Sunday, June 4, 2017

Life Lessons from Quickbooks.

Last year,  I was let go from a job I felt was the perfect fit for my skill set and my passions. I'm not going to lie, it's still a bit of a gut punch at times to be "downsized". The truth is, I miss a great deal about the work and the ability to do some of the things I love most more often. I've been fortunate to have a new job that although it's way outside of my scope of knowledge and education, it's interesting and engaging and it doesn't hurt to work with a brilliant woman whose vision is contagious.

It hasn't changed much about my passion for those who are vulnerable. It hasn't been a deterrent to continuing to stay connected to the communities I care most about. It just has hindered, financially and time wise, my ability to go and be on the ground in those communities.

I'm just having to re-prioritize finances and timing to get myself back to where I can sit with those I love and be part of the day to day conversations and happenings in the homes and communities that regardless of distance, stay at the centre of my heart. 

Finances have never been a strong point for me. I guess I've fostered a bit of a hippie approach when it comes to money in the sense that it's "just" currency. And yet, in the past year, I'm beginning to see the need to prioritize some thoughts about it so that it's available when I want to use it to do what I feel I'm most passionate about. 

Interestingly, I had a stellar week at my new job this week. Stellar, not because I invented anything or brought anyone to tears with my words or abilities...but stellar because, well, I conquered a very frustrating part of my day to day role. Quickbooks Online. I feel like I finally turned a corner with what I have long thought of as my nemesis. Math. Accounting. Finances. 

Thanks to my long suffering accounting teacher, Mr. Skerlak, I felt I was doomed to be incarcerated for fraud and embezzlement with my creative accounting practices. I didn't understand why everything had to be so damn neat and tidy and add up and balance. It was all just so....uptight. 

And yet, last Friday, I was driven nearly to tears by accounting. I had been taking a course to fully comprehend the bugs and seemingly deliberate glitches in the program and I was finally beginning to feel confident that I knew what I was doing. (This only after 9 months? Oh, Jan...who have you hired?)   And, so, as I opened the program on that fateful Friday morning, I was completely undone by the fact that the program had been "updated". What the heck QB? Are you trying to kill me? Are you purposely keeping me in the dark so that I have to use your superbly under-helpful online chat? Is it that you wish to keep those who are actually providing support to your problematic issues in the dark and unable to keep up with the bugs and glitches on their youTube channels that I have now subscribed to?

Whatever the reason, it was what I will now refer to as a "Black Friday" in the office and no one got any bargains on electronics this day, friends.  I left for the weekend. Feeling inadequate. Despondent. Dejected. Exactly as QB seemingly intended to make me feel.  Well played, QB update. Mission accomplished. 

Thankfully, on Monday morning, I worked through the "new" QB (isn't all this accounting talk sexy, by the way? I know!) and I was feeling decently prepared again. By Friday, QB was back under my thumb and I had caught up on months of work and left at the end of the day feeling utterly jubilant.  I was elated by the fact that I had mastered a skill I never wanted to have. I was celebrating (literally) in my car by singing and hand surfing out the window on the way home. I was completely at peace with my QB relationship. And then it hit me....

I am completely and utterly insane. 

I've hit a new low when the highs come from conquering the mundane. 

Saturday was a low. I woke up feeling defeated. Is this the "I can do hard things" kind of stuff that memes are made of? Is this the "accomplishment" and "rise to the challenge" kind of marker for the rest of my life? Am I going to remember that on Friday, June 2 - I beat my accounting nemesis into submission?  Oh Lord, I hope not. 

And yet, the funk. Post celebratory let down? Maybe. More so, it was the realization that I really did jump a hurdle that's been mostly mind over matter (or math-er as the case may be...groan) and I accomplished something that makes my life easier and makes my boss' life happier. (And that's the goal right now, Jan....)

I did. 

But, I also felt a little nagging thought that grew and grew over the day. If I can conquer something that's stood looming in front of me for so many years....something I didn't even WANT to be good at or ever THOUGHT I could take on....

why, dear Shelly, oh why...am I not taking on the challenges of that which I want to spend my life doing? 

If I can conquer computerized accounting...what can stop me?  There are always going to be unscheduled and surprising and not always welcome updates to our lives. Why have I let the past few derail me from doing what I really want to do?

Vocationally, I'm stuck at this job. No, truly. My boss has threatened me with using me as a cadaver for teaching if I fail to give her less than three years notice for any changes to my employment. (She knows how to make you feel valued...) But, I have time and energy for more than just vocation. I have a desire to live with intention to fulfill dreams of writing and travelling and supporting that I push to the bottom of the agenda all the time.  And in the meantime, I'm just going to enjoy all the perks that this job entails....



Mandatory after lunch naps with the kids.

My coworkers laugh at all my jokes!

I can take my dog to work because you know...she's great company. 

Severed arm in the lunchroom? No big deal. 

Where else do you get two butts shipped to you at work with removable glutes?


Saturday, May 6, 2017

4.



We're still here. Still four. Still just moving through life together.
We're figuring out what having teenaged boys growing into men looks like.
We're working a couple jobs each to keep them fed.
We're putting one foot in front of the other and trying to keep moving forward.
When we can't and we're stuck then we stick together.
We're family. We're us.

We have watched these boys from the time they would make us marvel with their heads or butts or feet pushing against my belly. And we continue to marvel. As they grew into tiny talking humans with the funniest and most incredible insights into life. As they moved into a world that grew bigger and more expansive than our household could contain. As they made friends with young and old alike. As they embraced the challenges life has thrown at them, moving across borders and oceans. Into communities that felt foreign and those that were familiar.

They have broadened our world in ways I never imagined. Before I had children, I naively believed I would be introducing them to the world. It's been quite the opposite. They've shown us the world and increased our awareness of issues and ideas we never could have come up against on our own.
They've made us laugh. Cry. Despair. Worry. Sing. Shout. Dance. Swear. Lose sleep.  Lose our breath. Lose our minds. Gain perspective.  Increased our circle of friends. Directed our path with their interests. Followed us as we've chased our dreams. Dragged their feet kicking and screaming. Pushed us forward with no respect for our fears or our worries.

I'm so incredibly grateful. I've had 18 years of being someone's mother. Nearly 25 of being someone's wife. And I'm only just beginning to appreciate the things they've taught me and the ways they've grown me.


Friday, April 28, 2017

Longing

for spring
for fresh air and green grass
for peace of mind
for strength and focus
for freedom
for time in our African communities
for old friends
for family
for security
for clarity
for a clear head
for a calm heart
for rest
for fun
for a paddle on the river
for laughter
for love
for comfort
for courage
for time
for words
for a quietness
for assurance

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A Longer Distance

I really have no real understanding of how someone who has struggled as long and as hard as our sweet friend remains faithful until the end. She did. What I do know is that I feel incredibly honoured to have been called her friend. To have been on the receiving end of her messages and texts over the past 10 years. To have had her in our home and our lives for the years before that.

Rachael, we've missed you and kept you part of our lives over long distances for years. The distance just became greater. The missing will increase. And yet the anticipated reunion will be all the sweeter knowing you are going to be healthy and whole when we next hug your neck.

Rest in absolute peace. You've earned it.


Please keep her daughter, Nevaeh, and her dad Doug, her mom Lori, and her sister Megan in your thoughts and prayers.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Finding the Words Again

A long while ago, I was asked to speak at a women's retreat in Nevada City, California. It was the first time I had been asked and I am not much of a public speaker, but for some reason, I felt compelled to put myself in front of a group of women and talk about something I often had a hard time understanding myself.

I remember in preparation for the weekend, I wrote and re-wrote the words that I wanted to say so that they would convey simply and easily the message I felt I wanted to give to this particular group of women.

Of course, leading up to the day that I was to speak, I was growing increasingly anxious about the topic, the venue, the women in the room, what I would wear and even if I would be able to get through what I had to say without my neck becoming so blotchy it would prove to be a distraction. Just hours before I was to speak, I threw up a number of times in the wooded wonderland that was the retreat area.

I walked through the paths and trees trying to draw deep breaths and relax, all the while punctuating my meditation with retching. It wasn't pretty and it's a wonder I made it in front of the room at the end of the evening.

I remember pretty clearly getting to a point in my talk where I was sharing about a friend of mine who had recently passed away. I was embarrassed because even though I had practiced and practiced this part of my talk, I was becoming emotional as I relayed the story of Jody and her children and her fight against breast cancer, a fight she eventually lost.

I remember feeling like I needed to stop talking and just apologize and leave. But, I saw the faces of my friends in the first few rows, eyes welled up with tears along with mine and hands clenched in nervous empathy, and heads nodding, encouraging me on silently. It seemed like a long pause but it was probably only a moment, and I caught my breath and continued on with the story.

That's what these past few months have been for me as I've taken a break from blogging, though unannounced. I just have been overcome with emotion and wasn't sure I could continue on without completely breaking down and losing the message that I try to share with others. That loves wins. That good must triumph. That only compassion and generosity can combat pettiness and division.

So, since seeing the images of people being turned away from returning home to America, because they only had the audacity to be born elsewhere, despite their legal status and standing in society, I can no longer remain wordless, despite the threat of again being overwhelmed by sadness.

When a mother goes away on a business trip to represent the university she works at and speaks at a conference overseas, only to find she is barred from boarding the flight that will reunite her with her American born children...

When there is no warning but a lateral, sweeping motion that invalidates the human rights of a group based on religion, I can not pretend that it's not my problem because I don't live in America.

I grew up reading the stories of Anne Frank and Corrie Ten Boom, the heroes of a genocide that gave people the freedom to persecute a whole people group based on their religion. I grew up hearing the stories of my grandparents and their friends and families who hid Jewish children, smuggled documents, led the underground resistance against the regime that swept not just through its country of origin, but swiftly into neighbouring countries by force. I see the similarities though many would love to discount them. I wish I could.

And I remember that when I read their stories or watched a movie like Schindler's List or The Book Thief, I identified with the helpers, the heros, the martyrs. No one I know wants to identify with the Nazi sympathizers or even those who survived by keeping a low profile and not speaking out.

I remember when we lived in the USA, people around us would talk about "the immigrant issue" or the "problems with immigrants taking jobs from Americans". I would often quietly speak up and say, "Like us? We're Canadians. Here on a visa. Taking a job that could well have gone to an American citizen." and the slow realization on the faces of those speaking to us, who would hasten to say, "Oh no, we don't mean YOU, we mean Hispanic immigrants" ( although I promise you most times they didn't use such a politically correct reference.)  And I would say, "Oh, so because we're not brown or don't speak Spanish?" and it would get awkward and often I let it...because I can be an ass like that...and they would again often, laugh or smile, and say, "Yea, well, you blend in. And you speak English." and suddenly it was if we were on the same side of the argument, until again, the ass in me would rise up and I would say, "Those are my people."  Many times, this was the conversation stopper and as many times, I remember people walking away. (I'm really fun at parties, I promise!)

The interesting thing is, that when we lived in the USA, we learned a lot about our new country and the fundamental differences between our homeland and our new home. We learned that the USA has always considered itself a "melting pot" where immigrants come to America and are expected to blend in and add good to the pot but lose anything that makes them distinctly different. Language, culture and religion are meant to be melded into the already perfectly seasoned recipe that is "American".  Canada has always touted itself to be a "mosaic" where the colour and vibrancy of the diverse pieces that make up our people are celebrated as part of a greater whole. Now these are generalizations, of course, but they are sort of the underlying and accepted, though unwritten, expectations of immigration into our countries. As the father of a celebrated American war vet pointed out today, Americans still call immigrants "aliens"...something our family often made fun of about ourselves. If we didn't understand something culturally or historically, we would point out that we couldn't be expected to as we were "aliens".  Our two boys, just little,  could have been divided into "alien" and "all-American" using this criteria, simply by place of birth. Easton was born in the USA, just before 9/11 and was celebrated as our "American" boy.

The thing is, I have been looking back on that talk I gave in front of those women, all those years ago, and I realize that the subject I was struggling with then is one I still struggle with now. It was about understanding the big picture when our perspective is so very narrow and limited. Yet, I think that the lesson of that talk, even though I came to it and spoke it...that we are part of a bigger picture, one that just requires us to play our small role as we were designed to play it.  We can't shrink back because we feel we are insignificant to the bigger picture. We can't even let ourselves give up the littlest thing we feel compelled to be part of because we are afraid of failing. Or of being stopped. Or of paying the consequences of losing a job, losing a friend, or even losing our life.

The truth is, the closer we are to the issue, the narrower but more focused is our perspective. What I see in front of me is a group of people who I identify with because I was never a citizen in the country I lived in. I was there legally but could be made to leave at any time. Even having a child born in the US who lived there for his whole life, didn't entitle me to any rights of citzenship. I'm not saying it should, I'm just saying it didn't. So, I can't imagine the father who went out of the country on what was supposed to be a few days of work, that now can not return to his home or his family, despite having gone through all the legal channels and red tape and expenses to be entitled to. I know he's not thinking about the thousands he probably spent on an immigration lawyer or the day that he received his "green card"...he's thinking that he's missing tucking in his child, or a piano recital he had promised to be back for or even just family dinner, simply because someone with the power to do so, decided to enforce a measure that would keep him outside the gates of the land he now calls home, because he practices his Muslim religion or was born in a country where many do. And it's all so arbitrary on the part of a government claiming it has "no choice" and that the "chaos and confusion" are minimal. The "chaos and confusion" are what leads to insecurity and threats to safety...a well thought out plan would have included from the outset, those who hold visas, who have been "vetted" and deemed worthy by the amazing United States of America. How many of our forefathers in our relatively  new countries (excluding you, Australia...because...well....we know who was sent to colonize your country...) would have made it through the "vetting" process? And if it is a "pause to re-evaluate the lack of process"  which I would have little objection to...why doesn't it include Saudi Arabia (who had 15 American visa holding terrorists involved in 9/11)...or Egypt or United Arab Emirates...why the decision that those mostly Muslim countries don't face the same ban?  There's much to be said for the fight for human rights today. There's so many facets and falsehoods and flagrant violations...but it doesn't mean we get to despair and toss up our hands and give up. I don't get the "big picture" of this legislation nor do I get the perspective of those who fear anyone who doesn't resemble their image of "American".



We all have a voice in these days. In fact, we have more than a voice. We have our verbal voice to retell the stories and compel people to act in compassionate and loving ways in spite of the rhetoric and the seeming futility. We have social media and we have letters and we have our feet to march and our hands to raise and our homes to open and our lives to lay out for others. We must move forward with compassion and kindness though...regardless of the fight. It does not further peace to paint all Trump followers (or even the man himself) as throw away or racist or uneducated, nor for them to do the same painting us with their slurs.  The battle won't be won by name calling or generalizations.

What small things are you willing to do to fight injustice or to promote strength to the human rights of others who are suffering?   Add your voice. Speak up for others. Offer your services to those who are being discriminated against. Shut down the rhetoric of those who would use fear and religion as a tactic to incite people to discriminate against others. Live your life in a way that backs up your voice for peace and justice.

It's our time to speak up.
There must have been millions of Germans who watched the Nazis rise to power and think, "This is insanity but it can't possibly go on....someone will step in to stop him."  And by the time the world stepped in, millions were dead, simply because they practiced their religion or were affiliated with a people group.

Let's stop this so that people can call us hysterical or cry babies who don't like the President or bleeding hearts and crazy, irrational women and men who march for no good reason. Let's wear those names as the badges of honour that they are, coming from where they do. I will happily be called hysterical or dramatic, if it means people will wake up to where this type of discrimination leads. If I'm a crackpot or a crybaby, so be it... but I will err on the side of misplaced compassion over selfish inaction any day. And I know that there are a bunch of you who are just nuts enough to be part of that crazy club too.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Borrowing Words

I really don't have words right now. I'm not sure. I'm writing but it seems unfit for this space. I'll be back. Until then, I'm going to borrow some words that are good reminders in my life...for a variety of situations and reasons....






I'm surrounded. Thankfully so. 

Monday, September 26, 2016

Ban the Silence

I don't always come with something to write about but this weekend, I visited the Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg, Manitoba. I'm telling you, it's worth the trip. The building itself is an architectural wonder, with meandering ramps, soft lighting, bare polished cement and open resonant spaces from top to bottom. It's incredibly beautiful and restful and yet sufficiently reverent and open to allow you to move from exhibit to exhibit with time for reflection in between.

I was in Winnipeg for one of our Carlie's wedding. Carleigh Wegner and her counterpart, Carly Honeybunn, were part of our intake team in Africa in 2012. They and our fellow Saskatonian, Mel, were subjected to not only the culture shock and work of spending three months in Africa, they had to share it with our family, who were trying to figure it all out with two boys in tow. These girls were big sisters to our boys, little sisters to us and wise teachers all at the same time. I can't express how much respect I have for these young women who were brave and went to Africa, seeking to learn and contribute, to love and to encourage. They are some of the most compassionate women I have ever spent time with.  I stayed at Carly H's home (which she shares with her stellar husband, Kyle). Our dear Kristal Hoff and her little Francie joined us and it was basically an amazing extended slumber party, with a wedding and fireworks and good food thrown in for good measure. 

After the beautiful wedding of Carleigh to her Will, Kristal and I left with Francie and headed back to the apartment for a good nights sleep. I tell you, waking up to a baby just cooing in the room is something I don't think I ever experienced with our boys. They just weren't the wake up smiling and cooing kinda kids. Probably because they only ever slept for an hour at a time and were perpetually sleep deprived, as were we, their parents. 

On Saturday morning, I had made arrangements with (ahem, bribed) my eldest nephew, Mitch. I figured I could get a good half hour or forty five minute visit in even if it meant taking him to Costco and buying him meat. He's such a good kid (well, man...but kid to me....) and he showed up with a list that included eggs, bread and salsa. I did NOT fight Saturday morning parking at Costco for that measly list so I got him rolling and left satisfied that he'll not waste away till his mom gets back from overseas.  As we were finishing up, Kristal and Carly texted where we were going to meet up, so I sent Mitch on his way with a hug in public and said all the mushy aunt things I needed to say, and then I drove away, with maybe a small speck in my eye causing a few tears.

Kristal, Kyle, Carly and I met up and had lunch with Francie as entertainment and then we decided to head over to the Museum for Human Rights. I was hmm'ing and haw'ing about going because I didn't want to rush but I also knew I had a long drive home ahead of me. In the end, I couldn't pass up the chance to see it with people that feel things as deeply as I do or even more so, in regards to social justice.  I was not disappointed. It was interesting as we wandered through the exhibits of which were the issues that spoke more pointedly to each of us as individuals, and also those that struck as collectively. I can't begin to tell you the impact the exhibit of the residential schools and the red dress exhibit of missing and murdered indigenous women had on me. The stories are haunting me still and I can't seem to get my head or heart around the fact that this is happening in the country I feel so privileged to live in.  My desire to learn more and speak up more for the cultural genocide and abuses that our First Nations have been subjected to and erased from is overwhelming right now. I'm moved to tears thinking that I've been naive enough to believe the media and the downplaying of the atrocities inflicted on our indigenous populations in Canada.   Seeing the exhibit of the Holocaust and the artifacts again brought home the idea that we are not so evolved that we can say, "Never again" because we are allowing these things to happen worldwide and turning away. Standing facing the school uniform of Malala and seeing how little she was when she was shot for speaking up for her right to get an education humbled me as well. An 11 year old girl shot for being a threat to some of the most ruthless terrorists in our recent history. Until you see the blood stained fabric of a child's school uniform, it doesn't hit home that she speaks for all children and particularly girls' rights to education. Incredible. 

Despite the horrors of what man does to man....I left the museum feeling somewhat encouraged. That if we continue to tell the stories and show the evidence of our histories, hopefully we can learn from those. I was also amazed at the resilience of survivors...of genocides, of residential school abuses, of unimaginable losses and witnessed horrors. If they can stand against it, how can I not? 

I continue to reflect on the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that I read on my way out of the museum. 

"We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people."


We can't be silent. It is siding with the oppressors to remain so. I challenge you again as I do myself. Pick an issue. Refugees. Migrants. Displaced persons. Wars. Genocides. Terrorist plots. Government corruption. Pick a country. Zimbabwe. Congo. Venezuela. Syria. Ukraine. Sudan. Nigeria. Cambodia. Myanmar. America. Canada. Learn the history. Speak up against injustice. Fight the terror with courage.  Use your voice. Use your influence. Use this one brief and beautiful life to make someone else's easier.