Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Journey to Easter

As a Christian, while Christmas tends to be the season that we celebrate most, in terms of significance, the Easter week is truly the most meaningful time of the year.  For the last few weeks, I have been pondering how I want to begin Pk's awareness of Easter and what traditions we will establish as a family.

Easter has always been a big deal in my family.  My parents always did things to make it special. I think that the first real tension that I had with my parents was about Easter.  I was taking dance classes at the time and our group was supposed to be participating in the Beach Easter parade on Easter morning.  I was determined to go and my parents, while understanding of my desperation to do it, we equally adamant that Easter was for church and family.  They tried to arrange special things so that I wouldn't be so aware of missing the parade as much but it was one of the few times that I remember them being unwilling to give in to me on something I really wanted.  Mum always got these Easter paper models - we coloured all of the parts of the scene at the tomb and they were cut out and mounted and put on the mantel.  It was a big deal on Easter to roll the stone away.  We got gifts for Easter and while I think the Easter Bunny did come (we did have Easter baskets and we got a bit of candy), there was always a gift that had some kind of "new life" significance - one year it was a cactus for each of us, another year there was a goldfish and one year we even got hamsters.  We never did an egg hunt and we spent a lot of Easter weekend at church, whether at our own or visiting another or doing an Easter vigil walk around the City of Toronto.

When I left home, even when I didn't have a lot of time for church, Easter was always important to me.  Once Michael came along, we really committed to it from a more spiritual perspective.  We always went to a Maundy Thursday service (for anyone who doesn't know, it is usually a communion service that is a reenactment of the last supper), a Good Friday service (at which I ALWAYS cry), an Easter sunrise service and then "the" Easter morning service.  It is always such an emotional roller coaster and I am always glad that we have Easter Monday off to try and collect ourselves before entering back into normal life.

We loved Easter at our old church.  Our minister really knew how to make things meaningful.  He wasn't the most exciting of preachers and normally, quite frankly, we would leave a service having a tough time remembering what his 40 minute sermon had been about.  He had a gift for Easter.  The only "pulpit pounders" I ever remember him doing were during Advent and Easter (at Advent, he would rage against people trying to predict the end times and how arrogant it was to claim to be able to see it coming and/or to predict when it would happen when Christ himself had said that he didn't know).  One Easter, he shocked everyone when he very loudly announced that if you hadn't travelled the passion route (Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday), you had no right to be there for the joys of Easter.  Some people felt that he was crazy because Easter is frequently a time that people who don't regularly worship show up and the last thing they needed to hear was that they had no right to be there.  He had a true gift for creating a meaningful Passion week - Maundy Thursday, he had an obsession with reenacting the footwashing when Jesus washed the disciples feet.  Every year, he would be determined that we would do it and every year, it would end up that people washed each others' hands because they just felt too uncomfortable with it.  (My good friend Bree and I kept saying that we were going to make it a Passion week tradition to go for a pedicure together on the Wednesday before Maundy Thursday).  I will never forget the time that on Good Friday, he had a large, rough wooden cross at the front of the church and every one of us had to come forward and hammer in a nail to symbolize that fact that it was our sin that led to the need for the sacrifice.  It was incredibly haunting, to sit in the silence and hear nothing but the sound of the hammer.  We were all in tears - as Christians, we tend to really focus on the sterile, Sunday school version of events and gloss over the worst of what was actually done on Good Friday (sorry, I am not the type to enjoy the gore of "The Passion of the Christ" and frankly, that would not connect me more to what happened).  Then, there were the frigid, outdoor sunrise services, singing in a park in a less-than-stellar neighbourhood in Toronto followed by HUGE breakfasts hosted by our Filipino families.  Then, of course, the service full of the best hymns of the Christian year  which was made more challenging by our very full bellies).   Easter was so special, even if we didn't do many of the things we do to mark Christmas.

This brings me back to how I could like it to be for Pk.  Our church doesn't do a Maundy Thursday service at the moment (our church building isn't quite ready for occupancy and we don't have access to the hockey arena and I am not sure whether our minister is "high church" enough to be interested in one) and I can't really take a little one anyway, even if I did find one.  Good Friday is a joint service with several other churches.  I have to admit, the last few years, Good Friday hasn't been the same.  We usually get together with Dh's family and while they are "religious", I wouldn't say that they are very spiritual people (I don't intend that as a criticism just a statement of fact).  We often went to church together on Good Friday but the rest of the day was like any other.  Easter will be in our new church (although we won't have power yet or be "officially" there - our minister has said that, "we will be having a work party and we might just happen to break into Easter hymns in what will be the sanctuary).   I hope that there will be a sunrise service although I know that there won't be a special breakfast - I think one of the older guys from church brought his bbq and did peameal on a bun one year but it just isn't the same.

So, back to it, we are trying to figure out how we will handle Easter in our family.  Dh and I have talked about it a lot and I have been doing some research.  I think we have decided, for now, that we will try and make it a real family event, starting with Palm Sunday.  We are going to get palm branches as a family and use them to decorate.  Dh had the great idea of taking Pk to our local park that has a path and getting either palm branches or rose petals from a florist and sprinkling them along the path and having a kind of parade.  We will read the Palm Sunday story as a family at dinner.  Maundy Thursday is still up in the air.  We have kind of debated doing a modified seder.  I don't know whether I am up to it but since Pk is still little and rarely sits very long during a meal, I don't think that has to happen this year.  We are going to make hot cross buns for Good Friday morning and then Dh and I are going to fast on Good Friday (obviously not something Pk will do).  On Saturday, we are going to decorate Easter eggs and prepare food for our big roast lamb feast on Easter.  The big thing this year is that we want to start to gather ideas for decorating for Easter and not with little bunnies.  I found a few good ideas on some blogs and hope to expand them.  Someone posted directions for a wonderful "Names of Jesus" garland that I have made (I will post the link once I figure out the etiquette of that - please let me know, do you have to ask someone before posting a link to their blog?) and I have stumbled across some great recipes.  I am also thinking to trying to make Resurrection Eggs (I have also debated buying a set but am thinking that it might be a nice Easter tradition as a family to make a set each year and I have found online directions for that, too).  More than anything, I just want Pk to grow up with a sense of the incredible majesty of the gift we have been given and that this is a time for reflection and gratitude.

If anyone has any good decorating or celebrating ideas for the Passion Week, especially with children, I would love to hear them.  While we have some beginning thoughts, we don't feel like we have found the true picture yet of how we want things to be and we want this time to be a time to re-focus and to refresh ourselves and our faith walk.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Plan B

Today we were supposed to go and visit some really good friends who we never seem to have time for.  We finally found a date that worked and were all set - then the vomiting started.

Pk really does seem to have a flair for it.  She doesn't puke much but when she does, wow!  This was one of those days.  We were sitting in her room, reading stories under her blanket and all of a sudden, it started and it was impressive.  Ick.  She seemed totally fine before and after so we debated what to do.  Dh called our wonderfully understanding friends who suggested that if it didn't continue, we were welcome.  We started to pack (why does taking an 18 month old any require taking most of the contents of our home???) and then, round 2.  At that point, it was obvious that we weren't going anywhere.

Typically, she woke up from her nap totally fine, which led me to doubt whether we should have stayed home... I decided that some fresh air would be nice so we got bundled up and went for a really long walk through town.  While it wasn't seeing our friends, it ended up being a nice way to spend the last day of my March Break.

I live in a small town, a village, really.  I think there are 3500 people.  Walking here is wonderful.  We spend most of the time on the road and the sights are wonderfully diverse.  I used to walk miles in the city and enjoyed it but I love it so much more here.  We saw horses, cows and farms within 20 minutes of home.  We walked through woods and parks, I got to spy on houses (I love checking out what people are doing) and Pk got to see her fill of dogs.  I don't know whether I will get to the point that living in such a small place with grow tired but right now, I love it.  Everyone says hello, there is a unique wave to anyone who passes in a car if you aren't on a major road and everyone who is out front of a house you pass has to make a comment about how cute Pk is or about the weather.  

What a great way to start spring.  Now, if only we can completely get rid of the horrible smell and find a date to see our friends...

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Farewell, Old Friend

This is Bertha.  She has been a member of our family for quite a long time.  We were living in the city, decided to move to the boonies and made the move in early summer so we didn't have to go to work.  We knew that at the end of the summer, we would have to buy another car but we kept avoiding thinking about it.  Finally, Liz and John were up to visit and they decided to take us in hand and introduce us to the joys of  I was in serious denial about the whole thing - buying a used car terrified us.  We drove up to Orillia, spent $8000 and came home with Bertha.  She was about 7 years old when we bought her and while she was in great shape, she already had pretty high mileage.

We have gone through 7 years together and have had a kind of love-hate relationship.  She has all-wheel drive and is a joy to drive in the winter.  She is fairly good on gas and has an amazing amount of room for taking stuff.  She took us to several dog shows in the U.S., drove across fields to hunt tests and helped friends move.  She doesn't have a CD player, for the last three years, her a/c hasn't worked and the sensor panel lights up like a Christmas tree whenever we turn her on.  We haven't been able to lock her for the last year or so, she has packing tape holding pieces on and for the last several weeks, I have had to wait for dh to power up the car before I can leave, just in case it doesn't work and the noises coming from her are terrifying.  We blew a tire together on the 404 and our garage floor is now coated in oil from her oil leak.  She is ugly, covered in rust and increasingly unpredictable.

Today, we traded her in for a new vehicle.  We did it with a profound sense of relief, knowing that we can now fairly safely assume that we WILL get to work.  It was all good and I was feeling very positive and then the family curse kicked in.  I started to feel sad for poor Bertha.  She worked hard for us in her way and it seemed kind of sad to drive away from the dealership and just leave her there.  When I was a child, my father was ridiculously sentimental and we were never allowed to throw out stuffed animals because he felt sorry for them.  My parents' house is filled with junk, primarily because dad feels sad about things being thrown away and no longer having a purpose.  The impact of "The Velveteen Rabbit" on him was just too profound.   I guess I suffer from that, too.  (I guess one of those "generational strongholds" to my Bible study friends).

So, Bertha, I salute you.  You have served us well and we appreciate all that you have done for us.  Thanks for the adventures!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

And now for something different...

On Saturday, we drove up to Owen Sound to visit the in-laws.  We haven't taken Pk up very often because she is such a bad sleeper - I have lived in fear of being stuck in a very small house with her up all night and keeping everyone else up.  Happily, she actually slept much of the night in her playpen (nothing short of a miracle!!!!!) and now we know we can travel with her.  There was a gorgeous flash of spring and on Sunday afternoon after church and the nap, we went to Harrison Park to the bird sanctuary.  Pk was mesmerized.

We thought we needed to show her ducks so that she didn't think they they were all yellow with bright orange beaks like in all of her books.

Yes, Kittenpie, the clothing should look familiar since both the jacket and the boots came from you.  She ADORES the boots and we are having trouble taking them from her.  She wears them all the time.

Three generations of the Nv family - engaging in the family's second religion, following Chelsea F.C. (who, much to everyone's pleasure won the game and are now in second place)

A Quiver Full?

I am feeling so sad and alone this morning and sorry, this is going to be a real pity party but I have something I need to talk about and I don't have anyone to talk about it with.  You might want to stop reading now.

Dh and I waffled a bit on having children.  First of all, we are both cowards and I think the idea of parenthood really scared us.  Secondly, both of our families were horrible with money (still are) and we both have this fear of long-term debt and with dh's student loans, we were scared that we wouldn't be able to manage with a baby and all that debt.  Thirdly, I think we were worried we were going to turn into the people, like my SIL, who are incapable of an adult conversation, whose homes have been overtaken by Disney and who expect the entire universe to revolve around their children.  We just kept putting it off. 

Finally, a little over two years ago, we decided to take the plunge.  Luckily, we got pregnant the first month and while she has given us a run for our money, I could never have imagined how Pk has enriched our lives.  I don't know how I lived without her and I am so incredibly afraid of anything happening to her.

As soon as she was born, we decided that we wanted at least one more, if not two.  We thought that it would be tight (I had just turned 35 when we had her) but given that things had gone well with her, we would be able to have at least one, if not two more.  

I bought the books, got the thermometre, am now taking my temp every morning, tracking what I need to track, etc.  We started trying again last October.  It has now been six months and I am not pregnant.  I eat the diet I am supposed to eat, I am seeing a naturopath specializing in fertility, I had my first acupuncture last week and I have seen my doctor (who basically told me to come back in six months).  Nothing.  The first couple of months, I thought, "O.k., this is taking a bit longer than I thought but we are still breastfeeding a bit, maybe that's what it is..." 
At this point, I think I have lost hope that it will ever happen.  I end up in tears at least two or three times a week and if I have one more person tell me that it is just a case of "mind over matter" and that it's all in my attitude, I am going to be sick. I would love to just say, "Fine, we will stop 'trying' and what happens, happens" but it's hard to do that with something that means so much.  I don't want Pk to be an only for many reasons, the least of which is that the thought of something happening to Dh and I and her being left essentially alone in the world kills me.

I also am finding  this hard because I am someone who wants to talk through my stresses and problems and I have several really good friends who I turn to when I am feeling like I can't cope.  For some reason, I have a really hard time talking about this.  On the one hand, I am DYING to talk about it with someone (and Dh doesn't count because he is a typical man and when there is a problem that he can't immediately solve, he tends to shut down).  On the other, for some reason, I just feel funny talking about this.  I want support but I don't want pity.  I guess that is pride.  I also feel like such a failure.  So stupid, given that if it was someone else, unless the person was smoking a pack a day and drinking like a fish, I would honestly say that some things are just beyond control and will happen when the right time comes.  I think I am also ashamed that I let my fear of money woes and the huge commitment of parenthood delayed our having children and we might has lost the opportunity.  

The worst part is that everyone I know seems to be pregnant and I can't get away from it.  I suspect this has turned into a full-blown depression and I just don't know how to get out of it.

Sunday, March 8, 2009


I am ticked off, seriously ticked off.  We are going to my husband's home town next weekend and he called to talk to his oldest friend.  He got a very definite cold shoulder and was pretty upset about it.  He called back to ask what the problem was and his friend wouldn't tell him what was wrong.  This friend (and his wife) are not the most positive of people and they have not been able to have children which has been a burden to them.  They live in a small town and both are working blue collar jobs and everyone around them has children so they don't have an easy time. It was hard telling them when we were pregnant with Pk and we felt terrible about it but we knew that there would probably be a definite cooling off in the relationship after Pk was born but really, we had no idea how difficult it would actually be.  My husband talked to his mother tonight who seems to have been aware that this friend, let's call him Jeff, was angry and the reason for it.  I gather he is upset because he called us a few weeks ago and asked to come down for a visit - coming down on a Sunday night and staying until Tuesday.  He expected that we would just take the day off from work to go with them to the mall.  For anyone who doesn't know, we are teachers and can't exactly take off work whenever we feel like it to go to the mall.  If we had done that and then run into a parent from school, we could have gotten in big trouble.  Huff, I am just so frustrated on Dh's behalf.  I think the thing that hurts the most is that my MIL laid a guilt trip on dh for not doing what his friend wanted.  She has so little loyalty and is so quick to believe the worst of dh.
For you pray-ers out there, say a prayer for me that next weekend goes well.  When I am home and sane and not steeped in that dysfunctional family culture, I can objectively tell myself that it doesn't matter, they are his parents and I will love and respect them no matter how poorly they treat him but when I am up there, no matter how ridiculous they are, it really hurts.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Telling My Story

At church, we are doing a study over Lent called "Untapped Miracles for Tapped Out Christians" by David Mains.  It isn't bad but up until this week, it just hasn't really been grabbing me (some studies just come at the right time, not so much with others).  This week, it has really hit me between the eyes - the overall theme is "Telling Our Stories" and how sharing God's impact in our lives can have a huge impact on others.

This is such a weak spot for me.  I just don't feel comfortable talking about my faith for several reasons.  The biggest one, I think, is that I am going to offend someone (I know, cowardly in a Christian).  I also worry that if I come across as lame or inconsistent or unconvincing and that I might actually push someone away from faith or misrepresent God.  There isn't a week that goes by that there isn't a time that I feel like I had an opportunity to share faith with someone else and I have somehow failed.

It's strange but even as the child of a minister and a wife who had all the qualifications except for the ordination, we really didn't talk about God at home much.   My mom read the Bible to us every night, we said grace, we did devotions as a family and my parents both prayed and prayed and prayed but we didn't see prayer that wasn't planned from a liturgy and there really wasn't all that much discussion.  We didn't talk about why we believe what we believe or why our faith isn't just a crutch, like so many around us believed.  I think we were so afraid of offending anyone.  My parents were both very actively involved in social justice activities and unfortunately, in that environment, you get a combination of devout Christians and left-wing atheists who can be downright hostile to faith.

I also grew up in an environment where we were almost always the only Christians.   I don't remember any friends in public school who were Christians.  It didn't help that we went to a church that wasn't local so the kids we saw there on Sunday morning were not the kids we saw at school.  It also didn't help that we went to dying inner-city churches and, for my American friends, inner city churches in the big cities here are almost all dying unless they are really fundamentalist and that isn't my scene either.  The only really big church that I can remember that was in our area was extreme to say the least - they used to hand our vicious tracts that were violently anti-Catholic, anti-homosexual and their members wouldn't allow their children to watch Sesame Street because all muppets were "demons" and Santa and the Easter Bunny were handmaids of satan.  (For a church that was into telling everyone else how to behave, they also seemed to have an unusually high birth rate among unmarrieds and affairs that tore families apart).  There just didn't seem to be anyone "like us" and any mention of our faith to those around us would either end up in our being patronized as being somehow weak for believing in God or being condemned to hell because we didn't follow the exact ideas of the local fundy church.  Because we didn't talk about faith, we always felt completely lost in terms of how to respond.

Honestly, I don't remember having any Christian friends until university.  That came as a real relief to me.  Most people around me were atheists or agnostics but at least there were a few Christians around me and they weren't seen as being weird or stupid.  That is really when my faith life started to ignite and it has been growing ever since.  Each new church and each new step in our lives has brought us closer in a relationship with God and to feeling that our faith needs to be a foundational element of our lives (Michael and I are really united in this).

So, here's goes.  I think this is a good place to start trying to talk about what I believe and my experiences of God in my life.  If you aren't interested or might be offended, stop reading now.  For those who read on, thanks for this chance.  Here's my story.  I hope I don't misrepresent God and if I don't sound very convincing, please forgive me because I really am sharing from my heart.

I believe in a loving, compassionate, generous God.  He created our universe (I don't personally care whether it was with a "Big Bang", in seven days or in some other way that we don't yet know - for me, it's the fact of a creator rather than the means of creation being achieved).  I can not believe that all of the diversity and beauty and goodness that we are surrounded by was a random event or some kind of molecular accident.  I was out walking the dogs today in the early morning.  It was dewy and slightly foggy and the air was clear.  The sun was rising in the east and the light coming through the slight fog gave everything a magical aura - I can't believe that is random.  I ran into a friend I haven't seen in a long time and we had a great visit.  A God with imagination and creativity and love created my world.  

I have not had a "road to Damascus" conversion experience.  I have felt a gradually growing sense of God's presence in my life.  I love reading scripture and the more I read and study, the more the subtlety and complexity and genius of it as a text shines through to me.  I don't believe that it is the ramblings of different confused or misinformed minds.  I have seen evidence of God in my life - while they are not stories that will be greatly moving to others and I hesitate to share them because they mean so much to mean and it is impossible to voice them with they power they had for me, on two occasions, I believe that I actually heard the voice of God in moments of greatest suffering and on more occasions than I can count, there have been small miracles that have come when I most need them.  I have seen God in the good works of others, in kindness, generosity and wisdom, particularly when it comes from the most unexpected sources.  I have seen evidence that is very clear to me of God trying to teach me something - lessons that are so relevant to my current struggles.  I have seen too many coincidences to believe that they are merely random happenings.

I do not believe in God because I am weak and need a crutch.  In our current world, I think that it is actually easier to be agnostic than anything else - you don't risk the poisonous attacks that are now aimed at Christians?  I counter that with this - why would I choose to believe in something that in so many circles makes me an outcast?  Why would I choose something that puts demands on me and takes up my time and sets limits on my life?  That said, I actually find those limits liberating and the time I commit to my faith gives my life meaning.  I love being a Christian, I love being a member of the family of Christ and I love knowing that there is a Father who loves me with a love that goes beyond all understanding.  

I am sorry if I offend anyone here and to my non-Christian friends, as my friends, you have always respected the place my faith plays in my life and I truly appreciate that.  For all of the friends in my life who are not Christians, all I ask is that you pay me the respect of asking what I believe instead of lumping me in with "all Christians".  I had that happen at work this week and it made me very uncomfortable.  We have a group of very, very conservative Christian families at our school and they raised objections (which ended up being legitimate) to a film that our grade 2's were going to be seeing at the Science Centre.  At first, it seemed like a case of bigotry and fear of all that is different and one of the other staff at the school very flippantly said to me, "Can you explain this all to me?  You are like those people, you should be able to explain all of this."  No, in fact, I am not like those people (although in the end, I came to the conclusion that they were entirely correct in this situation).  I am not like the evangelists on t.v. who have turned what might have started as legitimate faith into a quest for fame and money and attention.  I am not a Christian who justifies the oppression of groups that are not Christian for the sake of punishing those who are not like me.  I am not afraid of other faiths or of my child being exposed to other beliefs (in fact, in my experience, anyway, encountering other faiths often can strengthen our own unless our faith was very weak in the first place).  I will never vote for ultra-conservative politicians just because they call themselves Christians - I don't believe that religion justifies war, bullying or spending all of a country's money on the military when Africa is being torn apart by AIDS and we do nothing and in our own country, children are going to bed hungry, largely because the rich find arguments for not having an obligation to care for those who have less.  Don't hold me responsible for the hypocrisy of some who call themselves Christians - I can't promise that I won't make mistakes and at times, be inconsistent myself but I am trying and my faith is the most important part of my life and shapes everything I do and everything I believe. 

Thanks be to God for all of His rich blessings to us.