Category Archives: Faith
The other day, I had a teachable moment. J and I were preparing for a dinner party that we were hosting. I was making stuffed butternut squash (more on that in another post) and J was helping me by grating the carrots. When he got close to the end of the carrot, he accidentally slipped and sort of grated his finger. His finger bled and he was in pain. When he came back from cleaning it up, I told him not to worry about the rest, and that besides, it was just the stump of the carrot that was left anyway. J insisted on continuing and finishing what he started. He said something like “if you don’t finish what you’ve started when it’s not important, you won’t finish what you’ve started when it is important”.
He was totally right, and it’s so true. If it were me, I would have totally felt sorry for myself for my bleeding finger and I would have been content to eat the stump of the carrot and move on with my life. And maybe that would have been ok. But nonetheless, J got me thinking about my habits and my patterns, and about how the small and unimportant events are really what help shape our character for the more important events. I know that he is right, because I have seen J in some pretty difficult situations, and he invariably stays strong and does the right thing even if it is much harder to do. Though I think his strong character comes from much more than being able to grate a carrot after hurting himself, I do think there is so much value in that lesson.
I leave you with this quote on habits and character that comes from an American text on the use of character evidence in court cases:
“Character may be thought of as the sum of one’s habits though doubtless it is more than this. But unquestionably the uniformity of one’s response to habit is far greater than the consistency with which one’s conduct conforms to character or disposition. Even though character comes in only exceptionally as evidence of an act, surely any sensible man in investigating whether X did a particular act would be greatly helped in his inquiry by evidence as to whether he was in the habit of doing it.” (McCormick, 1954).
I recently checked out the movie “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”. Have you seen it? It is about a little boy who loses his dad on 9/11 and his journey through the grief that follows. Near the beginning of the movie, he made what I thought to be an excellent analogy. He said that if the sun were to explode, it would take us 8 minutes to notice because that is how long it would take for the light and heat to go away (based on the speed at which light travels). The boy in the movie says that after his dad passed away, he still felt as though he was in that 8 minute period in which he still felt his dad’s light and heat so to speak. He finds a key that belonged to his dad and spends most of the movie searching for the lock for the key. He says that he feels that finding this lock would help him to extend his eight minutes with his dad.
This analogy really helps put into words a lot of what I have been feeling since my mom’s passing. A few weeks ago I wrote about how I still feel her presence in our home through all the little touches that she left behind. Now that I think about it, I realise that this is me in my 8 minutes. Like the little boy in the movie, I fear what comes after 8 minutes and I find myself trying to elongate it as much as I can. There are a few things in my mother’s belongings that I have wanted to go through and look at, but have decided instead to “save” them for later, because I feel as though that will draw out my 8 minutes with her a little longer.
Without spoiling the movie for you, the boy does end off by saying that he never thought that he would be able to live without his father, and that making it to the end of the 8 minutes taught him that he could and would survive. Though I don’t think I have quite reached the end of my 8 minutes, this experience has indeed been life changing for me. There are people who say that life can be described as “life before losing a parent” and “life after losing a parent”. I think that is such an accurate description. Life will never be the same, but life will continue. This I now know.
Before my mom passed away, I had the honour of spending a diffucult yet wonderful and memorable ten days with her. I am still processing everything I thought, saw, and experienced during that time. One of those events is a visit paid to my family by a very lovely and kind palliative care doctor. Up to this point, I have been fortunate enough not to have had very much interaction with the health care system. However, during the time I spent at home with my mom, I got a small glimpse into her relationship with the health care system, both good and bad. I think that this particular visit was probably one of the best experiences she has had with the system. This doctor provided her not only with medical care and attention, but with the emotional support that one needs as they prepare to end their life on this earth. The doctor gave my mom some advice that I know I will remember for a long time to come. Here’s what he said:
1. You are not a burden until they say you are.
For whatever reason, my mom felt like she was a burden on us while she was sick. No matter how much we told her that we wanted to take care of her, she just kept repeating it. She even mentioned it to the doctor when he came to see her. I loved what he said in response. It was so powerful for an external party to tell her that she was not the one who could decide whether she was a burden on us: we were.
2. You cannot deny them the righ to take care of you.
To follow up with the above piece of advice, the doctor also asked my mom if we were a burden on her while we were growing up, or when we got would get sick. She answered “Never! It was a joy to take care of them!”. He then very wisely said “well then, in the same way that you had that right to take care of them, you cannot take away their right to take care of you”. I had never thought of caring for someone as a right, but I really liked the way he put it. It was a privilege to take care of her. One that I will always remember. I’m glad that was not taken away from me.
3. Even though the definition of your quality of life will change, you can still have quality of life.
This one was particularly special. It’s true. When one is sick, everything changes. Answers to questions like “how are you?” or “how is your mom doing” start to become very relative. The answer “good” has a very different meaning than it does coming from someone else. In the same way, how one defines good quality of life must also change. The doctor said that even if one could only lie down with their eyes closed on a bed, they could still have quality of life simply by having a close relative by their side.
4. You are not the only one suffering. This cancer belongs to this entire family, and everyone is suffering; albeit very differenly than you are.
This was another good one. People do not realize that in the same way couple’s say “we’re pregnant”, families can be thought of saying “we have cancer”. Though the family physically does not have the illness just as the husband does not physically experience pregnancy, the other members of the family are still very much affected, and the doctor was right to point out that we were all suffering. During my mom’s illness, I sometimes felt guilty for being sad and making it about myself, when it was clearly about my mom. It was comforting and reassuring for someone to say that it was actually about all of us.
It was amazing how often these insights stayed with me during the days that followed. They motived me to care for my mom as best as I could, as well as to make her quality of life the best that it could have been. I’m grateful to this doctor who came into our lives at such a critical juncture.
One day, during the week before my mom passed away, we were all sitting at the table having dinner. At the end of the meal, a whole bunch of us got up to put dinner away. My mom was too weak and tired to help but she expressed that we were all doing so much and that she felt badly that she could not get up and join us. My brother responded with what I thought was the perfect answer. He said: “Mom, this just goes to show how many of us it takes to do what you have been doing alone your whole life”. So true. In the days leading up to my mom’s departure to heaven, it took so many of us to try to keep the house running semi-normally. As the days continued to pass, I could not help but think of my brother’s comment. It was so true and so fitting for the situation. Now that mom has passed away, I find myself thinking about this even more. I think about how despite her physical absence, we still benefit so much from all the work she has done for our home. It goes beyond saying that we have benefitted enormously from her raising us, but the little things have begun to stick out to me more in the last couple of days. I look at how she has lovingly decorated the house with pretty paintings and framed family pictures, how she has organized the medicine cabinet and how her kitchen is fully stocked with all the kitchen tools a family could ever need. It never occurred to me that even after her passing, we would continue to benefit from the household that she had put together and kept up for us.
Noticing these little details reminded me of a Proverb from the Bible that my mom loved to read. It’s the passage she read to me at my bridal shower. It is also the passage that my grandfather would often read to my grandmother every so often. The entire chapter is about the “virtuous woman”. It was so sweet when my grandfather would read it and then lovingly gaze at my grandmother and say to her “that’s you”. What a blessing it was to witness such love (you’ll understand what I mean after you read the passage below). Whenever I would come across this chapter I would always think about my grandparents, but this week as I looked around our family home I could not help but think of how fitting this chapter is for the legacy that mom has left behind:
An excellent wife who can find?
She is far more precious than jewels.
The heart of her husband trusts in her,
and he will have no lack of gain.
She does him good, and not harm,
all the days of her life.
She seeks wool and flax,
and works with willing hands.
She is like the ships of the merchant;
she brings her food from afar.
She rises while it is yet night
and provides food for her household
and portions for her maidens.
She considers a field and buys it;
with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
She dresses herself with strength
and makes her arms strong.
She perceives that her merchandise is profitable.
Her lamp does not go out at night.
She puts her hands to the distaff,
and her hands hold the spindle.
She opens her hand to the poor
and reaches out her hands to the needy.
She is not afraid of snow for her household,
for all her household are clothed in scarlet.
She makes bed coverings for herself;
her clothing is fine linen and purple.
Her husband is known in the gates
when he sits among the elders of the land.
She makes linen garments and sells them;
she delivers sashes to the merchant.
Strength and dignity are her clothing,
and she laughs at the time to come.
She opens her mouth with wisdom,
and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
She looks well to the ways of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children rise up and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
“Many women have done excellently,
but you surpass them all.”
Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
Give her of the fruit of her hands,
and let her works praise her in the gates.
(Proverbs 31:10-31 ESV)
So I don’t do a ton of movie reviews on this blog, but once in a while I feel compelled to share a movie with you. I recently saw “The Redemption of General Butt Naked” at the Atlantic Film Fest and I have to admit that it was the best documentaries that I have seen in a long time. It was also one of those movies that you really want to sit down and talk about after you walk out.
The film takes place during and after the Liberian civil war and tells the story of a brutal warlord (General Butt Naked) also named Joshua Milton Blahyi. At the beginning of the movie we get to know General Butt Naked as he then was: a mass murderer. However, the bulk of the film focuses on his subsequent conversion to Christianity. In fact, not only does he become a Christian but he actually becomes a Pastor. He feels redeemed by his newfound faith and decides to face his past by confronting his victims and asking for their forgiveness. He also sets up a sort of rehabilitation camp for the child soldiers who worked under him and killed people during the war under his command.
As a lawyer and an international affairs junkie the movie appealed to me on so many levels: so many issues of faith, justice, forgiveness and post-conflict national reconciliation were brought out. At one very powerful point in the movie, we see Blahyi on the stand in front of the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission. When asked how many deaths he is responsible for, Blahyi bows his head in shame and says “20,000”. The Christian part of me was amazed and inspired by how this man could do a total 180 and have the courage to seek forgiveness from his victims. The lawyer in me who craves for justice found it so upsetting for him to have ruined so many lives and expect to receive forgiveness. Finally, the international affairs junkie in me was watching the the process of truth and reconciliation unfolding and was fascinated by what I saw. Choosing reconciliation after such a terrible tragedy is often the only choice that these people have if they do not want to spiral into deeper conflict – but it doesn’t make the choice any easier.
I encourage you to see the movie. You may find it uncomfortable and unsettling at times, but I really think that these issues are worth thinking about. If you’ve seen the movie and have any thoughts, please do share – I’d love to engage!
We’ve been able to get away from the boxes and the house work over the past little while and have gone out and to enjoy Halifax – we even took a road trip to Cape Breton to see the Cabot trail!
Last week-end we went to check out the Al Fresco Film Festo which is an outdoor film fest on the Halifax Seaport. It was so beautiful to be sitting outside with about a thousand other people watching “What about Bob?” (Did I mention that the theme of this year’s festival is “Bill Murray”? So random but amazing at the same time. They are screening a Bill Murray film every Friday!). We felt so Atlantic as we watched a few sailboats pull up next to the dock to watch along with us.
The next morning we checked out the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market which we also absolutely loved. Lots of vendors selling fresh, organic veggies as well as a variety of things from home cooked ethnic foods to pies to jewellery. It was fun to be out early exploring the market and tasting the yummy pastries. Once the market started getting a bit too crowded for our liking, we headed to Point Pleasant park for some Yoga by the ocean. If you’ve been reading my blog, you know by now that I am all about the outdoor Yoga. Having loved “Yoga on the hill” this summer, I was pleased to see that I could now join up something just as beautiful here. To me, there is just something special about being outdoors and in community with others. Anyhow, I thoroughly enjoyed the class and will be going back for sure. For such a small city, this place has a lot going on!
To make a great week-end even better, we checked out a local Pizza place called Salvatore’s that was recommended to us by a friend. We weren’t really in any particular mood for pizza, but it was the only place we could find that was open late so we decided to try it. I don’t even know where to start about this pizza. We got the “Pomodoro” – sun-dried tomatoes, black olives, feta cheese and fresh garlic. It was a perfect pizza. A ten out of ten. I’m not sure if I should be happy or concerned that we discovered this place at the beginning of our time here…
One of my favourite activities from this summer has been Wednesday lunchtime yoga classes on Parliament Hill. This definitely needs to be added to the list of things that I will miss about Ottawa. Not only does it feel so awesome to be outside at lunchtime with a crowd of 500 odd people doing yoga on the grass (such a different feeling from a studio floor!), but the idea of being right in front of our nation’s parliament is so inspiring. I love being there because I feel like I am a part of something great. I also love that while we are taking part in our yoga class, others are on Parliament hill with placards protesting whatever the cause of that day might be. I have traveled to parts of the world where you could get arrested for just taking a walk in front of the country’s house of government, and as a result I have come to appreciate the freedoms in Canada that others may take for granted.
What I find most amazing though is that the very thing that allows our citizens to be so free is the very thing that restricts us: the rule of law. It is so interesting that, in the end, what creates order and freedom are rules. If you think about a country in which there are no rules or laws, you will quickly realize that what that country’s citizens have is the very opposite of freedom. This is a widely recognized principle in politics, and yet it seems that so many of us have such a hard time recognizing this idea in our personal lives.
For instance, when I tell people that my faith is an important part of my life, I often get comments along the line of “that’s nice, but I don’t believe in following so many rules”. I find this ironic, because I believe that it is those very rules that have given me freedom in my personal life. In the same way that citizens of democratic and law abiding countries have been able to experience greater freedom than those under lawless regimes, the limits and boundaries created by the faith that I ascribe to are also what have allowed me to feel free. I think that so many of us are resistant to a deeper faith that requires some sort of commitment to rules because we don’t want to limit ourselves in this way. I would argue, however, that that the key to our liberation and emancipation as individuals might actually reside in allowing ourselves to be open to the boundaries and rules created by a higher order.
How about you? Do you feel as though the rules and laws in your life have actually helped to liberate you in a strange sort of way?