Courage

I’ve been working on a post about Gord Downie in my head for several weeks now…  I’m not sure I have all of the words ready yet – but when I heard the news of his death this morning, I wanted to try.  I know there are many of you for whom the grief is still too near.

It would be stretching it to call myself a fan of the Tragically Hip, but their music is woven throughout my memories.  It was my favourite CD to listen to at a house I babysat at.  When I was 14, I agonized over what to buy my first boyfriend for Christmas – my friend and I settled on a Trouble at the Henhouse tape.  A friend and I used to joke that he would be 38 years old… and never kissed a girl.

I’ve watched Gord’s courage with amazement.  I loved that, when he found out he was dying, he decided he wanted to continue doing what he was already doing – that he was living his life in a way that he loved.  (Oh, that we could all say this.)

I was amazed at the work he put into it.  He had to re-learn 90 songs for their last tour.  Wow.

I also admired his work on the Secret Path.  He knew he was dying, he knew he had a Voice at this moment in history, and he chose to use it to help bring awareness and justice.  I bought a copy of the graphic novel a few weeks ago in a bookstore, but have been waiting to read it (and listen to the music) until I can give it the attention it deserves.

Its a sad day.

But I am inspired to live more courageously because of his life.

not a dress rehearsal

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A Different Kind of Beauty

I first noticed it a few years ago.

It was a woman I have loved since we were children… All of a sudden she looked old.

It wasn’t really all of a sudden.  What with her busy life and my busy life, I hadn’t seen her in a few years.  My initial reaction was shock and dismay.

But as I thought about it, I realized that those years had been particularly difficult.  She had walked through deep griefs – the kind that are not only unbearably sad, but make you stop and evaluate your whole direction and way of life.

So I kept looking, and as we went through the process of getting to know each other again, my view changed entirely.  She has come through her grief and remained whole.  I don’t mean entirely complete – we have lost too much to be entirely complete in this lifetime.  But the kind of wholeness that has experienced life-altering pain, and not given up on love and hope.  The marks of her journey are unmistakable, they are written over her face; over her whole body.

She is one of the most beautiful women I know.

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I’ve seen the changes in my own looks over the last few years.  I’m very proud of the grey streak in my hair.  I saw the lines starting around my eyes, and thought “maybe I should start using night cream?”  And then I laughed and laughed, and wondered where that thought even came from.  (Products I own beyond ones used to wash are pretty much limited to deodorant and lip balm.)

I’ve seen it when I come on this blog, and see the fresh face on the banner picture above.  That wasn’t that long ago, but the years are showing like dog years.  Some of it is just the age that I am, some of it is the months without sleep, and some of it is less physical – the suffering I have seen, and been a part of.

I’ve seen other women whose pain is written plain for any to see who might look.  Their trauma has made them old before their years, and it is not beautiful, it is distressing and painful to be with them – because you cannot be with them without being faced with their suffering and brokenness.

 

This year can’t help but be etched deeply into the way I look.  I’m hoping pain makes me softer (emotionally, not physically), kinder, more patient, compassionate, loving, and hopeful.  I know I am looking older, but I think that these characteristics will be visible as well.

 

But how are you really doing?

People have been very gentle with us.  But we have been asked this question enough times, in enough ways, that I am sure most of you are thinking something like this.

Its hard to explain.

Neither of us is very good at having a public face that is different from who we are.  Sure, there are different things we may say (or not say) depending on who we are with, but our conversation typically comes out of who we are and what we are thinking about.  We’ve always been pretty honest here on the blog – sure, we polish it a bit, and work to communicate it in a way that a broad audience can understand, but it has usually been a good representation of what we are experiencing.  That hasn’t changed.

There aren’t many days where I don’t shed some tears – some days more, some days less.  I get kind of morose in the evenings when I am tired, and start to dwell on my pain – but that is usually around bedtime, and when I realize its happening, I’m able to just go to sleep.  I do a whole lot of nothing, because simple tasks and social interactions are exhausting.

 

I can see signs of life, though.  I’m able to do just a little more before I am knackered.  I’m able to focus and read things.  I’m curious about things; I am learning.

Being outside is good for my soul, and I’ve been able to get out into “real nature” nearly every day.

I’m mostly able to choose coping mechanisms that are good and healthy instead of ones that are destructive.  I won’t speak too much for Mike, but I will say that the same is mostly true for him.

And we are doing OK.  Mike & I are drawing towards each other and not away.  We are giving each other space to grieve differently and to heal differently, but also spending time together.  Doing our best to be kind, gracious, patient, and forgiving towards one another.  Not shying away from sharing our stories and memories, be they funny or sad (most of them are both).  We’re looking at the future, and starting to consider some ideas.

We are not putting up a good front, or trying to be strong for anybody else.

We are strong.

Watching my language

I’m not talking about pottymouth.  (Although maybe I should, because when Beatrix said, “Shudup Dampa” to my dad, we all knew she learned that from me.)

Language is a tool for communication, and one that I struggle to use well.  For the last years especially, I have laboured to simply understand and be understood.  I have worked to simplify my English words, and change them so that instead of being “correct,” the people I am speaking to will be able to understand my meaning.  I have struggled to express myself in a language I am far from proficient at, and listened as others with widely varying levels of English vocabulary and grammar have tried to communicate things to me.  My goal has been to hear the heart and meaning of what people are saying beyond the words they are using.

And here I find myself in the midst of a country where politeness and political correctness are kings.

I hate political correctness.  And yet… the way we say things represents certain ideas that we may or may not agree with.  And these ideas are usually so loaded, so hurtful to the people they target.  There are so many examples of racist and sexist language, but let me use as an example one that is new to me, that I have been working on for the last couple of months: suicide.

You’re not supposed to say someone “committed suicide” anymore, because this language conveys the idea that suicide is a crime.  Obviously, this is not a topic we would ever discuss lightly.  But what shall I say instead?  I’m not sure how to speak of it in a way that conveys what I believe: that there is mental illness involved, and any chance I have to remove the condemnation from mental illness, I would like to do that.  I’m not happy with the idea that “she died of suicide.”  I would also like to show that there is an element of choice involved too, it is not entirely passive, like being struck by lightning.  Could it be a verb? “He suicided?”  I haven’t found language yet that expresses this well.

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I’m also struggling to find the right language to talk about our loss.  If I euphemize too much, it only increases people’s curiousity about the gory details.  “Beatrix died,” is altogether too blunt and shocking.  There is no way to say it without it being horrifying (because it is), but I would like to be able to soften it a little bit so that I am not springing the full weight of the tragedy on someone all of a sudden.  I’m not happy with “she passed away,” its too passive.  Neither am I happy with, “we lost her,” because to me that implies we don’t know what happened to her.

Several years ago, a wonderful, sweet, kind man whom we love, had a brain tumor.  Don went from healthy, to very sick, to death very quickly.  He worked with YWAM and was involved with many of us across the country.  We were so happy to see his wife Gwen at the YWAM conference in August.  Someone said something, I don’t know who or what – I think it was something about missing Don, but Gwen snapped to attention, and just said, “Yes.  Don’s missing.”  I knew it was a profound moment at the time, but now recognize it is part of her struggle to put language to what she has experienced.

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The last aspect to this, is that there are things I can’t say anymore.  We were visiting a relative who has four wonderful little girls, and she was apologizing for the state of her house (as we all do).  My thoughts are – who cares? You have to prioritize how you use your time, and if your house is messy and your kids are thriving, you are using your time wisely. So I started with what is pretty much standard for me, “Well, your kids are alive, happpy….”  I didn’t get to finish because her face crumpled and I realized that this has taken on a whole new meaning, coming from me.

My cousin has three littles under the age of 4.  I have loved getting to know him again as adults, and love his wife.  They are incredible parents, and are some of the people I observe so that I can learn to be a better parent.  When her last baby was born, her motto for what she would allow her kids to do became, “Will it kill them?  No?  Well, then its OK.”  Its a joke, that I think expresses a belief that experience is a good teacher, and also the sheer exhaustion that is common to all moms of littles.  Its funny in a way that shows camaraderie, but I expect she won’t say it around me anymore.

And finally, some friends of ours did a marathon road trip – from Nova Scotia to Calgary and back again.  On travelling days, they drove for something like 8-10 hours.  With three small children.  Wow.  When they arrived home, about a month after they had left, I wanted to send them a text message that said, “CONGRATULATIONS!  You all survived!”  But it seemed rather sinister, so I said nothing.

Parenting littles is hard.  And just making it through each day, with a small scrap of sanity left, is a huge achievement.  Its hard to remember that in the midst of each day, though.  I usually use the language of survival to try to express encouragement and hope to parents.

 

I’m going to have to find new language.

Information

We have a lot of really incredible people around us.  I am amazed at the number of caring, creative, and thoughtful people that we know.

 

(Yes, I am talking about you.)

At this point, my mom is thinking, “What does she want?”

 

She is right – this is one of the those times I am going to ask for your help.

 

In addition to regular culture shock, I think our North American culture has undergone a huge shift recently.  I’ve been watching it unfold from a distance in great distress (and possibly the worst parts of it are what I see on social media anyway).  There are many complex issues involved – race, gender, drugs, economic inequality, religion, and history, to name a few.  It appears to me that our response to this complexity has largely been to oversimplify and demonize “the other,”  whether the other is Republicans, Liberals, anti-vaxxers, people who warn about climate-change, blacks, whites, refugees, gays,…

It’s fear-mongering and it’s hatred and I REFUSE to participate.

 

(All of that, partly because I have just been needing to say it, and partly so when I ask you for information shortly, you know what kind of “information” I am not looking for.)

We suddenly find ourselves in a position where we will be buying a lot of “stuff.”  And it is so easy to find what I want, whenever I want it.  Except I find myself overwhelmed just trying to buy toothpaste.  (Whitening? cavity-protection? tartar removing? breath-freshening? striped? sparkly? spearmint? wintermint? baking soda? natural? Expensive or cheap?   They are all good things, but I don’t know how to decide between one or the other.)

The decisions get more complex when one factors in justice issues.  Who made it?  Did they get paid well for it, or were those cocoa beans picked by child slaves?  Where was it made?  Do I want to support industry in that country?

And more complex again when one factors in environmental issues:  Were forests cut down and ecosystems eradicated to grow my coffee?  Is all of this packaging really necessary for me to have a phone?  What kind of processes and chemicals were used to make this thing, and what happened to the waste?

(These are just some of the simpler, more neutral questions one could ask, and many of the issues are overlapping.)

I’m becoming more and more committed to asking these kinds of questions, though.  I’ve been putting it off, placing my focus on other things, and just buying what I need.  But I can’t ignore it any longer – we are being reckless with our resources, and we are ignoring the fact that we are benefiting from other people’s suffering.  I don’t want to participate in systemic injustice so that I can buy what I want, when I want it.  But I also don’t want to be paralyzed, either.

At the moment, I’m looking for information mainly regarding 3 things:

  • Clothing: Winter is coming.  I pretty much just own sandals & summer clothes.
  • Food.  We need to eat.  I’m a little further ahead in this area than others, but I’m still looking for more information.
  • Cars: Depending on where we end up, we may or may not need a car.  This is a huge issue, because I’ve never bought one before – so I don’t even really know where to begin.  One basic question I have is “Are electric cars actually better for the environment?” From there – I don’t even know what I don’t know.

 

So please, send me information, and let me know if there are specific questions you think I should be asking.  I was surprised at the response we got recently when I asked for expertise in soap-making, but as one friend said, “You do know a lot of hippies.”  Hippy or not, I’d like to hear from you.

You can email me, send me a message on facebook, or use the comments section.  I’m happy with articles, books, and Mike can listen to the podcasts.

Thanks in advance for your help.

 

 

Beauty

I do not have an artistic bone in my body.

Not to say that I am not creative in certain ways – but I have no innate ability or trained skill to create things that are stunning to look at or listen to.

But I appreciate the way that music and visual arts can re-present truths to us in new ways, the way that it can inspire new thoughts, new courage, and the way it can bring out deep emotion.

Yesterday we drove nearly all the way across southern British Columbia.  Talk about beauty….  Although somewhat exhausted by the long drive and the heart-in-mouth turns, my soul was so refreshed by a day full of incredible views.

This morning I woke up really early.  I saw the sky just beginning to get light under the moon and stars.  So I took my coffee and blankets, and sat out on the deck and watched as the sun came up over the mountains.  Just, wow.

I didn’t listen to any music for a week or two after Beatrix died – but since I started it has been a great way to process.

I’ve been listening to a lot of Switchfoot/Jon Foreman lately.  I’ve loved their music – it is infused with a view of reality that resonates with me.  A recurring theme is life – really being intentional and present in your days.  This music has inspired me and reminded me that we are “meant to live for so much more” than ordinary existence.  I’m so thankful for the days that we had with Beatrix.  I am so thankful that I didn’t miss them; that we crammed a lot of life and joy into two short years.

I want to share all of my favourite songs with you, but this one has been new to me in the last weeks.

Yesterday as we came through the last mountain pass, I got stuck on the song “Ulysses” by Josh Garrels,  over and over and over, for an hour at least.  And I just cried, all the way down.  The song is so beautiful, and sad, and… hopeful.

Last but not least, this painting, done by my friend Sarah Hall.  A couple nights before Beatrix died, I was walking back to our room, far too late at night.  I walked past this painting, and it spoke to me – so I picked it up from her table and added my name to the IOU list in her cashbox.  I have often felt like this is my life.  Never more so than at this moment, it is an apt picture of our journey.

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Thoughts and “Plans”

Hi.

We want to keep people updated on our process as we travel and (hopefully) heal.  There are so many of you who are very dear to our hearts, that we want to be in conversation with, but face-to-face and phone is so exhausting for me these days; I can only do a very limited amount.  Writing emails and messages is much easier, but the sheer volume is overwhelming.

SO: we are going to use our blog to communicate generally about our process.  A few things we would like to set as general principles as we start:

This is a tool for us to communicate.  Facebook continues to remind me that people who are not my “friends” have commented on our posts. dance emailWe have our privacy settings that way on purpose, and we don’t post anything online that we wouldn’t want anyone to see or know about.  We consider it fair game for conversation, online or offline.  Questions or comments are expected and welcome.  Sometimes people will ask questions in a public forum that I choose to answer in a private email (for example, what’s your mailing address?), so if there are comments that it seems we did not respond to, that is not necessarily the case.

Its mostly me (Amanda) writing.  I don’t always speak for both of us, but Mike sees and OK’s nearly everything I post online in normal circumstances – all the more so in this vulnerable time.

Regarding the specifics of Beatrix’s death: I’m finding that discussing the specific circumstances is not helpful, so beyond my original Facebook post, I don’t want to talk about it.

The video of Beatrix’s funeral is available here, if you haven’t seen it and would like to.  It was a really beautiful service, and we are so thankful to the people who helped us celebrate and mourn.  We are also thankful to be able to have it online for many who couldn’t be physically present.

In addition to grieving Beatrix’s death, we are also experiencing fairly significant culture shock, so some of the strange things we may do or say are also a result of the fact that we haven’t been engaged in Canadian culture for five years.

We are going to be asking for your support and advice on some specific things in the months to come, and will primarily use this as a tool for that.  Please feel free to engage, but no pressure if you just want to read.

 

We have some friends in the Vancouver area who are going to be away from their house until the end of October.  They have graciously offered theirtherapy mountains home to us for as long as we want to be there.  We will be heading there soon (highway fire closures permitting), and are going to be considering that our home base for the next few months.  There are a few reasons for this – one is that we have good relationships with people in the area.  Another is the geography and weather.  I’m aware that being outside in beautiful spaces is always important for my well-being, and being outside, in real nature, is something I would categorize as a need right now.  The image above is a little tongue-in-cheek, because another reason we are headed to Vancouver is that we want to seek some professional counselling, and have been advised that sooner is better.  Being near a larger centre gives us counselling options that we might not have access to in a smaller town.

We’re not making any long-term plans for the moment.  We are thankful that we have the luxury of taking time to pray, consider, listen, and heal a bit before we need to do that.  Our initial thought is that, after a few months, we will be able to decide on somewhere to be, with something to “do” for the next year or two, before we make any more permanent decisions about what to do with the rest of our lives.  The where and the how may change, but we expect that we will stay in missions in some way, and we will stay true to our vision statement.

We are incredibly rich in “relational resources.”  We have many people in our lives who are wise, capable, and caring.  But knowing that, everyone could be assuming that someone else is looking out for us, or wondering if we are just floundering alone.  There is a small team of YWAM leaders (and friends) who are committed to walk this through with us.  These are people we have good relationships with, whom we trust to advise us, and who each have long experience of walking with different people through difficult circumstances.  Mike & I are so thankful for the care and support they have shown us through the last weeks, and for their willingness to help us in various ways as we look at the future.