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.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The Writing

Words are important. I've always felt that but this past week, with the help of some friends from the past...I picked up the phone and had an hour long conversation with two really incredible people that I had lost track of many years ago. A few years ago, on this day...on this blog...I wrote out some memories of an incident that impacted me deeply and still does. I write for my own well being. I write to free the words from my mind and I write to quiet the thoughts that continue to plague me until I find an outlet for them. I often write oblivious to where the words will go or who will read them or how they will feel reading them. I know at times my words have helped others articulate their own feelings or emotions. At other times, I know my words have caused discussion, arguments, even division. I am responsible for what I put out there...whether written or spoken.

Last week, the words I wrote a few years ago here brought me back together with a family I have long admired and loved. A couple who experienced the unimaginable loss of a son and embraced his friends and allowed us access to their pain and their memories and their love.  So I caught up with them on the phone and as soon as I heard their voices, I was right back in their living room, reminiscing and hearing the stories of life in between the days when I really was in their living room and the conversation we were having on the phone.

I don't have any profound words tonight. Most days I'm alone and the words I have to speak stay unspoken, but they get written in the middle of the night in a notebook by the bed, or on the back of an envelope in my bag. They don't get sent out into the world though they do often go to the inbox or cell phone of some of the best women in the world.

This week the privilege of being able to write freely isn't lost on me. I don't take for granted either that I have those I can trust with my words and my thoughts in these days - even if they can't be published.  I just wanted to say I'm still here. I still have words and I'm still writing. I just know that there are things that need to be written and things that need to be published and they're not always the same thing.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Learning to Let Go

At any given time, on any day you choose, it's likely you know someone who is boarding a plane or travelling abroad or in a different time zone. This morning, I woke up realizing that my firstborn was about to put an ocean between us and I started to panic. I mean,truly panic, like I would unpack his bag and lock him in his room kind of thoughts. I laid there for a moment, waiting for it to pass, and I thought that at this moment, I know that Carly and Kyle and Dawson and Lynn are all somewhere mid Atlantic and heading back to Canada. I have friends going to bed or tucking in children while I am getting out of mine and following the dog down to her bowl for her the first priority of her day - getting breakfast!

I realized that we live in an age where it's not uncommon for your children or your family to be on an entirely different continent than you and yet, I'm nervous and anxious despite knowing it's the result of our parenting that Jason and I raised a young man who wishes to travel and see the world. We instilled in him a sense of exploration and placed a value on learning by experiencing and we taught him how to navigate a bucket bath and a long-drop (outhouse) early on. We taught him that being invited into a new culture or community is a privilege and one that you can not take lightly. He knows that it's an opportunity not afforded to everyone to travel and see different cultures and taste different foods and smell different smells - both lovely and not so pleasing.

I hate when the values we teach our kids take them on roads that are uncomfortable for me. I'm still a mother at heart and my first reaction is to bubble wrap him and feed him well enough that he wants to live in my basement until he's married and has his own grandkids...and then we swap....he moves upstairs and I live in the basement when I'm old and grey. Alas, I am equally sad and elated this is probably not going to be our future.

Someone once said, not very kindly, that my mother must have done something to drive her children so far away as my brother lives in Japan and I was in the USA at the time. My mother replied, correctly, that she raised us to be independent. It's true. You give your kids roots and you give them wings. You nurture them and you let them go. You hold them and then release them.

I'm not sure how it's supposed to work. I want to hold tightly but I am so very proud of Aidan today. Seeing his excitement over the past weeks as he's prepared for this trip, knowing the cost of working hard and saving money to make it happen, and watching him say goodbye to some really amazing friends who showed up early, early this morning to see him off....I know he's ready to fly. I guess that means I have to learn to let him.
Brennan, Jake, Aidan and Lauryn. <3

Wednesday, January 10, 2018


It's 2018. I sat down at the computer a couple weeks ago and saw everyone doing a Top Nine photos 
challenge on Instagram, where the computer picks your best nine photos according to which were the most liked by your followers. I did it with a fearful heart, knowing it had the potential to be painful. It was...but it brought peace too. 2016 - 2017 were difficult.  The end of 2017 was devastating. I do not exaggerate when I use that word. Everything around me changed and I found myself completely at a loss of where to find my footing, how to heal my heart and how to carry on as a mom but not a wife. 
It brought beauty too, which I posted publicly on Facebook, again, with fear and anxiety. I felt that I needed to lift the lid on what had remained a secret for far too long.  I had carried many things on my own in an attempt to protect my husband and our boys and to try to save a marriage. The marriage is over and the story is ours. It's painful and it's humbling and it's not easy but it's ours. The details are private but the pain is shared. 

And then something really amazing happened, which should not surprise me, but my story allowed others to share their stories. Not only that, it allowed people to hold us up and bolster us with love and protection and caring. It showed us our community and it made me, and in turn, the boys a safe place to speak their truth when they want to and a safe place to say nothing when they want to. It gave us back our choices in a period of life in which we seemingly were not given many.

The boys are doing well. We are healing.  We are sad some days and hopeful on others, we're laughing some mornings and not some evenings. We're making plans and doing dishes, driving each other crazy and playing games around the island together. We're eating dinner and we're scraping together meals of cheese and crackers and Kraft dinner with Charlie at our feet drooling and begging for her share. 

We go to work. We do laundry. We tease the cat. We shovel the driveway. Sometimes the recycling is piled higher than the counter and sometimes you can't get in the front door for the number of shoes laying in front of it and the boys are downstairs yelling at the Xbox.  We go to friends' houses, the boys have girlfriends and they fill the house with a different tone of voice and laughter and I love having them around. Easton got his driver's license and Aidan bought a 6 month round trip ticket to Japan and southeast Asia. 

I pay the bills. I run errands. I grab coffee with friends and I sleep corner to corner on the bed because I can. The blinds are open at night and when I can't sleep I watch the sky and am rewarded at times with the northern lights or the orange glow of a full moon on the snow. The boys keep busy and Aidan is preparing to travel and I'm preparing to miss him deeply. 

We're living our life in a new way but there's plenty of the old to keep us grounded. We had to find a new footing and there are times where the ground shakes beneath us and we find ourselves slipping back a bit into despair but we keep on climbing out. I have incredible people around me that are a lifeline when I'm sad and hear me out when I can't find answers to the questions that don't have any. 

We made it through Christmas and it turned out to be a really good day that included Jason in the morning and a lot of laughter in the house for the afternoon. We ate well. We went to a movie and we put the last of the big "firsts" behind us with birthdays and Thanksgiving and we set our sights on 2018. 

And it is here. And we are nearly two weeks in and we are still just putting one foot in front of the other. Pulling each other up when we need to. Pushing one another forward when we need to. Carrying the weight of our new reality of being just three in this house - sharing it when we need to or carrying it alone when it's called for. 

We know we are loved. 
We know there are many who care deeply and are there for us. 
We know we're not healed but we are on our way. 
We love each other deeply and we're getting through this the only way we know how...

Thank you for being with us. This was our best 9 of 2017 and included a lot of great memories including Aidan's graduation, Easton's first date and the last family photo of the four of us.  I'm looking forward to 2018 and what it bring us. I know it won't ever make up for what we have been through but I hope the lessons we learned this past season will take us forward in the next. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Lessons from the Road

I've never been more thankful to hear the laughter of Easton and his best friend in our basement. Despite the fact they are both meant to be in school today, I'm honestly weepy at the sound of them playing Xbox and telling goofy stories.

This morning, on my way home from dropping off Easton at school, I just pulled away and heard on the radio that a teenaged boy had been hit at the other high school near our house. I instantly thought of Easton's best buddy. Then I did the whole mom thing and went 100 mph in my mind to "what if?" and praying for his well being and nearly driving the 2 km to his school to make sure it wasn't him. I calmed myself down with thoughts of the fact that there are a few hundred boys in that school and the odds were, it wasn't our neighbour. 

By the time I got home, I forgot about the news. I had breakfast. I had a meeting with a friend. I got ready for work at Job #2. I was on my way and my phone rang while I was at a stoplight. I don't usually answer my phone ever. I never answer it on the road. But today...I pushed speaker phone and said hello. As soon as I heard it was the school counsellor, I pulled over into a car dealership and took the call. Easton had been in her office and was asking if he could leave because his best friend had been hit by a car. I called my boss who just said, "Go!" and I went. I picked up Easton, I picked up some McDonald's and dropped Easton at the door of our neighbour's house. (I ensured it was ok'd by his mom and that he was up for it.) I drove into my garage, closed the door and let go of the tears I'd squashed this morning.

A while later, I heard familiar footsteps and laughter and in walked the two of them. Oh man. I'm not a hugger but that boy walked in for a hug and I held him, gently but with such gratitude. He's banged up. He looks like he left a good portion of his cheek on the pavement and he's definitely moving pretty gingerly...but he was smiling and upright and I've never been so glad to see him.

To say things have been emotionally charged and a rollercoaster around here is an understatement but there are times of incredible calm and peace and gratitude too. Today was full of both and yet, we're here. Still standing. We've left a good portion of our hearts on the road. We're moving gingerly but we're smiling and upright.

I can't express enough how grateful I am for those who my kids call their friends. They are surrounded by good people and I'm so thankful. We all are. Our circle is wide but it's also very, very deep. There's much to be thankful for. And we are. 

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Splitting Open

I have no idea how to write these days. The truth is worse than fiction and my life feels like a bunch of sadistic, soap opera writers have taken over my story line and just gone nuts. But, sadly, whether they have or have not, the life I'm living right now is an incredible departure from the one I had planned. 

Jason and I are ending our marriage. I'm sorry for those of you who are reading this here for the first time. I have no energy for the list of people I would love to call or have coffee with and ease them into it. It's been abrupt. It's been painful. It's been clear that our marriage has not been healthy for a long time. It's crystal clear that it is over. I'm coming to terms with that daily as are the boys and I imagine Jason as well. 

I know that one thing Jason and I both hope for is that at some point, we will come out of this as two healthy individuals who can continue to love and raise these incredible young guys that we've been responsible for. I'm praying that at some point, the friendship that we shared in our marriage will be restored, once we move past this incredibly painful separation. 

We love our friends and extended family dearly and we know what it feels like when someone you love ends a marriage - we've been on that side of it many times. I hope that if you love us, you'll reach out to us in whatever way you're capable and support us as we try to move forward. We are broken, human and have made incredible mistakes but we are doing our best to put the hurt behind us and move into a place where we are able to feel whole and happy again. 

Much love, Shelly