Monday, July 28, 2014

Nilgiris Tea House - the Tour

Although I've written extensively over the past seven years about the goings-on at the little TH, it occurs to me that I've never really taken you inside to see more than just a glimpse or two of the actual space.

So here are some of the spots I'll remember fondly - I took these pictures in the midnight hours of the last Friday night, after the wonderful Debbie M had cleaned and before the mayhem of Saturday hit ...

The first place everyone's eyes go to as they walk in the door is the fireplace. Mum's and Dad's pictures hold places of honour, as does the beautiful elephant carving - a wedding present to them and given to me by Dad on my fiftieth birthday - resting at the bottom of the Victorian mahogany mantel mirror. People would call and reserve the Purple Chairs for special occasions or just to be comfortable and watch the goings-on in the dining room ...

The table (which you can barely see!) to the left of the Purple Chairs is called Father Time, a nod to the clock Don and Norma presented the TH when we opened. The cabinet - acquired from Rosalie and David - contains, among other things, special little china cups and saucers and tea sets that our smallest patrons delighted in choosing to use for their tea parties ...

The bookcase beckons from between the Purple Chairs and Father Time. A treasure trove of reading material for all ages, as well as games, challenges for trivia buffs and, of course, elephants ...

To the right of the Purple Chairs is a nondescript table - the biggest in the room - named the Looking Glass because of its proximity to the largest window in the room. To its right are two little tables in the bay window: Quiet Corner is on the left, and Hidden Valley is on the right. (Hidden Valley's pet name is the Komorowskis' Table ...)

Hidden Valley is so named because it's tucked behind my favourite spot in the TH, the piano. This beautiful upright grand was given to me - through Bronwyn - from Foothills Alliance Church. Above it hangs a picture painted by my artist sib to remind me that the former things - antique pianos, estate china, Beethoven from my friend Mary, photographs of friends who have left this world and pictures from my own childhood, even me! - will be made new ...

The wall to the left of Quiet Corner houses one of my dearest treasures: pictures of Alex, the boy from South Africa who changed my whole outlook on life.

The story of my encounters with Alex is simple and yet profound. In the providence of God, on our first day of service I was in the group of people who met a woman asking for us to go visit a home where a young boy was "sick in the head." The home was not on our list of places to visit, but the team of home-based care workers from Hands at Work decided that we could go. We got there to see a small boy sitting on a blue plastic chair somewhat apart from his Go-Go (grandmother) and her sister. The latter two set chairs out for us and started to tell us his story: his parents had both died of AIDS and now these two senior ladies were attempting to care for this child, who had been doing okay until he was assaulted on his way to school some months earlier. From then on he began to withdraw into himself until he was unable to talk or participate in any way at school. When he became unable to control his bladder, the teacher called his Go-Go and said that he was "sick in the head" and couldn't return to school. The only thing for him was for his grandmother to beat him until he was able to "behave" properly. 

My sister, our team leader, earnestly spoke to these two ladies who truly wanted only what was best for the boy and believed that the educated teacher must be right. She told them how important kindness and love were to a child, how much better to build him up, how beatings would only drive him further away from getting better. She besought them to love him and not to leave him alone and to stop the beatings.  They listened carefully to her, interjecting now and then with some of their own sad stories. She in turn listened to them, encouraging them in their difficult journeys.

On impulse I wandered off to talk to Alex while this interchange was going on. As soon as I stood over his cowering little frame I realised that of course we wouldn't be able to understand each other through words; so I reached down and, holding both of his hands in mine, gently raised him to a standing position. "U sisekele," I said quietly. "You are so beautiful." These were the only words I could remember from our training, and so I reiterated them as I started walking with him, hand-in-hand, the length of the little house in which the three of them lived. I asked the ladies, through our home-care workers acting as translators, what his name was. Alex was the answer. I picked up a stone, and wrote Alex with it on the wall where I could see that pictures had been previously sketched. He pointed silently to his name. With the strictures of the others about writing on people's walls finally penetrating my consciousness, I turned Alex to the ground and traced around his hand in the dust. Then I handed him the stone and he did the same for me (centre picture). The Gog-Gos became animated - he was responding to something! 

Soon it was past time for us to leave. As was their practice wherever they visited, the home-based care leader asked me to "give a word" before we prayed together and went on our way. I was unable to speak so I just asked if we could sing the children's song Jesus loves me - except instead of singing me we would sing Alex. As I knelt down to his height the ladies surrounded us and began to sing and clap, their love and concern for this child palpable. He buried his face in my neck and I hugged him fiercely, wishing I could protect him, wishing I could do something (top picture) ...

That evening after dinner our team went back to our accommodations and decided to sort clothes and toys we had brought with us for the children we would meet. We had talked about our day and I had talked about Alex. As we went through the stuffed toys that people had donated we suddenly came across a teddy bear wearing a light blue baseball cap. And on his little white shirt was a name in red.


The ONLY toy out of all of them with a name on it!

Of course we had to go back - even though a home visit usually occurred about once every two or three weeks, when the home-care workers saw the little bear, they immediately agreed that we would return the next day! When we arrived at the house Alex was by himself in his little chair. He stood slowly to his feet as we approached him, and I held out the toy to him.

Cautiously he reached for it and looked at it, and then a shy smile broke out over his face. He traced with one hand the name. Then peeking up he said, "Aaaaaaa ...," almost inaudibly (left picture). The home-care workers swooped joyfully on him, hugging him and laughing and chattering to him about what a good boy he was, how beautiful he was. He didn't say anything else but he submitted to their love and gentle ministrations.

Again we had to leave too soon; but this time he raised a timid hand in farewell, the other hand clutching his teddy bear. I doubted that I would ever see this little one again because, really, two visits in two days was unheard of! However, we were able to obtain occasional updates over the next couple of weeks and he seemed to be doing better.

On one of our last days there our Canadian team put on a celebration of the local workers. We had prepared snacks and decorated the small hall, wanting to do what we could to express our love and appreciation for these women who basically volunteered their time for an occasional stipend but who served God and their people with their hearts and everything they were. 

Dressed in their finery, they sang and danced in procession to the centre of the room. After we sang and clapped and joined in as best we could, we partook of the refreshments and then we all sat down and talked about what we had learnt in the last few weeks.

"Alex," one of the ladies said almost immediately.She went on with words to this effect: "We learnt that love can change things when talking and beatings and nothing else can. If love can change one person at a time love can affect a whole community."

On our very last day the home-based care workers came to me. "Would you like to see him again?"

Would I?! My sister and a couple of others and I went with the team toward his home. On the way we met his Go-Go. "We are loving him and we are not beating him and we are telling him he is beautiful!" she said breathlessly. Oh, and he was not at home today - they had taken him a few houses down to a neighbour who was watching him because they were not leaving him alone to be frightened ...

We arrived at the neighbour's home and suddenly a little whirlwind in a grey shirt with red trim launched himself at me, hugging me. He was smiling. And his trousers were dry.

The only picture that was posed in this series is the one at the bottom. My sister took all the Alex pictures, and in this one we smiled together for the camera.

It is impossible to maintain contact with specific patients; but other teams who went out would check on Alex and a couple of years later someone sent me the picture on the right. He was thriving and back in school, was the report we received. His Go-Gos were still loving him and caring for him.

That was five years ago; but the memory of this child remains with me every day and he is what prompted me in 2011 to raise money through the TH for beds for the kids affected by the tsunami in India. It is what led me to try to raise money for the van for the Children's Home on the outskirts of Bangalore this year.

The life of one needy child on one continent is impacting the lives of needy children on another continent because you who gave so generously were also impacted indirectly by Alex. No wonder Jesus exclaimed, "Allow the little children to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven!"

At the other end of the piano from Hidden Valley is the tea trolley. Above it hangs the inlaid wood picture of a leopard - Mum and Dad gave each of us one and they have a spot in each of our houses to this day. To the left of the trolley is Baby Elephant ...

On the other side of the foyer is Pat's Corner, named for Sweet William's Patsy and for my Mum, both of whom liked that spot a little bit away from the main part of the room. Above the window hangs the stunning print on three canvases of African elephants with Kilimanjaro in the background, given me by our own Brent. Update on him: he's been accepted into medical school!

Next comes the Safari table, dominated by the most impressive elephant in the room: The Power of One ... On occasions when I might have been a little discouraged, this poster reminded me that one person can indeed make a difference!

The guestbook desk stands sentry next to the space leading to the kitchen. AT the top left of the picture you can see the bottom right of the old 1955 Map of India, rescued from disposal and given to the TH by Mr A shortly after we opened ...

Across and a little bit down from the map are the shelves that house the teas we enjoy ...

... and across from the teas is the Wall of Great China. Many times people would walk back there to check out the Wall and choose the cup they would like to sip their tea from ...

But tucked away on the left side of the WoGC is found one of the sources of hope and joy that have sustained me: some of the little notes and written and / or given by Dad and others to encourage me personally as I try to do the same for my guests.

Go through the door you can see at the edge of this picture and you'll find yourself in the Staff Lounge ...

(If you were to continue up the stairs you would find yourself in my little apartment!)

Across from the counter is The Hug, table of confidences given and comfort received, presided over by the unique piece of art that reminds me that beauty can be found even in brokenness ...

And down the hall behind the wing chairs are the men's and ladies' loos:

(The fascinating maps will be returned to their rightful owner!)

H'mmmmmmmm ...

As you leave the dining room your eyes will be drawn to the Traveller, a sculpture formed entirely out of leather and given to me by Dad and Mum:

On the left hand side of the little foyer sits the Tea Tree, laden with little bijoux given to me over the years - miniature cups and saucers, tea pots, charms ...

And the last thing you will see before you walk outside again is stencilled right above the front door, a gift from my dear Zeba:

Thanks for visiting!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Strength for Today and Bright Hope for Tomorrow

Everyone knows that there's not much I enjoy more than planning a special occasion.

This is the one special occasion I never wanted to plan, the one invitation I never wanted to issue:

It is with a heavy heart that Nilgiris Tea House announces we will be closing weekend operations at the end of July. (We are still available for private functions and special events; email

All our friends who care for and patronize the TH
are invited to a come-and-go farewell tea 
on Sunday, July 27, 3 - 6 pm

We thank you for your patronage, friendship and many kindnesses. We have loved serving the community that has developed in the TH over the past 11 years. We will miss you deeply.

The morning I finally came to the conclusion that this is the way God is leading me, I felt desolate. The sky was thundering, scowling at me as I peered out of my bedroom window overlooking the park.

I tearfully made my way down the 16 steps to the TH. After half an hour or so of busyness in the kitchen, I walked into the dining room. I opened the front door, and I was greeted with this:

A double rainbow - Mum's sign of God's promise and care - beamed over the park across from Nilgiris!

It was 6:15 in the morning.

God has plans for me, and He has plans for this little TH that we all have grown to love. We don't know what His plans are right now, but we do know that His wisdom is staggering in its depth, and His love has no limit.

Great is His faithfulness.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

My Heart Belongs to Daddy

"My son, give me your heart," entreated the wisest man in the world, "and let your eyes observe my ways."

I have been observing my Dad's ways for over five decades now. He knows the value of a child's heart and he has always done everything he could to build up the hearts of each of his children.

"Always seek to encourage those with whom you come into contact," he has said to us on many occasions. "Build up their hearts. The origin of the word itself has "heart" embedded in it ..."

I of course looked it up on

the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain,
etc., without fearbravery.
Obsolete the heart as the source of emotion.
have the courage of one's convictions, to act in accordance with one's beliefs, 
especially in spite of criticism.
1250–1300; Middle English corage  < Old French,  equivalent to cuer  heart 
(< Latin cor;  see heart) + -age -age

"When you discourage someone, you're hurting their heart," Dad observed.

When Dad had to discipline us as we grew up, we always knew - although he never uttered that platitude - that it did indeed hurt him more than it hurt us. It got to the point that when we might be debating whether or not we should do something, "It'll hurt Dad" was often enough to stave off the action.

"Honey, keep their hearts": you disclosed in a Wednesday Bible study that you would say this to Mum on occasion. You don't harp on the inconsequential, which might do not much more than cause resentment. Because of this, when you speak, we listen.

You have indeed kept our hearts - not only the hearts of your family, but the hearts of your extended family at the Bible College as well. 

Your own heart has taken a beating, both physically and emotionally; but it still beats strong and true, an example to all of us who love you and have a place in your enormous heart.

Yesterday afternoon - the day after Father's Day, when this entry would already have been late - you stopped by the TH and had tea with me. We sat in the cozy wing chairs and sipped that most comforting of all beverages, this day sweetened with condensed milk and served in simple, comfortable mugs. We talked about being just, about justice being served, about the Justifier who took our penalty and how it all comes together without incongruity: "Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other," says the 85th Psalm, verse 10.

"I never realised until recently that this happens twice," marvelled Dad. "It happened when Jesus died on the cross; but it also happens in each person when he or she accepts the gift of salvation, when we give our hearts to God and ask Him to take control of our lives ..."

What a blessing it is to have a father who has our hearts, and whose own heart is held in the hand of his heavenly Father!

Although this is late, I can't let this Father's Day time slip away entirely without saying Thank you, Dad, for recognising the value of a heart - of each heart. You encourage me to encourage others and to love with all my being.

I heart you.

Friday, May 30, 2014

11 Years Ago Today

Eleven years ago today Dad was under the knife ... unexpected open heart surgery ... triple bypass the result. We read all of that this evening in Mum's Daily Light, where Mum used to note the events of each day in the margin and which Dad reads every day. It's a history of our family, along with the ever-present backdrop of God's faithfulness

This evening, Dad stood up to preach in the little Baptist church housed in the tiny old Orthodox building in Kindersley.

This evening is also notable because it is the first series of sermons he has been able to preach since we thought we were losing him in January.

Truly God has His hand on Dad!

 His text for the evening was from Isaiah chapter 44, verses 21 and 22:

Isaiah 44:21-22

King James Version (KJV)
21 Remember these, O Jacob and Israel; for thou art my servant: I have formed thee; thou art my servant: O Israel, thou shalt not be forgotten of me.
22 I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins: return unto me; for I have redeemed thee.

He spoke of the five things this passage tells us to remember -
  • You are My servant
  • I have formed you
  • I will never forget you
  • I have blotted out all your sin, all your failings
  • I have redeemed you; indeed I paid the ultimate price for you.
And in exchange, there is one thing He asks us to do -
  • Return unto Me
It seems so little to ask in return, really. And, like the prophet Malachi, in chapter 3 and verse 7, states: " Return to Me and I will return to you." He is more than willing to meet us more than half-way.

This evening as we rested in our motel room - loving provided for us by the church - Dad read from the Psalms, as is his wont:

Psalm 116

King James Version (KJV)
116 I love the Lord, because he hath heard my voice and my supplications.
Because he hath inclined his ear unto me, therefore will I call upon him as long as I live.
The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell got hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow.
Then called I upon the name of the Lord; O Lord, I beseech thee, deliver my soul.
Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; yea, our God is merciful.
The Lord preserveth the simple: I was brought low, and he helped me.
Return unto thy rest, O my soul; for the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee.
For thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling.
I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living.
10 I believed, therefore have I spoken: I was greatly afflicted:
11 I said in my haste, All men are liars.
12 What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits toward me?
13 I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord.
14 I will pay my vows unto the Lord now in the presence of all his people.
15 Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.
16 Lord, truly I am thy servant; I am thy servant, and the son of thine handmaid: thou hast loosed my bonds.
17 I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of the Lord.
18 I will pay my vows unto the Lord now in the presence of all his people.
19 In the courts of the Lord's house, in the midst of thee, O Jerusalem. Praise ye the Lord.

Dad is God's servant; God still is using Dad, whether it be praying for people, speaking one on one with someone, conducting his Bible studies on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, singing, writing.

Or whether it be preaching.

As the last verse says, Praise the Lord ...

Sunday, May 11, 2014

And His Mother's Name Was ...

Today's reading from the 2014 edition of the Choice Gleanings calendar, a daybook our family has read each morning for years, reminded me anew how much influence our mothers have on us:

In the seventh year of Jehu, Jehoash began to reign; and forty years reigned he in Jerusalem, and his mother’s name was Zibiah. And Jehoash did that which was right in the sight of the Lord all his days, in which Jehoiada, the priest, instructed him. 
2 Kings 12:1-2

The little phrase “and his mother’s name was,” appears 23 times in the Old Testament. The significance seems to be the influence each mother had on her son. With the help of the priest of the Lord, Zibiah's son was properly instructed and he was enabled to carry out his responsibilities with God’s approval. A godly mother is a treasure and one for whom Mother’s Day should be celebrated!     —David McCulloch

I live in a world where men feature prominently these days, and I see firsthand the impact their mothers have had on their lives.

Just a couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of meeting my friend Derek's mom, Diana. This lovely lady, who until her recent retirement held positions of responsibility in the corporate world, nonetheless has ensured that her priority is her home and her son. I watched the easy interaction between the two of them, the way she could anticipate his words and actions, the way he would step in to help her in little ways around the kitchen table where we sat.

I've also seen the impact that the loss of a mother can mean. I remember a man close to me remarking that exactly one week after his mother passed away he "could feel the loss of her prayers."

I've never been privileged to have a child of my own; but I have had the privilege of working closely with numbers of young people over the years, particularly in the Tea House. This reading gave me pause. We women, do we consciously take the time to realise the importance our sway is in the lives of the impressionable children God has given us? Some of the 23 mothers listed in the Old Testament were not wise in their dealings with their children, causing detriment to the child as well as domino-like calamity to people and situations around that child.

Here, off the top of my head, is a list of 23 names of mothers who influence sons who have an impact in my life in some way. I'll start with Derek's:

  • And his mother's name was Diana Cleland
  • And his mother's name was Ruth Ironside
  • And his mother's name was Brenda Spilsbury
  • And his mother's name was Zeba Husain
  • And his mother's name was BA Ironside
  • And their mother's name was Angela Ironside
  • And their mother's name was Bronwyn Spilsbury
  • And his mother's name was Irene Walsh
  • And his mother's name was Katherine Creasser
  • And his mother's name was Darlene Johnson
  • And his mother's name was Alice Tateson
  • And his mother's name was Debbie Tateson
  • And his mother's name was Muriel Kirk
  • And his mother's name was Marion Warnock
  • And his mother's name was Jeanne Carlzon
  • And his mother's name was Eileen King
  • And his mother's name was Margaret Kremer
  • And his mother's name was Thankamma Cherian
  • And their mother's name was Salome Cherian
  • And his mother's name was Evelyn Ironside
  • And their mother's name was Merah Chelli
  • And their mother's name was Jacqueline Benavides
  • And his mother's name was Patricia O'Halloran Ironside 

You are your mothers' sons. And I am so thankful for each of them.

Monday, April 14, 2014

April 13, 2003

Eleven years ago on April 13, we opened the doors of Nilgiris Tea House.

Yesterday morning my Dad came over after church and cut up all my potatoes for the evening meal - the first time he's done that since October ...

Dad and Mum were with me when we first opened the doors at 7:00 a.m. on that fateful April 13, 2003. We were woefully unprepared and ludicrously naive as to how it would all work.

But by the grace of God and the kindness of Nilgiris' friends, the little TH perseveres still.

Yesterday evening Dad came  back with a box of cookies he had made that afternoon: sugar cookies, his mother's recipe.

Attached to the box was this note, summing up the last decade-plus-one as only Dad can:

My dearest Karyn,

[Eleven] years ago today the "Nilgiris Tea House Adventure" began.

There have been so many experiences and challenges. I want to congratulate you today, for under God, great blessing and life have proceeded from this mountain stream.

Congratulations for pressing on and touching many lives ... May [our Lord] continue to guide you as to the future, knowing His way is the best. There are no surprises or unexpected events with our Lord.

May our Heavenly Father bless and provide - as He will - for all the future holds.

My love and prayers,

Dad xxoo

Thanks to my artist sibling for infusing the present
with the past for the perfect cup of tea ...

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Holding the Ropes

The story is told of that great pioneer missionary to India, William Carey. A minister to a congregation in England, he was in a meeting discussing the spiritual needs of various places, and the secretary of the committee remarked, "There is a gold mine in India, but it seems almost as deep as the centre of the earth. Who will venture to explore it?"

"I will venture to go down," Carey responded, "but remember that you must hold the ropes." 

In April 1793, he sailed for India. Through his work and example, and with his oft-repeated challenge ringing in their ears ("Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God"), others like David Livingstone, Adoniram Judson, Hudson Taylor left their homelands to care for the physical and spiritual needs of others. Many years later, in 1959, Allan T. Ironside also followed God's call to India.

He and Mum officially "retired" in 1999; but the reality is that almost without fail they went back to India every year, trying to plan their trips so that they could participate in the graduation conferences.

This year, Dad will not be able to make it back for the graduation conferences at those beloved colleges in which he and Mum invested their lives. Although he's better, he is not strong and the travel would be too much for him. Our winter has been so long and the super bugs making their rounds throughout Alberta have been particularly merciless.

And so this year he will be holding the ropes all the way from Canada for the men who are scheduled to speak. 

Prayer time at the Manor: taken
two days before he became so ill ...

Deb and I also got a mild version of what Dad has been enduring, so we too will be doing our best to hold the ropes from this end as well.

As you know, every year Reading the Leaves and the Tea House work on a project for one of the children's homes associated with a college in India. This year, we discovered an urgent need for the children's home where our little buddy Chetan lives.

The Powers That Be have decreed that the Children's Home needs to have a vehicle with separate seats and seat belts for each child. Now, for anyone familiar with travel in India, we know that there is always room for one more person in any type of vehicle! However, we also know that the kids would be much safer if they had a reliable vehicle to transport them to school each day.

Ed and Sarah Chelli have spearheaded the research and the most economical, practical van with 15 passenger seats is this one, manufactured in India:

Brand new it costs $14,000-15,000 - a great price compared with what we would pay in North America, but still staggering for our little Children's Home!

Thanks to the amazingly generous response of last year, after the mattresses and bedding were purchased we had a surplus of $2,000, which I left with Ed to be used for the Children's Home. He is putting that money toward the van. In addition, in the last few weeks we have received $1,490 from people who have asked what this year's project is. (A goodly portion of that was given with much love and prayer from the Oldies who attend Dad's Tuesday morning Bible study group at the Robertson Manor!)

So I'm putting it out to you all who have held the ropes for these children's homes right from when we raised money for the bunk beds for the Tsunami Children's Home: if you feel that you are able - in these tougher economic times - to help toward the purchase of this van, the TH will once again be accepting donations. As always, ALL the money goes directly to the project. And because this is not what's called a "soft" project (which apparently bedding and bunk beds are!), we can get tax receipts for donations over $50. If you would like more information, please email me at

Dad is back in Three Hills, and this week he once more took the Robertson Manor Tuesday study. This coming week he hopes to be able to resume the Wednesday evening study at the Tea House. Please continue to pray for continued restoration of strength and health. God promises that His strength is made perfect in our weakness and we see Him working even through this time of Dad's suffering.

Today would have been my Mum's 77th birthday. Dad always would sing to her that old song "Have I told you lately that I love you?" Today he had no voice for singing, so he played Jim Reeves' version of it for BA and me as we sipped tea and remembered a truly great woman.

But oh how he longs - how we all do! - to be back in what we consider in many ways to be our true home land ... to rid ourselves of this bitter cold, these mountains of snow; to be in the place of great congregational singing and outstanding preaching and unquestioning welcome and unwavering love.

To be in India.

Monday, February 10, 2014

If a Picture Is Worth 1000 Words, What Are 1000 Prayers Worth?

This picture, for starters ...

Yesterday morning an anxious 22-year-old grandson made his way to Deb's home. He opened the front door and was greeted by a dear, familiar voice:

"How's my boy?"

"There's my Poppa!" he exclaimed, his voice catching in his throat.

And indeed, our beloved Dad / Poppa / Grandpa / Bop / brother/ uncle / pastor / teacher / mentor / friend is showing remarkable signs of unmistakably improved health. 

We often quote the words of that ancient sage, Job: The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away ..." 

Sunday morning the Lord gave - "strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow."

" ... Blessed be the name of the Lord."

Sunday, February 9, 2014

"Who Am I Going To Call On Sunday?" - Bernice Anderson McComish

Yesterday we laid to rest one of the best women I know.
Here is the obituary for Bernice:
Bernice McComish (nee Anderson) – The memorial service for Bernice McComish is scheduled for 11:00 am, Saturday, February 8 at Bethel Evangelical Missionary Church, 123 4th Ave S, Three Hills. Bernice Elsie McComish was born the fifth child of nine to Alfred and Elsie Anderson on July 29, 1931.  She lived on the Anderson Farm in the Lake Thelma district and attended a one-room school to grade nine.  For high school she stayed in a dorm in Castor, returning to the farm on weekends. The farm was a busy place without the modern conveniences of today so Bernice did her share of farm and house work, including milking cows, stooking, and driving her own team hauling bundles. During the years of high school and of sharing an apartment with other young ladies while working in a bank in Coronation, Bernice made friends that lasted a lifetime. At 23 years old on Feb. 19, 1954, she married a local rancher, Arden McComish, They worked together on the farm for 20 years, raising four children.  In 1974, they moved to Three Hills where their children finished their general education at Prairie High School.  Bernice lost her spouse in July, 2002.  She lived her final years at the Golden Hills Lodge and felt so blest to be surrounded by wonderful friends and staff. It was in her early twenties that Bernice realized the importance of having God in her life and accepted Jesus Christ as her personal Saviour and Lord. During her years on the farm, she was very involved in her small local church.  Bernice was a devoted wife and mother who gave her time to her family, while also providing encouragement and help to extended family and friends. As she got older, her conversation turned more and more toward heaven.  On Friday evening, January 31, 2014, after a few hours in hospital, God took her home. She leaves many who will miss her greatly but also rejoice with her in the new life she is enjoying:  her sons, Wallace (Bonnie) of Stettler and Bryan (Eileen) of Erskine; her daughters, Deanna (Glenn) Odland of Singapore and Arlene of London, Ontario; three brothers, Lawrence (Edith) Anderson of Hanna; Ken (Lil) Anderson of Calgary, and Cliff (Helen) Anderson of Calgary; one sister, Edna Kary of Irricana; one brother-in-law Dave (Mary) of Three Hills; eight grandchildren; nine great-grandchildren; in-laws through marriage to Arden, numerous nieces, nephews and friends. She was predeceased by her loving husband, Arden, four sisters, seven brothers-in-law and two nephews.

I got to know Bernice through my parents. Bernice and Dad had grown up in the same area; she was a year older than he and never failed to delight in that fact.
She and her husband, Arden, befriended my parents as they worked in India and helped support them financially and with their love and prayers. After Arden passed away, Bernice continued on. 
It was always a delight to have her in the TH - she would give me both a hello hug and a goodbye one. She liked her coffee black, the mug set down on the left side of her place setting, with the handle of the mug to the left, because of her poor arthritic hands. And she liked her chocolate Ovation served to her not at the time of the bill but with her last half cup of coffee. She would come to the TH with her friends; but what would make her light up were the visits with her family - she, Edna, Lynette, Dave and Mary were often together at one of our corner tables for Sunday dinner. She unfailingly made me feel that what I was doing was important and that she was grateful.
Her funeral was a tribute to a gracious, godly woman. Not only her children but her grandchildren spoke about her as the one they wanted to spend time with, the one who loved them unconditionally, the one who was always there for them.
At the funeral I sat next to my Uncle Clark, who had known her his whole life, and who said this about her: "She was always smiling. You never saw her without a smile on her face ..."
Pastor Dave Lanigan brought a very fitting word for this extraordinary woman who never pretended to be something she was not; she didn't have to because who she was was courageous, loyal, loving, happy, caring. But one part that particularly gave me pause was when he was talking about Bernice departing this world for the next. 
The word depart, he said, has several different applications. First, it was used for a ship sailing out of the harbour. We can watch that ship travel further and further away from us until it's a dot on the horizon, and then it disappears. It doesn't mean the ship has vanished; it's still sailing toward its destination, getting ready to drop anchor in another port.
Secondly, Pastor Dave said, the word depart also applied to a soldier pulling up his tent pegs and packing up his tent to move to the next destination.
Lastly, the word is evocative of oxen who have been labouring under their yoke from the start of the day, methodically ploughing field after field. Finally, as the sun starts to set the farmer approaches his team and with his own hands lifts the heavy, cumbersome frame from off his animals' shoulders.
As Pastor Dave talked about Bernice being released from her burden and care just as surely as the oxen were, my mind darted off to the words the Lord Jesus spoke to His disciples: "Take my yoke upon you and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly of heart, and you shall find rest unto your souls" (gospel of Matthew chapter 11 verse 29). Bernice of her own volition answered that challenge - and on January 31, Jesus lifted the yoke off her faithful shoulders and said, Well done!
Toward the end of the service her son Wallace spoke, a deeply moving tribute to this mother who loved her children with every fibre of her being. He talked of how he always called her every Sunday night, not because he had to but because he knew she enjoyed that special time they had set aside. Even if he'd talked to her on Saturday, he would call her the next night. One of the things she used to love about this particular son is that he has an uncanny way of imitating singers, much to her delight - music was one of Bernice's passions.
As he closed his remarks, he said he was going to sing for her one last time - just his voice this time, singing to his beloved mother.
And the song he chose? Johnny Reid's poignant "Who Am I going To Call On Sunday?" Just a boy, longing to talk to his Mom.
Just like each one of us who've lost someone so precious to us we can't imagine quite how life can go on without our beloved one. We would never wish them back to this world of care and pain and suffering; but oh, how we'd love to hear their voice one more time ...