Thursday, July 3, 2014

May, June, lucky am I?

So I've been doing a little travelling...a week a month for the past few, to be exact. It's never easy to be away from family but at the same time, on each of these trips, I've been surrounded by some incredible women. I was just thinking on it the past few days, as I've been sort of rumbling around here, wondering why I'm so out of sorts....and then I figured it out. I've been surrounded by greatness. In real life. Not the stuff that movies are made of but the stuff that life forges in people. Women who've been overwhelmed by life and overcome it. Women who I am forever indebted to for the incredible way they've allowed their stories to encompass mine and vice versa. Women that breathe absolute life into me, leaving me, an introvert, dying for more of their company and wisdom. Young women. Older women. Women of my age that fall in between those categories. Mothers, daughters, sisters, career women, life savers and life givers. If all I am known for is the company I keep, I'm going to be remembered well. 

This is just a small sampling of the lovely faces I get to have around me. When I'm with them, I'm my best self. There are more. There are high school friends and confidantes, women willing to drive for a couple hours just for a dinner together and making it altogether memorable. There is a new baby girl in the home of one of my dearest friends here in Saskatoon. There are hard times in the lives of others. Separations. Sickness. Sadness. And yet, friendship - true friendship - isn't diminished by time or distance. I've learned that now. 

I had a moment (think...extended dance mix length moment) at the wedding of a young woman who I've known since she was just a junior high kid with a southern accent and the loudest laugh I've ever heard...a moment in which I had the audacity to feel gypped of time together - of all we'd missed. And then, I realized, none of us are promised any time at all, and I went back to celebrating. At least, until I had to say goodbye again and then it was 10 miles of tears through the Tahoe National Forest with Robin at the wheel.  8 years ago tomorrow, and I do still mark the day, it was two state lines from NV to CA to OR before I ran out of tears and came up for air. So, that's progress. And you know, the beauty of it is, that though I've had to grieve the losses, I'm grateful for the friendships. 

It's been an amazing couple of months, reconnecting and feeling refreshed by it all. As I look forward in the next couple of weeks, I see a trip that fills me with such excitement as well, as Aidan and I head back to Zambia to reconnect with our friends and loved ones there. I know that there are lots of people who think it's giving up something to go to Zambia in the middle of the best months of summer in Saskatchewan. It's not. In fact, it's the most anticipated weeks of my year. I can't wait.

May with some really great women from my good. 
These two. A cabin. Non stop laughter. Tears. 

June -These are two of the women I look up to most in life. Absolute love. 

June -This southern girl

June -This beautiful girl and her new husband

July-Book Club Ladies

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Our Aidan.

In just about a month, Aidan (my eldest) and I are going back to Zambia with Hands at Work. Since returning from Zambia as a family, I had often wondered if my kids would want to go back. I knew that they loved people there and made friends but I wasn't sure in the end, if it was really their passion or if they just loved it because they are boys and always up for adventure. So, I was really happy (and not so secretly proud) that Aidan passed up a couple of opportunities that came his way in order to be part of the team that I'm taking to Zambia in July. At first, I wasn't sure if he understood the commitment but I am happy to say that over the past few months, this kid has seriously amazed me. 

I've said it before, that if our kids were just regular guys in our youth groups in the past, we would adore them and brag about them and just be their biggest fans. So, bear with me, because I'm going to do just that. Setting aside the fact that he is my child, and remarkably loved by me, he really is a very interesting and cool kid. On hearing that he needed to come up with about $4000 to take part in the trip, he took it upon himself to go and get a job refereeing at our local ball hockey league. It took a Saturday and an evening class to get certified and a small output for a helmet and cage (cause he apparently didn't feel that his goalie mask was appropriate...), and he did it. So, he's been refereeing games and being super responsible about scheduling and all those adult things he probably didn't inherit from us. Then he signed up for a paper route which he's been doing three times a week. Today, and on other Saturdays, he finds people that have bottles to return and takes them to Sarcan for recycling and gets the deposits. He's hustling. I love that he knows what the payoff is. 

It's never easy to raise a large amount of money when life has so many other ideas of how you should be spending it. Today, as I watched him come home in the pouring rain after doing all three of these jobs...I am so thankful again that we took the time to take our kids to South Africa and Zimbabwe and Zambia. I am grateful that they want to go back. And I'm more than happy to take them. I can't wait. 

Friday, June 13, 2014

On Being Human

I spent the better part of an afternoon yesterday sitting with my neighbour, Deb, on her deck in the gorgeous sunshine. Just to be clear, this is Saskatoon and so as much as I moan about the length and depth of our winters, I will try to paint an equal and accurate picture of the absolute beauty of our summers. Though all too fleeting, there are days when the weather just dictates you work as fast as you can and escape early to get out and enjoy it.

So, yesterday, Deb and I were catching up after a few weeks of her working all too much for my liking. I mean, seriously, she should consult my social schedule before booking on for so much work but I guess, she is in the business of saving lives so sometimes, I suppose that takes priority.

Regardless, in the course of just an afternoon on the deck, we discuss all manner of things and pretty much try to squeak as much life out of summer as we possibly can plan. Paddle boarding and roller blading remain at the top of our to do lists with regular deck sitting and backyard campfires thrown in for good measure. Impromptu bbq's and dinners take place with amazing regularity and there can be any number of friends and family and coworkers invited in with just a text message.

We were talking about how lucky we are, and we know it, that we live with neighbours who've become family around us.  It's something that Jason and I don't take for granted, having moved many times, and it's probably the number one reason we stay where we are. So, mid winter when it turns from credit to blame, the reasons remain the same. Good neighbours. Good friends. Knowing that these are hard to replicate...though we've been lucky over the years, we aren't going to chance it for the sake of moving.

The other night, Deb had been working out of town, our across the street neighbour, Bobby, just pulled in from his work out of town and suddenly, the driveway became an impromptu party. Deb described it as being "the exact place she needed to be, regardless of not having a formal invitation, and she knew that if we moved the party inside or to the backyard, that too, was where she needed to be."

I can't think of a better picture of community. Knowing that we have all become this little haven of family in the midst of suburbia. We live well amongst each other and we have each others' backs. A few weeks ago, Bobby went all stealth on a truck that was parked in front of our house for an unusual amount of time with two guys sort of just staring at the place. Seriously, neighbourhood watch should have this guy as their poster boy. He not only was just about to go out and confront them, he took note of the vehicle and told us right away when we got home that night.  Our yard is often filled with kids other than our own who come and jump on the trampoline, bring their dogs to play with ours, and just generally run in and out of the yards in our neighbourhood as if they were all their own. Some people would hate that, and I can probably include our back fence neighbour in that, for he has to put up with all the noise and chaos, but I love being the house on the street that kids can hang out at and feel at home.

So, this week, as I read the news of a horrific attack on Marlene Bird in Prince Albert this week, I feel sick. And guilty. And some hopelessness. For all the beauty of community, if it only stays in the suburbs or includes our closest friends and neighbours, it's not enough. We start with that and move it into the reach of all we share our city with. We take what we learn about loving one another and sharing with each other and standing up for each other and we need to spread it into our respective circles and cities.  As much as our amazing little community fills a space in each of our lives, we also go into our city and are able to give to others out of what we've been given.  I'm not saying we've perfected it or that we are always intentional, sometimes it just grows out of having a safe and secure place to land. Marlene Bird needed that place of safety and security in its simplest forms and she wasn't afforded it. Please notice I didn't say she couldn't afford it...the onus is on us to be community to those around us.

Marlene's community has let her down. Not just the homeless community or social agencies in watching out for her, as some would like to blame, but the greater community of humanity - those that recognize her on the street, those that know of her from her long presence in the city, those who give her help occasionally, and those that drive by her and try to ignore her and those she represents. Marlene is a woman, a fellow human, someone who hasn't hurt or invited this sort of pain into her life. She is now fighting an incredibly painful fight for her life. As part of her community, we need to support her and others in vulnerable positions, as though our very lives depend on it. For in reality, our lives may not, but our humanity certainly does.

Friday, June 6, 2014

That Kind of Week

It's been one of "those" weeks. You know the kind - where the little things pile up and make you want to pack up an old bus and drive off into oblivion with your loved ones in tow? Or maybe that's just me. I hate the term "first world problems" but these definitely aren't in the realm of real issues. They are just those trivial things that pile up and make you want to punch yourself in the face as an alternative to actually taking on the day.

It started with a washing machine leaking on the floor, a dog with ticks, a broken curling iron and a tax audit that has the government asking us for proof of guardianship of our two boys dating back three years. I don't hate government but I do genuinely despise government wastefulness and inefficiency. Somehow, when you leave the country with your children for four months, it entitles you to no child tax benefit, an audit and basically a demand for three years worth of your life in writing, notarized, and signed in blood to say that during that time you didn't give up guardianship of your said kids to someone so you could travel the world without a care, regardless of the fact that you continued to pay a mortgage on the same house, enrolled said kids in the same school and filed your income tax as usual.

Like I said, it's just been that week.

But, on the flip side, I'm trying to remind myself that there were little "good" things that were trying to outweigh the bad. I received a free book in the mail. A FREE BOOK. Seriously, how can that not be one of those great things in life. It's an advance copy of a book and so, it's kind of just like a small gift from God saying, "Yea, I know what you like."  We went to an art show put on by some of our favourite friends yesterday and that was really nice. And then this morning, well, it's 80's day at school so it was fun watching E. get all punked up. Then, the  parking lot I park in everyday for work gave me free parking this morning - just printed off a free receipt as if to say, "Hey, you're a regular...this one's on us." in some sort of encouraging twist of fate. And I come up to the office and someone has slid $30 USD under my office door with a sticky note "For your Africa trip"....and there it is. 

This punk. 
Thank you to whoever slid this under my door for our trip in July. <3
That kind of week. The frustrations mount. Finances are stretched. The tasks I hate become mountains in front of me. And yet...while others in the world are facing real difficulties and hardships, the news of the morning here in Saskatoon is that there is a moose on the loose in one of our neighbourhoods. How can we take ourselves so seriously? So, while yes, this may be an attempt to procrastinate my date with the tax department, there are far, far better things to rest my brain on than these petty annoyances. So, note to self: it's all just about perspective. And not getting bent out of shape. Which is more than I can say for my curling iron.


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Easing the Pain

I often start my day with thoughts about our friends in Mulenga. Today is no different although it was this article that brought tears of relief but sadness to me. I'm not sure exactly what this will mean for those who suffer so much in communities like the ones we work in, but I do know that it is a step in the right direction.

Resolution to end global pain and suffering -

As I read this, I began to cry, thinking of this gentleman in Nairobi, but more so how he reminded me of a really beautiful story of Banda in Mulenga.  I'm not sure that Banda would qualify his own story as having been beautiful and in the short time that we had with him, it certainly wasn't.  He lived in a small addition to the cement block home of a woman named Joyce. He was in his late 60's or early 70's and his wife and Joyce's grandmother had been friends years before, though both women had since passed away. His little room was small, not tall enough to stand in, but that didn't matter for Banda couldn't stand anyway. He laid or sat on a small mattress the first time we went to visit him, our family of four plus Blessings and another volunteer. We filled the small space, no larger than a regular sized closet. I sat directly across from Banda and his greeted all of us with an openness that I thought was a contrast to what I would feel in his situation. He and Blessings spoke for a few minutes and then Blessings told us his story. Banda had been diagnosed with cancer in his leg and was having trouble walking and caring for himself. He was taken in by Joyce, the granddaughter or his late wife's friend, who built the small addition to her own home in order for him to have a place to stay. At some point, after being diagnosed with the cancer, the doctor decided that Banda should have his leg amputated below the knee to stop the spread of the cancer and ultimately, to save his life. Sadly though, in the conditions that Banda lived in and that the health care system was in, this only served to make Banda's life even more difficult. When we visited him, several months after his operation, when in our country, you would probably still be under the doctor's care, his amputation had gone terribly wrong. The skin around the bone had pulled away, there was an large piece of bone exposed, and there was infection covering the wound. When he showed it to us, I was acutely aware of what my boys were seeing and at the same time, not even sure I was taking it in. Despite the "care" of the doctor, Banda's life was now limited to being dependent on the care workers like Blessings who would come and care for him as well as on Joyce, his landlord and caregiver, who fed, bathed, clothed him several times a day, despite not having much of her own to give from.

Banda passed away not long after we visited with him but I remember him smiling through his tears with gratitude for the way that Joyce was caring for him. I remember too thinking how horrific his wound was and how something that was supposed to prolong his life, only made his life more difficult and painful.

As I was reading the article about the World Health Association's resolution to end global pain and suffering with pain killers and hospice care, I do think it's a step in the right direction. But ultimately, having someone like Joyce, who stepped in to care for, love, and provide for Banda in his pain and suffering? That is what is going to alleviate the pain and suffering across the world. Not only in impoverished countries, but right here at home, where yes, we have access to hospice and drugs and pain medications...but what we need is someone to stand up for us, sit beside us and love us when it's hard to even be in the room.  We don't need to be qualified or certified to care for one another. We are all made to love and be in relationships. We just need to train ourselves to look for those that could use it the most and then care for them, the way Joyce did.
Joyce and her son, Winter, at home in Mulenga.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

One Boy's Life

This is Meng. He's 11 and he lives at Place of Rescue in Cambodia with his house mother and siblings. A couple of days ago, he was climbing a tree and fell. The doctors said that he had suffered brain damage and that he was in a coma. Yesterday, he began to breathe on his own and though he's still in a coma, he is moving his hands and feet. Please join me in praying for his full recovery. He's just one boy but a boy that is loved and has a future.  

Update: May 15th ~ Meng is still unconscious and has had several seizures. Please keep him in your thoughts and prayers. <3

Update: May 29th ~ From Channak at Place of Rescue:  "Lastest update about Meng. He is awake now and he can talk normally. Today the mother said when he awaked he was asking for food as he was hungry. Thank you Jesus at first everybody thought that he might not live but right now he is doing way better. "
 Such great news!

R & R

John's Magnolia tree was amazing
Last fall, I was invited to speak at a women's retreat in British Columbia, the gorgeous province I grew up in. It was already snowing here when I was asked so of course, I said yes to May in BC, spring, and a chance to catch up with a really amazing group of women that have impacted my life in a lot of ways.  Oh, and to speak in front of a group of women as well. 

If I was enthusiastic in my yes, it was matched only by the nervousness I felt as the date drew closer, and yet, I prepared and went through with it.  The self-doubt came right on schedule with questions like, "Who do you think you are to stand up and tell people this story?" or "What if they think you're wasting their time. They paid good money for this." Argh... Writing is challenging but I tell myself it's me and the computer. It's hard at times to tell your story out loud. It's harder still when you're standing in front of a group of people, most of whom you don't know, and speaking it out loud. In my mind, I was wondering why on earth, this small story of mine would mean anything to anyone else. 

Throughout the weekend, I was able to get to know a bunch of women who really connected with the way that God weaves together lives from all different backgrounds, and brings something quite extraordinary out of the ordinary.  Sitting in the room, as I told my story, was a table surrounded by some pretty influential women in my life. They may not have ever known how influential but I was able to spend some time with them and reflect with them on what our lives intersecting has meant for all of us. Seriously, such a gift. Julie and Kim were just kids, too young for our youth group when we first started at their little church back in 1994. Daphne and Faye and Linda are great women who just give and give and give and with such joy. Little did I know how many times throughout the last 20 years I would reflect on their example and their cheerfulness and their humour in the midst of many different experiences. Michelle and her husband, Glen, were just a young couple with kids when I met them and I remember as a newlywed, looking at them, just steps ahead of us in life, and watch them as they laughed and groaned and just wrangled kids in general. One morning, I woke up early and went out and was able to sit with Faye for awhile and it was just seriously so good to just be around her. This woman has prayed for our kids and us as a couple for years.  Long before we even WANTED them, she was praying those boys into our household with great joy and mischief. 

These amazing women have been in my life for 20 years ~ lucky me!

There were such restorative moments on this trip, ever so unexpected with the tension of speaking. It was so fun to watch a variety of women hike up the mountainside to zip line down across the lake. I watched each one as they approached with every emotion on their sleeve. Some approached it with an adventurous spirit, like Daphne who didn't flinch as she got strapped in and up on the platform, to launch herself off, or Jodi, who flew upside down through the air beside me, with arms outstretched and a huge grin on her face. I snapped a few photos of her mid air, though my camera was strapped to my side, as I flew head first towards the lake.  What I really loved is how there was instant camaraderie between the women on the zip line. Standing at the top, they either shared fears or one would encourage the other....however convincingly. It really was a beautiful picture of how we should feel walking into adventure together, encouraging each other to take the leap and enjoy the ride. Too often women talk one another OUT of adventures and excitement, spurring each other on to the practical and the sensible. If I do nothing else, let me surround myself with women who will egg me on to adventure not join me in the mundane.

Tammy showing Hannah how to take on the zip line "Superman" style.
Although the retreat was not entirely restful because I was speaking, the beautiful setting put me entirely at ease. There is something about being outside in nature that really just allows me to unwind. Sad that I live in a place where the winters last so long with no skiing to speak of...

Take a hike...

This beautiful view each morning

And though I am an introvert, it was really the remaining days of my week in BC that allowed me to rest. I spent an afternoon with some girls from our first youth group there, now all grown up and gorgeous. Marah and her husband, Matt, just returned to Peachland to live and when joined by Tina, it was just a good time to hang out and catch up on life. These girls have figured friendships out and our "Peachland Girls" remain some of the dearest girls in our lives, 20 years later. We have watched them figure out life as girls in high school, as young women stretching out on their own in different directions, as wives and as moms, as single women, as career women and as leaders and contributors in their communities. They all have their own amazing qualities but put this particular group of women together and I challenge anyone to come between them and whatever they set their hearts on. I love them as fiercely as they love one another and it's always so good to just sit in their company - even when it's just one or two of them - and catch up. 
The isthmus in Oyama. 

My style guru, T.
Then, my friend, Danielle, picked me up and we headed out to her neck of the woods. We met up with Char (who is the Samwise to my Frodo) and we packed altogether too much food and fun into a weekend on the Shuswap. It was one of those weekends that flies by entirely too fast and involved a lot of laughter, tears, hiking, tromping through creeks, rope ladder climbing, fully clothed swimming in a frigid lake, scrabble, blended drinks, wine, cheese and chick flicks. I think the only time we stopped talking was when we were sleeping. There was even an impromptu dance party on the deck as we packed up to leave. All in all, it was one of those weeks that make me want to dig deeper into the relationships that I have for this. This is the payoff. Relationships that stand the double barrels of time and distance. Picking up where you left off and being able to be yourself, without pretence, these are the gifts for the awkward first days of friendship and figuring out chemistry between very different women in very different stages of life.
A short (never long enough) meander through an amazing little used bookshop in Vernon, BC. 


When I was leaving the retreat last weekend, Faye caught up to me in the hallway at one point and looked very earnestly into my face and asked me a really amazing question. She asked if Jason and I knew how very deeply we were loved and remembered for our time of ministry in their church. It caught me off guard, and the beauty of it has come back to me over the week and even this morning, as I got ready for work. We knew we were deeply loved while we were working in that church. Our first pastor, Pastor Larry, and his wife, Marilyn, showed us such love and grace and completely shared their lives with us. We knew it because we shared our lives very openly with both the kids in the youth group and with those that went to the church. I honestly believe that that openness and the depth with which we invested ourselves into those kids is the reason we have the 20 year friendships with those kids, now grown, today. When Faye asked me that, I told her that I do know that.  I did. I had heard it echo throughout the weekend spending it with her and the others who had come to the retreat.  I maybe thought the fondness and love for that time in our lives and those we came in contact was perhaps one sided or at least tilted in our favour, for we were the ones who left. Again, what a gift it is when someone speaks earnestly and truthfully about things we assume one another knows.  Thank you, Faye, from the bottom of my cracked and mended heart.

I learned a lot about myself this week. I have often been afraid to make a fool of myself even if it meant someone will enjoy the laughter of it all. I have been afraid to speak my story even if it meant that someone will see the importance of their own story. I was afraid to meet up with people I love from my past in case they saw greater flaws in me than they remembered and didn't love me quite so deeply. What I found out this week? That when I step over that roadblock of fear, that there are those willing to laugh with me, learn their own importance and love me even more deeply than I deserve.