Thursday, May 16, 2013
Last Tuesday Dad told us a story. It went something like this:
My upbringing was very difficult. My father was dead, and I had no family to speak of. As a young child I had suffered a dreadful injury, resulting in my becoming lame.
I lived in a desolate, desert area where we had to scrabble each day to make a living. I had nothing - no prospects, no miracle cure, no future.
I shouldn't say I had nothing, though. I had one thing, one constant companion in my life that had joined me in my childhood and refused to leave. It accompanied me on every halting, agonizing step of my life.
I lived in fear, fear of one man who could effectively end my pathetic life, such as it was. If he found me, I was convinced that he would bring me down, would destroy the tiny existence I had cobbled together for myself.
Time went by. I found a girl who would marry me and we had a child. My fear subsided gradually, to be replaced by a certain emptiness. As days drifted into months morphed into years yawned into apathy, even my dreams dried up like the desert in which I was interred. I had no hope. I had no expectation of anything good coming into or out of my life. I just was.
Until the day the men came to my door. "He knows about you. He's demanding that you come and meet with him."
My nemesis, the cause of my fear, had somehow tracked me down. I don't remember much about that terrifying journey, but I do remember this: I remember hugging my son, wondering if I should leave him behind for his own safety. Then my subconscious reminded me of what it was like to be separated from your father and I decided that, live or die, we would be together.
We traveled under armed escort, finally arriving at the city. I wanted to clean up, to compose myself, but my guards told me the order was that I be taken immediately into his presence.
With rough kindness they supported me part way across the room and then unceremoniously left me to half hobble, half drag my crippled self the last few steps to where he sat, motionless.
My trembling was not due to my infirmity alone. I glanced for one petrified moment at his face. His eyes were burning into me. Dropping my gaze, I fell prostrate at his feet, wordless, the terror pounding in my ears like demon drums.
And then he spoke only one word.
I must have misheard: the yearning, aching note in those four syllables! No one had spoken to me with that tone since -
I had to respond. "I am your servant," my teeth managed to chatter, while I braced myself for the sword swishing past my ears on the way to my neck or, at the very least, for a swift kick to my kidneys.
"Fear not," his voice replied. "I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father, Jonathan, and I will restore the land that belonged to your grandfather, Saul."
I couldn't believe it. I must not believe it. This was clearly a trap and I dared not fall into it, not with Micah my son also here.
"What is your servant, that you should show regard for a dead dog such as I?" I asked, my voice barely a whisper.
As I asked my question, I glanced up at him. He had not taken his eyes off me. And as I looked with more courage, now, I realized that even though he was speaking to the steward about arrangements which had already been made for my comfort and Micah's, he saw me.
But it seemed to me that as he gazed at me, he saw more than just me. He was seeing my father, his closest friend, who had been killed by the Philistines in battle along with my grandfather, Saul. My grandfather's death had put him on the throne.
My grandfather's death had changed my life. It was when he and my father died that my nanny panicked and fled into hiding, carrying me, a 5-year-old, in her arms. But in her haste she dropped me and the bones in my legs were shattered, never to be reset properly.
My nanny had told me stories of David, the shepherd boy who had wormed his way into the lives and hearts of my family, only to turn on them. She told me of how he split the family because my own father, Jonathan, refused to abandon David and actually worked on his side against my grandfather.
Now David was king and he would hunt me down and kill me if he found me. That's what rulers did in those days - they killed off the entire family of the previous ruler to ensure that there would be no insurrection.
Insurrection from a crippled 5-year-old? Ha.
And that is how I came to live in fear my whole life.
I was taken to my new living quarters and - most incredibly of all - was assigned a place at the king's sons' table for my meals.
I was treated like David's own son. And as the servitors gently laid the richly woven covers over each of our legs as we reclined at table, I felt just like all the others. All our legs were covered exactly the same way.
By the way, my name, Mephibosheth? It means "scatters shame." Who would have named me that? It could not have been my father, who had loved me deeply. It was the echo of his voice I heard when King David spoke my name ...
It must have been my grandfather Saul, who had said that my father had brought shame to him and the family by taking on David's cause.
There are other ways than literally broken legs that a person can be crippled. There are broken spirits and broken hearts. There are shattered dreams. There are crushed expectations. A person can be crippled by disappointment, by fear of failure, by rejection. By shame.
A person can be crippled by fear itself. The very person I thought would destroy me was - unbeknownst to me - thinking about me, planning for me. Even my lameness was covered by David's provision for me at the table. I had lived in Lodebar, "no pasture," the desert. And completely without my seeking, planning or even hoping, I was brought to a place of plenty.
Dad went on: This restoration of Mephibosheth was not something he was entitled to, sought, worked for, or thought about. It was all of grace, for the sake of someone else. It was all for Jonathan.
Mephibosheth had to change his own attitude to be able to enter into the king's comforts fully. He had viewed himself as a crippled boy and man with no hope of any great advancement; as a "dead dog."
In today's society, Dad mused, we are so much about self-esteem. And of course we shouldn't think poorly of ourselves. But our intrinsic self-confidence should come from our confidence in God, and not be dependent on our own accomplishments.
"Take hope today," Dad urged us. "God can, may, will and does work when we are not conscious of it, when we are not even thinking about it. He has a plan and a purpose. And He will fulfill his plan and purpose for us, for the sake of His Son. "Christ horizons God's grace," he quoted. God's grace is found in Christ, and He wants us to experience it. We may have many limitations, hurts, things that cannot be changed in our life. Early experiences often have marked us for the rest of our lives, just like Mephibosheth.
"God has good things planned for and in store for us. Let us not measure God's work on our behalf according to our understanding and our thoughts. God is greater than our highest thought of Him. His plans and thoughts are far greater than ours. In the silence, God can and does work," Dad reminded us.
In closing, Dad told the story of my brother Ed Chelli, now the president of the Bible College. As a child, Ed was laid low with meningitis of the brain. He was dying.
A doctor, a Hindu, came by to see Ed in the Chellis' home. After careful examination and evaluation, he told Ed's grief-stricken parents," There's nothing more I can do. But remember, there is God."
That night both Ed's parents got down on their knees beside their inert son's bed, earnestly pleading with God for Ed to make it. Then Ed's mother, Merah, told her husband, "You go to bed now. Edwin will be healed by morning."
Sure enough, the next morning found Ed sitting up, asking for warm milk. God had once again worked in the night ...
As Dad finished speaking, I saw myself right there next to Mephibosheth, prostrate at the feet of my king. I - crippled by past experiences, by fears, by the forced relinquishment of dreams, someone who deserved nothing - was at the feet of the One who loves me, who had actually gone out of his way to search me out.
And now, as I lay there trembling, scared to so much as look up at Him, He said one word.
As I dared to peek up at Him, He was looking steadily back at me with eyes that showed nothing but love. But He was seeing more than me. And it came to me with fresh new impact that His grace that extends to me is none of my own doing. It is because of His Son that I now experience such grace. As He looks at me - helpless, a broken person who sins and can do nothing on my own - He doesn't see any of that. He sees Jesus and He accepts and cares for me because of His son.
And the grace extended toward me also brings to me hope. I will never forget that I am crippled; but I will also be partaking at the king's own table because I accepted His awe-inspiring gift of salvation. I am His.
Sunday, April 14, 2013
Yesterday was the Actual Day - ten years since the doors opened for business at Nilgiris Tea House. Don was the first person through the door: he had set an alarm. Matthew had the privilege of being the first person I rang through the cash register. We were busy that entire terrifying day from the moment we opened.
Mum, Dad, Bonnie C, Angela, BA all came to bail Andy and Brenda and me out when it was clear we couldn't cope with the tidal wave that had hit us. We had been so naive in our expectations of this place. But somehow, with the grace of God and the graciousness of friends and family who rallied around, we managed to get off the ground.
Fast forward ten years. Yesterday morning at 7:17 I heard from the staff member due to work the late afternoon / evening shift. It turns out she was "uber tired and grumpy" and thus would not be able to work.
We were already short staffed for the day. Frustrated at the irresponsibility, I wondered how I would get through the day. I resigned myself to having to close for the evening.
For two hours I grimly and methodically got on with the tasks at hand. And then just after 9 a.m. I heard a cheery voice: "It's only me!"
The first voice I had heard on that fateful morning ten years ago. Brenda's voice.
She washed her hands, pulled on an apron and got to work.
Shortly before 10, another voice: Char's. She straightened up the dining room and got the doors unlocked and the Open sign hung up on the pillar.
Then Shehana, my lovely Shawni who has roots in Pakistan and India and wings in Canada, showed up for work.
And people poured in, just like they had ten years earlier. Even my dear Bonnie and Gordon, the friends who own the guest rooms next door and who have bailed us out on so many occasions when we were short staffed, came for lunch with our friend Joanne.
But something was missing, and I realized that it was the joy Mum would have brought to the day. How she would have loved this day, I thought to myself. She would have been proud of me for this milestone ...
Just a few moments after I started feeling sorry for myself, the back door opened and Dad entered on a swirl of snow and frosty air. His arms were laden with a gold gift bag and a wrapped bouquet. He handed them carefully to me and then hugged me. "Happy tenth anniversary, Honey," he said.
Brenda put the flowers in water and placed them on one of my favourite spots in the TH, the piano. I unwrapped the green tissue cushioning the contents of the gold bag. Inside were two pieces of antique china - but not just any china. These were two exquisite pieces from the Brown Cinnamon Estate china, complete with the insignia of the phoenix that was part of the crest.
My Mum's heritage. Dad knew I would be missing her this day, and he brought me a concrete acknowledgement of the occasion, a tangible message of love.
Do you know the legend of the Phoenix? It was blessed by the sun to live forever, and in return it promised to sing its song for the sun alone; but it grew jaded in the spotlight and took for granted the blessing it had been given, and so it flew away from its source of power and strength. It went into hiding. It still attempted to sing its songs to the sun; but something had changed.
After many years in seclusion the phoenix grew old and tired and frail. It had drifted far from the sun and the blessing now seemed more of a curse. It decided that its only chance of restoration was to return to the sun, to get back to its place of origin. As it flew it gathered bits of cinnamon bark and various other beautifully scented herbs and spices. Tucking these treasures into its wing feathers, it finally arrived back where it belonged, and it started building a nest of the cinnamon bark and the herbs. Then it rested, crying out to the sun one last time to make it young and strong again.
The sun heard and shone brightly down on the nest. So powerful was its rays that the nest ignited and the phoenix was consumed in the flames.
When the conflagration died down, the nest remained unscathed; but where the phoenix had been was a heap of ashes.
Suddenly there was movement and from the ashes emerged a young phoenix who grew to the size and beauty of the old one. It stretched itself and opened its mouth. Out poured a glorious song of praise to the sun.
The story of the phoenix reminded me a bit of the story of Nilgiris. We opened originally with such energy and expectations and fanfare. But as the months and years slipped by we moved further and further from the sun, the source of our strength and beauty. We ended up closing the place and for one year I lived in grey chilliness of defeat and despair. I wondered how I could have drifted so far from what I knew to be true and good and right. I wondered if I would ever see the Sun again, feel the warmth of His love, bask in His approval.
Then one morning I was sitting miserably on the floor next to the Action Couch in my little rental house, almost in the shadow of the TH, and I was thinking about a sermon Dad had delivered the day before. It was on Jesus' disciple Peter and the story was the one where Peter walked on the water to go to Jesus.
A lot of us know this story: Jesus had told the disciples one evening to get in a boat and cross the lake to the other shore while He remained behind to pray.
The night grew restive and a storm blew up. The disciples spent that night huddled together in terror. Then, in the darkest moments just before dawn approached, they saw Jesus walking on the water toward them. Their fear increased - they thought He was a ghost. But He called out to them, "Be of good cheer; it is I; don't be afraid."
We know the story of how Peter walked on the water to Jesus; how he was distracted by the churning waves and the whipping wind and looked away from Jesus and started to sink. We know how Jesus immediately reached out His hand and lifted him up and rebuked him for having so little faith. When they were both in the boat, the wind ceased and they had smooth sailing to the other side of the lake.
But what I remember so vividly from that day in 2007 was Dad saying words to this effect: "The real wonder of this story is not that Peter walked on the water. The truth is that after Jesus had set a course for them - get to the other side of the lake - Peter actually veered from the course when he clambered out of the boat and walked on the water. The real wonder is how Jesus patiently got Peter back into the boat and back on course and how they did indeed reach the other side. The real wonder of this story is how Jesus brought Peter back to what he was supposed to be doing, where he was supposed to be going."
My heart and will were broken that morning and I stopped looking around at all the storm of troubles roiling around me. I stopped dwelling on the past decade of failure and loss. I finally turned my eyes back fully upon Jesus for the first time in ten years.
And He heard me! He had been just an arm's length away, the same as He was for Peter on his stormy night. Shortly after that I was given a mortgage from the TD Canada Trust bank; and a few months after that I was back in the TH, living and working and trying to stay within the rays of the Son.
Like Peter, who even after this experience denied knowing Jesus not once but three times on the very night of His betrayal and ultimate death, I have made some colossal errors and grieved the One who so patiently keeps giving me chances. But since that summer day in 2007 I have had no doubt that He is with me, close enough to reach out to at any time.
The TH is now a cinnamon-scented nest, a place where people can often find a measure of peace and restoration.
The song is back.
All of this came to my recollection with the priceless gift Dad bestowed upon me on Nilgiris' out-of-sorts tenth anniversary morning.
We closed at 5 p.m. My beautiful Shehana worked faster and harder than I'd ever seen her. Her glowing smile and her cheerful spirit evoked the fragrance of cardamom and cloves and cinnamon as she washed china and restored order to the kitchen.
She had to leave immediately after her eight-hour shift, hoping to make it back to Calgary before the worst of the snow storm broke.
We set the table for a quiet celebration: Vernon and Sharon, Char, Brenda, Dad and I sat together at the table named Quiet Corner and thanked God for His goodness and provision; and we feasted on spaghetti and meatballs, Caesar salad and garlic toast, fresh berry pie and mugs of fragrant coffee.
The storm raged outside, wind using trees as whipping posts. But we were snug and safe inside, a group of friends who love each other and love the Tea House.
What a perfect celebration!
Friday, April 12, 2013
... we were basking in the well wishers of friends old and new who gathered at the about-to-be-opened Nilgiris Tea House for a little tea party.
So it struck me as particularly fitting that ten years later to the day we celebrated our friend Gaylene's milestone birthday with a little tea party.
But what a difference a decade makes! In 2003 we were exuberant, nervous, excited, hopeful, full of anticipation for what the next day would bring.
We didn't have a clue what we were doing, what we were in for.
As we opened the doors for today's tea party we certainly had a clue. Ten years perforce provides a lot of opportunity for learning - and our learning curve was steep! - and many windows of grace when the lessons seemed almost too difficult to see through to the end.
We might not be as exuberant or as nervous as we were back then; but we're still excited and hopeful, and full of anticipation for what God might bring to us next.
Thank you all of you who were with us that day ten years ago. Thank you for your enormous patience with us as we found our feet. Many of you have become trusted friends and we are so grateful to you for your love and support.
Thank you Gaylene and Debbie for the opportunity to celebrate with you today.
And thank you, God, for the gift of our little TH.
Tuesday, April 9, 2013
The Green Chair is in town!
I'll admit to falling for the grumpy old men each time I see the TD Canada Trust TV commercials; but what I admire even more is how my branch in Three Hills cares for me.
This week marks ten years since Nilgiris Tea House opened its doors.
It was absolutely awful.
We were swarmed that first day; and - woefully unprepared - we served chicken pot pies, too many different types of labour-intensive sandwiches, a couple of pots of soup, orange muffins, and coconut cream pie.
ONE coconut cream pie ...
At the end of that nightmarish 13 hours, we wanted to shut the doors for good.
We did indeed close the TH at the end of June 2006: we needed to regroup, to adjust to new normals, to evaluate where all of this was going. We tried to sell the place, but nothing worked out. I felt stranded, immobilized.
Then the bank who had financed our mortgage in the beginning bailed on us; even though I had not missed a single mortgage payment, I was now deemed too great of a risk for the bank named after our province.
In despair I talked to the manager of the Three Hills TD Canada Trust branch, where I did my personal banking.
Shane looked at the numbers, calculated various scenarios, and came up with a mortgage that would be manageable if I lived upstairs, kept my job at Carswell and opened the TH on weekends - exactly what Mum and I had been talking about together for a little while as we pondered why God had not allowed this sweet place to find a new person to love it and take it over.
This was August 2007. We planned to open on Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, which falls in October.
But in the beginning of September, my family's entire universe changed as my Mum was hospitalized for the last time. She exchanged this world for her heavenly home on the 18th.
One of the first people I called was Shane. "Focus on your Mum; focus on your family right now," he urged. "Don't worry about anything else. It'll all work out."
I reopened at the end of November. Shane and the TD staff were some of my first guests.
When Shane moved on to another branch, Russ became the new branch manager, and he continued to support the TH in whatever way he could - including eating as much carrot cake as I would allow him to purchase ...
Russ eventually found a new branch home, and Diana recently took his place as Branch Manager. She too has shown us nothing but enthusiasm and encouragement.
|I had an appointment with Mary Lynne on|
my birthday - and she decorated her
office for our meeting!
And through it all - through all the branch managers and the changes that perforce come to all major institutions these days - has been the corps of loyal, devoted, dedicated employees at the Branch. In alphabetical order they are BethAnne, Cammy, Denise, Emmy, Mary Lynne. Each of them has helped me over the last eight years, and each of them has exemplified consistently outstanding customer service.
I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that these women, and now Diana too, have my back. They appreciate my strengths and assist me with my weaknesses. They are interested in me as a person and in the goings-on of the TH.
And I'm not an exception - when the conversation in the dining room turns to banks, TD Canada Trust Three Hills branch customers invariably tell me of the high level of customer service they receive and how the staff at our little branch truly cares for them and endeavours to find the best solutions for their needs.
So it came as no surprise to me that The Green Chair landed in the Three Hills branch, a reward for being the best customer-focused team in their division. Of course, the team in the branch are well aware that I am enthralled with The Chair, so they let me know I was welcome to get my picture taken with it.
Recognizing an Occasion, I rose to it, and so did they, of course ...
|Branch Manager Diane Sheeler, Financial Advisor Mary Lynne Penner, Financial Services|
Representative BethAnne Ironside, Manager of Customer Service Emmy McDonald -
my own tea party in the comfy Green Chair!
To all of you I want to take this occasion to say a heartfelt thank you. You always go above and beyond the call of duty. I am grateful and proud to be a member of the TD Canada Trust family. I literally could not do it without you.
Banking is this comfortable!
Sunday, March 31, 2013
Monday, March 18, 2013
Last June, there was no rain. None.
As a result, this year, old city water pipes are bursting, causing what little water there is to be wasted on the streets; wells are at all-time low levels and water pump motors are being destroyed by overuse.
Thus when you are a guest in someone's house in Kerala you're very conscious of wasting water and power. You drink ALL the water in your glass ... turn off lights, fans, air conditioning ... open the doors in the early morning to let in the cooler air and keep them tightly shut for the long afternoon's stultifying heat.
So when it's time to have a bath, you try to do what you can to keep water consumption down to a bare minimum. Dad had told us over the years how he used to do it when he travelled the dusty, dry Kerala villages in the summers. Perhaps he would have a straw mat as a shower curtain around him; perhaps there would be an old sari; perhaps there would just be giggling children! Here's how we did it in complete comfort. They're called pour baths ...
|Two taps fill up the water bucket - hot is from the geyser|
|Gather your stuff, including the pouring dubba ...|
Wet your hair by holding your head over the pail and
pouring water over it with the dubba. Shampoo.
You won't have to rinse and repeat.
|Scoop a little water in the dubba so that all the water|
in the bucket doesn't get soapy when you're scrubbing!
You might have to add a little more water
to the bucket if you're running low as you rinse off ...
|Rinse shampoo out of hair directly onto the floor|
with a couple of dubbas of water. Apply conditioner.
Head massage time!
Rinse the conditioner out of your hair
for two minutes under the cold water tap
|When you're finished, squeegee the floor|
so that the next person has a dry surface!
I could have a wonderful, refreshing bath with 1 to 1 1/2 pails of water plus a couple of minutes under the cold water tap.
And what a water conservation plan!
Friday, March 15, 2013
This evening we sorted backpacks into girls' and boys' piles. We filled pencil cases with all kinds of goodies; the rulers will be given separately ...
|Jonathan, Jabez and BA|
getting everything organized
|The beautiful Debbie-Mummy|
(as opposed to Debbie-Chechi,
our own Deb!) tranquilly
watches the proceedings
Dad is doing well - he always does well in Kerala! - and is planning on joining us, God willing.
All of us out here can hardly wait!
Friday, March 8, 2013
I picked up the bread the evening prior to the event, and I was to pick up the dinner rolls and curry puffs at 11 o'clock the next morning. When I went to pay him for the bread, the proprietor told me I could wait until the next day and pay for everything at the same time.
"You would trust me?" I asked quizzically.
"Of course," he responded immediately. "I knew your Mother ..."
It was all well and good to get the food locally; but for the flowers, Raj said, we had to go to City Market. And he would pick us up at 5:30 a.m. in order to be there when the vendors were just unpacking their wares. "Oh Raj, please, not so early!" I begged.
"OK, 6, but sharp!" he conceded.
And so at 6 sharp the three sisters piled into the vehicle and off we went through the just-stirring Bangalore morning streets.
We didn't saunter or explore like we had done a couple of years earlier - our time lines for this day were extremely tight - but here is a glimpse of what we saw as we bustled through the streets in search of red roses, white glads and of course the tuberoses. We also picked up vegetables for the veggie tray and sandwiches - fresh, no chemicals, with flavours so sweet and succulent that a person could contemplate moving to India just for the produce! No wonder food always tastes better out here ...
After having visited India, most people mention the smells. I wish - how I wish! - that they could walk with us through this bower of beauty available for anyone who wants to venture out at the loveliest time of the day. The air is clean and perfumed with the promise of joy. Even the people bargaining for their purchases are congenial. The flowers are working their magic ...
Like the clock striking midnight in fairy tales of yore, the streets and alleys and nooks and crannies in the market that are now filled with colour and an ephemeral patina of grace will very soon be charged with the pulsing energy of the daytime reality: street vendors hawking their wares; butchers with full carcasses hanging from enormous rusty hooks outshouting their neighbouring stall occupants; haggling housewives and pushy touchy men; spitting and yelling and laughter and jostling for and into position.
But for now we have these moment of sweet belief that the world can be like Eden once again, that fairy tales can come true ...
|The dried fruits and exotic spices vendor|
|BA checking out the various grades of saffron|
|Our own Eliza Doolittle, heading off|
for a day of selling flowers ...
|A short cut from the fruits to the vegetables|
|Technology is everywhere!|
|A regular visitor to the flower market|
|Close enough to a white steed.|
don't you think?!
|Trying to calculate how much mint we will need|
for the pudina chutney Dad suddenly requested
|Loaded up for the day|
|Our favourite fruit stand|
|"Peel me a grape" seems so passe when|
"Peel me a chikoo" in the shape of an exotic
flower is happening before our eyes ...
As in any good fairy tale, there has to be a handsome prince. This one heard Deb's earlier murmured comment that she could do with some chai. He got us back to our vehicle, instructed us to "Stay here!" and in a very few moments was on his way back ...
|It's midnight, Cinderella -|
time to start up the chariot and rush home
to the kitchen ...