Saturday, May 21, 2016

The Birthday Blog

My 28th year was amazing.

Recently, I've been organizing my photo albums and have been looking back on trips to West Virginia, volunteering at a summer camp, working in Northern California and living in Winnipeg 

I've had such a beautiful life. Sometimes I cannot believe all the spectacular things I've been blessed to have done.
And then each year, at my birthday (okay, it's several months after my birthday at this point), I get to focus specifically on the past year and look at all the little pieces, the big trips and momentous
occasions that have compiled to be 365 days of a beautiful life.

*** my apologizes for the wonky fonts and sizing, I've tried everything I can think to make it uniform, even when I type it separately it has a mind of its own and reverts back! I give up.

28 Things from last year

1. The biggest and best is my relationship with Freddy. He's the best man I've ever dated. He is full of grace, an amazing father, and we share the same love for adventure.

2. Visited Freddy's family in England.

3. London: Saw Big Ben, went on the London Eye and rock climbed inside of an old castle! Peas with parsley and mint is something I'm going to try to make at home, I still rave about it!

4. Visited to Geneva, Barcelona and Madrid (Visit Spain is further down on the list, but technically Barcelona is in Catalonia). I ate Paella (it was okay), drank Spanish wine (it was just my taste), and drank this amazing chocolate-fudge drink with fresh churros.

5. Celebrated American Thanksgiving (It's not the first time ever, but the first time in at least 5 years!)

6. Met my nephew, Tyler.*

7. Quit a job. I took a summer position helping direct an urban summer camp. However, both the commute and work hours were longer than advertised and I decided it wasn't worth it.

8. Made my own clothing.*
I made my own t-shirt. It wasn't perfect, because the seams on the side didn't line up, but for a first attempt I think it was great!

9. Planted trees and flowers at Freddy's village home. It was a full event with all the kids planting their selected trees, and the hired help wandering the property with wheel barrels of dirt or buckets of water.

10. Volunteered with Prison Fellowship, writing letters to an inmate.

11. Read more everyday.*

12. Was more conscious of helping, including and taking time for other people.* I've always volunteered in some capacity, but I've also always been busy. This year was different. I have had more time to care for others, to help in less practical, but more personal and intra-personal ways.

13. Celebrated Easter with a wonderful party in the village with Freddy.

14. Went to Spain *
Spain was lovely. A little chilly coming from Tanzania, but beautiful and lively, in all aspects; art, food, people and landscape. If you have the chance, go! 

15. I loved seeing famous artists, architects with my own eyes. I sat across from Gaudi's buildings in awe, completely enamored that a building could be so decorated, so much detail put into a balcony, an archway.

Picasso Museum was much better than I expected (I'm not a fan of his most famous pieces) But he blew my mind with his early work, what he communicated and how he viewed the world, structure of society and wealth. It was moving.

My favorite was Fortuny. I actually wandered Museo del Prado to find this painting again and write the name down. I stared at it for several minutes, smiling back at the happy old man, basking in the warmth of the sun. He is not beautiful, but he is content. He has no clothes, and the does not feel ashamed.
I asked for a print of it at the guest shop and the woman gave me a strange look. She smiled shyly “It is a very unusual painting you requested. I don't think I've ever printed this one for a customer before.”

16. Celebrated New Years in Uganda

17. In Barcelona I put my toes in the Mediterranean Sea.
Now I've been to the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans, the Mediterranean, Andaman and Caribbean Seas.
Indian Ocean beats them all.

18. Held an enormous star fish

19. Completed quilts for my nieces and nephews.*
Except for Jackson, all my nieces and nephews received a hand-made quilt with fabric from my travels, or stolen air plane blankets as the backing, and will fun pockets and zippers. I hope they enjoy them for a long time.

20. Attended an Anglican Church.
I loved my Pentecostal Church, but the commute was getting to me. I had decided that when I left for Tanzania this time, I would be also leaving this church. However, I ended up leaving earlier. It wasn't a specific sermon or statement, it was that over several weeks very little of the Bible was read, and a lot of the sermon was the pastor's personal testimony.
And if you don't think your current church isn't reading enough from the Bible, where do you go? You go to an Anglican Church.
I won't mince words - the music generally is awful and draining. But occasionally, there is an a cappella choir with a hand-drum that sounds pretty cool.
But they read from the Bible - a lot. Children, adults, men, women, pastors, lay persons.
And, they run a monthly community dinner for the homeless or hungry, they are sponsoring a refugee couple and they love their neighbors.

21. Snorkeled in Mnemba and got stung by a jellyfish. It hurt like 20 bee stings at once, my arm was temporarily paralyzed. Avoid the jellyfish!

22. Moved out.
The place I've called home for three years, my first real residence in Toronto. I packed everything and said goodbye before heading to Tanzania, knowing that it would not be my home when I returned. While those ladies will always be good friends to me, and I'll cherish our late night talks with hot tea, and when they all helped me the various times I was on crutches, I sleep under a different roof now. But my mail still goes there, so I visit regularly.

23. Got laser eye surgery.*
So glad I had this done.

24. Sprained my ankle. I think I do this every year, each time in soccer. But I love soccer, it's my favorite sport.

I hobbled up the two flights to my apartment, and as I laid on the couch my roommate handed me some pills she said were painkillers. Immediately after I swallowed them she announced she bought them from a complete stranger on the beach in Cuba... oh boy! (But they reduced the pain!)

25. Took a painting class*
I attended a "paint and drink" night with friends, and I started dabbling in Zanzibar and even sold two paintings.

26. Ran an art gallery in Zanzibar*
I impressed myself with my organizational skills (and modern technology really helps.

27. Got a job.*

Thanks God!!!

28. I was, and am, happy*.

29 Things for next year

1. Preparing to be a mother has been something I've been slowing moving toward for some years now. But this year, I'm cranking it into high gear!

2. Surf +++

3. Spend time outside daily.

4. Buy less non-essential stuff.

5. Make little Jackson, and my best friend's son, Mateo, quilts.

6. Blog regularly.

This is actual graffiti in Stonetown, Zanzibar.

7. Use less cosmetics, facial cleansers or hair products.

8. Obtain Canadian citizenship ++

9. Speak Amharic +++

10. Lead a program for groups of teens +++

11. Learn how to drive in Tanzania (other side of the road/other side of the car... and insane driving.)
12. Learn how to make yogurt +++

13. Learn how to make simple cheese

14. Learn how to make Pancit.

15. Learn how to make bread (Focaccia I think I will start with)

16. Be more conversant in Spanish +++

17. Exercise at home instead of hitting the gym.

18. Drive a standard/stick-shift vehicle +++

19. Return to Phi Phi Island +++

20. Take a pottery class. +++

21. Climb Mount Kilimanjaro.+++ 3 times in Tanzania, and I still haven't even attempted. Some day. Some day. I know I will. The mountain isn't going anywhere.

22. See the Grand Canyon. +++

23. Go to New Zealand. +++

22. Visit Madagascar.+

23. Visit Victoria Falls

24. Visit Algonquin Park, for hiking and kayaking. +++

This summer for real! All parks in Canada have free entry this year for the 150 anniversary of Canada!

25. See the wildebeest migration across the Serengeti. 
© Bonnie Cheung, 2014 Sony World Photography Awards

It's estimated that 1.4 MILLION wildebeests charge into the Serengeti looking for water. I want to see it!!!

26. Swim with sea turtles

27. Visit New York City

28. Tell others when I appreciate them, am proud of them, or thankful for them.


* On my list from last year that I completed

+ On last year's list that has yet to be completed

++ On the list for two years running.

+++ On the list for a few years now. I can always dream!

I reserve all rights to edit previous year's lists and omit items that I don't want to complete anymore (i.e skydiving scares me now).

Wednesday, May 18, 2016


I haven't written for almost a year. It was a deliberate decision to not write publicly, and I think it has been good for me.
Recently I joined a creative writing group, which has also been good for me, and I feel ready to share my writing again. And so I'll start with this piece. It's not new, it's been tucked away for a while. But I think it's a good piece to start with.

I like to show off my scars.
My most impressive is from a piano falling on my ankle when I was 13 years old; “nerve damage” I always mention, pointing to an area with diminished feeling.
Twin scars on my elbow and knee from a nasty fall at age 7.
I even “collect” scars throughout my travels: a hip scratch from tripping during a game of tag in Nairobi. A scrape up my shin during a soccer game on a Thai Island.
But as fun as they are after the fact, scars are a memoir to pain.

I'm a devout Christian, and I believe that Jesus Christ is God, who died (crazy! right?) and then came back to life (crazy again!), but that he kept the scars of his death.
He was powerful enough to make his heart pump again, wake-up a dormant brain and inflate his lungs, but he didn't also throw in a perfect body in the mix.

Why keep the scars?
What was the point?
To prove to doubters? Maybe.
But if I saw a man brutally killed in a public execution days before and then he stood before me and started talking, I wouldn't ask for any other proof.

Maybe you've never thought about Jesus keeping his scars. It wasn't something I had ever considered until huge, physical wounds were in front of my face.

My former spouse was brutally assaulted.
The most we could piece together was that it was probably a gang initiation; one where to enter a gang a new recruit must assault (or in some cases, kill) a random individual to prove themselves as loyal and 'tough' enough to be accepted into the gang.
Whatever the motivation, he was quickly attacked by a group of 10 to 15 young men all dressed in the same color – red.
One of the young men had a knife.
Pinned down, he was stabbed a total of seven times: three times in the chest, one of these close to his heart, and four times in the back, one just millimeters from his spinal chord.

Immediate surgery saved his life. And after time, the wounds stopped bleeding, and then they stopped hurting. He was alive. He was going to be fine.
But the scars remained.

When we are injured our body has an amazing response to sew the skin back together. Give it a few days for a paper cut, wait out a week or so for something deeper- but our skin repairs itself.
When a cut is especially deep, this process causes the skin to be stronger, more fortified. It's like armor!
But it's ugly, and its a constant reminder of the pain, the terror, the fear.

I saw them daily: just out of the shower, when he dressed in the morning, on a hot day relaxing at home. Without his shirt, the first thing I saw were the marks on his chest. If he asked for a back massage, my hands could feel the raised, thick skin the places the knife had most deeply penetrated.
The real threat to his life was gone, he was fully healed. But the scars would always, always remain.

And that made it difficult for me to forgive the nameless men who assaulted him.
Only one man of the many was arrested and charged. It was open and shut, justice-wise. We were never even informed of the trial date, not given the opportunity to give a witness statement or have any say in sentencing.
And yet, as a Christian I believe I am commanded to forgive. Forgive men I have never seen. Who will never know the pain they caused me.
Who will never know the nights he screamed and thrashed in his sleep from nightmares. They aren't aware that he cut his hair as to not be recognized by the 14 or so others that were never arrested.
Or my own fear- the immediate, and then the ongoing.
How our whole lives changed. How his post traumatic stress severed our relationship; terrified me, destroyed him.

Scars. The physical. The emotional.
Even the one man arrested; does he have any idea? Does he know the effects of his deed?
But still, my faith compels me to forgive.

If you forgive those who sin against you, your Heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Heavenly Father will not forgive you your sins.” (Matthew 6:14,15)

Christians regularly take “Communion” or “Eucharist”. It's not a snack during services; its a small cracker and a cup of juice or wine to remember the death of Christ: the body of a man who had no flaws, just like bread without any yeast and the red juice to remember the blood of his death. This death of one who was perfect being the final sacrifice, and the ultimate action that takes away our sins: makes us forgiven. Christians take this time to reflect on forgiveness in their own life, the sins that were taken away by this action.

I was holding that tiny cup, I was crumbling the cracker between my fingers. And I wasn't thinking about forgiveness; I was thinking about scars. He would have those scars for the rest of his life.
That young man, the kid, really, would be out of jail in a few years.
Maybe I could forgive the one person, the one who was punished and did the time, but not the others. Not the nameless, numberless others that would never face their actions. That would never feel guilty, have to account for their deeds. No. I would not forgive them.

If you refuse to forgive others...”

But I'm a good person!
I help people. I volunteer! I make cookies for the neighborhood kids!
I don't stab people!!!
So what if I don't forgive the evil people who hurt me, hurt my family?

Perhaps I could have willed myself to forgive under the threat of me not being forgiven. It's a pretty heavy consequence, after all.

But I wasn't thinking about forgiveness; I was thinking about scars.

And I remembered, Jesus kept his scars.
There are two accounts of Jesus showing his hands and feet (the places where nails would have been driven as part of the crucifixion process) as a testimony. He came back from the dead, after all, he could have easily healed the scars of the corpse-come-to-life! Why keep them?
Why keep the reminders of his gruesome death? Of all that pain? Betrayal? Injustice? Why remember your own death with precise detail?

As part of the human race with fragile skin, I choose to worship a God who willingly kept his scars. A God who knows pain, wounding, death. Who kept the marks of pain, of torture. Who chose to hold on to his scarred skin, who will welcome me in eternity with scars in his own hands.
That's how I forgave. That's how I let go of the pain. How I stopped focusing on wanting the perpetrators to face punishment and looked instead on my own healing.

Because I focused on the scars of God.