March 2012

We were up and going by three on Tuesday morning to catch a flight to Singapore for a quick visit with the TWR staff there. There is still some sorting, reassignments and much ongoing learning underway as a result of the restructuring process but a definite sense of anticipation of a very positive future. The new Directors, Daryl and Gaynelle have settled in and done a great job of building relationships with the staff. Gaynelle hosted a Ladies Tea on Wednesday which gave me a great opportunity to get to know her and to visit with the ladies. Mel is on her way back to her husband in Texas after a few months placement in Singapore so I had an opportunity to say farewell to her. She will be missed in the office but will contunue to work from home.

TWR Global has recently created a new position of Chief Personnel Officier and appointed Rick Weston to that role. Rick and Cathy were in Singapore for a few days to meet the team, and assess the impact of restructuring to understand the needs and issues of the field staff. They treated us to a lovely lunch in appreciation of the work that goes on in Singapore. I enjoyed the chance to get to know them and to chat about my continuing role with TWR. It was a pretty busy time in the office but a very important time for all involved.

Enjoyed breakfast with Su Min and Sing Yu to catch up on the progress in Cambodia and caught an early afternoon flight home in time to have a relaxed dinner with Steve. It is all good.

Happy Birthday, Abi

Love to you from Grandma and Grandpa.

Last night we had dinner with our missionary friends Beth and Stephen at Lotus Blanc in Phnom Penh. They have been working in Cambodia with an organization which seeks to rescue women and young girls caught in the cycle of poverty and prostitution that forms the seedy underbelly of Cambodia’s tourist trade. You see these creeps all the time on the streets over here: fat bellied, balding Westerners leading some poor Cambodian waif down the street like a lamb to the slaughter. Every once in while the government secures a conviction against one of these sexual predators, but for every one convicted there are a hundred that get away.

The only real solution is to provide a decent income that doesn’t depend upon such desperate measures. That is what this restaurant and many other street level businesses and ministries do. Beth and Stephen are part of that process of emancipation from sexual slavery, and it was our privilege to share a meal with them and talk about things of mutual interest.

They are from our neck of the woods, Southwestern Ontario, and are of a similar age and experience to ourselves. Like us they find it difficult to find friends at home that share their interests. They are happy to talk about their neighbour’s golf scores and the game on television last night, but when the conversation turns to the needs of the unfortunate in far off places in the world, their friend’s eyes glaze over and their manner becomes distinctly chill. This is something we face every time we go home as well. Our family and close friends are understanding, but there are so many who just don’t get it and treat us like we are some kind of rare and unmentionable disease.

Pam shared with us the story of an acquaintance of hers who confessed a desire to serve the Lord in a foreign land, but felt that it was quite out of the question as she happened to like her children and grandchildren! In her mind the absence of such feelings fully explained Pam’s bizarre behavior in living halfway around the world. I am glad I was not privy to that conversation for I would have not had my wife’s grace in turning the other cheek!

Beneath the humour and the shared camaraderie, the thankfulness for email, Facebook, Skype and other forms of electronic communication, lies the heartache of being so far away from those we love. It is a situation that every missionary faces, no matter how well they are supported by those at home. Pam hides her grief as well as she can, for she knows that her happiness or lack of it weighs on me terribly. For myself? Well, I am a man, and we males compartmentalize pretty well, so I just keep those feelings buried as best I can. If I stopped to think of how much I am missing of my children’s and grandchildren’s lives, I wouldn’t be able to carry on.

In an eternity yet to come, we will share with our children and grandchildren all that we have missed. We will listen to their laughter and share in their joy and adventure. Christ will wipe away every tear, and heal every sorrow. He will affirm His call on our lives and explain patiently to those who condemn our service to Him that it was not callous disinterest in our families that brought us here, but an act of love and devotion to Him, and to a hurting world. And perhaps we will see how our own sorrowing hearts have been made more useful to Him in reaching those He loves in South-East Asia.

We are thoroughly enjoying this season of life in which we get to be parents of adult children which is, I might add,  much easier than being the parents of teenagers. There is real joy in seeing your family growing and enriched by new additions, without the pain and sleepless nights of childbirth.

Grandkids are a wonderful blessing but so too are those young adults that your children marry. Both Jon’s wife Nicole, and Liz’s husband, Greg, are just exactly the people that Steve and I prayed and hoped our children would marry: people that both enrich and fulfil our children’s lives.

Below is a little story told by Liz in a recent post on her blog, which gives some insight into the type of husband Greg is and why we are so thankful that he is part of our family.

Reason #185 Why I Love My Husband

Maybe a little background first so this all makes a little more sense: I usually take my engagement ring off at night to sleep. My fingers swell at night, and also the blankets get caught up on my diamonds. So I keep the wedding band on but I put the engagement ring in its box on my nightstand.

Due to my body’s continuing acts of mutiny, recently I’ve been feeling like a miserable, unattractive old prune. Which, needless to say, has made me more than a little insecure. But instead of being dismissive, or annoyed which is what I would probably be, each morning this week my amazing and incredibly supportive husband has picked up my ring and held my hand and asked me to marry him. Being proposed to by the man I love before the sun is even up every morning is a fantastic start to what would have been some hard days.

Of such kindnesses are long and healthy marriages made.

Pam is back in Cambodia for a series of meetings to continue to develop her community health and outreach initiative. I am simply on March Break and tagging along because Phnom Penh is such a neat city and a nice break from KL. Yes, I know, it is a strange life when one calls getting out of Kuala Lumpur a break from the routine. I do recognize the irony.

Phnom Penh continues to surprise me each time I come here, which is about once a year. Pam talks about the improvements she sees on her frequent visits, but it is hard to gauge without actually being here. There is a median divider down the middle of the main road leading from the airport into town now, eliminating the always dangerous stream of traffic that used to flow over into the oncoming lane, and there is even an overpass on the busiest intersection. This main thoroughfare is now cleaner and more ordered than many Malaysian roads. Will wonders never cease!

We are staying in a nice little guest house in a part of town known locally as NGO-land. Most of Pam’s contacts and colleagues are close by, and it will give her an opportunity to check out some venues for next year’s conference held this year in Manila. Like most hotels in town, this one is under construction; expanding to meet the demand for the increasing number of tourists who are now flooding into Cambodia from all over the world, drawn by its fascinating history and unspoiled beaches and natural beauty.

Pam’s schedule is not so tight that she and I won’t get some time together. We just recently celebrated thirty-four years of marriage and you don’t get to say that unless you take time over the years to do things that you both enjoy together. Two of those things have always been a love for the wide diversity of peoples and cultures in this world, and a desire to help those who are less fortunate than ourselves have a chance to achieve some level of personal health, safety, success and peace. Hopefully this week we will have a chance to do both of these things.

Last night we took a walk down to Sisowath Quay to a really nice restaurant overlooking the Mekong and had a very pleasant time listening to some local music while we watched the Khmer fisherman ply their ancient boats along the water. Ocean going boats can travel up the Mekong as far as Phnom Penh, a distance of 550 kilometers, using the tidal surge from the ocean to assist them. Every six hours the river changes direction, now flowing out to the sea, making this a very dangerous stretch of the river, as the deaths of nine dragon boat rowers a few years ago proved.

This morning after a very nice latte and fruit salad for breakfast we went out to church at a small Anglican church around the corner and heard a very sound sermon preached by the Anglican minister of the International Church in Phnom Penh, Peter Warren. We invited a young German couple and their two small children for lunch afterward and chatted about Germany, missions and their hopes for ministry in Cambodia. Tomorrow Pam will get down to work in earnest and I will do some planning for my next unit on Drama. We are both looking forward to the week.

My worst mark in university was Art. I don’t even know why I took it, except for the fact that it was my third semester in a row and I had to cover six subjects in order to make up for one I’d had to drop in second semester as it was destroying my average. Ironically my Art mark did even worse damage, so it was a bad decision all around.

My dear departed father-in-law, aside from being the closest thing to a Christian saint that I have ever known, was also a pretty competent artist. His last few still-lifes were testimony to the growing development of an idiosyncratic style. His teapots had a Van Gogh-like sinuousness to them that I found very appealing. I will never approach his talent, and indeed have trouble with anything beyond a tedious replication of detail.

So I understand that when I announced to my classes that we would celebrate the conclusion of our study of Life of Pi by spending the day drawing illustrations for the book, some cheered, while others let out audible groans of dismay. However, Asian students are generally game for anything, and most tackled the assignment with enthusiasm. Some brought in snacks, I put on a little Norah Jones, and we eased into the March Break in a cheerful mood.

Life of Pi is a wonderful little book, full of wise insights into the human condition. We are not finished with it yet, as my students have to whip their three arguments into a second draft over the holiday. But we are done with the study, and I’d have to say that we are all a little wiser for the experience. If you haven’t yet read Yann Martell’s intriguing and many-layered story of survival, you are in for a rare reading treat.

Sidewalks are not just for walking, you can also:

Stephen Schwartz has been around a long time; long enough to have written music for Godspell, Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Enchanted and a dozen other successful stage and movie musicals. So when he decided to stage Gregory Maguire’s reinvisioning of The Wizard of Oz from the perspective of the two witches, the cognoscenti were agog with anticipation. They were not disappointed; Wicked has broken box office records all around the world. Eight years after its opening in New York the musical has finally arrived in Singapore, and last night we went to see it.

As far as our attendance at musicals go, it has been a long dry spell for both of us. We did see Chicago a couple of years back when it hit the cinemas, but the last live show we saw was Phantom of the Opera in Toronto as a present for our daughter’s thirteen birthday.

Phantom was great show, but plot-wise there really wasn’t much to the story. The Wizard of Oz, on the other hand, was already a great story. But once you start to add layers of plot nuance and character twist, as Schwartz does, it becomes a narrative feast. Add to that some delightfully whimsical costumes, a darkly rich set, some imaginative choreography and the music of arguably the best lyricist on the planet, and you have a spectacular show. We loved every lyrical minute.

We also loved the setting along the south side of Marina Bay. There is a fabulous new hotel there, The Sands, with its boat like upper deck, and lovely new mall on the ground levels with walkways and vistas of this increasingly beautiful city. We sat and soaked in the casual ambience for a while before we went for dinner at Sky 57.

Dinner was a hoot. We decided we would go for a sampling of the chef’s special courses and we agreed that we would split a portion as neither of us was particularly hungry. It is good thing we weren’t, for none of the courses would have satisfied the hunger of a three year old child. The potatoes that came with the lamb were particularly notable. They were cut so small that it would have taken a dozen or more to fill a teaspoon. Which would have been fine except the portion was less than that, perhaps five or six of these little things. Admittedly they were tasty. Briefly. The same could be said for the soup. It was delicious for the three spoonfuls they presented us in an enormously oversized bowl. And on it went. If it weren’t for the endless supply of rolls we would have both left hungry.

But I am being unkind. The service was lovely and the view of the city unmatched­­. The company was delightful and the occasion – Pam’s birthday – was special to both of us. We drank it all in, laughed as decorously as civility allowed at all the silly miniscule servings, and generally had a very happy time together. Oh yes. There was the matter of the gift. Perhaps Pam will have the opportunity to wear it sometime soon and you may see it for yourself!

First and foremost, I feel like an imposter because when I think about my age, I have to say that with the exception of a few aches and pains, I don’t feel much different than I did thirty years ago. The number of my birthday never much bothered me but I did get a real shock when our son turned thirty!  Me the mother of a 30 year old? Only then did I start to think about growing old.

What I have come to appreciate most about growing older, both in years and in my relationship with the Lord is that the more often I share the details of my life, the more I see His hand through it all. As I look back over the years, I am constantly reminded of the love of God, who orchestrated the events of my life, protected me and shaped me into the woman I am today.  I am so happy that God had a purpose for me and that He felt it worthwhile to carefully guide me through it.  I am saved by God’s amazing grace and wonderfully blessed to bear His name.

As much as I looked forward to being a Grandma, I was totally unprepared for the joy I felt the first time I held the child of my own child.  The love I feel for Ben, Abi and Eli is so different from parental love in that my only responsibility really is to love these children.  It is a love that is pure, with no strings attached and is not about what I should do for them or they for me. When my own Dad passed away, each of his grandchildren said the same thing: “No matter what, I knew Grandpa loved me and would always be there for me”.  Right now we are a half a world away from our grandkids and I miss them terribly and trust that this will not always be the case, but even on Skype they thrill my heart.

Over the last few years I have realized that I need to be more kind to myself, less critical and more accepting of the person that I am. I am trying to learn not to chide myself for the fact that I really am not able to sit through an entire movie, I know nothing about fashion and jewelry, I love to listen to music but can’t tell you who originally sang the song or who covered it, really don’t enjoy a massage or a mani-pedi and that is okay. I am entitled to a read all night, to listen to my favourite music, and dance when I want to.

If the Lord has taught me one thing above all else it is the importance of perseverance. Perseverance is defined as, “the steady persistence in adhering to a course of action, a belief, or a purpose; steadfastness.” People do not by nature persevere. Instead, as soon as something stops being easy, or fun or productive we have a tendency to want to move on. It takes perseverance to make a marriage work, keep it alive and growing deeper. I have learned that our marriage is a relationship of two sinners struggling with God and each other through events and experiences, striving to glorify God through the history that we are making together as we dedicate our times to Him.

We have a history together through marriage, labor and delivery, financial pressures, problems, failures, struggles, and joys. The events of our life together, good and bad, are a testimony to God’s working in our marriage.  God was there in the darkest moments of our marriage and in the happiest times and I love the history that we have built in our lives and in the lives of our children. To have a good marriage takes time; working through problems, enjoying special occasions, coming together in times of sorrow. You must decide to see God in the routine of your marriage. You must determine to persevere.

I can’t escape aging, and clearly I have fewer years ahead of me than behind. However, I want to be able to care for myself and hopefully still care for others for many years yet to come. My thoughts and my attitudes are mine to control and I think that the secret to aging well is to keep thinking young, staying involved in relationships, learning new things, helping others and being continually thankful. Preparation for aging begins early and needs to be intentional; the way you live now – the risks you take, the plans you make – is already determining how you will live out your retirement years.

Ten years from now I’d like to be a gentler, more caring and more knowledgeable person than I am today. I want to be more disciplined, to continue learning and exploring with an open and active mind as long as God allows. Yes, my physical body is failing and someday I am going to die; that is not easy to accept. But with this realization comes a greater freedom and a deeper connection to God. I want to live out whatever days I have left, seeking God, trusting and glorifying Him through humble service and continued prayer, and to encourage younger disciples so that one day I may hear my Father say to me, “Well done.”

Since my youth You have taught me, and to this day I declare Your marvelous deeds.  Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare Your power to the next generation, Your might to all who are to come.

 Psalm 71:17-18