Saturday, May 23, 2015

Extra Ordinary Days

Yesterday, I found myself at a table, surrounded by a group of pretty incredible women. My buddy Deb, her amazing mom Mary, my friend from book club, Judy, and then my friend, Jan and her wife, Debbie. If that alone had been the agenda, I would have signed up just to spend the day with these women. Firefighters, paramedics, an incredible woman who pulls together home lotteries to fundraise for hospitals, a store owner, a business owner...but those are just their roles, as we discovered together through a seminar called "How to Lead An Extraordinary Life".

Throughout the day, we were asked to really examine our own lives, our priorities, our fears, our hopes and our passions. If you had asked me to sign up for that agenda, I probably would not have signed up. At one point, early in the morning, when we were told we needed to get up and hug as many women in the room as possible, I totally admit that I mouthed, "I hate you" to my beautiful friend, Deb, who had invited me. I started to shake and twitch and heaven help me, sweat a little and even blush. Ridiculous, right? But, that's me in that setting. Thankfully, Jan's wife, Debbie looked as uncomfortable as me as maybe did ONE other woman in the room. What is it with women? Suddenly, though I clung as close to my chair, wedged between two tables, as awkward to get to as I felt, I was being hugged by complete strangers. What really choked me is that I saw Debbie escape to the bathroom and I reminded myself to follow that wise woman next time we were in any uncomfortable setting. But, this time, I was at the mercy of a hundred (it felt like) happy huggers. I lived. That in itself was extraordinary.

Though I feel like I'm pretty self aware, I know that I am also my own worst critic, often irrationally so. Many women are. I tell you though, we were asked to write 10 things we like about ourselves and it took me the full amount of time. Not because I was honestly short of things to write, I mean, I do have some decent qualities, it was more that it was awkward to write them down about myself. One of the women at our table though, seriously, just rattled off a list of 10 and then looked at the rest of us like she couldn't believe we were still trying to figure it out! I loved that. It actually was a huge moment for me in the seminar and it came from our table, not from the front.

I think that part of what I took away yesterday is that if I can surround myself with an amazing group of friends and family such as the people I was with yesterday, I can't help but be inspired to live a better life.  I was still thinking about it this morning as I texted Deb saying, "I just had caramel popcorn for breakfast and now I'm cleaning up dog barf. I'm living the extraordinary life!!"  Of course, the truth is that not every moment can be extraordinary or that would become the mundane.
The reality is though, that if we fill up our lives with the dutiful and the mundane, we may miss out on the extraordinary. Not always, for sometimes extraordinary comes in the midst of the mundane, but as a rule, we often push off our passions and our dreams for the duty and the day to day.

Deb mentioned to me last night that we had been talking about getting out on the paddle boards a lot this week. The weather was supposed to be incredible today, though we were a little afraid of how cold the river would still be, given that we just got rid of frost warnings last week, but, we made a plan to go out and paddle today.  Saturdays are busy and the kids are home and the husbands are working and I had other things to take care I thought, if Deb doesn't mention it, I'll let it go.
Then my neighbour, Bobby, who really does live quite an extraordinary life, though he's young and choosing to now live it in a much nicer place, came by to pick up the last of the things from the house he just sold across the street from us. We chatted for a few minutes and then he said to me, "I talked to Deb last night. She said you guys were going out on the river! Do NOT let her off the hook. You guys need to get out there."  It made me kind of glad the smartypants was leaving the neighbourhood. (Just kidding, you man.) So, responded to a text from Deb, we set a time, I got the basic work stuff I had to get done, done and by 1:30 pm we were on the river, giddy as schoolgirls, paddling for the first time this year after a long winter of longing for it. It took us a while even to settle into it because we were just so pumped to be doing it.

Somewhere along the way, we paddled into a side arm of the river, carried mostly by the current and the two of us sat on our boards and let the current take us. We were completely quiet. Deb told me after she was working on a breathing exercise we had learned yesterday. I was listening in a way that I learned yesterday - starting from the farthest off noises to those that come from your own breathing and heartbeat. I honestly could have listened to the sound of the nose of my board meeting the water for the entire day.  It was so restful.  Crazily though, in the midst of the peaceful float, we heard the hugest splash right behind our boards, and looked to see the ripples. I instantly thought we were under attack, because that happens a lot in rural Saskatchewan, paddle boarders are attacked while floating down the middle of the river far from anywhere. Deb realized pretty quickly that it was a beaver. Clearly, imagination wasn't on her list of good qualities like it was on mine. The Beav, as I have now named him,  had probably come up on us thinking we were logs, just floating along. Or he was warning other beavers of our imminent arrival, either way, he was loud and disruptive but it was just funny. Who gets jerked out of their reverie by a belligerent beaver? He surfaced a distance behind us and then disappeared as we floated farther away.  Talk about an extraordinary day.

And that's probably the nitty gritty truth of it all. That extraordinary comes in the midst of the mundane, it can be your quiet, meditative moments or it can be the thing that jerks you out of it. It can be the balance of a morning of dog vomit and caramel corn, weeding and sweeping and then finding yourself in the middle of a river, floating along with only the water and your board beneath you.

I think that many of us live extraordinary lives. I know I when I am mindful, I can see it. But, we need to be reminded at times to look for it, and if it takes to long to search out, perhaps we need to make it a little more readily visible, if only to our own eyes.

It was an extraordinary day. Though we may replicate many of the elements of it, dog vomit exempted, there will never be another just like it. So, I'm storing this one up for when I need to be reminded.

Thursday, May 21, 2015


I just wanted to share a few of my favourite photos of Nkosi...
if you'd like one for your own collection, feel free to copy them.
With love, Shelly

When I think of Nkosi, this is one of my favourite pics. We held a camp at Kachele for the kids
and the care workers from Mulenga. Nkosi came out and sat and "watched" the children play games in the
field, and was just so present and available. I didn't know then how indicative this was of who he was. 

Nkosi in 2009, proudly wearing his Breakthrough Home Based Care shirt

Nkosi listening to the children at the camp around his table. 2009

Nkosi with fellow care workers, Reuben and Evalyn in the streets of Mulenga. 2009.

Nkosi and Mildred 2009 at Kachele Farm

Nkosi in 2012, always smiling his gentle smile, even when his eyes couldn't see you,
they smiled too.

Those same boys from our first camp, years later, in 2012 still flanking Nkosi. Redson (Junior),
 Hackim and Emmanuel have all grown up with Nkosi in their lives. They'll miss him dearly, pray for these boys. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

A Light in the Dark

Early this morning, well, more the middle of the night really, I was awake to see my phone light up across the room. It only lasted a second and normally I wouldn't leave the bed to check it, but I did. I had a message from my friend, Ashley, who is serving with Hands at Work in Zambia right now. She was letting me know that our dear friend, Nkosi, had passed away in Mulenga.

If you've been following the blog or in my vicinity since my first trip to Mulenga, you'll know how deeply impacted I've been by this man. A Malawian who somehow wound up in Mulenga, Zambia, Nkosi was an older man when I first met him. He wasn't exactly sure of his age but he wasn't young. He was going blind and walked with a stick or on the arm of one of the other care workers. He lived, at the time, in one small room, with only a chair, that he slept upright in,  and a few meagre belongings, but you would think he was the world's wealthiest man from his joy and contentment.  The first time I met him, I realized he was very special if only from the way that others responded to him. He was well loved in his community and had a smile and something encouraging to say to everyone. He took time with everyone and asked real questions to get to know you.

A year later, on a return trip, I spent more time with Nkosi in Mulenga. His sight was deteriorating until he could only see shapes and shadows, yet the moment I said hello, he knew it was me and we just picked up where we had left off. He still sang and clapped and danced as the care workers worshipped before going off on home visits. Nkosi too, at that time, still walked the crooked, uneven paths of Mulenga to visit children and make sure they were safe and care for in their homes. I think this trip, I recognized the amazing gift of Nkosi to this community and made time to be around him. He's one of those people that you see joy radiating out of and you want to just catch a bit of that light for your own.

A few years later, I returned with my boys and with Jason. Introducing the boys to Nkosi was such a beautiful moment for me. He immediately began to call them "his boys" and inquired after them whenever we would come into the community in the time that we stayed there. He loved Easton's name and knew Aidan's voice by heart. Nothing made my heart happier than seeing Easton, just 10, leading Nkosi up the path on his arm, chatting all the while, with no regard to language barriers.  Nkosi treated them as "his kids" just as he did all the kids at the care point. He now got around mostly with the help of some of the boys who grew up under his care over the years, at the care point.  He didn't often go on home visits anymore but would sit at the care point while the children came to eat and he would be surrounded by the older boys who would hang on his words and laugh at his jokes and generally just soaked up being around him. His eyes were sightless now and yet, he knew each child by the sound of their voice, recognized their laughter and could stop a squabble with a tap of his stick on the ground in the general direction of any conflict.  He sat with his legs crossed, his arms folded and listened intently, observing all that went on around him with the senses he had left at his disposal. He still spoke such encouragement, particularly to the boys who were growing up around him and to the other care workers.  Many times, I spent sat on the floor of the care point with several care workers and Nkosi, after the children returned to school, and he would take some of the littlest ones by the hand and play with them or he would sing and smile at whoever happened to be in the vicinity to receive his love.

In between that month + in Mulenga and my visit last year, Nkosi had suffered a stroke. Not faring well on his own, Elizabeth, another of the care workers, took him into her home, made him a bed and cared for him as her own brother.  There were fears at first that he was not going to recover, but recover he did and even though physically he was weaker and in pain, his inner strength and faith and joy grew even stronger. On good days, he would visit with the kids and be available to talk and pray. On bad days, he would pray from his bed and encourage whoever came to visit him. His mind was foggy but his faith was crystal clear and he spoke with the urgency of a man who recognized that his life was to be spent sharing what he had learned about the God he loved.

I last saw Nkosi nearly a year ago. When our team arrived in Mulenga, we were greeted and set to work, and I went straight away to see my old friend.  He was having a pretty good day, though he repeated himself often, but upon reflection perhaps that was something greater than himself. For the words he repeated were ones of love for us and for our family and for our work in Mulenga. He apologized for not showing us his love by coming to visit us when we came to visit him so often. We knew his heart was to remind us that though he had no conventional way of showing us his love, he was going to make sure we heard it straight from his lips. He continued to pour encouragement on Aidan and Kim and I as we sat near him at his bedside. I held his hand and we had a short but good visit, one I knew in my heart would be my last with him. When we left, I hugged him goodbye and I thanked him for all the lessons he had taught me. His goodbye to me was to tell me to greet "his Jason and his Easton" for him and to thank me for bringing "his Aidan"...those things further cementing his place in my heart for loving my family.

Knowing that he's gone leaves a giant hole right now, but it is also an incredible reminder that I need to believe what I say I believe - that a blind man can now see. That the weak are made strong. That there are no more tears, no pain, no suffering. How can I not celebrate the passing of Nkosi from the difficult and impoverished life he lived to the rich and rewarding one he deserves. I'm just mindful that celebration can involve tears and today, I just miss the guy.

Nkosi plays with Mattie, Cleopatra's baby, while we rest after the noon meal at the care point.
To me, this is the essence of Nkosi...caring, gentle and laughing while showing love.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

A Gray May

May has really started out a little greyer than usual in our house. It's not the weather, for once, we don't have anything to complain about there. And being from the prairies, that's not normal. Neither is having two family members having brain surgeries within weeks of each other, but since when have we been normal? 

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my brother, Dero, here, who had undergone his third brain surgery in an attempt to once again, slow the growth of a tumour that he has been dealing with for several years. The pesky thing just keeps coming back and inhabiting the cosy little cave that has been carved out for it. Unfortunately, that means having to go in and evict the thing when it threatens to spread out.

Thankfully, my brother is doing well and feeling good and on the road to a full recovery. 

And then there's my nephew, Mac. He's a pretty cool kid (don't tell him I said that) but unfortunately for him, what he thought were headaches and side effects from a hockey concussion actually turned out to be a nasty brain tumour as well. So, last year, he had it removed and carried on living life to the fullest in the way that only teenaged boys can do...playing hockey, going to school, jet setting around Europe on his class trip....only to find out in a recent MRI that the tumour had, as well, been living life to the fullest and now had grown back into the cozy little cave that had been carved out for it. Eerily similar and yet unrelated. So, this week, on Monday, Mac had his second craniotomy and today, Thursday, he's home and resting up for return to full life living, graduation and whatever the summer brings his way. 

I didn't know there was such a thing as Brain Tumour Awareness month but apparently even before our family had been affected, there are so many others. Our dear friends lost their Dad this year to a brain tumour. A friend told me that her mother and mother in law both had to have brain surgeries to fight tumours. Is it one of those things that once it happens to you, you hear it everywhere? Like when you're pregnant and suddenly it seems everyone around you from the gas station attendant to the receptionist at the obstetrician's office is having a baby? I don't know...I hope it is that I'm just more open to seeing and hearing the stories, and yet, it seems pretty prevalent. Especially if it accounts for 20-25% of all primary paediatric cancers? Those are frightening statistics. 

I'm not asking anything of you here. I'm just putting it out there. If lightning can strike twice in our family, then just be aware. Be proactive. Don't procrastinate on checking out symptoms you may be having or hearing your friends or family mentioning. That's it. Just a public service announcement, friends, for no reason other than I really, really like you guys.