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Personal Reflections

August 08, 2008

This seemed a good day to post another brief memoir. Today, 08/08/08, marks the tenth anniversary of the day this happened.


It is going to be a scorcher. It is barely 10 in the morning and already the sun is hot. And this church, with no air conditioning, was never our “Plan A.” We had hoped to be married in a church just around the corner, a more modern church and one with modern amenities (though, trickily, one without a center aisle). But as the wedding day approached we saw that there was construction immediately in front of the building. They had warned us this might happen, but the reality is worse than we had imagined. The sidewalks are gone, replaced with deep mud pits covered with only some rough boards. The whole area looks like a mud pit. It is far from scenic. Somehow, despite the late date, we managed to secure St. John’s Anglican Church, among the oldest and most stately churches in the area and, not coincidentally, the church Aileen’s parents were married in many years before. We also managed to secure the services of a world-class organist. With such worries behind us, we are ready to be married.

It seems as if everything is proceeding just as it should. Friends and family are beginning to arrive at the church. All of my groomsmen are already here, decked out in their tuxedos. My friend Paul will serve as best man; my brother Andrew and my friends Nick and Rob will be ushers. The day before the wedding, the group of us spends some time just hanging out—sitting in a local restaurant eating wings and recounting old times. Nick and I go to my tennis club, playing two long sets in the hundred degree heat.

And now we stand together at the rear of the church waiting for some kind of cue—a word telling us what to do next. The minister tells us we should gather in the little room near the front of the church and there he prays with us. Someone tells us it is time and together we walk to the front of the church. As we take our places, the organ explodes into the wedding march. And then…nothing. We look to the rear of the church and see concerned expressions. We see Aileen’s bridesmaids and the flower girl looking a little confused. No one is moving down the aisle.

Well, it seems that for all the organization that went into the wedding day, we have forgotten one important component—we have forgotten to assign someone the task of coordinating the bride’s arrival with my entrance into the church. Though the car carrying Aileen to the church arrived moments ago, it had been determined that it was not yet time for her grand entrance and so the driver took one more spin around the block. And so I wait at the front of the church while the guests giggle, wondering if she has gotten cold feet and run away. But, of course, she has not. A few moments later we nudge the organist and he starts the march again, playing beautifully on the grand old organ at the front of the church. This time Aileen walks in, arm-in-arm with her father, and I can do little but weep. I weep for joy; I weep in gratitude. A few minutes later she and I are joined in marriage.

As we exit the church we feel the heat beating down. It is far warmer outside than in the sanctuary of the old stone church, insulated by the great blocks that have stood for so long. We greet our visitors, accepting their congratulations. We are the first to marry in either one of our extended families and friends and relatives have come from far and wide to celebrate with us. The reception is to be held next door in the old Town Hall, a beautiful building that is now used primarily as a meeting hall and as a dance studio. Its construction by far predates air conditioning. After the photographer snaps some pictures, we walk to the hall and begin the reception—a relatively informal luncheon. Aileen’s mother has been the hero, not just arranging the flowers, but growing them first; she has created a beautiful cake and cooked much of the food; she has even sewn Aileen’s dress. The hall looks beautiful.

As the reception continues with blessedly little formality, the temperature begins to rise. The tuxedo jackets are soon cast aside and, not long after, so too are the vests. Faces grow red and hair begins to go limp. But, of course, we are enjoying the day and so too, it seems, are our guests. I fulfill my duty by giving a short and no doubt unmemorable speech but am otherwise a spectator more than an actor in any of the formal proceedings. My father welcomes Aileen to the family and her father welcomes me.

Finally it is time for us to leave. No one has told us when or how to leave, so we do our best to attract most people’s attention and say our goodbyes. The location allows no confetti, so there will be no traditional departure. We walk to the parking lot and hop into the little Neon my father rented for us, having decided, correctly no doubt, that my old, beat-up and paint-covered pick-up truck is unsuitable. It is good to finally feel the cool blast of air conditioning. We pile into the back and Paul drives us back to my parents’ house so Aileen and I can change into something a bit cooler and more comfortable than tuxedo and wedding dress. And then with a hug and a handshake for Paul, Aileen and I are off, heading to a new life together.


And, of course, that was exactly ten years ago today. A lot has happened since then. I don’t think we would have predicted much of what has transpired in the past decade. But I’m often drawn to the words I heard from a wise old saint with whom we spent so much time when we were younger. He said, “As much as you love her now, you’ll find that marriage gets better and better; you’ll love her more in ten and twenty years than you do today.” And those words have proven true. Ten years is a good start and I’m grateful for them, but I’m looking forward, with great anticipation, to many more years together.

July 27, 2008

Today I continue posting memoirs (see here for more), little tidbits of my life experience.


Chaffeys Locks is one of the most beautiful spots in all of Ontario. Perched between two small lakes that are part of the Rideau Lakes system, it is a historic town founded by William Chaffey in 1816. He established a milling business there, at the swift-flowing rapids that separated Indian Lake from Opinicon Lake. Sadly, in 1827 he died of malaria, leaving behind a thriving business. His wife sold the land and businesses to Colonel John By, the man tasked with building the Rideau Canal that would connect Kingston, on the edge of Lake Ontario, with Ottawa, far inland, and beyond that to Montreal. This would avoid the perilous St. Lawrence River route that was constantly patrolled by American ships. In 1831 work was completed on a lock that raises boast almost 11 feet as they pass from one lake to the next.

By the turn of the century, with the canal no longer integral to Canada’s national defense, the lakes became attractive to tourists from local cities. Around mid-century, a man with the last name Challies purchased the better part of an acre of land along the shores of Indian Lake. A short ways away from the existing house he built a log cabin. Family lore has long insisted that the logs for this cabin were pillaged from Ontario’s stocks of telephone poles. Because of the long, beautiful vista looking west over the lake, he called it Sunset Lodge.

I spend my first summer at our cottage at Chaffeys Locks the summer before I am born. Because mom has lost two babies between my older brother and me, she lies on the sofa every afternoon and will not budge until she feels her baby move. The 1976 summer Olympics are on. Someone has brought a television to the cottage and somehow it picks up the CBC broadcast. She lies and watches the broadcast until I oblige and race around her stomach, doing twists and backflips and somersaults. Mom never has long to wait.

I spend every summer of my young life at the cottage. Sometimes we are there for only a week or two and other times we are there for weeks at a stretch. While my family moves with fair frequency and we live in house after house, the cottage remains a constant. Nothing ever changes there. The furniture inside is the furniture that has been there since the day I was born. The neighbors are the neighbors that have lived there for generations. It is always the same.

There is only one summer that I do not want to be there. I have fallen in love with a pretty brown-haired girl. We may not yet have formalized our relationship as boyfriend and girlfriend, but already I can’t imagine being away from her for two weeks. My parents, wanting to have Aileen and I keep a little bit of distance and knowing that we will not have too many more vacations together as a family, demand that I come with them. After two days at the cottage I take matters into my own hands. It is a move of desperation, I suppose. I go looking for things I’m allergic to—dust, pollen and whatever else I can find. I inhale whatever I can and rub it in my eyes. Soon I’m gasping for breath with tears pouring down my cheeks. I explain to my parents that my allergies are just too bad. They agree that I should catch a Greyhound bus back home and I do just that.

In 2005, with the cottage’s three owners (my father, his brother and his sister) scattering to the four winds and no longer able to visit often enough to justify the expenses of maintenance, they decide to sell it. I spend my last summer in Chaffeys Lock, enjoying the beautiful location with my wife and my children, the fifth generation of Challies’ to vacation there. And then I bid a fond farewell to that spot on earth I have come to love more than any other. I leave the property whispering a quiet prayer that when the new earth comes, maybe, just maybe, God would be so gracious as to grant me that same little strip of lakefront property on the shores of Indian Lake.

July 25, 2008

My children have been behaving a little bit strangely at bedtime in recent days. My son tends to be melancholy in the evenings at the best of times but recently has been getting worried as soon as we tuck him into bed. Two nights ago he was concerned that the Sith were going to attack him (how he even knows who the Sith are is beyond me) and last night he was worried that the Japanese were going to invade Canada (I guess he has been reading about the Second World War). I assured him that the Japanese were not going to invade our country but he replied, “Well, they snuck up on Hawaii without the Americans noticing!” This much is true. His little sister feeds off his worries and almost inevitably ends up creating her own.

It generally happens that, by the time we tuck the children into bed, Aileen and I are ready to be done with them for the day. It may sound harsh, but by the end of a long day, we are more than eager to spend an hour or two by ourselves in the living room before also heading for bed. The last thing we want is a parade of children up and down the stairs and a chorus of cries asking us to come upstairs to mediate one problem or another.

Last night, a good hour after I put my daughter to bed, and as I settled into the couch to continue reading through Iain Murray’s biography of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, I heard a cry of “Daddy!” I went to the bottom of the stairs and asked what she wanted. “Will you come and cuddle me?” she called out. I thought about it for a moment and eventually told her that she should already be asleep and that I was not going to come up and cuddle her. Thankfully she soon drifted off and slept well.

As I thought about it a little bit more I realized that I did not want to cuddle her, at least in part, because I had to. I was looking at it as a “got to” situation: “I’ve got to cuddle her.” And I rebelled. It didn’t take me long to regret my decision. She is going to be with us for so few years and for many of those she will no doubt have no desire to cuddle me. And is it so bad for a five-year old to want a cuddle (or another cuddle) before bed? The more I thought about it, the more this seemed like a “get to” situation: “I get to cuddle her.”

It’s funny the difference made by that one little letter. Throughout my life I’ve struggled with the got to’s and the get to’s. Church can seem like a “got to” obligation, but it is so much sweeter when I face it as if it is a “get to” privilege. My morning devotions can often feel like a “got to” but I enjoy them so much more when I treat them like a “get to.” Rather than having to face the Bible and prayer in the morning, I see them as an enjoyable privilege. It often makes all the difference in a mind as feeble and sinful as mine.

When Abby stumbled down the stairs this morning, squinting through barely-awake eyes, her hair all askew, I grabbed her up in a big hug and settled onto the couch with her for a few minutes of cuddling. It is something I get to do, at least for a few more years. It was my privilege and my pleasure.

July 20, 2008

Today I continue posting memoirs (see here for more), little tidbits of my life experience.


I can’t believe my parents are making me do this. It is Christmas break and the last thing I want to do is head away from home to spend time with a bunch of people I don’t know. Yet mom and dad have seen fit to send me for a weekend away at a little Reformed Presbyterian Church in Smiths Falls, four or five hours away from home. The church is holding a youth gathering running from Friday evening until Sunday afternoon. I do not know any of the young people at this church or at any of the others nearby. Really, the only light in the darkness is that they’ve sent my brother along as well, so at least I will know one person. Mom and dad must think I need to build my character or something. There is no other logical reason for sending me here. I’m so nervous I feel like I could throw up.

Dad drops us off and Andrew and I lug our suitcases, pillows and sleeping bags into the church’s sanctuary where the guys are taking up residence. It is already evening and there will be little time for formal programs before we need to get some sleep. I make the rather surprising discovery that many of the people in attendance have strange accents. Is it an East Coast kind of accent? A Newfoundland accent? It turns out that many of the people here come from the Ottawa Valley which must be the only place in Ontario that has its own regional accent. So here I am, stuck for a weekend with a bunch of yokel Reformed Presbyterians who will sing only Psalms and do not believe in instrumentation. Wonderful. After a quick meal and a brief talk from the pastor, we find an area of the floor to call our own and stuff ourselves into our sleeping bags. I sulk myself to sleep over occasional accented cries of “Garth!” coming from across the room. Who is Garth?

The next morning comes too soon and I gobble down some breakfast before heading back to the sanctuary for a time of teaching by the pastor. Like most sermons I’ve heard in the past, this one soon passes into oblivion, but there are a few points here and there that catch my attention and pull on my heartstrings, at least a little bit—rather a rarity for me. We sing some songs and while I can’t believe any church would want to sing only Psalms and do so without any instruments whatsoever, I am moved by the skill of those who sing and by their harmonizing. They do not have a lot of songs to choose from, but the ones they sing, they sing awfully well.

At lunch I am put on cooking duty, having to help a team of other kids make lunch. While heating up a giant pot of soup I meet someone who seems particularly friendly. Her name is Emily, she is from Syracuse, just across the U.S. border, and, rather strangely, is half Chinese and half Swedish (though, going by appearance, it seems that the Chinese genes are dominant). We have fun discussing the old wives tale that “a watched pot never boils” and that seems to prove itself as we wait interminably for that pot of soup to heat up. The weekend brightens just a little bit as I become familiar with at least one more face in the crowd. Emily introduces me to a few more and before long I am feeling a little bit more comfortable. I’ll be able to make it through the weekend.

In the afternoon we head to the great outdoors where we climb up a huge hill and spend an hour or two sliding down it on giant inflatable tubes. Cries of “Garth” continue to punctuate the fun. The freezing winter air does me some good. After the sliding we listen to more teaching and after that more teaching still, breaking occasionally to emphasize application. I learn with some dread that in the evening we will be doing a square dance. I cannot believe this. I’ve never danced in my life and have no intention of beginning this weekend. But before long we are in someone’s barn learning the steps and enjoying the music. It is far more fun than I would have imagined. It turns out that these Presbyterians are rather adept musicians (at least for a bunch who never get any practice in church) and can fiddle with the best of them.

By the time I climb back into my sleeping bag for another night’s sleep I have a lot to think about. I have grown up in a church where personal faith and personal holiness somehow takes a back seat to corporate faith and the conviction that we are saved even if our lives show little evidence. Going against the grain, mom and dad have often emphasized personal holiness and I come to the conclusion that they must have sent me here because I am exhibiting little of it. The kids at this conference are like none I’ve ever met. They seem to have a kind of faith, or a kind of joy and conviction to their faith, that is absent in my life. It is like nothing I’ve ever seen in my own church. I can’t deny a little bit of jealousy. There is part of me that wants to write this crowd off as weird (the easy choice), but another part that wants what they’ve got (the hard choice). What gives them this joy? How could they, at even this young age, really care about following God?

Sunday afternoon, my dad returns to take me home. When he asks how I enjoyed it I offer little more than, “It was okay.” But it was more than that. Something inside me has changed. For the first time I remember, I have a kind of longing inside—a longing for, well, something. Could it be a longing for God? For holiness? When my friends in mocking voices ask me how I liked the dreaded weekend away there is little I can say. They do not understand (at least not yet). I’m not so sure I understand either.

But it is not long after this weekend away that, almost by surprise, I find myself on my knees in my bedroom, begging God to be the Lord of my life. Whatever changes in me that weekend changes for good.

I guess mom mom and dad really do know best.


Postscript: Eventually I learned that the “Garth” whose named I heard time and time again that weekend was none other than Garth Brooks. Some of the people at the conference must have been big fans. This was the first I had heard of him and, though it took some time, eventually I, like so many others, began to enjoy his music. Of course it was but a short-lived thing that lasted no later than In Pieces, after which I grew tired of him. I haven’t listened to his albums for years, but my kids can testify that if they need help getting to sleep, they are likely to fall asleep hearing me sing “Cowboy Bill” or “In Lonesome Dove” or something else equally depressing.

July 19, 2008

It’s funny how Saturdays, a day of fun and relaxation when I was young, have turned into days of busyness. Early in the day I had to put on my coach’s hat to lead my son’s team through a baseball practice. No sooner had we returned home from that than Aileen had to run my daughter to a birthday party. This afternoon will be spent, least in part, preparing lunch for a crowd we’re having back to the house tomorrow. Saturdays are a good day, to be sure, but they sure aren’t quite as empty as I remember them being as a kid.

Here’s a quote I dug up recently. It is a good one and perhaps particularly so on such a busy day. It comes from a letter missionary Robert Moffat wrote to his wife.

It was only yesterday, after laying down the Bible, that I wondered what kind of mind I would have had if I had not the Book of God, the Book containing the astounding idea of ‘from everlasting to everlasting,’ the development of all that is worth knowing … One would think, that as I have critically and, I think, devoutly read and examined every verse, every word in the Bible, some a score of times over, I should not require to open the pages of that unspeakable blessed Book. Alas, for the human memory! I read the Bible today with the same feeling I ever did, like the hungry when seeking food, the thirsty when seeking drink, the bewildered when seeking counsel and the mourner when seeking comfort. Don’t you believe all this? For alas, I read it sometimes as a formal thing, though my heart condemns me afterwards … I am yet astonished at my own ignorance of the Bible!

July 13, 2008

This is just about my favorite time of day. The house is quiet and no one else awake. It allows me a few minutes to myself—time I use every day to read the Bible and pray. I know that in a few minutes the family will begin to stir. Nick and Abby will wake up and Michaela will not be far behind. It won’t be long before the quiet is punctuated by their childish squabbles over who gets to eat what or who gets to sit where. I can pretty well count on this.

A little bit after nine, we will head to church. Here we’ll enjoy a time of worship and fellowship with a group of our favorite people. Though we love them dearly, I’m quite sure we’ll see evidence of sin in their lives—we’ll hear people say things they shouldn’t say and see them do things they shouldn’t do. After church we’ll head to the home of some friends to spend the afternoon with them and, once again, I’m sure there will be plenty of evidence of sin in their lives and in ours. We’ll return to church in the late afternoon to once more hear a sinful brother preach what I’m sure will be an excellent but somehow-imperfect sermon. And after it all, we’ll head home. And as we do, you can be sure that there will be more sin, more fighting or complaining or temptation to say things that just have no business being said.

All day we will see the evidence of sin in others around us. It is inevitable, is it not? How are we to react to such sin? It is here that Jonathan Edwards offers a valuable resolution and one that I hope will be in my mind and on my heart as I see so much sin today. I trust that you will benefit from reading it and pondering it as well.

Resolved, To act, in all respects, both speaking and doing, as if nobody had been so vile as I, and as if I had committed the same sins, or had the same infirmities or failings, as others, and that I will let the knowledge of their failings promote nothing but shame in myself, and prove only an occasion of my confessing my own sins and misery to God.

July 10, 2008

Last summer we vacationed at a cottage on the shores of Lake Erie, a couple of hours away from home. It was a fun place to be, but by the end of our week there the water had turned bad with huge piles of seaweed and algae plugging the beach. This is apparently quite common along that stretch of shore and we decided we would not return in case we found the beach unusable for our whole vacation (as did our neighbors who spent time there a couple of weeks after we did). As we examined our options this year we thought it might be fun to stay at home and to focus on day trips. The advantage is that we will not be paying for accommodations, saving us some money and free up funds to do other fun things; the disadvantage is that we will not be paying for accommodations; instead we will be staying at home which is where “real life” happens. This may mean that the vacation is not as relaxing as we had hoped. Time will tell. I’m taking the first week of vacation this week and will take another one later this month.

I spent the first two days of vacation mostly staring at the walls. Or something. I’m not quite sure what happened, but the days just disappeared.

Yesterday we spent a great day on the first of our day trips. We began by heading for the Buffalo Zoo. While Toronto has a world-class zoo, it is too large to traverse with a two-year old and tends to be very busy. Buffalo is smaller (it takes about two hours to see all of the animals) and is not nearly so crowded. Though the Toronto Zoo is definitely far superior in terms of the quality of its exhibits and the diversity of the animals, we found the Buffalo experience quite enjoyable. It was an overcast day and there were occasional showers. These factors combined to keep a lot of people away and at times it seemed like we had the place almost to ourselves. It was great.

When we ran out of things to see at the zoo we drove around Buffalo until we found a place to eat (McDonalds, as it happened—the kids chose) and then we headed to nearby Niagara Falls. We crossed the bridge to the Canadian side of the Falls (if you’ve ever been you’ll know that the Canadian side offers far superior views) and found a place to park for a “mere” $20. That’s right—$20 to park to see the Falls. Most of Niagara Falls is a tourist trap, where the prices are grossly inflated ($6.75 for a small ice cream?!). The place is always crawling with tourists and it was interesting to note that just about every tribe and tongue and nation must be represented at any given moment. We chose not to pay for any of the over-priced and over-crowded rides, movies and other attractions and just enjoyed staring at the raw power of the Falls themselves. And, of course, the kids enjoyed getting wet in the ever-present mist stirred up by the churning water hundreds of feet below. We returned home tired but thankful for a good day.

That was our first day trip and we expect to have quite a few others. We are going to spend at least one day at Marineland (a theme park that also has whales and dolphins, etc) and no doubt a day or two at a beach. Beyond that we are not quite sure where else we will go and what else the summer will hold.

I do know that today I’ll be spending a lot of time up to my elbows in an aquarium. I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned this on the site, but I have a 60-gallon show tank that Aileen graciously allows me to keep in the living room. A couple of years ago I happened upon a local store that sells aquariums and tropical fish and decided I wanted to give the hobby a shot. When I found the tank on sale, I snatched it up and decided to go freshwater rather than saltwater, primarily because I was really taken with the look of a planted aquarium.

In the last year I’ve found that I truly do enjoy working with the aquarium and have been trying my hand at keeping different fish and growing different plants. At this point I’m ready to convert my rather haphazard efforts into something with more continuity and more order. So over the next couple of days I am going to replace the substrate (bound to be a rather awful job) and will replant each of the plants. It’s going to be long and messy but will hopefully reap dividends (and I’m not sure yet how I’ll dispose of almost 100 pounds of gravel that I no longer have a use for). I am planning on trying to do something in the Iwagumi or Nature Aquarium styles that will no doubt evolve as time goes on.

Once the substrate is replaced, I will be adding a CO2 injection system (assuming it shows up in the mail soon as it is supposed to) which should work wonders with the plants. And then it becomes a process of sitting back and waiting for the plants to grow. I can’t wait!

I’ve also promised Nick that I’ll play a game of Risk with him today, so I’d better get going. I’ve got lots to do…

July 06, 2008

Today I continue posting memoirs (see here for more), little tidbits of my life experience.


Since the first grade I’ve been a student at Willowdale Christian School and I’ve come to enjoy the place as much as a boy can ever enjoy his school. But here, just a few weeks into seventh grade, I am saying goodbye to my classmates. My father has decided to spend a few years studying in the Free Church of Scotland seminary in Edinburgh and, of course, the rest of the family will be going along for the adventure. Already mom and dad have taken the long flight to Scotland and have found us an apartment to live in until we can find a house of our own. My classmates present me with a big coffee table book about my city, the city of Toronto. They all write their names in the front cover, along with inscriptions that must seem awfully witty to adolescents. I don’t cry as I walk out of that school for the last time.

The next day we are off, boarding a British Airways 747 that will take us to Heathrow Airport; there we will need to catch a 757 for the short hop to Edinburgh. Many hours and many time zones later, we touch down in our new city and load all of our bags into a cab. Our furniture and other possessions will follow in a shipping container. The cab takes us almost to the downtown core and drops us outside a nice little apartment block that we will call home for several weeks. I crawl into bed and do not awaken until mid-afternoon the next day. Very quickly I discover a nearby bakery that serves the most delicious cream buns. We explore the city, slowly finding what there is to see and do. We particularly enjoy the Edinburgh Zoo with its daily penguin parade where the ridiculous creatures march in a line along the pathways outside their enclosure. We explore Edinburgh Castle and visit many sites of great importance to church history. In the evenings we sit and watch as the crowds from the nearby football stadium march through the streets, drunk and obnoxious as they make their ways home to sleep off the gallons of beer they’ve consumed.

Eventually my parents find us a house in the suburb of Davidson’s Mains. Though the bakery is too far away now, I do find a wonderful fish and chips shop and a world-class candy shop that sells what must be the world’s best wine gums (still and always about the best candy a person can buy). I find that I am to begin school at the local public school. After visiting a clothing shop, where I get outfitted with dress pants, blazers, vests, crests, ties and shoes, I face my first day at the new school. Though shy and reserved, I eventually make a couple of friends and sometimes invite them to my home to play Subbuteo.

But the school is now what I am accustomed to. I fear violence in the school and often witness fights. I am told that carrying a backpack with the wrong team logo on it is sufficient to bring about a beating. Anti-Americanism is rife in the school and many people aren’t able or willing to distinguish between Canada and the U.S.. Ironically, even while anti-Americanism is a strong force in the school and in the country, American television and movies are widely admired and the boys in school even trade NFL trading cards. My parents learn of The American School of Edinburgh, a school for Americans working abroad, and enroll me there for my second term. As it is a much smaller school, I feel far more comfortable there. It helps that immediately across from the school is a restaurant that serves amazing baked potatoes with the topping of your choice.

It is at this school that I meet Bryan, an American boy from Alaska who is just about my age and whose father is an executive with an oil company. They are in Scotland for a few years and the company pays each of them—even the kids—a handsome allowance. Bryan and I become good friends and his constant wealth provides well for both of us. He and I often venture into the nearby areas, exploring as boys do. We venture off to Cramond Island, an island separated from the mainland by a causeway that is exposed only during low tide. Those who remain too long on the island will find themselves trapped there until evening. We spend one enjoyable day there though we make the mistake of shedding our jackets and leaving them in what we are convinced is a safe place. When we return to gather them, after exploring the Second World War-era gun emplacements left on the island, they are gone. We search far and wide and cannot find them. Eventually we are forced to hurry home through the rising tide lest we find ourselves stuck on the island.

We have difficulty finding a solid church here in the land of Presbyterianism. After some searching we do find one all the way across the city—a Free Church of Scotland. Because we do not have a car, we catch a series of buses early on Sunday morning and worship far from home. The church is very traditional and when visiting with members of the congregation we are required to treat the Sabbath entirely different from every other day. We may not talk about “secular” enjoyments on that day; we may go walking but we must not play; we spend much of the day talking about Scripture and studying the Catechism. Some mornings, when weather or other factors keep us from traveling across the city, we attend a nearby Church of Scotland. However, when we attend a Christmas service and are forced to sing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus, I decide never to return and face such humiliation.

As the school year draws to a close, my father realizes that there is a seminary in Canada that might better suit his needs. He and the rest of the family will spend most of the summer in Scotland before heading home just on time to begin the new school year in Canada. Thoroughly fed up with my Scottish experience, I ask my parents if they will send me home early. And so I find myself flying home alone to spend the summer with my good friend Paul. Though I miss my family, from whom I’ve never been separated for so long, Paul and I pass a long and joyous summer as brothers, or nearly brothers, doing what boys do.

June 29, 2008

Several times a day a train rumbles along the tracks that cross our street—Eureka Street—just a few houses up from our home at number thirty-eight. It is a passenger train, one made up of a long string of double-decker cars. In the morning it shuttles commuters from Markham and Unionville into downtown Toronto and in the evening it brings them home again. In the morning it drives with the engine at the front; in the evening the engine is at the back, pushing from behind. Occasionally a freight train comes through at night. Though visitors to our home insist it wakes them up and sounds as if a locomotive is driving right through the yard, I have long since grown accustomed to it and barely notice it anymore.

Beside the track is an old freight yard or something—I never really learn what it is. Giant oil tanks stand behind a beat-up old chain link fence. My friends and I have little trouble passing through the fence and there we find huge puddles, ponds almost, filled with frogs and tadpoles. We collect as many as we can and bring them home in pails, watching them sprout legs and eventually hop away. One day the old man next door, the grandfather to one of my friends, tells us that the puddles are filled with lime and that if we ever step in them we’ll need to have our legs cut off. We never go back there again and eventually the old tanks are torn down and carted away.

I find a way of making a little bit of money from the train. I get it in my head one day to put a quarter on the track and to let the train run over it. Sure enough the train’s wheels pass over that coin and leave it smashed flat. I take it to school and the kids are jealous. I tell them that I can do the same for them, but it will cost them. The next day I am back with a whole row of coins, but I’ve charged each of those kids for the privilege of having their coins pounded beneath the train. I’m seven years old and a budding entrepreneur. I use my windfall to buy gum, baseball cards and little styrofoam airplanes. I feel rich.

One day I am biking down the road and have to stop at the crossing as a train goes by. Another boy who looks about my age stops his bike beside me. I vaguely recognize his face, but cannot place him. He looks at me; I look at him. “Got a staring problem?” I jeer at him. He insists he doesn’t and we begin to talk. I soon recognize him from a local camp I went to. His name is Paul. He gives me his address and telephone number and I run home and write them down. A few days later I go to his house, which is only a short distance away, and a friendship is born. Though we do not go to the same school or the same church, Paul and I become the best of friends. At my wedding some fourteen years later, he serves as my best man. There is never any question.

Paul and I have the kind of friendship every boy should experience. Though we are very different in many ways, we have so many of the same interests. He and I both love anything that involves soldiers and guns and destruction. We pretend endlessly that we are soldiers, creeping through my big backyard with guns at the ready, taking fake potshots with fake guns at the real planes that fly over on their way to the nearby airport; we play baseball in the court outside his house, using tennis equipment to make the ball go further and tearing up his lawn as we slide hard into home plate; we build whole worlds out of Lego. We play mostly at his house because where I have three noisy younger sisters, he has only one quiet older brother. It’s an easy decision and we try as often as we can to get away from the little girls. I learn to love his family and they come to love me, referring to me affectionately as their “third son.”

Paul is a good friend, and a best friend, though eventually life begins to take us in different directions. I marry and become preoccupied with my family; Paul moves far away to Thunder Bay and begins life anew in the north. Though we see each other only rarely today, when we do meet up we never lack for things to talk about. There are just so many memories to recall and to relive together. I pray that my son is so blessed as to someday have a friend like Paul.

June 27, 2008

Over the past few weeks I’ve been writing down some memories. It has been a fun process of just thinking about the past and recording some significant events and moments. While I’ll probably post them mostly on weekends, I thought it would be fun to post this one today. I see this as a testament to God’s grace in my life that so much as changed.


It is the worst day of my life. Today I will have to stand before my classmates and deliver a speech. I am shy—almost unbearably shy. I never, ever raise my hand in class to answer questions. When the teacher’s eyes roam the room looking for a person who can answer a question, I cringe and hide behind the person ahead of me, doing anything, anything, to avoid eye contact. When I know my turn is coming, I almost panic, sweat beading on my forehead and my face blushing crimson. And today I will be called upon to stand in front of my classmates and a panel of parents to give a speech. It’s almost more than I can bear.

I know my speech is good. I’ve chosen to discuss and to refute evolution, rather a safe topic in a Christian school. My mother pitched in to help me gather and organize my material and I am confident that the content is as good as anyone’s in the class. We’ve even consulted Nancy and Rick Pearcey, our good friends who are well-versed on the subject. I’ve got funny illustrations about millions of monkeys banging away at millions of typewriters; I’ve got fascinating facts about the absurdities of evolution and the truths of Scripture. I have memorized the speech so I will not be dependent upon my notes. If I can just deliver the content well, I am convinced that I am likely to win the competition (a mixed blessing, to be sure, since this would then earn me the dubious privilege of competing against the best of the other local Christian schools).

I watch as a couple of classmates deliver their speeches with mixed results. Some are disorganized while others have clearly neglected preparation. A couple stumble for words and repeat their speeches in voices that are only barely audible. My hearts beats faster as I realize that we are closer and closer to my time. Finally my name is called and I slip to the front of the class, my eyes firmly fixed on the carpet. I reach the front and look out at the rows of desks, and behind them, the panel of judges. My heart rate increases. I don’t know if I can do this.

Teachers, judges and classmates…” With my heart in my throat I begin my speech, stumbling a little at first but soon speaking a little more smoothly. I may have expected that it would get easier as I go, that I would stop noticing all of those eyes staring back at me. But it does not get any easier. Finally, finally, after what seems like hours, I make it to the end of my speech. I glance at the clock. Uh oh. When I timed my speech at home it had come in at around fifteen minutes; yet only five minutes have passed since I began. And already I am finished. Lots of people are smiling; a few are laughing. The Principal makes a crack that I do not hear and everyone laughs. I sit down, mortified, as one of my classmates says something about the “Micro Machine Man.”

My speech, my wonderful speech, is an absolute ruin. Because the content was sound, I still manage to pull of an acceptable mark. But the judges later tell me that if only I had slowed down and given the speech in an intelligible voice, I would have been a finalist. I would have had a good chance of winning.

I realize that day that I am not cut out for public speaking. It reaffirms that I will not answer questions in class and that I’ll continue to be the back-row guy that no one notices. I do not stand before a crowd or give another speech for fifteen years.

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