Monday, March 19, 2012

Moving my blog

Hi everyone,

I have moved my Haiti blog over to this address: I'm giving Tumblr a try, and so far, I think it's working pretty well!

I will also be moving all of my newest posts to this blog to Tumblr:

I hope you enjoy my thoughts and reminiscing!!


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Every reason in the world to be happy...let's do it!

My friend Fred Khonje shared this on Twitter yesterday. Do you like it as much as I do?

I've been thinking a lot about happiness lately...mostly about why, when I have every reason in the world to be happy, and yet at times, I make the choice for misery instead.

Why is that? These 6 tools are what I am going to use to boost my happiness quotient in 2012. They're practical, commonly known, and the picture makes me feel whimsical! 

As 2011 closes and 2012 dawns:
gelukkige nuwe jaar سنة جديدة سعيدة Godt Nytår Gelukkig Nieuwjaar happy new year masaya bagong taon heureuse nouvelle année glückliches neues Jahr Buon anno 幸せ新しい feliz año nuevo chúc mừng năm mới

Sunday, November 6, 2011

...a brief brush with culture and a need for more.

I've sent the email and created a Facebook note. I've told the people in my life what I'm doing, and somehow, hitting the "send" button caused my trip to Haiti in February to assume a completely new reality.

This trip is, for me, the culmination of years of longing to serve. I promise to tell you all about it in another note (maybe even today!). This one, however is reserved for some reflection: in particular, reflection on why this trip means so much to me.

I've spent time overseas, and have seen a few places in the world. Not unlike many others who have traveled extensively, the places that changed me most were the places most unlike my Canadian home.

I'd like to tell you about three of them:

An orphanage: rural South Africa. Spring 1998.
I don't remember much, other than the girl. She was about two years old, but was the size of a seven month old infant. Standing in her crib, hands gripping the rail, with a tear flowing down her face, she had me. I was captivated.

I crossed the room towards her. She was perfect, tiny, beautiful, and abandoned. My heart was bursting with a desire to hold her, so I asked one of her caregivers if I could pick her up. Of course, they said yes. Babies can never be held enough.

I put my hands under her tiny armpits, and lifted her from her isolated crib prison. As soon as I did, she reached to hug me around my neck with all of the strength that her little body could muster. As soon as her hands could reach me, she clung to me, and I clung to her.

Holding her was a paradigm shift. How could she be abandoned? Was it AIDS? Did her parents hope that leaving her would mean she might have a better life? Did they really just not want this gorgeous little creature? 

There were no answers forthcoming to me. All that I knew in that moment was I had connected with a person who needed to be loved. She had urinated and her sleeper was drenched. I noticed but decided that holding her was worth it.

She smiled. It was almost as though the touch of another person gave her joy. The feeling of gratitude I felt was sublime: how is it that I could have been in this moment, able to give joy to someone who needed it so much? Clearly, my time at that orphanage, with that little girl, was divinely planned. I have never forgotten or regretted smelling like baby-pee and I still treasure the way that she hugged me.

That orphanage schooled me about a few key life-lessons: that touch is vitally important to develop as a person, that very little effort is required to give someone joy, and that a part of my own heart could be left with a person who I had absolutely nothing in common with. Other than being part of the human race.

I've never seen her again, but I know that I will meet her one day. I hope it's in heaven, where her earthly body doesn't suffer malnutrition and her earthly heart doesn't break with hurts that no child should know.

I wonder if she looks like the little girl in the picture above? I hope that she has a smile today too.

A marketplace: Luxor, Egypt. December 1999.

Marketplaces are also known as bazaars in Egypt. There are rules here: they dictate how to barter, how to finalize a deal, and how to walk away. I knew very little of this when I arrived, and walked away with something far more important than rules.

I was walking through the streets of Luxor with Lisa, a new friend from Australia. Lisa was gorgeous - tall, blonde, and strikingly beautiful, with features that seemed to be admired by all male (and many female) Egyptians. She had encountered her fair share of gropes, seductions, and attempts at converting her to the Muslim faith for the purposes of marriage.

We were there during Ramadan, a holy month of fasting for Muslims, and during the day in Egypt, there was no food to be found. The call to prayer rang out at intervals - I think we heard it twice as we strolled the miles and miles that connected vendors set up to sell you the newest, greatest, and most touristy of wares.
Lisa wanted a t-shirt. I wanted a McChicken. 

I wasn't going to get my wish, so I went along with her into the stall of a man selling t-shirts.

We had learned a rule of barter from our tour guide: if you bargain, the first price you offer is the lowest possible price you can possibly pay. There is no going back if they agree to your original price. Note to selves, Commonwealth girls: lowball.

What he failed to tell us is that bartering in Luxor rarely produces quick results, but what it hopefully will produce is a relationship.

We sat for what felt like an age. We were offered tea and engaged in conversation in broken English and phrase-book Arabic. Lisa and I struggled, but were committed to getting her the t-shirt. After all, what better gift to share with her loved ones back home than a t-shirt wrought by a tough battle?

The battle wore on, and suddenly we realized that what the shop owner was really doing was not fighting us or trying to disrespect our desire for a quick purchase. What he was doing was engaging in a centuries-old custom of establishing a relationship through of bartering. It's a win-win: You make an offer to him, he makes an offer to you. Yours is low; his is high. You don't agree, so he offers you some tea. If you understand the process, you accept the tea, sit with him talking for a few minutes before the next round of offers are put out there. If you don't understand the process, you might get frustrated, fear his motivation, or leave abruptly. All of which do not serve the real purpose of the process: building relationships. If you are willing, continuing the bartering process just might.

We sat. We listened, we asked questions, and we finally agreed on a price. An hour later, Lisa and I walked out of the shop, a little wiser, a little poorer than intended, in possession of the coveted t-shirt, and something more: an tiny understanding of how Egyptian culture works. A treasure.

A family home: Nanacatlan, Mexico. March 2002.

Who wouldn't love a bus-load of people coming into a tiny, isolated Mexican village with a cargo of gifts for their children?

As our group from Samaritan's Purse descended the perilous mountain road and got our first glimpse of Nanacatlan, we didn't wonder if these people would be thrilled to have us here. We couldn't possibly: there were hundreds of children sitting in rows in the large town centre field, waiting excitedly for us to arrive. They were barely controllable, with their teachers issuing mild reprimands for stepping out of line or causing a disruption. Parents milled around and visited nearby. Everyone knew that today, something great was in store for them.

We were late. It had been a rough and terrifying drive in, and our vehicles were somewhat less than reliable.

The shoe boxes were distributed. Children played with each other and with our team. They shared the contents of their boxes, and they smiled knowingly that they had received something more than just a gift: it was hope.

Our "job" was done, and I started to walk. The village was tiny, and the homes were basic. There was no money here, and the families eked out an agrarian living, raising livestock, chickens, and growing corn. I sought solitude, a moment to pray, and thank God for the way that He had used us on the trip. I begged for an opportunity to be a blessing, and that He would bring blessing to this community.

As those words made their way from my heart to Him, I looked and there was a woman peering out of her doorway. She was shy, so I smiled. She came out a little more, and waved me into her home. I was hesitant; here I was, walking around a village by myself, and I hadn't told any of my group where I was going. I had left on a whim. Was I safe? Could I trust her?

I decided that I was safe and that I could trust her. I walked forward into a house with a dirt floor and very makeshift furniture. Everything was in that one room, even the kitchen, tucked into the back corner. She spoke no words of English (in fact, most of that village had absolutely no exposure to English), and I spoke only patchy Spanish.

She pointed. I saw the shoe box on the table. The seal had been broken, but all of the contents were still inside, packed carefully back into the box. 

I imagined her story: she was the grandmother of a child who had received a box. Upon getting the gift, the child played with its contents and then brought home her treasure to her grandmother to show. Then she went back out to skip rope or play tag, just like children do.

As I sat there making up my own story, a little girl walked into the room. She was about 8, and she didn't speak any English either. She just kept saying "gracias," a word that I was well familiar with. I hugged her and kept saying "de nada" to try to communicate how I felt that I had brought her very little, but that experiencing her village gave me so much more.

As I was about to leave, the older woman came to me with tears glistening in her eyes.
"Gracias, muchas gracias," she offered, before crumbling into tears.

I had no more words. I could hardly contain myself, so I smiled, with tears glistening in my own eyes. A joy that I couldn't explain poured into my soul, and I bent low to walk through the doorway.

I walked away from that house, looking back to see a sobbing grandmother and a smiling child, and I waved, knowing that my life was changed because of those brief moments that we shared.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Not just an amazing vacation - a vacation full of amazing!

Everything about this vacation has been I wanted to list a few really cool things. I'm pretty thankful!
  • Energy to do the drive in one day. We had planned to stop in Kamloops, but were full of energy, so we continued to Vancouver on our first day! This gave us an entire day in the city to have sushi for lunch, visit Granville, a hopeful trip to see raccoons at Prospect Point, and a superb dinner with friends. Could not have been a better day to start our holiday.
  • A surprisingly lovely hotel. The Georgian Court on Beatty in Vancouver. Highly recommended. They have a fantastic hot tub and spa area.
  • Vancouver sunshine. Even in late October, we got to see the sun. I love that city!
  • First on-first off the ferry. A minor pleasure, but made for a great way to start in Victoria!
  • Cafe Mexico. As much fun with my family as it was with my friends, and the food and service could not have been more perfect.
  • Lunch with harbour seals. Fish and chips at Barb's in Victoria were made better by the fact that the seals wanted some too.
  • 6 hours of dancing on heels. My feet were so sore, I could hardly walk back to the hotel! Need to wear the heels more, and the laughs made the pain totally worth it!
  • Seeing a bald eagle sitting at the top of a dead tree beside a bridge. Randomly cool. And I almost missed it. The binoculars brought him right into my vision, and I've never seen a more majestic bird.
  • Point Defiance Zoo (Seattle). There was almost no other human life. We saw baby cloud leopards (adorable!), a walrus (he was HUGE!), and a Sumatran tiger that was awake, out, and wandering. I have never seen a tiger that active in a zoo before.
  • Mount St. Helens. Need I say more? One of the most surreal experiences, and again, there was no one there. We took the detour, and stood where a geologist lost his life to the volcano in 1980. The mountain is amazing, still steaming, and just a little terrifying.
  • Carl's Jr. I have never eaten here, and it's been a quest for us for a couple of years. It wasn't worth the wait, but is worth a mention because we triumphed!
  • Getting a room for a second night in Hood River. Expedia claimed there was only room in the inn for us for one night. The front desk said otherwise. I love this town. So much. Spending a second night here is awesome! Especially at our favourite hotel - the Hood River Inn. It's a Best Western, but the best Best Western we've ever been to. We will always return here!
  • Beer cheese soup. A brewery is bound to make great beer cheese soup, but this stuff was out of this world. Thanks, Full Sail Brewery!
  • Alpaca wool. It's so soft! I want to learn how to knit so that I can make something with alpaca wool. Can anyone teach me?
  • Glass apples and pumpkins. Could this be the start of a new love-affair? Glass-blowing was fun, and I am rapturous about the process. I've wanted to do this for years, and Blaine made it happen for me. I am anxious to spend more time in a glass studio.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

On graduating from university

Two years of work are complete. I walked across the stage last Friday, and have spent the last 5 days thinking about what this means to me.

Please allow me break it down:

1. I finally completed something all the way through! My mom and dad will appreciate this one the most, because my entire growing up years were trying new things, but never mastering anything. I'm proud because this was something that I set out to do, and I did it.

2. Graduating university was an entirely dependent experience. Each of my classmates brought something to my experience that would have been impossible without the structure and plans of the Royal Roads program. I depended on my family and friends to be understanding and supportive (which they totally came through on!) while I neglected life to study.

3. I didn't have to neglect that much of my life! The program was totally geared towards people like me (need to keep working!), and the workload was rarely unmanageable. That said, if I was like many of my other classmates who tried to juggle class, children, work, exercise, and health, I may tell another story. My prayers are continually with Maria - of whom I am exceedingly proud - she graduated while battling leukemia. If I ever think my journey was difficult, I only need to think of her, and I reconsider.

4. If success can be measured by the relationships that one builds, I am blessed out of my socks with success. Not only did I get to know people in this program, I have added to my repertoire of "best friends," and know that my network has grown, not only with professional contacts, but with people who care about me and about whom I care deeply.

5. Walking the stage was meaningful, but it was nothing in comparison to another weekend with my cohort-mates. What I will always remember is their faces, the laughing, and the hugs. Walking across a stage to receive a piece of paper could never trump the value that I place on those people.

6. Sarah was right: even though it's expensive, just purchase the frame at the time that you graduate. I know that when I get home, the last thing I'd be thinking about will be trying to figure out how to frame that document. I'm grateful because my in-laws bought it as a graduation gift for me, so my degree will look very professional, and will make me look very important (just kidding!).

Although I didn't graduate summa cum laude, I did walk away from my university experience with knowledge about communications, a renewed desire to keep learning, a collection of friends with varied backgrounds and geography, and an appreciation for how my support system played a huge role in this degree. I wish I could have put everyone's name on the document. You all deserve it as much as I do.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Following the Shepherd and Paying the Piper

His body is now back to dust, in a pasture where the sheep graze. Look closely: that's them in the distance - white dots trimming the green grass.

The sky is cloudy, and the wind is blowing. We stand with our faces to that wind, taking handfuls of his ashes and watching what is left of his body fly on the wind. I know that his soul is smiling - he's at home.

His body is home in Scotland, and his soul is home in heaven. I hear his voice claiming this experience:

"God, my shepherd! I don't need a thing.
You have bedded me down in lush meadows, you find me quiet pools to drink from.
True to Your word, you let me catch my breath and send me in the right direction."

"Even when the way goes through Death Valley, I'm not afraid when you walk at my side. 
Your trusty shepherd's crook makes me feel secure."

"You serve me a six-course dinner right in front of my enemies. 
You revive my drooping head; my cup brims with blessing."

"Your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life. I'm back home in the house of God for the rest of my life."

Psalm 23, Message

Oh, the way that peace enters my soul as I stand there. I sob, wishing that he could be there too, but smile, knowing that he truly understands a God that chased after him every day of his life.

I'm the DJ. My iPhone rings with a rich squeal of bagpipes playing, "Going Home." My eyes fill with tears.

My uncle Rick, with a strong, clear voice, offers these words to the wind:

Paying the Piper (Linda Hatfield)

Ages ago,
in the heathered highlands
of a far off land,
a piper played –
the wailing notes of his
somber song
echoing off the barren hillsides
the minds and hearts
of his countrymen.

So deeply the sad notes
imprinted on their souls
that none could forget
their tune,
and those that tried
were sure to feel their
painful tug
if ‘ere they wandered far.

But life was harsh,
and as the years passed
those who carried the song
in their hearts
suffered battles and
as they built a nation
hewn of courage and sacrifice.

Centuries later,
life was gritty and raw, and
a restless young lad
of seventeen
ventured out
far across the ocean
to seek his fortune
in a city of the same name as a
windblown island meadow
in his homeland.

There, he met a bonnie lass,
in whose heart a different song
was buried deep,
and together they built their dream –
with three strong children
and a career whose gifts
were a modern home and
a comfortable life,
far from the soot and scarcity
that had once
burned his body and
stung his pride.

But the song –
it hadn’t gone;
it hunted and haunted,
and softened by the years away
he followed it back,
challenging the ghosts
of his past
and embracing the long lost
stories of land of his birth.

And so it grew
his interest and admiration
for the land of his forefathers,
and he came into the twilight of his life
with a strong sense of self
and a clear understanding
of his place and purpose.

And when the moment of truth arrived,
so suddenly, yet expected,
he calmly agreed to
pay the piper,
singing his song
loudly and proudly
as he was carried gently away,
returning the song
to it’s home.

And the song, it plays still;
it’s calling him back,

and in Drimmie its notes
will settle and rest
at last, on the soft heathered hills.
I have the song in my heart too, Grampa. All of us do. We found it here in Drimmie where you left it, and it resonates in our souls as we think of you.

Coming Home

I sit in the garden of a home that my Grampa considered to be his second for the last almost 20 years. Blairgowrie. His favourite place in the world. 

I feel the same. It's my second home, and one of my favourite places in the world.

Earlier, I wandered through the woods, noting that it's impossible to ignore the extravagant beauty that has been left for me to discover. I am grateful. Home should be beautiful. I search for familiarity and find it.

I wander and wonder. How is it possible that my soul can also feel so at home in this place? I am peaceful. I rest, taking in the wonder that is Scotland. With a wet boot and a place to sit in the middle of a river, I find something to treasure here: my family.

There is a slight sense of longing: I miss Blaine, and I wish that he was here in this place with me. I also miss Grampa, for the last time I saw these sights, he was beside me.

But I have something new too...kinship with people who have known me my entire life, and whom I have known their entire lives. Seven people between whom are undeniable bonds, even more strong than just simple family ties. We became a family here.

And some new family members: Charles and Sue Collings. I met them in 2000, and felt like I was reuniting with family as I greeted them again. They loved Grampa, and he loved them. They offer that same love to all of us, and we take it, with pleasure! What a blessing to live in their home and be in community with them for a couple of days.

It might seem weird that the places in Scotland that I found treasures were not the places that I was checking off on my checklist. They were the places where relationships took top priority, where meeting people meant more than meeting history.

I have so much more to say.

To be continued...