Thursday, July 21, 2005

The Unofficial Dawsonwood Cottage Debut

Down on the dock, peace and quiet on the slow branch of the Muskoka River. Posted by Picasa

They say good things happen when you least expect them. There have been moments during the past eight months when I thought Dawsonwood Cottage would never really open. I haven't kept to my schedule. The cost of even minor renovations has seemed insuperable. The emotional trial of purging has been at times overwhelming. Occasionally the thought of hosting even one guest has sickened me. In this steamy, smoggy summer, in the midst of illness and drama, home renovations and a multiplicity of change, while my back was turned and I was busy doing other things, Dawsonwood Cottage opened itself.

In the last two weeks we have hosted long term guests (family), unexpected guests (friends), planned guests (pastoral support), invited guests from overseas no less, indirect guests (via telephone, email and blogging). The place has been a hive of activity. I am getting about five hours sleep a night. Can't remember when I had my afternoon nap.

Dawsonwood Cottage has not been at its best. Grandchildren's fingerprints dancing across windows and doors. Carpet soil hiding under footstools. Corn cobs lingering on the kitchen table. The family room groaning under loads of wash, all clean, some folded, some not. When I was younger I could never have entertained the thought of fifteen people seeing my home in this state.

Guess what? Everyone has had a good time. What has really needed to be done has been done. God has shown up, as they say. Dawsonwood inaugurated itself.

I have dished up meals in record time. Catered for the reno crew at 80 Woodward. Unfolded davenports and cots. Folded them up again. Made beds. Stripped beds. Made them up again. Nursed my grandson. Played with my granddaughter. Shared these two important people with my other guests.

It has been remarkably good, in retrospect. A time of high energy, sometimes mistaken for tension.

Those who have shared the Dawsonwood vision from the beginning have always felt that this is a healing place...this small town, small home on the south branch of the Muskoka River. A friend who plans a visit this fall has written that this is a safe place. In this past two weeks it has begun to fulfill its promise as a healing place.

I am being healed. A blog in and of itself. And Baby Robbie's asthma has stabilized here. He is visibly growing and becoming stronger every day. He has cut his first tooth, and is making attempts at creeping as he rolls and even back flips himself around the living room floor in a pool of constant sunshine.

Today our visitors were a family of four. Mom and Dad in ministry with children 6 and 4 years old. The younger child has a form of unspecified autism. Here at Dawsonwood he did several things his parents had never seen him do before. He even experimented with food he had never eaten before...quite an accomplishment for any child. He met new people and communicated with them. He was expanding his skills while we sat and talked. Babe, our aging Sheltie was his constant if somewhat reluctant companion. She was reborn as the therapy dog of her youth, finding perhaps vestigial memories of the children she played with when I worked in community mental health. Neat.

So the door opened itself, I thought, as I rocked Robbie to sleep on the balcony in the cool of the evening. I let myself down into the moment, the rest of holding a sleeping child, the movement of the swing. Surrendering to what God has given, to what is and to the best which is yet to come.

The door to Dawsonwood Cottage. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

When We are Weak, Then He Is Strong

Robbie, age three months Posted by Picasa

This is Robbie, six weeks ago. Now he is longer, rounder, smiles and chuckles. He can pull up to a solid lap stand. Roll over and back unassisted. Hard to believe, this cheerful, contented baby is ill. Robbie has been hospitalized twice in the last three weeks. With ASTHMA.

I am ashamed to admit I have never understood this disease. I've been rather inclined to judge it. Discount it. Blame the victims. The same way others tell me, as a depressive, to give myself a shake.

I'm learning. I'm humbled. God is at work.

Asthma is a pernicious troubling sort of disease. Worrying. It calls for all out warfare against the enemy; dust, smoke, pet dander. Omnipresent pollutants, seen and unseen, are hunted down. Clutter and dust eliminated. Older flooring exhumed. Laminate flooring installed. Ducts cleaned. Walls painted. Mould exterminated. New roof. New insulation. New windows. And the two family pets, Tisha and Pollywoggalina, have needed, sadly, a new home.

Amazingly, in just three days, things are coming together. Answers to prayer. Robbie and his family have been sheltering with us for the duration. Funding has become available.

Renovations are mammoth. My daughter Barbara and her husband Dylan tore into the task with the kind of enthusiasm only parents of threatened young can muster. They were ripping up carpet within minutes of their return from hospital.

Help has come. My brother and nephew did grunt work...getting out ancient nails and staples and uncovering a solid staircase. "We're good at destruction," they rejoiced. My sister-in-law took over child care. Contributed perspective, practicality and calm.

High heat, humidex and smog, have made this enterprize more dangerous for all. Papa Robert has suffered more than usual with chest conjestion, fatique and severe coughing. It is hard to imagine how a small baby can handle such an assault on the lungs. But young Robbie is a fighter and has lots of people praying for him.

I'm general contractor and design consultant on the job. My own father hovers in spirit at my shoulder and utters, "That stair rail has to go." And, "If you're going to do a job, do it right."

Son-in-law Dylan, a man of brain and skill, is accomplishing the impossible. The new subfloor is almost complete. Coats of paint have gone onto main floor walls. Dylan with Barb has done most of the labour. More friends and relations have surfaced to help. Dylan's brother David and friend Chris are working like a well oiled machine. Barb's friends, Sandy and Cheryl, have wielded paint brushes, cleared up, swept up and taken glee in it. Other people are promising to come as the week unfolds.

There have been miracles. Cat placement. In a world of surplus cats and kittens, who would want our excess pair? Yesterday a young couple adopted both cat and kitten. Their previous cats had died within a year of eachother, and they greeted the new additions to their family with choking tears of gratitude. Polly, they claimed, was a veritable reincarnation of their former feline companion.

And Rachael, who at three, might have resented the loss of her pets, seems to understand. "No furry pets so we can help Robbie get well," she exclaims with a wag of her imperious finger. She looks forward to the purchase a gold fish the size of a Northern pike, with twenty teeth just like her and long brown hair. "Goldie" will live in her room.

Love generates amazing energies. We are all exhausted. We misunderstand one another. Struggle. Get back on the same page of the combat plan. In our frailty, the power of God is unleashed. I am learning more about the God of sufficiency and provision, more about trust, more about the awesome capacity of all those I love.

Keep us in your prayers. With gratitude, Connie.

Friday, July 08, 2005

London Blasts: Counter Attack of Love

Last night, after watching the news from London, I wrote:

Let us exercise civility in the face of barbarism.
Choose compassion, not horror.
Fortitude, not vengeance.
Courage not terror.
Let trauma teach us,
soften our hearts,
make us, not more vulnerable, but resilient.
Let our common wounds unite us, not our power.
This is our work.
We are both terrorists and victims by turn.
Only the privilege of moral choice
determines our humanity.

This morning's word from Henri Nouwen said it again:

Nobody escapes being wounded. We all are wounded people, whether physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually. The main question is not "How can we hide our wounds?" so we don't have to be embarrassed, but "How can we put our woundedness in the service of others?" When our wounds cease to be a source of shame, and become a source of healing, we have become wounded healers.

Jesus is God's wounded healer: through his wounds we are healed. Jesus' suffering and death brought joy and life. His humiliation brought glory; his rejection brought a community of love. As followers of Jesus we can also allow our wounds to bring healing to others.

No one can expect those recently traumatized by the London subway blasts to be wounded healers. They battle for their lives, count their miracles, grieve, suffer, and begin the long, perhaps endless journey towards wholeness. But those of us who have known what it is to suffer. Those of us who are informed by our wounds as well and our sins can stand in the gap for them. We can bring the understanding of pain and healing to Londoners through prayer. We can surround them with Christ's compassion. We can make the masterful counter attack of Love.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Beyond Jealousy

It is time to repent. Of jealousy. A major impediment to growth in my life. Should be spelled...'gee lousy', I think. Stinkin' thinkin' as my AA friends say. So petty. So puerile. So petulant.

So I'm confessing jealousy:

Resentment of those born into conventional religious backgrounds. The so-called 'normal'. Those who didn't have to perpetually explain the eccentricities of their churches. Time now to celebrate the gifts of my unique heritage. Time to honour the struggle which has birthed in me a broader, deeper spiritual understanding. Time to let this petty jealousy go. Forever.

Jealousy of the genetically thin. Good grief. I've hated them on sight, (not you Stephanie). But I've sacrificed potential friendships. And I've spent fifty years covering up my arms. How I have sweltered for my sins!!! Having taken a realistic look at those arms, I'm wearing sleeveless tops for the first time in my life. Cool. Enough. Let my next new friend be thin or plump. This no longer matters.

Distrust of those whose business, organizational, relational and technical skills help them to forward their careers, get grants for projects. GET PUBLISHED. If any of this can be learned late in life, let me learn it. Let me find people who can help me with the things I'm not good at. Dear God, release me from reverse snobbery, the secret belief that it is a virtue to be incompetent in business. I declare this as the lie it is.

Downright envy of the rich. Crass covetousness. Special resentment of those who have money and no taste. I have achieved miracles with no money, basic skills and a good eye!!! Relative poverty has been an incentive to creativity. I don't need to drag others into the equation at all. Still, I would love to be able to afford to pay someone to paint the endless dark trim in Dawsonwood Cottage. And that's okay.

I regret that my mostly silent jealousy may have hurt my family. I've given pain to my husband, who celebrates abundance and accepts rather than regrets reality. I've provided a negative role model for my children. Let my pettiness not be perpetuated into the next generation.

Henri Nouwen's thoughts on the story of the prodigal son/daughter have been seminal for me this past week (click on title above). Here is his salutary thinking:

Jealousy arises easily in our hearts. In the parable of the prodigal son, the elder son is jealous that his younger brother gets such a royal welcome even though he and his loose women swallowed up his father's property (Luke 15:30). And in the parable of the labourers in the vineyard, the workers who worked the whole day are jealous that those who came at the eleventh hour receive the same pay as they did (see Matthew 20:1-16). But the Father says to the older son: "You are with me always and all I have is yours" (Luke 15:31). And the landowner says: "Why should you be envious because I am generous?" (Matthew 20:15).

When we truly enjoy God's unlimited generosity, we will be grateful for what our brothers and sisters receive. Jealousy will simply have no place in our hearts.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Company 150

While I recover from surgery, I am taking time to catch up with myself, read a few blogs and send up a few prayers. It seems that weeks have sped by and that my spiritual rhythms have been off kilter, along with my bio-rhythms. This is what seems to me to be important tonight.

My young niece, Kathryn Ballantine, is part of a youth ministry this summer. She will be singing, dancing, acting, and teaching in an initiative to inspire other young people to develop skills in contemporary worship arts. Click on title above for link to Company 150. You'll see Kathryn's picture and bio there, as well as early posts from team members and music tracks. This is an earnest, talented and dedicated group of young people who deserve our spiritual support this summer.

My littlest grandson, Robbie was in hospital on Father's Day, the day which should have been his christening. He has recovered well and is looking, acting and sounding more his healthy self. After his shakey start in life, he has been thriving. This infection was only a temporary set-back. We are thankful for him each day, and bask in his enigmatic, wise little smile.

But even as we rejoice about Robbie, our hearts are heavy with news that three year old Katelyn Bedard has died from complications of leukemia. Some of Katie's story and her funeral arrangements can be found at Her parents and grandparents (my cousin Melba (Williams) and her husband Rene Bedard) have borne Katie's illness with great strength of faith and character. They need our prayers.

Yesterday was Canada Day and we are in the middle of the high holiday between the first and fourth of July, when two sister nations celebrate their births. Best wishes go out to my American friends. Can we pray that our two countries will put justice and righteousness before economic growth and power? And if this is too big a prayer for nations, can we pray for these graces for ourselves as individuals? And wisdom. And discernment. I need these gifts right now.

For all lands in turmoil,
For all families in distress,
For all people who are confused,
For those in prison, and those being set free,
For the sick, the grieving, the lonely,
Lord have mercy.
Have mercy too, on me.