Saturday, December 27, 2008

relatives

I have spent the past 2 days with an 8-month-old in the house. She is my niece so I like her better than most 8-month-olds. And she seems to like me as well, as is apparent by her cooing, flapping of arms, and grabbing of my hair. As someone who admits to not being much of a baby person (okay, really not at all; give me a teenager any day of the week and we are tiiiight in no time), the interaction was somewhat surprising to me. Why do we get along so well? Because of who she is. She is blood. She is part of me in some way. I already like her, no matter what she does or how she turns out. She will always be liked by me. She doesn't have to do anything to get my love and attention, except be born into the family. And though this is the simplest concept in the world - that who someone is determines how we treat them much more than what they do - hardly anyone gets this, including me.

I consistently like people better that treat me well or have something to offer me when in fact, the ones that have trouble coming up with anything to contribute to my life (or society in general) and probably need the most love are often the ones I choose to neglect.

Jesus came as a baby, directly related to divinity and to humanity. You'd think that humankind would welcome one so intimately related, but the family, for the most part, turned out not to be so fond of the new relative. The blood tie, though usually a very strong element in the Jewish culture, turned out not to be strong enough. What he did was upsetting to many, and it overshadowed who he was. When you don't like God, there is not much you can do about it, but when you don't like your relatives, you can treat them with disrespect and shun them and hope that this is enough to make you feel better about the awkward situation and them bad about it. It never is, of course.

The bad treatment he received was not enough to offend either the human or the divine part of Jesus, because he was related by blood to all of these human beings and he already liked them. Oh that I could let the blood of Jesus run so thick in my veins so that who people are matters much more to me than what they do.

This was the warm and cheery family Christmas scene here in Winkler yesterday evening.

Monday, December 22, 2008

3 Christmas parties

While I have been nursing a sick cat back to health, it has been the season to celebrate. Funny how celebration and not-so-good stuff often collide. This is perhaps meant to prevent us from separating the different parts of our lives and to keep us from isolating our emotions and situations into tidy coping compartments. I believe that life is to be lived together, as a whole, in one big family room instead of every situation behind its own closed door. Each life event affects the next one, and one can laugh in the midst of tragedy and cry at a celebration because joy and pain live in the same universe in a strangely beautiful and companionable way that makes life rich and deep and meaningful.

I had three Christmas events to go to this week and each one was wonderful and fun and special in its own way.

ONE: Our home group got together to sit around the fire, roast marshmallows, make s'mores, sip wine, eat disturbing amounts of chocolate, and play charades. At the end of the evening, someone asked for each one's New Year's resolutions. While I don't really believe in New Year's resolutions as a rule (I would rather live in a learning and responsive attitude at all times, not just once a year), I said that I wanted to recognise Jesus better in my life. I am fairly good at seeing his work around me in various situations, but I do sometimes have trouble seeing his beauty in the people around me, especially the ones I would not have chosen to be part of my cool set of friends if it were left up to me. I guess if it were left up to me, smelly shepherds and immature virgins might not have been part of the incarnation story either. Good thing these things are not left up to me. Yes, let me see where Jesus lives.

TWO: I organised the first annual Vineyard Montreal Christmas office party this year. Since I am the only employee, I realised that if I didn't do it, no one else would! I met up with 3 friends of the female persuasion and we went out for dinner, then hopped on the subway and met up with another friend at Second Cup where we exchanged gifts over big cups of tea and hot chocolate. I had asked everyone to bring a recycled gift - something you have at home that you are not using anymore or never had a use for. Silly as it sounds, this was the best gift exchange I think I have done in a long time. People welcomed the idea of passing something on instead of buying something new - we all have so much stuff anyway. The excitement came in making sure everyone had something they liked and would use; it was so touching to see some girls offer to give up their gift if they thought it suited someone else more. The focus was not in the gift, but truly in the giving. This small exchange of not so new things warmed me more than the chai tea on that cold night. Oh, and then we played some pool. Very nice evening, indeed.

THREE: Our church had a party last night. We sang carols, listened to a Christmas story, prayed for each others' strengths and weaknesses, made packets of chocolates and candy canes and distributed them to the other tenants on the second floor of our building, snacked on wine and cheese and bread and various other tidbits, and then turned up the tunes and danced to some Latin music. In the midst of this celebration, there was some informal counselling going on in the hallway, a few people were saying prayers for each other, and some deep discussions were happening on the couch. And there was a cohesiveness in this, a family sort of oneness where each person could be themself; it was okay to laugh while someone else cried and cry while someone else was doing the salsa.

Make your own celebration. Live, laugh, cry, talk, eat, and give. All at the same time.

This is a blurry picture of Tea the day she came home from the vet, sporting her yellow bandage and a shaved leg from the intravenous fluid and not wanting to do much else besides lie on my shoulder (photo credit to Dean). She is much better now, eating and drinking without too much coaxing.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

overwhelm part 2

My recovering cat, Tea, has good days and bad days. Today she is not eating again. I sit with her and talk to her and stroke her. Though she purrs, I get the feeling that my message of love and care, though sent as loudly and as clearly as I can manage, does not quite get embraced by her instincts and her body. She does not know how to take it in fully. She is too used to the suffering and stress.

I know that God loves me and that he is good. But I do not know how to take it fully into my life, my body, my relationships, my work, my thoughts. I am too used to the lack, the worry, the feeling like I have to protect myself, the need for control and the comfort of self-imposed order.

This morning I read from Matthew 5 in the Message, you know the part where Jesus says that if your eye is causing you to sin by inviting in lustful thoughts, go ahead and pluck it out, because living without one eye is better than ending up morally bankrupt. This is not a literal command, (though if a simple eye-plucking removes an area of compulsion from your life, you might want to consider it) but a literary device that brings the real issues into the open. The problem is never the eye - it is the heart. We try to manage the outward actions, always manage things, yes, that is what we do. We are impressive managers in that way. The things that we (and others) can see, what is obvious and what we can easily grasp a hold of, that we can manage; we can rearrange and sort and prioritise and tweak until it all seems to be under control. But we never really address the heart of the matter. We never strip off the outward behaviour to see what is feeding it. Removing an eye will not remove lustful thoughts from one's heart. In the same way, only allowing my mind to think about one thing at a time will not remove the deep-seated fear of being overwhelmed (see the original post on this called overwhelm).

What am I afraid of? I don't really know. My mind is afraid to even think about what it might be afraid of. Being overwhelmed is a symptom of fear and it has the same crippling effect. It is feeling too small for the situation, powerless and inadequate, with the glaring inability to see the help and hope which is available all around me. I am blind to the big-ness of resources at my disposal and see only the tidal wave of tasks and situations bearing down on me. Instead of grabbing the surf board my trusted surfing instructor offers to me (who incidentally created the ocean and the waves as well), I beat a hasty retreat to my inland bungalow and choose instead to encounter the water from the kitchen tap, one drop at a time. I feel safer, more at ease, less fearful. I can manage the trickle.

Right now, I find that I am no longer content with managing things, with funnelling life into small non-threatening streams, of breaking everything down into manageable bites that don't set off my fears. Fear is like pain: it is a signal that something is wrong, that action needs to be taken to bring things back to normal, to healthiness. The illness must be diagnosed and detected and eradicated. The wound must be cleansed and disinfected and stitched up. The broken bone must be set straight and bound in place until it is whole. I awoke this morning with a sense that this day would offer me countless choices, and I have the opportunity to say a loud NO or a resounding YES to them. NO means I do not give it a place in my life, it is not mine, I let it go without looking back. YES means that I let it in, I embrace it, I make it a part of me, I give it life. There is no middle management.

Let me not get so used to the stress, the fear, the managing, that I do not let the hand of Love reach down and caress me, stroke me, and heal me.

This is a picture of my balcony last week, embracing winter: ice and snow and sky.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Tea and government

Yesterday afternoon, I attempted to give Tea another appetite pill because she was still only eating a few morsels of food here and there. She hates these pills and has had a bad reaction most times I have attempted to get her to swallow one. And this time was the same: more frothing at the mouth and twitching and general discomfort but at least no vomiting (for Tea, that is, not for me). I could feel her bony spine and realised that 4 days after she came out of the hospital, we really had not gained much ground at all. Yes, she was much more settled and relaxed, but also very weak and lethargic and not all that interested in food and water. And I was getting pretty stressed out and weepy, yelling at Dean and God and anyone else in range that "I really could use some help here!"

And an hour or two later, something changed. I don't know what happened, but Tea came over to where I was in the kitchen and meowed at me. I took out the cat treats and placed a few in front of her and after she ate them, I placed a few more under her nose. She ate 12 of them and then a few hours later, she ate 9 more. In between, she went over to the cat fountain and drank for awhile. Then she hopped up on a box and scratched at it, displaying curiosity for the first time in over a week. Later that night, she gave a few playful swats at a mouse. And this afternoon she ate regular cat food - twice - though I still have to feed it to her one morsel at a time and sit with her. She is not totally out of the woods yet, but seems to have found a path heading towards the daylight. And I believe, so have I.

I don't like living under stress - it is counterproductive and apparently played some part in getting Tea into this mess in the first place. I have felt more stress in the past month than I have in the past few years, and I don't like it. I have been asking God to help me get rid of it, and these words that I read in Matthew this weekend leaped out at me: "Change your life. God's kingdom is here,"and a little later God's kingdom is defined: "that beginning right now they were under God's government, a good government!" (Matthew 4, The Message). Last night at church, I clearly saw that my stress is a result of my not submitting to God in certain areas.

There is something about submission and putting myself under the government of God that I am missing. I don't really know what the good government of God looks like. I am used to seeing what man comes up with in the political realm and finding it all very inadequate. And then I somehow project what I know about this world's government onto God's way of governing and figure they kind of look the same, but they do not. It is like comparing apples and sky. So, how do I learn about this good governing? I admit that I sometimes find it hard to believe what he says about me (that would be not submitting myself to his words). I know that I am still tied to the expectations of others, culturally and relationally, more than I want to be (that would be submitting myself to the opinions of others instead of pursuing truthful and uncluttered relationships). I know that I still sometimes find my value in how others respond to me and my actions (that would be not submitting myself to the person of Love). These are some of the things that govern me and I don't want them to anymore.

Last night I told God that I give up; I want to submit to his governance instead of every other governance that has been making demands on me and stressing me out. And that includes those demands that I put on myself and sometimes feel from others. It encompasses the cultural and societal and relational expectations in my life as well. I don't know exactly what I am giving up, but I am tired of the stress it causes, so I am walking away from it. Teach me about governing, God. That was my prayer last night.

This morning I had an email inviting me to attend the national gathering of leaders from the Vineyard Churches of Canada as one of the "critical thinkers and influencers...those that...would be integral to the discussion of how to take our churches and our movement forward." I think I am about to start a course in the government of God.

This is a photograph taken from my bedroom window last week - sometimes we see things through a glass that is not too clear.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

love is life

I brought Tea home from the vet today. She was not doing so well there. Despite 3 days of IV solution, she still has jaundice and low energy and little appetite. The vet told me to take her home. If I cannot get her to eat and drink, she will die. The vet also said that Tea is special: she needs people and love and attention, and they can't give too much of that in a hospital setting- they can only administer drugs and treatments. Without love, she does not do well. So my assignment is to shower her with affection, provide an environment where she knows she is cared for and not alone, and get food and water into her at regular intervals. If she responds to that, she has a fighting chance of surviving.

This is so basic and so true and quite remarkable that a vet would see that medicine cannot do what love can. Without knowing that we are loved, we wane and lose our zest for life. Last night at home group we talked about how to get over self-centredness. The solution is simple and difficult: instead of resorting to self-reliance, getting caught up in comparison, being trapped in self-delusion, entangled in the endless circle of self-absorption, and being overly self-critical, finding it hard to see the positive in ourselves, we must view ourselves the way God sees us. We must see ourselves in relation, always in relation, to God and to others. God looks at us with great affection, compassion, and a burning desire for us to be whole and free and alive and mature. This agreement with God is called humility and it is a very rare and attractive trait indeed. It is standing in great need while dancing in a torrent of grace and mercy. And it is the only way we will not die.

My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not "mine," but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not going to go back on that. Is it not clear to you that to go back to that old rule-keeping, peer-pleasing religion would be an abandonment of everything personal and free in my relationship with God? I refuse to do that, to repudiate God's grace. If a living relationship with God could come by rule-keeping, then Christ died unnecessarily. - from Galatians 2 in The Message

Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you....Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it's important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him. - from Romans 12 in The Message

Live, Tea, Live! Live, Matte, Live!

This is a fire in our fireplace, right next to where Tea is resting on the bed.

Monday, December 08, 2008

sick

I don't know what to do. Tea is pretty sick. I took her to the vet on Friday and was told that she has jaundice and is dehydrated and probably has some problem with her liver. They wanted to keep her in the hospital and put her on IV and take X-rays and do other tests and well, it was just all too much. She actually ate some food while at the vet, so that was encouraging. I had them do a blood test and took her home with some prescriptive food and some pills to see if she would improve.
All weekend Dean and I forced water down her a few times a day, gave her the pills to boost her appetite and the antibiotics, tried to tempt her with all kinds of food with partial success, and I prayed a lot. She hates the pills and one of my first attempts to give her one resulted in her frothing at the mouth a bit, twitching and running wildly into the other room, and throwing up all the water we just got into her (and the pill). Very hard to watch. Yesterday she had a fever and was very listless. She still refuses to drink, but does eat intermittently. Today she ate some cat treats and a tablespoon of tuna. She even peed in the litter yesterday - yay! But all in all, I don't think she is getting much better.

So this afternoon, I will pack her up and take her to the pet hospital to be put on IV. We don't know exactly what the problem is, and the blood test came back quite normal, except for one liver marker, so that's good. But she has to start eating and drinking or she will die, and I cannot make that happen at home despite my best efforts, so before she deteriorates any further, I am taking action.

Sometimes it is hard for me to admit that I cannot make things better myself. Sometimes I still make decisions based on how much it will cost instead of what is the best choice. Sometimes I get cynical and cold-hearted and just want to move on without fighting to save something/one, just because it costs me less emotionally. I am trying to change those things.
Sometimes I don't know what to do, so I pray, ask some good friends for advice, and then take the best course of action that I can figure out. That is what I am doing today.
I just selected the next book for our book club. It is called: The Gift Nobody Wants by Dr. Paul Brand and is all about pain and its purpose. Kind of timely for me to read again, I think.
This is a photo of Tea sleeping in our bed in the house in St. Lazare a few years ago.

Friday, December 05, 2008

The fiction continues...

I finally got back to my fiction blog and I have just put up another chapter, so if you were following the story, go ahead and check it out at www.outword.blogspot.com. More installments to follow weekly.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

overwhelm

Well, I am finished. My university courses for the term, that is. I handed in my last paper on Tuesday, all 43 pages of it. After I walked out of the Department of Theology office door, having just deposited the precious envelope, I decided that the occasion merited a bit of a celebration. I bought a bag of Old Dutch sour cream 'n' onion chips, a bottle of New Leaf Green Tea, got on the subway, and ate my small meal of victory while reading Ben Hur on the way home. Pretty crazy party, I know.

And despite being really happy that the research and writing and putting words and thoughts together in a profound and clear way are done for the moment, I found myself slightly less excited about being able to get on with day to day life now. Dentist and vet and car appointments and laundry and cleaning the bathroom and Christmas shopping don't have the same lustre as grappling with theological and philosophical questions. This should be a season of rest, but I am restless. My mind and my spirit have been stimulated and I want more. And yet, I know there are some things that have been pushed to the side that must be addressed, and I am not just talking about a few weeks' worth of ironing.

I get overwhelmed easily, I know that. And that is why I try to only do one thing at a time. I try not to think too far ahead or let my thoughts wander to itemise the list of all the thousands of tasks that need to be accomplished in the next week or month or year. If I do, I can feel my shoulders tighten and my adrenaline start to pump and the worry begin to march around in my head moaning "oh no" and then I get distracted and begin jumping from one task to the next and leave a trail of unfinished thoughts and slips of paper with notes scattered everywhere and feel like I am getting nowhere. And so I don't go there in my head. I do one thing at a time. I think about one task at a time. I compartmentalise my tasks and don't let my thoughts stray.

I was told by a good friend this week that I am not normal, that this sense of being overwhelmed and then needing to push thoughts of the future off into a corner where I cannot see or hear them should not be present in my life. Usually I take the "not normal" phrase as a compliment, but this time, I bit my lower lip and blinked a few times, not sure I liked where this was going. I thought I had come up with a very creative and practical solution to manage my thoughts and tasks and worries and perhaps should write a self-help book about this wonderful "lock up your thoughts into neat compartments" method which would land me on Oprah where the hair and make-up people would marvel at my youthful looks and bouncy hair and all want to attend a seminar of mine. (You see how my thoughts sometimes need a little helpful herding.)

Could it be that I have just locked away the fearful thoughts so that I can deal with them one at a time because this is manageable? One small worry at a time instead of big bunches of them, yes I can do that. Sigh. While definitely a good starting point, I do sense that my friend is onto something: it is not a way to live one's life. Yes, I want to be able to think about the big things, to climb the mountain range of challenges, to swim in the torrent of tasks, and to face the full force gale of everything life can throw at me and still be found brave, courageous and unflinching. I don't know exactly how to do that, but I can start by taking a peek in that corner room where all the scary and overwhelming thoughts have been relegated and not cover my eyes.

It is only fear. It cannot hold me. And when I stop pushing away the overwhelming-ness of fear, perhaps I will also be less likely to push away the overwhelming-ness of love: delightful and ticklish, cool as a summer pool and thick as chocolate pudding.

This is the Lion's Brewery pub in Waterloo, Ontario in a cozy cellar with wood and stone ceilings. Don't worry, it won't cave in.

Friday, November 28, 2008

the R word

We are away for the weekend, visiting friends in Ontario. I have two papers due early next week, which explains my absence from blogworld as I have been trying to get them done before we took this wee vacation, and I am happy to say that the rough drafts are both done and packed in my backpack, waiting for me to edit them.

We had a great home group dinner on Wednesday night, lots of food, good discussion, mulled wine, and of course, some silly dance moves. I got there early to help prepare the food and a few of us started talking about one's purpose in life. One of my friends had been asked the question at work by a colleague, "What is your purpose in life?" and now she wanted to know what other people would have said. Good question. It is easy to give a broad, vague answer and we came up with most of the usual ones: to worship God, to love others, to know God, to be everything I am meant to be, to make this world a better place, etc., but that's pretty easy to say and pretty hard to pin down and perhaps not all that meaningful to the average person you meet at work or on the street, no matter how true it might be.

Of more interest to me was what the discussion revealed about what we want and what we are afraid of. Basically, we want to do the right thing, the thing that makes us and those important to us, happy and content. And we fear that we will miss it. Somehow, the discussion got onto making decisions and making mistakes and how we are sometimes stopped from making decisions because we are afraid of making mistakes. Noble as it sounds, not wanting to make a mistake is just another way of saying that one is afraid. And what exactly are we afraid of?

I think that somewhere in a back corner of our souls, we are afraid that redemption does not work. That wrong cannot be righted, that we will bear the consequences of our mistakes forever, and that forgiveness feels good but doesn't blot out the cold, hard facts, and that surely badness and judgement will follow me all the days of my life. And so we find it hard to make decisions, afraid of what the implications might be. Don't get me wrong, I think responsible decision-making is a great trait to develop and often too rare, but it is not what I want to count on to get me through. I need more than that - I need redemption.

Redemption works. Believe it. Jesus is enough. He specialises in well-meaning mistakes and ill-conceived decisions and misplaced self-reliance. He is not afraid of them. He can make something beautiful out of nothing special and make your big worrisome something into nothing to be concerned about. Trust him. Make the best decision you can and plunge it into the bath of redemption.

This is a Christmas streamer at my friends' house in Ontario.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

enough

For those of you who don't know, I run a home for delinquent cats. This is not some benevolent gesture and mission statement on my part, it is merely the state of things. My cats have problems. Jazz came from a farm and is part Maine Coone and part wild hyena (that's hyperbole in case you can't tell) and occasionally attacks people without provocation. Oh, and with provocation all the time. She feels the need to dominate everyone and everything. Nevertheless, when she is not feeling threatened, she does have her loving moments, but hardly anyone gets to see them.

Tea was rescued from a park and is one of the neediest balls of fur I have ever encountered. She follows me around. She sleeps pressed up to me all night long. She likes to sit right beside me and stare at me while I work. She sits on my lap while I eat popcorn on the couch (and nips pieces out of the bowl). She continually whines for food and water. She is obsessed with drinking from the kitchen tap and meows loudly for anyone to turn on the water. She is fat. The vet put her on a diet a few years ago: reducing food, two feedings a day, small portions. The whining just increased and she would wake me in the middle of the night and bother me until I would get up to feed her. So I increased her portions to get her to let me sleep through the night, but still only fed her twice a day. The food was immediately gobbled up once it hit the bowl.

In the past few weeks, things have changed. We went away for a weekend in September and as is our habit when we do so, we just fill up the dishes with food and let the cats take a mini-vacation themselves, with all the food and water at their disposal. When we came back, Tea seemed so content that I decided to continue free feeding her, just to see what would happen. There was always plenty of food in the dish instead of a measured amount twice a day. Dean came home from Florida with a water fountain for pets. There is now continual filtered water pouring from a spout into a small bowl for their drinking enjoyment. After a few weeks of this "never-ending supply" method of feeding, I noticed that things were different. There was no more whining. Tea still sits near the kitchen sink and looks at it, but she can't seem to quite remember why. I can top up the food dishes and no one rushes over, entangling themselves in my legs and meowing. They stop by for a bite at various times during the day, no panic, no hunger, no whining, no begging. Tea has lost 2 pounds. She finally seems to realise that there will always be enough. We will always provide for her.

Dean spoke on Sunday night at church and encouraged us not to live from a basis of need, but from intention. How true. When I just try to fill my needs, most of my time is taken up with whining and grasping at things and selfishness. This is really a pathetic addict's life in some way. But when I set out to fulfill an intention (like following God), my whole perspective changes. I am now working towards some goal that is bigger than me and my immediate needs. I have become part of a larger purpose.

Sometimes I still find myself being a Tea. I feel such a lack in certain areas of my life. I feel unloved and undervalued and lonely. I may not admit it, but I think that God is not enough and that he is a stingy provider. Why else would I always be hungry and thirsty? So I sit at the kitchen sink and outside the shower and wait and whine, never realising that these are not appropriate places to get my thirst slaked. I follow any set of legs that looks like it might be headed for a food dish, only to be disappointed with the results.

I act like there is never enough when in fact, there are unlimited supplies of the basic staples of life: I need love and light and direction and truth and life. God is love. God is light. God is the direction. God is truth. God is life. And he is unlimited. There has always been enough and there always will be, but until I see that, I will not change my needy attitude and my whining ways, no matter how much is put before me. Let me drink from the never-ending fountain and the grand feast set before me.

This is a photo of Tea hiding in the laundry basket, looking slightly like a feline felon.

Friday, November 14, 2008

a few thoughts of late

Things are good in matte-land. Dean is back from a little trip to Florida, I am in the midst of writing two papers (Augustine and the Shunammite woman), it is a beautiful sunny day outside, and my right knee will not have to be amputated (I accidentally ran and I mean RAN into the solid wood banister yesterday and for a moment thought my life as a walking woman was in jeopardy, but thankfully, one mother of a bruise is all I walked away with).

Anyway, here are some thoughts and quotes from the last week or two. A lot is going on in and through my brain, and I don't always have the time to jot it down here, but I did write a few notes to friends in the past weeks and here are some glimpses from them.

from an email I wrote to a friend...
"After each class I usually come home and spill everything out to Dean and whoever else is around, so everyone is getting a lot out of my education. I told someone in home group the other day that the Bible is not God. And they said they would have to disagree with me. I understand that. But really, the more I see the humanness in the biblical texts, the bigger I see the glory of God in its revelation. It is warmer and earthier than we have allowed it to be, and one can almost feel the breath of the spirit coming from the words when you see some of the context in which it was written and passed on. Humanity is nothing to be afraid of - God was not ashamed to be human and has no problem with human words and inconsistencies in stories and misunderstandings and errors in copying. In fact, each version of the story brings another aspect of his character to the forefront. The beauty and power is HIDDEN in the very weaknesses we try to hide sometimes. NOTHING can diminish his love and holiness, not even the feeble language of man and our imperfect ways of communicating it. I will not tie God up with my presuppositions, please no."

from a weekly email to my church friends...
"I am in the midst of writing 2 papers and preparing an oral presentation for my university classes and frankly, am finding it a bit overwhelming. I would love to wake up and have the outlines waiting for me at the foot of the bed and the readings already annotated and highlighted to show me the important and relevant bits. It would be so much easier to have it all laid out for me, the expected tasks itemized for each assignment in a detailed schedule so that I could easily tell if I was on track and just tick them off as I went along. There would be no long hours spent searching out materials, grappling with the texts and pondering the meaning of the authors, and then wondering what the heck I am doing and how can I ever get my head around all this information in a meaningful way in order to be able to present it clearly.

And in the midst of this worry, this lack of confidence in God and in myself…I am reminded that He is giving me everything I need for the moment, and for each day. Friends offer helpful hints that help me to streamline the process. One professor sends me notes on how to write a good paper. I awoke this morning with a clear sense of what to tackle next. And this is how we learn, this is how we mature: we grapple, we struggle, we try things that we have never done before and don’t know how to do (yet). We ask difficult questions and dig and search until we find some solution. We engage our minds and our spirits and our souls with the people and the situations before us and we do not let go until we have some sense of resolution. None of us wakes up with a simple set of instructions before us every morning. Frustrating as that may be on some days, it is for our ultimate maturity and growth. And it is the only way to learn, to arrive at those “a-ha” moments in your life, and to become more fully acquainted with Wisdom and Truth
."

I attended an informal get to know your professors event last night. Two things that were said in the discussion have been rolling around in my soul and sticking in my mind. One of the professors was asked if she ever doubted God. She replied that she did have doubt, but it was not really doubting God; in fact, she was not looking for certainty. Instead, she said, she sometimes found herself wondering if she had the courage to live over the abyss, of embracing faith and risk and living in the face of death and seeing it somehow become life.

The second comment that was made by someone in the back row is that we do not allow the transcendent to be truly transcendent. *moment to think about it* Hmmm. Yes, it is true. We would much rather bring God down to our level, feeling the need to understand and formalise and humanise and compartmentalise him. But as soon as we engage in that process, we have rendered him as less than God in our lives. He ceases to transcend us.

Just some thoughts on a Friday.

This is a picture of the neighbour's motorcycle that Dean is trying hard not to covet.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

the package

I received a package in the mail on Friday. You never know exactly what's going to be inside. video

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

hear

I have finished my French course and one would think that I should have more time for writing now, but alas, it seems I have pushed many of the tasks of everyday life to the side for the past two months and their nagging tugs and persistent pleas must now be heeded. There is a long list of correspondence and bills and projects and maintenance issues and appointments to address, but I am tackling it bit by bit. And my house is clean for the first time in weeks! woohoo!

Currently in our small home group gathering, we are tackling subjects that people have indicated they would like to not only learn more about, but get better at. Last week we talked about hearing God better, or being able to recognise that still small voice of wisdom. And then we practiced. We always practice what we are learning in these evenings, because that's the way you get better. Practice. Do it. Try. And then do it over and over.

Here are some points that I came up with on how to recognise the voice of God in your life, in whatever form it takes (inspired by Jonah):

1. it is loving

2. it requires faith

3. it puts you out of your comfort zone

4. it does not focus on you or your needs, but in bringing honour to God and in putting things right.

5. it is invitational - it invites you to step closer to God and what he is doing

6. it does not sound like YOU!


What are you hearing today?

This is the garden at the counseling centre where we used to meet as a church. Taken on the day we moved out of the place.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

the lecture

I attended a lecture last week hosted by the Theology department at my university (no, I don't own this place of higher learning, but isn't it interesting how much of life is "mine" in common English usage. Anyway...). A very well spoken and highly educated pastor from a local Presbyterian church was the guest presenter. The talk was titled: Biblical Interpretation: Where Hermeneutics and Revelation Meet. Interesting. I hadn't planned on going because I had a French course at the same time, but one of my professors scheduled it as a make-up class so I did the unthinkable, skipped out of French early, and showed up at H-403 to hear what was to be said.

The 45 minute presentation was immensely wordy. Most of the time wonderfully wordy, but sometimes my brain could not follow all the complex linguistic helixes being constructed by Dr. T. Nevertheless, I did catch a few things that I liked in what he said. He cautioned against the purely academic study of the Bible, especially methods that removed God from the equation. Yes, he came down pretty harshly on those who would say they are trying to be objective. He insisted that a vacuum left by removing faith will quickly be filled with something else. But he is a pastor, after all, and I loved his passion for connecting God with people in a spirit of grace and integrity.

A professor in the Theology department offered a response after Dr. T. sat down. He defended the historical critical method of interpreting the Bible and cited some examples to back up his points and insisted that one can be critical of the text without being critical of God. He pointed out that the purpose of these interpretation methods is to safeguard against errant viewpoints. I agreed with him as well. Here were two men, both experts in their field, who might be heard to be taking opposing views, but I saw them as complementing each other, both encouraging the pursuit of truth through the scope of their chosen vocations and in that way, presenting a fuller, more complete picture.

I guess not everyone felt the same way. Many of the people in the room seemed to fall into one camp or the other. One of my professors was sitting beside me and after a bit of a discussion, she offered her comments. I can still feel the passion in what she said, her excitement belied by the strong use of her arms and voice. She made a bold call to stop the division between academia and theologians, for we are all part of the church. As she went on, I suddenly found myself all choked up. Oh no, not here, you can't cry here in a university lecture surrounded by academics and especially when you are sitting beside your esteemed professor who holds one tiny part of your future in her hands. Though I have learned that it is not a good idea to stifle the movements of the heart, I tried to maintain a quiet control while letting myself respond with a loud internal YES to the powerful challenge to embrace unity with courage and refuse to stand divided.

After the session ended, I somewhat timidly offered my appreciation to my professor for her comments and in the middle of doing this, found myself close to tears again. Oh, well, there was no getting away from it. I finished my sentence in a quivery voice and explained my behaviour by saying that these things moved me. My professor put an arm around my shoulder and told me that I reminded her of herself when she had started out. I smiled and nodded and could not say anything. It was like the voice of a beloved one had said, "You belong here and you're going to do okay. You don't have to compromise who you are or stifle your passion. Bring who you are to your studies. Bring life and learning and love and wide-eyed wonder, even if it is unrefined and unsophisticated and sometimes raw, to everything you do and watch what happens. Watch yourself grow and blossom and bear fruit. And watch the world around you grow as well. Let me teach you."

Is it really so amazing that one should hear the voice of Jesus when studying the Bible?

These are some crunchy leaves on my street earlier this week.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

me too

I think we've all done it. I was walking down the sidewalk in St. Laurent today, on my way to the pharmacy across the street. While I was still about 20 feet from the intersection that I was heading to, I saw people start to cross the street up ahead and I began to run, wanting to make sure that I didn't miss the green WALK light that had obviously just begun. I stepped out into the street and darted in front of a car that was slowing to a stop for its red light. But the driver honked instead! What? I looked at the pedestrian signal and found that it did NOT say walk, in fact there was a big red hand warning me that it was not safe to cross. I had just darted into the street in front of a car that was rightfully driving through a green light at quite a nice speed! Oh, crap! Those pedestrians I had so willingly followed were just in a hurry and trying to squeeze in-between the traffic, disregarding the law and their own safety. In looking at them instead of the traffic light, I had put myself in a dangerous situation. Thank God for an alert and considerate driver!

Somehow, when we see a few people doing something, we assume that it is okay. I am experiencing the same phenomenon in my French class. For the first few weeks, most students showed up on time, at 8:15 am. Then a few of them started to arrive a little later and realised that there were few consequences for this. Each week fewer people showed up on time and today, I was the only person in the classroom at 8:15 am, besides the professor. What one or two started to do, everyone soon adopted as acceptable behaviour. The effectiveness of the course has been circumvented in measure by the attitude of a few. And it makes me sad.

Because I am guilty of the same thing sometimes. I fall into this pattern of easily being influenced by others' less than stellar behaviour and letting that be my standard instead of what I know is good and right and lawful and the best that I could be doing. And I am ashamed of that part of myself, that weak and pliable and comprising part of me. Do I really have so little inner conviction? Am I just a follower and not a leader? Will I refuse to stand out from the crowd and make my stance known when it really matters?

In one of my university classes we were talking about a controversial matter and someone said, "Well, people have been doing that for all time!" As if that makes it right or normal or the best option! People have been killing each other for a long time, too! Does that make it normal and desirable social behaviour? I find that people often follow the easiest and most self-serving route instead of choosing to step out in a way that serves others and promotes respect and commitment. How often do we stop to think about why we do the things we do and how our actions affect others and where they are ultimately leading us? The pattern is predictable: if a few people are doing it, especially our friends, we just go along with it and adopt the behaviour as our own. It is easy. It is less costly. It requires less of us. We abdicate our responsibility to make the right choice by resting on the choices of others.

I am often dismayed at what I see evident in our church group. Here too, commitment and service and a desire to grow and learn and build something in our community are rare things. It all too often comes down to the lowest common denominator of "What is convenient for me, and what do I feel like doing at the moment?" I guess I just want to know...where are the leaders? Where are the people who will rise above the mediocre behaviour of the crowd and influence others in a positive way? Where are those who will commit themselves to the things that Jesus made a priority and not put their own comfort first? Where are the faithful ones? Where are the ones who will stand no matter what happens around them?

Where am I?

This is a solitary nail sticking it out near St. Lazare.

Friday, October 17, 2008

cut off

You might not want to read this. It is going to be messy. And embarrassing. And slightly more revealing than you might have the stomach for. Just thought I would warn you.

In case you don't know much about me, I am a very good and spiritual person. Really, that is what people think, and I hate to disappoint them. I am a leader in our church group. I teach and pray and give life advice and take theology courses that boggle the average person's mind and openly admit to loving reading the Bible and talking to God (and it's true!). I show up early to meetings and set up and clean up and provide snacks and plan events and have people over to my house for meals and do all kinds of wonderful stuff for others. And most of the time I love it. But there are days...

For the past few months I have been having a rough time at the Wednesday group that I lead. Each week I spend a few hours preparing a discussion and activities on a topic, or thinking up cool stuff for a fun night that will bring joy and a sense of community and encouragement to all who come. I usually get really excited at this point and can't wait to get there. But by the time the evening is done, I am pretty much close to tears and just want to quit it all. Sometimes I feel like nobody got anything out of it. Sometimes I grind my teeth in annoyance at some of the behaviour I witness and sad to say, am unable to withhold some looks and snorts and words of derision (sorry if you have been the recipient of any of those). Some days I want to smack some folks over the head because they are being such jerks (from my perspective, of course). Some evenings I wonder if I know anything at all because so much of what I say or do seems to be tainted with an agenda that smells of superiority and sweaty effort to get people to change to be more to my liking. Some days, after a really meaningful time of preparation, I get to the group and listen to myself babble on and on while I see people talking to each other and laughing at private jokes and making plans for cool stuff to do later. Many days I wonder if anyone really wants to do this except me. And now I don't know if I want to do this either.

I know that to some degree, I set the tone in a group, so while all these horrible thoughts are playing through my mind in an endless house music loop, I feel guilty about my shameful thoughts and lack of grace. There is this urge to wail out with loud weeping, yell out my frustrations, and maybe even break something, I might feel better. But I am a very good and spiritual person. So I keep it inside, so as not to offend or freak out or bring anybody down.

But there comes a point where one just gets tired of trying to manage the war within. The struggle to be good is not working. There seems to be no progress, no getting over the hump, no relief from the pain and the hurt and the destructive thoughts. And at that point, I am finally desperate enough to say, Okay God, show me where I am off, show me the worm-eaten core where all this stinking stuff is coming from. And I get the feeling that I have been living with some twisted lie for a long time, letting it inhabit a room in my soul, letting it hide behind a certain sense of justice in order to avoid discovery. Yes, uncover me, I say. And then the awful truth comes out.

I want to be validated by this group. I invest a lot of my time and energy into these people and I think I deserve some payback for that. No one is as dedicated to this group as I am. Surely that merits some recognition, at least some pats on the back, a 'well done', some attention to what I am saying, some regular attendance and punctuality, and oh please, most of all, love me for it. Treat me as a special friend for all I do. Somebody tell me and show me how valuable I am. I have brought all my best stuff, isn't that worth something? Isn't that enough? Can't that buy me some love and acceptance and admiration?

Well, that's a pretty ugly animal when its greedy claws come out. Having seen the beast, I am initiating a siege. I am retraining my soul to know that its value does not come from the reactions of people nor from how much attention they pay to me. This is especially difficult with those people who are on the receiving end of a lot of my energies. It is hard not to demand some return where great investment is made. But I have learned the hard way that I am always disappointed when I go down that road, because the needy validation bugger is insatiable.
And so I lay siege. Whenever I feel the growling hunger of this selfish sabotaging monster, I sing the truth: My help comes from you, Lord. All I need is you, Lord, is you, Lord. And when I do, I can hear the sweet ping of tightly wound restrictive cords being broken. I have let myself be hindered for too many years. It is time to taste the freedom of giving without measuring.

This is one of the sharp knives doing what it is meant to do in my kitchen: cut out the inedible bits.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

aha!

I had an a-ha! moment this week. I was sitting in my Tuesday evening class, listening to a lecture on source criticism in the Hebrew Bible. It is much more fascinating than it sounds, really. We read through a few passages in Genesis, observing the parallel stories and contradictions between them. This leads one to conclude that several sources were used in compiling the book since the style, vocabulary and details are quite different in different sections. The point is not the different versions of one story, but why the compiler felt it necessary to include multiple stories. It is not hard to see that each story reveals a different aspect of God's character in some way. These writings were never meant to be accurate scientific documents or historical databases, they were recorded to show us who this God is and how he interacts with humankind.

At one point, someone asked a question about the story of Abraham and Isaac. The ears of my heart perked up immediately. I have always found this story of God testing Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his only son as distasteful. What kind of God promises a gabillion descendants, makes someone wait decades for a child to be born, and when he finally appears, asks for him to be given back? It made no sense to me, and honestly, I did not like the God in this story. He was mean and unpredictable and not the kind of God I thought I knew. I have wrestled with this story for many years, even taught on it, thinking that would help me discover what it meant, and I finally made my peace with it by just shrugging my shoulders and admitting that it was a mystery to me. God is God and he can do what he wants.

And then my classmate asked the question. My professor said that this was a difficult story and one had to understand the time it was written in. At that time and place, Abraham was living in a culture where there were many pagan gods being worshipped around him. Many of these pagan gods, such as Molech, demanded child sacrifice. It was not an uncommon thing to be asked to burn your child in a sacrifice to appease the gods. So Abraham prepared his sacrifice. And God sent an angel to stop him. What was the point of this story?

God was saying to Abraham, I am not like those other gods. I do not ask you to sacrifice your son. I am different from those pagan gods who make these demands of you. Yes, I want you to dedicate your children to me, but I do not ask you to sacrifice them. There is only one sacrifice, and that is the one I provide, and he will be my son, not yours.

And when I saw what God was trying to show Abraham about himself, I breathed a sigh of relief. My soul suddenly felt lighter, like some edge or shadow of doubt had fallen away. Years of harbouring a sliver of mistrust disappeared and I thought, Yes, this is the God I know and love! He always has more love than I can imagine or see in any situation. He always shows himself to be far above anyone or anything else that I place my trust in. He never disappoints if I wait on him, and he never demands something just to prove that he is God. He will continue to show himself as greater and more loving and kinder and more wise and generous than I could ever dream up. If I just let him. If I will see. If I will hear.

I offer my sincere thanks to my dear professor and my curious classmate.

These are some pumpkins stuffed with flowers on my neighbour's steps. They always make me smile when I walk past them.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

feed me

I am getting used to being somewhat perpetually tired and hungry, at least Monday to Friday. It is good for me. It puts things in another perspective. Some ugly thing called worry wants me to believe that there is never enough time, but I know that there will always be just the right amount of time each day to be the person I am to be and do the things that God sees as important right now. And there always is. God can be trusted regarding time. Seeing that play out every day is like witnessing the miracle of sunrise over and over again; no matter how many times I experience it, it still takes my breath away and extracts a sigh of gratefulness and wonder.

The other impulse I have the joy of engaging and seeking to get some self-control over is the one that raises its horny head when my reserves are down. When missing the recommended amount of food and sleep, the needy devil starts to scream for all kinds of soul fast food to satiate its selfish appetite. It wants attention lavished on it and looks at others as competitors in this arena. It wants to be served and coddled and fed flattery one juicy tidbit at a time. It wants presents and adulation and admiring looks and to be desired. It wants to be the one to say no instead of having no said to it and can throw a hissy fit if it senses rejection in any form coming its way - it can even project rejection being tossed its way where there is none! It wants someone to read its mind and make sure it never lacks for anything. It wants the universe to revolve around it and pouts if that is not happening. All the secret fears and wants that I get so good at keeping under the surface can no longer hide. They come out in my dreams, my emotions, my actions, and my words. And that is a good thing.

Let me starve out the selfish parts of my soul and feed the generous, loving, trusting, submissive, strong, and hopeful bits. This is the strategy for overcoming my worst enemy - my unruly self.

Here is a picture of the most amazing stir fry I made last night right next to the reading I still have to do this weekend.

Monday, September 29, 2008

not the worst party ever

I had a birthday party on Friday night. Dean invited a few people over and we made food and talked and played games and even walked around the carnival set up at the local mall parking lot just before it closed. Pretty fun! Well, in theory, yes. As it happens, I just had one of the busiest weeks of the year with classes, assignments, meetings, and just a lot of stuff going on which meant I was over-tired from running from one happening to the next and trying to keep my list of things to do from falling behind and in the midst of it all, not getting a whole lot of sleep. I don't know about you, but I am not at my best when I am overtired.

As the evening progressed, I felt less and less like I was part of the festivities and more and more like the party was going on without me. I had the urge to leave the room and lie down somewhere so that I didn't have to be happy and sanguine and sociable and the perfect hostess and seen to be having the best time of my life which was really the furthest thing from the truth. We sat down to play a video trivia game and the cloud of isolation intensified. I didn't know what to do, but I was dying inside, so I did the unthinkable. I stopped the party. I got up, stood in front of the TV which brought the trivia game to a screeching halt, and said, "I'm sorry, I'm having a hard time. I feel really isolated and I just can't do this anymore." Silence in the room. One kind person offered to have me join his team, but it wasn't about being on a team. It was that I felt so very alone, even among some of my best friends.

They gathered around and prayed for me. It was what they knew to do. I just wept and blew my nose and remarked on what bad quality tissues I had purchased and didn't feel all that much better. On the inside, I was crying out to God, "What is going on? I don't want to feel like this! Why can't I enjoy this gathering? What do I do?" The words of reassurance kept going through my mind...You are not alone, you are not alone, you are not alone. I knew it was true, even though I was not feeling it at the moment.

More silence. My friends really didn't know what to do now. They cared, they appreciated my honesty; a few of them wondered what was going on while others had some empathy. We all sat there and looked at each other. And I wanted to change this from the worst birthday party ever to something that we could all remember with a smile. I was empty, I was tired, I was spent and lonely and whiny, but as I looked around at the faces of these people who would give up their Friday night to be with some pathetic emotional wreck, I wanted to give them a gift.

Earlier that evening I had come up with the idea to make my version of the fortune cookie which was an envelope with a blessing in it, a simple prayer for some particular aspect of life along with an every day item that symbolised the blessing. I handed these out after dinner and everyone seemed to be sincerely touched by the generosity of the words and how they uniquely applied to their lives. And I wanted to touch my friends more, to connect more, to go beyond hey that was a fun evening, we drank some wine, we ate some food, we played silly games and enjoyed each other's company. But I felt totally unable to connect with them in my current deflated state, and so I asked God what I could do. He told me that the only way I could really connect with them was to connect to him first.

And so I began with the person closest to me. I laid my hand on them and brought them before God and asked him for something big and special on their behalf. In a way, I simply let them hear how I prayed for them day after day. Out came my deepest longings for their completeness and wholeness, for their fullness of life experience and strength of character built on the consistency of right choices, for them to be continuously surrounded by a sweet bath of contentment in realising their belovedness, to know the constant care of a benevolent creator, a Father whose thoughts are always on them. And I asked for their lives to be blown forward by the wind of the spirit, for this time in their lives to be marked by significance and growth and success. I did not choose my words as carefully as I usually do, I did not keep my eyes on them to watch for a reaction, I just reached out to my God and asked him for dear and precious gifts for my dear and precious friends.

Connecting with people is a hard thing for me to do sometimes, especially when I am tired. But connecting with God is easier sometimes when I am in a vulnerable state. He is close, he is attentive, he is attracted and drawn to my weakness. He loves it when my guard is down and I see just how much I need him. He loves my honesty, he loves my humility, he loves the fingers of my soul reaching out for help when I am drowning in my pitiful alone-ness. I am a witness to this mystery that the place where you run out of your own resources, this place where you find yourself flat on your ass with nothing to cushion your fall is the place where you will find something stronger than a little help. You will find transformation.

Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don't try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way. James 1:2-4 from The Message

One of my friends remarked at the close of the evening...best prayer ever!

This is a one of those wonders, a leaf which changes colour, on the sidewalk on the way to my French class last week.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

present

Yesterday was my birthday. It was a good day - busy, but good. I spent 7 hours in class, 2 hours commuting, 1 hour in a meeting, 1.5 hours on administrative work for the church, just under 1 hour on errands to the bank and post office and such, and then had a lovely Mexican meal at the end of the day with the attentive Dean.

During my walk from the metro to my morning French class, I usually talk to God. And yesterday I was telling him what a great day it was to be alive and well and surrounded by good friends and family and the opportunities to learn. And then I wondered if it was okay to ask him for something for my birthday. Oh yes, I immediately knew that the good and giving God that I serve and love wanted me to ask for something special on a special day. But what? I have a hard time asking for things, especially from God, because it seems so self-centred and points all attention to me, but I really did want something amazing to mark the day that I took my first breath on this earth.

So I started to think and soon the thoughts and words were pouring out of my mind and heart and I could not see very clearly because my eyes were misting over and not just because of the wind. I asked for the gift of moving forward, of that gentle nudge or push that would take lives one step closer to where we are going and who we want to be. I asked for obstacles to be removed that keep us stuck; I asked for windows and doors to be thrown open and the time to be now for pages to turn and new chapters to begin. I asked for fruit and growth to come out of years of hard work and sowing seeds. I asked for perseverance to be rewarded by results. I asked that September 23 would be marked in the lives of myself and those whom I love and care about as the day that things shifted, and we saw movement forward and upward and outward in a significant way. I asked that hope would become reality and the light would shine forth on a new day. And not because of our hard work or amazing abilities, but simply because I asked and God likes us.

I hope you enjoyed my birthday, too. Tell me if something changed in your world.

This is the earth in Haskett, Manitoba, where I grew up.

Monday, September 22, 2008

mine [not]

I was on the subway last week and observed a man in a business suit get on one of the trains, look around briefly at the seats which happened to be all full, and give a disgusted little huff like someone had insulted him. I thought his reaction was astonishingly self-centred, like no one on the train deserved a comfortable place to sit as much as he did.

Two days later I found myself on that same metro line, riding down to my French class early one morning. I was tired and not quite awake and just wanted to sit alone and read a book and not be jostled or have to stand pressed against other commuters. I happened to catch the train before it filled up and got a seat at the end of the car, away from the rest of the people; my most favourite seat. I love this seat, my special seat, I thought to myself. And then I realised how silly that sounded.

That was not my seat. Hundreds of people sat in that seat every day. I planted my bum on it for 15 minutes that day, but that hardly made it mine. I was just a traveller, a momentary sojourner, and many had come before me and many would come after me. I had no particular claim on that seat, even though I was especially happy to be in it that morning. Yep, I was pretty much like the man in the suit with the huffy attitude. Perhaps he also thought that there was a seat that was his, a train car that he owned a part of in some way, if only because he happened to be in a certain place at a certain time and wanted things to go well for him.

Most days I do wish the world would be more accommodating to me, but in truth, I am just passing through and I am slowly beginning to realise that my expectations are often unrealistic and embarrassingly ego-centric. The huffs I heave as I travel along are not self-righteous; they reveal how impatient and childish I can be as I claim things as "mine" that I really have no right to grasp at. I have had no part in building any of this - I share this world, this space, and this time with millions of others.

Dean was telling me about a podcast he heard about thankfulness the other day. The speaker was talking about how the early saints were examples of this grace, how even in their suffering and in the midst of some pretty horrible persecution, they exhibited an attitude of joyfulness at being given the gift of living for one more day, no matter how painful it might be. This life is a gift and no matter what hard things come with it, it is still a gift and we should be thankful for each moment which we are given. I think they knew a bit more about real joy than we do in our consumer-driven world.

This life is not mine, that I should demand things go a certain way - it is a gift. Each day is not mine, that I should expect a certain measure of happiness and success to be bestowed on me just for showing up - it is a gift. The seat on the metro is not mine, that I should imagine my name stamped on it and always reserved for my comfort when I have want of it - it is a gift to be shared with many.

May I be free from that all too funny and horribly familiar incessant cry (mine, mine, mine, mine) of the seagulls in Finding Nemo. It is not mine. And the sooner I realise that, the more true thankfulness can burst forth in my life.

This is the ever generous and giving Nelly, always thankful to see everyone.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

stop and smell

My sincere apologies for the lack of posts here lately. My schedule is slightly overfull these days due to being a full-time student, a part-time administrator, and a willing volunteer with several leadership roles that I continue to fill in our church group. Most weekdays it is a challenge just to make sure I get some real food in my stomach and a reasonable amount of sleep. This week I have not done too well on either of those counts, but hey, this is a no whining zone, so let's get on with the important stuff. I have a giant can of Arizona green tea with ginseng and honey and a yummy apple and cheese salad in front of me, plus I had a little nap today when I got home at 5:30, so we're all good.

I have often said to myself (and whoever will listen to me) that if this faith, this truth, this belief that God is good and loving and wants to be with us and infuse our lives with meaning and purpose - if this truth is no good under stress, then what good is it? If I get grumpy and irritable when I am overtired, if I say mean and foul words and lose my cool when people treat me badly, if I throw a little tantrum and freak out in bad situations, if I have no grace when it is especially needed, for myself and for others, then what is the point of having God in my life? These are the very times when his presence should shine, when I should notice a marked difference between those who try to live life on their own terms and those who submit their ways to God. I am not suggesting that things will always work out better for me because I am on team Jesus - a careful look at the Bible and the life of Christ pretty much blows that me-centric idea out of the water. What I am saying is that if I truly am relying on the creator of the universe and not myself, then how I interface with this life should change. And I believe, by the grace of God, mine is.

Today I spent the usual 4.5 hours in French class. After that, I had an appointment downtown at 1:30 pm to view some spaces for rent that might be more suitable for our church group than our present situation. I had packed a little snack so I ate on the subway ride there and arrived a few minutes early. The location was perfect and everything was looking good. I went inside at 1:25 and found the office door locked. hmmm. I waited 15 minutes and called the number of my contact. I could hear it ringing inside the office. Obviously, no one was there. I left a message and continued to wait. By this time I was talking to God, wondering what was going on and what I was supposed to do. I really didn't have this kind of time to sit around waiting for someone to show up, or even worse, waiting and not having anyone show up. Time. God, this is MY time we are wasting here. You know I have to pick up a book at another location, start on two assignments, catch up on some reading and I really NEED SOME LUNCH. Aha! I quickly realised my mistake. It was not my time. Okay, this is your time, God. If you want me to stand here and wait, I will. I will wait until 2:10 pm and then I have to go. I think that's reasonable. And if this is the place for us, if you want something to come out of this, then please make a way.

So I leisurely loitered in the general vicinity for 45 minutes. At 2:10, two ladies entered the building and I could tell they were looking for someone as well. We had a small conversation and indeed, they were here to view an office space. When I told them the manager was not here, they replied that they had been told to look for the concierge. The older woman wandered through a few hallways and came back with large friendly man. He grabbed some keys from the office, showed them a space on the 6th floor, and they left. Then he asked me what I was interested in. I told him that I wanted to see a space for a live band and church meetings. He was interested in that seemingly strange combination, and we went on a grand tour of 5 spaces, all the while having a very interesting conversation that ranged from his religious fanatic relatives to what my name stood for to how did Jesus become a white guy to music production to drinking beer in church. I liked this man. When we had finished the viewing, we returned to the office and the manager had returned and offered his profound apologies for not being there earlier. He had been visiting his mother who was not well and...he didn't even have to tell me what had caused his tardiness, I was not upset at all. What was happening here in this place was much more interesting and useful than being annoyed. In fact, I thought he was a caring son and silently prayed for his mother's well-being. And then we got down to business.

We discussed a few options, I asked a few questions, and then he said, "I want to rent to you. I will give you either space A or space B for the price you quoted. Which one do you want?" I told him I was not the one to make the final decision and that I would have the people in charge come in to look at the place in the next few days. Inside, I was yelling, "Yippee! I can't believe this prime downtown location and the huge loft spaces he has and so many of the other tenants being musicians and how he is not put off by anything I have said about making noise or public meetings or that word that makes most landlords beat a hasty retreat or hang up the phone: church!"

After a bit more light banter between the three of us, we shook hands and I left the building, convinced that I had just met two very kind and interesting people that I wanted to get to know better and would definitely enjoy having a business relationship with. I am hopeful that the decision-makers will see and feel and know the grace that I experienced there today, but it is not my place to say.

I am honoured that God granted me a time of parenthesis, a pause in my day that made me able to more fully appreciate those two men and that unique place and all my interactions with them instead of just seeing it as another entry in my day-timer and hey, let's get on with it, boys. God takes time for the things that are important to him. He is not in a hurry. He knows the value of preparation, in fact, I think he values it as much as the actual event or result. By simply rushing from place to place, I don't believe I would have been truly prepared to experience and receive everything that he was offering there today. May I always be up for what God is offering to me this day.

These are some flowers at our friends' cottage near Lake Oaureau. Stop and look and smell...it is always worth it.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

up

I won't bore you with the details of how crazy this past week has been, but with most days being 10 to 12 hours long (time I have to be away from home, before I do any other work), I am pleasantly surprised at how well I am holding up without any artificial stimulants or bad habits. I have decided that the best way to handle the stress and the vigorous demands on my life right now is to go as natural as possible. Not that I have joined the ranks of the raving organic freaks (though I love my friends who lean that way and have learned much from them), but that I don't rely on artificial means to achieve a short-term goal because I believe -no, make that I KNOW that I always end up paying more for that type of quick fix in the end.

So here's the deal.

1. I don't do caffeine (just the occasional chai latte). The brief burst of energy is not worth the crash a few hours later, unless of course you top it up with another jolt. It is okay to feel tired, I don't mind it. It encourages me to go to bed at a reasonable hour or take a nap or move at a more modest pace. It gives me a more realistic sense of how my body is doing. Natural adrenaline kicks in when you really need it, but the fake stuff is a cheap imitation. Keep in mind that any kind of stimulant is meant to be used sparingly and not become a lifestyle. Long-term ill health effects can ensue.

2. I try not to do junk food. My weakness is potato chips, but I have decided that my digestive system functioning well is worth a lot more than the mouthwatering crunch of yummy salt and fat. I ate half a bag of chips one night last week because I didn't have time for supper. The next day was pretty much one big long "ughhhhhh" for my stomach. I think it might be better to skip a meal (maybe drink a bottle of V8 or juice) instead of stuffing junk food into my system. Fasting also makes one more alert, in case you never tried it.

3. I avoid sugar except in small amounts. After a long 4 hour class last week, I was really hungry and feeling slightly faint, so I grabbed a Polish donut while I ran around the city on an errand. Delicious donut. Bad idea. The little bit of a boost was followed by 4 hours of not feeling well at all. Now I try to carry fruit and water with me, plus some dry cereal. I find that a real home made meal with fresh ingredients does wonders for my spirit, soul, body, and morale. Don't go for the fast fix; the real thing is worth waiting for.

4. Don't worry. It sounds simple, but on days when I get overwhelmed by everything that needs to be done, I push all those demands out of my head, and just try to do what needs to be done at that moment. If I am in class, all I need to do right then is listen and learn. If I am taking a break and hanging out with friends, then I should be totally present with them instead of running through some mental to-do list over and over again in my mind. You can't enjoy the time God has given you right now if you are always living in another time, whether that is thinking about what you have done, or what you still have to do.

5. Talk to God frequently. I spend about an hour commuting (bus, metro, walk) every day. Good time to think and pray and read something other than school work, something inspirational. I thank God at the beginning of the day, I continue the conversation at many points as I go from class to class, or meet people, or encounter a difficult assignment. Knowing that he is always with me and already at work in my world and the world of those around me takes the pressure off me to figure it all out and keep it all together. I can enjoy what the day brings, whatever he is giving to me and trust that to be enough.

6. Live in grace and extend that to others around you. It is not worth getting annoyed at the slow person in front of you, or the rude guy on the subway, or the ill-behaved loud children on the bus or the long line-up at the counter. A smile, a prayer, a gesture of kindness (let someone else go first) will get you further ahead in life than a hurried and frustrated attitude. Everyone wants to encounter a kind and considerate person in their day. Let that person be you.

Ever onward and upward, my friends.

This is the stairway leading from the lake to the cottage at Lake Oaureau.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

double down

I wrote an email in August. Just a simple inquiry stating my possible interest in pursuing studies at a master's level in the discipline of Theology. I do have a rather ancient Bachelor of Theology from a bible college which is not accredited, so I wanted to know how that would translate into further studies at a major university. I love learning in general, but have often found it difficult to pin the tail on that illusive donkey of higher education because my interests are spread across so many fields, especially the arts. How can I pick just one? Since my first degree pointed me in a "most likely to get somewhere" direction, I decided to start there. Ask a few questions. Find out the options. No harm in that. And since we now live within an easy 25 minute commute on public transportion to downtown, it seemed like the perfect time to explore the possibility.

I had done some research into Theology programs in universities in Montreal, and the scope and tone of the one at Concordia excited me the most, partly because it included a project option instead of all research and writing, plus it boasted a faculty focused on interpretation of the Bible. I'm into that.

The first response to my email was a request to meet in person. Okay, that was positive. I forwarded the list of courses from my first degree and after a few schedule conflicts, we were able to hit upon an agreed date and time for the meeting. The morning I took the subway down to the university, I was just recovering from a church retreat that I had organised and felt slightly under-prepared for the rendez-vous, my mind and body still reeling from a weekend packed with activities and people which left me with no time to myself to contemplate (my major form of preparation). Oh well. It wasn't an entrance exam, it was only a wee meeting with the graduate adviser. Surely a few bags under my eyes would add to the "I could be a student" look.

Within a few minutes of shaking his hand, the adviser was outlining a few courses for me to take, 4 in total, in preparation for entering the master's program. One of the them was starting that evening, so he marched me across the hall to the office of the professor who was teaching it and she told me (with a confident salesman smile on her face) that I simply must take this course because it would enable me to write better research papers and give me a solid foundation in everything from exegesis to interpretation to milking a cow (she was very enthusiastic). She also informed me that this course was only offered every two years so it was an opportunity not to be missed. The fact that I was not a registered student and only there to ask a few questions which would enable me to think about my options for a few months didn't seem to matter to anyone.

I walked out of the office with a map of the campus, a book of current courses offered by the university, a large pink sticky note with the adviser's suggested courses scribbled in pencil, and my heart beating slightly faster. I called Dean and told him I was going to check out a class that night. Contrary to his usual, "How much is this going to cost?" line, he simply said, "You go, girl!" I love this man!

Four days later, I feel like my life has been placed in a bag of crispy shake and bake and given a good toss. I now get up at 6:40 am 5 days a week (for those of you who know me, this is a change along the scale of some hectic jet lag) to spend 4.5 hours in an intensive French course (I had already signed up for this before my interview at the university). Two afternoons and one evening are spent at the university where I am enrolled in two fourth year undergraduate courses. I have already selected a text for one research paper and the reading due for one of my next classes is sitting on my kitchen table, half-finished. In the past few days, I have managed to register as an independent student, snarled my way through forms and online details and affidavits required to get the correct tuition rates, stood in line to buy school supplies and textbooks, got a student ID card, and with the help of a diligent administrator, bypassed those pesky pre-requisites that blocked me from one course.

I have definitely felt shaken and baked this week and battled some exhaustion as my schedule took a ride on the tilt-a-whirl. Nothing that a little bit of organisation and streamlining and asking God for his perspective and wisdom can't fix. Oh, and a bowl of popcorn and some steaming chai tea are good for the soul, too. But overall, the sensation is of being very much alive, of my head and heart and soul leaning forward into the wind of some great journey that I can't fully see the end of.

Some have told me, in their cynical, glass-half-empty way, that the Theology program must not be too full and they are looking for students to fill their classrooms and their coffers. But I make it a habit not to listen to cynics. One of the people at home group on Wednesday night was talking about times in your life when the door of opportunity swings open before you, a chance that does not come your way often, a time in your life when rapid growth and change and the favour of God and men rests on you in a special way. And it is those times when you fling yourself through the doorway with force. You go ahead full speed, you seize the day and the hour and the minute, you ride this grace for however long it lasts, and you put your back and your legs and your heart into it so that you can cover as much ground as possible. He called this "doubling down," a blackjack strategy used when you come into a situation where you have been dealt extraordinarily good cards. You double your bet because you want to get everything out of this incredible opportunity.

And this is my time. I am sprinting forward. There are risks: I still don't know how much this will cost and how exactly we will pay for this, nor how long this degree will take me or if I will even do well in these preliminary courses or have any new options available to me after this is all over. But I must go. I must double down. I would be crazy not to.

This is the view from the top of the hill overlooking Lake Oaureau, which we came upon on Sunday afternoon at the church retreat after a one hour uphill climb. Totally worth it.