Tuesday, April 29, 2008

strangers and not strangers

This morning two ladies rang my doorbell. I answered the door still in my bathrobe (YES, I was awake, but I tend to check my email and do some reading before I get dressed). They were Jehovah's Witnesses and they started right out of the gate by reading some scripture passage to me in French and asking my opinion about it, which was really a pretty thinly veiled attempt to direct the conversation to their particular version of the last days. There were really nice, polite ladies, but I had no desire to talk to them in a prolonged sort of way. My just-got-out-of-bed hair and disheveled bathrobe must have given them a clue that it was not an optimum time to have a conversation with me, so they departing leaving me with two French copies of the Watchtower which I set on my filing cabinet next to the Book of Mormon.

I sat down to finish my reading and wondered if I should have continued the dialogue, but I really had not sensed that it was something I needed to pursue at that moment. I do like to engage with the people that come across my path, but I cannot let their agenda supersede what God is doing in my life at the moment. So the question always is...what is mine to do today and what is not?
After finishing some reading, I returned to my church correspondence and found one email from a stranger in England with whom I started corresponding yesterday regarding a visit to Montreal. The direct and probing questions in her original email had intrigued me, so I had let my fingers and thoughts fly and responded with frankness about who we were and what we wanted to do in Montreal and how it didn't always look the way one expected it to look. This morning I found a warm and lengthy response from her, a true glimpse into the person she is and the place in which she finds herself (a recent failure which just made my soul sag with empathy). My reading today had included a chapter in a book which talked about embracing failure and mistakes, so I wrote a short quote from it, made a silly joke, added some additional information I thought she might find interesting, and hoped I was not being too presumptuous or intrusive in how I was relating to her. I can do that sometimes, you know, presume everyone at the other end of cyberspace is my new best friend.
She responded immediately with ALL CAPS and lots of exclamations points!!!!!!! There is a connecting going on beyond mere similar interests and beliefs. She challenges me to be honest and real. Her hunger and humility move me. Let me never be afraid to respond in a sincere and open manner to those that God points me to. Where is his finger pointing now?
Oh, look, a bug in my backyard.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

long-ing

Things are starting to turn green. There is still a lot of brown going on, but the green is definitely on the increase. There is transition in the air, in the plants, in the soil, in the crazy spring-feverish cats, in our lives and in the lives of a lot of my friends.

Sometimes I feel a deep longing in my soul, a craving for more of something, but what that something is, I cannot tell. I felt it again last week. I have mistaken this sensation for loneliness, for hunger, for fatigue, for failure, and many times for emotional instability. But it is none of those, at least not primarily. At the core of my personality is this insatiable desire to experience life in a deep and profound manner, in spirit and soul and body. When I see all of nature straining towards rebirth as it does every spring, it awakens my own longings.

There must be more to this life than what I am doing at the present time. My relationships must go deeper or become broader or both. I must give myself more fully to the moment I find myself in. I must find time to call forth and harness the sounds and images and words all lying dormant inside my wintery soul. I must sprint and jump high and dance wildly in a field just because I can, and when I don't, I feel small and stiff and somehow wilting. I must interact with God more often, loudly and silently and without hesitation, hoping and waiting for those times when my whole being engages and flutters with a supernatural, bigger than me, vibe. I must love Dean and my closest friends, my family and acquaintances and the strangers I encounter, with a love that is much wilder and more extravagant and superfluous than I can manage. I must wring every drop of life and learning from every experience or I will have wasted the gift of time.

I am undone by these overwhelming pangs sometimes. Years ago, I used to retreat to a private room and weep until the waves of agony and emptiness had mostly subsided. These days, I weep less because I have found healthier ways to release the tension and fight the isolation.

I don't believe these longings will ever totally cease in my life because they express the gap between who I am and who I am meant to be. There is an incredible distance between me and God, between me and others, between war and peace, between disaster and wholeness, between love and ignorance, between sowing and reaping, between knowing good and doing good, between life and death, between now and the not yet.

Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens. All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it's not only around us; it's within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We're also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. - from Romans 8 in The Message

These are some tiny leaves on a bush in my back yard today.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

inbetween places

We spent a few hours looking for a home again today. Nothing seems quite right - either they are in a bad location or too small or too much money or there is no parking or they already have an offer on them or they need a lot of work. Sigh. I love change and I get all excited about moving, but that slippery in-between time when I don't know where we will land and I just hope no one will break a leg when we do...well, let's just say I sometimes lose sight of the long term and become less than the incredibly fun and positive and faith-filled person that Matte can be.

Here are 2 exercises that have shored up my hope and helped keep the meltdowns to a minimum this past week or two.

1. I fast from the house search. Yesterday I did not research any properties nor think about houses at all. It is an exercise that plainly says to my soul, "Your effort is not the biggest factor in this equation. God is your provider. Period." Oh, and one is not allowed to fret or worry about the future on fast days as well. I am only allowed to celebrate all the good things in my life right now!

2. I regularly read the Biblical handbook on real estate, Jeremiah. Really, who knew there was so much good stuff about things breaking and being restored and buying property and moving and not worrying about it all in this book? Here are a few samples:

Make yourselves at home there and work for the country's welfare. If things go well for Babylon (insert your adopted place of residence here), things will go well for you. -Jeremiah 29

I know what I'm doing. I have it all planned out - plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for. -Jeremiah 29

Look. The time is coming when I will turn everything around for my people, both Israel and Judah. I, God, say so. I'll bring them back to the land I gave their ancestors and they'll take up ownership again. -Jeremiah 30

I've never quit loving you and never will. Expect love, love and more love! And so now I'll start over with you and build you up again...you'll go back to your old work of planting vineyards...and sit back and enjoy the fruit. -Jeremiah 31

Set up signposts to mark your trip home. Get a good map. study the road conditions. The road out is the road back. -Jeremiah 31

So I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel. I paid him seventeen silver shekels. I followed all the proper procedures: in the presence of witnesses I wrote out the bill of sale, sealed, it, weighed out the money on the scales...Life is going to return to normal. Homes and fields and vineyards are again going to be bought in this country. -Jeremiah 32

Stay alert! I am God, the God of everything living. Is there anything I can't do? -Jeremiah 32

Yes, people will buy farms again, and legally, with deeds of purchase, sealed documents, proper witnesses... I will restore everything that was lost. -Jeremiah 32

But now take another look. I'm going to give this city a thorough renovation, working a true healing inside and out. I'm going to show them life whole, life brimming with blessings. I'll restore everything that was lost...I'll build everything back as good as new. -Jeremiah 33

The motto for this city will be, "God has set things right for us." -Jeremiah 33

Look, the whole land stretches out before you. Do what you like. Go and live wherever you wish. Jeremiah...made his home with...the people who were left behind in the land. -Jeremiah 40

If you are ready to stick it out in this land, I will build you up and not drag you down, I will plant you and not pull you up like a weed....Your fears are for nothing. I'm on your side, ready to save and deliver you from anything he (king of Babylon) might do. I'll pour mercy on you. What's more, he will show you mercy! -Jeremiah 42

This is a photo I took on the ferry, travelling between Hudson and Oka.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Jake and Nicholas

I had a visit from two young guys on Friday afternoon. Jake and Nicholas. They wore crisp white shirts, black pants, ties, and name tags. It was easy to see they were Mormons before they announced their affiliation with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. They asked if I would consider myself a spiritual person and through my doorway, I said yes. After a brief exchange, I joined them outside on the porch. Then I asked them a bit about themselves. They were both from Utah, on a 2 year mission to do good works and talk about their faith. I then asked Jake what his experience was with Jesus. He paused for a minute, so I offered them a drink and they gratefully accepted. We all went inside, sat down in the living room, and drank water. Jake said no one had ever asked him that question before. I listened as he told me a bit about what he believed was important in his life and faith. I don't know that he really answered my question, but that's okay, I was listening to him and I got the feeling not many people had.

Then Nicholas piped in and started to talk about reading something in the Book of Mormon that changed his life. He read a verse to me (which was all about seeking for truth and having God reveal it to you) and then told me how he had prayed for God to show him what was true and it changed his life when he read the Book of Mormon. I was mesmerised by Nicholas' eyes when he spoke about pursuing truth: they practically sparkled. He was so sincere and passionate about his quest that I had to admire his hunger. Then he turned the question back to me and I spoke briefly about my journey with Jesus: from growing up in a conservative Christian culture where doing right and being a good person were emphasized. "But," I said, "there is so much more than that." The longer I walk with Jesus, the more I discover that he wants me, the real me, the raw me, the all of me. He has grace enough to cover the mistakes, no worries there, and he prefers that I come to him all messy, in the middle of my struggles, in honesty, instead of not coming near at all because I want to get myself together first. There is NO together apart from him.

They expressed appreciation for the time I took to listen and talk to them because not many people did. I then asked them if there was anything they were having a hard time with because I would like to pray for them. They said, "Sure!" Jake said he wanted more faith because it was hard not having people respond positively to his message time after time. Nicholas asked for prayer for his younger brother at home. I asked if it was okay if we prayed right then and they were fine with that. I prayed for Jake, that Jesus would be his protection from rejection, his strength when things got tough. I prayed for Nicholas' brother, that God would be a Father to him and Jesus his big brother like no one else could, and that the relationship between the two brothers would grow closer. I loved praying for those boys.

I read something today that reminded me of the salesman approach to faith that many use, including the LDS and many Christians.

They don't listen to what's already been said; They don't sit on the sidelines catching the drift of the arguments; they just assume that the world is waiting to hear what they have to say. - Steve Turner

I have seen this principle at work many times and have even taken part in some very well meaning but ultimately limited efforts of evangelism that I believe literally have dishonored the very people I was trying to reach.... I honestly wanted to bring Jesus into dark places. What I didn't understand was, first, he was already there, and second, I needed to see what he was already doing and co-labor with him in the process. Instead, I assumed that I had all the answers and that I needed to deliver those answers (all of them) in one moment. - Norm Strauss

Sometimes the best way to connect people with the Truth is to listen to them and honor their story.

These are Dean's ipod earbuds on my copy of The Message, open to John 15.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

behind

I sold my house yesterday. It is amazing what can happen when you knock on a door. Last week I wrote a letter to my builder and asked if he was interested in buying the house back from me so that he could do whatever he wanted with the property instead of having to satisfy the demands of a homeowner. He was at my door the next day and what started as a simply inquiry turned into serious negotiations and yesterday afternoon, I presented him with some options that made it possible for both of us to walk away satisfied.

My readings in Jeremiah (which is where I am at in reading through the Bible right now) have been amazingly apropos during these past two weeks. On Thursday I read chapter 32 which is all about Jeremiah making a real estate deal that did not make sense under the circumstances, but it was what God was doing. Yesterday morning when I was asking God to make a way clear for a good solution for all, I read this:

Call to me and I will answer you. I'll tell you marvelous and wondrous things that you could never figure out on your own...The motto for the city will be, "God has set things right for us."

Phase One is behind us: the property is sold. Now we are entering Phase Two: where do we go from here?

This is a picture of my car in winter, 2008. The winter is also behind us. Yes!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

rescue or be rescued

I climbed a fence yesterday, trespassing onto an old lady's yard (she wasn't home, we checked) in order to retrieve the bottle of Perrier I had knocked off a friend's balcony. All went well until I caught the sleeve of my favourite black t-shirt on a pole climbing back into the alley. Riiiiipppppp! Oh well. Perhaps it would have been easier to just go out and buy another bottle? Oh, to have the wisdom to know when to spend my energy on rescue efforts and when to move on to something new.

We are in the midst of negotiating a private sale on our house in which we will not make any money, but be able to walk away immediately. Part of me is saying, "Hey, I thought God wanted us to stay here and restore this house." The other part is saying, "The important thing right now is to move downtown in order to build community and invest in others."

I don't know exactly what God is doing here, but I am willing to let go of my perfect scenario in which we sell the house for a nice profit, move on to a beautiful funky loft with lots of space for visitors and informal gatherings, and live happily ever after with lots of cool people around us. In this case, I believe I need more rescuing than my house. I have been relying on the potential profit to provide for us. I have been seeing myself as a saviour of broken things. I have cast myself in the part of the gregarious host that everyone wants to be near.

I am indeed a crooked and cracked home of holiness and love. Oh God, rescue me from my slide towards the sinking ground of self-sufficiency. Let me stand solid on your provision, know from experience your ability to save any mess, and move aside to let you be the most attractive and desired person in any room.

This is my prayer today.

And this is a photo of snow still melting, eaves troughs ready to direct spring rains, and a sunny shadow outside my window just an hour ago.

Monday, April 14, 2008

comic relief

I called Dean at work this morning and asked him how things were going. He said he was shell-shocked (translation = things are overwhelming and out of control and there is more work than any one person can possibly manage). I really have no power to change his work situation, other than bring it before God every day and ask Him to rescue Dean, which I do. But perhaps I could do something right then. I said, "Hey, I need to provide you with a happy moment, some comic relief to make the day seem brighter," and then when I tried to come up with something, I blanked. Arghhhh, I couldn't think of one silly thing to say to make him laugh. Oh well. Nice thought, I guess.

This afternoon I was out running errands, the first one being at the bank. I pulled into the parking lot, briefly sat in the car and glanced over the mail I had picked up on my way there, checking to see if anyone had sent me a cheque for $1,111,000 but alas, not today, so I jumped out and locked the door (yes, I have one of those fancy cars with finger-powered locks). Ooops, the keys were still lying on the front seat with my mail. Hmmm. And I had accidentally left my cell phone at home because it was charging and not in its usual cubby hole. I hated to disturb Dean at work, but he had the only other key. I put 50 cents in the slot of a pay phone and hit the jackpot: Dean answered even though it was an unidentified number! I offered to buy him an iced cappuccino if he would come out to the bank. Then I told him my sad story and he started to laugh, and then he laughed louder, and then I could tell that he just thought it was the funniest thing he had heard all day. He promised to show up within a half hour or so, and I again realised that I have the best husband in the world.

I walked to a grocery store to pick up a few things and some time later (I have no idea how long, I had forgotten to wear my watch as well), Dean sneaked up behind me at the self-serve check-out and tried to frighten me. Haha, didn't work this time! He then drove me and my loot back to the Echo and unlocked it. He was smiling the whole way, happy to be out of the office and with me. I don't mind being comic relief at all. Perhaps it is a spiritual gift.

This is some frisky fruit on my kitchen table.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

my secret life

Warning: this video contains several strong images which might frighten people who eat pudding and some species of wild squirrels.
video

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

why

We are doing a series on healing in our small group. Tonight we tackle the topic of "why?" Why are there destructive patterns in our lives, why do we sabotage the very processes that are meant to mature us? Why are we sick and poor and needy in the first place? An interesting theory is that if we never get to the "why?" we will never change, for we spend all our energy on managing the problem instead of eradicating the cause. We may be able to turn lemons into lemonade, but without uprooting the lemon tree from our garden, the fruit will always be with us. Yes, I know, we kind of like lemonade, but try to work with me on what the analogy is saying, people.

Yesterday, I was talking to a friend of mine about the legalisation of prostitution in Amsterdam. A law was introduced in 2000 recognising prostitution as a legal profession in an effort to reduce crime and protect prostitutes.

The authorities try to regulate prostitution, aiming at protecting minors, eliminating forced prostitution and combating the new phenomena of human trafficking. Any sex business must obtain from a municipality a license, certifying that it has fulfilled the legal requirements to operate.

While I am all for protecting women, I do believe this is another case of trying to manage a problem instead of dealing with it. Just last year, Amsterdam made a decision to close down 30% of the brothels because they were attracting crime and money-laundering to the area. One thing we should know by now: sin management never really works towards a solution. It just tidies up the outside so that we are not as repulsed by our evil and selfish hearts. All too soon, just like trying to stop a leak in a corroded sewer pipe with a little caulking, the filth will find another way to surface.

As to the answer to the big "why," Jesus gives a good one in John 9 when his followers ask who sinned to cause a man to be born blind.

You're asking the wrong question. You're looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do. - from John 9, The Message

In the middle of the brokenness of this world that I daily contribute to by my lack of wholeness, may I look for what God can do. What we really need is for Him to rescue us.


This is a picture of some lights (red and other colours) from the skyline of Montreal.

Monday, April 07, 2008

splash

Pop. Hiss. For some reason, I woke up at 4:00 am on Sunday just in time to hear these muted sounds. The hissing continued, sounding kind of like the heater fan that goes on in our kitchen, but slightly different. I lay in bed for several minutes, wondering what it was and if I should be concerned. Finally, I got up and followed the sound down the stairs. I stepped into several inches of water in our basement and soon discovered that a pipe connection in our downstairs bathroom had come apart and was spraying water straight up at the ceiling. Dean and I were soon up mopping and drying and spreading every available towel on the floor in an effort to keep the damage to a minimum. Later on that morning at a more civilised hour, we borrowed a water vacuum from friends and gathered the heaters and dehumidifiers to speed up the drying. It is slow going, but things are getting dryer.

It deflates me to see all the effort I put into fixing up that basement last summer be chipped away bit by bit. I spent weeks patching cracks and sanding and repainting pretty much the whole thing and touching up baseboards and ceilings and decorating. What will be the end of this whole house saga? I just don't know. As you might suppose, I was pretty discouraged last night at church. At the end we broke into small groups and prayed for each other. I tossed my discouragement before God to see what he would do with it. The words that came back to me were, "Nothing has changed, except your circumstances."

Nothing has changed. God is still in charge. Jesus still loves me. Dean is still my constant companion. Friends still stick with me. I still live and breathe and eat and sleep and write and play and work, most of the time with joy and contentment. There is still a promise that God will take good care of me and bring glory, His glory, to shine on everything I commit to him.

God, help me focus more on the "nothing" and less on the "circumstances."

This is a picture of the Atlantic Ocean where it is supposed to be...outside. Taken in Cuba in February 2008.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

crash

I was in an accident yesterday. No, let me rephrase that. I caused an accident yesterday. I rear-ended a guy (well, his car, actually) at a red light. There was no excuse. I hesitate to even write the details here because then everyone will know how careless I can be, but hiding the truth would be refusing the opportunity to be humble, so here we go. The light was red. I was stopped. And for some inexplicable reason, my brain registered that the light had turned green and I started to go. Right into the back end of a green car. Everything in my car went flying forward onto the floor. A man in his sixties hopped out of the victimised car with an unhappy expression on his face. I apologised profusely in French, gave him my name and phone number, and we both went on our way. Thankfully, no one was hurt, the cars seemed to come out of it without even a scratch, and all that was damaged was my self-esteem and the desire to drive anywhere for the next year.

I continued on to the grocery store to pick up a few things and after the initial, rational, deal-with-the-situation-in-a-calm-manner reaction wore off, I started to cry among the discount hair products. I wanted to call Dean, but hesitated because I knew he was having a really busy and stressful day and I did not want to add to his stress. At that moment my phone rang - it was Dean. Yeah! After a teary confession of my utter stupidity, my husband laughed heartily and assured me that everything was good, no one was hurt, not to worry. I love Dean. He has the best reactions.
I got home safely, had a cup of tea, and decided to do something to make myself feel more capable and useful. We had been wanting to move our modem downstairs in order to facilitate getting Xbox Live, so I started to unplug computer stuff, move phones, scrounge up some extra cables, and shimmy furniture around a bit to accommodate the change. After running a phone line along the floor, I straightened up and cracked my head on the corner of the electrical panel box. I grabbed my head, not sure if blood was imminent, and curled up in a fetal position on the floor, sobbing in pain and asking God if this day could get any worse.
Some days we just don't get things right. Our perception is off, we unintentionally hurt other people, we misjudge situations, we break things and injure ourselves and overall end up with disappointing and messy results. I hate those kinds of days. I repented to God, I apologised to the man in the green car, I confessed to Dean, and then I sought to extend grace to myself. Hard stuff, that last bit. And after I allowed grace to pull me out of the selfish pit of self-pity that I had dug for myself, I asked God what he was saying to me in all of this.
Don't move forward before it is time. Wait for my signal. Your impatience can hurt yourself and others.
This is a photo of a busy street in New York City that I took on my visit a year ago.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

push

I bought the cats a new litter box this week. You don't want to know the state of the old one, trust me. Browsing around Wal-mart, I found a large, nifty new model with a swinging door to trap odour and general yuckiness in while giving the cats free access. Sold! I brought it home and before I put any litter in it, set it on the dining room floor and waited to see how the cats would react to the new appliance. They sniffed and circled and that was about it. Hmmm. I put Tea inside it to see if she would figure out how to exit through the see-through swinging door, but she just sat inside, looking at me with her big eyes, as if waiting for something to happen. Aha! There must be some incentive given! So I got out some treats and when both cats were poised for a handout, I tossed the food bit into the clean litter, through the swinging door. This puzzled them. They circled the box, wondering where the food had disappeared to. Come on, silly furs! I pushed open the door and dragged Tea towards it. Yes, she saw the treat was inside, so she jumped in and got it, then sat there staring at me through the door again, clearly trapped in a cruel game her owner was playing.

Well, Jazz was the smart one, so maybe she could show Tea how it was done. I grabbed her and we clawed and meowed our way towards the big blue box. I tossed another treat into it. She refused to push her head against the door and contorted into all kinds of furry shapes when I tried to get her to do it. So I opened the door for her and when she saw the treat, she stepped in with both front paws, grabbed the treat and hopped back out again without moving her back paws from the safety of the wood floor. Arghhhhh! These cats! They have no concept of pushing against a door to open it - they just assume it is solid and closed. They are used to free and ready access with no obstacles. Isn't that the way it is supposed to be? The master doing everything for the them?

We were praying for each other at home group last night and several times, I changed and adjusted the words I was praying. The words I was used to using just didn't seem quite right anymore. They were words that made no room for my effort, my free will, my choice in moving towards wholeness. Instead, these words demanded that God do this and that and come and make it instantly better for me or for the person I was praying for. God can change things in an instant, he can override my circumstances and adjust my stubborn, selfish will and make me a better person, but what would be the point? I will not have changed or developed in any way, and the spurt of gratitude I feel will quickly give way to more whining and demanding that God do something about some other circumstances.

When I feel closed in, do I just sit there and moan about my inability to change the situation? Am I insistent that God must not only orchestrate the opportunities, but also clear the path and open the door and usher me in? This is not faith! This is laziness! This is wanting to be the master instead of the servant! This is fear of taking any risks! This is becoming a prisoner in my own filth because I don't want that uncomfortable sensation of pushing against something and finding resistance.

God has placed many doors in front of me. May I have the courage to give them a hearty shove and move forward and not remain a prisoner in my own fear and passivity.

This is one of the many attractive and intricate doorways I walked past in San Francisco, California.