September 2017


  

Our summer visit now half done, we flew direct out of London to Calgary, and were met by our darling daughter Liz and her irrepressible children Russ and Layla, who chatted happily all the way home. Layla seemed all grown up, and no longer the baby that we knew. Russ was his sweet chatty self, so full of projects and adventures. It was so sweet to see them both again. However, I must confess that I was overwhelmed when I saw the size of the project facing me at their home. Two years of the kind of sedentary life I have been required to live to get up to speed on planning IB Diploma English had not prepared me physically for what lay quite visibly in their front yard.

I knew some facing stone had fallen. I did not reckon on the width, thickness, or weight of each stone, nor on the depth of the mortar still clinging to each. It took two days to clean the stone from the wall, and sort the stone from the mortar. It took Pam another half day to move the stone into the garage while I worked on the gate on the other side of the house necessary to keep their new dog in the back yard. The gate required repurposing the existing metal posts by cladding them in wood and tying the gate into the new wooden fence that Greg and his crew had built earlier that summer. It took me two days, far longer than I would have figured, but then these things usually do.

We did get time to go to Liz’s new retirement home to see where she now works. She had arranged for some of Russ’ friend from nursery school to visit at the home, and I played and sang a few songs that were geared to both kids and seniors. The kids danced and the seniors clapped and smiled and a good time was had by all. It was great to see Pam interact with her grandchildren. She has such natural way with young children, who seem to know not only that she loves them unconditionally, but will not tolerate nonsense. They feel safe in her company, and relax.

 

My son Dave and I got in a few visits together. He is now working for McEllhanney, who were recently awarded the contract for completing the ring road around Calgary. It is an important company in Canada, with good salary, benefits, and opportunities for promotion and professional development. We caught a movie, grilled some steaks, and chatted about phones and trucks. He is an easy guy to talk to, and I always enjoy our times together. Greg and Liz got an evening alone while we babysat the kids, but no trips to the Rockies this summer, despite the free entrance to all federal parks in recognition of Canada’s 150 th birthday.

With our typical crowded schedule, once again we had to leave the day before Russ’s birthday but we did have a little party and got to see him open the pulleys and levers he had requested for his birthday.

The flight home was uneventful, and for once traveling through the States was blessedly smooth. We arrived home to our new apartment on the second floor, which we had made sure was properly sorted and cleaned before we left. We will miss our old digs next door, and certainly there is no doubt that this place is considerably darker and less inviting. But it was a welcome respite all the same, after another three weeks of living on the road, and I fell into bed with great relief and gratitude. Another year in Cayman awaits, and though Pam faces an uphill climb of preparation and adjustment to her new responsibilities, the bulk of my angst and preparation is behind me, and I face a new year with great expectation and satisfaction for where the last two years has brought me.

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Going home to Canada from the Cayman Islands is a whole lot easier that going home from Malaysia. By a factor of about 20. You can fly from here direct to Toronto on either West Jet or Air Canada in just under four hours. Given the increasingly belligerent rhetoric coming out of Washington regarding us ‘foreigners,’ direct is definitely the way to go. That said, we were less than impressed with the train from Pearson Airport downtown. We got off at Bloor and had to haul suitcases up and down stairs and across busy streets to get to the subway. People coming from the airport are on that train. That is why there is a train. People coming from the airport will have luggage. It seems redundant to point this out, but clearly not to the brain trust responsible for that lack of planning.

Once again Jane and Joe were happy to let us stay at Joe’s house during our stay in Toronto, but we didn’t get to see either Tessa or Sarah-Jane. We did get to shop at UniGlo, our favourite Asian store, and I did some much needed shoe shopping for my poor dysfunctional feet. We got in a quick visit to Toronto’s fabulous AGO, an annual pilgrimage and saw the stunning Georgia O’Keefe exhibit, then we rented a car for a leisurely drive east along the north shore of Lake Ontario. We stopped for lunch at Jane and Joe’s cottage in Prince Edward County, and arrived in Ottawa around supper time to visit with friends and former colleagues in Malaysia, Jim and Karen Leonard.

Jim and Karen brought a ton of furniture back from Asia, and there apartment was most tastefully decorated with pieces that seemed to be very comfortable in their transplanted home. We were joined at dinner with Shelley Smith-Dale, another colleague from Taylor’s CPU program, and had a most pleasant evening reminiscing about our adventures in Southeast Asia. After another pleasant drive back along number 7 highway, we dropped the car and took the train down to London. Although we invariable stay with Pam’s brother and wife Syl, her brother was visiting from out West, and we ended up at the Ivey-Spencer Leadership Centre instead. The choice was fortunate, for the place was well-equipped and included a buffet breakfast for a very affordable price.

Syl’s brother and wife from the West were good company, and made a welcome addition to our regular games of rook and euchre when we are home. We even met up with Joe and Lorrie at the Playhouse in Blythe and all eight of us had a nice dinner afterwards in Exeter. We squeezed in as many other visits as we could while we were in the area, with friends from church, but time was particularly tight on this trip, and did not afford us much time to reconnect with our former lives. We did manage to get in a breakfast with Matt and Kate, and a lovely lunch with dear friends Al and Shelley.

I also responded to what I perceived to be an urging from the Holy Spirit to see an old Christian friend and teaching colleague Bill Turford, and I am glad I did. Now living in Stratford, he had finally come to terms with the tragic death of his oldest son, Scott, many years ago. It was good to see how Christ had healed that wound, and to finally see on Bill’s face a peace and reconciliation that had been missing for so many years. It was a good visit, and a reminder that God’s healing is for the heart and soul primarily. It is we frail humans that only see the body as important. God sees deeper.

Here it is nearing the end of an incredibly busy summer and September is almost behind us. Our blog has suffered considerably due to the whirlwind of the past three months but over the next few days, we will attempt to capture what we missed. I returned from a week with Jon and Nicole and the kids in Orlando to complete the cleaning and packing for our move out of the condo that has been our home for the two years we have been in Grand Cayman. We loved that condo and will certainly miss it, but we will be able to keep a close eye on the scheduled renovations since we have moved next door.

We basically just dropped our belongings as the weekend had been set aside for the joy of seeing our dear young friend, Cherilyn marry the love of her life, Taylor. Cherilyn, the Grade 3 teacher at CIS arrive here at the same time as we did and has been an encouragement to us as well as others in our Community Group. Taylor’s move to the island was a slow process as he worked his way through the interviews and mounds of paperwork required to land a job and a work permit on this island. Everything came together for Taylor to move here in early June, with less than three weeks until their island wedding. With Taylor and Cherilyn safely here, the family began to arrive from various parts of North and South America.

It was a beautifully, God honouring ceremony, on an amazing day on a spectacular stretch of beach. Following the ceremony the guests loaded on to two boats for a forty five minute ride across the North Sound. The dinner at Rum Point was a scrumptious beach BBQ with gelato in place of a wedding cake. Local musicians provided the music for a very spirited dance and provided the back drop for the tributes and speeches. It was a wonderful celebration from beginning to end and it was a very joyful crowd that loaded up for the ride back across the Sound under the stars.

 

 

It was fun to have had a small part in the planning organizing of the day and Steve even had the joy of playing his guitar and singing some songs of love as the guests gathered on the beach. He had organized all of the sound equipment and for the processional and for the ceremony itself. It is a privilege and a joy to see this sweet young couple begin their journey together.

Sometime in August, when I was 27, I encountered God. It wasn’t entirely a surprise, though the nature of that encounter and its impact on me still strikes me as extraordinary. I had, after all, been looking for God for about 15 years. I had gone looking for him in drugs, in churches, in music, in literature, in obscure and arcane practices, and relationships with the wild and the willful. But in August of that year my search had turned serious.

I had just finished my first year teaching in a small Ontario town, and had finally achieved a measure of financial and professional security after a decade of upheaval. I had finally grown tired of my dissolute and deceitful ways with women and the world, and was looking for a fresh start. I wanted that fresh start to include an understanding of the Infinite that I had glimpsed in the lives of others and heard of through the testimony of those who had encountered It/Him. I had read finally read enough and seen enough to know that an Infinite Being did exist, and that there were those who had lived and were living in the presence of that Infinite Being. But I never thought I would ever have a personal encounter myself. I was about to.

I packed up my car with my worldly belongings. They didn’t amount to much. Among them were three books of special note. There was a zippered leather Bible that my grandmother had given me at my confirmation, a Good News Bible that I had picked up at the Sally Ann in town, and a copy of the I Ching that I had been following for about a year. I parked on the campus of Brescia College in London and got out for a cigarette. It was two in the morning and not a soul around. The sky was achingly clear and the Milky Way was spread out across it like a diamond carpet beyond the pines that rimmed the parking lot.

After all the turmoil of the past ten years of my life, the moment was a pool of serenity. I thought it might be a good time to cast some coins and read what the I Ching had to say about the road ahead. The first three tosses of the coins all yielded solid lines, an auspicious beginning for the hexagram. The next two throws were also solid lines, and I became very excited. Six solid lines are the most favourable reading in the entire book. I had never cast a perfect hexagram, and here I was facing the distinct possibility with my last throw.

I paused, bowed my head and prayed to God to allow these coins to fall tails. All three did. A perfect hexagram. The best possible throw. The best possible future. But that is not what struck me. What struck me was that Someone had answered my prayer. I had not prayed to the Chinese god of the I Ching. There is no such god. Those who follow the I Ching believe that fate and wisdom determine our earthly outcomes, not some Infinite Being that cares for us personally.

No, when I had prayed, I had prayed to the God that I had known as a child. The God that had once walked on this earth and left instructions on how to find Him. The God that I had sought and not found at my confirmation. That is the God I prayed to, and He, ignoring a decade of personal failure and weakness, ignoring even that I was looking for answers in the practice of ancient superstitions, He had graciously answered that wistful prayer for guidance.

I was overcome with gratitude, and confess that not knowing how to express my thanks, I looked up into the heavens. Those who are familiar with the Hitchcock Effect, or dolly zoom, will best understand what came next. Hitchcock pioneered the dolly zoom in Vertigo by moving the camera away from the object while simultaneously zooming in. The effect is disconcerting, and a good analogy for what happened next. I thought as I looked that Someone beyond the pines, beyond the stars, beyond the universe itself had heard my insignificant prayer for guidance and had heard me.

In an instant, in a breath, that entire distance seemed to collapse in a rush of vertigo that brought the Infinite beside me. I know that this cannot sound anything but foolish, and there is no other way to express it than this. I felt the presence of the Infinite beside me. There was no electricity in the air, no sudden change of temperature. I did not hear an audible voice. I felt no reassuring hand on my shoulder. But the Infinite stood beside me, and it was overwhelming. I gasped in wonder. The Bible speaks of a God who is able to do “infinitely more than we can ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20). I know what that means. I know what that feels like. It lasted less than a minute. It has stayed with me for a lifetime and completely altered my life.

Yes, I did read through the Bible, or at least the four gospels, until I understood what I needed to do to accept that God as lord of my life and begin living according to His precepts. But that outcome was a dead certainty after that moment in the presence of God. I have talked to hundreds of Christians about their encounters with God since that day. In North America my experience is still considered unusual, and I typically don’t mention it for that reason. When we lived in Asia we heard plenty of stories like mine, and others far more compelling. I do not believe that such experiences are unique. Nor do I think that they are necessary. My wife has had a vital relationship with Christ for her entire life and has never experienced an encounter with God such as mine.

I am not offering this as a template or a prescription, but rather a reflection on my own journey from the vantage of age. Like all who have walked with God in the daily grind of life, I have had my troubles and woes. I have tasted both success and failure. I am far from perfect, as anyone who knows me will testify. But beyond all my weakness, beyond all my trials, beyond anything that this life can offer or deny, this one thing I will know to my last breath. I have stood in the presence of God. And will again someday.