About A Beard

After our lives changed in the summer of 2017, I stopped caring for myself.  Shaving is usually the last thing I am consistent with at the best of times  Subsequently, I went from five o clock shadow to hobo scruff to mountain hermit in short order.

(Um, Amanda wants you to know that this is Mike, just in case you haven’t gotten there yet.)

Over the course of our time in Rwanda, where seasons and holidays are very different then in Canada, Amanda and I have worked to implement rituals, habits, & celebrations to create a structure of seasons that can be consistent no matter where we are. This has gone a long way to help us live healthier, celebrate more frequently, and find gratitude in the midst of difficulty.

One day during some time reading the Bible, I was reminded of King David and many others mentioned in the Old Testament who mourned losses.  They would tear their clothes, cover themselves with ash and sackcloth, fast, & withdraw from public for a
time.  And as I have realized how little I know about grieving well, one of the things I noted here was the importance of ritual to mark seasons.
In talking with friends and wise counsellors I came to a decision to grow out my beard as a mark of my grief.  As a reminder to myself that this was a season, a period, that would eventually end.  Not that I will ever cease to miss my little girl but that this ‘dark night of the soul’ would have an end and I would step back into hope and vitality someday.  A recognition that I could go easy on myself when I failed to get up in the morning, failed to be kinder to the people around me, failed to see the hope that I know is there for joy and goodness in the world.

The first week of December, as we were staying with our friends in Pennsylvania, I asked Chadwick if he would be willing to pull out the hair cutting chair: as we were living with them, I noticed a ritual every month or two where he would pull out a chair after supper
and buzzcut his boys’ hair.  I thought it might be more meaningful for me if cutting my beard was an event for the whole gang to experience (much like elementary teachers buzzing  their hair after a fundraising drive seems so exciting as a kid), but also then I would have some witnesses to hold me to account for the step I was taking (which is an important part of ritual/tradition). Many of you may have noted my post on facebook when I ‘shaved it all off’ and I really didn’t feel a whole lot different.

I recognize, however, how that moment marked my life and gives me a point of reference ever after to look to.

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Why Nanaimo?

That’s a great question, and one I’m not entirely sure I have a clear answer for.

When Bea died, we didn’t think we would go back to Rwanda long term, but wanted to be wise and wait a while before we made any permanent decisions.

We knew we wanted to continue in ministry in line with our overall vision.  Given all that we have experienced within YWAM, we also thought that we wanted to continue with this organization.  As I processed our re-entry to Canada, I have felt inspired that I want to be involved in areas of discipleship, justice, and care for the earth – and have felt drawn specifically to do this work in the West Coast of Canada.

We wanted to take the next couple of years to serve.  We wanted to be part of a community that we could genuinely help without having to take responsibility for vision or direction, and somewhere we could learn about the culture and workings of the West Coast.

The obvious choice, which we considered, would have been joining YWAM Vancouver – we love people there, and are sure we could find a place within that structure.  Neither of us was excited about the prospect of living within a large city, though.

Last June we attended the YWAM Canada leaders gathering in Calgary.  We met a few new people from different ministries.  There was someone there about to start YWAM in Nanaimo, and this really stuck out in my mind.

Let’s be honest: if we made out life choices according only to logic, we would be living entirely different lives.  There usually is some logic, and reasons that I can explain, but the truth of it is that we have committed our lives to serve God, and committed to following what we sense as His leading and guiding: Nanaimo felt like it might be it.

So, I followed it up: I sent them an email at the end of last year, and I did not fill it out in the same way I filled out our rental applications.  I did my best to clearly emphasize our limitations and weaknesses.  They took our emails and applications, and pondered and prayed.  When they got back to us quickly with an enthusiastic welcome.  That was enough confirmation to me to give it a try.

Despite setbacks, we finally got here in May.  Within a couple weeks, I think we were ready to say that this seems like a really good fit for us.

We genuinely like and respect the leadership here.  In a short time, we have seen them display wisdom, follow-through, and genuine space and care for the people around them (including us).  We also like the group of staff (despite the fact that they really make us feel old)!  They are passionate, capable, hard-working, skilled, and funny people.

Practically, it is logical for us to jump in and serve in the area of food, but more than that, it feels like there is a real place for us to mentor and encourage.

We’re still working on finding our groove, but thankful that we seemed to have followed that sense of leading and call to a good place.

map nanaimo

Luxury Vacation Destination

Mike & I love to cook for people and love to host people!  One of the benefits of our nomadic season was that we were recipients of many peoples’ gracious hospitality: and the flip side was that we were unable to host guests ourselves.

We have been gathering furniture, utensils, etc, in great hopes of being able to cook meals and have visitors come and stay in grand style!

I was a little bit afraid that we had overshot when we thought it was a great idea to have a family of 6 from Pennsylvania come stay in our 2 bedroom basement suite for a few days, just a few weeks after we moved in.  (Given the opportunity, though, how could we not try to make that awesome visit work!?)

However, they are possibly the most appreciative and easygoing family I’ve ever met.  Someone was really happy about sleeping in the recliner, and another felt like he had great luxury because he got the pullout couch all to himself!  And no one complained because we didn’t have 8 matching bowls for soup.

I’m not totally sure that they experienced the best of Nanaimo, since most of the places we went were new even to us, but we definitely had fun.   We visited the sea, walked among centuries-old trees at Cathedral Grove, and hiked up Mount Benson.

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Cathedral Grove

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At the top of Mount Benson (apparently I’m the least photogenic)

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Playing Bandu

Just in case you aren’t already convinced that visiting us would be a dream family vacation, we also put them to work at the YWAM house cleaning and building bunk beds!

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Although I would logically have suggested that this was premature, and there was too many of them to reasonably fit in our space, this was such a great week.  I’m happy to have a bunch of new poetry on our fridge, and it was so good for us to be able to welcome people into our space.  It was also really affirming and encouraging that everyone was so easygoing and appreciative of what we had to offer.

Settled without settling (Homeless no more!)

Last week I was talking to someone about trying to furnish our house, etc, and he said to me, “Moving is so stressful, and so hard on a marriage.  It is probably the most stressful thing.  Well, after death.”

I almost laughed, because he doesn’t know our history, but yes, I know the truth of all that he was saying.

Trying to find a place to live in Nanaimo was crazy.  I’ve never experienced anything quite like it – there is such variation in what is available at a certain price range.  Many of the people we interacted with (landlords and tenants) felt desperate, and possible ready to take advantage of whoever was around to get what they wanted.

Plus, we look terrible on paper as tenants.  We don’t have a landlord reference since 2011, plus our “employment” and “income” look sketchy and unreliable.

Places turned over really fast – coming up and then being rented out within a day or two, so we had to be really on top of it, and look at so many places.  We had a short list of non-negotiables, and a wishlist.  Early on, I said to Mike that I had a sense we would know the right place because the street name was significant.  When we went to look at a place on Hosanna Way (hosanna is an expression of praise to God), I thought that this was the one!  It looked even better than the pictures, and the landlord seemed kind and reasonable!

We got an email from him a couple hours later saying he wasn’t comfortable taking us as tenants.

I was SO disappointed, but seeing that place gave me some hope to keep looking, as this was by far the nicest place we had seen in the price range – the other places we had looked at all felt like we were settling for much less than what we wanted.

I kept looking, learned a bit about how to better fill out applications, and had a couple places on the horizon that looked hopeful.  We left Nanaimo at the end of May (for a conference and eye appointment) with a place we wanted and a backup, not knowing if we would get accepted to either.

While away, we found out we got accepted to our first choice!  It so obviously filled all our requirements and wants that I decided my sense about the street name was wrong, and I could live on a street called Thalia.

My dad was looking us up on google earth (as he likes to do), and then handed me the computer with a definition on it:

 

In Greek mythology, Thalia was the muse of idyllic poetry and comedy.  She presided over festive meetings, and the word literally means, “blooming.”

 

It felt like God was blessing all the things we have hoped for, for this next season, and reminding us that He is intending these things for us, too.

“Festive meetings!”  That is so us.

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Bonus story:  About a month after Beatrix died, we were staying in a friend’s house for a couple months.  I wandered into a bookstore and some boxes of magnetic poetry caught my eye.  Normally, I would think this a frivolous waste of money, but on this day I thought, “This will be fun for Mike and I.  We need some fun.”  So, I bought several packages.

I was so disappointed when I got back to the house and found out that the fridge wasn’t magnetic.  (Seriously, I didn’t know that was a thing?!?  But, none of the fridges in any place we have been in for more than a week have been magnetic.)

Here is the view in our kitchen today:

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These last couple of weeks have seen several hopes fulfilled.  I feel as if I am just bursting with good things that have happened.  Some of the hopeful things are just in the beginning stages and don’t make complete stories yet, but there are a couple of things that can make sense contained in a blog post.

First up, my eye.  I have been going regularly to an ophthalmologist in Lethbridge since January.  There was a blood clot obstructing my vision, and I have been receiving needles in my  eye to clear it up.

Here is a photo of the inside of a healthy eye:

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Here is a photo of the inside of my eye in January.  You can see the huge clot and all of the leopard spots where my vision was obscured:

Amanda Tallon Left eye January 4 2019

And, a photo of my eye from April:

Amanda Tallon Left eye April 11 2019

 

The ophthalmologist said that it would be reasonable for us to plan to move to Nanaimo when I assured him that I would come back for another treatment in June.  (“Treatment” is my euphemism for needles in my eye.)

Today when I went in, there was great news, unpleasant news, and good news.

In order:

That giant clot is entirely gone!

The new-forming blood vessels are leaky, so there is some blood in the eye that probably requires one or two more treatments.

He is transferring me to an ophthalmologist in Nanaimo!  I don’t have to plan my life around this any more!

I don’t think I am prepared to call this healed until I am finished with treatments, but it feels great that we don’t have to remain in this limbo any longer.

 

 

True, Beautiful & Funny (Spring 2019 edition)

I’ve been working on some writing while Mike is in Rwanda.  I have no idea what it might amount to – but I am hoping to at least untangle some of my thoughts.  I have a perfect little location to be holed up in, and despite missing Mike and occasionally getting needles in my eye, I am quite enjoying myself.

While I have been writing, I’ve been listening to Sigur Rós.  Every time I encountered them or remembered them over the years, I have thought, “Oh, I would really like to listen to more of their music.”  So, now is the time, and it is great music for writing to.  I’ve also watched this video a bunch more times.  It is incredible.  I watch with my heart in my mouth every time.

 

 

Did you know that Madeleine L’Engle (author of A Wrinkle in Time) wrote adult books!? Well, not adult books.  In her words,

“If you are not good enough to write a book for adults, you are certainly not good enough to write a book for children.  I had written and published several ‘regular’ novels before I dared try my hand at a children’s novel. (I say ‘regular’ novel because I was gently told by a friend that today the word adult in front of novel means porno.)”

Oh, that made me laugh – partly because I entirely agree with her take on children’s books, but mostly because we keep finding when we are discussing movies with our friends and their kids, we qualify them as “adult” movies… and then we quietly correct ourselves when we realize what we said, “Um, I mean, movies for grown-ups.”  I also love her approach to writing for children.  I’ll confess that most of my favourite stories were written for children, and I have yet to meet a Newbery Medal winner I haven’t loved.

Anyway, I have been reading the Crosswicks Journals.  It’s amazing to me that they were written 40-50 years ago, and yet many of the things she says seem very current.   The books are funny, well-written, easy to read, and insightful.

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Speaking of children’s novels, I just went through the Divergent series again.  I remembered loving the first book, and then not much about the last two.  So when I came upon a new epilogue, I had to start from the beginning.  I’ll say this: the story is OK.  But I was wrecked by the underlying theme of the new epilogue, “We Can Be Mended.”

 

It’s just a story, but it fills me with hope.

 

I’ve never been a huge fan of comedy – I guess I haven’t really seen the value of it.  This has started to change over the last couple of years.  One of the contributing factors was Hannah Gadsby’s stand-up special, “Nanette.”  I’m pretty sure I never would have watched it, but my Dad wanted to watch it together, and I had no idea what I was getting into.  At the end, we were all just silent.

One of the things that she said that struck me was about comedians taking shots at easy punch-lines – like Monica Lewinsky.  She says, “Perhaps if comedians had done their job properly and made fun of the man who abused his power,” then some of the situations that are troublesome today may not have arisen.

I also heard (or read?) something Tina Fey said about writing sketches for Saturday Night Live.  The gist of it was, that they were not trying to sway people to one side of the other, but to get to the truth of the situation through comedy.

I have never thought about comedy as an art form that can help us see our world more accurately.  This year more than ever, comedy has helped me to interpret current affairs.

Finally, let me talk a little about Emily McDowell.  I love her cards.  (I have also awarded a few of her “medals” – to myself and a couple friends.)

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She has also co-authored a book.  If you have ever struggled to know how to appropriately express kindness to someone who is hurting, this is a thoughtful (and funny) guide to learning how.

book emily mcdowell

 

Travels Alone

We have floundered a bit as we thought about what to do about our situation in Rwanda.  We have had things in a holding pattern, but none of that is ideal long-term.  It has been difficult to decide to move on, but now that we have made the decision, we really want to close out our time there well.

The good news is that my vision is getting better.  The needles in my eye seem to be doing their job, and the doctor is still optimistic that we can recover full vision.  We don’t know how much longer that might take, but he has accelerated my treatment to try to get it dealt with quickly (because I’m so young, as they keep saying).  But I still can’t plan to leave the country anytime soon.

Mike suggested that he could go without me and start to deal with things.  My immediate response was, “No way!  It is too difficult, and no one should have to do that work alone.”  But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how much I would appreciate it if some stuff was taken care of.  Then I remembered what a fantastic group of friends and colleagues we have there – he wouldn’t be alone, and would have the benefit of their companionship and wisdom as he tries to navigate the difficult and potentially frustrating issues awaiting him.

So we booked the ticket, and he is on his way soon (before his visa expires).  I’ll keep on with treatments, and hopefully in a couple months when he returns, we’ll be able to head on to our next adventure.