for this one, and praise is offered. The curtain lifts; there is silence; and then a new scene comes before us. Whatever it may hold, the counsel is established, ratified in Heaven and on earth, assured by divine omnipotence:

Jesus loves me, this I know
For the Bible tells me so
Little ones to Him belong -
They are weak, but He is strong

Yes, Jesus loves me
Yes, Jesus loves me
Yes, Jesus loves me
The Bible tells me so

Allan T. Ironside
May 3, 2012

This was my father's love letter to me on my fiftieth birthday. You can glimpse the heart of this man, right from when I was an infant until this very day.

He is the person who has influenced me for the most for good in my life.

No wonder Jesus Loves Me is my favourite song!

Thank you, Dad, for your great love - first for God, then for Mum, and then for your six children and now your grandchildren - which has proved to be the best teacher possible in communicating God's love for us.

I love you; Happy Father's Day.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Update: And the Prairie Senior High School Male Christian Leadership Award Goes To ...

Congratulations, Curtis, on winning this award Monday night! I couldn't be more proud of you! This is the one that counts above all the others ...

Searching for Helen Keller

On Sunday, June 9 - for the first time in a long time - I didn't have to panic about whether the red apron was clean and ready for the day. Yesterday was the first Sunday in four and a half years that Curtis was not an employee of Nilgiris Tea House. Curt loved that red apron, and everyone else knew not to choose it if he was coming to work.

How do you say goodbye to someone who has been with you since the week after his 14th birthday? 

I have seen the path from childhood to adulthood being traversed by this exceptional young man. The first day he presented himself for the job he shook my hand. His sleeves were rolled tidily to his elbow. His hand was shaking. He was shorter than I. His round little face encased two enormous chocolate-coloured eyes. His hair drooped shyly over his head. His voice quivered.

I wanted to adopt him, not employ him ...

But Brent, the big brother who has looked out for him since the day he was born, was in the House. He quickly got Curt's hands shoved into the dishpan and quietly, in a confidential, off-the-record sort of way, got him oriented in the mysteries of the kitchen.

And Lois, wonderful Lois, tucked him under her wing and gave him the big sister treatment he was missing so desperately since his own had moved to Lethbridge.

He was so timid, those early days. I would ask him to fill me glasses of water, or create Italian sodas. He would readily tackle anything like that; but if I asked him to carry out a glass of water or to get a dessert order from a customer, he would turn a stricken face to me and in desperate tones would say, "Karyn, I don't feel confident doing that." 

All of that changed when he helped hoist Erna out of the car one Sunday when she couldn't get herself out. From then on, Curt became the top draw for our senior ladies, otherwise known as "The Ladies." He entered into their conversations and freely chatted with them about his life and theirs. (One of The Ladies remarked to me this Sunday as I was taking her order, "... and I like butter - lots of butter. Of course, Curt knew that ...")

Suddenly the little kid who was shorter than I had taken over the dining room. All of us regular spectators of the Curt show would speculate how much taller he had grown each week, and we would repeat to each other the clever comments he would deliver almost as an aside. His dry wit became sought after and drew even quiet customers into conversation with others as they laughed over something he had said or done.

"Hello, Mrs Long!" he would always greet Norma. Don would ask him whether he'd got a goal in the last hockey game. If Curt replied in the negative, Don would say, "Well, did you get a penalty? If you can't get a goal, get a penalty!" Curt would respond earnestly but with a twinkle in his eye, "I'll try!"

"Pastor Ironside!" he would say to my Dad wherever the two would see each other. He specifically requested that my Dad come and pray for him and his team when the local pastors were invited to the high school assembly's send-off before the team ventured off to Colombia. 

He also popped into the TH for something the Wednesday before they left, and we prayed for him there too ...

The Colombia Team send-off. Photo courtesy of Becky Scott.
"Rookie mistake!" was Curtis's favourite saying, and the recipient of his scoffing would pretend to cringe while trying not to smirk. Rookie mistakes could be as diverse as dropping a spoon on the floor to making the wrong dessert to spilling dishwater everywhere.

Curt really grew up in every way during his time at the TH. Last December we celebrated his 18th birthday by holding the TH Annual Christmas Event at Rosebud. We went to the matinee buffet and performance, and then we made our way to my friends BJ and Ken Jantzen's Rosebud Country Inn for hot chocolate and pie and to fete Curt.

BJ (centre) and "her" girls with Curt's cake

Curt loves red! Presents for his
college career

Curt's Dad and Mom, Oswaldo and Jackie,
with big (but suddenly shorter!) brother Brent

There have been many firsts for him in the last few years. He joined both the hockey and football teams and quickly became a leader on each. He was Vice President of the Student Council in Grade 11, President in Grade 12. He went on a mission trip to Columbia and volunteered in various capacities around school and town. Cute giggling girls would come into the TH to be served by him - one mother actually brought her daughter to apply at the TH, stating openly that she wanted her daughter to "catch Curt" - but so did his buddies, a strong core of excellent young men who clearly respected and admired him. He grew comfortable talking to anyone, working with anyone and assuming leadership of the rookies. He would move smoothly from serving customers to plunging his hands in the sink and doing a few dishes to give someone a break. He kept himself busy all the time; but he was never too busy to stop and give someone a word of encouragement, either in the dining room or the kitchen.

On his last shift
Or to me. Right from the start, Curt would exhort me to drink water. Or to eat. Or to smile. He'd ask about my day and my week. He'd tell me which customers seemed to be a little down in the dumps. He'd help me with the tables I was caring for. He'd work past the end of his shift without being asked when he saw we were busy. He'd flip me a text message every now and then on a week day.

He shared some of his own life with me: exams, sports, friends, burdens. A few of his burdens were great indeed; but he never let them affect his demeanour in the dining room. He would ask me to pray for a particular friend or other, or to pray for him, and then he would be back at his duties.

Only one thing is missing from this picture. As you know, all our tables have names. The one closest to the counter is named "CFD" ... which stands for Curt's First Date. When he was about 15 he promised that he would bring his first date into the TH. Every female who has worked and currently works in the kitchen loves this young man and wants the best woman possible to come into his life. And of course we want to be able to check her out to make sure she's good enough for him; so we decided that we needed him near the counter on his first date so that we can observe her and see if she's worthy! On June 2, the last Sunday he worked, we were teasing him about who it might be. Curt, ever self-deprecatory, made some comment about how she would need to be blind and deaf to fall for him - "I'm searching for Helen Keller!" he quipped. Then after a pause, he added, "There'll be nothing to hear; might as well seat us at the Hug ..." 

"Oh, so a lot of hand holding on the first date?" I responded. "Besides which, Helen Keller learnt how to speak - but she always had an unmistakable, piercing, oddly high-pitched voice so we would be able to hear her at least!"

Last day: with Rodrigo ...
Over the years I have joked with Curt that there is one prayer that I'm pretty sure God is not going to answer in my favour, which is that Curt would fail Grade 12 about four times so that he could stay at the TH. I dropped off a carrot cake for him yesterday, and he asked how things had gone the day before. I told him everything was awful and my heart was broken. A slow smile spread across his face and he responded, "I haven't graduated yet, you know!"
... his parents ...

... and two of the Ladies

Well, he graduates in a couple of weeks. His next step is university - I'm not holding my breath that an A student is going to fail grade 12! - and we at the TH are so proud of him.

But how we miss him already! As he was leaving, we asked him to be sure to bring his girl to the TH when he eventually finds her. He immediately asked me if I would still have Nilgiris open in 20 years. I told him whatever it takes. 

Glancing back, he said, "Then I'll keep my ears open ..."