Thursday, March 31, 2016

Heartache in The City of Joy

From One Life International:

Our hearts are very heavy this morning. We’re thankful to have word that our staff and current trip members are safe, but are thinking about and praying for all involved.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Lessons From Outside the Service

This week, as Easter approached, life just got busier and busier. I wasn't even sure how to take the time out to acknowledge was is supposed to be the most important holiday of the Christian faith. All I knew as it was closing in was that my boys were going to be around, Jason was coming home and some family was coming in for the weekend, which all sounded incredibly good to me. Alas, I work for a church and that means we ramp things UP for important days like Easter and so gearing up and anticipating Sunday's service was key on the agenda this week. Easter is all about the anticipation of Sunday after the grief of Friday. All I could think about was that our weekend was upside down. I was so excited for Jason to be home on Friday and sad for him to leave on Sunday. Our short visit fell in the midst of a busy time but the four of us made the most of it, with help from Kim and Lloyd, Mac and Kamerin.

So, this morning, I kissed my husband goodbye as he packed back up for school tomorrow and I snuck out of the house before most of the house was even awake. I had my pieces of the service loaded into the car and scraped the windows because even if it is Easter Sunday, there's still snow on the ground and the windows are iced up.

I grabbed a couple of coffees at Tim's and a bag of donuts and headed to TCU Place, where we meet for church. I actually thought that one of my favourite hosts would be working this morning, which is why I grabbed an extra coffee and some donuts, but I never made it into the building with them.  I pulled up to unload my car and I could see in my peripheral vision, a friend called Eric who was coming down the street towards me, his familiar gait one I hadn't seen in a while. I kneed the door shut, arms full and turned towards him. He greeted me with a big smile and yelled, "Happy Easter!" down the alley. I yelled back, "Happy Easter!" As he got closer, I threw what I was carrying back in the car, and reached in for the coffee and donuts in the bag. I held them up and asked as he approached, "Got time for breakfast?" and he answered, "That's a girl!" with his huge grin. His face is so wrinkled that when he smiles, it folds into itself with some form of magic that reveals his younger self and transforms his whole look. I passed him a coffee and the bag of donuts and we ducked around the building into a sunny step on the loading dock area. Sitting down, we made a little small talk, he caught me up on his trip home to a northern reserve where he hunkered down for the winter. He smoked a cigarette and we drank coffee and ate donuts and sat in the warmth of the sun that was coming around the building. I asked him if he wanted to come in for our Easter service and he said he was heading down to City Centre, a church down the road, who was hosting our city's largest Easter gathering and lunch. He asked me what I thought Jesus did when he rose from the grave after days of death. I looked at him and said, "I think he went and showed himself to his friends again..." Eric dusted the donut crumbs off his mouth and said, "He did. He showed up and started making them breakfast." I could have gone home right then.

Eric and I parted ways and he continued on towards one of the beacons in our city that he knows is friendly to a guy like him, a place that feeds his soul and his belly, and I was incredibly grateful for him. I grabbed the stuff back out of my vehicle and headed into the building, forty minutes late and smelling of cigarette smoke but smiling.  I got to work sorting out all my components of the service while everyone else was in full rehearsal mode. There were hundreds of chairs out and as I placed each info package on them, I tried to remain mindful of those who would be filling those chairs and the message they would hear. Even the most mundane tasks become spiritual when you give them the weight they deserve and I could feel the importance of the message of the morning beginning to come to life in my own mind.

As they do, people started to arrive and the seats filled and we set out more, and they filled those and we set out more. Then we filled in some of the gaps in seats and set out more and suddenly the darkened room was full of people that seem to appear whether we know them or not. The service began and people kept coming and I could see that the kids program was still registering kids so I went down to help where I could. Our kids programming director was in her glory, with bounce houses, bubbles, face painting and eggs to decorate....the sheer number of little shoes and boots surrounding the entrance to the kids area was unbelievable! 300 Easter eggs led kids from the foyer of the venue up the stairs to the wonderland she had created for them. By the time the kids came up the stairs, all inhibitions about leaving their parents' sides were gone in anticipation for what lie beyond the doors.  Inside, there were kids everywhere and they were having so much fun already. Volunteers were shuffling them from bounce houses to craft tables, blowing bubbles and gluing glitter. Each child was either in line or already sporting an elaborate balloon animal hat or sword or superhero that a quick handed balloon man was fashioning at breakneck speed. It was incredible. A quick thumbs up and check in, and I went across the hall to the quieter nursery and toddler room. Well, it was meant to be quieter but there were three little guys, all in various states of distress, mostly caused by one little gaffer who was clearly not having anything to do with the idea of staying and playing. He was clinging to the leg of Sara, who already was balancing one on her hip and trying to sit so she could comfort him as well. I came in and picked him up, and he arched and tried to throw himself away from me. One of the volunteers explained that he was not settling down and that every time he cried, someone else would join him. I rocked him for a little bit and he seemed to decide I was okay, but he was still yelling at the top of his lungs. I motioned to Sara that I was going to take him to the quiet room at the end of the hall and if his mom came, she could find us there.  He was so tired, poor little guy, looking so darn cute in his denim shirt and khaki pants...I could tell he just wanted to sleep. He was starting to blink pretty heavy when Mom came in and he was reminded of how offensive it was that I was holding him against his will. Mom was trying to decide what to do with him, wanting very much to sit through a full service but knowing he was very tired. I offered to sit with him and see if I could get him to sleep so she passed him off with a bottle and a favourite book and a soother and snuck out. Me and my new little friend sat on a couch in an empty ballroom and he yelled while I read him his favourite book the first time. And the second time. And then he took his soother while I read it the third time. And yelled during the fourth, fifth and sixth time but sort of fell to just complaining during the seventh time. He was laying on the couch, fully relaxed by the eleventh time and barely could keep his eyes open for the fourteenth time that the monkeys were drum, drum, drumming with their fingers and their thumbing.  I was only holding the book as he fell asleep and turning maybe one page every two minutes while he blinked and fought sleep with the type of fortitude that reminded me of my boys and the fact that we didn't really sleep for seven years.  I think he was officially asleep for about five minutes when the service ended and Mom came back to get him. The beauty of it was, I didn't mind a bit. In fact, it was actually a really incredible thing to watch this little guy and his strength and feisty nature as he finally gave into what he really wanted, which was rest. In those days when my boys were small, I remember feeling like everyone else's child slept all the time and only woke to count to 100 and read before their first tooth came in, peacefully and without drool, overnight. I remembered all the feelings of inadequacies when your baby is crying and you have no idea what to do other than sit down and cry right alongside him. And I saw that when a baby finally falls asleep, arms above his head, socks kicked off and eyelashes wet from tears, it's the most amazing reminder that there is beauty in rest, even when we fight it. Handing baby back to his mama, I felt grateful. I may have missed the service but I felt like the morning had reminded me how to celebrate Easter and all that it means. Serving others and giving in to rest are important lessons in my life and I didn't see a single minute of the incredible service we had put together this morning to learn them.

Happy Easter. He is Risen. 

Friday, March 4, 2016

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

There's some new books on my bedside table. A departure from the usual types of reading I do. I'm all about new adventures and learning ...particularly if I can do it vicariously by reading about it. It's good to have new story lines. New liturgies. New literature. Too many of us get stuck in one story line as if it were the common that could usher us peacefully fulfilled to the end of our lives. Many of us stop seeking new story lines, even vicarious ones, so comfortable are we in the status quo. We choose the familiar over the fulfilling. The mundane over the motivational.  Sometimes the search finds us numbing those longings with food or alcohol or electronics or busyness.

You know this storyline: Men. Midlife crisis. Ditching the mini van for a sports car. Sometimes the wife gets left in the mini van with the children and the sports car comes with a shiny, new accessory.

So, when I tell you that Jason and I are currently separated, I want to clarify that it's temporary. We're very much together...though we're living in different provinces and figuring out what that looks like for the next few months.

One of the things we promised each other when we got married, outside of our vows, was that we would always be on each other's team. We would figure out how to be the cheerleader that the other needs to pursue the dreams that need to be pursued in order to live well.

You know those things you daydream about when you're mindlessly going through the motions at work or waiting at a red-light? Those dreams that on cloudless sunny days are the thoughts that have you believing that "if only....then...."?  Jason and I have often referred to those types of daydreams as "Spaceman Spiffing"...a verb we created from the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes? There's a lot of wisdom in the relationship between a boy and his tiger. Our favourite Calvin alter ego is Spaceman Spiff, who is a result of Calvin's common daydreams. Sometimes, when kids are pressuring him to do something or his teacher is rambling on, Spaceman Spiff appears and takes on the "aliens" who are trying to destroy the peace and well being on his planet.   It's not uncommon in our house for Jason to get out of the shower and say, "Do you know what I Spaceman Spiffed while I was in the shower?" or for me to be laying in my hammock in the yard and when asked what I'm doing to say, "Oh, I'm just Spaceman Spiffing about being in Zambia...." We've created our own language to describe the dreams that seem just a little outside the realms of possibility but are still worthwhile giving mental energy too.

For the past few (ahem...5?) years since leaving ministry, Jason has had a recurring Spaceman Spiff dream. It's come up over the years in increasing intervals and so when a Spaceman Spiff turns into googling logistics, it's time to look at it in a more serious light. So, we did. Jason's dream has been to become a motorcycle mechanic. It's left field kind of thinking for a guy who sold his motorbike to help fund our 2012 trip to Africa with the kids...and it's out of the ball park kind of thinking for a guy who doesn't know a carburetor from a clutch kit...and yet, it's persisted. And so, he's packed up the Suburu which will probably get him an "F" for street cred, and headed back to school...a measly 10 hours away.

The dream is inspired in several natural ways and in uncommon ones. It  has no doubt been fuelled by friends with names like oh, say...Jerms and Woody...that show up on their bikes or work on them in the driveways across the street and tell tales of life on the road and the (mis)adventures of crashes and near misses and epic rides to Sturgis. But, it has also been inspired by being in Cambodia and seeing that there are thousands (millions?) of motorcycles on the road and that there are thousands of young men looking for work and it would be an amazing gift to be able to teach a trade to them. It's a wife that desires to volunteer long term overseas and the idea that having a trade would be a useful and empowering legacy to pass on to those who have no income to pursue a trade themselves.

So, for the past few years we've been talking and revisiting this idea. We've found an ever growing list of reasons why it's not practical, or feasible or even responsible. I mean, I have a part time job that barely keeps two teenaged boys fed...but hey, Kraft dinner is always on sale for less than a buck, right?

There are a million reasons not to pursue the dreams. There is a cost to making dreams reality, even the small ones. And there are those who say, "Why bother?" or "Why would you give up a decent job for the unknown?" Or my personal favourite "We could never afford that". There are those who couldn't live with the squeaky dryer or using a butter knife to unlock the washing machine for a few more months just to save those repair bill dollars and put them towards the dream. It's giving up the idea of just one family vacation before our oldest graduates and it's being alone in a remote northern town and living with friends of friends. It's walking into a classroom knowing how little you know. It's watching your husband drive away and feeling like a few months is far too long to hold down the fort. It's having to take on a few odd jobs and drinking coffee at home.  But you know what? Time passes. Months go by whether you're chasing your dreams or not. I can't tell you anything super significant that happens in the months of the year that we're just doing the day to day. I'm not saying there are not a ton of beautiful and meaningful moments in the ordinary. There are. I am saying though that those continue whether you're chasing a dream or not, why not chase it in the midst of the ordinary?   And you know what's not ordinary? The Spaceman Spiffs. Those sparks of your imagination that reveal your longings.

Chasing your dreams offers no guarantees other than one. That at the end of your life, you won't look back and wonder, "What if?" about the one nagging thought you had for years on end. Whether it works out the way we want it to or not...that's worth chasing. I'm proud of this guy...(Jason, not Calvin) and I know that when we figure out what all this leads to in the future, we'll know one thing for sure, it was worth it to be the kind of couple that challenges and cheers one another on to pursue dreams.