‘A Time to Mend’ – Chapter 4

Link back to Chapter 3

When I finished ‘Meadowvale’ it turned out that there were some inconsistencies with ‘A Time to Mend’ (which I wrote first, over ten years ago, even though chronologically it comes after ‘Meadowvale’). So – I’m having another go at ‘A Time to Mend’ to bring it back in sync with ‘Meadowvale’. Here’s the fourth chapter.

******

Two weeks after my interview, I received an email offering me the position at Gypsy Lane School in Headington. Emma gave me a triumphant high-five when I told her the news; “Back to your old stomping grounds, then?”

“Yeah. It looks like things might have changed quite a bit since the last time I taught there, though”.

“Are you nervous?”

“A little. It’s nearly twenty-one years since I’ve started at a new school”.

“And in a different country, too”.

“Yeah”.

She gave me an inquiring look; “How do you feel?”

“Mixed feelings, I guess. I think it’s the right thing to do, but I can’t say I’m looking forward to leaving Meadowvale – even for just a couple of years”.

She nodded, looking down at the floor; “I know what you mean”.

I stepped forward and put my arms around her, and for a moment we held each other close. When she looked up at me again, I saw that there were tears in her eyes, and I kissed her gently on the forehead. “I can still say no”, I said softly.

She shook her head. “I know it’s the right thing to do and I’m actually pretty excited about it. But, like you said…”

“Yeah, I know”.

******

I booked our flights to England for the night of July 31st, arriving in London on August 1st; it did not occur to me until afterwards that this would be twenty-one years to the day since I had first arrived in Meadowvale. It was Will Reimer, my father-in-law, who pointed this out to me. “I still remember you coming into the arrivals lounge that day with your guitar case and your long hair and your scrawny little beard. I don’t mind telling you, I wondered how long you would last in Meadowvale!”

I laughed; “I just remember how hot it was. Hot and dry; I’d never felt anything quite like that before. And I remember having supper at your house that night, sitting out on the back deck with you and Sally, trying to keep my eyes open through the conversation”.

“Yeah – you were doing your best to stay awake but we could see how tired you were”.

“Little did I know how many times I’d be coming over to your place for backyard barbecues in the years to come!”

“Isn’t that the truth? Well then – we’d better have another one before you and Emma leave”.

And so a couple of nights before our move Will and Sally hosted a farewell barbecue for us at their house. Will was seventy-two now; his beard had long since turned white and it took him longer to get up out of a lawn chair, but he was as gregarious as ever and he still loved having company in his spacious back yard during the warm months of summer.

Joe and Ellie were there, along with Jake and Jenna. Jake was working all summer for a local beekeeper, as he had done for the past three years; Jenna, meanwhile, was working as a lifeguard at the local swimming pool and she was as brown as a berry from days spent out under the sun. Ellie brought her fiddle and Jake brought his guitar, and I knew we would have music that night, especially when I saw Darren Peterson arriving with his mandolin and banjo.

Kelly’s younger sister Krista and her husband Steve Janzen came up from Saskatoon with their children Mike and Rachel. Steve worked as a wildlife habitat specialist with the Saskatchewan government, and Krista ran her own consulting business as well as teaching wildlife biology at the university. When our kids were little it was Steve who had first dubbed them ‘the Pack’. Nowadays of course the members of the Pack were all teenagers; Mike was sixteen and Rachel fourteen, and although they lived in Saskatoon they were as close as ever to Emma and Jake and Jenna. The Pack had some honorary members too; Brenda Nikkel’s son Ryan was now twenty and her daughter Jessica was fifteen. They were there that night, along with Brenda’s sister Erika, her husband John Rempel and three of their four children; their youngest son Dustin had graduated with Emma and the two of them were good friends.

Rhonda Janzen had also graduated with Emma; she was the youngest daughter of John and Ruth Janzen. Ruth was the sister of my principal Don Robinson, and John was Steve Janzen’s older brother. He had taken over his father-in-law Mike Robinson’s carpentry business when Mike retired; it had been John who had first gotten Kelly and I interested in Habitat for Humanity, and over the years we had spent many hours working with John and Ruth on Habitat building sites in Saskatoon and down in Mexico.

Glenn and Karla Pickering came to the barbecue with their children Molly and Tommy; Glenn was one of my oldest friends in Meadowvale and we had all been very happy when he had married Ellie Reimer’s sister in 1988. Don and Lynda Robinson were there too, along with their younger daughter Beth Fuhr. Don was Kelly’s cousin; he had been my friend and teaching colleague through all my years in Meadowvale and had taken over as principal at our high school when Will retired. As for Beth, she had not only been Emma’s babysitter, she had also been one of the founding members of an informal youth gathering that met at our house once or twice a month for several years in the 1990s. We had always resisted calling it the church youth group as it was not formally connected to our church; we saw it more as a casual gathering of friends, meeting at their request and discussing issues that were important to them.

Kelly and I had become very fond of all the members of that group, but Beth was special to us and over the years we had become very close to her. Her parents were not churchgoers but her grandmother Rachel Robinson was; she had begun taking her granddaughter to church when she was five, not long after I moved to Meadowvale, and over the years Beth had developed a thoughtful Christian faith of her own. Even though she had lived in Saskatoon for some years we still saw her frequently and made a point of visiting her when we were down in the city. Her accountant husband Greg, however, did not share either her Christian faith or her attachment to the community of Meadowvale; occasionally he came with her when she visited her old home but most of the time she came by herself.

Another member of our old Sunday night group was Megan Neufeld. Megan’s father Rob had been our pastor for most of my years in Meadowvale; he had baptized Kelly and me in February of 1984 as well as officiating at our wedding in October that year. Rob and his wife Mandy now lived in Saskatoon but they made a point of coming up for our farewell barbecue along with Megan and her younger brother Matthew.

Will Reimer’s older brother Hugo and his wife Millie also came. Hugo was seventy-five and he and Millie had been living in town for a couple of years, but he still drove out frequently to the old Reimer farm at Spruce Creek which had been their home for almost as long as I had known them; it was now being worked by their grandson Dan Rempel, John and Erika’s oldest son. Kelly had loved riding horses and when she was eleven Hugo had given her a horse, Jackson, who he had kept out at the farm for her. For many years we had visited out there regularly; I had learned to ride on Hugo’s horses, and so had Emma. Hugo and Millie had become dear friends of mine, along with their daughters Erika Rempel and Brenda Nikkel and their youngest son Donny, who lived in Saskatoon with his partner Alan Chambers. Donny’s coming out as a gay man ten years ago had been a seismic event in the Reimer family, but over time Kelly and I had become very fond of Donny and Alan. They didn’t usually come to large gatherings in Meadowvale, but I was glad they had made an exception for our farewell barbecue.

“Holy crap!” Dan Rempel said to me as he looked around the crowded back yard; “You sure have a truckload of friends!”

“Not bad for a shy introvert, eh?”

“You, an introvert? Surely not; you’re one of the most social people I know”.

“I think you’re confusing me with Kelly. She was the gregarious one; I was just freeloading on her”.

“Well if that’s true you disguised it well”.

“Thanks. You didn’t bring your lovely lady with you tonight?”

“She’s working, unfortunately, and she couldn’t get out of it”. Dan had married Cara Ratzlaff  the previous summer; she had been one of my high school students too, a year behind Dan, and she was now working at the Meadowvale Special Care Home.

There were plenty of conversations that night; I wandered around the yard all evening chatting with everyone, and I saw that Emma was doing the same thing, although she also spent a lot of time with Jenna who was her closest friend. Later on the musicians all got together as I had expected, and for an hour we went around the circle playing our songs for each other. The configurations had changed a little over the years; Ellie and Darren, my old musical partners, were now playing much more frequently with Ellie’s son Jake, who was a big bluegrass fan and had become a very good flat picker on his dreadnought guitar. Emma sometimes played along with them too, although she had wider musical tastes than they did. Will Reimer played old classic country tunes, and he and Ellie and I also played gospel songs together; we were still leading the worship music regularly at our church on Sundays, as we had done for the past twenty years. As for me, I found myself more and more playing along with Beth, who had picked up my taste for the traditional folk songs of England and Ireland in a big way. She had long since come out from under my shadow and had been creating her own song arrangements for a couple of years now.

******

Toward the end of the evening, after the song circle had broken up, Beth came over and gave me a warm hug. “You keep in touch, okay?” she said.

“I will, and so will Emma”.

She looked at me in silence for a moment, and I found myself remembering the little ten year old girl who had heard me play traditional folk songs at a house concert in the summer of 1988, and had started coming over to our place soon afterwards to find out more about folk music. She was now a lovely young woman of twenty-five, dressed casually tonight in jeans and a tee-shirt, her long brown hair tied back under a ball cap. “I’m going to miss playing music with you”, she said quietly.

“I’m going to miss it too. But you don’t need me; you’re doing just fine by yourself now. You’re still playing the piano, right?”

“Oh yeah; Grandma won’t let me quit, and I enjoy it”.

“Can I ask you a personal question?”

“Sure”.

“Are you and Greg thinking of having a family any time soon?”

She nodded. “He wanted to wait until he was all finished his accounting degree, but now he’s working full time at the bank…”

“Might not be long, then?”

“Maybe”, she replied with a smile; “Sometimes these things don’t happen to order, so I’ve been told!”

“That’s true”.

“How’s your dad doing, Tom?”

“He’s having chemo right now; Becca says he’s tired all the time”.

“Are you okay?”

“Most of the time I am, but every now and again I have my moments”.

She looked up at me in silence for a moment, and then she said, “Do you need another hug?”

“Any time you like”.

She put her arms around me again and we held each other close. “We’re all going to miss you”, she said softly.

“I’ll miss you, too”. I stepped back and smiled down at her. “England’s a nice place to visit, you know”, I said.

“Oh – believe me, I’d love to come!”

“And we’d love to have you – you and any little addition you might like to bring with you”.

She laughed, reached up to kiss me on the cheek, and then turned and made her way across the yard to where Emma and Jenna were standing with some of the other young people.

“They grow up fast”, Don Robinson said as he appeared at my side with a half-empty bottle of beer in his hand, watching his daughter as she went up to Emma and put her arms out to give her a hug.

“They sure do”, I replied.

“Do you remember the first time Kelly brought you over to visit Lynda and me, when Amy and Bethie were just small?”

“I do; you never know what’s going to come of small beginnings, do you?”

“Isn’t that the truth?”

“Amy’s okay?”

“As far as I know; she’s not the best person in the world for keeping in touch. I think Bethie hears from her more often than we do”.

“I haven’t seen your dad for a while; how’s he doing?”

“He’s okay most of the time, I think, although he never says very much”.

“Maybe that’s where Amy gets it from”.

He laughed. “In person, she’s the life and soul of every party she goes to, but when she’s far away…”

“Yeah, I know what you mean”.

He glanced at me; “Don’t you be like that, Tom Masefield”, he said quietly.

“I’ll keep in touch, Don”.

“Make sure you do. That school’s going to be very different without you around”.

******

Will and Sally drove us down to the city on July 31st; Joe and Ellie and their kids came separately, and we all converged on Steve and Krista’s place for a family meal before going to the airport. I knew Will and Sally well enough to know that they were dreading this parting; nevertheless, Will tried to stay as cheerful as possible as we checked our baggage through to Toronto and then to Heathrow. We had plenty of it; several suitcases and boxes, as well as two guitars in hard cases. When it had all been checked in and the excess baggage fees paid, Emma told me that she and her cousins were going off for a walk together for a few minutes, and I nodded, knowing that there were things they would want to say to each other.

So the adults went to the coffee shop where we sat together for an hour or so, talking about little things and trying not to watch the clock. After a while the kids came back and joined us, sitting at a table by themselves to drink their lattes and continue their conversation. Eventually I looked at my watch and said, “Well, I guess we’d better be getting down to the gate”.

“Is it that time already?” Will asked.

“I’m afraid so”.

We all got to our feet reluctantly and made our way down to security. Steve gave me a hug and a smile, and then Krista put her arms around me and held me tight. “Take care of yourself, Tom Masefield”, she said, her voice catching a little in her throat. “Don’t forget you’re a Reimer, okay?”

“Never”, I replied, hugging her again and kissing her on the cheek. “Call me, okay? I really like your phone calls”.

“For sure”.

I hugged each of the children in turn, and then Ellie, and Will and Sally. Joe squeezed me in a bear hug for a long time, and when we stepped back from each other, I could see the emotion in his eyes. “You keep safe”, he said quietly, “and don’t be a stranger”.

“I won’t”.

Will was hugging Emma, and that was the point at which his cheerful composure slipped a little; I saw the tears beginning to course down his wrinkled, sunburned cheeks as he gripped his granddaughter tight. “You take care now”, he said in a husky voice. “Look after your dad for us, eh?”

Emma nodded; I could see that she was too upset to reply. She hugged her cousins one last time and then I took her hand and led her toward the security gate. We went through the metal detectors and the carry-on baggage checks, turned and waved one last time to the family and then made our way down to our departure lounge. I put my arm around her and kissed the top of her head, and she looked up at me and smiled bravely through her tears; “I love you, Dad”, she said.

“I love you too”.

All through the three and a half hour flight to Toronto she barely said a word, although she did reach out occasionally to grip my hand. We had a two hour layover in Toronto, but neither of us particularly felt the need for coffee, so we found our departure lounge and took our seats together in one of the corners; I put my arm around her, and I felt her head come down on my shoulder. “Sorry, Dad”, she whispered; “I’m looking forward to it, I really am, but right now I just don’t seem to be able to think about that”.

“I know, and I understand”.

“Thanks”.

******

I’ve never been good at sleeping on planes, and that overnight flight was no exception. I went through all my usual motions of getting comfortable, turning the light out, controlling my breathing, saying some mental prayers, and all the other sleep-inducing techniques I had come across over the years. But eventually I gave up and reached for a book from my carry-on bag; it was a new novel by one of my favourite authors, Wendell Berry, and all through the night as Emma slept beside me I lost myself in its pages.

It was not until the flight attendants began to come through the cabin with morning coffee that I finally closed the book, and by that time Emma was beginning to stretch. I smiled at her; “Good morning, sleepyhead”.

She yawned, opened one eye and looked at me; “What time is it?”

I looked at my watch; “Eleven-fifteen in the morning, U.K. time”.

“About two hours, then?”

“I think so”.

She looked over at me, her eyes bleary. “Did you sleep?”

“I rested my eyes from time to time”.

She leaned over, kissed me on the cheek and said, “I’ll be back”. Getting up, she wrapped her blanket around her and made her way toward the back of the aircraft. I noticed that at some point during the night she had taken off her sandals; her feet were bare.

When she returned to her seat the flight attendants were bringing food trays around; she shook her head at a cooked breakfast but accepted a muffin and a fruit bowl instead. I was already eating my own breakfast, and the strong airline coffee was beginning to do its work. “You slept pretty well”, I said to her.

“Yeah, I don’t remember much about the night”. She took a bite from her muffin, ate thoughtfully for a moment and then said, “Owen and Lorraine are meeting us?”

“Yeah”.

“Are they bringing Andrew and Katie?”

“I doubt it. It would have to be a big vehicle; I warned Owen that we had a lot of stuff”.

“Right”.

“I’m sure you’ll get a chance to see them pretty soon”.

She nodded. “I think Uncle Rick and his family are coming for supper at Grandma and Grandpa’s tonight”.

“You probably know more about that than I do”.

“Sarah said they’d been talking about it but no-one’s said anything since last Sunday; she says her dad’s been working late every day this week. She thinks it’s still on though”.

“I’m glad you and Sarah have been emailing each other”.

“Me too; I like her a lot”.

“Kind of a kindred spirit?”

“In some ways”. She frowned; “What’s her mom like? I barely remember her”.

“I don’t know her all that well. She and Rick started dating during my last year up at Oxford but I didn’t see much of them even then, and after I moved we didn’t really keep in touch”.

“I don’t remember them being around much last time we were there”.

“No, we only saw them once”.

“Why was that?”

I shook my head slowly. “They were in the middle of doing renovations on their house. Rick was working a lot of hours too, but that’s always the story with him”.

“It seems weird that we were there for five weeks and only saw them once”.

“A little different from our Meadowvale family, eh?”

“Yeah”. She looked down at the food tray in front of her, her mood suddenly subdued. “I miss them already”.

“I know; so do I”.

She glanced at me with sadness in her eyes. “Sorry I was such a wreck last night; I wasn’t much help to you, was I?”

I took her hand. “It was always going to be tough. Don’t feel bad about feeling bad – or mad, either, if you want”.

She smiled; “The problem is I can’t quite figure out who to be mad at. It’s not Grandpa’s fault he’s dying of cancer and it’s not your fault you want to be with him while he’s still alive. I guess I could be mad at God but he kinda holds all the cards, doesn’t he? Anyway – I’ve had enough experience at being mad at him to know it’s not really very satisfying, on account of the fact that he refuses to get mad back!”

I squeezed her hand; “I guess that’s true, although I’ve never heard it put quite that way before”.

“Well anyway, thanks for the offer, but I think I’ll steer clear of ‘mad’ and just stick to ‘sad’ for now if that’s okay with you?”

“That’s fine, love”.

******

Owen Foster and I had first met when I moved to Northwood from the Oxford suburb of Summertown at the age of eleven. He was the oldest of four children; his father taught English at the high school in the nearby town of Wallingford. We spent most of our holiday time together that summer; we walked in the country for miles, and he took me out on the river and taught me to paddle a canoe. In September we went to high school in Wallingford together, and by then we were fast friends. We got our first guitars at the same time, and in our mid-teens we spent hours working out how to play songs by the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Wings, and the other popular bands and artists of the early 1970’s. Later on we fell under the spell of traditional folk music, and by the time we went up to university together we had learned many of the old songs from recordings by people like Anne Briggs, Nic Jones, Steeleye Span and Martin Carthy.

Owen’s family was strongly Christian and as he moved into his teens he became more intentional about his own Christian faith. No one in my family attended church except at Christmas, but Owen went with his family every week. When we were in our late teens I became more curious about this part of his life and I began asking him questions about God and spirituality; he was always happy to talk about it but he never tried to coerce me into adopting his beliefs.

Owen’s father was a firm but patient teacher; in fact he was the one who gave me the idea of becoming a teacher myself. I kept quiet about this for a long time, but I remember vividly the first time I mentioned it to my parents. It was in my fifteenth year, during the Easter holidays, and we were eating our evening meal; Rick would have been thirteen at the time and Becca about three. My father had begun to talk about how I would be going up to Oxford in a few years to read Law. I had been aware of his plans for me for a long time but until then I had made no comment about them. On that day however, something made me decide to speak up. “Actually”, I said, “I don’t want to read Law”.

My father looked up at me sharply. “What? What are you talking about?”

“I think I’d like to be a teacher”.

“A teacher! Don’t be ridiculous! You’d be condemning yourself to poverty for the rest of your life!”

“Not necessarily; Owen’s family isn’t poor and his dad’s a teacher”.

“But they can’t afford very much more than the bare necessities, can they?”

“Well, maybe there’s more to life than money”.

He snorted; “That’s a typically romantic view but romance won’t support a family and give children the sort of start in life they need. You’ve got to have a good profession with a solid income”.

“I don’t think so. I like what Mr. Foster does; I want to be a teacher like him”.

“Rather than being a lawyer like me?”

“I didn’t mean it like that”.

“Then what precisely did you mean?”

And so the ‘Great War’ began. That was what Owen called it, because of course I told him about it; he and I talked about everything. I talked to his father about it too; I was always welcome in their home and I often talked to him about things. He would never have presumed to interfere in the internal affairs of our family, but he was always willing to listen and I felt he understood and sympathized with me.

But it was my mother’s intervention in the ‘Great War’ that finally tipped the balance in my favour. It was early October in my Upper Sixth Form year; the decision about what I was going to study at university could not be put off any longer. My father wanted me to do pre-law studies but I was determined to do a B.A. in English followed by a postgraduate certificate in education. The discussion was taking place in the living room; my parents and I were the only ones present but as the conversation turned into an argument and the volume got louder and louder I knew Rick and Becca would be able to hear us in their rooms. My mother had given up imploring us to stop shouting at each other and was now sitting in silence, the sadness written plainly on her face.

And then something unexpected happened. My father must have been extremely frustrated; I realize now he must have felt he was losing the ‘Great War’ because only desperation could have led him to ask for my mother’s help. “Irene”, he said, “can you talk some sense into this boy?”

She had been looking down at the cup of cold tea in her hand, but now she looked straight up at him and said, “I think you should let him do what he wants to do”.

I had rarely seen my father so angry. His face turned purple with rage; he opened his mouth to speak, then closed it again. Turning on his heel, he strode out of the room, slamming the door behind him. The room was tense: I hardly dared to breathe. My mother was silent. Eventually I raised my eyes and looked across at her. “Thank you”, I whispered.

“Follow your dream, Tom”, she replied; “It’s the only thing any of us can ever call our own”.

From that point on my father never mentioned my plans for university. My mother helped me make all the arrangements and in September of 1977 Owen and I went up to Oxford together. He was studying medicine and I was doing an English degree, so we were never in the same classes, but we were both living at Lincoln College and we saw each other almost every day. We walked together, played music together, and went to pubs and coffee shops and concerts together. Even Wendy Howard, our musical partner through our later university years and a close friend to us both, was still very much a newcomer to us, and after I moved to Canada in 1982 we both lost touch with her. But we remained in contact with each other, and after twenty-one years on opposite sides of the Atlantic our friendship was stronger than ever.

******

Owen was waiting for us as we emerged from the doorway into the arrivals lounge. At forty-five he was still taller than me, with short dark hair, dark eyes and a thin-faced, rascally look about him. He had managed to position himself right at the end of the rope barrier, exactly where he needed to be to meet us; we saw him immediately and steered our baggage carts toward him. He welcomed us both with warm hugs, grinned at my bleary eyes and said “Didn’t you sleep on the plane?”

“I never sleep on planes”.

“Of course not – it would be in such poor taste. Come on then – the car’s not far away”.

“Will we be able to fit all this luggage in?”

“Don’t worry – I rented an MPV”. He pulled a mobile phone out of his pocket, punched in a number and put the phone to his ear. “Hello, it’s me”, he said; “They’re here. Right – see you out front”. He closed the phone, slipped it back into his pocket, grinned at us and said, “That was Lorraine; she’ll be out front in about four minutes”.

We pushed our baggage carts out into the warm afternoon sun; when we reached the pick up area Emma took Owen’s arm and said, “How are Andrew and Katie doing?”

“Oh, they’re fine. We took them off to Essex for a cheap holiday last week; my sister lives at Clacton and she and her husband had gone away for a few days, so they told us to use their house. I don’t suppose you get to the seaside very often in Saskatchewan, do you?”

Emma laughed. “We never get to the seaside in Saskatchewan; Waskesiu Lake’s the best we can do!”

Owen gestured toward the guitar cases on the baggage carts; “Still playing your dad’s old guitar, then?”

“I’m a lucky girl”, she replied, glancing at me with a grin; “It’s such a great guitar. Of course I’m nowhere near as good as Dad”.

“Keep working at it; we all had to start somewhere”.

I put my hand on Emma’s shoulder; “She’s way better than I was at seventeen”.

Owen smiled at her. “We’ll have to hear you play soon. Maybe your dad will bring you out to the open stage at the pub we used to play at”.

“The ‘Plough’ still has live music, then?” I asked.

“Yes, open stage on Friday nights and concerts on Saturday nights. Our band’s actually playing a Saturday night gig there in a couple of weeks”.

“Is Bill Prentiss still running the place?”

“Yes, but he tells me he’s only going to go on for a couple more years; I think he turned sixty-three last month”. Owen put his arm around Emma; “Has your dad told you about the ‘Plough and Lantern’?”

“I think we went there for lunch with Auntie Becca last time we were here; I remember the guy who ran the place had a thick grey beard”.

“That’s Bill; he’s had that pub since we were in university”.

“Dad said there used to be a lot of traditional folk music there”.

“There still is”.

Emma smiled at me; “Are we going to go, then?”

“If you’d like”.

“I would like”.

At that moment a blue Mazda MPV pulled up in front of us; the driver’s side door opened and Lorraine Foster got out. She was as tall as Owen, with greying red hair cut just above her shoulders; she came over to us, greeted me with a hug and a kiss and then turned to my daughter. “Look at you, Emma Masefield!” she said; “You’ve grown into a real beauty!”

“Thanks”, Emma replied with a shy smile.

Lorraine kissed her on the cheek, gave her a warm hug and then said, “Right, let’s get your stuff loaded up”.

I saw that they had removed the third seat to make room for all our luggage. We quickly loaded everything into the van, and then Owen slammed the tailgate shut.

“You ride up front with Owen, Tom”, Lorraine said; “I’ll sit back here with Emma”.

“Are you sure?”

“Absolutely”.

We got into the van and Owen pulled away from the loading area onto Cromer Road and then down toward the tunnel under the runway. He glanced at me; “So you’re still planning on staying at your mum and dad’s for a few weeks?”

“Yeah, until we find a place of our own”.

“Are you sure? I seem to remember that didn’t go very well for you last time”.

“No – it was a little tense”.

“More than a little. If you find you need a break, come over to us for a few days”.

“Thanks, but I’m here to build bridges with my dad; I don’t think running away will help the situation”.

“If you’re sure”.

“I’m sure”.

He glanced at Emma in his rear view mirror; “Are you tired, Em?”

“I’m fine – I slept well on the plane”.

“You’re not in any particular hurry to get to Northwood, then?”

“No – why?”

“I thought I’d take the slow route up through the Chilterns; there’s some pretty villages and towns on the way”.

“Sounds good.”

“Of course, we’ll be going past Windsor Castle in a few minutes; we can always check and see if the Queen’s at home, if you like?”

We laughed, and Emma said, “I don’t think we’ve ever been there, have we, Dad?”

“No; shall we put it on our to-do list?”

“Maybe”.

Sure enough, a few minutes later we passed the familiar bulk of Windsor Castle on our left. I saw Emma looking at it intently as we sped past on the motorway; “How old is it?” she asked me.

“It was built in the eleventh century; I think it was one of William the Conqueror’s castles. There’s a really nice park around it; you approach the castle by way of a long road called ‘the royal mile’. That view’s definitely worth seeing”.

She was quiet for a moment, continuing to gaze out of the window. “Looks like the Queen’s got room for a few homeless people in there”, she said.

Owen laughed; “So speaks the daughter of Kelly Masefield!”

“I could do worse”.

“Yes you could, Emma Dawn. If you’ll take the advice of your uncle Owen, though, you’ll be careful about making statements like that when you’re with your grandpa Masefield!”

Emma loved the drive up through the Chiltern hills; Owen purposely left the main roads behind, taking us through picturesque little villages with old grey stone houses lining narrow streets. We passed village greens with quaint little churches, and pubs with names like ‘The Blue Boar’, ‘The King’s Head’, and ‘The Angler’s Arms’. It would have been hard to imagine a stronger contrast with the long straight roads and wide open spaces we had left behind.

We came down into the Thames Valley again at Wallingford, where Owen and I had gone to High School. We crossed the river on the old stone bridge with its graceful arches, and then turned toward our old home town of Northwood. Owen glanced over his shoulder at Emma; “Nearly there now”, he said; “Do you want to ring your grandma and tell her to put the kettle on?”

She laughed; “Can I?”

“Of course; Lorraine’s got a mobile in her pocket”.

Lorraine handed her mobile to Emma; Emma asked me for the number, punched it in on the keypad and put the phone to her ear. After a moment she said, “Grandma? Yeah, it’s me – Emma… Yeah, we’re fine. Uncle Owen says we’re almost at your place; we’re just driving through Wallingford now. Do you want to put the kettle on? Uncle Owen told me I should call and ask you”. She listened for a moment and then laughed and grinned at Owen; “Grandma says you’re just as cheeky as ever”.

“Well, at least I can be relied on to be entertaining!”

“Okay Grandma”, she said, “We’ll see you in a few minutes. I love you – bye!” She closed the phone, handed it back to Lorraine with a grin and said “I think she enjoyed that!”

“I’ll bet she did”, Owen replied.

We crossed the river again beside the Kingfisher pub and drove through the village of Northwood; Emma was keeping her eyes open for familiar landmarks, and she recognized the old fifteenth century church on the west side of the village green. “I remember going to that church last time”, she said.

“You had a few conversations with the vicar”, I replied.

“Yeah, he was a nice man”.

A minute later Owen turned off the road onto my parents’ long driveway and we saw the old house up ahead. “Wow!” said Emma; “I’d forgotten how big it is! I remember the spiral staircase and the lake out back, and the orchard”.

Owen pulled up opposite the front door and turned off the engine. As we climbed out of the car my mother was already coming out to greet us; the afternoon was warm, and she was wearing a loose summer blouse which left her arms bare. She and I embraced, and then she turned to her granddaughter with a smile. “Hello, Emma”, she said, holding out her arms; “Welcome back to Northwood”.

Emma returned her smile and gave her a gentle hug; “Thanks Grandma; it’s great to see you”.

“I’ve got your usual room all ready”, my mother said to her. She smiled at Owen; “You’re still just as cheeky as you ever were, Owen Foster!” she said with a twinkle in her eye.

“Thank you, Mrs. M.”, he replied; “I’ll take that as a compliment. We’ll help carry Tom and Emma’s stuff inside”.

“Thank you – that would be very kind”.

And so we all went inside, and Emma grinned when she saw the spiral staircase; “Just like I remembered!” We took our bags and boxes up to our rooms, and then my mother turned to Owen and Lorraine; “Will you join us for a cup of that tea?”

Owen shook his head with a grin. “It’s kind of you Mrs. M., but Andrew and Katie are at my mum and dad’s and they can be a bit boisterous after a while, so I think we’d better go and pick them up”.

“Some time soon then? I’ll look forward to hearing you and Tom play together again”.

He nodded; “Absolutely”, he replied, bending down to kiss her on the cheek. He grinned at me; “See you later, then”.

“Thanks”, I said; “and thank you, Lorraine”.

“No trouble”, she replied with a smile, and Owen winked at Emma and said “Make sure your dad behaves himself!”

“I will. Are you guys going to be home for the next few days?”

“As far as I know; have you got something in mind?”

Emma grinned; “Well, I like Andrew and Katie you know!”

“Come over any time you like; just give us a ring to make sure someone’s in”.

“I’ll do that!”

My mother left us alone in our rooms for a few minutes while we ‘freshened up’, as she called it. I splashed cold water on my face, changed into a clean shirt and then went down the hall to Emma’s room. It was in the old servants’ section at the back of the house, but it had been beautifully redecorated as a guest room and it had an excellent view out over the apple orchard. I knocked lightly on the door and heard Emma answer “Come in”. She was standing at her window looking out over the trees and the fields below, a faraway look in her eyes. “I’d forgotten what a magical place this is”, she said quietly.

“Do you still like the grounds?”

“I love them; can we go out and look around?”

“In a while, but first we need to go drink that tea we asked Grandma to make for us, and then before too long it’ll be time to eat”. I kissed her on the top of her head; “So this room’s still okay for you, then?”

She turned from the window and surveyed her surroundings. The ceilings were lower in the old servants’ quarters, giving the rooms a cosy feeling; the wallpaper was quiet and tasteful, the curtains at the window simple and elegant. The single bed had a polished antique wood headboard, with a matching bedside table on the window side.

“It’s great”, she said; “It always has been”.

At that moment there was a knock on the door and Becca slipped into the room, dressed in a summer skirt and loose top, a warm smile on her face; “There you are!” she said.

Emma laughed with delight, and the next moment the two of them were hugging, kissing each other on the cheek, leaning back to smile at each other and then hugging again. I grinned at them; “Didn’t you two see each other a month ago?”

“Don’t be rude, Tommy”, Becca replied mischievously, coming over to me and giving me a hug and a kiss; “I’m allowed to be glad to see my niece”.

“Yes, you are. Are you glad to see your brother, too?”

“Very glad”. She looked up at me with a sympathetic smile; “You look a little tired there!”

“You know me and planes!”

“Are you staying for supper, Auntie Becca?” asked Emma.

“Absolutely, and Rick and his family will be here in a little while too. And tomorrow’s Saturday and I’ve got the day off, so if you want you and I can spend the day together”.

Emma laughed; “What’s the plan?”

“Anything you like. Coffee at a fancy café, sightseeing in Oxford, walking – it’s up to you”.

“That’s if she’s still awake and over her jet lag”, I observed with a grin.

“I’ll be awake,” said Emma. “Will you be alright without me, Dad?”

“Absolutely; I may even do a bit of wandering around myself”.

“Anyway”, said Becca, “I was sent up here to summon you to the living room for tea. When the rest of the family arrives we’ll move into the dining room for dinner”.

“Right”, I said with a grin; “Are you ready, Emma Dawn?”

“I am!”

“Lead the way, Doctor Masefield”, I said to Becca.

My brother and his family arrived a little later than expected, at about six forty-five. Rick had obviously come straight from work; he had removed his jacket and tie but was still wearing his suit pants and white shirt. Emma and Sarah greeted each other warmly; Sarah introduced Emma to Eric and Anna, and Eric smiled and said, “You’re a bit shorter than I thought you would be!”

“I take after my mom, so I’ve been told”.

“I don’t really remember her very well. She didn’t seem especially short to me – but then I would have been shorter, too, I suppose”.

They talked amongst themselves for a few minutes, and then Emma turned to my mother and said, “Do you mind if us kids go up to my room for a few minutes, Grandma?”

“Of course not; we’ll probably be starting dinner just after seven o’clock”.

Sarah glanced at Alyson; “Is that alright?”

“Go on”, Alyson replied with a grin; “We’ll call you when we’re going to eat!”

I smiled at Rick, gesturing toward his formal clothes; “You didn’t have to dress up for me, you know!”

“I had a late afternoon meeting, so I didn’t have time to change…”

At that moment I heard a buzz from his pocket; he reached in and pulled out a Blackberry, frowned at the screen for a second and then put the phone to his ear. “Excuse me”, he said apologetically, turning to leave the living room; “I’ve got to take this”.

I grinned at Alyson; “Well, that was a quick visit!”

“Sorry; there’s something going on and I’m not quite sure what it is!”

We ate in the dining room with the French windows open to let in the warm evening air. The room was elegantly furnished with an antique dining suite; there were a couple of paintings on the walls and a formal sideboard on which to place the food. My mother and father sat at each end of the table; Rick and I sat on either side of our father, with Alyson beside Rick and Emma beside me. Becca sat on the other side of Emma, and Rick’s three children on either side of my mother.

While we were filling our plates Eric turned to his mother and said, “Mum, Emma’s got a Martin!”

Alyson looked at him quizzically; “I take it that’s a guitar of some sort?”

“It used to be Dad’s”, Emma explained; “He gave it to me not long after Mom died”.

“It’s a 1970 Martin 000-18”, I added; “It’s a fairly good guitar. You might remember it”, I said to Rick; “I bought it about the time I went up to Oxford”.

He shook his head; “I’m afraid I wasn’t taking much notice of your musical instruments at the time, bro”.

“Well, it sounds brilliant!” said Eric; “She let me play it, too”.

Emma grinned at me; “He’s pretty good – you should hear him play ‘Come on in My Kitchen’”.

I raised my eyebrows at Eric; “You play Robert Johnson songs?”

“I think Robert Johnson was brilliant!”

“How did you learn about him?”

“I heard one of his songs on the radio a couple of years ago; that’s why I wanted to learn to play guitar. Do you play his music?”

“No, but I know about him; he’s influenced a lot of people”. I looked across the table at Rick and Alyson; “You didn’t tell me this guy was into 1930s delta blues singers!”

Rick shrugged disinterestedly; “Sorry – I don’t know much about that kind of thing”.

I smiled at him; “Surely you’re not still listening to Mott the Hoople and Slade, are you?”

“It gets worse”, Alyson replied with a mischievous smile; “When he thinks there’s no one in the house, he occasionally plays his old Gary Glitter singles”.

Becca looked at Rick with a bemused expression on her face; “I vaguely remember you having some Bay City Rollers LPs, too”.

“He’s still got them”, Alyson confirmed, “but he doesn’t dare play them when the children are around!”

“What on earth are you people talking about?” my father asked.

“Our misspent youth”, I replied; “Apparently there’s still more to my brother than a suit and a Blackberry”.

My mother was looking at Rick affectionately; “I never had much success getting you interested in classical piano, did I?”

“Not for want of trying”, he replied, and at that moment his Blackberry buzzed again in his pocket.

“Can’t you turn that thing off?” asked Becca.

“I’m afraid not”, he replied, putting it to his ear as he got to his feet; “This is rather a big contract. Sorry, Mum – excuse me”.

I had been shocked when I first saw my father again. His hair by now was completely gone, which I had expected, but I also noticed that his skin colour had faded, the lines on his face were deeper and his voice was even thinner than it had been at Easter. He ate very little of his food, pecking at it disinterestedly, putting his knife and fork down when he asked Rick the occasional work-related question. He paid very little attention to the conversation of his grandchildren – partly, I suspected, because he couldn’t hear them very well – but Rick’s three children were obviously used to this and they continued to talk amongst themselves and with Emma. By the time my mother was serving the coffee and dessert Emma was talking to her cousins about our extended family in Meadowvale and the other people she was close to there; it was at that point that eleven-year old Anna, who had been mainly quiet so far, looked across at her with a little frown and said, “Did you ever wish you had a brother or sister?”

Alyson put her hand on her daughter’s arm; “Maybe we should talk about something else”, she said quietly.

“It’s alright”, Emma assured her; “I don’t mind”. She glanced at me, as if to make sure I was okay with the conversation, and then turned back to Anna. “I did wonder occasionally what it would be like to have a brother or sister, I guess, but I didn’t really think about it very much. And I had four cousins real close, and all my second and third cousins – I have so many of them I have a hard time keeping track!”

“It’s a really big family”, Becca explained to Anna; “Emma’s Grandpa’s got seven brothers and sisters”.

“And Kelly’s mum was one of seven siblings too”, I added. I smiled at Anna; “Sometimes we have family reunions but we have to hire the community hall for them because so many people come”.

“They have family reunions, do they?” Rick asked; “People actually attend that sort of thing?”

“Yes, they’re very popular in Saskatchewan”.

“What exactly does one do at a family reunion?”.

My mother was passing cups of coffee around; I paused to accept one from her, and Emma said, “We actually just had one at the beginning of July”.

“What did you do?” asked Rick.

“On the Friday night we had a huge supper at the community hall; there were about three hundred people there, so there was like, a whole lot of food! We had a big family tree up on the wall with all kinds of photographs, and we’d asked people to bring more, so that was fun – people kept adding pictures all weekend. The first night we had a kind of barn dance – but not in a barn, of course!” She smiled at me; “Dad was one of the musicians”.

Rick grinned at me; “I didn’t know you played danceable music, bro!”

“Yeah, but not ‘Dancing Queen’ or ‘Stayin’ Alive’!”

“What sort of thing were you playing?”

“Mainly bluegrass. Ellie Reimer got me into that a long time ago; back in the nineties I was in a band with her and our friend Darren Peterson. We don’t play together very much any more but we had a bit of a reunion for this event”.

“A reunion for a family reunion!” said Becca.

“I guess so”.

Rick leaned back a little in his chair, taking a sip of his coffee; “Tell us more about the proceedings, Emma”.

She shrugged; “There’s not much more to tell really. On Saturday we had a pancake breakfast in the morning and a softball tournament in the afternoon, and then in the evening we had another big meal. Some of the people hadn’t seen each other in a long time so there was a lot of visiting and conversation. On Sunday some of us went to church together, and then in the early afternoon there was another meal – like I said, there was a lot of eating! After that people started to head for home”.

“And these were all Reimers, were they?”

“Actually”, I said, “it was a Wiens family reunion – Kelly’s mum’s family”.

“There were some Reimers there too though”, Emma added.

“I guess so; there’s been more than one marriage between the two families over the years”.

“And the Janzens and Robinsons”.

I grinned; “Yeah, I guess pretty well every family in Meadowvale has been connected with the Wiens’ at some point!”

Eric, who had been listening carefully, said, “It must be very different to have a family that big, with all those distant relatives, and to have them actually come together all at once. I don’t think our family has ever done that, have they?”

“I don’t know whether to be happy or sad!” Rick replied sarcastically; “I find some of our relatives hard to take when they come in ones and twos, let alone in packs!”

“But don’t you think it would be interesting? I mean, the only cousins I’ve got are Ewan and David and Emma, and it’s not like we see each other very often”. He smiled at Emma and me; “It must be rather nice to be part of a big family like that”.

“I like it”, I agreed.

Emma grinned at me; “I guess you and Mom kind of met at a family gathering, didn’t you? Not as big as a family reunion, but…”

I laughed. “I thought it was big enough at the time; little did I know what I was in for!”

“When was that?” asked Sarah.

“October 1982; I had moved to Meadowvale that summer, and Kelly’s dad was the principal at my school. He and his wife were always inviting me over for meals and in October they invited me round to their place for Thanksgiving dinner. There were a few others there: Joe and Ellie had just gotten engaged, and Krista – that’s Kelly’s younger sister – was home from university. And there was also Kelly’s grandma Reimer and her grandma and grandpa Weins, and her uncle David and his wife Anna. And there was Kelly; she was working as a nurse in Jasper at the time but she had come home for a few days over Thanksgiving. So that’s when we met”.

“How long after that did you get married?” Sarah asked.

“Two years, almost to the day; we were married on Thanksgiving weekend in 1984”.

“My brother, the hopeless romantic”, Rick observed with a grin, draining his coffee cup just in time for his Blackberry to buzz again.

“Are you choreographing that?” asked Becca.

He shook his head apologetically at my mother as he got to his feet and put the phone to his ear again; “Richard Masefield”, he said.

Much later on, I was sitting up in my bed reading by the light of a single bedside lamp when I heard a quiet knock on my door.

“Come on in”, I said.

The door opened slightly and Emma slipped into the room, dressed in her old cotton pyjama bottoms and a dark blue tee-shirt, her hair tied back in a pony tail. “Do you mind if I sit with you for a minute?” she asked.

“Of course not”.

She came and sat down on the bed, glancing at the book in my hands. “Is that a new Wendell Berry book?”

“Yes”.

“What’s it called?”

Jayber Crow”.

“I haven’t tried Wendell Berry yet”.

“I think you’d like him. He’s a good poet, too – that might be a good place to start”.

“I’ll have to have a look when your books get here”.

“For sure”.

She was quiet for a moment, her eyes down, and eventually I said, “Something bothering you?”

She shook her head; “Not really. It’s just that – well, I liked talking about Mom at the table, but afterwards I felt a little sad”.

“Me too”.

“So I thought I’d come and sit with you for a minute”.

“I’m glad you did”.

She leaned forward, kissed me on the forehead and said, “Uncle Rick’s really taken up with work, isn’t he?”

“Well, he’s a senior partner in a busy law firm”.

“Is that what it was like with Grandpa when you guys were kids?”

“There were no Blackberries in those days”.

“I guess not”.

“But he always brought work home, and sometimes the phone would ring for him”.

“That must have gotten annoying after a while”.

I shrugged; “I bring stuff home with me two or three nights a week, too”.

“Yeah, but you leave it down in your office when you’re done, and you always make time to do things with me”.

“Well, I’ve probably spent my life trying not to be like my dad”.

“He’s really not looking too good, is he?”

I shook my head; “I think he’s had seven chemo treatments now, with a little break after the third and the sixth, and he’s due another one in a couple of weeks”.

“How many does he have to have?”

“I don’t think there’s really an end in sight; I think they’re just doing their best to control the cancer. A lot will depend on how much his body can take”.

“That’s got to be tough”.

“Yes”.

She pulled her legs up on the bed, hugged her knees under her chin, and smiled at me; “I like my cousins”.

“Good”.

“They’re all different from each other”.

“They are, aren’t they?”

“You and Uncle Rick are different, too”.

“Yes, we are”. I frowned; “I remember one of the times we were here visiting while your mum was still alive. Grandma had arranged for everyone to get together here for a meal a day or two before we went home. I have a very vivid memory of watching your mum walking on the grass with Alyson, obviously deep in conversation, while Rick and I were struggling to find things to talk about”.

She put her hand on mine; “That’s sad”.

“Yes, it is. Most of the time I don’t think about it, with us living so far away”.

“Not so far any more”.

“No – for a little while, anyway”.

She stifled a yawn. “Okay, I’m really sleepy, but I just wanted to come and make sure you were okay”.

“I’m fine, love; thanks for checking on me, though”.

“You’re welcome”. She leaned forward and kissed me on the forehead; “Goodnight”, she said.

“Goodnight, sweetheart”.

She smiled at me again, then got up and slipped quietly out of the room.

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What Happens To Us After We Die? (a sermon on 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)

What’s going to happen to me after I die? This is one of the questions human beings have pondered throughout history. We go through life, we work hard to achieve something, we find someone to love and if we’re fortunate we build a family and experience good and positive and lasting relationships. But what does it all mean if it all ends in death? What’s the point of learning, if my brain’s just going to go demented and then die out? What’s the point of love, if sooner or later you’re going to lose the one you love? Is it really possible that all these years of laughing and working, eating and sleeping, learning and loving are going to end up in nothing more than the decay of my body in the grave? Human beings have always pondered that question.

The Christian faith is firmly on record as teaching that there is life after death. In the Nicene Creed – which goes back in its earliest form to the fourth century A.D. – we say, ‘We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come’. But what does this mean? What do we actually believe about life after death?

Not surprisingly, the early Christians asked these questions just like we do. One of the earliest books of the New Testament to be written was Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians; many scholars think it was written around 50 A.D., about twenty years after the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Christians in Thessalonica were worried about what had happened to their fellow-believers who had died: were they all right? Yes, says, Paul; there’s no need for you to grieve as if you had no hope. We believe that just as Jesus died and rose again, so God will raise the dead with Jesus. We who are alive when the Lord comes again, he says, won’t precede those who have died; when the last trumpet sounds, they will be raised, and we’ll all meet the Lord, and we’ll live with him forever. So encourage each other with these words.

Now that’s an odd answer, isn’t it? Nowadays if Christians were feeling doubtful about life after death, we’d expect their pastors to talk to them about going to heaven. But Paul doesn’t mention heaven at all; he talks about being raised from the dead at the sound of the last trumpet. What’s that all about?

I find it helpful to try to figure out what question the Thessalonian Christians were asking Paul. When you read Paul’s answer, it doesn’t seem as if the question was, ‘Is there life after death?’ Rather, it seems to have been something like this: ‘Paul, you taught us that even though Jesus’ rule over all things is hidden right now, one day it’s going to be plain to everyone; every knee will bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord, and his kingdom will come in all its fullness. But some of our brother and sister Christians have died without seeing this. What’s going to happen to them? Are they going to miss out on seeing the Kingdom of God?’

Let’s look a little more closely at how Paul deals with that issue. What about these Thessalonian Christians who have died? Where are they now? And what’s going to happen to them in the future?

Where are they now? 1 Thessalonians 4:13 says, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope”. Or at least, that’s how the New Revised Standard Version puts it. But there’s a little footnote that tells us that the NRSV has made a little change in the translation, presumably to make Paul’s meaning clear. Apparently Paul didn’t actually say ‘died’ – he said ‘fallen asleep’: “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have fallen asleep”. This is a very common New Testament metaphor for death: falling asleep in Christ.

Why do the biblical authors use this ‘sleep’ metaphor? For a couple of reasons. Firstly, from the point of view of the observer there are some similarities. The sleeper is usually lying down; their eyes are often closed; there’s no activity going on. And the same is true of the dead.

But the second reason is more important: sleep is temporary. The sleepers are going to wake up! And that’s what’s going to happen to those who sleep in death, too: one day they are going to wake up. They are going to be raised from the dead.

From the perspective of the observer it looks as if the dead are asleep; what does it look like from the perspective of the ‘sleeper’? Do they experience ‘dying and going to heaven?’ Do they see a great light and go through a tunnel and all that?

A lot of people are surprised to hear that the New Testament doesn’t actually have a lot to say about ‘dying and going to heaven’ – if by ‘heaven’ you mean ‘a non-physical existence far away from this earth where we will live a life forever as disembodied spirits’. That idea actually comes more from Greek philosophy, not Jesus and his apostles. Christian teaching about life after death is different; we stand up week by week and say “I believe in the resurrection of the body” – our bodies, that is, not just Jesus’ body.

But what about heaven? Well, you can make strong arguments from the New Testament for two different points of view. One would be a variation on the ‘heaven’ idea: we die, we go to be with Jesus in Paradise, and we wait there with him until the day of resurrection when we will resume our physical existence in a renewed heaven and earth. The other idea would be that when we die, we fall asleep. And you know how it is when you’ve had a really good sleep: you don’t remember a thing about it! The next thing you know, you’re waking up and it seems as if no time has passed at all, except that you feel refreshed. That will be us: we will fall asleep in Jesus, and it will seem to us that the next thing we know is resurrection day!

To tell you the truth, I don’t really know for sure which of these views is the right one, and I don’t worry about it, because the thing they both have in common is that what happens immediately after death is only temporary. The really important thing – the life after life after death – is the coming resurrection.

So let’s go back to 1 Thessalonians 4, where Paul says,

For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will be with the Lord forever (4:16-17).

Now I need to say at this point how easy it is for modern people like us to get distracted by the strange mythical language of these verses: the trumpet sound, being caught up in the clouds, meeting the Lord in the air and so on. Some Christians have taken them literally, but I don’t think the earliest readers would have done that. Paul was using the symbolic language of Jewish apocalyptic literature – literature that was designed to bring hope to people who were oppressed and were looking for God’s intervention for a better future.

Apocalyptic literature had well-known codes. For instance, if you were an early Christian and you were listening as someone read from the book of Revelation or the book of Daniel, you’d hear a lot of talk about ferocious beasts. You’d know right away that they weren’t literal beasts; they were symbols for evil empires. That’s how apocalyptic literature worked. In the same way, back in the early 1980s, if you saw a political cartoon in the newspaper with a bear in it, you knew it wasn’t meant to be a literal bear: it was a symbol for the Soviet Union. A man with a top hat with the stars and stripes was ‘Uncle Sam’, the U.S.A. If you didn’t know the code you’d be confused, but if you did, you’d understand.

The problem nowadays is that when we read this kind of thing in the Bible we don’t know the code. So in today’s passage we don’t realize that when Paul talked about the sounding of the trumpet and going to meet the Lord in the air, he was using the symbolism of a royal visit, or even a coronation. If the Roman emperor came to visit Thessalonica, the leading citizens of the city would go out to meet him with great pomp and ceremony, with fanfares and the sound of trumpets. But they wouldn’t stay out there with him – they’d lead him back into the city to meet his other subjects there.

This is what Paul is talking about. Jesus is Lord of all, Lord of heaven and earth. At the moment his reign is hidden, but one day it will be revealed. Paul uses the symbolism of clouds and sky because it was the most exalted symbolism available to him, and also because it was used in the Old Testament for the same thing. But the idea isn’t that the true believers are snatched up to be with the Lord so they can spend the rest of eternity floating around with him in the sky. In the Book of Revelation, when the last day comes the City of God descends from heaven to earth. We’re not escaping from the world; we’re welcoming our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of love, as God’s anointed King of all creation! And when he comes, or when he appears, he will bring others with him: those who have ‘fallen asleep in Jesus’, and are now awakened to share with him in his eternal kingdom.

In other words, our Christian hope isn’t a selfish one: it’s not just about ‘what will happen to me after I die’. It’s about the future of God’s entire creation. And that future will involve bodies and matter, not just souls and spirits. When the last day comes God isn’t going to abandon matter as a bad idea and opt for a purely ‘spiritual’ world. No: the Bible tells us God is going to ‘make all things new’; God is going to heal the wounds of creation and restore it to his original dream. And he’s going to raise his people from the dead so they can enjoy life as he originally conceived it, before evil entered his world.

Of course, this raises many questions that we haven’t been given answers to. For instance, I’ve sometimes been asked ‘Where are we going to put everyone?’ After all, a lot of people – billions, presumably – have died and gone before us. If they’re all going to be raised, where are we going to find room for them all on this little earth? I don’t have an answer for that question, except to say that there are a lot of things God hasn’t told us about his future plans, and it would be foolish of us to speculate.

What we do know is that the Christian hope is about the renewal of this world.  It tells us that the future of this world is in the hands of God and not of the forces of evil and destruction; the last word will be God’s word, not the words of tyrants or mass murderers. The symbolic language of the book of Revelation tells us that when the new Jerusalem comes down from heaven to earth God will make his home among us and live with us forever. God will wipe away every tear from our eyes, death and mourning and crying and pain will be no more; and God will say, “See, I am making all things new” (Rev. 21:2-5).

That’s our hope, and so we can face death with a different attitude. We don’t pretend death isn’t a huge blow; Paul doesn’t tell his friends in Thessalonica not to grieve for those who have died. What he says is that they don’t need to grieve ‘as others do who have no hope’ (4:13). People who don’t have the hope of resurrection grieve because they see death as the final separation. But we Christians are encouraged to trust that beyond that separation there will be a great reunion, on that bright morning when God renews his whole creation, when Jesus is acknowledged by all as Lord of heaven and earth, and when the human family finally finds the peace and justice we’ve been longing for, for as long as we can remember.

You and I, and our loved ones who have died in the peace of Christ, have been promised that we will see that day. We’ve got reserved seats at the coronation. Thanks be to God!

‘A Time to Mend’, Chapter 3

Link back to Chapter 2

When I finished ‘Meadowvale’ it turned out that there were some inconsistencies with ‘A Time to Mend’ (which I wrote first, over ten years ago, even though chronologically it comes after ‘Meadowvale’). So – I’m having another go at ‘A Time to Mend’ to bring it back in sync with ‘Meadowvale’. Here’s the third chapter.

I landed at Heathrow Airport on Easter Sunday in the early afternoon. Becca was waiting for me in the arrivals lounge, standing on the edge of the crowd and waving furiously in my direction; twelve years my junior and slightly shorter than me, she was dressed casually in jeans and a light spring jacket, her dark hair hanging loose to her shoulders. I walked over to her, and she greeted me with a warm hug and a kiss; “Hello, you!” she said.

“Happy Easter, Becs”.

“Same to you. You look tired; here, give me your bag. How’s Emma?”

“She’s fine; she drove me to the airport yesterday”.

“Oh right – I keep forgetting she’s got a driving license now!”

“I know; doesn’t seem that long since she was a baby, does it?”

“No”. She looked up at me with a sympathetic grin; “You really do look wiped out there, Tommy! Do you want to pick up a coffee for the road?”

“That would be great”.

“Come on, then – there’s a coffee shop in the corner over there”.

We lined up for a few minutes to get our coffees, and then made our way out of the terminal building into the spring sunshine and across to the multi-story car park. We took an elevator to the top level, where we found Becca’s little Renault squeezed between two bigger cars; she opened the doors, threw my bag in the back and said, “In you get, then”.

I slipped into the car beside her, and she leaned over and gave me another kiss on the cheek. “Oh”, she said, “before I forget – Owen told me to remind you to ring him some time this evening; they’re not leaving until first thing in the morning”.

“Right – he mentioned that”. My old friend Owen Foster, who had been a doctor in Headington for many years, was a senior partner at the medical practice where Becca worked. I had hoped to get a chance to see him while I was in England, but it had turned out that he and his family were going to France for a few days during the Easter holidays.

Becca started the car, backed out of her parking spot, and drove down toward the exit ramp. I took a sip of my coffee; “Any news about dad?”

She shrugged; “He’s lost a lot of weight and he gets tired quickly, but none of that’s especially new”.

“When’s his next chemo treatment?”

“Tuesday; this will be his third”.

“How’s it going?”

“I think he’s finding it harder than he expected – especially the nausea”.

“I expect he just takes himself off to his room when he’s feeling sick, doesn’t he?”

“Yeah; he lets Mum help him, but I’m not allowed anywhere near him when he’s like that, and I’m sure no one else is either”.

“No trouble with infections so far?”

“No, but they’re going to have to be very careful about that; it’s harder on older people. And there’s another problem too – he’s in denial”. She pulled the car up to the ticket machine, paid for her parking and then pulled out onto Cromer Road. “He’s still trying to downplay it all”, she continued; “I’ve heard him say several times that he’s just got to get through the chemo and then he’ll be fine”. She shrugged; “I don’t know if he really believes that, but it’s the line he takes when he’s talking to anyone”.

“Including Mum?”

“Yes”.

“That’s got to be hard for her”.

“I would think so”. Out of the corner of my eye I saw her frown thoughtfully. “Did you and Kelly talk honestly about her cancer, Tommy? Right from the start?”

“We did the second time. The first time she ignored the symptoms for a while”.

“Right – I remember that”.

“She was worried, but she didn’t want to tell me or anyone else for fear she’d have to leave Emma and go into hospital. But the second time around we’d learned our lesson; we were honest with each other from day one”.

“It just took you a bit longer to tell everyone else”.

I nodded; it had been a sore point between us at the time. “She didn’t want to tell a lot of other people until she was sure of the diagnosis”.

“I get it, Tommy, I really do. I didn’t at the time, but I do now”. She reached across suddenly and squeezed my hand. “I’m sorry; let’s change the subject, shall we?”

I glanced at her; “You okay?”

She nodded; “I am. It’s just that every now and again…”

“I know”.

For a moment neither of us spoke; I sipped at my coffee, and she steered the car down through the tunnel under the runway and out the other side, heading north toward the M4. I watched as the cars sped by in both directions, and then I said, “I guess Dad doesn’t go into the office anymore?”

“No, and Rick’s glad about that; ever since Dad retired Rick’s been wishing he would leave him alone”. My younger brother had followed the career path my father had wanted for me; he was now a senior partner at my father’s old law firm.

“Dad’s never found it easy to let other people run their own lives, has he?” I said.

“I’m afraid not; that’s one of the constants you can rely on! But on a happier subject – two interviews this week?”

“Yes – Headington and Cowley. I’ve already done phone interviews for Reading and High Wycombe”.

“That one in Headington – isn’t that where you did your first student placement?”

“Yes. It seems like a long time ago now”.

“You’re such an old man, Tommy!”

“I know; I get regular reminders of the fact from Emma!”.

“It must be a bit strange to think about going back there”.

“A little. It was a reasonably good experience, but of course a lot will have changed in twenty-two years”.

“I’ll be hoping for that one or Cowley; it would be nice if you were close by”. She reached over and put her hand on mine. “How are you feeling about this move? Are you sad?”

“I am. I don’t think I really believed it until I started getting involved in the interview process, but now it’s starting to sink in. I know nothing’s certain yet, and I know if I’m successful there’ll be lots of good things about living in the U.K. again, but to be honest, at the moment I’m strongly tempted to intentionally mess up the interviews”.

“I know”, she said quietly, “and I understand”.

“It’s not that I wouldn’t be glad to be closer to you and Mum, of course”.

“I know. What about Emma; how’s she feeling?”

“She’s excited about being here for a longer period of time. She likes the idea of getting a closer look at her English roots, and she wants to be able to spend some time with Mum and Dad too. But there’s another part of her that’s dreading the thought of leaving Meadowvale”.

“Of course”.

“She’s relieved that we’re not planning to sell the house; it gives us a tangible link with home”.

“Right. And then there’s her nursing training”.

“She still wants to do that, whether it’s here or back home”.

“I was talking to her about that last week. She really likes volunteering at the special care home, doesn’t she?”.

“She does; I could easily see her making a career in geriatric nursing. But to be honest I think she could do any kind of nursing she wanted”.

“Well, there’ll always be a need for nurses in England. Even if the move here turned out to be permanent, she’d probably never be short of a job”.

“We haven’t talked about making a permanent move, Becs”.

“I understand; one day at a time”.

  • * * * * *

I thought of Northwood as my childhood home, but in fact we had moved there when I was eleven. My earlier years had been spent in the Oxford suburb of Summertown, but I had actually preserved few links with the place of my birth and early childhood. It was in Northwood that I had formed my friendship with Owen; it was Northwood and the surrounding countryside that he and I had explored as teenagers; it was in Northwood that we had learned to play guitar together and had shared some of the most formative conversations of my early life. It was true that the emotional dynamics of my home life there had been complicated, but I still had a deep sense of connection with the village itself and the countryside around it.

It was a community of about two thousand people, situated in the Thames Valley just north of the town of Wallingford. It was strangely elongated; the southern area was built beside the river, but the village narrowed around the main street as it ran north-east, and then widened out again into a northern part which was almost a second community. The northern part, where my parents lived, was actually the original village of Northwood; it had expanded toward the river in the eighteenth century when the bridge across the Thames was built, with the Kingfisher Inn beside it.

We crossed the bridge at around three-thirty, driving north on the high street and passing the old 15th century church on the west side of the village green. We turned east at the church, and I looked around at the street I had once known so well, noticing the absence of a few familiar buildings and the addition of some new ones. About half a mile further on, we turned right onto a long private driveway running down past a copse of ancient elm trees; at the end of the driveway loomed the familiar bulk of my parents’ home. Built in the late eighteenth century, it was a large two-storey grey stone house with an old courtyard and stable complex off to one side, most of it now converted into garage space. Behind the house there was an apple orchard, a wood, and a small lake.

Becca pulled the car up by the front door and turned off the engine. “Well, here we are”, she said, “and here’s Mum; she must have been watching at the window”.

I looked up and saw my mother emerging from the front door; she had put on a wool cardigan before coming outside to greet us, and I noticed immediately how tired she looked, and how white her hair had turned since I had last seen her at Kelly’s funeral. I opened the car door and got out to meet her; “Hello, Mum”, I said.

“Hello, Tom; welcome home”.

I put my arms around her to give her a hug; “Happy Easter”.

“Happy Easter to you, too”.

Becca was already lifting my bag out of the trunk of the car; she kissed my mother on the cheek and asked, “How’s Dad today?”

“Alright this afternoon; he had a good nap earlier on. Shall we go inside?”

We followed her up the steps and through the doorway into the hall. The well-remembered spiral staircase swept up on our left; I took in at a glance the polished wood floor, the antique telephone table, the ornate wallpaper. My mother was already leading the way into the large living room; it was built on the southwest corner of the house, with bay windows on the two outside walls providing plenty of light. As we entered, my father rose slowly out of one of the armchairs by the fireplace, and as I crossed the room toward him he held out his hand. “So you finally came home again”, he said; “It took you long enough”.

His voice was not as strong as I remembered. He had always been tall and wiry, but now he seemed gaunt and skeletal, his back a little bent, his face narrow and pale, his few remaining wisps of grey hair combed straight back from his high forehead. The ravages of the deadly disease he was fighting were plain.

“How are you, Dad?” I asked.

“Not dead yet, at any rate”. He greeted Becca, smiling at her as she kissed him on the cheek, and then moved over to the sideboard, asking “What will you have to drink, Tom?”

“Oh, I don’t know – Scotch, I guess”.

He looked at me over his shoulder with a quizzical expression on his face. “Well? Do you want it or not?”

“Sure – yes please”.

“Becca? Dry sherry?”

“Yes please, Dad”.

He poured drinks for everyone and passed them around; “Sit down”, he said. We found our seats, he and my mother on each side of the hearth, Becca and I side by side on the chesterfield. “So”, my mother asked, “How’s Emma? Did you bring us some new pictures?”

“I did”. I reached into the inside pocket of my jacket, brought out my photographs and passed them to my mother.

“Her hair’s getting long again”, my mother observed as she looked over the pictures one by one and passed them to my father.

“Well, it’s been over two years now”. Emma had shaved her head along with her mother when Kelly’s hair had started to fall out from chemotherapy. Kelly had protested, but Emma had insisted and I had sided with her, knowing how badly she needed to feel she was doing something to show solidarity with her mum.

“Are these recent?” my mother asked.

“Just a month ago”.

“She looks more like Kelly all the time”.

“That’s what I always think”, Becca replied softly.

“Good heavens!” my mother exclaimed, pointing at one of the photographs; “Is that Jenna?”

“Yes it is”.

“She’s certainly shot up in the last couple of years, hasn’t she? Look at this, Frank”.

My father glanced at the photographs as she handed them to him. “She takes after her mother too, doesn’t she?” he said.

“She does”, I agreed, “and Jake’s more like his dad”.

“A month ago, you say? Plenty of snow still, at that time”.

“You never can tell how long it’ll stay”.

He looked at me with a bemused expression on his face; “You’ve certainly picked up the accent over the years”.

“It comes and goes; in Meadowvale they still think I sound English”.

He handed the pictures back to my mother; “Two interviews this week, then?” he asked.

“Yes, one at Gypsy Lane School in Headington, and one in Cowley; I’ve already done two by phone”.

“Headington or Cowley would be nice”, said my mother.

“You could live here”, my father suggested.

“I could, or I could start out here and then look for a place of my own once I get my feet on the ground”.

“Don’t be ridiculous – prices are far too high around here; on your salary you’d never be able to afford it. With what you could get from selling a house in Saskatchewan you’d be in no position to buy; living here would be the only reasonable thing to do”.

“I’m not thinking of selling or buying; I’d be making enough on a teacher’s salary to be able to afford to rent a small house, and I can supplement that with the money I make on renting out our place back home”.

He shook his head. “Renting is never a good idea; you’re paying out money and getting nothing in return. If you’re not going to buy, you’d be far better to stay here”.

“If I get a job nearby, I’ll certainly think about it”.

There was an awkward silence for a moment, and then Becca spoke. “Are Rick and his family still coming for supper?”

My mother nodded; “I hope you don’t mind, Tom? I thought it would be nice for us to have a family gathering, with it being a holiday today”.

“Of course not. I wouldn’t mind catching a nap before they come, though; it was a long trip, and as you know I’m not especially good at sleeping on planes”.

“That would be fine; I’ve got your old room made up for you”.

“Maybe after I’m done this drink I’ll go up and get settled in”.

  • * * * * *

A few minutes later I excused myself, picked up my bag in the hall and climbed wearily up the spiral staircase. As I pushed open the door to my old room I was confronted with a world of memory, not so much from my childhood years as from the times that Kelly and I had stayed in this room together; we had come to Northwood three times over the years as a married couple, twice in summer and once for a shorter period at Christmas. I put my bag down on the bed and walked over to the window, looking out over the lawn with the brick wall of the orchard off to the left; she and I had stood side by side at this same window many times during our last visit in the summer of 1997, and for a brief moment the sense of her presence was so strong that I almost felt I could reach out and put my arm around her.

I heard a quiet knock on the door, and as I turned Becca slipped into the room. She came over and put her hand on my arm; “I just came up to make sure you were okay”.

“Thank you; I’m fine”.

She kissed me gently on the cheek, smiled at me, and said, “Are you sure?”

“Yes. But you’re a good woman, Becca Masefield”.

She shook her head; “I don’t know about that”.

I went over to the bed and began to unpack my bag; “Are you working tomorrow?”

“No, I don’t start again until Tuesday, and I’m not on call either; I did my bit Good Friday and yesterday”.

“Are you staying out here, then?”

“Just tonight; I’m going home tomorrow after supper”.

“Maybe some time tomorrow we could wander down to the Kingfisher for a pint?”

“I’d like that”. She smiled at me; “Okay, I’m going to leave you to rest now”.

“I just need half an hour with my head down on my pillow; after that I’ll come down and help you and Mum with supper, or do whatever you like”.

“Alright, then, sleepyhead”, she said with a mischievous grin; “See you in a bit”.

  • * * * * *

My brother and his family arrived just before six; we were sitting in the living room again when we heard the sound of the car pulling up to the front of the house. My mother went out to greet them, and a moment later we all stood up as they entered the room. Rick had let his hair grow a little since the last time I had seen him; it was beginning to turn grey, and his face seemed pale and thin, but he gave me a warm smile as he shook my hand; “Welcome home”, he said.

“Thanks; it’s good to see you”.

I turned to greet his family. His wife Alyson was petite, with dark hair and a pleasant Scottish accent, dressed quietly in jeans and a sweater; she worked as a researcher for a wildlife conservation unit in Oxford. They had brought their three children with them; Eric was sixteen, Sarah fourteen, and Anna eleven. None of the children knew me well; they had never visited us in Canada, and even on our last trip to England we had not seen very much of them. Eric was tall and thin like his father, while the girls tended to take after Alyson.

My mother and Becca moved some extra chairs into the semi-circle around the hearth, and my father handed drinks around. When we were all sitting down my mother glanced at me with a smile; “Tom’s got some lovely photographs of Emma”, she said.

So my pictures made the rounds again. Anna, glancing at one that had been taken at the old Reimer farm a couple of weeks ago, said, “I didn’t know she rode horses”.

“She’s been riding since she was a little girl”, I replied.

“Was this taken at a riding school?”

“No, it’s the old farm where Emma’s grandpa grew up. We still have relatives out there”.

“So this is one of their horses she’s riding?”

“Yes”.

Sarah spoke in a quiet voice; “How old is she now?”

“She turned seventeen in December”.

“Is she doing A-levels or something?”

“She’ll be finishing Grade Twelve in June, which is like getting A-levels where we live”.

“Will she be going to uni?”

“Yes”.

“What does she want to do?”

“She wants to be a nurse”.

“What else does she like to do?” Anna asked.

“She likes outdoor things – hiking and canoeing and cross-country skiing. She reads a lot too, and she plays guitar”.

My brother gave me a wry grin; “Chip off the old block”.

Alyson glanced at her son; “Eric started to play guitar a couple of years ago”.

“I’m not very good yet”, Eric replied with a shrug of his shoulders.

“Uncle Tom’s been playing since he was a teenager”, said Rick; “I expect he’s got a guitar hiding around here somewhere”.

“Actually, no”, I replied; “I’m only here for a week, so I left it behind”.

“You surprise me, bro – I thought you were inseparable from that thing!”

“I must admit I don’t often part with it, but it seemed easier not to bring it this time”.

“Do you and Emma play the same kind of music?” asked Sarah.

“Some, but she’s got likes and dislikes of her own too”.

“I should email her; it’s weird that she’s my cousin and I hardly know her”.

“She’d like that; I’ll give you her email address”.

My mother got to her feet; “Well, the food’s almost ready, so Becca and I will go and put it on the table”.

  • * * * * *

After supper my brother surprised me by suggesting that we take a walk in the garden together. The evening sun was close to the horizon; the sky had cleared and the temperature was dropping. We skirted the flowerbeds in silence; at the bottom of the garden Rick glanced at me and said, “So you’re really thinking of moving back, then?”

“I am”.

“Not thinking of going into the Law at long last, though?” I saw the mischievous grin on his face.

“No, I’ll leave that to you. How’s it going, by the way?”

“Very well. We’ve got about twenty-five people now, partners and solicitors and so on, and we’ve started to build a rather good name for ourselves nationally”.

“You must be squeezed tight in that office”.

“We actually bought the place next door a couple of years ago so that we could expand, but we really need to move out of the city centre. We could lease a much more functional property down at the Oxford business park, but of course the old man won’t hear of it”.

“I thought Dad was retired?”

“Yes, but until a few months ago he was still coming in two or three times a week; he was constantly interfering with the day-to-day running of the place, not to mention long-term decision-making. We’ve had several opportunities to merge with national firms – which would have been really good for our business – but in his mind Masefield and Marlowe is still an old Oxford chamber and he wants to keep it that way”.

“Does he actually have a say in the matter, though? Surely, if he’s retired…?”

“There are ten partners; all he needs to be able to do is influence six, and of course the majority of them go back to his time. If he wants to make an issue of something it’s not hard for him to get his own way”.

“That must be frustrating”.

“You could say that”.

“I suppose Jack Marlowe’s retired now too?”

“He is, and he’s a lot better at it than the old man; I honestly believe there are days when Dad thinks I haven’t got a clue”.

“He has an enduring habit of trying to control our lives”.

My brother gave a short laugh; “Well put! We’ve got that much in common, haven’t we?”

“I’m afraid so”.

We ambled along in silence for a moment in the fading light, our hands in our pockets, and then he said, “If you move back here we’ll have to invite you over to the house for a meal some time”.

“That would be nice. How long is it now that you’ve been in the new place?”

“A couple of years”.

“I vaguely remember hearing about it after the fact, but of course I was a little preoccupied at the time”.

“I know”.

“I remember last time we were here you were having renovations done on your old place so you could sell it and make some money on it”.

“God, yes! That was a bit of a nightmare, but eventually we got it done. We’ve got a nice property now out at Cumnor Hill: newish house, six bedrooms and a couple of reception rooms, big garden, lots of trees. Good neighbourhood, too”.

“Pretty swanky out there, as I recall”.

He shrugged; “I suppose so. You’ve got to have money to live there but it’s comfortable and the children like it, and I’m not worried about crime or gangs or drugs or student parties or anything like that”.

“I’ll look forward to seeing it”.

He was quiet for a moment as we skirted a line of rose bushes, and then he said, “So what’s made you think of coming back after all these years? I always got the impression you saw the move to Meadowvale as permanent?”

“I did”.

“What’s changed?”

“I’d like have another try at making things right with Dad while I still can”.

He looked at me incredulously; “You want to make up with him? The old man’s not the reconciling sort, you know”.

“I know. But the more I think about it, the more I realize that if there’s even the slightest chance I want to give it a try”.

“You’re serious about this?”

“I am”.

He shook his head in disbelief; “Well, that’s put me in my place. I was sure you were thinking about the will”.

I was astonished; “The will?”

“Yes; Dad’s got a considerable sum of money stashed away, you know”.

“I assumed he’d leave everything to Mum”.

“I’m sure most of it will go to her, but I won’t be surprised if there’s a smaller amount for each of us, too”.

“I can honestly say I hadn’t even thought of that; until you mentioned it, it never even occurred to me”.

“No, I believe you”, he said apologetically, “and now that we’re talking about it I can’t for the life of me imagine how I could have thought such a thing”. He glanced at me with a sheepish grin; “Sorry, bro – I spend far too much time with millionaires and lawyers. Everyone I know thinks money’s what makes the world go around – the more of it the better”.

“Well, I’ve always known that’s the way Dad thinks, so I can’t really hold it against you”.

“But I should have remembered that you don’t think like that; you’re the least worldly person I know”. He laughed softly again. “I think you’re a romantic dreamer, of course; you always have been, but greedy you’re not”.

“Well, I was lucky that my romantic dreams came true – at least for a while”.

He gave me a sideways glance, his face suddenly serious; “I’m really sorry about Kelly”. He shook his head again; “I know I should have written or called or something, but to tell you the honest truth I never know what to say in that sort of situation. What on earth does one say?”

“There’s really nothing to say”.

We strolled along in silence for a couple of minutes, listening to the sound of the birds in the treetops as the sun got close to the horizon. Eventually he spoke again; “So is there a plan?”

“A plan?”

“For fixing things with Dad”.

“Not really. Hopefully I can move back here, get a job, visit Mum and Dad and try to be as helpful as I can”.

“Is Emma looking forward to it?”

“I think so; she likes England and she wants to help Mum and Dad if she can. Of course, she’s going to miss Meadowvale”.

“Totally understandable. She’s a good kid, Becca tells me”.

“Yes she is. And your three? They were quiet at the table tonight”.

“They like Mum, but Dad can be a bit intimidating”.

“Of course”.

“They’re doing well though, for the most part”.

“Sarah’s growing up fast”.

“Yes she is; turning a few heads already, so I’m told, although of course she’s still only fourteen”.

“She’s got a birthday coming up soon, right?”

“She has”. He grinned at me; “I’m impressed – I’m not much for remembering those kinds of things myself, as you know”.

“Well, I was married to a girl who thought family was really important”.

“Emma must have her admirers too?”

“She had a boyfriend for a while but he broke up with her just after Christmas. She’s known him since she was eleven and they were dating for over a year, so she was pretty sad about it”.

“What happened?”

“He was a year ahead of her, and he went away to university”.

“Someone else caught his eye?”

“That’s what I hear. It’s too bad actually; his mum’s a teaching colleague of mine, Mary Stonechild, so it’s been a little awkward”.

“Small town”.

“Yeah”.

We lapsed into silence again for a few minutes, walking slowly along the path. Eventually I said, “Dad doesn’t look well, does he?”

“No. I didn’t notice it right away of course; it came on gradually”. He frowned; “The truth is, I don’t really understand all of it. I don’t understand how he could have had the disease for two or three years without it being noticed”.

“You’ve heard them talk about the difference between indolent and aggressive lymphoma?”

“Yes”.

“Indolent lymphoma isn’t especially dangerous because it doesn’t show many symptoms, but that means that it tends not to be detected until it’s well established. And of course it can turn into aggressive lymphoma, which is what’s happened to Dad”.

He frowned at me; “That’s not what Kelly had, though?”

“No, she had breast cancer. Eventually it moved into her lymph nodes and from there to the bones and the liver, but it wasn’t true lymphoma”.

“Right”.

We ambled along in silence for a couple of minutes, each of us occupied with our own thoughts. Eventually he said, “Well, shall we walk back up to the house? I think I’m ready for another drink”.

“Okay”.

  • * * * * *

I spent a quiet few days at my parents’ home, visiting with my mother and father, going for walks in the village and the old familiar countryside around, and making occasional trips into Oxford with Becca. The atmosphere when my father was awake was as tense as ever, but he usually slept each day for at least an hour in the early afternoon, and then my mother and I had some long, quiet conversations. In the middle of the week Becca drove me to Cowley for a morning interview, and afterwards we went out for lunch at a nearby pub.

My father went into the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford on Tuesday for his third chemo injection. As I expected he was fine on Wednesday, but the next day he began to feel seriously nauseous and by the middle of the day he was keeping to his room. My mother spent a lot of time with him, but when I asked her if there was anything I could do, she shook her head and said, “He doesn’t like to be seen like this, Tom”.

“I understand”.

  • * * * * *

On the Friday afternoon I had my interview at Gypsy Lane School in Headington. The head teacher, Siobhan Macnamara, was a dark-haired Irishwoman, a little older than me; she was brisk and businesslike, and in her questions she wasted no time in getting to the point. I saw the head of English, Kathy MacFarlane, smiling furtively at a couple of her head teacher’s comments; she herself took the lead when it came to specific questions about my teaching skills and experience, and I could tell she had read my resumé carefully and been impressed with it. The third person in the room was one of the school governors, but he took very little part in the interview and seemed to be there mainly to listen. I left at the end of the afternoon with a sense that things had gone well and that there was a good possibility I might be successful.

  • * * * * *

My mother had invited the whole family to dinner again on Saturday night; I had spent the afternoon in Oxford with Becca, and it was already about five-thirty by the time we arrived at my parents’ place. Rick and Alyson and their children got there about half an hour later; it had been a working Saturday for my brother, and he was still wearing a dark suit and maroon tie when they came into the living room.

My father was getting over his nausea by now but he was still looking tired and pale. Nevertheless, he insisted on getting up and pouring drinks for everyone; Alyson accepted a glass of sherry from him and then took her seat beside me on the chesterfield. “How did your interviews go?” she asked.

“Alright, I think”.

“I hear you were back on familiar ground yesterday?”

“Yeah; there’ve been a few changes since the last time I was there”.

“How soon will you hear anything?”

“A couple of weeks”.

“Any sense of which way things might go?”

“I thought both interviews went quite well, but of course I’m unfamiliar with the protocol here so I can’t know for sure”.

“Did it feel different, being back in English schools?”

“Well, it’s the Easter holidays so I didn’t actually get to see either school in action. They’re definitely bigger than I’m used to; our school in Meadowvale has about six hundred students, and the one in Headington has fifteen hundred. I know the school culture’s going to be very different, and so is the curriculum; I have to admit that I find that a little daunting”.

“You can’t let them know that, though”, my father said. “They’ll read it as a sign of weakness. You can’t appear to be weak or they’ll take advantage of it”.

“Who are ‘they’, Dad?”

“Your pupils, of course”.

I shrugged. “I’ve never viewed teaching as a battleground”.

“You might find things a bit different here”.

“Of course; I’m sure the learning curve will be steep”. I glanced at my brother, who was sitting across from us in a wing chair, nursing a glass of scotch. “You were obviously working today”.

“Yes – I’ve got a client with a very important trial coming up in the next couple of weeks. We’re burning the midnight oil getting ready for it”.

“A criminal trial?”

He shook his head. “Commercial”, he replied; “There’s rather a lot of money involved”.

“Are you working on this alone?”

“God, no!” he exclaimed; “There are about five of us on the team. The files already fill dozens of boxes”.

“Do you have to read them all?”

“If I’m going to do a good job for my client”.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Eric shaking his head a couple of times, his eyes on the ground. He had refused my mother’s offer of a cup of tea, and was sitting in the corner of the room, obviously rather bored with the proceedings. Sarah was sitting beside him on a hard-backed chair, and I could tell by the expression on her face that she was waiting to catch my eye. I smiled at her; “How are you doing?”

“I’m alright. I emailed Emma”.

“That’s what I hear”.

“She’s read Harry Potter”.

“She has; she’s a big fan. You are too, are you?”

“I’ve read all of them; they’re fantastic!”

“I think there’s another one coming out soon, isn’t there?”

“In July; I can’t wait!”

“Are these those boy wizard books?” my brother asked with a smile.

“‘Boy wizard books!’” Becca quoted with a bemused grin; “Is it possible my brother hasn’t quite registered the biggest phenomenon in recent publishing history?”

“Are they really that big? I don’t know anything about them other than the name and that there are wizards and witches in them”.

“They’re well on their way to becoming the best-selling fiction series of all time”, I replied. “Kids have been lining up in bookstores for hours when new titles are released”.

“And there are films”, Becca added; “Highly successful films, grossing hundreds of millions of dollars”.

“Money, Dad”, Eric said sarcastically; “Surely you’ve noticed that?”

Rick glanced at him darkly; “Watch your tongue, Eric Masefield”.

Eric tossed his head dismissively and looked away again. Sarah glanced at him for a moment with a little frown, and then turned back to me. “Anyway”, she said, “I’ve emailed back and forth a couple of times with Emma; she seems really nice”.

“I knew she’d be glad to hear from you”.

“We mainly talked about books”.

“Do you like Ursula Le Guin too?”

“I love A Wizard of Earthsea; it’s my favourite book!”

“Oh yeah? It was one of my favourites when I was a teenager, too. I read it when it first came out; I think I was ten or eleven at the time”.

“Have you read her other books?”

“I think I’ve got almost every book she’s written; I think she’s brilliant. Emma really likes her, too”.

“That’s what she told me. But she said she’s reading George Eliot right now; I don’t really know anything about him”.

“‘Her’, actually; ‘George Eliot’ was her pen name, but her real name was Mary Ann Evans. Her stuff is really different from Ursula Le Guin’s”.

“Emma says her books are fantastic”.

Alyson smiled at her daughter; “You’ve found a kindred spirit”.

“I’m looking forward to meeting her; she’s really interesting to talk to”.

  • * * * * *

The following morning, as Becca and I were finishing our coffee at a crowded café outside the departure lounge at Terminal Three, I said, “Rick seems to have inherited Dad’s work ethic in a big way”.

“Well, I can’t really talk there, can I? I’m just as much of a workaholic as either of them”.

“Can I ask you a personal question?”

“You know you can”.

“Do you ever see Mike?”

Immediately she looked away. Mike Carey was a paramedic; he had been her boyfriend for about eighteen months and they had lived together for almost a year, but he had ended their relationship just after Christmas. The previous summer, while they were still together, they had come to Meadowvale to visit Emma and me; while they were with us we had taken them camping for a week in Jasper National Park.

“I know where he’s staying”, she said, “and we know each other’s phone numbers, but we haven’t really talked since we broke up”.

“Sorry; it’s not really my business”.

“Don’t be silly; you and I don’t keep things from each other. To be honest I’m still finding it hard; the hardest part is knowing it was my fault”.

“You can’t be sure of that”.

“Tommy, spare me the sympathy; you and I have talked about this enough times to know I’m the one who’s got to learn to get my compulsive work habits under control. He was tired of being short-changed when it came to time together, and who can blame him? I certainly can’t”. She shook her head slowly; “It’s just that I don’t seem to be able to do anything about it”.

“You’re good at what you do, and you enjoy it”.

“Owen’s good at what he does, and he enjoys it, but he’s not driven like I am”.

“You’re still in touch with some of your high school friends, right?”

“I swim once a week with Stevie Fredericks, and we always have coffee afterwards”.

“You don’t do gymnastics any more, though?”

She laughed; “Not for a long time!”

“You two did pretty well in gymnastics competitions in high school”.

“We did”. She smiled at me; “Those were good days”.

“Kelly and I had our struggles with being over-busy, you know”.

“She told me that. I found it hard to believe; you always seemed so relaxed when I was with you”.

“That was because you almost always came in the summer time. During the school year it was a lot harder”.

“I know teachers are busy”.

“Yeah, and there were other things too. Kelly was working full time, and we were running the Sunday night group a couple of times a month, and attending a midweek study group at the church, and Ellie and Darren and I were driving down to Saskatoon regularly to play gigs. For a couple of years there we were running so fast that we barely connected with each other from morning to night”.

“But you worked it out?”

“Eventually – I gave up gigging with Ellie and Darren, and Kelly went down to half-time at the special care home. It wasn’t easy though; she loved her work and I loved my music. We had to decide what came first, but it wasn’t black and white; that’s what makes it hard, sometimes”.

She frowned thoughtfully, opened her mouth to speak, and then closed it again.

“What is it?” I asked.

“Are you telling me that you and Kelly were really in trouble for a while?”

“I’m telling you that we were an ordinary married couple and we had our struggles. Fortunately for us we were able to work through them; if we hadn’t, then yes, we could have been in trouble”.

She drank the rest of her coffee in silence, put the cup down on the saucer and said, “I suppose I always knew you were an ordinary married couple, but…”

“You enjoyed putting us on a pedestal”.

“I suppose I did. Life was pretty chaotic for me here, and coming to Meadowvale was always such a wonderfully restful thing. And of course, Kelly was always so good to me”.

“I have to say, our struggles were more my fault than hers”.

“Why are you telling me this, Tommy?”

“Because I don’t believe in all those neat personality classifications between Type A and Type B people. I think people are people; we all struggle with getting our priorities right and we all fail sometimes”.

She smiled sheepishly at me. “That’s your gentle brotherly way of telling me to quit blaming my Masefield genes and work harder at getting my life under control?”

“No, that’s my gentle brotherly way of saying we’re in this together”. I glanced at my watch. “And speaking of time…”.

“It’s that time, is it?”

“I’m afraid so”.

We got to our feet reluctantly; “Give my love to Owen and Lorraine”, I said.

“I will – and you give Emma love and hugs from me. Tell her I’ll see her in a couple of months”.

“I will. You don’t have to stand and watch me go through security, you know?”

She grinned at me mischievously; “But if I leave and then they turn you away at the gate, who’s going to drive you back to Northwood?”

“Well, I guess you have a point there, Doctor Masefield; they might even arrest me and throw me in jail”.

“Exactly! So you’ll let me stand and watch while you go through the line, then?”

“Oh well – if you insist”.

“I do”, she said defiantly, “So let’s go down to the gate, shall we?”

Link to Chapter 4

What I Will Remember on Remembrance Day (annual post)

There are some pieces I repost every year, because I really can’t improve on them and still want to say what they say. This is one of them.

386302_10150434245270400_1399354246_nRemembrance Day is often promoted these days as a day to remember the sacrifices of military personnel who served our country in time of war.

In fact, the original Armistice Day, after World War One (the ‘Great War’ which was also called, optimistically, ‘the War to end all Wars’), had a wider focus; it was a thanksgiving that the guns had fallen silent after four years of butchery and carnage on a scale the world had never seen before, and a silent remembrance of all who had lost their lives, military or civilian. It was also a day to pray fervently for peace and to commit oneself to a simple message: ‘Never Again!’

So on Remembrance Day this year there will be many things I will remember.

First and foremost, of course, I will remember family members who were impacted by the ravages of war.

I will remember my grandfather, George Edgar Chesterton (1895-1963), who served with the Leicestershire Tigers from 1914-18. He was eventually captured and spent eighteen months as a P.O.W. before returning home after the armistice.

I will remember my Dad’s uncle, Charles Hodkinson (1912-1941), shot down and killed in a bomber over the Netherlands in 1941.

I will remember my great grand uncle, Horace Arthur Thornton (1896-1917), killed in action in France July 27th 1917.

I will remember Brian Edgar Fogerty (1924-1941), related to me through my grandfather’s sister, who served in the merchant navy during WW2 and died at sea Feb. 22nd 1941; he was just 17.

I will remember Brian’s uncles, Harold Edgar Fogerty (1892-1919) and Edward Ernest Vernon Fogerty (1901-1920), both of whom served in the Great War. They died of illnesses after the war ended, but are remembered on the war memorial in Cheltenham because it is felt that war injuries contributed to their deaths.

I will remember the many other relatives who served in the military in the two great world wars of the twentieth century, many of whom would never speak of their experiences when they returned, and lived with the trauma for the rest of their lives.

I will also remember the brave men and women who served in the enemy armies, many of whom were conscripted and had no choice unless they were willing to be shot. I will remember the people who died because of the bombs my Dad’s uncle Charles dropped. I will remember the U-Boat men who fired the torpedoes that killed Brian Fogerty; the U-Boat arm had the highest casualty incidence of any unit of the German military in WW2, and I expect that most of them died in terror as they heard the explosions of depth charges getting closer and closer; no doubt those who were religious prayed that God would save them, just as my relatives prayed to be saved.

I will remember the civilians whose lives were lost in carpet bombing: in the Blitz in London and other cities in Britain, in the fire-bombing of Dresden, in the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I will remember the residents of the towns and cities of Europe, Africa, and Asia, whose homes became battlegrounds and who lost everything they had, including (in millions of cases) their lives. I will remember the millions of children who became orphans, many of whom were institutionalized for the rest of their lives.

I will remember the ridiculous sibling rivalry between King Edward VII and Kaiser Wilhelm I, which was a primary cause of the arms race between their two countries in the lead up to World War I, and thus arguably contributed to the outbreak of the war. Britain and Germany had no history of aggression, but the Kaiser wanted battleships like his cousin King Edward, and the only excuse he could offer was to create the illusion that Britain was a threat to him. On such stupidity hung the lives of millions of young men.

I will remember the millions of people in eastern Europe who were condemned to forty years of communist tyranny because Britain and the U.S.A. needed the support of Russia to win the Second World War. Our victory was thus won on the backs of the freedom of millions; who were the ‘winners’ here?

I will remember the lies that have been told to justify war, from the lie that Polish soldiers had invaded Germany and killed men at a border post in 1939 (told by Hitler to justify his invasion of Poland) to the lie that Iran had weapons of mass destruction. I will also remember the appalling arrogance of western nations who assume that we have the right to impose our ideas of government on people who obviously do not want them.

I will remember how the words of my Lord Jesus Christ, ”greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends”, have been taken out of the context in which he spoke them – in which he was about to lay down his life without resisting, loving his enemies and praying for those who hated him – and have been used to honour and glorify the deaths of those who were killed while they were fighting and killing others.

I will remember all of this on Remembrance Day. I will pray that this madness will end, that human beings may find better ways to resolve their conflicts than sending young people out to butcher each other, and that those who profit from war will have their eyes opened to their own wickedness, and repent. And I will pray that the Christian Church throughout the world may be alive to the call it has received from its master, to love our enemies and pray for those who hate us.

And, as always, I will find Wilfred Owen’s immortal poem ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’ to be a penetrating aid to true remembrance of what war is all about:

Dulce Et Decorum Est
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;

Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime…
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

– Wilfred Owen, 1917

10 + 1 Reasons to Oppose War

destruction_old_homs_syria
War’s destruction in Homs, Syria. MCC photo/Doug Enns

In an excellent post on the website ‘MCC Ottawa Office Notebook’, Esther Epp-Tiessen shares ’10 + 1 Reasons to Oppose War’. The post is worth reading in full, as it is extensively researched and linked to other pieces.

She begins by saying:

Remembrance Day—and, for Anabaptist-Mennonites, Peace Sunday—is once again upon us. It is the season to mourn the loss of human life in war. And the season to commit, once again, to building a culture of peace.

Resistance to war is part of the very heart of MCC.  As an agency of Anabaptist-Mennonite churches, MCC holds to the confession that war and participation in war are counter to the way of Jesus.  For us, resistance to war is at the core of our identify as pacifist Christians.

But there are many other reasons to oppose war.  And we suspect that many Canadians—who may not share our theological commitments—can nevertheless affirm these reasons.

She then outlines ten reasons to oppose war. Here’s the summary, but please do read the whole piece:

  1. War kills and harms soldiers
  2. War kills and harms civilians
  3. War creates refugees
  4. War harms the natural environment
  5. War’s financial cost is enormous
  6. War sets back development
  7. War empowers the weapons dealers
  8. War distorts truth
  9. War does not address root causes
  10. There are many nonviolent alternatives to war

Read the full post here.

 

‘A Time to Mend’, Chapter Two

Link back to Chapter One

When I finished ‘Meadowvale’ it turned out that there were some inconsistencies with ‘A Time to Mend’ (which I wrote first, over ten years ago, even though chronologically it comes after ‘Meadowvale’). So – I’m having another go at ‘A Time to Mend’ to bring it back in sync with ‘Meadowvale’. Here’s the second chapter.

 

Will Reimer had been my first principal at Meadowvale High School; he and his wife Sally had welcomed me to the community, found a place for me to stay and helped me furnish it, driven me around until I bought a car, and invited me over to their house for countless suppers and backyard barbecues. It was at one of those suppers, on my first Thanksgiving weekend in Canada, that I had met their three children. The oldest, Joe, had recently returned to Meadowvale to practice as a vet; Kelly was working as a nurse in Jasper, and Krista was studying for her Master’s degree in Edmonton in hopes of becoming a wildlife biologist.

Two years later on Thanksgiving weekend Kelly and I were married; by then Joe and his wife Ellie were good friends of mine, and over the years I had also become close to Krista, who eventually married Steve Janzen. Between us we had five children who Steve collectively dubbed ‘The Pack’. Jake and Jenna, Joe and Ellie’s kids, had literally grown up around the corner from Emma, and they were in and out of each other’s houses all the time. Mike and Rachel, the children of Steve and Krista, lived a little further away in Saskatoon but we still saw a lot of them, and during the summers the five of them were often together.

I had been playing traditional English folk music since my teens; Ellie Reimer was a bluegrass fiddler and we gradually realized that the two genres were very compatible. Over the years we had learned many songs from each other, and for a while we had been playing regular gigs together down in the city, along with a younger teacher from my school, Darren Peterson, who was an excellent banjo and mandolin player. We had slowed down eventually, both Ellie and I being busy with many other things in our lives, but we still played together from time to time. Ellie’s older sister Karla was married to one of my other close friends in Meadowvale, Glenn Pickering; he was born in our little town and had been practicing Law there since about 1978.

Not long before Kelly died, her cousin Brenda Nikkel had opened the Meadowvale Beanery on the main street. It was a small café that served home-made soups and sandwiches and fair trade coffee, and it had become quite popular with some of the younger people in town, although most of the old-timers were still loyal to the Travellers’ or the Co-op Deli. The Beanery had wooden tables and chairs, shelves with bags of flavoured coffee and tea for sale, and paintings of old grain elevators on the walls.

I met Joe and Ellie there for coffee at about four o’clock on Sunday afternoon, the day after I talked to my mother; I had told them briefly about my father’s cancer after church that morning. Brenda was working by herself that afternoon but when she saw us come into the café she came out from behind the counter and gave me a warm hug. She and Kelly had been very close, and although she had been through a few troubles of her own in the past ten years, including the breakup of her marriage, I knew she had taken it on herself to keep a special eye on Emma and me. Emma worked the occasional shift at the Beanery, as well as volunteering at the Meadowvale Special Care Home where Kelly had worked as a geriatric nurse.

In the gene pool of the Reimer family all three of Will and Sally’s children had inherited their mother’s blond hair, but Joe was the only one who was as tall as she was. He had often joked with Kelly and me that having stairs in the house must have been very useful for us when it came to kissing; I stand six feet four inches tall, and Kelly was a full foot shorter than me. Joe was a little under six feet himself, which was taller than both his parents; he was almost two years my senior, and over the past few years he had been losing his hair at a prodigious rate. Ellie was a little shorter than her husband, with thick black hair streaked here and there with grey.

We picked up our coffee and went over to an empty table by a window in the corner, stopping a couple of times on the way to say hello to people we knew. Joe and Ellie took their seats across from me; Joe cupped his hands around his mug and looked at me expectantly, while Ellie added a little sugar to her coffee, stirred it with a spoon and said, “Did you talk to Becca again?”

“Yeah, I called her after church”.

“Was she at your mom and dad’s?”

“No, she was home. She’d been out briefly in the morning but she said it was obvious that dad didn’t really want company, so she came home after about an hour”.

“Is he having a hard time accepting the situation?”

“That’s what she says”.

Joe sat back in his chair, stretching his long legs out under the table. “You were talking about ‘indolent’ and ‘aggressive’ lymphoma”, he said, making air quotes with his fingers; “I’m not really familiar with those terms”.

“Neither was I until Becca explained them to me. She says indolent lymphoma tends to go unnoticed for a long time, because it doesn’t usually present obvious symptoms. But that means it can spread quietly without attracting attention to itself. That seems to be what’s happened to Dad”.

“And now it’s turned into the aggressive kind?”

“Yeah, and it’s had plenty of time to get established”.

“So it’s widespread?”

“Yes, and it’s already moved into the bone marrow”.

“That doesn’t sound good”.

“No”.

“How are you doing, Tom?” Ellie asked softly.

I shrugged; “I feel sorry for him, but it’s complicated, as you know”.

“No kidding”.

“It’s strange; I guess I tend to go through my daily routines without thinking about him very much. I know he’s out there; he’s just not really a part of my life”.

“You’ve never really had a lot in common with him”, said Joe.

“No, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we couldn’t ever have been close. When I first came here I’d never have thought of being friends with people like old Charlie Blackie and Wilf and Mabel Collins, or even Mike Robinson or John Janzen. I would have just assumed I wouldn’t have enough in common with them, but if people are willing to step out of their comfort zones and take an interest in the lives of others you’ve got something to work with, haven’t you? But Dad’s never been willing to do that”.

“Have you? The law isn’t exactly your favourite subject”.

I grinned at him; “I’ll have you know, Joe Reimer, that Glenn Pickering and I have had some very interesting conversations about the law over the years!”

He laughed; “I guess so. Glenn’s more of a meat and potatoes lawyer, though”.

“True, and Dad’s been doing corporate law for as long as I can remember. But if he’d just meet me half way…” I shook my head; “It wouldn’t even have to be half way. I sometimes feel as if I’ve gone ninety percent of the way toward him, but that last ten percent isn’t in my power; he needs to make a move. And when he didn’t even come over for Kelly’s funeral…”

Ellie reached across and put her hand on mine; “I remember”, she said gently.

I looked down at my coffee. “Mum gave us a card; she’d signed it ‘Mum and Dad’. I’m sure he never even looked at it”.

“You were angry”, said Joe.

I shrugged my shoulders. “I guess I was at the time, but eventually I realized I’d allowed myself to be lured into thinking that just once he might surprise me. That was my mistake. Whatever this strange relationship is that we have, it always seems to work better if I expect nothing from him, and most of the time that’s where I’m at. That’s why I said I tend to go through my life without thinking of him very much”.

“That might be about to change”.

“I know”.

“What about your mom; how’s she doing?”

“I’m concerned about her. I want her to take advantage of any help she can get, even with practical things like cleaning and meals and all that. You know what it’s like; as the disease progresses it’s going to take more and more time and energy on her part, and she doesn’t have a network like I had here with Kelly. But Dad really likes his privacy; I don’t think he’d take kindly to having strangers in the house to help out”.

“What about his extended family?”

I shook my head; “They’ve never been close. Most of them are in London except for my cousin Ann; she’s living in Oxford now. And the only family member Mum’s got close is Auntie Brenda, and she’s older than Mum”.

“And a widow herself”, Joe added.

“Yes”.

“I don’t remember your mom having many friends”.

“There’ve been a couple of Northwood teachers she’s been close to over the years but her closest friend is the one who lives furthest away – Pat Schuster in Vienna. They talk on the phone all the time”.

“I expect your mom will lean on you a lot, even though you’re so far away”.

“Yes”.

“Are you okay with that?”

“Yes”.

“Kind of hard to be reminded of it all though”.

“Yeah, but it’s not as if I ever forget, Joe”.

“No”, he said, and I saw the understanding in his eyes.

“Are you going to go for a visit?” Ellie asked.

“Yes, during spring break, and then we’ll probably go in the summer for a substantial period of time, although I’ll need to be helping Emma get moved to Saskatoon, too”.

“Don’t worry about that”, said Joe; “If she’s got stuff to move down, we can help her with it”.

I nodded; “Thanks”.

He gave me a little frown; “Distance is going to make this hard for you”.

“Yeah – I’m not sure how much Dad would be willing to let me be a part of everything, but it would be a lot easier to be helpful to Mum if I was closer”. I shrugged; “I made my choices, I guess, and for the most part they’ve turned out pretty well”.

Ellie nodded; “That’s for sure”.

Joe looked at me in silence for a moment and then said, “If I was in your shoes, I think I’d be wishing there was some way I could move closer for a while”.

I shook my head; “Even if Dad and I got along better I don’t think that would be possible. Em’s starting university in the Fall, and we’ve got so many ties over here. This is our home and I can’t see that changing”.

“What do you think are your chances of bringing some healing into your relationship with your dad before he dies?”

“Em was asking me the same thing yesterday morning; I told her I don’t know, but I suppose I should be trying”. I took another sip of my coffee, cupped my hands around the mug and said, “I know Kelly would have said I should keep trying and not give up; it really bothered her over the years that there was still this rift between Dad and me”.

“I know”.

I stared out through the window in the dying light of the winter afternoon, watching the cars and trucks drive by on the icy street. After a moment I shook my head and said, “All I can do is go over there, I guess, and make myself available for conversation if he wants to have it. But I’m not hopeful”.

 

Becca and I emailed back and forth all through the following week, and I talked with my mother on the phone a couple of times. There was no change in my father’s situation; he was still waiting to go in for more tests, and meanwhile my mother was encouraging him to get as much rest as he could. “Not that he needs much persuading”, she said to me; “He’s tired all the time. He’s never been one for taking naps, but now he can’t keep awake after lunch, and once he’s asleep he’s out for a couple of hours”.

I knew that Emma had been talking to my mother too, and to Becca; she and Becca had been close for many years. She didn’t say much to me about my father’s illness, and I knew why; this time two years ago it had been Kelly who was fighting for her life with cancer, and the wound was still as raw for Emma as it was for me. The two of us talked openly about most things but we both knew instinctively when to back off and respect each other’s privacy, and I knew that this was one of those times. She was always good at making me cups of tea and doing little acts of kindness for me, but I noticed now that she was giving me more frequent hugs, and every now and again I saw her looking at me with an expression of concern on her face.

“I’m okay, Em”, I said to her one evening as we were sitting by the open fireplace in the living room drinking our late-night hot chocolate; “You don’t have to worry about me”.

“I do worry about you though”, she replied softly.

“Why?”

She shrugged; “You know why”.

“Maybe I do and maybe I don’t”.

“Well, I know it’s complicated, but he’s your dad”.

“Yes he is”.

She looked down for a moment, stirring her hot chocolate in the mug. “And then there’s Mom”, she whispered.

“Yes”.

She stared into the fire; “I still miss her so much…”

“I know”.

“And then I think about you and her, and how much you loved each other, and I know it’s got to be hard for you watching your dad go through cancer”.

“Joe and I had this conversation a few days ago. It’s not like I ever forget, Em”.

“I understand”.

“Thanks for looking out for me, though”.

She looked at me for a moment without saying anything, and then she nodded slowly; “Thanks for looking out for me, too”, she said.

 

On the Friday night Emma went out to spend some time with a couple of friends. At around eight o’clock Joe called to see if I wanted company, and since I never did schoolwork on Friday nights I was happy to make a pot of tea and sit down at the kitchen table with him for an hour of quiet conversation.

“Have you talked to your dad yet?” he said.

“Not at any length. We’ve said hello to each other and asked after each other’s health, but that’s about it”.

He laughed softly; “You asked after each other’s health?”

“I said, ‘How are you doing?’ and he said, ‘As well as can be expected’”.

“You’re a communicative pair, aren’t you?”

“I know; that’s always been part of the problem. We’ve basically got two ways of communicating: we argue, or we just don’t talk”.

“That’s not entirely true; I’ve heard you speak civilly to each other”.

“When we’re talking about nothing, yes”.

“Maybe talking about nothing is a start”.

I shrugged; “Maybe”.

“So do you think you can get past that?”

“I’m not optimistic. He won’t even stay on the phone with me when I call; what chance do I have of getting a real conversation going?”

“It’ll take time, that’s for sure. Probably longer than a week”.

I glanced across the table at him; “Where are you going with that?”

“Like I said Sunday afternoon, if I was in your shoes I’d be thinking seriously about going back for a longer period of time”.

I shook my head slowly; “I’ve thought about it a bit, but there are just too many complications”.

“Tell me about them”.

“Well, let’s start with work; I’d have to leave my job here and try to get a teaching position in England”.

“Temporarily – for a year or two”.

“But I don’t think I could just take a two-year leave of absence; I’d have to resign, and there’d be no guarantee that I would ever get back here afterwards”.

“But you know the school board pretty well, and you and Don are good friends; I’m sure you could persuade them to offer your job on a two-year contract to someone”.

“That would be a very unusual thing for them to do”.

“Perhaps, but you’ve given them twenty years of loyal service; don’t you think they might be willing to go the extra mile for you?”

“I don’t know and I’d hate to ask, because I know how hard it would be for them to get a temporary replacement up here for me. And then of course there’s Em; she’s already got her application in to Saskatoon for the Fall”.

“There are universities in England, or so I’ve heard”.

“Yes, but the deadline’s already passed for overseas applications for the Fall term; all the paperwork has to be in by November”.

“You’ve looked into this?”

“I have”.

“So you have been thinking about it?”

“Of course I’ve been thinking about it; do you think I want my dad to die with this rift still between us?”

He shook his head; “I know you don’t”.

“But how would Em feel about it? Can I even assume she’d want to come with me? She’s been looking forward to going down to Saskatoon and sharing an apartment with Jake. And most of her family and friends are here”.

“She loves England, though”.

“That’s true; the last time we were there she really enjoyed it. But that was six years ago, and since then she’s lost her mum. A lot of things have changed for her; I think if I decided to go, she might just choose to stay here and go to Saskatoon. And I think it would be hard for her to have me move so far away”.

“And for you, too”.

I nodded; “Yes”.

He took a sip of his tea, put the mug down on the kitchen table again and sat back in his chair. “Look, don’t get me wrong; the last thing I want is for you to be thousands of miles away. You’re my brother-in-law and my closest friend, not to mention the godfather of my kids”.

I shook my head. “I don’t want to leave, Joe; this is our home”.

“I know it would be hard – for you and us”.

“Excruciatingly hard”.

“But there would be benefits too”.

“Strangely enough, I can’t quite manage to persuade myself that being closer to my dad would be a benefit!”

He laughed softly. “Well, that’s part of it, but I wasn’t only thinking of that. What about you and Becca? You’ve been close since she was a baby and you really love each other”.

“We do”.

“And Owen’s your closest friend; you’d enjoy being able to spend more time with him”.

“I don’t know about ‘closest friend’; I think the person sitting across this table from me right now might have a claim on that title too”.

He smiled; “Alright then – one of your closest friends! I know you’d love to be able to play music with him and spend more time together”.

“Yes, I would, but…”

“I know – it’s complicated; I think we’ve established that. But what’s the bottom line, Tom? You know reconciliation is important; you’ve already said that”.

“I’m not denying it”.

“So I guess you have to ask yourself just how important it is for you”.

I smiled at him. “You’re being unusually direct tonight, Joe Reimer”.

“I guess I am; sorry if I’m going too far”.

I shook my head. “No”, I said softly, “actually, at the moment you’re reminding me very strongly of your sister”.

“A good memory, then?”

“A good memory. And she was usually right”.

“Yes, she was”, he agreed.

 

After supper on Saturday I went out for a rare evening walk. When I got back to the house at about nine o’clock Emma was curled up in her chair beside the fireplace reading a book; the curtains were closed against the darkness of the night, and a standing lamp in the corner threw a soft light into the living room. She looked up and smiled at me. “How was your walk?” she asked.

“Pretty good”. I took my seat across from her; “What are you reading tonight?”

“Middlemarch; I really like it so far”.

“I like it too”.

“I saw a few others by George Eliot on your shelf; are they all this good?”

“Some of them; I really like Daniel Deronda and Felix Holt the Radical”.

“I’ll have to read them. I think this one’s going to keep me going for a while, though”.

“They’re not short”.

“That’s for sure”.

I hesitated, looked across at her and said, “Listen, there’s something I need to talk to you about”.

“What is it?”

“If I was to move to England for a couple of years, what would you do? Would you stay here and go to university in Saskatoon, or would you come over to England with me?”

“Are you serious?”

“Yes”.

“Is this about trying to make things better with Grandpa?”

“Yes”.

“What’s got you thinking about this?”

“Joe brought it up a few days ago. It’s been on my mind on and off ever since, and I’ve tried to pray about it too”.

She got up, went out to the kitchen, poured herself a glass of water, and then came back into the living room and sat down again. “That would be pretty drastic; you’d resign from your job here, would you?”

“Or talk to Don and the school board about a leave of absence”.

“Would they do that for you?”

“I have no idea; they’ve never done it for anyone else except for maternity leaves, and it’s often a real pain to try to get people in here for short-term positions”.

“Right”.

“Off the top of your head, what do you think?”

She grinned; “Free board and lodging in England for two years while you slave away as a teacher and I get to be a tourist? I’d be okay with that!”

“Seriously, now”.

She nodded; “Okay – but I was being at least partly serious, Dad”.

“So you’re not completely opposed to the idea?”

“Of course not; I totally understand where you’re coming from, and if you wanted to go over there and you were willing to take me with you, there would definitely be things I’d enjoy about it. I like England and I’d love the chance to live there for an extended period of time. And now’s probably as good a time as any to think about it; I’m finishing Grade Twelve but I haven’t started university yet”.

“There are universities in England, too”.

She raised an eyebrow; “Are we talking longer than two years now?”

I shrugged; “I wouldn’t think so, but when it comes to cancer diagnoses it’s hard to predict just how long things will take”.

“I understand. And there’s that part of it too; I’d like to spend some time with Grandma and Grandpa. They’re going to need some help; maybe I can be part of that”.

“I’m sure they’d appreciate that”.

“And then there’s Russell”.

“Russell?”

She nodded; “I wouldn’t mind getting away for a while, Dad”.

“You might not feel that so strongly six months from now”.

“Maybe not, but at the moment…”

“I understand. So – what do you think?”

She frowned thoughtfully. “I’d have to think some more about it. I’d love to say yes right away, but there are other things I need to consider”.

“I know you’ve got plans for Saskatoon”.

“Yeah”.

“You and Jake and Jenna have been talking about this for a long time”.

“Yes we have”. She smiled at me. “So how would this work? Would you try to get a job in Oxford?”

“Or somewhere close. It wouldn’t be easy to move there; it’s one of the more expensive parts of England”.

“Would you sell our house?”

“That wouldn’t be my first choice; I’d prefer to rent it out and use the money to help with renting a place in the U.K.”.

For a few minutes she said nothing; she stared off again into the fireplace and I could see that she was thinking hard. Eventually she said, “I need some time, Dad”.

“Okay”.

“I think I’m going to go to bed now if that’s okay?”

I looked at my watch; “A little early for you, isn’t it?”

She got to her feet, gave me a quick smile, and slipped off down the hall; after a moment I heard the click of her bedroom door closing behind her.

I understood immediately what was going on; some people deal with surprises by running for company, but Emma had always preferred to run for solitude. I knew I had to give her some space to work things out for herself. I sat quietly for a few minutes, then got up, picked up my guitar from the corner and began to play some quiet instrumental tunes. I knew that she would be sitting on her bed, thinking and praying, and I probably wouldn’t see her now until the next morning.

 

The next day we went to church together, stayed for a while for the coffee hour, and then excused ourselves to go home and make lunch. While we were eating she said, “Do you want to go up to the recreation area and go snowshoeing?”

“Sure; it looks like a nice afternoon out there. Shall I make a thermos of coffee to pack with us?”

“Sounds good”.

 

The sun was shining a dazzling light on the fresh snow as we drove out to Myers Lake Recreation Area, about seven miles from Meadowvale. Over the years our family had spent a lot of time there; the lake itself was a great place for waterfowl in the summer time, and there were miles of walking trails along its shores and off into the bush. Emma enjoyed cross-country skiing, and in her early teens she had really taken to snowshoeing – something I enjoyed as well.

There were no other vehicles in the tiny parking lot when we arrived. We got out of the car, and I pulled on a backpack holding a small thermos flask, a couple of mugs and some snacks to keep us going on the trail. By now it was about one-thirty in the afternoon; the sky was a clear and brilliant blue and I guessed that the temperature was probably sitting at about minus twenty. We lifted our snowshoes from the trunk of the car and bent to strap them on, and I grinned at her and said, “You lead the way”.

We stepped off the beaten trail as soon as we could, moving into the deeper snow close to the spruce and poplar trees where the snowshoes could do their work. We didn’t say much to each other; I knew that she would be focussed outward, taking in every detail of the landscape as well as keeping her eye out for birds and other wildlife. The afternoon was cold but there was no wind, and it didn’t take long for us to warm up in our down jackets and ski pants.

After about an hour we stopped at a place where a frozen creek snaked out from a stand of spruce trees into the lake. There was a picnic table partially hidden in the snow under the trees and I saw Emma make her way over to it, clearing the snow from the top with her gloved hands. She smiled at me, her face red and glowing; “Coffee time?”

“Sounds good”.

We took off our snowshoes and sat side by side on the top of the picnic table with our feet on the snow-covered bench. I took out our thermos and poured hot sweet coffee into the two plastic mugs; I handed one to her along with a granola bar, and took another bar for myself. We grinned contentedly at each other and sat in silence for a few minutes, sipping our coffee and chewing on our granola bars, our breath hanging in the cold air. I felt her lean towards me slightly until our shoulders touched.

“I think I’m ready to talk a little more now”, she said.

“Okay”

“So – assuming you decided moving to England was a good idea, you’d need to apply for jobs and then interview for them?”

“I’d have to have some sort of interview but I don’t know if it would be by phone or in person; when I came here the school board did the interview by phone. But I’m going to be over there during spring break so it might be possible to do some interviews then”.

“What do you think of your chances of getting a job?”

“I’m really not sure; I’ve got a lot of research to do”.

We were quiet for a few minutes, watching a raven soar over the trees on the other side of the creek, each of us occupied with our memories. Eventually she gave a little sigh, glanced at me again and said, “So it’s expensive in the Oxford area?”

“Yes”.

“That would be hard for us if we had to buy a car and furniture and that sort of stuff”.

“Yes, and shipping furniture would be expensive, too. I’d hate to leave all our stuff behind though; I’d like to have a few familiar things around us”.

“Me too. Could we afford this, Dad?”

“It would be tight but I think we could manage it”.

“You’d be happy to be close to Owen and Lorraine and Becca again”.

“I would”.

“I did a bit of research online about nursing training in the U.K.”.

“Ah, so that’s what you were doing in your room last night”.

“Oxford Brookes University has a pretty good three-year program”.

“Oh yeah?”

“Looks like the National Health Service pays the fees for British and E.U. citizens. I tried to find out on the website if I’d qualify, but I couldn’t find anything about that”.

“I’m guessing you’d probably need to be a resident”.

“I think so”. She gave me another sideways glance; “There’s a lot to think about”.

“There is”.

“And how about this reconciliation thing? Do you think it would work?”

“I really don’t know”.

“What did Joe say?”

“He told me he was pretty sure what Kelly would have wanted me to do”.

She nodded; “He’s right about that”.

“I know”.

“So I guess you have to decide whether you think two years is long enough for that”.

“And you have to decide whether it would be important enough to uproot yourself from your friends and family over here to come with me”.

“I’d probably be too late now to apply to a British university in time for the Fall term, wouldn’t I?”

“I think so”.

She thought for a moment and then said, “Yesterday you asked me whether I’d go with you, or stay here and go to Saskatoon”.

“Yes”.

“What do you think about the ‘staying here and going to Saskatoon’ option?”

“I suppose I’d have to be honest and say that I’d hate for that to happen”. I put my arm around her shoulders, hugged her a little closer and said, “I’d really miss you. Still – you’d have to decide what’s best for you. I think it would be more difficult for me to help you out if I was over in England; it’s that whole cost of living thing again. But I know how long you and Jake and Jenna have been planning your time in Saskatoon together; the last thing I want to do is get in the way of that, if you still feel really strongly about it”.

“I’d need to talk to them”.

“I know”.

She stared out thoughtfully over the frozen lake. “Maybe if I moved to England with you I’d be able to travel around a little in the Fall and then start university in January”.

“That’s possible”.

She turned to look at me. “How soon do you need to know?”

“Well, let me ask you something else first: would you be okay with me going, whether or not you decide to come with me?”

She nodded slowly; “I’d really miss you”, she said softly, “but I know it would be the right thing for you to do”.

I put my arm around her and drew her close, kissing the top of her head. “I’d miss you too, honey – more than I can say”.

“I love you, Dad”, she whispered.

“I love you too”.

We were quiet for a moment, and then she straightened up, cupping her hands around her coffee mug. “Can you give me a week?” she asked; “I need to think this through”.

“I can give you a week”.

“Is it okay if I talk to Jake and Jenna about it?”

“Of course – I assumed you’d want to do that. I’ll probably talk to a couple of other people about it as well”.

“Grandpa and Grandma Reimer?”

“Yes, and probably Don and Lynda too”.

She smiled; “Probably wouldn’t hurt, since he’s your principal”.

“That’s what I thought”.

She looked at me for a moment, and then spoke in a quiet voice; “Thanks”, she said.

“For what?”

“For being patient with me”. She put her hand on mine; “This isn’t easy for you”.

“No, it sure isn’t”.

She slid off the table, stretched and straightened up. “I’m getting a little cold; I think we should move on”.

“Sounds good”.

* * * * *

Link to Chapter 3

 

Adopted and Adapted (a sermon on 1 John 3.1-3)

I heard a story once about a minister and his wife who had tried for years to have children, and eventually had decided to go the adoption route. So they adopted a little girl and they were very glad to have her in their family. As she got older they told her she was adopted, but she couldn’t always remember the right words to use when she was telling her friends about this. One day the minister was sitting in his study working on his sermon, and his daughter ran into the room with the friend she’d been playing with. “Daddy”, she said, “I forget – was I adopted or adapted?” “Adopted, my dear”, he replied; “We’re still working on the adapting part!”

I’d like to suggest that we Christians are in a similar situation, and our epistle for today gives us both sides of that story: we’ve been ‘adopted’ into the family of God as his dearly loved children, and God is now working on the ‘adapting’ process – the process of becoming like our older brother in the family, the Lord Jesus Christ.

This is an appropriate theme for us today, as we baptize Sophia Lynn into the family of God. In the Church Year November 1st is All Saints’ Day and it’s such a wonderful festival that when it doesn’t fall on Sunday, we celebrate it on the following Sunday so we won’t miss it! So today we remember all the people of God through all the ages, the saints who belong to him. But we’re thinking about ourselves, too, because part of the message of ‘All Saints’ Day’ is that we are indeed ‘all saints’ – all of us are the people who belong to God, which is what the word ‘saint’ means. All who believe and are baptized are adopted into God’s family and become one of his saints; Sophia joins that family today. And then comes the ‘adapting’, which will last for the rest of her life, and our lives too.

So let’s start by thinking about adoption. Let me read two verses from our epistle reading for today; these words may well have been written by the apostle John when he was a very old man.

‘See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! (1 John 3:1, New Living Translation).

I’m blessed to be the uncle of two adopted children, Elizabeth and Stephen. My brother and his wife adopted them when they were babies, a couple of years apart; now, of course, they’re young adults, and we enjoy watching their exploits from afar on Facebook! I’ve known families where adopted children are seen as second class, but that’s emphatically not the case in our family: Ellie and Stee are full members just the same as our own kids. And it’s the same for us in the family of God. We have been adopted into the greatest family possible, as children of the High King of Heaven.

Now some will ask, “But why do we need to be adopted? Aren’t we born the children of God? Aren’t all people God’s children?”

I would answer that question by saying that we all know terms that change their meaning depending on how they’re being used. ‘Child of God’ is a term like that. It’s used in several different ways in the Bible. The most important one for us as Christians is its use to describe Jesus: he’s the ‘Son of God’ by nature, what later theologians came to call ‘the second person of the Trinity’, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, three persons in one God. In the truest sense of all, Jesus is the Child of God. So if you mean ‘a son like Jesus’, it’s true to say ‘God the Father only has one Son’.

But a second usage includes everyone God has made. In the Old Testament book of Malachi the prophet says ‘Are we not all children of the same Father? Are we not all created by the same God?’ (Malachi 2:10 NLT). This passage clearly teaches that all people, by virtue of their creation, can call themselves the children of God – whether they know it or not.

But there’s a third sense which is common in the New Testament. People who are children of God by virtue of their creation can also enter into a more intimate child-to-parent relationship with God because of Jesus. In the introduction to his Gospel, John says ‘But to all who believed (Jesus) and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn – not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God’ (John 1:12-13 NLT). So God comes to us in Jesus with the offer of reconciliation and new life. We accept the offer in faith and commit ourselves to following him as his dearly loved children. And baptism is the sign and symbol of that adoption.

Later on, of course, children like Sophia have to make their own decisions about what to do about their baptism. Are they going to continue as followers of Jesus or not? No one can force that decision on them. Wise Christian parents will teach their kids what it’s all about in such a way as to whet their appetite for more, but in the end the decision will lie with the child themselves. I was baptized at the age of six weeks, in late December 1958. Later on, at the age of 13, I made a conscious commitment of my life to Jesus, which was my own personal moment of spiritual awakening. It was as if, in my baptism, God said to me “You are my beloved child”, and thirteen years later I nodded my head and said, “Yes I am, and I’m glad about that; thank you!”

It’s an amazing thing to see yourself first and foremost as a child of the God who made the universe. There’s a phrase out there that people use from time to time that I find really offensive: “How much is he worth?” What they mean is “How much money does he have?” but no Christian can be happy when that’s expressed in terms of worth, as if someone who has a million dollars is worth more than someone who has nothing. God has an entirely different measure of our significance and worth: we are his children by creation, and we have also become his children by adoption into his family. When you know this about yourself it doesn’t matter so much what others think or say about you. God says to us what he said to Jesus at the moment of his baptism: “You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy” (Mark 1:11 NLT).

So that’s the first thing – the adoption. Now let’s move on the the second part – the adaptation. Let me read verses 2-3 to you; I’m reading again from the New Living Translation which is a bit different from the pew Bibles:

“Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure” (I John 3:2-3).

When I read a mystery novel I sometimes find I’m being tempted to turn to the last page to find out ‘who done it?’ Of course, that’s not a good idea – it spoils the suspense of the book. But in other situations, looking ahead is good – when we’re planning a route for a trip, for instance, it’s good to know what destination we’re aiming for, because those who aim at nothing usually hit it! So old John has looked ahead and seen the destination we’re aiming for as Christians: “But we do know that we will be like (Jesus), for we will see him as he really is” (2b). This is our destination: to see Jesus face to face, and to be transformed into his likeness.

The Old Testament tells a story of Moses coming down a mountain to meet the Israelites after he had been talking with God face to face. He didn’t realize that the prolonged time with God had had a physical effect on him – his face was shining. When the people saw it they were afraid, and Moses had to put a veil over his face to lay their fears to rest.

That’s a parable of what a meeting with God does to us, if it’s a genuine meeting. We can’t emerge from it unchanged; we meet him, and we’re transformed by the meeting.

John says this is what will happen to us when we see Christ face to face at the end of our journey: “We will be like him, for we will see him as he really is” (v.2). We will be ‘like’ him in two senses: first, we will enjoy the same glorified resurrection body that he currently enjoys. But secondly, and perhaps more importantly, we will be transformed on the inside, so that we are thoroughly good, holy, loving people, just as Jesus is.

So that’s the destination. Now – what’s the route like? How do we get there from here?

Sometimes on a long journey the terrain and the climate can change dramatically in the space of a few short miles. In southern Alberta you can be driving on the bald prairie for a long time, but then when you get near Drumheller you suddenly find yourself dropping down into the badlands, surrounded by cliffs and hoodoos. It’s a very quick transition! But most transitions are more gradual than that; it’s a long time before we notice the difference.

In John’s vision, that’s the sort of journey we embark on when we become Christians – a journey of gradual transformation. He says in verse 3 “And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he (that is, Jesus) is pure”.

What does he mean, “keep themselves pure”? Well, back in chapter 2:6 he says “those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did”. This is how we purify ourselves: by living day by day as Jesus lived, so that gradually we become like him. We learn Christ-like habits, and those habits help us become Christ-like people. One day we will be ‘like’ him in an absolute sense; but for now, we’re on a journey of gradual transformation toward that goal.

In order for us to develop those Christ-like habits it’s important for us to come face to face with the Jesus of the Gospels on a regular basis. Every Sunday we have a gospel reading – this morning it was the Beatitudes – and as we listen, we see once again the kind of person Jesus is, the things that are important to him, the priorities he sets, the way of life he teaches his followers. But we shouldn’t be content with just Sunday reading. We’re privileged to have Bibles in English available to us in many translations. Bible reading should be a regular part of our Christian life, and in that reading the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John should have a central place. And as we read, we can pray for God’s help: “Loving God, help me today to see life as Jesus sees it and to live life as he taught it”.

There’s no guarantee that this will be easy; in fact, Jesus warns us that it will be difficult, and that not everyone in our lives will be jumping for joy when they see us doing it. Nonetheless, this is our call as baptized Christians. It’s the call that Sophia will need to hear as she grows up. It’s the call that Andrea and James and Deb accept today as they bring her to baptism: the call to “live their lives as Jesus did”.

We know what’s involved. We’re called to seek first the Kingdom of God as our highest value, above everything else. We’re called to turn away from greed and live simple lives, uncluttered with a lot of luxuries. We’re called to care for the poor and needy. We’re called to love our enemies and pray for those who hate us, to speak and live by the truth at all times, to love God with our whole heart and love our neighbour as ourselves – even when the neighbour is of a different race or religion or socio-economic background than we are. And we do all this with the help of the Holy Spirit, who fills us each day and gives us strength to follow Jesus. This is the process of adaptation as members of the family of God.

It’s important to be patient with ourselves on this journey. We live in an instant world where we want everything now, if not sooner. But the Scriptures are full of stories of people who had to wait for God to work in their lives – and that process of waiting molded them into patient people. In the Parable of the Sower Jesus says, “And the seeds that fell on good soil represent honest, good-hearted people who hear God’s word, cling to it, and patiently produce a huge harvest” (Luke 8:15). When we read that verse, we tend to notice the ‘huge harvest’ part, but miss out on the word that comes first: patiently!

So, sisters and brothers, we are baptized Christians, and so we are God’s saints. We are children of God by creation and also by adoption. Our destination is to see Jesus face to face and be transformed into his likeness, and we’re on our way to that destination. While we’re on the way, our call is to do our best, with the Holy Spirit’s help, to ‘live our lives as Jesus did’ (1 John 2:6). So let’s pray that the Holy Spirit will help us to be faithful to what our baptism is all about, so that every day people will see the way we live our lives and be reminded of our Lord Jesus Christ.