Wednesday, May 28, 2008

diamonds

Have you seen the new Diamond Shreddies ad campaign? I think it is absolutely brilliant! I wish I had come up with the idea! Something old and familiar suddenly becomes new and exciting just because someone gets you to look at it from a different angle. How much of what we see and experience every day has become old to us? How many people and scenarios do we take for granted and are in danger of becoming cold towards? Staleness and familiarity can wear away at the joy and appreciation and newness and wonder and overall quality of being in our lives.

Looking through a camera lens is one way for me to notice the wonder and beauty again. Go out and buy some Diamond Shreddies today! Or at least go to the website and watch some of the market research videos. Quite amusing, and done with real people in Toronto.

http://www.diamondshreddies.com/videos.php

This is an iris on the east side of my house this afternoon. I don't remember the irises being this colour last year! Perhaps I just wasn't looking.

Monday, May 26, 2008

closet

I am in serious downsizing mode. In this present house I have four bedroom closets plus a big storage room in which to squirrel away my various clothes, boxes, files, papers, extra chairs and blankets, games and puzzles, camera gear and all those things I think I might eventually find a use for. In the new place, I will have one average size bedroom closet. That's right. One. The smallness of the number smacked me square in the face last week when I was taking a second look at the property. I came home and realised I had to rethink my packing strategy.

Careful collecting was soon replaced by ruthless jettisoning. No more room to store the original boxes for every piece of sound gear, small appliance, computer accessory or piece of stereo equipment. No more setting things aside because of sentimental value (just pick one thing to keep and move the rest on to a better home). If I will not use it in the next year, it is gone. I am busy selling unusual items on ebay, including Dean's favourite velvet Elvis. My real estate agent (God bless her) put me in contact with people that claimed all of my gardening stuff and quite a bit of my trusty furniture that just wouldn't work in the new place. She also brought over a lady who snapped up my dishwasher and dehumidifier.

A few large items remain and if friends are not interested in acquiring them, they shall be offered on craigslist next week for a minimal fee. I won't need a garage sale. The few boxes of miscellaneous odds and ends that are left in my garage will find their way to the Salvation Army or some such charity.

Last week I was reminded of the story of the Israelites in the desert. Every day God provided them with food - manna. They could not store it up for the future but had to depend on their Creator for their daily provision. This is what the life of faith looks like. We abandon our compulsive hoarding and obsession with stuff and dependence on belongings. Instead of finding comfort in what we possess, we find comfort in being in the possession of a caring Father who will provide what is needed each day. How silly to think that my future will be more secure because of what I have in my closets. I don't need more storage space. I need more faith in my Provider.

This is a lovely bright house in Cuba . I think the inhabitants might know more about the rightful place of a closet than I do.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

God is not a conservative

I just realised the other day that in all the reading I have done over the years in the Bible and in all my encounters with the living God, he has never shown himself to be a conservative. I am not talking merely about a point on the political compass or a fiscal outlook. Let me refer to Miriam Webster for some clarity:

conservative (adjective) a: tending or disposed to maintain existing views, conditions, or institutions b: marked by moderation or caution c: marked by or relating to traditional norms of taste, elegance, style, or manners.

I am in the middle of the book of Ezekiel now and this God tells the prophet to engage in some of the most outlandish acts as illustrations of God's divine love and justice, as well as his intense desire and even jealousy for a close and exclusive relationship between him and his people. There is no careful check and balance that he adheres to - he is passionate and angry and righteous and holy and loving, all at the same time. There is no view to maintaining existing conditions - he is always pushing forward, calling people to repent and love and live lavishly, inciting turmoil as a catalyst for positive change, and revealing more of himself in the process. There is no tradition he sets in place and leaves for all to fall back on as the norm - his character alone defines all of history as we know it and this character is so multifaceted that many call it contradictory. There is no caution to his actions or words - whatever he says or does, he does so knowing the end from the beginning and the effect from the cause. Raw truth slices straight through the heart of it all without apology.

I come from a conservative background, both financially and politically and culturally. I am afraid that while this worldview has provided a relatively good, stable, and comfortable life, it has done nothing to reveal and build the character of Jesus in me. The words that his contemporaries used to describe Jesus were never synonyms of the "c" word. He was called heretic, impostor, teacher, prophet, messiah, demonized, lunatic, healer, and even beloved. But never conservative. I do believe we conservative Christians have set our sights much too low.

This is St. Joseph's Oratory against a striking blue spring sky...today.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

the NO

I am 16 days away from moving back onto the island of Montreal. In the last few years, almost despite myself, I have developed a strange love for this city and her inhabitants. Quite unnatural, really. Last night as part of our home group session on taking risks in areas that we have had bad experiences in, we were wandering the streets on the lookout for anyone that we could connect with and show some love to. We started out at Second Cup but soon realised that everyone was in their own little world: on their laptops, reading, or talking intimately with a group of friends. Not much of a place to connect. So we headed out down Parc Avenue to see whom we would meet. The streets were pretty empty and as we walked on, I felt this love grow big inside me and I yelled out some spontaneous thanks and prayers to God to bless this place. Yes, we were on our way to changing the world, I could feel it.

On the way back up Parc to fetch my car, my friend and I came upon a lady with several large and heavy bags. One was on her back and she was straining to carry the other two up the slight incline. We both stopped and offered to help her carry these items, our hands ready to grasp the handles and haul. But the lady was not that interested in our help. She politely refused, we asked again, and she refused with a shake of her head. She really did not want our help. So we walked on, puzzled and sure that she really DID need our help.

We glanced back and saw that the lady had dropped both bags on the sidewalk and was leaning over with her hands on her knees. Hardly the stance of someone managing nicely. My friend noted that this was not as it should be, so we did an about face and headed back to the burdened soul. We again offered our assistance and at this point, the lady became less polite. In no uncertain terms she let us know that our persistence was wearing on her patience and that she would really prefer us to move on and leave her alone. I tried one more time to make conversation but a glare stopped me. We got the point and walked away.

This event made me sad. Not just sad, I was hurt in some way, pained at the refusal, and conflicted over the inability for us to give help when it was so obviously needed. I could not understand the NO. I do not know what the lady's story was, perhaps she had been a victim of a robbery at some point and was wary of strangers, lovey and soft-spoken as they might be. Perhaps she was an independent loner. Perhaps she was carrying valuable possessions and did not want to entrust them to any other hands. I do not know, but I do know that her insistence on carrying her own burdens was the wrong choice.

Other people from our group also mentioned that it was hard to connect to anyone that evening. It was like the people of the city had established their own little personal safety zone and did not want to move from it, especially not to have an encounter with a stranger. What confused me and tore at my heart was that I finally have some compassion for the people I see in this city and they don't seem to care. They don't want me nor my little offers of help. They don't want anyone intruding in their lives.

Earlier that evening we had read from Hebrews 13: I'll never let you down, never walk off and leave you...God is there, ready to help. Yes, God is ready to help, but often, like the lady on Parc Ave., I insist on doing this myself, on carrying my burdens and the weight of situations on my own back. I refuse to let God or anyone else in, and I suffer and grow tired as nothing much changes. I say NO over and over again to the help that comes in strange clothing.

I wept for the lady with the bags. I cried out for God to soften her heart and heal her wounded soul. I cried out for my heart not to lose its compassion in the face of rejection, and I asked that when I see Jesus on this road I am on, offering to help me, that I not refuse his hand.

This is a street in St. John, New Brunswick.

Monday, May 19, 2008

36

It is done. Well, almost done. We still have to secure a mortgage and do an inspection, but we bought a condo in uptown Montreal this weekend. We saw it on Saturday, put in an offer that afternoon, negotiated through Sunday about price and a few details, and while I was sitting on the toilet at church on Sunday night, peeing, I received a text message that the place was ours. Don't you love God's way with timing? I finished my business and ran out to inform Dean. He was relieved, and so was I, just having come from the bathroom, but after that, the sensation that kept washing over me in waves that evening was of being slightly overwhelmed by the goodness of God. Sometimes I have so little faith. Sometimes I doubt that God will do what he says, even though he always comes through and he tells me in so many ways all the time in every situation that he can be counted on to get us through it. But I have been known to mix superstition in with my lumpy faith, so I hesitate to jump into belief when things get wacky, afraid that I am just being weird and hearing voices of my own making.

The voice told me not to worry, that everything would be settled for our new home before Dean leaves for a conference on May 28. Last week, in a slump of discouragement, when I started to count up all the houses we had seen without a single one being right (the number at that point was around 25 - yes, the obsessive compulsive counting behaviour sometimes surfaces during stressful times), the voice said just wait till you get to 35. The voice asked, what would you like, so I listed my secret desires: a fireplace (wood preferred over gas), a mezzanine (I have always loved mezzanines), proximity to a metro (subway), and all the things that would make Dean happy: a second bathroom, a garage, and a relatively short, traffic-free drive to work. Oh, and I wanted to move way before July 1 if possible, because that is the official moving day in Quebec and as you approach it, moving rates climb like the initial incline on the Goliath roller coaster at La Ronde and the availability of movers plummets like the terrorising free fall that immediately follows.

We ended up seeing 36 homes in our search and we bought number 32. We will sort out the final conditions this week and the sold sign should go up by Monday, May 26. It is a five minute bus ride away from the metro, and on a sunny summer day, walking it would be a pleasure. The ride to Dean's work is probably going to be shorter than the one he has now. There is a mezzanine WITH a wood fireplace, a private garage, a half bath in the master bedroom, and we can move in three weeks. I am struck dumb by this generosity.

Even before I experience the full brunt of the goodness of God, it is already present. Even before I feel the grace that slops down on me like an unexpected bucket soaking from my best friend on a hot and sticky day, it is there - not just on its way, but right beside me, mine, active now, all the time. The grace does not delay its gracious gifts nor cringe and take a step back even though I was a bad person that afternoon. It boldly steps forward on days like these, and tells me in a plain and clear voice that I cannot mistake for anything but the truth: goodness in my life never depends on me. It is the goodness OF GOD, remember that.

This is a lady bug sunning herself on a dandelion in my neighbour's yard.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

juggling

I had this great idea yesterday. I have started packing some of our stuff in preparation for moving and discovered a few things I had borrowed from people and need to return because I don't want to move other people's stuff. That would be silly. And then I thought, but I won't ask for any of my stuff back that I have lent to others until after I move because that's a few items I don't have to lug from one location to the next. And then, voila, or voici, a bright light went on inside my mind! Why, I could lend out almost everything I own just before my moving date, and then simply ask for people to bring it back just after I move into our new location. Absolutely brilliant! No need to move much at all, really. Just lend things at strategic times. Something like juggling bowling balls...it is not like you actually hold those heavy spheres at all, they are virtually weightless because most of the time they are in the air!

Okay, it is late and I need to go to bed, but if this still makes sense tomorrow, I shall be making a giant list of things available for borrowing in the next month. Anyone need 2 couches and 3 beds and some giant shelves for a day?

This is Dean's crab tree in our front yard - we are sorry to leave it behind.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

activities from a hat

I just got back from our weekly church home group. Once a month we do a NITE OUT which is basically a fun evening where we get out of the house setting and do stuff together. Tonight I planned something I call "Activities From a Hat." It ended up being activities from a plastic bag, due to my not bringing a hat, but it was one of the most memorable, funnest, deep and silly evenings I have had in awhile. Perhaps you want to try this at home. Just list a bunch of random activities, toss them in a hat, have different members of the group pick out slips of paper one at a time, and do each activity as a team before going on to the next one. Fun! Scary! Challenging! Profound! Revealing! Here were tonight's activities:

1. Give one reason why you like Montreal (insert your city of residence here).
2. Do a happy dance in a public place.
3. Exchange an article of clothing with a team member for the evening.
4. Do not break any laws tonight. If you do, you must make a donation to the church. (Jaywalking is a big thing in Montreal, but we managed to walk around all evening without doing it once!)
5. Find an open space and RUN!
6. Honesty challenge: for each person in the group, name one thing you admire about them and one thing they could improve on (this is tougher than it sounds).
7. Eat something yummy (we ended up in a Turkish restaurant).
8. Name your biggest fear at this moment and have the group give you practical suggestions to overcome it.
9. Sit down and people watch. Pick one person and pray for them without letting them know.
10. Send a postcard to someone you miss.
11. Offer to pay for a stranger.

This is me in Cabot Square in Montreal, doing a happy dance. Photo credit to Jana.

Monday, May 12, 2008

predator

We are on the hunt. Tracking skills are being honed, foreign territory is being covered with ever increasing familiarity and efficiency, and it is only a matter of time before we rustle that illusive new home out of the bushes where it hides.

There are several ways in which to snare a home in its natural habitat. Some believe in the shotgun approach, rushing in with all options blazing, rooting through everything and anything that doesn't move, shooting off offers left and right and hoping one of them sticks. Others methodically plan out their strategy before they deploy any attack, mapping out specific locations and likely scenarios for success, hesitant to leap in without doing a thorough recon first. Some sit back in a comfortable chair in the hunting blind and wait for the real estate agents to fetch and bring in the game.

Dean and I do things in different ways. He is a man of action. I like that about him. But when he, and then we start to depend on our own efforts to accomplish something that God intends us to trust him for...well, we just wear ourselves out.

I spent most of the time at church on Sunday night crying. My heart was so heavy. As a few friends surrounded me and prayed for me, I realised that I was trying to carry some burdens that I was never meant to take responsibility for. I am just not big enough to bolster up all these people I love or make their challenges mine. Neither can I make the perfect house appear by staying up in the wee hours of the morning searching the Internet or driving around for days in the neighbourhoods I would love to end up in.

While I was sitting there filling tissue after tissue, God showed me a picture. I am a knitter. I knit garments and webs of grace. Sometimes, it doesn't seem like I am doing enough, so I lay aside the knitting and put in some hard work, sweating and groaning and feeling like, yes, this will accomplish something. And I turn around to see the grace has unravelled while neglected, and at the end of all that grunting and groaning and running around, I have come away with nothing but calloused hands and a case of fatigue. So I am going back to the knitting. I am knitting a huge pillow of grace to sit on. I am clicking my needles, constructing a large fortress of grace around myself and Dean to protect us from all the stresses in our lives at this time. I am making a web of grace large enough to stretch beyond what we can see and strong enough to catch everything that God wants to send our way.
I am the knitting predator.
These are the rather large talons of an eagle at the Ecomuseum in Montreal.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

goodbye and white

This afternoon I signed my name a few times, and so did Dean, and we are no longer home owners. This morning one of my close friends, who had been staying with us for a week as she was between places, left to journey back to her family in B.C. She is leaving her life in Montreal, not sure whether she will return or not. It has been a day of goodbyes, goodbyes that leave one hanging, as none of us know quite where we will land next. This place can be unsettling or it can help me focus - my choice.

Tonight I have 3 more house guests coming. Tomorrow I have an event where I am acting as producer/set-up person/refreshment coordinator/public relations/host. Saturday we look at some condos downtown, then head away for a quick meeting and a bit of a getaway at our friends' cottage up north. Next week I will start sorting and packing. Life is clumping up again, as it tends to do when change is imminent. Like labour pains, there usually seems to be increased activity and stress just before the birth of something new in our lives. It is a pattern I readily recognise by now and even embrace. The increased pressure makes me stop and ask God for help, it reminds me that only a few things are truly important, and it offers me the opportunity to mature in many areas, specifically grace (oh, how I hate being a whiner and complainer and fault-finder at times like these) and trust (relax, this really is out of your hands to a large extent and either you mean what you say when you talk about God providing for you or you don't).

I had a dream last week in which I was working with some young and energetic creative souls on an ad campaign. They presented an idea for an all-white ad and I immediately understood what they were trying to accomplish and thought the idea was brilliant. Not every one was convinced, so I explained it to the people who were hesitant, namely the bosses. The concept was simple. Everything in the ad, whether it was a photo or video or any other visual, was white, totally white. The thing we were trying to sell was then placed in the all-white setting and naturally, every eye was drawn toward it, no matter how small it was in the picture or how much in the background it served. The idea was not to make the product appear bigger and better than it was (like so many ads do), but to place the object in a natural setting, removing all the distractions so that the focus was on it alone. Like I said, brilliant!

I need a giant white paintbrush in my life. Not to attempt to erase any of its parts, but to tone down all those bits that take more attention than they merit and blur my vision with busyness. I need all those distractions to fade into the background so that I can truly focus on the beauty and simplicity and awesome, sometimes small but always bright, nature of this life I have been given.

What do I want my life to point to? What do I want others to see first when they glance at me and my situation? Everything else must become white.

This is the view from my backyard...for now.

Monday, May 05, 2008

follow

I went dancing Saturday night. Dean was supposed to come with me as we joined a bunch of friends at a swing dance club, but he was working all weekend and had no energy left to give, not even to one of his favourite activities. Dancing is something I have come to late in life; growing up in a conservative Mennonite community offered little opportunity to learn this social skill. This was my third time at this club and I proudly noted that I was no longer the least skilled person on the floor. After the basic lesson at the beginning of the evening, I danced with several in our group of friends and a few guys I had met during the group lesson. I so admire men who are learning to dance. They are the ones that have to lead, even when their partner might be more skilled than they are. I tried to be as helpful as I could be to the guys who had never done this before - helpful, yes, while never crossing the line of usurping their leadership role. There can only be one leader on the dance floor. One person who gives the cues.

It is tough to follow someone who has not quite learned how to lead. We are tempted to over-help, otherwise known as pushing the struggling person's attempt at leading aside, opting for efficiency over learning opportunities. I have had many patient and gifted teachers in my life, but of equal value to me are the gracious and willing followers who refuse to do it for me, who keep their hands relaxed and pliable, waiting, when they could easily be the ones giving clear direction. These faithful friends see potential in me and sacrifice their own comfort or performance in order to let me learn this difficult and multi-faceted coordination challenge called leadership.

They thrust me into the spotlight and applaud when I falteringly get something right. They are right behind me, offering encouragement forward, but not too proud to step backwards if I need to gather my strength and courage. They are not hesitant to try it again and again, letting me gain confidence and improve my abilties. They will even take a fall and join me on my butt on the floor if that's what needs to happen in order for me to learn from a mistake. They urge me not to give up, not to be too hard on myself, and tell me that yes, I will eventually get it.

It is true that there are not many great leaders in this world, but I say there are not many great followers either. I am taking lessons in both.
This is me and Jaclyn doing Dance Dance Revolution. Photo credit to Dean.

Friday, May 02, 2008

sing

I had a dream yesterday. In it, I was in a public gathering of some sort with lots of people and quite a few of them famous. It was a conference type of setting so we were all supposed to be listening and being wowed by what was coming forth from the stage area. For some reason, I was reading my Bible (don't remember which bits) and the words and concepts gripped me hard. I was deeply stirred by the immensity of the love of God for us and it nearly ripped me open. I couldn't help it, I began to sing. It was not a pretty song. I wailed and moaned and tried to hit some notes as I wept and cried out and made a fairly sad attempt to put a voice to this intense sensation of being loved so largely that it almost swallowed me up. How does one receive such a pure and holy thrust of white-hot passion? I maneuvered my vocal chords through a raw and underdeveloped melody, my voice cracking and changing register as I did so. I was sure I was not making much sense to anyone but myself, and that just barely. I finished the song, or rather, the song finished with me, at least for the moment, and the room fell silent. Then a few others began to cry out in their own voices, some fell to their knees in silence, undone by love's strong hand. The conference was basically a bust at that point. Revival. Revolution. Mayhem. Revolt. It was no longer a nice meeting, it was all of the above.

A few church leaders found me in a hallway not too much later and approached me with that look on their faces which let me know they had no use for disruptive antics like mine. I raised my hand to them and said, "Don't even bother going there," and turned and walked away. As I was walking around, I saw one of the famous people from the conference looking at me with puzzlement and some element of wariness, so I walked over to him, put an arm around his shoulders, and told him that I liked him. He relaxed and smiled (I guess he was relieved that I was not quite as crazy as he might have feared) and he started to ask me what was behind the song I had sung. It was a good conversation.

After I woke up, I got in the shower and mulled over the different parts of the dream. I can get too involved in the details sometimes, so I asked God, "What was the point of that dream?" The answer came clearly and quickly: Always sing a love song. No matter how badly you sing or how terrible you think it sounds, sing out a love song.

Here is my love song for today:
Hey you
close by or far away
love is bumping into you
can you feel that nudge?
it is love
it is someone who is big enough to embrace all your prickly quills

and your soft swampy holes of sadness and insufficiency
and your tall mountains of strength
and still not be stretched to capacity
don't brush it off
lean in
it is not far to fall into love

This is Dean and me at sunset, Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue. Photo credit to the Winmills.