Tuesday, March 17, 2020


"Toilet Paper" is an excerpt from Remarkably Ordinary: 20 Reflections On Living Intentionally Right Where You Are (2014). Susan wrote this long before TP became the hot topic it is today. 

The brand didn't matter. Nor the softness. And I did not care whether the roll was placed in the under or over orientation. Reams of it weren’t necessary as on that day two squares would have been enough. But that would be asking too much of the empty house of which we had just become owners. 
In my hands I held the keys to the six-digit-figure property, but at that moment a penny's worth of TP seemed more desirable than the picturesque windows and ample floor space. 
"Back in a sec," I mumbled to my husband, shoving the keys into his hand. I lengthened my paces as I strode in the direction of the master bedroom. The new house was less than a kilometre from our current residence, 0.7 km to be exact, so on this trip I had not brought my purse which usually held a dependable supply of TP. And hand sanitizer. There was no soap in the house either.
One click later, the bathroom door was shut, leaving me in the room with brown walls that would soon be coated with Violet Stone of the Benjamin Moore paint line. 
I cast a baleful, sour glare at the empty brass holder inlaid in the wall. Then I paused. If it looked like it then it must be it. White paper fluttered in mid-air, waving a greeting against the brown and gold backdrop. It was even placed in the over the top position, my personal preference that ensured my gel nails did not graze the wall.
"Thank you, Valerie."* I whispered my gratitude in the air, as if willing it to carry over the miles to the province where the seller had relocated. Then and there I vowed that when I was selling a house, I'd leave TP in the bathroom. And a dish cloth, soap, and a bottle of water. Valerie had also left a welcome sign in the entrance. It was not what I would have bought, yet I felt good when I looked at it. In fact, I kept it until it fell and broke. And there were three wire hangers in the closet - the kind that come from the dry cleaners. There were three of us in our family. I hung my coat on one immediately, grateful again for her thoughtfulness. 
As soon as I got home, I emailed my real estate agent. "Today we were over at the house and I was overjoyed that Valerie left toilet paper in the bathroom. It may be a small thing but I was extremely grateful for it, and I wonder if you could ask the agent to pass on my thanks to Valerie. Tell her it's an act of thoughtfulness that has not gone unnoticed."
My agent replied, "That's great news. I’ll be sure to let the listing agent know to pass along your thanks to the seller."
The next day while I was getting my nails done, I mentioned the TP episode to the esthetician. Immediately she exclaimed, "I know Valerie. I used to do her nails." In small towns (or, in my case, a small city) almost everyone knows everyone else. 
But there was more than her just knowing Valerie. It turned out that before Valerie left, she had tried to purchase a roll of TP to leave in the house but the stores did not sell single rolls. Short of buying 24 in bulk, she could not get a roll. My nail professional had come to the rescue and obtained one for her, the bridge between two strangers, both her customers. 
Instructing that I place my fingers under the laser lights, the nail artist enthused, "I'm friends with Valerie on Facebook. I'll send her a message telling her how happy you were at finding TP in the bathroom." She beamed a smile at being the bearer of the good news. 
And I added wire hangers to the Welcome Basket I'd leave when I'm selling a house. 

Living Intentionally
Why was I so excited about a little toilet paper that I thought it necessary to send Valerie a message via my real estate agent, and to share the story with my esthetician?  We have wants and we have needs. Wants are desirables we can live without, needs are things necessary for living. My need was great on that day. At that moment TP meant more to me than my other possessions because it solved an immediate problem. 
How many times have we let simple acts go unnoticed? Taken others for granted? Bypassed their thoughtfulness?
It takes will to live intentionally. I needed to make a choice: to be grateful but keep it to myself, or to be grateful and light up the life of another person. In this case, if I count the messengers, four other lives sparkled because of my expressed appreciation. In Economics, the extra satisfaction that comes from adding a variable input to one that is fixed is called increasing marginal returns. And that's what I want to do every day.

SUSAN HARRIS is not hoarding toilet paper during the current pandemic. Find her part memoir/part insights book at places were books are sold. ISBN 978-0-9949869-4-8 (pbk)     ISBN 978-0-9949869-6-2 (ebook).

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Highs and Lows

Yesterday I received news that a dear woman I’d visited in long-term care had died. Alzheimer’s had already stolen most of the joy from her life. Only the week before her doctor had proclaimed her in palliative state. Gone now was the confusion that had settled in her life, and gone the pain she seemed to be suffering on those last few visits. I mourn her death, for she had become dear to me.
I’d known Pat through our women’s retreat each spring. I believe she attended every one that I did. I didn’t know her so well in those early years, but later I came to know her kindness, her love for her family, and her wacky sense of humour as well as her excitement when we played Pictionary on the Saturday nights. And then nearly two years ago, my husband and I joined a new church, of which she was a member. We sat near each other and shared the peace with a hug many times.
Despite the growing dementia, I heard her voice loud and clear behind me, in the creed she’d been reciting for most of her lifetime, and the Lord’s Prayer. Those she knew by heart. And the old hymns that I heard her say she preferred to the newer pieces. That’s okay. We appreciate different things; I love the newer pieces too.
And then one day I learned she’d been placed in long-term care because her wandering had become a concern for her family and potentially dangerous to her as well. There was a waiting time while she adjusted—when she felt upset and out of place—but after that time I went to visit her as often as I could. We had snacks together, a picnic in their outdoor area, and times to visit. She kept saying she’d be back to church sometime, she didn’t know just when. And she did ask about going to retreat again, even if she remembered the chill of the room we stayed in last year together in late April (though she was tucked in under warm comforters).
Pat’s mutual friend, Terry, and I kept each other posted on how Pat was adjusting. And Pat knew us and appreciated our visits. I said each time that I’d be back. And I did go back. In the last month or two, we sensed that Pat still liked having company but perhaps didn’t really know who we were.
And now Pat’s struggle is over and we’ll soon celebrate her life with her family and friends, and church family. I imagine her family will share stories about her, ones we don’t know, and I look forward to hearing what they tell us. 
Pat's pain and confusion are gone, but the warm memories she created have not. As June, fellow member at church, wrote on Facebook about Pat today, “Heaven gained an angel.”
May she rest in peace.   

 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?  John 14:2 NIV

Carolyn Wilker is an author, editor and storyteller.

Monday, March 09, 2020

CS Lewis: Waking up to the Father’s Love

Previously published in the Feb 2020 Light Magazine article
By Rev. Dr. Ed and Janice Hird
Image result for CS Lewis
Have you or your parents ever treated education as more important than family? CS (Jack) Lewis and his father Albert were like ships passing in the night, not knowing how to connect.  Being very close to his calm, cheerful mother, her sudden death from cancer left ten-year old Lewis feeling like the mythical Atlantis was sinking.  Jack’s mother Flora Hamilton, who tutored him in Latin and French, was brilliant, earning an honors degree in mathematics at Queens University in Belfast.  Her father, grandfather and great-grandfather had all been Anglican (Church of Ireland) clergy, the latter being a bishop. As a child, Jack shared his mother’s strong faith.  It was like God had died with his mother’s tragic death.
Jack’s secure Irish childhood dissolved into a nightmare of six years of painful residential school living in England.  He later commented that English accents at the boarding school sounded to his childhood ears like some strange demonic chatter. Both Jack and his older brother Warren were traumatized by a brutal schoolmaster at their first boarding school Wynard in Watford. Jack called Wynard “Belsen” after the Nazi concentration camp.  A few months before Jack’s death in 1963, he stated that after fifty years of struggling, he had finally forgiven the headmaster Capron who had so damaged his earliest boyhood. In a letter to a young person, Lewis wrote “I was in three schools (all boarding schools) of which two were very horrid.  I never hated anything so much, not even the front-line trenches in World War I.  Indeed, the story is far too horrid to tell anyone of your age.”  Jack’s second residential school Malvern was rife with bullying and sexual abuse. After Jack threatened to shoot himself, his dad relocated him to Great Bookham, Surrey, to be taught by a private tutor William Kirkpatrick who had trained for the ordained ministry in Ireland. Kirkpatrick, as an ardent atheist, was portrayed in Lewis’ novel That Hideous Strength as MacPhee, a humourless, freethinking Ulsterman.
His father Albert was so swallowed in grief and self-pity that he pushed his two sons away physically and emotionally. Being afraid of his father as a child, CS Lewis described his dad as a man with “a bad temper, very sensible, nice when not in a bad temper.” His father’s emotional ups and downs taught Jack a distrust of emotions that would stay with him throughout his life.  He called his father’s family “true Welshmen, sentimental, passionate, rhetorical” people who moved quickly from laughter to wrath to tenderness, but with no gift for steady contentment.  His father, who dreamed of becoming an MP, instead served as a prosecuting solicitor in the Belfast police court.  Swallowed by his work, Jack’s father was sometimes cold, remote, distracted, and morose.  He had a tendency to cross-examine his sons as if they were on trial.  Jack learned to pretend, avoid and lie to his dad to keep him happy.  His father, said Jack, “could never empty, or silence, his own mind to make room for an alien thought.” His dad’s life was so orderly one could set a clock by his schedule.  When away from his job, he became fidgety and bored, eager to return to his legal responsibilities. Jack was so alienated from his father that he missed how much he was like his dad.  With swift imaginative minds and resounding voices, they both could persuasively make intricate arguments.  Jack and his dad shared a delightful sense of humour.  Albert’s sons claimed that their dad was the best storyteller in the world as he loved to act out the character parts. 
His father was very strong on regular church attendance as the right thing to do, but never explained to his sons why.  Religion was very private. On Sunday Dec 6th 1914, Jack a confirmed atheist was confirmed in the Church of Ireland in order to avoid a fight with his dad, “one of the worse acts of his life”.  Jack later commented, “Cowardice drove me into hypocrisy and hypocrisy into blasphemy.” At age seventeen, C.S. Lewis explained bluntly to a Christian friend he’d known since childhood, “I believe in no religion.  There is absolutely no proof for any of them, and from a philosophical standpoint, Christianity is not even the best.” One of his prep school friends described Jack as a “riotously amusing atheist.” As a teenager, he resented God for not existing, and for creating such a flawed world.  Just after World War I, Lewis, a wounded veteran, boasted that during his time in the trenches, he “never sank so low as to pray.” To a friend about the same time, he said “You take too many things for granted.  You can’t start with God. I don’t accept God!” 
After ending up in hospital on April 15th 1918 from WWI shrapnel injuries, Lewis wrote his father Albert, saying “I know that you will come and see me…(I was) “never before so eager to cling to every bit of our old home life and see you…Please God, I shall do better in the future.  Come and see me.” His dad however stayed in Ireland, refusing to change his busy work schedule.  In October 1918, after successive requests for his father to visit him in hospital, CS Lewis wrote his dad saying “It is four months now since I returned from France, and my friends laughingly say that ‘my father in Ireland’ is a mythical creation.” The father wound and resulting emotional cutoff became ever deeper.
While teaching at Oxford, Jack kept running into Christians, like JRR Tolkien, who persuaded him that Christianity is a true myth, a real story grounded in history.  Jack’s atheist background helped him reach out to spiritual seekers through books and BBC radio. His voice became the most widely recognized in Britain after that of Winston Churchill. His books, which still sell six million copies a year, led him to become one of the most influential voices in contemporary Christianity.  The late Chuck Colson, converted by Lewis’ book Mere Christianity, contended that Lewis is ‘a true prophet for our post-modern age.’ As one of the few Christians read extensively by non-christians, he became known as the Apostle to the skeptics. 
Was it a mere coincidence that CS Lewis turned to God in the very summer of his father’s death?  In August 1929, Lewis went to Belfast to visit his seriously ill father, bringing significant family reconciliation.  Lewis said that his dad was taking his cancer surgery ‘like a hero.’ After his dad’s death, Lewis commented, “As times goes on, the thing that emerges is that, whatever else he was, he was a terrific personality…how he filled a room.  How hard it was to realize that physically he was not a big man.” Lewis deeply regretted how insensitively he had treated his dad.  How might CS Lewis’ restoration to his father’s love inspire us to deeper family reconciliation in 2020?
Click to view the first article in a three-part series on CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien.
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Rev. Dr. Ed and Janice Hird
-co-authors of the new novel Blue Sky
Image result for Ed Hird Blue Sky

Wednesday, March 04, 2020

A Journey from Adventure to Nightmare to Anchored Faith - The Interrupted Life XIV by Eleanor Shepherd

Anticipating a move from Canada to Scotland for three years, when you spent your youth at a Boarding School in India and your young adulthood in the unfamiliar home country of Canada could be quite an adventure. Complexities added to the mixture during those years in Canada include professional training for the ministry, meeting and marrying the love of your life and giving birth and raising three sons. 

However the adventure quickly transforms into a nightmare when your husband is diagnosed with  an incurable brain tumour and you must return home to Canada to keep vigil over him during his unexpectedly shortened last days on earth. 

This was the experience of my friend, Gillian who with her husband, Gerald were enveloped in such a nightmare. Eventually when Gillian began to emerge from the mist, she was able to analyze the memories and discern how God’s sometimes barely perceptible presence in the periods of intense darkness evoked in her a deep longing to cling to what she knew of Him.

Gillian and Gerald had been married almost 16 years. Although Gerald had the normal health complaints we all have from time to time, he was otherwise was a strong, healthy man of 42. As the year of their scheduled return to Canada began, Gerald began suffering from frequent headaches. 

When the headaches increased in intensity with little relief the couple became concerned but doctors believed the cause was a sinus infection. When his eyesight was affected and Gerald began seeing double, he was transported by ambulance to the hospital in Glasgow. An MRI showed a tumour that was identified as Glioblastoma - a fast growing brain cancer. 

Gerald required several procedures as the family made preparations to rush back to Canada. The medical team in Glasgow connected with the London Ontario hospital so that Gerald could participate in an international clinical trial. The intention was hopefully to prolong his life by a year. They all returned to London, Canada in March. Following a fall on May 1st Gerald slipped into a coma, and he passed away on May 3, not even five months after the diagnosis.

Gillian felt like she could hardly breathe, as if someone punched her in the stomach and the wind was knocked out of her. She was haunted by painful memories of his final days, when she watched him deteriorate before her eyes. He grew constantly weaker and more confused, until the day before he passed away he slipped into a coma. On that day, Gillian accompanied him to another hospital to undergo a procedure so he could continue to receive the chemotherapy.

Remaining constantly at his side, she prayed for Gerald to have some relief from the constant pain and struggle. She had even mustered courage a few days earlier to whisper to him that she was ready to let him go, if he desired to go and enter presence of the Lord. She believed she was ready, but are we ever adequately prepared to confront the death of the one we love? 

Gillian’s grieving began with regretting those words of release, as she longed for the physical presence of her husband, even if he was confused. Her loss impacted not only their life as a couple but also their shared ministry. They had enjoyed such a strong partnership in ministry that losing Gerald was like being deprived of a significant part of herself. Bereft of this, she was unaware of any gifts she could offer through her ministry. 

Comfort unfolded unexpectedly for Gillian, as she and her sons became a stronger family unit. They all shared a loss most friends could not comprehend.

God’s grace touched her when He provided a new life partner - Dennis Brown. With him, she is developing that deep friendship that marriage gives as we move into our later years. 

 As she has walked this journey, falteringly at times, Gillian has found that God has been creating in her a solid and dependable faith anchored in Him. It served her well in her responsibilities for development of global ministry for The Salvation Army in Canada and Bermuda. In retirement it will supply courage to step out into new challenges.   
Word Guild Award

Eleanor served the Salvation Army in Canada and France. She engaged in Philanthropy with Health Partners International of Canada and Opportunity International Canada. Her passion is serving the whole person.
            She contributed to My Father, Our Father a book of prayers published in the United Kingdom, and Journey with Friends a special collection of articles. Stories in Hot Apple Cider and Christmas with Hot Apple Cider received awards as well as her solo book More Questions than Answers. Christianity Today gave the book a four star rating. Various articles received recognition by The Word Guild and The Canadian Church Press. 
Word Guild Award
Word Guild Award

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