Category Archives: Holidays
Perhaps because I am a mother myself, on Good Friday I am often preoccupied with thinking about Mary, Jesus’ mother.
How must she have felt as they nailed her son’s hands and feet to the cross and she watched him slowly die? How would a mother feel watching that happen to her child?
Former Toronto Star columnist Michelle Landsberg writes in her book Women and Children First, “It is at the very moment we give birth, that we first begin to truly understand and fear death. ” Mary must certainly have experienced such fear for her child right from the beginning of her motherhood journey.
She was just a young girl when she delivered her first baby after enduring the comments of those who thought it was scandalous she got pregnant before she was married. She takes her son to the temple when he is eight days old. There a man named Simeon tells her the tribulations of her child will be “ like a sword that will pierce your soul.” Later when Jesus is a toddler, Mary becomes a refugee because powerful people want to kill her son. To save him she flees to a place where the culture, language, and religion are completely foreign to her.
Jesus is twelve when he is separated from his parents in the large city of Jerusalem. Any mother who has ever lost a child in a crowd can empathize with the heart-stopping fear Mary surely experienced at that point.
Once Jesus began his ministry Mary must have lived in constant anxiety. Her thirty-year-old son does not marry or have steady employment. He wanders around with a member of a violent guerilla warfare organization. His other followers are men who have abandoned their careers and families. He travels with a tax collector and with Mary Magdalene, whose virtue is questionable. He is often seen with Joanna, a woman who has left her politically important husband, and a rich young lady named Susanna who is rumored to be squandering her fortune on Jesus.
Mary watches her son spend time with lepers, prostitutes, adulterers, dishonest government officials and those who are thought to be demon-possessed. People gossip about Jesus. Mary overhears her neighbors whisper “he has gone out of his mind.” She knows the church leaders hate her son.
Once when she goes to see him Jesus says, “Who is my mother?” as she approaches. Mary must have been hurt. Another time he is visiting at home and makes some radical and inflammatory statements in the synagogue in Nazareth . The congregation gets so mad they drive him out of the city. He narrowly escapes being pushed off a cliff. How Mary must have worried!
Yet Mary supports her son whole-heartedly. At the Cana wedding, Jesus is hesitant to perform a miracle. “Mom why should we worry about this,” he says in John 2:4. “Do whatever my son tells you”, Mary confidently assures the servants ignoring her son’s misgivings. Jesus lives up to his mother’s absolute faith in him. He turns the water into wine. Many people’s hearts are changed as a result.
And Mary demonstrates her unconditional love for her son at the end of Jesus’ life. People are making a circus of his death. They are spitting on him, jeering and gambling with his belongings. He is hanging between two common criminals. Most of his followers have fled, denying they know him, but not his mom. She is standing right at his cross. Jesus is so moved by his mother’s loyalty that one of the last things he does before he dies is ask his best friend to look after her.
The Bible makes it clear Mary never gave up on her son. Time and time again she extended her support and care. No doubt her faith in God sustained her through the most difficult trials of motherhood.
So give a thought to Mary on this Good Friday, because sadly there are still mothers everywhere in our world who are grieving for their children’s hurt and pain. Remember too that there are also mothers everywhere who are continuing to live in hope, who like Mary, never stop loving their children unconditionally.
It’s International Women’s Day and I am going to celebrate by introducing you to some of the amazing women I’ve met on my international travels.
This is Wayan in her restaurant and health shop in Ubud, Bali. Wayan is one of the main characters in Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Eat, Pray, Love. Wayan opened her business to support herself and her daughter after leaving her abusive husband.
This is Por Ko, the principal of Goldstone School in Phnom Penh Cambodia. I volunteered at Goldstone and so admired how Por Ko ran a school in a huge old house where she had turned the bedrooms into classrooms and made do with limited resources and staff to provide the best education possible for 150 students.
These are domestic workers in Hong Kong enjoying their Sunday fellowship. They work a six-day week and Sunday is their only day off. They leave the Philippines to go to Hong Kong and work for wealthy families. Their earnings are sent back to help their families in the Philippines. Many of the women leave their own children behind to care for the children of wealthy Hong Kong residents. I interviewed a group of these women for an article in the Winnipeg Free Press. I so admired their courage, resilience and faith.
This is Beatriz a fellow grandmother and a fellow teacher in Merida Mexico who led a workshop we took about making chocolate. It was a delight to get to know her and visit with her. Her teaching supports her family and she is helping her son and his fiancee get their chocolate-making business off the ground.
Victoria was a university student from Odesa who served as our guide on a walking tour of Kyiv. Intelligent, articulate and engaging Victoria was studying languages and she and a friend came up with the idea of practising their English by giving free tours of Kyiv and then asking people to make a donation when the tour was over. Their self-initiated business had drawn the attention of the local television station and they interviewed my husband Dave to see how he had enjoyed his tour with Victoria. We took Victoria out for lunch after our tour and heard a little of her life story. I so admired her many talents and her vision for the future.
When I was volunteering at a tutoring centre in Runaway Bay Jamaica I went to visit an affiliated daycare set up by this amazing woman named Claudette Brown. She runs a daycare for 140 children on a tiny piece of land in a ramshackle old building with four small rooms. Six other women work with her. She receives no government support. Sometimes parents forget to pick children up at the end of the day so Claudette takes them home with her.
Dee Dee, a woman in her early 30s was our snorkelling guide on a trip to Boracay in the Philippines. Her sister cares for Dee’s Dee’s seven children while she acts as a guide on her brother-in-law’s touring boat. After our snorkelling trip, Dee Dee invited us to her home. Made from bamboo, with a concrete floor and thatched roof it does not have running water. Dee Dee’s Dad who is debilitated from a stroke lives with her. Dee Dee depends on the tourists who come to Boracay for her income. When I asked her what keeps her going despite the many challenges she faces, she said it was God. “I know God is always watching over me.”
We met this marvellous young woman Ayaka when we were touring a kaleidoscope museum in Kyoto. She was a museum worker and was very friendly. We struck up a conversation with her and she offered to meet us after her shift and show us the sights of Kyoto. She explained how the subway worked, took us to her favourite restaurant and spent the evening filling us in on what life was like for a young woman in Kyoto. Ayaka had big dreams and a desire for new experiences. We have kept in touch since our first meeting.
Rong was our bicycle guide on several of our visits to Yangshou China. She was an incredible young woman who biked into Yanghsou every morning from her home 15 miles away. The money she was earning as a guide would help her younger brother go to school and help with her mother’s medical expenses. Rong had lost the sight in one eye in a childhood accident but that didn’t hold her back from being a fabulous guide. I wrote a story about her for the Winnipeg Free Press.
These four women and I formed the high school English Department at an international school in Hong where I taught for six years. They were the absolute dream team to work with- dedicated, hard-working, innovative, caring and collegial. Meena was from India, Rebekah from the United States, Vanessa from Hong Kong, I was from Canada and Liz was from Australia. We were truly an international group of educators.
In February we recognize two important holidays. Both remind us we are making progress towards respecting diversity, but each should also remind us we need to continue to be vigilant about protecting human rights.
We are in the midst of the Chinese New Year celebrations which run from February 12 -26th. Canada is home to more than one and half million people of Chinese descent. I learned to thoroughly enjoy Chinese New Year celebrations during the six years I lived in Hong Kong. Some of my colleagues at the international school where I taught were Chinese Canadians. I was interested to learn that their families had been in Canada longer than mine.
My Mennonite ancestors immigrated in the 1920s but in the early 1880s 17,000 Chinese workers came to Canada to help build the railroad. Many stayed here and prospered despite the virulent racism they faced. Their families continue to make valuable contributions to our country in politics, culture, business, science, education, technology and sport.
Sadly, according to the Toronto Globe and Mail, in the last year more than 600 incidents of hate related crimes have been reported to Chinese Canadian organizations. Although some of these incidents are related to historical anti-Asian racism many are the result of the racialization of COVID-19. Vancouver police have reported a real spike in cases. They investigated seven racist incidents in 2019 and sixty-six in 2020.
Although it is easy to point fingers at the United States where their former president’s continual reference to COVID-19 as the Chinese virus has caused a massive increase in anti-Asian hate incidents, we have a similar problem in Canada. One need look no further for an example of such anti- Chinese sentiment than the comments of former Conservative Party member Derek Sloan. He accused Dr. Theresa Tam our country’s chief medical officer who is of Chinese descent, of being more loyal to China than to Canada. This kind of dishonest racist rhetoric has no place in a respectful society.
On Monday we celebrated Louis Riel day. Louis Riel was a staunch defender of the rights of Manitoba’s Metis people. The mayor of our capital city Brian Bowman is Metis as was a former provincial premier John Norquay. Think of hockey player Theoren Fluery, writer Katherena Vermette, artist Joe Fafard, actress Tantoo Cardinal and members of Parliament Dan Vandal and Shelley Glover and you will get some idea of just how many important contributions the nearly 90,000 Metis Manitobans have made to our province.
Yet it doesn’t take long to find stories about Metis people being discriminated against in many different areas of society. In September of 2020 a CTV news story reported that David Chartrand the president of the Manitoba Metis Federation had sent a letter to the Manitoba Human Rights Commission alleging systemic discrimination against the Metis people throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Chartrand said the provincial government had been unwilling to work with the Metis nation in an information sharing process that would have benefited both the Metis and the Manitoba health care system.
In 2018 almost the entire Manitoba Hydro Board, whose members had all been appointed by Premier Brian Pallister, resigned to protest the decision the premier made to not honor an agreement the board had negotiated with the Manitoba Metis Federation. Clearly there is still work to do in addressing discrimination against the Metis community.
A pair of holidays we celebrate in February recognize the rich contributions of two diverse communities in our country. Those holidays should also remind us we need to continue to work at respecting the human rights of those communities.
In honour of Valentine’s Day I decided to look for images from past pages of this blog that were associated with the word love.
I married the love of my life in 1973.
I love these three friends who have provided me with so much affirmation and support over the years.
This water-colour of a recently married couple was featured on the thank you cards they sent out to guests for the wedding gifts they had received. Dave and I attended their wedding in Toronto.
I photographed this sign at a Winnipeg Earth Day celebration where we were encouraged to show our love of creation by protecting it and caring for it.
I love my sister and brothers. They have added so much care and concern and FUN to my life.
I loved being a teacher for over 35 years. Here I am on the rooftop of the school I taught at in Hong Kong with a group of students who were in my advisory. I mentored them throughout their high school years.
I absolutely loved this film about a woman who loves giraffes, scientist Anne Dagg. She did groundbreaking research on giraffes in the 1950s but because she was a woman her work wasn’t recognized by the academic world. Recognition finally came when she was in her 80s and that made it possible for her to go back to Africa to visit her beloved giraffes.
I loved the way my niece Olivia who is a professional chef expressed her love for her family by preparing the rehearsal dinner meal for her cousins’ wedding many years ago. I loved the amazing food she prepared!
My mother LOVED her grandchildren. She told me once being a grandmother was the best thing in her life. She said she LOVED the way each of her grandchildren was so unique and special. Mom died in 2013 but the love she had for her family lives on. I have the joy of knowing what she meant about a grandmother’s love with my own four grandchildren.
A child made this and gave it to me after I had led her class on a tour of the Winnipeg Art Gallery and had done an art workshop with them.
I photographed this declaration of love on a building in Austin Texas. I was there to watch our son perform in the South by Southwest music festival.
The birth of my first child brought a kind of love into my life that was different from anything I had ever experienced before. Now I marvel as I watch my sons parenting their own children and the way they love them and care for them.
Happy Valentine’s Day. Love is all around.
Welcome to 2021.
Let’s receive it with open arms.
Arms that open to share our love with friends and family
Arms that open to welcome new people who are different than we are into our circles.
Arms that open to embrace adventures that will lead us to explore unique territory .
Arms that open to offer hope and healing to others and in turn give us hope and healing.
Arms that open to let light and optimism and enthusiasm wash into our hearts.
Merry Christmas to all my blog readers. Thanks so much for reading my posts and a special thanks to so many of you who have made comments and responded. Especially during this past year writing this blog each day has been a way to keep balance and perspective and maintain a meaningful routine for my pandemic life. I wish you peace and joy as you celebrate this festive season.
God Rest the Children
by MaryLou Driedger
God rest our merry children, let nothing them dismay
Let nothing scar their pure young hearts,
This pandemic Christmas Day
May they still believe in magic, the tinsel and the tree
May nothing mar their happiness or taint their innocent glee.
God rest our merry children, but may we stop a while
And think about the little ones who have no cause to smile.
The children of North Korea so hungry and so cold
Tiny babies born in Yemen who never will grow old
Child soldiers in Uganda who’ve learned to fight and hate
Abandoned orphans in Haiti, what shall they celebrate?
In Libya and Syria, the children cannot sleep
They fear the shells and snipers, they hear their parents weep
While violence rocks the cradles in El Salvador
Those growing up in Iraq live with the scars of war.
Here in North America, we need only look to see
The myriad of children who live in poverty
Homeless, hungry and forlorn, their future looks so dark
We need to light the way for them, ignite a hopeful spark.
And what about the boys and girls who’ve had family members die
As the pandemic rages onward and infections rise sky high?
God rest the children of this world, but may we feel dismay
That so many of our little ones are sad this Christmas day.
Let us pray that sometime soon all children everywhere
Will live in comfort and joy, and never know despair
God bless our merry children, but open our eyes to see
All of those who need our help, our generosity.
May each of us do our part, whether great or small
To let the children of this world, know that God loves them all.
We wish a peaceful rest this night for young ones far and near
A blissful bit of slumber free from doubt and fear
God rest the children!
Today is the winter solstice. We will have the longest night of the year, the longest period of darkness. And this year that darkness is particularly deep and daunting as the death toll from COVID-19 rises around the world and as the economic and social impacts of the pandemic take a dark toll on people and families and communities.
I think the perfect song to mark this day is The Solstice Carol by the Winnipeg group The Wyrd Sisters. The lyrics of The Solstice Carol remind us that during the longest night of the year we are to comfort one another, think about our blessings, remember to dance and share what we have with others. That is the true spirit of the solstice and it will get us through to the spring when there will once again be more light than darkness.
A fire is burning
The long night draws near
All who need comfort
Are welcome by here
We’ll dance ‘neath the stars
And toast the past year
For the spirit of solstice
Is still living here
We’ll count all our blessings
While the Mother lays down
With snow as her blanket
Covering the ground
Thanks to the Mother
For the life that she brings
She’ll waken to warm us
Again in the spring
The poor and the hungry
The sick and the lost
These are our children
No matter the cost
Come by the fire
The harvest to share
For the spirit of solstice
Is still living here
Comfort one another, think about your blessings, remember to dance, and share what you have. A mantra to get us through perhaps one of the darkest winter solstices we have ever experienced.
Unfortunately, The Solstice Carol was only released on a cassette tape and there is no way to get a hard copy or even download it now. Believe me, I have tried. But someone has put a copy of the song on YouTube so you can hear it there.
There is also an interesting version of the song by Winnipeg Group Antiphony. It was arranged by Scott Reimer and can be heard here.
One of our family Christmas rituals each year is listening to Margaret Laurence’s beautiful book The Christmas Birthday Story. I usually read it aloud but last Christmas when it was time to hear the story my then seven- year- old grandson offered to do the honours. I was a little nervous. I figured the book was at a pretty advanced reading level and my grandson was only in grade two. Also French is his first language and he attends an all-French school. I only had an English copy of Margaret’s book. But my grandson was confident and I didn’t want to dampen his enthusiasm so I handed the book to him.
He sat beside me in a big chair, turned to the first page and started reading. He read the whole book flawlessly and with great drama and expression! I was awed at my grandson’s abilities but also filled with wonder at how the traditional story seemed newer and richer when heard in the voice of a child.
One of my favourite lines in The Christmas Birthday Story comes right near the beginning of Margaret Laurence’s book. “Joseph and Mary were happy because soon they were going to have a baby. They didn’t mind at all whether it turned out to be a boy or a girl. Either kind would be fine with them.”
We traditionally think of Jesus as a male child but really Joseph and Mary’s baby symbolizes every child of every gender.
I think the birth of every child is a sign of hope that our world can change. Jesus talked about the world becoming a place where mercy and justice were the guiding principles. Who knows in what ways each child born will help us all to live more mercifully and justly with each other? Jesus was also called Immanuel. It means “God with us.” I think the birth of every child is a sign that the goodness of God still exists in our world.
Listening to my grandson read the Christmas story last year certainly gave me hope and made me grateful for life’s good gifts.