The Village It Took

In the spring of 1988, several weeks into our new normal, my class was working on an assignment, probably colouring a map of Canada or something.  One of the boys, let’s call him Johnny B. Jerkface, asked to borrow one of my pencil crayons.  For whatever reason (I guess I was a Jerkface that day too), I said no.  He proceeded to threaten to hurt my feelings if I didn’t.  Okay, go, I taunted back.

“At least I have a mother.”

Ooooh that pissed me right off.  I escalated this to my dad, and perhaps what followed resembled Schwartz getting licks from his mom on A Christmas Story, I don’t know.  Years later, our paths crossed again and when his memory was jogged, he apologized and I forgave him.

So it’s Mother’s Day, twenty-six years later, and this time I’m thinking about my village.  There were so many times when I wrongfully subscribed to Johnny’s cheap shot.  That I was motherless and alone.  But eventually, with each passing year, my surroundings came into focus and the blur sharpened into recognizable faces.  Even before Mom died, people were stepping in the gap of her absence at home, delivering hot meals to our house.  And in the many years after, an army formed to pick up where she left off in raising me.  My older sisters, my aunts, my grandmothers, and later my stepmother and my mother-in-law, they all had now-unmistakably active roles in shaping me into the woman, wife and mother I have become.  And the army continues to grow and nurture me, from my younger siblings (yes, lil’ bro, even you and Dad are my mother) to friends old and new.  It turns out, I never really lost her.

We orphans need never feel forgotten, because God has us on His heart.  He cares for us (Psalms 146:9)has always been there (John 14:18)and asks His people to follow suit (Isaiah 1:17).  I remember it and I recognize it.  So this year, I am celebrating the brilliance of His greater plan to assemble a tribe of men and women whose touch in my life personified both a mother’s and His outrageous love for me.

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P.S. I still toast to all of you today too!

Believe It

I made the follow-up phone call with so many thoughts running through my head, and by the time I put the receiver back down, my mind was blank, washed clear in a rising sea of tears and uncertainty.  The only other time I had felt so lost, so frozen with no idea where to start, was nine years prior in the arms of my father down the hall from my mother’s hospital room.  There I was, 20 years old, hours away from the last exam of my second year of university, pregnant, unwed, and with a sack full of baggage.

There was a moment during my wedding reception when my heart leapt up to my throat to avoid drowning in humiliation.  I held my breath as my new father-in-law began alluding to the elephant in the room.  For the entire day, nobody actually mentioned the obviously-impending arrival of our first daughter four months to the day, but I hadn’t gained full perspective yet, and felt my transgressions exposed for all to see and judge.  I would spend years fighting the urge to prove the legitimacy of our family and my motherhood; that we were just living the early pages of a fabulous success story.  Today, sixteen years later, I know it to be true.  We are ever a work-in-progress but we have been honed into a pretty great family and I enjoy that peace that my younger self begged for in the days when those later chapters of the story weren’t believable to anyone, including her.

Many, many years before this day, an even younger lady found herself pregnant and unwed.  If it was controversial in 1997, can we even imagine what social predicament she and her fiancé were in?  How could anybody believe her when she said she was still a virgin?  That she was carrying the ever-awaited Messiah?  That this infant, born without fanfare in a barn and sleeping in a trough (some artists have depicted Him resting on the floor), is the divine son of the Most High God?  That this baby would grow into a man who would rock the status quo, heal the sick and raise the dead?  That she was part of the turning point where a loving and merciful God sends His own child be sacrificed in reconciliation with the whole world?

Most of them didn’t.  But she was.  And He was.  And He did.

Perhaps you are in a dark corner of your life where all bets are against you.  Where you cannot make out any twinkle of light ahead.  A sudden curve ball has shattered what you imagined your future would be.  You feel barren, abandoned.  You are lost in the wilderness, accompanied only by pain or bitterness or frustration or loneliness or betrayal.  Or blankness.  Let me tell you something.  When you feel like you have suffered through four hundred years of deafening silence, a light will break through.  It will not come when you expect it, or look like you expect it to.  But it’s there – He is there – awaiting that perfect time for you, according to a victorious plan for your life that you could not even wrap your head around if you knew it.

This is what the Lord says:
“At just the right time, I will respond to you.

I will say to the prisoners, ‘Come out in freedom,’
and to those in darkness, ‘Come into the light.’
They will neither hunger nor thirst.
The searing sun will not reach them anymore.
For the Lord in his mercy will lead them;
he will lead them beside cool waters.
And I will make my mountains into level paths for them.
The highways will be raised above the valleys.
I will fight those who fight you,
and I will save your children.
All the world will know that I, the Lord,.
am your Savior and your Redeemer,

the Mighty One of Israel.
Isaiah 49:8-26

That is what the Scriptures mean when they say,
“No eye has seen, no ear has heard,
and no mind has imagined
what God has prepared for those who love him.”
1 Corinthians 2:9

TLP-TeamAustria2013

Happy Christmas to you=)

Oh Canada…

Shortly after the Jays won the World Series for the second time, my family and I went to Disney World and in line with classically-awesome Disney staff etiquette, one of the ride operators asked us where we were from.

“Toronto!”  (best roll that second ‘t’ when you read that, son)

<insert blank stare>

We tried to ring her bell with the whole but we just won the championship for YOUR favourite pastime – twice bit, but to no avail.  The moment seared into my brain and I joined the bandwagon filled with Canadians who so wanted to be just like our flashier, super-popular neighbouring country.  I cheered on every (failed) Toronto Olympic bid and my heart would skip a beat when our exported celebrities would mention something remotely Canadian.

“Oh my gosh, did Trish Stratus just say Glosettes?  Did she just say GLOSETTES?!?”

Be careful what you wish for.

Even a former “leader of the free world” is making fun of Toronto’s F-word.  How I miss the mild domestic embarrassment of Mel Lastman calling in the army to clear our snow.  This guy is turning us into a series viral punchlines.  Ugh.

How can we ever recover our delightfully quiet, quirky, and hyper-polite image?  All the cute things about us that Robin raves about every few episodes on How I Met Your Mother?  This is how:

  • Have our Prime Minister include his pet chinchilla in this year’s official Harper family Christmas card
  • Outlaw doorknobs in Vancouver
  • Put both Rob Ford and Justin Beiber in a time out

Okay, the last one hasn’t happened yet, alas, but the first two serve an excellent start.

Stephen Harper Ben Harper Laureen Harper Rachel Harper

The other office finale

When I started my first real full-time job, I was a new mother at 21.  While my friends were still sitting in lectures, writing papers and probably partying a bit in between, I had entered the workforce, all the way downtown and everything.  Having lived my whole life within a 10km radius, I found myself immersed in a foreign culture of more variety than my young, sheltered, suburban mind could wrap around.  I remember encountering my first Jewish and first openly-gay co-workers almost as clearly as where I was on 9/11.  (I worked at Church & Wellesley, by the way.)

Feeling unaccomplished professionally and horribly unqualified as a too-young mom, I made a conscious decision not to form friendships with co-workers that stretched beyond the cubicles.  I marveled at my cousin’s extracurricular social life with her office mates and was wowed when my sister stood as matron of honour for a friend she met at work.  But I couldn’t do it.  My immature heart couldn’t handle it, and this arms-length behaviour that feared judgment and rejection continued throughout the next decade, with a few glimmers of hope, but nothing lasting that would warrant even – gasp! – sending a Facebook friend request.

Then I started working at a company that was like none I’d ever experienced.  Or, rather, in the company of people I’d never experienced.  And that’s when the party started.  This place was like a family.  I found myself going on lunch-hour shopping escapades, helping out with social events, and allowing myself to open up to these now-friends.  But it was slow-going and still very cautious.

When our office relocated my partner and I were seated at the border between two departments, and my manager now sat only steps away.  And that was when this small collection of women drew me out of my insecurities and introduced me to the idea of allowing my authentic self to exist in the workplace.  I was 34, for goodness’ sake.  They arrived right on time. photo (22)Two years later, we are all on the cusp of new beginnings that beg us to choose whether we are casualties of evolution or newborn trailblazers.  And by the end of the summer, almost all of these women will no longer be a part of my daily experience, swapping recipes and housekeeping tips, sharing in our personal and family triumphs and sorrows, planning lunch dates and holding mini-parties, bouncing reflections about faith off of each other.  Instead, we are now being prompted to elevate our relationships to real friendship, the kind that is voluntary and isn’t boosted by a shared parking lot.

My excitement for each of us is not properly expressed in my mid-commute blubbering; my heart really is bursting in anticipation for this next chapter in each of our lives.  As for my own, I’ve already learned a couple of lessons.  First: friending people on Facebook is not going to kill you.  But they now have access to the crazy videos and pictures you make with your husband and kids.  Second: personal, supernatural affirmation aside, I know that God loves me and has good plans for me. Because in His daily pleading for me to be a bright light in a dark world, He speckled my corner of it with living examples to greet me every time I swivel my chair.

Too young, too old

An old friend from elementary and high school died unexpectedly last week, as most thirty-seven year-olds would. As I sat in the chapel for the funeral service, surrounded by his friends old and new, his family, and beloved colleagues from the job he held for his entire adult life, my mind was running overtime with questions. How will his parents and brothers adjust to this new normal? For which of these people has his death changed the trajectory of their lives? Are Hubby and I officially “that age” where we are only seeing friends at funerals? If I died today, have I created enough of the legacy I want to leave for my children? Am I the best wife/daughter/sister/friend that I can be?

The world will have to adjust to a much quieter version of itself; he was a walking exclamation mark. But I like to think that, as I recently discovered of my own mother’s seemingly-too-early passing, we planted a seed this afternoon rather than buried a man. A seed that, as long as we commit to it, will grow into a harvest of lives lived loudly and with love.

As the sun sets on this still-chilly spring day, this is the run-on sentence I’m taking to the bank: We are too old to be satisfied with a life running on auto-pilot, not seeking out and seizing purpose, meaning, joy and peace, not discovering the fulfillment found in encouraging others to do the same, allowing weak relationships to continue eroding, or be uninterested in leaving this world without having made a positive, lasting impression on those who have ever stepped into our 15-foot radius.

“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”
– Matthew 25:13

Radical Lent – Week 1

Did I get your attention?

Admittedly, even I wasn’t sure what I was doing when I officially began this campaign last Wednesday.  That morning, I walked past the Super 8 down the street from my office more slowly than usual.  I glanced at the cars parked by the entrance.  I observed the trucks resting along the periphery of the parking lot.  Should I note the license plates?  Should I check back in a couple of hours to see who’s still there?  I spent that whole first day wondering if this was how He wanted me to do this.

By Thursday I realized the answer was No.

I watched a recently-aired episode of Our America about sex slavery in the States and knew that the fieldwork was best left to the professionals.  This is a complicated, layered and very dangerous issue, one I wouldn’t dare assume myself equipped to dive into.  So I’m getting educated about the phenomenon, finding out what different people, agencies and governments are doing about it, deciding who I will support (and how), and sharing it all with you.

Check out this TED talk by Kevin Bales, co-founder of Free The Slaves and author of “Ending Slavery: How We Free Today’s Slaves”:

A more radical Lent

Yesterday morning I missed the bus.  Or, rather, the bus missed me.  Despite my arms’ best efforts at hyper-extended flailing, the driver drove right past my stop, snatching away my hopes of achieving my usual 115 minute ETA.  After lending myself to a few unbecoming moments of disbelief, I walked down two stops to distract myself from the dampness of my right boot.  Upon arrival at the second stop, thoughts of my damp right side were replaced by the knowledge that my fashion-before-function boots were now giving both feet that slushy sidewalk afterglow.  The next scheduled bus kindly stopped, let me on, and once I got acquainted with the prospect of sitting at my desk in my socks all day, the sneezing started and confirmed the arrival of that cold I had been suppressing for weeks.

Yet somehow all I could do was give thanks.  Thanks for the predictability of the 20 minute window between buses.  Thanks for the understanding boss.  Thanks for my job, in spite of its (lack of) proximity to my home.  Thanks for my safety in those early morning wandering moments.  And especially thanks for this little pickle that now serves as the perfect lead-in.

Because you see, somewhere that same morning, a child younger than any of my own was forced into hard, physical labour.  She is not allowed to go to school and is making and carrying heavy clay bricks all day.

Somewhere else, a once hopeful young lady is beginning her slumber.  It is her only refuge from the daily onslaught of rapes she endures, as dictated by her captors.  She is 18, and there is one just like her who is, maybe, 12.  There is another one who has no idea what country the brothel she is forcibly working at is in.  There is an infant, yes, an infant, who is being unfathomably incorporated into the mix.  And then there is a man on the other side of the world, presuming that his half-innocent peeks at online pornography are not contributing to the demand that fuels the sex slave industry.

What on earth do I have to complain about?

Tomorrow marks the beginning of Lent.  I used to commit myself to 40 days of avoiding swear words, french fries, candy, meat, etc.  But my commitment to these promises proved year after year to be more brittle than a New Year’s resolution.  This year I’m taking this opportunity for lasting change more seriously than ever before.

I am going to free someone from human trafficking.

I don’t know how, but I have some ideas.  I just know that it is my responsibility to pay my freedom forward.

There are 27 million victims of human trafficking in the world today.  That’s almost the entire population of Canada.  It’s real, it’s happening today in 2013 and it hits much closer to home than you think.

I plan to educate myself, pray often and report back frequently throughout my 40-day campaign.  I invite you to share any ideas, references or insights you have that will help me reach my goal.  Or, join me!

Here are my first two stops:
The A21 Campaign
Internations Justice Mission

“I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.” – Matthew 12:7

What I learned in 2012

I spent more time experiencing than publishing this year, but I couldn’t let my annual tradition go unobserved.  This year drilled deep into my heart.  So much pain, so much revelation, and more hope than ever before.  I don’t know if I can create an accurate list of everything that enriched me in the last twelve months, but I’ll try.  And as always, I encourage you to take some time to reflect and do the same.

2013 is your year.  Take it.

 

Serendipity is a melodious word meaning God’s good favour.

St. Louis really does make fantastic ribs.

The best teaching method is example.

There is something more dangerous for your productivity than your first six months on Facebook. But now you have the fanciest looking nails, know 15 ways to braid your hair, and can whip up the best avocado-flavoured fondant quinoa bacon cheesecake cups for next week’s pot luck lunch.

If you wait long enough and reach out far enough within your networks, yes, “things” will always happen in threes.  But sometimes, it hits close to home, all three times, in three and a half weeks.  And it hurts so bad.

It is never too late to shut off the autopilot and begin seeking out your best life and best relationships, and at the same time there’s no time to lose.

I, the one who could barely finish the magic mile back in high school (ask Hubby; he’ll proudly share the whole story with you), taught myself to run 10km straight this summer.  *pats self on the back

Online shopping is a beautiful thing.  So is Tarzhay coming to Canada.

Don’t knock it ’till you try it.

You can’t take yourself too seriously. That’s no fun.

Want to feel something indescribable? Surround yourself with 27,000 like-minded people for three days.

Your children do not get younger.  And your job never finishes.

Hindsight is 20/20.  But if you focus, look and listen hard enough, so is foresight.

I finally really love reading now.

“When you gossip, you hex yourself.” – Iyanla Vanzant

You think you know, but you have no idea.

You can choose hope, joy, mercy, forgiveness, love…in fact, you must.

Listen.

In a nutshell

Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.  We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.  And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.  And this hope will not lead to disappointment.  For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.  Romans 5:2-5

 

 

My heart is overflowing.  This year changed my life.  I am 36 years old today & I am not afraid.  I am so excited to see what’s next!