"All words are symbols that represent unspeakable realities. Which is also why words are magical." (Donald Miller tweet)

Sunday, November 22, 2015

a month of posts

Bonjour, all!  I've had sooooo many things to tell you, but no time to write them down. And now they're out of date. Soooooo ... I give you a quick summary of the past month.

First... We said our goodbyes at Crossfire, the church that has been home for 16 years. 

I arrived to this ... 

Lunch was as Ukrainian as it could be, which was an awfully nice touch. 

And there were all kinds of tearful and joyful moments and gifts and hugs and prayers.  It was a fantastic, truly meaningful day, one which we will never forget. 

The next day ... Spike packed ...

I headed to Montreal, not to begin at our new church (that wouldn't happen for another couple of weeks), but for some meetings that had been scheduled months before. As it turned out, the meetings were just a block away from our new church, so I snuck in to see the place. Which was rather fun, since they had just moved back in after a year of renovations. 

The next  day ... Back to Hamilton, late evening.

The next day, early morning ... Moving truck came to take our stuff to Montreal, but since it apparently takes a moving truck six days to travel six hours, we stayed in town a little bit longer. At my parents' home. Here's a little throwback from the pics on THEIR shelves. 

During that time we put our house on the market, because all of our well-laid plans to rent it had fallen apart just a few days before, due to unexpected insurance complications. Trust me, you don't want to hear THAT story. Dad helped us finish emptying and cleaning the place. 

The house sold Saturday night ... we left Sunday morning for Montreal. 

Truck was to arrive Monday, which meant Tuesday, and although we had determined we would be fine in an empty apartment with our coffee maker and air mattress, we bailed out to a hotel the second night after we had to refill the air mattress at 4 AM the first night. 

Stuff arrived ... Unpacked, stored, organized and threw out all the "stuff" that had been mashed into boxes. Worked soooooo hard to fit it all into compact space. 

Then discovered I had completely forgotten to put anything in this cupboard. It was like early Christmas when I discovered that space, let me tell you. 

But the blinds were back ordered (still are, for the most part). We improvised. 

Saturday we got cable and Internet installed - oh happy day. Sunday I went for a walk while Spike watched football. 

Saw all this on my walk. Whoa! Cette ville est très belle!!!!

Monday, moved into my new office, met staff, and spent the next several days absorbing boatloads of information. 

Off Friday, off Saturday (What is this thing called two days off in a row? Is this how the rest of you live? It's LOVELY!) Sunday -  spoke at three services in a row, lunch, board meeting, social event for all the leaders, their spouses, and us. They did a pantry shower! Boatloads of food to fill our cupboards! How great is that?!

Monday... worked all day, then Spike picked me up, and we drove to Toronto where I had several days of meetings. Meanwhile he went on to Hamilton to do the LAST final cleanups at the house. Thursday night I joined him and Friday morning – I graduated! 


My parents and their Resident Princess came too. :)

Saturday, we took the car FULL of things from what we had been so sure was an empty house when we left the first time, and drove back to Montreal. Pulled up in front of our apartment building, where the doorman – we have a doorman now – came out and said with a smile...

"welcome home."

We are home. 

Saturday, November 14, 2015

after last night

First we were farewelling, and moving, and sleeping on a leaky air mattress, and awaiting a delayed moving truck.

And then we had no internet connection except through phones that were rapidly approaching data limits.

And then I was starting a new job, as a new pastor, at a new church, and it was a wonderful whirlwind.

So my plan today was to blog all about our first adventures in Montréal, the beautiful city to which we have moved.


But Paris was attacked last night, and the flags are at half-mast in this city, in support of French brothers and sisters in that one. The Boy and I stopped to pray for France, even while checking in with friends in various parts of the world.

I am sad. Horrified by last night's atrocities - but also saddened by what the future will bring. Decisions will need to be made by governments, and those decisions will have repercussions, one way or another. It's hard - impossible maybe - to defend against this enemy, without also devastating innocent people. International leaders will simplify an issue in order to explain their decisions to their people, but simplifying such a complex situation inevitably leads to mass generalizations that are unfair and inaccurate. And people are - understandably, rightfully - angry. History will pause on this moment, tracing future developments that have not yet happened.

It's easy to get overwhelmed.

I'm grateful for a faith that (hopefully) guides my own response.

Love my neighbour (and my enemy).
Fight evil.
Restore victims.
Bring hope.

If, by chance, you are local to me and looking for a place to find some hope ... my first services at Evangel Church (St. Catherine & Atwater) will be tomorrow morning. You're welcome to come; we can be first-timers together. Three options: 9:30, 10:30 or 11:30.

à bientôt, mes amis!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

en français, s'il vous plait

The little town I lived in as a child started teaching students French in ... Grade 4, I think. Maybe earlier. Then we moved, and there was no French until Grade 7. I was the one with the faint air of polite superiority, since I already KNEW how to conjugate the verb "to be".

(If you grew up in the Canadian English school system, you just started reciting it in your head, didn't you? "Je suis, tu es, il est ...")

I loved French. Took it all the way through high school. And then never looked at it again - there was no reason to, no use for it, no one to practice with. 

Then in 1999, I went on my first trip to Ukraine and just fell in LOVE with the Russian language. Decided to learn on my own. 

Easier said than done. Language CDs were cheap for the first level, but then went for $400 a pop after that. Community colleges taught Mandarin, Italian, French ... but not Russian. And if you think it's hard to find someone to practice French with, try finding a Russian-speaking friend!

I like languages though. My theory is that having learned at an early age to read, write and play music - which is a language - my brain learned to function semi-decently in this area. 

As opposed to statistics. *shudder*

So now I'm back to learning French, because now there is a need and a use and people to practice with, AND a handy little Duolingo app which is NOT $400. 

Any day now they're releasing Russian in Duolingo, so I'm pumped about that too. 

But ... Here is the French sentence that Duolingo keeps returning to. There seems to be a deep concern that I know - really KNOW - how to say this. 

Can I just ask you - when will I ever use this sentence?! Reporting on a recon mission to an unknown land? Letting the girls know where potential husbands are? A sigh of relief that the men have finally settled down and are making money now? Is this a description of heaven? A prospective work environment? Are these men rich BECAUSE they are calm, or is it the other way around? And why just the men? Are the women frazzled and poor? Or were they ALREADY calm and rich, and the men are just now catching up? And where are children in this "calm, rich" world? Elsewhere, I suspect. 

Anyway. In case you ever need to communicate the peaceful, wealthy state of a specified group of male human beings, here's how you do it:

Les hommes sont calmes et riches. 

You're welcome. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

the value of the one

I've been rolling this phrase around a lot the last couple of years - "the one".

The one matters. The weird one ... the marginalized one ... the one that doesn't fit.

The majority shouldn't always rule. For sure, sometimes - yes. It's democratic. It's as fair as you can get when there's a whole crowd; otherwise, an elite few get preferential treatment, and that's rarely right.

But if the majority ALWAYS rules, then the one never does. Never belongs. Never fits. Never matters. Never has their needs or desires met. 

That can't be right either. Sometimes the majority should maybe bend their preferences for the good of the one. 

Plus ... there's power in one.

There are so many causes, so many needs, so many "awareness" campaigns.  We live in an age of TMI (too much information) and it's getting harder to know what's true and what isn't. So it's easy to give up and think that one doesn't matter anyway. 

But it does. 

Last Sunday, we heard the story at church of one conversation between one newbie, naive staff pastor (not me - my dad) and one seasoned, slightly cynical ASL-English interpreter. Twenty-five (or more) years later, "Deaf Crossfire" is alive and well, with soooo many life-impacting stories of Deaf people (who, by the way, are never the majority).

My friend Ed Dickson, who is about the humblest and FUNNIEST person I know, quit his very excellent job and went to Ukraine with nothing over 20 years ago to see what he could do.

He learned how to say, "I'm hungry" (just in case) and wasn't sure if he would be living under a bridge. (He didn't, in the end, live under a bridge. And it turned out he needed to learn "I'm FULL" pretty quickly! Ukrainians are VERY hospitable people!). 

He went because he had seen disabled orphans there and was struck by the fact that it was just the occasion and location of their birth that made their lives so different than his. So he went. He figured those "ones" mattered, when hardly anyone else did. 

Now ... I can't tell you how many orphanages, hospitals and schools I have personally walked into where the director points out playgrounds, shelters, repairs, resources that "Ed Dickson gave us". Of course, he corrects them and says it was Canadians (or others) and he just got to be the delivery guy. Nonetheless - it started with one. Now he's been appointed by the Presidential Administration to lead a strategy to improve the lives of children with special needs in Ukraine. 

And then my friend wrote this the other day. Another "power of one" story. 

Your turn - got a story of "one"?

Friday, October 16, 2015

war in the land I love

I've been to Ukraine a number of times now. There are less unexpected moments than there used to be. Soooo many good things happening, really. I have a Facebook album full of smiles and joyful moments.

Also, I speak enough Russian now to (a) have an idea of what is being said sometimes and (b) pretend not to understand when a stranger is irked with me. 

But there is a war there now. We didn't see it. We weren't near it. But there were little unexpected moments that reminded us of it.

The exchange rate, which used to be 8 to 1 (Ukraianian grivna to US dollars) is now 22 to 1.

You can find toilet paper in the souvenir market with either Putin's or Yanukovich's face on it. The vendors shrug and laugh - "Ukrainian dark humour," one of them says. 

At one of the village churches, one woman, and then another, asked me to pray. "My son - my husband - is in the war," they said simply, eyes filled with pain and unspoken fear. We wept together as we prayed, and then hugged each other very, very tightly. 

One of my dearest friends has not been called to the war yet, but only because he happened to move from one city to another, so his address isn't current in the system. "I will go if they call me," he said. His mother and wife of only a year are praying they won't. So am I.

I hugged him very tightly too. 

A friend of a friend from the east, where the conflict is, spoke to me of men coming back home from the war. "They are not the same."

Another friend told of the hundreds of refugees their camp housed and rented apartments for last year. Kids whose parents sent them away for the summer, thinking the war would be over by fall. It wasn't. A mama who was evacuated two hours after her adult daughter was shot and killed in front of her. She couldn't even stay to bury her. 

And then others - several of them, separately - told me of the miracle of Slovyansk, a city now under Ukrainian control again, a city rebuilding from the devastation. Pastors there, their buildings taken by terrorists, prayed while the Ukrainian army engaged in fierce fighting. And then suddenly - "The terrorists were gone, after having occupied the city. Just gone. No one knows how. It was a miracle."

Another university student in Kyiv from the western part of the nation, told me, "It is amazing to see, but Poland, who were our enemies for so long - now they are our friends and they are helping us. So I guess God can bring good, even from war."

Several of those university students, part of a Christian group that friends of mine pastor, have travelled east to help with humanitarian aid. 

But the most unexpected of those moments happened on a day off. 

I've been to the war museum in Kyiv several times. We almost always take our teams there. It is ... very sobering.

And this time, outside of it were Russian tanks, captured recently in Ukrainian territory. The signs explained how they knew for sure that they are Russian tanks - even though Russia says they aren't. 

And inside, a new exhibit, dedicated to the Maidan revolution and the current conflict. Pictures and stories of those who have died. I stood there quietly for a long time, absorbing it. 

Ukraine. Land I love. Resilient, strong, determined. Full of life.  

The Lord bless you and keep you.
The Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you.
The Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.
- the Bible, Numbers 6:24-26

Monday, September 28, 2015

my chair

Moving. Renovating. Unpacking from one trip while packing for another. Fitting in "one more coffee" with various friends before we're gone.

It's not easy. Louie's really feeling the effects of it all. We found him like this when we woke up this morning.

Poor guy. I can empathize, honestly.


And then there's this.

I took this picture last night.

It felt symbolic.

When I was 8 years old, we moved away from the little town in which I had been born. I remember the night my parents told us.

I was sitting sideways in a big armchair,
the chair I loved the most,
where I did all my reading
and dreaming.

I wasn't sure what I thought
about this idea of "moving".

I remember saying, "I don't want to move."

"Why not, sweetie?" Mom asked.

I couldn't find the words.

"Because ... because ... I'm comfortable right here," I said, curled up in my chair, patting the cushion.

They kind of chuckled.

"Honey, we're taking the chair with us," they laughed.

I sighed.

I knew what I meant.

And I knew I hadn't communicated it.

I always remembered that moment.

In the end it was ok. It was good, in fact. Really good.


So I took that pic last night.

It's my chair - not the one from when I was a child, obviously - but the one I now love the most.

It's where I read,
and write,
and nap,
and text friends,
and dream.

It's now in what used to be part of our open concept main floor. The wall behind it is only a few days old. On the other side of it is now an almost-finished second bedroom, making the house easier to rent out or sell.

Because we're moving again.

Part of me doesn't want to. I'm comfortable right here, in this house, these friendships, this life ... this chair.

I know the chair's coming with us.

But still....

And then of course, right in the middle of that chair ... Ukraine.


Heading there again in a few days.
Can't wait!

I kinda ache a lot these days, even while looking forward to the future.

I really, truly am looking forward to the future.

I'm pretty excited, honestly.

But I kinda ache leaving what's here.

It will be ok. It will be good. Really good, I'm sure.

Ukraine ... well, that will stay the same, somehow. It's part of my chair. It comes with me.

Louie's pretty happy about that.

Monday, September 21, 2015

moving feels a little frantic

Things we learned on the weekend, and are trying to solve in an hour this morning over coffee.

#1 Although it only takes 6 hours to drive from Hamilton to Montreal, movers take the scenic route, moving others at the same time, and possibly visiting Disney on the way. It's a good thing we set aside two weeks to move - potentially, we're gonna need most of it. It's also a good thing we have an air mattress - potentially, we're gonna need that for a few days too, possibly in a very empty apartment.

#2 Our beautiful, open-concept little home that we LOVE technically only has one bedroom. Which means that it doesn't matter HOW beautiful it is, potential buyers set their preferences at two or more bedrooms, and if we list with one, nobody will even see the listing. So we have to put a second bedroom in. Right now.

#3 We have a beautiful, old, very heavy piano that we would be happy to give away. BUT - it's in the space where that second bedroom is going, and once the wall is up, the piano will never come out. So it needs to go just BEFORE the "right now" of #2. It needs to go immediately.

And I'm headed out of town to three days of meetings in a couple of hours. So Spike gets to handle all of it. He's super-excited about that. (No he isn't.) Oh yeah, and we're also transferring money in all directions to pay off the loan on a car we're selling; to pay half up front for the contractor; to put a deposit down on a mover; and we also need groceries.

All we have in the house is coffee and crackers.

Blowing a big kiss to Spike, who is my hero, handling all this stuff. If you happen to see him, could you maybe give him a standing ovation? Or lunch?