Motorhome Meandering #13: Winterizing an RV is not for the faint of heart. Or for the utterly ignorant. Thanks to the kind and fore-thought-filled soul who called Pastor Ken Douma when Alberta’s temperatures dropped unexpectedly well below zero degrees Celsius. The brief tutorial he provided for Ken and Jer on how to empty Mabel’s water heater in order to prevent such undesirable occurrences as burst pipes or, well, broken water heaters was timely…and deeply, deeply appreciated.
Our final stop in the expanse of beautiful blue sky and big-hearted brothers and sisters in Christ that is Alberta was the town of Edson. Edson-the-Encourager, she shall henceforth be called. Ken Douma is the pastor of the Edson-Peers Christian Reformed Church there and his sermon that Sunday morning gently drifted down upon on me and Jer and wrapped us both in peace. Due to decreasing temperatures and our correspondingly-increasing fears for Mabel’s winter welfare, Ken and his eminently kind and capable wife, Sara, invited us to stay in their home, along with their two sweet daughters, Jamie and Kara. Living alongside this family for a few days was both a balm and a buoyant-blessing and we are thoroughly grateful to all four members of the Douma clan for their welcome and their warmth. Ken and Sara, thank you so much, for absolutely everything. Our last stop in the fine province of Alberta was a fine and fitting one, a benediction as we made our way to our final destination of this cross-Canada trip…
Stunning Smithers! Ohmystars. Ken Vanderhorst, Pastor of Smithers Christian Reformed Church, told Jer that Smithers is known as “the Swiss Alps of Canada,” but this description, apt though it was, did not prepare us for the beauty that is Smithers. The majesty of the mountains, the kaleidescopic colours of the autumn foliage, the glass-like purity of the inland lakes, overwhelmed us with their utter beauty. On top of this sensory delight, Smithers is home to one of Jer’s high school friends, Laura Koopmans (nee Buiter) and thus Smither’s physical beauty was deepened by the simple-yet-oh-so-significant beauty of shared history and sweet friendship. Laura is married to Travis (of the twinkling eyes and deep soul) and they have three delightful children, Teagan, Anna and Ian. In addition to inviting us over for an incredibly delicious meal (that included a curried pork tenderloin and home-made lemon meringue pie unsurpassed by any others I’ve tasted, ever!), it was Laura who began the conversation that led to our homestay for the week: John and Irene Bakker’s gorgeous place on Tyhee Lake.
John and Irene reached out to us with an invitation to stay on their property, so we pulled Mabel up about 20 feet away from the edge of Tyhee Lake, set down the stabilizers and plugged in for the duration of our stay. And what a stay! John and Irene’s generosity knew no bounds and included, but was not limited to, the freedom to use their laundry facilities (sigh), their bathtub/shower, their now-grown children’s big ol’ tub of Lego, their DVD player and a variety of kids’ dvds, Irene’s immense book collection and anything we needed, ever, basically. They also invited us to partake in John’s scrumptious birthday supper the night we arrived, and provided coffee and treats beyond that, in addition to a big jug of potable water, something newly-not-taken-for-granted. Irene took me and the kids hiking, and it was she who accompanied my adrenaline-fueled boy up and around to the top of the trail, as Isaiah’s momma has a phobia of heights and his sister had already fallen on the slippery ground twice and had no desire to traverse any further. She also brought us to see a salmon ladder and taught us about a variety of nature-focused facts over the course of our time together. A home-schooling momma might even term our day with Irene as Field Trip, so much was seen and learned and experienced. ;) Then Irene and John also sent me and Jer out on a date (where we had delicious Mexican food in honour of our 11th wedding anniversary from a month previous) and treated our kids to an evening outdoors, roasting hot dogs and marshmallows and having a grand old outdoors-on-a-summerish-night evening together…
Kiara’s Quote-to-Note summarizes our feelings about John and Irene to perfection:
Editor’s Note: As part of their bedtime routine, our kids choose something specific from the day for which to give thanks. This wee conversation took place during such a time:
Kiara: Dear God. Thank you for…umm, mommy, what’s those people’s names again?
Me: Mr. John and Miss Irene.
Kiara: Oh, right. Thank you God for Mr. John and Miss Irene. They sure are very good people that you have made. Amen.
Furthermore, Mr. John took Isaiah out in his boat on Tyhee Lake to fish for rainbow trout not once, but, twice. And my boy caught two gorgeous rainbows, the first of which Jer filleted and we all feasted on later that night in Mabel, much to the delight of our proud as a peacock progeny! And then to top it all off, Mr. John also took Jer out fishing for steelhead, which is only fitting I reckon, as Smithers is famous for these beautiful fish and draws international anglers. And, I am happy to report, this fishing trip was also successful…
Yup, Jer caught a steelhead, folks! (Well, half-caught it, at any rate. John hooked it, Jer landed it, ain’t no shame in that, right?) No time to fillet and cook this one, but it’s all about bragging rights for these anglers of mine. ;) Sweet, sweet time on the water! John and Irene, thank you for the genuineness, the intentionality and the expansiveness of your hospitality.
And speaking of intentional hospitality, allow me to return to the subject of lovely Laura Koopmans and family. Laura invited Isaiah and Kiara to attend school with her two oldest children, Teagan (Gr. 4) and Anna (Gr. 1/2) for a day. The school was harvesting their garden plot and she thought that would be a special event for my kids to see and experience. So I brought the kids to school that day, fully expecting to stay with them for this event, and then head back with them to Mabel for some home schooling. (Sure. Or maybe for some more episodes of The Backyardigans.) But as soon as I got to the school, it became apparent that my kids were welcome to stay for the entire day. The Administrative Assistant, Wilma, the classroom teachers, Laura herself, all acted as though this were no big deal and my kids (who both gravitate to extroversion, albeit to different degrees, which is a really good thing when you’re crossing Canada with your parents on a semi-public tour) were, needless to say, absolutely thrilled.
So, umm, I found myself with a WHOLE DAY TO MYSELF. (I recognize all-caps is annoying and obnoxious; however, I give myself permission to use them in this case because I got a WHOLE DAY TO MYSELF.)
I started at a local haunt, a darling outdoor coffee shop called the Bugwood Bean, where I sat in the sun awhile with a cinnamon latte aptly named “The Cosy” and then went on to hit a couple of the local thrift stores. Ah, thrifting. One of my absolutely favourite things to do. Anytime. Anywhere. And especially when Alone. It was a gorgeous gift of a day and I still smile and sigh softly when I think of it…God bless you, Laura, Wilma and the Grade 1/2 and Grade 4 teachers at Smithers Christian School! (Er, my kids had a great day, too. That’s important to note, too, I suppose. ;) )
It was a special connection we Zeyls all felt with the Koopmans clan. We miss you guys! Laura and Travis, it felt like a bit of home to get to know you and then share life with you for a bit. Thank you, all of you, for everything. (And, Laura, I’ve got my first pen-pal letter well on its way… it should get to you in a few days.) It was, admittedly, with an even more pronounced degree of reluctance than we usually feel that we left Smithers…
And headed to Terrace, where we had been invited to stay in the home of Sid and Sharon Bandstra. Sharon, we had discovered, was Travis’ aunt, and he declared that she was a wonderful woman with a great upstairs that she loved to share with her guests. Well, these words, though apt once again, did not do justice to what we experienced while in Terrace. Terrace-Touched-Our-Hearts. Like no other place thus far, actually. And that was really unexpected, given our special time in Smithers.
Part of it had to do with the fact that Darren Roorda, the Canadian Ministries Director of the Christian Reformed Church, flew out to connect with Jer and get a first-hand glimpse of just what it is that happens on the ground level of this I Am Not My Own tour. His involvement and support and encouragement was a shot-in-the-arm Jer didn’t even know he needed, and it was a blessing. Part of it had to do with a gregarious man named Harold, who took Jer and Darren out fishing, where both guys caught a Coho salmon (much to their extreme delight) and his equally gregarious wife Maria, who took me out thrifting. (Maria, I will think of you fondly each time I put on that gorgeous pumpkin sweater!) But most of what Terrace meant to us was because of our hosts, Sid and Sharon Bandstra.
Many of you know that my mom, who was also my confidante and one of my closest friends in addition to being a beautiful mother, passed away from brain cancer about four and a half years ago, two weeks before my baby girl reached her first birthday. Her loss left a gaping hole in the deepest core of me, a hole which I know will never be fully healed or filled until I join my mama in heaven. I have been feeling her loss keenly as of late. Being in BC reminds me of when she and I took a week-long-mother-daughter road trip, heading from Grimsby, ON to Victoria BC, where I was off to teach at Pacific Christian School back in 2001. That time together ranks among my top five life experiences, even counting that one 4-hour stretch of highway where we both sat in stony silence. (Okay, I sat in stony silence. I think she was silently praying. Sigh.) I’ve also been missing my mom more often and more deeply these days because of the fundamental loneliness that is an expected part of living on the road, with its constant cycle of greeting and meeting and connecting and sharing and delighting and relating and withdrawing and leave-taking.
Without being able to “get re-filled” through spending time with dear friends back home, I find I am bordering on empty more often than I would like, emotionally speaking. I know that part of this is because I am still learning how to rest in Jesus and lean on God first before my friends or my husband. This, I think, will be a life-long journey for me. But part of it is also simply because of our circumstances and while it’s something I understand cerebrally, I, umm, vary in my ability to accept this emotionally with constancy and grace.
A snippet from an old folk tune has been whispering in the back recesses of my mind recently: “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child. Sometimes I feel like a motherless child. Sometimes I feel like a motherless child, a long way from home.” If any of you know this refrain, you know the haunting minor-chord lament of it, and that ‘bout sums up my state of mind, or rather, state of heart, as of late… And God is good. He sees the little sparrow fall, He hears our words before we speak them…He knows my heart. And it matters to Him. I matter to Him. The state of my heart matters to Him. This should not come as a surprise to me, but still, somehow, it does.
It has been said that brevity is the soul of wit. I think it was Oscar Wilde or George Bernard Shaw who said this. Regardless, those of you who know me know that this does not describe me at all. I am normally only satisfied if I can state something three different ways (at least), if I can ensure I cover all my bases (and some) and if I have thought of every angle and ensured that I have given fair consideration to each (and every) one.
Those of you who know me very well know that when I am most moved, words fail. My throat closes, my mind blanks and I feel utterly incapable of saying anything that can in any way truly honour what—or who—it is that has left me so moved. Such is the case when I think of my time with Sharon. And so I will be, uncharacteristically, brief:
Sharon, it felt like that hole in my heart got filled up a little during the few days we spent with you. Thank you.
Thank you also to Pastor Joel Ringma of Terrace Christian Reformed Church, who forever changed the way I will react when someone asks me if I am “Jeremy Benjamin’s wife.” You see, normally I kinda shudder, because it just sounds strange to me. Benjamin is Jer’s middle name, so it’s not as if he’s gone off and selected a sound-byte driven stage name, and I truly do get why he needed to drop the difficult to pronounce-difficult to spell Dutch last name, but it still feels weird to me. However, Joel reframed this, connecting Jer’s “brand name” to his baptismal name, reminding us that in some Reformed baptismal traditions, infants are baptized with their given names, their first name and any middle names, but not their last name. And this is a theologically-driven practise, as it takes the focus off of us as parents and any work or efforts we do, and puts it back to the God who created each of these infants and has chosen them by name. Beautiful!
As is so often with children, Kiara felt the deep peace and joy that defined our time with the Bandstra’s and while she might not have fully understood it, she had words for it nonetheless:
Kiara: Dear God: Thank you for this house and that we get to do this trip. Wait, Mommy, was it daddy’s idea to do this cross-Canada tour?
Me: Well, yes, your daddy’s, and God’s.
Kiara: Okay. Dear God: Thank you that my daddy and You had this idea to do this cross-Canada trip. Well, mostly You because You are the most strong. And now, God, it is my mommy’s turn to speak to you. Amen. Your Majesty. (Giggle.)
So we left Terrace with a lot more than what we arrived with. (And I don’t just mean the treasure trove of thrift-store finds.) We left with our fridge and freezer stocked, and our hearts overflowing with love and gratitude and the fellowship of the saints. Terrace, you touched our hearts. And we thank you.
To all those who helped with organizing the concerts and worship services in Edson, Smithers and Terrace, we thank you. To all those who played or sang in the worship teams at Edson-Peers CRC, Smithers CRC and Terrace CRC, we thank you. We literally could not do this tour without you, and we deeply appreciate your flexibility, graciousness, time and the sharing of your gifts. May God bless and keep you all!
These Are a Few of Our Favourite Things…
Jer: Ken Douma’s sermon…and snow (slight sarcasm.)
Isaiah: Playing Clue and Seven Wonders.
Kiara: That they (the Douma family) almost had the exact same stroller as I had at home but mine had birds on it and hers had a big huge owl. It was super fun. Jamie’s house was filled with lots of toys!
Lara: A trip to Edson Public Library with my kids and Sara Douma and her daughter, Jamie, where Isaiah Legoed-up a storm, Jamie and Kiara built an awesome fort and Sara and I shared our harrowing childbirth stories and lots of laughs in the midst.
Jer: Connecting with an old friend…and catching a steelhead!
Isaiah: Going fishing with Mr. John and playing with Teagan (Koopmans).
Kiara: That I could have lots of fun with Anna (Koopmans.)
Lara: Meeting Jer’s highschool friend, Laura Koopmans, discovering how wonderful she was, and spending a couple of special times with her and her great husband and super kids.
Jer: The encouragement from Darren Roorda…and catching a salmon!
Isaiah: Having my own room, buying a new Lego set and playing Lego Wii at the Bandstra’s.
Kiara: Apollo (the Bandstra’s sweet dog) and having my own room and the rose that was in my room.
(Editor’s Note: Each of the three bedrooms we stayed in at the Bandstra’s were set up with huge comfy beds you could just get delightfully lost in as well as with incredible attention to an assortment of cosy details…Kiara’s sweet room included a pretty paper tulip in a vase…)
Lara: Meeting and connecting with Sharon.
We took Highway 16 into Smithers, and we marvelled at the absolute beauty that surrounds this highway completely. Each turn of the road introduced another vista that stunned us with its beauty. But Highway 16 has a putrid underbelly, a shameful history, a hidden darkness that flashed and lashed out again even as we traversed her path. Sitting in the warmth and comfort of Laura and Travis Koopmans’ living room, we found out that Highway 16 is the infamous Highway of Tears, that 720 km plus stretch of highway that extends from Prince George to Prince Rupert and serves as the setting for the murders or point-of-vanishing of a disturbingly large number of Aboriginal women. The RCMP launched an official investigation into these murdered or missing women in 1989. Articles have been written, task forces initiated and documentaries aired about these women and their fates and their connection to Highway 16. Signs have been posted near Moricetown, the Wet’suwet’en village about 30 km West of Smithers, warning women not to hitchhike along this road. I took a picture of this sign myself, incongruous though it seemed on a bright and balmy fall-fresh day, having come across it unexpectedly when out exploring in the area with my children and our intrepid guide, Irene Bakker. But the week we arrived, another young Aborginal woman, an 18-year old mother of one named Jessica Patrick (Balczer), was discovered, dead and presumed murdered, close to this highway. All the fear, the confusion, the anger, the sorrow, the questions, rushing to the surface, leaving a community exposed and vulnerable yet again.
I had heard of the Highway of Tears. I remember reading an article about it in a Reader’s Digest, from the comfort of another living room, some years ago. I remember feeling shocked and disgusted and disturbed. But then, truth be told, had not thought of it since. Until I sat in the Koopmans’ living room and Laura mentioned the red balloons we had seen hung in a variety of places throughout Smithers, and told me they were there because of Jessica Patrick and because of yet another death along Highway 16, the Highway of Tears. And I felt shocked and disgusted and disturbed once again. But these feelings are nothing, nothing, compared to the feelings of the friends and family and community of Jessica Patrick and of all the other young Indigenous women who died or who are still missing.
Again, my throat closes, my mind blanks and I have nothing to say that can sufficiently bear witness to or do justice in the face of what has befallen these children and their loved ones. Yet I would be more than remiss if I said nothing at all… And so, I share with you once again the reality of the violence enacted upon and the insufficient justice experienced by our Native Canadian sisters and brothers in Christ. And I cry, “How long, Lord?”
Today I leave you with excerpts from the beginning and closing of a liturgical passage called The Core of Comfort, based on Jeremy’s song My Only Comfort:
“We are a people who seek comfort, Lord. We strive for a life free of constraints and anxiety, fear and discomfort, affliction and distress. We desire solace and consolation, ease and convenience, contentment and relief. And often we long for escape…
Our grasping hands, clenched and fisted, fall open to receive this: The incomparable and incomprehensible truth that the only thing that can give us marrow-deep, soul-penetrating, heart-changing, life-transforming comfort is the knowledge that we are not our own, we cannot do it ourselves, we need to stop trying and must look instead to our faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. People will disappoint, spending begets more spending, time will always flee and we are left bereft. But silent as a Lamb, powerful as a lion, it is He who watches over us all. Not even a hair can fall outside His will. The debt is paid. Our sins are covered. Our needs are known. Our strivings can cease. Glory be to our Lord Jesus Christ.”