Friday, December 28, 2012

A Tree Full of Memories

One of our Christmas traditions is to buy an ornament each year to mark something memorable that occurred during the year. It makes putting up the tree something of a walk down memory lane. Here's just a few that I of my goals this year is to get better at taking photos and actually using them, rather than leaving them on the card in the camera.
I hope you had a lovely Christmas! 
Happy New Year to each of you from all of us.
Jason, Shelly, Aidan and Easton Van Binsbergen

Canadiana Christmas ~ a hockey playing Santa, a Tim Horton's pot of coffee and my favourite hockey team logo.

A Delft pottery ornament from our '95 trip to Holland

A felted mitten from our first Christmas in the prairies '93 and a little church to commemorate
our first pastoring job in Kelowna, BC in '94

Spiderman~ he's been around since '94 or so. Jason's favourite ornament.

A cardinal and a snowman ~ one of our first white Christmases

A terracotta ball from Ensenada, Mexico where we spent a fun week with Lisa and Misty and the
Moss family at the YWAM base there.

A favourite little owl ornament that came home from work at Pier 1.

A felted stocking and Delft "Sinter Klaas" from Holland

A French Noel for the boys' enrolment in French Immersion 

...and lastly, just a little evidence that Santa really was here.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas from Our Home to Yours

Merry Christmas to each of you...thank you for reading along and particularly for your messages and comments. This has been a really full year for us. The joy and the heartbreak, the longing for Africa and the coming home, the time with loved ones here and away.  For all this we are really, really thankful for it has made us feel truly alive.

Be good to one another and include yourselves in that. It's not easy living in a world so broken and so scattered...yet, we do, so we just continue on...doing our best to make it a better place.

Much love, Shelly, Jason, Aidan and Easton Van Binsbergen

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Note to Self

Check the news this morning, then turn it off.  Go play with the kids. Go watch a TimBits hockey game or a tykes soccer game. Bake some cookies and take them to Ronald McDonald House. Take the dog to the dog park. No one is ever sad at the dog park.  Nothing is new this morning. Our world is still  broken. Don't fixate on it. Fix what you can.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Life's Like That

It shouldn't be ... but it is. Today's heartbreaking news out of Connecticut of an entire class of kindergartners being shot along with teachers and school principal has me, again, scraping the recesses of my mind for some sort of sense.

I can't imagine the call to the parents telling them the school was on lockdown, the adrenaline charged race to the school to pick up your child...and to have to leave empty handed...knowing your little one is no longer there in spirit but that his or her broken little body lies where it fell. And will lie there. Until there are enough answers to release the empty vessel that was once the chatter in the backseat, the footsteps on the stairs each night asking for another glass of water or another tuck in and the warm vibrancy that echoed around the dinner table with stories and fantasies, complaints and questions.

And I force myself to think that at one time, a man, not much more than a boy himself, was likely all those things in his home as well.

I got goosebumps early in the day hearing that an entire kindergarten class was unaccounted for as parents raced to a nearby firehouse to be reunited with their children.

I cried when I heard stories of teachers ushering children out of the building, hands on the shoulder of the person in front of them, eyes closed to protect innocent minds from having to process more details of horror.

I can hardly breathe hearing political rhetoric and posturing on a day where no one can dispute, the right to bear arms cost America a good chunk of its future today.  At one point, I remembered my kindergarten class photo and thought of the people we are today. We are geologists and hockey coaches, bakers and mothers, philanthropists and landscape architects. We're mothers, fathers, sisters and son-in-laws. What would the world have missed if we had been erased in one violent action? It's unimaginable because we can't begin to foresee the ripple effect such a gaping hole will leave, not only in one small town but across the world.

My writing has been a roller coaster lately, big dreams and heart aches. The inspiration of amazing women in my life and the despair over children running in the Congo from rebels. I can't help thinking of the kids in the Congo today. I imagined that at worst, it was maybe 45 of the worst minutes of these kids' lives in Conneticut. It is gut wrenching and it makes us all want to hold our kids closer. And does that compare to children in areas like Syria or Goma that have to be constantly vigilant because of the ever present threat of the same type of violence. Unwarranted. Unimaginable. What is it in our minds that allows us to grieve so openly for children shot in their schoolroom, as well we should, but not for those that are fleeing barefoot and hungry into dark night ahead of hordes of rebel murderers. Or the audacity to think they are different circumstances.

I don't understand myself. I don't. I know that this week, I have been dreaming of big and beautiful things only to be caught once again by a wave of grief and disbelief at the violence of our world. How can such beauty and disturbance coexist. I don't know. I just know they do. And we are at the mercy of the wave of emotions that accompany each. When it's beautiful, it's our job to pass it on. When it's not, it's our obligation to bring it back around.

So, tonight. All I can think of is fighting despair with gratitude. For my own family and the monotony of a regular Friday at school for the boys. For dinner tonight and hockey this weekend. For the beautiful stories of teachers speaking words of love and reading books behind locked doors to frightened children. I'm thankful for the beauty of each reunited family even in the midst of grieving for those who won't have that chance tonight.

I'm praying. I don't feel like it can really make a difference tonight. But feeling or not, I'm choosing to believe it will.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Dreaming Big for 2012

I was one of those mothers this morning...pushed the snooze alarm 10 or 15 times too many and dragging myself out of bed far too late to accomplish any kind of decent morning routine. My exhaustion this week is not entirely to blame on lack of sleep.  The temperatures dipping down to the -20's and the foot and a half of snow and morning darkness have all conspired to make me want to stay in bed, covers over my head and ignore the nagging, nagging, constant nagging of responsibility that says I need to get my kids to school and myself to work. I roused the boys who are as resistant as I to the morning cheerfulness that I'm sure other families enjoy in their lovely households. Easton's first response in the morning is usually something akin to "I hate my life" or "Go awaaaaaaay, this is mean" or the traditional "school is sucking my life away". Regardless, lights on and into Aidan's room where I send Charlie in ahead of me every morning. She sniffs his exposed feet that poke out the end of his blankets while his head is completely covered by the blankets. I turn on his light and tell him it's time to get up and then get out before the growling begins.

In the time between breakfast eaten and lunches packed, I run out to warm up the car and scrape windows in boots and pyjamas and I realize I will have to take the boys to school so they're not late (ahem...again) and then come home and get myself ready. So, pale faced and dishevelled, bed head and pyjama pants with boots, I am a cover girl for style and fashion ... half jokingly praying that this is not the morning that I get in an accident because explaining how I put this outfit together may be the least of my worries on my way to the hospital or psychiatric ward.

Driving back home, car now somewhat warm, I think back to last night's festivities. It was a book club turned dance party in which we test drove our hostess' new sound system with the Black Eyed Peas and the three over 70's in our book club, proceeded to school the 40's of us how to party. They danced and danced, jumped and gyrated and hardly skipped a beat. If I grow into my 40's with as much energy as these ladies have at 60+10 or so...I'm going to be pretty proud of myself. While I'm running kids to school in my pyjamas and boots, these ladies are up and playing seniors tennis competitively. They are amazing! They bring such vibrancy to our discussions and as the wine flows and ladies talk, I find myself so honoured to be part of such a group. More than just a book club, these ladies have become the marker for many of the characteristics I want to develop in myself. I realize that once again, I am so very fortunate to be surrounded by women that really exemplify beauty and life. Over the years, in the loneliest days of moving to and from places, there have been really hollow times where most of my energies were spent on looking back with longing and grieving what I'd lost.

This morning, the thoughts I've had looking back still included longing for continued friendships and depth of relationships despite distance but grief has been replaced by gratitude and looking ahead.
These thoughts and gratitude have brought me to a place where I realize I have some astounding connections with such a huge variety of women (and men...but I'm talking Girl Power here to some extent) that I was wondering if we could leverage some of those relationships into something that once again is vibrant and active. And if those relationships leveraged other relationships...well, the idea is that once we engage, and start rolling...what could stand in our way?

So. Friends. Facebook contacts and front porch dwellers. Book club members past and present. Youth group girls grown into women and raising their own kids and making their own way. Women that walked a few years ahead of me but took the time to walk slowly and clear a path and leave good directions along the way for me to follow. High school friends. Bridesmaids. Fellow backpackers and cousins twice removed by marriage. Pastors wives. Hockey moms. Artists and writers. And anyone else that may at one time found themselves with me sharing coffee, water or farther back, Rockaberry Coolers. On buses, on planes, on chairlifts and school rooms, hospital rooms, college or high school class rooms, in my living room or on Skype...however we've found ourselves in some way connected and kept it together, however loosely....this is for you.

An invitation is coming.

To dream big. While we're awake and alive. And to take that invitation into this coming year and make a difference in the lives of others.  Most of all, it will enhance your own. In ways you probably never dreamed yet. But you will.

Your invitation will arrive in the coming weeks. Stay tuned. Crank the tunes. Dance while you wait.
Anticipate and then participate.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

On Behalf of the DRC

 I am tired of my own inner voice right now. The one that is constantly pushing me to check the news and catch up on what is happening in and around Goma, DRC right now. The voice that tells me to keep my eyes open and let my heart ache when all I want to do is turn and run for the pantry. I'm tired of living with half my heart here and the other half spread out over the African continent, with pieces in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Zambia. There's seemingly not enough to stretch to the DRC and maybe that's what the pain is...that stretching of my heart to encompass as much of the DRC as I can fill it with.

I'm not going to lie, yesterday, I read the news and thought about the kids and care workers in the areas where the rebels are retreating to...and I could not even muster prayer. I crawled into my unmade bed at 5 pm and slept fitfully for an hour and a half. I wanted to pray. I just didn't have words or even sounds anymore for the things I'm asking of God. Why is it so difficult when I am in the comfort of my own home, to find the words to speak on behalf of those who don't have the luxury of resting. Hungry. Cold. Thirsty. very tired. And terrified. That those around them that claim in the media to have their best interests at heart, in reality are raping, traumatizing and destroying those they claim to be there to protect.

What is my role in this if I can't even muster the words to pray? I'm relying on the idea that tears can be translated.


My heart wants roots.
My mind wants wings.
I can not bear
Their bickering.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Take This Moment

Please join in today...wherever you are....and pray for those caught in the midst of a terrifying rebel takeover in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Not much news is making it out of the Congo, less is being reported, almost nothing here in Canada. I feel so ashamed and torn.

As it's getting dark again now in the Congo, the thought of our kids and care workers is right at the forefront of all I do today. I pray that children and their caregivers are not separated. I pray that there is food to be found and water as well, in a land that has already been ravaged and raped.

I pray for safety for grandmothers, mothers, and children alike. Safety from the brutality of rape that is used as a weapon to subdue them. I pray for the safety of our children as they hide and run on empty stomachs. I pray that there would be those that would look out for them and care for them while they are hiding.

I pray that the UN Peacekeepers would intervene.
I pray that the rebels would recede and begin talks to end this terror.
I pray that somehow, in all of this, that the children that Hands works with will find their way back to us in the coming days so that there can be efforts made to care for them and feed them and keep them safe.
I pray that the world will wake up and learn the lesson that we seemed to have missed in Rwanda, Bosnia, Burma and so many other conflicts. 5 million people killed in the Congo in these conflicts since 1997.
I pray this would end.
I pray that prayer combined with a call to action on the part of our media to cover this injustice, our governments to pressure the UN to act on behalf of the innocent, and donations to reputable agencies would ease the immensity of suffering that is only intensifying now as the sun goes down on yet another day of violence and terror.
May God be with us. All of us.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Running on Empty

As quickly as I get news posted around here, it changes. This week on the news, there have been snippets of information of rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo withdrawing from Goma, and I was so relieved. Unfortunately, the talks that they were hoping to instigate with the withdrawal haven't happened, and the rebels, once again, are on the move, into Goma. At the same time, the U.N. is preparing to withdraw troops. This is a horrific turn of events. At times I'm thankful that our news coverage here is so sporadic and shallow and yet, I know, regardless of who is watching, this is going on.

What this means is that the children and care workers in the DRC, along with so many others that live there, are on the run. Rebels come in and indiscriminately beat, rape, and kill anyone in their path. They steal anything of negligible value and burn whatever is left. In the village of Luhonga, the care workers have begun feeding children and caring for them. The children in these areas are traumatized, orphaned, and live in constant fear. Their darkest fears often become reality as is the case right now. Rebels come without warning and people literally flee. Families are separated, children are lost, parents are killed and grandmothers hide. Imagine your family running for their very lives with little warning, empty stomachs, bare feet and no safe place to run or return to.

My friend, Lynn, tells the story of arriving at the home of a gogo (grandmother) in Luhonga and when a small boy she had taken in, opened the door, he immediately began to run into the forest. Filled with fear and traumatized, he saw strangers and fled. One of the care workers chased him down and brought him back but the whole visit, he was unable to catch his breath and sat, ready to run again, at the slightest provacation. These children have lived with such horror and trauma that all they know is to run.

I'm attaching a link to the Hands at Work Flickr stream. 10 Photos. Please take a moment and scroll through these photos and remember these in the coming days. They're running from the rebels. And there's no safe place for them to run.


Here are a few organizations that are on the ground in Goma that you can send a donation to help. By some reports, even aid workers and agencies are either behind locked doors or have left the area in an effort to regroup safely.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Eavesdrop in the Coffee Shop

This morning, the office "fairies" are working in my office this morning, putting together the various pieces that are needed to make it workable. Like shelves. And bulletin boards. And pretty things.  So, instead of driving aimlessly around the city in search of inspiration, I headed to a local coffee shop that I know does not have wireless, in an effort to focus on the list of to do's, including the need to write.

When I walk in, there is only one other table near me. Two women talking about their staff Christmas party on the weekend. They are obviously mid-conversation because they are full throttle bashing their boss for not closing their workplace early and making some of the staff have to come straight from work. Halfway through my coffee and scone, they are still skewering said boss, right down to the choice of cutlery and drinks served. It sounds like a small business, from the way they are speaking, with the "boss" also being the owner that calls the shots.  One of the women begins to move from the skewering of the boss to her own way of dealing with it. She does her job. No more, no less. She doesn't give her boss any extra time or energy. She doesn't pay out of pocket for things that she used to because she is tired of being underappreciated.  Just as I am ready to scribble on my napkin some clever advice about getting the plank out of her own eye, I realize that I am working her over in my mind to the same extent. Sometimes, I'm so dull. I get to the point in my head where I've talked myself down off the ledge and extending her grace mentally…and they start in on church. And fellow church goers. And, I'm back in that place where my mental attack begins again. I have to begin to discipline my mind. I need to reign it in.

Thankfully, for my state of mind, in walks three old guys. They sit between me and the women and begin to compare their weekends, excema treatments and hip replacement progress. I kid you not. If only, I'm thankful for the fact that their conversations drown out that of the women, and the voices in my head as well.

And then it happens, one of the gentlemen, poses the question to his friends. "What can we do to ease the situation in Israel? It's intolerable." So begins a discussion that I am shamelessly eavesdropping on. It's such a beautiful thing. They know their stuff. Obviously, they are well educated on the subject, which is so inspiring. I'm holding back tears as they speak, thankful for the hat I wore today to cover my eyes. They know about the number of Israeli gunboats off the coast, the square mileage of land in the Gaza strip, the desperation of the people on both sides of the conflict. Their discussion is so gracious and well spoken, they are thoughtfully pointing out approaches that citizens here in Saskatoon can take to care for those overseas that are embroiled in the conflict. Then it drops into the conversation, an idea to get their respective churches involved. Oh my lanta. It does something to me to erase the voices in my head that say all is lost. That the generation before us or after us doesn't "get it". That the church is filled with pew warmers and those who walk out unchanged every Sunday morning.

Sometimes I wonder at the things God puts in front of us. The conversations we are able to hear.  The way that God speaks to us through those around us.  And how we can learn from those around us, for better or worse.

I'm sure it's inappropriate to hug a group of old guys in a coffee shop but I might.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Our friend, Grace.

The other night at hockey, I watched a friend of mine do something that rang of character. Given where we were, I wanted to ring a cowbell or shout or fist pump or something but I held back. Instead, I just sat quietly as the bleachers of a city hockey rink turned into a holy place for me. Life lessons can hit at anytime, sometimes the realization of what you've learned creeps up on you, sometimes it's as blatant as a flashing sign. This was neither, it was just a friend, being who she is when she thought no one was watching. 

A few years ago, our friends were hit hard by the "sucks to be in ministry" train that has hit most of us at one time or another. Jason and I were just reeling from our own ministry train wreck and subsequently moved north to work with these friends, knowing that we would find it a place where Jason could work his style of ministry and not be reprimanded for having kids in the office or for considering having lunch with kids as a valuable use of his time.  Sadly, it was a brief honeymoon period, in fact, all too short…for though we weren't targeted, our dear friends were.  (Insert disclaimer that this is just my rendition of the way it went down…blah blah blah…and that I won't name names as a means to protect the "not-so" innocent.) In the midst of some of their worst days, they experienced the heartache of friends that chose sides, chose to remain silent and just generally distanced themselves when needed the most. I remember crying through some of those days as if it were my own pain again. In many ways, it was. Sadly, our friends were forced to leave the church, they left the country and were able to serve others down in the USA where we all know, they need Jesus far more than we do in the Great White North. (again…just cut and paste that disclaimer any old time you wish.)

Fast forward, five years, and they are back in Canada. The other night, our boys played hockey against each other. Regardless, we decided we could share the bleachers without conflict so we sat together and watched our boys back on the same sheet of ice.  It seemed very Canadian and as if all had fallen back into place as it should be.  For the first period, we sat and cheered both teams, laughed and just enjoyed each others' company, with just the faintest hint of static in the arena. If you've ever been on the wrong end of a relationship meltdown, you know the static I speak of. That slightly heightened sensitivity that one of the ones who hurt you, whether intentionally or not, is around? It's that buzz or high pitched frequency that makes dogs run or cats hiss for seemingly no reason…the Spidey sense that tingles when something is just off.  I knew right away what it was but didn't bring it up. I'm cowardly like that. But, my friend, how her actions heal things in me that she'll probably never know…got up after the first period, walked down the bleachers out of sight and didn't return for the whole next period. At one point, once I had figured out her disappearance, leaned over and caught sight of her hugging a mutual acquaintance who is also the mom of one of the boys on our team. I wanted to cheer. Or ring the cowbell. Or fist pump. This is grace in action. The woman who is not much more than a casual acquaintance to me, was a dear friend of hers years ago. One who, for reasons I don't know, didn't stand up or comfort or demonstrate the level of friendship that many assumed they shared. And here was my friend, giving her grace, showing her love and forgiveness, on the sidelines of a bantam boys' hockey game. 

When you experience it, you know it. When you see it, you know it. When you give it, you really get it.

Good News

Just heard from our sweet Oumie:

Greetings to all,

Praise the Lord, O my soul.
I will praise the Lord all my life.
I will sing praises to my God
As long as I live.
                                Psalm 140:1

Thank you for all your prayers for Luhongo village in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo.
We've received good news this week, all the children are back and safe and the feeding scheme is continuing.

We thank God for his faithfulness,
Blessings, Oumie.

Oumie is George Snyman's mother but more than if that weren't enough! She is the resident grandmother at the Hub where many volunteers and teams stay while doing orientation or making their way out into communities in South Africa. She charmed our family entirely while we were there and we all loved having a grandma on the property. Oumie is one of those people, much like my own Grandma B., that you somehow feel has the red phone kind of connection to God. As if their prayers, because of their faith, hold more when someone like Oumie says she's praying for you, you sleep better at night or walk with a little more confidence into a scary situation.

She is absolutely lovely and has such a gift making people feel at home. She lives at the top of a very steep hill on the grounds and I know that while we were in S. Africa,  Easton made his way up the hill more than once to sit on Oumie's porch and just have a chat or met up with her in the village and sat and talked with her.  They struck up a friendship that was very sweet and helped Easton feel very much at home at the Hub. I loved that for him. I watched Aidan get up and give her a chair and it brought tears to my eyes with love for both of them. Jason would engage her with his little bit of Dutch and she would respond in Afrikaans and they would share little moments of communicating in their own combination of language.

For me, it was just amazing to be around a grandma again. I miss my Grandma B. and my time with Oumie felt much the same. I was thankful to be involved with her in different circles, such as seeing her on Tuesday mornings at the village when all the ladies would gather together to just talk and pray through their week together. Most of all, I love, love, LOVED watching Oumie and Carolyn, her daughter in law, interact. For me, it was a reminder of the kind of relationship that my Grandma and I and mutual admiration of course, but humour and sarcasm and feistiness too. Watching Carolyn and Oumie together made me feel like I was completely at home. Sometimes the greatest gifts we give each other, are the ones we are least aware of. Oumie and Carolyn teasing each other, working alongside one another and just walking, talking, eating together...those are some of the moments that healed things in me that have been hurt and taught me things that I have forgotten to look for in my own life.  It's also reminded me to love deeply in my own relationships, for that in itself is its own reward, but you never know, it may also challenge someone else to do the same.


Sunday, November 11, 2012

In Remembrance

A portion of homage to the walking wounded: "A population both uncounted and unaccounted for. Those who fought for the convictions of their hearts and have no place to lay their heads. Those who found valour in their youth and disregard in their age. Those who sacrificed in combat boots and are sacrificed to second-hand shoes. Those who survived in the trenches and now brave the gutters. Those who
 lost friends on the front lines, limbs on the battlefield, and minds on the minefield. Those who believed in a just war and have been shown no justice. Let us be poised for even more than remembrance for the fallen, but imagining the dream of reconciliation for the living."

From Tim Huff... "Lest We Regret"... Tim works is an advocate for and a friend to street people, from his book, "Dancing with Dynamite".

For those of you who live in the USA (and indeed, in Canada as well) and maybe haven't had access to Tim Huff, I thought I'd repost part of his homage to veterans. It reminded me this week that some don't proudly wear medals or still have uniforms, or even a home to call their own. Some are bound to wheelchairs, poverty and life on the street. The reminder this week stirred me to attend a different type of service this morning. Instead of watching the Remembrance Day ceremonies from the comfort of my couch as I usually do...because let's face it, it's -19...I don't tend to want to venture far from the warmth of my home on days like this. This morning though, I attended a service at a local soup kitchen, where they served almost 300 people for lunch, after serving so many breakfast as well. At 11:00, we stopped and held a small ceremony for Remembrance Day. What moved me most, was the diversity of the men and women, not in military uniform, though they may have once worn them, that stood and saluted the veterans we were honouring. I thought of Tim's words as I looked into the eyes of the people around me, clear, cloudy, distant and distracted. I'm thankful for our veterans. I need to remember throughout the year that the uniform of a former soldier may well be layers of flannel and denim, dirtied by life on the street, gloveless hands reaching out for change, and well worn boots that don't just walk the streets but make their homes there.

Friday, November 2, 2012

The News - Great and Grim

It seems like for every achievement we celebrate in Africa, we also have to face the grim realities in other areas. This morning is no different.  We get email updates from our family in Africa and when we do, it's always with a little twinge of anxiety that I open them, knowing that there is so much that can be revealed in just a few short sentences. As Ecclesiastes says, there is a time to laugh and a time to mourn. Sometimes they come within minutes of one another.

This past week, we received the following requests to pray for the Democratic Republic of Congo, and particularly a community that we have been working in where rebels once again have begun to terrorize  the people there. There is no rhyme nor reason to the violence and terror that is inflicted by these rebel groups, there is often not even any way to differentiate factions of rebels that continue to just make misery worse for no obvious gains on their part. So, in its simplicity, here is the prayer request that we received:

Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo
Urgent prayer is needed as rebels have entered Luhongo  Village
 where Hands at Work has begun care for very vulnerable children.
Pray for grannies and children fleeing to the woods to be protected.
Pray that Care Givers will be able to find these children.
Pray that feeding schemes to be restarted as everything has been disrupted due to rebel activities.

...if you wonder what they leave behind when they are fleeing? Nothing. They have nothing. Minimal shelter. Shattered families. Unusable land.  And yet? They flee and it scatters what has already been scattered and any sense of rebuilding or hope or commonality is destroyed, not to mention that the trauma to and vulnerability of children and grannies, already at an unimaginable level, is amplified by these raids and attacks. And those that have stepped up to bring comfort and food and help? They too must flee and with them, the hope that Luhongo may have been beginning to grasp for. 

And yet, elsewhere on the continent, in a small rural village called Oshoek, along the South African side of the Swaziland border, a group of committed beautiful care workers have begun to feed 50 children this week! Every day. How I love these stories! These are the women and men that we spent time with back in March and had our hearts broken for their community. Oshoek is beautiful, rural and difficult. It is a very cold place, and so very poor. You may remember the story of my breakdown in Oshoek when a grandmother asked us for food to feed her 7 grandchildren, high in the hills of Oshoek. Or of the amazing artist who drew amazing renditions of football stadiums and made his own guitar from cardboard and found items. Or the story of the young boy who, at age 6, cared for his dying aunty and nursed her back to health while taking care of the house they were living in and cooking meals. Or the young brother and sister, who orphaned in early childhood, built themselves a home out of mud and sticks that they still live in today. This is Oshoek. The care workers there walk distances we wouldn't attempt in their daily visits to orphaned and vulnerable children in their hilly, rural community. And now, with the support of Hands at Work, they have begun to feed 50 children in this community. It's such a beautiful beginning and so desperately needed. I literally cried at the news, knowing what this means for so many in Oshoek, that can't provide for themselves or their children.

There is much work to be done and re-done. There are forces at work that would see this work end. And yet, there is still so much to celebrate. I'm thinking of this boy today. And I hope he has reason to sing again.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Hurricane Sandy - Outside the United States

With all the coverage of the damage in the United States caused by Hurricane Sandy, it hit me that just a few days earlier, the same storm made landfall in the Caribbean. Cuba, Jamaica and Haiti...all faced the wrath of Sandy and yet, I haven't seen anything on the news here in Canada about the damages, death tolls and aftermath.  I'm just putting up a few newsfeed photos (not mine) to remind myself that this is not just an American news story. Haiti, particularly, is suffering and will continue to. 40 - 50% of their food crops have been destroyed meaning food security is once again diminished.
I'm just going to leave you with this: take a few minutes...look up your favourite charity and find out if they are working in Haiti and throw a little support behind them.  It doesn't diminish what is happening on the Eastern seaboard of the United States but the states that are affected have 40+ other states standing with them. Who is standing up for these?

If you don't have a trusted charity on the ground in Haiti, here are a few that are working there already and are in place to help:



 This is the link to a trusted orphanage in Haiti that continues to care for  the ever increasing number of kids that are orphaned and vulnerable in Haiti:

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Love Notes

This morning, I pulled out the ratty notebooks that make their way across the ocean with me on my trips. They start out so shiny and clean and I try my best to keep my printing neat and legible at the outset. I try to be organized and disciplined and set time aside in the evenings or early mornings to write down the names of those I've met and their stories. By the end of each trip, without fail, these little notebooks become shredded and dogeared, filled with bits and pieces of scribbled on papers and nearly illegible tidbits of information. Some, I admit, when I return home, make no sense looking back on them until somewhere, in the deep recesses of my memory, the meaning finally unlocks. 
This afternoon, I grabbed a coffee and settled into my chair tucked in the corner of my room and have been re reading notes from all my trips to Zambia and Zimbabwe and South Africa. One thing I know is that each of the stories, either printed neatly or scribbled while on a "dancing road", reminds me that there is work to do. There are names of children and care workers in these books that are no longer with us and yet their memory is still alive in me when I look at their names in ink.
I can recollect our short times together whether it was working side by side in a field, on a home visit, in hospital or on a mat in a darkened room. 
I just have to keep remembering and retelling.

Thursday, October 25, 2012


The perfect words for days such as these, when I'm trying to balance life here with the one I know is going on in Zimbabwe and Zambia... trying to remember that in it all, there is some greater plan that I am part of...whether it is unfolding as I expect or not. 

      Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
      and remember what peace there may be in silence.
      As far as possible without surrender
      be on good terms with all persons.
      Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
      and listen to others,
      even the dull and the ignorant;
      they too have their story.
      Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
      they are vexations to the spirit.
      If you compare yourself with others,
      you may become vain and bitter;
      for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
      Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. 
      Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
      it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
      Exercise caution in your business affairs;
      for the world is full of trickery.
      But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
      many persons strive for high ideals;
      and everywhere life is full of heroism. 
      Be yourself.
      Especially, do not feign affection.
      Neither be cynical about love;
      for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
      it is as perennial as the grass. 
      Take kindly the counsel of the years,
      gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
      Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
      But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
      Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
      Beyond a wholesome discipline,
      be gentle with yourself. 
      You are a child of the universe,
      no less than the trees and the stars;
      you have a right to be here.
      And whether or not it is clear to you,
      no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. 
      Therefore be at peace with God,
      whatever you conceive Him to be,
      and whatever your labors and aspirations,
      in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. 
      With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
      it is still a beautiful world.
      Be cheerful.
      Strive to be happy. 
      Max Ehrmann, 1927.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

October in the Prairies

As we get Facebook and text messages from our friends in Zambia about the 40+ degree heat, we awoke to snow.  Half a world away indeed.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Autumn Receding

It's -9 and grey here in Saskatoon. The fence posts are fuzzy this morning with frost and the colour of the flowers left in the garden has been diminished by a painting of white. The leaves,  those that didn't change their hues, lost their last chance this morning and now hang dismally, as if ashamed of their procrastination. Holding on to summer isn't an option around here.

I can hardly blame the leaves for their desire to cling to summer's brightness and liveliness. It's beautiful work to display the best of ourselves in greenery and growth and fruit. Fall's beauty is fleeting yet glorious, like the retelling of the stories of what summer has brought out. Fruit is abundant, literally falling off the branches at the slightest provocation. A long fall or Indian summer, as we still call it here in the prairies, prolongs the beauty into a place where it finds us feeling extremely blessed, knowing that winter is just around the corner. The downside of an Indian summer is that the corners are sharp, such as this morning. Frost sneaks up in the night, although it has teased us for weeks, the warm days and sunshine have lulled us into thinking maybe we can stretch this out right into December.

I feel like the frost of our time in Africa has painted this morning for me. When we first returned from Africa, there were many opportunities to catch up with people and tell some of the stories of all that we experienced. Our summer was amazing, I felt like we found a groove here in Saskatoon, particularly in our own neighbourhood, that we fit back into...good friends for both us and the boys. We spent a lot of time as a family, perhaps weaning ourselves a little from the four months of 24/7 companionship but still, just enjoying life together as four and a dog. I know too, that what we found on returning was a renewed appreciation for the exceptionally comfortable life we live in North America. The kids played out past dark, running through the neighbourhood (and a lot of neighbours' apologies) long past the time that the street lights came on. Even the fact that street lights come on didn't go unappreciated by me this summer. There's much to be thankful for.

As summer lingered and became a beautiful fall, so did our stories from Africa. We headed back to the rink and to a whole group of friends and acquaintances and fellow bleacher sitters that were curious about our trip and graciously allowed us to retell our stories. Even last night, we ran into former teammates' parents that told us they been keeping an eye out for us to hear about our time away. This is the beauty of our autumn.

So, the winter of our experiences looms and it has me thinking the same thing I think each time I return from Africa. Now what? Well, to be honest, the first thing I think, even before I leave Africa is generally, when can I get back here? So, in the meantime, now what? What do we do with those experiences as the beauty and colour and freshness of it fades? We are responsible for what we've seen and though I know that, I have to consistently remind myself of it. I also want to make the boys mindful of it without it becoming a dripping faucet of nagging in their world.

The work of winter begins in us. The things unseen and without photographic proof, the work that goes into the roots of who we are and how we've changed and what we've committed to. Behind the scenes of beautiful children and warm, welcoming women...there is so much work to be done. That is the winter that lies before me. A conscientious effort to make it routine to work on advocacy, building the wall of protection around these communities by raising awareness, funds, and the level of my own personal responsibility for what I've been a part of.

The children and their care workers are never far from my thoughts and never, ever out of my heart. I can conjure an image of a particular child or care worker simply from a waft of smoke in the air that brings me back to the burning season in Zambia. The smell of oil heating in a pan puts me back in the community with our kids in Share, cooking over an open fire of branches collected from neighbouring land.

In this season, I hope that the work that I do not only deepens my responsibility but also challenges those of you who have been captivated by the work, to deepen yours. Maybe you have a cause close to your own heart that keeps you awake or infringes on your daydreams the way that Hands at Work does mine. If so, embrace the coming season. Do the work at the roots and build a strong foundation of growth so that when spring arrives, we will once again be witness to the hope that new growth brings.

This winter, I'm committing to the following:

-Daily engagement with the work that we've been part of by keeping in communication with our care workers and volunteers at Hands at Work so that I can keep on top of what they are dealing with
-Praying daily for these workers
-Weekly hours spent working on advocacy and telling the stories of what we've seen and experienced
-Finding sponsorships for the 120 kids that are being given the three essential services in Mulenga*, Zambia every day and continuing to focus support in this loved little community.

 By putting this up here, I'm giving you the freedom to ask me at anytime where these sponsorships are at and how I'm doing in regards to my commitments in this regard.

So, bring on winter. It may be biting cold and long but I have a feeling that with time earmarked for these things, I won't spend my time wishing for spring, I'll be anticipating all that will be done when it finally does arrive. And enjoying the winter in the meantime.

*$20 CDN monthly provides a child in Mulenga access to a daily, nutritious meal served at the home of a care worker; access to the local community school and education; and basic health and home care visits from care workers that decreases the vulnerability of the kids in their community.  You can take part in sponsoring kids in Mulenga by sending your donation through the Hands at website or the links on the sidebar of my page, just please note that you would like the donation to go to Mulenga, Zambia if that is what you wish. End of advertisement! : )

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Messages from Mulenga

 Today is the first  full day off I've had in a couple of weeks. I'm not complaining, I'm actually very thankful for the place I'm at right now. I am transitioning out of my job at the Pier and into the new position with the *ahem* church. Yes, I'm still having difficulty with that word but I'm starting to see that it is my issue, so, unfortunately, I'm the one who will have to deal with all that goes with it.

The past few weeks, I've been getting up early and heading into the store for 6 am to get things organized and merchandised for the Christmas season. While I agree that it is far to early to be thinking about Christmas, the gurus of all things retail disagree, which is why I find myself condensing displays of Halloween glittery things in an effort to make room for the Christmas glittery things. Again, I love the work that I have been part of here and making things pretty. It's a good time to walk away from the job when everything is shiny and pretty and I can say, "There you go...have fun with that!"

In the midst of the busy days of leaving one job and starting another, is a constant concern for the kids and care workers we work with in Africa. Particularly, the care workers and kids in Zambia and Zimbabwe are on my mind even while I play with glittery reindeer and try and find monthly parking in the city near our new office.

This morning, I had a message from Blessings, one of the men that serves the northern area of Zambia so beautifully. I could write books on Blessings and how he deserves his name for the way that he gives of himself to the people of the Copperbelt region. He is incredibly humble and giving...clearly a man that loves Jesus and lives out his life as close to His teachings as possible. In the years that I have known Blessings, he has become such a dear friend to our family. Definitely, the last month and a half of our time in Africa, having spent it working daily with him around Kitwe, we're definitely attached to this young man.  It's not unusual to get a text or two from him but this morning, he was with our friend, Kennedy, in Mulenga. I had asked Blessings a while back to greet Kennedy for us and let him know that we're thinking of him and praying for him. I asked Blessings particularly to ask Kennedy if he was attending school and to encourage him to do so. The message I got this morning was Blessings, with Kennedy, saying that Kennedy was there with him and thankful that we remembered him and prayed for him. He also said that he would do his best to get to school on Monday. I'm hoping he does. Praying he does. Kennedy is that kid that stands out in a crowd for his vivaciousness and energy. He's charismatic and charming as anyone who has met him will tell you. At least, he was. He's hardly a shadow of who he was when we first met. Back in 2009, he was full of life, mischief and energy. In 2010 when I met up with him, he was recovering from malaria, and had been hospitalized. He was slower and less energetic but still incredibly charming and charismatic. This past trip, it's as if instead of growing up into a man, he's grown into himself, becoming smaller and skinnier. Life is harder. Choices have had consequences. He's hardened in some ways and yet still so vulnerable and when he would hold my hand or walk with me and the boys, I could hardly keep myself from begging someone, anyone, to let him come home with us. Today, I feel as if I spoke with him, through Blessings. I wish there was a better way to communicate to him daily, to encourage him and to guide him in his choices...choices that no boy his age should have to make in order to eat and survive.

I miss our kids.

Monday, October 1, 2012

We are Together

Tonight, Jason's out playing hockey, the boys are up in bed reading and I'm just sitting here finishing off my day with a glass of "wine".  I am not a wine drinker by any this...this may be the closest I get to appreciating an end of the day drink. We only have it in the house because it's birthday week...both boys grow older this week and so that's two birthdays and Thanksgiving all in one week around here. There's much to be thankful for. Tonight, in my flannel pyjamas, it feels like New Year's Eve. There's no ball to drop or shouting at midnight, heaven knows I can't stay up that late anyway! I'm just looking back at the year that has been and looking forward to what is ahead.  Grape Fanta brings me back to Aunty Sue's in Kitwe, sitting with Cathy and J and the boys and just recouping from whatever the day brought us. I was reminded today by our dear Honeybunn's status on Facebook, that I'm not the only one who still daily remembers and misses our friends there. Her status simply said, "Africa" and when I see that, I know her heart is aching and missing and grateful too. We had such a beautiful little community of family in Africa and even here, in Canada, we are still joined together by the longing and missing and work to be done. In looking back daily, I've realized that Africa has opened a passion in me that I never imagined. Ten years ago, I would not have dreamt I would be so consumed by the day to day work of care workers in small villages, the children we lived with, slept by and ate with. Sometimes in the mornings, I get out of bed with tears in my eyes longing for the kids we love in Share, the same way I believe I would wonder and miss my own boys if they were that far from me. So, in looking back, I have come to a place to look forward.

Today, the first of October, is the start of something very new for me. I resigned my job working at Pier  1 with some of my favourite women in the city. Seriously, there has been no better place to work in the past four years than this place has been for me. They've challenged me, rewarded me and given me freedom to travel back and forth to Africa and best of all, become good friends, loved me and healed many things in me in the midst of it all. I'm going to miss them and all the glitter that goes along with working in such a shiny, good smelling environment.

If you know me well, then this will be the beginning of some interesting conversations. Please know that if we were sitting across from one another, I would drive you mad with the excessive amount of air quotes my fingers would fling at you. I find it hard to describe what I'm going to be doing accurately. Let's just say this...I'm jumping in the deep end of a new "church" venture. (Cue the quotation marks.) Why I can't just write CHURCH or Church or church is because I know that for many of you, and to be frank, more for me, it's difficult to reconcile what we in N. America know as "church" as "church". Yes, folks, that's two quotations in three words. I'm that good.

So, for now, let me say that there have been conversations about trying to be different in how we reach out to people in our cities, our country and our world. These have gone on for years in different circles and over the past few years, here in Saskatoon, they've been in our living room, coffee shops, other "church" buildings and yes, even on back porches with an occasional waft of cigar smoke. I try to sit upwind on those conversations. If all that those conversations had only led me to look deeper into who I am and how I'm wired, I think it would have been okay. Not time wasted...but nothing ventured. This is definitely a venture.  I'll be working with a couple of guys that love Jesus a lot and are really, really driven to find a way to honour that in the way that they live, forgive, talk, and work.  They are leaders that don't ever have to have a platform or microphone to get their message out...their lives are pretty much open books. And like all open books, there are chapters that keep you up at night, pages dog-eared, re-read and talked about over the water cooler, plot lines that show weakness and cause people to write off the whole book...but all in all, these books (if I may call them that...) are all about character development. So, while we're planting a "church", I keep calling it a non-profit organization. I'm all about getting by on a technicality. After many months of conversations and contagious enthusiasm to  me banging my head on my steering wheel on the drive home wondering if I'm absolutely nuts, I running with this one. I am going to work in a "church".  All I know is that there is an underlying desire in me to align what I know about who Jesus was, what love looks like, and personally, to stop being afraid to call myself a Christian, lest I be painted by the same brush as those that make headlines for picketing funerals and choosing my chicken burgers based on the Bible.

I'll be working alongside one of Jason's former bosses, which in itself is interesting, and together we're going to try and put into practice the things we have been dreaming and talking about. A church that is simply just about telling people about Jesus and what difference that should make in the lives of those that say they actually love him.  I can't promise there won't be fish on cars or cheesy bumper stickers in the parking lot of wherever it is we're going to catch up with one another. I'll do my best not to judge that won't be easy. I just promise that I will do my best to get those same vehicles into the streets of Saskatoon - finding their way to food banks to volunteer, to shelters to meet people and even to the airport to get out of their typical day to day and challenge them to see what it means to others around the city and around the world, on both sides of the idea that being a Christian actually sets anyone apart in a positive way. I want to be part of something where people aren't afraid that handing out condoms or catching up with friends in a bar does anything but enhance their character and help them build up a community where when someone in trouble sees the "church" as a place where he or she knows people and is known and can be cared for wholeheartedly.

I know that on both sides of this, there are people who will find it offensive that I don't believe in "church", "the church" or "Church"...and those who find it equally offensive that I would jump in with 'organized religion' in any way shape or form. What can I say, I'm equal opportunity offensive.

If nothing else, this will be yet another interesting chapter in what has become the storyline of my life. A story, as Donald Miller describes one, of a forest in which I am just a tree. I hope that over the next few months, the contagious enthusiasm develops and that the steering wheel head banging recedes...until then, I'm going to buy myself a sheepskin steering wheel cover and buckle in for the ride.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Back To School

Saskatchewan granted us a break this year in the form of another week of summer vacation with the boys. For the past few years, school has been back in session that last week of August. This year, the school year didn't start until after the Labour Day long weekend. While we were thankful for the extra time at home with the boys, it didn't seem to phase the boys too much in how they felt about back to school. As you can see by the photos, Aidan is just taking it in stride...part of his whole 'we'll see what it brings..." type lookout on life. Easton, however, upgraded from finger gun to full on Nerf gun to amplify his point. Nevertheless, he came home from school happy with his teacher, happy about his classmates and clinging to the teacher's promise that she's not about giving homework. (We all know that this is a new teacher ploy to win over the kids the first week...we see right through you, Mme. Teacher.)

I work in a store that, let's face it, caters mostly to women wanting to make their homes more beautiful and eye catching. So, needless to say, the first full day of school being back in session found our store inundated with mommies, coffees in hand, with no kids in tow. Over the course of the day, I heard many conversations based on back to school, including all sorts of complaints on over crowded classrooms, poor teacher choices, decisions to split up kids from their bff's and all sorts of travesties that seem to have conspired against our kids' destiny to become highly educated and well paid members of society. Am I jaded? Absolutely. Not because I don't believe in the value of education or the teachers that make decisions affecting our kids everyday. I am happy with the school my boys go to and consider us very fortunate to have found such a good school as soon as we moved to Saskatoon. 
The teachers at our school are genuinely enthusiastic about their jobs and as seen last spring, when we pulled the boys out of school, willing to go above and beyond to make sure that learning continues wherever  life takes us.

When I think of school this year, I have the images of schools in Africa in communities where we visited. Children walking long distances on empty stomachs to get an education. Teachers sacrificing their own livelihoods to provide education and a safe place for children to gather and learn. 
Below is a photo of Esnaut. She is an amazing woman. She looks about 18 but she is a mother, grandmother and now a teacher. She used to teach for a government run school in her community but when she noticed that many orphaned and vulnerable children weren't able to afford fees or supplies, she decided to make a change. She built herself a house off her own meagre income. A single woman, two children, two grandchildren...and she built a house that neighbours complained was far above what she needed. She had the audacity to build a two bedroom house with a living room. Unbelievable. What does she need with all that room? Well, one bedroom she shares with the grandchildren who now live with her. The other bedroom is literally full of chickens! Believe it or not, she has about 85 -100 chickens at any time in the spare room, complete with sawdust floor and watering stations for the birds to drink. She breeds the chickens and sells them to feed not only her own family...but the 104 children that attend school in her living room.

Yes. I said IN her living room. 

When we arrived early one morning, the children were packed into the living room. The couch and chair Esnaut owns are stacked on top of one another in the corner and there are children covering every square inch of her tiny living room. At first, I thought that maybe a few classes gathered at once to meet us but no, this is her every day contribution to her community. She teaches 104+ kids in her own living room every single day. EVERY day! It is incredible! The kids are so well behaved and learn with their grade levels. Every child has a notebook and pencil with their name on it. Every night, before bed, after feeding and taking care of the chickens, Esther writes out the next days' lesson in every child's book. 104 copies of lessons. Every single day. 

So, while I think teachers in North America are underpaid and valuable...I can't even explain the beauty of this woman's heart who does something like this every single day.

Esnaut with her single chalk board from which she teaches .

The room is so small that I couldn't back far enough out the door to get all 100+ kids in the photo!

Esnaut's school/house. 

An old court room converted by care workers to house the school in Zimba

Aidan sits at one of the desks shared by children in a school in Zambia

This small school room houses up to 35 kids...every day.
It also doubles as the care point for the care workers who feed the children that come every day
from throughout the community.

One of my dearest friends, Olantah is a young teacher who is both teaching at the community school in Mulenga
and attending teaching courses in the evenings to finish her own schooling. She's a beautiful example of a new generation of care workers that take their mandate to care for the orphaned and vulnerable children very seriously.
In the community school in Mulenga, four chalkboards separate the four classes of kids learning at the same time in the structure. Olantah, Arthur and Emmanuel teach the kids in the community and prepare them for
writing examples in grade seven to allow them entry to high school.

Aidan sits with "his" class in Amulo. While Jason and I went out and did home visits with
the care workers, Aidan and Easton volunteered to help the teachers in their classrooms.
Aidan taught the class he was in about the rain cycle.

Here is the lesson at the end of class that one of the students copied into his
notebook. 5/5!

Easton stays after class to help one of "his" students finish up his assignment.

Our boys learned a lot in their travels throughout Africa. One of the things I know that they absorbed was the absolute luxury of school that North Americans enjoy. As they were filling their backpacks with school supplies,  we noticed that over half of their supplies were recycled from last year. We've redefined what is "necessary" in our lives...I love that both boys noticed and commented that they still felt we had too much "new" stuff...
I know they weren't exactly "looking forward to" going back to school but I know that a month in...I still think that they are mindful of the students in Africa who wouldn't take it for granted.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Falling Off the Wagon

It's fall and certainly my favourite time of year ...this year, it's exceptional. The days are still warm and sunny and the nights are crisp and clear. It's my only excuse for the lack of updates on the blog, although I have been writing...just more the pen and paper type that can be scratched out on the beach, in the park and in between bites of sandwich in the backroom at work.

The boys are back in school after a nearly 7 month hiatus, the only exception being a brief appearance during the last few weeks of the end of the school year, back in June. I don't count that as school because a) it was obviously still a jet lagged blur and the boys were clearly just figuring out what continent they were on and b) last weeks of school in our school anyway are a long stretch of field trips, sports events, outings and movie watching...not a lot in the way of studying.

So, with the boys back in school, summer coming to a close and yes, even hockey on the horizon...I'll hopefully get back into the groove of blogging regularly. Until then, imagine me as I am...taking every available moment to lie out in the hammock and watch the clouds roll by...peeling apples and making apple crisp and groaning at the first signs of frost as the mornings get darker.

It's fall. It's fleeting. I'll be back indoors soon enough.