Thursday, October 11, 2018

Looking Forward To...

Those of you who are closest to me were probably privileged to be on the receiving end of a really emotional series of phone calls, text messages and distress signals in the days leading up to my departure for Zimbabwe and Zambia last month.  As I packed, I cried and worried about leaving my boys alone for the first time and the idea of having an ocean between us was compounding my fears. They are good guys and I wasn't actually worried that they would act up, I was more afraid of something happening that would cause them stress or you know, I pre-worried and stressed it all in advance because that absolves them of risk. I know. 

I landed in Toronto and I still felt completely ill about leaving. I thought about changing my flight, heading to Austin to my sweet friends, Robin and Bruce, and just throwing some old photos up of past trips to convince people that I had actually gone to Africa, because heaven knows, if worrying isn't the answer, being a fraud certainly is. 

I didn't sleep much overnight and by the time I was in my seat and listening to the Ethiopian version of the safety message, I was exhausted. If nothing else, I thought, I was in the place where I was being propelled towards the destination through no effort of my own for the next 26 hours. And it was there that I felt my body relax and my mind drift towards excitement and anticipation.  By the time I arrived in Harare and saw Farai at the airport waiting for me, I was completely at peace in my mind and my heart that I was where I was meant to be.  The focus of the trip changed once I hit the ground, as Farai told me just as we were leaving the airport parking lot, there was a cholera outbreak and it meant that there was much work to be done to get ahead of it and ensure that our kids remained not only protected from the cholera but also from the potential of the feeding programs being shut down. 

Since I've been back I've been wondering why after nearly ten years and countless trips overseas, I had such a visceral reaction to leaving. I think in so many ways, it was indicative of stepping out of the past year of firsts and into the new chapter of life after the break up of my marriage.  I was still holding on to fears and anxieties that I knew were false and unfounded but it was hard to let go of those...and yet, I took the first step, it eased a little. I've checked for ways to circumvent the pain and avoid the work of healing and yet, I had to get into a space where I'd have to sit and be propelled forward alone. Once I did that, I could get to the place where I was excited and energized again.

It's a bit of a funky metaphor for my life but the truth is, I'm waking up happier and more energized than I have in a long time. There's still lots of unknowns and there are many things that threaten to shut down this sense of well being but there are more that enhance it these days. Our boys are doing well. I mean, really well. They are figuring out future plans and balancing work and school and play and still not able to figure out how to take the recycling out before it threatens to avalanche us...but they are really genuinely good people. This month we celebrated their 20th and 17th birthdays and it was without a doubt, easy to celebrate these two guys. Following closely on the heels of their birthdays was our Thanksgiving and though we were in no way traditional, we certainly had moments where we could express our thankfulness to and for one another. 

I have always wondered about the power of God when I go to Africa. It's not that he doesn't show up here in so many, many ways...but there's something about standing in a place where you know you are exactly where you're meant to be in that moment that makes you feel completely at ease with his plans.  I feel that in Zimbabwe, I feel it in Zambia and I feel it in my work here in Canada and especially in this season of living with pain and yet being surrounded by friends and family and particularly these two amazing boys that call me Mom. 

I'm not sure what this next chapter...the year after...looks like....but I do know that I have been given some incredible privileges in being able to live through and live well this one life I have. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

A Small Sampling of Sukubva, Zimbabwe

We walked with one of our primary care givers who lives alone with her three small boys in a room
the size of a walk in closet. It's dark and hot, filled with their worldly possessions: some clothing, a few kitchen items and a brazier for cooking, some pots and pans, a water container and a platform that serves as a bed for mother and baby to curl up together while the two older boys, sleep on the cement floor beside and under the bed.

Housing built for mine workers over 40 years ago now serves as homes for families.
Often more than one family will share a home as the cost of living is very high for families who are
out of work or only able to get piece work to earn an income. 

This front step is a big jump.

Two of our volunteer care workers watch the children play games at the care centre
after they have come from school and had their daily meal. 

Andrew leads games with the kids that come to the care centre after school. The children are often looked down
upon and ostracized at school for their poverty. Here, they find friendships and acceptance with other children who
live the hard lives that they do. Play is an important part of their day as they often have to go home and continue to work
until dark helping out around the home and taking care of siblings while their parent or caregiver works.

Andrew and I heard stories of children swimming and playing in the water near the care point.
We went to check it out and found this broken pipe spraying water into the nearby field. Kids were using it to cool off
in the heat, which seemed harmless enough. Unfortunately, nearby though, was a large pit that was full of water from the pipe and kids were jumping in to cool off. There was no way of knowing how deep it was but we stuck about a 10ft piece of bamboo in it and didn't reach bottom. The sides were slick with mud and it was incredibly dangerous because once the kids jumped in, it was difficult to get out. Also, not many of the kids know how to actually swim so they just jumped in to cool off, but were risking drowning, by being unable to swim or touch bottom.
We called the council to come and either fence it off or cover it somehow so that kids couldn't access it.
It's one of those things that we take for granted that kids learn water safety but in this community, there is no real
reason to teach it and so a seemingly innocent pastime of cooling off could potentially end very badly for our kids.

One of the best parts of returning year after year, is seeing some of our kids as they grow and flourish
with the care they are receiving. This guy has held a special place in my heart since I first met him.
He is always smiling and is such a good guy to his friends and those around him. I'm so proud he thinks of me as his

My sweet friend dancing behind the scenes, away from the crowd. We share a name and
she is growing up quickly and becoming such a confident little girl. 

The train goes by the care centre several times a day and the children are still fascinated by it and where it's going.

Still one of the best toys old tire or wheel provides lots of entertainment for the kids who chase them up and down the yard. 

Friday, September 28, 2018

There and Back Again

I'm home. It's the phrase you call out when you arrive in your place. It can be more than one place, I'm finding. Like when you're a student away at university and you find yourself back in your parents' announce you're home.  When you arrive after a busy day at work and the kids are already home from school, it's your announcement that you're home.  It can be two places at once. Or more.
It can be your home town. Where you grew up. A place that feels like. It can be a place that you feel most like yourself in.

I went home. And I'm back.

I had a really incredible trip to Zimbabwe and Zambia. I went with the remnants of a broken heart and I came back with some of the pieces back in place. I went with places intact that have broken differently for the things I witnessed and the challenges that people I love are facing. I'm broken and healed at once.

I'm home. And I left it.

I'm back in the kitchen and listening to the boys' talk about their weeks of independence and celebrating their success at keeping themselves fed and at work and at school. I'm hearing about their day to day in a condensed form and eating nachos and wondering if the past three weeks even happened at all. I was just sitting at a feeding point, eating nshima and sauce, avoiding the fish and passing off my vegetables to my friend at my left. I was sitting with friends on the floor of one of the homes I've spent years in and out of and listening to the incredible frustration and pain in the voices of those I love who are stubbornly and persistently rising to face the challenges of feeding and caring for children in their community. 

I'm with my family and I'm separated from them.

Over the past nearly ten years, I've lived in two spaces. Between home and home. Between here and there.

It doesn't get easier. There are never guarantees on when we'll be together again in person.
It always gets deeper despite lengthy times between visits. The relationships strengthen despite the absences. I think because when I do actually get to show up in person, it's just a physical presence of the relationship that stays intact even when we're apart.

I'm the one who travels to visit but they are the ones who hold things together in the mean time.
And this time, it's been difficult. Zimbabwe is in transition. Things are difficult in their economy and yet our care workers remain steadfast in their commitments to serve the vulnerable in their communities.  In Zambia, though the wealthy are growing wealthier, the vulnerable grow more vulnerable and the work becomes harder and spread more thinly. And yet, they stay the course and serve these children daily, often taking on children in their own homes and caring for them out of their own thin pockets as well.

I'm here but I'm back there as well. I've got a head and heart full of things I've seen and heard to process. Questions to be asked. Responses to be made. Prayers to be said. Memories to sift. Weight to carry and a burden to be shared.

I'm home but never fully anymore.

Sunday, August 19, 2018


Yesterday, I ran out to the garbage can in my slippers and pj's (sorry neighbours...) and as I came back around the front of the house, a dragonfly in the leaves of the tree by our door caught my eye. I looked up into the branches of the tree that I had brought home and planted about ten years ago and I was surprised to see it towering above the roof line of the house.

That's the thing about growth. It sneaks up on you at times. When you're watching for it, inch by inch, it creeps slowly forward, almost imperceptibly. And yet, when you just go about living your daily life, walking back and forth past it every day...suddenly you're aware that it's there. The tree reminded me this week to stop watching every thought and every emotion with an analytical mind of whether I'm moving forward or standing stagnant or sliding backwards.

A friend of mine came a few weeks ago and bought some new trees for his yard. For the first few weeks, he was intent on ensuring that they thrive in their new surroundings and he would text me the funniest things including photos of the leaves and the topography of his yard and wind directions and speeds (ok, I'm stretching a little here, JB...but not by much....) He compared his new trees to bringing babies home from the hospital and then watching their every move for signs of stress or success. I had to stop him when he called me his trees' "grandmother". I gently corrected it to "Godmother" but he keeps updating me on the grandkids.

The thing is...when you're looking so intently, anything can be a sign of the demise or rise of an enterprise - slanted by your bias or fears or hopes.  This month has been a hard one. I've wanted to much to be moving forward and growing  that I forgot to step back and get some perspective.  I forgot that when trees are first transplanted, they throw all their energy into their roots. In many ways, that's been the story of this past year for me as well. Once through the shock of the uprooting, it was time to go back to the deep, unseen and unheralded work below the surface. There have been bouts of rain and heat and storms that have threatened over the past year but the truth is, the roots have begun to take hold again and I feel stronger in that. So, even if there's not a lot of growth above the roofline, I will say that I feel that I'm finding my footing again. The things that threaten that don't last as long, don't blow as hard and don't burn unchecked like they did in the first few months. 

I feel like in these next few weeks as I prepare and head to Zimbabwe and Zambia, it's important to remember one of my favourite story lines from Donald Miller. "I'm just a tree in a story about a forest" .... I hope that this is a corner I can get around as September is a tough month to stomach in so many ways. I'm committing to remembering that it's not just about me. My story isn't independent of the forest around me, nor is my growth or lack thereof.

I hope that for those of you treading through those terrible months in the aftermath of loss, you read this as hopeful. That there comes a time where you don't need to evaluate every emotion, memory and sense through the lens of loss. It's a temporary condition and when you've put the work in, you'll find your roots have taken hold and you're able to welcome the wind without fearing it's fury.

For those who walked this ahead of me and reached back to literally hold me upright until I could find that footing again, I can only say that most of the tears I cry these days are ones of a grateful and indebted heart that's been held together by your encouragements and your commiserations.

Friday, July 20, 2018

John O'Donohue Syndrome

"May you have the courage to listen to the voice of desire
that disturbs you when you have settled for something safe. "  
                   -John O'Donohue

No one really likes John anyway, do they? He's that guy that sort of steps on your plans and burns your ideas of blissful mediocrity....everyone knows one. He's the guy that shows up and after a dinner conversation and before you've even served coffee, he's got you riled up to sell your possessions, throw your memories in storage and head out into the world with an open ended ticket and a Leap Pad to homeschool your children with.  When entrenched in couplehood, hopefully at some point, one of the two of you have the fortitude to say, "Hold on now...." and unravel all that was planned out in the fervour of the dinner dishes. And yet, a spark remains. A niggling. A back of the mind, driving to work in a stupor kind of daydream that surfaces again and again.... "What if?" What if?

We all need the John O'Donohues of this world. To be transparent, I don't know John O'Donohue. He may be a certified suburban suv driving soccer dad that just seems to throw out fortune cookie sayings that capture the spirit of satisfied but unfulfilled fellow suburbanites. The John O'Donohues of the world don't even have to come for dinner. Sometimes, it's their every day going without dinner so that someone else can eat that seems to spark a desire for change. It can be that charismatic pull to be at the centre of good things happening that fuels a passion for something greater in life than what we are currently giving. Heck, it can just be a great instagram feed and a powerfully placed quotation on the right summer night in your own backyard.

I have been going back and forth about the value of going back to Zimbabwe and Zambia. Personally, I have very selfish reasons for wanting to go...I miss our friends there and I know that spending time with them means being in the very centre of where incredibly good and difficult things are happening simultaneously.  In my life, I'm learning to hold happiness close while still attending to the healing and sadness surrounding the unravelling of my marriage. There are days where it's not balanced at all. In many ways, I hope that I can remember what it felt to be in the right place at the right time as I have often described being in Africa. In recent months, I haven't felt that kind of peace about my marriage being over even as I have worked through a lot of counselling and healing surrounding the depth of the betrayal coming to light. I'm not thinking that Africa is going to be a vaccination against further pain or a bandaid for what's already been broken...but I do believe that when I'm in the midst of our friends there who have their priorities completely lined up with their faith and values, it reminds me that there's much to learn personally. 

And I wonder, mostly rooted in having read Jamie the Very Worst Missionary's blog and subsequent book, if there is a place in communities in Zimbabwe and Zambia where having me come and walk alongside has a deeper value than just a show and tell. 

This is a hell of a backwards way to say that I'm honestly looking forward to going, I'm just second guessing (more than I usually do) the value of what I contribute when I'm there. And yet, in moments of clarity, I do understand that there is of course an encouragement that comes when someone outside your realm comes and stands and says, "I see this and I'm committed to being part of the way forward...whatever that looks like". And I know too, that the relationships I've been fortunate enough to have been invited into are deep and real and for that reason alone, I long to be back in a home filled with the family we lived with and walking up dirt paths and choking back tears as I see the home of a friend, now passed on, occupied by others. I long to see the progress I've been hearing of first hand and really let it sink in that despite incredible adversity, there are children thriving simply because there are enough volunteers in their community to stand up every day and say, "I'm here for you because you matter." 

The days are getting close. It's daunting actually. I haven't really spoken too much about it, simply because I teeter between giddy excitement and weepy tears. It's an unstable subject for me right now...and's coming and I'm excited and simulataneously frightened all over again. I'm constantly juggling expectations with knowledge. I'm worried in equal measure about life here when I'm gone and life there while I'm there.  It's actually an incredible talent to balance all this, in case you hadn't caught on to that. 

I will say this to the John O'Donohues of the world. I'm eager to join your ranks. I'm reluctant at this point to go "all in" but I tend to keep immersing myself deeper and deeper into the things that I know fill my life up with joy and subsequent fear.  I'm learning to err on the side of action vs playing it safe though I will still listen to the full spiel from the flight attendant on every flight from here to Harare and on to Ndola and all the way back home. I'm not quite at the quote worthy Instagram stage yet but when I am, I believe I'll be off the grid anyway. 

So you're up to's looking like I'll be landing in Harare in September and home before October. It's a new first for me...but I am hoping it's not the last first following this part of my heart when it won't let me rest in suburbia comfortably.

Update: So, it turns out that John O'Donohue was a Celtic monk. Of course, he was.
So, he may know something about following your calling/desire/passions...I guess.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Travel Schedules

Last week, Aidan was in Thailand, wrapping up his six months of travel and enjoying every minute of it. This week, he's home and I'm enjoying every minute of it. I'm thankful for the clothes on his floor and the fridge and pantry depleting at an alarming rate and all of it. Something feels like it's set back on the right track in my world when both the boys are in their beds and I in mine...and the dog is snoring on the floor.

I have a small window of having both boys at home this summer. While Aidan settles back into work, Easton is winding up his school year and has taken a leave of absence from his job. He was selected to be part of an exchange program that will take him to Montreal, Quebec for six weeks where he'll be working for a non-profit that caters leisure activities for people with physical and developmental challenges. He's looking forward to being on his own in the big city and I, once again, have to allow one of my kids to spread their wings and go out and experience what this amazing world has to offer. It's never easy and yet, I love that they are willing and active and driven to find new paths to follow.

I've had to make my own decision about travelling as well. I've been invited to travel back to Zimbabwe and Zambia in September. Normally, this decision would be an absolute no brainer and there would be little reservation on my part about it. This time, in this stage of life with so much insecurity about my future alone, it's been an anxiety ridden decision.  I love being with our Hands at Work family in both Zimbabwe and Zambia - I truly feel it's been such a privilege to witness the incredible work that is happening amongst our communities in these two countries. I've been travelling to Zambia since 2009 and I can honestly say, I feel very much at home there. I love being in the community of Mulenga, I love our friends there and I miss them daily when I'm away. The friendships are deep and they stand up against time and distance and that's not something I would ever take for granted.
I first visited Zimbabwe in 2012 with our family and we stayed for a month with Farai and Mildred and their family, who generously shared their home with the four of us, never having met us!
They are family now and I get teary eyed thinking about being in their home again and spending time with them because I know that these are the kind of people I aspire to be like. I can only hope I can absorb some of their wisdom and goodness in the time that I get with them.

I have decided I'm going. It's risky. It's overwhelming. It's daunting to think of the things that need to fall in place for it to all come together...but I'm doing it. I told myself a few weeks ago that I was going to be the best version of myself in these coming years. I've written down goals and some characteristics that I know to be true of myself and I've also listed the types of things that get in my way.

One of my goals was to stay deeply connected and invested in my relationships with our friends in Zimbabwe and Zambia. I had to write it down because although I know that when it's time to go to Africa, there are a million and one reasons why there are other things to spend my money, time and energy on. And I wanted to prioritize being invested there because I know that it is the place where I feel like the best version of myself. I feel slightly out of my league in Africa, very far out of my comfort zone and entirely out of my normal routine of doing things myself and not asking for support from others. Africa chases the fear out of me and reminds me of how very small and insignificant I am in the world, yet how very integral every one of us is in creating a better life for ourselves and others when we serve selflessly. It also reminds me that I'm just the smallest, eensiest part of something incredibly big and beautiful that is happening across the globe as volunteers ease the suffering of their neighbours and friends and family in their own communities. The examples of love I see in these communities come to me daily when I'm here in the middle of a Canadian prairie city - thousands of miles away - and they continually challenge me to live differently than what social media, advertising and the North American mindset say are the things to chase after.

And so, I'm finding flights, figuring out travel, sorting out the boys' schedules and ensuring they are confident in their roles here at home. I'm worrying about the finances and ensuring I have enough money in the bank to cover my expenses at home while trying to figure out how and when and where to find the funds for a plane ticket and two weeks in Africa. The entire venture will probably cost about a month's wages for me and yet, just today, I had an update that already in my Hands at Work account, there is a third of what I need for the trip. And so, ever mindful that I have to jump the hurdles of my own excuses much the same way that I encourage others who want to go have to...I am getting things together to be in Zimbabwe for a week in September and then a week in Zambia to follow.

It's been two years since Easton and I travelled to Zimbabwe with Dawson and Bill. Two years since Easton did his medical clinic tour of Zimbawe and Zambia. Two years since my dear friend, Charlene, came and saw for herself the place that she believes changed me forever. It's been two years and I don't think there's been a day that has gone by that I don't think of, long for and pray for our friends in these communities. Knowing that my life is so incredibly different that those I miss keeps me focused on being the kind of person who continues to live with their example before me. It's been an incredibly challenging couple of years. This past eight months has been a stage of life I would wish on no one and yet, I'm reminded that if I am who I believe I am, this trip is the right way to stay engaged at a deep level with the communities I love and learn so much from.

So, stay tuned as I figure it all out. Work it all out. Cry it out. Wonder and doubt it all out.
But hold me to it, I'm going.
I can't wait to be standing in the airport and seeing Uncle Chips (Farai) waiting for me.
I can't wait to walk through the streets of Sukubva and see the places and faces that come to me in the midst of a busy day - a reminder to stay the course and be focused on larger things than what the world is dangling in front of me.
I can't wait to wander into the yard at Elizabeth's and sit on the floor and stir the soup and listen to the kids' voices as they gather for their meals.
I can't wait to spend the days - dusty and tired - thoroughly spent with the stories and the examples of those who suffer and those who ease their suffering simply with their presence.
I have wondered in the past eight months if I would ever be ready to go back again. If I'd be whole enough. Secure enough. Strong enough. Worthy enough.
The truth is...I'm none of those things and all of those things. And I'm going.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Making It Real

I sat down about six weeks ago and gave myself a deadline to figure out some truths about my life and what it is I want for myself in these coming days, months and years as I begin again on my own. The truth is,  I'm never really on my own - in the way that someone who is as care for and rich in friends as I am. My family both by marriage and by birth - have been incredibly supportive and helpful in ensuring I know that I am loved. My friends both near and far have been incredible and truthfully, the beauty that's come from the ashes of this marriage is that I know that there are people around the world that very literally have my back. I have been the recipient of messages and notes and gift cards and reminders that I am loved. I don't know if I can ever adequately express how deeply those things have settled in me to remind me that I am worthy of love and that I am not alone.

In the past month, there have been reminders of who I am and who I remain despite the impending change of marital status. For now, I am still legally married and for that reason, I remain in a sort of waiting period while that works its way to completion. I was feeling incredibly vulnerable heading into May because it began a period of memorable occasions for my relationship with Jason. There was the anniversary of our first kiss and the accompanying sadness for all that has transpired in the years since. Somehow, those details felt incredibly heavy to carry in the weeks leading up to that date.  I was trying to remember who it was I fell in love with and equally, who it was he fell in love with. All I remember is I was a girl with a van and crutches that sat on the railing of a bar while he danced beside me...and the end of the evening when he kissed me goodnight through the van window and I knew I was in love.

Fast forward 26 years and as May 8th crept towards me, I couldn't stop trying to figure out who I was and how I was so happy in those years.  Of course, youthfulness and the hope of a long life laid out before you is key in those days but at the same time, there was something in myself in those days that I was hoping to recapture. I remember being confident. I remember being hopeful. I remember being free.  These days, I am regaining confidence, I do my best to remain hopeful and I am struggling to feel "free" versus feeling rejected. It's been a process and I'm going to say, knowing full well it will come back to bite me, that I'm feeling more and more like myself.

This May, I did something to remind myself of some pretty key things in my life. It was selfish, empowering, frustrating, terrifying and incredibly fun. I bought myself another VW Van.  She's a project and she's broken and rusted and going to be a lot of work...but she's also the marker for this time in my life to return to things that I love for my own enjoyment. I am naive enough to believe that with the help of YouTube, a VW manual and a lot of asking around, that I can restore this broken girl back to her best version of herself.  She's become a metaphor for my own life in a lot of ways. It's no coincidence that I bought her on a Wednesday in May and picked her up the following week....on May 8th, 2018. 

I've driven her with a big grin on my face, Charlie in the back and the windows down and I've sniffed in the air the scent of what it means to feel free again. To be happy. To be hopeful. I know it's fleeting. I've also driven her to work and had the gas pedal fall off and had to jump a fence to get to work and wait for a tow truck on the side of the highway. If ever there was a parallel to real life, this sweet van is it.

I've only had her a few weeks and I've been introduced to the VW repair kit of duct tape and zipties as well as the real deal of circuit testers and sparking fuseboxes.  She leaks oil. She slips out of 4th gear when you least expect it and she still sounds like she's got a road trip or two or four in her that will keep the love alive for at least a few years.

I had a moment last week of "what the h-e-double-hockey-stick" was I thinking but not in a "buyer's remorse" sort of way...more in a wake up call to the naivety of my "I can do this" thinking as I looked at the wiring diagram for malfunctioning brake lights for hours and still couldn't figure out if I had the thing the right way up or not. And yet, it's all stretching my mind in new directions. There's literally grease in the crevices of my aging hands and yet instead of stressing me out, it's giving me direction.

I came home from hanging out on my neighbour's deck the other night to find Easton and two other neighbourhood guys hanging out, sanding paint and chattering around the van with all the doors wide open. The van isn't just about my freedom or my purpose. It's been fun to hang out with Easton and figure out the ins and outs of which button does what and where this wire ends and what pieces are salvageable and what we need to be replaced.

This whole thing, it turns out, isn't a solitary restoration. I have friends in Texas and in BC and in Zambia that are wondering if I got the brake lights working and how I'm going to address the fact that Charlie is too ...ahem...wide for the front seat.  There's people along for the ride, if you allow me to stretch the metaphor. You may be one of them.

My personal restoration isn't as solitary as I imagined it was at first either. Sure, there are things that only I can fix or assess or figure out about myself, but I know too, that there are those who are along for the ride. I'm back in the driver's seat, figuratively and literally, in my own life.  It starting to feel less lonely and more independent. It's less of a sharp pain and more of a dull's liveable and that's something.  I'm picking up the pieces of myself that are salvageable and there's more to work with than I could visualize even three months ago, never mind six months ago or a year ago.

Today, I'm hopeful that both the van and I will be more than roadworthy in the coming weeks and months. I'm holding on to that for as long as it lasts and I've got more than enough roadside assistance for when we break down again.