Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What Love Looks Like

I think I spend too much of my time identifying those things that do NOT look like love in my life.  Then, I spend even MORE of my time replaying that not-love, and analyzing how, exactly, not-loving it was.  This often looks like, "What did she mean when she made that comment?"  "WHY did that person cut me off?"  "I'm not sure that people have really accepted us here." And that quickly degenerates into: "am I being a good enough mother/teacher/friend/wife/person?"  I suspect, largely based on the content I see on TV, the words I hear on the playground, and the hurt I see in others around me that many others do the same thing.  And I am reminded of a unit I teach in grade seven about developing countries, and an activity that was once sent to me from an NGO whose mission it is to change impressions of many African countries in particular.  And the activity was called, "What's RIGHT with this picture?" and it challenged students to look at pictures of people living in what we would consider to be substandard living conditions, existing with what we would consider to be "not enough," and find those things that were joyful and beautiful and LOVE-FUL in those pictures.

I'm going to have to be honest, here.  I am afflicted with pessimism.  There.  I've said it.  I tend to be a "cup-half-empty" person, and I work hard to change this thinking each and every day, but it's hard.  Really, really hard.  And when I've been stuck at home in the deep-freeze Canadian cold with a sick baby for too many days, and my vehicle's in the shop so I can't get out anywhere and I'm a bit too tired still from the holidays but all the OTHER moms seem to have so much energy, what's wrong with ME that I can't even clean my house?! and I'm pre-emptively feeling guilty about sending my kiddo off to daycare in April, and how WILL she manage, she can't even nap on her own yet and isn't anywhere CLOSE to weaning?!, and I just get a little too far into my own head, well then, suddenly, it's quite easy to forget to look for the love.  And suddenly all I'm seeing is my own short-comings, and the flaws in my home, and the guy who didn't use his turn-signal and then honked at ME for being in his way, and the worries about tomorrow, whether justified or not, begin to consume my nights.

But then, in the middle of my wallowings, I manage a trip to the post-office.  And there, in my post box, is a notification that I have a package.  A PACKAGE!  Joyous day!  And when I get that package in my hands, I see that it is from the UK, and I only know one person in the UK, and she already sent me a Christmas card, but then I see it is from a blog friend- a person who I have never met in person, but who is OH, SO BEAUTIFUL of a person, and she has shown me today what is RIGHT with this picture!  And today, good readers, I will show you what LOVE looks like!  It looks like INFLATABLE GLOBES delivered in brown paper packaging!

So THANK YOU, Jingle Bella.  THANK YOU!  And THANK YOU also to Tova and her sister Natasha, who are compiling boxes out on the west coast to send directly from military bases out that way- THANK YOU!!  The globes will be added to the Afghanistan box promptly, which I hope to send out in late February, but they and the correspondence from others of you have already served to teach an important lesson to me- there is so much LOVE in the world, and although our popular media is teaching us to look to what's WRONG in the world, we would do ourselves SO MUCH good to rather look for the LOVE instead.  In the midst of my late January funk, I got to look at what's RIGHT with this picture, and the answer is: SO MUCH.  So much is right.  And this year, 2011, I will do my very best to remember that each and every day.

Keep sending the love!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

and... we're back!

Happy New Year, all of you!

Whew!  I don't know about you, but these holidays SWALLOWED. ME. WHOLE.  Literally, I felt completely encompassed by the happy madness, and the challenges of travelling out of province with a baby to meet relatives and friends were both exciting and nerve-wracking.  BUT, we survived, and it seems we are finally settling back into "real life" as we know it, at least for now (although the poor babe is a little worse for wear- at the moment, she is trying to sleep off a mild fever and little upset stomach which I'm certain is residual from the busy-ness of the last month or so!).   So, for those of you who have contacted me, THANK YOU, and I have done my best to reply as best I could between the social obligations and events, and to those who haven't and who perhaps suspected I had fallen off the end of the Earth, I'M HERE, and ready for action now that the new year is well underway!

So, first a shout out to TOVA!!  She is a total superstar, and has already compiled and maybe even shipped a box from British Columbia, so THANK YOU for that!!

As for the rest of us, if you are feeling refreshed and ready, then I'm ready to go at my end!  Let's fill some boxes, shall we?!  I'm delivering a few diaper boxes to my school next week with instructions for my co-workers to start filling.  I'm also going to get into my classroom and clean up some shelves to see what I can send.  If you're in Canada, build a box of your own and send it FOR FREE from your own military resource centre or base!  And if you have something light-weight that you don't mind sending to me, I'll throw it in a box Kandahar-bound for you!  My details again:

Box 135
Sanford, MB
R0G 1K0

I don't have much else to say, for now.  My brain is still a bit doughy, I think, from gingerbread and egg-nog residue, no doubt, but if you have questions, concerns, encouragement, love, or stories to tell, write to me!  Let's make 2011 about love and good things!

Sending warm thoughts your way- you folks are amazing!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Love Came Down

So much, SO MUCH to tell, and yet, so difficult to get started.  How does one begin to unravel a miracle?

It was less than one week ago when I was nudged (!!) to get going on a second box to my friend D in Kandahar, and SO MUCH has happened since then.  I am steeped in the wonder of it all, as it is growing so much bigger than me, and I think I knew from the start that it might, and so I was afraid... but I am slowly beginning to learn that when I feel that twinge of fear, it is really a call to participate.  I am blessed to be in a place in my life where I can hear that call, as it is too often easy to get lost in the busyness of life and stay well away from those quiet but insistent nigglings.  This blog was a leap, and in response, I have received generosity, kindness, excitement, LOVE, and it is indeed swallowing me up, and it is wonderful.  So THANK YOU to those who have already taken your own leaps in contacting me, and to those of you who are hearing in the niggling voice and who think you MIGHT contact me, and to those of you who are cheering us on from your keyboards and sending your love that way.  We are part of something BIG, and we are SO LUCKY for that!  So thanks for all who have joined us for the ride!

So, the news.  Well, I may have mentioned that box #1 was send a week and a half ago- some time around the 13th of December.  D said it would probably take at least a month to get to her, but with it being around the holidays, it would likely take a bit longer.  Early this week I wrote to her to ask her a few questions that some of you have been asking me, so I wasn't surprised to get a note in my inbox this morning from her.  I was, however, stunned into silence when her first line read: "Your package arrived this morning IN RECORD TIME..." (emphasis mine).  Nine days.  It took nine days.  How does a package that is about the size and weight of a microwave make its way to Toronto and then to Kandahar- from Winnipeg- in nine days?  The week before Christmas?  If that isn't a miracle, I don't know what is!  So the great news is that D has apple cider and hot chocolate mixes and shampoo and body wash and chocolates in time for Christmas, and that just makes this whole endeavour even more incredible.  And she also had some news:

Your package arrived this morning in record time. It was fantastic!! This is exactly the kind of things that I had in mind, and I can assure you they will be put to good use. One of the ideas we're kicking around at the moment is a teacher training program, so these resources will come in handy. The wonderful little treats you threw in for me will be savoured! Thank you so much.

I am now liaising with CIDA and they are buliding 50 schools in the area and have a plan to train 3000 teachers. Whatever you send will be useful to someone. 

Fifty schools!  Three THOUSAND teachers!  My people need books!  Now again, I have already heard from some of you, and you had some questions.  Tova- you were wondering about sending from elsewhere in Canada.  And Sharyn, you were asking about languages and language resources.  Those questions are addressed here:   

I believe the package can be dropped off at any military institution - base or reserve unit. I know there are quite a few possibilities in Vancouver. In short, the answer is yes, so please feel free to share my address.

The kids here speak Pashto. Language resources? Pashto? ESL resources? I'm sure both would be useful.

And, to Jingle Bella, your website information is AWESOME, so thanks so much for that!  I'll be doing some reading, printing and sending from that site for sure, and I'll send the web link directly to D so she can access it, too.  Anyone else who has a link to an especially helpful teacher resources site with free printable activities, etc, please share!  

So, in the final days before the holiest of days, we have been embraced with love.  Thank you, all.  As to next steps, I think we will all be busy enjoying our families and our friends over the coming days, and so we needent stress ourselves additionally by rushing this.  The seeds have been planted.  Lets care for ourselves, and resume in the new year.

If you are dying to mail me things for the box (Jingle Bella- your inflatable globe idea is brilliant!  Can't wait for those!), you can pop it in the post: 

Jennifer Wiebe
Box 135
Sanford, MB
R0G 2J0

If you live in Canada and would like to assemble your own box to send, email me for D's mailing address which I now have permission to share privately:

And now, some final words from D:

Thank you so much for putting this together. I can't help but feel a little guilty for venting my frustrations on you. Please thank anyone and everyone who helped you put this package together.

You're a star.

This guilt we feel for opening ourselves up to love-  I assured D that my motives were mostly selfish.  How wonderful does it feel to do something great?  To be part of something bigger than ourselves?  To make meaning?   

Have a blessed and joyous holiday, and we'll see each other in the new year.  Love wins, G.  You were right!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

To Kandahar, With Love

There is something deliciously ironic about a Menno-girl's first-ever blog-post being about Canadian troops serving in Afghanistan, and since I still can't quite believe this string of events, I'd best start at the beginning, where all good stories start.

(You may have already noticed that I have a penchant for run-on sentences with embedded clauses.  You might as well also know that I am particularly fond of the ellipse.  If these habits don't drive you to madness, then we can continue with this relationship).

So, that begs the question: which beginning should be started at?  A brief history of Anabaptists?  Martin Luther and the Wittenberg Door?  Canada's role in Afghanistan?  I think in order to get to the point, I'm going to assume a working knowledge in all of these areas, and if you haven't that, suffice it to say that my people, traditionally, have taken the words "blessed are the peacemakers" to heart, and have therefore refused to have anything whatsoever to do with the military.  Historically, this has been a tough stance to take (which is largely the reason my people moved to Canada, where we could NOT go to war AND farm acres and acres of land.  It was a pretty good deal, actually).  In more recent (and tolerant) years, however, it has also become a convenient "out" when things get tough overseas (as in, "Well, I don't support military action ANYway, so what do I have to say about it?")

Suffice it to say, when it's come to "supporting troops" and all that, I've admittedly fallen back on my history, and managed to mostly get away with recognizing Remembrance Day as a day to mourn the existence of war in a purely philosophical sense, and leave the recognition of troops to other folks.

Then I got a job in a Middle School, where I had the privilege of meeting a strong, ambitious, incredible educator who had served in Afghanistan as a Canadian Peacekeeper.  (I shall call her D for our purposes, as I'm not sure about sharing identities on this blog thing yet...).  I had never personally known anyone who had served, and although she largely kept to herself, she commanded this *presence* wherever she went.  I was in awe of her, and she made me wonder what compelled a young, intelligent, talented woman to put herself in such a place.  To do the kind of work she had done.  To see what she had seen.  I kept my distance, but was curious.  Frankly, her quiet strength intimidated me.

Whenever Remembrance Day rolled around and our school held its obligatory service, she wore her uniform and stood, stoically, at the back of the gym.  She didn't participate- although she mostly kept to herself, she did confide once that she simply found it too difficult to do so- but she certainly forced me to think very carefully about what this day actually meant to so many people.  Real people, and not just people from seventy years ago.  People my age, today.  Families and children and young people burdened with the realities of that place- realities I can hardly imagine.

Halfway through my second year of teaching, D suddenly announced to our principal that she was re-enlisting in the military.  She was hoping to be deployed back to Afghanistan by the end of the year.  It came as a huge surprise to all of us, and we were very sorry to be losing such a talented educator.  But, it seems, she felt her heart was there, and she felt called to go back to see what she could do to help.  She gave up her condo, sold all her belongings, and by the next fall, she was gone.  We "friended" on facebook, she left our school, I got pregnant and eventually went on maternity leave.  Between learning to be mom to a newborn while simultaneously keeping a house and meeting other moms, I have to admit that I didn't think much about her for a long time.

Fast-forward one year, to about four weeks ago.  I am at home with my nine-month-old daughter and finding myself online more than not at times in my "me time" moments, as I have found myself joining online moms' groups and networking with others who know more about this mom thing than I do.  In my wanderings, I came across the blog of a wonderfully energetic and incredibly generous woman by the name of Glennon (check out Momastery if you haven't already- you won't be sorry).  Her stories of kindness, generosity, and just her LOVE inspired me.  She made me feel like taking a risk of kindness is WORTH it.  That maybe more people just need to TAKE that risk once in a while.

It was Remembrance Day.  November 11th.  I thought of D over there in Afghanistan- the only person who I personally know "out there."  We were facebook friends, so I decided, with some trepidation, to write her a note.  This was hard for me- remember, this STRONG person intimidated me!  I am a somewhat self-conscious pacifist girl!  What do I have to say to this woman who gave up all her earthly comforts to do... whatever she does out there?  I wrote and rewrote in my head what I wanted to say to her, and finally settled on a few short sentences: Thinking of you, D. You managed to shift how I think about Nov 11, and I'm sure many former students and staff could say the same. So thanks for that, and for what you do out there. 

I felt nervous as I hit "send."  She will think it's lame, I thought.  Ah, well.  Done.  And I pushed it out of my mind as I enjoyed an unexpected mid-week day with my husband at home on our peaceful rural property.

And it stayed pushed out of my mind for about a week before a reply sudden appeared in my inbox.  I had, it seems, opened a floodgate.  What follows is excerpts of our conversation:

You have no idea how much I appreciate your message, and I am absolutely delighted that you took the time to write and acknowledge what I am doing here. You are the only one who has.

I am running a one-room school here in Afghanistan. I have 87 students (all boys as it is still unsafe for girls to attend school) in one class and they range between 5 -16. Additionally, I collect donations of school supplies, clothing, toiletries etc and, with the help of soldiers, get them to orphanges, hospitals, schools (including clandestine schools for girls), and even prisons in the area. It's great work for the soul.

I live on the NATO Kandahar Airfield camp. Although it is relatively safe, we are rocketed quite often with the worst being 12 times in one day, and we get the odd suicide bomber working their way onto to camp. It probably sounds worse than it is.

If you are keen to help, I have a special request. We get plenty of school supplies (pencils, pens, crayons etc), but nothing in the way of educational resources. There is no need to canvass friends for money or donations. Here is a very simple wishlist to give you some ideas.

* One of those 1001 science experiments type books would be worth its weight in gold. Something with simple experiments using things around the home.

*Any ideas for math activities like the fabulous hands-on activities G used to have her classes do.

*Coaching and Phys.ed resources.

*Educational posters for the wall would be a want rather than a need, but the walls are completely bare.

Basically, anything that will help me plan and deliver an educational program for these kids. I teach all subjects at all levels, and not one of my students speaks English. As an educator, I'm sure you can appreciate my challenge. "

Well, of course I had to help.  The humanity in me wanted her to know that people out here CARE.  And we want those kids to learn so that maybe they can bring the peace that their country so desperately needs.  I felt like some pretence had been stripped away- we were two teachers talking about a big dilemma, and I could help.  Not only that, my pacifist beliefs were compelling me to BRING PEACE by DOING SOMETHING- find resources!  Send them!  Help D to do the job she is compelled to do!  She is willing to put herself out there- to DO what I myself can not.

One box has been assembled and sent- the military offers free shipping, so I collected what I could from teacher-friends of mine.  I also included some recharger items for D- hot drink mixes, lotion, shampoos and soaps.  We teachers all know that to be good for our students, we have to take care of ourselves too. But then, I felt I should share this story with Glennon and the Momastery folks, to thank them for giving me the courage to BE KIND, and do take a risk to do something for someone who needs it.  Can you imagine my surprise when THEY wanted to help me to assemble the next box!!

So, readers, if you have made it this far, then this is where you come in.  You can be part of this journey!  We can make a difference to the boys that D directly teaches, and to those girls who have to study in private.  We can give a little to do so much more out there.  It's incredible to me, what small measure of kindness it takes to mean so much to someone else.  For we introverts, this can be a bit of a leap, but even confident extroverts need kindness now and again.  And even more than that, there are kids whose brains are primed for learning, and our resources could make a huge difference to their futures.

So write me.  Let me know if you have something you want to give.  If you are a teacher or a parent or just a concerned person and you have access to resources, please send them my way.  Anything that has lesson ideas, basic activities, pictures, maps, or the like- great!  The last box contained many science experiment books, so books in other subject areas would be of help.  And if you have anything "fun" that would make classroom life more enjoyable, that would be appreciated as well.

I look forward to getting to know you all- as the Momastery folks have demonstrated and continue to demonstrate to me, this Internet thing is a powerful tool.  I'm so amazed that so much can come from the hearts and keyboards of incredible people.  Until next time,