Thursday, November 25, 2010

When Your Heart is Somewhere Else

Back in July, as we were preparing to pack up and leave for Vancouver, I was almost completely filled with expectation and excitement for our family.

We were leaving things in good shape - our house was well-taken care of, our families were healthy, and we had tied up all of our lose ends. Of course, there were so many people in our lives that we were going to miss. Our lives are full of relationship - it's what I'm most proud of when I look at my life. But...

...did you notice the almost up above?

That almost provided me with the hardest goodbye we had when we left.

Let me back up a little.

The summer Mike and I got married nearly 15 years ago we began a friendship with a couple who also got married the same summer. In fact, we were married by the same pastor. There were a lot of similarities between us and Terry and Carla...
-Carla and I were both teachers who grew up in rural Manitoba AND we had the same name!
-Terry and Mike were passionate about music and sports
-We shared a common faith and were growing into it together

As that relationship grew and evolved, so did our love and affection for them.

What are the chances that within a few weeks of each other we'd both be announcing our first pregnancies? Fast forward three years and we're announcing our second pregnancies (together) again! And two years after that we find we're both pregnant and give birth a few weeks apart again! No, we never planned it or discussed it. But it has been the most amazing thing to experience together. Each of our kids received a "first friend" and shares an incredibly close and secure bond with their "partner" from the other family. You can see it when Caleb and Hannah, Brynne and Ellie, and Zachary and Sasha are together.

Along the road there have been significant times. There always are when you share your life.
Carla's dad suddenly passed away, we moved in with them for a month and grew to love each other more, we led a house group together, and later went through the growing/changing pains of Mike and I choosing to part ways with the church family we shared. Some of that was so painful. But not once have I ever doubted Terry and Carla's love and faithfulness to our family, nor ours for them.

Back in March, Carla picked me and the girls up from the airport after the visit to Vancouver when we decided to move. As we got closer to our house, the surprising announcement came - there was another Loewen baby on the way! I remember feeling instant excitement for them - but just as quickly came the feeling of regret. The regret of knowing I wouldn't be there....

You see, I had always been there. To see the growing belly, to take a kid or two when Carla was sick, to get the excited call and be at the hospital to see the fresh and new baby. I was mourning something I was going to miss.

A few short weeks later the bigger surprise came. Twins. Number four and five. Amazing - but more to mourn not being able to be part of and experience.

Our last supper in Winnipeg was with Terry and Carla and the kids. Mike and I both cried as we drove off their street. Our girls were upset to see us crying. We talked about how amazing it is to love people so much that saying goodbye actually hurts. "It's a good kind of cry" we told them, "because it shows us how deeply we are connected".

And so over the past few months we've talked, looked at pictures of Carla's expanding belly, given tours of new houses in new cities and baby rooms on Skype, and tried to stay connected.

Then Monday came. The day of the twin's birth. And Terry called to give the word that little Nella Joy and Norah Jane had arrived safe and sound and all was well. I was so grateful.

My gratefulness continues still. But my gratefulness has a close companion of mourning what I am missing.

In a few short weeks I will be there. I will hold those little pink beauties, smell their breath and make up for lost time. Mike will bounce one while I snuggle another and we will make extra space in our hearts for Nella and Norah.

When you're deeply connected, it hurts sometimes. But it's worth it.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


I had a picture come into my mind yesterday. I was reflecting on our experiences since moving here, and specifically thinking of what Hannah has lived in these past four months.

I was picturing Hannah as an old-fashioned paper doll - one dimensional and simple. Just the basic facial features with little else but a few embellishments. As I reflected on all of the things she's done and challenges she's risen to some layers appeared - as though each milestone and challenge added a texture laden, billowy soft layer to the simple paper-doll figure. Each layer enhanced the one beneath it in ways you wouldn't expect until you saw them together.

Can I show you some of these layers?


Imagine walking into a classroom in your new school. You're a 10 year old girl and you don't know a soul. You've never been the social butterfly - always preferring to stand back a few steps and watch and wait first. Your heart is beating out of your chest, but you walk up those steps into the classroom because it's what you have to do. You expect the best because that's the spirit that's in you. You walk out of that classroom at the end of the day excited for the next, undaunted by the relationships and familiarity that already exist. And soon you are surrounded by warm faces and a girl who you call "friend". It sure didn't take you long - you embraced that challenge and created a beautiful first layer.


You have always been reluctant to talk on the phone. There's something about it makes you feel awkward and uncomfortable. That's why you laugh when you tell me what you did at school, and are scheduled to do again -- you're an office monitor at lunch time who gives the secretary a break and ANSWERS PHONES and pages staff members over the intercom! You're not sure how you ended up with this job, but it doesn't matter. It's fun, it's important, and it makes a layer shaded with growing confidence.


One day you arrive home from school with an important letter. Your teacher has selected you to be one of two students from your school to take part in the district-wide "Creative Challenge Program" for gifted students. It means working with other students from across the city in a strange school for six sessions in a workshop environment geared for accelerated learners. I drive you to the new school one cool fall morning. We meander the unfamiliar hallways and arrive at the classroom. You shake hands with the facilitator and walk in, unencumbered by fear. You spend the day learning with strangers. Your third layer is created, gleaming with bold awareness.


Your "Education through the Arts" school is rich with opportunity. Every day there is a listening program of classical music and commentary broadcast on the intercom. You sign up to be one of the narrators, taking one week's script and studying its challenging vocabulary until it rolls off your tongue. When the time comes you are the voice to a 250 person audience that listens over the intercom. Once afraid to speak to even one, you are now speaking to the masses. And so, your fourth layer is created with swirls of inflection and tone - rich in color.


We enter the church together, but your age group meets alone. We follow the directions to a huge room swarming with kids. It's loud, overwhelming, and full of energy that isn't ours. You walk ahead, find an empty place on a bench and sit down alone, gesturing me to leave. Alone but assured. You don't need my security, you've found it within yourself and made it your strong and solid layer. It fits you perfectly.


I can't help your sisters with the things I usually do - like brushing their long tangled hair or squeezing their toothpaste. You come alongside them and smooth the knots as best you can. You pour the milk and zip zippers that are stuck. You are finding your way to compassion. It's not always easy - your help is not always welcome. But you are the big sister, and you are creating a layer with substance. You will grow into this one with time, but as it flows on top of the rest you see the way it belongs with the others.


There will be more, of this I am sure.
Hannah is becoming more complex - her layers taking shape, with new ones added every day.
Some I see created and others happen in secret quiet places, waiting to be discovered.

Underneath it all remains the old-fashioned looking paper doll -a simple steady base that holds and balances the new layers with beauty.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Elbow Underestimations

It's a funny thing -
How an elbow can change your world in an instant.

Taking the wind out of your sails.
(And you were sailing).

Shoving you into that dark, familiar place.
(You hadn't visited there in awhile, and you hadn't missed it).

Bringing words and voices to your head and mouth.
(You thought you had learned a new language).

Hope fades...
for the longest moment.

This elbow -
Broken, bruised, and bandaged -
Just kicked you off your feet.

Never underestimate the elbow.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Why Did We Have to Be Such Good Parents?!

It was Sunday afternoon. The weather was actually pretty nice - a sunny autumn day. But the girls all wanted to go skating. We haven't been skating since last winter, and Hannah's class will be going skating soon as a class field-trip. So, she wanted to practice up a bit. I really didn't want to go skating because I'm still fighting a bad cold, plus I'm basically a lazy person, and Karla didn't really feel like going either. As we were getting dressed to go, Karla said something like "Are we good parents, or what?" "The best", I said.

So, we drove to Bill Copeland Sports Centre in central Burnaby. As we got out of the van, Karla said "It's far too nice a day to be inside an arena". We should have listened to her.

We waited in line to pay the entrance fee, skate rental fees (Ellie and Sasha have outgrown their skates), and the helmet rental fees. After 15 mintes of tying skates and adjusting helmet straps, we were on the ice.

We weren't on the ice long though. In fact, I got one picture:

The next picture I got was this one:

Too bad they don't make everyone rent elbow pads too.

Yes - as a lot of you reading this will know already, Karla fell on the ice and broke her elbow. Of course, at the time, we didn't know if was broken, but I certainly suspected it was, just from her description of it and reaction at the arena. She was hot and nauseous, her lower arm and hand were numb, she couldn't move it much, and she was in serious pain.

Backing up a bit . . . I didn't actually see it happen. I was helping Ellie learn to skate when a young man came over to and said "Your wife is looking for you. She's hurt herself. She's over there." When I saw Karla sitting on the ice, the first thing I thought of was her back. I figured she'd wrenched it or something. Her immediate need was to get her jacket off. She was so hot and sweaty. Then, I helped her get up off the ice and into the dressing area.

Karla had been helping Sasha, skating behind her, when she (Sasha) slipped and fell. Karla was off balance at the moment, and that caused her to fall backwards and her elbow slammed into the ice. Hard. She kept saying that she felt like she might throw up and that "something just isn't right". I managed to get everyone's paraphenalia off and get ready to go to the hospital amid a huge crowd of people. It just happened that the Zamboni had to clean the ice at that moment, so all the people had to get off the ice. It was a zoo in there, so the workers finally clued in that Karla might not be comfortable there and moved her into an empty room.

After the requisite paperwork was filled out, we left for the nearest hospital, Burnaby General. Fortunately, it was only about 7 minutes away. Also fortunate was that Karla didn't have to wait long to be seen by a doctor. Within 30 minutes of walking in the door, Karla was having x-rays done. The picture above is Karla waiting for the doctor to come back with the results of the x-rays. We soon found out that at least one bone was broken, with a possible second small crack in another place.

The emergency doctor put Karla in a temporary cast as we waited for the on-call orthopedic surgeon to call the hospital. We waited and waited but no call. Finally, I asked why we needed to sit there and wait. Why couldn't she just phone us when he calls back? She agreed but jokingly said something about how her shift was over an hour-and-a-half ago and she wanted to go home too, so if she has to wait, so do we. Ha ha. Good one doc. Bye.

We picked up Subway for supper on the way home. During supper, the emergency doctor phoned with the arrangements. The orthopedic surgeon on-call happened to be based out of Chilliwack. Chilliwack! That's over an hour away from Burnaby. Apparently, there's a pool of orthopedic surgeons that cover the entire Fraser Valley area. At any one time there are three doctors on call. Each on-call doctor takes five calls in a row and then it's the next on-call doctor's turn. We just happened to get the one in Chilliwack.

So, Karla got an appointment at 11:00 a.m. on Wenesday to see Dr. Locht - in Chilliwack. I took the day off work to drive her.

Here's Karla sitting in the hallway waiting for another set of x-rays.

As she was getting her x-rays done, I spoke to an older gentleman with a cane who looked to be in considerable pain as he sat down. We chatted for a bit and he told me his story. He had been a truck driver until two years ago when a woman committed suicide by driving her car into his truck on the highway. He almost lost his left leg in the accident. When he woke up in a hospital bed, he had an artificial left knee - all metal from the middle of his thigh to the middle of his calf. He hasn't been allowed to drive a truck since because he can't pass the medical. Now his right knee was bothering him, likely because he's compensating for his left knee. Then there's the psychological injury to deal with on top of all the physical pain. Makes a broken elbow not seem so bad, eh? So I told Karla his story.

Dr. Locht showed us the new x-rays and I took a photo. I couldn't tell where the crack is. Can you?

The crack is indicated by the two small, darkish areas on the right. "Karla has a lateral humeral condyle fracture". Okay doc, whatever you say. Well, not exactly. We sent this picture to a doctor friend who is friends with an orthopedic surgeon or two - just to get an informal second opinion. Doc #2 says Dr. Locht is right on the money. Turns out Dr. Locht actually taught Doc #2. We feel better.

Karla now has an elbow splint that is wrapped in a tensor bandage. She can take it off to shower (and scratch her arm). And surgery probably isn't required since the bone isn't displaced at all, but this will be re-evaluated in 3 weeks. She's supposed to take the splint off several times a day to exercise her elbow - to prevent it from stiffening up too much. Problem is, moving it is really, really painful.

This is Karla's right elbow.

This is Karla's left elbow.

You could say it's a bit swollen and bruised.

The prognosis is good though. Despite how painful it is now, apparently this type of injury is supposed to heal fairly quickly. She should be ready to start learning how to ski by January.

Maybe I'll get her some elbow pads for Christmas.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

NeeNee and Papa's Visit

A few weeks ago now, we had NeeNee and Papa here for a visit.

Before we go any further, I"ll explain the "NeeNee" to avoid any confused looks and queries. NeeNee is my mom. When Hannah was born, we referred to my mom as "Granny". As Hannah began to learn to talk, all she managed to say was "Nee", then "NeeNee". And it stuck. Oh boy, has it stuck. My brother's kids even call her NeeNee. If only Hannah knew what she was starting all those years ago!

Sasha and I picked up NeeNee and Papa from the airport on a sunny, hot, Thursday afternoon. We fought through traffic on the way home, and I informed Papa, "You're in the BIG city now."

After a walk to school to pick up the girls, and then a stroll through the neighbourhood, we headed home for supper, and then a late evening trip up to Burnaby Mountain.

The weather forecast for the weekend was not favourable. Rain. All weekend. If you know my dad, he is hell-bent on insisting that it rains in Vancouver every minute of every day. He's sure of it. So if there was one weekend we wanted good weather, this was it!

It looked dismal on Friday morning - and with the girls having the day off of school, we headed out to Coquitlam and spent a few hours at IKEA. We had lunch, did a little more shopping, then stopped for cinnamon buns and for my dad to get a 50 cent hot-dog. That man loves his dogs, and he couldn't pass up the chance for a bargain. He's got a built in hot-dog/smokie radar that can sense when a cart or stand is within a few meters of his position. And sure enough, he showed off his wienie sensing skills all weekend long.

After a little shopping at Metropolis at Metrotown (Canada's second largest shopping mall - right here in Burnaby) we headed home to meet up with Mike. NeeNee had heard that there was a "gang-land" style shooting in the parkade at Metrotown the week before, so that added some extra excitement to the stop. And surprise, surprise - the SUN was shining. In BC. Fancy that, hey Papa?

Here's NeeNee and the girls feeling pretty darn proud that they're all wearing vests. We were all dressed and ready to head out to "Burgers, Etc." home of the best BBQ in the Lower Mainland. If there's one thing Papa likes as much as a good hot-dog, it's good BBQ. The man's had a heart attack folks, but he's making it his life's work to test out those stents they put into a few of his arteries!

Papa's feeling pretty giddy here - we're just rounding the corner onto Hastings and you can smell the BBQ!

Mmmmm good. We shared a really humongous sampler full of way too much food. Corona's just happened to be on special, and we had to wash this down with a few of those too. Papa knows his ribs, and he gave these his seal of approval.

Shockingly, considering Papa was at the table, we had a lot of food left over. We packed it all up in a box, and headed down Hastings to the Downtown Eastside on a mission with our box, a fork, and some napkins. The first guy we saw digging around for food in a garbage can was the recipient of a feast. Papa called him over and he warily wandered over to the van. We asked if he was hungry, he said "yes", and we handed the box of food over. You should have seen him. He headed right back to the garbage can he was digging out of and spread the box open on top like he was preparing his table for a great meal, he opened it up and started to dig in. It was the most fitting way to end our meal - seeing someone else enjoy it all as much as we did.

Saturday looked shockingly clear (PAPA!!) and we decided to cram as much into the day as possible. After some pumpkin pancakes, we were off to the big city. We started out at Coal Harbour. We had heard that the Olympic Cauldron would be lit up for the weekend in honor of one of the supporters and organizers of the Vancouver Games who had passed away. Mike was living downtown during the games, but the girls and I had never seen it lit up, so it was a great sight.

We took a long stroll on the sea-wall - stopping to enjoy the view....

....and get a little silly.

Our next stop was Stanley Park.

Our tummies were beginning to do the mid-day grumble, so it was off to Lonsdale Quay for lunch and some strolling and gazing.

If you think that that sounds like a busy enough day, you'd be right. But we weren't finished. We thought we might as well make the most of the RAIN FREE sky by stopping at Lynn Canyon to walk over the suspension bridge and take a little hike.

Sasha was NeeNee's guide, and Hannah was Papa's.

Lo and behold, as were crossing the suspension bridge to head back to the parking lot the rain started. Papa couldn't help but smile, and we headed home for a rest.

Mike and I happily went out for some late afternoon shopping and appetizers and drinks later on in the evening while NeeNee, Papa, and the girls watched a movie, ate some smokies and played a few rounds of UNO and Crokinole. Sasha and Papa are bitter Crokinole adversaries. Thankfully, no Crokinole discs were thrown at high speeds and no one was injured in the course of the evening. And don't think it hasn't happened before.

Sunday was , um..well, it was raining just a little. It was a relaxing day filled with visiting a church, and helping NeeNee with some Christmas shopping for the girls. Papa bbq'd us his famous pork tenderloin for supper and we called it a night.

Monday meant it was time for them to head home. Papa had some last minute campaigning to do as he was about to seek his last (really?) term as a city councillor in Winkler on Wednesday.

It was a great visit! We're looking forward to another time together in Spring.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


Every family has a soundtrack to their life.

There are different songs for different seasons, different volumes for different times, but the soundtrack plays on.

It's the dull rumble of the dryer, the clickety clack of computer keys, the clanging of pots on the stove or the mixer's beaters whirring and spinning. It's the sound of silence at night when the lights are out, the giggles and shrieks during a tickle fight, the spitting of toothpaste into the sink or the endless drone of an alarm clock's beep.

For this season, our family's soundtrack has had a layer added that we hear every day. The sound used to appear and disappear, but since coming here it's a fixture. It resonates above our chatter and echoes over the marble floors. It's the sound of Mike playing his violin.

Mike has played violin since he was two and a half years old. That's a long time. When he was 18 he put it away. When we met and fell in love he took it out of hiding and played again. In fact, he even proposed using his violin - playing a piece he'd been working on as a "gift" to me while my engagement ring hung on a velvet ribbon in the F hole of his instrument.

Over the years Mike has played for pleasure and performance. He's played classical pieces to keep up his skill, entertained friends and invited his girls to dance with his jigs and reels, become a rock star with his brother Mark's band, and ushered people closer to the face of God in worship. Mike loves that instrument. You can see it when he's playing - something comes alive and then breathes life into stagnant places.

Of course, Mike brought his violin along to the Coast. He thought he'd squeeze in some time to play amidst all of the other adventures he had planned.

But somewhere along the way, Mike's violin became part of his adventure, rather than an afterthought. Along with Music, Mike is passionate about running. Oh, he was going to run in the beauty of the West. Or so he thought. His Achilles Tendinitis thought differently. And so the violin took the place of the runners slapping along the wet pavement.

In the last month, he's found himself invited to audition for a semi-professional orchestra. Tonight is his second rehearsal. If Mike does something, he does it well or not at all. This is part of what makes him the solid rock to my wayward self. And so, if Mike is going to play - he's going to play well. He's been practicing up a storm - perfecting the runs and high notes. There is a sparkle in his eye as he prepares to become part of something bigger than himself. His own community. One in which music is once again the language. It's where he can be who he is and let the music speak where his words don't.

And this is a beautiful thing to watch unfold. Passion rediscovered. The lilting sound of the bow singing against the strings. I think I'll turn the soundtrack up a little. I like this song.