Friday, April 22, 2016

Role Models

For the past few weeks, I've been holding down the fort here at home with the boys while Jason is off working hard and getting his motorcycle mechanics licence. Now, I say this sincerely, it's not hard to be excited about this for him, he's wanted to do this for years and he keeps sending me his grades and they are awesome...but then I see this? And I remember all that I miss about him...and wonder simultaneously about the value of spending money on educating this guy. I also wonder why he is wearing coveralls with the name Peter Sellers on them? It doesn't take Inspector Clouseau to figure out why my boys share such a strange sense of humour, does it?

I know that with Jason gone and it just being me at home with the boys, there are a few roles I've had to fill that don't come too naturally to me. One is being the "fun" parent. Now, I've talked about this before here and how it just doesn't work to have two fun parents. Alas, in the absence of the "fun" parent, I've had to figure it out and now and then, I'm rewarded with a laugh or at least not an eye roll and groan.  I've also had to figure out a few things that I didn't know I would ever have to figure out. 

To be honest, I consider myself a feminist in the sense that I believe wholeheartedly that men and women are equal but I find myself, more often than I care to admit, descending to the whole male roles/female roles when it comes to things around the house. I often wonder how tasks get divided into male and female when really, if you're anything like J and I, we got married young and had to figure stuff out because we didn't have a clue. There was nothing that made J more qualified to fix the vehicles or to sort out taxes. Wait, I do that and I am certainly unqualified. In fact, I am often haunted by the words of my accounting teacher, Mr. Skerlak, who would often tell me that with my accounting skills, I'll end up in prison. Life lessons, Mr. S...they stay with me. I remember one of our first road trips as two twenty-something-year-olds and we were driving on the island highway returning from a trip out to Denman in our '69 VW van. (Lord, I miss that van.) Our fuel gauge suddenly started dropping rapidly towards empty and we checked the rearview to see a coyote-vs-roadrunner line of gasoline following us down the highway. We pulled over and the two of us jumped out, opened the engine compartment and looked at the engine with no clue what to do. Suddenly, Jason grabbed some weird tube and held it up, and you could see it had some liquid in it. Sniffing it, it was the gas line, so he looked a little closer, picked a spot on the engine that looked like it should have something attached to it, and plugged the tube back onto it. We shrugged, waited a minute and then got back in and started the car, waiting for the KA-BOOM to follow. Crazy as it was, it started without a hitch and we just drove on, laughing at our unbelievable luck at solving that little issue. 

In these past few years, our roles changed and Jason stayed home with the boys and our life became really, really fun! Jason did laundry and planned and cooked meals and it was awesome! We even discovered, far too late in our marriage, that Jason, who actually LOVES shopping and has the ability to buy great gifts, should do all our Christmas shopping. Women gasp when I tell them this but it has been the greatest gift to me (and to anyone who is on our gift list) that I do not have to go near a mall or retail outlet from November until January. Believe me. It's for everyone's safety.  So, with Jason gone, I've taken on a few new roles and revamped a few. I painted the main floor of the house, I fixed our washing machine and I even googled how to adjust the idle on Aidan's '84 Firebird just to get the dang thing out of my garage so I could move in there! I'm not going to lie, there's something about taking on a new role that is empowering. I've never been much for the status quo of roles, and while I loved being home with my kids when they were preschool aged, I love my work as well. I don't take for granted that many women don't have this luxury of a husband who just does what he does, regardless if it's a "blue" job or a "pink" one...and believe me, we have never used those terms in our house. It makes me shudder.

I will say this though, I was reminded this morning that there are still so many places in our world where gender defines roles and opportunities. I was listening to a young woman from Syria who had escaped her ISIS captors who held her as a slave. I can't imagine living in a place where my gender defines me more than my humanity. 

In this day and age where we're arguing whether gender matters or who can use what bathroom, I think we need to remember the over arching argument is humanity. Man or woman or's about living out the best of your characteristics and sharing them with others to improve everyone's life on this planet. It's difficult to explain to someone who has no interest in learning, that having a transgendered person using the stall next to you is not an affront to your civil rights. And while we are busy filling the world with the fear of all that could possibly go wrong, we are waiving the rights of those who have already struggled and dealt with pain and bias and ignorance. We can't go backwards, people. It's 2016. It's hard not to be discouraged when you think that there is still such a large portion of the population of this earth that don't understand one another and are at war with one another. Some days I can't find good news on my Twitter feed or in the news so I just shut it all down for a while. But today, today was a good morning. 

I woke to see this photo on my Twitter feed and it reminds me that there are people who are doing this every dang day. Women who have done the hard work and broken the barriers and continue to rise in the ranks of predominantly male roles, yet they don't lose anything of themselves in the mean time. Joanne ( Saskatoon City Police) and Deb (Saskatoon City Fire Dept.) are two of the most incredibly unselfish, giving women I've met and I am so proud to call them friends. They are cheerleaders and advocates for women in non-traditional roles and they can hold their own and supersede many of their male counterparts at the same time. Yet, there is something to be said for the compassion and pride these women show in their roles as well.  Maybe that's why it's easier for me to accept that men, women and neutral gendered people all have the equal ability to make our world a more liveable place. We just need to allow each person equal opportunity. Or even an opportunity...because regardless of what bathroom you use, we all gotta pee. 

I'm proud of the women and the men in my life who continue to exhibit that there are roles for everyone to play...regardless of what gender you happen to be. 

Monday, April 4, 2016

The Road to Heaven

This weekend was an interesting one in what is becoming the long, dull days of winter turning to spring. It's not the best time of year to live in the prairies and to be honest, I much prefer the crispy, cold days of mid winter to this month of on again, off again spring. Yesterday it was 22 degrees and then today, there were flecks of ice in the rain as I pulled into town tonight. 

I left my boys alone for the first time this weekend. I was only a couple hours away at a conference but it felt like everything in my world was disjointed as Jason is at school and the boys were home alone and I was trying not to overwhelm them with text reminders from my hotel room.  I have to admit that when I first booked this conference, the thought of leaving them home alone was overshadowed with the thought that after being on our own for the past few weeks, I would welcome the break. The opposite was true. As time got closer, I got more and more worried about things like do they know where the fire extinguisher is? Will they use it as a weapon of mass destruction if I tell them where it is? Will a 2 night diet of pizza pops and frozen waffles be detrimental to their health? Do they know they don't have to open the door if they don't recognize the person on the other side? 
Of course, they know all these things but it doesn't keep a mama bear from running through the list of potential disasters as I drive away, apron strings flapping in the wind from where they were severed. 

And, the truth is, they were fine - probably happy for the break as I should have been. I did possibly text a mite too often but I felt like they are on their phones 24/7 anyway, why couldn't I be part of their day in such a relevant way? But from the "Stop it Mom" responses and eye roll emojis, I understand that probably I was over communicative according to their standards. 

The conference I went to was being held just a few hours south and my head is still swimming with all the facts and figures but it's my heart that took a beating this weekend. The focus was on social justice but particularly on human trafficking.  It was a really meaningful weekend for me and I'll probably share the behind the scenes story a little in the coming days but for now, I'll say that my head and heart are full and floundering to figure out what to do with the stories I heard.  Inspiring? Yes. Distressing? Absolutely. Hopeful? Thankfully.

On my way home this afternoon, it was still very sunny and clear though overnight it had turned colder. The warmth in the wind was replaced by a chill and an mild threat of snow. I started north and realized that I had all day to get home. I decided to do something I have wanted to do since we arrived in Saskatchewan nearly 10 years ago. I detoured off the highway and searched out the small hamlet (if indeed, seven houses and some abandoned vehicles a hamlet make....) that my Grandma's family homesteaded near when they first came to Canada from Holland. My great grandparents arrived in Canada with six little girls and set out to make a life on the land. They travelled to SK with the promise of fertile land and not much else and set to work farming in the Shackleton area. They built a sod house and lived through the Dirty Thirties in one of the hardest hit areas of Saskatchewan. My grandma and her sisters were sent to school when it was available and there is nothing left of the school house now, but the stories my grandmother told me when I was little. My favourite is her story of how as a little girl, my grandmother wasn't quite as well mannered or as quiet as a school girl was expected to be. She was often in trouble with the young school teacher, who my grandma found difficult to pay attention to. One afternoon, my grandmother found herself in trouble for paying too much attention to the teacher. Or, more specifically, to her teacher's dress. While the teacher taught a lesson to the other students in class, my grandma found herself intrigued by the amount of buttons on her teacher's dress. She tried several times to count the buttons but kept losing track, so she put her finger by the side of her nose and pointed at each button, counting to herself, and not noticing as the buttons drew closer and closer. Suddenly, she felt the crack of her teacher's hand across her hand, knocking her nose and snapping her to attention. Reprimanded and made to stand in the corner with her nose to the wall, my grandma noticed that her nose had started to bleed a little. So, she blew her nose a bit and proceeded to wipe the blood on her face. She did so several times until she was sure that it was noticeable and then raised her hand, still facing the wall, to ask permission to go to the outhouse. Her teacher noticed her hand in the corner and sharply asked her what she wanted. Turning to face the teacher, the class gasped collectively as my grandmother's bloodied face now presented itself, and the teacher turned a ghastly shade of white. The school teacher, so horrified at the injury she had inflicted, took my grandmother outside, washed her face for her and apologized over and over. In fact, she brought out one of my grandmother's favourite books, a small snack from her own lunch, and parked my grandmother in the shade of the tree to spend the remainder of the day "recovering".  My lovely grandma told me this story many times, with more than a little pride, at her younger self's naughty nature. She counted that day a win as she remembered sitting under the tree, reading a book and quietly passing the school day away.

Today, I pulled into Shackleton, at least, what remains of it...and though I'm not sure what I was expecting, I didn't really get any sort of mystical closeness that maybe I was hoping for. I was aware as I set foot on the gravel streets that my grandma in her childhood had walked here, with her sisters, and that perhaps she had felt the cool wind of spring the same way I was experiencing it. Maybe she too, tired of the lingering of winter once spring had introduced itself. Or maybe she liked the cool winds and dreaded the dusty heat of summer. The fields surrounding the hamlet are probably not much different than they were when her father worked them. The lines of course are straighter and more consistent with the aid of GPS and mechanized combines but the dirt is the same and the rocks are still piled in the corners of the fields, testifying to the difficulty of farming these lands past and present. As I drove into town, a song came on my iPod that I don't believe I've heard before, though it's been on an album that's been on my playlist for years. It felt somewhat connected to the fact that I was driving around a less-than-one-horse-town looking for a gut feeling or spiritual fist pump that I felt I was needing. And there's a line that said, "There's a certain peace to a country road with a wheel in your hand" that turned me into a weepy mess with no explanation, if anyone asked, for what I was really looking for.

I photographed remnants of homesteads and collapsing barns, old sheds and railway bridges but I didn't really know how to connect with someone I miss so regularly, who I know is far from here. I was thinking on the drive in about a poem or a quote I'd read about "Visiting hours in heaven". Sometimes I really would just like to ask her a thing or two while I have her ear. I just always like her perspective on things, particularly when it comes to Jesus. You see, it seems my Grandma figured out how to really like Jesus and how to really love Jesus, in a way that I think I'm only beginning to figure out. Sure, she went to church dutifully on Sundays and fulfilled her womanly roles as expected by churches in the era she lived in, but I think she too, was a bit of a reluctant saint, who really experienced God when she was helping others or caring for people, even those she would never meet.  That's the part of following Jesus that has kept me hooked on figuring out who He is. I can get bitter and frustrated at the conflicting reports and images and rules about what being a Christian looks like, but I can't fault the Jesus who loved people and went out of his way to care for those that others neglected or oppressed.  That's the Jesus I can follow, the one with few friends around the cross while he suffers. 

I was thinking about that this morning driving out to Shackleton. You can think of many things on a grid road that stretches out in front of you for over an hour with no sign of anyone else for the entire time. I thought of how one sided my conversations with my grandma have become and that I don't want to turn her into my own personal approval guru, shaping who she really was into what I want to remember her to be. I do, however, want to figure out this Jesus she followed because if she liked Him, then He was worthy. I trusted her and she trusted him.

I do know this, that when I set my feet on the same roads she did, I became aware that if I follow her footsteps, they lead where Jesus led. When I detoured today and set out to find her footprints, I found his, because I realized that those were the ones she was stepping in.  I guess that's what makes me miss her so deeply when I'm feeling like I've left the tracks. I know that if I step into what she was following, it will lead me to where He is.  And though it was hardly mystical, there were a few reminders on the journey. A song about heaven I'd never heard and a sign that proclaimed it was right in front of me. 
"A little piece of heaven...."

"Road To Heaven"

Sometimes I think about silly things
It's easy to do if you have the time
Often happens when I'm falling off to sleep
After a second glass of wine

The clock is usually running out
Down by one or could be tied
I'm fading back
Winding up
The championship on the line...but...

What if there was a road to heaven
That's what came to me today
Would there be Traffic jams with diamond lanes
Potholes filled up with rain
Would there be Tolls still left to pay

If there was a road to heaven
Made of gold or made out of clay
Would the Angels wave me up the hill
Or in my mirror just fade away

I've never been the kind a man who hits his knees
Got no answers for big questions
I don't know...
Maybe tomorrow lightning will hit me on the head
And we can find out if we're just a joke

Jesus I'm told can build a bridge
Finer than any other man
There's a certain peace to an country road
With a wheel in your hand

If there was a road to heaven
Would there be laws I must obey
If I drove my mustang 85
Late one night turned out the lights
Would the stars still light the way

If there was a road to heaven
Made of Gold or Made of Clay
Would the Angels lead me up the hill
Or in my mirror just fade away

Night turns morning
The old man should be snoring
I got to get some sleep before I'm awake

Up with the monkeys
I sure love the monkeys
But This job ain't all cookies and cake

Sometimes I think about silly things
It's easy to do if you got the wine
In The Eagle we're landing
I'm the President
Or a foreign king
With a harem from Encino to Brunei

But if there was a road to heaven
It'd be one long and crazy ride...
If there was a road to heaven babe
That's a road that I'd like to find.

Hilda, Margaret, Minnie, Oma and Opa, Eulah and Mona (my granny)

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Heartache in The City of Joy

From One Life International:

Our hearts are very heavy this morning. We’re thankful to have word that our staff and current trip members are safe, but are thinking about and praying for all involved.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Lessons From Outside the Service

This week, as Easter approached, life just got busier and busier. I wasn't even sure how to take the time out to acknowledge was is supposed to be the most important holiday of the Christian faith. All I knew as it was closing in was that my boys were going to be around, Jason was coming home and some family was coming in for the weekend, which all sounded incredibly good to me. Alas, I work for a church and that means we ramp things UP for important days like Easter and so gearing up and anticipating Sunday's service was key on the agenda this week. Easter is all about the anticipation of Sunday after the grief of Friday. All I could think about was that our weekend was upside down. I was so excited for Jason to be home on Friday and sad for him to leave on Sunday. Our short visit fell in the midst of a busy time but the four of us made the most of it, with help from Kim and Lloyd, Mac and Kamerin.

So, this morning, I kissed my husband goodbye as he packed back up for school tomorrow and I snuck out of the house before most of the house was even awake. I had my pieces of the service loaded into the car and scraped the windows because even if it is Easter Sunday, there's still snow on the ground and the windows are iced up.

I grabbed a couple of coffees at Tim's and a bag of donuts and headed to TCU Place, where we meet for church. I actually thought that one of my favourite hosts would be working this morning, which is why I grabbed an extra coffee and some donuts, but I never made it into the building with them.  I pulled up to unload my car and I could see in my peripheral vision, a friend called Eric who was coming down the street towards me, his familiar gait one I hadn't seen in a while. I kneed the door shut, arms full and turned towards him. He greeted me with a big smile and yelled, "Happy Easter!" down the alley. I yelled back, "Happy Easter!" As he got closer, I threw what I was carrying back in the car, and reached in for the coffee and donuts in the bag. I held them up and asked as he approached, "Got time for breakfast?" and he answered, "That's a girl!" with his huge grin. His face is so wrinkled that when he smiles, it folds into itself with some form of magic that reveals his younger self and transforms his whole look. I passed him a coffee and the bag of donuts and we ducked around the building into a sunny step on the loading dock area. Sitting down, we made a little small talk, he caught me up on his trip home to a northern reserve where he hunkered down for the winter. He smoked a cigarette and we drank coffee and ate donuts and sat in the warmth of the sun that was coming around the building. I asked him if he wanted to come in for our Easter service and he said he was heading down to City Centre, a church down the road, who was hosting our city's largest Easter gathering and lunch. He asked me what I thought Jesus did when he rose from the grave after days of death. I looked at him and said, "I think he went and showed himself to his friends again..." Eric dusted the donut crumbs off his mouth and said, "He did. He showed up and started making them breakfast." I could have gone home right then.

Eric and I parted ways and he continued on towards one of the beacons in our city that he knows is friendly to a guy like him, a place that feeds his soul and his belly, and I was incredibly grateful for him. I grabbed the stuff back out of my vehicle and headed into the building, forty minutes late and smelling of cigarette smoke but smiling.  I got to work sorting out all my components of the service while everyone else was in full rehearsal mode. There were hundreds of chairs out and as I placed each info package on them, I tried to remain mindful of those who would be filling those chairs and the message they would hear. Even the most mundane tasks become spiritual when you give them the weight they deserve and I could feel the importance of the message of the morning beginning to come to life in my own mind.

As they do, people started to arrive and the seats filled and we set out more, and they filled those and we set out more. Then we filled in some of the gaps in seats and set out more and suddenly the darkened room was full of people that seem to appear whether we know them or not. The service began and people kept coming and I could see that the kids program was still registering kids so I went down to help where I could. Our kids programming director was in her glory, with bounce houses, bubbles, face painting and eggs to decorate....the sheer number of little shoes and boots surrounding the entrance to the kids area was unbelievable! 300 Easter eggs led kids from the foyer of the venue up the stairs to the wonderland she had created for them. By the time the kids came up the stairs, all inhibitions about leaving their parents' sides were gone in anticipation for what lie beyond the doors.  Inside, there were kids everywhere and they were having so much fun already. Volunteers were shuffling them from bounce houses to craft tables, blowing bubbles and gluing glitter. Each child was either in line or already sporting an elaborate balloon animal hat or sword or superhero that a quick handed balloon man was fashioning at breakneck speed. It was incredible. A quick thumbs up and check in, and I went across the hall to the quieter nursery and toddler room. Well, it was meant to be quieter but there were three little guys, all in various states of distress, mostly caused by one little gaffer who was clearly not having anything to do with the idea of staying and playing. He was clinging to the leg of Sara, who already was balancing one on her hip and trying to sit so she could comfort him as well. I came in and picked him up, and he arched and tried to throw himself away from me. One of the volunteers explained that he was not settling down and that every time he cried, someone else would join him. I rocked him for a little bit and he seemed to decide I was okay, but he was still yelling at the top of his lungs. I motioned to Sara that I was going to take him to the quiet room at the end of the hall and if his mom came, she could find us there.  He was so tired, poor little guy, looking so darn cute in his denim shirt and khaki pants...I could tell he just wanted to sleep. He was starting to blink pretty heavy when Mom came in and he was reminded of how offensive it was that I was holding him against his will. Mom was trying to decide what to do with him, wanting very much to sit through a full service but knowing he was very tired. I offered to sit with him and see if I could get him to sleep so she passed him off with a bottle and a favourite book and a soother and snuck out. Me and my new little friend sat on a couch in an empty ballroom and he yelled while I read him his favourite book the first time. And the second time. And then he took his soother while I read it the third time. And yelled during the fourth, fifth and sixth time but sort of fell to just complaining during the seventh time. He was laying on the couch, fully relaxed by the eleventh time and barely could keep his eyes open for the fourteenth time that the monkeys were drum, drum, drumming with their fingers and their thumbing.  I was only holding the book as he fell asleep and turning maybe one page every two minutes while he blinked and fought sleep with the type of fortitude that reminded me of my boys and the fact that we didn't really sleep for seven years.  I think he was officially asleep for about five minutes when the service ended and Mom came back to get him. The beauty of it was, I didn't mind a bit. In fact, it was actually a really incredible thing to watch this little guy and his strength and feisty nature as he finally gave into what he really wanted, which was rest. In those days when my boys were small, I remember feeling like everyone else's child slept all the time and only woke to count to 100 and read before their first tooth came in, peacefully and without drool, overnight. I remembered all the feelings of inadequacies when your baby is crying and you have no idea what to do other than sit down and cry right alongside him. And I saw that when a baby finally falls asleep, arms above his head, socks kicked off and eyelashes wet from tears, it's the most amazing reminder that there is beauty in rest, even when we fight it. Handing baby back to his mama, I felt grateful. I may have missed the service but I felt like the morning had reminded me how to celebrate Easter and all that it means. Serving others and giving in to rest are important lessons in my life and I didn't see a single minute of the incredible service we had put together this morning to learn them.

Happy Easter. He is Risen. 

Friday, March 4, 2016

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

There's some new books on my bedside table. A departure from the usual types of reading I do. I'm all about new adventures and learning ...particularly if I can do it vicariously by reading about it. It's good to have new story lines. New liturgies. New literature. Too many of us get stuck in one story line as if it were the common that could usher us peacefully fulfilled to the end of our lives. Many of us stop seeking new story lines, even vicarious ones, so comfortable are we in the status quo. We choose the familiar over the fulfilling. The mundane over the motivational.  Sometimes the search finds us numbing those longings with food or alcohol or electronics or busyness.

You know this storyline: Men. Midlife crisis. Ditching the mini van for a sports car. Sometimes the wife gets left in the mini van with the children and the sports car comes with a shiny, new accessory.

So, when I tell you that Jason and I are currently separated, I want to clarify that it's temporary. We're very much together...though we're living in different provinces and figuring out what that looks like for the next few months.

One of the things we promised each other when we got married, outside of our vows, was that we would always be on each other's team. We would figure out how to be the cheerleader that the other needs to pursue the dreams that need to be pursued in order to live well.

You know those things you daydream about when you're mindlessly going through the motions at work or waiting at a red-light? Those dreams that on cloudless sunny days are the thoughts that have you believing that "if only....then...."?  Jason and I have often referred to those types of daydreams as "Spaceman Spiffing"...a verb we created from the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes? There's a lot of wisdom in the relationship between a boy and his tiger. Our favourite Calvin alter ego is Spaceman Spiff, who is a result of Calvin's common daydreams. Sometimes, when kids are pressuring him to do something or his teacher is rambling on, Spaceman Spiff appears and takes on the "aliens" who are trying to destroy the peace and well being on his planet.   It's not uncommon in our house for Jason to get out of the shower and say, "Do you know what I Spaceman Spiffed while I was in the shower?" or for me to be laying in my hammock in the yard and when asked what I'm doing to say, "Oh, I'm just Spaceman Spiffing about being in Zambia...." We've created our own language to describe the dreams that seem just a little outside the realms of possibility but are still worthwhile giving mental energy too.

For the past few (ahem...5?) years since leaving ministry, Jason has had a recurring Spaceman Spiff dream. It's come up over the years in increasing intervals and so when a Spaceman Spiff turns into googling logistics, it's time to look at it in a more serious light. So, we did. Jason's dream has been to become a motorcycle mechanic. It's left field kind of thinking for a guy who sold his motorbike to help fund our 2012 trip to Africa with the kids...and it's out of the ball park kind of thinking for a guy who doesn't know a carburetor from a clutch kit...and yet, it's persisted. And so, he's packed up the Suburu which will probably get him an "F" for street cred, and headed back to school...a measly 10 hours away.

The dream is inspired in several natural ways and in uncommon ones. It  has no doubt been fuelled by friends with names like oh, say...Jerms and Woody...that show up on their bikes or work on them in the driveways across the street and tell tales of life on the road and the (mis)adventures of crashes and near misses and epic rides to Sturgis. But, it has also been inspired by being in Cambodia and seeing that there are thousands (millions?) of motorcycles on the road and that there are thousands of young men looking for work and it would be an amazing gift to be able to teach a trade to them. It's a wife that desires to volunteer long term overseas and the idea that having a trade would be a useful and empowering legacy to pass on to those who have no income to pursue a trade themselves.

So, for the past few years we've been talking and revisiting this idea. We've found an ever growing list of reasons why it's not practical, or feasible or even responsible. I mean, I have a part time job that barely keeps two teenaged boys fed...but hey, Kraft dinner is always on sale for less than a buck, right?

There are a million reasons not to pursue the dreams. There is a cost to making dreams reality, even the small ones. And there are those who say, "Why bother?" or "Why would you give up a decent job for the unknown?" Or my personal favourite "We could never afford that". There are those who couldn't live with the squeaky dryer or using a butter knife to unlock the washing machine for a few more months just to save those repair bill dollars and put them towards the dream. It's giving up the idea of just one family vacation before our oldest graduates and it's being alone in a remote northern town and living with friends of friends. It's walking into a classroom knowing how little you know. It's watching your husband drive away and feeling like a few months is far too long to hold down the fort. It's having to take on a few odd jobs and drinking coffee at home.  But you know what? Time passes. Months go by whether you're chasing your dreams or not. I can't tell you anything super significant that happens in the months of the year that we're just doing the day to day. I'm not saying there are not a ton of beautiful and meaningful moments in the ordinary. There are. I am saying though that those continue whether you're chasing a dream or not, why not chase it in the midst of the ordinary?   And you know what's not ordinary? The Spaceman Spiffs. Those sparks of your imagination that reveal your longings.

Chasing your dreams offers no guarantees other than one. That at the end of your life, you won't look back and wonder, "What if?" about the one nagging thought you had for years on end. Whether it works out the way we want it to or not...that's worth chasing. I'm proud of this guy...(Jason, not Calvin) and I know that when we figure out what all this leads to in the future, we'll know one thing for sure, it was worth it to be the kind of couple that challenges and cheers one another on to pursue dreams.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Length of a Memory

I spent a lot of time this weekend on the hard bleachers at my son's high school, watching basketball. It seemed fitting in that, this weekend in February, for every year of the past 29 years, basketball has been on my mind.

29 years ago, I was quite oblivious to the fact that just a few blocks away from my house, our own high school basketball team was loading up in vans and heading to the Okanagan for a tournament. While I went about my typical afternoon, parents were dropping off kids and saying goodbyes that were going to have to last a lifetime.

I don't remember much of the details of the day, other than the news carried the story and somehow I found myself on the doorstep of one of my teachers' house, ringing the doorbell looking for answers. His wife answered, phone in hand, eyes red and she hugged me, which was unusual even though I had babysat for them for many years. "Jim's at the high school. It's not good news."

I remember I wasn't alone when I walked into the high school but for the life of me, now, I can't remember if it was my mom with me or a friend. I do remember the school was empty save for a few teachers and administrators. I walked into the office and the phones were ringing off the hooks. Mr. Callaghan took me into his office, and sat me down and I remember him asking me two things. "If you're sure you want to know, I'll tell you what I know. Are you sure?" He told me the names of those who had died. The girl I'd double dated with on my first "real" date. Another girl, a sister of a friend of mine, who I sometimes walked home with. A boy I'd gone all through elementary and high school with who could make me laugh like no one else, whose freckles I felt were immeasurably sweet, and who walked with me to math class three times a week and saluted when we parted for some reason I no longer remember.  A boy who I only knew as a quiet and artistic boy...a boy I didn't even know had played basketball. And then there were those for who we weren't sure what their injuries were other than very serious...a boy from my elementary days who I knew as a fun guy to kick around with and another, a friend who lived next to my Grandma and had a genuine smile and was friendly to everyone. His father was driving the van and my heart felt sick for all that that meant. And then Mr.  Callaghan asked me if I could answer some phones for a while and just relay information about a meeting at the school to inform people of what had happened.  It was a long evening.

Over the coming days, as reality hit, our small high school closed ranks and knit together a crazy kind of closeness that broke down the ranks of cliques and diminished the lines drawn between them. For each of us lost someone...the artists, the rockers, the jocks, the fresh faced popular girls and the boys for whom sports was language.

We walked through funerals together and filled chapels and funeral homes. We stood amongst caskets and hearses and comforted one another. We filled the arms of parents who would never hug their child again. We sat in the living rooms and shared stories with families who were eager to hear every nuance of their child's life. We drove by their homes in the years to come and whispered silent prayers for them as we knew the rooms that remained unoccupied. We unveiled plaques and we donated to scholarships.  And as the years went by and we moved on with our lives, we saw these families at our graduations, our weddings and then, for me, less and less.

I remember standing on a small bluff in Tsawwassen, BC about a year after the accident. We were part of a small graveside gathering with one of the boys' families to put his ashes to rest overlooking the ocean he loved. I remember the smell in the air that day of salt water and the cool wind, the friends in my vehicle and the warmth of the car as we returned to it, chilled by the time outside.

I will say this. There was a lesson in this for me and probably numerous lessons for all of us.
That life is short.
That friendships are knit together in fun but they are fused together in loss.
That more often than you believe, in the next 29 years, as full as your life is with friendship and family and chasing down your dreams, there will be a song that stops you in your tracks and the heartache will be fresh. There will be a wistfulness in the smell of salt air and the mention of the word "Sovereign" will bring memories of a sailboat that was missing a crew member. There will be moments when you watch your own son, at 17, race off to a basketball tournament and it will strike fear in your heart that you may never see him again. And there will be the hope that his life will have meant something in the way that these four lives have meant something in the lives of so many who remember them.

Februaries are always reflective. I've lost track of many friends and family over the years but let me say this now. The time you spend with people imprints them, in more ways than you can often imagine. These four lives imprinted mine in a positive manner, even though it was a brief overlap for some, I continue to remember the gifts they brought about.  Sitting in the gym today, hearing the sounds of basketballs on the backboard and the shouts of teammates on the bench, I heard the reminder that life is short but the memory of love is long.

To Meghan, Darren, Michelle and especially Brent....I remember. We all do.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

This Life

"Comparison is the thief of joy"

This is a small mantra I often play on repeat in my head. Particularly in this age of Instagram and Facebook and Tumblr and every other kind of media out's hard to remember that someone else's life isn't just one big fun fest while mine isn't. And then, I hit the reality that I'm sure there are days when my life IS one big fun fest and someone else's isn't.

So, hear this...that for all the oversharing I do on social media and over coffee and on the blog, it's still just a snapshot of a moment. So, if you catch me on a good day with make up on and having run a brush through my hair...remember that there are just as many days like today. I'm home. I have a hacking chest cold that has turned me into a big sucky baby that yells "It burnnnnnns" to the dog every time I have a coughing spasm. (As an aside, this supposedly most loyal breed has retired to the top of the stairs, out of my coughing range and barely lifts her head now when I look for sympathy and solidarity in my weakened state.)  My house is half painted, with painting paraphernalia all over the coffee table and kitchen island. Dishes are piled in the sink and the boys are going to come home shortly to complain that there is "nothing to eat" as they rummage the pantry and fridge in their mid day feeding frenzy.

So, yes, enjoy our photos. They are beautiful and they capture our family well. But keep in mind that they don't tell the whole story. That Easton has a broken collarbone in these pics. And our oldest nephew and niece are now at college and away from home...and that means they have their own lives and we don't have many years left where we'll all be able to gather this way. That cancer has had its way with more than one family member in these photos. That we don't get to be together this way on more than a few days a year, though we are lucky enough to recognize that it's precious when we do. That the boys who now tower over our heads are the same ones who have just walked in the door and demand to be fed copious amounts of teen approved snacks...and I'm the one they are looking to to provide them. Our life is incredibly good. It's simply life...with all its ups and downs and mind numbingly mundane in between. And it's ours. Even when the bills pile up. And the boys fight. And I'm sick. And the dang dog barely acknowledges me all day.
Mac and the cousins 

My gorgeous nieces...

Jenessa and Cailey

Kamerin giving it back to Aidan. 

Snowball fight on the lake
Jason and I 

The whole VanBinsbergen clan on the lake

The cousins. They're like a small gang.

The family...I'm definitely the shortest

Easton and Aidan
Oma and Opa