Saturday, December 29, 2007

the middles

This is how it goes - "it" being any venture that is worthwhile and grand enough to challenge us out of our comfortable lives meandering towards predictable and non-remarkable mediocrity. At the beginning, you get a great vision, you have faith, you exude hope, you are inspired and inspiring, you believe anything is possible, your soul is big and fat and floats above all circumstances, you speak in absolutes, and the goal seems just inches and minutes away.

At the end, when you have finally seen the grand project or journey through to its completion, you are tired, happy, wiser, more humble, thankful, able to see the divine plan and purpose in all the twists and turns you experienced. You are more convinced than ever of the absolutes, your faith is richer and deeper and stronger, and your soul has a solidity that only the practical living out of what you hope in can bring.

Both of these are most satisfying places to dwell, and we love them. As people of faith, these are the times we relish and talk about and gravitate towards the most. Just ask anyone for their favourite passages in the Bible and they will most likely jump right to one that exhibits either great vision or a grand lesson learned through difficult times.

But what about "the middles?" Those long weeks and months and years in-between the beginning and completion of an era when things are unsettled, when you are lost and floundering and angry at God and clueless and everything you see around you is in direct opposition to the vision you thought you had. When you have virtually no energy and the energy you do have is negative energy, when you don't get along with your family and friends and leaders and co-workers, when the bank account is seriously ill, when things are at a standstill and you are tired of pushing and shoving and working with no perceptible movement on any fronts, when you question every absolute you were prepared to tattoo on your arm just a few short days or months before, and when death and sickness and depression and just plain bad luck follow you around. When you curse the day you called yourself a visionary, when you cry and pray and then mostly just cry, when you don't want to get out of bed in the morning and you don't believe anyone understands you anymore, and when hope is a four-letter word.

So much of the narrative that chronicles the story of God and his interaction with those he created and loves (a.k.a. The bible) is a record of "the middles." And God did not cut these stories short, focusing only on the inspiring beginnings, including a few troubles just for interest and literary tension, and then quickly jumping to the satisfying conquest . He did not edit the troublesome parts out of Job, nor the Psalms, nor all those depressing stories of kings and politics gone bad in Chronicles and Kings and Samuel, nor did he chop out the redundant day by day drudgery of the laws and regulations and censuses of Numbers and Leviticus.

The middles are what most of us live in much of the time. And it is what makes faith, faith. We can't see the end, no one can skip to the last page of the chapter and read ahead; the book is still unwritten and we are making it up as we go along.

When I was working at an art gallery, someone asked me what I thought about portraying anger and bitterness and doubt and misery and angst in art. I said it would be a very powerful study to have someone paint the different stages of their particular struggle while they were going through it, and not just record it from a perspective of time, having already come through it. I don't believe I knew what I was saying. First of all, who really wants to see someones pain that close up? And more importantly, who of us are able or willing to be that vulnerable? I know I am not, at least for the most part.

I hesitate to write anything here that does not end neatly, that does not have at least some of the loose ends tied up, that I have not already wrestled and come to terms with. I must have some peace and closure and wisdom before I can show that part of my life, or so I think. And that is not the pattern I see when I read the Bible. It is often raw; things don't go the way they should, emotions and misperceptions run rampant and circumstances go awry without explanation or tidy conclusions.

So let me be honest for just a moment here. Today, I do not see where I am going. I thought I had a good and godly idea but so far, every avenue I have explored leads to nothing. I prayed and changed my attitude and embraced truth with humility, but outwardly, things remain the same. There is no improvement in our finances and job situations and the move we are contemplating seems pretty stupid right now. I would back out but that scares me more than going forward. It is hard to be positive and hopeful right now. I am tired of putting my energy into things that never seem to get anywhere, like cleaning a house that never stays clean (yes, my house is in post-holiday untidiness right now - ugh I hate it!), so I am struggling with half-heartedness and that makes me sick for I hate half-heartedness and condemn it in others. So I am a hypocrite on top of it all as well. Tomorrow might be better, but most likely it will be more of the same. I am tired of the same. Can we please move on?

Welcome to "the middles." God does not hide them and neither shall I.

Thanks to Shane for encouraging me along this line of thought. (www.fakerepublic.com)

This is a tri-tree in the bush right next door.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

how do you feel?

I'm back! We took a full 4 days off and did important things like eat, sleep, read, play, talk, and give and receive. It is good and necessary to set aside the burden of work and responsibility for a time and simply be. Selah.

Last week I came across a quote on another's blog, and it rang true with me. Here it is:

I have come to believe that it is important to personally learn and to teach people how to feel skillfully. I believe that there is far more information and awareness in feeling than there is in thinking. Certain forms of rational debate can point out the absurdity of different beliefs, but this fails if the person lacks the intelligence to understand the argument. And yet even the most simple can recognize when they have been insulted. And it seems the most simple often understand when they are being loved and how to return love more skillfully than their "intelligent" counterparts. - Richard Harty, www.whatisspiritual.blogspot.com

I am a feeler. I have spent much of my life trying to figure out what to do with my strong emotions. How to mature in them. I have also been blessed to befriend rational people who are gifted thinkers and they have challenged and guided me in developing my ability to discern inconsistencies and wrong patterns of thought and of equal importance, to be able to provide good reasons for what I believe and see my life within the bigger picture of truth.

However, some of my wonderful rational friends seem somewhat underdeveloped in the area of feeling and are often uncomfortable or at a loss when they encounter strong emotions in others. And I do not believe it should be so. There are plenty of courses on apologetics and debate that encourage us to develop rational and consistent thought, but I have never heard of someone teaching us how to feel well, to experience life deeply and richly, and to discover truth in the midst of our emotions. It is true: the simplest among us are often those who love the most skillfully, and we can and should learn from them.

Do you feel well? Do you emote skillfully? This might be a seminar I should develop. Any suggestions or insights welcome.

This is a photo of our intimate Christmas dinner on Sunday night: African Peanut soup, Angus steak, and onion roasted potatoes.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

this could happen to you

About a week ago, one of my friends, at least I always thought he was my friend, suggested that I should put cameras around my house, videotape my life and sell it as a reality show called, "This Could Happen to You!" After yesterday's incident, I definitely see the brilliance of his idea.

I was doing my kickboxing workout downstairs when the phone rang. It was Dean (husband of the year award-winner) asking me to look up some information for him that he could not access at work due to internet restrictions. I complied, like the good wife I am, and interrupted my exercises to run upstairs to my office. He had me on speaker phone with 3 of his colleagues, so as I was sitting at my computer, searching for a particular Skype identity, I could hear the office banter. I was not having any luck finding the person he needed and we were about to give up when I heard a strange noise coming from the kitchen. It was an odd meowing that was getting more and more intense and turning into a wail. I hurried to the kitchen, phone still to my ear, and saw Tea lying on the floor beside the fridge, her one paw stuck beneath it and her in obvious distress trying to free it from some sharp edge. I just said, "Cat emergency," into the phone and set it down on the kitchen counter without hanging up. I tried to calm Tea down and reached out to free her paw from the underside of the fridge, giving it a good squeeze in order to release it and thereby causing her to cry out in pain again.

What I did not see was Jazz coming up behind me, responding to the universal cat distress call, and upon seeing me tugging at Tea, assuming that I was killing her. Suddenly, I was being attacked by a territorial overprotective maniac cat (good thing I was wearing shorts for my workout!) who lashed out at my legs and growled and hissed at me. I turned around to fight her off and told her to get lost and received a few more strikes on my arm and my other leg. At this point Tea somehow freed herself and ran off, so I managed to get Jazz to walk away stiffly, still quite worked up, but not clawing me anymore.

I picked up the phone and Dean said, "What is going on?" I told him what had happened and mentioned that there was now blood oozing out of scratches on my legs and arm and while he laughed so hard that I could hear him struggling to catch his breath, the other three in the office were not sure whether to be concerned for me or horrified by our savage animals or just relieved they were not part of the wacky household. Dean assured them that I was fine, though slightly melodramatic, and everyone would recover just nicely. And thus ended one of the most interesting phone conversations those four would have all day.

For some reason, as I reflected on the strange events of that morning, I thought of Job, his wife, and his friends. How often, when we find ourselves (or see a friend) in a tough situation, feeling trapped, and things seem to get worse, do we blame or attack the very one who is our only hope of rescue (that would be God!). We so often hold our understanding up as the ultimate means for approaching truth, when in fact, faith is the thing that pleases God and enables us to know Jesus, the Truth.

Now, if my cats could only trust me instead of trying to understand a being so far beyond their mental capacity, we could avoid most of the stress, the unhappy noises, and the scratching.

This is Tea and the offending paw sleeping off the traumatic event.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

moved by movies

I watched two movies this past week that brought out some strong emotions in me. When I asked my friends about their opinions, I was surprised to hear that they had not experienced or even seen the same things I had seen. Well, that merited some thought on my part as to what exactly I was responding to, so here are my conclusions. Please be warned that if you have not seen these movies, there might be some spoilers included below.

1. No Country For Old Men. This movie is garnering a lot of attention and nominations for its quirky characters and clever script. I went into it expecting to be intrigued. Halfway though the film, I wondered if I should walk out. I found it altogether too dark and somewhat predictable in that "I've got an awful feeling about this" way. I stayed to the end, which contained a huge dark stain followed by a glimpse of light. I left the theatre bothered, feeling ill at ease. Like I should take some action to make things right, but there was nothing to do. Indeed, the script and directing and acting display quite a bit of talent, but the story is heinous. It is a horrific chase. One man kills everything that stands between him and some money (and some random people he happens to encounter, just because it is what he does) in the most cold-blooded and calculating manner, yet he comes off as strangely interesting and fascinating. Or at least he is supposed to. And I think that is what bothered me the most: that something this evil can be made to fascinate us. Yes, the film is new and innovative, but I find that what we hail as original is often something that dares to cross a line of good taste or perhaps moral codes and titillates us for a moment, but in the end, adds nothing to us and has no lasting value. Every character in the movie, save a few, sacrifices themselves to the money. Innocence is mowed down and stomped on and obliterated at every turn. What is intriguing about that?

2. I am Legend. This story is also about a chase. One man is trying to survive in a world devastated by a horrible virus that turned most humans into savages. Yes, the dark souls chase him, but that is not the real chase. The real hunt is this sole survivor's fight against isolation, time, danger, and difficulty in order to find a cure for the very ones who are out to kill him. It is his sole purpose for surviving. Sure, the story is not that clever (some say it is too similar to 28 Days Later) or the dialogue that unique or original and there are some continuity and consistency issues, but the character has a big heart - he believes in something important. I find that talent is no substitute for belief. It is not money that he chases. It is salvation. The main character quotes one of his heroes, Bob Marley, reminding himself that evil does not take a day off, so neither can he.

I have been told that I cannot properly separate fiction from fact and that is why I sometimes overreact. While I will admit a certain truth in that observation, in another way I believe I am onto something. We are one - whole beings. We were never meant to separate our lives and selves into all these different compartments. What happens in our body, in our mind, in our emotions, in our work, in our play, in our imaginations - all these things affect us as people and it is naive to deny that this is so. How ridiculous to assume that what touches one part of me will have no affect on who I am or my wholeness as a human being. This is by no means an advocation of avoidance, but an encouragement to enter the correct chase. What are you chasing? What are you serving? What are you sacrificing for?

This is some snowy foliage behind my house.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

wild Bible stories

Today the snow is falling again and I was without any running water when I got up this morning. Interesting stuff. Messes with ones plans for the day. So I am doing a quick blog while I await the return of water for my shower for one cannot venture out into the stores and banks and post offices smelling like yesterday.

Yesterday I was trotting around on my friend, Dave's, blog (http://www.nakedpastor.com/) and saw his latest video conversation with Shane from http://www.fakerepublic.com/. Excellent stuff. Go there right now and watch the fakenaked show part 2. It is about money and marketing and integrity and they toss in a few innapropriate remarks just for good fun. Anyway, that got me onto Shane's website where I came across this fine quote in one of his posts. I asked if I could include it here and he graciously agreed.

i shudder every time i hear the life-giving message of jesus preached as constricting, fear-inducing, death - the dysangel! i despair when the wild word of god is tamed and tethered to a proof-text in support of prejudice. every time i hear the too-familiar sermons reiterate the same-old slant on complex, tangled, intricate, infinitely new passages, i cringe. i know this is the reason so few spend any time exploring the scriptures for themselves any more - they believe all the gold has been mined from these depths and all that remains is a hollow, black, cavernous carcass. the two-edged sword has been dulled by timid, safe, entirely predictable and unshocking interpretation. tragically, aslan has had his claws pared (to paraphrase the inimitable dorothy l. sayers). - from http://www.fakerepublic.com/

I had just been reading Isaiah 10 where strong and untamed words of destruction are rife, the kind that peace-loving modern tolerants hate, and was struck by the perspective one small phrase brought to the whole wrathful chapter. Here's the gist of the scenario: Israel has gone in a really bad direction and done some very bad things. God sends Assyria to attack them to show them that evil is not alright and you can't get away with injustice. They suffer. It is bad. People die. Then God says he will turn his wrath on Assyria who is now arrogant in its victory over Israel. Sounds like violence upon violence, but listen to the love and careful thought for a people's well-being behind all this slaughter:

And on that Day also, what's left of Israel, the ragtag survivors of Jacob, will no longer be fascinated by abusive, battering Assyria. They'll lean on God, The Holy - yes, truly. The ragtag renmant - what's left of Jacob - will come back to the Strong God. Your people Israel were once like the sand on the seashore, but only a scatterd few will return. Destruction is ordered, brimming over with righteousness. For the Master, God-of-the-Angel-Armies, will finish here what he started all over the globe. Therefore the Master, God-of-the-Angel-Armies, says: "My dear, dear people who live in Zion, don't be terrorized by the Assyrians when they beat you with clubs and threaten you with rods like the Egyptians once did. In just a short time my anger against you will be spent and I'll turn my destroying anger on them. - From Isaiah 10, The Message.

Our fascination with violence and destruction and unrighteousness is only too evident to God (and to anyone who watches any television or movies). He takes that unholy idolatry and smacks us over the head with it to wake us up out of our deception, and then he obliterates the instrument of violence itself so that we will no longer give it power. How brilliant is that! I love this God! And this complex, tangled, intricate, infinitely new, never timid, nor safe, nor entirely predictable and sometimes shockingly wonderful way he has about him.

These are the woods beside my house in the blizzard on Sunday.

The water has come back on, thank you technicians of the town of St-Lazare. Blessed shower!

Monday, December 17, 2007

the power of Mr. Gravel

We were visited by a blizzard yesterday. The snow started to come down in the morning and it did not stop till late at night. About 35 centimetres of it. Mid-afternoon, I decided to take a walk around and snap some photos. It was beautiful and wild and difficult to walk around in (at one point I sunk in up to mid-thigh level) and hard to see through, and I was soon wet and cold and out of battery power.

We had a Christmas function downtown that we had to be at around 5 pm which meant we should probably leave by 4 pm to allow for the bad roads. Dean brought out the shovel just after 3:30 and managed to make a minor dent in the heap the city snow plow had deposited at the end our driveway. He came inside after a short while and said there was no way he could clear the massive volume of white. He started my car which was parked outside, and in an attempt to free it from a snowbank, managed to get it good and stuck in the drifts behind it. We really were not going anywhere unless our snow removal guy showed up and rescued us. So for the next 20 minutes or so, Dean shovelled the front steps, cleaned off my car, and mostly just stood outside and gazed down the road, hoping to see the green tractor coming. I called Mr. Gravel's number but all I got was a message saying he was out clearing roads. I stood inside by the window, asking God to please send the deneigement guy in time for us to get to our function. We were helpless, utterly helpless to do anything.

At 4:11 the John Deer tractor sped down the road towards our house and even the cats were smiling at the arrival of the noisy snow blowing machine. He quickly cleared a path to the garage and removed most of the drift behind my car. He then leaped from his heated cab and motioned towards my car. I hurriedly pulled on a jacket and some boots and ran outside. While I steered and pushed pedals, the French man and Dean pushed and pushed some more and my car was free! I pulled out of the way and Mr. Gravel and his magic red snow machine finished clearing enough space for both cars to exit and enter and then hurried on to his next customer. What we could not have done in two hours, he did in two minutes.

We arrived at our function 5 minutes later than we normally would have.

I know that though I profess to trust God, I still prefer the kind of trust that does not leave me powerless or totally dependent and in fact downright sunk without some divine intervention. I like to have options or plan B. But really, what kind of weak faith is that? I might as well start realising that all my efforts and cleverness do not amount to anything without the power and grace of God. Teach me to trust more and worry less.

This is a picture of some reeds in the ditch behind my house during the blizzard.

Friday, December 14, 2007

inconsistent or what

I have been having a discussion with some friends about the seeming contradictions of God as portrayed in the Bible. The particular story which was the focus of our talk was the one where God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac. This could be construed as murder, which is strictly forbidden in the commandments which were cited earlier. I must confess, this story has always annoyed me a bit, as Abraham seems to be at the mercy of a God who demands something outrageous one moment, then changes his mind, all because he proved a point or Abraham passed the test or whatever the goal was. I guess we all hate the feeling of being a pawn in some larger game in which we have no control. I know I do. But I must also remember that from the start (that would be Genesis), God insisted that man have the freedom to choose. And choice is what takes us to where we are going.

Anyway, in my friend's living room, while we were talking and venting and in general just being honest about how this story made us feel, I suddenly had the overwhelming sense that God's presence was very near me. Then I heard him say (in the kindest voice, audible only to myself), "Mattie, Mattie, Mattie. You have let these things come between us. These things that you don't understand. You don't trust me in these places. Just let them go. You can trust me."

I was undone. I saw my unbelief and how I was withholding myself from God because I didn't care for his methods (polar opposite of Abraham's response, you might observe). And then I let the distrust go. I let go the misunderstanding I was carrying. I let my wary and cynical guard down and I chose to trust.

It is easy to confuse the two: a) a perception of inconsistency and b) unfaithfulness, but they are not equal. God's behaviour may seem erratic to us but that is because he dwells beyond the four dimensions that I am comfortable with. The stories and words in the Bible cannot encompass his character or adequately describe him, but they give us a glimpse of faithfulness that defies anything we have ever experienced on this earth. He will never leave me. He might do things I do not understand (in fact, I am certain he will because my understanding is less than God's by definition, especially in light of my limited view of time), but he will never be found unfaithful. He will stick by me when I am trusting and when I doubt. He will always respond to my call and my desire to come close. He will never put me in a position that cannot be turned into good. He will always do what he says. He will always be making things right. And in the end, he will always be trustworthy.

This is the snow on my deck today as seen through the vertical blinds.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

do you believe?

We were talking about music Sunday night and I asked someone what "did it" for them when they listen to music. Interesting melodies, skillful musicians, fun and danceable - there were many answers. I added that I respond most to music when people believe what they are singing or playing. One can be a mediocre musician but if you believe what you are singing, there is an added element of beauty or power that will blow the most amazing technical but detached performance out of the water.

What is believing? I think it is giving yourself over to something, letting that protective wall down that we all use to shield ourselves from really showing who we are, and stepping into something that one cannot totally quantify. And it is a darn hard thing to do! Some days I do not know if I believe anything. There are days, like today, when I feel mediocre about my life and the tasks in front on me and everything I read and write seems flat and lifeless and the only thing my eyes see is the unchanging dullness all around. Then there are days that I awake with hope in my belly and I leap about, believing that anything is possible, that I have boundless love to give and grace to bestow, and I will burst if I do not sing or write or express that to someone. There are days I say, "I love you," and wonder how I could ever measure up to all that phrase entails and know that the hollowness in my words must be evident to my loved ones. There are times when loving words and deeds bubble forth almost frenetically from my own deep sense of being loved and being lovely.

I do not know why some days I am a doubter and some days a believer, but I do know that I always have a choice. Doubt cannot keep me from walking toward belief, from choosing to stand beside the standard of truth, from struggling with the chains of negative self-absorption refusing to let them strap me in. If I have one prayer, it is that I would live 100% in this day, totally believing every moment that I am alive, not wanting to be anywhere or anyone else. Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.

This is a barn at a country florist shop down the road.

Monday, December 10, 2007

I like...

I was just making myself a cup of Chai and thinking about how I like the flavour and smell of vanilla, but others prefer chocolate. We all have different likes and tastes and no one could tell you specifically where they come from. Why do I (the lover of all vegetables) dislike the taste of brussel sprouts and Dean (the detester of most things green) love them? My friends have spent years trying to get me to like sushi, but I just can't do it (deal with it!) There is something creative and unique about our individual tastes. And that's a good thing. If everyone liked the same foods, that would not only be boring, it would mess with our ecosystem, I am sure. I grew up on a farm and know it is important to rotate the crops one grows in order to maintain the stability of the nutrients in the soil, so just producing all corn or all potatoes would eventually impoverish the land. If every man liked the same kind of woman, it would be disastrous for companionship and procreation because a whole viable and valuable segment of the human race would be discounted (and lonely).

When one looks at some of the marketing and media out there, it is easy to see how this diversity is being undermined in some ways. There are certain products and ideals presented as something every one should strive for, and while I understand the desire for greater market share, this premise goes against nature in a subtle way. Not every woman is tall and slim and should not be. Not every one loves coffee and chocolate and should not. Not every one wants to own a Porsche and I am thankful they don't. And yet, if we do not participate in the idealisation of certain things, we are made to feel odd in some way: like loving a chubby woman with a prominent nose makes one less of a man. Or not having an appreciation for fine wine and cigars makes you less sophisticated in some way. Not every one loves the same things and that is one of the ways this world is kept in such a wonderful balance.

One of the greatest gifts of living in a multicultural environment such as Montreal is that I get to experience those who are different than I am, and that is one of the greatest inspirations to be myself. I will not let myself be reduced to a common denominator, but let the whole expanse of humanity be exhibited in the way I live my life and in turn, encourage that in those around me. Because if I don't, someone will get left out and that is never the way God intended things to be.

I like the green grass on my yard, even though it is covered by snow right now.

Friday, December 07, 2007

time between times

I like moving. I like helping people move. I like looking at apartments and houses. Change excites me. One of my least favourite phrases in the whole world is, "This is as good as it gets." There is such a short-sightedness, false finality, and mediocrity behind those words that I have been known to shout out, "No, it's not! It gets way better than this!" when I hear it. There is a temptation as we acquire bigger and better and more comfortable situations in this life to consider that we have arrived in some way; that the struggle is over, at least in part, and we can relax. Well, rest is a good thing and a very vital part of life, but growth and maturation and development are never over. Not even in heaven! The presence of God is the place where the most exciting developments should be expected, where every day will be filled with wonder as layer after layer of his unfathomable character and glory are revealed to us.

Sunset and sunrise are some of my most favourite times. They are stunning and short-lived moments that speak of the hope of change. Celtic lore has a phrase that I love: the time between times. It refers to the dusk and dawn, when it is neither night nor day, when one is caught between light and dark, beginning and ending, death and life, waking and sleeping, and this span of time was seen as a portal to the supernatural.

It is that moment when we have stepped from the shore of a stream and are caught in mid-air, straining to set our foot on the other side. It is that snapshot in time when the trapeze artist has flung himself from the swinging bar and reaches out his hands to be grasped by his partner. It is that instant when we jump off the diving board and hope the water is still there when we hit it. It is not a safe place. It is the place of no turning back, of only forward motion, of trust and faith and perhaps if we are honest, a little bit of fear. And most assuredly, it is a window through which we often see God at work in our lives.

God created the world in such a way that this "time between times" happens twice every day. Perhaps as a reminder to us never to assume our present situation is permanent, a gentle nudge not to become so totally attached to our station in life that we are not willing to leap, to venture forth, and to stretch out our arms, waiting to be caught. Pretty exciting stuff, this waking and sleeping.

This is a sunset last January on Mont Royal.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

the cheat


I took a placement test today in preparation for another French language course I am planning to take in January. There were four other people in the room taking the same listening test which was meant to assess our competence in French in order to place us in the appropriate level. The instructor had other administrative duties to attend to so she left the room for part of the test. At one point, I heard some talking across from me and looked up to see one woman whispering the answer to another woman. I was rather stunned and hoped my stern glare would squelch the behaviour, but the dishonest woman seemed oblivious to anyone else and all my looks were wasted. I hoped it was just a one-time lapse in judgement, but every time the one woman hesitated, the second one said the answer out loud, loud enough for me and perhaps others to hear. I could hardly believe it! I wondered what part of her mind believed that helping her friend cheat on a placement test would ensure this friend a better and more thorough learning experience!

I felt bad for both of these women. The one lady was struggling with a few questions and instead of looking forward to having a teacher help her with those particular language issues, she accepted someone else's answers as an easy way out, perhaps never thinking that being placed in a more advanced level than she merited could be frustrating, embarrassing, and hinder her progress. The other lady was no friend to the first one. The smug look on her face revealed her motivation was not compassion for a fellow student, but pride in knowing the answers. She showed a complete disregard for any implications her actions might have on others.

It is hard to watch someone foisting injustice on another. Here are a few quotes from Eugene Peterson on the role of the prophet that stirred me and put things in perspective this afternoon:

"Everyone more or less believes in God. But most of us do our best to keep God on the margins of our lives or, failing that, refashion God to suit our convenience. Prophets insist that God is the sovereign center, not off in the wings awaiting our beck and call. And prophets insist that we deal with God as God reveals himself, not as we imagine him to be. These men and women woke people up to the sovereign presence of God in their lives. They yelled, they wept, they rebuked, they soothed, they challenged, they comforted. They used words with power and imagination, whether blunt or subtle."

"They [prophets] contend that everything, absolutely everything, takes place on sacred ground. God has something to say about every aspect of our lives...Nothing is hidden from the scrutiny of God, nothing is exempt from the rule of God, nothing escapes the purposes of God. Holy, holy, holy. Prophets make it impossible to evade God or make detours around God. Prophets insist on receiving God in every nook and cranny of life. For a prophet, God is more real than the next-door neighbor."
These are the books on my desk right now.

Monday, December 03, 2007

whole


For the past few weeks, I have been thinking about and exploring the concept of wholeness. Recently I have become aware just how splintered our lives are: job and family and sacred and secular and rational and emotional and conscious and subconscious and love and passion and obligation and responsibility and pain and pleasure and rest and relaxation. We categorise and compartmentalise and label and organise our entire lives, it seems, in order to fit it all in and make it work, but how many of us feel whole?
When I look back at the basic concepts presented at the beginning of time as we know it, the goal was to be whole, to be one, to be in unity- with God first and then with each other. The first splintering took place when the we as humans decided that wholeness was inferior to personal advancement, and we started descending the slippery slope of comparison and competition instead of ascending towards the lofty goals of unison and harmony. Understandable, because unity requires sacrifice and laying down of your life for others.
Pursing wholeness is not for the faint of heart. It will sometimes feel like death. It will require everything you have inside of you. You must be 100% present in whatever you are doing at this moment in your life, in whatever situation you are in, with whatever people you have chosen to surround yourself with. It will cause you the greatest agony as you choose where to commit yourself and the greatest joy when you give yourself wholly.
I don't quite know how to do this life of wholeness, but today, right now, I am here writing about something important that is worth my time and effort. 100% of it.
This is an orange on my kitchen table.

Friday, November 30, 2007

end of november thoughts

Okay, I admit it, I am not sure whether I like Christmas or not. I like the Christ child and I have been to mass and found it quite meaningful, but there is so much more that has become attached to this celebration. The original Christ-mass has become a whirlwind of parties and consumerism and eating and a season of a thousand things to do and expectations to buy gifts and send cards and bake cookies and decorate your house and wear red sparkly things and be incredibly excited and happy in the middle of it all.

Every November I think...I will just give some money to poor people in Africa that need a goat or a chicken more than any of us need another electronic gadget or DVD and explain to my family that's the way it is this year. If I never sent out a Christmas card, would anyone cry over the lack? If I neglected to make a big feast or did not bake the famous sugar cookies, would any one's health suffer? If I never attended a single Christmas concert or party, would that be so bad?

Now before you start to search for a therapist that I can go see, let me assure you that most of the presents are already sitting in my office, waiting to be wrapped, and the Christmas cards are ready to be signed and mailed. I don't actually begrudge the activities, I realise, for I enjoy being generous and creative with my resources. I do, however, dislike the stress, the expectations, the deadlines, everything having to happen within a few select days, and most of all, the increased busyness at a time when contemplation would be more appropriate.

The good thing about this is that I do re-evaluate my attitudes and motives behind my Christmas activities every year. If expectations or tradition ever replace or overrule true compassion and generosity and caring in what I do, I will stop. It is not worth it. I would rather disappoint a few people than become a person driven by ungodly, impure, mixed motives.

The birth of a baby in a dirty barn at an inconvenient place and time disappointed many who were looking for something a little more sparkly and exciting and grand. A genuine king, no matter how unimpressive, is still the real thing. Don't settle for anything less than the real thing this December 25.

This is a picture I took while hanging out with the Hamms around the wood stove drinking apple cider, telling funny stories, and thinking deep thoughts in December 2006.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

story


Last night we were invited to see a play, The Syringa Tree, with friends of ours. It is a story told through the eyes of a young girl growing up in South Africa during apartheid and filled with moments of joy and laughter, pain and bewilderment, love and loss. Our friends, who originate from South Africa, wondered how accessible we found the play because it was filled with references to that country and and a culture and time that they knew we could not identify with. We reassured them that the profound story and powerful performance were quite accessible to a wider audience.
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I read the playwright's notes (she was born and raised near Johannesburg, SA) in the playbill this morning over breakfast. "Thirty years later, in a class taught by my director, Larry Moss, I unsuspectingly did as he asked when he said 'Turn to the person next to you and tell them a story.' Without warning, the image of an attack on my grandparents' farm, Clova, came roaring into my mind. I had not thought about it for decades. We never discussed it. Clova was lost to us and I was never taken back to what had been the simple but idyllic place of my childhood holidays. I quickly tried to think of something else to tell, when Larry said to the class, 'Don't censor whatever it is that came into your minds . Tell that story. It will choose you.' I tried to make sense of the murky images, and began to mouth the words. The second part of the exercise was to stage the story we had just told. I think I was the first trembling person to bring the work back, and I stood there as though I had an earthquake in my body. I felt terribly vulnerable dealing with my own life." from the playwright's notes by Pamela Gien.
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We all have a story to tell. Many of us don't want to talk about it. It understandably makes us feel vulnerable and afraid. But our story is unique. Our voice is distinct. And that is why it must be told. It is made to be heard. Don't worry that people will not understand. The human story is universal - everyone understands weakness and struggle in the midst of drama and delight. The details are different for everyone, but the point is the same: how can I make the most out of this life and this world? I often say that my bond with humankind is much stronger than any differences between us.
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That is why I am here writing these words. My story is important in some way and though I may not know exactly what it all means or what impact it may have, I will be vulnerable and
stand there in the earthquake and tell it.
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This is a picture from South Africa when I visited in 2006.

Monday, November 26, 2007

the furniture in my head

Do you ever feel like things are unclear? You try to think things through and make good decisions, but there are too many variables, or the resources do not match the needs, or the timing seems wrong or for some reason, you just have no clue what to do next or even worse, no idea what's happening right now! You ask questions, you pray, you research, you get advice from others, you even explore a few avenues but nothing has a "rightness" about it. So you sit there, stuck, in a holding pattern, waiting for the fog to clear, and until it does, hoping that a foghorn sounds or a lighthouse pierces the mist to give you some bearings or at least prevent you from doing something stupid.

My world has been quite fuzzy in the past few years, but beginning a few weeks ago, things have been getting clearer and clearer. I have to attribute it to 3 things:
1. being able to recognise that my perspective is skewed and not in line with truth and determining to do something about it;
2. asking people to pray for me and I don't mean just the one-minute prayer for God to bless me, but profound, sometimes lengthy, and even intrusive petitioning and repentance that touches the deepest parts of my soul, which is where the uncertainty and confusion lie;
3. surrendering all those patterns of behaviour and thought and coping that I believed were serving me well in varying degrees, but had become comfortable and to be honest, defense mechanisms of sorts.

These patterns of skewed thinking that we let ourselves fall into are like having the couch smack in the middle of the hallway because that's were you plunked it down when you got it. You just get used to walking around it every day and pretty soon, you believe this roundabout and convoluted way of functioning is normal and perfectly acceptable. Until an interior designer comes in and exclaims at the disorder and chaos of it all. Really? I thought we were coping pretty well! And then you have a decision to make. Either you shrug off the comments of the designer as interesting but not all that urgent or relevant, or you raise your hands in surrender and let him at your furniture. Pick the latter, trust me. As he starts to push and pull and rearrange, you might find your hands grasping some favourite chair because you like it just there, but the best thing you can do is pry your fingers off, one by one if you have to, and just stand back.

I am amazed at the clarity that comes with letting God reorganise my thoughts and way of thinking. Decisions, which have been a bit of a challenge for much of my life, have never been this quick or easy. I can be in a conversation and know exactly what advice or comment or question to insert to point things in the right direction. To a great extent, I have stopped second guessing myself (which certainly wastes a lot of time) and can pursue a course of action, readjusting as necessary as I go. Don't get me wrong, there is still much in my life that challenges me, especially some big changes that I know need to happen and will require some major hand-raising (as opposed to grabbing onto the old way of doing things - it worked in the past, didn't it?...never a good reason) as the couches and tables fly past me and the demolishing hammer comes at some walls.

Yes, I am still working at unclenching the last fingers from my expectations of how things should work out, taking my hands off the specific ways I prefer to see things done, and dropping that never ending list of all the ways I want God to make my life good and acceptable to me. These are all petty things, believe me, and not worth strapping yourself to. Instead, attach yourself to the creator and designer and let the house function as it was meant to and come alive!

This is our living room on moving day, just over 2 years ago.

Friday, November 23, 2007

excluding


I spent the morning at the garage getting some stuff done on my car and had the opportunity to finish the book, Sex God, by Rob Bell. Some really good stuff in there. One of the things he talks about is the power of exclusivity. He points out that the language of much of the Bible when it speaks of someone's relationship with God is the language of marriage. The ten commandments are set up as a marriage agreement, outlining what is expected from the participants to make the union last and be all it should be. Is it any surprise then that the first item is one that precludes taking other lovers or objects of affection? There is a power of exclusivity that I think we miss out on all too often because it is popular to be inclusive and tolerant. Through the media, we get the message that it is normal and healthy to pursue many relationships and to tell intimate details to friends and strangers alike. Reality TV lets us see more than we should about people's lives. The 100% giving of yourself to some special one, of sharing things that no one else sees or knows, is a rare thing these days.

I tend to be an exclusive person more than an inclusive one, and I have often seen that as a fault. But today I realised that it is in fact a longing to be wholehearted, to give myself totally to one, to have my friendships be meaningful and lasting, and to develop things that are deep and faithful and strong. The things in my life are precious due in part to the fact that I do not give them away to everyone. I am not referring to the healthy practise of living a transparent life before others, for we should all be honest and open about our journey, but let some things be sacred, intimate, and special. Let there be a language, an exchange, between lovers, between you and your God, that no one else hears or sees.

This is a snowy tree in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

question mark

The state of things this morning was quite different from the state of things last night. Last night it was cool and misty, typical fall weather. When I looked out the window this morning at 8 am there was snow on the ground and it was still coming down. I had an appointment downtown (across a bridge onto the island of Montreal and then another 30 minutes away with no traffic) and wondered if the weather would make me late. I hate being late, especially when other people are counting on me.
Fifteen minutes into my trip I was sitting in slow-moving traffic, and I began to whine, "I'm not even on the island yet and I'm already stuck in traffic!" I hate whining, almost as much as I hate being late, so I am not quite sure why I insist on indulging in both of these practises occasionally, but I do. Nevertheless, this morning I smartened up pretty quickly and chose to pray instead and trust God with the timing. The snow cleared up as soon as I hit the city and I arrived in good time -there was no need to panic.
I used to frequently ask (almost demand, really) that God change my circumstances, or remove obstacles, or give me something better, or just CHANGE something! And if it did not happen immediately, I was deflated and defeated and somewhat faithless. I put altogether too much hope in something happening exactly the way I envisioned it. It really never worked all that well for me, to be honest. I have changed how I talk to God. One of the questions I now ask God when I feel some worry or panic or fear arising in me is, "Do I need to worry about this?" I have never heard a YES in response. Sometimes it is just a matter of asking the right question.
This is a chair on my deck this afternoon.

Monday, November 19, 2007

rising

I was away this past weekend at a leadership retreat for our church. We rented a chalet on the top of a mountain (a big hill, really) and waited on God, cooked and ate food together, waited on God, enjoyed each others' company and waited on God. On the surface, it seemed like a pretty low-key event, but the change in us when we got back to the Sunday night meeting was dynamic. It was like we had all just grown ten feet taller and were so much more focused and had so much more love and grace and direction and encouragement to give.

On Sunday morning, the last day of the retreat, I awoke at 6 am which is really unusual for me as I am a late night person, but there was a reason for it. On Saturday night we deduced that the sun came up over the lake the chalet was facing (we had all lost our sense of direction driving up the twisting mountain roads) and I thought, wow, the sunrise must be cool to see, so I asked God to wake me up if there was a good sunrise to be seen. And he did. I pulled a jacket over my pajamas and stood at the window for just over an hour (creeping out on the balcony occasionally to snap some pictures) and the sun seemed to take forever to come up from behind the distant hills. Since there were no clouds, just a few wisps of smoke from some nearby cabins and a bit of mist hovering near the ground, the sky wasn't all that showy. But when the sun finally came over the grey mountains, it's brilliance was magnificent in contrast to the stark hills and bare sky. It was so bright I could hardly stand to look at it and my camera freaked out with all the light. And to think that it does that every day and I rarely take notice of it.

The power of God is not always a showy thing. Yes, I love the times when I experience the outright visible extravagance of God or when I can physically see something change or can tangibly feel his presence, but many times God is not outwardly showy. He often works beneath the surface, he usually does not announce his masterful work or radical generosity or mind-blowing wisdom or call all that much attention to himself. He waits for people to look for him, to come close to him, to wait on him, to desire him, to ask him, to give themselves into his hands. And then he responds. Usually not in huge demonstrations of power that would amaze us and scare us and get us all hyped up about the magical mystical realm, but in ways that are mysterious and all the more beautiful because he has hidden these things from those who do not value them enough to pursue them. He is very wise that way, and if you just look beneath the surface, you will see the incredible workings of a God who is so full of love for you that has spent every moment of your life (and even before that) acting on your behalf, setting up opportunities and wondrous surprises to mature you into your best self, communicating to you in every spiritual and sensory way possible, and not letting you out of his sight or mind for a moment.

This is the sun rising over Lac Macdonald near Harrington, Quebec.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

creating for a living

Today I did it. I finally delved into the murky world where art and money meet. You see, I have been producing various thoughtful writings, photos, scripts, fiction, music and other creative works all my life and seldom seen anything but the smallest amount of remuneration for any of it. And I have not expected any, to be truthful, and that is part of the problem. I have recently discovered that I do not believe that my creative voice has much value and therefore has little or no earning potential. So the very thing I love doing, that oozes out of me on a regular basis, that I have spent years honing and developing skills in, that I have devoted so much of my time and my resources to...for some inexplicable reason, I expect nothing back from it. Until now, that is. I have had an epiphany, a revelation, a download of truth, a light turned on. Here it is: my voice and my way of seeing this world is important and needs to be heard. I also have some pretty well-developed skills that people appreciate. Over the past few weeks I have finally been able to hear and accept the comments given to me for years that I should consider publishing or selling my work.

I thought about this long and hard. I do not care for most marketing tactics nor the practice of holding art ransom (you can only read or see what you pay for). I DO BELIEVE in continuing to be generous with my creativity but now, also giving people a chance to respond and be generous in kind if they appreciate what I do or just plain "like" me.

What has changed? You will notice a "Make a Donation" button just underneath my profile. If you enjoy reading my blog and admire the occasional photo and feel the urge to do more than make a nice comment, go ahead and click on it. There is no pressure to do so and you are welcome to come here and lollygag without guilt even if you never comment or contribute. On the other hand, you are equally welcome to visit often and click often (smiley face).

Some of my photos are now available for sale in the form of cards on a wonderful website called RedBubble (see the link at the side). You might want to boo around on the site and see some of the other incredible artwork posted there.

What has not changed? I still stay up too late writing these things. I still believe I can do better, so I keep editing and snapping the shutter and thinking about life and observing and learning. I still love the creative process even though it is a lonely occupation sometimes. I still want to be able to buy Dean that villa in the Cayman Islands because he works too hard and needs a long vacation. I still think that popcorn is indeed a proper meal and yes, Jesus loves me.

This is a fall day in the bush beside my house.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

which way?



Last night I saw the movie, "Gone Baby Gone." By myself. It is not a movie you just go see and forget; you want to talk about it, so I called a friend who had already seen the movie and we did just that. It provoked a good discussion about what one would do when faced with a moral dilemma. I maintained that you cannot wait until you are put into a situation to know what you would do - this is very passive and leaves you ill-prepared to make decisions that could affect people's lives.

It is our responsibility to develop a consistent moral compass so that we have some concept of what we would do when faced with a dilemma, otherwise we are really putting ourselves at the mercy of whatever emotional state we are in: whether that is anger or fear or adrenaline or just the first thing that comes to mind because it seems like a good idea at the time.

None of these are good reasons to base ones actions on, in my opinion, though I must admit I have reacted from all of them at one point or another. I have been frozen by fear, I have let the excitement of a moment blur the repercussions later on, I have let my anger harm another. But I am learning. Let my actions and reactions instead be based in love, justice, mercy, and hope. Yes, hope is very necessary for without it we never allow people the ability to change or learn from their mistakes. And I need that as much as anyone else.

This was taken in Manitoba on Christmas day several years ago.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

the mouse


I have a mouse in my house. I don't know how he got inside as we live in a fairly new and relatively air-tight dwelling, but he is there. A friend who was over this weekend saw him scampering behind the stove while I was out on an errand. He bravely poked his head out again when I came home and I promptly grabbed the cats and instructed them to do their job. They chased him all over the kitchen and living room, and Tea laid a little siege when the mouse camped inside the tv cabinet, but all too soon the felines lost interest in the new toy that hid in spaces they could not reach. They soon retired to sleep and snore on the bed for the remainder of the night. A rather sad impersonation of cats, I must say.

This morning Tea was meowing for food for her fat belly and I thought perhaps I should refrain from feeding her so that she would be a little more interested in capturing the mouse, but I wasn't sure she would understand my strategy (much less embrace it), so I just tossed some food in her dish and went back to bed as it was still dark and way too early to get up. There is something very wrong with this picture - it is against nature.

There is a mouse in my heart. It is a timid and fearful creature who likes to hide and lead a merry chase on occasion. There is a roaring lion in my heart as well. Alas, she has become accustomed to being fed and living a comfortable life with little effort required on her part. She has become tame and slow and has little appetite for the hunt. She sees hunger as something to be avoided instead of relishing the quickening of all her senses and instincts in response to the desire and longing to capture something with her own energy and effort, to grasp it with her own claws and ingest something of substance.

I look at my life and my church and my culture and see too many mice running around unchallenged and too many fat cats sitting in comfy chairs. Where is the hunger? Where is the desire to eradicate all those pesky and illusive fears? Where is the drive to hunt down those things that are vital to life and growth? Why do we choose comfort over the chase? Awaken the lion in my heart, oh God!

This is Jazz striking a pose on the bedroom threshold.

NOTE: The mouse was caught in a live trap late Sunday night and released into the woods.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

the power of one

Do you have recurring numbers appear in your life? I do. The number one appears many times during my day. I usually happen to look at the digital clock when it reads 11:11 or 1:11 (yep, I stay up that late and no, I am not a clock-watcher by any means). People tell me I am good one-on-one. I have clothes that are size one. I am not very good at multi-tasking - I like to do one thing at a time. I have one husband (okay, that's hardly extraordinary, I admit). Several times a week I spend wondering what all these one's mean. Yesterday was another one of those times.

We just had someone move out of our house after a few months' stay and it is amazing how much one person's presence changes the dynamic in a household. And how one person's absence can affect you in a profound way. Yesterday I had a friend call me for directions and after I told her how to get there in a few easy steps, she told me that I have a gift for making things simple and it eases people's stress and makes them feel less overwhelmed. That one sentence deeply affected me. It made me see the value of how my mind works, and acknowledging my value is something I am being challenged on right now.

I often find myself saying or singing, "Jesus is the one," and I inserted that phrase on my facebook profile where you are asked to fill in your religious views. The power of one man and one life have never been more perfectly illustated than in the life of Jesus. There is only one true God. One cannot serve two masters (so that would make it only ONE master can be served at a time).

The fact that I am so deeply moved and affected by one person, one moment in time, one phrase, one touch, or one glance at the sky means that I must also see the value of the "one's" that I deposit in this world and in the lives of those around me. I write a weekly email for our church and in addition to the usual announcements, I try to be a little more thoughtful and include a few quotes and perhaps something personal that I am learning or experiencing. It is just one email once a week, but this week several people responded to say what I had written spoke to their situation very directly. Just one small email written by one person sitting alone by their computer wondering if all this pondering and writing is really a worthwhile use of my time - the power of one.

Another side to the "one-ness" is the power of unity: when two or more come together and become one in purpose or heart or mind or body (I am talking marriage here). One is sometimes made out to be a very small number, as in "I only have one friend, or one dollar, or one pair of shoes." One is not small. One matters. One often means you have selected only the best. One means you are not wasteful. One means you are not lacking - it is more than zero.

Be one. Have one. Take one. Give one. Join with one. Enjoy one.

This is one deer out of many at the Ecomuseum.

Monday, November 05, 2007

fall back (trying not to)


Spring ahead, fall back (the nifty phrase used to remember what to do during daylight saving time.) It is just past 5 pm and already dark dark dark! That's what messing with the time zone does (thank you, daylight saving time inventor Benjamin Franklin). Although popular in North America and Europe, most of the world does not adhere to this ritual. Interesting.


Phew! I helped someone move this weekend and though very exhilarating, it was exhausting as well. Change always requires a good amount of energy (unlike stasis which requires very little) and sometimes we are tempted to forgo the evolution of our lives just for a moment in order to rest for a bit, let things go by for a bit. Whenever I feel that sort of passivity creeping into my soul, I know it is a dangerous thing. Comfort cannot be my motivation - EVER! Rest is a good and godly thing, but it comes from trusting God in all circumstances instead of relying on my own efforts, not from saying 'no' to forward motion. Here are a few things related to 'change' that I came across today:

1. sta·sis (stss, stss)
n. pl. sta·ses (stsz, stsz)
Stoppage of the normal flow of a body substance, as of blood through an artery or of intestinal contents through the bowels. [You see, stopping the normal flow of things is hindering life a.k.a death!]


2. from an article by Rick Joyner: As a general principle, the easier something is to attain, or the quicker, the more insignificant it is. If we really want a significant ministry, it will not likely happen fast or easily. That's why we are told to emulate those who through faith and patience inherited the promises. The more significant the ministry, the more faith and patience it will likely take to attain it. It is for this reason that most people, even very gifted people, usually live lives of frustration and regret because they only wanted to do the fun part, often considering themselves above the hard work required to actually bear fruit. These are the ones who may shine brightly for a moment, but then quickly flame out like a meteorite. They simply do not have the substance, the depth of character, knowledge, wisdom, and devotion to work hard to keep the fire burning for long.


3. from Rob Bell's book, Sex God: God's intent in creating these people [Adam and Eve] was for them to continue the work of creating the world, moving it away from chaos and wild and waste and formlessness toward order and harmony and good. As human beings, we take part through our actions in the ongoing creation of the world. The question is, What kind of world are we going to make? What kind of world will our energies create? We will take it somewhere. The question is, Where?


This is a January night sky taken while standing on the ice of Baie Vaudreuil early early this year.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

keep it real, baby



I love taking pictures, but it is a rather limited medium. The most sophisticated camera lens falls far short of the human eye. Sometimes when I am out with my camera and I know that it cannot really capture what is in front of me, I just set the apparatus aside and take a picture with my eyes. Aaahhhhh!

The other thing about photos is that you can only capture one portion of time. You miss the before and after, the context, the journey, the story. Life was never meant to be static; all creation is made to change and grow and mature and multiply and morph. If a photo is blurry (which usually denotes the subject was moving or I was breathing - silly me), this is deemed a bad picture. How odd that movement is seen as the cause of a spoiled image. MOVEMENT IS A SIGN OF LIFE! Sometimes I catch myself trying to take the perfect picture, especially with people involved, setting everything up just right, adjusting my vantage point, removing unsightly objects, and then freezing it all (myself included) to capture that perfect image. It is not perfect - it is just static.

Throughout the years, there are a few unwritten rules that I have developed:

1. Take pictures of things as they are - do not move or tidy or arrange (unless it is a set-up shot like the one where I clumped all my tomatoes together).

2. Do not hamper movement unnecessarily, adjust your settings or wait. Yes, waiting is a big one.


3. Change your perspective often to see things better: lie on the ground, look down, look up, come closer, back away, try every angle. Everything is interesting from some angle.

4. Don't imagine the shot you want and then try to make it happen. Embrace the beauty in what is already in front of you.

5. Watch for the unexpected moments. The ones during set-up and when nothing appears to be happening and after you think the moment is gone. The unexpected moments are some of my favourites.

6. Just shoot. Don't be afraid to push the button, anywhere, anytime, especially if you have a digital camera. Don't even look at the display, just point it somewhere interesting and shoot. 100% of the time you don't press the button you won't get a great shot (paraphrased from Wayne Gretzky).

This shot of the bike in Saint John was taken while crouching down to see under a railing; the snarling animal (river otter, I think) with the blurry mouth was captured during feeding time at the Ecomuseum.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

worth - y


I have been rethinking my value these past few days and I realise that I do not agree with God on some things (and that is a bad thing). I do not think my voice is vital and important, so I stay quiet. I think other, more practical matters, are more worthy of attention than I am so I neglect my passions. I do not celebrate all that I am - the wonderful person God made in me - but believe I can find my value in making myself useful.
So much of sin is really sabotage. We negate the power of the Creator by stifling the potential of his creation and instead, try to cram it into some two-dimensional version of success or meaning. I am desperately trying to unlock this potential, this dynamite of God in myself and finding it a tumultuous and often frustrating quest. Would that one simple step or word or prayer or attitude adjustment or action could set me free. But I don't know how to get from A to B. Jesus, help me.
This yellow Land Rover screamed, "I am beautiful and worth taking notice of!" when I walked by it on the main street of Saint John.

Friday, October 26, 2007

is



I am trying to get back to some creative projects in my life and it is proving rather difficult. There are just so many practical and necessary tasks and of course, valuble time with people and occasional guests and oh yes ongoing correspondence and my part-time job and then the unexpected and usually welcome interruptions that I like being able to respond to. I find it hard to be creative on cue, but I think it is something I must start to do- schedule my creativity.

I have been taking a module in identity (those life lessons God enrols one in and then provides lots of learning opportunities and homework and tests, you know the kind) and today when I was praying for someone while cleaning the bathroom, I realised I was asking God to BE an advocate for them when in fact, he already IS our advocate. So I changed my prayer and it became a declaration of sorts instead of a plea. And I think my life reflects that as well.

I live like I am pleading for something more, hoping for something better, asking for something to work out for me. When in fact, I could be declaring all the things that are already true (but perhaps have not been fully developed). It is my identity, even if it is still being formed, and I am made in the image of the one who has no trouble stating who he is. He identifies himself as I AM. He is all. He is my all. It is true and I don't have to plead over and over again for it to be so - truth exists because He is truth. I just have to stand on it and live in it.

I am a creative woman who loves God and people and is ever-expanding her world of wonder.

This is a street sign in Saint John, NB.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

the book and the beauty

Today I started another blog. Don't worry, this one will keep on chugging away, but I felt it was time to bring some fiction out of the closet and see where I can take it. I hope to post the first chapter this week so check it out if you like. The link is on the right side of this blog under My Links, aptly titled, "my book."


These are some pictures taken today in my yard. Yes, it is a dreary, cloudy rainy day, but every day, even rainy days, are beautiful. On Sunday night during worship I was reminded that there is beauty in everything that God has had a hand in creating, even if it is tainted or broken or disfigured in some way. Unfortunately, we too often subscribe to the ideas of the world around us when we think of beauty and imagine models or California beaches or movie stars and movie sunsets. I was on YouTube today and the current rage seems to be videos of models falling on the catwalk, one of them quite dramatic as she plunges through a hole in the runway. As I watched these stumbles, I thought, "The models are falling." The image that has been held up to humanity to idolise and exemplify is crumbling. And that's a good thing as I believe it to be a very limiting view of beauty. Jesus is the originator of this thing called beauty and we had better get his take on it instead of buying the ad campaign out there. Photography helps me see this beauty rain or shine, old or new, colour or black and white. Where is the beauty in your world today?

Monday, October 22, 2007

late blooming



It seems that one never gets too old to deal with identity issues, in fact, I believe we will continue to develop and have opportunities to become more whole in who we are and how we see ourselves as long as we live. This past weekend I was playing poker with friends, and although I kept getting what seemed like great cards in my hand, they amounted to nothing over and over again and my pile of chips went into a steady decline, no matter what tact I tried. At one point I got really frustrated at another set of cards that failed to amount to anything, and I dishearteningly proclaimed, "So much potential, but nothing ever comes of it. It's the story of my life!" And at that moment, the mantra seemed to be true for so much more than poker that I was overwhelmed by the idea that it might really BE the story of my life.

I retreated to my bedroom for a few "freak-out tears" and asked God if this was truly the case: if I in fact had failed to do much with the great potential he had deposited in me. The answer came slowly. Yes, of course, every one of us does not measure up to the incredible potential that God has put in us; in fact, this is one of the reasons we need redemption. We fall short. That is no surprise. But it does not have to continue to be the story of my life. There is Jesus, there is grace, there is always a second chance.

Every time I respond to the nudging inside my spirit to be kind to someone, to be a faithful and true friend, to be honest and embracing when I would rather not be, to speak and sing extravagant words of encouragement to those in my care, and to take the time to create and write...these are the times I feel most alive and I know I am reaching for my potential.

I have learned that success cannot be measured in terms of outward accomplishments such as wealth or fame or laudable achievements. It can only be measured in faithfulness to the challenges that come across my path. How do I deal with the people and circumstances God has placed in my life and how am I developing those abilities that he planted in my soul through all of it? If I have spent some hours this day seeking his guidance and grace in accomplishing these things and then doing the best that I can, I am content. I am truly me. And I am a success.

This is a Stella D'Ora lily still blooming at the side on my house this week - it is never too late for beautiful results.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

underneath


The drain in my bathroom sink had been rather slow for a long time. Last week, I decided to do something about it. I removed the stopper and took a plunger to it, hoping to push free whatever was hampering the flow of water down the drain. I pushed and pulled and plunged and splashed and the longer I did so, the more black chunks of really putrid, unidentifiable scum surfaced in my sink. My solution to this was to vigourously plunge in and plunge more. The black chunks got bigger and lumpier and I was getting slightly grossed out looking at them, so I turned on the tap to rinse them away.
Oh oh! The sink began to fill with filthy chunky water and nothing was draining, not even slowly. I plunged and splashed and managed to filthify most everything within 2 feet, but all to no avail. The drain was now completely plugged. Hardly the results I had been looking for. I drove to the store and picked up my second line of assault: Drano. I poured half the bottle into the standing water in the sink and closed the door so the cats would not be tempted to sniff or paw their way to an early grave. An hour later, the air in the bathroom made my eyes water, but the black filth hadn't moved so I emptied the rest of the bottle into the slough. Another hour without movement and I was beginning to think that I should never have messed with it in the first place. Slow is better than nothing at all, right?
Wrong! Often I have seen a problem that needs working on in my life, like a relationship conflict, an over-reaction, a twinge of pain or jealousy, or a weakness of character, and so I jump in and tackle it, trying to make things clear and right. So many times it appears that I just muddy the waters and dredge up all kinds of stuff that make things seem worse than before. And short term, things are much worse. In fact, they often come to a standstill and it seems like I hit a brick wall or a big gross clog. But that is not the time to stop and walk away; that is the time to go to phase two and reach for the powerful stuff! Within 4 hours my sink was clean and clear and better than ever before. The stains from the struggle were easily wiped away and I no longer had to live just getting by, compensating for the hindrance. I could now turn on the water full force for as long as I wanted!
Where are you unable to go full force? Go ahead, tackle the problem. Don't be afraid when filth rises to the surface. Don't be discouraged by blockage. Get help: ask others to pray for you, confess sins to one another, live under the grace of Jesus, change your attitude and actions, realise that the blood of Jesus is more powerful than any filthy mess, and don't give up!
This is the underside of an umbrella on the terrase of a pub in Saint John, New Brunswick.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

what if?


Today I was sitting at Second Cup drinking a Chai Latte and reading another chapter in Velvet Elvis while my car was having its rear brakes replaced when a thought ran through my mind. What if everything I ever truly wanted is really available in Jesus? And what if that availability is not some future hope, but begins now? What if the only thing stopping me from living in this state of being is my denial of it, my refusal to believe it by refusing to live like it is true? My denial of the completeness of the act of Jesus becoming man and paying every debt I ever owed and erasing every consequence of sin? My insistence that my identity is an incomplete and broken individual instead of a new creation? What would happen if I truly believed and lived like God wanted to dwell with me, here and now, in my present state and that it is totally possible because of Jesus?


I am not talking about hype or utopia or great riches or instantaneous healings and miracles everywhere. I am talking about living in completeness, in companionship with God; where all he is and has is available to me. I, too, am like that older brother in the story of the prodigal son. I live in the same house as a generous, extravagant and compassionate father, yet I feel poor and overlooked and jealous so much of the time. Perhaps because I feel that the only things that can genuinely be called mine must be earned. And that is such a misrepresentation of the character of God.


"The parable ends with the father telling the older son, 'You are always with me and everything I have is yours.' The father wants the older son to know that everything he wants he has always had; there is nothing he could ever do to earn it. The elder son's problem isn't that he doesn't have anything; it's that he has had it all along but refused to trust that it was really true. We cannot earn what we have always had. What we can do is trust that what God keeps insisting about us is actually true." from Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell


I have a new identity. I am holy and complete, in Jesus. God, help my unbelief.
This is a cemetery near Grand Falls, New Brunswick.

Friday, October 12, 2007

unlock


This morning I had a revelation. An epiphany, if you will. A few days ago a group of us encountered a very disturbed man who managed to manipulate the discussion into a direction that none of us wanted to go. It was a learning experience for all of us, I think, and it took a toll on me emotionally, no surprise, for I tend to turn these things inward. In hindsight, I realise that I vacated my post as a leader in this group and instead, stood by feeling powerless. I knew something was wrong and should be stopped and yet I froze, feeling inadequate and wondering why no one else did anything.
This morning I realised that I acted out of insecurity instead of godly instinct. I usually do not have the strongest personality in a room and often defer to those who do, even if I have insight to offer and the authority to direct things. I often doubt myself and my thoughts, because if someone I like or respect disagrees with me, can my view really be right? I hate the feeling of being isolated and alone and unwanted and will do things to avoid these feelings. All of these motives are pitiful excuses and a bad foundation from which to make decisions. God has given me a certain discernment and wisdom that others need to hear. Not everyone will agree or see things my way, which is precisely why I need to speak up - to present a side no one might see otherwise. Do I trust that God has placed me in a position of leadership and authority in certain areas and that I am to exercise my instincts and character and insight in a lovingly assertive manner that will bring clarity and direction and an atmosphere of freedom in the place? YES!
Keeping quiet and being tolerant and patient and open minded and hesitant when everything inside of you is screaming, "There is something very wrong here!" will end in letting bad things happen to others, plus it will always lead to internal and personal turmoil because one is not acting on a God-given instinct or discernment. Of course, we should mature and develop in how we act on these instincts, but in order to do that, we must start to move the situation in a positive direction, and act before the suppressed instinct leads to turmoil and the turmoil becomes a raging storm.
This incident has opened my eyes in many ways, especially when it comes to asserting myself in a situation that God asks me to participate in. Now to put it into practise.
This is a fancy door handle and some crunchy fall leaves in Saint John, New Brunswick.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

road tripping



Whew! I just came back from my third road trip in 7 weeks and though I love traveling and driving, I am glad I didn't say YES to a fourth one to Nashville this week!

I am continuing to read Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell and would recommend it to anyone who is interested in truth, reality, and embracing the constantly changing journey of faith in a refreshingly honest and accessible way. One thing he says that has stuck with me is how the reading of the bible has become a solitary practise when it was always meant to be read and discussed and wrestled with in a community setting where questions could be posed and multiple viewpoints, additional knowledge, and various insights could give one a more balanced and definitely more interesting reading experience.

In fact, I would daresay that many things that we do privately in our individualistic culture are meant to be done in a community setting, especially where matters of faith and character development are involved. You can't hide in a community; you can't isolate yourself in a community; you can't get away with bad attitudes in a community; your inadequate beliefs will be challenged in a community; your inconsistencies will be brought to light in a community; you have to be honest with yourself in a community; and you will learn to love your neighbour in a community. These are all good things.

Spending countless hours with others in a car or at a retreat is a small taste of community life and I can testify that I am a better person for it, because it challenges me to be open and honest 24/7. It also presents me with a bigger picture and a larger experience of who this wonderfully creative and multidimensional God is as I come in contact with many who are very different than I am yet nonetheless, totally made in his image.

This is a horse in New Brunswick hoping for a snack instead of a photo op. Sorry, buddy.