Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Final Thank You for October

Judging from the number of posts, I am not very thankful! Quite the contrary - my heart has been brimming with gratitude this month more than most. God has been so good to me; my family has been so dear; friends have sustained me. I just haven't had the time.

One of my favourite days of this whole month was Thanksgiving Day itself, so I'm going to leave this season of gratitude with some pictures, accompanied by the words to our dear friend Martha Wunsch's favourite song:

How good is the God we adore

Our faithful, unchangeable friend

Whose love is as great as His power

And knows neither measure nor end!

'Tis Jesus, the First and the Last,

Whose spirit shall guide us safe home

We'll praise Him for all that is past

And trust Him for all that's to come!

Happy Thanksgiving Month, everyone!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Of Sparrows and Black Purses and the Hair on Your Head

For about two weeks I had been searching for a new black handbag to replace the fairly old one that was wrecked last season.

I knew what I wanted: a slim purse with a pocket for keys, etc.; short strap so that it wouldn't weigh my poor shoulder down; it had to be elegant and leather. I found nothing: of course there were lovely handbags, but completely out of my price range. I tucked the purse shopping thoughts firmly into the back of my head and boarded the plane for Chicago.

The morning of the wedding we were attending dawned cool and clear. I was fretting because my hair, which I am trying to grow out, wasn't working at all. As I sat in the breakfast nook by myself after a delicious baked oatmeal breakfast, prepared with such love by the exquisite Mrs Shoaf, I heard a thud in the next room. Hurrying over to the window, I saw that a sparrow had hit the window and was now lying motionless.

As I stood there helplessly, Pastor Shoaf walked by and saw the direction of my gaze. "It's happened several times before," he remarked.

I remained on guard, and suddenly the little thing's chest puffed out and its feet started to quiver. Its head had not moved, however, and its eyes remained shut. I didn't know what to do: I thought wildly of dropping a brick on its twisted neck and putting it out of its misery: I thought of trying to flip it over to see if that would help it; and I realized that because of my paralysing fear of birds, the only thing I could do was ask God to put the tiny quivering thing out of its misery as fast as possible.

About 20 minutes passed. And suddenly - just when I was debating whether it would be frivolous to call Dad, who was getting ready to speak at the wedding that afternoon - the little sparrow opened its eyes, flipped over, and was gone in a flutter of wings!

I told the Shoafs and Dad, my heart pulsing with gratitude. Shortly after this, Mrs Shoaf took me to a drug store to buy a gift bag - we had just a few minutes. The bag was the easiest thing to choose; but just down the aisle from the card section, I spied something sparkling on a shelf. Like a magpie I darted toward it, and my eyes lighted on a package of sparkly bobby-pins - just the thing to tame the unruliness of my hair ...

And then at the wedding itself, a wonderful encounter: one of my dear childhood friends, Naomi, was also attending. We hadn't seen each other for 30 years!

Naomi and me - and the sparkly barrette!
We met again later at the reception, and Naomi handed me a large gift bag: "I wanted to get you some little thing ..." she said.

Trying to be polite, I placed the bag under the table, opening it only when we returned to the Shoafs' home that evening after the reception.

Inside was a cute collection of four Norman Rockwell mugs; a stylish "tea-for-two" set; and a black handbag.

A gorgeous black handbag.

Exactly the handbag I was looking for.

I showed it to Dad and Pastor and Mrs Shoaf.

Pastor S summed it up: "The sparrow ... the hair on your head ... the black handbag. I think God cares about you!"

Here's the childhood song we would sing together as little girls, my friend Naomi and I:

(Video found on YouTube, created by CelestinoZ)

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Thanksgiving in the TH

Sixty-one people in the TH for Thanksgiving dinner, plus a take-out dinner for two.

The Tea House Staff was extraordinary: Thank you Mike Thibault, for efficient vegetable prep and extraordinary turkey carving and serving; Brenda, for working two days straight and in particular for making the wonderful TH dressing; BA, for doing the board and getting the tables cleaned off in between seatings, plus serving soups, clearing plates and getting the keeping the dining room under control; Gabrielle, our unbelievable dishwasher who kept up with it all while still serving rolls and pouring refills of water and punch; Deb, who came out from Calgary in the early afternoon and stayed till almost 1 a.m., laying the table for the first seating, getting food prepared and served, and cleaning up when it was all over; Dad, for turnips like only Dad can make; and Norma, who came in the next day to wash stemware and china.

All the guests - okay, almost all! - seemed happy to be there and thankful for the food and the effort. I was too busy to take any pictures - except one.

Here is Gerald, who came at the invitation of the Teahouse Sweetheart, who happens to be his mother and is one of the people we love the most for her encouragement, prayers, support and, well, because she is a sweetheart. One of the things we are most grateful for is that she is recovered from the fall and that she is still up and about, sharing her indefatigable spirit and her deep-seated, quiet kindness with all those fortunate enough to come into contact with her.

At her table with her were her four favourite people: her daughter and her husband, and Gerald and his wife.

After they all ordered pecan pie Gerald, joking, said, "Might as well bring us the whole pie!"

So we did.

Thank you all of you who joined us for such a wonderful evening!

Here's the ultimate Thanksgiving song for people right in the middle of Alberta farm country ... except for in this version it's sung by the choir and congregation of St George's Windsor. I chose this version because it wasn't just a choir singing; the faces of the congregation are joyful as they pour out their song in praise to God. You and I could be singing with them!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Burning bush

I arrived at Dad's place on Sunday morning and was just about to head up his driveway when I was greeted by the most beautiful autumn sight I have seen this year:

This exquisite bush was posting sentry to his residence. It seemed to me like it was telling me, "Slow down. Take a moment to be grateful for the beauty around you. And remember where you are - you are approaching holy ground."

Sure enough, Dad was studying and meditating on the things of God when I went in ...

And it reminded me of the night my Mum passed away. Just as she drew her last breath, my brother quietly started to sing: "We are standing on holy ground." Soon the room was awash with song as one by one we joined in, thanking God for a life well lived, recognizing the sacredness of that room in that moment.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Gold Standard

This year for my birthday, you gave me a knife. "It's my favourite kitchen knife," you explained. "I wanted you to have one for the TH."

And indeed, it has become the kitchen go-to piece of cutlery. It's perfectly weighted for my hand, and it can chop at lightning speed a pile of ginger root ...

... or it can settle in for the long haul, tackling with methodical precision enough turnips and sweet potatoes to feed 60+ people:

It is so like you, Brian, to notice what is difficult for me and then try to mitigate it. You've always had that kind of insight into the inner workings of me, the core that is unexposed, for the most part, to mere cursory examination and interpretation.

I think it's been that way almost since we first met as teenagers, both working for the town of Three Hills. You, preternaturally careful, thought before you spoke; I, impulsive to a fault, would blurt out what came to mind.

Somehow we became friends. 

Both of us went on to use sharp implements: you - always seeking to heal, to help, to restore - became a dentist.

I discovered the power of the pen - both for ill and for good - and attempted to learn how to write.

Thirty-four years later, with much water under the bridge, we both strive to rightly divide the word of truth, using what instruments we have in our respective reaches.

And here you are, at 50, the gold standard for what a friend should be.

You are balanced, fair, reasonable; you have a sense of humour and don't take yourself too seriously; you seek the highest good for others, sometimes to your own detriment.

You love your family unequivocally, celebrating milestones and accomplishments with them as often as you can. As I write, you and your beautiful Viv are close to heading to the airport on a trip of a lifetime, a trip that celebrates what it means to have lived fifty years well. 

You make time for what's of value. Thank you for making time for my Mum and Dad, for being with us as she slipped the bonds of her earthly home and went to be with God. Your presence and the words you spoke to me that day have been a source of great consolation over the past six years. Thank you for lending Dad your oximeter when we went to India - you suspected it would give him enormous reassurance, and it did.

Thank you for showing up at the TH unexpectedly every now and then and lending a hand just when it is needed most.

You have always been able to cut straight to the heart of the matter. I remember once, when I was planning a trip back to the States in 1989, you took me out for coffee and - looking me directly in the eyes - asked me if I was sure I knew what I was doing. You listened to me babbling away, and then in a few succinct sentences you laid out the reasons not to go.

I went anyway. And you were right.

You have always heard me; you take my dreams seriously. And because you have been listening with sympathy and without judgment for all these years, you are able to encourage me to be the best "me" I can be.

As I've been ruminating on our friendship I turn to Mary Oliver, who knows a thing or two about friendship so comfortable which stands the test of time, and who can say everything so much better than ever I could: 

I want to write something
so simply
about love
or about pain
that even
as you are reading
you feel it
and as you read
you keep feeling it
and though it be my story
it will be common,
though it be singular
it will be known to you
so that by the end
you will think—
no, you will realize—
that it was all the while
yourself arranging the words,
that it was all the time
words that you yourself,
out of your heart
had been saying.

And I want to say thank you for a friendship which endures through the vagaries and the vicissitudes of life. My own life would be so much less without you in it. Happy 50th birthday to the friend of my heart. 

Here are Lyle Lovett and Randy Newman - two of my favourite singer-songwriters, singing one of my favourite songs:

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Golden Boy

I've known him half his life now.

And I am compelled to say that in the last 25 years he has never let me down; he has always been only a phone call away when I need him, my source for careful listening, wise counsel, and unquestioning comfort.

I've watched him come into his own, from a determined young man struggling to stay alive to a callow first-year law student tiptoeing into his initial vin ordinaire gathering; from a jubilant law school graduate to a harried articling student in an office where, if you crept in after hours with only the dim corridor light flickering, your heart would stop as you were confronted by a figure in a full coat of armour appearing ready to accost you; to the day when he had a launch party in his new 17th-Avenue digs, the ones where his name is listed first on the door; to the evening, earlier this year, when he gave me the grand tour of his beautiful home, and noting that what he was most excited about were the rooms for his kids.

I remember the days of eating steak sandwiches at Caruszo's and discussing the genius and humanity of Bruce Cockburn; working out guitar cords in the basement of Kathy Nichols' home; enjoying the sun and the view at Calgary Cannons baseball games; watching with gathering indignation the final episode of Seinfeld (really? we cut short our dinner for that?!); tasting (and admiring) the results of his new-found baking skills in the days when he was forced to adhere to a restricted diet; shopping for a black suit to go on articling interviews; breaking speed limits to find a clear spot where we could catch the last song of the Northern Lights; going to the law school grad banquet; feeling horror and gratitude a couple of days later when his car was totalled by a deer clearly not apprised of his new academic status.

Gary Kirk, it occurs to me that you are one of those rare people, completely true to yourself. You charted a course for your life and - against all odds, sometimes to the accompaniment of protest and discouragement - you have succeeded. You are healthy; you are wise; and you are a success - in your profession, with your children, and to your friends.

I've been thinking about you a lot these last couple of weeks, and I've been reading Mary Oliver. Her words have captured you like no feeble attempt I could write in tribute:

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice -
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations, though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen branches and stones.
but little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do-
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Mary Oliver, Dream Work, Grove Atlantic Inc., 1986 & New and Selected Poems, Beacon Press, 1992.

I am so proud of what you have accomplished - oh, not professionally necessarily, although it gives me great pride when I hear people say, "He's a really good lawyer ..."; but when I see how you have set the bar high for yourself and how you have been equal to every challenge thrown at you. 

You are a man of sterling character, of exceptional resilience, of uncanny acumen, of great good humour, of enormous heart.

So this October 12 especially I want to say Happy Birthday to a true friend. May these first 50 years pale in comparison to the success, joy and love I wish for you in the next 50!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Thanksgiving Menu

We are looking forward to welcoming our guests for dinner tomorrow! I am so very thankful for Mike and Brenda, who worked extremely hard to get vegetables peeled, pecans roasted, the ingredients for the dressing chopped and ready. 

Here's a Thanksgiving medley of songs, a couple of which I haven't heard since the days of Miss Hall at Hebron Girls School in Coonoor.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Gap Analysis

Four days' lag time from the last post to this one! Three days ago my director called me up fairly late in the afternoon and requested in-depth analysis of certain areas of my territory. He called it "Gap Analysis" and "sorry for the short notice, KI" - he needed it all done by first thing Friday morning Toronto time.

And then he emailed me the data from which I would be working. 

I dug in on Wednesday morning and struggled late into the night: I contacted professors, librarians, bookstores; I researched courses and websites; I prowled through my own work history. I didn't make much of a dent.

Thursday loomed large and menacing. I was conscious of all the dishes piled up in the kitchen from the regular Wednesday evening meeting, but I pushed them out of my mind. I kept all the blinds shut in the room, so no one would come by. I turned off the ringer on my phone. Fortified with cup after cup of Dilmah tea, I finally saw the light at the end of the tunnel. 

At 4:45, early on Friday morning, I eased my computer into "Sleep" mode and headed off to bed myself with only a glancing thought of the dishes.

An hour later Debbie, the lady who cleans the TH every week, arrived.

When I got downstairs at 9:30, preparing for my phone meeting, I apologized for the state of the kitchen; she volunteered to do the dishes, but I took one look at her tired face and gratefully declined. "I'll get them done this evening," I assured her.

I hurtled into Red Deer and met a dear friend for a late lunch and a much-needed chat. Then it was on to the grocery run to get supplies for the turkey dinner we serve each Thanksgiving Sunday.

I finally limped home at about 7:30, to be greeted with the outside lights on, welcoming me. I unlocked the back door and the entry light was on. Wandering into the kitchen, I saw that it was spotless, the counters gleaming and the tell-tale little light of the dishwasher glowing.

This could mean only one thing: Brenda had been in the house ...

No Thanksgiving month can go by without my giving thanks for this wonderful woman and friend to the TH and to me. On Monday she had had an encounter with the sidewalk where the sidewalk won. Her glasses were scratched and her poor face was bruised; her back felt like she had been pounded on by a street gang.

Brenda demonstrates, usually behind the scenes, the grace of God to me every single week. She drops by, ostensibly to say hi, and immediately puts on an apron. When we are running behind in the kitchen, she walks around the dining room, chatting to people at each table, serving refills of coffee and water, clearing plates and offering reassurance. The mood in the room lightens after she's been out there for a few minutes.

She helps with the Tuesday Manor meeting and the Wednesday TH meeting as well. When I have to go away, I know I can leave the details in her capable hands.

Most of all, she listens to me, she prays for me, and she loves me. She offers wise counsel and she can keep her counsel.

As I started to get ready for the weekend I reviewed the week in my mind. "Gap Analysis" had dominated my thoughts and time; but I had received no idea if the information I had submitted was correct or how it would benefit the organization.

I compared that situation to a statement in the book of Ezekiel:

And I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the gap before me for the land ... (chapter 22, first part of verse 30)

God is saying these words, and He goes on to say that there was no one to stand in the gap.

This week I felt like the gap was so big it was turning into a precipice. Analyzing it only made it worse. And then Brenda came along and stood in it, doing whatever she could, quietly and with no fanfare and no expectation of reward or praise. She just did it for the glory of God and because she saw a place where she could be of service.

She analysed the gap and filled it.

Here's a deceptively simple, simply exquisite interpretation of the old hymn "I Need Thee Every Hour": 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Just As I Am

Tuesday morning I take my lunch hour from 10:00 - 11:00 and go to the Robertson Manor to play hymns on the little electric keyboard our friend Don sets up so faithfully each week. And I go to hear my Dad share a word of encouragement with "The Oldies" who gather to sing and share and pray and be blessed. 

Plus, we have snacks!

This morning was no different. There is no guest parking on site so Dad gets celebrity parking in the loading zone, per great kindness of Duane who runs the place. I parked across the road and met Dad at his car, to carry in the box of Dad's specialty chocolate cake that Deb had made ("under my instruction," he informed me!) and to carry in his Bible.

For me, getting to carry in his Bible is one of the greatest honours I receive. I feel like the flag bearer at the Olympics leading the way for Usain Bolt, where you know a gold medal is virtually guaranteed.

Brenda or Wes opens the door for us. Today it was Wes, smiling, welcoming. When Wes is there, it's another sign that it's going to be a great little meeting, because he is a man of deep faith and he prays that "Pastor Ironside" will have the words God wants him to say, the strength he needs to keep sharing God's love with people, and that each soul present will be blessed.

We start the little meeting off by singing three songs, people's choice. The last song we sang today, chosen by our dear Julie - who also made cookies for us! - was that ancient beauty Just As I Am:

Just as I am, without one plea, 
but that thy blood was shed for me, 
and that thou bidst me come to thee, 
O Lamb of God, I come, I come. 

Just as I am, and waiting not 
to rid my soul of one dark blot, 
to thee whose blood can cleanse each spot, 
O Lamb of God, I come, I come. 

Just as I am, though tossed about 
with many a conflict, many a doubt, 
fightings and fears within, without, 
O Lamb of God, I come, I come. 

Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind; 
sight, riches, healing of the mind, 
yea, all I need in thee to find, 
O Lamb of God, I come, I come. 

Just as I am, thou wilt receive, 
wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve; 
because thy promise I believe, 
O Lamb of God, I come, I come. 

Just as I am, thy love unknown 
hath broken every barrier down; 
now, to be thine, yea thine alone, 
O Lamb of God, I come, I come. 
(Charlotte Elliot, 1789-1871)

As the last notes died away, Dad asked if anyone had read today's devotional from Oswald Chambers'  My Utmost for His Highest. "It ties in exactly with thesong we have just sung!" he exclaimed.

This is what it says:

Coming to Jesus

Isn’t it humiliating to be told that we must come to Jesus! Think of the things about which we will not come to Jesus Christ. If you want to know how real you are, test yourself by these words— “Come to Me . . . .” In every dimension in which you are not real, you will argue or evade the issue altogether rather than come; you will go through sorrow rather than come; and you will do anything rather than come the last lap of the race of seemingly unspeakable foolishness and say, “Just as I am, I come.” As long as you have even the least bit of spiritual disrespect, it will always reveal itself in the fact that you are expecting God to tell you to do something very big, and yet all He is telling you to do is to “Come . . . .”
“Come to Me . . . .” When you hear those words, you will know that something must happen in you before you can come. The Holy Spirit will show you what you have to do, and it will involve anything that will uproot whatever is preventing you from getting through to Jesus. And you will never get any further until you are willing to do that very thing. The Holy Spirit will search out that one immovable stronghold within you, but He cannot budge it unless you are willing to let Him do so.
How often have you come to God with your requests and gone away thinking, “I’ve really received what I wanted this time!” And yet you go away with nothing, while all the time God has stood with His hands outstretched not only to take you but also for you to take Him. Just think of the invincible, unconquerable, and untiring patience of Jesus, who lovingly says, “Come to Me. . . .”
As I looked around the table, I saw those old saints nodding in agreement. I thought to myself, We think of that song and we sing that song as though it is only a song to get people to walk the aisle at the end of a church service, while in this very room we have people tossed about with fears, conflicts, doubts; we have the blind; we have those whose spouses yearn for healing of the mind for their beloved one; we have those who are indigent. No wonder they sang with such fervour, "Just as I am ... O Lamb of God, I come!"
These wonderful old people, who are being nudged inexorably, day by day, closer to the very presence of the one to whom they were singing, offered the words as a prayer of hope and encouragement.
And I was so very, very grateful for the reminder that just as I am, with all my sin and trouble and pain, I too can come and leave it all with the Lamb of God, who wants more than anything to have me come to him and trust him with everything I have.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Tru-man Event

The September Event this year was last Friday, October 4 - my September schedule being so frenetic - and with Elliot. He chose to go to Kane's Harley Davidson Diner in Inglewood ...

... followed by a trip to Recordland where you can choose three CDs for $25 - and where, when he chose an obscure jazz artist, the erudite, knowledgeable store assistant looked at him with deepening respect.

On his first trip to Recordland!

The best part of the Event this month, as is true for most months and most Events, was the conversation. Elliot is discovering a new interest, and that is films. And - being Elliot - he doesn't merely watch the film; he digs deep, peeling back the layers to get to the core truth.

This Event we talked mainly about one movie: The Truman Show.

I have never seen this film; but now I know that I want to, and with Elliot and Elliot's Granny. Elliot quoted it, dissected it, elaborated on themes, alluded to the poignant passages - by the time he was finished, I felt almost as if I had watched TTS with him ...

The thought of the for the most part happy, strangely vulnerable, Truman growing up unaware of his artificially maintained existence; the parallels between TTS and CS Lewis's The Screwtape Letters; the authenticity of life in general and of our own lives in particular, and what constitutes a "real" life anyway.

How do we know what's real?

This lovely boy, teetering on the cusp of manhood, and I didn't stop talking as we drove from place to place, as we ate, as we checked out the CD options, as we dashed through Costco, as I paused long enough to dump him unceremoniously off in his driveway because of my abbreviated time allotment for Superstore before picking Dad up to head home.

We talked about how things change, how people move on - our grouchily dear Armand Cohen (who, in 1997 helped me catch the guys who broke into my apartment and stole a bunch of my stuff including my CD collection - but that's another story!), at 71 years old, had only three weeks earlier decided to retire from Recordland, leaving it in his sons' care - but how there is a thread of continuity, a measure of grace, to be found from birth through death and even beyond.

As I thought about our time together, I realized that we, he and I both, like Truman, are tapping timorously against the blue screen of the boundaries of our lives; we are learning discernment; we are working out our own salvation.

And in our season of change and thanksgiving, I am so very thankful that this wonderful young man, who is one of God's greatest gifts to my life, said to me as we skittered through the cars blocking the crosswalk, "I love our Events, Auntie K."

Me too. And in case I don't see you later, good afternoon, good evening and good night!


Here's a clip of some of the final moments in The Truman Show:

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Breath of God

This morning at 7:15 he had to be at the hospital for breathing tests. An hour later he had to meet with his pulmonologist, who had refused to sign the authorization for him to fly to Chicago until she had evaluated him.

Many people were praying for Dad this last week, praying that he would be strong this morning and that he would be able to go.

Dad himself was quite calm. He had already sought God's will about going to Chicago, and had agreed to speak at the wedding, to be held on the 18th, as well as twice on the 20th morning at the church he and I love.

God had told him to go, and so Dr R would of course sign off on the trip.

And - of course - she did.

I woke up this morning with an old, simple hymn playing in my head:

Breathe on me breath of God
Fill me with life anew
That I may love what Thou dost love
And do what Thou wouldst do

Breathe on me breath of God
Until my heart is pure
Until with Thee I will one will
To do and to endure

Breathe on me breath of God
Till I am wholly Thine
Till all this earthly part of me
Glows with Thy fire divine

Breathe on me breath of God
So shall I never die
But live with Thee the perfect life
Of Thine eternity

  • Edwin Hatch | Robert Jackson

How could I have forgotten, even for an instant? How could I have so much as entertained the slightest doubt that when God tells Dad to go somewhere and to do something, He might not also see to it that Dad will have all the obstacles cleared from his path?

God continues to give Dad breath, continues to breathe power onto his ministry. 

For this I am suffused with gratitude.

Here is Steve Green's beautiful rendition of this prayerful song: