Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Feeling the News

After the past few days of terrifying news and horrific images, it's hard to imagine feeling light and cheery heading into the holiday. These days are heavy.  Just yesterday, mothers had sons walking to school, forgetting their homework on the table, rustling around for their lunchbox and waving out the door with a piece of toast in hand, much as I did.  And yet, just yesterday, those boys (and girls) lay in hospital beds, having witnessed suicide bombers shooting their friends and classmates, burning their teachers alive, and as the boots of those same murderers passed by where they lay, they pretended to be dead, in hopes of saving their own lives. And worse, some of those kids came home from school in coffins, stacked atop the coffins of their friends and classmates so that mothers could find no comfort from others, each death amplifying their own unimaginable grief.
The day before that, co-workers grabbed a quick coffee on the other side of the world, in the middle of a central business district, surrounded by wealth and affluence and development. And that night, or early the next morning, hostages fled the coffee shop having endured 17 or more hours of fear and uncertainty at the hand of someone who proclaimed himself a spiritual healer. Yet, two couldn't flee and a young man who is only spoken of as giving and consistently caring was dead, having risked his own life to allow others to run for theirs. And a woman, shielding her pregnant friend, is shot and dies, saving a child's life while leaving her own three children motherless.

I feel the weight of these things though they are so far removed from my world. And yet, this morning, dropping my son at school and picking up a coffee, it suddenly felt quite sacred. And closer than I care to think.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Boy. He's India.

There is an image of a boy that keeps coming to mind since I left India.  It was in the final moments of my trip that I saw him. I didn't meet him. I don't know his name. I don't know his age. I didn't even see his face. And yet, every night and every morning, this boy runs through my dreams. In the car, driving to work, washing dishes, delivering papers...he is there.

I was on the transport bus from one terminal at Mumbai Airport to the other where my plane home was waiting. It was dark. The bus was crowded. I sat in the front seat of the bus on the passenger side and I was taking in the last of what India had to offer. I watched how the driver acknowledged the man in uniform, his eyes taking in the holstered gun, and then watching him in the rearview mirror as he took his seat. I looked at the couple seated next to me, carry on bags on their laps, with their heads resting on top, exhausted. The man beside me stared straight ahead and hardly blinked.  I looked out the window as we pulled away and wondered again at the ability of drivers in India to circumvent accidents when even in a highly regulated space like an airport tarmac, the lines on the roads seemed only like suggestions for optimal driving conditions. We pulled away and began to rattle past the terminal and then out along the perimeter of the airport. On the other side of the fence, were derelict buildings, abandoned planes and all manner of decaying building supplies and refuse from years gone by. As we rounded a corner, the typical airport type buildings gave way to a slum. I hadn't noticed it on the way in, from the air, but from what I could see, it was an incredible amount of people and haphazard buildings pressed into whatever space the distance from the fence and the city streets afforded them. In the darkness, there were fires lit and people cooking and walking and talking. A few cars were parked in no particular order amongst the streets and dogs and people just circumvented them naturally. The homes were shanties, mostly tin or wood, built up two stories high with rickety boardwalks connecting one to the next above the ground at the second story.  Doors were open and small electric bulbs provided the only light, strung from cables run from who knows where, illuminating each doorway like it's own theatre entrance, the tableau inside exposed for all who passed by to see. In one doorway a mother holding a baby on her hip and conversing with an older woman below. In another, you could see boxes stacked with colourful cloths folded inside. And another, a red piece of fabric, held to the side by some unseen hook, revealing a woman lifting something onto an upper shelf. Each little image, only seconds long, ticking away like a rapid slide show of life in a slum. And then the boy. Just a few seconds where he appeared. Illuminated as if in a strobe light, by the light emanating from the open doorways where light spilled onto the boards on which he ran. He was young, no more than 10 or 12 years. The only details I could salvage were that he was wearing ankle boots and socks and shorts and a red t-shirt. Small and lithe, light on his feet and he ran as though the dinner bell had been rung and a feast awaited. I turned in my seat to watch him, flashing visible in the light of each doorway and then disappearing. And then he was out of sight, physically anyway. But he's with me here. In Canada. In the winter. Flashing visible and disappearing again, as if by his own will, inserting himself into my if I am forbidden to forget him. As if I could if I wanted to at this point.

He's a boy. With no relation to me. With no name or face to search him out. A boy who ran by me in the the final moments of my visit to his country and who has stayed with me ever since.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Language of Play

Riding in style.

This evening, I was looking through some of my fellow team member's photos from our recent trip to India and I was surprised to see photos of one of the best days' play I've had in a long time. While most of the team took the school kids to the amusement park,  I stayed behind to observe the medical clinic that took place in Khalpur with Ryan, a doctor from Oregon who was seeing patients. For a good part of the afternoon,  I watched quite a crowd of people come and present their complaints to the doctors in front of their friends and neighbours and family members, with no privacy whatsoever. It struck me how we take so much for granted in our health care systems in North America.

Once the last patient left, Ryan and I walked around Khalpur. It is just a slum on the side of what used to be a canal. It's congested and cramped and haphazard, with no services other than what One Life has brought in...a generator to run the fans and computers in the school and bio toilets so that the inhabitants of the slum would have access know. Just another thing we take for granted, that we have somewhere to go to the bathroom, in privacy and cleanliness for good health sake. Not so here, before the bio toilets, there was no designated place to relieve yourself so it was basically wherever the need hit you...

As we walked through the community, people were very friendly and wanted their photos taken with family members, in front of their homes, with their children or with their dogs. It was quite something to communicate without English or Bengali on our side. We were outsiders but we weren't unwelcome, in fact, just the opposite. We felt very welcome and there were many who spoke a little bit of English, enough to say hello and ask how we were.  We wandered around for a bit and soon attracted quite a following of kids. So, with no agenda, I just began to play with the group of little girls and boys surrounding me. I soon figured out that games needed to be as simple as possible, not because the kids weren't capable, but because I was unable to explain intricate rules without knowing Bengali. So, we started with simple clapping games which always seem to translate well. I simplified them as we went along and soon, there were children joining in from out of nowhere. We exhausted that game and went to "Duck, Duck, Goose" and "Go, Go, Go, Stop!" and straight into "Hide and Go Seek" where I found myself searching for children in the most incredible places. Imagine playing as children in a literal garbage dump and submerging yourself in garbage to secure a hiding spot. As I would find one child, covered in discarded plastic and cardboard and many other things I choose not to think about, three others would pop up from their hiding spots, just as deep in the garbage. I actually wanted to stop the game in an effort to keep them from playing in the garbage but then I took a look at our surroundings and realized that this is the environment they know and deal with every day. When it came my time to "hide", it became like a game of sardines very quickly. Of course, I had no great knowledge of good hiding spots so I ducked into a small alley and hid behind a barrel between two homes with about 15 children around me. I was leaning against a small house and startled the poor older man napping there, just on the other side of the open wall.  I'm sure he thought he was dreaming to see some strange woman and children crouching just inches from where he lay his head.  

The amazing thing about children is that they all have such an incredible spirit about them. Here in this community, amongst the garbage and the rubble, they have the brightest smiles and just play wholeheartedly, without the need for toys or electronics or anything other than each others' company to entertain themselves. It's not to say that their lives wouldn't be improved with these things but  in our North American culture, we lament the end of imaginative play, and yet the very things that have squelched it are those things we have that are luxuries and excess.  
Anything becomes a plaything when there is nothing.
These children and I played for over an hour, in the heat, and through it, I watched each of them. Each child has their own unique personality and even without language, I could easily identify the mischievous, the shy, the courageous and those that could lead. I could see the girls who are strong and whose physical athleticism challenged the boys in a way that other boys did not. I watched as children's faces lit up when they were acknowledged and whose demeanour changed just by a hug or by being the hand I chose to hold when we lost and regrouped. 

I learned a lot this day. I learned the art of play again. The language it speaks. And the bonds it builds. And it felt an awful lot like love. 


Explanations with a little language and a lot of actions. 

Dirty knees and a full heart.
I love this photo that Ryan took...just two small hands...
And our hands. Mine and hers. 

*Thanks to Dr. Ryan Hutchinson for sharing his photos...and for capturing so many great memories of that day in Khalpur.  

Speaking of You, USA, and Me.

There has been so much in the media these days regarding racism and hatred, torture and human rights violations. It's a wonder any of us can stomach it. I think though, that our reactions are just as telling.

I remember a conversation I had with a friend in the US when President Obama was first elected. It was such a jubilant time and such a historical event...there was such joy across the world. I remember driving through Zambia and seeing women with Obama chitenges (wrapped skirts) and wondering how on earth Obama became that famous, so quickly.  I felt a sense of sadness though when Obama was elected, not because of anything politically related. I just really felt for him as a man, a dad, a husband. He obviously had a political life before the run for Presidency and knew what it entailed, but I felt like I was watching a nations across the globe, putting him up on a pedestal. And I was acutely aware that people on pedestals soon become targets. I voiced that to my friend and he was reluctant to agree, but now, years later, I think maybe the pedestal isn't as high as it used to be. For some, Obama is a source of infinite derision and should be hit over the head with the pedestal. My heart aches that for those that take office with what seems to be genuine desire to lead well, this is the common road. Before I feel too sorry for him though, I do understand that I'm sure he measured the costs.

I watched a clip from the Jon Stewart show today. I'm more of a Jimmy Fallon, keep it light and lip-synch whenever possible type of fan, but this came across a few close friends FB and so I checked it out. And it really pointed out to me that so often the way we speak of others, often illuminates our own shortcomings. I tend to lump Canada in with the USA in many of these flaws so don't feel I'm picking on our southern big brother with any malice. I think that often we can call these things a North American mindset or a western mindset and be just as guilty. The clip is Trevor Noah, a South African comedian, turning (North) American stereotypes onto Americans. If nothing else, he and Jon Stewart point out that much of what is thought and said about Africa, really isn't rooted in much truth.
I love the last set of photos Trevor shows, it is lovely to see him self-deprecate in the light of what could really be a rough wake up call for American viewers.

On a much more disturbing note, today the CIA Terror Report came out and in light of it's 2600? pages of horrific detail of the torture that detainees sustained in the pursuit of Al Qaeda and the truth of the 9-11 attacks, I am going to be hopeful.  I couldn't muster hope for Obama to remain unscathed in his presidency but I am choosing to be hopeful that this report is a wakeup call to the alarming sound of human rights violations inflicted by the US Government agency. The same US government that decries violations when they serve a purpose. I hope that eyes are opened and are stinging with tears of shame and horror.

Let this be the end of pointing fingers at others. Let this be the end of "us" and "them" and words that build up the falsehood that "we would never..." and "they are animals..." and "who could ever....".
Because we did. We were. And we could again. God forbid, we could again.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Think of Your Happy Place

I'm sick. Like, coughing, sputtering, sneezing, hair poking up in different directions, pale face and dark circles kind of sick. I'm not the gracious Meg Ryan flannel pyjamas, snuffling delicately, cable knit socks and cups of tea type of sick. I'm "man cold", Nyquil commercial kind of sick.

Let's just say, it's never pretty, especially when dishes pile up, kids still need food, and no one is catering to my every whim, not even the dang dog. She, who has the audacity to whine for a walk, actually reminded me of something pretty important today. I'm sure I would have stumbled on it sooner or later. Possibly never.

So, I spent today day dreaming about travel and watched a beautiful movie and then began to wonder where I would really truly go if money were no object. That elusive "happy place" that people "go to" when things in reality aren't so lovely.

There's a beautiful sound I heard, while walking said whiny dog, just for about two seconds, earlier today. It reminded me of something very integral to my happiness. In fact, the sound I heard today, well, it was only reminiscent of the sound I long to hear, but it was so similar it stopped me and I stood for a few seconds just to see if I could hear it again.

Several years ago, in the days when I had small boys at home and life was one big blur of parks and playgrounds, diapers and dishes, carseats and sticky hands...I used to escape once a week to the mountains. On my husband's days off, I would get up early, sneak out to the garage where I had packed my gear the night before, and head off for a day of skiing. Alone. By myself. Driving with no distractions going on in the rearview mirror, no stretching interventions of bottles thrown to the floorboards or books slid down the door frames, I would enjoy the hour drive up into the mountains with the radio off and the sound of the heater my only company. I would park anywhere in the parking lot, having no need to carry and/or wrangle small boys to our destination. I would get my gear on and head out onto the hill and begin to really breathe deeply again. I would sit by myself on the chair lift and allow myself to be physically and mentally carried away again to the peaks of the mountains where the views were amazing and the challenges set before me were mine to choose. I would ski in the trees, knee deep in powder, and I would stop often and listen for it. The sound I searched for was a particular version of white noise, no pun intended, the sound of skis sliding, branches squeaking, small nearly imperceptible thuds of snow falling off the trees around me. Sometimes there would be the vibrating whirr of a nearby chairlift or the rise and wane of conversation of those riding it to break the stillness. Sometimes a distant shout of a fallen skier alerting his companions that he was fine, gathering his gear up off the mountain side where it had spread out above him.  It was in those moments, and in the rush of seeing my skis rise up to me and then disappear again below the powder, that I felt absolutely free and happy. John Muir, an naturalist and lover of all things outdoors, wrote words that seemed to have come from a similar mindset that I found when standing in the midst of the trees or with my edges dug in parallel to the fall line on a steep face.

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul. 

Sometimes I find it hard to find that kind of breathing space here in the prairies in the winter. I can find glimpses of it, along the river when the snow is crisp or the trees are crackling under the weight of ice. I can hear the wind howling on a ridge above me and find that sort of space to just relax and breathe, in the valley below, knowing that as I am out of its reach. I haven't found that day long space of being completely free and happy. In the summer, out on the river, on a paddle's easy to find.

Today, walking my dog, she ran ahead of me into a field of wild grasses that were knee deep in snow. I watched her jumping and leaping, digging in the snow and using all her senses to discover all that was around her. I thought of how free she looked and as I kept walking along the tracks set by a snowmobile through the field, I rounded a small grove of birch. It was there that I had just a few seconds reminiscent of being on skis, in the woods, above the clouds. I stood there for a moment and tried to recapture the full feeling of freedom and happiness that I knew had accompanied those sounds before. It was fleeting. It was there. Then it was gone. Suddenly the dog came bounding around the corner catching up to me. I watched her barrel headlong into the birch grove, examining the "secret forts" that the neighbourhood boys built amongst the leaves and bushes this summer, now exposed by the lack of foliage and the stark contrast to the black and white backdrop of the birch trees. I continued my walk but the feeling of chasing that type of freedom and solitude and joy has stayed with me all day, despite the "man cold." So, I'm going there.
If only in my dreams. 


Tuesday, December 2, 2014


I am a news junkie. I am. I've admitted it before but in case you've missed it, I'm putting it out there again. Many times, I've found myself glued to one (or three) stations just trying to grasp the magnitude of an incident or event and I realize I'm hardly breathing or eating or sleeping, trying to get my head around what often turns out to be senseless. School shooting. Ebola outbreaks. Racial tensions.
Not surprisingly, this 24 hour access to news can be detrimental not only to my physical health but to my mental health.

There's a quote attributed to Mr. Rogers, of childhood television fame, in which in the dark surrounding all the bad news, his mother tells him to look for the "helpers." It's a simple truth that even in the worst scenarios, unimaginable circumstances, there are heroes. Often unnoticed, often unrecognized, even ignored, these stories are threads of light in the wet blanket of bad news that we find ourselves thrown under again and again.

I recognized those threads of light in a story a few weeks ago about Ebola survivors. I was looking at the treatment centres in Liberia and how primitive but functional they were and I was thinking that after days or weeks of fighting off one of the worst viruses imaginable, it would be so freeing to walk out of there and get home. I saw images of those who survived, gaunt and taut skinned, tired but jubilant that they were able to leave and they walked this gauntlet of  what looked like a cattle run to leave the clinic and go back to whatever life was left at home.
Pete K. Muller captures this image and it inhabits my dreams.

I was struck by this image that showed a busload of survivors returning home, mattresses stacked on top of the bus to replace their own that had had to be burned to eradicate the virus in the home they were returning to. It haunts me. Emotional. I began to see that homegoing wasn't without it's own costs. Many have lost their families. Their jobs. Their homes.

Photos from National Geographic's John Moore of Ebola Survivors in Liberia....Take a moment. Read their short stories. Feel their pain. Their exhaustion. Their triumph. Their grief.

And then, I recognized them. The threads. Amongst the stories of survivors returning home, were stories of those who stayed. Survivors of Ebola have an immunity to the virus that seems to protect them for at least a few weeks or months after they have survived it. Instead of walking the gauntlet to rebuild their own lives, there are stories of survivors who instead stay and help others fighting for their lives. Can you imagine? You've been surrounded by doctors and nurses in haz mat suits for weeks, unable to be touched or held, and in walks someone who has no protective suit on, looks you in the eye and says, "I beat this, you can too." What an incredible hope these survivors can convey just by their very presence. But imagine the strength it takes, to stay and hold hands and rock babies and comfort children as so many others die and are replaced by many more fighting the same fight. I can't imagine the strength it takes to beat Ebola. It would take even more to stay and fight alongside others when your battle is won. And yet....these are the "helpers"....the ones to look for. The ones to emulate. Though they've earned the freedom to walk away, would stay in the midst and cheer on those that are still fighting the battle.

These threads of light are everywhere. Sometimes it's hard to see light for all the darkness trying to stifle it but light will always drive out darkness, and when threads are woven together, they just get stronger and brighter. We've been given such freedom in our lives. There is nothing that says we can't celebrate it or enjoy it, but how much more will we enjoy it when we can celebrate it with those we've helped fight for their own? Look back on your own battles, where can you step back in and give hope, be light? In an age where people look for purpose or calling, paradoxically, we often look for places that are already lit when it's really stepping into the shadows that allows us to shine. 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Acts of Bravery

In the slum called Khalpur, I met a really gifted little boy named Korenjit. Korenjit is just a school age boy, maybe 7 or 8. In his school uniform, he blends in with the others around him but when he speaks, he is head and shoulders above his peers.  He is so gifted and demonstrative in his passion for God and it just oozes out of him. It’s amazing that he believes in Jesus, but he does wholeheartedly, for his father is a Hindu and so that is the religion that surrounds him. Except, that just a few months ago, Korenjit was gravely ill. He had an issue with his urinary tract that left him in so much pain and at high risk of death. When he could no longer function, just cry out for healing, Korenjit was taken to the doctor at a local clinic, who insisted that he needed immediate surgery. It was expensive and risky but without it, the boy would surely die. During the time of his illness, Korenjit’s family had started to come to church regularly, begging God to heal their boy. The doctor took minimal payment for the expensive surgery, just enough to cover the costs of the medical supplies. He performed the surgery in the nursing home where he regularly attended patients and he arranged for Korenjit to stay there for his entire six week recovery at no cost to the family. Through this time of healing, Korenjit’s mother, Utthara, stayed with him at the nursing home. She grew in her faith, reading only the Bible while at his bedside and often sharing what she learned with others around her, such as nurses and other patients. She promised God that she would be baptized when they left the hospital. 
On the day that we visited Khalpur, Jaishree, Melanie and I were invited into Korenjit's home to visit his mother, Utthara. This home was immaculate inside, though just made up of bamboo and garbage bags, boxes, fabric and ropes. There was a large bed made up in the back and all of the family's belongings hung neatly from the rafters.  Utthara  is a beautiful woman who told us that she was excited to be baptized on the coming Saturday. She said though that she was facing significant opposition from her husband’s family who did not want her to take baptism. Utthara’s mother in law came to visit her earlier in the week and begged her to follow Christ quietly but not to take baptism. Utthara told her that she had made a promise to God when He healed Korenjit and that she would not go back on it. Her mother in law explained that if Utthara was to follow through with that promise, that she would be disowned by their family. Utthara told her calmly but strongly that she was sorry but that she intended to go through with the baptism.  Later that day, Utthara’s husband told her that he would leave her alone and go make a new life if she were to be baptized. She told him that she had learned enough to make a little bit of money for herself and that she would always be there for him to return to, but that she was going to be baptized. She stood up for her decision against a lot of opposition and threats. She was very matter of fact about it and yet, you could see that she was proud of the strength of her convictions. She felt compelled to be baptized and that was what she intended to do. She asked us to pray with her and we did, asking that her husband and his family would come around and be able to see that she was strong in her faith, and support her in that. 
On Saturday morning, we walked just a few short blocks to the church where the baptisms were to take place. There was a very small gathering of people, considering that 11 of them were to be baptized, it was clear that not many had family members in attendance or supporting them. I looked around and did not see Utthara. Jaishree came to me and told me that earlier that morning, as Utthara was preparing to leave for the baptism, her husband beat her badly. Her face was so swollen she could not see out of her one eye. He didn’t go to work and told his wife that if she tried to even leave the house that day, that he would break both of her legs. After all she’d been through, Utthara missed her own baptism. I'm not a theologian but I believe that Utthara has publicly acknowledged God in a way that no water baptism could ever replicate. She's stood her ground. She's shared her faith. She pays the price daily. 

I sat in the church that morning and though we were behind a gate and in the church building, I felt pretty raw and exposed. It was the only time I felt real fear while I was in India. I was afraid for Utthara and for her family. The violence and opposition to her faith rattled me. I couldn’t imagine a way of life in which my husband and his family would threaten and carry out physical violence to keep me from following God.  I was afraid for myself. That I could be collateral damage if the violence were to enter the church in opposition to one or more of these peoples’ desire to be baptized. I thought of knives and acid as the pastor prayed. I peeked at exits while Piyas and Andy spoke of the meaning of baptism. I wondered who was waiting outside to attack one or more of these people when they’d stepped out of the church’s safety and back into the streets where they lived.  I felt like a coward for being so afraid. As I sat in the front pew, as visitors often do, I watched each person, most on their own, make their way into the baptismal tank. I finally saw it for what it was. Baptism is an act of bravery. It is openly saying that you follow Christ and for some, that means leaving family and friends behind. For some it means threats of violence. For some it’s isolating. For all, it’s stating for the record that you love Jesus and you’re going to follow where He leads. I think in that way, Utthara has been through her own rite of baptism. 

I watched as ten people from the slums of Kolkata each made their way into the water and out again. I was close enough to see the tears and to hear their laughter. As we greeted them afterwards, I felt honoured to have been a witness to their strength and convictions. I was humbled by their bravery and their faith. 
As we left the church that afternoon, Andy reminded us that a woman named Puja whom we had come to know, had been through something very similar the year before. Her husband and his family forbade her and kept her from being baptized. Yet, a year later, her husband and Puja were baptized together in the faith. I’m not giving up on praying for Utthara or for her husband or for his family. I’m reminded that God often has a better story than the one we can imagine when we set our feet to follow him. That’s what I’m hanging on to in prayer for her.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

As "us"

Just last week, I was waking up on the opposite end of the world. Literally. I think Kolkata is geographically the same distance east and west from Saskatoon. I can truly say I travelled half way around the world. I would go to sleep early in our hotel, aptly named Hotel Heaven, which made me smile when I first read it. I was either going to love it or die there.  It was a comfortable place to land at the end of the day and it had air conditioning so it felt luxurious to me. Each night, as I fell asleep I'd turn off the air conditioning and listen to the sounds of the street below. I loved the noise of the city in my ears, telling me the story of nighttime in Kolkata. Sirens. Shouts. Music. Intent conversations. Horns and the intermittent sounds of the ancient street trams that rattled by sounding like someone shaking a tin can full of bottle caps in my ear.  Around 3 or 4 am every night I would wake up. Partly because it was late afternoon back in Canada, partly because the room was now 29 degrees and I was sweltering and needed to put the a/c back on for a bit. The beautiful thing about that middle of the night waking time was the silence. When you've gone to sleep with noise in your ears, the silence is comforting in its own right. I would lay there until the room cooled, read or play a game of solitaire on my phone in the dark, until I could turn the a/c off again and go back to sleep till about 6 am. The first two nights I tried to occupy those dark hours. The third, fourth and fifth night, my mind was full of the people I'd met, the foods I'd tried, the children I'd played with, the slums we'd walked in. Several of those nights, I just lay and tried to hold my heart and mind open to what God was telling me or trying to teach me. Before I went to India, I had been thinking through some of the areas in my life in which I needed to bring changes to. I'd written down a small line in a book I carry around, a prayer of sorts, "More of You. Less of me." In those dark hours, I would repeat that line and offer it up and listen for whatever answers or suggestions would come back. I'm not great at meditation, my mind tends to flee at the slightest noise and by the time I reel it in, I'm not sure where I left off. This line, "More of You. Less of me" gave me something to come back to when I was wondering if I had given the media guy at church the password for the youtube channel. Things you think about in the middle of the night in Kolkata. A few nights passed with these regular hours of silence and I was beginning to enjoy the practice of just laying still, listening to the rhythmic drip of the a/c on the floor, and repeating the phrase. One night, I'm not sure at what point, I may have dozed off, I may have heard from God, it may have been both. I was laying in the dark and realized that what I was hearing was, "Less of You. More of US."  Isn't that in a nutshell? Yes, less of me. Absolutely. But more of US? That came out of the dark and illuminated my brain. I think I'm often apt to release my cares and concerns in desperation, with a sort of throwing it at God in an "okay-you-do-it" type of way. I'm not saying that's always wrong...I am saying that when I do it, it's not often with a willing, contrite spirit of leaving things gently and confidently in His hands. But this? The idea that God wants less of me alone and more of us together...that changed something in me.

So, it's barely 5 am here back on my half of the planet. I'm awake. The house is creaking in the cold. The furnace is humming and the last night train has shuffled past. Snow is flying sideways in the orange light of the street lamp and the dog is snoring beside me on the couch. Having a labrador means you're never alone, even when insomnia hits. I'm thinking of small girls, like one named Puja, rescued from a garbage pile at 3 days old and raised by compassionate strangers as their own. I think of her smiling and pulling a funny face as she stands with her classmates in the halls of her school dormitory, half a world away indeed from the desperate beginning of her life. Of a girl named Jashlyn, saucy and strong, fiercely competitive in sports and games as we played in her community. Running amongst the shacks in the slum, she's the girl the boys tried to take out of the game at every turn, her skills threatening their own. I think of the small girl who, when asked, if being at school made her miss her family, shook her head solemnly "No".  Her face passive as Jaishree, the director of OneLifeUp operations in India, explains to us that school is a respite for this little one from the abuses and violence of her home in the Nalpur slum. I think of Piyas and his wife, who open their home for girls like these during school holidays, so that they need not return to the slum and the violence there. And as the clock clicks away, these girls are ending a day of classes and heading in for dinner. I'm curled up on the couch, not even ready for breakfast. It makes no sense that all these things can happen simultaneously across the globe. It makes me feel small until I think of how God works. Through us. In spite of us. With us. As "us". There's nothing bigger than that.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

From Fear to Familiarity

I think it's fair to say that I was pretty transparent about how afraid I was to go to India. In the light of that pre-trip honesty, I have to say that I loved being in Kolkata. I loved it. I loved the city. The traffic. Rickshaws and buses, yellow taxis and overloaded semi-trucks careening around each other with seemingly no objective other than to add to the noise and chaos of the already crowded streets. I love the multiple uses of car horns to suggest movement, imply movement, and demand movement. I love that pedestrians weave in and out of this tempest with fluidity and ease, whether burdened with packages, talking on the phone or holding the hand of a small child. Kolkata streets are filled with acts of boldness and bravery at every turn. I hardly walked anywhere and still managed to narrowly avoid being hit by numerous vehicles because of my defence mechanisms that kept me from stepping into the oncoming traffic without eye contact with the driver of whatever vehicle was bearing down on me.  The trains are beautiful and loud, with people teeming out of the windows and holding onto rails and leaning out the doors casually, as if just leaning on a stationary street corner instead of being propelled through crossings and over land at break neck speeds. The every day coming and going of people and vehicles would be an endless source of entertainment for me. I could watch it for days.

I loved the light and the colour of the streets. The beautiful women in whatever economic class, wearing saris of brilliance, their vibrant colours adding to the muted tones of the backdrop of the streets. Even in the darkness, the colours of the lights and the taxis and the people are not diminished. Streets look like elaborate sets from Bollywood movies and despite the crushing poverty in and amongst the elite, everyone has a role to play in the drama of day to day life in a city of over reportedly 14 million. It's as if nearly one out of every two Canadians were to descend on an ancient city for a week. The numbers are staggering. Everywhere you look there are people. Working. Begging. Shopping. Selling. Drinking tea. Making street food. Delivering parcels. Banking. There's not a corner of the street where I ever stood on my own.

I was afraid that Indian people would be severe. Their dark eyes and brooding looks were in my mind,  for no particular reason other than assumption, menacing and threatening. I felt that I would be hassled and harassed, my personal space impeded and my privacy intruded upon. Nothing could be further from the truth. Though it's true there were stares and second glances at our group as we travelled, the moment eye contact was made, it was often followed by a shy smile or a reserved tilt of the head. My assumptions could not have been more wrong...not shocking by any means, given how little I knew about India before landing there.

When I arrived in Mumbai, where I was to meet my team, I was late. My flight having been delayed out of London Heathrow for over 90 mins didn't leave room for errors in making my connection that was already flashing "Boarding" as I ran down the concourse. I hustled through the line at security, delayed by the fully dressed woman in front of me trying to get through the scanner with her bag in hand. I tried to be patient as three people gestured and explained to her the process of x-raying her belongings and going through the metal detector with little extra on over her sari. She began to methodically strip down, blocking the metal detector and with no apparent time constraints. I began to shift back and forth on my feet and eye the line up beside me, for males only, that was only two people deep and weighed in my mind the risk vs reward of jumping into that queue. I stayed in the female only line and received a series of four different stamps and one handwritten star on my bag tags, obviously for model behaviour, and dashed down the last set of stairs to the gate entrance. Unfortunately for me, the gate entrance was actually the entrance to a bus TO the terminal where my flight was now closing and although I was sure I could make it, I was at the mercy of the gentleman admitting people through. I explained to him that I was trying to make the flight to Kolkata and he seemed genuinely disinterested. At this point, I wasn't even frustrated. It was about 2 am I believe and I just resigned myself to having to trot back to the beginning of my journey and rebook a ticket for a later flight, hoping to meet up with my team at some later point, when this lovely man, motioned for me to come back up to the podium. He scanned my boarding pass, pointed me towards two others standing near by and said that a van was coming for us. I turned on my phone and received a text from Seth, on my team, and he asked if I was close, that they were closing the gate and he was boarding. He assured me they would send a van for me in the morning and that I would be met at the airport in Kolkata with no problems. I told him I wasn't worried, which at that point, I wasn't...but that there was a teeny hope that I would make the flight as they were sending us on a van. Little did I know that the ride to the other terminal was lengthy and involved crossing out of the airport secured grounds into the adjacent slum (at which point, I may have regretted ignoring Amanda Lindhout's suggestions on kidnapping and ransom insurance....) and back around yet another terminal, waiting for a plane to back out onto the tarmac in front of us, and finally up to our waiting plane. I boarded with the two others and was never so relieved as to hear a friendly voice, coming from the sweet face of OneLifeUp's Melanie, asking if I was Shelly. I nodded and she smiled and I proceeded to my seat where I promptly offered up a prayer of gratitude for travelling mercies.  The three hour flight to Kolkata provided me with a two hour and 48 minute nap that was long overdue and we arrived safely. Another team mate, Mandy, sitting near me, introduced herself and I followed her to where the others were collecting their luggage. I was thankful for not having checked luggage as I would assuredly not have had it arrive with me, given the connection. We proceeded to a bus and our hotel and given our early morning arrival, were afforded a few hours to shower and rest before heading out for the day.

Laying on the bed in my room, I could hardly imagine that I was in India. Driving to the hotel felt vaguely familiar as Kolkata to me was reminiscent of Addis Ababa, teeming with people and representing all stages of development from pre-industrial revolution ox carts to modern, glass sided office buildings towering above.  Everything in the city seemed in some stage of decay or construction. It wasn't always apparent which was which.

Suffice it to say, arriving safely was a good start on the week ahead. I felt my confidence building as I recognized the traffic and sounds, industry and architecture of a previous British colony and the opposing influence of years of communist party rule.  I realized that my travel experiences were culminating in a lack of culture shock and that that would settle my fears far more than any verbal assurances I could give myself. In a lot of ways, Kolkata felt like the stage of a familiar play with new characters. I couldn't wait to experience the story that would unravel.
The Mother House - where Mother Theresa worked...just outside my hotel window, barely 20 ft away.
I woke to singing and prayers each morning, which is a beautiful way to start a day.

The Monument to Queen Victoria, built after her death. It's impressive, incredible and expansive, elaborate and beautiful.
Quite the memoriam to Queen Victoria.

Jaishree and Melanie of These women are beautiful inside and out...friends from the first moment we met.

The meticulous grounds of the Queen Victoria Monument.

Just one of a million fascinating doorways in Kolkata.

Early morning, women come to the street for water to haul to their living quarters, wherever they may be.

School girls hold hands and walk to school in Kolkata.

Yet another fascinating doorway.

These construction workers were hauling cement, I thought by hand, to the site down the alley
next to our hotel.

Then, they proudly showed their skill at balancing heavy cement mix on their heads.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Not Quite Home

I know that many of you have been checking the blog for news from India. I can see that there are those who check thank you for that. I'm sorry I haven't updated yet. It's not that there wasn't WiFi in Kolkata, because there was. It was just that I wanted to stay in the moment and try and process all I was seeing and experiencing without having to make sense of it in writing.

I'm just sitting in snowy Toronto, about to board my last flight and I am looking forward to seeing the boys and Jason and of course,Charlie. I hope over the next few days to put down some more coherent thoughts. Until then, thanks again for being so diligent in keeping up with me as I travel. You're never far from my thoughts, friends. So many of you are so invested in my life, it's as if you travel with me.

Until my brain catches up with my heart....Check out the organization I travelled with.

We'll catch up soon, I promise!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Overpacking and Overthinking

This week I've been riding a wave on anxiety as I prepare for my next trip. I head to India on Sunday...Kolkata actually. I think I'm finally ready to say that I'm excited more than nervous. That's not to say it hasn't been a process.

Today was perfect though. As some of you know, I work event security at our local arena for concerts and conferences, etc. Today, in Saskatchewan, was WE Day. It is part of Craig and Mark Kielburger's Free The Children enterprise in which they inspire and empower kids to become activists in our world. I love the work that these guys do, particularly in that they started as children and have continued to motivate youth to get involved in the issues that stir them. Though I'm far older than their target demographic, I learned a lot about how to connect and motivate kids to get involved in global and local issues that are concerning to all of us. Part of the event involves getting various celebrities to get involved in motivating the kids with their own stories. I didn't know anything about the line up of who would be there today but suddenly, I found myself in close proximity with one of my Canadian heroes, Lt. Gen. (ret) Romeo Dallaire, who led the UN Peacekeeping mission in Rwanda during the genocide during the 90's. It was an impossible mission and many feel that perhaps Daillaire was doomed from the outset...and yet, what he has done with his life since that terrible chapter, has given me such inspiration. He deals with PTSD and yet continues to advocate against child soldiers and other atrocities of war. He's written several incredibly difficult yet integral books on the subjects and he has really shaped a lot of my education around social injustices and human rights abuses. So, today, as he stepped into the spotlight just feet away, although I was working,  I had a steady stream of tears sliding down my cheeks. I wondered how many people in that building actually knew who he was or what he had been through and what's he has overcome. It makes me wonder what we really know of anyone's particular story, celebrity or not.

Along with Lt. Gen. Dallaire, Capt. Phillips, shared his story as well. A merchant marine captain made famous by Tom Hanks who played him in the movie about his ordeal as his ship and crew were attacked by Somali pirates and he spent four long days being abused and isolated as a hostage on a life raft with his four captors. His message today was that you are stronger than you know and you can endure more than you can imagine.

In the face of courage like this, what do I have to fear?

I went in to work today thinking it was just another day, customer service and providing directions to visitors to our facilities. In the end, it was a day that I will long remember as one that spoke right to the heart of my fears and put them to rest.

I encourage each of you to check out and visit virtually each of the communities that I will be walking in next week. I ask that as you see the pictures and read the stories, that you would remember our team as we step into those stories.

I'm excited. Fear abates. Curiosity and calling win out.

Friday, October 31, 2014

What Cynicism Can't Even Imagine

Today seems bleak. I'm not an optimist at the best of times but I've been seeing the good in people in recent years and hanging on to that thread of humanity as best I can. Today I feel like I've put too much weight on the thread and it's led to the unravelling of the comfortable sweater I've wrapped myself in.

I'm warning you. If you go into this any deeper, you may join me in the darkness of what is winding around my heart today.

In the midst of days that have seen domestic attacks on our military personnel here in Canada...on the heels of a not so distant shooting spree against RCMP officers on the east coast, I'm wondering if we're really so much different than any other country in the world. Governments and health care systems only function when there is stability and good infrastructure and frankly, peace helps.
Can we be so far from sliding off the grid? (I warned you....)

And then, this day. I wait to hear from our dear friends in Zambia if they are able to stay on the land they purchased 7 years ago. The person they bought the land from has decided that he only was charging them "rent" and so now believes he should be able to evict them and take over the home they worked so hard to build. A home that provides shelter for their 5 children. A home that is a symbol of their hard work and the stability that they are trying so very hard to maintain. So, yes, today is going to be long until I hear the word that they can stay and that this injustice will be averted. There's no guarantees.

And still, the wars rage on in Syria, Central African Republic, Eastern Congo...and I think of all those that I don't give thought to day to day...and I wonder about our turn. If it comes, will we really believe that there are those that will come to our defense? Particularly when we are worried about having enough candy to hand out to costumed children this evening...and consumed with our weekend plans and our jobs and all those really important things like why our high speed internet isn't quite fast enough? Oh, I'm on a roll now.

This may have been my unravelling this morning. Appropriately so. We're called to be human. Humane. Compassionate and caring. Yet when we are, the balance can tip so slightly towards despair and becoming distraught, which is where I find myself this morning.

There's a caveat here. The images are desperate and disturbing. I thought, "I can handle it."  I'm can't un-see what I've seen here. On Halloween, no less, when ghoulish and garish things are celebrated? I can think of nothing worse than what I've seen here. Not one thing.  Proceed with caution. I'm not sorry I've seen it...only that now I'm left with what can I do? And there's no easy answer here.

Claiming heartache or brokenness at the sight of these images doesn't touch what I really feel here.
It's as though any rose coloured tint left on my glasses has been forever removed. At least, I hope it has. Last warning....honestly...avert your eyes if you aren't ready. If you are, take time. Read the story that accompanies each photo. Let yourself be immersed in them. See the details. The dirt floors. The pain. The rustle of a health worker in a haz mat suit. The sound of grief. The screams of a boy. The blood in the streets. The murmured prayers.  Clarity comes with a very high price.

Images from the front lines of the fight against Ebola.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

"We Stand on Guard for Thee"

O Canada! Our home and native land!

True patriot love in all thy sons command.
With glowing hearts we see thee rise,

The True North strong and free!

From far and wide, O Canada,
We stand on guard for thee.
God keep our land, glorious and free!
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee;
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

Cpl Nathan Carillo did exactly that today. He stood on guard for us. As did countless others, whether in ceremonial dress, fatigues, or in civilian clothing across our nation and overseas. Freedom has never been so costly. My heart goes out to Cpl. Carillo's family. He is our soldier. He is her love. Their son. This child's father. Their friend. Their brother in arms.

I can't begin to fathom the cost to those who loved this young man as the one across the dinner table, the one on the end of funny text messages, the one who was a workout partner or a dog walker, the dad who threw his child in the air or the soldier who made his family proud each time he walked out in that uniform. I can only express my gratitude. For the days and months of unnoticed service, when he stood on guard for my country, hundreds of kilometres away, before I even knew his name.
Thank you, Cpl. Nathan Carillo.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Now. This is happening now.

In my life there has been a very long lists of "I would never's" when it comes to things brave or adventurous or rebellious. I'm not saying that this should be qualified as any of the three but it's definitely been near the top of my list. Let's just say that there are 100+ other places that would top my list of places to visit and most of them don't even involve taken yet more malaria pills. And yet...

I am travelling to India (Kolkata) in Nov. I’ll be there Nov 9-17 with an organization called It’s crazy how it all came about, somewhat loosely through my blog/twitter feed but it feels like this it's an opportunity for learning for me. I am excited about this organization based on the feedback I got to my crazy questions as I evaluated going. I love their model of care - empowering local people to care for those around them living in the slums of Kolkata. It felt familiar when I read it...much like the model of care that I love so much about Hands at Work. 

I was only reluctant to go because I’m afraid. I'm afraid of India. Mostly because I hate crowds, bad smells, curry and bad toilet situations more than anything and India seems to encapsulate all of these beautifully. I also had no funding to go as I had already worked my travel budget for the year and India wasn’t in the plan. But, I always tell people to not let fear or finances get in the way so I have to put my own advice into practice. Oh, how I HATE when that happens.  

I sent out a letter to some friends, looking for back up to back out. In the days that followed, the same messages came back. "Go, you chicken, go." At least, that's how I read them. One friend said that she sensed that God was telling her to buy my ticket, which is unreal because it's no small change to fly overseas. So, no excuse there. 

So, with no good reason other than fear, I signed up. As soon as I hit "send" I broke out in a cold sweat.  I drove home, threw up three times out the door of my Escape en route (my apologies to those of you who live and work on Clarence Ave.) and went to bed with  what I think can safely be called a fear induced migraine. So, I just laid about all the fears I had to God and the one that kept standing out to me the most, which really had nothing to do with India-was the fact that I would be travelling through several airports with connections and I was unfamiliar with any of the airports. I was worried about missing connections and therefore missing meeting up with the team of people I would be travelling with. It was weird because really they were mostly US airports and should not have been as big of an obstacle as they had become.  So, for some reason, that "small" thing was just stuck in my mind and kept my stomach churning. 

On the day that I went to pay for the trip, the travel agent found a cheaper ticket (to the tune of $500 cheaper) that has me travelling alone and meeting up with the team in Mumbai. Now, instead of travelling through new-to-me airports, I fly to Toronto and then on to Heathrow, then on to Mumbai to meet the team. I have spent more time in those two airports and Johannesburg airport than any others…so that was my small (huge) confirmation that maybe God takes care of the details in such a manner because I’m so short sighted in my fears. 

So, that’s it. I’m going to India. Bring on the traveller’s diarrhoea and intestinal issues, I’m in. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Thanks and Giving

Happy Thanksgiving to my fellow Canadians. I have to say, it has been an absolutely gorgeous weekend here in Saskatchewan. I don't remember another fall weekend as beautiful in many years. There is much to be thankful for and not the least of which was the ability to be outside and soak up the sunshine, walk to the river with the dog, run through the trees and sit in the long grass...all things that seem to fill me up.

It's 2 am and I can't sleep. Not that that's too unusual but even now, I'm so very aware of all that is good in my world. I am on the couch and I can see the stars clearly above. There is a night train rumbling past and that's a comforting sound to me for some reason. I've always loved the sound (there it is!!) of the train horn as it tunnels under the highway and towards the level crossings out in the countryside. I think it reminds me of travelling but it also makes me feel like we're not right in the city, that the grid roads and wheat fields are just beyond what we can see. I love the openness of the prairies and I think one of the best parts of living here is the sound of a train or a distant thunder reminding me of what a small part of this world I am.  There's a dog, freshly bathed after swimming in the river today, soft and warm, curled up on my feet and her snoring is quiet and rhythmic. Once in a while she twitches her toes and seems to run in her sleep, chasing a stick that escaped her today or perhaps she dreams of the Bernese mountain dog she befriended out on the path today. The fridge hums and the floor creaks and it's only my mind that is fully awake.

In these past few days, when reminded to be thankful, I am just that.
I have a family who loves me. Two boys who are healthy and happy and thriving. A husband who loves me and takes such great care of our family. And a dog sleeping on my feet. There are friends near and far who we know we can count on. There's food in the cupboard and water running through the pipes. And all that is far more than we deserve.

I need to remember these things. They're not small.  I hope you can store up a bit of what you are thankful for and revisit it in the coming weeks. And for those you are thankful for, I hope that you tell them. I'm thankful for each of you who come by the blog and read and comment and question.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Living without Crutches

Last night, I worked a concert here in the city. It was a young pop star whose audience basically consists of young pre-teen and teenaged girls and their obligated mothers. Sometimes, as security at these shows, we are bound to enforce rules that the artist or his/her promoter has for the audience. Last night, for the first time ever since I've worked there, we were asked as security to enforce the "No Photography" rule. Now, to be fair, this is actually always in place, it's printed on tickets and you agree to it when you buy the ticket. But, seriously, in this day of cellphones in hand, it's pretty much impossible to expect that people wouldn't snap a pic or a video at a concert. So, with great trepidation, we set out to let people know that their fave artist had asked for no photography. So many people were very, very respectful to us. Yet, there is always, always those that aren't. And last night was no exception. I had one lady who basically video'ed the whole concert and had several good shots of my back because I was standing right in front of her and had asked her not to. Right or wrong, after asking her several times, I just didn't have it in me to hound her. I did however wonder about her enjoyment of the concert. I mean, we were in the back of the arena, not close enough for good footage and too dark/far for a flash to work, even if she'd had one. And she watched the whole concert, I mean, literally, save for about 5 - 10 mins where she complied with our request not to video, through the 4x5 inch screen of her iPhone. Why would you pay to go to a live concert and then watch the whole thing through your small screen. She didn't dance or clap or cheer or sing along once. She seemed more concerned with her battery life than the real one going on around her. I beginning to think that technology is holding us far more captive than we imagine. And ironically, we won't be able to imagine if we keep letting it keep us in that space.

Earlier in the day, my friend, Jessi and I travelled out to a small town about an hour away and spoke to a couple classes of grade six and seven students about Africa. It's somewhat intimidating in that these students are learning a lot about Africa, the continent, and yet we were asked to share some of our experiences of having travelled and volunteered in Zambia.

We arrived to the classroom and there were about 40 students, half sitting on the floor, half in desks, waiting for us. We went to plug in our computer and set up the projector for the photos we had prepared and it quickly became apparent that technology was not going to be our friend. Not surprising, given my technological giftedness, but still, it left us a little breathless with panic thinking, now what? As a couple of teachers tried to figure out the intricacies of our Mac, Jessi and I introduced ourselves and began just chatting with the kids. We asked them what they knew about Africa and were quickly school in the topography and the climate, the populations and the diversity of the continent. I'm not going to lie, the intimidation factor went up about a thousand percent at that point. What could we teach?  But, without photos or technology to back us up, we began to tell the stories of the people that we encounter when volunteering in the communities that we work in. We had brought a few props along, some Zambian kwachaa, a cooker, a wooden nshima spoon, and most popular, a handmade soccer ball. The kids were more excited than I had expected to handle some of these things and they asked some great questions. My favourite was from a fresh faced young girl in the front row who asked if I had any special friends now in Zambia. I felt like that was the heart of the stories we were telling.

The things we see in our little corner of Zambia are not indicative of Africa as a whole. They are repeated with slight variations on the same stories throughout Africa, but there is so much more to this beautiful continent, and we emphasized that much as speaking about kids and life in Saskatoon isn't a real representation of kids and life in Tenessee or in Mexico city. The kids got it. And we watched them process parts of it and ask great questions. When we spoke about schools and how kids sat for hours on dirt floors or shared benches, pointing out that the kids on the floor were just beginning to squirm with discomfort after only 30 mins, you could see the connections being made. When we talked about children having to bring their younger siblings to school because there was no one home to care for them, and that a class the size of the one we were in having at least 2-3 infants in the room as well, you could see them wondering about what that would be like.

About 7 mins before the class ended, one of the teachers rigged his iPad to video our slide show and project it onto the projector and suddenly, with the ingenuity and improvised technology, the photos of who and what we spoke of were right in front of the kids. In the end, I think that the kids were able to formulate and process much of what we spoke because they weren't spoon fed the images or our limited focus. The photos probably only fine-tuned the images that they had to imagine without the crutch of photographic evidence. And that's learning.

Monday, October 6, 2014

...and This Boy's Too.

"Ah Easton". Usually said with a sigh or a shake of the head or most often with shock and laughter. Such is life with this boy. He's so unbelievably weird and wonderful and unexpected that I often can't believe he's mine. And yet, he is. Thankfully so. From the time he was small, wearing only a cape and a pull-up, this kid has embraced his own individuality with such tenacity. He's not content to blend in and his humour and his honesty and dare I say, his gorgeous little face...would never allow him to anyway! He lives to quote music and movie dialogue and has something for every situation. He can remember the minutest details from movies he's seen years before, but can't remember to brush his teeth on a regular basis. He is filled with compassion and has an insight into social justice issues that teaches me something new nearly every day. He pushes me to be better and more engaged in our world because his expectations for the world he's going to inherit are high. He isn't afraid to play and dream and wander, nor is he afraid to stand up for what's right or someone who needs a hand. I love this about him. It's challenging and entertaining to have such a human under your roof, one who hears your ideals and then holds you to them. One who dreams huge dreams and then wants company in chasing them. One who asks for the seemingly impossible and won't take no for an answer. I like this kid...even if he drags me places and teaches me things I've never wanted to know. Like how to construct a Starlord costume from out of meagre scraps for his FanExpo adventures. Or the kind of things you are not allowed to tamper with when time travelling.

These days, there's still costumes and capes, weapons and masks whenever possible, but there's also an abundance of art and humour coming out of this boy's life. Drawing, acting, writing...he's often only constrained by time and the need to eat and sleep and sadly, go to school. His biggest complaint in life is that there's not enough time to just "be" and I hear him on that. If I had my way, I'd let him "be" all he wants and watch where it takes him. It's been an incredible 13 years with this boy in our life. He brought his own energy and creativity and enthusiasm into our home and we've never been the same.

Happy Birthday Easton. I am praying that the three things you've set out to be in life come to be, but wherever life takes you, I'm excited to be part of it because our world will be all the better for having you. It already is. So glad you're ours.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

This Boy's Mother

Of all the titles and things I've been called in my life, the most precious is to be this boy's mother. 16 years ago, our long awaited first child made his way into the world in a manner we've become very used to. Casual, cool, not without coaxing...and well worth the wait. 

In that hospital room, in the middle of the night, after a day with Jason and others, acquainting ourselves with his toes and his nose, his earlobes and elbows...I found myself alone with a small squishy faced boy who stared at me unblinkingly as if he were trying to acquaint himself equally with me from the outside.  I laid him on the bed, wrapped in a flannel sheet, and we stared at each other for a long time in the dim light from the hallway. I told him all the things I hoped for him...most of all that he would be happy and make others happy as well. That he would be filled with mercy and strength to be a leader in our world. And that he would know how very deeply he was loved and how much he was wanted by his dad and I. 

16 years later, I think back this morning on that little heart to heart with a little bundle that fit in one arm and who now towers above me at 6'2" and with those same eyes that can make me do nearly anything he wishes. This morning, I sent him off to high school, learning french, playing football, making friends on the same kind of windy, blustery fall day that welcomed him to this world. And I realize, all the things I asked of him in those middle of the night hours have come to be. He is compassionate and happy. He's a leader and equally comfortable in the goal net or in the streets of Mulenga, completely mobbed by the children whose names he remembers and who he plays tirelessly with. He wears many hats - he's a student and an employee, a volunteer and an advocate. He's a goofball friend and a sincere learner. He's a leader even when he's not mindful of it. He's the nut bar cousin of 7 amazing kids and he's a grandson and a nephew...but most of all, he's my son. And I'm so thankful. 

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Using Our Voices

The past couple evenings, our home phone has been ringing at odd hours. We'd given up racing down for the phone and let the answering machine pick up in the night. This morning, I was baking in the kitchen, hands deep in dough, when the phone rang. I quickly rinsed my hands, hit mute on the soundtrack I had playing, and picked up, only to hear that familiar lapse and click that often indicates you've run for the phone only to be the target of a telemarketer. I somewhat impatiently said "Hello" and then I heard a raspy voice over the line. At first, I didn't know who it was but I believed it to be the husband of a dear friend in Zambia who often places the call and then puts her on the line. Today though, a few sentences in, I realized it was my friend, Reuben.

Reuben was calling on behalf of the family of the friend I assumed it was, asking us to please pray with them. They don't speak English confidently so Reuben was calling to explain their situation.  Over the past few months, they have been harassed by the original owner of the land that they purchased 7 years ago in Mulenga. They have lived there and built a small home there and have been raising their 5 children on that piece of land since I've known them. In the past few months, the original owner has been demanding more money from them, stating that they had not purchased the land, that they had only paid for a lease/rental of the land. Now, the owner wants the land, and subsequently the small home they've built for themselves on it, back.

At first glance, it's about money and greed. On a deeper level, it's about corruption and the instability and vulnerability of even the hardest working families. This little family has worked hard, paid for a piece of land, slowly built a small home over the years, such as it is...and just faithfully put down roots and done their best to care for their children and one another. And yet, they are vulnerable to the greed and whims of those who would exploit them.

On an even more incredulous level, it's about the love of the Reuben for his neighbours. As we talked and he gave me the news, I asked him if he was well. He sounded hoarse to me and I asked if he had been coughing or sick. He said no, he had been up all night for the past few nights, praying for this family, for the needs of his neighbours around him, for the community based organization of care workers that he is leading and for the procurement of land for them to build a larger school in the community. He has lost his voice on behalf of his community. Oh. Indeed.

I should demand that we all take one night, pull an all nighter and pray with Reuben for these things. What I will ask, is give it more time that you think you can afford. And remember that whatever we offer, is less than a small man with a gigantic faith is pulling off every night, while his days are filled with children looking to be fed, widows looking for sustenance, and families looking for stability. If anyone doesn't have the extra energy or ability to lose sleep, it's this man. And yet.

So please pray with Reuben. For this family to retain their land and for the community council to see the original landowner for his exploitive behaviour. And pray for Reuben. That his health would be good and that he would continue to be such a beautiful example to others in his community.

UPDATE: September 30th - I had a text message today from this family saying that they must go to the council for a decision on October 3rd. Please keep them in your prayers. Everything they have worked for is at risk...their home, their security and their kids' stability in a very vulnerable community. Thank you.

UPDATE: Oct 4th - this morning, this family called and told me that their meeting with the council has been delayed until Oct. 31. They are super thankful for all the people who are praying for them, and they ask that we please continue. They are hopeful that they will be able to keep the house and land that they've worked so hard for.  They were very upbeat and it was lovely to hear their voices!