Saturday, December 27, 2008

relatives

I have spent the past 2 days with an 8-month-old in the house. She is my niece so I like her better than most 8-month-olds. And she seems to like me as well, as is apparent by her cooing, flapping of arms, and grabbing of my hair. As someone who admits to not being much of a baby person (okay, really not at all; give me a teenager any day of the week and we are tiiiight in no time), the interaction was somewhat surprising to me. Why do we get along so well? Because of who she is. She is blood. She is part of me in some way. I already like her, no matter what she does or how she turns out. She will always be liked by me. She doesn't have to do anything to get my love and attention, except be born into the family. And though this is the simplest concept in the world - that who someone is determines how we treat them much more than what they do - hardly anyone gets this, including me.

I consistently like people better that treat me well or have something to offer me when in fact, the ones that have trouble coming up with anything to contribute to my life (or society in general) and probably need the most love are often the ones I choose to neglect.

Jesus came as a baby, directly related to divinity and to humanity. You'd think that humankind would welcome one so intimately related, but the family, for the most part, turned out not to be so fond of the new relative. The blood tie, though usually a very strong element in the Jewish culture, turned out not to be strong enough. What he did was upsetting to many, and it overshadowed who he was. When you don't like God, there is not much you can do about it, but when you don't like your relatives, you can treat them with disrespect and shun them and hope that this is enough to make you feel better about the awkward situation and them bad about it. It never is, of course.

The bad treatment he received was not enough to offend either the human or the divine part of Jesus, because he was related by blood to all of these human beings and he already liked them. Oh that I could let the blood of Jesus run so thick in my veins so that who people are matters much more to me than what they do.

This was the warm and cheery family Christmas scene here in Winkler yesterday evening.

Monday, December 22, 2008

3 Christmas parties

While I have been nursing a sick cat back to health, it has been the season to celebrate. Funny how celebration and not-so-good stuff often collide. This is perhaps meant to prevent us from separating the different parts of our lives and to keep us from isolating our emotions and situations into tidy coping compartments. I believe that life is to be lived together, as a whole, in one big family room instead of every situation behind its own closed door. Each life event affects the next one, and one can laugh in the midst of tragedy and cry at a celebration because joy and pain live in the same universe in a strangely beautiful and companionable way that makes life rich and deep and meaningful.

I had three Christmas events to go to this week and each one was wonderful and fun and special in its own way.

ONE: Our home group got together to sit around the fire, roast marshmallows, make s'mores, sip wine, eat disturbing amounts of chocolate, and play charades. At the end of the evening, someone asked for each one's New Year's resolutions. While I don't really believe in New Year's resolutions as a rule (I would rather live in a learning and responsive attitude at all times, not just once a year), I said that I wanted to recognise Jesus better in my life. I am fairly good at seeing his work around me in various situations, but I do sometimes have trouble seeing his beauty in the people around me, especially the ones I would not have chosen to be part of my cool set of friends if it were left up to me. I guess if it were left up to me, smelly shepherds and immature virgins might not have been part of the incarnation story either. Good thing these things are not left up to me. Yes, let me see where Jesus lives.

TWO: I organised the first annual Vineyard Montreal Christmas office party this year. Since I am the only employee, I realised that if I didn't do it, no one else would! I met up with 3 friends of the female persuasion and we went out for dinner, then hopped on the subway and met up with another friend at Second Cup where we exchanged gifts over big cups of tea and hot chocolate. I had asked everyone to bring a recycled gift - something you have at home that you are not using anymore or never had a use for. Silly as it sounds, this was the best gift exchange I think I have done in a long time. People welcomed the idea of passing something on instead of buying something new - we all have so much stuff anyway. The excitement came in making sure everyone had something they liked and would use; it was so touching to see some girls offer to give up their gift if they thought it suited someone else more. The focus was not in the gift, but truly in the giving. This small exchange of not so new things warmed me more than the chai tea on that cold night. Oh, and then we played some pool. Very nice evening, indeed.

THREE: Our church had a party last night. We sang carols, listened to a Christmas story, prayed for each others' strengths and weaknesses, made packets of chocolates and candy canes and distributed them to the other tenants on the second floor of our building, snacked on wine and cheese and bread and various other tidbits, and then turned up the tunes and danced to some Latin music. In the midst of this celebration, there was some informal counselling going on in the hallway, a few people were saying prayers for each other, and some deep discussions were happening on the couch. And there was a cohesiveness in this, a family sort of oneness where each person could be themself; it was okay to laugh while someone else cried and cry while someone else was doing the salsa.

Make your own celebration. Live, laugh, cry, talk, eat, and give. All at the same time.

This is a blurry picture of Tea the day she came home from the vet, sporting her yellow bandage and a shaved leg from the intravenous fluid and not wanting to do much else besides lie on my shoulder (photo credit to Dean). She is much better now, eating and drinking without too much coaxing.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

overwhelm part 2

My recovering cat, Tea, has good days and bad days. Today she is not eating again. I sit with her and talk to her and stroke her. Though she purrs, I get the feeling that my message of love and care, though sent as loudly and as clearly as I can manage, does not quite get embraced by her instincts and her body. She does not know how to take it in fully. She is too used to the suffering and stress.

I know that God loves me and that he is good. But I do not know how to take it fully into my life, my body, my relationships, my work, my thoughts. I am too used to the lack, the worry, the feeling like I have to protect myself, the need for control and the comfort of self-imposed order.

This morning I read from Matthew 5 in the Message, you know the part where Jesus says that if your eye is causing you to sin by inviting in lustful thoughts, go ahead and pluck it out, because living without one eye is better than ending up morally bankrupt. This is not a literal command, (though if a simple eye-plucking removes an area of compulsion from your life, you might want to consider it) but a literary device that brings the real issues into the open. The problem is never the eye - it is the heart. We try to manage the outward actions, always manage things, yes, that is what we do. We are impressive managers in that way. The things that we (and others) can see, what is obvious and what we can easily grasp a hold of, that we can manage; we can rearrange and sort and prioritise and tweak until it all seems to be under control. But we never really address the heart of the matter. We never strip off the outward behaviour to see what is feeding it. Removing an eye will not remove lustful thoughts from one's heart. In the same way, only allowing my mind to think about one thing at a time will not remove the deep-seated fear of being overwhelmed (see the original post on this called overwhelm).

What am I afraid of? I don't really know. My mind is afraid to even think about what it might be afraid of. Being overwhelmed is a symptom of fear and it has the same crippling effect. It is feeling too small for the situation, powerless and inadequate, with the glaring inability to see the help and hope which is available all around me. I am blind to the big-ness of resources at my disposal and see only the tidal wave of tasks and situations bearing down on me. Instead of grabbing the surf board my trusted surfing instructor offers to me (who incidentally created the ocean and the waves as well), I beat a hasty retreat to my inland bungalow and choose instead to encounter the water from the kitchen tap, one drop at a time. I feel safer, more at ease, less fearful. I can manage the trickle.

Right now, I find that I am no longer content with managing things, with funnelling life into small non-threatening streams, of breaking everything down into manageable bites that don't set off my fears. Fear is like pain: it is a signal that something is wrong, that action needs to be taken to bring things back to normal, to healthiness. The illness must be diagnosed and detected and eradicated. The wound must be cleansed and disinfected and stitched up. The broken bone must be set straight and bound in place until it is whole. I awoke this morning with a sense that this day would offer me countless choices, and I have the opportunity to say a loud NO or a resounding YES to them. NO means I do not give it a place in my life, it is not mine, I let it go without looking back. YES means that I let it in, I embrace it, I make it a part of me, I give it life. There is no middle management.

Let me not get so used to the stress, the fear, the managing, that I do not let the hand of Love reach down and caress me, stroke me, and heal me.

This is a picture of my balcony last week, embracing winter: ice and snow and sky.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Tea and government

Yesterday afternoon, I attempted to give Tea another appetite pill because she was still only eating a few morsels of food here and there. She hates these pills and has had a bad reaction most times I have attempted to get her to swallow one. And this time was the same: more frothing at the mouth and twitching and general discomfort but at least no vomiting (for Tea, that is, not for me). I could feel her bony spine and realised that 4 days after she came out of the hospital, we really had not gained much ground at all. Yes, she was much more settled and relaxed, but also very weak and lethargic and not all that interested in food and water. And I was getting pretty stressed out and weepy, yelling at Dean and God and anyone else in range that "I really could use some help here!"

And an hour or two later, something changed. I don't know what happened, but Tea came over to where I was in the kitchen and meowed at me. I took out the cat treats and placed a few in front of her and after she ate them, I placed a few more under her nose. She ate 12 of them and then a few hours later, she ate 9 more. In between, she went over to the cat fountain and drank for awhile. Then she hopped up on a box and scratched at it, displaying curiosity for the first time in over a week. Later that night, she gave a few playful swats at a mouse. And this afternoon she ate regular cat food - twice - though I still have to feed it to her one morsel at a time and sit with her. She is not totally out of the woods yet, but seems to have found a path heading towards the daylight. And I believe, so have I.

I don't like living under stress - it is counterproductive and apparently played some part in getting Tea into this mess in the first place. I have felt more stress in the past month than I have in the past few years, and I don't like it. I have been asking God to help me get rid of it, and these words that I read in Matthew this weekend leaped out at me: "Change your life. God's kingdom is here,"and a little later God's kingdom is defined: "that beginning right now they were under God's government, a good government!" (Matthew 4, The Message). Last night at church, I clearly saw that my stress is a result of my not submitting to God in certain areas.

There is something about submission and putting myself under the government of God that I am missing. I don't really know what the good government of God looks like. I am used to seeing what man comes up with in the political realm and finding it all very inadequate. And then I somehow project what I know about this world's government onto God's way of governing and figure they kind of look the same, but they do not. It is like comparing apples and sky. So, how do I learn about this good governing? I admit that I sometimes find it hard to believe what he says about me (that would be not submitting myself to his words). I know that I am still tied to the expectations of others, culturally and relationally, more than I want to be (that would be submitting myself to the opinions of others instead of pursuing truthful and uncluttered relationships). I know that I still sometimes find my value in how others respond to me and my actions (that would be not submitting myself to the person of Love). These are some of the things that govern me and I don't want them to anymore.

Last night I told God that I give up; I want to submit to his governance instead of every other governance that has been making demands on me and stressing me out. And that includes those demands that I put on myself and sometimes feel from others. It encompasses the cultural and societal and relational expectations in my life as well. I don't know exactly what I am giving up, but I am tired of the stress it causes, so I am walking away from it. Teach me about governing, God. That was my prayer last night.

This morning I had an email inviting me to attend the national gathering of leaders from the Vineyard Churches of Canada as one of the "critical thinkers and influencers...those that...would be integral to the discussion of how to take our churches and our movement forward." I think I am about to start a course in the government of God.

This is a photograph taken from my bedroom window last week - sometimes we see things through a glass that is not too clear.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

love is life

I brought Tea home from the vet today. She was not doing so well there. Despite 3 days of IV solution, she still has jaundice and low energy and little appetite. The vet told me to take her home. If I cannot get her to eat and drink, she will die. The vet also said that Tea is special: she needs people and love and attention, and they can't give too much of that in a hospital setting- they can only administer drugs and treatments. Without love, she does not do well. So my assignment is to shower her with affection, provide an environment where she knows she is cared for and not alone, and get food and water into her at regular intervals. If she responds to that, she has a fighting chance of surviving.

This is so basic and so true and quite remarkable that a vet would see that medicine cannot do what love can. Without knowing that we are loved, we wane and lose our zest for life. Last night at home group we talked about how to get over self-centredness. The solution is simple and difficult: instead of resorting to self-reliance, getting caught up in comparison, being trapped in self-delusion, entangled in the endless circle of self-absorption, and being overly self-critical, finding it hard to see the positive in ourselves, we must view ourselves the way God sees us. We must see ourselves in relation, always in relation, to God and to others. God looks at us with great affection, compassion, and a burning desire for us to be whole and free and alive and mature. This agreement with God is called humility and it is a very rare and attractive trait indeed. It is standing in great need while dancing in a torrent of grace and mercy. And it is the only way we will not die.

My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not "mine," but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not going to go back on that. Is it not clear to you that to go back to that old rule-keeping, peer-pleasing religion would be an abandonment of everything personal and free in my relationship with God? I refuse to do that, to repudiate God's grace. If a living relationship with God could come by rule-keeping, then Christ died unnecessarily. - from Galatians 2 in The Message

Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you....Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it's important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him. - from Romans 12 in The Message

Live, Tea, Live! Live, Matte, Live!

This is a fire in our fireplace, right next to where Tea is resting on the bed.

Monday, December 08, 2008

sick

I don't know what to do. Tea is pretty sick. I took her to the vet on Friday and was told that she has jaundice and is dehydrated and probably has some problem with her liver. They wanted to keep her in the hospital and put her on IV and take X-rays and do other tests and well, it was just all too much. She actually ate some food while at the vet, so that was encouraging. I had them do a blood test and took her home with some prescriptive food and some pills to see if she would improve.
All weekend Dean and I forced water down her a few times a day, gave her the pills to boost her appetite and the antibiotics, tried to tempt her with all kinds of food with partial success, and I prayed a lot. She hates the pills and one of my first attempts to give her one resulted in her frothing at the mouth a bit, twitching and running wildly into the other room, and throwing up all the water we just got into her (and the pill). Very hard to watch. Yesterday she had a fever and was very listless. She still refuses to drink, but does eat intermittently. Today she ate some cat treats and a tablespoon of tuna. She even peed in the litter yesterday - yay! But all in all, I don't think she is getting much better.

So this afternoon, I will pack her up and take her to the pet hospital to be put on IV. We don't know exactly what the problem is, and the blood test came back quite normal, except for one liver marker, so that's good. But she has to start eating and drinking or she will die, and I cannot make that happen at home despite my best efforts, so before she deteriorates any further, I am taking action.

Sometimes it is hard for me to admit that I cannot make things better myself. Sometimes I still make decisions based on how much it will cost instead of what is the best choice. Sometimes I get cynical and cold-hearted and just want to move on without fighting to save something/one, just because it costs me less emotionally. I am trying to change those things.
Sometimes I don't know what to do, so I pray, ask some good friends for advice, and then take the best course of action that I can figure out. That is what I am doing today.
I just selected the next book for our book club. It is called: The Gift Nobody Wants by Dr. Paul Brand and is all about pain and its purpose. Kind of timely for me to read again, I think.
This is a photo of Tea sleeping in our bed in the house in St. Lazare a few years ago.

Friday, December 05, 2008

The fiction continues...

I finally got back to my fiction blog and I have just put up another chapter, so if you were following the story, go ahead and check it out at www.outword.blogspot.com. More installments to follow weekly.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

overwhelm

Well, I am finished. My university courses for the term, that is. I handed in my last paper on Tuesday, all 43 pages of it. After I walked out of the Department of Theology office door, having just deposited the precious envelope, I decided that the occasion merited a bit of a celebration. I bought a bag of Old Dutch sour cream 'n' onion chips, a bottle of New Leaf Green Tea, got on the subway, and ate my small meal of victory while reading Ben Hur on the way home. Pretty crazy party, I know.

And despite being really happy that the research and writing and putting words and thoughts together in a profound and clear way are done for the moment, I found myself slightly less excited about being able to get on with day to day life now. Dentist and vet and car appointments and laundry and cleaning the bathroom and Christmas shopping don't have the same lustre as grappling with theological and philosophical questions. This should be a season of rest, but I am restless. My mind and my spirit have been stimulated and I want more. And yet, I know there are some things that have been pushed to the side that must be addressed, and I am not just talking about a few weeks' worth of ironing.

I get overwhelmed easily, I know that. And that is why I try to only do one thing at a time. I try not to think too far ahead or let my thoughts wander to itemise the list of all the thousands of tasks that need to be accomplished in the next week or month or year. If I do, I can feel my shoulders tighten and my adrenaline start to pump and the worry begin to march around in my head moaning "oh no" and then I get distracted and begin jumping from one task to the next and leave a trail of unfinished thoughts and slips of paper with notes scattered everywhere and feel like I am getting nowhere. And so I don't go there in my head. I do one thing at a time. I think about one task at a time. I compartmentalise my tasks and don't let my thoughts stray.

I was told by a good friend this week that I am not normal, that this sense of being overwhelmed and then needing to push thoughts of the future off into a corner where I cannot see or hear them should not be present in my life. Usually I take the "not normal" phrase as a compliment, but this time, I bit my lower lip and blinked a few times, not sure I liked where this was going. I thought I had come up with a very creative and practical solution to manage my thoughts and tasks and worries and perhaps should write a self-help book about this wonderful "lock up your thoughts into neat compartments" method which would land me on Oprah where the hair and make-up people would marvel at my youthful looks and bouncy hair and all want to attend a seminar of mine. (You see how my thoughts sometimes need a little helpful herding.)

Could it be that I have just locked away the fearful thoughts so that I can deal with them one at a time because this is manageable? One small worry at a time instead of big bunches of them, yes I can do that. Sigh. While definitely a good starting point, I do sense that my friend is onto something: it is not a way to live one's life. Yes, I want to be able to think about the big things, to climb the mountain range of challenges, to swim in the torrent of tasks, and to face the full force gale of everything life can throw at me and still be found brave, courageous and unflinching. I don't know exactly how to do that, but I can start by taking a peek in that corner room where all the scary and overwhelming thoughts have been relegated and not cover my eyes.

It is only fear. It cannot hold me. And when I stop pushing away the overwhelming-ness of fear, perhaps I will also be less likely to push away the overwhelming-ness of love: delightful and ticklish, cool as a summer pool and thick as chocolate pudding.

This is the Lion's Brewery pub in Waterloo, Ontario in a cozy cellar with wood and stone ceilings. Don't worry, it won't cave in.