3 October 2018

free falling [zambia begins]

chalkboard | southern province | zambia
[a classroom in one of the MCC supported schools in southern province, zambia]

a month ago we got on an airplane & left our whole life.  & here we are –  at the roller-coaster-free-fall stage of our ‘zambia years’.  

& this time there have been no gentle transitions – we ran smack into all the responsibility awaiting us & smack into that familiar (yet easy to set aside when the reminders aren’t quite so daily) stomach churning reality that we.have.so.much in a world full of those who have far less.  that we have no idea how most people under the sun live.    

where the cost of our children’s school uniforms is more than the zambian monthly minimum wage.  where our lovely, spacious bungalow house & tropical yard feels like joke when we walk the streets of “compounds” just blocks away.  (“high density – low income neighborhoods” our development literature calls them)   

in our office a team member explains his work in a prison & the horrific sexual violence & oppression & squalor.  & i blink, sip my tea.  we talk budget & process & when he leaves i can’t stop thinking about all the things he said that i wish were not true.  about the darkness this work & this world holds. 

& i am jonah.  

i don’t want to go to ninevah.  i dread the incompleteness of the story that will unfold there.  there is partly the children’s book-worthy tale – with the adventure & mercy & forgiveness & the second chances for obedience.  but there’s also the desert & the message that doesn’t have the anticipated response & the withering plant & the untidy, unresolved ending.  this, i know, will also be the story of our days here.    

(but i know, too, that this is the story of all of our days anywhere.)

so, in these early days, as the sun comes up & we start again - we take deep breaths, commit to seizing joy (which we've been given in buckets, that my soul knows very well) where we find it, pray for hearts brave enough to listen. 

& we open our palms – to hold the stories & the unfairness & the responsibilities of leading a team here, and also to offer up ourselves, 

just like jonah – who floundered & was swallowed by the storm, only to find out that his story was just beginning.

the road to school | jacaranda | lusaka, zambia
[jacaranda tree - a shot of beauty on our daily trip to school]

9 May 2018

the tortoise's gift [a story from zambia]

the tortoise’s gift: a story from zambia

 ‘a story from zambia’ seems a fitting title for the new chapter & adventure that awaits. 

in exactly three months’ time, we’ll be packing up these little ones (& the hammock!) & moving to lusaka, the capital city of zambia. we’ll be working with MCC - a relief, development, & peace organization (the same organization that we worked with in cambodia). 

we’re excited to go & sad to leave - excited to be taking on another role with an organization that we love & sad to be leaving a place & a community that we also love deeply. 

it’s a bit overwhelming to think of all that is coming & how much learning lays ahead, but here we are, palms open, looking forward to all that zambia – its people, its culture, its history, & its beauty has to teach us.

25 January 2017

rising [women's march]

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

- Maya Angelou

Women's March

To My Daughters,

We could have marched in Canada, but I needed to march there.  The country of your passports, but my birth.  So we journeyed & we marched.

We marched because I wanted us to show with our bodies, with our presence, that everyone is deserving of dignity & a voice.   People with every skin tone.  With any passport.  People from the LGBTQ community.  Those who feel excluded.  Immigrants. Refugees. People who have disabilities. Women. Men. Everyone on God’s green earth.

I hoped that our small presence could help to stand against the darkness that defines people as “winners” and “losers”.  That declares that people in some countries are more important, that they come first.  To sing over those lies with our songs & with our feet.  There are only God’s beloved on His green earth.

You won’t remember, tiny baby, but I want you to know that I carried your small body with me among thousands to fight for that warm flesh.  To say to the world now & to you, especially – that your body is sacred & beautiful & was not made to be judged in a contest, objectified in a gaze, or grabbed against your will.  Your body carries the image of God over all His green earth.

Your papa made a beautiful sign for you.  There were so many people with us, people choosing to be brave & strong, people on every continent, all over God’s green earth.       

I don’t know what the days ahead hold.  But I want you to know that we were there & that together

we were all a sight to be seen.

- Mama

1 October 2016

four [ezra sparrow]

ezra interview - age 4

our sparrow is four.  

this spunky girl keeps us on our toes with her strong & yet sensitively spirited ways.  she is surprisingly independent & can spend hours alone, talking to herself, entertaining herself with daydreams & playing in the dirt/collecting rocks.  and yet, she's enamored with all things family/mama/baby related & cries the saddest tears when i sing "sweet baby james" because she knows its about a cowboy who misses his mama.  her artwork is fascinating - usually abstract, but with a detailed story to accompany it.  

she's fiercely stubborn, fiercely loving & brings us more delight than we ever could have wished for.

here are some of my favorite recent ezra quotes:

(yawning in the morning) "this isn't a tired yawn, its a wake up yawn" 

"when baby sneezes i say 'special bless you' because she's so special"

"God made some people with no arms, but no people with no heads"

"when baby selah grows up we will really miss our baby"

to both parents: "did you know, the more you get bigger the more you get fatter. I know because I see you guys a lot." 

"mama, what comes after thirty-twelve?"

"i don't want to help with diapers, i want to hold the baby because that's cuter"

ezra: "i love you around the galaxy two times, mama"
daniel: "and me?"
ezra: "one time"

"when selah was in your belly, it was hummmmmmmmongous.  your shirt couldn't cover your belly so your pants had to help it - like teamwork!"

ezra artwork collage

18 May 2016

weighted stillness [selah kiri talstra]

basket baby [selah kiri]

selah kiri talstra

សិលា គីរី
born may 5, 2016
3.4 kg [7 lbs 8 oz]

Dear Selah,

Like your brother and your sister, we thought a long time about choosing the right name for you. We wanted a name that is both full and waiting to be filled. Full with a richness of meaning as our gift to you, but also, empty enough for you to fill and define how you will, and return the gift to us as we learn what it will come to mean.

The primary inspiration for your name is drawn from music; from the music of ancient peoples, whose songs moved from culture, to tradition, to sacred scriptures, to the stack of books and papers beside our dining room table. Scattered through the chapters of the book of psalms of our bible in this messy pile, your name is found. A note of Selah, marks the breaks between the stanzas of these songs. Nobody knows for sure what these repeated notes mean, but our best guess is that they are a musical rest note, a call to silence and reflection.

We know the power of music to connect ourselves to bigger things and each other. The beautiful irony captured by the greatest musicians is that knowing what to play is often less important than knowing what not to play. It is the parts you don’t hear that make great music so compelling. It is the valleys that make the mountains captivating. It is in silence that we often hear the most.

Your middle name is Khmer; the language of the country your family lived in before you were born. Kiri means mountains. A mountain is a symbol of strength, the substance of our planet. Mountains embody permanence & steadiness & echo the faithfulness of God. As the ancient writer of psalm 125 put it

Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion,
    which cannot be shaken but endures forever.
As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
    so the Lord surrounds his people
    both now and forevermore.

In Cambodia, we escaped the stifling heat by traveling to the rural mountainous provinces of Mondulkiri and Ratanakiri. These were places of retreat. To us, Kiri symbolizes stillness and coolness. Our family traveled again, further to Terrace in northern BC, where we waited for you, a place surrounded by mountains on all sides. With lush mossy forests steeped in cool humid air, blanketed in snow in winter, brushed through with mist in fall, bursting with life in spring. We wanted to give you a name that connects you to a place, to call home. As deep as these mountains’ tectonic feet, know that you too are rooted here at this point on this earth in the vast expanse of space.

So, Selah Kiri, we offer this contrasting name to you. May you become a woman of humility and of presence. May the music of your life be framed by the space to let your song hang in the air. May your name bless you as you grow. And in return may we be blessed by you as your name takes the shape you fill it with.

Mama and Papa

24 March 2016

journey's end [6 years in cambodia + 1 year in canada]

[ some thoughts from june 2015 as we marked the one year anniversary of leaving cambodia & returning to terrace]

nothing is lost on the breath of God

a year ago, tomorrow, we stepped on an airplane & left our whole life.

& i felt for sure that my heart wouldn't be able to stand the shattering.  the way ming kohm bent low to kiss a sleeping ezra, to stroke her cheek one last time.  how could i know that our season of losing was just beginning?

in stillness, looking back, i can see the losing intertwined with a year's worth of celebration like a spider's web.  a matrix of pain & wonder.

we threw off the shackles of work, of chasing injustice & celebrated a summer of home.  we felt freer than the birds on our cross country road trip.

& we arrived to a home tinged.  to a father's body fading.  to hospital visits stretched long.  

we unpacked.  we celebrated one last thanksgiving.  & we saw him give her roses for one last birthday.  

we mourned the loss of a grandfather, a whole wide continent away & taught our children about trick or treating.  & when we brought our pumpkins home, we called an ambulance for a father's pain without mercy.  

on the day my family in the u.s. celebrated thanksgiving, we heard the doctor say there was nothing left to do.  we sat with him & sang day & night.  daniel's violin echoing down the halls.  & on st. nicholas' day, a day brimming with gezellig memories, we lost him.

on my 33rd birthday we celebrated his life with a funeral that filled the church.  

we celebrated new year's eve  in the same hospital with a grieving widow, slowly losing all her muscles had learned.  

we celebrated valentine's day with news of a baby; a spark of hope.  & after an easter celebration we planted a tree to symbolize that loss. tiny & fierce.

i never wrote a reflection on our 6th year in cambodia because i couldn't wrap my head around the experience, around everything we saw & heard & did & learned.  about the way we learned over & over about all that is beautiful & broken.

with a year of pondering behind me, i'm still waiting to grasp the metanarrative.  i read somewhere that the memories we rehearse & weave into stories make grooves in our brains, between our neurons, sparking between our synapses & changing us.

as we close this chapter, these are the stories i chose to etch.  the memories, the folktales, the stories that cambodian people have woven into their selves - of palaces & rice & colorful angels & dancing godesses & sweet mangoes & cool baths on warm evenings.  of the mystery of the kingdom on the mekong & the deep beauty in shy smiles.

& i choose to remember this, my story, to wear its grooves into my history - the year we left.  & lost.  & celebrated.

23 January 2016

celebrating 5 [cedar james]

we celebrated cedar's 5th birthday party with a friends & cousins, hot chocolate & snacks, party hats & a lemon cake that looked like chirp (from cedar's latest magazine obsession), & a winter pinata to boot!

cedar's 5th birthday