Sunday, May 31, 2009

wanna dance?

We went swing dancing last night. Lots of fun. We had a group of 11 friends together so everyone got a chance to dance with each other (and a few strangers as well) in a very friendly, fun, and encouraging environment. Plus, there was a live band playing so that brought a great vibe into the room. There were some really good dancers there, and there were some people who were trying the swing dance scene for the first time. It is always a bit awkward when you are learning a social skill like dancing. You watch people kick and twirl and jive with grace all around you, and yet, it is all you can do to set your feet down on the right beat. It can be discouraging.

I have had about 6 dance lessons in my life, so I am getting pretty comfortable with moving around and following someone, even if I don't know all the steps. The important things for me are to be relaxed, bring some fun to every dance, pay attention to the cues given by my partner, and don't be afraid to try something and make mistakes. Some of the funnest times I had last night came when we made some mistakes and just went with it. Don't stop. I am also learning to be a better follower. My job is to make the guy look good, no matter what his level of confidence and skill.

I was reading Luke 1 today. It is the story of a young girl, an unknown person in a forgotten nation, and how God picks her out of obscurity and changes her life forever. Being a last child, I sometimes struggle with being overlooked and feeling forgotten. I want to be picked. I want someone to come over and say, "Hey, will you dance with me?" As I was reading this story about Mary, I wondered how God does it. How does he pick one person out of many and remain a just God? What if I was standing next to Mary and BAM, I saw God pick her and not me?

The flaw in this thinking is that I am trying to funnel all the world events through the narrow channel of how it affects me. So self-centred. Ugh. God is very aware of my needs, but in wisdom, he focuses on how I fit into the bigger picture, not how the bigger picture must be squeezed into the confines of my life. We are all neglected and forgotten in certain areas of our lives. It happens. The tragedy is not that it happens, nor that some are rescued out of obscurity while I remain on the sidelines. The tragedy is that I insist on staying on the sidelines, naming my lack of skill and my abundance of insecurity as excuses.

We are all Mary. God wants to plant his seed of life into all of us, no experience necessary. He wants the nature of Jesus to grow in us, to become mature and fruitful in us, and to surprise the world with its beauty and it ability to bring wholeness. The place where we feel overlooked and inadequate is the very place that God's spirit comes and offers us a chance to embrace the divine spark of life, because it is in this very place that we need it the most. And it is also in this very place that the most fertile environment can be found, free of ambition and self-effort. It is always our response to his loving initiative and the embrace of his life that produces the most amazing results, not our attempts to get him to super-charge our meagre accomplishments. For you see, nothing is impossible with God.

Yes, I see. I am ready to step onto the dance floor and follow. And the goal is to make my partner look good!
This is a picture of me dancing on the stairs of my house. Woohoo!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

downloading vs. streaming

I am a thinker. I like to sit in the quiet and contemplate. This is where I come up with ideas for just about everything I do in life including the writing and the talks that I give. This is how I find the energy and insight to walk with people in a creative and hopefully helpful way. Most of all, this is where I am able to make some sense of my life and find some direction for daily decisions. When I don't find the space to be quiet and dialogue with God and ponder the deep questions, I can feel quite empty and aimless, unable to offer much to anyone.

This past month was one of those times when I did not find a lot of space for pondering. It happens. And yet, I had talks to give and people to pray for and counsel and writing to do. The wisdom pail was often scraping at the bottom of the well, or so it felt to me. One of the times that I was expected to get up and say something to a group of people, I realised that I had nothing running through my head: no prepared thoughts and not even a memory of something I heard or thought about earlier. I was tired and felt like I couldn't concentrate. Nevertheless, I got up in front of the group when my turn came and stood there, willing to open my mouth and see what came out. I started with one sentence, a kind of lame repeat of something I had said 2 days earlier, but it was a start. And then it led to a thought that was relevant and fresh. Then I totally lost my train of thought for a moment, but after a wee pause, it came back and I started talking about church not being an event and suddenly I knew that I was saying something that was very important for me and everyone else to grasp. I was so glad I had not waited until I had a prepared speech in my head before I got up, because the insight came after I opened my mouth.

It is a bit like the difference between downloading and streaming. I prefer downloading because then I possess the information on my hard drive and can access it anytime I want, especially when I don't have access to an internet connection. It takes longer and uses up more energy and space, but then it is mine to do with as I please. I own it. Streaming means that one has to have a really good and consistent connection to the source. There is no time lag, no space taken up, and no energy spent getting it all together before it can be used. It can never really be called "mine," either. I just hit "play" and I trust that something will be there. It does not come from me, it is tapping directly into the source and it is using the source's resources instead of mine. It is a much riskier way of doing things, but so much less taxing on my system.

And so I believe that I am learning to stream in the spirit. I don't always have to have a deep well of resource material to draw from, or weeks of prepared thoughts and notes (though I still value that process and do it as much as I can). When the time comes that something is required of me, even though I have not had the benefit of lengthy preparation, if I am connected to God and willing to press play by opening my mouth and being available, he will always come through with something. I won't have time to edit and alter it, but that's not a bad thing. It never has to be "mine" first, as if the truth were something that could be latched onto and captured, to be used at my convenience. No, Truth is and always has been Him.

Connect. Press play. Watch. Listen. Learn.

This is Tea sitting in the sunny window right beside my desk, catching some rays, flicking her tail in excitement at the birds flitting by (photo taken April 1, 2009).

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

something for leaders

Whew! We are back from our weekend in Sussex, New Brunswick and though tired, I feel immensely blessed and content. The countryside there is beautiful, the people we spent time with are some of the most dedicated and real folks I know, and there was a goodness and hopefulness that permeated every waking and sleeping and eating moment.

I was given a chance to talk to the pastors on Friday morning, so here is a brief summary of what I said (and did).

I asked God, what would you say to these pastors and leaders? And it seemed to me that he responded with, "What would you say to Dean?" Well, that's easy! I would say to Dean, "Thank you for loving me! Thank you for taking care of me, for providing for me, for telling me I am beautiful, for making sure I have food and clothes, for defending me, for cheering me on, for believing in me and seeing my potential, for sticking by me on my bad days, and for never walking away." And I think that this is what God wanted to say to this group of pastors: "Thank you for loving my bride, the church. Thank you for taking care of her, for seeing her beauty, for sticking around even when things are not going well, for defending her and standing by her and providing what she needs. Thank you for seeing her potential and telling her she is beautiful. Thank you for loving my bride."

But I think that often as leaders, we forget that we are also part of the bride, the beloved of Jesus, and it is important for us to remember a few things that a bride does.

1. Respond. We get so used to leading that sometimes we forget how to be responders. Dean and I have been taking a few dance lessons and I am realising that I try to lead too much sometimes. (Dean and I did a little impromptu dance here. Such fun.) I know the moves and have a good idea of what I am supposed to do, so I just do it, but that is not dancing. Dancing (for me) is responding to the slightest touch, the smallest pressure on your back, the lift of a hand, and letting someone else lead. If you ever see me and Dean on the dance floor, you will see me smiling and giggling a lot, because there is something very delightful in responding, to being led in a graceful and beautiful rhythm, and trusting the other person to call the next move. Let us recapture the delight of being good responders.

2. Receive. Leaders and pastors give a lot and sometimes we forget how to receive well. I am not talking about money, but more important stuff. There is also a difference between "taking" and "receiving." We can "take" time for ourselves, but that is not the same as receiving time as a gift from God that we had no part in conjuring up. Three things that I think leaders need to receive and recognise as gifts from God are:
a) energy: We expend a lot of energy doing good stuff and there is often a sense of depletion. This is not how it should be. The spirit of God, his gift to us, is our energising force, so let us never do anything without him. When you feel your energy getting low, ask for the gift of life. This is what Jesus is; he is Life. (At this point, I gave an energy bar to a woman in the room who was a mother of 5.)
b) friendship: Being a leader or pastor and walking with people on their journey of faith inevitably seems to bring clashes. In my own life, I have seen my role as a leader or team member cost me dear friendships. I don't know why or how these things happen, but they do, and it makes me sad. I believe that friends are one of the greatest gifts in life, and I pray that God gives leaders friends that stick closer than brothers. ( I gave a Starbucks gift card to a pastor who later told me that he had lost several male friends in the past years.)
c) time: There never seems to be enough time to do all the things that need to be done and to invest in all the people that need our help. But I have to believe that God knew what he was doing when he created time. He did not create something that was too small or inadequate for his purpose. Time is a gift and God's gifts are always given freely and many times lavishly. May we receive each day as a gift and give our time freely to those things that God deems worthy. (I gave a current TIME magazine, which happened to be titled "24 Hours that Saved the World" to the one of our long-term leaders.)

3. Radiate. Leaders have so many tasks to accomplish and some plan that is always being worked on. Something is always going through our minds; thinking and planning about what to do about a certain situation. We often forget to just sit there and look pretty. And that is what brides do. They sit there and look pretty. They radiate beauty. We reflect the glory of Jesus. We are beautiful, and when people look at us, no matter how unlovely we are feeling at that particular moment, there is always a sliver of the glory of God that shines through. So go ahead, sit there and look pretty.

This photo is a shot I took by thrusting my hand up out of the open sunroof and pressing the button, not knowing what I was pointing at. I happened to capture the sky, threatening to rain, and some rolling fields just outside of Plaster Rock, New Brunswick.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

pre road trip jitters

We are leaving shortly for a road trip to Sussex, New Brunswick. It is a Vineyard Canada thing, so we'll get to see old friends and make new ones and sit in some sessions with leaders and attend a conference where we hopefully learn together. Being in a car with Dean for 20 hours is a great treat as well!

Dean and/or I have been asked to give a little talk on Friday morning to the pastors and also to pray for a ladies' bible study group on Sunday morning. I got very excited by these opportunities because I love being able to bring something to others that makes things clearer in their lives, that adds fun and grace and beauty. And then I start to think...well, what would that be, this wonderful thing I am bringing? So I have been pondering on that for a few days and been so tired and busy that nothing has come out of all these scattered thoughts. So I feel bad that I might come there empty handed, but then I remember that the gift is not ultimately from me, is it? I have asked God for a present for these friends and I know he never disappoints.

This is the lovely little solar flower that Dean brought back from Germany, a gift from his colleagues in China. When the sun shines, it can't help but dance! Let's dance!

Monday, May 18, 2009

the era of the house guests

I am alone at home. This is kind of a big deal, because I have had house guests for 30 days out of the last 33. I love house guests, and all of them have been fun and interesting, and we got to do lots of cool stuff together. I loved having coffee and croissants at the French patisserie, walking down by the canal and having ice cream and deep conversations, going to see Cirque du Soleil, and playing parlour games with a group of friends and family at Dean's birthday party. There is a time for house guests and socialising, and there is a time to get back in the rhythms of contemplation and work and rest and household chores and thoughtful learning.

This past month I have been more aware than ever that my life is meant to be lived as one, as a whole person, not split into different roles and functions which must be done in isolation from each other. It is totally possible to be contemplative in a noisy room full of people. Prayer and thoughtful wisdom can be included in a light social setting, amidst laughter and wine and games. Rest can be found even without solitude. Household chores can become an enjoyable social activity. Too often I have associated a certain religious setting or prayerful posture with my spiritual activities, and failed to see that all of life is spiritual. It is so simply because I am a spiritual being, and I invite the Holy Spirit to walk with me.

Part of the heritage that our modern western culture has running through its bones is this notion of dualism, that there are separate realms of the spirit and the body, and in these realms reside good and evil, respectively. Thanks in great part to Plato, this thinking has remained in much of our thinking and acting to this day. We are dualistic in nature in many ways. We have a work life and a home life. We have a spiritual life and a social life. We have a private life and a public life. Our lives were never meant to be hewn into all these parts, each trying to survive on its own without the benefit of the others.

If you read the Bible or look at the life of Jesus from this dualistic or fragmented point of view, you will become confused. The stories won't make sense, and Jesus will come off as somewhat of an irrational and odd fellow. But he is one. He shows us what it is like to be one. And he invites us to be one as he and the Father are one. I want to learn what this "living as one" means, and as is to be expected, I am sure I will get more opportunities to practice this as the spheres of my life collide and clump together.

May I endure the scrapes and bumps and fatigue with grace as we work our way towards fusion.

This is some beautiful blooming tree just outside the Cirque du Soleil tent in Vieux Montreal.

Monday, May 11, 2009

I used to be an actor

Last night we went out with friends after church to the local rib joint, and one of the people whom I had recently met started asking me about what kind of work I liked to do. It led to a whole discussion of my resume in the arts and theatre, and at one point he asked me if I ever missed acting. I said, "No." And then I wondered..."Why don't I miss it?" Sometimes when I am writing or talking to someone, I find that things become clearer, the lines fall into place, and I understand something that I did not comprehend before. And so it was last night.

Having grown up in a fairly conservative environment that did not provide a lot of outlets for passion and creativity (and to be honest, somewhat discouraged it), I chose to channel most of my emotional energy and abundance of imagination into acting and other artistic outlets. This created a certain division in my life between the quiet, shy Matte and the charismatic, intense, and passionate Matte. As I have chosen to face many of the fears that ruled my life and to let go of counter-productive self-imposed restraints, I believe much of that division has been eradicated. I don't need to act, to perform, to take on a character, to have a script written for me, or to step into a fabricated scene in order to be a strong and vivacious person. I can bring that energy, verve, whole-hearted focus, and this authentic, captivating character with me anywhere I go.

I still love the theatre, but I suppose my involvement in it was a bit of a substitute for living large in my own skin. And last night, for the first time, I vocalised the fact that I don't miss acting because I have found that all my strong emotions, crazy ideas, and intense, focused charisma are now pretty much a part of my everyday life, as they should be. This makes me a more honest, whole, and happy person. Woohoo!

Thanks, Howie, for asking me the question.

This is one of the many bagel shops on the Plateau in Montreal. mmmm, bagels.

Monday, May 04, 2009

what type of plant are you?

Last night I gave a talk at church on "What Type of Plant are You?" It went something like this...

1. Annual - This is a plant that lasts for one season. It is beautiful and impressive and grows quickly, but it cannot withstand a harsh climate. It is around as long as things are sunny and warm and comfortable, but once the hard times come, it is gone. It is bright and flashy and a pleasure to have around, but it is not around for long.

2. Perennial - This type of plant is seasonal. You plant it once, and it comes and goes according to the seasons. It does not like the harsh climate either, so it will be dormant when things are unpleasant, but it makes its appearance once things warm up. There will be long periods of inactivity and some slow growth over the years as it comes and goes according to the climate.

3. Artificial - These flowers and plants look great, never fade, and bloom all the time, but they are not alive. They are static, without growth or movement, without roots or depth. Though they appear vibrant, there is nothing real about them.

4. The Tree - It all starts with one small seed that falls on the ground. It takes root and for the first few years, there is not much to see. This is because the nature of all plants, especially those that grow to a significant size, is to put down a strong network of roots before any shoot appears above ground. They continue to grow in every season, even when they shed their leaves, though at a diminished rate. A young sapling is fragile and at a medium rate of growth of 1 - 2 feet (in height) a year, is susceptible to breakage and damage in its first 5 - 7 years. However, if it is given a safe and nurturing environment, it soon becomes a strong and impressive feature of the landscape.

But blessed is the man who trusts me, God, [and] the woman who sticks with God. They're like trees replanted in Eden, putting down roots near the rivers - never a worry through the hottest of summers, never dropping a leaf, serene and calm through droughts, bearing fresh fruit every season. Jeremiah 17:7-8 The Message

The [uncompromisingly] righteous shall flourish like the palm tree [be long-lived, stately, upright, useful, and fruitful]; they shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon [majestic, stable, durable, and incorruptible]. Planted in the house of the Lord, they shall flourish in the courts of our God. [Growing in grace] they shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be full of sap [of spiritual vitality] and [rich in the] verdure [of trust, love, and contentment]. [They are living memorials] to show that the Lord is upright and faithful to His promises; He is my Rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him. Psalm 92:12-15 Amplified

Things we can learn from the tree:
1. Go deep first. Develop a hidden depth with God that is the foundation and source of all the things that are seen (above ground) in your life.
2. Long term thinking. Don't be tempted to settle for something quick and flashy. Go for faithfulness and steady growth over the long haul. Develop strength that will allow you to weather any storm or drought.
3. Nurture the seeds that God has planted in you and in your faith community. Protect and encourage those things that are a gift from God, that have landed in the soil of your life. Nurture the supernatural seed of the sacred love of Jesus that wants to take hold of your life.
4. Cultivate habits that promote growth. If an athlete wants to make it to the Olympics, there is a lot of hard work and discipline necessary in order to develop that kind of skill and strength. If someone wants to complete a degree at University, the disciplines of attending class, finishing assignments, and studying the materials are vital to learning what is required and completing the course. If we want to become more like Jesus, there are habits and disciplines that will help us on our way.
5. Imitate Jesus. Read Matthew to see Jesus' example and also to note his instructions.
6. Surround yourself with other trees. A forest enhances and improves the environment around it, provides many resources, becomes a habitat for other life, and adds value to the land.

What type of plant are you?

This is a tulip on the table of the condo we stayed at in Florida.

Friday, May 01, 2009

pothole

It has been quite a week. My school year officially ended last Friday with a bang: a 21-hour day which included a 3 hour exam and a 15-hour creative project. The next night we went jive dancing with some friends and on the way home, blew two tires out on a nasty pothole. Dean's car went into the shop on Monday for new tires and some minor body work. He commandeered my car, so I was without wheels for 4 days. Meanwhile, Dean had a business trip scheduled, so he drove to Vermont, parked my car at the airport, then flew to Memphis to oversee shipping and inventory at the new warehouse location for his company. When he got there, he encountered a bigger mess than he had bargained for. He called me yesterday to tell me he was extending his trip by 3 days. That leaves me in charge of leading the Sunday night church gathering and speaking.

On top of that, I have had a house guest for the past 2 weeks who is writing three exams and dealing with some curve balls that life is tossing at her (and me, too, I guess. I was very thankful that she was with me throughout the whole Tea ordeal.). I was impatient and discouraged at home group on Wednesday night, though we had several good encounters as we wandered the streets of Montreal doing random acts of kindness. Someone asked me today if I was okay. I guess things are fine. I am tired and somewhat subdued and once again, feeling like I have very little left to give.

This has been a rather tumultuous 9 months, and we have hit a few potholes. I do get deflated with the wear and tear of it all and find myself asking more frequently than usual why I do what I do. And if I am doing it well.

The answer is that I have to trust that God put me in this place (and not someone else) for a good reason. My specific set of skills and my unique personality are what are needed to bring about some good purpose here, and I am here to draw something beautiful out of the situations and people that I encounter along the way. And these people and circumstances are to accomplish something beautiful in my life as well. If I keep silent or withdraw or give up, the world is missing my voice and my influence, and I believe I have something important to add to this place. The very fact that I had trouble believing the previous sentence while I typed it means that I trust my doubt more than God's goodness and wisdom. Got to change that.

Throughout these challenging weeks, there have always been the daily moments of blissful gratitude that I find myself caught up in. I love this place we live in, I love being able to go outside and walk in the sun, I love hearing Dean's voice on the phone, I love eating out with friends, I love Arizona Green Tea, I love watermelon, I love my nice comfy bed with a sleeping cat on it, I love listening to inspiring music, I love doing laundry, I love sitting in the park and reading a book, I love going shopping with a friend and trying on silly hats, I love getting emails, I love going to city hall and encountering helpful people, I love crossing things off my 'to do' list, I love buying gifts for my family, I love the feeling of a good workout and stretch, I love taking a deep breath, I love a good hot shower, I love my hair, I love waking up every morning and seeing the light, and I love this body. Yes, I love the gift of today and I look forward to the hope of tomorrow.

Hey, I have started up on my fiction blog again, so catch the latest chapter at http://www.outwordplus.blogspot.com/.

This is a picture of the front right tire after we hit the pothole. Today I went to city hall and filed a claim for $422 (the cost of 2 brand new tires). We'll see what happens. Stay tuned.
NOTE: The claim for the tires was refused because the city is not responsible for any damage caused by the state of the roads. Oh well. God bless Montreal! And I really mean that.