Friday, November 30, 2007

end of november thoughts

Okay, I admit it, I am not sure whether I like Christmas or not. I like the Christ child and I have been to mass and found it quite meaningful, but there is so much more that has become attached to this celebration. The original Christ-mass has become a whirlwind of parties and consumerism and eating and a season of a thousand things to do and expectations to buy gifts and send cards and bake cookies and decorate your house and wear red sparkly things and be incredibly excited and happy in the middle of it all.

Every November I think...I will just give some money to poor people in Africa that need a goat or a chicken more than any of us need another electronic gadget or DVD and explain to my family that's the way it is this year. If I never sent out a Christmas card, would anyone cry over the lack? If I neglected to make a big feast or did not bake the famous sugar cookies, would any one's health suffer? If I never attended a single Christmas concert or party, would that be so bad?

Now before you start to search for a therapist that I can go see, let me assure you that most of the presents are already sitting in my office, waiting to be wrapped, and the Christmas cards are ready to be signed and mailed. I don't actually begrudge the activities, I realise, for I enjoy being generous and creative with my resources. I do, however, dislike the stress, the expectations, the deadlines, everything having to happen within a few select days, and most of all, the increased busyness at a time when contemplation would be more appropriate.

The good thing about this is that I do re-evaluate my attitudes and motives behind my Christmas activities every year. If expectations or tradition ever replace or overrule true compassion and generosity and caring in what I do, I will stop. It is not worth it. I would rather disappoint a few people than become a person driven by ungodly, impure, mixed motives.

The birth of a baby in a dirty barn at an inconvenient place and time disappointed many who were looking for something a little more sparkly and exciting and grand. A genuine king, no matter how unimpressive, is still the real thing. Don't settle for anything less than the real thing this December 25.

This is a picture I took while hanging out with the Hamms around the wood stove drinking apple cider, telling funny stories, and thinking deep thoughts in December 2006.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

story


Last night we were invited to see a play, The Syringa Tree, with friends of ours. It is a story told through the eyes of a young girl growing up in South Africa during apartheid and filled with moments of joy and laughter, pain and bewilderment, love and loss. Our friends, who originate from South Africa, wondered how accessible we found the play because it was filled with references to that country and and a culture and time that they knew we could not identify with. We reassured them that the profound story and powerful performance were quite accessible to a wider audience.
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I read the playwright's notes (she was born and raised near Johannesburg, SA) in the playbill this morning over breakfast. "Thirty years later, in a class taught by my director, Larry Moss, I unsuspectingly did as he asked when he said 'Turn to the person next to you and tell them a story.' Without warning, the image of an attack on my grandparents' farm, Clova, came roaring into my mind. I had not thought about it for decades. We never discussed it. Clova was lost to us and I was never taken back to what had been the simple but idyllic place of my childhood holidays. I quickly tried to think of something else to tell, when Larry said to the class, 'Don't censor whatever it is that came into your minds . Tell that story. It will choose you.' I tried to make sense of the murky images, and began to mouth the words. The second part of the exercise was to stage the story we had just told. I think I was the first trembling person to bring the work back, and I stood there as though I had an earthquake in my body. I felt terribly vulnerable dealing with my own life." from the playwright's notes by Pamela Gien.
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We all have a story to tell. Many of us don't want to talk about it. It understandably makes us feel vulnerable and afraid. But our story is unique. Our voice is distinct. And that is why it must be told. It is made to be heard. Don't worry that people will not understand. The human story is universal - everyone understands weakness and struggle in the midst of drama and delight. The details are different for everyone, but the point is the same: how can I make the most out of this life and this world? I often say that my bond with humankind is much stronger than any differences between us.
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That is why I am here writing these words. My story is important in some way and though I may not know exactly what it all means or what impact it may have, I will be vulnerable and
stand there in the earthquake and tell it.
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This is a picture from South Africa when I visited in 2006.

Monday, November 26, 2007

the furniture in my head

Do you ever feel like things are unclear? You try to think things through and make good decisions, but there are too many variables, or the resources do not match the needs, or the timing seems wrong or for some reason, you just have no clue what to do next or even worse, no idea what's happening right now! You ask questions, you pray, you research, you get advice from others, you even explore a few avenues but nothing has a "rightness" about it. So you sit there, stuck, in a holding pattern, waiting for the fog to clear, and until it does, hoping that a foghorn sounds or a lighthouse pierces the mist to give you some bearings or at least prevent you from doing something stupid.

My world has been quite fuzzy in the past few years, but beginning a few weeks ago, things have been getting clearer and clearer. I have to attribute it to 3 things:
1. being able to recognise that my perspective is skewed and not in line with truth and determining to do something about it;
2. asking people to pray for me and I don't mean just the one-minute prayer for God to bless me, but profound, sometimes lengthy, and even intrusive petitioning and repentance that touches the deepest parts of my soul, which is where the uncertainty and confusion lie;
3. surrendering all those patterns of behaviour and thought and coping that I believed were serving me well in varying degrees, but had become comfortable and to be honest, defense mechanisms of sorts.

These patterns of skewed thinking that we let ourselves fall into are like having the couch smack in the middle of the hallway because that's were you plunked it down when you got it. You just get used to walking around it every day and pretty soon, you believe this roundabout and convoluted way of functioning is normal and perfectly acceptable. Until an interior designer comes in and exclaims at the disorder and chaos of it all. Really? I thought we were coping pretty well! And then you have a decision to make. Either you shrug off the comments of the designer as interesting but not all that urgent or relevant, or you raise your hands in surrender and let him at your furniture. Pick the latter, trust me. As he starts to push and pull and rearrange, you might find your hands grasping some favourite chair because you like it just there, but the best thing you can do is pry your fingers off, one by one if you have to, and just stand back.

I am amazed at the clarity that comes with letting God reorganise my thoughts and way of thinking. Decisions, which have been a bit of a challenge for much of my life, have never been this quick or easy. I can be in a conversation and know exactly what advice or comment or question to insert to point things in the right direction. To a great extent, I have stopped second guessing myself (which certainly wastes a lot of time) and can pursue a course of action, readjusting as necessary as I go. Don't get me wrong, there is still much in my life that challenges me, especially some big changes that I know need to happen and will require some major hand-raising (as opposed to grabbing onto the old way of doing things - it worked in the past, didn't it?...never a good reason) as the couches and tables fly past me and the demolishing hammer comes at some walls.

Yes, I am still working at unclenching the last fingers from my expectations of how things should work out, taking my hands off the specific ways I prefer to see things done, and dropping that never ending list of all the ways I want God to make my life good and acceptable to me. These are all petty things, believe me, and not worth strapping yourself to. Instead, attach yourself to the creator and designer and let the house function as it was meant to and come alive!

This is our living room on moving day, just over 2 years ago.

Friday, November 23, 2007

excluding


I spent the morning at the garage getting some stuff done on my car and had the opportunity to finish the book, Sex God, by Rob Bell. Some really good stuff in there. One of the things he talks about is the power of exclusivity. He points out that the language of much of the Bible when it speaks of someone's relationship with God is the language of marriage. The ten commandments are set up as a marriage agreement, outlining what is expected from the participants to make the union last and be all it should be. Is it any surprise then that the first item is one that precludes taking other lovers or objects of affection? There is a power of exclusivity that I think we miss out on all too often because it is popular to be inclusive and tolerant. Through the media, we get the message that it is normal and healthy to pursue many relationships and to tell intimate details to friends and strangers alike. Reality TV lets us see more than we should about people's lives. The 100% giving of yourself to some special one, of sharing things that no one else sees or knows, is a rare thing these days.

I tend to be an exclusive person more than an inclusive one, and I have often seen that as a fault. But today I realised that it is in fact a longing to be wholehearted, to give myself totally to one, to have my friendships be meaningful and lasting, and to develop things that are deep and faithful and strong. The things in my life are precious due in part to the fact that I do not give them away to everyone. I am not referring to the healthy practise of living a transparent life before others, for we should all be honest and open about our journey, but let some things be sacred, intimate, and special. Let there be a language, an exchange, between lovers, between you and your God, that no one else hears or sees.

This is a snowy tree in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

question mark

The state of things this morning was quite different from the state of things last night. Last night it was cool and misty, typical fall weather. When I looked out the window this morning at 8 am there was snow on the ground and it was still coming down. I had an appointment downtown (across a bridge onto the island of Montreal and then another 30 minutes away with no traffic) and wondered if the weather would make me late. I hate being late, especially when other people are counting on me.
Fifteen minutes into my trip I was sitting in slow-moving traffic, and I began to whine, "I'm not even on the island yet and I'm already stuck in traffic!" I hate whining, almost as much as I hate being late, so I am not quite sure why I insist on indulging in both of these practises occasionally, but I do. Nevertheless, this morning I smartened up pretty quickly and chose to pray instead and trust God with the timing. The snow cleared up as soon as I hit the city and I arrived in good time -there was no need to panic.
I used to frequently ask (almost demand, really) that God change my circumstances, or remove obstacles, or give me something better, or just CHANGE something! And if it did not happen immediately, I was deflated and defeated and somewhat faithless. I put altogether too much hope in something happening exactly the way I envisioned it. It really never worked all that well for me, to be honest. I have changed how I talk to God. One of the questions I now ask God when I feel some worry or panic or fear arising in me is, "Do I need to worry about this?" I have never heard a YES in response. Sometimes it is just a matter of asking the right question.
This is a chair on my deck this afternoon.

Monday, November 19, 2007

rising

I was away this past weekend at a leadership retreat for our church. We rented a chalet on the top of a mountain (a big hill, really) and waited on God, cooked and ate food together, waited on God, enjoyed each others' company and waited on God. On the surface, it seemed like a pretty low-key event, but the change in us when we got back to the Sunday night meeting was dynamic. It was like we had all just grown ten feet taller and were so much more focused and had so much more love and grace and direction and encouragement to give.

On Sunday morning, the last day of the retreat, I awoke at 6 am which is really unusual for me as I am a late night person, but there was a reason for it. On Saturday night we deduced that the sun came up over the lake the chalet was facing (we had all lost our sense of direction driving up the twisting mountain roads) and I thought, wow, the sunrise must be cool to see, so I asked God to wake me up if there was a good sunrise to be seen. And he did. I pulled a jacket over my pajamas and stood at the window for just over an hour (creeping out on the balcony occasionally to snap some pictures) and the sun seemed to take forever to come up from behind the distant hills. Since there were no clouds, just a few wisps of smoke from some nearby cabins and a bit of mist hovering near the ground, the sky wasn't all that showy. But when the sun finally came over the grey mountains, it's brilliance was magnificent in contrast to the stark hills and bare sky. It was so bright I could hardly stand to look at it and my camera freaked out with all the light. And to think that it does that every day and I rarely take notice of it.

The power of God is not always a showy thing. Yes, I love the times when I experience the outright visible extravagance of God or when I can physically see something change or can tangibly feel his presence, but many times God is not outwardly showy. He often works beneath the surface, he usually does not announce his masterful work or radical generosity or mind-blowing wisdom or call all that much attention to himself. He waits for people to look for him, to come close to him, to wait on him, to desire him, to ask him, to give themselves into his hands. And then he responds. Usually not in huge demonstrations of power that would amaze us and scare us and get us all hyped up about the magical mystical realm, but in ways that are mysterious and all the more beautiful because he has hidden these things from those who do not value them enough to pursue them. He is very wise that way, and if you just look beneath the surface, you will see the incredible workings of a God who is so full of love for you that has spent every moment of your life (and even before that) acting on your behalf, setting up opportunities and wondrous surprises to mature you into your best self, communicating to you in every spiritual and sensory way possible, and not letting you out of his sight or mind for a moment.

This is the sun rising over Lac Macdonald near Harrington, Quebec.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

creating for a living

Today I did it. I finally delved into the murky world where art and money meet. You see, I have been producing various thoughtful writings, photos, scripts, fiction, music and other creative works all my life and seldom seen anything but the smallest amount of remuneration for any of it. And I have not expected any, to be truthful, and that is part of the problem. I have recently discovered that I do not believe that my creative voice has much value and therefore has little or no earning potential. So the very thing I love doing, that oozes out of me on a regular basis, that I have spent years honing and developing skills in, that I have devoted so much of my time and my resources to...for some inexplicable reason, I expect nothing back from it. Until now, that is. I have had an epiphany, a revelation, a download of truth, a light turned on. Here it is: my voice and my way of seeing this world is important and needs to be heard. I also have some pretty well-developed skills that people appreciate. Over the past few weeks I have finally been able to hear and accept the comments given to me for years that I should consider publishing or selling my work.

I thought about this long and hard. I do not care for most marketing tactics nor the practice of holding art ransom (you can only read or see what you pay for). I DO BELIEVE in continuing to be generous with my creativity but now, also giving people a chance to respond and be generous in kind if they appreciate what I do or just plain "like" me.

What has changed? You will notice a "Make a Donation" button just underneath my profile. If you enjoy reading my blog and admire the occasional photo and feel the urge to do more than make a nice comment, go ahead and click on it. There is no pressure to do so and you are welcome to come here and lollygag without guilt even if you never comment or contribute. On the other hand, you are equally welcome to visit often and click often (smiley face).

Some of my photos are now available for sale in the form of cards on a wonderful website called RedBubble (see the link at the side). You might want to boo around on the site and see some of the other incredible artwork posted there.

What has not changed? I still stay up too late writing these things. I still believe I can do better, so I keep editing and snapping the shutter and thinking about life and observing and learning. I still love the creative process even though it is a lonely occupation sometimes. I still want to be able to buy Dean that villa in the Cayman Islands because he works too hard and needs a long vacation. I still think that popcorn is indeed a proper meal and yes, Jesus loves me.

This is a fall day in the bush beside my house.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

which way?



Last night I saw the movie, "Gone Baby Gone." By myself. It is not a movie you just go see and forget; you want to talk about it, so I called a friend who had already seen the movie and we did just that. It provoked a good discussion about what one would do when faced with a moral dilemma. I maintained that you cannot wait until you are put into a situation to know what you would do - this is very passive and leaves you ill-prepared to make decisions that could affect people's lives.

It is our responsibility to develop a consistent moral compass so that we have some concept of what we would do when faced with a dilemma, otherwise we are really putting ourselves at the mercy of whatever emotional state we are in: whether that is anger or fear or adrenaline or just the first thing that comes to mind because it seems like a good idea at the time.

None of these are good reasons to base ones actions on, in my opinion, though I must admit I have reacted from all of them at one point or another. I have been frozen by fear, I have let the excitement of a moment blur the repercussions later on, I have let my anger harm another. But I am learning. Let my actions and reactions instead be based in love, justice, mercy, and hope. Yes, hope is very necessary for without it we never allow people the ability to change or learn from their mistakes. And I need that as much as anyone else.

This was taken in Manitoba on Christmas day several years ago.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

the mouse


I have a mouse in my house. I don't know how he got inside as we live in a fairly new and relatively air-tight dwelling, but he is there. A friend who was over this weekend saw him scampering behind the stove while I was out on an errand. He bravely poked his head out again when I came home and I promptly grabbed the cats and instructed them to do their job. They chased him all over the kitchen and living room, and Tea laid a little siege when the mouse camped inside the tv cabinet, but all too soon the felines lost interest in the new toy that hid in spaces they could not reach. They soon retired to sleep and snore on the bed for the remainder of the night. A rather sad impersonation of cats, I must say.

This morning Tea was meowing for food for her fat belly and I thought perhaps I should refrain from feeding her so that she would be a little more interested in capturing the mouse, but I wasn't sure she would understand my strategy (much less embrace it), so I just tossed some food in her dish and went back to bed as it was still dark and way too early to get up. There is something very wrong with this picture - it is against nature.

There is a mouse in my heart. It is a timid and fearful creature who likes to hide and lead a merry chase on occasion. There is a roaring lion in my heart as well. Alas, she has become accustomed to being fed and living a comfortable life with little effort required on her part. She has become tame and slow and has little appetite for the hunt. She sees hunger as something to be avoided instead of relishing the quickening of all her senses and instincts in response to the desire and longing to capture something with her own energy and effort, to grasp it with her own claws and ingest something of substance.

I look at my life and my church and my culture and see too many mice running around unchallenged and too many fat cats sitting in comfy chairs. Where is the hunger? Where is the desire to eradicate all those pesky and illusive fears? Where is the drive to hunt down those things that are vital to life and growth? Why do we choose comfort over the chase? Awaken the lion in my heart, oh God!

This is Jazz striking a pose on the bedroom threshold.

NOTE: The mouse was caught in a live trap late Sunday night and released into the woods.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

the power of one

Do you have recurring numbers appear in your life? I do. The number one appears many times during my day. I usually happen to look at the digital clock when it reads 11:11 or 1:11 (yep, I stay up that late and no, I am not a clock-watcher by any means). People tell me I am good one-on-one. I have clothes that are size one. I am not very good at multi-tasking - I like to do one thing at a time. I have one husband (okay, that's hardly extraordinary, I admit). Several times a week I spend wondering what all these one's mean. Yesterday was another one of those times.

We just had someone move out of our house after a few months' stay and it is amazing how much one person's presence changes the dynamic in a household. And how one person's absence can affect you in a profound way. Yesterday I had a friend call me for directions and after I told her how to get there in a few easy steps, she told me that I have a gift for making things simple and it eases people's stress and makes them feel less overwhelmed. That one sentence deeply affected me. It made me see the value of how my mind works, and acknowledging my value is something I am being challenged on right now.

I often find myself saying or singing, "Jesus is the one," and I inserted that phrase on my facebook profile where you are asked to fill in your religious views. The power of one man and one life have never been more perfectly illustated than in the life of Jesus. There is only one true God. One cannot serve two masters (so that would make it only ONE master can be served at a time).

The fact that I am so deeply moved and affected by one person, one moment in time, one phrase, one touch, or one glance at the sky means that I must also see the value of the "one's" that I deposit in this world and in the lives of those around me. I write a weekly email for our church and in addition to the usual announcements, I try to be a little more thoughtful and include a few quotes and perhaps something personal that I am learning or experiencing. It is just one email once a week, but this week several people responded to say what I had written spoke to their situation very directly. Just one small email written by one person sitting alone by their computer wondering if all this pondering and writing is really a worthwhile use of my time - the power of one.

Another side to the "one-ness" is the power of unity: when two or more come together and become one in purpose or heart or mind or body (I am talking marriage here). One is sometimes made out to be a very small number, as in "I only have one friend, or one dollar, or one pair of shoes." One is not small. One matters. One often means you have selected only the best. One means you are not wasteful. One means you are not lacking - it is more than zero.

Be one. Have one. Take one. Give one. Join with one. Enjoy one.

This is one deer out of many at the Ecomuseum.

Monday, November 05, 2007

fall back (trying not to)


Spring ahead, fall back (the nifty phrase used to remember what to do during daylight saving time.) It is just past 5 pm and already dark dark dark! That's what messing with the time zone does (thank you, daylight saving time inventor Benjamin Franklin). Although popular in North America and Europe, most of the world does not adhere to this ritual. Interesting.


Phew! I helped someone move this weekend and though very exhilarating, it was exhausting as well. Change always requires a good amount of energy (unlike stasis which requires very little) and sometimes we are tempted to forgo the evolution of our lives just for a moment in order to rest for a bit, let things go by for a bit. Whenever I feel that sort of passivity creeping into my soul, I know it is a dangerous thing. Comfort cannot be my motivation - EVER! Rest is a good and godly thing, but it comes from trusting God in all circumstances instead of relying on my own efforts, not from saying 'no' to forward motion. Here are a few things related to 'change' that I came across today:

1. sta·sis (stss, stss)
n. pl. sta·ses (stsz, stsz)
Stoppage of the normal flow of a body substance, as of blood through an artery or of intestinal contents through the bowels. [You see, stopping the normal flow of things is hindering life a.k.a death!]


2. from an article by Rick Joyner: As a general principle, the easier something is to attain, or the quicker, the more insignificant it is. If we really want a significant ministry, it will not likely happen fast or easily. That's why we are told to emulate those who through faith and patience inherited the promises. The more significant the ministry, the more faith and patience it will likely take to attain it. It is for this reason that most people, even very gifted people, usually live lives of frustration and regret because they only wanted to do the fun part, often considering themselves above the hard work required to actually bear fruit. These are the ones who may shine brightly for a moment, but then quickly flame out like a meteorite. They simply do not have the substance, the depth of character, knowledge, wisdom, and devotion to work hard to keep the fire burning for long.


3. from Rob Bell's book, Sex God: God's intent in creating these people [Adam and Eve] was for them to continue the work of creating the world, moving it away from chaos and wild and waste and formlessness toward order and harmony and good. As human beings, we take part through our actions in the ongoing creation of the world. The question is, What kind of world are we going to make? What kind of world will our energies create? We will take it somewhere. The question is, Where?


This is a January night sky taken while standing on the ice of Baie Vaudreuil early early this year.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

keep it real, baby



I love taking pictures, but it is a rather limited medium. The most sophisticated camera lens falls far short of the human eye. Sometimes when I am out with my camera and I know that it cannot really capture what is in front of me, I just set the apparatus aside and take a picture with my eyes. Aaahhhhh!

The other thing about photos is that you can only capture one portion of time. You miss the before and after, the context, the journey, the story. Life was never meant to be static; all creation is made to change and grow and mature and multiply and morph. If a photo is blurry (which usually denotes the subject was moving or I was breathing - silly me), this is deemed a bad picture. How odd that movement is seen as the cause of a spoiled image. MOVEMENT IS A SIGN OF LIFE! Sometimes I catch myself trying to take the perfect picture, especially with people involved, setting everything up just right, adjusting my vantage point, removing unsightly objects, and then freezing it all (myself included) to capture that perfect image. It is not perfect - it is just static.

Throughout the years, there are a few unwritten rules that I have developed:

1. Take pictures of things as they are - do not move or tidy or arrange (unless it is a set-up shot like the one where I clumped all my tomatoes together).

2. Do not hamper movement unnecessarily, adjust your settings or wait. Yes, waiting is a big one.


3. Change your perspective often to see things better: lie on the ground, look down, look up, come closer, back away, try every angle. Everything is interesting from some angle.

4. Don't imagine the shot you want and then try to make it happen. Embrace the beauty in what is already in front of you.

5. Watch for the unexpected moments. The ones during set-up and when nothing appears to be happening and after you think the moment is gone. The unexpected moments are some of my favourites.

6. Just shoot. Don't be afraid to push the button, anywhere, anytime, especially if you have a digital camera. Don't even look at the display, just point it somewhere interesting and shoot. 100% of the time you don't press the button you won't get a great shot (paraphrased from Wayne Gretzky).

This shot of the bike in Saint John was taken while crouching down to see under a railing; the snarling animal (river otter, I think) with the blurry mouth was captured during feeding time at the Ecomuseum.