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.