Tuesday, July 31, 2007

the day that was


Today was a good day. I went to see The Simpsons movie with someone I really like and could feel him close to me and hear him laugh and it made me happy, I sat in my hammock and thought, " I LOVE summer!", I watched my friend open an eagerly awaited gift and get all engrossed in it, I was able to help another friend far away make contact with someone who could answer her questions, I ironed enough shirts and pants to last 2 episodes of home improvement shows, I emailed someone I have never met and made arrangements to have them stay at my house, I cried twice over nothing at all because it was just one of those things and managed not too take it all that seriously, I dreamt about Jack DeVries who was an old man in a mental home who needed a friend so I went to visit him and brought him a few gifts, I took all the garbage out of my house, and I remembered the words that Jesus spoke to me on Sunday, "Why are you discouraged, little one? Keep your eyes on me and you will avoid much disappointment." And so I keep on trying to look in the right direction. Practise. Practise. Practise. It is a good thing to practise.
This photo of my ordinary and dusty garage was taken by Greg.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

fantasyland


I went on a roller coaster last night called "Goliath." Dean convinced me to get in line and I spent the whole 10 minutes plodding along and whining, saying I didn't want to do it. In no time at all we were strapped into a row of seats and the girl beside me said, "I changed my mind, I don't want to do this anymore," and I replied, "Me too!" As the roller coaster began its chug up the steep incline, I could feel all the blood draining from my face and I began to pray. I really hate the sensation of fear and how it cripples me. When we crested the top of the first peak, everything stopped for a second and then we were plummeting towards the ground totally weightless at an alarmingly steep angle (I actually think it was no angle at all, just straight DOWN!). At some point in the latter part of this dive, something in my mind embraced reality and realised that this was just a ride, and in an instant the fear vanished and was replaced with delight. I began to smile and giggle.
Dean was laughing out loud beside me and I started to exclaim with glee everytime I lifted out of my seat, which was pretty much half of the ride. What a rush! We got off the ride and I would have gone right back on for another round if I could have.
I was talking to someone this week about some of the issues I am grappling with in my life and it became clear that I subscribe to fantasy instead of truth sometimes. What I make up in my own head becomes my own personal version of what is going on and it is sadly inaccurate many times. This morning I laid in bed and repented for believing my own perceptions which all too often are rooted in fears or inadequacies.
Jesus, help me know and embrace and operate from the basis of the whole truth which is YOU.
This photo was taken in my bathroom during an informal photo assignment.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

the fast


Monday was a fasting day for our church. I usually restrict my diet to liquids during a fast, but this day turned out differently. What is a fast really, but something you give up because you have a tendency to turn to it for comfort instead of relying on God to sustain you. Usually this involves food, but Isaiah 58 clearly points out that fasting is not merely a ritual involving food, but an opening of our hearts to God's heart.
I spent much of the day in a hospital waiting room and doing various errands with a friend. We visited some kind people (grandparents of my friend) and I felt I should accept any offer of their hospitality as refusing food from them would have been rude and pretentious (at least in my mind). When we finally arrived home after a long day at the mercy of the medicare system, my friend prepared a wonderful salad for me and I ate it with relish as my energy was dipping quite low. I wondered if I should be feeling guilty while all my fellow fasters were going without food, so I asked God what this day of fasting was all about? Had I accomplished anything or had I failed miserably?
The phrase, "Not with your own hands," rang clearly in my head. None of the food I had eaten had been prepared or procured by my own hands. God is trying to teach me not to rely on what I can do with my own hands, but to accept whatever comes from his hands, in whatever form or by whatever means it comes. My fast was to give up my self-reliance and making things happen for myself. This is also what he is teaching me about our church. It must be built by his hands. If it is to be of any eternal value, it must always be his efforts instead of mine. That way the results will look so much more like him and so much less like me. And that's a good thing.
This wonderful lily, a gift from my friend Erika, just burst into bloom this week.

Friday, July 20, 2007

leaning learning



There are some things in life that I just cannot explain. Call them miracles, call them God showing his love and kindness to us, call them the natural outworkings of basic life principles such as sowing and reaping or pride and humility - it really does not matter to me. All I know is that at least three times in my life, God has intervened and instantly freed me from addictions, destructive patterns, and painful memories. I still feel the vestiges of familiar tendencies on the rare occasion, but the impulse, the devastating ravage of emotions, that seemingly helpless downward spiral, and the desire to even head in those bad directions are gone, totally gone.
I wish I could point to something I did, or find a convenient 5-step process that made all the difference, or tell you that someone prayed for me, but in all honesty, I just cried out to God over and over again and submitted myself to him as best as I could. And one morning, or make that one morning and two evenings, these things were not following me around anymore.

I do believe that my desire to disentangle myself from these things caused me to lean over towards God more and more and rely on myself less and less and eventually, I just fell over into his arms and the chains broke. In one instance, I was alone at home, another time I was falling asleep, and most recently, I was in a crowd. No matter what situation I find myself in, if I just turn towards him, He is always there, more willing to engage with me than I could ever fathom.
This is a band we saw at the Montreal Jazz Festival a few weeks ago, Misteur Vallaire. Photo by Dean.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

sitting up straight





This is me after my haircut today. Yes, I am obsessed with hair which is probably why lopping off of a good portion of it (just over 8 inches this time) is healthy for me and my sense of identity.

I have been trying to stand and sit straight for the past week. Not as easy as it sounds. My osteopath suggested that some of my shoulder issues might be more easily resolved if I took more care with my posture. Yes, I am a notorious sloucher. Part of it is because whenever I am cold, my whole body tries to curl up into itself. Another factor is that when I am tired, I just tend to sag all over the furniture I am sitting on. Nevertheless, I believe the major reason for slouching is that I don't like to thrust my shoulders back and chest out. My osteophath told me that breasts are something God gave us and we should not try to hide them. The same could probably be said in some way about how I view my long hair - I hide behind it in some way, trying to cover those things I am not quite comfortable with, like the imperfections in my face, or not wanting to draw attention to myself which is just another identity issue in reverse. Come to think of it, any change to someone's body usually rings loud alarm bells in their head! Somehow we have entangled our physicalness so closely with who we are that we tend to think the two are the same, but we are so much more than just a body.

Hiding our real self behind our body is just such a bad idea. Adam and Eve hid from God and it was evidence of a badly broken relationship as they decided not to take God at his word. Just over a year ago God convicted me of hiding my beauty and I suppose the lessons in that department of accepting and celebrating the person God made me to be are not quite finished as I fall into old habits sometimes and let myself lapse into the slouch of distrust. Putting myself into a correct posture of confident acceptance and trust of all that God has seen fit to put into my life and body is probably more important than I know. I have already seen my shoulder start to ache less and move more freely, my clothes seem to fit better for some reason, my attitude is more positive in general, and I think I look good everytime I look in a mirror!

Don't be ashamed! God made you exactly this way because he wanted it so. Celebrate God's excellent taste and incredible creativity and stand tall! Shoulders back, chest out, deep breath, and SMILE!

Monday, July 16, 2007

the box


Last night over ribs and beers (okay, I was having neither ribs nor a beer, but that's beside the point), several of us were having a little talk as we ate a meal after church. One person was saying that as she was thinking of thinking outside the box, she realised that there is NO box. These boxes are all fabrications of our mind.
Two other people argued that there are certain laws (like gravity) and structures that are necessary for us to survive and be safe. Guess which side of the arguement I fell on? The NO BOX one, of course. My example is Jesus in all things, and he certainly was able to rise above the laws of the known universe (see walking on the water and raising folks from the dead) when he saw fit for they were subject to him, they served him. And he did not seem to hold that much esteem for the religious structures in place, not even familial ones (remember the 'hate your mother and father and follow me' part?). We have indeed perceived many structures where there are none and formulated laws that have no viable purpose when seen in the light of the kingdom of God.
All things are from him and for him and subject to him. There is no box, there is only God and what reflects his character will last and what does not, only gets in the way. What box are you looking out of?
This is a somewhat bored goalie from the soccer game near my house earlier this evening. I guess that means his team was winning.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

know when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em


I have been playing poker quite a bit with my friends lately and one would think that I should be getting better at it, but sadly, too often I can be read like a book and so can my strategy and my cards.

I made some bad decisions this week. One of them was opening my mouth when I should have kept it shut. We all (at least I assume we all do) have this dialogue inside our heads that tries to figure out what is going on in our lives, or work through choices, or resolve issues, or explain feelings, or analyse situations, or think and plan ahead. This week, when someone asked what was going on with me, I proceeded to verbalise that internal dialogue and as soon as I did, I realised that it was the least helpful, gracious or appropriate thing I could have done.

A few years ago, I worked at a job with a meeting planning company whose controller was a no-nonsense, abrupt, and by reputation unpleasant at times, person to work for. She called me one day to ask me to extend my contract with the company, and I replied that I wasn't sure if this situation would work out for me longer term as I had moved and blah blah blah blah. I heard a bit of a "humph" at the other end of the line and she told me that she would expect my answer the next day and hung up. I realised that she was not interested in (nor had the time for) all the things I was thinking about regarding the situation - she just wanted a decision. Overinformation irritated her and wasted her time. I learned my lesson and in any further conversations with her, always got directly to the point and supplied only the information she asked for.

Here are a few guidelines I worked out this week as I learned another lesson about when to speak and when to be silent:

1. When the situation is not about me and should not become about me, I should not unload my thoughts or feelings or struggles and even if directly asked how I am doing, graciously keep the focus on the person or matter at hand.

2. When I am in the middle of working something out in my life, it is probably not a good time to talk indepth about my inconclusive struggles to anyone else (except a trusted confidant or counselor).

3. Very often when I am learning a life lesson, I will encounter someone else who is in much the same situation. If I wait for God to open up an opportunity to dialogue respectfully and openly about it, most times there is some measure of healing that comes out of it for both of us. However, when I am premature or force the conversation, it is unproductive and sometimes harmful.

4. Being a vulnerable and transparent person does not mean that everyone gets to see and hear everything I am thinking. It means I do not withhold myself from those that God places in my life, give myself fully to the situations and lessons he brings my way, and most of all be fully surrendered and available to him.

This photo was taken in South Africa during a round of poker.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

oh look....

This is Jaclyn (and me). No, we are not sisters, nor related in any way and have not known each other for very long, but we are at home with each other even though we grew up half a world away. We can laugh and cry and get silly and cook and clean and paint and make mistakes in each other's presence and occasionally dress the same by coincidence and all of it only makes our friendship sweeter.

Jaclyn is a miracle. She is the only child her mother managed to carry to full term, and perhaps that has something to do with her determination and commitment. She is not a dabbler. She is not indecisive. She is willing to try anything that rings true and is a willing servant, living with conviction and confidence and a sense of fun. She is a woman of her word and has no falseness or pretence about her. She does not run from a challenge and never complains about hardship. She is real and I really like her.

Here we are pretending to be models and pointing uber excitedly at nothing whatsoever but hey, it looks cool! Photo credit to Greg.

Monday, July 09, 2007

separation and air


I have become aware in the past week of how much I still separate the spiritual or sacred from the physical or secular spaces in my life; but I am learning. I offered to pray for someone last night and they were eating dessert at the moment so they said, "Just wait till I finish." I asked, "Why? We can't talk to God while we eat? " So we prayed for her while we licked ice cream and Jesus came with his presence and compassion and healing. What is this mentality that we must be at a certain place at a certain time in a certain frame of mind with a certain group doing a certain thing and not doing other things before God will make himself known to us or we can come before him? I will pray while walking, driving, eating, laughing, crying, shopping, in a movie, with friends, alone, on the phone, in the shower, in the middle of a noisy bar, during a conversation, half-asleep, while reading, while watching television, while in the bathroom, and while cleaning the toilet. Either Jesus is over all our lives or we have religated him to compartments of our own making. When I look at the life of Jesus, much of what he did involved everyday life with ordinary people doing everyday stuff. He was so present and willing to respond in every situation. The model of having spiritual activities mostly happen in a special holy place is an Old Testament concept that Jesus expanded on and fulfilled when he came - we are the place where God wants to dwell.
We were having a church picnic yesterday and I believe I learned more life lessons in the pool (yes, I am still on a quest to perfect my swimming skills enough to be able to breathe and stay afloat at the same time) than I have in my Bible reading for the last few weeks. There is something about my willingness to learn and try and try again that God has told me he finds attractive.
There is another separation, a separation from others I feel sometimes that aches like a cancer in my soul. Tonight is one of those nights. I don't quite know what it is, but I know it is probably a symptom of separating some part of me from him. When I am drained and feeling neglected, spent on serving and smiling, some part of me just wants to be showered with gratitude, affection, and acknowledgement of my value. I don't want to be sitting here alone at the computer drinking a cold cup of tea, wondering what my problem is and why I can't give and give and give without reaching that point where it becomes a chore.
God help me, I need to learn to breathe in his life while I keep on moving forward in this pool of life. I am out of oxygen all too often and cannot keep myself above water.
This is a picture of a rock in my front yard.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

right now




These are today's pictures from a quick walk around my house as a few drops came down and the wind blew. Why wait for sunshine to take pictures? Why wait for dry grass to take a walk? Why wait for perfect calm to snap a photo? Perfect circumstances will never happen. Don't let that stop you from doing the things that are important and beautiful and right now. And that's all for today. I have house guests and they must be enjoyed. What must you enjoy right now?

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

take a load off....

No, you have not just stumbled into a Dutch website selling wooden shoes. These are clogs my friend bought while in Amsterdam and I think they are the most colourful, if noisy, footwear!


Last night at home group (well, it wasn't in a home, it was in the Forum amusement complex where we have been meeting lately as suitable homes are scarce to come by right now), I read from Matthew 23 about the Pharisees who loaded down the followers of God with bundles of rules. Yep, I can see those patterns in myself as well. Coming from a tradition that tends towards legalism, I still struggle with demanding consistent commitment to certain activities as evidence of a godly life. It really puts everything backwards, you know.
I see someone who appears to struggle with consistency in their life and start to get annoyed and want to tell them to get their act together, when in fact, I don't know the whole story. When I did take the time to ask God for his perspective on things in one instance, I saw someone trying to escape patterns and roadblocks that, for whatever reason, have taken up residence in their life. Instead of demanding more faithfulness and adding to their burden, God gave me the grace to catch a glimpse of a heart not quite sure how to cry out for help to untangle the web of self-protection that is proving to make the pursuit of freedom and intimacy difficult.
Despite my pharisaical tendencies some days, that time I offered open arms and a heartfelt prayer for God's touch instead of a curt rebuke. Love is always the best motivator, not higher standards.

Monday, July 02, 2007

take me to your leader


We went to Ottawa on July 1 to catch some of the Canada Day celebrations. Here is our Prime Minister delivering his address to the crowd. Thanks to Andreas, my new friend from BC, for the use of this picture since I forgot my camera at home; plus he is just a lot taller than I am and actually managed to get shots of something other than the backs of people's heads. Yep, we were that close!

This afternoon I had another one of those interesting phone calls that only church administrators seem to get. A man called me to ask if our church was holy because he was looking for a holy church. I wasn't sure what he was looking for (what does holiness look like at first glance?). I suspect that though he will find our variegated group is far from perfect, he will be able to see Jesus and His holiness if he looks, because we make it a point to invite Jesus into our midst to change us and make us more like him.

Since I refused to give him a straight answer he asked if the pastor was a holy man, and when I mentioned that it was my husband and myself that pastor the church, he wanted to know what translation of the bible the pastor preached from. Why do I not see the connection between holiness and a particular translation? I should have perhaps let him know that I like to refer to the original Greek as much as possible or asked him, "Would that be a French or English bible you are asking about?" Unfortunately, all my good retorts only occurred to me an hour after I hung up the phone. I told him I was currently reading The Message but I had many versions of the Bible in my home that I refer to.

He said he would see me in two weeks and he would know a holy church when he sees it. Well, that makes one of us. Dean said I should have just answered, "No!" and left it at that. I am not sure what God wants to do for that man, but I do hope he encounters Jesus when he comes to visit our group, like I hope everyone does that walks into the room.

I find criticism of leaders all too common in our country and in our churches. Not that I want to be free from honest and corrective communication - not at all. In fact, if you know anything about me it is that I am always willing to learn and change. But we were not put on earth to correct one another or evaluate one another. We have mistaken criticism for that rare gift called discernment. Discernment separates life from death, truth from perversion, flesh from spirit. Criticism just points out shortcomings and does nothing about it. Any 5 year-old can do that.

I admire my husband who is a dynamic and wise leader. I respect PM Stephen Harper who is an honest and straightforward and often refreshing politician. God grant us all the grace to walk in integrity and offer encouragement and hope to each other instead of empty criticism.