Sunday, 27 November 2005

November 2005: back in Seoul, Korea

So back in March, when I made plans to live in BC with
my folks for as long as it too Mom to live out her
cancer, I had no idea it would take all of seven
months for her to do so, no idea that it wouldn't be
until late October that I'd finally finished all my
visiting and taken the trip to Seoul.

So I'm back now. Back in the land of palaces and
gingko trees, easy public transit and lots of rice and
pickled vegetable side dishes. In fact, I've been her
for a month (tomorrow).

Out here in Korea, it's been an interesting go. I
spent about a week recovering from jet-lag and getting
re-acquainted with Korea in general -- revisiting my
favourite areas, taking long walks, writing in my
diary -- and found myself incredibly bored, so I
headed out to find a job, quite a bit sooner than I'd
expected to. The plan, originally, was to take things
really slow, to see Matt and my friends, to travel,
maybe see the countryside, and make sure I'd given
myself enough time to grieve my Mom here in Korea
before I jumped into working and going back to the
grind of things. Being in Korea is interesting,
insofar as I'm finally on my own -- there are no roles
here for me to play, except for Rob. I'm not "Rudy's
Boy", or "Dan's Brother" or anything but Rob, and
finally (in that way) being on my own, gives me the
chance to start sorting out my own closet, after
spending most of September with the family, in BC, and
then in Ontario with Dad.

Being in Canada was good. Satisfying. Appropriate.
I'm glad to have had the chance to take that time and
be there with my mom and dad. I'm lucky that I was in
a situation where that was possible. Now, it really
feels good to have my life back in motion again.

Unfortunately, being back in Korea was boring, with
Exgirfriendoseyo studying as much as she could, and with Matt
working, and with only so many books, and so many
hours I could walk around without getting sore feet
and smog headaches, so I looked for a job. I went to
the director of my first school, to ask him for a
reference letter, and instead he offered me a job.
His preschool supervisor was leaving at the end of the
month, so he'd bring me in as a supervisor. I said,
essentially, "why not?" -- I love the area, it has
great access to Seoul and two nearby parks, and good
restaurants, there are good restaurants nearby, and
the foreign teachers working there right now are
really good people -- I like them a lot, and they have
some good, close friendships. It's nice to be
connected to that network, even after only one month.
Plus, my boss absolutely adores me, and I should be
able to work that to my advantage, and, if nothing
else, he's a known quantity, so I know what I'm
getting from him and from this school.

The drawbacks are these:
1. a roommate -- and female at that. I gave Exgirfriendoseyo
the chance to veto the job, and she said she was OK
with it, so we'll see how it works out. (Though it's
nice having a friend nearby -- sometimes my apartment
last year was WAAAY too quiet.)

2. the director remains the same guy he was before --
he means well (usually), but he's also a bit of a
wildcard, and often asks you to do things without
enough advance notice.

3. the first month in a supervisor position is a lot
of work. if the workload decreases after I've got the
hang of things, then I'm set, and I'll have a really
great schedule down the line, but for now, I've been
working long hours (on my own perogative, however,
which is a nice change from being iron-clad-required
to do so. I figure that, like with ice skating, if I
do a strong push at first, it'll be easier to coast
later.) But. . . 3.1. I was very clear with Mr. Kim
that if the supervisor thing didn't work out for me,
I'd be stepping down -- that was one of the terms of
me coming on at all. So if the workload's ridiculous,
he knows that I'll approach him, and we'll work
something out involving either a pay increase or a
responsibility decrease.


Fair enough. We'll see how it works out. I'm trying
to be supportive for Exgirfriendoseyo -- her huge
middle-school-teacher qualification test is coming up
in two weeks, and she's been getting more and more
stressed about it, and I've been seeing her less and
less. That's a bit frustrating, but, as Matt keeps
saying, "Patience patience patience" -- that patience
will pay off in time. Meanwhile, it's been good to
pour myself into work for a while. It gives me
something to think about other than Mom, and it's been
a while since I've had enough going on in my life to
be able to say "I'll just set that aside and think
about it when I have time". That's good, after a
certain amount of time. As much as I love Mom and Dad
and the siblings, I needed (in a bad way) to get back
to my own life.

So that's where I am now. The church here remains, as
always, awesome. They actually postponed their church
picnic for a few weeks so that they'd have it after
I'd returned. That kind of love is hard to come by.
Matt, too, has been a stellar support: compassionate
and understanding, with a good sense of when to talk
about it, and when to help get your mind off it.
Exgirfriendoseyo and I are doing our best to be there for each
other, between her studies and my new job, both of our
schedules are heavily taxed right now, but hard times
prove the measure of a relationship, and this story
isn't over yet. I like my coworkers more and more.
One of them (his name is Caleb. . . Overstreet? . . .
is an MK whose father worked with my friend Cheryl
(Mellis) Zeke's father in Amsterdam. I said the name
"Cheryl Mellis" and he said "Oh. Colin's sister." It
was cool. I made spaghetti for those folks last
Wednesday, and it went over really well, despite the
difficulty of finding the right spices here. (If
you're into care packages, send sage, seasoning salt
(the regular orange kind) and italian seasoning. . .
and Colgate total, which I forgot to stockpile before
I came here). My students call me "rocks teacher"
sometimes, but they're already warming up to me.
They're younger than anyone I've taught before, and
that's challenging, but it's interesting. Plus, being
a supervisor is using a bunch of abilities and
faculties I possess, but haven't used in quite a long
time. It's interesting tapping some of those aspects
of personal interaction again. I even learned how to
make a spreadsheet!

My next update will contain less matter-of-fact and
more colour, I hope. But right now, I have to send
this one out and head down to Dr. Lee's house, for the
American thanksgiving celebration potluck he's holding
at his house.

Take care of yourselves.

love
Rob

Monday, 17 October 2005

October 17th 2005

After seven months and many adventures and
non-adventures here in Canada, I'm going back to
Korea.

I will arrive on Friday in the afternoon, and start
the business of getting my life there moving. It's
been an interesting seven months, and I've learned a
lot, but now it's time to begin a new stage.

At this point, so many things have happened in the
last seven months, that to write about them all right
now would result in a novella-sized e-mail, so I'll
save that for the novel, when it comes, and for now,
I'll point out the three most powerful moments of my
spring and summer.

The most powerful moment, the one that will stay with
me the longest and most vividly, was the moment when
Mom stopped breathing. The whole family was there --
the parents and four kids, as a group of six for the
last time. We were singing a song about heaven while
Mom's breathing got shorter and shallower, sometimes
stopping and starting again, with a horrific gurgle
getting louder and louder as she wheezed. Mom's eyes
opened wide and looked up at the ceiling (or heaven,
if you will), and while we sang a song of praise to
God: "Then sings my soul, my saviour God, to thee: how
great thou art!" Mom took her last breath. That song
will never be the same for me: we sang it again at
Mom's memorial in Ontario and I was right back at
Mom's deathbed, as vivid as if it had just happened.
It was, other than a cousin's car accident that mostly
felt surreal, and a ninety-year-old step-grandfather
two time zones away, the first time death came even
close to my family, and it couldn't have made its
entrance more forceful.

The second moment was my brother's wedding -- the high
point is a toss-up between two things: the first was
the moment when the door at the back of the chapel
opened and Dan's new bride stepped into view for the
first time, sending tears spurting to my, Dan's, and
my Dad's eyes (and probably a lot of other people, but
I didn't notice them). Seeing a growing love reach
the point of such a commitment was thrilling, and
balanced the ending of mom's life with the beginning
of my brother's marriage. The second high mark was at
the wedding reception when, as the best man, I had the
honour of making a toast to Dan and Caryn. The
opportunity to give my thoughts at that moment, on my
brother's special day, was a great honour, and I hope
I did them justice.

The third moment was delivering Mom's eulogy at her
funeral, and again at her memorial. Again, the chance
to add my words to commemorate such an important
moment in such a woman's life was a great honour, and
I did my best to offer up words of both love and
truth, with sincerity, and without sentimentality.

I will send another e-mail with the text of the toast
for my brother, and the eulogy for my mother. For the
rest of the story of my summer, I'll let you know
what's coming in a later e-mail.

On Thursday I will leave Canada, and arrive in Korea
on Friday. My amazing girlfriend Exgirfriendoseyo has supported
me and waited for me faithfully for seven whole
months, and I don't know if I could have survived this
year without her. My great friend Matt is waiting
there for me as well, and he, too, has been a solid
rock of loyalty and friendship during this time.
Thanks go to everyone who prayed for me and my family,
thanks to the extended family in Ontario -- seeing you
was also a huge blessing, and a great comfort. Thanks
especially to Cheryl and Zeke and Melissa, Brent and
Ayden, and to the folks at the solid grounds bible
study in Agassiz: your friendships added a bit of
normalcy and fun to a ridiculously intense summer.
Bless you. Now before this starts sounding like an
acceptance speech. . .

The next e-mail is the text of the eulogy and my
groom's toast from Dan's wedding; read it if you want,
trash it if you're not interested, but they were
important moments in my life.

Thanks to everyone on this list, and for the e-mails
and phone calls you've sent.

And I'll be back to bore you with details of my new
life in Korea soon enough.

Rob

Sunday, 11 September 2005

My Mother's Funeral Eulogy

These are long, and I won't be upset if you don't care to read it, but they’re important in my story. If you want to discuss anything I said in here, feel free to leave a comment.

Eulogy For (J B) J Ouwehand
delivered September 11th, 2005

At 12:15 in the afternoon, on September 8th, 2005, J Ouwehand passed to glory. Her husband R and her four children were gathered around her bedside. As we sang the last verse of “How Great Thou Art,” about Christ coming to take his own, J’s eyes opened wide for the first time in three days. Her eyes looked heavenwards, as if she could see Jesus reaching out to take her home, and as her family sang, “Then sings my soul, my saviour, God, to thee, how great thou art!” she took her last breath.

Mom had a way of listening that made you forget she was there. She’d pay close attention, and care, without ever judging. Her ability to listen and keep a secret made her a magnet for people’s trust. With patience and unending love, I saw Mom open up even the most guarded and defensive people. She didn’t give advice, but she didn’t NEED to give advice, because she’d find a question that cut through so much of the extra, unimportant fuzz that the clearest solution, or the plainest truth, was suddenly obvious.

My brother Dan mentioned something, and I was surprised that I hadn’t already included it in my eulogy, but here it is, now. Mom had a smile that never quit – everybody in Agassiz knew her for her smile. But her smile was more than just a smile. It didn’t come from mere happiness, like most smiles – happiness comes from being in good circumstances, but circumstances can change. Mom’s smile came from joy, and joy comes from a place inside a person that circumstances can’t touch. Mom’s joy came from the peace of knowing Jesus, and that peace beyond all understanding made it possible for mom to smile even in the most difficult circumstances. All last year, Mom never lost her smile. Even as she slowly weakened, she still found joy in knowing that she belonged, body and soul, to Jesus.

It’s difficult for me to realize just how much Mom did for me when I was small. Only another mother knows how much work and sacrifice it takes to raise good kids. One of mom’s greatest joys was always in her family. In reading her last year’s diary, the phrases that keep coming up again and again are “I really love Rudy, or Rebecca, or Deb, or Rob, or Dan, or the in-laws, or the grand-kids. . .” and “Rudy is so good to me, Deb is so good to me,” and so forth. Anyone who talked to her knew how proud she was of her family, and how dearly she loved us. She was never happier than when all of us were together laughing.

Mom didn’t just love her family, though. She saw God’s image in everyone she met, and loved them accordingly. Every person was precious to Mom, because she couldn’t help but love and respect all God’s creations. Mom was an amazing encourager, and she knew when and how to help someone take heart. Her hospitality was just as open and generous as her love, and each of the children have stories about Mom opening up our house to a friend in need, sometimes with amazing results, for example, the thanksgiving when Deb, then in her first year at Trinity Western University, phoned home saying, “Mom, there are some guys in this dorm who don’t have anywhere to go for thanksgiving. Can they come to our house?” and Mom said, “Sure. How many?” We had an amazing weekend, and one of those boys was a certain Bradley Jarvis, Deb’s husband now for four years.

Relationships were always Mom’s top priority, and those who knew her could go for hours telling stories about the ways Mom encouraged and helped the people around her. I’ve never met someone who spoke ill of her. Even the people who knew her best could never come up with anything worse than affectionate criticism of small, silly things. “Well, she really doesn’t have a photographer’s eye at all.” “She’s hopeless with a remote control in her hands.” “She gets Star WARS confused with Star TREK.” Those things just weren’t important enough for Mom to bother – there were people to encourage, and somebody out there needed some kindness; why on earth would she waste time finding out the names of the songs on the radio? Mom’s gifts were in other areas.

Mom’s greatest gift, the thing that will stay with me forever is, without any doubt, her love. 1 John 4:7-8 says “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” Mom was like a huge human mirror, reflecting God’s love to everyone who came near her. I know for a fact that people saw God’s love in Mom: several friends have told me exactly that, including some who don’t personally know God themselves. Mom has always had an amazing capacity to give love, not just to family, but to everyone she met. Mom loved freely, and generously, without requiring you to meet a standard first, without threatening to withdraw if you didn’t measure up later, and without ever trying to get something back. Even on her death bed, Mom spoke words of care and encouragement to her visitors and family, and made sure everyone knew they were loved and appreciated.

It’s strange that a woman so good at giving love, worried for years whether people really appreciated her and liked her, but she did. Whether from rejections long in the past or imagined slights in the present, Mom somehow managed not to notice how well loved she was by the people around her. This worry was partially answered in Mom’s first ten years in Agassiz: she was never happier and more fulfilled than here in Agassiz. However, that insecurity was finally, completely put to rest in the last year of her life, when all the love that Mom gave out during her lifetime came back to her in a tremendous show of support and help. This outpouring made it obvious just how truly and sincerely people loved her. While it isn’t right for someone to die as young as Mom, I’ll say that it was at least appropriate that such an amazing love-giver ended her life surrounded by so many people who loved her. Mom kept a journal this year that she allowed her family to read after she died, and the most often repeated theme is how loved she feels, and how much she loves those around her. About a week before her death, I asked Mom what was the best thing she had learned from her last year. She said that she learned how much people loved her, but, more than anything else, she was overwhelmed by the depth and tenderness of Dad’s love for her. Dad’s love for Mom has been amazing and humbling to see, and I don’t think any feeling human being could watch Dad’s devotion to mom in these last few months without being truly touched.

Cancer is cruel, and it is only in a hurting, broken world that a woman as young as Mom should already be called home to heaven. On a day like this, the question why is impossible to answer, and honestly, even if we DID have a complete, perfect answer to the question “Why?”, it would only satisfy our minds, and it still would not quiet the ache in our hearts. Asking “Why?” can’t change anything; it only makes us focus on our own pain. Instead, I propose a different question, one that I think Mom would prefer us to ask: “how, even in this, was God’s name glorified?” This question will not end the ache in our hearts either, but at least it turns our eyes to God, instead of focussing on our own pain. Here is an incomplete list of the ways J’s life, and especially its end, brought glory to God.

An entire church in Germany, and another in Korea, was touched by Mom’s grace and courage when she visited. A girl joined the church in Korea on Mom’s invitation, and recently was baptized into God’s family. Dozens here in Agassiz saw, through Mom, that God’s promises REALLY CAN bring hope and peace, even in the shadow of death. Our entire family, on both sides, in all generations, have grown closer than ever before, and we have strengthened each other so much. The church in Agassiz has been like a tiny model of the Kingdom of Heaven, in the many, many different ways they’ve supported and sustained our family.

Many prayers were answered: Mom had enough time and strength to say all the important goodbyes she wanted to say, and visit each of her children and her family in Ontario; Mom survived Dan’s wedding, allowing that day to be a joyful one; the coma at the end was fairly quick; she got to see each of her kids one last time before she lost consciousness; amazingly, she had barely any pain as she fought cancer in her abdomen – an area of the body that is usually very sensitive to pain.

I asked Mom if there was anything she wanted me to share in particular in this eulogy, and she asked me to mention Philippians 2:14-15: “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe.”

Mom pointed out to me that the way to shine like a star, to become blameless and pure, is simply to “do everything without complaining or arguing” and Mom was a model of that. She might be the least self-pitying cancer patient ever. She never complained or questioned, but instead, she lived out the end of the life God gave her gently and humbly, and she truly did shine like a star in the universe. Mom’s peace and serenity, and especially her trust in God, set an example for everyone else involved in her sickness. If she herself could suffer through this time without self-pity or anger, then we could certainly do the same. Yet even as others saw Mom’s peace and serenity, Mom wanted to give the glory to God, and point to the source of her peace: tucked away in her journal was the simple sentence, “I hope the story of ‘me’ doesn’t grow out of proportion” – she saw the way people were impressed by her story, and her attitude, and worried that the glory and attention would point to her, instead of to God. Even in her own fight with cancer, Mom humbly wanted to be sure that all the attention went to God.

That is J Ouwehand’s legacy. It is a legacy of humility, love, and trust in God. Mom has left the earth, and all that remain are her footprints, but those are powerful footprints. Those footprints are deep on my soul, and every time I give someone the benefit of the doubt, every time I am gracious and generous, every time I carry my own burdens without complaining, I am living out Mom’s legacy on earth. Really, every time I choose to live more like Christ, I am honouring my mother, because she was an example of a humble life patterned after Christ. Though her treasure is in heaven for living like Christ on earth, our lives bear the earthly fruit of her life. When we face difficult times with courage and peace, when we keep faith in people and love the unlovable, when we look to serve without attracting attention to ourselves, we honour Mom’s memory. By these things we prove that, without a doubt, death has NO victory in the story of Mom’s cancer, for even in her death, the kingdom of heaven advanced on earth, through the lives she touched.

Saturday, 27 August 2005

To My Friends in Korea (August 2005)

Hello my friends in Korea.

I wrote one letter to my Korean friends, and promised
I will write more. Then I forgot to tell you more
about my summer. Some of you haven't heard from me
for a long time. I'm sorry.

This letter is in very simple English, because some
people on this list are learning English, and I don't
want my letter to be difficult for them.

My summer was interesting. I am surprised when I
think that I left Korea five months ago! Some good
things happened. I saw some of my very good friends,
and our friendship is strong. I travelled to my
brother's wedding in July, and I travelled to my good
friend's wedding in August.

My brother got married on July 2, and I was the Best
Man (I stood beside my brother when he got married.)
His wife is named Caryn, and she is a wonderful,
funny, interesting, sweet girl. I travelled to Dan's
town two weeks before the wedding to help him prepare
the last details. I met most of Dan's good friends,
and I really like Dan's friends and his church. There
are lots of good people in his life, so it was really
fun to see him with his friends.

My mom's stomach cancer slowly got worse and worse.
She couldn't eat much, so she got thinner and thinner.
She also got weaker. In July, she was too weak to go
to Dan's wedding. That was very sad. However, many
relatives (uncles, aunts, cousins) came to Dan's
wedding. It was AMAZING to see so much family there.

The wedding day was full of serious times, where
everybody thought about Dan and Caryn's love, and
about God's love for His people. The wedding day was
ALSO full of joy and laughing and funny times. It was
an incredible, amazing, wonderful wedding. I will put
some pictures from the wedding in this e-mail.

After the wedding, many uncles and aunts came to my
town, to visit my mother. She was very happy to see
so many people who loved her.

My time in BC has been good. I've learned a lot about
love, by watching how my father and mother love each
other, and watching how the church in Agassiz loves my
family. The church really really helped us a lot.
People came to visit, and brought food, and cleaned
our house, and did many many small, very useful
things. I'm amazed and thankful that God's people are
so good at helping each other. I think that the
friends and church people are like mirrors that show
God's love for me. God took care of me this summer by
sending loving people to me.

I also learned about love from my friends, because my
friends have been really good and helpful to me. My
friends in Canada, and also in Korea helped me stay
strong, so that I can be strong enough to help my Mom
and Dad. Thank you for your love, my friends!

Since Dan's wedding, mom slowly got weaker, and the
cancer got stronger. Now she stays in bed usually,
and last week she suddenly stopped eating very many
meals. Before, she ate three small meals every day,
and some snacks. Now she eats one meal (sometimes)
every day, and only has drinks, but no snacks. I
can't say if she will still live one or two or three
weeks, but she probably will not live much longer.

After mom dies, I might spend some time travelling in
Canada to see all my important friends, but then I
will come to Korea again. Thank you for being my
friends in Korea. I'm excited to see you all again.
I have missed Korea a lot (especially Exgirfriendoseyo, my
church, and my wingman, Matt, and Korean Jimjilbang,
and samgyetang).

These weeks are going to be my most difficult weeks,
so I appreciate your prayers and thoughts, and thank
you for all the prayers you prayed all summer for me.
They really did help: Mom has a lot of peace in her
mind, and she doesn't have much pain from the cancer,
and that is amazing: usually stomach cancer is VERY
painful.

Sorry I didn't write more e-mails, and sorry this
letter is a little bit long. Thank you for being my
friends in Korea.

Rob Ouwehand

Wednesday, 23 March 2005

March 23rd 2005

Well, it's quiet today: last time I wrote a letter
like this, I was sitting in a sauna in Seoul, hoping
my ears wouldn't get blasted out of my head by the
earthquake-loud dance music playing nearby. This
time, I can hear a clock ticking, and wind blowing
outside the window. The air smells like carpet (an
extreme rarity in Korea: almost all floors are tile or
plastic cleverly disguised to look like light wood
paneling). I also smell cypress trees, growing things
(happy beginning of spring, all), and . . . nothing
(no car exhaust, no street food, no cigarettes). This
can only mean one thing: I am back in Canada.

I finished working on the 28th of February. My
Kindergarten students graduated to first grade (I have
really cute pictures) on the 25th, and I'm proud as
punch of them; Exgirfriendoseyo ALSO graduated from university
on the 25th of February, unfortunately at the same
time as my students, so, lacking the time to develop a
working duplicater safe for human use, I had to miss
seeing my girlfriend graduate. The conversation
went/may have gone like this:

"I wish you could be here to see me graduate, Rob."

"Oh Exgirfriendoseyo -- I wish I could be there! I'd scream
'That's my girlfriend and I love her!' as loud as I
could as you walked up to get your diploma!"

"But I guess it's OK that you can't come. Have fun
with your Kindergarten kids!"

for some reason she wasn't too upset.

I stayed in Korea until March 14th -- two extra weeks
after I finished working. Matt F, my best friend in
Korea (and the newest member of my pantheon of best
friends in the world), let me stay at his house for
two weeks, in his guest bed. This was really great of
him (especially after I figured out that the window
panels were improperly lined up, and THAT'S why the
room was so cold at night.)

The reason I stayed an extra two weeks was so that I
could end my time in Korea on a series of high notes
with my different friends and communities, rather than
on a frantic, rushed, "I still have to finish
packing!" note, like in 2003. Also, I wanted to spend
a LOT of time with my wonderful, beautiful, sweet,
funny . . . (she knows all the other adjectives that
go in this space) . . . warm-hearted and all-around
fantastic girlfriend Exgirfriendoseyo.

After my last day of work, (and before), I had a real
blast winding down my time in Korea. Matt took me
dancing one night (something I'd missed doing since we
were in Japan), I lost money playing poker with the
old coworkers, and I spent a lot of time with Exgirfriendoseyo.
A lot. In fact, just about the only time I DIDN'T
spend with Exgirfriendoseyo, was spent either packing, or
preparing some kind of gift for Exgirfriendoseyo, or travelling
to meet Exgirfriendoseyo, or sleeping, or with Matt. The number
one goal of my extra two weeks was to solidify the
relationship Exgirfriendoseyo and I have had since the end of
July, and make sure that it's built solidly enough to
last, and grow, during my time in Canada. It will be
a difficult time, and distance is never easy, but the
extra two weeks seemed to be exactly the right amount
of time to get everything really working well.

My next goal is to get her to come to Canada. We're
working on a strategy for talking to/asking her
parents, that includes a formal invitation from my
parents and stuff like that. Here's to hoping. My
mom really wants to see Exgirfriendoseyo again (and Exgirfriendoseyo wants
to see my Mom), and I think we can make it happen.

Now that I'm back in Canada, I'm starting to look for
work, and I'm writing a lot. This is a good thing. I
hope that I'll be able to do a lot of work on poetry
and stories, and hopefully, even be able to start
sending poems out to magazines and such. So if
anybody reading this is a magazine publisher, and you
need a poem to fill in an empty space, just give me a
shout! Beyond that, my main goal is just to be around
the house, making myself useful to my mom and dad as
Mom gets weaker, and Dad feels the strain of caring
for a sick wife. It's really the least I can do.

One thing I've learned over the last six months is how
important family can be. Mom and Dad have been
supported by their church family these months, and now
I'm in Canada to do what I can. Often, the best
things families do for each other aren't spectacular:
your uncle doesn't have to save you from a burning oil
refinery to be your hero, and your friend doesn't have
to carry you down a mountainside after you break your
ankle, to prove (s)he's a friend for life. Usually
love shows itself best in small ways -- a touch of
compassion, a compliment, a hug at the right time.
Right now, to be here for my mom and dad, it's all
menial things -- carrying in the groceries, mowing the
lawn, cooking dinner because mom loses her appetite if
she cooks, cleaning bathrooms because company's
coming. But, the sum of those things is not the
trivial nature of the work I'm doing, it's the way I
can show my love for my family right now. I'm lucky
enough to be in a position where I can do that, and
I'm so glad that Mom has someone to carry in the
groceries. (I think she is, too.)

Mom gets tired more easily. In October, when she came
to Korea, she managed to out-last both me and my dad
as we toured around Seoul. Now, she rests most of the
day if she's going out in the evening, and she falls
asleep at 8 pm if she's been active in the afternoon.
Sometimes she eats well, and sometimes her stomach
just rebels, but she is amazingly peaceful. She is
happy to see the people who come by, and she has an
attitude as positive as anybody I've met (which is
totally in character for her, but that only makes it
more remarkable). Dad sometimes feels the strain, too
-- he gets headaches and such sometimes, and every
once in a while he has a really emotionally exhausting
day, so please keep both of them in your prayers.

The Thursday after I arrived in Canada, my brother in
law had a birthday party for my sister. Her birthday
is January 1, but since New Year's Day is already a
party day, he decided to throw her a party on a
different day, so that her birthday was a special
occasion of its own. Unfortunately, Mom, Dad and I
had been told everything about the party but its
location (I don't think that's what was intended when
Brad said a surprise party), so we only managed to
find the party at all because I had stuck our
cellphone in my pocket, and forgotten it was there
when we drove out to Langley. Deb called us and we
found our way to our friend Sarah's house.

Then, on Saturday, my Uncle Tony and Aunt Marianne
came from Thunder Bay, Ontario, and on Monday my Uncle
Hugh and Aunt Heather (both Uncles are Dad's brothers)
came by from the Okanagan in BC, in order to help us
celebrate Mom and Dad's 30th wedding anniversary.
This was a pretty big, exciting thing. About 80
people from the Agassiz community came to and open
house in our church building, and gave their best
wishes to Mom and Dad. My uncles and aunts played
guitar, sang, and told jokes, and everybody ate,
signed the guest book, looked through Mom and Dad's
wedding album, and took pictures of the happy couple.


My uncle Tony reflected how an anniversary like this
celebrates the idea of marriage and commitment, as
well as my Mom and Dad's marriage, and it reminds
everybody to hold onto the ones they love. Doing this
takes a lot of different things: sometimes one is
needy, and sometimes the other. Sometimes, the main
thing that holds a marriage through a hard time is
stubbornness, and sometimes relationships only survive
by luck, or sheer grace, by the hope that things will
get better through commitment, effort and humility,
by the hope that the stubbornness will be worthwhile,
and give the grace a space to shine. Through all this
celebration, the main feeling, I think, was
thankfulness -- Dad thanks God for Mom, and the time
he's had with her. Mom thanks God for Dad, and the
love she's been able to give and receive. I thank God
that Mom met Dad, because if they hadn't, I'm not sure
how I'd be able to send this letter (and they swear
they're glad I was born, too). My parents have
touched a lot of people in their lifetimes, and will
touch more people in new ways before they're done, but
the anniversary celebration was a great way to note
how much good can come out of two people deciding to
build a life together, to make love an important part
of their life. I've always thought love is like a
muscle: the more you work it, the stronger it gets,
and the stronger a muscle is, the more work it can do,
and the more people it can help.

I'm not sure how long I'll be in Canada, but I hope I
get lots of opportunities to exercise love, and to
grow stronger because of it; the people around me in
Canada (and the US), and the people waiting for me in
Korea, deserve the strongest, most loving Rob I can
be.

Take care of yourselves.

If you live near Agassiz, give me a call: I have lots
of free time right now, and I'd love to catch up. If
you don't have my number, just hit the reply button
(delete the text of the rest of my letter) and ask for
my digits.

with love:
Rob Ouwehand

Tuesday, 4 January 2005

Christmas 2004 and New Year's 2005

The really, really loud music from the dance show
finally stopped, and now I'm only contending with the
moderately loud music and real-time fighting games
played by the kids sitting near me. I'm sitting in a
sauna's internet cafe, paying a lot more per minute
than most internet cafes, and feeling quite mellow,
thanks to having just soaked in hot and cold water.

I've reached the point in my contract where the light
at the end of the tunnel is getting quite a bit
brighter, and I don't mind that a bit; soon I'll get
to that mellow stage where nothing can phase me
anymore, the stage where I walk around all day as if
I'd just woken up, and I answer everything anybody
says to me with "No worries, pal!"

We have a CD player in the staff room, so all is well,
as long as I can put on some music during the five
heartbeat (I mean five minute) pause (not long enough
to qualify as an actual break) between classes, and
listen to a song. I've nicknamed the CD player "My
job satisfaction", because really, I'm just that easy
to please. There's a selection of music in the CD
wallet I leave at work that's varied enough that I'll
have songs ready to start me up (Led Zeppelin, Yeah
Yeah Yeahs), slow me down (Norah Jones, Nick Drake),
give me something new on my mind (Miles Davis, Glenn
Gould), take me out into left field (Flaming Lips,
Havalina Rail Co.) or just plain make me feel good
(Cat Stevens, Beach Boys, Prince). Seeing as the
break is exactly one song long, I'm set. Nothing bugs
me, as long as there are tunes -- even the new
Kindergarten teacher who made defamatory statements
about Mother Theresa's politics ("she should have
built a hospital -- why did she go and send all that
money to the vatican?"), or questioning the historical
existence of the prophet Mohammed (who led a conquest
during his life, and whose line of heirs were/are(?)
Islam's leaders for centuries). Whatever. It's all
good. She's just trying to start a conversation, and
sometimes it's fun to take her bait, if you can still
hear over the sound of Joe (the guy sitting on the
other side of me), grinding his teeth in annoyance.
(He isn't fond of her shocking statement converstaion
style).

Whatever. It's all good. No worries, pal!

Happy New Year.

As most of you know, I spent Christmas in BC (Agassiz
specifically, with brief forays into Langley,
Chilliwack, Vancouver, Harrison Hot Springs, and a
mountainside near my home). This was an excellent
thing. The doctors have given mom about 4-6 months,
(but we don't say things like "Last Christmas
Together" out loud, 'cos that makes the egg nog and
almond rings taste a little bitter, or at least
bittersweet, and who's cutting onions in the other
room again?). We had some amazing moments of family
closeness reflecting on the last year, making
Oliebollen (dutch new-years treats deep-fried in oil),
cooking a turkey, wandering around Harrison Hot
Springs, and driving all over the Fraser Valley in
units of three or four.

Of course, as with any family, seven days of family
closeness was. . . well, tiring -- everybody was
totally beat by the end of it, but it was great.

My nephew kept wanting to hug me so hard I fell over,
"Tio Rob. Do you have a squish for me today?" and my
niece wanted to shout "NO" at me every time I spoke to
her (which her father asked me, rightfully, to
discourage. I did my best); she would also blink at
me rather than make other funny faces. She was really
sweet and affectionate to my brother Dan, though -- I
smiled to see her run towards his legs as if he were a
magnet and she a paperclip begging to be picked up.
I'm continually impressed at how reasonable my
sister's kids are -- they respond amazingly well to
reasoned and calm explanation of why you can't play
that game, or why you won't give him the plastic
hammer until he says he's sorry for hitting your. . .
um . . . lap . . . with it. (didn't actually happen.)
If you tell them to play nicely, they actually DO!

Deb and Brad were in and out, being the closest to
home in Langley (an hour away), but the dinner table
is never full without the laughs Deb brings to it, and
the planned zaniness of things like no-utensil
spaghetti meals and cream pie fights. Dan remains the
funniest person I know, and also the one who
understands me best in the world -- the one who'd know
all the secrets. The midnight cigars and frigid walks
and drives are something I'd never trade for anything.
His fiance Caryn. . . let's just say I can't wait for
her to be my sister. She fit into the family
amazingly well. Her first ENTIRE WEEK (wow) with the
entire family totally exhausted her (of course -- a
new family is like a new culture, and culture shock is
exhausting, whether it's national or familial), but
she stood up amazingly well, and I think everyone in
the family has really warmed up to her, since seeing
her in all the different contexts and situations that
come up in a whole week together.

Two of my uncles came out as well -- it was great to
see them, too, and I love those people, and two of my
nearest and dearest also came out to see me, and that
put a big old smile on my face, too.

On the Tuesday, my sister bought some whipped cream
and whipped egg-whites, and we had a cream pie fight,
where we pull names out of a hat and throw cream pies
in our family's faces. I aksidentaly got some craem
in my fase (bad for the allergies) instead of just egg
wite (and the spelling in this passage is a clue as to
who perpetrated this cream-smearing). Some got in my
eye, which irritated my eye, and had me worried that
I'd have pink eyes for. . . the family pictures later
that afternoon. Yes, we got family pictures. They
were great -- we got some amazing pictures of everyone
in the family, and especially some real keepers of my
wonderful mom. I can't wait to see the copies.

As you know, I'll be coming back to Canada in March to
take care of my family and see my brother properly
married. We'll be apart for a while, but I'm working
hard now on establishing solid roots for our
relationship, and positive patterns of trust and
communication, so that we're equipped to deal with a
time apart. Francois Duc de Rochefoucauld once said

"Absence lessens the small loves and increases the
great ones, as the wind blows out a candle and blows
up a bonfire."

(I'm not actually THAT smart: I looked that quote up
on the internet so I could use it.) So my work right
now is to make sure that the flame is big enough
before I leave that the absence will increase it,
rather than extinguish it. Talking to my friend
Melissa, who had a long absence in the middle of HER
courtship with her wonderful now-husband, made me feel
a lot better about this.

(the now, retroactively renamed Exgirlfriendoseyo and I celebrated an anniversary this weekend
at a FANCY restaurant, taking pictures together at a
photo studio (quite nice ones), and eating lamb and
steak in a restaurant overlooking Seoul at night.
Every time I see her it's better than the time
before.)

Anyway, before I make you all ill with my mushy talk,
I'll move on to other topics.

As when news came out that Matthias has muscular
dystrophy, and the sweet people in church showed their
concern by asking, weekly, "How's your nephew,"
despite the fact muscular dystrophy is a disease that
will take about 20 years to finish its process, now,
well-meaning students continually ask about my mom,
and I have to say, several times a day, "still sick."
This situation requires tact and discretion more than
anything else, as much as the first instinct is to be
surly and say "please don't bring that up right now"
or to look for the nearest exit. I'm doing my best.

It's an interesting aspect of human nature that, even
when your situation is difficult, you can still find
what one coworker calls "the little v's" -- the small
victories. He's a smoker, so for him, every smoke,
and ever cup of coffee make his day a little better.
Little things can totally change one's perspective --
people caught on desert islands probably spend as much
time wishing for a toothbrush as wishing for an
emergency transmitter. My little victories are not
cigarettes and cups of coffee, but times my students
crack me up, the five minute conversations with my
girlfriend during lunch and long breaks, getting a
message on my phone, getting e-mails, and being
cracked up by Matt and the others in the staff room.
Long hot showers. Saunas. Cold winter air that wakes
me up. The smell of Exgirfriendoseyo's hair. Matt's loud
laugh. Cindy (in Kindergarten) absently taking and
holding my hand during class. And if I can play music
in the staff room at break time too, well, I'm
laughing my way home at night. Optimism and,
moreover, contentment/happiness, just like holiness,
awareness, fitness, and punctuality, are not so much
conditions as disciplines, and I'm learning how to be
in the habit of happiness.

Take care my wonderful peoples. I hope all of you are
in the habit of happiness and optimism.

love
Rob Ouwehand