twenty-four

Today marks exactly 24 years since Susan and I got married.

Twenty four years!

What’s shocking to me is just how much 24 is an ‘old people number.’ I can remember as a kid when some relatives celebrated their 25 anniversaries. Those people were old. We’re not old. Certainly not.

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I guess the other thing that really stands out as I look back over these 24 years is that you really don’t have any idea what your life will look like when you start out together. We thought we wanted to have kids, but of course, had no idea what our kids would be like. But our kids are such a core part of who we are now that it’s impossible to imagine what our lives would be like without them.


One of the things about being back in our old house in Canada is finding old photos to go through. It’s interesting for us…and super entertaining for the kids. So why keep that enjoyment from others….
when we had three small kids…which I’m pretty sure at this point we thought were ‘big kids’

When we got married we were both in liberal arts undergrad, Susan in Religious Studies and me in History. Even at the time, we weren’t sure what we were going to do, but man we never would have imagined where we went.

we were in India when – apparently we were 12 years old – and it was very, very hot.

We moved for Kazakstan a little after our first anniversary, to live and work there for a year. In many ways that experience, as mixed as it was, opened out eyes – collectively- for what living overseas could look like, what working in a foreign mission field may look like.

our first time in France – apparently 549 days before the year 2000

We ended up living in France, two times, for a total of eight years. Two of our kids were born there. Prior to moving there, neither of us had even travelled to France other than a few days as we were moving back from Kazakstan, and neither of us had anything beyond Anglophone-high-school-French. The kind of French that really is pretty bad, not because of what/how it was taught but because at the time as a teenager you can’t imagine you’ll ever use it.

We’ve changed a lot, and we’ve been through quite a bit. We’ve been hurt, we’ve hurt each other. We’ve experienced so much joy, sorrow, adventure, disappointment, love – and we’ve done it together.

The date in the corner there says it all – Aug 1 , 1996 – our honeymoon.

We were talking with a couple the other day coming up on 28 years, and they noted how you’re not really married to the same person through that time ( referring to something I think Tim Keller said about being married to a different person every year). That totally resonated, I think especially for us since we got married quite young and have gone through a lot since. I am not the same person I was when we got married. I look back on that guy – so young, so naive. So selfish, so sure of so many things. Had never really sacrificed much for anything – certainly not for anyone but me. Thought I had a firm grasp on God, what following Jesus meant. I never had been through much heartache, had no idea what real fear was, or honestly real deep joy, or actually much else.

Susan and I have both changed a lot over 24 years. A lot. In some ways looking back at who we were when we got married is like looking at someone else entirely.

Marrakesh, Morocco – with 1-year old Jonah who may or may or may not have had chicken pox)

But I guess that’s what life is. Perhaps the most significant things we learn are when we uncover that we don’t know what we don’t know.

As we spend more time experiencing life, one of the things that happens is we realize how little we know, and how much there is we cannot ever know. That’s why people who have it all figured out make me so nervous. Whether it’s people who think “it’s so obvious what we should be doing as a society about COVID” or people who have a theological system that creates neat rules about God that explains everything. But I suppose all that is for another post.

Christmas 2002

What this is about is one of the few things in this life that I am sure of.

I made a very, very, very good decision 24 years ago that I would never change. When I look over the ways I have changed, all the good ones are Susan-related. No person has taught me more about compassion, and concern, and empathy, and grace, and love, and faithfulness than my bride.

So while there have been some tough times, some scary times, that round off the amazing, and the joyous — I would never, ever, ever trade in these past 24 years for anything else.

Well, I made it to 46.

My birthday was last week, and as I often find myself doing at this annual life-marker, I look at what others had done by my age and the ole’ “who died at my age” question.

So I’ll tell you:

Pierre Currie, husband to Marie and Nobel prize-winning chemist & physicist, was hit by a horse-drawn wagon on the streets of Paris and died when he was 46.

Oscar Wilde, David Foster Wallace, actor Philip Seymore Hoffman and even John Fitzgerald Kennedy never made it past 46, and Robert Louis Stevenson, Antoine de Saint Exupery, and F Scott Fitzgerald, all died at 45. (So partially it would seem, being routinely known with three names puts you at an unacceptably high risk of death in your mid 40’s)

On average, on this planet, one could expect to live to 71. Of course, that fluctuates widely depending on where you live. In Canada it’s 82 (one of the highest in the world), in Burundi it’s 61 (one of the lowest)

I think a lot of times on my birthday I get hit with a kind of reassessment mentality. I look at what the last year has meant, and often I am tempted to examine what I accomplished. That tends to never end well. Especially when I look at the names like the ones in the paragraph above: accomplished actors, presidents, Nobel prize-winning scientists, writers, scholars, thinkers who have shifted society. They accomplished this before they were as old as I am now. And then I look at what I’ve done. That doesn’t feel super great. Of course, that is an incredibly unhealthy and unhelpful perspective. It reduces human value to human performance, and that’s wrong in so many ways. But honestly, that’s for another post. Today I’m cognisant of something else.

Normally I look at “what have I done when I made it to 46″ and focus on the ‘what have I done” part. This year it’s the second part of that thought: “I made it to 46.”

This birthday, I am painfully aware that I almost didn’t make it another year.

Almost exactly 5 months ago today, as much as it’s still hard to accept, I was almost killed. The reality is, one of the last things I remember before being strangled unconscious for the second time was a man coming at me with an AK-47 machine gun. It was loaded, his finger on the trigger, and when I regained consciousness that beating had left me with muzzle-shaped bruises on my chest, and broken and bruised ribs.


There are events that change you, permanently. Sometimes its things we learn, that open up our minds. Learning to read, is perhaps the most notable of those. Sometimes it’s a tangible marker of a change like getting married. Sometimes it’s an event like the birth of a child.

There are times I’ve come to understand things that have fundamentally changed who I am. There are certain books, or hearing people speak that have allowed me to understand God, or the true nature of forgiveness, or grasped love in a new way.

I’m quite sure that attack will be one of those things, but only the passage of time will show what impact it has.


I have strange memories that are tied to certain images, sounds, smells. Certain smells return me to my Grandmother’s house at Christmas. A certain type of shoelace reminds me of that time used one to repair my 1980 VW in a thunderstorm at night in the middle of nowhere on a prairie highway. I have vivid mental snapshots of the evening my little brother was hit by a car when we were walking to a local church for a kid’s program. Details stuck in my memory that there are no pictures of, no one else noticed, that I still take up space in my mind. Those have been there for almost 40 years since I was in second grade.

Memories are strange things, I can fully remember completely nonconsequential conversations with people. Where we were standing, what we were talking about, 20 years after the fact. Then there are events that people tell me happened, that it seems I should recall, but I honestly don’t. It seems that the more dramatic – or traumatic – experiences seem to get priority in our mind’s storage system.

Our trauma counsellor keeps reminding us, that what we went through was an event of enough significance that we don’t fully understand it. Apparently trauma of a certain level actually rewires the subconscious part of our mind. That’s why despite sleeping well (which is a huge blessing in itself) we are still very often tired and feel worn out. Our minds only have a certain capacity, and right now part of that bandwidth is still used up as our brains try to recover. That’s why despite liking to spend time with people, we feel the drain of being around others. Even though consciously we enjoy it, our minds are likely still reeling from a perceived threat and betrayal that on a subconscious level, our brains are trying to protect us from a repeat. That’s why someone pretending to hit someone else can make my heart jump and give me a mild anxiety attack as just the thought of violence still feels so real that it takes me back.

So five months on, I wish I were further along the path to a full recovery. I wish that my voice/throat still didn’t bother me, or that the scar tissue in my leg still didn’t make my left leg stiff every time I stand up. I wish my kids didn’t have to get through all the things they have gotten through, and are still working on. I can easily get angry that those men chose violence and greed and my family will be paying the price for who knows how long.

However, I am immeasurable grateful.

Here I am. I still get to be Susan’s husband and my kids’ Dad. I’m more aware that as a mere mortal I don’t have control over the number of days I have here. That was always something that I knew to be true, it’s just a lot more real now.

I know people often say things like that after a near-death experience, or when someone close to them dies. I guess now it’s just me who is the one saying it, the one being grateful to be here, instead of the one told to cherish every day.

Of course, there are no guarantees I’ll make it to my next birthday. There never are. There never were. However, I’m more aware of that now, and my prayers that start with “thank you for this day” mean a lot more than they did before.

more things we forgot about

controling the temperature in the house

radio

leisure activities – all these recreational activities that people have specific equipment for

trains

pears

sparkiling water

garages

dandilions

dish washers

people referring to carbonated drinks as “pop”

bike paths that were actually designed and built to be used for recreational biking

plugging things directly into the wall (no adaptor. no transformer)

Virtually Unprecedented

In these unprecidented times….

It kind of feels like that is the new way to start an email or newsletter or update of any kind from any institution. Honestly, I’m pretty sure no one used that phrase to start an email last year, and suddenly it feels about as common as “hello”

Actually , we’re collectively Googling that exact phrase as well. I guess it’s being used so much, there are some who aren’t sure exactly what it means, but are running into it so much, they had to ask Google.

We’re also apparently all in on virtual everything now. Virtual meetings, virtual school, virtual church, virtual choirs, virtual conferences. Again, apparently were asking Google what this actually means

Some of the winners in this current situation are those who sell these virtual solutions, like Zoom, and searches for them have spiked. So too, phrases that suddenly are part of our everyday conversations that were never there before, not directly related to this virus, but part of our lives now thanks to this virus. Phrases like: face masks, social distancing, PPE, ICU, are all now being searched.

Apparently were also confused, and days of working from home, isolation, and upended schedules have started to play with our own awareness our surroundings:

I’m sure someday sociologists will look at all this and tease out insights, but for now I guess its just a few indicates that we are truly living in unprecidented times.

Or at the very least, virtually unprecedented times.

There’s a lot of Canada

One of the things that still strikes us living in Burundi is the population density. Not that it is anywhere like truly densely populated places like Hong Kong or even New York or Toronto, but there are way more people than it feels like there should be. In a huge city, you expect people everywhere. In a country like Burundi, where there are almost no cities (only Buj is a million and none of the rest is even a fraction of that) It feels like you are always out in the country. You don’t see signs of development, or industry, or really people.

Yet, they are always there. No matter how remote you think you are, if you stop for even a few seconds, kids start to emerge from behind banana plants. People wander down a dirt trail that you think can’t possibly lead anywhere and soon there are 50 people, and you can’t see any sign of what they might be doing there.

The Rocky Mountains in Canada, are pretty much the opposite. Well, it’s the same in that it feels like there are no people there, but the difference is, that there actually isn’t.

Burundi is 27,000 square kilometres, with about 11 million people spread out over most of it. About a million in Bujumbura, the rest kind of everywhere else. So about 370 people per km around the country

Alberta is a province of 660,000 square kilometres with about 4 million people. A third of the population, with 25 times the area. Bearing in mind that over half of the Alberta population is found in Edmonton and Calgary, that leaves pretty much 2 million people for the remaining 559,000 square km. So about 4 people per square km, or 1% of Burundi.

The part of the province I just spent a few days in is the part that drags that number down, way down.

In fact, the mountains here are a region where the following stat is more applicable: There are 84 bears per 1,000 km averaged out over the entire province – with some areas (like where we were ) with triple that amount.

Backcountry camping is almost shocking to the system in terms of getting away from it all.

The gravel parking lot at the trailhead had about 10 cars in it when we got there, but we met most of those people on their way out since we were heading in on a Sunday morning. We saw one lone hiker the entire day Tuesday.

It’s the kind of place where you really are cut off. There is of course no phone service even on the highway. I was thinking on the way back, there could have been a massive 1,000% COVID spike or even a vaccine discovered and we would never have known until we started back down the highway and got some cell service.

Anyway – I guess all of that to say: I had an amazing few days in the remote, unspoiled, rugged, majestic beauty of Alberta with some really good friends.

The three of us went backcountry camping the last time we were home three years ago – same epic time. (Fun Fact: hard to describe a hiking trip like this and NOT use the word ‘epic’).

Anyway – the pictures do a much better job than my rambling words, so here are a few: