True, Beautiful & Funny: Pandemic Edition

This isn’t entirely pandemic focused, but do we not need truth, beauty, & humour more than ever in these strange days?

I know that grief has unexpectedly come up for many people recently, and I have opinions about that. One of them is that there are a lot of really bad ideas floating around our culture that have to do with grieving. We don’t have a good road map for how to do the work of grief well. So when we are faced with our own grief, we are vulnerable, exposed, faced with a really difficult work, AND we have no idea how to do it. Something that helped me navigate better was that I had recently walked part of that road with a good friend, and so had thought carefully about how to do grief well, and had observed her live through it with courage and wisdom.

Both of these books put beautiful words to some of the thoughts I had, as well as sparked some new thoughts. I won’t say that I wholeheartedly endorse everything that is said, but these 2 books are some of the best and most helpful I’ve encountered. (And the way Prechtel talks about grief, praise, & love is beautiful.)

I’m going to highlight a few ideas that struck me – but seriously, go sift through these books yourself.  It will be good for your soul.

One concept that both these books engage is ritual. A typical western funeral is a poor excuse for a grief ritual. Have you ever been to a graveside service where everyone walked away, and the casket was just hanging there, unlowered?  It has left me feeling somewhat unsettled. As I’ve contemplated it, I think its because it is indicative of our denial; our inability to face the reality of death. (Know that I’m not pointing fingers at anyone specific, just observing a general phenomenon.)

 

Another concept was having a companion to witness & support you in your grief. It is difficult to be that vulnerable when other people are there. It is also difficult to just witness someone’s grief and not try to say anything, or do anything to fix it. However, simply offering our presence to one another, especially at these times, can be so healing. (I know many of us are probably recognizing the value of presence in a whole new way at the moment.) We had the incredible gift of people who were able to just sit with us in our grief, and somehow ease our pain. Sometimes it was actual presence, and sometimes it was an email or a gift that came with no expectations. I’m so grateful, and I want to keep learning how to be present to others in their griefs.

The last idea I’m going to draw out today is that we can have grief for larger issues: grief over climate change, political situations,… pandemics. This is something I have known, have felt, for a long time. Being in a deep season of grief for Beatrix gave me the space to grieve some of the larger issues that have weighed on my soul for years. (Seriously, I wept all the way through a book about politics, indigenous issues, climate change, & hope… It’s not the kind of book that the average person would weep while reading.) I’m still working on how to talk about some of this – but having someone else put it into words helped me see the importance of it in a new way.cooked

I also want to talk about Michael Pollan.  Given how much I love food, I am a little confused as to how it has taken me so long to read anything by him. I picked up Cooked last fall because it was on display at the library. I love the way he thinks about food – and given that so many of us are doing more of our own cooking these days, his thoughts seem even more relevant.

Have you watched Brené Brown’s Netflix special?! I’ve talked about her work before, and if you haven’t already encountered her work, this might be a good introduction. Here’s the trailer:

 

If you have somehow missed John Krasinski’s Some Good News, there are 3 episodes now, and they have brought me a lot of joy.

 

And just because we desperately need humour to help us interpret what is happening. I’m sure we all have our favourite memes, depending on what situation we are in. Here are a few I like:

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Something that has grieved me deeply over the last few years is how deeply polarized we are. But I’ve seen something beautiful happening over the last few weeks: this has shifted, at least a little. We are recognizing in a new way that we need each other; that our actions affect each other. One person is struggling because their work is suddenly way more crucial, and they are working more hours (and with more danger & protocols) than ever. Another is struggling because all they have to do is stay home…  But I see these groups supporting each other, and not minimizing the value and difficulty of someone in a different situation. That brings me hope.

Email Update

Hello! I know some of you are here that aren’t on Facebook, so I thought this might be a better way to reach you.

I’ve been working since September to put together a paper newsletter to send out.  About a week ago we wrapped up a really busy season, and my goal for this week was to finish the newsletter, get it printed and mailed by next week.

Given current circumstances, a paper newsletter no longer seems like a great idea.  I have some time on my hands this week to finish writing & editing, and I’m guessing at least some of you have some extra time to read. (Although some of you might be busier than ever. Thank you.)  So I am going to do a series of email newsletters.

These will be different than what I usually do here on the blog, less of my thoughts & reflections and more of a report on the what/why/how of our work. I’m going to try to give some background of how we got to where we are now & what we have been working on in the last year.

If you want to receive these emails over the next little while (and future email updates), please send me your email address.

(Or, if the technology works, a request for it will pop up if you scroll to the bottom of the page)

(Edit… it seems to work, but sorry about all the ads. I’ll think about upgrading what I pay to get rid of those for you guys.)

Grief Observed

One of the beautiful things this week has been watching people I love share themselves online, in ways that are brave and vulnerable. Their words, songs, etc, have been an encouragement and a balm to my soul. I’m going to join in.

It means I’m about to do two things I don’t usually do here. The first is share something this fresh and raw, and the second is get a little preach-y. (You’ve been warned. 😉 )

(Here’s the playlist that goes with this morning.)

Every morning I walk and pray. I’m not quite sure how to describe what happens in this time – but sometimes, things come up in my soul that God is going to speak to. (Later in the day, later in the week, through circumstances, through others,…) Any wholeness and joy that I have experienced particularly in the last few years usually traces back to these times.

It’s not the norm, these days, but this morning, I am grieving.

A friend who has been battling cancer is dying. (Actually, he’s not really my friend, but several of his family members are dear to me.) He’s young, he has 4 kids, a beautiful wife, and has spent his life serving others. My heart aches for his family as they sit with him in what is likely his final days.

I accidentally fell in love with a couple of people.  They were (are) unexpectedly amazing: funny, insightful, considerate, generous, servant-hearted, and just the right amount of strange. They departed earlier than expected last weekend for a flatter place, and I miss them already.

And I miss Beatrix. I was recalling some of my favourite moments with her. These memories bring me great joy, and also sadness at how they are so much fewer than they should have been.

I got home from my walk to a text from my dad, saying “Beatrix would have loved this: ‘Wash hands?’  ”       (She really did love to wash her hands.)

So I’m waiting. I’m letting this rise to the surface, with every confidence that God has something to say to this.

The last few months Mike and I have been doing a course, and today our final project is due. I’m finishing up my paper, that looks at some of the final bits of the Bible.

Now – the book of Revelation is somewhat intimidating and strange, I’ll admit. But the final chapters show the heart and intention of God. They show the reason for my hope:

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”    And He who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”

It’s all so beautiful. So as I’m sitting with my pain this morning, but with the full confidence that, as He always has, my God will meet me here.

Trip!

Sorry I left you hanging a bit after my last post.  The fog of jetlag gave way to the next thing, and then I was exhausted.

Part of why I have struggled to write about it, is that it was SO. GOOD.  I try to be aware of short attention spans, and I am unsure how to be succinct.  Or which parts are most important.

If you got here in time, you know where I was.  If not, I’m erring on the cautious side due to security concerns and saying, “Central Asia.”  Our teams were connected with some really great contacts!  In the city, the team connected with people through various established ministry events.  One is Coffee Zone.  There are different activities, but it is mainly a place for students to connect, learn some English, and hear just a little bit about the Gospel.  (For example, the week I was there, one of our DTS students shared about forgiveness.)  Those who are interested in hearing more pursue leaders, other Christians, and in this case, our team.  Out of larger gatherings like this, the team connected with different individuals to share their stories, encourage, and pray with them.

The team in the village had a different scenario, with less well-established ministry.  They worked with a local pastor, who connected them to people in the community: some of whom he is discipling, and some who have expressed interest in hearing more about God.  They also were able to fill a few needs teaching English at a local library and a local school.  It was lots of connecting with people, listening, and telling stories.

My job was to see how the teams were doing, address any issues, and meet with each person individually.  I drank lots of coffee to help with the drastic time change as I listened, encouraged, and challenged.  I knew going into it that I didn’t have quite the relational collateral with some of the people that Livé would have had, but I prepared well for each conversation, and worked to issue my challenges with gentleness and kindness.  (Those of you who have known me for any amount of time know this is not a natural strength.)

It felt good.  It was one of the first times in a very long time I have stepped out into any kind of ministry without a significant safety net.  And I didn’t feel concerned or anxious.  I felt capable, and invigorated by doing work that I love.

A couple photo highlights:

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I got to go horseback riding with one of the teams! This horse had spirit!

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Our host put on a whole-sheep feast meal with the team while I was there.  As the oldest guest but the grandfather, I received one of the largest, most-honoured portions.  Delicious. I’ll confess, I was thankful to learn that it wasn’t expected that I would finish it.

And finally, what I am calling the “cherry on top:”  Some old friends arrived  the day before I flew back to Canada.  There has been a long rift.  I have no words to say how good it is for my heart to have that begun to be healed and to see them flourishing in their work.

 

I’m going to central Asia!

 

I know, it comes as a surprise to me, too!  It has all happened rather suddenly.

Mike and I see our main role here as supportive.  As I talked about in the previous post, that means stepping in where there is a gap we can fill.

In October, we sent 2 DTS teams over to central Asia for their outreach.  (There are updates on their activities on the YWAM Nanaimo website if you are interested.)  Usually when we send out a team like this, the leader of the school or another experienced staff member will visit them on the field to encourage and provide pastoral care.  Because this is the first team sent out from YWAM Nanaimo, and the first team sent from here to central Asia, and because several of the leaders are leading their first teams, this pastoral visit is particularly important.

Our base leader, Livé, who also lead the DTS, was planning to do this visit.  A couple weeks ago, they welcomed a new baby girl into their family.  There have been some stresses and complications with her health, and so it became unrealistic for him to do this.  So I am stepping in as a pinch-hitter!

I leave Wednesday morning, and will be gone for a little over a week.  I am really looking forward to seeing the teams, and this unexpected opportunity to participate in outreach around the world!

 

Harbor Fellowship

As I was writing the previous blog post, I was trying to find a link back to explain what it was we were actually doing in Pennsylvania last year, and couldn’t find one.  I guess that explains some of the conversations I have had, where I was confused when people didn’t seem to know.

I always struggle to describe most of the actual work that I do: it looks like sitting at a computer, or having coffee, or running projector slides…  It is the work of being present and helping people figure out what it is they are called to do in the world, and then how to go about that.

It rarely makes a good picture, to say the least.

Our friends in Pennsylvania are incredible people.  For years, they have had a growing vision to launch a church.  Not just another place for people to gather on Sundays, but a deep community of people who are encountering God, growing, loving each other, and taking their gifts out into the world in a whole variety of ways.

A project like this takes years of patiently laying groundwork, which our friends have been doing diligently.  They have practiced patience, perseverance, wisdom, and plain hard work.  When we arrived last August, it became evident that we were stepping in to play a short-term role in a much longer and larger process.

The launch of any project is when all of the groundwork suddenly becomes visible, and often involves problem solving in the midst of a flurry of activity.  There are a torrent of details that remain minor if dealt with well.  It is a time of setting precedents for what a community will become.

So our daily activities looked like chauffeuring, cooking, coffee-ing, praying, and setting up chairs.  On a more important level (in the midst of our own healing and restoration) we were contending for our friends’ calling, and working alongside them to see this community launched well.

Most of the time our work is quiet incremental, and doesn’t look like much – certainly not immediately.  But we were seen and appreciated by this community as we served them.  It was  an honour to be able to return to Harbor last month.  It was quickly apparent that individuals and the community have  grown since we left.  It was deeply gratifying to know that we have played a part in that, and to spend some time encouraging that growth, and planting some new seeds.  (Described by one as, “Amanda going around and telling everyone what to do,” which I think is a bit strong, but I guess the nickname “Demanda” is funny for a reason.)  Because I spent the time last year, I was able to say things, both encouraging and challenging, in ways that were more likely to be heard.  (Although I do need to be a little careful – I’ve been hanging out a lot with people 15 years younger than me, which has been making me feel much older and wiser than I actually am. 😉 )

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

-Margaret Mead

It looks like having coffee…  but I’m changing the world.

Newly Home

We’ve been slowly nesting in our new place.  We have been picking up furniture and needed items here and there, but we haven’t really felt settled.  I had hoped that after a couple months, we would be further along in the settling in process than we are.

But alas, this, like nearly everything else, has taken much longer than this impatient woman would like.

A few things happened that really helped the process along for me.  The first thing was going away and coming home.

In August we traveled to Winnipeg for a conference (which was so good).  We spent two weeks on the road.  It was the first time in over two years that we were able to leave from a place and come back home, instead of just going from one place to the next.  The whole trip was so much more enjoyable:  we only had enough stuff in the car for two weeks, instead of ALL our stuff, and at the end of the trip there was a known destination, where we would be able to decompress and rest without having to negotiate a new space, new people/schedules/family cultures.

Arriving back at our place after being gone for 2 weeks totally changed how at home I feel here.

 

The other thing might be a little less relate-able, but made me feel like I live somewhere enough to organize and plan:

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Kombucha!

I had a pretty regular system for fermenting things in Rwanda.  It is a process I appreciate and enjoy.  (Although I’m not fanatic about it, I do think eating fermented foods makes Mike & I healthier.)  It doesn’t take that much work – but it took finding a starter culture, and having a couple weeks in which I knew I would be around to do the steps.  We’ve been enjoying this for a couple of months now.  It’s a concrete sign to me of a new rhythm.

I originally started this post in September, and then was swept up in actual work, without a lot of time for reflection.  It has been a full and rich season.  I hesitate to say this so publicly, but it is true, and many of you have been following our journey and so I think you deserve to know: I’m actually feeling like myself again.

I want to write more about that because it has been significant, but I hate rambling blog posts, so I’ll try to stick to the point and write more about that another time.

In October we were able to return to Pennsylvania for the 1 year anniversary of the launch of Harbor Fellowship.  Words fail me now to talk about what a sweet gift this was – but again, relevant to this post – when we flew back home, the skies were clear, and as we approached the airport and I was able to identify the different islands and towns along our approach, my heart was singing out that I was arriving home.

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.

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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.