Wednesday, 30 March 2011

slow down

As part of this project to simplify my life, I know that I need to slow down. To do less, consume less, and be more selective. To say no. And to say yes. To be more intentional about defining my goals, and to "be good at what I'm good at" (thanks to a wise cousin for giving me that little quote). Sometimes I've put too much on my plate, and then I feel like I'm not doing anything well.

When people ask me how I am, I try not to answer "busy." I don't like hearing this from others; it makes me feel rushed just listening. I try not to end my email notes with "gotta go." When I read this on others' emails, I think What should I be doing now that I'm not? Should I "gotta go" quickly too? Should I be stressing over all of the things on my list?

I want to slow down. To see time as expansive; as enough for this day. I want to see sabbath rest as necessary and as something I can't do without. And I want this for my kids too - to catch a balance of rest and work and play. And to see people and relationships as more important than time. To see emails, telephone calls, and visits as opportunities to slow down and connect - if only for a moment - to honour others with restful presence.

Here's a photo of something that was VERY slow that I experienced 2 weeks ago: bowling with a 4-year-old. Fun, and funny, but slow. One ball even stopped before it made it to the end of the bowling lane. And my 7-year-old beat me.

I will try to slow down. Smell the roses. Take well over an hour to bowl one game. Walk instead of rush. 
And just try to be.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

a prayer spot

As part of Lent this year, I want to be reminded to pray more often. I don't instinctively pray unless I'm feeling stressed. I've found that some people have an aversion to the word "prayer," but they use language like "meditate" or "send out a message to the universe." Whatever words used, it means the same to me.

I made a prayer calendar for our church called "40 ways/days to pray" with suggestions for each of the days of Lent. One of the ideas was to create a place for prayer in your home. When I suggested we could do this, my daughters went straight to work collecting objects from around the house. One daughter wanted a pretty cloth to cover the small table. They seemed to instinctively know some of the things that could remind them to pray.

Can you see some of the things on table? There are heart-shaped rocks, shells, a stone candle holder, a heart-shaped cookie cutter with a bright yellow balloon attached, a bookmark with Mother Teresa on it, a prayer calendar from our church, some sparkly jewels, a special book about a small puppy, a card that says "peace on earth", and a curled-up wooden buddha. These are the things that remind them to pray.

This morning I heard one daughter explain it to a friend who had come to play. "This is our prayer table," she told her, "It reminds us to pray to God. Because that's what we believe. Those things in nature remind us of God." 

I'd like to believe that prayer isn't just an inner, quiet way of being. Prayer, to me, is another way of slowing down and savouring the moments. I'd like to think of my life as a prayer, and that prayer can come out of the most unexpected moments and from the most ordinary joys.   

Like gratitude for my two wonderful daughters and one tremendous husband. So I say a small prayer, and smile a big smile, each time I walk past.

Monday, 28 March 2011

saving vs. savouring

I'm a saver. And I fear I'm passing it on. My daughter received a Lindt Easter bunny last Easter, and she just decided to nibble on its ears last evening. My younger daughter ate hers the day she received it. Luckily, it's good Swiss chocolate and it hasn't gone bad. She certainly savoured it as her sister looked on.

I do this all the time, especially with yummy foods like chocolate. I remember getting Hallowe'en candy as a kid. My younger brother would finish his haul within a week, and mine would last me until Easter. When we would go to A & W as kids (a rare treat when we were in the "city"), he would gobble his burger and fries right away as I looked on. Only when he would finish his would I begin to eat mine.

When we were living in France last year, my aunt brought us some pesto sauce from the Cinque Terre region in Italy - where pesto was "invented"! There could be nothing more lovely to me. Pesto is definitely one of my favourite foods, and to have the "real thing" from the place where it originated - oh man. I finally got the nerve to open the container last month, and I've been carefully storing it in the freezer so it won't go bad before I'm finished using it (this has happened before when I've saved something too long).

And I extend this habit beyond food to piles of fabric, closets of craft supplies, drawers of stickers, and other precious goodies... all waiting for the perfect time for me to use them. A time that has not yet come, and maybe never will.

I wonder... what am I waiting for? Or do I not think I deserve to use nice things or eat yummy things? What would happen if I truly savoured these items upon receiving them? Does the pesto taste better because I've saved it, tucked it away for so long, assigning some special importance to it?

There are crafty things I hold onto - maybe I can blame this on my teaching, but I'm pretty sure I did it before I became a teacher. I always think: maybe I'll have a use for this some day, so I'd better save it. But perhaps if I gave it away, someone else would be able to savour and enjoy it now. This seems better than just saving it.

Some things that I save can be savoured over and over again, like letters and photos - memorabilia that takes me back to certain times and places. These things I can't give away. Not yet, anyway.

This week I'm going to try to go through my house, looking for things I can savour right now and use, looking for other things that someone else could savour, and deciding on what must be saved.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

midwife of new life

On this first day of spring, I'm thinking about new life.

My husband's grandma just died today.

But amidst the sadness, we talked to our daughters about this being Grandma's wish - to join other loved ones who had gone before her. And we talked of hopes - of what we hope the afterlife will be like for Grandma. It would definitely include choirs, and pianos, and violins, and lots of music. New life.

Derek's parents, aunts, and uncles sat around Grandma's bed. By singing, praying, and acting as her spiritual midwives, they ushered her into a new life in death.

My daughter saw new sprouts coming up from the ground today.

I wondered about being a midwife of new life - how could I encourage the new life around me in all of its forms - new babies being born, new plants growing, new things being learnt, new relationships formed, new milestones achieved, new stages of life. Newness and change are constantly around us.

Sometimes newness can be a bit scary to me - a new home, a new neighbourhood, a new school - because you are leaving the old and familiar. But oh, the growth! Last year, while on sabbatical in France, our daughters went to the local school there. This newness was not really welcome, but at the end of the first full week, our daughter prayed at lunchtime, "Thank you, God, for new experiences." Derek and I looked at each other with tears in our eyes. Who would have known? And the growth that occurred because of this willingness to risk, to step into newness, was incredible.

So this spring, I'm looking for new life - in the earth, in my family, in myself. I'll try to embrace it when it comes along, and try to be a midwife of new life in others. We'll see what grows!

Saturday, 19 March 2011

cross cultural connections

This week, we've had several cross-cultural connections that have lifted me out of my usual way of thinking and doing things.

#1: sugaring time at the farm

We always look forward to sugaring time - when the maple sap starts climbing, and then running, up the sugar maple trees. It is truly a magical time. This week has been "a good run", so I hear, with lots of sap running in the warm, almost-spring days.

My parents invited us to go to their neighbour's place to see the whole process of sap to syrup. It was an experience. My dad drove us over there in the back of a wagon, and picked up four of their kids who wanted to go to the sugar shack. We rode on the wagon, half full of firewood, bumping over the still-frozen land, through the icy, rushing creek (VERY exciting!) and though the woods to the shack. These neighbour children are Old Order Mennonites, so there was a lot of looking shyly at each other and giggling that happened between the children as we rode together.

The shack was steamy, vapour from the boiling sap rising into the top of the building. And I can't get enough of that smell -- brings me back to my childhood, when my parents boiled sap in the sugar shack on their farm.

The children ran around together, talking and laughing. The neighbours were fascinated with my camera and my daughters' colourful boots. My kids were fascinated with their different way of life, and had many questions on the way home, like: Why can't we live on a farm? Why do they wear dresses? How do they get to school? What chores do they do every day? Why do they speak German at home? What do they do after grade eight?

cross cultural boots

#2: we are all treaty people

I went to hear Dr. Roger Epp speak on this topic yesterday. He says that in Canada, we are all part of a treaty just because we have chosen to live here, and because there were people here before us. He stressed the importance of reaching out and building relationships, not necessarily as a solution to the problems between "settlers" and aboriginal peoples, but because it's the right thing to do.

Someone asked, "How do we get to know them? How do we build relationships?" And it seems like it will only happen if you take a risk. Befriend and listen - not to solve, but to be in solidarity with our neighbours who have generously shared this land with us.

#3: Laotian supper

Tonight we were treated to a wonderful Laotian meal. Our church sponsored Laotian refugees to come to Canada 30 years ago. We still have a partnership with their church, and try to find ways to connect with each other. Tonight's meal was called "Guess who's coming to supper." We knew an address, but no name, for the house we were going to. Our hosts knew numbers, but no names, for the people coming. 

We feasted. Wonderful food: curried chicken, breaded shrimp, egg drop soup, vegetable fried rice, noodles with chicken, and sticky rice and beans wrapped in banana leaves. Our kids gobbled it up!

We heard stories of their time in a refugee camp in Thailand before they migrated to Canada. Several times, they expressed their thanks to God that they were able to come to Canada. Their hospitality was overflowing. 

I need these connections. To help me see a different way of being. To value family, relationship building, and simple joys. So easily, I can complicate my life and see it only from my own limited perspective. I need these Canadian neighbours of mine to pull me out of this way of thinking. I need to take risks in building relationships outside of those that seem easy at first glance. Because you never know what gifts are waiting for you. 

So... how do you build connections and relationships beyond what's easy?

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

one word

In December, as part of Reverb 10 writing prompts, I attempted to choose a word to hold as my word for 2011. A word to inspire, motivate, push me on, act as my guide on the side, encourage me to expand who I am. And it was hard to choose just one.

So I chose two:



And the two are related to me. The more I simplify - my thoughts, my possessions, my home, my involvements - the greater capacity and time I have to connect with others - my family, friends, earth, self, and God. The more time I have for surprises, spontaneity, and play to enter too. Connecting can take other forms too - like this blog.

I've been reading The Call by Oriah (HarperOne, 2003). In this book, Oriah encourages us to find and embody the one word we are each called to live/teach/be/share with the world. A tall order. But it intrigues me. A quote from the book:
Remember - there is one word you are here to say with your whole being. When it finds you, give your life to it.
She says we should give ourselves completely to this word - or to our struggle with this word. Oriah's word is "rest" - and she finds it VERY hard to do that. She writes:
Living your word means opening the door that fear has closed.
It was hard for me to choose one word for the year, let alone finding one word for my life. What would I choose? Create? Collaborate? Communicate? All things I love to do, so they don't have that "edge" that she refers to. Things that I find hard to do: fail, finish what I've started, resist thrift store deals, clean up around the house, say no to interesting-sounding-projects, act out of courage instead of fear, and rest. But all of those feel a bit heavy to take on as my "word."

Perhaps "voice." For years, I've wondered if I had one. I participated in a 7-month study tour to India, Indonesia, and North American native communities way back when. We studied issues of peace and conflict in the various places we visited. It was truly fascinating and life-changing. One native elder in Canada met with our group near the end of our 7 months together and said, "Sound your voice. You have been given a gift. The gift is not for you to keep to yourselves; it is for the people."

Those words have stayed with me. How often I can think of my life as boring, average, with no words to offer. But I'm beginning to hope that I can offer something. And I know that I love to give voice to others' stories too. So there. Voice. I'll sit with that for awhile and see how it feels as my "life" word.

someone who's not afraid to sound her voice
(or at least her fashion sense)

And you? What words are you embodying for this year? For your life?