31 December 2011

So grandma's in heaven now, right?

"If grandma's in heaven, and heaven's a wonderful place, why is everyone so sad?" is a question that I think my nieces wonder about. It's good logic, and yet the answer is simple: because we miss her.

"So when's grandma coming back from heaven?" would be the next obvious question and is pretty much what my youngest niece asked my sister. How do you tell a 2-year-old that no matter how much grandma loved her, grandma doesn't get to leave? She isn't coming back. We don't miss her because she's been gone so long, but because we know that she's always gone. Heaven might be a wonderful place (and we take comfort in knowing that grandma/mom gets to be there), but we miss her.

23 December 2011

Community as an extension of hospitality

A few weeks before leaving on vacation, a Calvin Seminary graduate who I vaguely knew contacted me to see if I knew of a cheap place to stay in Amsterdam while he was visiting the VU University (Vrije Universiteit) about his Ph.D. It just so happened that the time of his visit corresponded to our being in Canada, so I wouldn't be here to help him out more with how things work in Amsterdam. However, since our apartment would then be empty, I could easily offer to let him stay there during his visit. I let others in my house and community know that he was coming and left with the sense that he'd be able to receive help from others in the community if he needed anything.

Much to my delight, my houseguest was warmly welcomed and helped by the community. They took care of a mix-up with a key and helped him get settled. Besides that, someone gave him a tour of the Christian Youth Hostel around the corner and invited him to join him for church. Another person (my favourite canal boat captain) took him along on a canal tour of Amsterdam. And I'm sure there were numerous conversations as well - full of genuine curiousity for the work and ministry that the other was doing.

Being able to extend more hospitality was one of the hopes that Matthijs and I had when we moved to Amsterdam. And it's been great to see that desire become a reality - I just hadn't quite expected that we'd even be able to extend hospitality when we were absent! It's a pretty great blessing to be part of a community where hospitality is such an obvious part of life that it'd be extended not only to others in the community, but even to each other's guests.

21 December 2011

So perhaps it's not Matthijs I'm irritated with?

About a week into our trip in Canada, I woke up irritated with Matthijs. So I started sorting through the day before to see if I could find what he'd done to hurt, anger, frustrate or annoy me. In the end, I couldn't actually find anything. He'd been actually super supportive of everything happening in my family and had been extra patient and tolerant when we sometimes excluded him and/or made plans without him. So what was going on?

One of the most important things I have learned while being married is that sometimes when I'm irritated with Matthijs, it's actually because I'm frustrated, hurt, angry or disappointed at someone or something else. But because I live with Matthijs, it's not that hard to find something that he has done or said (or not done or said) with which I can be annoyed and thus I can take out my frustration on him. Being able to let Matthijs know when he does something that hurts or irritates me is healthy (and a little irritation in my life pushes me to do that when I tend to try too hard to 'be a nice girl' whom everybody likes)  - but it is also extremely healthy to realize that I might be projecting frustration from somewhere else onto him (and thus might be overreacting). It's also healthy that Matthijs is aware of this and tends not to overreact when I'm being unreasonable but instead gives me space to figure out what's going on with my frustration.

My waking up annoyed with Matthijs during our vacation was a classic example of my projecting other feelings on him. The fact that I was significantly annoyed with him was also a clue that I was projecting. What could be big enough to cause that kind of irritation? Even if Matthijs isn't perfect (thankfully), his love for me in the midst of a healthy relationship make it extremely difficult for him to make me that irritated any more. Instead, the real source of my frustration was the illness of my mother and my feelings of helplessness in not being able to have the answers or even help her more. Recognizing how ridiculous my frustration with Matthijs was helped me see more clearly how much he was being patient with me and supporting me in the midst of the challenges.

20 December 2011

Good moments at home with family

Although our time visiting Canada was very much overshadowed by my Mom's illness, there were still many great moments during our visit, most importantly simply being able to be there then to encourage and help out. And going through this hard time together made me feel closer to my family - when I live so far away, that aspect was a wonderful blessing in the midst of the pain of seeing my Mom struggle so much.

We also got to go to Grand Rapids to visit people and for me to do some research, and we also had a few days of rest with friends at St. Gregory's Monastery (Three Rivers, MI). And everywhere we went, we seemed to manage to buy books!

But the highlight was still family, as you can see by these pictures taken by Janice and Matthijs:

Babysitting Emily's kids at Mom's
The following pictures are from the Heyink-family Christmas party. There's so many people that we have to rent a hall.

As much as it was great to visit, it is also nice to come back home to normal life in Amsterdam - which looks like this a lot of the time....

15 December 2011

Waiting and Mom

When I think of Advent, I think of waiting. Seeing as I’ve been singing and hearing a lot of Christmas songs this year, it feels at the moment like I ought to be enthusiastically celebrating Christmas more than I should still be waiting in anticipation of Christ’s coming. And yet, my visit here to my family in Canada has reminded me of how much I long for Christ’s coming: not the sentimental, cute baby in the manger Jesus, but the returning King who will conquer sin and suffering. It is this Jesus who I long for to come and dwell (tabernacle) amongst my family – especially with my Mom.

Before I came to visit, my Mom had been having some difficulties with keeping her food long enough in her body for her to be able to get enough nutrition out of it. She was sometimes a bit weak and had lost some weight. She’d seen a doctor several times, and what had begun as a nuisance was gradually making normal life more and more complicated. Last week, things escalated: she was so weak on Tuesday, we went with her to the emergency room. No answers, but she was given an intravenous and was a lot less weak. Thursday there was an ultrasound, and the likely problem was found: a mass on an ovary, which was pushing against the bowels. That meant having a name and cause for the problems, but not an end to my Mom’s pain and suffering – food and even drink still weren’t staying in. Now she’s in the hospital, thankfully getting nutrition through an intravenous, but still waiting to know exactly what is wrong and what can be done. There have been tests and checks and there’ll hopefully be surgery but there are still many questions and much uncertainty. And amidst my Mom’s suffering, my family is waiting and hoping, longing for the healing that Christ the King can bring.

09 December 2011

Advent in Canada

My semi-annual visit to Canada got bumped to Advent this year. We threw a party for my father's 65th birthday and the next two weekends are the Christmas parties of my mother's side and my father's side of the family. It was such a great opportunity for Matthijs to meet more of my family (and them him) that we couldn't really pass on this chance – despite the fact that I have developed a dislike for travelling during Advent and Christmas Day.

Advent is about waiting and anticipating Jesus' coming – remembering his first coming and anticipating his second coming. It's hard to wait and focus on Jesus' comings when I'm taking vacation, spending lots of time with friends and family, and eating lots of great food. It's hard to wait in anticipation for the joy of Jesus' coming when I'm doing tons of celebrating now already!

It is also hard to be in different churches, especially ones with different traditions of how one ought to celebrate Advent. My church back in Amsterdam is taking the time in Advent to develop awareness about the women working behind the windows, a project that's close to my heart and one I would have loved to have been able to participate in more. And during the community's daily chapel services, we choose not to include the usual song of praise as a means of remembering that Advent is a time of restraint and waiting.

But where I am here, Advent is very much an anticipation of Christmas, including the celebration of Christmas. Most everyone has been playing Christmas songs for awhile now, and even in church we sang Christmas songs already celebrating Jesus' birth. Although I grew up with this, I now find it unsettling. How do I look forward to something that hasn't happened yet if I am now singing about it as if it's already happened? When I was walking past the manger scene at the church, I have to admit that I somewhat loudly exclaimed my surprise: the baby Jesus was already lying in the manger! The sweet lady behind me acknowledged that she hadn't really thought about that, but that I had a good point. Her reaction helped me find perspective again. She is also anticipating Jesus' coming and is doing so in the way that she finds familiar and knows best. Things being different here – and the Christmas-like joy found in seeing my family again – does not make Advent any less Advent. I am still waiting for Jesus to come, and it's hardly a bad thing if He shows up in unexpected places, like in other people, in church, or even a manger.

07 December 2011

Grass does not grow faster just because you pull on it

These words of wisdom were used in a recent article in the newsletter of the Nikola Community (a Christian community in Utrecht that's somewhat similar to Oudezijds 100). The article was thought-provoking; hopefully I'll have time and opportunity to translate it in the near future. Nonetheless, it is this strange proverb – that grass does not grow faster just because you pull on it – which has stayed with me. I am, after all, the sort of person who has a tendency "to pull on the grass." I'm someone who does things and likes to make things happen. Waiting patiently for the grass to grow – whether that be spiritually, emotionally, relationally, academically, career-wise, and so-on – is not something I always do easily.

It seems appropriate that during Advent, which is characterized by its waiting, that this phrase become one that I spend more time contemplating. It seems good to take the time to wonder how I might become more content to wait patiently for things to happen instead of becoming frustrated and trying to pull on things.