Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Is this semester over yet?

This week I have two meetings with new families, a history assignment and my written part of a group geography assignment/presentation due.  In the next two weeks, I have a major history research paper, a macroeconomics dossier, the geography presentation and a geography research paper due.  There may be exams in there somewhere. If there are, I don't want to know about it.  My dryer doesn't work, so Grace and I have been hanging our laundry up to dry upstairs in the common room, which, let's be honest here, means that the laundry is piling up.  I hate doing laundry with working appliances.  I also have to get my car fixed.  Apparently, it is stuck in second gear. Inconsiderate wretch.

Last night, I was lying in bed trying to relax, and my heart began to race.  It was very disconcerting. I mean, I take serious heart meds so that doesn't happen.  I took my pulse to make sure that I wasn't dying, did some deep breathing and everything settled down. Still, there is no denying it.  I am stressed.

And yet.  I have moments of wonderful contentment.  I laugh. A lot.  I found this picture of a cat named Tardar, the grumpy cat.  Tell me that this face doesn't make you want to fall off your computer chair in glee...

One of the things that my faith has taught me is to not borrow trouble...or homework, from tomorrow.

"Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." Matthew 6:34

There's a lot of wisdom in this.  If I get too caught up in what will be expected of me, or what might happen to me tomorrow, I will be less likely to be able to deal effectively with today's set of stuff.  Add to that the effect of stress on my...or anyone's body, and we have good reason to learn to leave tomorrow's stuff to tomorrow.  One thing I know is that my stress is my responsibility, and I can choose to take that responsibility and do what I need to in order to live a healthy, whole, joyful life, or I can blame the rest of the world and keep on suffering.  

One of the things that I have done is lower the bar on the things that don't matter so much to me.  So the piles of laundry aren't such a big deal.My expectations for the perfect Christmas means that I will spend the holidays loving on my friends and family, not stressing out over buying gifts or making the perfect meal.  I bought a turkey and am planning on making a meal, and I have asked God to provide guests who need or want someplace to go on Christmas day.  I did this last year, and had a house full.  It was glorious.  It means letting go. Letting go. Letting go. So easy to write. So hard to do.  As far as academics go, I will celebrate my successes and learn from the difficulties.

Life can be hard. I am weak. But God is incredible.

And all is good.

Friday, November 23, 2012

My 20th Century History Creative Assignment - Jewish Mother & Son

Earlier this month, I shared that my college 20th century history class had gone to the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre.  We were asked to use our experiences at the Centre to write creative assignments.  There were a few options, and the one I chose was to tell of my impressions of the talks that we had with survivors of the Holocaust after we went through the museum, and to present an imaginary person who had also survived the Holocaust, and to incorporate them into our essay.  I wanted to share my essay with you.  The moment that I wrote about, with the survivor that we listened to, was powerful.  I pray that you will be moved by his story, and memories, and by the imagined narrative about what his mother might have been going through as she wrote the postcard to him.

Here it is...

The Holocaust survivor that I chose to listen to was Thomas Strasser, a Hungarian Jew who was rounded up  by the Nazis and spent time in a work camp in Hungary.  We arrived in the middle of his talk, and so there are many details of his life and experiences during the war that we missed.  As he neared the end of his talk, I asked him about his thoughts and expectations for his family and home after he was liberated from the camp in 1945, by the Russians.  He was still a teen-ager, and I asked him if, at that point, he still had any hope that his family might be waiting for him, or was he aware that so many Jews had been killed, and that his family might well be included in that number?

He told us that, of course, he had hoped that some of his family might still be alive and back at home.  It was a devastating thing for him, as a young man, to come to the discovery that his entire family had been killed in the Nazi death camps.  From the time that he had left home in an unsuccessful effort to escape a work camp round-up, to the end of the war, he had received only one piece of correspondence from his family.  It was a post card from his mother.  She had sent it to him from the Jewish ghetto in Hungary, and had filled it with maternal admonitions to dress warmly as the colder weather approached and to stay well.  He also told us that there were places on the post card where the writing was blurred, and he knew that it was from the tears of his mother.  He was very moved, as he spoke of this final, emotional connection to his mother. 

As a mother myself, I felt deeply for the heartbreak of this mother, longing for her son, haunted by rumors of terrible things happening to her son imprisoned in the camps, and living with the increasing fear of her own imprisonment as the round up was beginning in her own ghetto.

I pictured her, sitting at a table, anxiously fingering a pen as she stared out of a dirty window onto a grey world.  The post card, a remnant somehow saved, tucked absently into a suitcase during a long-forgotten vacation, lay at an angle on the rough wood of the table.  She ran her finger absently along the edge of the card, and for a moment allowed her thoughts to drift to the son she loved, the son she had not seen for so long, the son who might not live.  If he lived, she knew then that his life was at best, a difficult one.  At worst, it was a nightmare the very thought of which haunted her. 

Her mind drifted back to the days when caring for him was a simple thing.  There had been a time when cuts and scrapes were easily tended with warm water and soft kisses, when danger meant clumsy tumbles from swing sets or colds that refused to go away.  How easy it was then, to protect him with called out warnings of caution, with warm clothes, hot water bottles and camphor, with maternal frowns and gentle hands and words of wisdom. 

Then, he was beyond her reach, and nothing in her arsenal of maternal tools would help him. No folk remedies, no words of warning, no wisdom of the ages…but still, a mother must do something.  With a pen, with a post card saved from a trip to the sea-side, with a heart filled with pain and love and an excruciatingly desire to nurture her child, she would do something. 

There is courage, there is bravery in the hearts of those who stand up to injustice, who wage war with evil, warriors who bear arms to protect the countries that they love. 

And then there is the courage of a mother, hands trembling with fatigue and fear, eyes filled with the sting of tears, taking pen in hand and pouring her love to a son already lost…

“My dear Thomas, I hope and pray that you receive this, son, and know that you are in our thoughts.  Father says hello and sends his love.  I trust that as the weather grows colder, you are remembering to dress well, wear your boots and jacket, and take your mittens with you, even if you think that you won’t need them. You never know, and it is better to have them than not. Am I right?  Of course I’m right. And eat well, child. There is always time to eat well.  Remember what you have been taught, and take care of yourself well.  It would not do, to take ill and die from the flu, now would it? 
Remember, child, you are loved and thought of often.  We are well.
I send kisses,
Your loving Mother”

Monday, November 19, 2012

Settling Down...

Figuring out the webcam...Jean-Luc is not impressed.
Okay, so I know it has been too long since I have written in my blog, because I had to visit the blog to check out my last post, to make sure I don't repeat myself.  It has been a while.

Things are going well.  I did sprain my ankle and the muscles in the right side of my chest a week ago last Saturday, so I've been hobbling and muttering the handy "Christian" version of swear words whenever I bend over and re-pull my chest muscles.  "Ah...ow..oh, fer cryin' alive...oh FUDGE!!!"

Needless-to-say, my last two yoga classes were a blast.  I was a little bummed, because the last two classes were when we did our fitness re-evaluations and practical yoga test. While I was able to do the test with a combo of approximate movements and verbal explanations of what I would be doing if I wasn't broken, the fitness re-evaluation was a bust. Still, I know that I have improved in strength and flexibility, as well as endurance, and I was able to add another seven lost pounds to the 25 that I lost over the summer.  So all was not lost.

I have been spending a lot of time working on assignments, papers and studying for tests.  If I didn't know how to pray before, this macroeconomics class would be a crash course!  I have to admit that when it comes to academic things, especially the subjects that I am interested in, I am not used to having to struggle so much. Basically what I do with the macroeconomics is try to cram all the information and formulas into my head, and then just take a chance on what is actually going to be available to me during an exam.  To be honest, it all feels like a crap shoot.  Except for the prayer part.

Of course, I am not alone.  One of the funniest moments of our last test was just before the teacher arrived, when the entire class looked around and realized that even if we were inclined to cheat, no one was sitting beside anyone they could actually cheat off of.  Except for me.  I sit beside Russell, and he's a macroeconomic genius.  Alas, I am convinced that I will be much more content with my strangled prayers of desperation and a mere pass than I would with a 90% from a cheat. As if my getting a 90% in macroeconomics wouldn't set off alarm bells all over the place. Like, seriously.

From the look on his face, he's plotting to kill me in my sleep...
In other news, I am enjoying work and I am thrilled to be able to volunteer in the special education class at HAECC (Huntingdon Adult Ed. & Community Centre).  It's the same place that our cegep classes are held, and I am getting to know some amazing people.  If my life has a theme to it these days, it would be amazing people.  I feel like, for the first time in a really long time, I am relaxing into my life, into my relationships with the people around me, into my relationship with God.  For the past...well, lots of years, I have been living essentially in crisis mode. There have been so many losses.  So much instability.  I have clung to God through it all, often just hanging on by the hem of His garment while He was trying to get my attention long enough for me to stop wailing so that He could scoop me into His arms. He has grown me into a stability and peace that is based on faith in Him, not on circumstances or on people.  That doesn't mean my heart doesn't...or isn't...broken at times.  Or that I don't still weep. In fact, I weep more now than ever.  But I have experienced the peace that defies imagination, the peace that comes from faith in God, from the assurance of His love, and from walking so close to Him, the dust from His feet settles on my head.

I don't know whether things are actually settling down in my life or not. I do know that I feel settled.  I know that bumps, like the injuries from the fall, just are. I recently re-read a quote in my journal that I had stolen from a brilliant friend - "it is what it is". Ah, the peace that comes from acceptance. So if I cannot stride boldly, I will limp. And if I cannot limp, I will crawl.  And if I cannot crawl, I know a young man who's a whiz in a wheelchair, and who'll gladly give me lessons.  And I don't have to let the fact that I am lying in the mud with excruciating pain searing up my leg cloud the gratitude for the loving, concerned child who fully believes that the strength of his concern will be enough for his small self to pull me out of the mud and up to my feet.  And he wasn't wrong.

I wrote this on my Facebook profile page yesterday.  Thanks to God, it's still true today.

"Life is such an odd mixture of joy and sorrow, happiness and pain, often all jumbled together and rising up at one time. As a rule, I really can't tell whether my circumstances add up to be more positive or more negative, more joy or more pain. All I know is that without Jesus as my Lord, the good things would be engulfed and drowned in the sorrow of the bad. And with Jesus, there is life in the 
tears, promise in the pain, and hope in the path of sorrow. There is forgiveness for wrongs, healing for wounds, provision for the journey and strength for the trials. I don't know whether there is laughter behind the tears, or tears behind the laughter. All I know is that Jesus is in both the laughter and the tears. And I am loved. And so, so very grateful."  

Just a thought.

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre

Last Sunday, Grace and I went with our 20th century history class to the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre.  It was a very emotional day. Our history teacher, Danijel Matijevic, was an endless fount of knowledge and insight into what we were seeing and hearing.  After a tour through the museum part of the exhibit, we got to sit around tables and listen to holocaust survivors tell their stories and answer our questions. 

I have been wanting to write about this since before we went to the Memorial Centre. We briefly covered it in class, and have a creative assignment to write about what we have learned.  Entering into the world of Nazi Germany and the horrible destruction of so many people is a difficult experience, even from the vantage point of being many years away from the actual events.  I feel as if I am full of feelings and thoughts, and writing about these things is usually the way I deal with them.

But I feel unable to write. Unable to express what I am thinking and feeling.  Unable to explain why I can't stop crying, why my heart is broken.

Yesterday in history class we discussed the aftermath of WW2, the consequences for the world, and especially Europe.

Danijel quoted one German playwright, Bertold Brecht, "After Auschwitz and Hiroshima, there can be no poetry."  As I wrote this quote in my notes, I started to cry.  I feel this emptiness of poetry, of words.  I feel wordless, and yet full of things to express.  It is painful.

My favorite devotional writer, Oswald Chambers, in My Utmost for His Highest, writes that Christians have no business being innocent of the evil in this world.  Innocence is a lack of knowledge, or awareness, and it is a trait of childhood, not adulthood.  We must know what we are capable of, what others are capable of, what evil does in our world, our lives.  We must know that the darkness exists, that it is not as far from us as we would like to imagine, that our primary concern is not to be that we may be vicitms of someone else's evil, but that we may fall into evil ourselves, leaving victims in our wake.  Our calling, as disciples of Jesus, is to purity, not innocence.

Sometimes, in our efforts to avoid even the appearance of evil, we avoid the experience of allowing the pain of others into our own hearts.  When we looking into the darkness of this world with the love of Jesus in our hearts and minds, our hearts will be seared with the pain of others.  There will be no words, no poetry, we will be struck dumb and still.  We will weep. 

My hope is that in the brokenness, God will be God. 

The God who weeps.

Monday, November 5, 2012

I've been a naughty blogger...

I am a naughty blogger, a naughty, naughty blogger.  Really, I am quite ashamed of myself. Okay, not really.  Maybe a little sheepish.  If that.

The truth is, I have so many things to write about, there is a backlog building up in my brain.  This could get messy.  There's the raising-children-to-be-disciples-of-Christ thing, and yesterday we went to the Holocaust Museum in Montreal, and my heart and brain are so full of feelings and thoughts, if I don't write them down soon, something may break.  And I need my heart and brain.  Unbroken.  Seriously.

But at the same time, I have been really busy.  School is getting intense and mid-termish, I am working and volunteering and despite my fervent desire to do all of these things in a free-of-pain sort of way, my body doesn't always comply.  So, some days I got to school in the morning, come home to eat lunch and go to bed for an hour or two before I go to work or volunteer.  Or do homework. Or, to a much lesser extent, housework.  I have even fallen into slothfulness in the cooking department.  So we eat...*gasp* cereal for supper a few times.  We're tough. We'll make it.

I miss my blog, though.  I miss what I do here, whatever that is.  It's a part of me.  I have to get more organized, buy a agenda, mark things down...but how does one organize time to think? Or to feel? 

Things will, of course, get easier when this semester is over and I have, at most, one or two classes.  I'll be able to work more, but there will be less homework. 

I have to say, this semester has been a great one.  My marks are really good, and considering my classes, I didn't expect that.  I am running in the high 90's for both yoga (Ack! Who knew?!) and history, and after a rocky start, I am pulling it together in geography and macroeconomics.  I have been offered a new client outside of the agency, which is nice, and while work is challenging, I really enjoy it. I'm dealing with the kind of challenges that I enjoy, and can handle. 

I am feeling physically fitter, more confident, and one of the biggest things that God has been dealing with me about is my tendency to always be waiting for something to happen, for a problem to be solved, for some issue to get better.  He wants me to let go of the problems and issues and simply live in the present. The fact is, wonderful things are happening now, I risk missing out of the enjoyment of them by focusing too much on things that may not be what I want them to be.  As a friend of mine is fond of saying, "It is what it is."  So...if I hand what it "is" over to God, I get to enjoy all the other neat things that, I mean are.  Not everything that "is" has to be hard.  Some things are lovely. 

I have so many things to say, to feel, to share.  I will get the blogging thing together when I can. Until then, I'll keep coming here and being sheepish and telling you what is going on...

I really do want to write about the Holocaust Museum experience, though.  The truth is, I am still speechless.  I don't know how to express what is in my heart.  To be honest, all I can do is cry.  Which is okay.  Some day soon, the tears will give way to words. I look forward to sharing with you.

Have I mentioned how much you, dear readers, rock?  It's true.

Peace out.
My Zimbio