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Friday, February 25, 2011

Facing Fear and Loss

On Tuesday February 22, 2011 the world lost a great man.  Rob Hall was someone who lived out what he believed, he grabbed life by the horns.  He was real, he was loving and gentle he was a true example of trying to live like Jesus.  From the minute you met Rob you felt at ease, like you didn't have to put up any false fronts, (because he would probably see right through them and ask you why you were putting them up anyway).  In the little time I knew him I can say I was truly blessed.

I still can't believe he is gone.  I can't believe we won't share a coffee this summer and hear of their escapades in Europe and Africa while our children make a racket and a mess.

When I tell most people about our move to Brazil I get a mix of reactions, shock, blank stares, and of course the questions, 'why?' 'what will you do with all your stuff?'.  When we talked with Rob and Kate this summer about our feeling led into full time missions the reaction was 'awesome' they got us, and we got them.  We talked about getting off the hamster wheel of life and really living it, with our kids.  Believing that what they would learn, experience, taste, touch and feel in  a life less structured would enrich their lives far greater than it would harm them.  That there was no better time than NOW to do it. Because we never really know how many tomorrows we have.

Of course when I got the news, and the reality of what happened, and how long and how deeply this would affect his family I felt that old familiar darkness creeping in.  I called Phil at work and through tears and sobs told him what happened, I asked him to please come home.  My dear sweet children looked at me with such concern asking why I was crying.  Kathryn, Simeon and Cameron's Daddy died.

When Phil got home I went to my room and crawled under the covers, fighting an intensifying feeling of panick and fear...all of the what if's racing through my head, the 'what are we thinking?' accusations of how could I possibly think of putting my family at risk??

You see, for those of my friends who are reading who have not yet begun a relationship with God, as much as we can hear the voice of God the other side has a voice as well and it's main objective is to find your weakest point and dig at it, until you doubt, fear and become stuck.  The fear of losing those I love is my weak point, and Satan was having a field day with this one.

I began to pray.  I prayed of course ceaselessly for Kate, the children and both families that they would find some comfort, some peace through this.  I also prayed, and clung to God for all it was worth, like the only tree in a hurricane He is my lifeline in these storms.

With God's help I am fighting that fear.  Rob spoke at our church on one of their last Sundays before leaving.  That morning I was feeling some fear and doubt about what we were walking into I asked God to speak to me today to encourage me that we were walking in the path he had set out for us.  Rob's sermon spoke nothing but encouragement to follow God's path in your life, even if it was risky.  I spoke to Rob afterwards and he continued to encourage me to go for it, that fear had no place in our lives.  I am so thankful for that conversation.

Yes, sometimes it is scary to trust God with all your heart and all your mind and with all your soul.  But the alternative?

I read of all the impact that Rob's life has had on those he touched, and the huge impact he had in such a short time in Zambia and I am moved to tears (again).   It would do nothing to honor his life were we to not follow what we feel God calling us into.  There is a time when all of us will leave this earth and we are not privy to the when and where.  If Rob knew his time was limited would he have done anything differently?  I think those who knew him would say no.  The front page of the blog they were keeping while they travelled said this:

"A world adventure with kids? Why not? For the first time in a long time we have no greater obligations than our family. Our kids can be carried, changed on the grass, happy with a stick as a toy, so we are selling our house, free ourselves of clutter and OFF WE GO! 

The plan? To learn what it means to be on an adventure with God. Sharing ideas on helping people launch their own adventure and hopefully in some way using our skills to bring justice and mercy to those in need."
And that is exactly what they did.

 There is a life after this one and we will be re-united with those we loved here on earth, there is no sorrow or pain or tears.  So for Rob I rejoice in knowing that he is standing with his maker and hearing Him say, 'you have done well good and faithful servant'.  But for his family and all those who loved him I am deeply, deeply saddened, that we will have to go on in this life without him in it.
I want to include a bit of what Kate's brother wrote, he went to Africa to bring them home:

"Kate and I headed out into the fields later to grab a couple of rocks to place on his casket in Canada (we could only find rocks on pathways--the fields were void of them), and it was just so amazing to see Rob's passion growing. There was even a huge patch of sunflowers. So Rob. Kate pointed out a field of dry rice (a type of rice that can grow without being flooded with water) and told how at one point the whole patch was neon yellow. She thought that it was a cool looking colour but Rob said that it was because they were sick. So, the next day he headed out with all the compost he had produced and sprinkled it over the field. The rice crop is now a very bright green, and all the Africans have started their own composting piles. Awesome.

The last thing I'm going to write has to do with the drive home. Picture the national geographic Africa, just with quite a bit more green--it's rainy season here. Kids with big bellies, mud brick homes, kids playing soccer with a deflated ball, and a very bumpy road. Kate tells me that there's a saying here, that you know a driver is drunk if he is driving straight on the road. These roads are so terrible that a single pothole could swallow an entire car. So, there we were zig zagging down the red dirt road passing national geographic africa on all sides. And, as the people we were passing noticed that it was our Katie in the car, they stood to their feet to wave, to take off their hats, and to show their respect. Apparently, Rob spent a lot of his time teaching this terribly poor community that surrounded the bible college, how to grow food. They were thanking him and thanking Kate. I felt very humbled."

 Rob loved his family, and as you will see from many of the pictures he often had at least one of his children in his arms.   His lovely sweet compassionate caring wife Kate and their three wonderful children Kathryn, Simeon and Cameron are so incredibly sad.  Please if the story of his life has touched you, go to and click on the 'donate now' button or you can send a cheque, or go directly to the bank.  The details are all there.  Give whatever you can, they gave up their house and most of their possessions to follow Jesus and give themselves to people in need.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Two Families One Family Two Families

Two Families One Family Two Families

We live with another family.  My sister, her husband and children and our family also affectionately known as the ‘crazy commune’.  We moved in together almost four years ago.  In the beginning we had our mind on a duplex, each family having their own half and when one family was away on a mission trip or other travel they wouldn’t have to worry about their house being empty. Unfortunately this meant two families in two small living spaces.  Then another idea emerged, what if we found a house large enough that we could share, live in communally?  As it was we spent a lot of our free time together and often shared meals, campsites etc. so it didn’t seem too much of a stretch.  We had also lived together for six months when we first got back from Africa.  We all prayed about it and really felt that this is what God was leading us into.

Part of the attraction was reducing expenses and when we started searching for a house that would have enough space for two families one with two kids the other with three it started looking expensive.  The location was also an issue, my sister works in Guelph so traveling from the other side of Cambridge would be a real pain, kids would have to change schools etc.

A couple years before that my sister and her husband bought an investment property, a fourplex just down the street from where they lived.  My brother in law said one day ‘what about the rental? We could renovate it and move into it.’  Immediately my sister and I said, ‘NOPE NO WAY!!!’ Phil and I had just been renovating our first house and I knew all too well how much work we had done and it didn’t even compare to how much we would have to do to make the rental house liveable.

We continued our search.  Came up dry.  ‘The rental, what about the rental? Now my husband had joined in.  They went over one day made some drawings and came back with what a floor plan would look like after the reno.  Uh oh.  It was sort of perfect. Sometimes, it’s difficult to see the beauty that can come out of the mess staring you in the face.

There would be a large living room (we host our small group from church and generally like to host!) there would be a large kitchen in the centre of the house, a room that could be used as a mud room (with this many people there’s a lot of shoes!), another family room off the kitchen and a separate dining room.  Sometimes when you know you are supposed to take a certain path but you know how hard it’s going to be it takes a while to accept it. 

Once we had the demolition part over worth the work to rebuild began and we made a list, it’s one that has been modified, had items removed and others added on.  It hangs on our bulletin board and probably sits on our shoulders like a naughty monkey that won’t get off.  We have spent many evenings, weekends and holidays painting, repairing and updating this old house. 

There was a time when the kitchen was bare bones and Phil was working on the wiring and it felt like we would never finish.  We would sit in it on coolers and toolboxes, going through the list of ‘oh we can’t do that until we do this and we have to do this before we can do that’.
Four years later that list still hangs on our bulletin board, it’s gotten smaller and we can see a light.  We have to finish this house in order to sell it for us to move to Brazil.
My sisters’ two oldest daughters have moved out to go to school so all that would remain is the three of them.  It’s a big house for three people. 

Living here and working on this house has been about a lot more than money.  They say you don’t really know someone until you live with them.  I think I would add to that to say you don’t really know yourself until you live with another family.  Living together has been another of God’s training grounds, we have all had to learn how to better communicate, how to lay down things that are not really important for the sake of everyones happiness.  We have all learned things about ourselves and each other that can only help us in the next chapter of our lives.

Making change in life is always difficult, sometimes bittersweet.  We are excited about what God is going to do next in all of our lives, but there is also the pain of separation, and the leaving ones you love behind.  Faith was only a year old when we moved in to this ‘crazy commune’ together.  When she rattles off the members of her family it goes something like this, ‘Mommy, Daddy, Nuke, Wawi, Tratrick, Konnor, Amanda and Joswin.’

It has been a rollercoaster of emotion and I am sure it will continue to be.  I have left home before.  The difference this time is that I am not flying blind, We feel confident that God is in this, that He will comfort us when we miss our family and friends, that He will help us to make new connections in Brazil and that He will take care of the family we leave behind.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Getting from A to C to B

From A to C to B

I am writing to tell you about the amazing and sometimes difficult journey we have been on over the past nine years and the incredible new direction we are about to take with our family.  Here’s our story:

A is for Africa

Many of you have heard (maybe more than once!) the story of how Phil and I met, volunteering for a primate conservation project in Africa. I have always believed that everything happens for a reason and I certainly believe that about our life together starting in another country. 

But let me back up a bit to what took me to Africa in the first place.

When I was 18 my mother died after a short battle with cancer.  Losing my mom was devastating and caused me to grow up fast.  I suddenly I realized that life was fleeting, for me and for those that I loved.

This revelation resulted in two things.  I stopped letting people in, I shoved my emotions deep down and refused to let anyone close enough to hurt me if anything happened to them and I lived in constant fear.

I also became motivated to live life on purpose.  My mother had regrets in her final days, she had wanted to go to England, write a journal. I remember the conversation, her sitting on the couch staring into space in a moment of clarity that became rare when the cancer and the morphine took her away before death did.  I made a decision that day-not me, I was not going to find myself thinking  “if only” at the end of my days.

This attitude and hunger to live my dreams led me to Africa.  I lived the dream, met my husband and came home, almost four years later.

C is for Canada

Nine years ago when Phil and I arrived in Canada after four years in Nigeria. I felt like I was stuck between worlds, between homes, in a no mans land and it was a dark and sad place.  I was 28, had lived my life dream of working with primates and doing something for conservation in Africa, a dream I thought wouldn’t be realized. I landed back ‘home’ with a resounding THUD.

Living a ‘normal’ life in Canada was difficult. My friends’ lives had moved on, they had bought houses and cars, had careers.  I felt behind the game and disconnected from everything I had once called home. I missed Africa, I missed the chaos, the suffocating heat. I craved some kind of calamity to shake things up. I felt a heavy burden of not doing anything to ‘save the world’ and I was really searching for some kind of meaning or purpose in my life.

My sister had taken a course called Alpha and had written me while I was in Africa that ‘the love of Jesus’ had changed her life. Quite frankly, it freaked me out! Here’s what I wrote in my journal that day:

November 3, 1998
My sister and brother in law have become born again Christians. Both of their last emails have been about how finding Jesus has made them feel so good. I told them they’re both scaring me. Not sure what kind of response I’ll get from that. Laurie wants me to take the same course that has changed them. That is precisely what bugs me about fanatically religious people-they try to force it on you and that’s all they ever talk about anymore. I told them I feel isolated enough as it is from family and now the people I’m closest to seem to have lost their marbles. I told them I’m not ready for that kind of spiritual enlightenment and also mentioned something about my perception of born again Christians is that they’re constantly shoving it in other peoples faces’

That was the end of those conversations while I was in Africa.

When I came back, I saw that the people I loved hadn’t lost their minds, there was something different about them that I couldn’t put my finger on, but it wasn’t bad, it was good.

I started a job in a veterinary clinic but woke every day feeling like I was under a heavy weight, there was a restlessness inside me and I wanted more out of life.  We searched and searched for a job for Phil back in Africa, hoping that life beyond Canada would bring more meaning. But, door after door was slammed shut, we were stuck in Canada and I felt like a caged animal. 

Each day, when I arrived at the veterinary clinic I felt a sick to my stomach, the work situation was very difficult and before I got out of my car the only thing that seemed to bring me peace was saying this prayer:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can
And the wisdom to know the difference

   I had no idea why it brought me peace, even temporary, but it did. So when my sister told me there was an Alpha course starting and did I want to go, I didn’t say no, I didn’t quite say yes yet either. I wondered what the point of life was if you just live and then die.  I decided since living my life my way didn’t seem to be bringing me any clarity that I could at least try seeing what God had to offer.

I decided to give Alpha a try.  During my time there, I could feel this thing growing in me, something I hadn’t felt in a long time, HOPE.  During one of the discussion times, one of the women who had been a Christian for many years said that being a Christian to her meant not having to worry, that she gave her worries to Jesus and he took them away.  At that moment I realized how much worry and fear dominated my life.  I worried about money, I worried about my family, I worried about my future, I worried about world issues….I couldn’t imagine living without that.  But I liked the sound of it.

As the course went on, I learned about a God who loved me, unconditionally.  That no matter what skeletons were in my closet or deeds I had done that made me feel shame and guilt, He forgave me.  I learned that I didn’t have to work for His love or change for Him I just had to say yes to letting Him love me and He would look after the rest.  This wasn’t the understanding of God I had grown up with, it was so personal.

Each week I felt this rising up inside me, I fought tears as I listened to the worship music but I kept pushing them down, pushing those feelings of loss of control deep down.  The idea of giving over control was scary! There was a tug of war going on inside me, the old me holding on and the new me wanting to go forward to give God a chance.  At the end of each evening, there was a prayer you could pray, which essentially says, ‘ok God, I am done living life my way, I am sorry for all that I have done and I want to live your way now’.  Each week I would get through a bit more of the prayer, and then finally about half way through the course I said the whole prayer with my whole heart.

Then, a week or so later, while a song called ‘Open the Eyes of my Heart’ softly played, the rising up began again only this time I couldn’t, or didn’t, shove it down and at the moment  that I surrendered control I experienced fully, God’s love…in my minds eye I was lifted to His feet and I wept and wept. I cried for having denied him all my life, I cried tears of joy and appreciation for being given a second chance.  I knew without a doubt that there was a God, and that He loved me.  I was filled with an inner peace I had searched for my whole life and a joy that was almost uncontainable.

The years since that day have been amazing.  I understand what it means not to worry (most of the time anyway), the grip of fear I lived in is gone.  I have grown so much and learned so much and God has continually showed me that He is present in my life.  I have learned to love others in a new way.  I have learned that there is a plan for all of our lives, and that no matter what it looks like to us, His plan is always for our good.

B is for Brazil

That brings us to now, and this new door that God is opening.  In November of 2011 we will take our family to Brazil to live as missionaries, showing people who struggle in dark places, that there is a light, and a love and a hope.  That, as long as they are willing to let God take the lead, their lives can change too.  Looking back at my journal entry and how I felt about Christians ‘always wanting to talk about it, shove it in peoples faces’, I now realize why Christians want to talk, share and help other people see.  When you discover something that changes every aspect of your life so positively, brings you so much joy, helps you live and love and laugh every day-you want other people to have it too! 

Of course, not everyone feels called to move their whole family to another continent but we feel that God has been training us and molding us, long before we even knew Him.  When he put Phil and I in Africa together it was no coincidence, it was boot camp.

I have put together a short video clip to help explain for those who don’t know, what it is that missionaries do exactly.  I hope you enjoy it, and I hope you will join us in this adventure, by reading our blog, and maybe writing to us (we are going to miss our friends!).

For more information about the mission we will be working with:

We will write again (much shorter!)  in a week or so with more information about where we will be going, what we will be doing there and how you can be a part of the adventure.