The Place for Me

When we first began to seriously consider moving to Toronto (about two years ago, I think), one of my fears was that there wouldn’t be enough trees in Toronto to satisfy my craving for green, growing things.

(It might sound like a silly fear, but in my defense, we had recently driven through a neighbourhood in Toronto where there truly did not seem to be many trees.)

I had that fear in my heart.

And you know what God did?

He found us an apartment on a corner, and the street on one side of us is Treeview. It is lined with beautiful trees.

Can you believe it?

I just made this connection in the past few months, and I love it.

We’ve been living here exactly one year now. In the first few months of living here, we were often asked how we were adjusting to life in Toronto, and my answer was always that the “adjustment had been surprisingly simple.” And I meant it, too.

However.

I finally hit a rough spot. It happened at the beginning of July.

It was a feeling of “I-don’t-belong-here,” and I think it came because the job that I had been doing ever since we moved had come to an end. Along with the ending of the job came the realization that outside of my job, I hadn’t really formed any connections with people here. Being the introvert that I am, it doesn’t really bother me to spend days on end on my own. However, the idea that I might actually not be capable of forming new friendships did bother me. Also, sometimes it feels like, in order to be a truly good Christian, you need to be able to quickly form close connections with other people so that you can show them Jesus’ love. I wasn’t doing that, and therefore felt guilty.

To sum all that up… I felt lonely, and like I didn’t have anyone to give to here. (Which is ridiculous, I know. There are so many different ways of giving all around me.)

Pair “lonely-in-Toronto” with “growing-relationships-with-wonderful-people-at-my-church-in-Kitchener” and “scared-to-find-a-job-in-Toronto” with “there’s-a-school-in-Hawkesville-that-I-know-and-love-and-so-why-would-I-ever-pursue-anything-else-besides-teaching-is-such-a-noble-fulfilling-job-and-i-miss-it-so-much-and-maybe-some-year-soon-i-could-teach-there-again”. This is a formula for wanting to return to the place I left behind.

And so that’s what happened.

That other life was just such a good one. A job I loved and was getting better at, family and friends close by…

I think I even started to resent Toronto. (Yes, the entire city.)

I shoved back the pain of the lack of relationships in Toronto by telling myself I didn’t actually need them. I have lots of people who care about me in Waterloo, and that’s really all I need, right?

Well, maybe.

But holding onto that mindset would deprive me of beautiful things.

There was a day at the end of August where I had the privilege of going back to the school in Hawkesville that I love and spending several hours in the loveliest, best-feeling classroom with my friend Meghan, and then participating in a meeting with teachers that I admire and miss. I knew that being there was going to be hard in a way, because I was feeling so strongly that I wanted that school to be my place again.

And I did experience that feeling.

I did experience some jealousy, some longing, some teacher-ideas and inspiration creeping into my brain, making me feel like a teacher is what I truly am meant to be.

I felt those things.

But somehow…

At the end of the day…

When I drove away…

It was all okay.

I had expected to feel completely convinced that we should move back to Waterloo as soon as possible.

But I felt the opposite.

I felt like it was okay to be in Toronto. That there are things for me here too. Things that I want. Things that I can do, even if they don’t feel comfortable and I don’t know yet whether I love them.

This life in Toronto is a sacrifice in some ways, but a gift in others.

I think it had to be God who gave me those feelings, because I sure did not want to feel that, and it was not the natural outcome of the day.

That night I slept at my family’s house, and the next day we canned peaches and tomatoes, and made salsa and spaghetti sauce.

I drove home after that day of canning, slightly sticky and definitely exhausted.

When I got home after dark, Ricky helped me unload the car by carrying a box full of jars of freshly canned tomatoes and peaches inside.

I put my Waterloo food on my Toronto shelf, and I think it looks beautiful there.

Next, we went to the living room, freshly painted white. We pushed the furniture back against the walls, some in the same spots and some in new spots. We put all of our books on one gigantic new bookshelf. We hung a print up on the wall, and made plans to soon add more pictures to the wall around it.

And it felt more like our place than it ever has before.

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Soon after I felt these things, I stumbled across two things that made me feel like God was reaffirming for me that it is good and right for me to be here right now. 

One was a podcast episode of Emily P. Freeman’s, called “Be a Placemaker”. She speaks about honestly acknowledging the place we are in, and then doing what we need to do to make it beautiful and valuable. It is available here as a blog post. (Also, how many times have I told you to get some Emily P. Freeman in your life? If you haven’t yet… well. You’re just missing out.) 

“There are some things you can still choose, like making a place where your roots are lacking, like believing for sure that God is with you, like doing your next right thing in love.”

-Emily P. Freeman

The second thing that I found and connected with was this blog post by Rosina Schmucker. Life sometimes ends up looking different than we expected it to, and that’s okay. 


What about you? Have you ever had to be intentional about putting down roots? We’d love to hear about it. Specifically- ahem- about how you went about doing it. 

August

August is that person that I am used to seeing every day.

She is comfortable.

She is familiar.

She is full of ordinary warmth.

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In August, summer has settled into itself, and everything feels ganglier and softer and dustier. Mature.

The textures and the layers criss-cross and overlap.

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The seventh campfire, instead of the first or second.

But one day, something makes me pause.

Catches my eye.

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And when I take a second look, I realize that maybe I don’t know her as well as I thought I did.

There is overlooked beauty all around.

And I realize that as much as I love September…

August may stick around for as long as she wants to.

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What do you love about August? 

Money Mitts (Giving- Part One)

Money Mitts (Giving- Part One)

I don’t pretend to understand. I don’t pretend to be knowledgeable. I am just telling this story, with my own thoughts and impressions included. 

Statistics say there are over five thousand homeless people in Toronto.


 

He appeared out of nowhere on the crowded subway platform. In my memory, he was navy blue and unzipped coat and black toque and everything else ordinary. Bundled up, rather like I was. By the time I noticed him, he almost blended in with the group of people he had approached.

I couldn’t hear what he said, but as I saw him move to another group, I realized that he was, indeed, asking for money.

I hoped that he wouldn’t work his way back to us, because…

Well. My wallet was in my backpack that was on my back, and I didn’t even know if it had any cash in it.

And then I remembered that I had a looney in the pocket on my mitt. (Thanks, No Frills shopping cart system.)

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I guess I was watching him, because our eyes connected, and I couldn’t tell if that meant he would come over or go to a different person.

But he came, quiet and ordinary and expressionless. I think that something in me wanted him to, now that I knew I had something to give. 

“Nickels? Dimes?” I forget exactly what he said, but I remember those words.

“Yes,” I said, and took off my mitts to unzip the pocket that contained the looney.

Except that I had to check the pocket on both mitts, because I couldn’t remember which one it was in, and my initial squish of the mitts didn’t seem to reveal the whereabouts of the looney.

To make things worse, I felt that rush of air that announces the subway’s arrival. PANIC.

There we were, us two humans, standing there with my fumbling, mitt-musty hands between us.

He stood waiting, calm.

The subway came and I managed to extricate the looney (plus a dime) from my glove.

He nodded as he took them.

And then I crammed onto the subway with the masses, and he….

I guess I don’t know what he did next.

I felt ashamed of myself. Of my giving.

Because there I was, gliding along, feeling glad that I had given a looney, instead of just the nickel or dime that he had asked for.

Because we had made eye contact, and I was afraid of what he had seen on my face and in my eyes.I honestly don’t know what was there. What had my face shown?

I wanted to know…

What he actually needed.

I wanted to know…

How the situation had seemed to him.

His face hadn’t revealed a single thing to me.


 

I don’t think that I will ever be able to see a homeless person asking for money without it hurting my heart.

I also don’t know if I will ever know what to do with that hurt.

I am quick with all the usual excuses.

“I only have a looney. It’s almost embarrassing to just give a looney, when the need is clearly greater than that..”

“I only have a twenty dollar bill. We can’t just go around handing out $20. We don’t actually have that many $20 of our own, after all.”

“That person looks a little too… crazy. I’m afraid to approach them.”

“That person looks a little too… normal. Do they truly need the money?”

 

Too much,

Too little,

And there seems to be no “in between”.

 

Oh.

Then there’s…

That good old, holy excuse, “By giving money, I may be enabling this person to pursue unhealthy habits and addictions.”

That excuse has never made me feel truly better, and I’m almost at the point where I think it’s just….

Dumb. 

Here’s where I’m at:

My few dollars probably aren’t going to make or break someone’s addiction. I think it’s better to give.

 

Yes, it could harm…

but it also might help.

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There’ll be a second blog post coming sometime this week with another story about giving. Stay tuned! In the meantime, how do you handle giving (money, or otherwise) to homeless people? What would Jesus have us do? How do we show love?

 

Moments of Connection- Part 2

The last time I blogged, I wrote about an experience of mine that made me feel like I had been seen. By that, I mean that it helped me to feel like I am a real-live human being who is not invisible and not weird and who is capable of connecting with other human beings. I think I am still adjusting to the fact that we now live in a community where we don’t know people. It’s very odd to go grocery shopping and see no one that you know. My introvert self likes it, but there is also a part of me that misses the potential of being recognized and acknowledged.

Now.

What I am about to say next may sound kind of the opposite. I mean, I just said that I missed being recognized and acknowledged. And now, I’m saying this:

I don’t like to draw attention to myself, and being a Mennonite woman has a way of drawing some attention to yourself. And this bothers me.  (There. I said it.) I think that I am mainly bothered by it because I am generally a reserved person who prefers to not be in the spotlight and also because I don’t like the idea of people possibly making negative assumptions about me based on misconceptions about Mennonites or Christians. I also need to remember that I have also had people make positive assumptions about me based on my appearance. (This is a complicated topic…)

There are people who do a double take when they see me and there are lots of times when I look up and make eye contact with someone who is watching me, and what is there to do then except to smile nicely and say, “Hello, where are the Triscuits in this dumb grocery store?”  (I have never said that to anyone. I promise.)

It is only fair to also note that there are a whole lot of people who don’t give me a second glance. And there are sometimes people that I watch out of curiosity too.

ANYWAYS.

What I’m trying to say is that it can be exhausting to feel anxious about your appearance every time you have to go anywhere. I was definitely feeling that exhaustion three weeks after our move, and I was annoyed at myself for being so “shallow” and concerned about appearances. But then came an experience where I didn’t feel like I was sticking out. I felt like I belonged, and it went a long way in reminding me of where my identity truly rests.

It was at a Chris Tomlin concert.

Ricky and I were generously offered two free tickets to Chris Tomlin’s first ever late night worship session. Ricky already had plans, but since it was only five minutes from our house and since my sister Renee was willing to come with me, I decided to go even though it’s been years since I regularly listened to Chris Tomlin.

I donned my largest glasses and charged my phone in preparation for selfies and instagram stories, and off we went. And you know what?

I loved worshipping in the middle of the night with all those other Christians. I felt like I belonged right there with all of them, even though I looked a little bit different. The feeling of connection caught me off-guard, because, out of habit, I carried my fear and dislike of standing out to the concert with me. I had forgotten that there’s something powerful about a whole group of believers- with all their different ideas and opinions and personalities and backgrounds- singing and listening and praying and laughing and longing for God and for heaven together. I had forgotten that God is my good, good father- that I am His and He is mine. I had forgotten the joy and freedom of my salvation. I had forgotten that He is a healing and living God.

That concert, with its songs and its audience, reminded me of those things and I left feeling encouraged and stronger, because I was reminded that I had God’s spirit in me. I left feeling unseen– just one small believer surrounded by an big and beautiful cloud of witnesses.

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Those are my stories.

In conclusion, I have been seen and unseen here, and I feel more rooted in this place because of it. I have learned that I crave this- to be acknowledged as an individual, but to also have a place in a larger group. I bet I’m not alone in that desire. The beautiful thing is that we can all take care of each other in these ways. That’s my challenge for you: value people as individuals and make space in the group for them.

Adjustments

Sometimes when you are in a new place,

The shadows seem bigger and more active.

It seems lighter and darker at the same time

And there are different creaks in different places than you are used to.

And sometimes,

When you are in a new place,

You are so tired from getting to that place

That you fall asleep anyways

Even though it seems a vulnerable and brave thing to do.

-Jasmine Martin

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Well, we have been living in Toronto for just over a week now.

Our apartment felt surprisingly homey right from the get go, which was a pleasant surprise. I wasn’t sure if it would or not. We are currently in the dangerous stage of settling in, where the vast majority of our belongings have been put away and we are functioning smoothly and comfortably, but there’s still a lot of random stuff sitting around that doesn’t have a place yet.

I’m just grateful that we are as “put away” as we are. For awhile there, I was regularly hitting my baby toes on the edges of boxes. I could get most of my body around the boxes just fine, but not my baby toes. I also kept hitting my hands on the door knobs around here. Apparently, I really become accustomed to the geography of the space I regularly occupy, and when everything changes, I’m a wreck. I’ve been working on choosing to be spatially aware, and I think it’s helping.

Right now, I’m thinking about the past week and what it has felt like to be here. I don’t feel like I have done any real exploring yet, besides going to Hakim Optical, Ikea, No Frills, Home Sense, Dollarama, and a library. Those places are not super special places though, if you know what I mean.

There do seem to be many nice things about being here.

I like that everything is only 1.8 kilometers away.

I like that there are lots of lovely old trees on our street and I’m excited to see the leaves turn pretty colours.

I like that there are all kinds of people around here.

I like the beautiful, smart children that I get to be with all week.

I like that our apartment has air-conditioning and a bathtub.

I like the rainbow that shows up on our floor when the sun shines through the windows on our door just right.

I like that it all feels like a fresh start somehow. (Ricky and I have decided to be grownups now. It involves making our bed every morning and washing dishes regularly and so far has been going okay but Ricky is generally better at it than I am, which is annoying, but also makes sense because he is older than I am.)

I like our nice landlords.

I like our Sunday morning drive to church.

There are also things that I don’t really like.

I don’t like driving to work and back from work on busy roads that I am not overly familiar with yet.

On that note… I don’t like not knowing where anything is. I can’t wait to be more familiar with this area.

I don’t like going to a different grocery store.

I don’t like making mistakes, but I’m really trying to be okay with them and not be too hard on myself for not knowing things that I haven’t learned yet. If you don’t know… you just don’t know. Get over it. Figure it out. Learn it. It’s okay. It helped that today, Instagram seemed to be full of other people who were making mistakes too, and working on giving themselves grace. We are all just humans.

I don’t like parking within three meters of a fire hydrant. Sigh. (Learned that lesson. Never again. To be fair, it was kind of a subtle fire hydrant.)

… You know what?

That’s about all I can think of that I don’t like!

I’m going to post a few pictures of our apartment for those of you who are curious. I took these a day or two after we moved, so it looks a little more put together at this point. If you want to know what it looks like with everything put away, you’ll just have to come visit. That’s all there is to it.

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When you come in the door, there are steps that you need to go down to get to our apartment.
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This is the room where we keep our bikes and other paraphernalia. (But not quite so much paraphernalia as you see in this photo.)
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This is our kitchen. It is very spacious horizontally, but not quite so spacious vertically, if you know what I mean. Also, that is a Ricky in the kitchen. I like him and I’m sure glad that I brought him along with me.
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This is our living room.  We have found it to be a very pleasant room for living.
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This is our bedroom, which, crazily enough, is almost the same colour as the butterfly blue bedroom we left behind in Hawkesville. 

There you have it, folks.

The beginning of Toronto.

 

Christmas 2017

The beauty of holidays is that you can do things that you wouldn’t normally do, and you can enjoy processes that might normally feel rushed or frustratingly time-consuming. I have been celebrating my liberty to enjoy processes by doing, well…. nothing at all, really. I HAVE been doing things… but they are all very relaxing things like being with family, taking multiple naps in the same day, and eating chocolate. It has been delightful.

(Just so you know… this blog post contains nothing clever, spiritual, or inspirational. If that’s why you are here, sorry. It is purely a “journal entry”. Feel free to leave now if you don’t enjoy reading about other people’s Christmases.)

 

 

The holidays began on Friday night, after the school Christmas program. That night gives me such a rush, and Ricky and I stayed up rather late eating Big Macs, singing “Joy to the World” (listen to Ricky sing here), being hyper and happy because CHRISTMAS HOLIDAYS. 

On Saturday afternoon, we hopped into our car and headed to Toronto for the night (in celebration of our second anniversary). A few highlights from that trip were riding the subway, sleeping in a gigantic bed, walking around Toronto and taking pictures (it’s a good thing that taking pictures happily occupies both of us), and watching an outdoor play where the audience walked through a park to the different scenes of the play. Something inside of me wants to be a part of making a play like this happen some day…

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The group of us that gathered in Christie Pits Park  to experience the outdoor play.

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On Sunday afternoon, we came back home, took a nap, and then headed over to my family’s house for Christmas. We traditionally eat pizza on Christmas Eve, and this year, we decided to make the pizza instead of buying it. Everyone helped, and it was delicious.

 

 

 

After eating, we went to Waterloo Park and walked through the Christmas displays there. We came back home, chopped up veggies in preparation for a casserole for Christmas dinner, each opened one present (a new pair of pajamas), tried to watch a movie, but gave up on that when most of us were falling asleep.

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Christmas day consisted of brunch, opening presents, playing outside, eating Christmas dinner, painting, and just hanging out. It was lovely.

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Photo credit: Ricky (I think.)
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Kenton and the mysterious name exchange gift that he wrapped using three different kinds of wrapping paper. It ended up being for me, which was very exciting.

 

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The weather was downright snowy and blowy.

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Here is a short video clip that my wonderfully creative little sister Renee put together: Christmas 2017. 

And since then? I have just been feeling a little bit lost. There was so much to do in the days leading up to Christmas, and now that those responsibilities are finished with I feel a bit… blah. However, as the days go by, I feel more and more like myself again. Holidays are such a good thing. It can just take a little bit sometimes to adjust to the different lifestyle. I made myself a to-do list that I am very excited about working on. But for today, I think that I’ll just keep reading and napping and eating chocolate.