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.