In the absence of your presence

Dear Mallory and Sophia,

OK, I know.  Between your father and me, if my math is correct, this is the seventh time we’ve gone to Ghana without you.  After the third time you stopped asking to come.  After the fifth time you stopped getting upset about it.  After the last time, you stopped asking for souvenirs.  There are only so many carvings, recycled glass beads, and batik dresses one can own.  You did make an exception for banana gum if I really felt the need to bring you something back, which I do, to manage the guilt of leaving you behind.

You’ve been very sweet to keep telling me how much you’ll miss me.  We all remember missing Daddy a lot when he went to Ghana back in February.  At first it was because he wasn’t there to take out the trash or make us dinner, but once we got used to that, we missed him just because he wasn’t with us.  As for me, you skipped straight to the last part, possibly because you couldn’t think of any tangible way that I contribute to our family life other than our regular Star Trek (Original Series) Snuggles on the couch and my presence.

“You’ll miss my presence?”  I asked.

“You know we mean p-r-e-s-e-n-c-e and not p-r-e-s-e-n-t-s, right?” Sophia clarified.

“That’s… nice of you to say,” I decided to not argue about all the work I do around here.

That’s because you’ll figure out the work I do when I’m gone, like… like, DISHES!  I do dishes. Sporadically.  I vacuum! When company’s coming.  I tidy.  I do tidy.

So you’re right, snuggles count big time and my presence will miss you too.

Mallory, it was super-kind of you to offer me to take your iPad to Ghana.  I can’t even find an ulterior motive for you lending me this precious gadget you bought with your own babysitting and allowance money after months of saving!  You use this object daily to chat with friends, do your homework, or make us laugh on Facebook.  You’ve known me to both resent your iPad and desire it for myself.

This is how I talk to you about your iPad:

Look how easy it is to use!  Look how much fun you’re having.  Mallory, stop having so much fun, we miss you.  You made that Stop Animation movie all by yourself?  On your iPad?  This thing is amazing!  It shouldn’t be called an iPad, it should be called the i of Mordor, because it sucks you in with its power. We’re losing you to the i of Mordor!  Hey, you should take your iPad to Aunt Tracey’s to take a video of Baby Bridget!

And so on.

I was complaining about the bulk of my laptop and how inconvenient it might prove to be on this trip.  Without skipping a beat you wondered if I’d like to take your iPad.  After feeling such shock and relief that we haven’t yet lost you completely to the iPad, my reaction was ABSOLUTELY YES!  And then I had another conversation with you about the iPad:

I think I’d like to take it.  But there’s the typing issue.  I love to type and I can’t do the touchscreen thing.  Oh, but you have the keyboard attachment!  But my files.  I have a strange attachment to my files – I may have to refer to things or access things?  You just never know. But how will I chat with you if I have your iPad?  How will you do your homework? What if I love your iPad so much I won’t give it back?

You did the right thing and ignored most of that and suggested I bring both the iPad and your laptop.  What a little voice of reason you are. I was talked out of it by an even bigger voice of reason, your Dad, who reminded me that I’m already bringing two cameras, iPod, voice recorder, two cell phones and my big old laptop?  How much technology does one need?

“But I won’t be able to play Bejewelled Blitz on the plane!” was my last ditch attempt to convince myself that bringing your iPad was possibly the best worst idea.  I wasn’t so indecisive before I had a teenager, you know.  A loving, selfless teenager.  Do you know how much banana gum you’re going to get because of this?

Sophia, I know I confused you a little bit when I told you and Mallory as I tucked you into bed on our last night together, “Remember, you’ll be the Ladies of the House.”  I must have gleaned it from a TV show, like the Waltons or Leave it to Beaver, when I was young and took it to be something good parents do when they leave on a trip.  It seemed thoughtful and wise to assign a replacement in one’s absence.  Usually it was the eldest child.  Certainly it was a deemed honour. Maybe because our family is small, it seems unfair to assign the title to one daughter and not the other. You both got the title.  So in my absence, you’re both Ladies of the House.  But you raised your hands in the air, waved them like you just don’t care, and said, “Can I get a whoop, whoop?”

“Sophia, it’s Ladies of the House, not Ladies in da House.”

Your response? “Ladies of the House in da House!  Whoop, whoop!”

Clearly, we are products of two very different TV generations.

Seven times or not, it’s no easier to leave you two behind!  Even though it’s only for 10 days, I know that all kinds of important things are happening in your life, like your poetry recitals at school, the 30-hour famine with the youth group, requests from friends for sleepovers, and awesome moves on Just Dance 3.  I am well aware of the privilege of being with you almost every day, getting the chance to debrief with you after school, prolonging bedtime to talk about secrets, doing errands with my little buddies.  Even on those days when we don’t specifically do anything together… well, your presence is very special to me.

I’ll miss your presence more.

Love, Mommy

Today’s Agenda: Emote and Diet Coke

What happens the day before one leaves on a trip for Ghana, West Africa, you wonder?  It’s all about having a list and not getting it done.  It about being pre-occupied with one’s emotions to make any good use of your quickly fading time. THIS is the experience of running around like a chicken with its head cut off.  Embrace it.

I’m giving myself permission to feel the ups and downs of leaving family, friends and a “comfortable place” behind (not comparing Ghana to Canada here, just comparing the plane to my couch) and pursuing adventure and discomfort (OK, here I’m going to mention that it’s 40 degrees Celsius in Bolgatanga).

I’ll even write it on my To Do List: emote… and blog about it.

Since I’m not using my time productively anyway, may I use this page as a landing place for the things swirling around my head? Kthanks.

  • I’m curious about the results of the KONY2012 Cover the Night campaign.  I’ll admit that I’m guilty of bandwagonism.  The Invisible Children viral video pulled at my heart-strings.  What can we do?! I wondered at the desperate situation.  Only to be reprimanded by the critics for being so naive for believing wholeheartedly in a 30-minute clip.  Then when Jason Russell lost his mind a little bit, I felt even more duped.  Then when smarter people than me started telling me “the truth” about Invisible Children, I got confused.  Are there 30,000+ child soldiers or around 100?  Is Kony in Uganda or elsewhere?  Is this currently a threat to innocent children or not?  Kony2012 fatigue started to spread as quickly as its fame.  My faithful activist friends are still covering their Facebook profiles, but I saw only a couple 81/2 x 11 posters around town this weekend.  I can barely find media on that which took the world by storm.  What the hey?  There are definitely lessons to be learned here about human nature.  We put a lot, a lot, a lot into promo and advertising, but follow up is severely lacking.  Perhaps that is the scale of authenticity – how do we report back?  Also, we love to be inspired, a good movie, a good book, a good campaign, but how often does that translate into action?  The bad news is, we’re all a little more cynical.
  • For full disclosure, I just found the follow up video from Invisible Children which says, “You made Kony famous,” except I don’t believe them – in the ideology or the success.
  • I wish John-Mark would stop singing Don Henley’s “Last Worthless Evening.”  It’s just 10 days.
  • As you know, Jen Hatmaker’s, book 7 gave me a kick in the pants to evaluate the priorities in my life.  Or rather, re-align them to pursue more of God, less of me.  Tomorrow I’m travelling back to the place that challenged me to trust God fully.  This time, I know that destination well, I’m a little more competent, I’ll have to work harder to let God lead.  But I don’t want this spiritual journey to be about a physical place, that I have to go to Ghana to feel a certain way.  True transformation would change me no matter where I happen to be.  But it was a catalyst and it will be a good reminder.  I expect to blog about it while I’m there.  The Lord can be trusted.
  • One of the things you think about when you’re leaving to go on an adventure is how you will access the things you require on a daily basis at home, e.g. make-up, hugs, Diet Coke.  You either go without or find a reasonable facsimile to help you cope.  I know that Diet Coke will not be within reach as it is here, but I do know that they have Coke and Pepsi aplenty, so I’ll get my caffeine.  That means it won’t be a difficult trip for me or those I’m travelling with.  I’ll report back on the make-up and hugs, but the aforementioned 40-degree weather forces one to reassess one’s needs.
  • Speaking of those I’m travelling with, I’m going to Ghana with two self-described “crunchy mamas.”  They love health food, cloth diapers and saving the world.  They have seen me drink Diet Coke twice and both times I’ve felt incredibly guilty.  They are now going to witness the reality of my daily consumption and I’ll just have to convince them that it’s necessary.  How else am I going to clean the rusty nails in my body?
  • I remember reading the science fiction novel, Dune, as an adolescent and being horrified about the characters’ dependence on the desert planet’s addictive spice.  They could only go so long before they had to consume it.  They exported it and they exploited it.  It was a depressing scenario.  If that were true in reality, we would just make a great feel-good ad campaign about how beneficial the spice is for your social life and you could almost be grateful for the addiction.  I’d like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company.

One of the crunchy mamas just e-mailed me.  Unfortunately, there really are things I need to get finished before I go.  Which means I’ll be blogging again shortly.

Preparing for Ghana

Six times, I have prepared for a trip to Ghana.  I’ve anticipated each trip differently.  Sometimes I’ve been very excited about going, like that one time where we thought we’d sell everything to move there.  Other times I’ve worried about it because the responsibilities seemed great.  I can remember a particular tumultuous time in my family’s life and a trip to Ghana felt like the very wrong thing to do at the time. But the ticket had been booked and I had to go.  I remember bawling as I walked through customs.  The agents and officers were very concerned for me and I was whisked through every line with an accompanying pat on the back.  I highly recommend this tactic for ease of travel.

I’m now preparing for my “final trip,” as in the last time I will go to Ghana for the purpose of doing business.  If and when I go again, after this trip, it will be for the mission… although ONE DAY I will go just to spend time with my lovely friends there.  Just visiting with them seems like an exorbitant luxury.

This time, it’s not my business, it’s the business of the new owners of Big Village, the fair-trade business I started by accident when we moved back to Canada. I’m actually allowing myself to get excited about this trip!  I get to introduce them to this beautiful place, these welcoming people.  I get to tell them to ignore the Travel Report because there is no context given for the warmth and friendliness of the place that I’ve known for over six years now.

The new owners of Big Village have done some amazing things already with the business.  They’ve already gained a couple fantastic contracts and are making new partnerships all the time.  I spent some time with them the other day and got so excited about their plans and developments, I had to tell John-Mark all about it as soon as I got home.

“They are doing so, so, so well!” I said.

“Do you wish it was you?” he asked. Jerk.

“Not at all!”

What a great peace I have about it, to know that I could be so very happy for them and their success and not want even a smidge of it.

Not only that, but I had suspected God was pulling me deeper into ministry.  I didn’t know how to say that any other way.  I wrote about it when I sent out that final newsletter to my customers back in the fall.  I imagine that many didn’t understand because I couldn’t articulate exactly what that would look like, where it would be, or how that sentiment would pay the bills.  Mostly it was J-M asking me about that last one.

I prematurely told my friends, don’t worry, I’ll ease off on the use of “Ghana” a little now. I won’t add to the end of all your stories, “Well in Ghana…”  It is so annoying.  I know.  I can’t stop.

But then as J-M talked to me about the ongoing mission partnership with our church.  There is such a great forward momentum happening in Ghana, with new ministerial candidates approved, churches joining in and growing, the land purchase and construction for the women’s college… and yet not a lot of news getting out over here.  There is a lot of work to be done, as much as there is work in Ghana.

Well, hello! My passion is blabbing, either by mouth or by keyboard.  I already talk about Ghana ad nauseum.  I already know and love the people on both sides of the ocean who are committed to this project.   I can do this!

I’d stepped away from the Ghana project for a time – not in heart, but in task – because I needed to.  I was feeling a little burnt out by it all.  So I made up my mind after an intense debrief with good counsellors who said it was OK to let go.  Rob Corey stepped in just in time and had the exact skills and energy necessary to take this partnership to the place where it is now.

Since then – for 2+ years – I’ve been a big cheerleader, especially for J-M, who saw his job morph into the position of Pastor of Missions.  He now co-leads with Rob on the project and they have a great planning team.  But as I mentioned, it’s growing!  It’s growing in a way that needs full-time support.  I find myself with some time on my hands, a desire to spread the word, and the ability to do it.  With Rob and J-M at the helm and a great team besides.  All I need to do is write words?  All I need to do is tell people about it?  No brainer!

Now as I pack my bags for Ghana (that I’m getting really good at), I find myself again thinking of new possibilities, ways to communicate, pictures to take, questions to ask, stories to tell.  And still I feel the pull deeper.

We are currently developing a website (launching June 3) for the Ghana-Canada partnership, Arise Ghana.  (In the meantime, check it out on Facebook.)

One of my self-appointed tasks is to track down photos from old teams and projects to help us have a good memory of the project and how far we’ve come along.  This is also distracting me from packing because I discover pictures that move me to tears.  I see the friendships that have been formed on both sides.  I see the way people connect at a deep level because of the shared love of Jesus.  I see us ministering to each other.  I’m not saying that there hasn’t been bumps in the road, but there are many, many moments of celebration.

When I was going through the photos of our time living there, I was asking J-M which ones I should put on the public site?  He said only those that are ministry related.  That helps me not at all.

See, I think this counts…

Pastor Charles praying for the future Women’s Business College (2007).

…and so does this.

Mallory and Sophia find a unique way to cool off in the Ghanaian sun.

7, again

I picked up a book today I didn’t want to love.  It had been recommended to me by a friend some time ago called 7, by Jen Hatmaker.  I was babysitting my nephews and saw it on my sister-in-law’s table.  She’d just finished it and yes, I could borrow it.  Which she never would have agreed to had she known I’d spend most of the day neglecting her sweet cherubs because of it.

The premise of the book is, well, let me just copy and paste from Jen’s website:

7 is the true story of how Jen (along with her husband and her children to varying degrees) took seven months, identified seven areas of excess, and made seven simple choices to fight back against the modern-day diseases of greed, materialism, and overindulgence. In the spirit of a fast, they pursued a deeply reduced life in order to find a greatly increased God.

Based on that description, you might agree that it’s a book to be avoided.  It might stir something up, something I’ve been really good at burying.

You see, I’ve done this 7 thing before, where you challenge your choices through the lens of the gospel.  I’ve fasted and I’ve lived a life in the spirit of a fast.  When you live by the message of Jesus, to surrender everything to follow him, it can will force you to make huge changes in your life.  My family was shaken and, as Jen refers to it, messed up by the challenge.  At that time in our life, we were personally convicted to sell everything we owned to do cross-cultural work in Ghana.

For the sake of full disclosure we did not sell our red couch, chair and ottoman, most of our books and, strangely, a bread basket.  These remaining possessions were distributed among our friends most likely to return them.   For the sake of over-sharing, I’m sitting on the red couch as I write and we just used the bread basket at supper.

Otherwise, we were shaken to the core.

You would think that when you experience such life-changing conviction that your life would STAY CHANGED.  I would like to believe that you cannot return to the person you were. The Spirit wouldn’t let you, would he?!  Haven’t we been freed?  But as I read through the pages of 7, when I hear how Jen’s fasting from excess opened her eyes and heart to others’ needs, I am troubled by my recurring blindness. I see how I have placed a sheathing over the eyes of my heart.  I’m hoping it isn’t as thick as it was before, but it has effectively confined my compassion.

There’s a crack in that “protective covering” as I have been deeply affected by chapters 1-6 of this book, read today in one sitting, held in one hand while pretending to play Thomas the Train with the other.  I was distracted, recalling what can happen when you feel like this…

Having done this before, there are justifications I’ve since made that need to be overcome.  I remember treating our house in Ghana like a dorm room.  Zero excess.  No decor, no extras, not even curtains on the windows.  I never thought I was saving the world because of it, but I did it out of respect for those outside my door without homes.  Then my Ghanaian friends told me to settle in already.  It made them uneasy that I wasn’t making my house a home, that maybe I wasn’t committed to ministering there.  This actually caused me to re-evaluate my thinking.  Did this mean I didn’t have to go without in order to serve others?

As silly as it seemed when my Ghanaian friend told me to put up curtains in my windows, I realized that they didn’t want me to suffer needlessly.  They wouldn’t live without given the choice, why would I?  Since those convictions were thrown into question, I was thrown for a loop, and the pendulum swung the other way.

It’s been 4 years since we moved back to Canada.  The first 6 months were spent in shock, so let’s say 3 1/2 years.  Still, I’m surprised at how quickly my old habits came back.  How I bristle at interruption – a phone call or knock on the door –  instead of seeing each moment as God weaving our lives into the fabric of his will.  How I turn first to retail or snack therapy, instead of prayer, to help me out of emotional crisis.  How I want to set up policies and procedures to fix problems instead of recognizing the unique way the Spirit moves in every situation.  How I long for approval from other people.  I fit prayers in here and there instead of first and foremost. I worry instead of trust…

My Dad said the most benevolent thing to me when I discussed this tension within me.  First he quoted Romans 7:15, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do,” which is probably the most empathetic verse that Paul wrote.  Then my Dad added, “But Loreli, cosmically, you are not the same person, even if you have the same struggles.”  He reminded me that the circumstances of my life have changed because of the work of the Spirit.   Despite my failures, my desire to walk close to Jesus remains the same.  The fact that there is even tension within me is the work of the Spirit.  I can’t go back.  I won’t.

The tricky part is moving forward.

Read the book. Even if you really don’t want to.

Thunder in the distance

It’s never a good idea to post when you’re emotional.  Ah well.

Tonight I’m sad for a couple of reasons and they’re both tied to Africa.  The first is for the same reason you might be sad and shocked – or soon to be – by the video put out by Invisible Children about the war criminal, Joseph Kony, and the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, made up of over 30,000 kidnapped children.  Hard to stomach, hard to believe.

I know this is one atrocity of many in our world and a sober reminder of the evils we don’t often witness firsthand, just by video.  I’m so glad there is an action attached to this awareness campaign.  The work has just begun.

I’m also upset about my business.  Yes, the one I sold.  I’m not sad because I sold it – I totally love the two women who bought it and am excited about their vision for growing it.  But someone has put a damper on this time of celebration for the new owners.

Another bead store in our own backyard has ridden in on the coat tails of Big Village. For 3 1/2 years, Big Village worked hard to introduce Canada to these cultural beads from Ghana and spread the word about them and the amazing, resourceful, ingenious people who make them.  The business was built on relationships and fair-trade principles.

But another bead store – in town, no less – has used that hard work to their advantage. Unfortunately, we might have marketed too well!  Customers loved our beads and so they asked this particular bead store to bring them in.  But they chose not to go through Big Village and purchased the same kind of beads from another supplier. As the new owners host their first Open House, the other business is doing a big promotion of their new African stock.

But that’s business, right?  Nothing personal?

Of course, they had every right to!  But it seems unkind and uncool-operative.

I won’t go on, other than to say that the bummer of it is this heavy rain on our parade.  Big Village will go on and continue to build business, of course it will!  But the timing sucks.  RIGHT NOW, when we are celebrating the continuation of this great partnership with our guys in Ghana, the other business is crashing our party and taking a piece of pie for themselves.

I leave for Ghana with the new owners of Big Village in April – perhaps my last trip for a while.  I’ll savour every moment.  It will clear my focus too.  Whenever I go, when I see my friends and the hope that absolutely fills that place, I can’t help but gain a brighter perspective.

You know, Ghana has so much to offer.  Even in terms of what Uganda is going through right now, as a fellow African country, it can demonstrate hope to them.  Ghana can show her sister what it looks like on the other side of adversity, to live peaceful and productive lives. All the hard work happening here and over there, now and in the future, will be worth it.

If that’s true, then SURELY both businesses can share a piece of Ghana.

The storm clouds are lifting.

Left Behind

John-Mark just left for Ghana.  This will be the fifth time, outside of the two years we lived there, that he will be going.  This will be the third time he’s going without me. Can someone tell me why it doesn’t get easier to be the one left behind?

Not only do I completely support his reasons for going, but I believe it’s important for him to go.  He is the mission pastor at our church, this is the partnership that we started and it’s heading into some exciting new developments in the areas of leadership development and the building project.  He needs to go.

I don’t particularly want to go with him either.  I have lived and breathed Ghana for the past eight years, from the start of this project, to our life there, to the Fair-Trade business I own. I’ll be going myself in April.  Almost every day involves the word “Ghana” coming out of my mouth.  Those closest to me have developed an eye-roll reflex when it happens.

When John-Mark leaves the family behind, it’s not just the practical things we struggle with: who will remove the snow and take out the garbage.  It’s not even the insecurities or loneliness: who will make sure the doors are locked at night and check on those strange sounds. All these things I can handle, begrudgingly.

It’s that for a time his family will not be his priority. For a while, all his energies, his thoughts, his gestures, his love will be directed to the Ghana mission and the people there.   I’m used to sharing J-M with others – it’s the realities of his pastoral role – but I don’t enjoy it when it’s removed completely, even if just for a time.

When he was packing earlier this week, I may have whined. A couple of nights ago, when he was getting documents together, I might have picked a fight.  For the past month, I’ve inserted “don’t go” randomly into our conversations.

J-M has handled these purely selfish reactions of mine with great care and concern.   “I’m not listening till you change your tone.”   “You’re being totally unreasonable.” “Are you PMSing?”  I must be, because right now my eyes are really leaky.

If we, the couple somewhat seasoned in short-term missions, struggle with this, how much more do other couples?  We are fortunate enough to share a passion for this mission. What about those couples who don’t see eye-to-eye ?  How much harder would it be?  What toll does it take when the emboldened short-term missionary cannot share the excitement of the preparation or the after-glow with his or her spouse?  How hard is it on the left behind spouse who has to hold the fort down and deal with the “every day problems” while the other goes to have an often “life-changing experience.”

One way to keep this turmoil from driving a wedge in your relationship is to be the first to smile despite the hurt and cheer the other one on.   I’m ashamed to say that J-M always beats me to it.

Today, before he left, J-M filled up the car with gas, changed the oil, did the dishes, and showed me how to work the DVD player.  I realized all the things I hadn’t done to make his preparations easy.  When he told me as he was leaving that he’d always prefer to be with me, I was woefully repentant.

I wrote this post to remind myself that the next time may not be easier, but it will be different.

No stranger to these parts

I have been blogging for over six years.  I jumped on the bandwagon in September ’05 with an apologetic first entry, sorry that I hadn’t adopted the trend earlier, not unlike Baby Boomers and The Facebook.

I was an almost-daily blogger for the years 2006-2008 when my husband and I, with our two daughters, moved to Ghana, West Africa to establish a mission partnership with our sister church there.  After realizing that cross-cultural work is much harder than those triumphant missionary biographies would have you believe (see Jackie Pullinger for details), I found it cathartic to tell my story of day-to-day living in Africa to the internet.

The Silent Years were when we returned to Canada to change my husband’s job description from “Missionary” to “Pastor.”  As faithful a listener as the internet had been, I didn’t feel up to processing my intense reverse culture shock so publicly.  You would have enjoyed some of the stories, though.  Like the time, at the peak of it, at a girly get-together, I listened to my friends’ oh-so-dogmatic opinions about whether one should find out the sex of their baby before he/she is born.  I might have thought “Blah… blah… blah…” OUT LOUD.  And we had at least 12 seconds of uninterrupted, awkward silence.  Sitcom Gold.

I kept trying to write, even got a nudge in that direction when I was published in a small Christian magazine. I tried opening a new blog (right here), but I was uninspired and my posts sporadic.

Instead, I started a Fair-Trade business.  For 3 1/2  years, I built a business importing beads, baskets and batik from my friends back in Ghana.  A large part of my job was marketing the products by talking about the resourcefulness and ingenuity of the Ghanaian people, which inevitably opened a way for me to speak of my experiences.  I may have gained friends of customers by over-disclosing.

As of last week, I have sold the business and have an itch to fire up the old blog.  I’ve gained some new experiences in my recent roles as a business owner, (reluctant) Pastor’s Wife, (enthusiastic) Women’s Ministry Leader, (reluctant and enthusiastic) mother of two girls entering their teens.

As I approach middle age–I’ve been trying out this term  since I recently had to move a product away from my face to read the fine print.  Horrifying.–I’m reflecting on my life experiences: the different jobs I’ve had, the places I’ve been, where God has led my husband and I in ministry and our relationships… They seem so varied it’s hard to see where or how they might  be channeled for use in the future.

The way I see it, there are two things that link my past experiences and my new adventures.  The first is an absolute peace that God is working out the details, just as he promises.  The second is that I can write about them.