Thursday, February 28, 2008

FOR or OF

I watched part of a video of John Wimber last night and he said that at one point he realised he was working for God instead of doing the work of God. Those two little words started ruminating in my inner being while I was driving downtown: "for" and "of."

FOR is when you thrust part of who you are towards someone, hoping for a response or a change or an interaction or at the very least some acknowledgement. FOR is an attempt to connect, wanting to set things in motion, to make things better for yourself and others.

OF is different because it stems from an identity, the essence of someone or something, and the very nature of the person's character makes the action or word an extension of the being - effortless, natural, pure, and part of the whole. The action cannot be separated from the essence; if one IS love then one will naturally love. The action does not change depending on the response. The action happens because it is the very nature of their character.

I can make a meal FOR someone, offer kind words FOR encouragement, study hard FOR a good mark, work long hours FOR my boss, live FOR God, pray FOR God to intervene, give generously FOR a good cause, or offer my time FOR serving the poor.

Or I can eat OF Christ (remember the last supper), embrace the encouragement OF God to his children, learn OF God and his ways, do the work OF God, let the life OF Jesus live in me, agree with the plans and purposes OF God, trust and act knowing that the resources OF God are always enough, and see the needy through the eyes OF Jesus.

The first (FOR) is my attempt at living a good life, pleasing a God whom I cannot quite touch, moving in my own effort toward those things that I have identified as good and noble, and if I am honest, the results are always slightly disappointing to me at the end of the day, for no one ever responds with as much vigour as I would like them to in response to my efforts. Things that begin with me pretty much end with me as well.

The second (OF) places me in an entirely different position. I am in Christ, I am part of his body. I am family and the family traits just pop out even when I don't think about them. The effort comes not in setting things into motion, but in staying close, in listening, in embracing everything He is, and in not wandering away or shutting myself off from this divine and mysterious umbilical lifeline that has no beginning and no end.

We are children OF God.

This is the ever restful beach of Cayo Santa Maria.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

catamarans and other things

We arrived home from Cuba at 2 am Tuesday morning. After unpacking and picking up all my messages and emails and reminding the cats they did not own the house, I finally fell asleep after 4 am. The alarm went off at 8:30 the next day and I was amazed I made it through a French class and some office work and a movie without nodding off. Now that I have explained my blog silence and elicited your pity for my sleep deprivation, here are some random thoughts from my time away.
1. Catamaran rides are more fun on a really windy day. Though I loved the calm days for floating in the ocean, everything being calm all the time makes you sleepy and lethargic. Wind and waves get you somewhere. Some turbulence is good and necessary and don't freak out if you get soaked!
2. For some reason, nudists like to stand when at the beach. And read books while standing.
3. Machetes are awesome tools in the hand of an experienced wielder! They can slice open a green coconut at the perfect angle, giving you a hole just big enough to fit your straw into so you can get at the coconut juice. I have a bit of a phobia about knives so I didn't stand too close, but I admired the skill of the gardener. There is something to be said about working with a tool for years and years and mastering it.
4. It is totally acceptable to eat 2 heaping plates of watermelon for supper.
5. Salt water makes even me more buoyant! I found myself praying for buoyancy this past week as I struggled with my nagging swimming deficiencies. It was so encouraging to float on my back unaided in the ocean for some minutes without feeling the familiar panic. Hmmmm, when Jesus calls us the salt of the earth, perhaps he is calling us to buoy others up, to carry them, to lift them out of panic and sinking and help them float on top of their troubles.
Picture #1: catamaran near the beach on a fairly calm day
Picture #2: Cuban men in Remedios
Picture #3: catching the sunrise one day over the ocean.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

forget it

We are leaving for Cuba tomorrow. I have packed almost every stitch of summer clothing I own into a suitcase (it just doesn't take up that much room, you know), eaten most of the food in the refrigerator, told the cats what is expected of them while we are gone (eat and sleep and try not to overfill the litter nor scratch the cat sitter), and picked out four books to savour while sitting in the sun or shade.

For a week we will forget about the house issue, the mound of emails piling up at Dean's work, and where to place that pesky French pronoun "en." There are some things it is important to remember, but there are also things that one needs to forget.

On Wednesday night at home group one of the guys asked the question, "What are God's conditions for getting into heaven and how can you lose your salvation?" and then timed us as we answered. It was interesting to see how succinctly we could articulate the basics of redemption. Not surprisingly, each one had a slightly different answer. The one that struck me that night was the inclusion of forgiving others, for, it was said, if we do not forgive others, how can God forgive us? (see the Lord's prayer). I have been thinking about this for the past few days. Yes, I need to exercise more forgiveness in my life. I have way too sharp a memory in many cases. I see someone and remember the last thing they did that annoyed me or how they fell short of my expectations. And if someone has offended or disappointed me twice, tough luck, buddy, you are really imbedded in my memory as someone not trustworthy.

And this attitude has nothing to do with forgiveness. So much of my blather some days can be complaining to God about this world's shortcomings or my ongoing difficulty in loving and trusting and being positive. None of this dialogue really changes anything because I have not forgotten. I run these things over and over in my mind and don't let them die. Change requires leaving something behind to shrivel and die. Salvation requires forgetting.

Let me forget who I was and who others were and see who we are all becoming.

This is the beach in Cuba last year...someone scratched Cuba Blau 2007 in the sand, but I am sure that was washed away and forgotten within a few hours, except for some pictures.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

run fast

video

sooo I used to be a filmaker. no, seriously, it's true! Here are some of the titles I worked on that did not get nominated for any awards but certainly merited consideration, in my opinion:

1. How To Replace a Windshield in Your Motorhome

2. Who Says You Can't Take It With You (30 second promo on how you need a motorhome if you are an outdoorsy guy or at least dressed like one)

3. Great Trek 3 (some youth retreat in Banff...this actually aired on local television)

4. President's Message (um, not president of the USA or any other country, but of the local manufacturer I worked for. I managed to set the shot up so it looked like he was hiding behind a tree, unintentionally of course.)

5. Mercy Street (music video starring one of my favourite friends and stellar artist, Dan. Included fake blood and all. Don't worry, we washed it out of the alleyway as much as we could.)

Well, as you can see by the video above, I am back in business, home alone and without proper supervision. One of my friends pointed me to a few youtube videos and challenged me to do something in this genre again. I am not a practiced comedienne like her example, nor can I rival the profound, spiritual musings of my buddies Shane and Dave on the fakenaked blog show (http://www.nakedpastor.com/ and http://www.fakerepublic.com/), but at the end of a trying and disappointing week, I found great joy in being silly and totally matte-like and creating something for the sheer fun of it.

And those moments when I run fast in my creative soul, I feel His pleasure (apologies to Eric Liddell for plagiarizing horribly his wonderful line heard in the movie Chariots of Fire: "I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.")

Run fast in something today. Feel His pleasure.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

just around the corner?

I am trying hard to have a positive attitude, but today has been a pretty shitty day. I listened to professionals tell me how bad things are with my house and how uncooperative people might be in working things out and how incredibly long this restoration process might take and even then things might not be totally put back and we might be out thousands of dollars and oh yeah it might be a good idea to hire a lawyer. I missed breakfast for this?

I opened my bible to Isaiah for some encouragement and it said...

Do what's right and do it in the right way, For salvation is just around the corner, my setting-things-right is about to go into action. (from Isaiah 56 The Message)

So here I live, in the day or week or month or year before salvation and setting things right. And I don't care for this place much at all. Partly because pre-salvation feels pretty much like no salvation. But mostly because when things are kicked out from under me, I realise just how much I have built my life on everything else in this world and how much I rely on the system to keep me going and content and how little I rest on the eternal truth that is Jesus.

Today I say these words, and perhaps tomorrow I will be able to believe them: On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand. (-Keith W. Ward)

This is a happy flower beside my house in another season.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

the cut

I sliced into my thumb on Wednesday while cutting onions and found it a bit challenging trying to stop the bleeding, disinfect it with hydrogen peroxide and wrap it up tightly enough to keep the flap of loose skin in place all with only one hand to work with. Nevertheless I got it taken care of and it is healing nicely, though gross to look at (which can be useful in its own way).

In my French class on Thursday we were taking a unit on health and a nurse in the class mentioned that hydrogen peroxide is no longer recommended for treating cuts. Huh? When did this change take place? I held up my bandaged thumb in class and said that I had used it the previous day to clean my wound. She informed us that the solution, while being an excellent germ killer, has been found to also be damaging to fragile, healing skin. Needless to say, I have left the lid on the peroxide and am only cleaning it with a gentle water bath when needed. Mostly I just keep it covered and protected. And the cut is closing quite quickly, I think.

Sometimes we get so obsessed with germs and their effects that we end up ravaging the tenuous healing process as well. I do the same thing with people at times. I see someone who obviously has issues and I just want them to deal with stuff, I want to point out the things that need addressing, I want to scrub those filthy things out of their lives so that we can all move on. I have much less of a desire to protect and nurture their soft and wounded spirits which God has drawn to this place by his own kindness. Protecting new growth and watching stuff heal is so much less impressive than seeing the frothy white bleaching action that accompanies hardcore cleansing measures.

A gentle wash of cool water. A protecting arm. A place to find shelter. Let me offer these to the imperfect and wounded people that cross my path. I know I appreciate them when they come my way.

This is a cool stream in Piedmont, an hour north of Montreal.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

re-store

Jacques and Pierre came to see me yesterday. Jacques is a foundation specialist. He is kind and quick yet thorough and endearingly shaped like a pear. Pierre is his very French, mostly silent, but keenly observant assistant. In short order, Jacques' experienced eyes picked out several things inside and outside my home that told him that one side of the house has sunk several inches over the past 3 years and it will continue to sag unevenly unless the foundation is reinforced. He gave me the name of a colleague who was equipped for a job of this size and wished me a good day and left. So there it was, confirmed. I now officially have foundation issues.

I was feeling slightly overwhelmed with the news and the giant wrench this was putting in the plans to sell our house for a reasonable profit and move downtown into a cool loft space. So I asked God, "Why? Why did we buy this house? Why is this happening to us?" And very quickly I heard a reply, "This is what restorers do."

We had such a sense that God led us to this specific house when we bought it. And it seems that one of the major reasons we are here at this exact place and time is to restore something. I feel it like a burden, a call, an invitation to make things straight and right. No one wants to live in a house that is sinking, moving, unsound, and unstable. Everyone is looking for something solid, nicely finished and decorated and ready to move into. Some are willing to do the foundational work, building from the ground up. But I think less are up for the grand effort of restoration: dismantling and stripping and digging where the ground has already settled; readjusting and realigning and re-doing because there are issues beneath the surface. Most of us would rather walk away, go somewhere easier. But I have no choice.

Many people who come to visit our church are looking for something ready to plug into, already built and fully functioning with a program or group for every family member. We do not have that to offer. But we do have a grand restoration and rebuilding process that anyone can partake in if they have the faith. It takes a special kind of tenacity and vision to be able to see a holy habitation in a rag tag, vastly diverse group of people from all over the world, half of them transient. But I feel a hard tug on my heart to be here. It is my home. I cannot abandon it.

This is what restorers do.

This is a photo of an inukshuk on the St. Laurent riverbed, rock upon rock.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

that sinking feeling

We are trying to sell our house. It is not going as I had hoped. Many of the people who have walked through our home have noted that the floor is uneven in a basement room, and mention that our stairs are off as well. What? I never noticed this and I LIVE HERE! And there is the problem. Because I live in the place, I see it day in and day out, and I do not notice small changes. We get used to what we live with and assume it is normal. Our eyes and attitudes and actions adjust and embrace the crooked as the new straight. It takes the objective eye of someone who is outside the situation to notice that things are askew.

The first reaction when someone points out that things are off in ones home (or life) is denial. Surely not! Hey, everything is fine! I would know if something was not right. I am here 24/7. I can't be that blind! Um, yes I could be that oblivious, especially regarding something that I have grown so accustomed to that I assume it is normal when in fact, it could be on the verge of developing into a major problem. We get pretty good at adjusting our standards and expectations to accommodate where we are at. That's never a good idea. Instead, we should be aligning our lives to a higher, immovable, godly, straight standard. The leveling tool never lies. Measure by that, not by what you feel or see around you.

The second stage when you see that there might be deep foundational problems is PANIC! The concept of things not being correct at the foundation is frightening and the idea that it will have to be addressed and dug up in some way is unsettling. So much easier just to fix the symptom. Can't we just straighten the floor? Add some cement? Leave the issue under the carpet, for real? If everything looks fine, it will probably be fine, right? At least for another 5 years. Today, I can't get my head around how this is all going to work out and I feel the flutter of fear. I am a bit overwhelmed.

The third and fourth stages are acceptance and action. As Dean says, things can always be fixed. So we are having a foundation specialist come in to assess the state of our foundation. Worst case scenario, our house is sliding off into the woods. Best case scenario, the house settled after it was built and just needs some tweaking. Despite it looking like one of the worst possible things that could happen when you put your house up for sale, I do believe in God's timing. We never would have addressed this issue at this time had we not had other eyes to point out the problem. Our home is still under the builder's warranty for another year so in that way I believe the timing is a blessing as well. I don't know that we would have looked at the foundation under everyday living circumstances.

In the meantime, I have been speaking to my house (and myself) from Isaiah 40, calling it into alignment.

Prepare for God's arrival!
Make the road straight and smooth, a highway fit for our God.
Fill in the valleys, level off the hills,
Smooth out the ruts, clear out the rocks.
Then God's bright glory will shine and everyone will see it.

May it be so.

This is a photo of the shack where my sponsor child and her family live in South Africa. Kind of puts things in perspective.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

the unlikely mentor

I am tired today. I stayed up till 2:15 am this morning writing on my fiction blog (check out the second link on the right side to read the first 22 chapters of my novel - don't worry, they are really short chapters; I try to add at least one a week). It is an exercise that does not always come easy. Like any skill, it demands that I devote myself to it in order to see results and improvement. Some days it is fun and exciting and other days it is just plain hard work and I have to fight for every word.

I found an interview with John Grisham, one of my favourite authors, on a website this week and was inspired to hear about how he approaches writing. After watching the short talk, I felt like I had just attended a master class. We all need teachers and mentors to point us in the right direction and call the good stuff to life in us. So many of the young pastors I have worked with have expressed a longing for a mentor and many of them have floundered, somewhat lost because that one father figure, that teacher and encourager did not come along. At least not in the form they were hoping for.

I believe that there are mentors and teachers all around us. In all likelihood, that one magical person will not drop into my life to make things easier for me and show me steps 1-2-3 to success and maturity. If there is an area I need to grow in, I often look for someone who is stronger in it than I am and ask them to pray for me. I can dialogue with them about their journey, their struggles, and I can rub shoulders with them and we can do the stuff together. They do not have to be older or more together than I am or be someone like me at all. They just have to be able to show me one thing about one area of life.

I have learned about facing fear from a teenager. I have watched a 6-year-old girl capture a room of 200 people without speaking a word and learned something about authority. I have felt the passion in a non-professional singer's voice and learned that I must believe it if I want to sing it well. I have learned about the smallminded self-defeating attitudes of self-protection and mistrust from my cats. I have seen the effects of unconditional love from my husband and been inspired and changed by it. I am continually improving in my swimming abilities by gleaning tips from anyone who will give me a moment of time in a pool. I am learning something about the proper place of my emotions from my intellectual friends. I am learning to ready my house for optimum sale from reality tv shows. There are life-skill lessons being offered all around me by people of all ages and walks of life. Am I humble enough to learn from them? Or am I waiting for the security and comfort of a long-time mentor who will make me feel special and valuable and wanted? Learning is not a comfort sport.

What area are you feeling inadequate in today? Ask God to bring someone your way to teach you and then keep your eyes open.

This is a snowy bush on my friend's yard in Montreal.