31 December 2013

2013 in Pictures

I just spent half the afternoon trying to add pictures to an end-of-year letter from Matthijs and I. It finally worked, but half way through I wondered why I wasn't saving myself a lot of work by simply putting the pictures on my blog. So here are the highlights of 2013 from Matthijs and me:

Matthijs with Jens in Dresden (Christmas 2012)

Easter Labyrinth in the chapel (march)
On retreat in Brugge - april?

Queens Day - yes, this is normal attire (april)
Lourdes (Matthijs' trip in june)

Our bed and breakfast in St. Cloud, Paris (june)

With Cecile in Paris (june)

Walking in Norway at the retreat (july) [With thanks to Pieter for the photo!]
Norway - july
Durham cathedral (Matthijs' trip in the july heat wave)

Austria (Brenda - august)
with Willemijn in Austria (august)

Heyink family at (Canadian) Thanksgiving (october)

Chicago landscape from the Stained Glass museum (october)
The cat - always

Travelling - off to new adventures!

23 December 2013

2 years ago today

Two years ago today I had just returned from an overwhelming visit home to my family in Canada. The lingering diarrhea my mother had sent her to the hospital for much of our visit, and the doctors were just starting to talk about it being cancer. I had decided to come help her and my dad out at the beginning of January with sickness and chemo. I hadn't talked to my mom since saying good-bye to her less than a week before - she'd been in the hospital the whole time and didn't feel herself so she wasn't really interested in talking on the phone. Even my father was hard to get a hold of - I caught him just before he had an appointment with the doctor.

It was the beginning of Christmas weekend. Matthijs and I were in charge of organizing the Christmas dinner, and I'd just started making shopping lists and dinner menus with several others - the same thing that I just did tonight. And like then, I'm tired. But then I went to bed at 10, not realizing that I never turned my phone back on after leading chapel earlier in the evening.

And so I missed hearing the results of the appointment my father had with my mom's doctor: the appointment where he was given the tragic news that my mom had less than 24 hours to live. They called everyone to come. Numerous messages were left on my phone - they even called the community - but no one heard.

I woke up at 5 the next morning, and I looked at my phone. Perhaps my soul knew. Perhaps I was worried as, every day since we'd left, my mom seemed to get disturbingly worse. When I looked at my phone, there were voice messages from Canadian numbers - at least one every half hour, starting at 10:15. And then abruptly they stopped. I knew. My mother had passed away. I called my family - every number I knew until I got a hold of somebody. We talked. We cried. Matthijs woke up, and we mourned together.

It is strange to be doing the same thing today that I was doing then two years ago - once again planning Christmas with the community. It brings back the memories of that night. I miss her still: it's a strange absence as if I should talk to someone or share my news and can never quite figure out who I've missed telling. Yet, there is something good in once again planning the dinner: it was an interrupted commitment and unfulfilled joy that I am thankful finally to be able to do.

And, to be honest, my mom's death around this time has not made it harder for me to celebrate Christmas. Instead, her sudden death made me realize again how much we all needed Christmas. After all, in the midst of cancer, suffering, pain and loss, we desperately need the promise and hope found in Christ's coming.

21 December 2013

The house is empty without you

It is the darkest day of the year. It was made darker and drearier by the rain that fell most of the day. I understand that friends and family back in Ontario and Michigan are being subjected to ice-storms, so the dark weather is hardly limited to this side of the ocean.

Our advent star is hanging - Matthijs graciously hung it before he left. The star brings a cheerful light in the midst of the darkness, more so as the star is red, bringing a different kind of red light into this neighbourhood.

Yet, even the brightness of the star does not push away all the darkness. Matthijs left yesterday to go to a funeral of an old friend from university. I questioned if it was wise for him to go - life has been extra full for both of us these past few weeks and we are organizing Christmas within the community. Wouldn't it be too much to make an unexpected trip now to the other side of Germany? When I voiced my concerns to Matthijs, his answer was simple: if he could go, why wouldn't he? He was there for their wedding; it was good for hiim to return for the tragic death of a friend. We are both thankful that he went, but the house is empty without him.

The darkness of my empty house is only a shadow of the darkness felt by those suffering in this time, whatever the reason: mourning the loss of loved ones, struggling with debt, living homeless and/or countryless, experiencing loneliness. How then can it feel like Christmas? The time of Advent - a time of waiting and longing - gives at least a partial answer to that. Isaiah 9:2 says "The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned." In Advent, we remember that Christ has not yet come. And the darkness is darkest just before dawn.

15 December 2013

Waiting for Christmas and trusting in the midst of the unexpected

I came home after a lunch at church today to discover that Matthijs had found a place for our angel to hang while we wait for Christmas. I'm not sure if he'll make it onto a tree this year - we're either gone or celebrating the holidays within the community for most of the 12 days of Christmas - so we might just pass on the tree. But hopefully the lights and our (Advent) star will also be placed out today or tomorrow. The nativity scene will also be made ready, with the shepherds in a field somewhere and wise men under way to meet the soon-to-be-born Messiah. This all makes the waiting for Christmas a bit more real.

At the same time, the angel on an airplane feels extra special this year. When we found him three years ago, the angel made me think of hope and trust in the midst of the unexpected. As we approach Christmas this year, it feels like we need an extra reminder to trust in the midst of the unexpected. Not only as we spend extra time flying in the next months, but more so as we further prepare for the newest adventure in our lives: a move to America!

04 December 2013

Hot Chocolate: a strange blessing for my dissertation

Although it took some time, I received an official pass for the VU University Theology department early this past fall. The pass is my key to getting into the closed-off section where "my computer" is. At the same time, it is also my means for getting free drinks from the vending machine.

It took me one cup of tea from the machine to realize that it was much wiser to make one's own. My section has its electric kettle and tea pot.

It took me about a month of drinking coffee from the machine to realize that it was horrible. It's actually not bad with sugar, especially the espresso, latte and cappucino variations. As I don't like drinking coffee without sugar, but would prefer not to have regular white sugar, I tried drinking it when I added my own less processed sugar to it. I don't drink coffee from the machine anymore. My section also has its own private coffee maker, which I sometimes also participate in drinking from.

It took me about a month of drinking hot chocolate from the machine to become addicted to it. At first, it seemed inappropriate to be drinking hot chocolate at work. But since I didn't drink the coffee or tea, what was I supposed to do? I do try to keep it to 2 cups a day (drinking water and tea the rest of the time).

On the bright side, my love of hot chocolate is significant enough that it motivates me to bike to the university - almost daily and even through rain. The bike ride helps me stay a bit more in shape and compensates for the extra calories from the hot chocolate. Furthermore, I tend to get less distracted when I'm working on the computers there, which is good for writing.

Hot chocolate has thus become a strange blessing: it has started to play an active role in helping me work better and harder on my dissertation.

02 December 2013

Transitioning into Advent

Last Sunday, Advent began. It is a time of looking forward to Jesus' coming, both his first coming at Christmas and his second coming. It is a time of longing for the goodness and rightness that is part of God's kingdom on earth. It is a time to see the injustices and imperfections found in this sinful world and know that with Christ's second coming, everything will be different. There will be no more death and sorrow, and there will also be no more poor, hungry, or lonely. Mary's song - the Magnificat - illustrates well how Christ's coming - both his first and his final coming - turns the world upside down.

When I describe it like this, I cannot help but ask why I am currently not more enthusiastic about Advent. Advent encourages us to tune our hearts more fully to the pain and suffering of the world, believing that Christ's coming makes a difference. Is this not the gospel at its core? How can I not be more excited about Advent then?

But somehow, my heart is distracted. Advent is about waiting and longing, and it feels like I have been waiting and longing for months already. And now, finally some of the wait seems over. The job I had applied for - the one that threatens to turn Matthijs and my life upside down (in a good way!)- is nearly finalized. The pain of my mother's death - a pain that is reflected in Advent's awareness of suffering and evils, such as cancer - feels like it is being overshadowed by the joy of moving closer to my family, a result of this new job. 

Perhaps Advent for me looks a bit different right now. It is less about waiting and more about becoming aware. About trying to be less distracted. About looking at the world around me and recognizing how much sin and evil have shaped the world so that it is not how it should be.
 I do not yet know how that will happen, but oftentimes it is through the asking of the question that one starts to find an answer.