Surprised by Joy and Many Small Miracles

by Ruth Hayhoe

I have been a seasonal member of St Paul’s for sixteen years, joining St. Paul’s from Canada and China in March of 2002. As a scholar of comparative education, narrative method has been central to my research on China and so I have been fascinated by the stories of members of St. Paul’s. In my narrative of how life at St. Paul’s has been transformative I want to focus on family members who were welcomed into St. Paul’s while visiting us in Delray Beach. I was single for my first fifty years, but five sisters and two brothers, together with 21 nieces and nephews, have always been close. Then the three daughters and two sons of my husband Walter embraced me when I married Walter in 1996.

Growing up in Toronto, I had moved to Hong Kong at the age of 21 and taught in an Anglican secondary school for 11 years, while learning Chinese and living with a local family. After Mao Zedong died I could see China would open up and so moved to London to get a graduate degree that would enable me to teach at the university level. Then I moved to Shanghai and taught for 2 years at Fudan University. After getting my PhD, I began a teaching career back at the University of Toronto. In 1989 I was asked by my government to serve as cultural attaché in the Canadian Embassy in China and so moved to Beijing just after the tragedy on Tiananmen Square. Returning to Toronto after two years, I settled back into an academic career, only to be surprised by joy in meeting Walter, a new widower, late in 1994. Shortly after our marriage, I was called back to Hong Kong to head a new university for teachers at the time of HK’s return to China. Walter, just retired, heroically supported me for five years there. This brings us to 2002 when I had the joy of helping Walter settle into the house he had chosen years earlier for his retirement in Delray Beach. St. Paul’s has been our spiritual home through the winters we have spent here ever since.

All of Walter’s five children and many grandchildren have visited over the years and always been given a warm welcome at St. Paul’s. Walter’s older son Carl came to visit from California every winter from 2007 to 2012. In April of 2012 Carl made his 6th visit to Delray over Easter and I will never forget what it meant for me to see him, from the choir where I was singing, sitting beside his father in St. Paul’s through the Great Vigil of Easter. Not normally a churchgoer, Carl had chosen to be with us at St. Paul’s that evening.  The fact that he passed away suddenly at 49, just a few weeks later, left us with this very special memory. It was a small miracle that he had come to St. Paul’s on this last visit, and since then we have treasured the legacy he left in an amazing set of photos of family members in action which circulates on a digital album on our kitchen counter.

Last Lunch with Carl at the Green Owl on Atlantic Ave April 2012

Walter’s daughter Lucinda, with her husband and two sons at St. Paul’s, Christmas Eve 2016

Almost all of my sisters and brothers have also visited us in Delray. I want to share the story of my second youngest sister, Suzanne, who was embraced by St. Paul’s in a very special way.  She visited first in 2009, from Vancouver, attended several events at St. Paul’s and helped me establish a personal retreat program. It has brought young scholars from China, Canada and other parts of the U.S. for short visits. A service at St. Paul’s has always been part of the program. Suzanne was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010. Around the same time her only daughter Helen had brain surgery and was told she would never be able to have children.

The first small miracle was Suzanne’s meeting with Jay, a Jewish psychologist from New York, at an education conference in Vancouver. This was the love of her life, and when Suzanne was told she had only two months to live in July of 2013, Jay insisted on marrying her immediately.  We moved her from Vancouver to Toronto where the two could be closer. With Jay’s support, Suzanne lived until June of 2015, and managed to write 15 chapters of a book on gender and the Bible, drawing on her knowledge of Greek, Latin and Hebrew and years of blogging. Her last gift to us was a visit with Jay to Delray in April of 2015, which included a concert at St. Paul’s. How thankful was I to have strong support from the St. Paul’s community for a focus group in 2017 to review the book chapters and prepare them for publication.  

Meanwhile another small miracle has lifted our spirits. Suzanne’s daughter Helen gave birth to baby Maggie in September, 2017, going against all medical predictions. Helen and her husband Jesse attended a service at St. Paul’s while visiting in 2014. So this family and this precious book can be seen as fruit of the loving spirit of hospitality and outreach that we have always found at St. Paul’s. We hope to see Suzanne’s book, Valiant or Virtuous?  Gender Bias in Bible Translation, appear in 2018.

Suzanne and Jay with Walter -Visit to Delray April 2015

Baby Maggie with my sister Alice and Helen  in December 2017

In closing, let me say what a joy it has been to offer classes on world religions at St. Paul’s since 2005. Some may remember our 2015 class, Christian Encounters with Buddhism and Confucianism, that began with Syrian Orthodox monks who crossed the Silk Road taking Christianity to China for the first time in 635 AD. This class material has become a chapter in my new coedited book, Religion and Education: Comparative and International Perspectives (Oxford Studies in Comparative Education, 2018). I’d be happy to share a digital copy with anyone interested. (

Religion and Education – Website

Surprised by joy is the title of a Christian Classic by CS Lewis, also of  a poem by William Wordsworth.

Ruth will be doing public tours at the Morikami on the religious significance of the teahouse and gardens at 1:30 PM on Friday afternoons: Feb 16, Mar. 2 & 16, April 6 & 20, also March 23 at 2 PM.