Monday, June 29, 2015

Thank You

Thank you so much to all of you who have dropped me a note or encouragement or solidarity with the post Speaking of Pride. I know that not everyone agrees with me and that's ok. I had a taste of it back when I wrote a post a while ago about participating in the pride parade. I, like many, like to be right over wrong, smart over dumb. Now,  I am finding a way to be okay with disagreement and respectfully allowing people to share their opinions. It's all about discussion and learning and openness anyway, isn't it? I read something yesterday from Donald Miller's new book "Scary Close" and with great apologies to my friend, Jessi, who loaned me her copy, I read it while floating in my friend Margie's pool which she so generously offered me the use of while she is on holiday.  (Let's just pause a moment in gratitude for amazing friends!) It's a salt water pool, and it's a good thing, because I topped it up with some tears of my own yesterday.

In his book, which I prematurely and incorrectly said I didn't love as much as his others, Donald has a chapter that I'm not sure if I missed the first time through or if it just wasn't in the book I read the first time through (ahem). I may have been skimming but the chapter is called "The Risk of Being Careful" and wow, did it ever cause something to break free in me yesterday floating around the pool in 30+ degree heat. So, tears streaming, salt water to salt water, I read this list of freedoms that Donald wrote for himself in regards to his writing. It reads: 
I am willing to sound dumb. I am willing to be wrong. I am willing to be passionate about something that isn't perceived as cool. I am willing to express a theory. I am willing to admit I'm afraid. I'm willing to contradict something I've said before. I'm willing to have a knee-jerk reaction, even a wrong one. I'm willing to apologize. I'm willing to be perfectly human.
This is what I felt the other day writing the post on celebrating gay marriage. It felt like a risk. It felt like I was contradicting something I used to believe. Wow to Donald Miller for writing what over the last 24 hours has become a mantra, replaying itself over and over in my head like a soothing voice to my own anxious humanity. The truth is, it was freedom for me to express the truth of what I feel and what I sometimes hide knowing in some circles it's unpopular, antagonistic and downright blasphemy. Yet, the people who responded in kind are some of the people I respect most in this world from all walks of life and that in itself seemed to confirm that the feelings I have are shared and celebrated by many. I wanted to punch myself in the face a little, for how painfully slow I am to catch on to these things in myself. Why on earth would I write a blog anyway if not to speak the truth and my thoughts freely? I don't have to edit myself for safety or acceptance. No one should have to - not in marriage, not in love, not in life - especially not someone like me who has the freedom to speak and write freely simply because of where I was born. To not exercise that freedom is foolishness. I'm such a slow learner.

This list of freedoms, so apt, catapulted this latest book up to the level of his last one, A Million Miles in a Single Step, in which I found myself over and over again repeating, "I'm a tree in a story about a forest."  He really does come up with a few very pointed and defining sentences on a regular basis.

So, laying in Margie's pool, thankful for the friendship that has spanned the years since high school, the distance of separate provinces, separate countries and 8 kids between us...and let's remind everyone, I only have 2... I felt a reminder that if I'm worthy of her friendship amidst the obstacles, I can cut myself a little slack now and then and embrace my inadequacies just as my friends do. And truly, this week, through discussions and questions, comments and texted arguments en route to backyard bbq's, I understand a little more that it's ok to be dumb or wrong or passionate or afraid. And that being those things doesn't exclude you from the right to be loved and disagreed with simultaneously. I'm surrounded by people who love me and have at one time or another probably muttered, "Oh my gosh, she's dumb" or "Seriously, you believe that?" out loud...I'm thinking of you Jacqueline Nadon. I'm thankful for friends who think differently than me, who challenge me and who applaud me when I finally get it right, and laugh with (at) me when I don't. I wish that was a requirement for all who huddle in to likeminded circles and just affirm their collective much they miss out on.

So, Jessi, my dear friend, I loved the book so much that I'm buying you a brand new copy for your very own. And it has nothing to do with the fact that your copy is now dog eared, tear stained and perhaps spent a little time of its own, floating around the pool in Margie's backyard.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Speaking of Pride

This is the first time I've sat down to write a post where I feel the need to make a disclaimer.
You know that something is lodged in my throat if that's the case, but here goes.

When I write, I write MY beliefs. My own. Not that of my employer (a church) or the organizations I represent or even my own husband or kids. I speak my own thoughts and no one else's. So, if you take issue, take issue with me. And this part is for my American friends... May cause your head to explode, your heart to expand, your blood pressure to rise...please only read on under the advisement of your own physician. My name is Shelly VanBinsbergen and I approve this message. 

So, we are. And here's the most inflammatory thing I'll probably ever say in my lifetime.


And it is not always easy to say this, particularly for a citizen of a country that is often referred to as "America's Hat" but I am inordinately proud of the Supreme Court decision today to recognize the legal union of gay couples.

And while I have already had numerous reactions to my post of the same flavour on my Facebook, I will say it here and be clear. I am a whole hearted supporter of gay marriage as a civil rights issue. I feel strongly that when two people commit to each other to be a couple, regardless of gender, that they should be afforded the same rights as other couples when it comes to speaking on behalf of their loved one in emergency and health situations, that they can be confident that they are able to remain the parent of their child even if their partner passes away and they are not biologically related. I think that even if I'm wrong about what little the Bible says about homosexuality, that the amount it speaks to about love and caring for one another and showing mercy and giving up our rights for those of others? Those are enough to convince me that love should win. Every time. Regardless. A mother's love for a child. A brother's love for his girlfriend. Or a father's love for his boyfriend. Love is love is love. And I know, some of you take issue only with the idea of this union being called marriage, because we somehow want the corner on that market? And for those of you who rattle off the indignant remarks about marriage and sanctity and biblical mandates, etc. are we doing folks? How ARE we doing in a world where the divorce rate is equal or greater in marriages that claim to be Christian?  Let's reflect on that. But, I'm not saying we should throw up our hands and give up on biblical marriage. It's just that it's not for the faint of heart and neither do we have the corner on love and marriage as Christians. Muslims marry. Agnostics marry. Hindus marry. C'mon. How many hills are you going to die on for this one?

Here's what struck me about this particular post today. I post numerous stories a week on the poor, the orphaned, the vulnerable. I constantly speak on behalf of those who have no voice. I am NOT pointing fingers or divulging names when I say this, but not one person who  questioned my stance as a Christian today, has ever asked me a single thing about how to help those who have nothing, those who are hurting, those who are living under the threat of death daily. God speaks far more about the poor and the orphaned and the widow, and how we are to care for our neighbours, than he does about our sexuality and our stance on government endorsed unions. I'm not saying that those people don't do their share for the poor, I'm just finding it an interesting observation that this is the only issue they've ever chosen to dialogue with me about. But, not mistake this...I invite the dialogue. I do. You're just going to have to be comfortable with a lot of "I don't know's" and "I'm not sure but I feel like this..."

So, I know I'm on thin ice, if not already floating out to sea on a melting iceberg of theology, but pick your battles people. Side with love, whatever that looks like. Astonishingly, it will find a way. Perfect love. Once we achieve that, then I think maybe then we can speak into what it looks like in others' lives.

Perfect love is this:

It never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn't want what it doesn't have.
Love doesn't strut.
Doesn't have a swelled head.
Doesn't force itself on others.
Isn't always "me first"
Doesn't fly off the handle.
Doesn't keep score of the sins of others.
Doesn't revel when others grovel.
Takes pleasure in the flowering of the truth.
Puts up with anything.
Trusts God always.
Always looks for the best.
Never looks back.
But keeps going to the end.

I'm not there yet. So, I'm not going to speak into how others should define their love.
I'm always going to fight for equality and civil rights, even when it doesn't agree with me.
I'm going to risk for it. And above all, I'm going to trust God in it.

If there's one thing about perfect love that I do know, it's that only He exhibits it. So, I'll leave it in His hands. In the meantime, I'm going to celebrate on behalf of some of the most loving people I know. This, in all its imperfect theology, is for you, my gay and transgendered friends, who don't demand perfection from me.  I love you each and am better for having you in my life.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Oranges and Avocados

To say that the care workers in Sukubva and the children there have been on my mind lately is an incredible understatement. As Easton and I plan and fundraise and prepare for our return to Zimbabwe in October, our conversations have been peppered with the names and memories of the people we are so looking forward to seeing again. One of our favourite friends in Zimbabwe is a sweet boy named Dylan, who Easton befriended pretty much immediately in Sukubva.  This morning, we learned we are going to have to wait a little longer to see our friend Dylan again as we got the news that he passed away yesterday, June 21st.

I've written about Angeline before and her son Dylan, and how incredible her love is for this boy. She  reoriented her whole life to serve Dylan when he was born and made unimaginably difficult decisions in order to make sure he knew he felt loved and valued. Angeline is a teacher by training but gave that up to spend her days with Dylan, caring for him physically, exercising his body so that he could grow in strength and loving him fiercely so that he would know how precious he is. When we met Angeline, she had just begun to volunteer with the community based organization in Sukubva. She stayed in a small room on the piece of property that the c.b.o. owns. She organized teaching times and took care of the preschool aged children so that their siblings could attend school in the community. She cares for many children during the day, with Dylan at her side.

While we were in Zimbabwe, it struck me that poverty is incredibly difficult for mothers and children. It's intensified by the thousands if a child is facing health issues or disabilities. Many children are abandoned or neglected if they are sick or mentally disabled. Dylan's mother worked tirelessly to get him the food supplements he needed to allow him to digest nutrients properly, even when it meant going without food for herself or facing long line ups at the clinic. When we were there, I wanted to bring something special for Dylan because we were having lunch together that day. I asked Angeline what he would like and she said that he would like oranges and avocados. The two sitting side by side in my fruit bowl always makes me think of that day.

This is the hard part about investing yourself in the lives of others, near or far. The truth is that when someone you love hurts, you hurt. I know that this night in Sukubva, though it's just morning here, there are tears and pain in the hearts of many we love there. And one mother's heart is grieving the loss of the boy who was never far from it physically, his place on her hip or next to her on the ground, or in the same bed in a small room in Sukubva.

I'm sorry that we have to wait even longer to see our friend, Dylan, again. I'm hanging on to the hope that when we do, he'll be running towards us, with his eyes able to see us, and his voice able to tell us all that he's experienced since he left.

Angeline and Dylan in Sukubva 

Dylan was always ready with a smile for the voices of those he loved

Easton and Dylan getting to know one another in Sukubva,
Dylan began to smile anytime he would hear Easton's voice

Easton and Dylan talking about who knows what. Boy stuff.
My favourite little face in Sukubva....this boy's smile came often and easy...despite
his circumstances. He lived a life filled with love, thanks to his mother, Angeline. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Going Together

Over the past few years, we have somewhat reoriented our life to include travelling to and from Africa. While we have tried to figure out the best way to live out this calling on our lives from this side of the globe, we have definitely run into obstacles and objections.  There are days that go by where we lose sight of the relationship and we allow ourselves to drift back into Canadian culture and find ourselves in the rat race again. While we are in no way even capable of keeping up with the Jones' (whoever they may be...), we often find ourselves having regrets about not being able to take family vacations or a bit of embarassment about the decline of our old couches and slightly shabby shoes. Yet, when you find something you're passionate about, isn't it the truth that for a while, all other things fade and it takes precedence? I mean, who hasn't been in the room with new parents or at the watercooler with someone who is in a new there anything else they speak of? Don't they always find a way to bring the conversation back around to it?

And, so, it is with me. I wonder at times if people get tired of hearing about the work that is going on across Africa with Hands at Work? If so, no one is saying but perhaps there are a few people who slide out of the conversation when it comes up, but I'm okay with that. It's been years since I first set foot in Zambia and my desire to remain connected and continue to advocate for the friends we have there hasn't waned. It's not a passing phase, and if anything, as time goes on, they are dearer and dearer in my heart and encompass more of my time and energy and conversation.

This summer, Jason and Aidan are heading to Cambodia to volunteer with Place of Rescue in Cambodia. In October, Easton and I are heading to Zimbabwe with a team to work in the community where we stayed in 2012 as a family. All of this means a huge financial output and some serious reorientation of our finances as a family with two guys in high school, hockey and every other kind of sport and activity. It means that this year, in lieu of hockey, the guys are travelling and serving. It means that there will be another year of sagging couches and patching seams. And it means that our family will once again be energized by the things that we learn and take away from those whose lives are vastly different than our own, and that the "sacrifices" we make are really not that at all.

The hardest part for me is the constant internal voice asking me how much is enough? How many times can we go before we tap out our friends and families and neighbours interest in supporting this work? How many extra jobs can we take on without sacrificing too much precious time with our boys who are growing up so fast? How much can we take on financially and not be completely irresponsible?

The answer is always the same. Just step into it. The money will come. The time will be there. The work will remain. And it does. I tell people who are often intimidated by the work that the 2 biggest things that stand in the way of people living out their calling are fear and finances. And often, those two things are intrinsically tied together. Safety and security in our culture mean very different things than in other cultures. It's part of our culture to want more, more security, more money in the bank, more freedom to do what we want. Yet, if our calling is to serve others and to spend ourselves and our finances on others, it's counter cultural. And so, we find ourselves swimming against the current of culture yet again.

And the money will come. It comes hand delivered stealthily into our mailbox and it comes in cards mailed and it comes online and it comes in anonymous white envelopes stuck under the windshield wipers of my car in the driveway. And it never, never fails to amaze me. It comes either before, during or after the trip and it comes at exactly the right time, even if I do lose sleep in the meantime. I'm not immune to the worry or the stress of trying to live this way, but I have the past as a reminder that people really do care about the lives of children across the globe and that they love our family and believe in the work that is ongoing. And then I lose sleep because of gratitude and humility and tears at the thought of being in the communities we love and walking alongside the care workers who give of themselves so selflessly day after day with none of the assurances of security that I seem to be so consumed with at times.

A friend of ours told me once, "You're the  'Go'er' and I'm the 'Sender'" and she has supported us in numerous ways over the years whether it's donating prizes for a silent auction or putting together a bucket of change that she's saved up over the year to donate to the work. In many ways, she has been on every trip to Africa I've ever taken. Like you, she may never physically walk the streets of Mulenga or sit at the bedside of an exhausted granny caring for her children's children, but she has been in Africa. She's been around in the heat of the day when the care workers walk for miles to the home of children they've heard are fending for themselves in their community. She's been on the lips of children who pray for those in Canada who provide them with visitors to encourage and support their care workers. She's been squeezed into the taxi vans with far too many others and travelled back and forth into the community to play with the children and tend to their wounds while the care workers prepare their only meal for the day.

You may never have been to Africa but I promise you, we've never gone without you.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Friendship In Fuzzy Slippers

I remember when Jason and I were first married, living in a tiny basement suite in Caronport, SK while he finished his college degree. I was lucky in that when we moved to Caronport, I had a built in support system of young married friends waiting there for me to catch up with. We were in a small group with friends like Jeff and Heidi, Kyle and Kirsten, Kevin and Melanie...all couples that married and who we knew before we moved there. In the course of the year, we travelled with a comedy/drama group (never, never ask me about this....) and I found another dear friend in Tara. At the end of the year, as school came to a close and Jason and I moved back to the Lower Mainland, I had my first lesson in the liturgy of leaving. We packed up our 69 Volkswagen van with our worldly possessions in tow and we headed west. Somewhere just outside of Mortlach, approximately 10 mins down the road, I started to cry uncontrollably. I was grieving the tight knit circle of friendship that allowed me access to the fridges and crockpots, late night movies and mid day coffees of life in a small town. In those days, we rarely picked up the phone but would walk over to one of our friends' homes for a game of cards or a movie or just some sort of homemade snack of some sort with coffee. Those were the days....domestic bliss and no concerns over drinking coffee after 8 pm. We wives sat together watching our husbands play football and hockey, we shared rides to the ER when one of them took a puck to the face, we cleaned up and teased Kirsten, the best cook of all of us, when she came home to the fire department clearing the smoke out of her kitchen and the rest of the four plex in which she lived...when her crockpot chilli became officially became four alarm chili.
Driving away from that little town meant driving away from an idyllic first year of marriage that, though not perfect, was simple enough that it became nearly that in my memory. I cried for the type of life that I thought I wouldn't find in bigger cities and the deep friendships I had found there. In fact, I cried so hard, that my husband of just about ten months, detoured hours out of his way, through Lethbridge, so I could have a few days reprieve with Tara before heading on to our new life on the coast.

Fast forward a few years later, we had been pastoring in a small church in the Okanagan for a few years, with probably some of the most incredible kids we've ever had the privilege of sharing our lives with. Again, a small basement suite with a family upstairs, allowed us to share much of our lives with two amazing girls in our youth group, as well as their younger siblings. Tina and Des were in and out of our lives and house and fridge for the years we lived there and we were so happy to be in such a place where we could just hang out with these girls and their friends pretty much whenever we felt like it. We used to say that when we lived in Westbank, all our friends got out of school at 3. Truthfully, we really did have some of our deepest relationships with the kids from that little church, so much so that when we look at our Facebook feeds today and our fridge, it still has a disproportionate representation of kids, now adults, from those early days. There's something to be said for the freedom we had in those days to fully share our lives with kids and the fact that they are still some of our favourite people in the world to visit and catch up with.  And yet, a few years in, we felt like we needed to move on to another ministry. With incredible pain, we drove out of Westbank, both just sick at heart with the leaving, knowing even then that what we were giving up could only be called "the good old days" when we look back in the future. A different kind of leaving but there were holes in our lives just the same.

Not long after, another leaving and we found ourselves back in Caronport. Jason enrolled in seminary, me very pregnant with Aidan. We moved into a little duplex, one of our first homes where we lived above ground....and when we arrived in Caronport, our small group, including Tara and her now husband, Perry, had arranged for all our stuff to be unpacked and in the house when we arrived. I felt immediately at home. Our friends, Kevin and Mel were right across the street and over the course of the year, I met women, including Danielle and Charlene, who would become some of my best friends. In the years that followed, we were involved with college kids and our home once again was filled with young adults and even some of our beloved Westbank kids. What a treat it was to have Des and Chris in our home again, exchanging meals and laundry for babysitting Aidan. Mel and I began a tradition of watching ER in our pi's once the kids were in bed. We would get comfy and then settle in at one of our houses with the baby monitor on in the other and we would watch our show together. We would carpool into Moose Jaw for groceries with Tara or Char and we would gather as moms in a little hall on campus to let our kids play and for us to have coffee together. It was there that the friendships I had longed for were reintroduced to me and they only got richer. Then the leaving season began again, even though it wasn't our turn. Danielle and her family moved into Moose Jaw, Charlene and her family moved out west. Again, I had to figure out the appropriate way to grieve those close friendships. And then, it was our turn. And again, my friend Melanie and I hugged goodbye, and she had to watch me cry my way out of town yet again. I remember telling her that what I was going to miss the most was having the kind of friendship where you can run across the road in your pyjamas and it seems completely normal. It seemed to me the mark of deep friendship.

We found ourselves welcomed into a church in Sparks, Nevada and again, thankfully, we were able to find ourselves a community of friendships that filled some of the empty spots in our life. Pregnant again, because what would a job search and an international move be without the added pressure of a new life to support....I was surrounded by amazing women who reached out and just plus one'd me to their circle of friends. It never fails to astound me how there are gaps in our lives that only one person can fill but how groups of friends seem to share that load and cover what they can. Suddenly there was a Maria and a Dana, Lycia, Lisa and Misty, Sheri and Robin. And the gap closed and my life was full again - of love and laughter and women in pyjamas - on overnights to San Francisco or retreats in the mountains of Nevada City or even just across the road. Robin lived across the road and I would send Aidan, now four, running to her house to ask to borrow whatever it was I had forgotten at the store. One time, I sent him for pepper and as I stood at the window, watching him run back, pepper shaker in hand, pumping his arms and running with all his might, I realized he was shaking pepper into the air and then running into it. Thankfully, his eyes were screwed up tight in his running stance but he still managed to get eyes and a mouth full of pepper and so ended the errand running chore for Aidan.

We spent six years in Nevada and it was a place we felt completely at home, despite the fact that we were clearly un-American in our lack of flag on the front porch. When it came time to leave Sparks, I kid you not, it was my undoing. I have never experienced such a raw wound as having to leave Nevada tore in me. Jason drove the packed Uhaul truck in front of me, driving in our raggedy old Jeep, and I cried from the state line of Nevada until we hit the southern Oregon border. It was three states and about 5 boxes of tissues on the floorboards before we stopped for the night, and I could hardly see for how puffy my eyes were. It wasn't an easy leaving and our lives were completely upside down, and the last thing I remember seeing was Robin breaking down on her driveway as I rounded the corner of the cul de sac, not knowing when I would see her again.

The thing I've learned is this. There is a liturgy in leaving that should involve celebration and mourning. It's a little snapshot of life - where there is the beauty of love and laughter and life and on the edge of that, the pain and loneliness of facing separation. Whether you lose someone to death or distance, there is always going to be a grieving period until you figure out the new normal without the day to day of that presence in your life. When I left Robin in her driveway, we both knew that our friendship would stand the distance, simply because it was strong. And it has. Nearly 8 years later, she's still one of my go to girls for life advice. As is Charlene, nearly 17 years later, and a short but essential list of others I am fortunate enough to have for reference sake when I lose who I am. And I do tend to do that, I tend to reinvent or forget my own self when I am disoriented and settling for less than what was set out for me.

Yesterday, I was reminded of the marker of friendship that I had once mourned. I had spent the evening on the back deck with my friend, Deb, across the street. Drinking wine and talking family and work...she asked me to come back in the morning, she needed to talk about something when the kids were at school. So, the next morning, we both sent the kids off to school and she sent a text telling me that coffee was on so I threw on the day before's clothing and headed across the street, mug in hand, with bedhead and no makeup. I walked in the door, about to excuse my appearance, when I saw her. Fuzzy housecoat, hair back in a headband, no make up. No excuses necessary. We laughed about it and then we hit the deck. And we delved into a tough subject and we talked it through. And walking back to my place, an hour or so later, I realized, that here I was, back in a place where friendships aren't iron clad. They're pyjama clad.