Monday, June 30, 2008

confession from the bed

I judge people. I was sitting on my bed on Sunday afternoon, having just read some of the book of Daniel, and I started to confess this. God, I go around judging people. Yep, that's what I do. That's what I did this weekend. I judge people. I don't like it, it doesn't help anyone, but there you have it. I am a wanna-be judge. And God asked me, Do you know why you do this? hmmm, well, okay, why do I do that which I am not proud of?

There are certain things that are very important to me. They are emphases in my life that I believe God has put there. One of them is faithfulness. Another is truth. I love these things and have worked hard to grow and mature in them in my life. I am constantly aware of how important these things are, how vital they are to God's character and therefore, to mine. But, alas, because I have invested so much in pursing these precious traits, when I encounter someone who treats them lightly, who does not hold them with the same regard as I do, I get annoyed. You know, REALLY annoyed. And it is but a short hop and skip from beholding a certain ignorance or lack in these areas, to judging people and their utter, and no doubt deliberate (at least in my mind) desecration of all things I hold dear. They do not measure up to my measuring stick, they fall short of my expectations and guidelines, and they are only worthy of being judged by someone who is higher, better, and more righteous in these things; which is me, of course. (You have to read some sarcasm into this.) And so I judge. And I condemn. And I get annoyed. Really badly. And everyone can tell, because I do not hide my feelings well.

As the confession on the bed grew in ugliness, I was surprised not to feel condemned. Instead, I sensed a gentle but firm correction. You are not responding in the right way, God said. Yes, I have put a certain passion in your heart for these things in order to show the world what I am like. But you have not been showing, you have been judging. You can't do both. Either you show my character or you judge. You decide.

Please, let me show instead of judge. Let me show God off.

These are the beauties in front of my condo, showing off some of God's lavishness.

Friday, June 27, 2008

scale

Since we have downsized, scale has become an important dimension in my life. We have been shopping for a dining room table and chairs and I quickly realised that no matter how much I liked the furniture, if it was too big or too small or too wide or too long, it would not work well. And we are determined to work well in this space - to work with it and not against it. That being said, we must pay attention to dimensions and scale and proportion and adjust our expectations and wants accordingly.

The hind feet of my brain start to fidget every time I think about these things, so I know there is something important to be learned here, to be aware of. I know too many people who have crammed their small spaces full of stuff, either things too large or just too much. It makes one confused and unsettled when you walk in the room. Overly large items make a space seem smaller than it really is. Too small furniture and the room dwarfs you with its cavernous echoes and feels empty and bare.

I think most of us want big. We love large and dynamic and stunning and eye-catching. We also love more. More of everything. If we have liked something in small measure, certainly more is better. Always more. We can stuff in more.

I have seen people expect God to operate in this same way, with no regard for scale, proportion or capacity. I often do the same thing. I expect extremely big results and changes and revelations and miracles without taking into account how these large scale acts might impact the tiny space cleared for the divine. When we are touched in some way by a teaching or a reading or a song, we often fill our lives and homes with every teaching book, cd, dvd, and musical output available from a certain artist. I am not negating the usefulness of these tools, but oftentimes I think it is clutter. We think that more of the same is going to give us more of the experience. But there is no substitute for going to God every day for fresh and living bread. And things never happen the same way twice, to quote Aslan again from the movie, Prince Caspian.

Clutter means we have less room for the important stuff to live and breathe in our daily lives; we limit the capacity for new surprises and fresh truths to rearrange our souls into a more godly frame of being. Too large expectations mean that we miss the smaller scale of what God is doing right now. Focusing on not overextending ourselves by sticking with the small stuff leaves a big empty space that refuses to welcome others into it and results in a shriveled up soul.

How big is the place God has put me in? Am I working with it or against it? How big is my space for God? What am I filling it with?

This is but a small part of the vast Atlantic Ocean somewhere in New Brunswick on a cold foggy day in spring.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

invitation

God has been telling me that he is a God of invitation. I keep hearing this over and over from different sources. I have been reading through the Old Testament again and frankly, have never seen much invitation there. Lots of judgments, warnings, commandments, and visions, but very little invitation. But I decided to change my perspective and look at the character of God as he is revealed in the Old Testament through the eyes of invitation. Wow, that does change everything! Here are eight invitations that I found just this week and they so impacted me that I spoke about them on Sunday night at church.

1. PULL UP A CHAIR. Don't stay on the outskirts, just watching. Come in. Participate. Engage. Be more than an observer in the back row. Pull up a seat at the table, be a part of something, join the family meal. Be present. (I invited everyone to pull up a chair and sit around a large table.)

2. BURN YOUR PRIDE. Admit that we all need help. We are guilty. Stop justifying or explaining ourselves. Relying on our own abilities is not working. Our way is not best. Give up our pride, our need to be a success by our terms, to be someone that people like and look up to. We are guilty. We fall short. Let's just admit it so that we can get on with the real stuff, the good stuff. (I wrote PRIDE on a slip of paper and burned it in a small bowl on the table.)

3. TAKE A BATH. This life is messy. We get dirty. We are stained and impure. Bad things touch us and we touch bad things. Come for a bath. Get clean. Repent. Leave the dirt behind. Take a dip over and over and over again, as often as you need to. The water is always clean. Don't stay in the filth. Come clean. ( Sprinkles of water were dashed over people from a dish of water next to the burning bowl.)

4. LET ME BE YOUR GUIDE. Listen for God's voice. Let go of opinions and argument and chatter long enough to listen. Let HIS words be a light for our path. If you can't see, ask. Listen. Hear. Wait on God. Seek out the words of life. (I lit a candle and set it next to the water bowl.)

5. TASTE AND SEE THAT GOD IS GOOD. Partake of Jesus. Become his disciple. Do what he does. Let Him give you strength and life to do more than you ever thought you could. Hang out with Him. Rely on Him. Try the things He does, do them with Him. Participate in the life of Jesus. He gave his life so that you could do this. (I had a freshly baked loaf of bread that I passed around for everyone to have a bite, then set the rest down across from the candle.)

6. BE PASSIONATE ABOUT THIS GOD. Express yourself to him without holding back. Be generous with yourself and your resources. Bring your whole self - whatever state you are in, and honour God with your gifts of songs, words, deeds, dances, your whole body. Give it your all. (I lit some incense to represent our worship and set it beside the loaf.)

7. COME CLOSER. There is discomfort in intimacy. Being known fully can be scary. Being vulnerable is like being naked and often we are ashamed. Choose to take a step closer to God, choose trusting Him, loving Him, relying on Him, believing Him, even when you can't see Him or see what He is doing. In every situation, don't pull back, don't hesitate, but come close. Don't be separated anymore. (I tore a red napkin in half and laid it on the table next to the incense.)

8. WILL YOU MARRY ME? Covenant is the strongest bond. Stronger than family, than money or debt. Stronger than fear, stronger than death, stronger than all other demands on our lives. Jesus wants to be with us, to draw us into His circle, to change everything in our world until it becomes His world that we both dwell in. He wants to change our name, the household we belong to. Will we move to His place and become part of Him? (I set a small box with a ring inside it at the end of the table.)

Then I drew some lines on the table - one to include all the items, one to include the last five items, and then one to separate the last item within those. I had someone draw a door at one end next to the burning bowl and asked if anyone recognised this. It is the tabernacle of the Old Testament and its elements.

Son of man, tell the people of Israel all about the temple so they'll be dismayed by their wayward lives. Get them to go over the layout. That will bring them up short. Show them the whole plan of the Temple, its ins and outs, the proportions, the regulations, and the laws. Draw a picture so they can see the design and meaning and live by its design and intent. This is the law of the Temple: As it radiates from the top of the mountain, everything around it becomes holy ground. Yes, this is law, the meaning, of the Temple. From Ezekiel 43, The Message.

(Sorry about the repitition of some things here, but these are the things God is speaking to me about these days and as they ruminate about in my soul , I see different aspects of their truth.)

This is me at some waterfall in Ontario just over a year ago, trying to decide if I wanted to climb closer to the water. I did. Photo credit to Jaclyn.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

overqualified

My friend said something this past week that made me stop and think. She told me that she usually goes for jobs that she is overqualified for, because she knows she can get hired for them and easily do them. Then, after a few months, she is bored and quits. She said that it was time to change this pattern in her life and take more risks.

I rudely interrupted her as she was telling me about her current job situation, because it just sounded so much like me! I do the same thing. In a competitive job market, it is easier to go for the safe job. Less rejection, less compensation, less stimulation, but oh, so much easier and quicker to acquire. But in the end, she is right, we never last too long at these jobs.

When will we finally just give up trying to do everything else and go for those things that God has made us to do and put some sweat into learning them.

I am rebuked and challenged. Thanks, Awa.

These are the bananas on my kitchen counter on their way to being overipe and qualified for fine banana bread.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

meet

I have been thinking. Something about the way we do our "meetings" as a church group seems strangely out of date and irrelevant and counterproductive, and we are one of the more contemporary and relevant churches in this city. Some say the space we are in is not so good. Some say the day and time might be an issue. Some say we are too much unto ourselves and not global enough. I don't know. There is some truth in all of those concerns, but they also carry some hint of excuses. I don't know exactly what we can change, but I do know that just tweaking the location or the time or putting out more info about other ministries is not addressing the core issues. And I don't even know what the core issues are. One thing I do know is that deliberate gatherings to learn, pray, worship, be changed and turn ourselves to God with vulnerability in the presence of others are very important. But, hmmm, beyond that, I don't know exactly what it should look like at this point in time in this place for this group of people.

I was reading Ezekiel 43 and 44 today. There are some very distinct rules and principles God sets forth regarding space and place: the sacred and the common, the clean and the unclean are not to be confused. I am used to this way of thinking and talking because it was how I was raised, but I know there is more. The Temple is a picture of something much greater, not merely a set of floor plans and practices to keep us on good terms with a rather picky God.

Tell the people of Israel all about the Temple so they'll be dismayed by their wayward lives. Get them to go over the layout. That will bring them up short. Show them the whole plan of the Temple, its ins and outs, the proportions, the regulations , and the laws. Draw a picture so they can see the design and meaning and live by its design and intent. This is the law of the Temple: As it radiates from the top of the mountain, everything around it becomes holy ground. Yes, this is law, the meaning of the Temple. (from Ezekiel 43, The Message)

If our gatherings and activities do not show people how to live by their very design and intent, they are lacking. If they do not let the glory of God radiate through them and make everything holy ground, they have become obstacles instead of inviting places. There needs to be something more fluid and invitational, less stop and start, more avenues for how one can participate, and less heavy tasks that a small group of leaders do to make it all happen. And this Sunday, one day a week thing is just strange, don't you think?

There are many that are connected to us who do not come to our meetings. I don't know what to do with that. I only know that the meetings are not the standard to measure who we are and what we do. But where do we look for guidance? We have the examples of the Temple, the meetings of the early Christians in the New Testament, and centuries of church history, both catholic and protestant. In all of these, there are good elements and bad. Each system, or rather group of people using a particular system, was rife with problems (just read some of Paul's letters if you think that modeling ourselves after the New Testament church is the answer to all our struggles).

But amidst all the questions, there are some things that I know are true.
1. We must hear what God is saying to us. His message is unchanged (come to ME), but how it is spoken and shown and lived is different in every culture and time and instance.
2. Nothing is sacred or unchangeable except God himself. Everything else can be tossed out or modified or burned to the ground with little real consequence.
3. Just because it has been done that way before and there have been some good results does not mean anything.
4. Where Jesus rules, there is life, and life is growth which means things are always changing.

The one line that stuck with me from the film, Prince Caspian, was from the mouth of Aslan: "Things never happen the same way twice." And that is a wonderful thing, because it means we have to rely on God's guidance in every situation instead of history or our experience or knowledge. There is never a formula, a ritual, a liturgy, nor a set pattern to God's interaction with us. He is infinitely creative and ingenuitive and will always surprise us with a new nuance of his character if we will have eyes to see and ears to hear.

Let everything around and in this living temple, this body and soul sitting here in Montreal, become holy ground because I have responded to what God has shown me and invited the glory of God to radiate down.

This is a picture of my new office, where the cats and I sit and think deep thoughts.

Monday, June 16, 2008

the happiest girl in the world

Have you ever had a day where you feel like the happiest person in the world? Despite having a dream this morning about being shot in the neck (don't worry, I survived just fine and it was sort of a heroic moment), today was one of those days. I don't know where this sensation of "wow, everything is soooo good at this moment" comes from. If I did, I would certainly tap it at the source, bottle it, keep a good supply on hand for those "other" days, and of course, hand cases of the stuff out freely. I certainly cannot manufacture it, though I believe I can place myself in its path to a certain extent.

Simple things shine and sparkle with glittery life-dust on days like this. I did my workout for the first time in our new place, and it gave me the greatest pleasure to move and stretch and jump around and punch the air after a 2-week hiatus due to moving. I walked to the bank after lunch and had to express myself out loud, "I love being able to walk to stuff, I love just being able to walk, I love my body, I love my hair, I love this sunny warm day, I love my clothes!"

On the way home, I took a long-cut through the park and discovered the woods! Yes, woods! Ten minutes away from our condo. Right next to the soccer fields. There is a whole section of trees big enough to get lost in and experience poison ivy first hand. Fear not, I stayed safe from both dangers by following one of the well-used paths. But listen man, I have woods!

I also have planes! We live close to the airport and planes fly overhead all the time. I love them! They are not really noisy (we don't hear them inside at all) and when I am outside, every time one flies overhead, I stop what I am doing, look up and go, "Wow, look at that plane!" It is like an improbable adventure zooming past me every 15 minutes, inciting wonder and feeding the explorer in me.

I did the laundry today and after a rough start with the dryer (don't know exactly what was going on, but after adjusting the vent and switching to a different setting and of course, asking God to make it work), the clothes came out dry! By my reaction, one would think that a miracle of huge proportion had happened. My heart swelled and my soul had that feeling one gets after a huge meal when you just can't think of anything else that you might ever want to eat. Can you believe it? My one closet and my chest of drawers are full of clean and dry clothes! Really! It's true! Incroyable!

My buddy, Shane, of http://www.fakerepublic.com/ fame, has called me matte the irrepressible. It is my superhero name. I love him and his way with words and have clutched tightly onto that moniker as an identity that I want to embrace and embody. Some days, like today, it is easy - a gift from the benevolent one. On other days, well, I believe the gracious hand of God still extends the gift, but I might not be in a receptive frame of mind. Some days all I want is circumstantial evidence biased towards the guilty party (me) instead of a grateful heart sliding along on grace. Silly me.

This is Tea , the happiest cat in the world, sleeping in her new favourite place, hanging over the banister on top of the mezzanine.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

box collectors anonymous

I have a problem with boxes. At least I did. I like to keep boxes. I have saved the box for almost every small appliance, set of dishes, electronic device, or gift that has come through our abode. So when moving time comes around, I just stuff everything back in the box that it came in, and I am virtually packed! When it is time to mail the Christmas gifts to my family in another province, I have a ready supply of gift boxes and a sturdy box to ship it all off in. One time, we brought a television in for a repair a few years after we bought it, and the service guy was totally impressed when we showed up with it carefully packed in the original box. I have always thought this to be a worthy, wise, and forward-looking habit. This box habit. This box addiction. This inability to throw away packing materials.

Until this move. You see, I have nowhere to store boxes anymore. Earlier this week I was slightly freaking out, enough for Dean to call me several times a day from work to see how I was doing. When pressed for space, I have been known to rashly give away important things like extensions cords and garden hoses and deep fryers and griddles and storage shelves, but it pains me not to be able to hold onto a box. Silly, really, when you put it that way.

So in the last few days, I stressed about our lack of storage and panicked in my own quiet way by going from box to box and room to room without really accomplishing anything. Then I finally came to the conclusion that not everything could stay if we wanted to fit well into this wonderful new place, and I decided to surrender the boxes. Every single one of them. Well, almost. Dean said we needed to keep the ones from the sound system components, and I stashed a few small ones from my cameras and phones in the cubby hole. But every other box, even those nice new ones we got just for the move, were all broken down and put out on the curb last night for the recycling man.

What's the deal with boxes, you ask? Well, I asked God the same thing. Why do I like my boxes so much? Well, it turns out that they are my safety net. I can always take something back if it does not work out, or pack everything up and get the heck out of here if the situation gets undesirable. This is the tenth home we have lived in during the span of our married lives. I like the idea of moving every few years; it keeps things from getting stagnant. I embrace change quite easily and welcome the chance to make a new start or try something different. But somewhere in there, I began to rely on the "out." On always having another plan, another place to move to. I could always pack up my boxes, they were at the ready. They were my back door.

Not this time. This time we have cut off any easy retreat. We are hunkering down like I don't remember doing before. There is no turning back. The boxes are gone. It looks like we are finally admitting that we are residents of Montreal, and there is no plan to move on like we're just passing through. We didn't plan this. We simply bought a condo that we both felt at home in and after the deal was signed, suddenly my eyes were opened to the fact that this place was not box-friendly. It was a rough few days, letting the boxes go. Letting the old gypsy way of thinking go. Letting go of relying on my readiness in order to make way for daily trust and faith and risk in greater measure. Because God is always greater than my preparation.

This afternoon I stepped outside to get something from the garage and realised that I had locked myself out of the secure building. I felt silly, forgetting my keys, and asked God if perhaps he could figure out a way to get me back in without waiting till Dean came home in 4 hours. I sure couldn't think of a plan aside from ringing all the door buttons to see if anyone was home, and I wasn't sure how well that would work since it was the middle of the day, plus I had only met one neighbour and no one else would know who I was. I retrieved my stuff from the garage and as I was walking around the side of the building, the neighbour I had met two days ago walked around the corner. We had a brief chat, and she was kind enough to use her keys to let me in. Yes, God is much more reliable at working this life stuff out than any of my mighty attempts at preparation or miserable lack thereof.

Boxes away....

Monday, June 09, 2008

with me

We moved on Saturday. Three men and a 26-foot truck pulled up to our house at 3:30 pm and loaded up every last one of our earthly possessions. I jammed cleaning supplies, propane tanks, a few fragile things, and two stressed felines into my car and we all said goodbye to the crooked little house in St. Lazare.

As I drove off, I tried to look for everything that I loved about living in this place so that I could remember it with thankfulness one more time. Things like the waist-high lilac bushes I had planted almost two years ago which were just starting to flower for the first time. The patch of bush right next door which housed bunnies and the occasional fox. My hairdresser and the car wash guys and the garden centre folks and the local mechanic who all managed to make me feel like I was the most important person in their day in that typical, small-town, unhurried fashion. The Wal-mart just seven minutes from my house were I could buy everything from cheese curds to cat litter.

As I was crossing the bridge onto the island of Montreal, the cats wailing their fear and uncertainty in the background, we came upon one of my favourite scenes. Having grown up on the prairies which are nowhere near any water, I cherish the sight of the agua every time I cross the bridge into the city and feast my eyes on the beautiful landscape, never wanting to take it for granted. Speaking in that tone of voice that one uses to calm stressed-out felines down, I began to describe the blue water, the distant hills, and the greening trees. Jazz just howled louder and Tea crammed herself as far back in her cage as she could. It was sad and funny at the same time.

I said, "Oh, kitties, don't you worry. We're going to a new place which you will really like. It has stairs and some cool high places to sit and little nooks to explore. I know you don't understand where we are going, but you don't have to freak out, because you're with me. It's going to be okay. You're with me!" And then I started to repeat this phrase over and over again, louder and louder, as it became truer and truer for all of us in that little Toyota Echo. "You're with me! You're with me! You're with ME!"

As I spoke this reassurance to my cats, God spoke his reassurance to me. I am with God and no matter where I go or how I get there or what disconcerting detours may come my way, I'm with Him. And even when this is the only constant in my life, or at least it seems that way, this God-with-me truth is enough.

This is the sunset tonight over the golf course at the end of my new street. It appears that I have not left all the best scenic spots behind after all.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

yellow

I spent all day packing up my kitchen. A good friend of mine came over and I guess in reality, did most of the work because she does not get distracted as easily as I do. I suppose I should change that first sentence to read: my friend spent all day packing up my kitchen and cleaning it while I tossed a few items in boxes, ate cherries and thought about what I still needed to do, took phone calls, sold a dishwasher, dehumidifier, and futon frame and helped load them into various vehicles, and gave the cats a dose of catnip.

Thank God for friends who don't demand that your strengths be the same as their strengths. Thank God for bringing people to my house to buy my stuff and in the process, letting me see a glimpse of their life and pray for them. Thank God for good days like today.

We just had a light supper so now Dean and I are going to load up the car with important stuff (the Xbox 360, the plasma tv, and the stereo) and take a run to our new place.

This is yellow, near and far, in and out of focus, in the garden where our church meets, taken Sunday night.

Yellow is a happy colour. - Charlie Peacock song

Monday, June 02, 2008

trip

I just came back from 4 days of much sitting. There were two 10 hour drives and then 2.5 days of meetings squished in between them. Toss into the mix 2 short bunk beds and a few short nights and a silly sore throat this morning and no protein powder left in the house....well, you can perhaps see that things are not running at optimum performance today.

Actually, we had a fabulous trip to New Brunswick but it seems that today all I can write about are the tedious or annoying parts. Come on, soul, remember those things that made the past 4 days rich. What about all that glorious undivided attention from Dean? What about meeting up with old and new friends and talking and laughing and listening to bad jokes over yummy french toast or scalloped potatoes all served by the sweetest lady at the cafeteria? What about sharing the story of God's goodness in our lives these past few crazy months and hearing the echo of this come alive in others as well? What about hitting the Dairy Queen en mass after one meeting just because Dan needed some soft ice cream? What about standing beside friends and knowing you really are making a difference in their lives? What about being served fabulous waffles with blueberries in a beautiful century home by ones you welcomed to Montreal a few years ago as they made a big leap away from home? What about being provoked to get on with it in a most eloquent and gentle yet firm manner by someone you respect? What about playing and singing and dancing for joy just because I can? and I want to? What about notes and words and looks and hugs and all manner of encouragements received about my writing and thinking and straightforward manner of relating. What about the beautiful cold Atlantic ocean on a foggy day? What about the dark and moody misty mountains in Maine?

Ah, yes. I remember now.

These are the misty mountains of upstate Maine on Sunday afternoon.