Friday, December 19, 2014

Our 2014 Christmas letter

(photo taken in June 2014 at the 80th birthday party for Richard's mom, Audrey)

Best wishes for a blessed Christmas and New Year
from the Prinsen family

Our annual Christmas letter comes to you in virtual form this year.  Because of a combination of life circumstances and ever-rising postage costs, I sent out only a handful of Christmas cards -- yet still wanted to send greetings to everyone and give a brief update of what has gone on with our family in 2014.

It has been a difficult year for our family in many ways.  The year began with Richard's brother Doug having major surgery for colon cancer, followed by six months of chemotherapy.  He has made a good recovery, and we're all very thankful.

On Easter weekend our family went to PEI to spend a week with my parents.  We don't normally travel there in the spring, but we had a sense that it was important to see my parents more frequently than just once a year.  That inner prompting seems so significant now, because when we went again to PEI in August for our usual summer vacation, my mom was feeling very unwell and had to be admitted to the hospital.  After extensive testing she was found to have stage 4 liver cancer.  She spent four weeks in hospital and came home to her and Dad's new apartment for a couple of weeks before her death on September 28.  (I've written in more depth about all this in several other blog posts -- see Oct. 13, Oct. 20, Oct. 30, and Nov. 24 -- so I won't repeat all of those details here.)

As you can imagine, I've been reflecting a lot on how quickly our lives can change and how important it is to prioritize family and other significant relationships.  It's also important to make and cherish good memories when we can.  And sometimes those memories will be of things we didn't consider especially significant at the time.  My best, last memory of my mom when she was well comes from our April trip:  she and Allison and I went to see the musical "Happy Days" performed at my former high school, and all three of us laughed from start to finish.  It was a great evening, and a special moment preserved in time.

As Christmas comes closer, I feel the absence of my mom more strongly.  Although we usually didn't see each other at Christmas, we would chat on the phone about gifts and plans.  Last Sunday Richard and Allison and I went to the Barra MacNeils' Christmas show here in Kingston, and I thought how much my mom would have loved such a concert.  I said to a friend, "She'd have been in heaven!" and my friend said wryly, "Well ... she is."  And we talked about how maybe those who are in the presence of God don't have the space/time limitations we have here on earth -- that maybe Mom was there enjoying the music right along with us.  How the tears would have filled her eyes (as they did mine) when the group sang 

"For auld lang syne, my jo, for auld lang syne, 
we'll tak a cup o' kindness yet, for auld lang syne."

There were some highlights to our year, too, however.  Even in the midst of my mom's illness in August, I was able to attend a reunion weekend for the New Christian Singers, a musical group I was part of when I was in my teens.  We had a social and sharing evening, and it was so uplifting -- especially given what our family was going through -- to hear people talk about God's faithfulness in their lives over the past 30-40 years.  We also performed three concerts (I sang in two), and the tears and laughter flowed as we sang old familiar songs together and met past friends and acquaintances.

Still on the musical theme -- but in sharp contrast -- Allison and I went to the Rogers Centre in Toronto this summer to see the British singing group One Direction.  We went with Allison's friend Alex and her mom Juliann, who obtained the tickets for us.  It was quite an experience to hear 50,000 girls screaming when the boys took the stage.  What a blast!

As for what's going on with each of us individually:

Richard continues to work at Kingston General as a nurse and at Queen's University as a clinical nursing instructor.  He still runs regularly, plays soccer, softball, and squash, and volunteers with the Run & Read program and at Circle of Friends at our former church.  He was such an amazing support during my mom's illness, taking over with the kids while we were in PEI in August and also making it possible for me to go down for a week on my own just before Mom died.  I appreciate him so much.

I'm still working as an online writing instructor at Queen's, doing some blogging and creative writing (although that's taken a bit of a back seat this summer and fall), and participating in two women's studies at church, a writing group, and a book study group.

Richard and I also both celebrated our 50th birthdays this year, which I wrote about here and here.

Allison is in grade 11 and having a good year.  She is in concert band, and we love hearing her play her clarinet and seeing how much she's progressed in the last couple of years.  (Last week was the school's Evening of the Arts and Allison performed with her band as well as being one of the MC's for the evening.)  She continues to do a lot of reading and writing, attends a social club and church youth group, and volunteers weekly with Richard at the Run & Read program.

Jonathan is in grade 7 and enjoying school with the support of his awesome E.A., Joe O'Connor ("Mr. O").  Although Jonathan still enjoys many of the same pursuits he always has, such as jigsaw puzzles, DVD's, and "yellow-blue-red" (see photo), he is becoming more independent and showing more pre-teen tendencies.  He can be a challenge at times but he is also very loving, and his enjoyment of simple pleasures reminds us to take time to enjoy life too.

May your Christmas or other holiday celebrations be full of joy and wonder, 
and may 2015 be your best year yet.  
Love and best wishes,
Jeannie, Richard, Allison and Jonathan

Monday, December 15, 2014

December "Quick Lit"

Today I'm linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy's "Quick Lit" (formerly "Twitterature") post, where we share short reviews of what we've been reading.

Pastrix:  The Cranky, Beautiful Faith
of a Sinner and Saint
  Nadia Bolz-Weber
 I really enjoyed this moving and funny memoir.  In her youth, Bolz-Weber rejected her fundamentalist faith, becoming an alcoholic and stand-up comedian.  After God interrupted her life, she entered recovery; when a fellow AA member died, her status as the only religious person in the group made her the default person to conduct the funeral -- and she soon felt called to be "a pastor to her people."  She now leads a church in Denver called The Church of All Saints and Sinners.  In this book Bolz-Weber describes the stages in her journey and the way God meets her and continues to change her through her ministry experiences.   (Warning:  language.)


Road Ends 
 Mary Lawson
I loved Lawson's first book, Crow Lake, and liked her second, The Other Side of the Bridge, but found this one only OK.  The book alternates between the perspectives of three members of the Cartwright family in small-town Ontario:  father Edward, who is haunted by his past and overwhelmed by his present; son Tom, who is stuck in grief over a friend's death; and daughter Megan, who escapes the responsibilities of home by fleeing to England.  Their individual subplots are sort of interesting, but for me they never really come together to create one strong story line.

Currently reading:  Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth.  I've been enjoying the BBC series by the same name, about midwives in the London dockyards in the 1950's, so I thought I'd read the memoir on which it is based.

On Dec. 31 I'll post my complete reading list from 2014.  (If you're interested, check out my previous lists from 20132012, 2011, and 2010.)

Friday, November 28, 2014

"Airport" post is over at Laura Droege's blog today

My recent post "Airport parable" is being reblogged over at Laura Droege's blog today.  I appreciate all of Laura's thoughtful and honest writing and would encourage you to check out some of her posts and see for yourself.

(Thanks, Laura!)

Monday, November 24, 2014

Airport parable

On Sunday, September 28, I arrived at Charlottetown airport at 4:45 a.m. to catch my 6:00 a.m. flight to Montreal.  I had probably slept for no more than fifteen minutes total the previous night:  a combination of flying anxiety, worry about oversleeping through my alarm, and sadness had contributed to my sleeplessness.  

I had said goodbye to my mom just a short time before.  Dad and I sat by her bed for a few minutes, and then I had to wake her and tell her I was leaving.  She tried to speak to me, but couldn't articulate any words.  It didn't matter.  I will never forget those moments.  I knew this was the last time I would see her on this side of eternity, though I didn't know that she would die only 18 hours later. 

My brother drove me to the airport.  I had naively thought there would be only a few passengers on such an early flight -- but instead the airport was hopping with activity (at least as hopping as Charlottetown Airport can be).  A flight for Toronto left just before ours, and then we boarded.  The plane was full; there were quite a few families with small children chatting about their destination in Guadalajara, Mexico.  

We took off, the cabin lights were dimmed so people could snooze, and quiet descended.  It was a clear, calm, starry morning.  Even at our maximum flying altitude I could see the lights on the ground below.  I stared down at the sparkling patterns, letting my mind wander -- and wonder:  was I was the only person on the plane who had just parted from a loved one for the last time on this earth?

We touched down in Montreal after a perfectly smooth flight -- a welcome contrast to my flight to Charlottetown a week earlier, which had had a rough descent.  We deplaned, disembarked, or got off, depending on what terminology you prefer, and started the long hike from our gate, following the "Connections" and "Baggage" signs.  I avoided the moving sidewalk and chose the aisle between the two sidewalks, just for the sake of a little exercise.  People flooded past me on both sides.

We all converged at the bottom of a staircase and when we climbed to the top, a "Baggage" sign directed us straight ahead, and "Connections" went off to the left.  I had one suitcase to pick up, so I walked through the automatic doors toward the Baggage area.

Suddenly I was alone.

Yes, it was 7:00 a.m. on a Sunday -- but still.  Everyone else was gone.  Was I the only person on my flight not making a connection or heading straight to the exit?

I walked over to the luggage carousel corresponding to my flight.  The screen said bags would be out in 15 minutes.  So I did what any good Canadian would do at 7:00 in the morning:  I went to Tim Hortons and bought myself a coffee.  After drinking it, I wandered back to the baggage area.  A woman sat on a bench some distance away, texting on her phone; a couple of businessman types stood chatting by a counter.  I hoped I hadn't made some mistake about where I was supposed to pick up my bag.

Then the carousel belt started moving, and out came ... 

my suitcase.

Was I the only person who had checked a suitcase through for that flight?

I had decorated my suitcase with two yellow ribbons to make sure it wouldn't get mixed up with all of the other black luggage -- but apparently I needn't have worried.  I grabbed it (looking around a little self-consciously) and headed back to the main airport concourse, where the bustle and activity of the day had already begun.  I was going home, and the sorrow of what I was leaving behind was already becoming mixed with anticipation for seeing Richard and the kids again.

In the last eight weeks, three people I know have died.  Of course, my dear mom died on the 28th of September, having been diagnosed with cancer just six weeks earlier.  Then a close friend of Mom and Dad's, whose family I've known all my life, had a massive stroke in late October and died a few days later.  A week ago my sister-in-law's mom, a wonderful woman, died after a three-year battle against cancer.  So I've been thinking a lot lately about the mystery that death is, yet I don't feel I understand it any better than before I was brought so close to it.  No one escapes death, but everyone's path is different:  some people have time to prepare themselves and their loved ones, while for others it is so sudden and unforeseen.  

Yet right now I'm imagining that death is a bit like that experience I had in the airport.  We're moving along through life, surrounded by other people -- family, friends, strangers -- and then all at once we're redirected.  As if a voice says, "Everyone else is going that way ... but actually, you're coming this way."  We look around, watching the crowd disappear in a different direction, and we feel so alone.  The voice speaking to us is a gentle one, though, accompanied by a guiding hand on the elbow to let us know that it's going to be OK -- and that we won't be going on alone.  I find it comforting to think that God is with us every moment of the journey and at our destination.  

For all three of those women, God was the destination.  Now they know what the rest of us who remain on earth can only imagine with our finite minds.  I Corinthians 2:9 says that “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.”  So I know my imagined picture of the process is a poor substitute for the unimaginable reality.  But for now I'll draw hope and reassurance from these mundane sketches.


Saturday, November 15, 2014

November "Twitterature"

Today I'm linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy's monthly "Twitterature" post, where we share short reviews of what we've been reading.

This month I read two books by Brene Brown:  

- The Gifts of Imperfection:  Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are  

- Daring Greatly:  How The Courage To Be Vulnerable Transforms The Way We Live, Love, Parent, And Lead
I was pleased to hear our pastor quote from Daring Greatly twice in the last month.  Although Brown's books are not  from an overtly Christian perspective, they have a strong spiritual element.  Brown is a shame researcher, and in both of these books she discusses the things that keep us from living wholeheartedly -- such as feelings of shame, fear, scarcity, and unworthiness.  Daring Greatly is the newer of the two and is the one I've seen mentioned in many recent "Twitteratures"; it focuses particularly on how practicing vulnerability can help us live more courageous, authentic lives.  I liked both books very much, though I found Daring Greatly's tone a little over-the-top at times:  some of her expressions seem cutesy (such as "Gremlin Ninja Warrior Training" to combat shame), and her frequent references to "my dear friend [name famous writer/researcher here]" start to wear a bit thin.  I suppose this is mainly a function of her excitement about her work, and in any case it's a minor criticism.  Both books are very powerful and practical, and I had many "Been there, felt that" moments as I read them.

I also read Lila by Marilynne Robinson.  This novel follows her books Gilead (in which elderly minister John Ames reflects on his life, his relationship with God, and his legacy to his young son) and Home (which is about Ames' friend Robert Boughton, Boughton's daughter Glory who comes home to care for him in his old age, and his prodigal son Jack).  Lila is the story of Ames' wife, an orphan who has lived a life of loneliness and destitution before wandering into Ames' church and hearing him preach.  She marries him, but learning to trust him -- and his God -- is a slow process.  This is a beautifully written and very moving book that reflects on themes of God's grace and the eternal destiny of those we love.