Whenever I officiate weddings, I share with people that the reason we are gathered together is because the couple has invited them, so that the two people may proclaim their love to each other in front of God and in front of them.
Today, Sept. 3, 2020, marks the 20th anniversary of my covenant of marriage with Gary, and I want to share a letter from my heart to him, but also proclaim to the entire world, what this journey with Gary means to me – actually means to us. Most often, people express their love for their loved ones after they are no longer physically with them. Today, my desire here is to write this blog and shout it from the mountaintop, how God has brought Gary and I together, and share some details of our Journey of LOVE that our covenant of marriage has brought us through. I hope it helps you in some way to see how life is precious; love is persistent; and respect makes life peace-filled, if we only depend, desire and demonstrate LOVE to the fullest measure that we are able to do…
Here we go!
Twenty years ago, today, you said, “I do” and I said, “For sure” at Northlea United Church, at the corner of 5th St. and 67th Ave., in Chomedy-Laval, Quebec. I always told you that there is more to this corner than having our covenant of marriage. These numbers awaken my heart strings, reminding me of my birth year, (19)67, and 5th, being the fifth daughter of my parents. I remember, you were and still are amazed that how I pay attention to the smallest things in life and WONDER if God is saying something to me, beyond the obvious.
We both had no clue where our life journey would lead us. We met online on Dec. 28, 1998, one of the very first online relationships that had a website bring us together. I believe deep inside my heart that God answered my prayers beyond measures.
On our first anniversary, Sept. 3, 2001, we moved into our own little home, by God’s Grace, 5042 Charlevoix Ave. moving from 5022 Notre Dame Street, where our rental unit, on top of a triplex and our “new” house on Charlevoix shared each other’s backyard views. I never forget on Sept. 11, 2001, while I was still emptying boxes from the move, you called me from work (Parasuco Jeans HQ) and told me to turn on the news, as some plane had crashed into one of the twin towers in New York. Without realizing that as soon as I turned on the news, the second plane was going to do the same and I would see it live on CNN, making me relive my childhood war days in Lebanon, the days when we did not see the sun for so many days. You comforted me and reminded me that I am in Canada now and no need to fear – “You are no longer in Lebanon,” you said.
About two years later, this Community of Faith (Northlea United Church) sitting at the infamous corner of 5th and 67th, encouraged me to answer the call and serve the Creator. I kept on rejecting this call because of many different reasons, maybe fear of going to post-secondary studies, maybe my cultural upbringing imbedded in me that women have no business in serving God in that capacity, ordained minister, or maybe even the fact that a few people bluntly told me “You are a woman, if you become an ordained minister, you will be building obstacles for the men who want to serve God”. I still remember the day I shared that with you, and you helped me laugh about it out loud. Telling me, “That is the best garbage you have ever heard.” God opened the doors, and the voice of the encouragers was far stronger than the negative bunch.
On that infamous Saturday Summer evening, the date I forget, in 2004, two years after the nudges to a call began, when I got home after leading the youth group at the Armenian Evangelical Church of Laval. Had “delivered” all the youth back at their homes, you were sitting in the TV room, and I came over and said, “How would you feel, if I went to school to become an ordained minister?” You answered, “What were you waiting for?” To my surprise to hear such a comment, I asked you, “What do you mean?” you continued to say, “I always knew you would be a great minister, but did not want to push you –- you had to decide for yourself.”
Encouraged with your words and the words of the minister who also officiated our wedding, Rev. Wendy Wright-McKenzie, and many other saints around us who cheered me on, we got to work and started to explore this possibility. Miraculously, my Concordia Student id number came to mind and the receptionist at the registration office found my file, with a surprise that it was still active after so many years, since 1989, now we were Summer of 2004. She said, “Your id number should say inactive, but it does not.” I told her that was God, opening the path to ordination. So, my continuing education journey began at Concordia University, with already thirty credits under my belt.
I still remember, what a blessing it was when your parents finally agreed to move in with us in the Spring of 2004, at a perfect time, when I started my post-secondary education on Jan. 5, 2005. I would leave early in the morning to go to Sir George Williams Campus of Concordia University. My time at Concordia gave me the gift of majoring in Theology, minoring in English Literature. I would tell your parents, “Take care of your son today, I will be home after 10 p.m.” and they would do it gladly, telling me, “Do not worry, sweetheart.” Went on to McGill University from 2007-2009, completed my B.Th.; went to internship from Sept. 2009-May 2010, at Elgin-Portland Pastoral Charge at the beautiful area of Rideau Lakes Township, with an extra two months service of student minister June and July of 2010, as their minister Rev. Rodney Smith-Merkley went on parental leave. Finally, obtaining my M.Div. from the Montreal School of Theology through United Theological College. One of the gifts ever in my life. At UTC, not only I was prepared for accountable ministry, but I was guided, helped and supported to find myself and get ready for the field that God is calling me.
As much as my journey at these different post-secondary schools were amazing, Concordia had a very special place in both of our hearts because of Dr. Pamela Bright, Dr. Charles Kannengiesser, and many others who made Concordia extra special. After the convocation ceremony on Nov. 11, 2007, at Place Des Arts, we both told Pamela and Charles, now they are adopted by us. A week later, Nov. 18 on my 40th birthday, eighteen of us went back to Place des Arts and attended an amazing concert performance from the Middle East, Kohar; Pamela and Charles were with us as well. So was my sister Perouz, whom I had not seen for over twenty-five years. Thanks to Ruth and Donald for surprising me with that gift. Yes, yes, Pamela and Charles are no longer with us, but our time together with them taught us how Love can grow and transform the world.
One of the traditions we started at Christmas, was to set up an extra place setting for the birthday boy – Jesus. We would set the head of our dinning room table for him. You used to say, “It is the birthday of Jesus after all”. We wanted to be reminded what Christmas is all about.
In 2009, when my time came to go for my internship, at Elgin-Portland Pastoral Charge, God gave us a beautiful almost six-year-Old Golden Retriever, Maya, who became our four-legged daughter. With her composure, care and love she spoke volumes without any words. You not only helped me learn how to love her and be friends with her, but also my sister Choughik courageously was able to love her as well. Thanks to Patricia, who encouraged Choughik as well and made this addition to our family truly a blessed one.
School life took over our lives. You read every single paper that I wrote for my courses and in a way, you were thrown into the theological world without signing up for it. But I would not have been able to do it without your help. You continue to be the wind beneath my wings.
My ordination day was May 28, 2011, at the Montreal-Ottawa Conference, at John Abbott College, in Ste. Anne de Bellevue. The date was unmistakably was historical, as it was the 93rd anniversary of the first Armenian Independence. I would have never imagined that such timing was possible when the ordinands have nothing to do with those decisions. By God’s Grace, your support, my family’s, and Northlea United Church, I would be the very first Armenian female ordained minister through the United Church of Canada. What a wonderful testimony to the God who Calls us, equips us and journeys with us.
After my ordination, we have been involved with Communities of Faith in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, where we discovered that the deer can be our neighbours and enjoy some fresh apples with them. Even going across the U.S. border for some grocery shopping and lovely lunches was a delight in the midst of our living at a distance from each other, but we made our visits worthwhile. We even found the amazing fields of Bleu Lavande at Fitch Bay, not far from Magog, where the luscious fields of purple lavender was one of our favourite places to go.
In August of 2012, we were able to go on our first trip to Orlando, Florida. Ruth and Donald were so excited that we were at last joining them on this trip, as they attended the Tupperware Jubilee, we took on sightseeing and relaxed. At last, this was possible, because I had no more school to attend — graduated and ordained; and second, we had Aeroplan miles for the second time in our lives and free tickets alongside Ruth’s and Donald’s generosity in covering the hotel stay, made all this possible.
On the very last night that we were there, we got to go and see the Cirque de Soleil (La Nouba) and all through the presentation, our trip back to the hotel and walking down the corridors to get to our room, I was crying and there was sadness in my heart. As we passed the foggy windows of the hotel corridor to get to our room, the voice in me kept on saying, “Gary, you and I will face everything together when we get home tomorrow, do not worry”. However, I never said it out loud. Maybe fear of yielding to reality was stronger and did not want to face what was waiting for us, so I kept my mouth shut and wanted the sadness to just disappear.
That feeling never left. We got to our room and there were six messages. Two from dad, two from our neighbour Georgia and two from the manager of the hotel, asking us to let them know if there was anything they can do. When I first heard the manager, I thought that since we were leaving the next day, she was wondering how our stay was. But our neighbour’s second message was the bull’s eye. She told us; I am sorry for your mother’s passing. We both shocked, frozen in our tracks, called dad right away, at 1 a.m., knowing that he is home safe and sound with Maya, we called Patricia and asked her if she can go be with dad. A 25-minute drive from her house to ours took her less than 15 minutes and she arrived to be with dad and help him get his car back from the hospital the next day.
This eve of Aug. 22, 2012, the eighteenth anniversary of my mother’s passing, your mom joined the saints of the past, not only on the exact date of my mother’s anniversary of physical departure but also, at the same hospital, with the same illness -– the flesh-eating disease. We went to the airport earlier than our time, to attempt to change to a direct flight to Montreal, and save the hassle of going through Toronto. There was no room on that direct flight. A few hours later, we were so thankful that there was no room, because that flight got cancelled with mechanical issues and we still got home with our original plans, a little later than usual, but made it safely home.
I went back to Magog, two days after our arrival, where I had to attend to the needs of a beloved family from St. Paul’s United who had also lost a loved one. Without any hesitation, God gave me the strength, and the courage to carry on, by putting my own grief aside. After taking care of the celebration of life for that lovely individual, I shared the news with the M & P Committee that my mother-in-law had died. Beulah United Church cancelled their service for that Sunday morning to give me breathing space and after the worship gathering in Magog, I was able to come back home to Laval to carry out our duties for mom’s burial during the week.
In July 2012, you encouraged me to apply at the Elgin-Portland Pastoral Charge, as they were calling a minister. October of 2012, I was contacted by Elgin-Portland Pastoral Charge’s Search Committee for an interview in the month of November, and on Jan. 16, 2013, we moved to this beautiful Eastern Ontario Region, The Rideau Lakes Township. Where the breeze speaks of God’s Love, the lakes surround us as the protective waters of a mother’s womb, and the birds sing to us music of comfort, care and sometimes they challenge and confront us with their language. We are so fortunate to have moved out of the busy city of Montreal-Laval and arrived here at what we call, peace of paradise.
In January 2016, you encouraged me to work and publish my very first book, and the book of poetry, photography, and prayers came around. With the help of a wonderful family friend, Houri Hakimian (Tri-A Printing) and your dedicated efforts, Donald’s editing skills, on Aug. 26, 2016, five days after the 30th anniversary of my arrival to Canada (Aug. 21, 1986), three thousand books arrived at our doorsteps. Houri and Eddie, delivered the books in person, as they did not trust any delivery company, to do this sacred work.
After almost seven years, Oct. 2016, we said goodbye to Maya, as she was not healthy enough to continue this life journey with us. But at the end of Feb. 2017, we had another four-legged gift arrive at our doorsteps, named Duke. He was an elderly, happy, and amazing Golden Retriever, whose eleven months with us felt like a forever love just like Maya’s. However, we have the opportunity to dog-sit some amazing dogs, like Chelsea, Chloe, Herbie, and our beautiful ladylike elegant, Jade.
September 11, 2018, we took a trip of a lifetime – my first ever sabbatical trip. We spent time in Lebanon, Armenia and Switzerland – a total of six wonderful weeks. A historical trip for many reasons, one, I returned to Lebanon, thirty-five years to the day of entering North America, September 12, 1983, but also this was your very first trip ever across the pond. We had a great time catching up with friends and family, working with the Syrian refugee children; preaching in the church I grew up in and in the Evangelical Church of Tripoli as well. You were able to walk the same streets where I grew up. Taste the good food, make new friends, and see the Cedars of Lebanon. All this became possible because of your love and support.
I know, what started to be a little synopsis of our 20 years together is turning into a mini-memoir of sort, but then again, twenty years of marriage is not a joke -– in Hollywood’s standards that is eternity. For our 20th Anniversary, we were dreaming about going to somewhere special; however the pandemic hit us mid-March and for the last twenty-five weekends, you have dedicated each and every weekend, recording, editing, preparing and posting the virtual worship services with me and beyond my capabilities by sacrificing your weekends and helping many to be fed by the Bread of Life.
Our Christmas tradition of setting a special place for Jesus has not happened much since my ordination, because the demanding life of a minister does not give the luxury of preparing Christmas Dinner details, and often not being able to put up the Christmas Tree either. But you have helped me to share the Bread of Life with the world, from our kitchen, front porch and our dinning room, which turned into a production studio. Moreover, we tell poor daddy and Choughik to stay where they are until we can complete the recordings without interruptions. Yes, sacrificial love has been the important love not just between you and I, but our extended family as well.
Honey, after so many twists and turns on this path of life, often not knowing what awaits us around the bend of the road, our union has been a blessing. God’s Love has held us together and that LOVE never stops to surprise us. That miraculous morning, Dec. 28, 1998, meeting you on the internet seemed an absurd event. But we both know that God’s hand was in the process of bringing us together.
So, today, what I know makes my love, our love, richer than any monetary value, is the TRUE LOVE who brought us together. This proclamation of my love to you, and yours to me, that you express in so many different ways, even when your entire body is in pain, you give me wings to fly, take chances and break glass ceilings. Your unconditional love has made these twenty years fly by, but the strength of the Love in us reminds me we are stronger because of our weaknesses, richer even in our school debts and responsibilities, and better together than apart.
Yes, we are twenty years older, but our love has made us wiser. I thank God for the broken road through the mountainous roads of Lebanon leading me to Damascus, Syria, to Los Angeles, California, and then to Montreal, Quebec. All those twists and turns led me to you. I pray that we will continue to journey together through the Grace of God, even if our physical bodies seem feeble and frail, but what matters is the strength of our love, which is unconditional beyond measures and unending as the Love of the Creator.
You are to me the True Gift that makes my life worth living. You enrich my life, my extended family’s life and all who come your way. I love you today more than yesterday and my answer to our wedding vows will always remain a confident “For Sure.”
Happy 20th Anniversary, the Love of My Life – Your love is a gift of God and makes Life Beautiful. Just like the very first movie we saw together, “Life is Beautiful”, on Jan. 6, 1999.
Your best friend and wife forever,
Hokis (My Soul)