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.