MILESTONES Mainly to Remind Me
C. Doug Blair, 2011
One Christmas Season my family took a night-time drive with a friend into the country north of Waterloo - Mennonite country. A moderate amount of snow lay all around. The air was thick with moisture, almost foggy. A partial moon helped our vision along an otherwise unlit Township road. At one point we were on a height of land overlooking a valley, partially white and showing broken field remnants of harvest. An intersecting road crossed our view at the crest of the hill. Three Mennonite buggies were there. Gas or battery lanterns on the back. 1
Twin-horse teams enthusiastically pacing the journey. Occupants all blanketed and enjoying the beauty of the night. Animals steaming from the exercise in the humidity. Peter Etril Snyder should have had an opportunity to paint the scene. It was a magical, timeless Christmas family moment.
One Dead Duck
Our children will never forget it. One of our frequent walks through the old neighbourhood to the university campus. A property on Keatsway Drive had a beautiful pond which often hosted the local ducks. Occasionally one would see traffic stopped as a parade of our waddling feathered friends walked across. On this particular day one car did not stop and a male mallard was the casualty. Pinned on the road and rolling slightly over on the right shoulder and wing, this poor bird could not regain its feet. It rolled its neck and head left and up toward the sky, attempted to activate its wings, and died. Young children cried. One of their first encounters with death. Poor duck. Made to swim, fly, grow, court, breed, feed, mate, brood, protect, argue, gossip and expire with one last upward look. Sound familiar? Have many lives not followed such a course? Hoping for nothing beyond? Placing no trust in the God Who creates, redeems, sustains, resurrects and glorifies. Sad picture offered in most of today's schools, in most of the media, in most of the halls of scientific pursuit. Supposedly "enlightened". Thankfully the human spirit chafes at such imprisonment and hopelessness. Refuses to stop searching for Cause and Purpose, Righteousness and Keeping Care, Legacy and Destination.
New Reality for Mom
I was thinking today of the courage of my Mother. Lost her best friend and helpmate seven months ago. Moved out of the comfortable home of over fifty-five years. Disposed of most of the contents and keepsakes. Gone the daily routine of cleaning, meal preparation, shopping, driving, basking in the comfortable backyard complete with gardens, bird-feeder and pool. Now residing in a senior's retirement "village". Her little apartment tastefully accoutered with only a few of the fine old pieces of furniture, paintings, lamps, figurines and photos of happy times. Adjusting to meal times, medicine times and bath times. Taking her seat at the same dining room table with a couple of new and appreciative friends. One son in Toronto. The other in Waterloo. Few of the old friends remaining. Occasionally visits from colleagues from high school or nursing or the golf club or the United Church. But new friends to be made in the "village" community, in the "movie room" or the "bingo hour" or some special program with visitors in song, dance, music or travelogue. Mom retains her interest in fiction, TV golf and curling and a couple of favourite programs and game shows. I wonder if she remembers her mother-in-law Velma's good spirits in living alone at Marion Villa and thankful for the simplest of pleasures; or Jack's Aunt Edith with the persevering hobbies in reading and needlework; or Jack's Aunt Betty with the spunk to take short trips alone; or her own Aunt Mary's unstoppable sense of humour; or her Aunt Lil's choice always of the good word to say or note to write. These memories are examples and building blocks for the life which she must now live without her husband. And she does it heroically, without complaint and with much appreciation for the latest news, visit or small blessing. She tells us often that she "loves us very much". I treasure that and I am proud of her.
Must Be Said
The old man settled back into his bed at the nursing home. Lunch had been passable. He wasn't interested in any of the afternoon programs. Pretty hard when the sight was almost gone. His lower back hurt. Feet were swollen. He let go with one long sigh. His son was late. That was usually the case. But he enjoyed seeing him. Hearing a little bit about how life went on for one almost thirty years his junior. It would get him to remembering the good times shared. The meals. The afternoons at the lake. The ball games. The quiet evening chats by the fireplace in the old home. There was something that he shared with his boy which even his wife, God bless her, could not provide. She held another room in the facility and was probably busy at bingo or watching a movie with her new-found friends. He was happy that she had found some breathing space. He felt himself drifting off...but then a few uncommon sounds and a jostling of his foot. "Well, I see you made it." His fifties-something son gave the usual excuses about finishing off the work day, hectic traffic etc. The old man waited for the next prompting to conversation. Awkward moment. He found that he had nothing to say. A tear was deposited on his right cheek. "Dad, are you trying out the walker some more? Are you working on that back strength?" How strange such questions seemed to a son who had always known the father physically strong and active. The son gulped and then launched in with the thoughts that had been awkwardly composed on the drive over. "Sometimes it seems as if you are giving up. If you did Dad, I would understand. It has been a full life. But if you see some hope unfulfilled or some continuing purpose in being a comfort to Mom, then do what you can each day." (He was gaining confidence and momentum now.) "Please know that I love you Pop. You and Mom have always shown me what marriage can be. You gave me a keen interest in sport, in the outdoors, in people, in a good day's 4
work. It took children of my own to make clear to me how unselfish you were with your time. Your unique sense of humour was always welcome. You were patient and quiet when I made decisions which hurt you badly. You were also quick to forgive. Thank you, Pop. I would not have wanted any other father." The eyes were shut. The breathing was deeper. Was he sleeping? Had he missed it? The one big hand reached out across the covers and grabbed the son's forearm and squeezed it. There were no more words.
Service â€˜Round the Cenotaph
I remember the times when our son served with Air Cadets in the overnight vigil preceding the Remembrance Day parade and service in Kitchener. Sometimes frosty. Sometimes rainy. The kids took shifts at posting the various cenotaph locations overnight. A warm breakfast followed the uncommon night and cadets suited up in full for the parade. Community bands would accompany the march through the 5
downtown. Very old veterans participated with pride and tearful nostalgia. At the cenotaph various groups presented wreaths. The trumpet last post was sounded. The moment's silence observed. The pastor's message of hope and thanksgiving and empathy for those continuing in hazardous service. All tremendously good experience and outlook for the cadets. The cold night a vivid reminder of life and responsibility in the trenches. The fellowship with the veterans in the parade and after-reception unforgetttable. And that is what it is all about...not forgetting. The evil capability in the heart of man. The vain agendas of unchecked nationalism. The vulnerability of our life's walk. The worth of a real and true friend. The dark night when God appears. The hardships bravely faced by our forbears for sake of the oppressed and freedom. How could the exercise ever be perceived as out-dated? Admittedly most of the vets from the two Great Wars are gone. (This year my own Father.) But the issues are still with us. It remains most fitting that at the eleventh hour on the eleventh day in the eleventh month all machines, cash registers, vehicles, offices and classrooms should come to a moment of pause, silence, thanksgiving and reflection.
Upon His Leaving
See it boldly through, My Lad. Gain some ground Each day. Help a neighbour Bear his load. Donâ€™t forget to pray. Claim the vision That is yours. Be prepared 6
To wait. Sift it through The will of God. Don’t procrastinate. Show some child The path of right. Keep within The laws. Honour elders All the time. Help them, just because. Know that you are Not the things You possess, or don’t. Be a man Whose word is bond: What you’ll do, Or won’t. Exercise a Listening ear. Not too quick To speak. Recognize the Dignity Of the poor or weak. Seek in friends Some budding signs Of the Saviour’s heart. Though, sometimes our Faith requires That you stand apart. Find a mate Of equal yoke. One who knows The Lord. Daily pour out All your heart. Show her, she’s adored. Providence will Set your own 7
Blend of good And bad. Never let a Bitter root Rob the joy you’ve had. So much more That I might say. But its time To close. You are in The hand of God. This your Father knows.
Forgive Us Our Trespass
We jumped the fence Into the camper park. The westward sky Was rouging into dark. The lake was calm. The gulls were bobbing white. The heron plied His awkward anti-flight. We’d had our drive And talked of summer’s fun. Her holiday Had scarcely just begun. My first-born child, (Some artist’s hint of spring.) With mind so fresh Assessing everything. With blue-green eyes That probed just like my wife. 8
So full of promise, And so full of life. She wondered if The sleeping camp would mind. Might someone come And two trespassers find? Then from a farm A distant barking dog. Stars treading water By a floating log. And from the reeds A peepersâ€™ rhapsody. The moon, the seated maid And I, made three.
Duke and Duchess
Watching a movie this evening about English aristocracy, Hilary and I were reminded of our holiday trip to England and Scotland the year before our daughter was born. A dream come true to avid students of English literature, art, history and Scottish culture. Lovers of the current monarchy. Lovers of theatre, old architecture, darts, shepherd's pie. Seashores, cathedrals, heather covered hills. The list goes on. But almost in the same breath this evening, the two of us blurted out "Blenheim Palace". This is the home of the Dukes of Marlborough (pronounced "Mollbra"), the family of Sir Winston Churchill. The night before we had lodged in Oxford, drizzling wet, gray ancient buildings. Too tired and late to sight-see. But we had a delightful conversation in a common room with a foreign exchange student, a girl form the east, who simply needed some companionship and a few smiles as she 9
adjusted to the big English centre of learning. Our little stints at UWO in London, Ontario seemed small by comparison. Back at our room we were delighted to see that BBC One featured a nature documentary on the Scottish Highlands and a dramatic presentation on the Battle of Britain entitled "Churchill and the Generals". We were being primed for what lay ahead. To our pleasant surprise we were up early the next morning. The sun was shining. After a hearty British breakfast of fruit, bacon, eggs, kippers and "stiff" toast we were down the road to the palace, arriving long before visitors' hours. Parking the car we decided to wander the beautiful landscaped grounds in the forefront, complete with man-made lake, swooping stone bridge, wood lot, sculptured shrubs and lush lakeside pathways. Suddenly we noticed two on horseback coming from the far end of the lake toward us as we stood on the bridge. They appeared to be in their young forties, handsome, dressed smartly in riding attire. They gave us warm smiles and a ready "good mowning". The unspoken comment was that it was pleasant to meet in this uncommon, private, quiet part of the day. I can still visualize my wife, back towards me, hands in her trench-coat pockets, watching the two riders progress up the cinder roadway toward the impressive columned palace. Then it dawned on us! Who would have liberty to ride these beautiful grounds during the off-hours? The Duke and Duchess. Once inside the palace we saw the portraits confirming our supposition. Now the ironic part is that in former years Hilary's family had nick-named her "the Duchess" and my high school basketball chums had nicknamed me "Duke". There you have it! The Duke and Duchess drop in on the Duke and Duchess. You may not be getting anything out of this. No matter. It is for us. Thanksgiving is both a delight and a tonic. We remember that beautiful time. Four days after our fifth anniversary, which was September 21st, Battle of Britain Day, 1979. 10
Shortly thereafter, ten months to be precise, little Lauren arrived.
A few summers ago Hilary and I enjoyed a trip to Prince Edward Island, the smallest of Canadian provinces and perhaps the quaintest. It had come about as a consequence of an inherited gift and we were long overdue for a holiday. All planning of the itinerary was left to my wife and she did a fabulous job. There was much excitement leading up to the flight as we had consumed the excellent travel literature available from this province. Visions of sandy beaches, exceptional golf courses, lobster-fests, fiddlefests, endless fields of potatoes and white wheat, Green Gables fairy-tale farm and acreage, Charlottetown centre of Confederation conferences, beautiful theatres, tiny red and white lighthouses and the nine-mile bridge recently joining the island to the mainland. We were stunned to learn that the capital city had a population in the thirtysomething thousands! But not a thing was missed in the mix - lush parks, excellent restaurants, maritime boutiques near the harbour, exquisite homes facing the interior bay, galleries, centre for performing arts. From the city we went north to Brackley Beach adjacent to the breath-taking Park on the north shore. Our little cabin accommodation came complete with auto access to the Park. I was surprised to have Hilary wake me at 4:30 A.M. with the plan of going to the east end of the beach for sun-rise. Great idea! We watched the scurrying swarms of piping plovers at the surf. These are a species peculiar to the area. After sun-up we passed a marshy inlet with no less than sixteen Great Blue Herons fishing. No wonder the drive was named the Blue Heron Route. The next day after a satisfying "Mom and Pop Shop" breakfast complete with neighbouring horse stables, we headed for the home of Anne of Green Gables, Canadian heroine penned by Lucy Maud Montgomery and known 11
world-wide. This was near Cavendish. The interpretive museum in the farm did the typically excellent film representation one has come to expect from the National Film Board of Canada, handling story, place, persona and timesetting with equal success. (We also were impressed with the films at The Citadel Fortress in Halifax Harbour.) The small Victorian home, Lovers' Lane, Tool Sheds and Livery Building were just as my wife had imagined. I could hear this collective sigh issuing from all the women visitors as they recalled all the lazy, romantic summer readings which had made Anne and her circle, friends for life. I saw the movie. I missed the books. But they were certainly in the household and shared happily by Hilary and Lauren.
That evening we came back to Cavendish Beach to await sunset. A large and diverse crowd of visitors relaxed with cameras at the ready, but concern developed as a heavy cloud bank appeared to be rolling in from the Ocean. Would we get the sunset's glory? Would it be lost to the fog? Turned out that we got the best of both - rich orange farewell beneath a mysterious roof of mist. I remember chatting in this process with two tall Irish twin sisters in their sixties, one a widow living in Australia, the other married and hosting a wedding in the Maritimes. Oh yes, they had both been raised on the stories of red-headed, ambitious, adventurous Anne of the Island. 12
In this blog I have often celebrated Things Scots. I have visited the country twice and delighted in its hills, heather, history and hospitality. Known to many as a nation of bridge builders, missionaries, union stewards, swordsmen and stag hunters it seems to have acquired a following abroad which far outnumbers the home crowd. In the label group entitled Things Scots, you might examine such titles as "Landseer Remains" or "Prodigal Daughter" or "Macleod's Scottish Shop" or "Blair Knew Rutherford" or "Brooding Glencoe" to get a taste. I suppose that the pull has come from my Father who served in Scotland and with the Air Force over the North Sea during the Second World War. I remember one story that he told occasionally with moist eyes. He was on leave in August from the Invergordon base and had gone to Edinburgh. The annual Scottish Tattoo was underway and the pipe and dance competitions took up a number of days. On the final evening with all of the large bands assembled beneath Castle Hill, a hush of anticipation spread through the crowd, and the spotlights in the large lot were turned off. A single light focused on the top-most corner of the castle where a lone piper was tied securely to a wrought iron rail against possible strong winds. He began his rendering of Amazing Grace. One piper. One soul. One elevated spot. One brooding sky. One Lord and Saviour. One hope of grace. My Father cried telling it. I cried hearing of it...
Talk About a Departure!
My mother-in-law, Betty Hourd was born in Dutton a small village southwest of London and largely of Scottish stock. Her father David Dow was the local dentist and was often paid in kind during the Depression. Her mother Katherine was a second wife and had two children by David, Betty 13
and Lorne (a lawyer in Woodstock). Hilary tells me nothing but good reports about her Nana Dow with whom she spent many a summer holiday at the beautiful Vansittart Ave. home. Tales of shopping, basket in arms, theatregoing, swimming at the local park, etc. After an unhappy stint of one year at University of Toronto, Betty came to Western in London, at a time when there were only two buildings on campus and the campus was well outside the city limits. There she met the love of her life, Charles Rayburn, a dark-haired business student, gymnast and boxer. Charlie felt led into the furniture business with his father, the historic Hourd and Company Limited, going back to 1867 and once located at the corner of Dundas and Richmond, but latterly at Quebec Street in the east end. When control was relinquished and father Rayburn passed away, Charlie became fully apprised of the debt, a significant one. He also contracted bone cancer of the jaw, and the banker showed no mercy. Betty meanwhile was raising the children, Whitney (1943), Cameron (1946) and Hilary (1952). Had it not been for the lending help of dear friends, Don and Lillian Wright of London, Charlie never would have made it through the squeeze. His lyrical and buoyant Scottish wife was his never-downcast support. His name was entered in the medical journals for a novel and successful bone transplant from hip to jaw. The old debt got paid. Eventually manufacturing ceased and the factory became a rented warehouse proposition. Charlie pursued life insurance underwriting with great success, serving in a very significant way the London professional and academic communities. Betty took up supply teaching. The old neighbourhood on Thornton Ave. changed many times over. The happy connection with St.John the Evangelist Anglican Church continued. Betty sang in the choir. Charlie acted as Warden on the Board, and applied his extraordinary carpentry and joining skills everywhere. Back room of the house, cottage at Port Stanley, furniture for friends and family. The children married and moved away... Fast forward to 2005. Betty resides in a senior care facility, having undergone three heart attacks. (She died on the table once.) Charlie continues at the family residence with day-to-day house-keeping help. But 14
his decline is quick and he dies in December. The service is a beautiful one at the old church the day before Christmas. Betty and friends and family stand at a winter grave in Mount Pleasant. A decision is made by Whitney, who has provided the lion's share of visitation and practical support to Betty, to have her moved to a Port Stanley facility. There she makes the absolute best of her stay, becoming a staff favourite, helping in the kitchen, chatting with anyone who will engage, singing the old show tunes which she had so enjoyed in the Don Wright Chorus during the war. The end comes in February 2007. Finally I get to the point of this piece and the title! On the final morning, Betty was found awake by the early shift nurse at about 6:00 A.M. With a smile on her face she raised herself in the bed and exclaimed, "Oh, am I ever glad that you are here." That was all. She lay back down and breathed her last. Why such a departure? I believe that she was holding on long enough to let someone know there was no trauma and no regret. She was ready. This account was of great comfort when re-told to friends and family at the funeral. That was the day of a terrible ice-storm in London, but people came to celebrate and give thanks. A good woman. Eighty-nine years here. "Now a beautiful vine blooming on the other side of the wall." (Rutherford)
God Comes to My Job
I was having one of "those days". Activity had really picked up at the factory and the traffic in steel for highway structures was moving at a peak-season pace. I felt pulled from all sides. Material handling. Inventory control. Shipments packed. Transport arranged. Trucks loaded and off-loaded. Visiting customers accommodated. Plant safety issues. Steel yard management. The day was overcast with long, low dark clouds for a mid-morning. I was 15
seated in a forklift, having just off-loaded a flat-bed full of structural beams. Irritation and self-pity had set in. Taking a breather for a few moments, I reflected on my status and the chain of events which had brought me here...business failure, joblessness, sudden re-location, building construction, furniture delivery, truck driving, cabinet-making, shippingreceiving and now highway steel and structures. "Was this the plan, Lord?" Hilary and I had left Chatham with half-cooked ideas of ministry in our heads. That was soon set aside for the pressing needs of a young family. Occasionally in the work-places, people would cross my path ready to receive "a word in season". Hilary was home-schooling our two children. The years had passed. Our stock-yard was on a slight elevation, looking south toward an industrial zone of diverse small-scale fabricators and warehouses. I had a wide-open view of a large stretch of darkened sky. Strangely I felt a gentle pressure at the back of my head to bow it forward, and I yielded to the urging, looking down to my work boots. Briefly I remained in that posture, suspecting somehow that God was in the moment. When I looked back up again, some of the clouds had parted and a distinctive shaft of sunlight wandered over the scene before me, touching the ground, moving from left to right as the wind pushed along the cloud-bank. Was He telling me that He saw, He knew and that He was in control, closer to my case than I had ever imagined? Then it was over, and I was aware of the roaring sound of another transport truck entering the yard with a partial load of eight-inch pipe...
Go Way Back
Dad (Jack Blair) was stationed with the R.A.F. at Invergordon, Scotland during the war. Working radar, navigation and surveillance on Sunderland floating bombers over the North Sea. He remembers one day being reprimanded and excused from a flight for some other menial task. He watched that plane head out over Cromarty Firth, falter and crash into the 16
waves. Great loss of life. There were other close calls. Mom (Bev Blair) lost her mother to a heart attack when she was only fourteen. Her father Ken, a WW1 veteran injured at Vimy, tried his best while working as a commercial painter at C.P.R. A Danish Aunt Mary, sister to the deceased Hertha, became the surrogate mother providing much female comfort and counsel. After the war a neighbour half a block away from Aunt Mary had some interesting news. Her elderly father Hank Radway, a golf personality in London had met a strapping young man who worked for his Uncle Tom Munro at Munro Sports. Match -maker collaboration ensued and the date was on for Jack and Bev. The young retailer and the pretty blonde nurse were wed at a simple ceremony in 1947. Four years later Bev sat at the edge of a hospital bed, painfully into her third day of sporadic labour. Apparently the baby had a really big head. She remembers thinking to herself, as the nurses whispered down the hall, "I could die having this baby. Lord help me." Almost eight years later, Bev was again ready to deliver, but this time much more confidently. Young Doug was having a "holiday visit" with Aunt Mary. He remembers being driven each day by Uncle Perce past the fire-hall and across town to Ryerson Public School. Then came the suspenseful return home and the first viewing of baby Scott in the re-decorated bedroom on Regent Street. Skip to 1972 and a summer break from college. Doug and his friend Jim Carson drive into Invergordon, Scotland. The village looks pretty much as it did in the 1940's. The sun is shining over Cromarty Firth. On May 8th this year Mom celebrated her 83rd birthday. Dad looks forward to his 87th on June 7th. They still live at the same house on Regent Street. Gardening. Holding each other. Watching for birds at the backyard feeder station. Keeping tabs on curling and golfing championships. Occasionally, although failing in eyesight, Dad takes a try at nine holes, as did old Hank Radway.
All this was interconnected. God at the helm. He has carried my family. He always will.
The Danish Side
My mother is not much of a story-teller. Dad has that propensity. Mom was always the good listener, sitting often at the kitchen table, hearing out the teen-age boy with his many challenges. I always treasured her support. Words, though few, were appropriate and loving. She was extremely artistic. Oil paintings of scenes and still life. Tasteful backyard gardens. The finest of popular music on the high fidelity record player - Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Keelie Smith, Julie Andrews, Percy Faith, Mantovani and Henry Mancini. There were times when she had to be both mother and father, Jack taking to the road in his Regional Manager's position with Dominion Rubber. On one such occasion she suffered the undeserved guilt of being on the watch when her son was on a construction site and throwing stones with another boy. An errant stone took out about sixty percent of the vision in my right eye. Mom had not had an easy upbringing. At age fourteen she lost her mother, Hertha (nee Jaeger) to a heart attack. Her father Ken Roberts, English-born, tried valiantly to hold things together. He was a commercial painter and a crack local athlete - softball, lane bowling, lawn bowling. Daughter Beverley held in some secret pain, began to gain weight, felt out of place. But then Danish aunts came to the rescue. Mary and Lillian, sisters to the deceased Hertha. These were robust, jovial Danske folk. Mary had married a local musician, Stuart McKenna. Lillian's husband was Pete Belcher, a cab driver. The female comfort and counsel took hold and Beverley began to blossom in high school - glee club, basketball. Then off to nurse's training at Victoria Hospital.
Aunt Mary suffered the early loss of Stuart. Her beloved son Dalton joined the American Navy for the war and became an American citizen with Hollywood friends. Dalton was the practical joker, hockey enthusiast, construction engineer, traveling to distant places with exotic projects. He would always, and I mean ALWAYS make his mother laugh. He was the closest thing to a brother for Bev. My parents happily visited him in California. His third and final wife, Laurie was an airline executive. Lillian and Pete lost in a couple of attempts to have children. This would draw Lil even closer to Bev and her two sons. I always remember Aunt Lil for her considerate gifts and cards, which seemed all the more precious because she did not have much money. She worked as a switchboard operator at Hotel London. Her voice was perfect, "I'll connect you." Surprisingly she also suffered threatening bouts of emphysema. Mary was married again to a local optometrist, Perce Dawkins, and the two lived comfortably. They got my parents involved in the Gyro Service Club with many memorable meetings, projects and parties. These women remain all that I really know about my Danish side. Of course I have the stereotypical images of pastries, dairy cattle, blue cheese, seas in every direction, herring, Hans Christian Anderson, Jenny Lind, Victor Borge and the history of Vikings in longboats. Perhaps only the people really matter anyway. I can still see the fair-skinned, rosy-cheeked, costumed sisters smiling, hugging and singing Christmas carols at their beloved Beverley's holiday dinner.
Baffled to Fight Better
Many in the Church have enjoyed the classic devotional "My Utmost for His Highest" by Oswald Chambers. But have they heard of the topical teaching texts from which the entries of the daily devotional were gleaned? All of such written material is available thanks to the widow of Chambers, Gertrude, who sorted through short-hand notes taken from teaching sessions and sermon outlines. It was a lasting tribute to a dear husband who had contracted a fatal illness at age forty-three while serving among the troops in 19
Egypt in 1917. Two particular favourites of mine were "The Psychology of Redemption" and "Baffled to Fight Better". The former compared the stages in the development of the faith life of a believer to those in the life of the Lord. The latter was a teaching on the Book of Job. I remember well the impact which "Baffled" had upon me. It was a time of personal crisis back in Chatham referred to in some of the "Milestone" posts in this blog. It was a calm, overcast winter day in March and I had gone off to a quiet spot in the country to pray and to get some direction in my dilemma. Almost a sense of morbidity had caused me to take a copy of Chambers' book on one of the greatest sufferers in all of recorded history, the patriarch Job. But that day I persevered through the entire volume , and heard words of encouragement from God, parked at a quiet spot by the icy Thames River. At one point Chambers said the following: "The human problem is too big for a man to solve, but if he will fling himself unperplexed on God he will find Him to be the kind of Refuge Job is referring to. We know nothing about the Redemption or about forgiveness until we are enmeshed by the personal problem; then we begin to understand why we need to turn to God, and when we do turn to Him He becomes a Refuge and a Shelter and a complete Rest. Up to the present Job has had no refuge anywhere; now he craves for it. When a man receives the Holy Spirit, his problems are not altered, but he has a Refuge from which he can deal with them; before, he was out in the world being battered, now the centre of his life is at rest and he can begin, bit by bit, to get things uncovered and rightly related." And elsewhere: "The still small voice is an appeal not to superstitious belief in God, but to the actuality of God to man. God disposes altogether of a relationship to Himself born of superstitious dread- 'No, stand like a man, and listen to facts as they are'. God counsels Job- 'Don't come to too hasty a conclusion, but gird up your loins like a man and wait. You have done right so far in that you would not have Me misrepresented, but you must recognize that there 20
are facts you do not know, and wait for me to give the revelation of them on the ground of your moral obedience'." In a nutshell, I learned some things about God and His sovereign keeping care. I got no specific answers to specific problems. Rather, a settled peace and "starch" for the journey. I knew that in His hands I would "fight better".
Wedded to You
I was having real difficulty getting to sleep. Mind racing. Numerous topics of anxiety. Money. Job stress. Health issues in the family. Future and career for the children. It seemed as if I had to go over all of them before I would allow myself to sleep. Finally at about 3 A.M. I conked out. I am usually a solid sleeper with few dreams. It was unusual therefore that I would be pulled out of sleep at about 5:15 A.M. In my spirit I heard the words,"I am wedded to you". I awoke. Not at all groggy, and began to contemplate what I had just heard. I felt remarkably refreshed. Often I have joked with male friends about trying to get my head and heart around the concept of being part of the "Bride" of Christ. Women have little trouble warming up to the image of the perfect husband. Men often opt out with the concept of a team coach or military Captain who is with them in the fray. But no,we are Bride material! Looking at my own wife, I know that I know we are knit as one. She could do nothing which would turn my affections away seriously. She is my closest experience of unconditional love. I will always put things in the best possible light concerning her. "Love thinketh no evil." Recently some reading from the book of Job impressed me with the standing of man and wife before God. In the dialogue between God and Satan the enemy had been allowed to attack everything of Job's (children, servants, flocks, herds, beasts of burden, crops) but not his life. His wife lived because apparently God did see the two of them as an inseparable unit! 21
Now let us take this privileged position of spouse and apply it to the Bride of Christ. Joint heirs. Inseparable. Mutually submissive. Growing unity of thought and purpose. Yeah, I certainly want to be in on that! And now perhaps I can read the comments of the old Scottish divines a little more comfortably. They were always seeing themselves in the context of the Beloved in the Song of Solomon or as Ruth in that delightful tale of marriage. Imagine hardy Scottish Covenanters heading to the wilds and resisting the King's dragoons to the death for the sake of truth and presbytery. Brides, or rather part of the Bride! Grace now seems a little clearer. Many teachers have often told me that there is no effort on my part which would make God love me more: neither is there any error or stumbling which would make Him love me less. He is ravished by his Bride. I leave you with the beautiful thought expressed by Naomi to Ruth in chapter three of that book: 18 Naomi said, "Sit back and relax, my dear daughter, until we find out how things turn out; that man isn't going to fool around. Mark my words, he's going to get everything wrapped up today." (The Message)
Possessing All Things
Itâ€™s a story That came to me, Late spring, early one Thursday evening. We were walking The university grounds. (Still hoofing it Or busing or taxiingNo car in the driveway.) We had been to the Main Library. Hilary dabbling in Huguenot history, Celtic folklore, Charles G. D. Robertsâ€™ Animal stories for the kids. I, following the canoe Of Grey Owl, Or the letters of My beloved Rutherford And Scottish Covenanters. The evening was Lazy-warm and the Leaves on the maple and oak In full splendour. The little campus stream Was trickling toward The duck pond, And the two of us Leaned on the aluminum Bridge rail, Arm-in-arm, silent, contented. Watching Mother Mallard Convoy her paddling brood of nine Toward overhanging bushes. No students passed. 23
(Campus population at A seasonal minimum.) Waterloo traffic noise Muted through Surrounding wood-lots. I was impressed by A suggestion from within: “All things are yours, And ye are Christ’s And Christ is God’s.” (A morning’s reading Had prompted this thought Some days before… Seems a little house-maid Worked in a large mansion. Many rooms, exquisite. Lots of dusting, cleaning, polishing. She reserved a special time Each day to enter Her employer’s study to work. There it was. Four-by-five oil-painting Of the Scottish Highlands. For him, “a good investment Picked up on tour overseas With his wife. Last appraisal – hundred and twenty-five Percent jump in value.” To the maid, this scene Was Heaven. Multi-coloured Heather, dramatic variable skies, Distant snow-capped peak, Ruddy little Highland cattle, And one old Jock following With plaidy and staff. With such a feast for the eyes Work became a luxury, Day’s chores completed with joy. 24
Now who owned that painting?) Hilary tapped my elbow: “This is nice, isn’t it.” The two of us headed down The path, Fragrance of lilac from Somewhere up ahead.