Thursday, December 22, 2005

peace and nothing

At the beginning of December God showed me that I was not operating from a foundation of peace in my life. Yep, you’re right, God, let me readjust that. And so I became more aware of remaining calm instead of getting stressed out, not letting little situations bug me, giving people the benefit of the doubt, keeping a closer check on my emotions when they threatened to go all weird on me, and things were pretty good. We were at relative peace (meditative hum).

Ten days ago I developed a little fever. It was nothing, just get a little rest, take a few Advils, it will be gone in a few days. Six days later I was thrashing around on the bed wondering why someone didn’t invent something beyond beds; because if you are standing up and feel bad…you sit down; if you are sitting down and feel bad, you lie on the bed; if you are lying on the bed and feel bad…there is nowhere else to go to get relief. I was on my bed and had no relief. The prolonged fever was affecting my brain, my dreams, my ability to get a good night’s sleep, my ability to eat anything, and my ability to think of living. I was convinced this was how people died. In my mind I had already willed my plane ticket to Africa to my good friend so that she could go see her family. Things were not looking good.

On day seven (a Sunday) I rallied my strength enough for my husband to pack me into the car and we drove around for an hour before we found a walk-in clinic that was open. I sat in the waiting room (well, a loose resemblance to sitting) for just over an hour-and-a-half before a doctor saw me, told me I had pneumonia, gave me a prescription to knock the pants off that nasty bacteria, and sent me back home. I was ecstatic when my fever broke on Monday morning and felt things were getting much better, even made supper and changed the bedding because it smelled of sickness. On Tuesday I was back in the old bed with new sheets, feeling horrible again, convinced I had not cheated death after all - he had just gone out for a smoke. And then I began to realize that there is only one way to get over pneumonia: the drugs would do their work, but I had to rest totally. No cooking, no cleaning, no laundry, no Christmas preparations, no tidying, no getting out of bed unnecessarily, no exertion of any kind. If I wanted to beat this thing in the quickest way possible, I had to spend a week doing virtually nothing.

I am beginning to realize that I had very little idea of what living from a foundation of peace looks like. There can be peace even when there are tufts of cat fur all over the floor and the bathroom hasn’t been cleaned in almost 2 weeks. There can be peace even when you know your entire family is not going to get its Christmas gifts from you until way after the annual Christmas get-together this year. There can be peace when you miss all your exams for the French course you are taking. There can be peace when you have to miss the church Christmas celebration you helped put together and know that not everything went as smoothly as it could have. There can be peace when the world around you hardly skips a beat as it keeps hurrying by, and in fact, seems to ignore you and the fact that your life has come to a screeching halt. Don’t worry, your friends say, you’ll catch up soon. But I don’t want to catch up. I don’t want to go back to being a person who has to accomplish a certain number of tasks in a day just to feel viable as a human being. I will never become any more valuable and worthwhile as a person than I am right now in my mostly useless, fatigued and mucusy state. And I am at peace with that. Jesus came into this world to bring peace but so few of us actually take hold of it. It has been my greatest gift this year.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Breakthrough

Everyone has them…those disturbing selfish tendencies or annoying impatient attitudes or judgmental prejudices or gripping fears or glaring weaknesses that we just can’t seem to totally get rid of. We wrestle with them off and on, we could in fact have long spurts of freedom from the besetting vices, but when some event triggers that wound, that Achilles heal, that fragile and often unhealthy defence mechanism or mindset or emotional reaction – we realize we are not entirely free of it after all.

Discipline and self-control are good things; they go a long way in helping us lead more stable and consistent lives, and though they can assist us in not giving in to our baser and unhealthy urges and help us in dealing with unpleasant and painful situations, they will never remove the trigger point itself, the hook in the flesh, the agitating sliver, the shrapnel under the skin, the tender spot that just never seems to totally heal. Discipline cannot bring wholeness.

So are we doomed to just “live with” our weaknesses, our failures, our tendencies toward destruction, and hope that our ability to say no, our stamina, grit and determination will keep us from hurting ourselves and others? I don’t think so, yet I have no tried and true method, no 1-2-3 steps to personal freedom that I can share with you. I can only tell you what has happened in my life.

I have a bit of OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) which exhibits itself in mostly harmless ways like counting stairs when I climb them, sniffing everything before I put it in my mouth, and remembering exactly how I left things so I can tell if anything has been moved in my absence (I thought at one point I might make a good detective). But when this tendency toward compulsion grabs onto your soul, your identity, your well-being and worth...then you’re in big trouble. This happened in four areas in my life: one related to food, one related to relationships, one related to intimacy, and the other to fear. I spent years praying for God to take these things away from me, worked really hard at developing healthy habits to replace the unhealthy ones, but always with limited success. I know through painful experience that humanity really is powerless to save itself.

I can’t explain how or why, but one by one, over time, these compulsions have disappeared out of my life. One day I woke up and another one just wasn’t there anymore. I did not do anything different that would explain the drastic change from being a slave to being free. I did not seek counselling, I did not ask someone to pray for me, I did not have a “Holy Spirit power encounter,” in fact I kept all these things hidden and private, ashamed of my weakness. All I did was cry out to God day after day after day to help me. And in his time, he did.

Part of the territory that goes with being obsessive is the tendency to seek control and peace of mind through the use of patterns, repetition, and methodology in a desire to bring consistent results and stability. We even tend to pursue our wholeness, our faith, and our relationships this way and that never works. And sadly, we expect God to operate in a certain predictable pattern as well, but the only predictable thing about God is his character. And only those things that originate in the character of God have the power to truly change things. I am learning this day by day and ever grateful for undeserved grace.


One of freedom…matte

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Mad

I got mad this week. Unpleasantly mad, uncivilized mad. I could feel it coming and twisting my mind into a mess of unreasonableness and my soul into a heap of disgusting desires to do mean things to people who neglected to conform to my narrow and oh-so-right ways. It was almost like I was standing beside myself and as I stewed about a situation and let myself get more agitated about it, blowing the implications into massive proportions in my mind, I could see the black cloud approach behind me, waft slowly to my side, linger for a bit to see if it was welcome, and as I fed my self-pity for the mountainous wrongs others had so carelessly tossed across my path, I saw my body turn slightly towards the cloud and step into its hungry path. I wasn’t going to let it stay long, just long enough to take a sweet moment of justice, long enough to make someone pay for their mistake by feeling my displeasure, just enough to satisfy the disappointment I felt and to abate the floundering feeling of being out of control. But once engaged, anger is a terrible and difficult thing to disentangle yourself from. You can’t just drop it like a hot potato. It wraps its strong tentacles around the same heart that loves fiercely and claims that fierceness as its slave.

As a child, I had struggles with anger that I thought I had put far behind me, and in reality I have, but somewhere, somehow, through a combination of circumstances and choices, I opened the door marked vindication a crack again, just to see if it felt better than mercy. It did not. It was ugly. I felt horrible. I yelled, “I’m mad and I hate it!” But hating it did not chase it away. The anger was a bitter undigested lump that refused to move through my bowels. Forgiveness seemed a million miles away and a thousand pounds heavy. I knew if I didn’t get rid of it quickly, it would leave a mark that I would have to carry for days. “Help!” I cried out to God. “Get this thing out of me!” And I heard one word float towards me and surround my mind like a halo: Peace. It knocked at my soul. Resentment and forgiveness rushed over to the door and sparred for possession of the door handle. I didn’t want any part of the fight for control which is how this whole thing started in the first place, so I just walked to the centre of my soul, knelt on the floor, and pulled the plug. I let it all go. I took my hands off “I was wronged” and watched it swirl down the drain along with the other black filth. The internal tirade had left the walls around me raw and red and stinging, but the blackness was gone. I went to the door, now unattended, and let peace in – no – I grabbed Peace and gave him a big hug and didn’t let go for a long time.


And I never plan on letting go again.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

butterflies

I am not talking about those wonderfully colourful flighty creatures that float on the air, having started out as an unattractive ground-bound cousin of the worm and almost inconceivably hatched from a cocoon coffin. Not this time, though that sounds like a wonderful topic for a future blog.

I am talking about those moments just before something ‘big’ happens when your stomach lurches and becomes weightless for just a second and whatever you are doing at the time suddenly becomes insignificant in light of the coming event. For me as a child, Christmas Eve was always a night filled with butterflies surging like waves through my midsection as I lay in my bed and listened to the endless ticking of the grandfather clock marking off the long minutes of a seemingly endless and sleepless night.

These days, my sleep is seldom interrupted by anything but persistent cats demanding food or a Diet Dr. Pepper that perhaps should not have been consumed at 11:30 pm. The excitement and anticipation I experienced as a child seems to have been closely linked to my struggles with fear and worry and therefore, as I have dealt with these two issues in my life, anxiety has been pretty much erased from my life. But so has a lot of excitement, it seems. And I miss that.

I am leaving on a vacation to the Dominican Republic tomorrow with my husband. It will be my first time ever to the Caribbean and the first time ever to a nice all-inclusive resort. And I want to be more excited – not freaking-out screaming, hyperventilating, can’t sleep all night, totally useless for any other tasks, kind of excited…but I want to feel the butterflies. I know I will feel them when I catch the first glimpse of the islands, for then it will all be real and happening, but something has changed since I was 7 that keeps me pretty much in the moment and not thinking weeks and months ahead. And I think this is basically good. I am learning to walk every day by faith, trusting that God is going to take care of tomorrow and all my worrying and obsessing won’t do a thing to make it better or worse. Don’t get me wrong, I can get very excited in the moment, just ask my friends, but there is nothing like a long-anticipated wish coming true. Something about waiting and longing makes the desired outcome that much sweeter.

Perhaps I have ceased to let my heart long for things, and have decided that I will just be content with what comes my way. Yep, I think that’s it. And that’s not a bad way to spend your life, never expecting much, not being disappointed much, being pretty easy going, but then…you miss out on the wonder, the excitement, because the greater you can be excited by something, look forward to something, the greater you can also be disappointed by it going wrong. I know God has made me to be a person of passion. I look at David in the Bible, a man after God’s own heart, and he was a man who really really really REALLY wanted some stuff and though that got him in trouble a few times, for the most part, it kept him chasing after God relentlessly to see those longings come to pass.

Relentless…I like that word. I want to be relentless. Not indifferent, not unflappable, at least not about the things that are important to me. I do want to be unaffected by the little stuff that doesn’t really matter in the long run, but I want to be relentless in pursuing the things that really mean a lot to me, even if I hit some disappointments along the way, or run into some walls as I hurl myself headlong towards them. A few bruises and setbacks are to be expected, but they should hardly deter me. It is called discipline…setting a goal and not letting anything distract you from it. Crying out to God to hear you day after day after day after day and not letting the waiting dull your soul.

I need butterflies.

Friday, November 18, 2005

THE small STUFF

My life is filled with a lot of things that are small. I DO a lot of small stuff like bake muffins, clean the bathroom, iron shirts, put up shelves, take care of banking, read my Bible, pray for people, write emails, make the bed, pet the cats, take pictures, and study French. I AM relatively small. No matter how much protein powder I ingest or how many push-ups I do, I will never be a large person. Most of my clothes have a label that says “S”, I can fit through an 8 inch gap without any trouble, and most 13-year-olds can wrestle me to the ground in short order. I am FASCINATED by small things: an ant, a pebble, a penny, a leaf, a puddle, a word. Sometimes I wish I lived on a grander scale; that I oversaw the design of sunsets, or planned world summits where enemies had to be roommates and make meals together and learn how to get along, or I discovered how to instantly transport matter from one location to another. That would be cool! But let me tell you a small story…

There was a girl who lived on a small farm in a small province in an insignificant country. Every day she got out of her small bed, put on a small dress, and walked to the small one-room school. One day, on her way to school, she saw a flash of fur in the high grass beside the road and turned to see a small cat running past. She crouched down and remained perfectly still, then called softly. The cat stopped its flight and looked at her, eyes wide with wildness. The small girl and the cat stayed motionless for a few minutes, then the cat turned and left.


The next day on the way to school, she saw the cat running by again. She crouched down and held out her hand. The cat stopped and remained in one spot, sniffing the air in front of it, but would not take a step towards her. The next day the girl brought a piece of cheese. When she saw the cat in the distance, she laid the cheese in the grass in front of her, then stepped back, but the cat would not approach with her in sight, so she walked away. For the next few months, the girl stopped at the same spot of grass every day and laid down a morsel of food for the cat. Gradually, the cat came closer and eventually started to eat the cheese right out of the girl’s hand. Over the school year, the cat began to accompany the girl on longer and longer segments of her walk, but remained in the long grass. Then one day, the cat came out of the grass and joined the girl on the path and walked beside her, and several weeks later, let the girl run her fingers through the fur on its back as they walked together.

Nearly a year after the girl first saw the cat, the teacher invited several students to bring something for a special show and tell the next day when an important guest would be present. The little girl volunteered. The next morning, the teacher and the students were all astounded when the little girl walked into the classroom with her arm draped around the neck of a young male lion. But not as astonished as the little girl was when the special guest of honour, the commander of the whole country’s army, pinned a shiny medal on her small dress and told her she was braver and had more authority than most of the people under his command.

Big accomplishments are always made up of small steps. Enjoy the small stuff. Do it well. Be faithful.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Ode to d.e.a.n.

Today I had lunch with someone that I am just starting to get to know in my French class, and in the course of telling each other a bit about our lives, I mentioned some things about my husband, Dean. Her response was, “Wow, he sounds great. I hope I find someone like him.” (yeah, she is young and single). To which I replied, “Yes, everyone should have a Dean!” And that got me thinking about all the things that make Dean so great. Here are a few:

- someone who knows when to take you seriously (weeping uncontrollably when things disappoint me) and when to laugh at you (weeping uncontrollably when I read a book)
- someone who never leaves one doubt in your mind that he will always be faithful, and tells you so
- someone who thinks you are the most gorgeous babe around even when you show him your wrinkles (he thinks they’re cute)
- someone who will stand up for you when others say mean things
- someone who will always tell you the truth – “that is a hideous colour on you”
- someone who never hesitates to give you what is in his power to give
- someone who calls you everyday even if there is nothing important to talk about
- someone who is fun to hang out with – “let’s drive to Chicago for pizza – its only 16 hours!”
- someone who likes to play and laugh
- someone who enjoys your company and listens to you, even when you don’t make sense
- someone who calls you from his hotel on a business trip and wishes he were at home with you instead
- someone who knows you well enough to make you totally comfortable, never ashamed or embarrassed
- someone who delights in your quirks and encourages you to take risks (even shaving your head)
- someone you can disagree with and know he will respect your opinion
- someone who loves to sit back and see you try something new…and succeed!
- someone who accepts your shortcomings and mistakes with grace (and tries to help you get better)
- someone who is consistent yet can always surprise you
- (Dean just called and when I told him I was writing something about him, he asked if it was called “How Does Someone Get That Good-Looking?”) so make that…someone who doesn’t take himself too seriously, but has that perfect balance of confidence, humility, and a sense of humour
- someone who is musical and creative, always coming up with new ideas
- someone who loves words and knows how to use them
- someone who likes to sit close to you (there is no substitute for this!)
- and there’s more but I will stop here…

Never take the “Dean” for granted. Recognize the “Dean” in those around you. Be a “Dean” to someone.

Oh, in case you think Dean is perfect, never fear, he has some shortcomings: he doesn’t like carrots, he sometimes leaves his socks on the floor, and he has been known to play the radio too loud.

Monday, October 31, 2005

clean up

Moving...

I am now sitting in my new home office filled with 11 brown boxes, 4 bare beige walls, a red clock to let me know I am probably late for something, and a great view of the woods. From my perspective, moving is a good thing and should be embarked upon every few years. It makes you sort through everything you own and re-evaluate whether or not it is still pertinent to your life, plus it forces one to clean all those hidden, underneath, never seen places – ugh!

I hate cleaning. Show me a person who likes cleaning and I will ask them to come to my house and find all the joy they want. Not that I am a filthy person, no no, I do my weekly cleaning and keep things fairly tidy, but it is a chore. Dust is a result of sin, the decaying of our bodies, the reminder that we live with death every day as speck by speck cells that used to carry life fall around us (90% of dust is dead skin). And I just don’t like the fact that hours of my week are spent removing filth and dirt and reminders of death – I would much rather spend my time creating something, building new things, being surrounded by life. Life is change. Death is stasis. And yet, I have never seen anything quite as amazing as the human body when it comes to regenerating itself, healing its wounds, replacing old cells with new, and getting stronger by using it more, even punishing it. So perhaps I am wrong. Dust is not a result of sin, but simply the divine order of change…of the old falling away and the new replacing it. Change is the building block of all healing, and sometimes we resent the change; we have grown accustomed to the old, the routine, the circles of dust that surround objects long unmoved.

When I first unlocked the door to our new home, I was a bit dismayed at its dirty state. I very quickly realized I had a lot of cleaning to do in a short span of time and thanks to good friends, every floor was swept and washed before the movers arrived, and the kitchen and bathrooms were clean as well! It would have been a horrible mistake to move all our stuff in on top of the dirt, and as our little group was in the midst of a whirlwind of mops and rags, I knew somehow that this total cleaning was a good thing – if there had only been a bit of dirt on the floor, or a few spots on the counters, I might have been tempted to overlook it, but now I was forced to deal with everything from top to bottom. I am still not done - I suppose it will take a week or two to make sure every baseboard and closet is wiped clean, but I know this is the better way. And though I dislike the process, Life itself demands it. It will not flourish where death, decay or neglect is allowed to sit in the corner and breed.

Cleaning has now entered my dictionary as a creative activity. Perhaps some day I will even learn to enjoy it.

Friday, October 14, 2005

just for criminals and wrongdoers...

I am reading through Leviticus these days and though the book can get tedious to a modern Western mind (like mine) that can’t comprehend why all these regulations and stipulations for worship and sacrifices are necessary, if you remember that this is a holy God communicating a way of doing things in order that people can approach him and not die (for we humans seem to have a certain propensity towards death and sin instead of life and righteousness, and God has an unfaltering desire to bring humankind near to him)…well, it all makes a lot more sense.

One of the things that struck me about the difference between Levitical law then and our law now is how we have divorced the consequences from any sinful or illegal act. Any crime, no matter what it is, is punishable by jail time (or some restriction of freedom such as house arrest or parole) or a payment of money. The very heart of God screams, “Restore! Repair! Redeem!” in order that relationships and communities might become whole again, yet when our society seeks to make people “pay” for their transgressions, the main punishment we dole out is alienation. It is much easier to punish a person than to teach them how to make it right. Simple impersonal punishment will never change someone’s heart.

One weekend, many many years ago, a few drunken vandals smashed up the mailbox at the end of the laneway leading to our family farm. It didn’t take the police long to catch the young men (drunken criminals are not all that bright) and when they asked my father if he wanted to press charges, he said no, he wanted someone to come and fix his mailbox. The officer made arrangements for the perpetrators to come to my father’s workshop on a Saturday morning and I remember peering out the living room window, waiting for them to arrive, wondering what heinous criminals would look like and feeling a certain fear in my young heart that my father would invite such dangerous persons onto our farm. A young man finally showed up, over an hour late, obviously ill at ease and so nervous about what lay ahead that he had felt the need to down some liquid courage before he came. His friend had refused to come.

I have no idea what exactly transpired between my father and the young man that morning. An hour or two later they emerged from the workshop and much to my relief, my father was unharmed and in fact, seemed taller than he had been that morning when he left the breakfast table; the criminal seemed calm, rather small, and not as menacing as I had imagined. The scarred and dented mailbox went back up on the wooden post later that day and every time I fetched the mail in the next few weeks, I wondered about our vandal. I hoped that he had learned a lesson and didn’t do mean things anymore. I hoped he had stopped drinking too much. I hoped he had listened to whatever it was that my father had said to him. And most of all, I hoped that he had appreciated what a fine man my father was and learned something about compassion and justice and restoration.

What if every time we committed a crime or a sin against someone, we had to make it right? What if you had to come face to face with the person you offended and work together to find a solution? What if you could not simply hide behind prison bars but had to support the family you stole from or rebuild that house you burnt down? I understand that in the case of violent crimes, protecting the innocent is a primary concern, but there must be a better way to deal with violent people than to put them all together in isolation? How will they learn any other way of life? How can they become people of righteousness if they are never around it?

We have mistakenly assumed that withdrawal and isolation are the best way to deal with problems, be they personal or societal – it is easier, but hardly effective. God always says, “Come.” If you are a criminal or a wrongdoer, God says come. If you have been wronged, God says come. And when we as wrongdoers and those who have been wronged can say "Come" to each other, then we will begin to see restoration.

Friday, October 07, 2005

The Cans

Things I cannot do:
I cannot make someone love me.
I cannot foresee what one simple action will set into motion.
I cannot get rid of my loneliness - totally.
I cannot hide the way I really feel about someone or something.
I cannot tell a lie well.
I cannot make pain go away when I see it in someone’s eyes.
I cannot trade my life for someone else’s, be it out of envy or sympathy.
I cannot do everything I want to in a day.
I cannot grow any taller.
I cannot get younger.

Things I can do:
I can love someone, more than one someone, even it if makes me look silly – people in love don’t mind looking silly.
I can do a simple thing like listen, or talk to someone, or buy someone a drink, or touch someone who is feeling untouchable…instead of criticizing, ignoring, or judging.
I can be a friend – everyone could use a friend.
I can lead with my heart, making transparency and integrity my constant companions – not ashamed to be seen for who I really am.
I can tell the truth and do it with love – but it takes lots of practice.
I can sit beside someone in pain and cry for them – all it takes is a soft heart.
I can embrace the one life I have and not spend one minute doubting its unique worth or necessity – remember what Stuart said, "Compare and die!"
I can talk to God today, I can participate in what He is doing, and that will be plenty for one day.
I can enlarge my spirit and pursue freedom – yes, it does get WAY better than this.
I can mature and gain wisdom without loosing my childlikeness – you are never too old to jump.

Yes, I can. You can too.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The Story of the House

In my last blog, oh too long ago, I mentioned that we were looking for a new home. The story of how we found a house is simple yet extraordinary at the same time (as so many profound things often are) so let me tell it to you.

We had been thinking of buying an investment property, something that we could fix up and sell for a profit in order to build our equity for the future. On a drive around our island (yes, we live on an island, but not the Caribbean kind) we spotted the perfect candidate: an undervalued and neglected nearly new home in a very nice development, and the seller was motivated. We called up the real estate agent immediately and were informed that the property already had an offer on it. We persisted and convinced the real estate agent to let us see it anyway – it was exactly the type of house we were looking for. We asked her to inform us if the offer did not come through as we were very interested. A week or so later we drove by the house again and noticed that it was still for sale. After a few inquiries we discovered that the first offer had fallen through and there was now another offer was on the property but the sellers were being difficult because of a messy divorce and not responding to it. The sale would be going to court in three days when the vendor would be forced to sell. We decided to throw our offer into the mix, knowing that it was a longshot, especially since our condo was not even for sale at this point and we needed the proceeds from the condo in order to buy this house.

Real estate can be so complicated, but wait…it gets better. We hurriedly put our condo on the market and put in the best offer we felt we could, dependent on the sale of our property, and waited. The court date came and went and the house was sold to the other party who had no conditions on their offer. It was to be expected, though slightly disappointing to us. In the meantime, the interest in our condo was good, and within 30 days, we had an offer. We negotiated our way to an agreeable price, and they gave us 60 days to find another place to live. Now we had no choice! We looked at a number of houses that next weekend and found one in the same area of town as the first one. Again, this one was vacant, needed some work, and the vendor was motivated. We put in another offer, feeling like we were getting pretty good at this, but unknown to us, the vendor had lost patience with the market and had arranged to rent out the property for the next year if he didn't get exactly what he wanted. When our offer came to him, he was not as flexible in price as we would have liked, so we let the house go. Two strikes.

We continued to do some research on the internet that following week in order to find some more properties to visit. My niece happened to be visiting at that time and was helping me decide which houses to forward to our agent to set up appointments. After a few hours of searching, everything started to look the same, and discouragement wasn’t far away. I turned to her and said, “Wouldn’t it be nice if there was an angel standing and pointing over the house we were supposed to buy? You know, like the star over the manger, a light telling the shepherds, ‘Over here!’ I don’t want to spend weeks looking at house after house, I just want to buy the one that God points out.” And then my niece indicated one that we had just looked at and said, “How about that one?” I looked at the picture again and saw that when the photo was taken, the sun was shining overhead in such a way as to send rays of light shining all around the house, almost like a halo. We both laughed in amazement and wondered if it meant anything. I went to tell my husband. “Definitely put that one on the list,” he said, "It can't hurt."

We looked at four houses that weekend. The “Jesus house” as we had dubbed it was the last on our schedule. It was a very nice one-year-old house, impeccable inside, with beautiful wood floors, more bedrooms than we needed and a totally finished basement. Of course I would have loved to live there, but the point was to get a 'fixer-upper' or a property we could add value to and there was really nothing to do there except landscape the yard, and besides, the asking price was higher than what we were comfortable paying. We went home, discussed everything we had seen that day, and decided to put an offer in on another nearly new property in the area with an unfinished basement and a lower price. I made the call to the real estate agent and to my surprise, she told us we shouldn't do that. What? She said she had information that the other home (the one we called the “Jesus house”) would go for a much lower price than what they were asking and it was a better location and we would be getting much more for our money. Okay, then. Well, this new information, added to the fact that the light WAS shining very brightly over the house, changed our minds on the spot. We put in an offer within the hour. The sellers immediately came back with very agreeable terms except for one – the moving date. They wanted at least two months to find a new home for their family of six and we agreed to give them the time they needed. Our real estate agent urged us to make a contingency plan for being homeless for 30 days, and I called friends and relatives and moving companies to see where we could stay, board the cats, and store all our worldly goods for a month, should things come to that. Perhaps it was a lack of faith, I don’t know, but I was just trying to be prepared.

Yesterday I got a call from the agent telling us that the sellers had found a house and we could move in two days before our condo had to be vacated - no homelessness necessary. Wow! It reminded me of the story of the manna from Exodus 16 that I spoke on in church two weeks ago. Trust God – he has what you need for today. 34 days and counting…

Thursday, September 08, 2005

dream on...

We are in the process of looking for a new home and today the kind husband of a real estate agent said to me, “I think – no, I KNOW you will find the house of your dreams!” I smiled and nodded politely, all the while thinking to myself, “I don’t really want the house of my dreams, at least not now – I want a good investment, a property to fix up and sell for a profit, and by necessity that means the house will be less than ideal.” And I was convicted by my ready dismissal of his inspiring words. The man had a better grasp on reality than I did, and here’s why:

1. I assume that my dreams will come ready-made, no assembly or hard work required. In fact, most dreams appear as a seed, an idea, a squalling baby, a vision, a dilapidated old house that needs restoration, or a promised land that requires a desert trek and some big battles and sacrifices in order to make it your own.

2. I believe that my dreams are frivolous – no one really needs a dream home, least of all me. Just give me a reliable roof over my head, a refuge for my family, a place where visitors can feel welcome, and that is sufficient. But Jesus did not die to give us a sufficient life, he came to give us an abundant life. Why are there dreams and longings in my heart if God did not mean to do something about them (excepting selfish or immoral desires, of course)? This is not merely about material wealth, it is about developing and pursuing resources and opportunities in order to accomplish great things.

3. I tend to focus more on my ‘lack of deservedness’ than the generosity, kind intentions, and unlimited ability of my father in heaven. It really has nothing to do with how worthy or not I am to embark on a dream come true – it has to do with how much God loves and is willing to demonstrate it.

4. Deep down inside I still carry vestiges of my Mennonite heritage that associate riches and good fortune with guilt – anything I am enjoying is necessarily depriving someone else of the same. Not only am I living in luxury while others are needy, but too much of a good thing will lead me down an evil path and some small measure of poverty is healthy for it will make me rely on God. Well, that is simply bullsh*t. Either I rely on God or I don’t. It all has to do with the state of my heart, not the state of my finances. Contentment, good character, generosity, faithfulness, love, patience, wisdom, humility – these are the hallmarks of godliness, not whether you have much or little.

5. I am a doubter. I do not believe my dreams will come true, and I have some pretty outlandish ones, I will admit. When I have been brave enough to share them with others, they have often been dismissed as childish, and I have come to dismiss many of them myself in order to avoid disappointment. However, faith (not doubt) is the currency of the kingdom of God.

6. I am under the false pretence that it depends on me. While I am a firm believer in working hard and doing what you can to improve yourself and your situation and to help others as you go along, there are simply some things (fantastical, out of the ordinary, or supernatural) that I cannot bring about, no matter how hard I try. Only God can make something out of nothing, or truly restore something that is broken, and I must learn to rely on his ability more than my own lack.

So today, I repent of these erroneous thoughts and I choose instead to believe that my gracious God will supply not only my every need, but do so according to his lavish love and character. May I become more like my father in that regard.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

PLAGUES!!!

Now here’s a nice light topic for you. I am reading through Exodus and the story of the plagues that God sent on the Egyptians is just gross! Really…just picture an infestation of frogs, or all your water turning to blood, or flies covering every surface in your home. Ugh. Why would God send such disgusting torments on anyone? Because they were stubborn and hard-hearted.

In order to move something that is hard - like a large stone - you require forceful means, and if the rock is very large and resistant to your best efforts, you bring in explosives. However, if you are trying to move something soft – like a nest of birds - you will use care and delicacy in order to keep it intact. Hard things are treated totally different than soft things, and so it is with hearts. In this age of tolerance, people can get very upset by a God who presents himself as judgemental or disciplinary. But let us not forget, God IS the ultimate judge since he knows what is in our hearts, and in order to develop character, you must have discipline (not punishment which is punitive, but discipline which seeks to teach a better way). It is in our best interests to have consequences for our behaviour, be they good or bad. The same leniency and grace that would cause a soft-hearted person to weep when confronted with their wrongs would also cause a hard-hearted person to assume that they can get away with even worse behaviour.

And that is why God sent plagues. Asking nicely just wasn’t working. So the question I ask myself is, what plagues me in my life? What is something that beleaguers me over and over again, making my life unpleasant, never seeming to leave me alone? This might in fact be an area that I have a hard heart in. Is there a certain type of person that just appears in my life and won’t leave me alone? Does the same annoying circumstance seem to happen over and over again? Every time I attempt a certain task or project, does it always backfire? What things irritate me to the point of frustration? These are my plagues and I want to be free from them.


Goodbye, hard heart.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

does this look like rescue to you?

I love this interpretation of Exodus 5:23 from The Message. Moses was expressing his annoyance at God for things getting worse instead of better, for not going exactly as he had envisioned in this rescue operation God sent him on. Well, the problem with us here-and-now, time-bound, earthy homo sapiens, is that we often assume that things are as they seem, that the situation is exactly as it appears, that ‘right now’ is an accurate picture of where things stand, but from my experience, that is seldom the case. The story is never finished, there are always new developments, and what initially appeared to be a setback very often turns out to be a catalytic factor in directing one to a better way.

I have sometimes been told by well-meaning Christians that what I am doing ‘looks’ like something that is associated with some form of ungodliness, at least in their mind, and I can tell they are uncomfortable with the whole thing. What the heck am I supposed to do with that skewed bit of information? Basically, they are admitting that they have a perception problem and they would prefer if I changed my behaviour so that they don’t have to adjust their limited outlook to more closely reflect the truth. Sorry, my low tolerance for small-mindedness is coming through here, mostly because I struggle with the same thing myself. Okay then. We will all encounter things that make us uncomfortable in our lives; situations that we would rather not be in because they are not conveniently resolving themselves as they would in a neatly written 156-page work of light inspirational fiction (I have nothing against this form of writing, I have done some of it myself, but it hardly portrays truth in all its bloody and painful dimensions).

Why does a raised voice make me uncomfortable? Because in my household, that was never done – it was considered a sign of uncontrolled anger and aggression. So I assumed that anywhere I heard raised voices, someone was sure to die or be horribly maimed. Then I encountered my husband’s family where yelling was just part of getting heard at the dinner table and oddly enough, no one ever lost an arm or an eye or even held a grudge. I have adjusted my perception accordingly and on occasion, will even participate in a heated discussion in that household, raised voice and all.

I believe that as God continues to reveal himself to me, I will continuously have to readjust my perception. What looks like injustice may in fact be an extension of mercy. What looks like death, may turn out to give life. What looks like a mentally unstable, unkempt, rebellious, religious cult fanatic with an anger problem may turn out to be John the Baptist. What appears to be increased bondage might be the first step to the greatest rescue operation ever (go Moses!). What it looks like is hardly relevant. What matters is what it IS and what it is on the way to becoming, and in order to ascertain this, I will have to dig a little deeper, do a little more research, ask God what he is up to, be a little less quick to judge, exercise faith instead of sight, and get to know people’s hearts. Let me see with wiser eyes.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Getting Younger

I received a letter from my mother this week and amidst all the newsy bits, she included this piece of wisdom:

“Some people are always excusing themselves for their looks, etc. So I said, ‘We are created by God, made in His image and then we look in the mirror and say, I don’t like it. Where does that come from?…’ The way I see it, the growing older, balding, greying, etc., it was all in God’s plan. Besides, the fountain of youth that we would all covet for our bodies is not as important as our character that we build by allowing the Holy Spirit to minister to us the Fruits of the Spirit.”

One of my main gripes about our current society is how we have made staying young more valuable than growing old. Now there are certain things that I deem are worth fighting against as we grow older, and they include the loss of such things as strength, vitality, flexibility, bone mass, general good health, a sense of adventure and a willingness to learn. But I will not fight against the maturing process, it is indeed something that is built into the very nature of being human.

Most people have a desire for a taste of the eternal, a dissatisfaction with the temporal nature of this life, and one of the ways this manifests itself is by people trying to feel and look younger than they really are. I caught a glimpse of a television show today called Ten Years Younger that gave people a makeover to help them achieve the illusion of youth. Why would anyone want to look ten years younger? What’s the point? I am 44 years old. People tell me I look much younger than that, at least from the back (haha), but in my opinion, I look exactly like a 44 year-old because it is how old I am. I define my age - my age does not define me. I have determined to take good care of this body, mind and spirit that God has given me, for I believe them to be priceless gifts, but I will most likely get old and die (Enoch being the one exception to that rule that I am aware of, so one can always hope). The sting of death has indeed been overcome through the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, and I am a partaker in the eternal life God offers, but the definition of this (eternal life) is to know Jesus, not to live in my body forever. If all the energy and resources our society spends on looking younger were spent on getting to know God – wow! Just stop and picture that world for a minute.


Thanks for the encouragement today, mother. I am blessed.

Monday, August 08, 2005

WALK

I heard a story the other day about a man, an evangelist, who wanted to make an impact in a certain country, but he had no contacts in this land and therefore, no opportunities to do anything there. So what he felt he should do was visit the place every year and walk around - nothing earth-shattering happened, he just walked around. For five years he made periodic visits to the country and walked and walked and walked. During the sixth year, on one of his visits, he met a person who introduced him to someone else and this contact gave him an invitation to work with and speak to the people in this country and thus the door opened to doing the very thing he had envisioned all those years.

I found this story strangely encouraging, because most of my life seems to be spent walking around. I would love to be thrust from one thrilling adventure to another, leap from one success story to the next, have one vision after another fulfilled, but alas, many of my days are spent plodding along. One foot in front of the other, one word at a time, one conversation following another, one sit-up at a time, day after day of eating, cleaning, working, laughing, loving and encountering people in everyday life. The immediate progress is not visible in any measurable or significant way, but that is the thing about foundations – they take time to build. There is always a guaranteed reward to faithfulness, but how many times do I miss it because I can’t see results after the fourth year, get discouraged, and stop walking? The children of Israel who were walking around the walls of Jericho could have stopped at the sixth circuit around the city and gone home defeated. After all, what did they really have to show for their efforts except a well-worn trail and a lot of dust? I have now lived in Quebec for 6 years, and much of that time has been spent walking, living, listening, learning. Nothing earth-shattering. But I can feel a subtle change, mostly in my attitude, towards the people that surround me. I identify with them more, I understand them better, and I no longer feel like an outsider. These six years have planted me here and now I am beginning to see the fruit of walking in a strange land. The walls between us are starting to come down. I am now a Quebecer, not simply a visitor.

Walking is important. Not every step is the one that puts you over the finish line, but without each and every step, one would never get there. Sometimes I get into that restrictive somewhat utilitarian mindset where everything must have immediate results or measurable and obvious spiritual goals before I consider it worth doing. This is a very narrow view of life because it supposes that I am the one to judge the end, that I can in fact see where things are leading and how they will turn out, that I know which things have lasting value and which things are a waste of time. Worst of all, it presumes that life is a story about me. It is not. It is a story about God, a loving father who calls his kids to walk towards him, even when they don't see the end of the road.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

a.s.k.

I don’t like asking for things. People say men don’t like asking for directions. I don’t either, and I am not a man. I would much rather figure things out for myself, complete a project knowing that I did it myself, or prove that I can learn something new or do something I never did before by not giving up, or at least not asking someone else to assist me. There is some merit to this dogged determination, but most days I would have to say I probably don’t like giving someone any power over me: the power to say NO and thereby reject me or some part of my life by refusing my request, the power to take part of the credit and satisfaction for something I might have accomplished on my own. And most of all, I don’t like to be needy, weak, or helpless in some way; it makes me feel stupid.

This means that I also ask God for very little, at least specifically. I ask for great and vague things such as wisdom, truth, courage, strength, protection, direction, love, purity, forgiveness…you get the picture. Today I was reminded of the verse “you have not because you ask not.” Now that sounds pretty simple until you look at the context: "You lust for what you don't have and are willing to kill to get it. You want what isn't yours and will risk violence to get your hands on it. You wouldn't think of just asking God for it, would you? And why not? Because you know you'd be asking for what you have no right to. You're spoiled children, each wanting your own way." (James 4:2-3 The Message)

Yikes! Could part of the reason I don’t ask God for much be because I don’t trust my own heart? Some part of me really believes that most of my requests, when they are stripped to the bare root, will be basically selfish or inappropriate, so as a safety precaution, I ask for nothing other than something that I know is already approved, like the spiritual fruit list. Now what kind of a relationship is that? I don’t REALLY say and think and feel and ask for the things that are on my heart, I don’t be myself - whether I am having a bad day or a good one - but instead, I censor my words and desires in order to please this God who has already said that his love is unconditional, that he will never leave me, and that he wants to get close to me, the real me, the whole me. I hate to be disappointed – don’t we all, but the least I could do is ASK for something – something unique to Matte, something interesting and exciting and big and more important to me than I even care or dare to admit.

‘And what he gives in love is far better than anything else you'll find. It's common knowledge that "God goes against the willful proud; God gives grace to the willing humble."’ (James 4:6 The Message).

Let me come as a child, flushed with excitement, perhaps unkempt and dirty from play or work or a fight with my peers, but let me come with big ideas in my head and wild dreams flashing in my eyes – those things that God has planted in no other person but me. He is waiting to hear me ask for them…

Monday, July 25, 2005

untainted

I love progressive change. I love seeing things and people and relationships being restored. I love things getting better and better instead of worse and worse. I love to see people rising up and accepting challenges. I love encouraging people to reach their potential and going beyond those imaginary limits that we all put on ourselves. It is the process of redemption.

Part of the problem with redemption is that all we have ever known since the day we gasped our first breath of earth’s atmosphere, is a world tainted by the presence of sin and evil. We all long for things to be whole, be pure, be right, but if we truly ask ourselves, we have little concept of what that would look like. Just take a brief survey of what people think heaven is like and you will get everything from blank stares to elaborate imaginations that hold no basis in reality or perhaps a few vague notions of what we can expect. In the end, we really can’t grasp the concept of heaven, for it is totally foreign to us. We cannot fathom what perfection and “normal” is because we have never lived without the plague of sin.

When you break a bone, you know that something is wrong because of the pain and the abrupt feeling that something is different, out of place, not as it should be. As it heals, you slowly get back the sensation of what it was like before you injured yourself. You remember what being whole felt like, so you know when you are healed. This lack of recognition and comprehension of how God really meant for things to be has proved to be a fundamental weakness in my journey towards wholeness. It hampers my discernment, it distorts my view of God and goodness, it erodes away at my faith, and it blinds me to see the true nature of God.

Before we get all cynical and depressed here, let me state that sin and its consequences do not scare God nor render him impotent in any way. He is able to reveal himself through the darkest cloud and to the utmost reaches of depraved humanity. This is not a hopeless situation by any means. But I don’t believe I have realized just how much sin has ravaged everything in this world, and I have mistaken some things for normal and healthy and accepted them as such when they are in fact crippled and diseased. Knowing right from wrong is no good unless you can also tell life from death.

Understanding the first two chapters of Genesis is vital to comprehending true redemption – what was the world like that God created before sin stripped it of its colour and vitality and power? We must know what we are being redeemed towards if we are to embrace and walk in that redemption, and I fear I have fallen far short in my expectations here. This process is more than just a bandage to stop the blood loss and cover the wound; it is a total rebuilding of every affected cell – the creation of a new person. The second place we must look to understand redemption is the person of Jesus. His death and subsequent resurrection were so powerful that not only could he breathe and talk and eat, he could walk through walls! Now that’s redemption! Perhaps this was an ability Adam had as well. Who knows? The third place we look to get a picture of how things REALLY operate when God is in charge is the place where he rules – heaven. Contrary to the stereotypical harps and clouds, God’s throne seems to be associated with awe-inspiring activity and power and love and justice. Put these three pictures together and we can begin to see what God is calling us to.

Let me become a recipient of total redemption and in that way, a true carrier of the image of God. Untainted.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Money $$$ Bucks

This is another one of those topics that so quickly becomes awkward when you bring it up in a conversation. The most frequent arguments in family and business are about money. It is deemed impolite to inquire about someone’s financial status, to ask how much something cost, or to reveal too much about your own bank account. Why? These days we actually try to hide our financial status, and poverty as well as wealth carries some stigma with it. That makes no sense! Surely we are not that shallow as to judge a person by their personal belongings, or the number of zeros in their bank account. Or are we that paranoid that as soon as we get something of value, we believe others will want to strip us of it? Perhaps we think that if the unhealthy condition of our finances were truly known, people would think less of us, or be hesitant to trust us. I have no idea, but we certainly lack an openness on this topic in our society.

There is a power that we have given to money: it rules much of our lives and I believe this is neither biblical nor healthy, in fact, it looks an awful lot like idolatry. I have never concerned myself too much about money – there has always been enough for us to live. Sometimes we have lived with plenty, other times we have just scraped by to pay off the bills, but there was always enough. I do not make much money, but I do not spend much either. I lead a simple life (thanks to my Mennonite ancestors for instilling this in me). My husband is a business manager and spends his whole day crunching numbers and he has recently challenged me to get more involved in planning for our future financially. Now I have no problem balancing a chequebook or budgeting, but I have always maintained that money doesn’t interest me that much so I balked at his suggestion, feeling that I lacked the passion and the expertise. But in the last month, the ugly truth has been revealed: I am afraid of it.

Having little means there is little to account for, virtually nothing to risk, and a minimal amount of knowledge and effort required on my part. Having much means I am responsible for investing and dealing with it in a wise and timely manner, for much is at stake. I am reading the story of Abraham again and this forefather of faith lived no “simple” life. He had great wealth, travelled widely, embarked on numerous business and personal adventures, encountered kings and armies, took many risks, made some really big mistakes, but in the end, was faithful with what God had entrusted to him and managed to increase in every realm. I do believe that anyone who has accomplished anything great has been someone not afraid to take some risks and shoulder some big responsibility.

So how has my attitude toward money changed? While I still believe in wise and prudent fiscal spending, I am realizing that the phrase, “I can’t afford it” is often based in fear and should more accurately be stated as “I’m not willing to take the risk.” Some things are obviously bad risks. There are, however, some risks that are worth taking. Not all debt is evil, and it can in fact be used to invest in some very worthwhile ventures that will pay for themselves many times over. I must stop separating money from the rest of my life like some insane relative that no one wants to talk about. What I do with my financial resources has a huge impact on my life and I must develop wisdom and exercise faith just like I do with any other situation. I must open my mind to develop knowledge, wisdom, experience, and a passion for dealing with my resources in a way indicative of my values and personality. This is a little scary, I will admit, but the problem is that many of us have been lulled into a false state of small-minded security by our social systems and bi-weekly paycheques. There is no such thing as job security or guaranteed investments! Every dollar is a gift as much as every talent I have. I do not dare bury these gifts in the ground in the hope that they will maintain their value. Like muscles, finances not used will become atrophied and begin to lose their power.

I don’t care if you have little or much – there is something significant you could be doing with it right now instead of just seeking to stretch it out to last as long as possible. Talk to any great person of faith, or any successful businessman and they will tell you the same thing: there is no significant change without significant risk.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Free the Will

I have just finished a most interesting book, A Vindication of The Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft. I admit that this is a bit of an unusual read for me, but a friend gave it to me at exactly the same time as I was studying the beginning of Genesis and really understanding for the first time the curses we as women (and men) live under as a result of defying God, and I thought the timing was most apropos. I will not revisit the topic (see my previous blog entitled “Curses”), but let me give you a few quotes that have stirred my mind:

“Strengthen the female mind by enlarging it, and there will be an end to blind obedience; but as blind obedience is ever sought for by power, tyrants and sensualists are in the right when they endeavour to keep woman in the dark, because the former only want slaves, and the latter a plaything. The sensualist, indeed, has been the most dangerous of tyrants, and women have been duped by their lovers, as princes by their ministers, whilst dreaming that they reigned over them.”

“…that they who are taught blindly to obey authority, will endeavour cunningly to elude it, is most natural and certain.”

Now let me take these thoughts and apply them to any person who has been oppressed, not just women. I do believe that free will is possibly the most valuable, dangerous and mysterious gift that God has given mankind and one of the sure signs of this is that we seem to be determined to strip it from our fellowman. Throughout history, people (and unfortunately the church has been a major abuser of this type of power) have sought to exercise power over other people, to control them, for this ability to make other people bend to our wishes is an intoxicating drug. All too often those with some semblance of authority use it as a weapon to subjugate others or as a device to satisfy their wants. This is not true authority. As my husband says, “Anyone who has to tell me I have to submit to him, does not have true authority.” And as Ms. Wollstonecraft so aptly points out, those whom circumstances has stripped of obvious power, often resort to manipulation and cunning to achieve their ends.

Let’s take this out of the realm of philosophy and get personal. There is a part of me that would love to be able to control people, because I believe I would only do good things with that power. That’s a lie, plain and simple. There are certain things that I think are important and right, and instead of presenting my ideas and values and letting them speak for themselves, I have (and I am not proud of the fact) resorted to other methods to convince people these things have merit. I have seen other well-intentioned people do this as well. We might put a spin on the words we use, slanting the facts so that our angle is seen in a more advantageous light; I can add a twist of emotion and heartfelt sincerity to soften people to my ideas; someone might throw in a little guilt trip because we know everyone feels they should do more; you can assault someone with such a barrage of words and facts and knowledge that they are overwhelmed; a person can get angry and unpleasant to be around, making acquiescence the more pleasant option; or I can resort to pointing out a weakness in someone’s character and endeavour to win the case by sheer underhanded meanness and degradation. We see all these manipulative behaviours in their rawest form in children when they are learning to exert their own wills, and it is not an attractive qualitiy. But as adults with a righteous cause, especially the cause of Christ, or helping the poor, or saving souls, the end is so vital that we sometimes wrongly suppose that it merits adding a little muscle to the message. Admit it, this basic human right to make your own choice just seems so ineffective in bringing people to the truth and encouraging good behaviour. What was God thinking when he dreamed that one up?

There are many flaws in that train of thought, but the main one is that I suppose I have discovered the ultimate truth and in some way, that gives me the right to force it on other people. Only Jesus carries the ultimate truth within him; I am simply stumbling along discovering shards of it scattered here and there in this broken world – and anytime I misplace my humility, the truth I do have a grasp on quickly slips from my fingers, because truth and love are inextricably intertwined, and if I infringe on someone’s dignity by attempting to usurp their God-given right to choose and exert pressure on them to do a certain thing because I believe I know what is best for them, I am in error. (Please note that I am talking as one adult to another and not about the care and protection of children.)

If God, in his infinite wisdom, allows people to make their own choices, be they good or bad, I cannot work against that. He is ever present, ever loving, always caring for us, offering wisdom and truth to those who ask for it, merciful yet just, but never a tyrant. That the most powerful being in the whole universe would restrain his authority in order to give us power over our own lives is indeed a great and unfathomable gift, but He refuses to overstep that boundary, and so should I. Blind obedience, as tempting as it may be to demand in order to effectively achieve a noble goal, has no lasting value. Even the creator of the universe does not stoop to such methodolgy.

I will openly speak about and live out those things I believe to be true and right, and I will be passionate about them, but I will not demand that you accept them, nor devalue you if you do not embrace them. The truth is not a sledgehammer, it is a sharp sword, and it does not need heavy-handed wielding to make it effective.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Tolerance

Is that word starting to irritate you just a tiny bit? The misplaced empowerment put on this word makes me cringe. This concept is being touted as the new “standard” that we are to work towards as responsible world citizens. Okay, I’ll play. Let’s try that word out in a few situations:

I will tolerate my children.
I desire to tolerate my husband.
Wouldn’t it be great if I could invite my closest friends over and we could tolerate each other.
I look forward to going to work on Monday and tolerating my colleagues.
All those poor people in Africa with AIDS, how I long to tolerate them.
I wish we could have a world leader who was a really strong tolerator.

Hmmm. It seems to lack a certain something, doesn’t it? I understand the concept of not standing in judgment of those who are different than I am, but “tolerance” is a very weak concept and a totally inadequate way of combating prejudice. Tolerance boils down to one thing: avoidance.

Have you ever observed tolerant parents or a tolerant elementary school teacher? The children are allowed to do whatever they want, but not one harsh word is spoken, not one judgment made on the appropriateness of the behaviour and nothing said about the ramifications of all this lack of self-control and discipline. I will readily admit that it is easier to avoid conflict than to tackle issues head on, but conflict is not the “bad boy” it has been made out to be.

You will agree with me that there is evil and that there is good in this world – many of our classic stories and movies revolve around the conflict between these two forces. Conflict is not a bad thing, in fact it is inevitable in this world, so let us stop pointing at conflict as being the source of the problem, and realize that it is the lack of generosity and love in our hearts that makes us the selfish, critical, small-minded bigots we adamantly insist we are not. Tolerance is a form of passivity and a lack of action that has never accomplished anything great in this world. In fact, it has only served to aid the corruption and decay of more than one civilisation.

There is a way to bring balance to this world and it is much more effective than tolerance, but it not an easy road. It requires humility, sacrifice, consistency, discipline, and just plain old hard work. It is called "unconditional love." This love does not ignore others or turn a blind eye – it walks right up to someone and wants to be their friend, no matter how different they are. This lover of all that is right does not stand by and sigh as multiple differing opinions are voiced, she stands up for the truth but refuses to add anything (her opinion or cultural bias) to it. The man who loves justice will not insist that governments and business leaders do something about these terrible social problems – he will go out at his own expense and begin to help people one at a time.

Tolerance is cheap – it costs you nothing, it requires nothing, and in that way, has become an easy, albeit ineffective, mantra to promote faux harmony.

If you want the real stuff…get off the sidelines and into the thick of things. The world needs those who would love other people more than they love their own comfortable lack of conflict.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Curses!!

Today I was reading in Genesis, from “The Message”, and it was like I saw something clearly for the first time. Those blasted curses that Adam and Eve brought on themselves by choosing independence instead of relying on God have been following mankind around for thousands of years and despite the life and death of Jesus which was supposedly a redemptive act to end all need for redemptive acts, we still seem to living under them to a large extent. What the heck for? What is redemption if it does not affect the basic consequences of the very act it is said to redeem?

The woman’s curses: Basically, two things were set in motion for her: 1. her relationship with men was changed and 2. she heaped increased pain on herself in childbirth.

It seems that the feminists are the ones who have actually picked up on the detrimental effects of this first curse and are trying to do something about it. The church, well, we have managed to look at our imperfect heritage and a few scriptures which seem to make it okay for men to lord it over women in almost every area, and I have never heard anyone admit that this treatment is actually a curse. In fact, this way of doing things has worked so well for so many years, at least for the guys in charge, that the church generlly takes a stance against feminists (whose views are not perfect on this issue, I will readily admit).

Women were cursed to become men-pleasers and unfortunately we as Christians have disguised this as a sickly sweet version of godly submission when it is not! I am not talking about a loving relationship in which people prefer one another, so don’t misunderstand me. Women have been put under a curse in which their authority and positions and identities and value are always connected to men, when in fact they are to receive their affirmation and worth directly from God. Dependence on men's decisions, how men treat me, how attractive they find me, how many I have conquered, is the worst inferiority complex you can imagine! Who in their right mind really thinks this is a healthy state of affairs?

Okay, let’s take a look at the guys for a minute. The curses were: 1. he would have to work really hard to make a living and 2. he would die.

I was raised in a community where the ability to work hard was positioned next to godliness. This improper elevation of the work ethic has crept into our belief system and substituted itself for faith and a relationship with God. Remember the scenario before all this fruit-eating happened? God gave Adam and Eve the earth to care for and develop and everyday the three of them walked together and hung out. There was no frenzied activity, no overtime, no bonuses for production goals exceeded. There was peace, there was rest, there was genuine enjoyment of the task because it was inseparably intertwined with fellowship with God. In stark contrast to this, we have become people who seek to instil this cursed work ethic because we believe that the results will be exponential - the more you work, the more you will get - but we forget that the curse does not promise anything but a basic existence in return for pain and heavy labour.

If a break in fellowship with God has caused all these nasty curses (and I have not even addressed the pain in childbirth and death issues), then the reversal of their effects is obvious - we must get back into communion with God. That was the whole purpose for Jesus coming and living and dying: to repair the breech between God and man. So why are we still living under the effects of the curse? I don’t know. I suppose we have become so accustomed to our slavery and cursed deformity that we now see certain aspects of it as normal and in that case we need a redemption of our minds as much as anything.

If you met me and my husband, it would appear that you were seeing a submissive woman and a hardworking guy, the perfect Christian couple. But I struggle with indecisiveness and a lack of confidence while my husband works long hours just to provide our basic needs. We are two people tangled in the web of this curse, but I have caught a glimpse of the truth today, and it is said that truth is the road to freedom. I will not stand still on this cursed path any longer. On y va!

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Are you at home?

A few weeks ago I was taking a train ride back to Stratford, Ontario where we used to live and as often happens when I travel, I found myself experiencing that strange jumbled sensation which simultaneously and randomly shifts my emotions from the sadness at leaving home to the joy of coming home to wondering exactly where home is to longing for familiar friends and places, yet knowing I will never find them exactly as I remembered them to excitement at the new adventures and relationships I have yet to discover. As I let the changing moods and scenery drift past me, I was reminded of one of my favourite playtime activities as a child: building a home. I spent hours drawing houses on paper and envisioning the 3-D model in my mind. Often I dragged all the kitchen chairs into my bedroom and constructed a maze of hallways and walls. The tall grass and trees along our driveway were the perfect raw materials for creating a primitive outdoor getaway with several small rooms and a grass bed. A simple wool blanket became a tent in my front yard where I could read a book or watch the clouds as the wind morphed them from one abstract masterpiece to another.

I suppose I have moved quite a bit for the average Canadian (13 homes, 2 school dorms, and one year on the road…thus far) and the practice of making a home out of whatever I find around me has been a perpetual mission in my life, but every so often, the whole thing just gets old and tired and I wish I would finally find a place I could plant my feet in and stay put. However, this restlessness is not mine to eradicate and if it were to disappear, I admit I would miss the hunger it creates. I have long since ceased trying to find my home in a “place”, but the constructing of the never-ending dream house still continues. It is smaller than ever because I have to transport it wherever I go, but in many ways it has become larger than I ever imagined: big enough to permanently house those dearest to me, roomy enough to welcome frequent visits from those I call my friends, and never too crowded to house the strangers and needy that come across my path.

What makes me feel at home? Anywhere I sense God is near and the love of a friend is present.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

initiating

I must admit, I am a better responder than an initiator, which sometimes makes it difficult for me to come up with something to write here without a question being asked or someone introducing a topic for discussion. I confess I have always found it a bit nerve-wracking to call someone up and ask them to do something, though I have learned to overcome that hesitation to a certain extent. I would much rather prefer to respond to an invitation, but I figure that a bunch of people sitting around waiting for invitations won’t get anything done, so I have learned to pick up the phone or type that email or walk up to someone, even though it is out of my comfort zone sometimes.

There are people that are very aggressive and ambitious in their personalities, that believe life is what you make of it, you are responsible to make things happen, you are in charge of your destiny, you’ve got to have a plan and carry it out or nothing will happen. I live with one of them! But I have also seen that all the planning and initiating and getting out there and doing the stuff can still result in nothing being accomplished.

A few weeks ago, some reconciliation happened that many of us have waited eight years to see. Numerous people tried to make it happen earlier. Effort and prayer and time and communication and meetings were spent trying to put it all together, but always with limited success and a sense of incompletion. We all knew this was of vital importance, but in the end, were impotent to see it fully realized. Then, through a series of unrelated events, all the people were in the right place at the right time and when the person in charge recognized this and seized the opportunity to address the issue again, the rest of us instantly responded. The results were explosive and extensive and I do believe, life changing because all of us were ready, willing, and able.

Looking back, I can see that there is no substitute for the timing and planning of God. I can have ambition, a drive and a passion for good things, a desire to see things accomplished, but these things can only take me so far. I see God as the ultimate initiator. He is the one who seeks us out, he is the one who offers the first invitation, who offers the opportunities for change. My part is not only to respond, but to be prepared, to be ready, to catch the vision, to jump right in there with both feet and pursue without hesitation what has been put in front of me. God initiates his love towards us, and in the same way, I must become an initiator of love to those around me. I cannot force anything to happen, and I cannot coerce someone to respond to any of my invitations and I certainly do not want to manipulate circumstances to my liking. I can, however, work on my reflexes, those first responses which reveal my deepest desires, and be prepared to fight for all those things I have dared to hope for and all those people I have come to love.


So, in case there are others of you out there who have a burning desire for something, and yet despite your best efforts, nothing has happened…don’t lose hope. Be prepared, be ready, be a person of integrity and truth and passion and risk and faithfulness, be willing, develop your skills, and keep asking God to provide the opportunity. If you trust him, he will not disappoint you.

Monday, May 30, 2005

What Makes A Good Friend?

This is something I have been thinking about lately as I realize one of the most important callings in my life is to be a friend. I have been in the habit of befriending those whom I am naturally attracted to and letting relationships ebb and flow as life takes me to different places and circumstances and changes swirl around me – never too sentimental about people as they come and go in my life. But in the past year or two I have been challenged to be more intentional about things that are important to me, and I realize that good friendships are made, not the result of a series of fortunate events. Growing and maintaining a friendship requires time, effort, generosity, vulnerability…but wait, I am getting ahead of myself. At a recent home group meeting, we put together a short list of what makes a good friend and I thought I would share the results with you. Here they are:

- Depth of honesty
- Unconditional love
- Faithfulness
- Good counsel
- Fun
- Enjoyable company
- Generous and sharing
- Believes in you
- Would lend you their jeans
- Present in your life on a consistent basis
- Shares your joy
- Has a similar outlook
- Respects your values, and you theirs
- Is real
- Listens
- You can be yourself around them
- Unguarded
- Friend of God
- Friend to the needy
- Dependable
- Someone who protects
- Someone who knows you
- Welcoming, open, accepting
- Sticks with you
- Always on your side
- Gives things up for you
- Defends you

We all love having good friends, but how good of a friend are we? True, selfless, friendship, like the kind David and Jonathan exemplified in the Bible, is very inconvenient (you can read about it in 1 Samuel beginning with chapter 18). Jonathan gave up his right to become king for the sake of his friend. Jonathan risked his life for the safety of his friend. Jonathan put the relationship with his family at risk for the sake of his friend. The words used to describe the bond between them sound strangely like marriage vows and have made more than a few people uncomfortable with their intimate nature. I believe that discomfort reveals a lot about how little we know about this quality of friendship.

I have often expressed a desire to be a friend of God but will readily admit that most of the time I am dumbfounded as to how to get there. Something I heard our friend Mike say when we were in New York really struck me. “If you know how to be a friend, you know how to stay connected to God, because that’s what it looks like: friendship.”

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The Things People Say

We just returned from 4 days in New York City, a sort of mini-vacation that was a gift from the folks in our church who were wise enough to know that a change of pace can do wonders for your soul. While we were there the news was filled with talk about a story put out by Newsweek that mentioned US troops flushing the Koran down the toilet as a tactic to get some prisoners to talk. The story incited some rioting in Afghanistan and 17 people ended up dead. The sad part is that the report turned out to be unsubstantiated and the incident most likely never happened. So who is to blame for the 17 deaths? Primarily the radicals who got violent and directly caused the rioting, but the reporters and publishers are not without blame. The thing that saddens me about today’s media is that while believing they have the freedom to inform and influence, they do not seem to want to take the responsibility for the weight their words carry. Someone’s right to know or tell all is supposedly more important than any effect that information might have.

I have had the misfortune of saying things to people in an unwise and untimely manner and having them tell me later that those words haunted them for years and years. Man, someone just tell me when I say something inappropriate so that I can apologize! Just this week I heard a young man talk about his parents fighting a lot when he was growing up, and one day, in frustration, his dad said to him, “Don’t ever let a woman control you!” Those words became a curse that, along with some other factors, drove him into a homosexual lifestyle that it took him 10 years to break free from.

I have trapped myself in many restrictive patterns by creating a prison with my words: I can’t swim. I don’t speak French. I don’t like living here. I am not interested in politics. I don’t drink or dance. I don’t have what it takes to do that. I don’t have the money. I am NOT like my sister. I don’t eat meat. I hate that song. Let me tell you about that one. Yes, every time I heard “My Heart Will Go On” from The Titanic, I used to say, “I hate that song.” Then I had to accompany some young performers at a festival who were singing that very song and I had the hardest time learning the piece, even though it is not a difficult one. After a day of frustrating rehearsal, I finally repented of my words and attitude towards it because that was keeping me from doing what I love to do: helping and supporting kids in the arts. And after that, I tried to be more careful about the things I said and the opinions I developed and expressed regarding the people and situations and music and movies and all manner of things I encountered on a day to day basis. On the other side of the coin, I have been accused of not having an opinion or not expressing it, and perhaps I am a bit too cautious in this regard, but I daresay it is a healthy caution most of the time. Words can change things, and I want to handle them responsibly.

I have heard many people say they hate George Bush. I flinch every time I hear that. Not only is it totally averse to the character of Jesus (love your enemies, remember?), but I do believe hatred clouds people’s ability to see clearly in that specific area.

On a positive note, I have told people some very simple things (“be good,” or “you will do well”) that have become their motto and given them the confidence to complete a difficult task. I still remember the words my father spoke to me as a gangly, awkward teenager struggling through puberty (“You are becoming a beautiful woman”). Those words had much to do in building the healthy self-image I carry with me today. I have made it a point to avoid using words like “stupid,” “idiot,” “moron,” “ugly” or any other terms that will hack at someone’s self-worth. Causing someone to feel inadequate is never funny. Truth can be painful, but it is never mean.


Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, God.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Something people don't like to talk about:

I have recurring dreams about being naked. Many times I am in public, often I am trying to take a shower and people are watching or won't give me any privacy, and though the dream might begin with my feeling confident and secure, it usually ends with shame and frustration getting the better part of me. Now, if you are a professional psychoanalyst, I am sure you have a ready diagnosis, but let me offer a few observations of my own.

Despite being a somewhat shy person, I have little trouble revealing some very private things when I think there is a point to be made. I have shared these dreams with people on several occasions, and there are always two reactions.

1. People listen politely and then pretend they never heard it. And if I bring it up again, they either change the topic or leave the conversation. There are some things people are just not comfortable talking about.


2. A few people respond by taking me aside (for some reason it has always been men) and wanting to speak to me about their own disturbing dreams regarding sexual matters. Ugh! My dreaming about nakedness seems to make them think I am qualified to hear all about their deviant desires. I kindly but firmly direct them to a male counselor as quickly as possible.

Avoidance or perversion can't be the only two responses! So what's the big deal about nakedness? Mankind is naturally naked. We were created naked, in fact, this was our perfect state! Covering the body only became necessary after sin and guilt and shame entered the equation. Isn't it strange that we have managed to turn this 'cloak of shame' into not only a huge industry, but an art form of sorts, a status indicator, and a national obsession? So what was the original intent of clothing? Plain and simple, it was a symbol of our need to have our sinfulness covered in the presence of a holy God. The first people tried to make due with a few leaves, but God replaced their inadequate covering with something more appropriate: animal skins. Blood had to be shed to cover the effects of sin. I am not going to get into the ethics of leather and natural versus man-made fabrics. Suffice it to say that we have come a long way since those first hairy tunics. Much of today's fashion exhibits a sort of dichotomy in that it covers to some extent while at the same time tries to reveal. Unfortunately, nakedness has come to be equated with sexuality and I believe that is just so far from the truth.

Because of our seedy history, the naked body has lost its innocence, that is true, but there is still something about the human form that is inherently beautiful. Some artists have found a way to see and represent that without perversion, but it is admittedly a most difficult thing to portray with purity, especially in adults. In babies or children, we acknowledge it much more readily. Most of us Christians, though proclaiming to be redeemed from sin, still live with the effects of it every day, and quite comfortably. We have grown accustomed to the trappings associated with our downfall. We actually enjoy acquiring and wearing clothes. Many people derive their living from the field of medicine and pharmaceuticals and count on sickness being around for a long time in order to feed their families. The justice system does not stamp out crime, but merely attempts to manage it in such a way that society can continue to function.

So are we to accept the effects of sin or chafe against them as if they were bondage? I think for the most part, we have simply grown tired of the effort required to truly believe and live in redemption. It is much easier to embrace things as they are and really, they aren't all that bad, right? That's the first lie.

So what do my naked dreams mean? I believe they are a cry for innocence, a desire to be known as the person God created, to be free from shame and the man-made coverings that promise to make me more attractive to my fellow sinners, and to be able to confess and come clean with dignity and confidence that righteousness is really possible.

I don't think the world is ready for Christians everywhere to strip off their clothes (we are certainly not purehearted enough to handle it!) and I am not advocating joining the nearest nudist colony, but I think it is time to stop running and hiding like Adam and Eve did.

Monday, May 02, 2005

What a Girl Wants...

  • to be known for who I am
  • to laugh without hesitancy and cry without shame
  • to love without selfishness
  • to embrace pleasure and suffering with equal courage
  • to know someone very different than I am and not feel the need to compare or judge
  • to be needed by someone and know I make a difference in their lives
  • to be truthful and confident
  • to be loved even when I am unlovely
  • to give good gifts of lasting value
  • to be with people and not afraid of rejection
  • to be alone and not lonely
  • to be special and know it
  • to explore and be explored
  • to be held close

Saturday, April 23, 2005

be@peace

I have been reading through the Amplified Bible as my current translation of choice and yesterday I came across a particular phrase that struck me hard enough to leave a mark.

“…may there be peace – every kind of peace (blessing), especially peace with God, and freedom from fears, agitating passions and moral conflicts.” I Peter 5:14 amplified

Argh. These are the exact three areas which I find myself struggling with over and over again, and I need to remind myself that wrestling with these things is not merely a tiring, futile ordeal, but it is indeed meant to develop strength and skill and maturity in my spirit.

Freedom from fears: Yeah, I admit to a life-long struggle with fear. I am afraid of the dark, death, demons, people not liking me when they get to know me, hurting someone, never amounting to anything special, getting old and useless, trying really hard and failing, snakes, deep water, losing people I love, being ignored, making a wrong decision that messes things up real bad, not making any decisions because they might be wrong ones that mess things up real bad, being misunderstood, being alone, being with people, being responsible for someone, being crippled or maimed, not being loved, not loving enough, drowning, being poor, never changing anything. As I have let God come close and hang around my heart, these fears have loosened their grip a great deal, but they still like to hang around outside my door. Love, come and swallow these fears. Peace, keep them away.

Freedom from agitating passions: Man! This one is so annoying. I love passion, I love emotion, I love appetites and hungers and longings and dreams and visions and desires, but these craving creatures can bolt and get away from me if I don’t train them and remind them that I am the one holding the leash. Purity, self-control, patience, selflessness, humility, contentment, generosity. Let these rule my desires.

Freedom from moral conflicts: I had a dream this morning about walking on a tall, shaky scaffolding. At first I clutched tightly to the side rail and rigidly wrapped my arms around it, feeling very safe, but being jolted and tossed by every movement of the structure and unable to progress very far at all. Then I had the outrageous thought that perhaps I should let go of the railing and use the stability of my own two feet to keep me upright. I thrust myself into the middle of the platform, away from the heaving rail, and spread my feet apart. The floor beneath me swayed and bucked, but as I let my knees absorb the motion and my arms balance my weight shifts, I found myself able to move quickly across the surface with a sense of solidity that surprised me.

I have been clinging to the rail of methodology and legalism (with a bit of superstition and fatalism thrown in just to make it interesting) for much of my life. This has kept me feeling relatively safe, but tied to one spot, and the ride can be pretty bumpy at times because it is just so inflexible. At some point, I have to let go of the support structure and step out on my own two feet. What do I base my faith on? What do I really believe is true? How do I know something is true? What are the things that are unchangeable in my life and what things are flexible? Whom do I trust? What is the foundation I base all other things on? How do I know something is right or wrong? These questions can cause a lot of internal conflict, believe me, but they are worth asking. Being safe is not the ultimate goal. I want to walk forward having my feet firmly planted on love and truth, and both of these qualities, while being absolute, are extremely difficult to grasp because of their living, breathing, growing, larger-than-life, yet intimately personal natures. There will always be moral dilemmas and conflicts thrown across my path and I want the internal courage and wisdom to know how to respond with clarity, integrity, and joy. There are no rules I can follow to get that right. I just have to learn it by watching the Master and doing what he does.

May there be peace (and all that it entails) in your life today.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Anyone can be RICH!

Really, it’s true. Being rich “implies having more than enough to satisfy normal needs or desires” (thank you, Webster). Well, I guess my first question is why anyone wants more than enough? Doesn’t enough imply that you have…well…enough? (Enough can be defined as “to a degree or quantity that satisfies” - Mr. Webster again.) But at this point we enter some fuzzy waters (hope you don’t mind the mixed metaphor). How does one measure satisfaction? While one person might think that owning a bicycle is enough, someone else might believe that a car and a truck and a motorcycle are absolutely necessary for their lives. Some are satisfied with a bowl of cereal for a meal, others insist on a full four courses. I cannot tell you what enough is, that is something you must work out in your own life, but I know there is something inside of mankind that is constantly craving satisfaction, and very few people experience it for extended periods of time. Hunger is a good thing, but not if it is a state of being. Everyone needs points of satiation and contentment – I believe it is one of the greatest gifts we have: to be able to desire and to feel fulfillment over and over again.

So what does this have to do with being rich? Well, come with me and think outside of the realm of goods, property, or money for just a moment. If you could have an abundance of something, anything, what would you choose? Contrary to popular belief, my first impulse was not cats! Nor was it watermelon! Here are some of the things I have asked God for richness in: I want loads of love in my life, acres of truth, miles of peace, truckloads of friends, piles and piles of sunset-like beauty and awe, unlimited laughter, large boxes of surprises, wisdom as far as the eye can see, mercy that doesn’t run out EVER, a deep well of forgiveness, a long road of adventures, a great big extra helping of gratefulness, a silo of healing, a big fat bouncing passionate spirit, a mountain of faith, and you can super-size me on the creativity.

I grew up on a farm and one spring my mother set aside several rows in her large garden and told me I could plant whatever I wanted and the harvest was mine to do with as I pleased. I lost no time in choosing my favourites: I planted pumpkins for pumpkin pie, corn because I loved fresh corn on the cob, a few carrots and kohlrabi and peas for nibbling on right out of the garden, and of course, a large patch of watermelons. After all the seeds were in the ground and I knew I had more than enough to satisfy my appetite and share with my family, I was dismayed to find that I still had an entire row left to sow. I couldn’t just leave it empty, so I picked out a packet of one of my favourite flowers and pressed the seeds into the furrow. I don’t remember much about how well my vegetables did that year but I will never forget (nor will my mother) that startling tall row of bright red poppies that set the entire field aflame with colour for most of the summer and was visible to all who drove past our farm.

Anyone can be rich. Start with a seed. Plant a lot of it. Watch it grow. Share.