Thursday, December 16, 2010

Encouragement from a friend

Here is a note that I received from a friend from France about my book More Questions than Answers, Sharing Faith by Listening:

"FYI - excerpt from a letter I wrote to a friend:


I am now in Seattle with Jan and my darling grandchildren, and feel so grateful and blessed to be able
to spend one week being part of all the various circumstances of their daily lives. I'm working on laying
the foundations for trust and sharing (based on the reading I have done so far in Eleanor Shepherd's book
"More Questions than Answers", about the importance of good listening before any kind of faith sharing),
which I expect will "pay off" in the future course of our relationships.


Thank you, Eleanor, for enumerating many simple, but important principles, which are already paving the way
forward! (I only just received the book upon my arrival in the U.S. and am now in the process of reading through it.)
Blessings and God's provision to you as you promote this uplifting, encouraging and useful book you've written!"

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

John’s Story

The Paris sky was still dark as I sat in the den talking with the Lord, at six o’clock that February morning. The peaceful silence was shattered by shrill of the telephone. Fleetingly I thought as I reached for the receiver that it must be someone in North America. The tone of my daughter’s voice, made my heart sink.

“Mom,” said blurted, “There has been an accident. It’s John.” Icy fear gripped me at her words.

“Is he alive?” I asked anxiously.

“Yes, but he is paralyzed,” she replied.

Stunned, I passed the phone to Glen, my husband who was by this time at my side. He tried to speak comforting words to Elizabeth and assured her we would come, as soon as we could get a flight.

Within hours, we had thrown some clothes into our suitcases and were winging our way to Montreal. John had been visiting Elizabeth there that weekend. He left Sunday evening to drive back to Boston.

He was near St. Alban’s, Vermont when his rented vehicle hit black ice. In the few seconds, it took to roll over and slide to a stop in the meridian, John became a quadriplegic.

The flight across the Atlantic seemed interminable. I was unable to concentrate on anything. I just wanted to be at John’s side. Occasionally when I glanced at the in-flight movie, all I saw was young men striding across the screen. Inside me, something cried out, “It’s not fair! They are walking around and my son cannot.” I did not know it at the time, but not walking was only one of many challenges that John would face in the ensuing months.

Friends met us at the airport in Montreal and whisked us into their waiting van. They had packed a lunch and offered us their cell phone to call Elizabeth. By this time, she was at the hospital in Burlington, where Vermont State police had taken John.

“Mom,” she said, when I reached her. “Prepare yourself. This is going to be difficult. He is hooked up to a lot of machines.” My apprehension mounted.

The next few days, it was difficult to drag myself away from John’s side. Somehow, I felt that if I stayed close, I could somehow will life and health into my son. I sat by the bed, my eyes darting back and forth between John’s swollen body and the monitors recording his vital signs. If the indicators on the monitor dropped below desired levels, I would immediately pray until I saw them come up again.

Friends and family insisted that I leave John to go to the hospital cafeteria or a nearby restaurant and eat. For the first couple of days, I just could not swallow. As soon as I put anything in my mouth, I felt like my throat closed and I could not get it down. I just wanted to get back to John.

What amazed me, in the midst of the traumatic fog was the support that we received from all kinds of unexpected places. It seemed that the news spread fast. John’s friends from Harvard Business School were on the phone to us asking how they could help and if they could come to see him. Our friends from all parts of the globe, and many people we did not know personally sent us cards, e-mails and phone messages to let us know that they were praying for John and for us and offering to do anything they could to help. This outpouring of love carried us over the rough road we journeyed during those months.

Weaving around and about all of our experiences seemed to be a sense of divine grace. This kindness was evidence of it but we saw it also in many circumstances that you could interpret as chance.

About a month earlier, a friend from England had given me a book by one of my favourite British authors, Jennifer Rees Larcombe. It was called, “Where is God in our Deserts?” I had thrown the book into my suitcase in Paris, in case I needed something to read. As the acute crisis began to pass and John’s vital signs stabilized, sitting by his bed, I opened the book and began to read. As I did, her words ministered to my own soul and gave me hope.

As we learned more about the accident, we discovered that the Border Patrol spied John’s white vehicle in the white snow and they called the Vermont State Police, who rescued him, entrapped in the vehicle.

Coincidentally, as I had been traveling back to Paris on the train from Valence, in the south of France that Sunday evening, I was constantly praying for John. I had not felt good about him taking this trip. I felt an urging to pray in what was for me an unusual manner. I found myself asking the Lord to send His angels to watch over John on this trip. When I heard about the Border Patrol, I knew they were the angels God sent to preserve John’s life.

Several months earlier, I had established a prayer support team for our ministry, as Glen and I found ourselves facing some huge challenges. We needed their support when the crisis came. Habitually, I sent the prayer requests in a newsletter to our team on the sixth of each month. Three days after the accident John had surgery to put rods in his neck. Then they could remove the halo that was holding his head in place to avoid further injury to his spinal column. The day of his surgery was the sixth. While John was in surgery, I was able to spend the time productively, preparing and sending out our prayer newsletter. It was an activity that gave me something meaningful to do during the long hours of the surgery. In addition, we had a ready support system in place for us.

The accident happened in ski country. Sadly, the hospital was accustomed to dealing with this kind of injury, but fortunately, for John they had all the necessary equipment available. Knowing the story of Joni Eareckson Tada, I was afraid that I was going to find John in a Stryker frame. Instead, the hospital had just ordered a mattress with air chambers, programmed to inflate and deflate, so that the body was not in the same position too long, thus avoiding pressure sores. John was the first to use the mattress.

John was in the surgical intensive care unit for three weeks, before his transfer to a semi-private room on a post-surgical care floor. We faced huge complications with arranging for his transfer back to Toronto, Canada where we would be moving from France.

There were bureaucratic differences between funding systems for his rehabilitation. The methods of payment seemed irreconcilable for the coverage that was available to him in the two countries. It seemed for a long time that somehow we would have to come up personally with a huge amount of money so that he could come home. Grace showed up again when from an unexpected source came the offer of an interest free loan. It turned out we did not have to use this. As grace prevailed, we were able to make contact with someone who knew the right people and unblocked the communication, the day before John was to fly by air ambulance from Vermont to Toronto.

In addition, the rehab hospital in Toronto was not equipped with oxygen, so John had to develop his breathing enough to be able to function without any oxygen supplements before they would accept him as a patient. Healing from a tracheotomy and learning to breathe without using chest muscles, because of his injury, required a significant length of time to adapt his breathing. The day before his scheduled discharge, he was finally weaned off all additional oxygen.

The air ambulance itself was another huge obstacle where grace once again intervened. Although John’s health plan did not cover the air ambulance, a generous donor came forward and underwrote the cost.

Frightening as the intensive care experience was initially, I gradually adjusted to the environment. Facing the next stage of the journey again filled me with apprehension. An ambulance took John and I to the airport at Burlington, where he was transferred in the stretcher to the waiting Lear jet. A nurse accompanied us and John’s stretcher took up one side of the plane. (He is over six foot two.) Another ambulance greeted us in Toronto, along with Canada Customs and Immigration officials. John had lost his passport. Again, grace had been at work. When Glen went to the crash site, and the automobile wreckers to find John’s vehicle, he had been able to recover many of John’s personal effects, including his driver’s license. This was necessary to get John back into the country.

Through the months of rehabilitation, we expected people would forget about John, once they had learned of the initial shock. We assumed they would get back to their own lives. However, many did not forget. John constantly received cards and notes and letters and remembrances. We often heard from those told us that they continued to remember John in prayer. It was while John was still in rehab that he was invited along with the family to attend the graduation of his class at Harvard Business School. It gave John the incentive he required to learn the necessary skills for adapting to life as a quadriplegic. In a wonderful way, solutions came as we encountered the obstacles that made this adventure such a challenge. When we discovered that his power chair would not fit though the door of the plane that someone hired to get us to Boston, we found out that a power chairs were available for rent in Boston. Going to his class-mates’ graduation gave to John and to us the hope that perhaps one day he would be able to return and complete his degree.

To see my son, who had the world by the tail, lose all his dreams and start again with a huge deficit was something I never believed I would have the courage to face. Yet when tragedy strikes, we have no choice. The wonder is that grace is there, flowing in, around and through all the experiences. One grace was simply to be in the presence of the courage shown by John. There were times when my husband, Glen and I sat silent in awe overwhelmed by such courage knowing the challenges John was facing.

In 2005, grace renewed hope for us and for John as we met him again on the campus of Harvard Business School. We cheered him on as he wheeled across the stage to receive his degree three years later than originally anticipated having overcome obstacles we could have never imagined.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Power of Love

At the Bellevue Hospital in New York several years ago, the staff were puzzled because for some strange reason, despite the excellent medical care that the little patients were receiving, they were losing 32 per cent of the children, who were mostly under a year old. The cause of death was usually a minor aliment. The situation dumbfounded the doctors. They knew that their tiny patients were beneficiaries of the latest scientific achievements in medicine, the best possible feeding program that could be designed for them and were in the most sterile surroundings, yet the children were dying.

They someone had an idea. They thought that the missing element in the care of these children was love. So, a call went out for people to come and spend time lovingly caring for the babies. Hundreds of women volunteered, a lot of them had grown children and a need to show love to someone. Often their own grandchildren lived many miles away.

What was the result of this very unscientific idea? The death rate of the babies began to plunge. The difference was so obvious that one of the staff claimed that for the care of these babies the love volunteers were as important as penicillin.

We are made with a need and a desire to love and be loved. Without the opportunity to express and fulfill that need we will not thrive, no matter how optimal our living situation might be.

Giving and receiving love has the power to transform our lives. A Swedish nurse discovered that when she went to work in a convalescent home. There was a woman there who had spoken to no one for three years. All day long, she just sat there in her rocking chair. The nurse decided that she was going to try love. She pulled another rocking chair alongside the woman and rocked along beside her, all the while choosing to feel love this lonely woman. On the third day she did this, the woman opened her eyes and said to the nurse, “You are so kind.” It was the first time she had spoken in the three years she had been in the home. Within two weeks, the woman was well and ready to return to her home. What a powerful tool is love when it is applied to those who are sick, lost or alone.

These are some of the reasons that Jesus left us a faith that He said was to be distinguishable in its uniqueness by total abandonment to love. This is the meaning of the cross. That is what gives us courage to listen to the questions and in our listening, allow His love to touch and transform lives.

Read more about this love in my new book, More Questions than Answers, Sharing Faith by Listening. Here is the link for ordering it.

PS: The earlier book Hot Apple Cider that has my chapter called "Living Outside Our Comfort Zones" is still available from Amazon.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Change Management - Eleanor Shepherd

When do the changes stop? I thought that when we took early retirement and settled into our condominium on the lakeshore, working for a non-profit within ten minutes drive, I could just settle down and enjoy a peaceful existence, without having to worry much any more about changes. Now here I am a year and a half later, having been laid off and rehired by another non-profit, in a completely different set of circumstances. At least I am still living in the same condominium, with the same man, with whom I celebrated forty years of marriage this month.

I was secretly rather thrilled when my friend told me she heard my daughter talking about me on a radio interview that she was doing on the CBC morning show in Toronto. Elizabeth, a twice Juno nominated, jazz musician introduced one of her songs, dedicating it to me in honour of the fact that at my age I was willing to go out and look for another job. Changes that make our children proud of us, I can handle.

Working at home is a new experience for me. There are many advantages. My commuting time has been cut from twenty minutes a day to zero. After I clean up from breakfast and brush my teeth, I can be in my office, before my husband has the car out of the underground garage to drive to work. Proximity to my office is convenient, but sometimes makes it difficult to draw clear lines between home life and work life. Discipline keeps me at the desk during working hours, but at times it is difficult to push back the chair and leave the office to attend to the more mundane household tasks at the end of the day, particularly if I am into a project that I want to complete.

I expect other writers understand the conflict that arises when you work where you live. Being able to do more writing was an unexpected benefit of my job layoff. I had prayed, asking for time to write, if it was important that I finish this book project that has been part of my life now for ten years. The summer was mine to write. My job finished in June and although I was offered my current part time job shortly after, it was not scheduled to start until September. Every day, all summer I was able to immerse myself in the book project, writing all day long. It was a writer’s dream.

As well as providing time for writing and rewriting, this summer of change gave me the opportunity to learn about Employment Insurance and the devastation that one feels when your contribution to a company is no longer required. When I felt that I was useless and redundant, the gentle voice I know so well assured me this was not the case. He had a plan for my summer, to write and once again experience the thrill of grappling with ideas that energize and excite me. To provide the extra push I needed to get me going, He provided an Award of Merit at The Word Guild Awards gala.

For a while last Fall, I was able to settle again into a routine. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursdays I worked from my home office for a non-profit that I am passionate about, because it helps women in the developing world provide for their families. On Mondays and Fridays, I can write, giving voice to other things I am passionate about like sharing our faith through listening. It was a pleasant place and I enjoyed it. However, I knew it would not last. Sure enough, in December, I was asked to work full time for Opportunity International and I did need to work full time to accomplish all that I wanted to do. I discovered the trick was to have my running shoes on and be ready to sprint when the next change came along. Now only do I want to adapt to it, but I want to run out and greet it, knowing that the One who holds my hand never changes, is always there and will accompany me to new places, I have not yet dreamed of.

Monday, March 8, 2010

International Women's Day

In honour of International Women's Day, I am posting the tribute that I wrote about my mother, shortly after she passed away last spring. Let me tell you about her.

Throughout her 95 years, there were three loves that came to define the life of our mother. My two brothers and I became aware of them while we were still quite young. The most important love in her life was her love for God. I have often told the story of how I came to understand that as a little girl.

My parents were the corps officers (pastors) of The Salvation Army Edmonton Temple corps (church). Every Sunday night before the evening service (called the salvation meeting) in those days, the faithful gathered for prayer. I think it must have been that there was nobody to look after us, so we accompanied our parents to the prayer meeting. I recall one Sunday evening, hearing my mother pray with great fervency for one of the men who attended the services sometimes, but had not yet made a decision to accept Christ as the Lord of his life. As I opened my eyes, somewhat mystified by the intensity in her voice, I was amazed to see the tears falling as my mother prayed for this individual. I began to understand how important it was to her for people to enter into a relationship with the Lord, whom she obviously loved so much.

My adult children told me a story that they heard from their Grandpa one evening, as the family began to gather around my mother, sensing the end was near. They saw a faraway look in his eyes, and asked, “What are you thinking about, Grandpa?”

He responded with a story that dated back about seventy years. He told of my Mother living in a little town called Hant’s Harbour on Trinity Bay in Newfoundland and how he lived in another town on the same bay called Winterton. They had begun going out together and he planned to travel that Saturday from Winterton to Hant’s Harbour along the coast in a sailing boat. All day long Mom went from window to window, inside the house constantly glancing toward the head of the cove to see if the boat was in sight. Then finally as the sail came into view, she beamed with joy at his arrival. That was so much a picture of their relationship. They loved being together and for sixty-six years they treasured their relationship as husband and wife. There was never any doubt in the minds of us at their children that the one woman above all others that Dad wanted to be with was Mom and the one man around whom her world revolved was Dad. What a wonderful security that provided for us as we grew up in their home.

The third great love of my Mom was her children and grandchildren. Each of them had their own special place in her heart and in her prayers. As I talked with my brothers after Mom’s passing about what I should choose to talk about in my tribute to Mom, my brother, Donald shared with me an experience I understood so well. He told me about spending some time with Mom last year when he was visiting here from France, where he lives. He had an opportunity to ask her if she still spent time praying for his children. When she assured him she did, he felt that it really did not matter what else she could do. Her blindness and physical frailty did not define her. It was her prayers that really counted.

Not knowing about this conversation, about six months ago, I too was visiting my parents and had some time alone with Mom. I was particularly concerned about my children at the time and I asked the same question, “Mom, do you still pray for my kids?” Her assurance that she continued to do so was a great reassurance to me. Their was no better way I knew for her to show her love for me and for my children.

These were the three loves of my mother and she refused to allow the experiences of her life to diminish them. When nearly thirty years ago, she lost her sight, she did not stop loving God. She found new ways of cooperating with Him to help to bring His love to others with an enriched prayer life.

One of the notes that I received this week told me a story I had never heard. The person recounted to me how my mother was leading a women’s conference, just after she had received the news that nothing could be done to improve her sight and it was only going to deteriorate. That morning the women sang,

“Pilot of souls, I trust Thy guiding hand;

Take thou the helm, and at they blest command,

I sail straight on until, the harbour won,

I reach the glory of they sweet well done.

O man of Galilee!”

Holding tightly to His hand she walked, trusting Him when she could not see from that day until Friday, April 24th, when she opened her eyes and saw His loving face, leaving us with the assurance that our love for one another can be nourished from the same source.

PS: My daughter has written a song about the incident her grandfather shared with her.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Relationship Between Prayer and Listening to Others

A listener, in an intimate relationship with God, will find it easier to adopt a loving regard toward others. Their listening becomes a channel of God's love as it flows out to others from the Source within. Jesus promised that from us would flow rivers of living water when His Spirit took up residence in us. He is the ultimate source of love, even for those who are not aware of that source.

The person who learns to listen to God becomes an effective listener as this skill is applied in listening to others. It flows from a nourishing prayer life. Our inner life through prayer is nourished by God’s love. With hearts enlarged by His love, born in us is a desire to share this love. It is not that love is required from us, but because the nature of love is to give. When Jesus said that we were to love one another, it was not so much a demand He was imposing but rather a result He knew would emerge as a byproduct of His love permeating our lives.

The attitude of the listener is not that of a master or even a mentor, but rather that found in a friendship engendering mutual encouragement. It looks like the old adage of one beggar helping another beggar find bread.

As listeners we may ask ourselves the question, "Am I really capable of listening to the deepest needs of another person?" The answer will be "No," but the God who by His Spirit lives in us is capable. He can hone our listening skills. This is why it is so essential that we seek to remain attuned to Him. Prayer is for us a gift but it is also a necessary resource in our accompaniment toolkit.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Coming Home

We settled into our retirement home after nearly thirty years of wandering the globe. Condominium living frees us from shoveling snow or weeding gardens. As, in summer, we gaze out our windows at manicured lawn and flower gardens, and the waves dancing on the bay across the street, we are living our dream. In winter, we see the walks and parking lot all shoveled and salted, without any effort on our part.

Coming home to a place where we spent many happy years enables us to nurture friendships we valued as young adults. Over the years we fell into and out of each other’s lives, moving from one place to another, always exchanging greetings at Christmas and getting together whenever our paths crossed in the same city. In spite of geographical separations, our hearts remained attuned to one another. Now we can call and meet for coffee, on a whim or decide at dinnertime to take in a movie together the same evening. What a treat!

Along with the joy of long standing friendships comes profound healing of broken relationships. Occasional visits provided insufficient opportunities to get together with a couple alienated from us, through misunderstanding. We could not invite them over for coffee or a meal to try to begin to build the trust that unfortunate circumstances eroded. Now we are home and free to invite them into our hearts again. We have the time to make amends for whatever split us apart on that day long ago.

“How will I feel leaving my children behind, to return to the place we all called home,” I wondered. Yet where they are in their own journeys, they cannot come home just now. Even that somehow seems right. They need the space to create their own lives and make their own homes, so when they come to ours, they need not assume a role that no longer fits them. When we left and busyness prevented them lingering for lengthy farewells, we knew they had taken wings and were living their own adult independent lives. That was what we raised them to do.

Coming home is a comforting concept in my imagination. We return to the place where dreams began, where hope was palpable and where love was the atmosphere that nourished us.

In the intervening years many early dreams shattered, subsequently replaced by dreams we would never have anticipated. Over time, hope has been buffeted and almost extinguished, yet it bravely continues to face each new dawn. Love has matured from a secure refuge to a giddy feeling finally metamorphosing into a deep commitment that holds steady when we find everything else brought into question.

Coming home is much more that physically relocating Coming home is finding again the place where my heart and my mind are attuned with who I am and where I am. With the Apostle Paul, I can say, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation….” (Philippians 4: 12 NIV) When I know Whose I am, I am home, wherever I am.