Saturday, 30 March 2013

sock bunnies and other Easter traditions

If you're sitting around today, wondering what to do with some odd socks, I have an idea for you:

make a sock bunny.

Two friends and I spent a marvelous afternoon together several weeks ago. We brought socks, thread, stuffing, stories, and lots of laughter.

I used these instructions to make my sock bunny. Her name is Argyle:

It just took one sock to make her and I thought that I could easily make one of these for each of my nieces and nephews. That was a nice thought.

This craft afternoon all started as a result of a conversation that we had in January, where we ended up laughing uproariously over some of our ideas, like having a sock monkey ministry. But guess what? It's already happening - in Toronto, no less. Take a look! 

My other friends were making sock monkeys from this pattern. Here is one, called Rainbow (clothing included on the second shot):

A blessed Easter to you, whether you make sock animals or not. For us, today will be filled with:

* paska making (Derek's Russian Mennonite heritage)

* egg cheese making (my Swiss Mennonite heritage)

* egg dying (Z+E's secular heritage) :)

* resurrection rolls (maybe those will be saved 'til tomorrow)

Friday, 29 March 2013

what Nolan taught me

Be careful of the friends your child lets into her heart. Because you just might find that they've made their way into your heart too. This doesn't sound like a bad thing, but today it hurts.

Our 6 year old friend Nolan, Eden's kindergarten boyfriend, was battling brain cancer. His journey ended Thursday night, the night before Good Friday.

On Ash Wednesday, I began the Lenten season by reading an early morning email from a strong mother, finding brave words to tell family and friends that her son might not live to see his 7th birthday in April. Hard words to read, let alone write.

Through these almost-40 days of Lent, I have cried many tears. For Nolan, for Nolan's mom and dad, for families who go through this dark hell. I have prayed, and cried out to God, and begged for his life.

And today, as I thought of Good Friday and brokenness and hopes dashed and lives cut short, I cried again. And tried to answer our daughters' questions of "why," but mostly my answers were "I don't know. It's not fair, and there is just no good explanation." I refuse to give them answers like "it was God's will" or "it was his time to die" because I just don't believe that. We live in a broken world, and sometimes life is very hard and truly unfair.

As we cried and hugged each other, I thought of all the lessons that Nolan taught me:

* to wonder and learn from nature, from creepy-crawly insects to red-eyed tree frogs to slippery snakes

* to fight for life, and defend it like the best hockey goalie around

* to pursue your dreams, like horseback riding, collecting bugs in Florida, and meeting great hockey players

* that Kitchener Rangers hockey games are a pile of fun to watch (we went last Friday to watch Nolan drop the puck to start the game)

* to think of others, gifting them with Valentine cards and Sea World stuffies

* to hold onto bits of life - to butterflies, to rays of sunlight through the window, to bright stars at night

* to stare dark monsters in the face and whisper, "Not a chance, monsters. Not a chance."

* that no matter what your age, you can affect countless people with your life

Nolan, we will never forget you - especially Eden. You stole her heart from the first day of Kindergarten. She admired you and called you a bug expert. Her goal for the year 2012 was to marry you, and you will always have a place in her heart. After all, how could she forget her first kiss in the line-up to the computer lab? You have taught us so much in your short life. Rest in God's care, Nolan.

Eden and Nolan in Kindergarten

Monday, 25 March 2013

dirty feet?

See my post from today about the ritual of footwashing over here at the Practicing Families website. I wanted my girls to help with a photo shoot this past weekend, and I thought it would be just that: taking pictures of feet in a basin. But they got so into it, that I just had to tell the story of Jesus being a servant to his followers.

Then one thing led to another, and my daughters were saying, "Will you let me serve you?" to each other, and actually meaning it. That's when I got a few tears in my eyes. They giggled because of tickly feet, and at the end said, "That was so awesome! When can we do it again?"

One daughter felt like the next morning was as good a time as any. She filled up the basin again, and a visiting 2-year old cousin got her whole body in the basin - she felt like just feet were not enough.

This idea of servant, upside-down leadership never gets too old for me.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Dutch Blitz dialogue

Who knew that an afternoon with 40 Muslim girls, 8 Mennonite girls, and a set of giant Dutch Blitz cards could be so absolutely wonderful?

A group of Muslim girls, ages 12-15, and their leaders were meeting during March break at Hidden Acres, a local Mennonite camp. They asked the camp director if he could refer them to someone that could talk to them about Mennonites, and possibly bring some girls along who are their ages. That's where I came in. So a friend and I rounded up a small group of girls from two local congregations and agreed to meet at the camp.

As the girls entered the room, they introduced themselves to each other, sitting down on couches and sharing some small interactions. For one Muslim girl, there was no need for small talk. Her first request to 2 of the Mennonite girls was this: "Can you teach me a new prayer?"

What if all of our interactions with people of other faiths began like that: can you teach me a new prayer? 

I tried to explain Mennonites in 5 minutes or less, then opened it up for questions. The question-answer time - where questions were coming from both Muslims and Mennonites, and answers too - lasted 1.5 hours! I couldn't believe how engaged the girls were. Their engagement, ability to articulate, desire to learn, and commitment to faith was truly inspiring. The girls, Muslim and Mennonite, responded to questions about their faith and faith communities. Even my young daughters were spellbound.

The Mennonite girls spoke about what it means for them to be part of the church. The Muslim girls spoke eloquently about their beliefs and the challenges of living out faith in their everyday lives. They told us of groups that they meet with once a week for teaching and encouragement. They can bring questions and problems they're having to discuss with adults in their group.

At bedtime last night, our daughters asked about those support groups. Why can't we have a group like that, Mom? So that got my wheels turning.

We introduced the Muslim group to the game Dutch Blitz, a Mennonite card game that has been morphed into a large group activity with huge cardboard cards. This was a pile of fun to watch as the girls jumped and dove over each other to put their cards on the centre piles.

Then we ate a snack together with more interacting around the tables.

An afternoon to remember - time very well spent. And we hope it's just the beginning.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

world without end

I've been listening to talk of cardinals and Vatican city and black smoke and conclave and locked doors and wondering: what exactly does this have to do with my life? And I've been coming up with absolutely nothing.

But yesterday when we watched the announcement of the new pope, I got a little teary-eyed. The part that affected me most? When Pope Francis ended his prayer with "world without end."

It's a term I don't use in my prayers, but he might just have inspired me to add it. It sounds so hopeful - like there really might be a point to this whole religion thing after all. And to life in general too. And it made me hopeful for a tradition - full of flaws and brokenness - that can speak a word of new hope to this generation.

As a Mennonite, I don't have many prayers that I recite and say over and over again. And sometimes this makes me a bit sad. I yearn for some ritual in my daily routine. Some connection to the divine that's been practiced for years and years and years.

So perhaps I'll try to incorporate this short "glory be" prayer as a way to build hope into my day.

Glory be to the Father,
and to the Son,
and to the Holy Spirit,
as it was in the beginning,
is now, and ever shall be,
world without end,

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

what do Mennonites believe?

This Friday we have an interesting opportunity. We are meeting with a group of about 40 Muslim girls at a local Mennonite camp to play together and learn about each other. The Muslim group initiated this. They want to know: what do Mennonites believe? 

We've gathered a group of about 12 Mennonite girls, youth, and moms to meet with this group. I offered that we could teach them Giant Dutch Blitz (a rambunctious, active game that will have us stumbling all over each other in the gym). I warned Sultana, one of the leaders, that this won't teach them about our faith - just might show them how competitive Mennonites can be when we're playing games. 

Sultana also mentioned that she wants a chance to hear about what we believe. This is the piece I've been pondering for the last few days. How do I summarize our beliefs in a way that 12-15 year old Muslim girls will get something out of it, and that our girls will feel it represents them? How do I boil the complexities down into something simple and palatable?

When I asked my own girls what our church believes, these were their responses:

[9 year old daughter] shrugs shoulders

[6 year old daughter] "What do you even MEAN?"

[me] "I mean what do we believe about God and about us and about the world?"

[6 year old daughter] "What does 'believe' mean?"

[me] "Like what you think about God."

[6 year old daughter] "Doesn't EVERYONE think about God?"

[me] "Maybe. But what do YOU think about God?"

[6 year old daughter] "That God wants us to be nice?"

[me] "OK - anything else?"

[6 year old daughter] "That I can talk to God and God made the world and wants people to get along."

I came away a bit puzzled as to why these questions were so confusing to my daughters. Admittedly, we don't often talk about our beliefs. I believe that actions speak louder than words, and hopefully my children are "hearing" some of our beliefs in action. I hope that they're absorbing faith by osmosis, understanding the gifts of hospitality to both giver and receiver, the importance of being generous with your love and compassion and money, the ways that we can work to bring about a more peace-filled world. 

Derek and I pondered this over sushi last night. At what age do we label our thoughts and actions as "beliefs"?

One belief that I'll put on the table right now: that children are born with an innate knowledge of God, and sometimes we squash it out of them

I want to be careful that I'm not extinguishing my daughters' own unique theological thoughts, connections to God, beliefs - whatever you want to call them - about who God is, and who they are in relation to God. I don’t want to pile on cement-like heavy beliefs so that it’s hard for them to excavate down to the ones they find life-giving. I want to learn from them because I intuitively know that sometimes they're better connected to that Spirit than I am. 

I know that my own beliefs have changed over time, and I suspect/hope they’ll keep on changing. But the task at hand for this Friday remains the same: how do I present a group’s beliefs in a way that feels authentic and real?

Monday, 11 March 2013

sweet maple taffy

Is there anything more glorious than the sound of snow melting (I can hear it!), rising temperatures, sun shining, coat shedding, bikes and scooters roaring about, knowing that sap is shooting up the sugar maple trees?

I LOVE spring.

It's such a hopeful time of year.

The smell of maple syrup boiling in a sugar shack brings back potent and wonderful childhood memories - Dad stoking a huge fire, maple steam filling the shack, the first tastes of spring on egg cheese and donut tea balls. How sweet spring tastes!

My oldest daughter was begging to go to Quebec city this year for carnaval. So I did the next best thing: I promised her we'd make taffy. Yesterday was the day! We made "la tire sur la neige" - maple taffy (doesn't it just sound so much more yummy in French?). You can make it on ice, but snow is preferable, in my humble opinion. I remember doing some version of this as a child.

I tried this several years ago, and it flopped. I just boiled the maple syrup and poured it on snow - in front of my eager grade one class. To our disappointment, it just sank into the snow - all that precious, sweet syrup.

So this year I did a little more research. I also bought a candy thermometer. And it worked!

I used this recipe as a guide, but basically, here are the steps.

1. Get some clean snow and put it in a pan. Freeze it ahead of time if you think the snow will melt before you have a chance to make taffy. I put ours in the freezer for a week so it was nice and cold - and clean! Decorate wooden sticks (totally unnecessary, but fun).

2. Put 2 cups of maple syrup into a pot. I learned the hard way that I should have used a double boiler on my gas stove.

3. Boil the syrup until it reaches the "soft ball" point on your candy thermometer (around 230-240 degrees F). My failed attempt years ago happened because I didn't bring the syrup to a high enough temperature.

4. Put the boiled syrup into a glass measuring cup.

5. Pour the syrup in lines onto the snow. Count to 30.

6. Use a wooden stick to twirl it up.

7. Eat!

8. Drink milk. Brush teeth. :)

Wisdom literature connection (because I know you want one):
[say this to the sweet maple taffy as you eat it]

"Kiss me tenderly! Your love is better than wine, and you smell so sweet. All the young women adore you; the very mention of your name is like spreading perfume. Hurry, my king! Let's hurry. Take me to your home." -- Song of Solomon 1:2-5 

Friday, 8 March 2013

losing my sense of humour

My daughter was talking about her cousins - traits they have that were passed on through a parent. Then she asked, "But Mom, where did I get my funniness from?" Translation: you and dad aren't funny, so why am I?

This made me sad, but I realize she's right. Over the years, I've significantly serious-ed up, and I've lost that funny feeling. What happened? I remember giggling uproariously, often during church or with my cousin at a sleepover. I miss that feeling of uncontrollable laughter.

When did I get so serious?

I think it was a gradual process.

First teacher's college, then teaching kindergarten and grade one, where I supervised children's behaviour and told them when they were being inappropriate. Big funny-killer, even though the work brought me joy.

Then I became part of committees that talked about shrinking budgets. Not a whole lot of laughing that happened there, unfortunately.

Then we bought a house.

Then I started nagging more.

Then my cousins and I, who had a Christmas tradition of dressing up in weird costumes and carolling to our families at our Christmas gathering then getting changed and pretending it wasn't us, stopped one year. I guess we were all of a sudden too mature for that.

Any suggestions of how I could find my lost sense of humour are more than welcome.

I have an interest in wisdom literature lately, so here's my inspiration from the book of Proverbs, talking about an "excellent wife":

Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at a time to come. (Proverbs 31:25)

Here's to more laughing over the weekend! Another Lent discipline.