my love for smithfield: block t

The Studio

The old doors of the lift rattle open before I prop them wide with a green and white weave basket filled with eight sewing machine peddles and two coiled extension leads. Out come the machines, two by two, and then the bags of sewing notions and left over sewing projects from a class I taught that morning. It might only be one flight up but the lift makes my weekly workout just a little bit easier. Inevitably, I will open the door to the first floor of Block T and Chris will take one look at my stack of machines and immediately offer help with moving everything down the hall to the studio. Chances are that I probably had collected the machines that morning on my own, taught a two hour sewing class and have just lugged everything back again. With each week the machines get lighter as I get stronger and my appreciation for Block T grows.

I was a latecomer to Block T but an early enthusiast for sewing. Following a run of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in secondary school my drama teacher told me that I should really take up costume design as a career because I came alive while doing it. “Yes,” I said, “but there is something I love more.” I pursued the first dream while maintaining and developing my sewing skills as part of my oasis of self-care. I would sew dresses for friends here and there while up-skilling in courses that were relevant. In my visits to Canada I began to take up quilting too and was adopted into the great big quilting family that is somewhere in every Canadian town.

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Two years ago I found myself in a fairly important transition time and was looking for a way that I could contribute to the community as an act of love for it, no strings attached. Generosity that is genuine and wholehearted changes places, it changes people and it can change communities. Sewing came to mind even though I had never taught a class before in my life. When I told family and friends they confirmed what I had been thinking – this made sense! It was a natural progression from some of the community work I had been doing before. At the same time, I was terrified. Theoretically, it made sense. Practically, I was recovering from some emotional wounds that left me afraid of anything I thought I was good at before. I was even having panic attacks when sitting in front of a sewing machine about to stitch a straight line. Friends patiently walked with me as I breathed through fear and took a courageous step in asking a local school if they could do with a sewing teacher. Within a month we had scrounged together ancient sewing machines and a diverse class of students. Soon I was getting calls from other local services asking if I could teach a group with them as well. Some generous people donated money for me to put together proper equipment for classes and in summer of 2015 all of this moved with me into Block T where I began sharing studio space with my good friend, co-founder of C Squared and visual artist, Laura Pettit.

Sharing a space with a visual artist is inspiring. Each week I enter into a space that is charged with eyes that see differently and shapes and colours that express intangible realities that resonate deeply. As I drift through the hallways of Block T, I am reminded that the world can look different. This old probation office building has been a Petri dish where new hopes and dreams for the future are given a chance to start incredibly small in order to become something that grows big enough to shape the culture of a city. Our practices interact with each other. During one Tuesday evening before Christmas I was in the art classroom with a sewing class. Paint was splashed across surfaces and well used easels stood as our backdrop – a room well loved with the lingering affects of art. Our gift in return was the calming smell of lavender from making scented heat packs. On evenings that I have ended up staying late to prepare for a class the next day, Kevin will knock on my door and ask if I have listened to this artist or that song. He helps me find them on my computer and they become an unexpected and very welcome soundtrack for my work. It has been an absolute honour to teach basic machine sewing skills as a part of their skillset programme as well as in the community. It is one way that I have been able to exchange generosity for the environment, opportunity, plasters (for when I cut my fingers open by being careless with a rotary blade) and helping hands every week.

Block T is a generous place. A dreamer’s place. A culture maker’s place. I, for one, will be sad to see it leave Smithfield Square in the coming months as it seeks a new home. Homelessness is a problem in this city. Meanwhile, I will be thankful as I think about my love for Smithfield and the role that Block T has played in strengthening many things that have been weak.

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why the ferris wheel might not be such a bad idea after all

IMG_5580Pastel coloured gazebos decorated the spokes of the giant wheel, as if it was a prize for making it through the sensory overload of games at the fair. “Let’s go on the Ferris Wheel,” I suggested to my adventure companions. “But Liesel,” they started, “you’re afraid of heights.” Mmmm, but I won’t remember I’m afraid of heights until I am on my way up. When we finally stepped onto it, the first symptoms came: increased heart rate, dizziness, short breaths. It wasn’t until we stopped a quarter of the way up that I clutched the post with my eyes shut, “this … was a very … bad … idea.”

Ten years ago today I was boarding a plane with a life’s worth of belongings and a plan to live in Ireland for a minimum of a four year term. As the plane took off from Vancouver airport I had the same gut reaction as I did two weeks ago on the Ferris Wheel. This … was a very … bad … idea. A commitment of four years to anything at that time seemed like a life sentence, never mind to be living it by faith. By faith, that God would work miracles in impossible situations. By faith, that he would provide for all my needs. By faith, that I wouldn’t turn into a permanent prune because of the cold and damp. With every hour that brought me closer to Dublin I fluctuated between feeling the thrill of freewheeling through the air in an indescribable leap towards whispered promises, and opening my eyes to see just how far from the ground I really was as the adventure appeared more of a teetering excuse for a safe pod up in the sky, nothing but a flimsy chain separating me from a gigantic fall to earth.

That feeling has never seemed to be terribly far away on any given day. I often find myself closing my eyes and grabbing onto the only thing that seems to be truly stable and explaining all the reasons why living life by faith is a very bad idea. In some magical and mysterious way, God just stays there while I rant at him, sometimes morning, noon and night, about how I just don’t have it in me to live hope where the only thing visible is hopelessness. When I am done reminding him (fairly loudly and firmly) about who he is and the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness …. that he has on offer to not just me but to everyone around me, he calms my soul and gives me courage to see the world from a different perspective. Up there, from a bird’s eye view, I peel open my eyes and breathe in measured breaths. The world looks different when we see it from above. He is safe. His view is more than I could have imagined. Hope stirs every time, without fail – 100% track record. It fills my words and directs my actions.

With feet back on the ground again there is an overwhelming feeling of “I did it! I survived it!” Every single year when I look back I can’t believe that “I did it! I survived it!” … by faith.

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almost as crazy as you might think i am

2015-10-10 15.12.52-1Sometimes I think I am certifiably crazy. I take a step back and listen to things that are packaged up as tidy little “Christian” things and suddenly my favourite animal is an ostrich and I want to believe in reincarnation so I can become one and stick my head in the sand so no one sees my red-faced embarrassment. Then it is made worse when I find myself being interviewed on national radio and am introduced as Liesel Reimer, career missionary with the Evangelical Missionary Church of Canada. I want to cringe as much as most of you at that. It is so full of words that have taken on lives of their own – and most not in a positive way outside of sub-groups that embrace them wholeheartedly. They are a walking advertisement for “weirdo” or “fanatic” or “um, should she be trusted?” Perhaps I’ve lost you already … wondering if you should go look up what I’m even talking about because you’ve never met anyone who has these labels attached to them.

This week I am going to be pulling out a whole lot of what and why on this big world wide web because it marks a significant event for me – 10 years in Ireland … as a missionary. Some of you met me before I even knew how to form words. Others through school, in work, at play or randomly as you were looking for something good to read. So, I just want to clear up a few important things right now:

  • I don’t care if you join my church.
  • I think Jesus is pretty cool and I try to live each day as if he really is who he says he is.
  • I don’t have it all together and I get it wrong (a lot).
  • I will try to love you as best I can because I’ve experienced this insane love that continually changes my life making me a better person and Jesus says I’m not to be selfish and keep it all for myself but to love others too, even if they don’t like me very much. Some days I’m more successful than others.
  • I have chosen to agree with the original guys that wrote this but like the way these guys made it sound!
  • I don’t want you to believe in a Jesus that isn’t real.
  • Sometimes life is really shitty.

So, welcome to this week that I am getting a little sentimental about because it marks a journey that is littered with hopes, shattered dreams, darkness so deep I couldn’t see my hand in front of me and miracles only told about in story books.

In the meantime … other questions answered:

thanks canada

2014-06-05 12.24.18In grade 11 I went on a drama trip with my school to Ashland, Oregon for the Shakespeare festival. On our first evening south of the Canadian border we stopped in Washington for dinner at Denny’s. Across from our quirky group of misfits was something we had never seen before – teen guys all kitted out in football (the American kind) jackets and girls in cheerleader outfits complete with ribbons around their ponytails. You would think that we had just stepped into a teen angst film! For a long time Canadian culture was identified as what was not American. Canadian culture was not made up of cool football teams and cheerleaders. In the 90s Molson Canadian finally gave voice to what it meant to be Canadian, other than “not American.” In Bowling for Columbine we saw Michael Moore contrast the two cultures by walking into a Canadian home without knocking. Most of us laughed because none of us locked our doors then. Of course, we have had This Hour Has 22 Minutes and Rick Mercer to keep us laughing at our own private jokes. More globally and recently, people like Chris Hadfield have coloured in the shapes of what being Canadian means.

Since my teen years my Canadianness has been diluted a lot and yet I find myself regularly slipping on cultural values that I forgot I had. For Canada Day this year, I want to recognise some of the positive values that became a part of me just from growing up in Canada. I wouldn’t want to change these for the world:

Optimism and Positivity: Things can be different. This is not the end. Let’s go for it. Why not? You are great at that. There is always a way. I like falling into this train of thought. Not only does it feel good but it also opens up possibilities when there seems to be only problems. I can’t exactly tell you how we learn this or why but I realise that it isn’t normal all over the world. I think you are more likely to find a group of annoyingly happy people in Canada than in most places I have ever visited. Where should you go to experience it? Any shop or restaurant. Everyone is genuinely happy to serve with a smile! Even if everything is falling down around them and they aren’t satisfied in their job.

Critical Thinking: A month ago I was doing an online financial webinar through Canada. This is not a strength of mine so felt like pretty much everything was going over my head. Then they mentioned that there is an online game you can participate in that helps you learn how to understand your finances better. I sat in my apartment laughing out loud! Of course Canadians would come up with a game to teach people how to think through their finances and explore ways to manage them better. I don’t know if children’s programmes in Canada would be allowed to air without educational content in them. Learning is fun. Thinking is fun. Let’s be logical about it all and enjoy it. My memories of growing up are of people challenging us to think instead of memorize, discover instead of regurgitate, break the rules if logical to do so (and only if logical to do so, otherwise keep them).

Peacekeeping: “How did Canada get its independence?” When I mention Canada Day, I have often been asked this question. I have realised how rare it is to tell people that we talked our way into it, resulting in a signed piece of paper that gave us independence. There wasn’t a war (for that purpose). From the very start, people from around the world who were looking for religious or political freedom were invited to become a part of Canada. They came for a dream of peace and a safe place to build new futures without fear. When the potential for war comes up and Canada is invited to join I love that there always seems to be a moments pause to ask the question, “why?” Why should we go to war? What good will it do? It doesn’t just affect international relations either. We had a peer counselling system in my secondary school where peer counsellors were trained in mediation to help students in conflict come to peaceful resolutions instead of using a punitive system. We weren’t the only ones working towards restoration in the justice system.

Human Dignity: A few weeks ago someone in Dublin asked me if I thought that Ireland was really left-wing. I’m not incredibly knowledgeable about politics but I do know that Ireland hardly knows the meaning of left wing. From health care to education, equal access to opportunities to succeed is incredibly high in Canada. If there is one thing that sits on a pedestal and is the taboo to say anything against, it is human dignity. If there is one thing that Canadians will be blinded by emotion about and forget logic, it is human dignity. I was never really taught that I was less important or valued because of my age, gender, religion or lifestyle. Our volleyball team always felt terrible going to tournaments because we didn’t have very many people in our school who weren’t from European descent – we were afraid to be thought of as racist. Opportunities were open to most of us so long as we offered others the same level of dignity to others. In Canada everyone needs to be allowed to co-exist in their uniqueness and not just get what we think they deserve from our limited points of view.

Cultural Criticism: Canada has so many flaws, so many imperfections. It doesn’t live up to the cultural values that make it uniquely Canadian. People get blinded by emotion and group-think and forget to really grapple with issues. The history of abuse of people deemed “less human” is not pretty. There are social injustices everywhere you look and opportunities are not equal. No one is more critical of Canada than Canadians. I value this cultural criticism because it means I have learned that I can look at my own life and not get trapped in seeing myself as perfect while also not getting trapped in how I have screwed things up. We can become a more loving and kind people.

So thanks, Canada, for the values you have given me! Keep up the good work … and please work on your issues.

Happy Canada Day!

remembering the darkness

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There was a moment when I refused God. I told him to leave. I was done with him. Before then I had never known darkness – that space completely void of love.

Since before I can remember I held conversations with God and knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was real. He dispelled my childhood fears, like the times I used to freak out imagining real spiders coming out of the spider plant in our bathroom. I’d look straight through the green legs hanging down to reach me. In the bottom of the pot I would imagine I saw Jesus and would begin to repeat the Lord’s Prayer. The tension would ease out of my eight year old self and I would softly float in the water of the bath again. At peace. I’d challenge him, “Jesus, if you are real then … will happen by morning.” He would respond to me, “Liesel, you know I am real, there is no need for that.” I was a child, perfectly loved.

That changed the day I decided that I wanted to live life without him. It was too difficult to believe the things he would tell me: “You are loved. You are worth it. You are beautiful.” His crime was speaking words that I didn’t feel I could believe anymore. So, I told him to go. He did. I was 11. That is when the darkness came.

For the first time, his presence was gone. But I was addicted to perfect love. The withdrawal ate my insides, body, mind and soul. It only took a couple of months until I was only a shadow of who I once was. I shook hands with death only to find it was the devil. Then one night I was given different eyes to see and it remains a vivid memory. I was a curled up, covered in filth. Nothing beautiful was left. But more disturbing was the dark thing that laughed over me. Looking away from it I saw Jesus. He didn’t step in or make a move for me. But he did wear compassion on his face. “If you still want me, then you had better take me now,” were the only words I could manage to say.

In an instant the darkness was gone. Everything was gone! I knew that Jesus had wrapped his hands around me and dealt with the darkness without me having to look. And in those safe hands I was brought back to life in an instant. The love that I had cut myself off from flooded into my veins and my heart began to beat again.

Good Friday means the world to me. It is the day I remember the darkness. That miracle when Jesus, God with us, took on the darkness. He died a criminals death on a cross while grabbing hold of everything inside of this world that doesn’t belong in heaven, wrapping it around himself so tightly that it consumed him instead of us. And there he dealt with it out of our sight, after his last breath.

I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live.

The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came upon me; I was overcome by trouble and sorrow. Then I called on the name of the Lord: “O Lord, save me!”

The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion. The Lord protects the simplehearted; when I was in great need, he saved me.

Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.

For you, O Lord, have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before the Lord in the land of the living.

Psalm 116:1-9

freedom thoughts – becoming the ‘bad apple’

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“You put a good apple in with the bad apples and the good apple always becomes bad.” It’s true, if you don’t want to spoil the rest of your fruit, you remove the bad apple when its rottenness starts to ooze out of it before the rest of the fruit gets infected and start to go off early.

There were several occasions in my early teens when well-meaning people would take me aside and give me the ‘bad apple’ speech. My choice of people I hung out with was worrying to them. Responsible adults do that, right? They protect impressionable kids and teens away from others who could be a negative influence on them. Problem was that I liked the people I hung around with. I liked their honesty and how they challenged me. I liked that they didn’t hide behind mask pretending to be something they were not. I liked that they also accepted me for who I was with my mask off … which sometimes meant excessive talking about Jesus. These friends helped shape me by challenging me to live like I do. If I believed it, I needed to live it. If any of you are reading this, Thank you!

“I am the bad apple,” was my rebellious teenage response, “I have eternity inside of me and that is more powerful. They will become like me.” By that time in my life God had done some pretty crazy things and I was in the fanatical stage of faith that so many people enter when they have encounters with just how big, holy, powerful and loving God is. At least in the teen years we can explain this fanaticism away with developmental theories so that it doesn’t seem so weird – all teens are a little crazy. I kind of feel sorry for people when they encounter God in this way as adults as it is less easy to explain!! Friends tell me about falling in love (never done this yet) and how it makes you feel a little crazy at first and then softens into something deeper and lasting. I imagine this is similar to the experience of being completely overcome by God’s love – it completely upsets the normal order of functioning at first. You want to get to know him and learn all about him. What I read and experienced was that God was powerful, really powerful! There is nothing that can overcome him. And he is motivated by love. Jesus was not corrupted by all the people and situations he encountered, he transformed them. He was the bad apple. His very presence was enough to set people free and so he hung out with people who needed freedom.

I am reading through The Meaning in the Miracles and came across something that reminded me of the bad apple speech. Jeffrey John quotes Walter Wink: “Jesus is not rendered unclean by the contact; rather, those whom society regarded as defiled are made clean. Holiness, he saw was not something to be protected; rather it was God’s miraculous power of transformation. God’s holiness cannot be soiled; rather, it is a cleansing and healing agent.”

In order to become a really good ‘bad apple’, leading people to places of freedom, I need to pursue holiness. I need to chase it with all of who I am. The side benefit? I also find that the things that hold me in chains also break free resulting in hope, peace of mind, purpose in life, no guilt and feeling ridiculously loved. Win-win.

playing with buttercream

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Who wouldn’t want to spend an evening playing with icing? My first major run-in with buttercream icing was in grade 12 as a teacher’s assistant for a grade 10 foods class. Our teacher was a pro at making technical food skills fun. The classroom was always lighthearted and an appropriate amount of messing and exploration was always going on. That particular day I was to prepare icing (a much more enjoyable task than cleaning out the unused freezer that had meat rotting in it for over a month because someone unplugged it). In the electric mixer that first gave me Kitchen Aid envy I measured in icing sugar, butter, milk … and then many different colours of food colouring. We made every colour of icing in the rainbow before we realised that the class would never use it all. One other student was my taste tester, because you always need to taste the icing to make sure it’s alright with. He was sick by the end of the class. It might have had something to do with trying a tablespoon full of every colour we made.

Last week it was time to pull out the buttercream skills again. I made some light chocolate cupcakes at home so they would be cool by the time I arrived for the mentoring programme I help out at. I googled a recipe on my phone and read out the ingredients one by one. Having forgotten the beaters for my electric mixer at home we ended up using a hand blender which was still far easier than mixing by hand. From there it was time to add the colouring. Watching the girl I mentor add the colour was as fun as doing it myself as a teen.

A little bit of blue and then a little bit more. Add a bit of red and see what happens. STOP! The swirls look really cool. Let’s use it like that.

Piping bag filled, we swirled the icing until each cupcake became a masterpiece.

Read on for the recipes.

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