I believe in the resurrection

I love Easter. There is so much good in it. There’s something about the resurrection story, and the many little reminders nature offers us at this time of year of how new things are born out of last year’s death that keeps me coming back to faith.

By the end of almost every Easter weekend, after the Easter services, the time with family, the great food, and the easter egg hunts, I’m in a happy, contemplative mood.

Almost every year… except last year.

Last Easter was horrible. Epically horrible.

On Maunday Thursday – my mom’s birthday – we received confirmation that my mom had cancer. A fairly serious kind in her internal organs that had way too many unknowns for our comfort.

Three days later, on Easter Sunday, my 18 year marriage unraveled. On the way home from an Easter “celebration” with my family, I told my husband that it was either time for us to live apart, or else we’d need to find someone who could help us overhaul our severely broken relationship. It just wasn’t working anymore. We’d forgotten how to communicate and I was tired of feeling angry, hurt, and lost.

I did a lot of crying in the weeks after Easter.

Ironically, a month before Easter, I’d started a series on my blog called “Let go of the Ground“, about how we are all called to surrender – to the Mystery, to the God of our understanding, to our calling, to Love. The premise was that – like the caterpillar who must surrender to the cocoon and enter the difficult transformation process before becoming a butterfly – we too must surrender and learn to trust what is emerging for us. I interviewed a bunch of wise people about their own surrender stories, and I was preparing to create an e-course on the subject. It felt like important work and I knew I had some wisdom to share, having experienced groundlessness and transformation many times in my life.

But then… Easter came, and groundlessness wasn’t just a topic for a blog post. I was living it all over again, and not by choice. The ground had been whipped out from under me and I was plunging through space without a parachute.

It’s easy to talk about surrender when you’re on the far side of transformation and you know what it feels like to fly. It’s another thing entirely when you’re in the messy, gooey chrysalis stage, you’re hanging by a fragile thread, and you have no idea when and how you will emerge.

The months after Easter continued to be hard. Mom started chemo, lost all of her hair, got continually sicker, went for surgery in the summer, and then spent a few more months in chemo. Normally an energetic, young-for-her-age woman who takes delight in climbing trees with her grandchildren and being the fastest one (and sometimes the only one) up the climbing wall when she goes to seniors’ camp in the summer, Mom could hardly handle the many hours she was forced to spend sitting or lying around. I could see her muscles twitch when someone else was in HER kitchen making food for her.

As for my marriage… we agreed that it was best for the kids if we stayed in the same house while we tried to repair what was broken. Like a couple of brick-layers trying to rebuild after a tsunami has wiped out the village, we gathered the pieces that still looked like viable relationship-building bricks, added a few new ones, and started piecing them together slowly but surely. Fortunately, we found a counsellor who was good at helping us do that.

Now it’s a year later, and I’d be lying if I told you I feel like a butterfly with freshly dried wings, fluttering effortlessly through the air. No, there’s lots of effort still involved, and lots of unknowns. I still feel pretty groundless.

But things are changing, and Spring has come again. When we rake away the dead leaves of last year, we see the tiny shoots poking their way out of the dirt built from many deaths in seasons past.

My mom started baking buns again last week, a sure sign that some of her energy is coming back. (When she starts distributing them to everyone in the neighbourhood who could use some nourishment, we’ll know she’s truly back.) Her chemo is finished, and it appears that the cancer has been halted for now. She cooked us a big meal for Easter and we celebrated together. True to form, she’s headed off on a trip with her husband later this week, headed to places where tulips bloom in rows and rows of wild and glorious colour.

Though it’s not perfect, my marriage feels much more stable than it did a year ago. We’re finding new ways of being truthful with each other and we’re working on rebuilding our trust. It feels hopeful, like there’s something worth fighting for. There are enough salvageable bricks that we can build a relationship that is better but still carries with it the stories of the old one.

It’s because of these stories that I continue to believe in the resurrection. Life comes out of death. Hope emerges out of darkness. Beauty follows surrender. God makes good things grow when we let our egos die.

There are many, many people who will try to tell you otherwise. They’ll try to sell you magic. They’ll try to tell you that life can be easy if you have enough positive thoughts and you surround yourself with people who are always happy, happy, happy. They’ll insist that if you attract good things, you won’t have to suffer.

I’m here to tell you that those people are telling you half-truths. Don’t get caught up in their deception no matter how convincing they are. They’re snake oil salespeople trying to make a quick buck out of your desire for an easy life.

Easiness is not the path to true happiness. Surrender is.

It’s not that I don’t believe in miracles – I do. I’ve seen them happen many, many times.

But the best kind of miracles are those that show up in the middle of the grit and suffering and messiness of life. The best kind of miracles are the hugs from friends when you need it most, the breathtaking sunset that brings tears to your eyes, the offering of support when you feel like you’ll crumble, the first crocus of the season – blooming despite the threat of frost, the fresh baked buns after a year of cancer, the tender touch of a loved one after you’ve regained trust, and the butterfly that flutters past when you’re lost in the woods.

The best kind of miracles don’t take you out of the suffering or make you immune to it, they simply help you bear it.

We need the suffering if we’re going to get to true beauty. We need the dying compost if we’re going to get crocuses in the Spring. We need the gooey chrysalis if we’re going to learn to fly.

Without the death, we wouldn’t get to celebrate the resurrection.

Branches of the family tree

I’ve spent about 15 hours over the last 4 days typing 43 pages of Dutch names, birthdays, and wedding dates.

After painstakingly researching and compiling (with no computer literacy, I might add, just phone calls and reams of paper) eight generations of his family tree, my Mom’s husband hired me to type it all onto neat pages so that he can slip them into the plastic sleeves of his red duotang.

This is not my history and the names are unfamiliar, but I have found this exercise oddly enjoyable. For one thing, it’s a task I can do without a lot of thought, which gives me a little break from some of the over-thinking I do in many of my other tasks.

Though I don’t profess a lot of interest in genealogy, there is something comforting and rather grounding about these long branches of a family tree originating from one name a century and a half ago and then stretching out through the generations into the future.

As I type each name, I imagine it somehow mattering to each person that his or her name is there. Perhaps Anna feels a little twinge of happiness when her name appears on my computer screen, half a world away (most of the branches remain in their Dutch homeland). Perhaps Gerrit suddenly and inexplicably feels a sense of rootedness, and maybe even a longing to call a relative he hasn’t spoken to in a long time.

Perhaps I’ve been able to bless them somehow by attaching their names to this lineage through the ages.

As I read their names, I wonder about their stories. Did they like being part of this family tree? Did it matter to them? Or did they feel like misfits in a family where everyone else had a strong sense of belonging?

It’s the misfits I find myself most interested in. Not many layers of a person’s story show up on a family tree, but there are some that do. I wonder about those people who never had children and the branch ended with them. Did they want it that way or was it a matter of circumstances? How did they feel in a family surrounded by child-bearing relatives?

What about those who stayed single? Was that a happy choice or a lifelong trial? Did they find love in other kinds of relationships that didn’t conform to the family standards? Did they enjoy the solitude and freedom their singleness afforded?

And then I wonder about the secrets hidden behind the facts. Which people were living false lives, following the conventions of their culture? Which marriage was merely a cover for a repressed desire to love a person of the same gender? Which children were born out of a need to live up to expectations rather than a desire to be parents?

I wonder too about names. It’s striking how quickly a marriage wipes out a woman’s surname and changes that branch of the tree forever with a new name. When they marry outside the Dutch heritage, the family tree seems to imply that they cease to be Dutch. Does that matter? Is it something the new women’s movement should care about?

And then I find myself wondering about lineage in general. What kind of lineage matters? Do only the tendrils of our lives that connect us to our family history and culture matter? Or are there other lineages that we choose to be part of that make more difference – the lineages of our faith traditions, our vocations, our passions, our communities, our chosen families, and our spiritual practices? How much of life is a matter of our own choosing and how much is it a matter of simply accepting what comes?

I have no conclusions for this post, just a lot of meandering down the branches of a family tree that is not my own.

Summer time and the livin’ is easy

Notice any difference between the months? In June, we had to colour code the calendar because there were so many days that two or three family members had to be in different places at the same time. And July? Well, we flipped the page, and suddenly there is a blank slate ahead of us. Ahhhhh… how I love blank slates!

We started off on the right foot with a trip to the beach yesterday, and a family bike trip to the Forks for Canada Day celebrations today. (That’s a 22 kilometre round trip! The longest we’ve done as a family.)

It’s hot, hot, hot, and we’re tired, tired, tired (in fact, Marcel is lying on the couch next to me snoring right now), but we’re oh so happy that it’s summer!

Happy Canada Day and Happy Summer!

Cauliflower and milk

As I tried to relax in the bathtub last night, I heard this conversation:

“Who put the cauliflower on the shelf where the milk is supposed to be?”

“Not me!”

“I did! Because SOMEBODY had stuck the cauliflower where it got in the way of closing the door!”

“Well don’t blame ME!”

“Why would you put the cauliflower THERE?! That’s a stupid place for cauliflower!”

“Why are you always blaming ME for EVERYTHING?”

“Well where am I supposed to put the milk now?”

“That’s YOUR problem! I cleaned my share of the table!”

Sigh. Is it just me, or does your family also enjoy arguing so much that they can fight over cauliflower and milk? If you’re one of those really evolved families that calmly discusses everything and ALWAYS settles disputes without any raised voices, please walk away now or I may have to hurt you.

And so it goes

To see what was originally in this post, go here. I didn’t want anyone to hate me for having to listen to the same song every time they opened my blog.

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