Archive

Archive for June, 2012

Six dollar joy

My hard drive crashed this week. Apparently there were signs that this was coming. But I was told to get a mac a few years ago because I’d never have a problem with it. Apparently, even the best of cars need mechanics though and any machine will wear out. And of course, because macs never have any problems, I hadn’t backed up any files. To make things worse, my brand new cell phone decided to try out for the olympics by diving from my open backpack into the wading pool. It’s been a bad week for machines for me. I love to write though and I go a little stircrazy if I can’t write. So alas, I am fighting the slow house computer to write a few thoughts from the day.

Last post, I talked about my experience carrying a bag of empty bottles of beer and wine around the city with Bob. Today, I want to share a story of another friend who also lives on the margins of society – Peter. I know Peter because he plays the djembe drum during our worship service. With his Mormon background, we have had many interesting discussions that often turn into debates. His beliefs make him view women in ways that I do not uphold. But somehow, particularly in the past few weeks, I have earned both his respect and his trust – indeed a treasured position for me, a woman, a Christian.

Today was his birthday. Over the past few weeks, he has shared that birthdays are hard for him and why and that this particular birthday he really wasn’t looking forward to. One of the many reasons is that he has a tradition of djembe drum with a good friend and this year, this tradition would not be carried out. I had planned for the various communities that I have been involved in over the years to gather and take a trip to the island. I suggested to Peter to come as then he would be with people who care about him and not alone on his birthday. Last night, he came to me and said he didn’t think he was able to come after all. Sensing that it probably wouldn’t take much to convince him to come, I asked him why. The issue was money and that he didn’t have enough to make ends meet, let alone cover the cost of the ferry. I told him that it would be covered – a $6 ferry fee is within my budget – I could go without a couple of coffees.

Slightly feeling the aftereffects of the ‘rave in the nave’ party last night, I definitely needed a cup of strong coffee this morning. So our first stop was our local espresso shop that I love and we were able to get a special treat for the ride. Peter got the “Philosopher’s Brew” of tea at my suggestion and with the hopes that this delicious herbal tea would bring him knowledge and wisdom of the great philosophers. You could tell he was a bit in a funk, not fully keen on the idea of going to the island.

Once we arrived at the island, there was a man who stopped us. He was offering a 15minute djembe drum lesson for anyone who was interested for a donation. We all gathered and learned how to play simple rhythms. The instructor had us repeating rhythms back to him. He then ended with some crazy-fast rhythm – and Peter was the only one in the group who was able to think that fast and actually attempt the rhythm. I looked over – and he was glowing.

We returned to shore after a beautiful day in the sun, and he turned to me and said “All in all, considering how hard things are, today was almost perfect.” He was smiling as he said this.

I have to say- this is the best $6 I have spent all week.

A bag of ’empties’


A few weeks ago, my friend Bob asked me what my old church would think of him going there with a bag of ’empties’ – his term for empty beer cans and alcohol bottles that he collects and turns in for cash. I asked him why he would be going there and his answer was to see the place that was formative and to meet my friends. Predicting how he would be received, I suggested we go together so that I could introduce him as my friend. Bob has schizophrenia and lives on the margins of society. He cuts out ‘snowflakes’ of any design you can think of and passes them on to people he meets. He carries many bags that each have a purpose. He looks different, he acts different, he smells different.

As today drew closer, he made all these plans for him to show me his life – a typical sunday for him – after we visited my old church. He was excited, working out various bus and streetcar routes for us to take, looking up the times of each arrival to make sure we made it everywhere on time.

I began my day by giving him a wake up call and then headed to his street corner where he was waiting for me. He then asked me to carry one of his large bags of empties. Admittedly a bit hesitant, I travelled the city and visited churches with him carrying empty alcohol bottles that carried more alcohol than I think I’ve ever consumed in my entire life. The transit system workers all know Bob and warmly smiled at him. They graciously accepted his gifts of paper cutouts from recycled flyers. they laughed at his jokes. As we rode together, Bob had stories of literally almost all the churches we passed (though he did explain that he’s never stepped foot into the doors of a Catholic or Jehovah witnesses church).

Bob smiled at everyone he saw, pet every dog insight, held doors open for everyone and generously tithed what little he gets in disability to each church we visited.

I sat in a church that I called my home for 9 years. I recognized very few people. I was probably the least dressed up person in the room. Bob tucked away the bags of empties, perhaps sensing my slight uneasiness of appearing at my home church for the first time in almost a year with a smelly bag of items to be recycled. We sang the songs together, we listened to the sermon, we witnessed baptisms.

Tears well up in my eyes as I write this. Today I felt homeless. I returned to what was my home, but felt a profound sense of not belonging. I was the stranger. I aligned myself with Bob today, proud to show him as my friend. And I felt this strange sense of otherness, of being different.

I was talking with my housemate Chris who has practically become a younger sibling to me today about my experience and how I don’t think ‘regular’ church is something I could find belonging through. Being part of this community and this neighbourhood of marginalized people, I have become comfortable and learned to delight in the presence of people like Bob who have their quirks about them and who are hard to talk with because they easily stray and slip in and out of reality. I have become friends with prostitutes and sex workers. I’ve been greeted with warm hugs by people who have so much brokenness and struggles in their own lives, making sure that I am ok and well. I’ve eaten dinner with people who wreak of cigarette smoke and alcohol. I’ve had people who haven’t been privileged enough to go to university rejoice and celebrate my graduation last year and my announcement of returning to school.

I have also learned so much from people at the margins of society. Lee once prayed a profound, yet simple prayer of confession that brought tears to my eyes. Bob once thanked God for not turning away from him at first glance. Peter has shown me a desire to be the best dad to his very broken son even though he himself did not have a father who showed what it means to be a dad.

when I spend time with people on the margins of society, I am not a stranger. I feel profoundly at home and feel God’s presence in a real way.

Surrender

Over the past few days (longer if I really think about it), I’ve had many people tell me about how this blog, these writings, my story has helped them as they deal with their own histories of abuse, their own suffering and how they have been encouraged or even inspired. I am in awe of this – what an amazing privilege for God to use my suffering and my wounds to heal and comfort others!

I haven’t always felt this way. Even in some of my more happy moments, I’ve been somewhat discontent with the calling to speak out, to share my story and to encourage and support others who have been through similar traumas. I’ve had many arguments with God, wrestling with him over this calling. And I’ve tried to run from it – but what I am discovering is that God has made me a certain way, with certain gifts and abilities, and my joy comes from using those gifts. I am most fulfilled, most at peace, most at joy when I live into this calling. I can’t run away from it!

And so, in the past weeks, I’ve decided to embrace this calling and tackle it head on. the journey ahead is a long one and there are a few hurdles along the way. But I am going to work towards a PhD in clinical psychology, drawing upon my personal experiences and theological training, to work with women and children (and their families) as they recover from sexual abuse and to walk alongside them as they find their voice, either in a court of law or in speaking out in another venue. I’ve talked about my recent epiphany that the world is my oyster, and I still hold the desire to go to Africa. Lately I have been thinking about how privileged I am to have services that have helped me heal and, for the most part, been able to benefit financially from our government. Many countries do not have this kind of support, many women around the world are not given the opportunity to address abuse they’ve experienced head on as I have been able to. I think it would be awesome to be able to take what I have learned and to gain further skills and knowledge to be able to transfer it others in countries where such opportunities are lacking.

I cannot even begin to tell you how much joy and beauty there is in finally being able to surrender my life to God! I mean, I have done this before – but it’s only ever been parts of my life. I’ve never been able to embrace this calling fully and to accept the suffering I have endured. This is new for me. And I feel so incredibly joyful and at peace – I know a depth of God’s love that I have never known before. Life is amazing and beautiful and wonderful. Hard and full of struggles, yes. But beautiful nonetheless. I cannot fully put into words how awesome this phase is in my life. As I talk with friends going through a rough time, I long so deeply for them to reach this point too because it truly is amazing… yet I know that such healing comes from hard work, struggle and surrendering to God, a process that has taken me years and honestly I think will continue until the day I die. My life is full – overflowing even – and I am full of love. Thanks be to God indeed!

I’ve been listening to a song by Leonard Cohen – If it be your will. To me, it speaks of total surrender. And so today, I say, If it be your will, I will do it with all my heart, soul, strength and mind.

If it be your will

That I speak no more

And my voice be still

As it was before

I will speak no more

I shall abide until

I am spoken for

If it be your will

If it be your will

that a voice be true

from this broken hill

I will sing to you

From this broken hill

All your praise they shall ring

If it be your will

To let me sing

 

If it be your will

If there is a choice

Let the rivers fill

Let the hills rejoice

Let your mercy spill

On all these burning hearts in hell

If it be your will

To make us well

 

And draw us near

and bind us tight

All your children here

in their rags of light

In our rags ligth

all dressed to kill

and end this night

if it be your will

 

If it be your will

Something Beautiful

May the grace of God be with you always, may you know the truth inside you from the start, may you find the strength to know that you are part of something beautiful (Alexi Murdoch, Something Beautiful).

I remember in my early undergraduate years I took a course in existentialism, which at the time mirrored much of my thinking. I remember reading Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. Frankl described his experience in the concentration camps very vividly, speaking of how he was stripped of everything he had including his very own hair. Those were brutal experiences and honestly I cannot imagine such brutality and being stripped of dignity. Frankl, as a trained psychiatrist, discovered that even in the concentration camps, he could use his gifts and skills to help others. For him, this provided meaning for him in the midst of his struggles and he claimed that mankind can endure anything provided that they are able to find meaning in their lives.

I love the story of the Velveteen rabbit and how this stuff animal becomes worn, loses its ‘hair’, etc the more it is loved by a human. I think this is a beautiful image of suffering – the more we have endured, the more wisdom and love we experience. My friends gave me this book for my birthday once and inscribed in the cover is a note saying “You are loved”. I remember one pastor saying to me that I will know God’s love for me more than most. I’m not sure if one can compare such things, but I do believe that I have come to know more of the breadth and depth of God’s love through suffering.

And now, out of being grounded and rooted in God’s love, I am confident that God will use me in a powerful way to minister and show God’s love to those around me. This new direction of pursuing degrees in psychology is exciting to me not only because I have a plan for my future that I am at total peace about but also because I have been invited to be a part of something beautiful.

What an awesome calling – to be part of something beautiful. May each of us find the strength to know that we are part of something beautiful.

In your love my salvation lies

Image

I had a dream that I stood beneath an orange sky

with my brother standing by

I said “Brother you know I know

It’s been a long road we’ve been walking on.”

I had a dream that I stood beneath an orange sky

with my sister standing by

I said, “here is what i know now sister”

 

In Your love, my salvation lies

In Your love, my salvation lies

– Orange Sky by Alexi Murdoch

I’ve been working hard on my paper (it’s almost done! I should have a draft done before I end the night and I think it’s a pretty good paper so hopefully there won’t be too much editing to do). My focus in the paper is the necessity of silence that monastic communities preserve for ministry today, especially in a world of distractions and constant noise. I was reflecting on the passage where Christ is baptized and named by God as His beloved Son in whom He is well pleased. I noticed that this passage came directly before Christ went into the desert to be tempted by the evil one. It seems to me that Christ knew in a very deep way God’s love and that this love enabled him to resist the evil one and prepare for ministry.

Today I’ve had the attention span of a gnat. I think this comes from having a billion things on my mind and wanting to sort everything out this very moment. This morning, in conversation with my psychiatrist, and then spending the rest of the day reflecting on all that has happened in the past week, I came to a sense of peace and strength in figuring out a direction for my life. I am super excited about this and even more excited that I’m finally on a path where my dreams could become reality. I’ve been slowly coming to realize over the past few months that a Masters of Divinity is not going to prepare me for the kind of work I feel called to do. But I have some hurdles to overcome. My academic life has not been ‘normal’. Due to circumstances, it took me 9 years to complete my undergraduate degree. My marks are all over the map – they make sense when you consider the abuse was still happening during my first three years of university and that I was taking a full course load at the time of the trial. By fluke, I was able to start my masters while trying to complete my undergraduate degree. While I’ve had excellent marks, I’ve started and stopped courses a couple of times. So I was easily distracted today trying find ways to make my goals reality – another new thing for me is that I now believe that if I am pursuing what God wants me to pursue and if I am determined, then somehow there is a way.

Anyways, a roundabout way of saying that I’ve been pretty distracted from my paper. In thinking through the passage I mentioned and about my healing journey, I was also reflecting today on how God’s love in my life has been powerful for change. I landed myself in the hospital earlier this year and made some pretty bad choices, hitting rock bottom in many ways. And to my surprise, met God there. Actually, I remember two days of having my life flash before my eyes with knowledge beyond any doubt that God was watching this ‘video’ with me. He saw all my ugliness and brokenness. And He remained with me. Reminds me of the song ‘Everything’ by Alanis Morisette:

You see everything, you see every part. You see all my life and you love my dark. You digg everything of which I am ashamed… and you’re still here.

God saw me. And he never left me. But more than that – He loved me and loves me – just as I was in that moment and just as I am. There is nothing I could do to change His love for me. I remember sitting in the hospital cafeteria one day listening to music and reflecting on that time in my life and just feeling God’s amazing love poured out upon me.

It is that love that has changed my life. It is that love that inspires me. It is that love that has brought me to the point of where I am. Believe me, I do not deserve this kind of love. But God loves me.

In God’s love, my salvation lies. Thanks be to God.

Leaving Egypt behind

In the fall, our community studied the story of scripture through a dramatized retelling of the story. It was an overview, tracing themes from Genesis to Revelation, giving a big picture story of God’s story and our story. I remember being really impacted by a line that said something like God wanted to get ‘Egypt’ out of the hearts of His people.

I’ve often identified with the Exodus story. During the time I left home, my Bible study was studying Exodus. I have often looked at the abuse I endured as being in a kind of slavery and that day I left home was my ‘exodus’ into freedom. I remember shortly after I left home, I longed to go back, forgetting how awful it was to live in fear and dread of the moments when my Dad would touch me inappropriately. I became like the Israelites who told God that it was better in ‘Egypt’. I have wrestled with a belief that I cannot be happy, cannot be whole, without my family which has led me often into deep depression.

Then the Israelites were wandering the deserts so that God could heal them and woo them back to Him and that ultimately the Israelites could leave Egypt completely in their hearts and minds, not just physically. I think this is the journey that I have been on these past eight years. The abuse, the memories, the pain, and the longing for my family have occupied so much time and energy and impacted my life and the lives of those who care about me so much.

But lately I have felt like I have crossed over to the Promised Land, entering a new phase in my life where the shackles that have kept me in mental and emotional ‘slavery’ have been unlocked and I am free. I can’t even put into words the intense sense of freedom and joy that I feel right now and all the beauty I see in my life and in my future. This is new for me. And the longing to be with my family has changed. Yes, it is what I want and pray for daily – how I long for reconciliation. But, I have discovered that my life can be full and rich even if my family chooses not to face truth and reconciliation. I want to work towards reconciliation and do all I can to promote this happening. But, I cannot do this by myself. More than that though – I no longer feel held back in life because of this desire to reconcile. I no longer feel like everything I dream is put on hold because of my family. God has released me from these chains.

I think I had to wander the desert first though. I needed healing. There may be deserts ahead as ‘Egypt’ may still have a grip on me in ways I am not aware. But for now, I give thanks that I have entered this new and exciting phase of my life where I can for the first time in my life say with all my heart that life is GOOD and I am thankful that I am alive, and that I can see a great year ahead of me. These are words I’ve never been able to think let alone say or write – how cool is it that I can now declare this without any doubt or fear?!

I haven’t quoted a Steve Bell song in awhile and, what will not come as a shock to many people, today I’ve been impacted and inspired once again by his lyrics.

Burning ember, I remember, Love’s first light in me. I was cold and like a stone when I saw your flickering. Oh what beauty you drew near me, I could scarcely speak. Somehow I knew, I would be made whole in your burning.

These past 8 years have been filled with struggle and pain. I have found hope many times in the image of refining fire – that I would be made whole in the burning. And moving forward, I think of these words that come later in the song:

Yet a flower can endure the course of a storm by bowing to the tempest’s rage.

There is such strength and beauty in a little, delicate flower that surrenders instead of fighting the storm. May I surrender to the work of God in my life through this joyous time and in the deserts ahead.

Foolishness of the Cross

I’ve been (finally) working on my paper on the new monastic community that John Michael Talbot began in the 1970s called The Brothers and Sisters of Charity. It is a really interesting Catholic community that draws upon many traditions such as contemplative and charismatic. It is a community that allows for celibates, singles and married couples and families to join in the monastic tradition. One of the reasons I chose this community was because it has been around for awhile and being in a relatively new monastic community and witnessing and participating in the struggles that come with this newness, I was eager to learn and be encouraged by a community that has grappled with many of the issues we are tackling and have come through to the other side.

As I’ve been writing and reflecting on their Rule and Rhythm of Life, I’ve been noticing how humility plays into so much of their way of life. Their lives are lived in common – common purse, common decisions, each member serving the community – so that no one can boast.

Lately I have been struggling with being humble – with finding a healthy balance between assured of who I am in Christ and being proud. I think it is really easy in community to start to think of all the ways *I* have contributed and to think of myself more highly than I ought. It is easy to compare myself with others and justify myself by thinking I contribute more than what others do. It is easy to get frustrated when my efforts aren’t noticed, aren’t praised and at times are not even welcome.

And then there’s Bob. I’ve talked about Bob before – for those who haven’t met him, he lives on the margins of society. Many churches and many people struggle to relate to him because, as he says, he is different. As I sit here writing, he is hard at work preparing paper cut out decorations for members of our community who are getting married next month. He comes in to our house and quietly takes out the trash and the compost, often without any of us noticing. He looks out for household items that we might need. In the fall, he raked the leaves. and then he quietly leaves our house. He then goes on to another church to do “random acts of violence” there… I should say that he has a wonderful sense of humour and often you need to take what he says and hear the opposite… he really means “random acts of love”. He doesn’t ask for praise, he doesn’t boast of his works. He just serves.

I’ve been studying 1 Corinthians this week. And these verses stood out to me: “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of the world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.” (1:27-28).

This is the foolishness of the cross (1 Corinthians 1:18) – that God chose those whom the world has rejected to bring about his kingdom. I am so thankful for people like Bob in my life for showing me what true humility looks like in community.