Motorhome Meandering #5: They say absence makes the heart grow fonder. It's true. I have missed Mabel. Er, yes, I have named our motorhome. We are driving across this great country in the best little ol' motorhome there ever was. Seriously. God is amazing. We could not have asked for a better, more convenient vehicle to drive in and live in on our trip. As you might have predicted, living in such close proximity brings out the best and worst in each of us. Dear Mabel has seen and heard it all. ;) And we love her for it...
One of the "best" times: Isaiah teaching Kiara how to play Slapzeez. (What, you didn't truly think I was going to insert a picture of one of the "worst" times here, did you? Maybe next week... ;
We're learning a lot about gratitude on this trip. There is so much to be grateful for. When your life is down-sized, as it were, to a motorhome and what it can (and can't) contain, when your life's journey is literally mapped out for you, when friends and family are hours, even days, (and eventually weeks) away from where you are, certain things come more sharply into view. Other things--things that once seemed so important and took so much of our focus and time--fade into the background. Somehow, when the noise around (and the flurry within) us is muted, a myriad of subtle sounds emerge.
And they're beautiful. How many times have we been prompted to "stop and smell the flowers?" I have never been more aware of how many different bird songs and calls are happening at any given moment than I have been on this trip. (And lest my avid bird-watching father and brothers get too excited, no, I am not going to be joining your spread-sheet-recording-bird-sighting-competition-Big-Year-bonding thing any time soon...I'll just keep mocking y'all gently as I always do.)
But I am grateful for the opportunity to slow things down a bit. To leave the more conventional North American work-eat-play-sleep lifestyle where the tyranny of the urgent has only increased its scope and intensity with the introduction of more and more technology and the uber-invasion of the cell phone and its constant pinging and updates and notifications and more to do and more to do and more to do...
Okay, I'm back off my high horse. Phew. What I'm trying to do is confess that I find it easier to be busy than to slow down. And to mourn life than be grateful for it. To focus on what is not right and not fair and less-than-ideal...and that can be a trap and my downfall. And God is using this journey for many things, not the least of which is to teach me about slowing down, about being intentional about spending time with Him, about listening to Him and about the importance of being giving thanks to Him. In any and all circumstances.
We have just finished a blessed week in the beautiful province of Quebec, where we spent most of our time in Montreal. There is only one Christian Reformed Church in Quebec, and it is First Christian Reformed Church of Montreal. When Jer first contacted the church to see if they would be interested in being part of this I Am Not My Own Tour, he was put into contact with Don, their Chair of Council, as the church was in the midst of seeking a pastor to fill their current vacancy. Don swiftly got the go-ahead from the Church Council and then offered us the opportunity to stay in the Church's Parsonage, as it was, at present, empty. Our deep affection for Mabel notwithstanding, we jumped at this opportunity. We were so very grateful for the invitation in theory, and our gratitude only intensified when we arrived at the parsonage and discovered the reality of a huge house with 6 bedrooms! And a big dining room table! And a bath! And laundry facilities ON-SITE! And then our gratitude further deepened when we discovered that a few thoughtful souls had stocked the house with clean linens, towels, some food and even a bag of games for our kids to play...
It was Don's wife, Michelle DePooter-Francis, the Lead Chaplain of the Ministry to Seafarers of the Christian Reformed Church at the Mariner's House in Montreal, who had provided most of the items above and it was she who met us at the parsonage in order to unlock it and hand over the key. She came with a big container of home-made brownies like-I've-never-tasted-before in her hand, and an invitation to her son's seventh birthday celebration the next day.
Although they are both loving our trip and wouldn't want to be anywhere else (they claim most days) my children are missing their friends and cousins and classmates deeply. So I accepted this invitation and showed up with my kids in tow. Don and Michelle have four beautiful children: Roshen (7), Michaela (5) and Asha and Kieran (3 year old twins.) Their family embraced us fully and, once again, a home-away-from-home was provided. We delighted in them and in being so fully and generously invited to share in their life and family. I can't even really begin to describe to you just how deeply our shared times with Don and Michelle and their children filled and touched and blessed each of us. (Don and Michelle and children, we thank you. You have been such a gift to us, and we are so very grateful. We miss you already...and we are quite serious that you must look us up when you are visiting relatives in Ontario. Please and thank you!)
Monday, June 25 was International Seafarers Day. So Michelle, invited Jer to give a concert as part of the International Seafarers Day celebration at the Mariner's Centre that evening. After spending most of the day at Don and Michelle's house, our two families loaded into our vehicles (swapping children so we had an all-girls and an all-guys entourage) and headed off to the Mariner's Centre. Once there, Don gave the kids a tour, we were all invited to partake in the potluck supper offered to seafarers and visitors...and then Jer gave a concert.
My husband's heart is to see worship and ministry combined. To see that people's vertical worship--praising God through words and song--flows directly into people's horizontal worship--serving God's people and connecting with others in community in genuine and tangible ways. This is, at the core, why we are on this tour. And this concert at the Mariner's Centre in Montreal, with its inauspicious start, became one of the most beautiful reflections of this yet:
Quote-to-Note: "Dad, why did you make so many mistakes tonight?" A bemused Isaiah, talking to Jer during their bedtime cuddle, back at the parsonage at the end of the concert at the Mariner's Centre.
See, Jer forgot the words to more than a couple of his songs during the concert. He started sentences, forgot what he was going to say, and a couple of times, hummed the tune instead of singing the lyrics. It was, in many ways, a difficult concert. Any performer will tell you that these types of concerts--unknown audience, no stage, no lighting, no clear directive, no formal introduction, a "loose" atmosphere with people moving around, talking in the background, etc--are the hardest to do. Jer had to work hard to stay focused, to read his audience, listen to the Spirit, go with the flow and yet be present with the audience and invested in his art and what he had to offer in terms of his songs, and his story.
It was a difficult concert. And yet, it was a wonderful concert. The songs Jer chose as he thought about what might speak most to the seafarers gathered there were the "right" ones for the night. Don came up to accompany Jer with his percussion box on a number of tunes, to the delight of all gathered. And Jer's humility and genuine-to-the-core-ness provided a safe place that led to one of the highlights of our trip thus far. As Jer explained to Isaiah later that night, Jer was thankful that he made mistakes. Because this realness, this lack of slick-and-polish-performer-ness, enabled others to feel safe, to be be willing to then come and share their songs and to be a part of the story together in a rare and unforeseen way.
Immediately following the concert one of the Seafarers, a man from China, approached Jer and asked him to play guitar so he could sing a song he wanted to share and dedicate to all of his Seafarer buddies. And so Jer quickly pulled up the requested song on his phone, crouched down behind the man and played along while the man sang to the raucous delight of his buddies and all of the rest of us in the audience. Then a couple of volunteers from the USA who were serving at the Mariner's Centre that week got up and did some Karaoke. And so did a couple from First CRC church. And then another Seafarer got up and crooned a love song that would have made old Blue Eyes himself swoon.
Some of the people gathered at the concert at the Mariner's Centre that night were members from the First Christian Reformed Church of Montreal, where Jer had led in Worship the previous day. They had heard Jer sing Not My Own during the service and had been a part of adding their voices to the song in the post-service recording of the song. And so, when the impromptu karaoke concert was complete, they called out for an encore, beseeching Jer to once again sing Not My Own. And so he did. And this led to a spontaneous recording of all those gathered there--Seafarers, Staff, Visitors and Volunteers--singing Not My Own together. It was an incredible, uplifting, unplanned God-be-praised moment!
It was the perfect ending to a blessedly imperfect night.
And, so, gratitude. God is good. We are not our own. We cannot control all that happens. And this is a very good thing. (When we remember to thank Him instead of complaining about the lack of control and the vulnerability and the messiness that this entails...)
As Sarah Young paraphrases so beautifully in Jesus Calling:
"Thank ME for the very things that are troubling you...You are tempted to indulge in just a little complaining about My treatment of you. But once you step over that line, torrents of rage and self-pity can sweep you away. The best protection against this indulgence is thanksgiving. It is impossible to thank Me and curse Me at the same time."
These Are a Few of Our Favourite Things...About Quebec
Lara: Being, once again, fully embraced by a beautiful family. And when the Seafarers and everyone else there joined Jer in singing Not My Own together.
Isaiah: Meeting Roshen. And the twins.
Kiara: Seeing Micaela and playing with her.
Jeremy: Singing with the Seafarers. Definitely.