30 January 2012

Community as a place to help each other out

Last Easter, I was helping with the weekend duties when the person in charge of the huge Easter breakfast feast came down sick. Easter morning breakfast is one of the highlights of the weekend: the culinary culmination of the church services - a way of physically experiencing the joy that Christ is risen and let us celebrate! The person in charge is someone who plans and organises parties really well - and is super responsible - so imagine her disappointment when she couldn't fulfill her plans and couldn't even be there to help set up (at the crazy time of five in the morning) - despite the fact that she was so sick that there was no way she could have gotten more than a few feet out of her bed. I was one of those who stepped in and helped try to organise the breakfast so that it was still a feast, even if it wasn't exactly quite as planned. It was a bit overwhelming at times, but still really good. It felt good simply to be part of a community where it is not only possible to step in for each other - but where doing so feels so obvious. Community is, after all, a place where we are there to help each other out.

Despite it being obvious that we help each other out when needed, I wasn't expecting that I would be receiving the same sort of help quite so soon. The plans of Matthijs and I for the Christmas feast in the community were graciously taken over by others only a short way into the weekend. We led a chapel on the Friday night, made plans for shopping and Christmas dinner, including finding people to help with half the entrees. Then we left early to rest up before the excitement of the weekend. I called my Dad that night, heard the overwhelming news that Mom had been moved to intensive care, and went to bed hoping to find strength for not only the weekend activities but also with the worry over my family. Saturday morning early I woke up and glanced at my mobile phone - 10 messages from Canada on a phone that had been left on silent from my leaidng chapel the night before. My mom had passed away. And suddenly, I was the one needing to be helped out.

The news was shared and others stepped in with both cooking and organising. And Matthijs and I became caught up in mourning, letting others know, and making travel arrangements. On Christmas Day I sat on a plane, flying away from home and the Christmas feast that I'd expected to be in the middle of cooking and organising - flying to my other home to spend Christmas with family and eat a Christmas dinner that my sisters had cooked. I was going to help and encourage my family but also going to receive encouragement and support from them. And all the encouragement and help that I'd received before leaving Amsterdam, including the gracious help in taking over my responsibilities, were a constant reminder of all the support, help, love and prayers that I and my family would be receiving during this difficult time.

20 January 2012

The freedom of less

For a recent catapult issue, I wrote an article about living on less. For those of you who know me, you know that I'm probably one of the cheapest people you know. And when people talk about living on less, I can often out-do them. I'm finally getting over my dislike of spending money, which is a healthy thing, but it's still a process.

The article talks about the good that has come from my being able to live on less, but that it's not always been good.

"The Freedom of Less

When I was growing up, there weren’t a lot of extras. There simply wasn’t money for them. Everyone got about three Christmas presents — and there was a clear price limit on them. Hand-me-down clothes were standard, vegetables were either frozen from the garden or the canned variety, and vacations consisted of camping a couple of weekends in the summer. As a child, I’m sure I was disappointed that I couldn’t have more of what I wanted; yet, I had no idea how bad the situation really was. It wasn’t until after I’d left the house that my mom told me that there were times when we had so little money that a gift of groceries on the porch was understood as God’s provision. Living on less wasn’t a choice we’d made — it was simply the reality.
The reality of living on less has followed me much of my life. Years of studying have put to good use the skills my mother taught me...."
The rest of the article can be seen at the catapult website, if you follow this link to the article.

17 January 2012

Laughter in the midst of grief

Life in my family has always been full of laughter. Thus, even as we mourned together my mom's death, we made jokes in the middle of everything. Like, can you imagine what my mom would have said if she'd seen my father peeling apples? his first time, ever. Or how we'd tell each other not to forget to close the door to the garage - using the same tone that my mother would have used. And my father and I joked about how she'd be happy about her plot at the graveyard - her being on her own reflected her independence. Laughing about these and other things (like all the lasagnas that my sister and my father received - I think my sister was winning with 6!) is simply part of my family's way of trying to love life - and fighting against the dullness that grief can bring.

The strangeness of the jokes and the laughter is that it sometimes feels out of place with grief. The joy found in laughter seems to contradict the heaviness found in grief. Yet, the moments of joy and lightheartedness give me the strength to face again the sadness and to be willing to cry over our loss and the strangeness of what's next, remembering hope amidst the sadness.

13 January 2012

Grief is a strange thing

Since my mom passed away three weeks ago, my family and I have been grieving. The grief has taken on many different shapes in that time.

Sometimes it is the deep sadness found in knowing that the loss is permanent - and I that can't even begin to imagine how often in the years to come I'll miss not having my mom around.

Sometimes it is a sadness for others - a realization that the loss is not mine but also that of her friends, her church, and the rest of my family. The church has lost a hard worker who loved serving others. My nieces have lost their grandma. My husband will never get to know my mom better or hear more of her stories. My father is alone after 42 years of seeing and talking to each other daily. My sister will never get to share news of becoming pregnant or of any of the struggles or questions involved with that. Nor will I.

Sometimes the loss is simply being busy, especially sorting through everything that needed to be done from housework to paperwork. The many things needing to be done last week at home with my father were a wonderful distraction from the sadness.

Sometimes it is sleeplessness. Other times it is sheer exhaustion and a desire to do nothing but sleep. Sometimes it is anger or irritation. Sometimes it is avoidance. Sometimes it is busyness and cleaning while other times I'd gladly play computer games for hours. Sometimes I want to talk about my mom and other times I simply don't want it brought up. Sometimes it is thankfulness for the distance between Amsterdam and Canada - so that every time I turn around I don't sense her presence and am reminded of my loss. And sometimes the distance simply causes more sadness - for how can I be with the rest of my family mourning?

And sometimes it is simply trying to return to normal life, which at times feels strange - like I'm trying to avoid or minimize what's happened. Yet, returning to regular life seems a way of honouring my mother well - I know she was proud of me and would want me to continue to live out my faith and use my talents. Grief will simply continue to be an aspect of this life, coming and going in differing shapes and intensities.