I was recently at a baby shower where I only knew the friend who invited me to join her. And she only knew the mom-to-be, but no one else.
So. Two introverts go to a house to sit with people they've never met before on a rainy November Sunday afternoon. Sounds like the plot line for a horror story.
We are met at the door by the tall, white haired, white-skinned friendly shower host, who welcomes us to her home and asks us not to take photos, as the mom-to-be, recently arrived from Syria, has chosen not to wear her hijab. H, the pregnant guest-of-honor, sees Maureen (my friend) and with a huge smile, introduces her to the other women mingling in the doorway. (H is one of Maureen's ESL students.)
Eventually, everyone arrives. We are an eclectic gathering of women: 26 ladies from 17 countries, all colourfully dressed (except the 50 yr old Canadians. We all wear black...). We play a 'Mingling Game' where we are each challenged to find someone who:
- has a birthday close to our own
- has the most children
- has visited the most countries
- is wearing something handmade/homemade
- has an interesting hobby
- can teach you a phrase in another language
- got their Canadian citizenship in the past 5 years
Once we are all seated again, we are to introduce ourselves and share our connection with the new mom, if we have one.
The first gal to speak is originally from Kenya. She's been in Canada a few years, and her introduction is quite formal. She wishes blessings and good health on H, and tells her that this house is a special one; that many new Canadians and many new babies have been blessed by the love within it's walls. (She had never met H before, but she wanted to share in her joy on this day and was there by the invitation of one of the hosts.)
This sentiment is repeated often. Most people in the room don't know the new mom, but accepted the invitation to bless this young woman who is so far from home. Another woman is in the same English school as H, so she was invited, and thrilled to be included in her first ever Canadian Baby Shower, She has brought along her mom, so she could experience it too. They are dressed formally in their Syrian garb and are in the early stages of learning the language.
Half-way round the circle is H, and she shares her story.
She is from Syria, and three years ago she married J. One month after their wedding, he left for Canada and assured her he would bring her to be with him as soon as he could. She stays behind and waits in a country that is being ripped apart by hate and war.
He arrives in Canada and ends up living in Langley.
Mary (the other host of the baby shower) interjects and fills in the gaps. "I had a basement suite for rent, and J responded to an ad I had posted. I rented it to him and found him to be courteous and kind and helpful. Shortly after he moved in, I had an accident, and J looked after me and the house while I was recuperating. He cleaned the gutters, washed my vehicle, helped with maintenance. He was a gift. After a year, he tried to get his wife out of Syria, and knew that the window of opportunity was closing; the border she was closest to was shutting down permanently very soon. He asked me to fly to Turkey with him and help with the process of getting her through..."
Together they made the trip and arrived when there were just three days left. They were on the Turkey side, H was on the Syrian side. She'd walk to the border every morning at 5 am, and along with thousands of others, wait for the gates to open. On day one, she was there til 8 pm, then walked home. On day two, she arrived again at 5 am, and waited til 8 pm. Then walked back home.
On the Turkey side, Mary (a Christian) and J (a Muslim) were appealing to their friends to pray.
On day three, H once again arrived at 5 am. But this time, by the end of the day, she was one of 40 people to cross through into Turkey!
Mary and J returned back to Canada to start the next process, while H, on her own, was left in temporary housing in Turkey. It took a year, but last Christmas, H was able to come to Canada. And now, this Christmas, H and J will welcome their first child into this new country.
As H is sharing her story, she is crying. She misses her mom. And her family. And her life back home.
We cry with her.
The next gal to share is wearing a beautiful mid-Eastern dress and head piece. She's from Turkey.
Mary, again, interjects with the story behind this woman's presence at this party. "I knew that H would be arriving in Canada soon, and it was on my mind, that she'd feel very alone. As I was driving in Walnut Grove, I saw this young woman walking along the sidewalk, dressed in this stunning outfit. I pulled over to the side of the road, stopped my car, jumped out and ran up to her. "Excuse me? Do you speak English? Do you live close near here? I live very closeby and have a young woman coming from Syria to live her soon. She will probably need a friend. Would you be her friend? Would you want to come to my house to meet her when she arrives?" The woman said yes, she would be H's friend.
Story after story of the two shower hosts meeting random people (the pharmacist, originally from Jordan who works at the local drug store, the neighbour, originally from Taiwan, another neighbour, from Quebec, and so on) inviting them into the life of this new immigrant. And their willingness to welcome and love her.
Near the end of the afternoon, J arrives to pick up his wife. He is overwhelmed with the mound of gifts and the number of women who are in the room. He takes a moment to thank us all. And bestows a blessing on us. And I just can't even.
It's two weeks later, and I'm still in awe by what I had the opportunity to be a part of.
There are hundreds of different varieties of bamboo plants. But this one, in particular, was discussed at work the other day.
You plant the seed and water it. And fertilize it. And after a short while, a shoot pokes through the ground. You continue to water and nurture it, but after one year, all you've got is a short shoot.
You continue to water and fertilize it for a second year. And that tiny shoot doesn't get noticeably taller.
You continue for a third year. And while you've managed to keep it alive, there is no evidence of growth.
You continue for a fourth year. And the results are the same. You water and fertilize and that lil green shoot remains a lil green shoot.
And then part way through the fifth year? That shoot? Grows 80 feet in 5 weeks.
And it doesn't fall over.
It has a root system in place to support 80 feet of growth in 5 weeks.
Did I give up on something in year 2?
If you're too lazy to click on that link, I'll repost it here:
"So this morning I tried a little social experiment....instead of going through the Starbucks drive through, I went inside.
As I walked in, I surveyed the scene. Almost every person was enveloped in their phone/computer and probably had no clue anyone new had walked through the door. I looked over my shoulder to see a line of about 10 people deep accumulating behind me. I got up to the cash register, ordered my drink, then asked for a $25 gift card. I quietly asked the bartista to use the gift card for as many drinks as it would cover for the people behind me. I tol her you can tell them I'm still here, but dont tell them who did it. She smiled...giggled...and said ok.
I got my drink...and took a seat in the corner to watch this unfold.
The first gentleman to receive a free drink demanded he pay, but the baritsa insisted it was covered...so he dropped his $5 he was going to use to pay for his drink into the barista's tip jar. Success. She turned to me and winked.
The second and third patrons in line were 2 old buddies having their weekly coffee date. They had to be pushing 80 and they were so confused at not having to pay that they just left their money on the counter and asked her to use it for the people behind them. It was a younger guy who then after receiving his free drink went over to the gentleman and shook their hands. Success.
I proceeded to watch 14 different people enjoy a "free" drink. Some people paid for the people behind them in line, and some people just took their free drink and scanned the room looking for the free drink fairy, smiling at everyone they encountered. Success.
But the best part about it: I also got to watch people step out of their normal robot-like morning routine and be human. They put their phones down. They picked their heads up and made eye contact with people in the room. They exchanged smiles and head nods, wondering if that was the person that paid for their drinks. I watched people be kind, courteous, and engaging. I watched people who normally would avoid eye contact, spark a conversation all because of a kind gesture. Success.
My favorite part was a little old man named Hank. I guess Hank comes in every day for his tall drip coffee with room for a splash of cream and sunshine (and that's exactly how he ordered his drink). I knew his name was Hank because everyone who worked there stopped what they were doing to say good morning to Hank. After recieving his free drink (the las drink the gift card covered), Hank took it upon himself to ask every single person in that starbucks if they were the one who got his coffee because he needed to say thank you. As I was sitting in the corner, I watched him go around the room, and knew he would eventually make it to me. As he got to me, I smiled. He just stopped and said "It was you huh? Stand up young lady." So I stood up, and as Hank balanced himself with his cane under one arm, he gave me the biggest, tightest hug he could with the other arm and said "You were that little ray of sunshine I seek every day. Today I am vertical, you woke up too, so be blessed not stressed." He tipped his hat, and hobbled away.
I packed up my stuff, and headed off to work.
Next time you can, pay it forward.
#whatdoyoudowhenyourehavingashittyday #trytosmile#ormakeotherpeoplesmile #itsnotthathard"
Have you ever 'paid it forward'?
One person commented on this facebook post by saying she'd paid for the order behind her as she drove through for her morning coffee. When she went back the following day to place her typical order, the cashier told her than her action the previous day had spurred a whole half hour of coffee drinkers paying for the order in the car behind them.
I know that paying for the coffee for the person in the car behind you isn't going to solve the big problems in the world. I mean, that person clearly can afford coffee, and a car. So you're not making a big difference in the lives of the hurting and needy.
But still. It's a random act of kindness that begets other rather random acts of kindness.
It's a start.
It only takes a spark to get a fire goingggggg...
I was at this thing on Friday night:
There was music and motivational talks and an auditorium/theatre filled to capacity with eager and attentive women of all ages. We were there to be encouraged and inspired.
And we were. Each presenter who shared her story, had something of import to say. I found myself nodding my head and agreeing throughout the evening. Sadly, I didn't take notes, and I know this to be true about myself. Unless I write it down? Spoken words go into and out of my head as if I've got a sieve on my shoulders.
There were a number of times during the evening, I said to myself, "Remember this thought. Ponder it for abit." And then another speaker started talking and the original idea that I wanted to revisit disappeared from the space between my ears.
So today, a mere 48 hours later, I'm left to mull over a lovely memory of a good evening out, but nothing to clutch to in terms of being a Woman in the World, the Community, the Church, and the Family other than, if you're a pinterester, you should keep that quiet as a bit of fun was poked at those who have Pinterestable Lives.
Oh, wait. There IS something... It had less to do with the topics discussed and more to do with the folks I was sitting with. Isn't that usually the way? Planners spend months choosing topics, selecting speakers, arranging music, designing the stage, branding a look, and in the end? The thing we remember? Is who we were sitting with and what we talked about. Haha.
My mom, Sandra and I sat with Hildegard (my mom's best friend since forever ago) and her daughter, Donna. Donna's daughter, Kenzie, is on staff at Village Church and she led us in Worship that night. It was amazing. I was in awe of her confidence, passion, strength and voice. So very powerful.
I grew up at Killarney Park MB Church in Vancouver and the fella that led us in singing, from a hymnal, with a piano and organ as the only accompanying instruments, was George. He led with passion, strength, and confidence with a big booming voice and not-to-be missed presence. George was Hildegard's husband.
Years ago, when I was inbetween the two churches that closed; I attended Gracepoint for a season. Donna, (George and Hildegard's youngest daughter) was on the worship team in those days, as a vocalist. It felt 'right' going to a church that had a singing Krahn on stage... haha.
And now, George's granddaughter, (Donna's daughter) is keeping the family legacy alive, by being the third generation of Krahn kin to serve in the church using the gift of music.
It's a wonderful thing.
(Hildegard, herself, was more of a behind-the-scenes contributor. Her gift is in bringing beauty to spaces; typically through floral arrangements, but not limited to that. And THAT legacy is still alive as her other granddaughter, Morgan, a designer, worked back stage to create the seamless presentation on stage.)
And had me wondering what kind of legacy my family has with the church.
My dad was the sound guy; fiddling with knobs to at the back of the church so that those using the microphones could be heard. My mom helped out with the girl's program for a few years, then worked in the kitchen, organizing the meals for our Big Church Banquet at Christmas. What contributions have I (and my siblings) made? How is God using us in our individual churches? And the grandkids? What gifts, unique or familial, has God given them and how are they using them in His church?
Today is the first Sunday of Advent, and for the first time in four years, my kids did not come over to do some Christmas baking or soup n stew making. I made the mistake of thinking because we'd done it for three years in a row, that this was our Tradition. Haha. Nope. Turns out it was just a good thing; not a forever thing. One child is snowboarding at Sun Peaks, another is working, two never responded.
Maybe we'll still get together to do this? But maybe we won't. It'll be up to them. Add this (Advent Baking) to the new list I've been working on entitled: THINGS I DO NOT CONTROL. This list? Could be a contender for the Guinness World Record holder for Longest List ever in the History of List Making.
So with measuring and sifting and chopping and sauteing off the menu for today's activities, I went to church last night then drove up to the lake. Where it is dark, and quiet and overcast and wet and cold. Which, I suppose is the perfect environment to ponder the Hope of Advent. If everything was all sunshine and lollipops, Hope as an idea, would be pointless and unneccessary.
Anne Lamott posted this (below) to her facebook page this morning, and so many parts of it are resonating with me. Maybe, partly, because she was in Vancouver during Advent the year she wrote it. Her words are just as applicable today as they were in 2001.
I got pregnant during Advent 15 years ago, after which I had almost no further contact with Sam's father, John, for years. No one could have imagined that over the last seven years the three of us would become a quirky, tender family. For instance, last week Sam and I went to visit his father in Canada for the fourth time, and came back home on the first Sunday in Advent.
This year Sam was going to meet his half brother, his father's first son, who is forty. No one had been ready to take this next step until this year, and suddenly, we all were. Sam was more excited than I'd seen him in a long time. I was too but --- well, you know me with my bad nerves. John's son was going to stay on John's marvelous boat with his wife and baby. Sam would stay with John at his apartment, and I was staying at a hotel with room service and cable TV, as I have not completely lost my mind.
John picked me and Sam up at the airport, took us out for sushi, and dropped me at my hotel. They headed off to John's apartment. My hotel was on the shore of the inlet that flows into Vancouver, with snowy mountain peaks across the water, trees seemingly aflame on every hillside, and a bustling harbor beneath my window. I was going to take a cab to John's later, and we would all meet up for dinner.
I holed up in the hotel with CNN and Kit-Kats from the mini-bar, and grew increasingly tense. What if Sam's brother couldn't reach out, what if Sam went into adolescent glower mode, what if ... I went through everything that could go wrong that night, and then moved into the more spacious realms of worrying about gum surgery, and colon cancer. I got some communion Milanos out of the mini-bar, performed the sacrament, and then prayed that I could just keep the faith. The thing is, I have a lot of faith. But I am also afraid a lot, and have no real certainty about anything. I remembered something Tom told me--that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns. Faith also means reaching deeply within, for the sense one was born with, the sense, for instance, to go for a walk.
So first I showered off that horrible butt smell you get from being on an airplane, then bundled up and went outside. I prayed that everything would go all right for Sam's sake. I wish faith wrapped you in a bubble, but it doesn't, not for long.
During Advent, Christians prepare for the birth of Jesus, which means the true light. All your better religions have a holy season as the days grow shorter, when we ask ourselves, Where is the spring? Will it actually come again this year, break through the quagmire, the terror, the cluelessness? Probably not, is my response, left to my own devices. So all I can do is to stay close to God, and my friends. I notice the darkness, light a few candles, scatter some seeds. And out in Nature, and in my spiritual communities, I can usually remember that we only have to dread things one day at a time. Insight doesn't help here. Hope is not logical. It always comes as a surprise, just when you think all hope is lost. Hope is the cousin to grief, and both take time: You can't short-circuit grief, or emptiness and you can't patch it up with your bicycle tire tube kit. You have to take the next right action. Jesus would pray on the mountain, or hang out with the poor or imprisoned, or--as I'll get to in a moment--start doodling in the sand.
I walked around town for a while, stopped at some bookstores, bought myself a lipstick, a cup of cocoa with extra whipped cream, and then dropped by an old stone church.
The church was small and beautiful, cold and dark. This gave me a kind of relief: We live in darkness. Everyone knows this the time they turn 21, or they're seriously disturbed. I started to get really freaked out about dinner--there are literally six people in the world with whom I can bear to eat. And besides, what if the added weight of Sam's brother, with his inevitable baggage, caused Sam’s and my life with John to buckle and collapse? What if Sam's heart got broken again? As with most kids who are 14, it has been spackled and duct taped and caulked back together so many times as it is.
The church smelled dank and musky, like Sam's dirty laundry, but I sat quietly. My mind perched on top of my head like a spider monkey and thought of more things that could go wrong at dinner, and whose fault those things would be. I tried to do the two-foot drop, from my head down to my heart, which is so kind and so amazed that John and I have made a little family for Sam. Still, my mind chattered on, like the spider monkey had taken a little acid. My mind is my main problem almost all the time. I wish I could leave it in the fridge when I go out, but it likes to come with me. I have tried to get it to take up a nice hobby, like macramé, but it prefers just to think about stuff, and jot down the things that annoy it.
The other problem continues to be what I think the light looks like. I have thought, over the years, that the light would look like success, a good man, a child, a Democratic president, but none of these were right. Moses led his people in circles for 40 years so they could get ready for the Promised Land, because they had too many ideas and preconceptions about what a nice Promised Land should look like. In Advent, we have to sit in our own anxiety and funkiness long enough to know what a Promised Land would be like, or, to put it another way, what it means to be saved--which, if we are to believe Jesus, or Ghandi, means to see everyone on earth as family.
I left the church and took a cab over to John's house. I cannot tell you the whole story, but Sam says that I can share the following brief report: His brother is tall and warm and kind. They looked enough alike so that you could see they were related, but not so much that I had to breathe into a brown paper bag. And they were both a little shy. His brother's wife is smart and lively, and their baby is lovely beyond words. We all connected, in the perfectly imperfect way of families. We ate and were kind to each other. We watched TV and raced around after the baby. Sam staked out turf close to both me and his father, and ventured out like small children do to try out new lines of conversation. I was secretly hoping that something dramatic would happen, and I'd have a great story to tell, but it took me several hours to realize that this is the best story there is: that a small group of related people came together, willing to be supremely uncomfortable, so that Sam could know his brother, and his brother's family, and therefore come to know a bit more about who he is. This is why we did it.
I am also allowed to report that Sam's niece, and my 11-month-old niece Clara, were born on the exact same day—I tell you, when God is not being cryptic and silent, He is so obvious. Sam was wonderful with his niece, because his cousin Clara has taught him how to be with babies. He’s like a cross between Big Bird and Tony Soprano with them. "Hey you," he calls, when they're babbling incoherently over his TV show, "Put a sock in it." Then he tosses them around, and pushes his face against theirs, and makes farting sounds, and makes sure they don't get their fingers caught in drawers.
He also doodled the whole evening. The rest of us talked, overate, cleaned up messes as we went, held our tongues, overlooked the inevitable family tension. The oil of manners makes it possible. When you're kind to people, and you pay attention, you make a field of comfort around them, and you get it back--the Golden Rule meets the law of Karma meets Murphy's law.
And all the while, Sam drew his little guys, from time to time asserting his adolescent grump. I felt anxious much of time, but what else is new? Something larger than us and our anxieties and ferocious need to control got us through, connected us, even if the connection was precarious at first. What shone through was the odd responsibility we took for each other, the kindness, marbled in through the past, the bad and silent patches of our shared histories, our character defects, hidden and on the surface, and the glitches. Things got broken--they always do--and children always yap and stamp and cry and glower, and demand all your attention. It's called real life, and it's cracked and fragile, but the glue for me is the beating of my heart, love, and whatever attention I can pay to what matters most to me--making a good life for Sam.
"Hey, Sam," I said, when I hugged everyone goodbye and left for my hotel. "Doodle on."
The second morning, I lay in bed giving thanks for having come from where we were, before Sam knew his dad, to where we are now. I ordered room service, and then made the mistake of turning on the TV. What if there really is no hope this time? What if the insanity had grown more intense than wisdom? Outside my window, the nearest trees looked sick and in trouble. The leaves had all fallen off, and they looked dead. All I could do was lean on my shaky Advent faith that things would be OK, more or less, that we are connected, and everyone--everyone--eventually falls into the hands of God. I pray, and try to be kind, and go to church, and Sam doodles.
But these are the things that Jesus did, too. In John: 8, when the woman is about to be stoned by the Pharisees for adultery, we see Jesus doodling in the sand. The Pharisees, the officially good people, were acting well within the law when they condemned the woman to death. A huge crowd of people willing to kill her had joined them. The Greatest Hits moment here is when Jesus says, challenging the crowd, "Let ye who is without sin cast the first stone." But the more interesting stuff happens before, when he leaves the gathering storm, goes off by himself, and starts doodling.
He refuses to interact with them on their level of hatred and madness. He just draws in the sand for a time. Maybe he was drawing his little guys--the Gospel doesn't say. But when he finally faced the mob, and responded, all the people who were going to kill the woman had disappeared.
You have to wonder, where was the man with whom she committed adultery? Some people suggest he was in the crowd, waiting to join in with the crowd and kill her. We don't know. But I can guess how the condemned woman must have felt--surprised. She was supposed to die, and her life was spared. Hope always catches us by surprise.
It poured all morning. But even in the gloom and desperation, I played over the scenes from the night before, in all their magic and klutz and ordinariness: Sam and his brother getting to know each other; the baby racing around in a state of busy wonder. I have to say, I continue to be deeply surprised by life.
I had invited everyone over to my hotel room for room service lunch and a movie. I felt pretty anxious while I waited. The rain poured down, dark and loud. I couldn’t wait to get back to my own home: this is the perfect time to plant bulbs and scatter seeds, in the hope that some of them will grow. But meanwhile, in Advent, we show up when we are needed, with grit and kindness; we try to help, we prepare for an end to the despair. And we do this together.
So that's it. Those're the 5 big things on my mind right now.
- Immigants and refugees.
- Bamboo trees.
- Paying It Forward
- Family legacies.
- Advent hope.
The smaller things I'm thinking about?
- The housing market
- Lifestyle expectations
- Christmas celebrations
- Pokemon catching
- Teeth maintenance
Three things I'm thankful for:
1. There isn't a blizzard on the Coquihalla tonight and he's in a 4 x 4.
2. Winter is only one season. It'll last 3 months, then it'll be over.
3. Saturday's sermon.
May you experience Hope this Advent season.