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How Great Thou Art

Updated: Dec 19, 2022

If you know me at all you know I live in a space between acknowledging the sovereignty of an almighty god and the influence of an almighty universe. It changes daily. Growing up with various influences I know that each exposure to various faith models, evangelical, atheism, buddhism, transcendentalism and more has impacted me deeply and caused me to evaluate which life principles I choose to adopt. Each exposure has provided opportunity for personal reflection, a little soul searching and ultimately found a way of weaving itself into the tapestry of what I strive and struggle to believe. And don’t ask for clarity, because again… it changes daily.

My maternal grandmothers position was one of deep faith and reverence for god. I don’t recall her ever going to church but her conviction on what she believed would put any church goer to shame. She exposed me to what I believe Christian’s would call the true character of Christ. She was kind, compassionate, loving, humble and had a heart for the broken. She disregarded financial wealth or personal gain and replaced them with rich (and simple) life experiences and serving others. Her favourite hymn was How Great Thou Art and before ever stepping foot into a church building I knew the tune and lyrics inside out and backwards. This song was entrenched in her daily routine often as a compliment to the mundane task of washing dishes. She sang each word loud and clear as a cascade that poured over her daily chore turning it into a reverent experience… one I was privaileged to witness. As a child (and young adult) I watched in awe as this act seemed to have an ability to literally wash away the days concerns. To honour her it was sung at both my wedding and at her funeral. Its powerful message acknowledges a greater deity. A guiding force that humbles those who utter its chorus out loud. The same guiding force that nudged me today with a gentle reminder that there are wiser, more insightful powers at play. Greater energies, that on occasion quietly with what some may brush off as coincidence, showcase How Great they Art.

I suspect the many visions I have of my beloved nan standing at a sink singing to pass her time is where my love of doing dishes comes from. She was the epitome of what a content, joyful, loving and at peace, spirit are. Somehow whether by volume or value this simple image of doing dishes creates a moment of pause, a moment of escape where the world stops spinning and I find myself purely and truly present in that moment. The warm soapy water and the sense of accomplishment when every last dish has been cleaned, dried and put away pleases me like very few things. It’s a deep connection that draws me close to her, warms my heart and gives me permission to move slowly and sing loud my immense gratitude for the day. (Again if you know me well, you know that doing dishes and hanging clothes on the line are two places where I find myself - weird I know - but true nonetheless). I believe it’s a gift passed on to me by a loving grandmother who knew the value of simplicity.

Simplicity is what drew me to this small town of Campbellford. I wanted out of the fast-paced, keeping up with the Jones’s environment. I ached for long walks by a body of water, fresh air, quiet conversations and an expanse of natures beauty. A century old home with rolling gardens seemed to foot the bill. Living in a century old home it is not lost on me that the halls I stroll, the gardens I tend and the rooms where I sit have been graced by many before me. I have often stood over my sink, humming and singing amused with thoughts on who may have stood there before me. What meals were prepared, what songs were sung, what conversations were had and what memories were made.

Recently life has been busy enough that the convenience of my dishwasher has replaced this simple daily chore. The chaos of life has replaced my love of restoring the physical structure that at a ripe old age of 225 years old has me begrudgingly focused on the demands of maintaining it. I had lost site of what had been my pride and joy, a labour of love, and a deep commitment to sustaining her beauty… until today.

I stepped out this morning to chat with my lawn service rockstar (again… don’t judge… I’m not lazy I just enjoy a well manicured lawn). While chatting with him about the day ahead and how much I appreciated him, I saw a lovely, unfamiliar lady crossing the street looking as though she was approaching me… (unfamiliar faces in a small town are rare so I was sideswiped when she spoke).“Is this your house?” she asked in a kind and gentle tone. “Yes it is,” I responded. “May I ask why you are selling it?” I proceeded down the rabbit hole with this complete stranger about the various complications in my life. A demanding (but privileged) career, children scattered across the province, the grand size of a four bedroom century old home (and the maintenance), a deep desire for simplicity (and travel) and at times what feels like a beautiful, large, ongoing in need of repair and maintenance empty home … peppered with “I am trusting the universe to guide me through this.” “I see,“ she said with her head hanging low. She was almost sullen as she looked up to share her next statement with me. “My grandfather lived here for 71 years. Forgive me but this home means so much to me. I can’t buy it but I have so many wonderful memories here. (Insert the chorus of How Great Thou Art quietly moving from my subconscious to my conscious brain waves in this moment as she speaks.) “My favourite memory is myself and my siblings running up to this very patio to turn the doorbell. Does it still work?“ I affirmed that it did. (It remains one of the features that sold me on this house… ya I know… don’t judge.) As she spoke I could sense it… the gentle nudging from the universe. The chorus getting louder. “Would you mind if I came in?” “Of course, please do,” I said.

As this complete stranger introduced herself to me as 71-year-old Linda, granddaughter of the late George Free, time seemed to stand still. Standing on my porch I asked if I could take her picture. I needed to capture "proof" of this moment that I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt was a direct conversation coming to me from a greater power. She turned the dial of the doorbell, smiled with pure delight and entered my home. As Linda walked through her grandfathers home to reminisce she pointed out to me that the front bedroom had been the “girls room”. A wall in the kitchen was missing, the small powder room on the main floor was built by her grandfather (because his beloved wife could no longer navigate the steep stairs) the bedrooms had once been wallpapered and her sister and grandfather had laid the hardwood floors upstairs. She shared her grandfather had served in both world wars, and pointed out where there had been two large rose bushes one tall and thin and one plump and round (like his sisters). She stood in front of my wood fireplace (again a selling feature to me at the time of purchase) to share the memory of where her grandfathers favourite chair was positioned, a perch where he would sit while 14 adoring grandchildren sat at his feet to hear the annual reading of T'was the night before Christmas. She apologized that she may cry. I had a meeting to get to but told her to stay and look around as long as she wanted. As I sat back at my desk my heart was overwhelmed. This beautiful soul, sharing her memories with me. Memories with colourful details about the love, joy and a simpler time experienced under the roof I was currently privileged to call home. One I was trying to part with. Memories that we’re locked up in Linda’s mind, treasured in her heart and restored as she walked through what I had recently elected as a large, demanding somewhat dilapidated home that was simply too much to maintain were reframing my thoughts. What a gift.

So tonight I will forego the diswasher to do dishes by hand. The warm soapy water will calm my restless heart. I will sing a little Jess Glynne, Lewis Capaldi and finish off with my grandmothers favourite hymn. I will gaze through the 225 year old kitchen window at the rock wall in need of repair and rather than see the work that needs to be done I will express gratitude that I am privileged to restore it. I will reflect on Linda, her grandfather and her family. I will listen closely to the voices who have stood where I stand before me. Their voices will remind me that though needing ongoing love and support, this home is a refuge of beautiful, simple memories calling on me to create more. I will give thanks for Linda and our hap and stance collison that revealed to me what I needed to see. I will let her memories fill this big, beautiful, empty home with a new found love and history and I will sing to it often How Great Thou Art. Today in reverence for my grandmother, Linda and George I will acknowledge that both the sovereignty of an almighty god and the influence of an almighty universe have the ability to remind me of a realm of spiritual connection that is deeper than is often noticed in our fast-paced life. I will slow down and be grateful.

George Free lived here in this home between 1921 and 1992. He passed here at the age of 96. He had 14 grandchildren and left a deep loving impression on his granddaughter Linda. He cared for his beautiful wife as her health failed under this roof and showered his grandchildren with deep love and storytelling.

Photo: 71-year-old Linda standing on my front porch showcasing the same door and doorbell from her childhood.

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My mother grew up in your house after her mother and father passed away when she was 4 years old. George was her mother‘s brother and he took her in and raised her as part of his family. My sister and I also have many fond memories of the house, our grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins, especially sliding down the bannister or bumping down the stairs on our bottoms!

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