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

Friday, May 28, 2021

moonlight sonata

A couple of nights ago, I was out walking the pup. 

The usual circuit.

We paused in a park, as Gibson-the-Wee had not seen any friends yet on this walk, and he wanted to linger, in case any happened to come by, canine, human or otherwise.

He's an extrovert.

As we waited, I slowly tuned in to a mildly unusual sound. There, in another corner of our park was a young man. 

Playing an accordion.

I don't mean a street performer. There was no suggestion of receiving donations. This isn't a touristy, fancy-schmancy, Old Montreal park. Just a regular city park, in a regular neighbourhood, with dandelions and garbages that sometimes overflow.

There's a beautiful fountain, but it's broken on a fairly frequent basis.

Just a guy. 

In a park. 

All by himself. 

On a warm spring evening. 

Playing his accordion.

We're gonna be ok, Montreal.

Monday, May 24, 2021

night shift

 The Boy and I have spent most of our married life with weird schedules. Mostly him. Musicians work weird, unpredictable hours. Truckers work long, unpredictable hours.

I learned years ago when making any plans - any plans at all - to include the words, "unless Jeff doesn't get home in time".

Because he tried. 
But stuff happens.

Before we had cell phones (and LONG before apps gave you free international calls!) whenever he went to do a bunch of gigs in the US, he'd estimate the approximate day they'd be back. But they were only back "on time" once, I think. Stuff happens. Vehicles break down. Plans change. If they were more than 2 or 3 days after the projected date, I'd start wondering where they might be.

Before cell phones?!

Wow, she's older than I thought.

Yep.

Plus, I work Sundays. And sometimes weeknights. The rare Saturday.

And then I keep going back to school on the side.

So we have weird, busy schedules. We're pretty accustomed to adapting as we go.

But this week, he started a new trucking job - better pay, better predictability, seems like better everything.

But it's night shift.

So that's new.

Means he avoids the traffic.
Which is a delightful side effect.

So this morning, he fell asleep just as I was getting up. My primary task was to keep the puppy from bouncing joyfully on his head, which I did by taking said creature for an early 90-minute walk. Dawned on me eventually that the streets were quieter than usual, not because it was so early, but because it's a holiday, and I forgot.

Got back home and worked for a few hours, pausing from time to time to shush and redirect the pup away from the bedroom door.

The Boy emerged just before noon.

I closed my laptop, asked how the first shift was, and went about making ... well, supper, because he's leaving in a few hours, and he's gonna need more than a tuna sandwich. We ate together, and he left.

Theoretically, I should open the laptop again, and continue my labours for a few more hours.

Except I'm at my best in the morning, and it's all downhill after that, and when the productivity is paused by a two-hour break that includes a sizeable meal .... oof, the motivation is lacking.

Good thing it's a holiday.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

joy with a side of ... what?

Fourteen months.

That's how long it's been where I live since the government told us all to go home. And we've all got various versions of that same story. Ever-changing restrictions, never-ending pivots.

Fourteen months.

Today our premier announced Quebec's re-opening plan, all the various stages, until the end of August. It's the first time, I think, that he's announced a plan more than two weeks ahead. It seems reasonable to me,  laid out in stages. I appreciate seeing that far ahead. I have questions, but fourteen months of press conferences has taught me that the answers will come eventually, and there's no point getting too worked up before they do.

I'm surprised by the emotion I'm feeling. Not the relief - that's to be expected. There's a light at the end of this long tunnel - we're almost there. We did it, collectively. We made it. The premier smiled today, joyfully, and I don't think I've seen him smile much over these months.

But something else too. Something uncomfortable ... stressful ... that tightness in my chest ... what? Truthfully, this means another pivot, and likely not the last one. And even though it's a good pivot, it's another change, and change takes energy, and the weariness is real.

I had a week of vacation last week. One day back, and the weariness came with it. It's ok. Everyone's weary, I think. One day at a time.

Suddenly, other people's expectations of me (perceived or real) will change. "Open the doors, Pastor!" Most are unaware of the work involved in each pivot, and that's ok, why would they know?

I took the pup for a walk after the press conference, and ran into two other women and their pups. We walked together. They felt the same as me - relieved ... but a bit uncertain.

One is in HR and she knows she won't get her office back. They've restructured the office space, and her job doesn't need to be on-site. So she'll still be working from home permanently, and when she bought her condo, that wasn't the plan.

The other is a teacher and she's going back to shared office space and over-crowded classrooms. Teaching online was tough ... but she's not quite jumping for joy to return, full speed ahead.

I thought about restaurant owners. So many have simply lost their staff. They have to re-hire, and it's hard to re-hire when you don't know a re-opening date. Now they all know the date, and the stress of hiring, training, re-opening will be real. If they don't, customers will complain - "Open the doors!" - unaware of the work involved.

I wonder how many of us are feeling this? Joy ... with a side of anxiety. Relief ... wrapped in fatigue. Hope ... but holding it in check, because it might change again. Deep breath ... dig in ... push through.

We're out of margin. Out of rope, and just hanging on firmly to the knot at the end. I likely thought that when an announcement came like today's, we'd all pour out dancing into the streets, like when the end of a war was declared. But of course we can't, because it's not over, and there won't be a single "moment" when everything changes. It will change gradually, one step at a time.

I'm mostly staying away from social media lately. The noise is too much, not good for my soul. Turning it off is a way to re-gain some margin. So ... I'm blowing the dust off this blog, at least for this day.

Here's what I think. We're all tired, bone-weary. Or at least many of us are. And we're nearing the end, which is good, but ... when you're both tired AND almost done, the temptation can be to stop caring and stop trying so hard. Which is fine, unless you're in a situation where everyone is feeling the same thing.

It'll be closer to eighteen months when it's all said and done.

So I guess ... let's not stop trying, ok? Let's give lots of grace, show lots of kindness, choose lots of patience because although we've all been through various versions of the same story, none of us has exactly walked the same story. I don't know your unspoken challenges and you don't know mine. And we're on the last leg, yup, but we're not done yet.

And we did it, collectively, we made it, and we're almost there, and it's been a long marathon, I know. I'll grab your hand if you falter, and you do the same, and we'll together get across this finish line. 


Wednesday, September 23, 2020

puppy art

I see that the house is clean. What an extraordinary turn of events! What an unexpected delight!

For I am Gibson, a puppy yes, but also an artist, and I shall fill the blank canvas of this home with my creative imagination.

I shall silently enter the washroom, grasp the end of the toilet paper roll and go leaping and frolicking in all directions, creating a ribbon-like exhibit that extends around the corner and into the bedroom, where I shall lightly shred it to create a pile of toilet paper bits that gently waft on the air currents throughout the room. 

Your only clue that this is happening at all will be the quiet "wwhhhrrr" of the toilet paper roll, and you shall shriek with delight when you discover what I have done.

Next, I shall note that the barricades you have placed around the Giant Plant have shifted slightly. I shall calculate the angles, wait until you are on a Zoom call, and then I shall bounce against them until they give way. With great speed, I shall use my paws to dig, DIG I say, into the dirt and THEN I shall shove my face in that same dirt with great joy and I shall begin eating it.

For I was bathed only two days ago, and so my face as well is a blank canvas, awaiting the artist that is me.

And when you notice, and mute yourself, and turn your camera off, so that this artistic display can be privately enjoyed, just the two of us, I shall bound quickly throughout this home, spreading dirt first here, then there. And you shall chase me. And it shall be glorious.

You shall grab a broom so that you may join in the fun with the dirt, and I shall proceed with my Dance of the Broom Attack, carefully choreographed to stay just out of reach of your hands, but still close enough to help spread the dirt.

And when you raise your voice to new heights, responding to the sheer wonder of it all, I shall smile with contentment and gaze at you with my puppy dog eyes. For I have done all of this for you.

And you shall pick me up and speak firmly to me, though I know not what you say. And I shall lick your nose.

And you shall carry me like royalty to my enclosure, where my bed and my food is. And I shall thank you with another lick on the nose, just once more, for I am now exhausted from my work. 

And I need a nap.

And I shall curl up with my stuffed lion who squeaks sometimes, and drift blissfully into puppy sleep, dreaming of the day when the house shall be clean again.

For I am Gibson. I am six months old today.

And I am a Good Boy.




Wednesday, August 26, 2020

pandemic pastor

I signed out of social media a week or two ago.

All of it.

We're now over five months into the world of pandemic, and something had to give.

I threw on a hoodie last night - because August evenings in Montreal get chilly - and noticed it was from Vanguard, in Edmonton. A gift when I was speaking there for a few days in February. When life was still normal. 

That feels like a foggy dream now.

I miss that world.

Since then ... well, you know. We've all got our own stories, disjointed bits that we will remember.

I remember Tuesday, March 24, around 6 PM.

Oh hey - that's precisely five months ago, today.

We had already moved our Sunday gatherings online. We were already disinfecting every surface, all the time, washing our hands constantly. Some of us had already been working from home.

But now, on this day exactly five months ago, I told everyone in our office to get what they needed, go home and not come back. The government had told all of us to go home. I stood in the silent, darkened office space that Tuesday evening, a little sobered. I wondered what would change before we returned ... on April 13, was the plan.

We're still not back, not like we were.

I've since moved most of my office home, for the first time since 1994.

After years of literally saying, "Don't worry, no matter what happens, it's not like we would close the church doors" - we closed the church doors.

I'm ok with that, theologically, for a time. We believe the Church is not its building; it is its people. We aren't of the ilk who believe this is an infringement on our freedoms or some form of faith-persecution. But Christians also believe strongly in gathering together - we are a communal faith - and in helping our world - we are a serving faith - and we couldn't do either, not like we wanted to.

We found our way, and still are doing so.

God's Church is still quite alive and well.

But we miss each other.

We miss the warm, non-distanced gatherings, with music and laughter and together-prayer and cheek-kisses.

We miss being together in our building.

At one point, I saw tumbleweeds (figuratively speaking) blow through downtown Montreal, where previously there were always crowds and traffic. One Saturday, Jeff and I drove along Notre Dame from one side of the city to the other - not a single moment of traffic. We never stopped or slowed, except for traffic lights. 

If you know Montreal, you know how impossible that is.

Trucker-Man, suddenly declared an "essential service," was being thanked on media and billboards for just doing his job. He found that amusing. "That's not usually how people respond to truckers," he said wryly.

His job was sold to another company a few months ago, so that happened too.

I glance now at the labels on this blog site, and see the label "Andie lives here" and it's a gut-punch, because a blood clot happened in May, and one day she was fine, and the next she was ... gone. All the vet could say was, "I'm so sorry ... it is terrible luck ..." as we cried.

Last night I cried again, missing her.

Impossibly, unbelievably, just a couple of hours later that same day, I led a graveside service - 10 people only, strictly spaced - for a woman in our church who had died of COVID. The grief and trauma of those there was palpable. We could not comfort, not really; we could only try to speak gently (but audibly) and look at each other from a distance.

I've cooked and washed dishes more than I have in a long time, as restaurants closed for months. Some of you missed malls and shopping.

Not us. We missed restaurants.

I stood in long lines in a parking lot, just for the privilege of going into a grocery store. I was delighted to do so, out there in the sunshine, because it gave me a reason to leave the house. Stocked up three weeks' worth of stuff - which we never do, we live in an urban centre, for goodness' sake - because I didn't know when I'd be back, and I didn't know what items people would start hoarding next, and I was trying to respect the admonitions to "stay home" as much as possible.

And the new, tiny black fur-ball that is Gibson.

A personality for whom everything is a joyful, wonderfully exciting adventure.

He's five months old now.

He's a hilarious handful.

And now we're in the last week of August.

I've returned to school, because I made that decision about four days before the virus hit. Working now on the last assignment of the first course.

Weird.

Every time I go out the door, the mental checklist includes keys, phone, wallet. And a mask.

Also weird. 

How many times recently have you gone back into the house - "I forgot my mask"?

Yeah. Me too.

And after over five months of 15-minutes-a-day prayer and Scripture together at 7 AM, our little online devotional group is coming to a close. Life is shifting again, schedules are changing, and things move on. Most of our group barely knew each other last February, though we were part of the same church. Now ... well, some unique friendships have been forged, as we've journeyed together through this season.

Thankful for that.

Montreal kids go back to school in the next week or so. No idea what that will bring for our society and therefore our church's life, so we pause, balanced on our toes, ready to pivot again if need be.

Always balancing, holding our breath, pivoting.

I - we - our staff - other pastors - spend hours, constantly, exploring possibilities, watching for gaps in our protocols, checking to see if rules have changed, if potential liabilities have opened up, reading insurance updates. We spend hours shifting the essential nature of what we do to new methods of doing it, checking the effectiveness of it, and shifting again. We continue to share the timeless truths that are part of following Jesus, knowing that those truths are foundational in a deeply-changed world; but we also gently lead our congregations into likely inevitable, often uncomfortable, change - even as we hold to an unchanging faith, to a God who continues to be "I Am".

I worry sometimes about pastors a year from now, caring for people without taking a breath, pivoting outside of our areas of expertise or even knowledge, all with a tremendous level of uncertainty.

I pray for pastors and check in on some of my friends.

We're all tired.

There's a lot going on.

So I signed out of social media a week or two ago. Because a lot has happened, and my own mental health matters, and I knew that something had to give. 

And I'm ok.

Please don't do that sympathetic head-tilt, with accompanying, questioning murmurs.

I hate that.

I'm ok. 😌 And when I'm not, I know what to do, who to turn to. And words are an outlet for me, so I sign in to my long-neglected blog, and I write.

Maybe I'll sign in to social media, just to post this.

Then I close my laptop, because Gibson the Wee Wonder-Pup is awake and needs a walk.

And so do I.

Friday, May 29, 2020

the air i breathe

I write this ... praying I don't say it wrong. 

I am a white, middle-class pastor, born and raised in a nation in which I was, until recently, part of the dominant culture. This has meant that for the most part, I have a voice. I have power. I can access my rights with relative ease.

The air I breathe is abundant, clear, 
and specifically designed for me. 

So I can only imagine what it is to live otherwise.

And I MUST do the work of imagining it. 

Countless times I have had wonderful people, good friends, male pastors, say to me, “Patti, I don’t think women-in-ministry is still an issue. I never see it.” And my (hopefully kind and gentle) response has been, “That’s because you are male. It doesn’t cross your path.”

They live in the same world as me,
but they breathe different air.

Years of ministry in “inner-city” contexts showed this small-town girl the unbelievable discrimination - individual and systemic - against people on the margins. Poor, less-educated, low-income. It’s real. What they deal with never crossed my path as a middle-class person. It is heartbreaking to see someone treated like crap because of their address (or lack of one). I’ve seen it happen. 

They breathe different air.

When I moved to Quebec (which I love), I began to experience, just the tiniest bit, what it is to live in a world where I am not the dominant culture. My voice is not automatically heard. I work much harder to gain credibility.

The air I breathe is still abundant - but it’s less clear.

It’s not quite designed for me.

I work with, live among, am friends with, people at various stages in the Canadian immigration process. It has been a shock - embarrassingly - to realize how little I knew of that process. How difficult it is. How stressful it is. It simply never crossed my path. 

Newcomers to Canada
breathe very different air.

Why do I say this?

Because it has become an important exercise for me to take these lessons and apply them to racism. I don’t see racism in my world, except when it explodes on my newsfeed. But why would I? I am white. It doesn’t cross my path. It’s not the air I breathe.

But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, and probably closer than I know. 

So I MUST - I MUST do the work of imagining. Of listening without answering too quickly. Of learning without defending myself. I need to intentionally offer space to those who wonder if a white, middle-class, Canadian-born pastor might allow room for their story of different air.

My God -

Help me to make space for those breathing different air.

Help me to examine my own heart
with humility, courage ... and healthy uncertainty.

I can’t imagine. But I must. Show me how.

Amen.


#icantbreathe #georgefloyd 

Monday, November 25, 2019

short, pale and ...

Last week, I was on vacation for several days.

And by "on vacation" I mean "at home". 

Because Spike (should we go back to this moniker for him? is this the one that sticks?) didn't have vacation time, so it was just me and Andie.

I've mentioned Andie, right?


So then, by "at home" I mean, "popped in once or twice to the office". 

So yes, I was on vacation. Yes, I worked a bit. But only a bit. And only on things I wanted to work on.

Anyhoo, on one of these pop-ins, I learned of something that had happened just prior to a previous pop-in.

Please note: I get to work with an incredible staff team, and I love every single one of them to bits. We have a standing "not-accepting-resignations-at-this-time" policy, that's how much we all get along. Please keep this in mind, as you read further.

The other day, Rob (second-in-command, and a hulking, football-player type, for what it's worth) and the rest of the team were sitting and having lunch. It was a rare, low-pressure kind of day, and so it was a pretty relaxed lunch. There was even a guest present - a new staff member at the organization that also uses our facility.

As the standard time neared an end, Rob cleared his throat, ever-so-gently hinting that it was time to get back to work. They laughed. "Oh, we know what that means." A few minutes went by, and Rob cleared his throat again.

More chuckles. "Rob, are you telling us lunch is over?"

He shrugged. "I'm just telling you, Patti's coming, and she'll be here in a few minutes."

And *apparently* ... this is what they told me ... they all jumped and within seconds were back at their desks.

The guest, watching all this was a little bewildered. "Patti? But I thought Rob was the one you were all afraid of?"

"Oh no," they said. "You haven't met Patti yet. You will. She's the short, pale one - she's the scary one."

Please note: You know that cartoon in which someone says, "Oh my goodness, you're so pale, are you feeling ok?" And the answer is, "I'm fine. This is just my face." You've seen that? That's my life. Also, I've been short my whole life, but I make up for it by walking faster than most and wearing heels.

So they told me this story the next time I popped in.

And I objected, strongly. "This is how you describe me to people?! The short, pale, scary one??!!! I keep telling you I'M DELIGHTFUL!!!! Why aren't you GETTING that??!!!"

And they laughed. And shook their heads. And went back to work.