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I’ve been trying to write a blog post for awhile…apparently a few months.  From the last time I blogged time has flown.  There’s been a wonderful community event called Chautauqua, the adoption of an 11 year old Domestic Shorthair cat called Buddy, the Ordination of our Deacon, a terrible tragedy that claimed the lives of three men, a Memorial Service for those men, and a surprise birthday party for my 50th.

Chautauqua took on a life of it’s own this year in a new format that had all events taking place in the historic downtown core.  The Fall Fair took place the same weekend and the grounds at City Hall were filled with animals of all shapes and sizes, vendors showing their wares, artists and crafters showing their trades and a community out to enjoy a beautiful Autumn celebration.  My little parish hosted the Community Ecumenical Service and it was an absolute success.  Folks started coming in just before the official event time and kept coming in for the first 20 minutes.  It was glorious.  We finished the service in time to get to the Senior’s Centre that was hosting a High English Tea.  A Harvest Supper at the Catholic Church rounded out a weekend filled with activity, history, wonder and joy.

Buddy is a cranky black cat, missing one canine tooth who was looking for a forever home.  The other cats on the SPCA website were all cuddly and adorable.  Buddy looked at the photographer like he could care less…or if he had pose-able digits would have raised his middle finger.  He’s cranky, he hisses a lot, has a mean meow and reminds me of my late father.  So of course, I was hooked.  He doesn’t like being picked up…or touched…I am allowed to pet him within very strict parameters that I have not yet learned.  He’s not particularly patient with me, hence the hissing.  He likes to hide under the dining room table.  He likes to be in the same room as me, but not too close.  He’s afraid of the mop and the vacuum and doesn’t climb.  So far so good…but I’m unsure of his assessment of me as his staff.  After all, they say dogs have owners and cats have staff.

Ordination is one of the great celebrations of the Church.  A faithful woman of God was Ordained in Christ’s Holy catholic Church and we gathered to celebrate.  We sang her favourite hymns, surprised her with an Anthem.  She was feted and celebrated and the parish commissioned a red Deacon’s stole for her which she helped to design.  An absolutely gorgeous design featuring flames and doves in shades of red, blue and white.  Absolutely spectacular for an absolutely spectacular child of God.

On the 17th of October my brother was returning to Calgary after visiting me overnight.  I took him to see the Church and he signed the Guest Book.  I went to a meeting at a Retirement home across the street from the local Arena.  Little did I know that our community would be rocked to it’s very core that day.  The winds were high and sky was a strange colour.  The atmosphere around town was eerie.  Hurricane force winds blew the power out twice and we were in the dark for a couple of hours the second time.  I was checking my Facebook feed and saw that there had been an accident at the Arena and the surrounding neighbourhood had been evacuated…including the residents I had visited earlier that day.  I went to the evacuation centre and tried to provide some comfort, some humour and a few hugs.  Three men died that day.  They went to work and didn’t come home.  And even now, months later, there is still a void in the community.  The residents returned home within a week, but there is still a sense of unease.  However, this community did what it does best and came together in a show of support.  We will always remember those who died, but too will we remember the community that showed support and love to one another.  The road is long before us but we will get there…together.

A Community Memorial Service was held on the 12th of November on the grounds of the high school.  It was damp, overcast, chilly day but there was an air of hope.  The community choir sang, my United Church colleague and I offered prayer at the beginning and ending of the service.  Three eulogies were shared, many tears were shed and a group of strangers gathered as family.

I don’t like surprise parties…especially when I’m the one being surprised…but that’s exactly what happened on the 25th of November, the day before my 50th birthday.  My congregation decided that I needed to celebrate this milestone and so I was duped into leaving town for the day with a friend who needed to run errands and I was there to be company in the car, navigate and carry stuff.  We got back at 5:30 and the street was lined with cars.  I thought my Roman colleague was having a larger than average attendance at Mass.  And then I saw a parishioners car parked where it usually isn’t.  Then I looked at the lawn of the Rectory and saw 50 pink flamingos…and a sign notifying all and sundry that is was my 50th.  I walked into the Church, down to the parish hall and opening the door heard “SURPRISE!”  I was shaking and smiling and unable to remember my name at that point as I saw friends, neighbours, parishioners and colleagues gathered to celebrate a half-century.  I was presented with a “birthday girl” pink sash, pink star sunglasses and a birthday tiara.  Many of the guests wore pink.  And everyone knew I was surprised…  We feasted on potluck fare, a birthday cake that read “Happy Birthday Princess Flamingo”  I took many photographs and opened many cards and gifts, one of the most special being a painting a parishioner and friend painted with birch trees and a winter sun…it is spectacular.  There was a trivia game with 50 questions related to my life…and those assembling the game had help from my brother, my spiritual advisor and friend.  It was great fun…and while I still don’t like surprises, it was a blessing to celebrate with so many wonderful people.

When the tragedy took place in October I realised just how much this community has become home for me…and how the folks that live here are my family.  Seeing such a large collection of people at the birthday party reinforced this to me.  I am loved very much here and I love this place very much.

If the rest of my 50th year is anywhere near as awesome as the first few weeks, I’m in for an absolutely AWESOME year!

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I am blessed to receive four weeks of vacation every year.  Some of my colleagues take all four weeks at once.  I can’t do that.  I’m too much a creature of habit; of routine.

I usually take my vacation in blocks of two weeks…this year was no exception.

The first week I stayed with a friend and we did some day trips and worked around his house, getting some outdoor stuff done.  The weather was grand and we enjoyed exploring somewhat close to home.  The focus of that week was relaxing, unwinding and practicing Sabbath.

The second week I came home and challenged myself with a couple of hikes that were more difficult then I thought they’d be but learned a great deal about myself…I don’t have to walk all the way to the end to finish the hike.  I can turn around when I’m ready and I’ve still accomplished something.  I also did something I’ve been wanting to do for years, but was never able…I got two tattoos.  I’ll write more about them in another post.

I was back to work for a week, which wasn’t quite enough time to get things back organized, cleaned out my home office and it’s now quite efficient, clean and bright.  I love the space in there and working in it makes me very happy.  It also means I can relax in the living space of the rectory to try and separate work and home.

The third and fourth weeks of vacation I flew to Ontario and drove a lot.  I didn’t get to see everyone I wanted to see.  Some of the trip felt like I was attending Old Home Week as I drove across parts of Ontario I’d not seen in two decades.  I visited graves, places in which I’ve lived.  Hiked trails that I’d hiked before and explored new areas that I’d always wanted to but never made time.  The weather didn’t cooperate as much as I’d have liked it to, but it was still a good time away.

In reflecting on my vacation it was incredible.  I spent a great deal of time in prayer and have re-established meditative prayer.  I do this while walking and had forgotten how it makes my soul sing to pray while I walk or hike.

I’m practicing mindfulness in what I eat and in how I eat.  I’m walking every single day without exception and walking to places in the community when I can.

I very much missed my standard transmission car when I was away as I was driving an automatic transmission for the first time in years.  I kept forgetting to put it in park before I shut off the engine.  Ugh.

I learned that home is where I am.  It is not a far off destination.  It is not a house, a parent, a partner.  It is me.  And that makes me very happy.

The mountains are home to me.  I felt, at times, terribly homesick when I was back East.  I wasn’t sure if it was homesickness for a place I once knew, but eventually I realised that I was homesick for Fernie.  For the beautiful part of creation in which I now live.

As I drove home from Calgary I was giddy with the anticipation of seeing the mountains. Once I reached the Crowsnest Pass the smile on my face was broad and bright.  Climbing into my own bed made me deliriously happy and having a shower in my own bathroom meant all was right with the small world in which I live.

It was wonderful to visit places and see people I’d not seen in a long time.  And it was equally wonderful to put the key in lock and come home to my house.  A place I’ve not lived for that long and yet I can’t imagine leaving.  The Elk Valley is my home.  The mountains are my home.  They are a part of me as much as the air I breathe.  May it always be so.

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filled with simple things is how I bring communion to people.

It’s a willow basket that I bought on sale for 50% off.  It’s lined with a dollar store tea towel and under one side of the towel is a small pottery paten.  On top of the towel and the paten is a pottery chalice.  The towel gets folder over and inside the cup of the chalice is a small glass jar (it once held jam) that now contains hosts.  There’s a small bottle filled with wine and water that gets tucked in the other end of the basket.  Two white linen purificators tucked around all exposed glass and pottery ensure that nothing gets broken in transport.

I carry my basket the same way I’d carry any picnic basket.  It contains a special, sacred meal that has been prepared in front of our parish family, then taken into the community to a Bible Study group, or a shut in, or a person in hospital.  It’s also been brought out at the bedside of a person who is approaching the end of their life.

To anyone looking at it, it would appear a plain willow basket.  To me, it contains many stories…some are happy, some are sad, some are heartbreaking, and every one of them is real and true.

If the fabric of the basket could talk, if the towel could talk, if the vessels could talk they would tell many stories.  These stories that connect each recipient to each other; to bring each recipient into closer relationship with one another and with the one for whom we share this wonderful meal.

Today when I was walking to the hospital to visit a parishioner, a gentleman asked if I had a picnic planned.  I looked strangely at him and he gestured at the plain willow basket.  I told him I was visiting a parishioner and was bringing him communion, so in a way it was to be a picnic.

As I was walking home a construction worker asked if I was willing to share my lunch, gesturing at the plain willow basket.  I told him I had communion wine and bread and would be happy to share.  He smiled and said he was looking for something else.  I smiled and continued on my way.

A plain willow basket filled with ordinary, simple things.  Things made sacred and extraordinary by the people who share in it’s contents.  Brought closer together to share in something so beautiful and yet so ordinary, it almost defies description.

A plain willow basket.

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I went away last week for 5 days of retreat time on Vancouver Island with a friend of mine.  The first two days were absolute bliss…we talked, we walked, we saw the sights together and enjoyed all that the community had to offer.

Wednesday we had a lazy start to the day then went to an open air market about an hour away for lunch and a wander around.  Lunch was great, the market was fun and then we poked our heads through a doorway and explored some more market area.  When we’d had enough wandering about we decided to head back to the car and meander back where we’d come from.

She was walking ahead of me down these long, wide stairs.  There were four of them.  I only stepped on three of them.  I missed a step and fell hard onto my face.  The bridge of my glasses was embedded into my forehead and I started to bleed.  A lot.  Caused quite a scene at this market.  The bridge of my glasses is scratched up as is one of the lenses.  I bled for quite some time.  My forehead has an abrasion on it.  As does both knees and my left hand.

The shock was incredible.  I was handed clean serviettes and told to apply pressure.  A zipper bag filled with ice was given me.  I was examined by two nurses (one of whom was traveling with me).  I was asked questions to determine how alert I was.  I think I passed them all, at this point I can’t quite remember when I heard.  What I do know is that I was embarrassed at how quickly it happened, what a scene I’d caused and what a mess my face had become.

My friend drove us to the hospital half way home.  I waited an hour in emergency as the bleeding lessened and the swelling increased.  I ended up in hospital for 3 1/2 hours and was treated very well.  The nurses were helpful, the doctors were kind.  I got a tetanus shot and got to experience skin glue.  It burned as it was being applied but has done a great job of keeping the skin together as it heals.  I’ll likely have a scar but it will be hidden by my glasses.

The good news is, nothing was broken.  The unfortunate news was my body’s reaction to the shock.  It’s now 4 days afterwards and I’m still feeling it.

I need new glasses.

The morning after the fall I woke feeling like I’d been hit by a car.  Arms and legs ached.  Face was swollen and sore.  Jaw throbbing.

I contacted one of my Wardens and she made arrangements for the two services this morning to be covered.  I slept in on a Sunday, something I haven’t done for a very, very long time.

Yesterday I went for a walk through the community.  Not as long as I’d have liked to, but as long as my body would allow me.

So the benefit of this experience was that I have incredible friends.  I have the best Wardens, Licensed Lay Ministers and congregation.  I will heal from these scars. Eventually the pain will go away.  Gravity is still not my friend.  That’s not new, but it bears repeating.

Two days after the fall I had to fly home.  I was terrified about the stairs into and out of the small airplanes on which I’d be flying.  I took my time, accepted help when it was offered and made every single step.  Yay me.  It’s the small things, you know?

The flight had three parts to it, one of which I had to change planes.  And the last leg of the flight was turbulent, but we survived it.  After we landed I was helping the lady sitting in front of me put on her cardigan and she elbowed me in the nose.  I saw stars.  She apologised and I told her she didn’t cause the injury, it was already there.  But yes, my nose hurts.

My friend collected me at the airport and I drove home.  It was good to rest in my own bed.  Bathe in my own tub.  But until the glue falls off I can’t submerge my face or wash it properly.  THAT is starting to bug me.  But the wound will heal, the scar will get smaller and life will continue.

I do want to go back where I was on retreat, but not to that open market again…and I’ll be very wary of stairs, especially cement stairs, from now on.

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Memories of my Dad

The last few weeks I’ve been dreaming a lot of my Dad and stories he used to share with me when I was a child.  Quite often on a Saturday morning my Mam would wake me and strip my bed.  She’d put me into bed with my Dad and he’d snuggle me in and tell me stories.  I think he was hoping I’d go back to sleep, but it never worked out that way.

My Dad was born and raised in a city…Manchester.  There was a canal that some people fished in…my Dad fished in it for bicycle parts as that is what he saw dumped in it most often.  His first bike was a Frankenbike made up of about a half dozen different bike parts.  He and his buddy Charlie got up to all sorts of mischief in their youth.

My Dad was an introvert and craved alone time.  As my brother and I grew up Dad got less time to himself.  At one point he bought an inflatable dinghy from a garage sale and used to take it out to Minnow Lake.  He also bought a fishing rod because, in his words, “if a man is seen alone out on a boat he’s a weirdo, but if he’s fishing, he’s okay”.  So he used to inflate the boat at a gas station, shove it in the backseat of the car and head out to Minnow Lake.

He’d put the dinghy out and he’d jump in with the fishing rod, then float for awhile, set the rod out (note, no bait) and lay back and relax.  He never had a paddle with him.  When I asked him this he said “eventually I’ll blow close to shore” and he must have because he always came home.  In the city where we lived, there was a roving news reporter who would capture footage of local landmarks and places of interest that would be used as a backdrop to the nightly weather forecast.

One Saturday night, after supper, we were watching the evening news when the weather shot came on.  The weather announcer said “and here we have footage of a solitary fisherman out enjoying the sun on this beautiful summer’s day”.  And you could see it, the yellow dinghy, the sole of my Dad’s shoe propped up on the edge of the dinghy and the fishing rod bobbing in the water.

“Dad”? I asked.  “Good Jesus” he replied. “I can’t be left alone anywhere!” We all had a good laugh at that.  My Dad’s fishing adventure captured on film for all eternity, or until it was filmed over.  The last time he took the dinghy out he was happily floating around the lake when the wind shifted.  He began to float towards shore but heard a slight hissing sound.  By the time he reached shore the dinghy had taken on water.  He safely dismounted the boat (do you dismount boats?)  rolled up the dinghy and threw it in a nearby garbage can.  I asked him where the boat was and he said he was finished with it.

Perhaps he saw the leak as a sign from God or perhaps he realised he could be solitary in some other way. Regardless, I’ll never know the answer to that.  But thinking about seeing his foot on the evening news does make me smile.  My Dad, the television personality…or at least, his foot was.

 

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