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Archive for August, 2012

Let my words be few

“You are God in heaven, and here I am on earth, so I’ll let my words be few… Jesus, I am so in love with you” – Matt Redman (Let my words be few)

Tonight, we signed a lease for a beautiful 5 bedroom house with a large backyard and a pear tree. It’s one of those beautiful big houses in the heart of the area that I feel called to. A few days before I have to move, and everything came together… including a 5th housemate who is male and totally into community, Christianity and social justice. There were days I didn’t think it would happen. But it did.

Life is very good on my end as you might have gathered from my last post. But honestly, it has been challenging – challenging because I live with so much uncertainty. I feel like I am in the desert and collecting manna for each day. Only, there is no extra to collect and hoard for the next day. I guess ultimately it means none is spoiled, but it means a daily reliance on God. God seems to provide just enough for today – no more, but no less.

Faith is an adventure. Some days are easier than others. Today God has seen my tears, heard my frustrations and doubts, and watched me smile as I see more and more of how blessed I truly am. It’s not easy depending on God for literally your daily sustenance. But, over these past few days, I have been realizing that my relationship with God is going deeper and I am loving him more and more.

I think so often our prayers, including my own, are a wishlist that we bring to God as if he were Santa or a genie in a lamp, who grants our requests if we ask in the right way, or ask enough. I know my prayers have often been driven by desperation or exasperation. Sometimes they are automatic, like the prayers for finding my keys.

But over the summer, I have been finding myself bringing the whole of me to God – my fears, my frustrations, my questions, my longings, my heart. And then being quiet and still long enough to hear God.

Two nights ago I laid on the deck of a friend’s cottage with two of my favourite people and looked at the stars. The God who created the universe is the same God who loves me and cares for me – do you know how amazing it that is?

Yesterday, my friends and I were out in the middle of the lake and we started this splashing fight and laughing hysterically and uncontrollably with fun banter back and forth. Time stopped for a moment. I forgot about my need to pay tuition, the fact that I didn’t have housing secured for Sept 1, my need to look for a job, and how I would pay for groceries once last month’s rent is paid. I basked in the love for and of my dear friends. I felt totally free to be myself – to laugh, to tease, to splash, to have the joy of a child doing silly things. And then we came to the shoreline and laid in the shallow water. And we were quiet. I was at complete peace and filled with so much joy.

As I continue to live in the uncertainty of what the next few weeks hold, I find myself ending each day with the knowledge that God is in heaven and I am here on earth. I may not know much else sometimes. But there is great security even amidst all this uncertainty in knowing that the God who can set the universe into being is the same God who cares for me. He will provide. I don’t know how or when. And I am realizing that it may not be in the way I want.

But he will provide.

And in the meantime, I will continue to bring my thoughts and feelings to a God who cares enough about me to give me two days of total bliss and a laughter that filled my whole being.

And I will take moments to let my words be few and to simply lay down and bask in the amazing love that he pours into my life. I will delight in Him as I delighted in my friends’ company.

Jesus, I am so in love with you.

More than we can ask or imagine

“I’ve got a feeling that tonight’s gonna be a good night, that tonight’s gonna be a good night, that tonight’s gonna be a good, good night, I can feel it!” – The Black Eyed Peas

I feel so incredibly blessed. I never ever thought I would ever say this – but I totally love my life! All the sweat and toil and tears was COMPLETELY worth it to get to this point where I wake up each morning and think today is gonna be a good good day….”Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, Saturday to Sunday… party every day!” I never thought I could look far into the future and say I am excited to see what is coming – and that whatever is coming my way is going to be amazing. I still remember a pastor telling me he didn’t know why God had allowed such suffering – but he did know that I would know the depth of God’s love and grace more than most. I’ve never held on to the “more than most”. But honestly – this depth of love and grace and peace and joy and abundant life is WAY more than I could have ever dreamed or imagined.

I need to explain a few things for people to understand fully how truly amazing and beautiful this is. I have struggled a long time with depression. It was never diagnosed when I lived at home, though looking back I can see how much I was struggling inside. I remember a moment when I was about 9 years old and cried out to God that he would take me to heaven. In fact, my stepfather took me aside in my midteens and talked to me about how he noticed that I seem to be struggling. I was so afraid that everyone would know what was happening to me – the shame I felt was enormous and my fear that it would completely break my mom was so strong – so I worked as hard as I could to pretend everything is good. And that has continued into my adult life. And yet, honestly, in those moments when I was most extroverted and outgoing (and busy!), I was dying inside. I think one of the steps to freedom and healing is to stare your sin and brokenness in its face. And this year, with the help of a loving God who never left my side, and a few close friends, I faced my own sin – my own destructive ways of hurting myself and my longing for life to end and my careless attitude discounting the cost and pain to those who loved me so very much. I was playing with fire and tempting fate – and I will never forget the tears of a dear friend and the knowledge that I caused those tears. It was in that moment that I knew my life had to change. It was in the next hours that I came to accept that God isn’t finished with me yet and that he has a purpose for my life. Do you know what it is like to see your own ugliness and to hear God without a shadow of a doubt say to you that he loves you, he wants you and he will use you?

In those few days, I made some pretty hard decisions – my life needed to change and I was going to do whatever it would take to make it change. I said yes to life and I dared to dream that my life COULD be different.

And honestly, I am not how it all happened after that. But life was different. Hard still, but different nonetheless. And then I started the trauma program which was incredibly exhausting and intense. But somehow my decision to hang on to life kept me event through the most difficult days of that program.

And then, in the last week of the program, something pretty amazing happened. I don’t know if I can describe it well enough. Sometimes words are just completely inadequate. I was in art therapy and whenever someone was leaving the program, they had the opportunity to share their eight weeks of art with everyone in the program. I was always amazed at how you saw growth in various people – even people that I only knew a couple weeks – through their art journey. But I went into art not seeing that in myself. My art seemed to be getting more depressing as each week went on. The week before – probably the hardest week – I made a plasticine cup. Symbols are important to me and a cup has always been symbollic of my life. This cup was black, and cracked and bent out of shape and chipped. Inside there was a little bit of coffee – demonstrating that I was pretty empty of energy and depleted of life – it was definitely not a cup that overfloweth! But more – the coffee had green mold on it. That week I saw my life as ugly, broken, irreversably wrecked, gross, spoiled. But in my last art class, without putting any prior thought, I made flowers out of tissue paper. and I made a poster that is on an earlier blog post using a term that I heard another abuse survivor use – I wrote “from survivor to thriver” with simple flowers around it. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve never liked the word survivor. I won’t get into my reasons again. But thriver stood out to me – I didn’t want to simply survive. Surviving is what I have done all my life. But I wanted to thrive – and in that moment, I realized that i AM thriving. But what is even more interesting is that when I looked back over my eight weeks of art, the first 7 pieces had black – a symbol of darkness to me – all over them. And yet, unconciously, on my last day i did make a single dot of black in my art. Something huge had shifted. I didn’t understand what. or how. But I knew something was radically different.

Then, I had that incredible dream about me going to Africa (it’s also in an old blog post). And I remember that being such an epiphany – what was stopping me now from pursuing my dreams? My answer has always been my family – I tied so much to my family. I had all of my hope in the idea of reconciliation and whenever something would happen that would make that seem completely far-fetched, I got depressed and wanted to give up. Anyone who knows me knows that reconciliation is still dear to my heart. Only, I no longer NEED it, I no longer need my family. I can love life with or without them.

I began to realize that I was more like the beautiful flowers that I had made than the cracked and spoiled cup. It is still sad that I do not have my family. But it is sad in a different way – rather than me wanting desperately to be a part of them, I want them to be a part of me. God has made me into a beautiful person with gifts and talents and wisdom and deep love for people. I can cook a pretty darn good meal and I can walk alongside people who are suffering. My parents choose not to see this, they choose not to be a part of this. And ultimately, that is their loss – they lose out in the joy of seeing God’s economy worked out. They lose out on seeing how God can take what was meant for evil and for selfish gain and turn it into a life that is able to make a difference in others. They lose out on seeing huge transformations. They miss out on discovering who I am and all that I am becoming. And that is what makes me sad. It is their loss.

Over the past few months, I’ve felt like I’ve been living on the edge and needing to fully trust God for my needs. I waiver. But over and over and over again, God provides. He doesn’t always provide in my timing or what I think is best. We’ve had it out a few times! Sometimes God waits until the last possible moment to come through. But he does. Always. and in ways that are greater than i could ask or imagine. And throughout this whole journey of learning to completely and utterly rely on God for all things I have been realizing what an adventure tursting in God truly is. Sometimes it feels like a rollar coaster and my stomach gets queasy. But when I am flying with only God holding me, it is thrilling.

Let me share a few moments on this journey.

In June, I found myself in need to move faster than I had originally intended. I frantically looked for places that would accept both me and my cat, overwhelmed by the prices of subletting. And then a friend wrote me and said we could stay the whole summer at her place. But it gets better – she offered it rent free. Which turned out to be a huge blessing because I found out a couple of weeks later that I needed to take a psychology course to get into the program I want along with some other unexpected costs that seem to all fall my way in July. I payed for my course trusting that God would provide for my expenses somehow, honestly not knowing where that money would come from. I decided to try to babysit to cover expenses and hopefully earn a lot to cover tuition in the fall. There were no bites early in the summer. But there was an email from two people who decided that they wanted to contribute to my education.

If you’ve been following my blog for awhile, you will likely remember that I have been looking for a place to live in the fall. Due to church politics beyond our control, we have all been forced to leave the church rectory. I still struggle with bitterness and anger at the injustice of the whole situation and in particular how people whom I came to love as family were treated by people with power. Throughout the summer I had a strong sense of where I felt called to live and believed that God would provide. I have been in need for housing many times and at a moment’s notice people have generously offered their homes to me. once august hit though, I was starting to lose faith – would God really provide? Did I hear God’s voice wrong?

Then somebody replied to my new housemate’s ad looking for a 5 bedroom house for a certain price in a certain location. And we went to see it – and it is this beautiful old mansion house that has been renovated to perfection and new appliances are going in. The location could not have been better for the area that we were requesting. And the backyard has a pear tree. And when I asked the landowner if we could garden, he suggested we plot it out next year together, share the workload and share the produce. We have an opportunity to once again build partnerships and rootedness in an area to which we are called, to live off the earth and to share what God has provided so generously to others. This place is more than any of us had asked or imagined. And we have had opportunities to talk with the Landlord about why we are Christians and what are community is about.

And then just about everything was set for school in the fall. I got an excellent grade in my course, I have exciting courses picked out for the fall… everything was a go. And then it came time to pay for tuition. and I don’t have it. After a few days of crying out to God in utter confusion not understanding what the heck he wanted to do with my time and having fits of anger that my parents not only cut me off completely financially when I left home but also never returned the money that was owed, I finally came to a point where I said “your will, not mine, be done” and I began researching full time, part time and contract work.

Yesterday I met with the registrar’s office expecting that he would turn me away and laugh at the fact that on the day tuition is due I wasn’t able to cough up the money. Instead, he very caringly helped me come up with a viable plan that will work for the college through his negotiating and work for me. And while all the details  are not fully worked out, what was impossible a few days ago is now possible… manageable… and even likely. I went into the registrar’s office with no hope and no expectations other than being told to quit school and work full time, and I came out with more than i asked or imagined.

And tomorrow, two of my good friends and I are headed away for a couple of days. A friend from a long time ago who unbeknown to me has been praying for me all these years and thinking of me wrote me and offered their family cottage to me. And so I am going to have a couple of days of sun, water and quiet. I am going to laugh and play games and eat good food. There will be no jobs to apply for, no email to respond to, no meetings to attend and no textbook to study. Honestly, vacations that take me away from the city are hard to come by for a person with no money. Usually summer comes and I get to hear about all these people who travel or go to a cottage for the summer. I never asked or imagined that I would have the opportunity to do this.

The journey of faith can be terrifying – God does not always reveal his plans, sometimes suffering and facing suffering leads to unexpected joy, God doesn’t always act in your timing or give you what you want. But it is also exciting because Christ came so we could have life to the full. Such a life is possible! It is possible to be overflowing with love and joy. It is possible to look at life and say that it is beautiful and amazing and wonderful. It is possible to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are loved deeply by God Almighty and that he knows every little hair on your head. I never believed it was possible. And let me tell you, the journey has been far from easy. But it is totally worth it.

I have come to peace with my past because God has used incredible pain and suffering to reveal his love to me in powerful ways. I am thankful for that pastor’s words – if I hadn’t wrestled with such pain and darkness, perhaps I would not have discovered the depth and width and height of God’s love. In an odd sort of way, perhaps I am even thankful for my suffering – for God met me there. And I wouldn’t trade that for the world.

I am reading a good book on healing from abuse (which I’ll probably blog about at a later time). But in it the author says that for abuse victims, any answer of why they suffered what they did will fall short. I may never know why my stepfather chose to use me for his own gratification. I may never know why my mom took his side instead of protecting me. I may never understand why my Grandmother was taken from this earth without me being able to say goodbye. And I agree with the author- that any answer that human kind has offered me misses the mark.

But I do know something – God loves me with an incredible love that surpasses knowledge and that I am filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

And this is immeasurably far more than all I can ask or imagine.

Be Still

Over the past few months, I have often felt that I have been running from one thing into the next. For about 6 weeks, I lived and breathed psychology, spending as much time learning the concepts and applying it to my life and knowledge. I worked so incredibly hard – and it paid off! I am happy to announce that I got 87% which puts me in good stead for the program I want to get into. Not only that, I have a 4.0 average for the summer session – I never ever thought that I would see that gpa ever on my transcript 🙂 Praise God indeed for sustaining me throughout the summer.

Yesterday I biked to go and visit a good friend who is in the hospital. Only my back tire went flat on the way there. Of all the routes that I could have taken, I chose the one that was farthest from people, gas stations, bike stores, or public transportation. After deciding with my friend that it would be better for me to come another day, I faced the fact that I would have to take a long walk home.

And then I saw a nature trail. You know, God knows me better than I ever know myself. An unplanned accident turned into a huge blessing as I walked and talked with God in the quiet, with the sound of water over the rocks and the wind rustling through the trees. I’ve been so busy lately that it’s been hard to set aside time alone with God. And so yesterday, when I realized that God was fully present with me in that moment, I just lapped it up.

I turned to God in the midst of his beautiful creation and let my heart’s desires and worries be known. See this summer has been about constantly living on the edge and trusting God…and he faithfully comes through with more than I could ever ask or imagine… only he comes through at the last minute and so the planner in me worries as I am forced to live in the unknown and uncertainty.

And now I face another road block. But this one is different than all the other ones. See, I feel strongly that God wants me to pursue a PhD in clinical psychology and this fall I planned to be in school full time. But now, I am feeling confused. God has provided in many ways and I am truly blessed. But… it is not enough. And very soon, I need to make some decisions. I always feel that God will provide what is best for me according to his ways, which are higher than my ways. Is this God’s way of saying to me that he has other plans for the fall than I had designed? I know that a retrial is within the realm of possibility and I already know how that has affected me – is God telling me what I can handle given what he knows about the future? Or, is He going to wait until the last minute to provide? Honestly, I am lost.

Yesterday, while i was walking, I heard God’s voice – “Be still, and know that I am God.”

Today, I read the psalm from which this verse comes from (Psalm 46):

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way

and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,

though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.

God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at the break day

Natons are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts.The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see what the Lord has done, the desolations he has brought on the earth.

He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth.

He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;

he burns the shields with firre.

“Be still and know that I am God;

I will be exalted among the nations,

I will be exalted in the earth.”

The Lord God Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

As I feel lost, I feel as if the earth is giving way and the mountains are falling into the heart of the sea. But there is comfort in knowing that the Lord God Almighty is with me – he is within me, and because of Him, I will not fall even though the waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.

Come and see what the Lord has done: the Lord has provided for me in so many ways. When I look over the past 8 years and consider all that has happened and all the amazing people who have given so much to me, not just financially, but opening their homes and their hearts. God has never let me fall.

So, today, I will be still. And know that the Lord is God.

He will provide. Maybe not in the way I was expecting. But he will provide.

And maybe, he has plans for me this fall that I hadn’t considered. Or maybe, he will make what now seems impossible, I don’t know.

But I do know one thing – the Lord God Almighty is with me, the God of Jacob is my fortress.

Amen

Bread of Heaven, Bread of Life

Today I had the opportunity to speak from God’s word to God’s people today. What an awesome experience and responsibility. it’s one thing to read scripture and to discern meaning for myself and my life. It is totally different to discern and seek to bring truth to a community of people. Definitely not a responsibility to take lightly. Anyways, our community follows the lectionary so this reflection was mostly on the gospel (John 6: 35, 41-51 [I think…I may have to edit this post later]) and I tied in Ephesians 5:1-2 (the paragraph before was also read). Anyways people who weren’t able to make it to the service have asked me to share it so here’s the sermon. I have editted out any identifying information as I have taken steps to keep this blog from identifying those in my story who are not yet ready to be implicated in this story.

The Bread of Life: Christ as the Source and Sustainer of Life

Setting the stage

            In last week’s Gospel reading, we heard of Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the five thousand. Jesus sought some time alone with His disciples, but a great crowd had followed them. With a boy’s donation of five small barley loaves and two fish, Jesus fed the crowd of five thousand people. Each person was invited to eat their fill, and when all had had enough to eat, the disciples gathered the leftovers – twelve baskets full. Having seen this and other miraculous signs, the crowd was convinced that this was the great Prophet who was to come into the world. We read in John 6 verse 15 that the people intended to make Jesus their king by force. And who wouldn’t want to make Jesus king? He healed the sick and fed the crowds! But Jesus withdrew, not allowing himself to be swept by the passion of the crowds.

The crowds were persistent though. They travelled first to where Jesus fed the masses. And when they did not find Jesus there, they continued to search for him. And when they found Jesus in Capernaum, they had questions for him: Rabbi, when did you get here? What must we do to do the works God requires? What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What would you do?

For the Jewish people, this miraculous feeding had much meaning. In the Old Testament, the people relied daily on God’s providence of manna in the wilderness. Each day, they would go out and collect their fill. They were commanded to collect only what they needed for themselves and for their families. If they harboured more than what they needed for the day, the extra would be spoiled. Here we see an interesting twist in that Jesus invited the people to eat to their fill and they collect the extra so that it not be wasted, speaking perhaps of the abundant life that God offers through Jesus. The fact that the Jewish people were willing to ask Jesus for a sign in reference to how Moses provided to the ancestors seems to show that they were at least willing to put Jesus in the same camp as Moses. They held Moses in high esteem – and wanted to know if perhaps Jesus was the ‘Moses’ of their day.

But the answer that Jesus gave was not a popular one.

Jesus first corrected their understanding of the manna in the desert. It was not Moses, but God who gave the bread from heaven. And the true bread of God was not for just the Jews, but for the whole world. And the bread that God sends does not simply provide sustenance for the day, but gives life.

So far so good? The crowds respond, “Sir, always give us this bread!”

Jesus – the Bread of Heaven

Then Jesus makes what would have been an audacious-sounding claim: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” For the Jewish audience, ‘bread’ had a symbolic as well as literal meaning. Bread often referred to the Torah or the law that God had given through Moses. Jesus was not claiming to be on par with Moses, the agent through which God gives life-sustaining bread. Rather, Jesus was claiming to BE that bread – to be what gives and sustains life to not just the Jews but to the whole world.

It is no wonder that the crowds began to grumble amongst themselves. Who is this person who claims to be the bread that came down from heaven? The crowds knew Joseph and Mary – the carpenter and the young girl who got pregnant out of wedlock – how could their son Jesus claim to be from heaven? How could he equate himself with Torah?

But Jesus does not back down from making claims of truth that would surely offend his listeners. He tells them to quit their grumbling. 

No one can come to Jesus unless His Father who sent him draws them.

Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him, comes to Jesus.

No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God.

Jesus makes it very clear that relationship with God the Father comes through relationship with Jesus. And it is God who draws people to him, through Jesus.

And if that wasn’t enough, Jesus then says “whoever believes has eternal life”. Jesus, instead of giving the people some magical sign that legitimizes His authority and would satisfy their desire to crown him King, claims that He is the source of life – in this world and beyond. That he is the living bread that comes down from heaven. And the bread that he offers is far better than the manna in the dessert for all who eat of it will live forever.

Hard words for a crowd who was obviously looking for completely different answers! Indeed, we are told that the Jews immediately began to argue sharply amongst themselves and that many of those who were following Jesus turned back at this moment and no longer followed him.

The Bread of Life – grace and response

            Here in this passage, we see the tension between God’s grace and our response. Just as God gave bread in the wilderness and fed the crowds only days before, Jesus makes it clear that God offers us abundant life through the bread of Heaven, the body of Christ. Later in the Gospel of John, Jesus claims to have come that they may have life – and have it to the full (John 10:10)! The beauty of this passage is that Jesus freely offers this life to all of us. I think it is key to notice that the crowds never came to Jesus for this bread of life – they wanted a sign, they wanted Jesus to fit into the box of who they wanted Him to be. But they weren’t coming to Jesus because they were hungry, or recognized that God alone through Jesus could satisfy their hunger. And yet, this life-giving bread has come down from heaven for all who are hungry. This gift of abundant life is lavished upon us and this gift – freely given – is not dependent on our own knowing that we need this bread.

And yet, simply seeking out this bread of life is not enough – we must also eat of it. Indeed, the crowds had gone to great lengths to find Jesus after being fed from the loaves and fishes. And yet, ultimately, the left Jesus spiritually empty because they could not fathom that Jesus was the bread that would give them life. We must recognize that our deepest longings and hunger is for God alone. And just as our physical bodies need continued replenishing, so must our hearts be continuously fed by God. We must continually meet God in the quiet, in the Scriptures and in community. The table is set, the bread is prepared – and we must come and eat. May we come hungry, and falling on our knees, offering all we are. May we – though broken and empty – eat of the bread that restores our lives echoing the words of the songs we sang earlier – “Jesus, you’re all this heart is living for” and “All I want is You”.

Today, as we celebrate the Eucharist, we break bread to share in the body of Christ. We look each other in the eye and say “the Body of Christ, broken for you”. We come, and we eat, and we are filled. But what is this abundant life to which we are called through feasting on the bread of Heaven? The life that Jesus offers is not merely a perpetual feasting. Rather, it is a life in which we are sent – sent to follow the example of Christ, to give ourselves as a fragrant offering and sacrifice.

As mentioned earlier, bread had a double meaning for the Jews – a very practical one as the sustenance of their life but also it held a link to Torah, the law given to the Jews. Our epistle reading reminds us of the ‘new Torah’ so to speak to which we are called: “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice” (Ephesians 5:2). The Greek word used in this passage is a lot stronger than merely follow – it means to imitate Christ in every aspect of our lives. We are invited not to just partake in a meal, but to partake in way of life. John later describes this life as a life in which Jesus’ joy may be in us and that our joy may be complete in Him (John 15:11).

The disciples may not have understood the full meaning of Jesus’ teaching at the time. But at the end of John’s gospel, we are given another story that involves feeding. Jesus appeared to some of his disciples after He had risen from the dead and invited them to eat breakfast with him. Through that meal, their eyes were opened to the fact that they were eating with Jesus, their Lord. And after they have finished eating, Jesus turns to Peter and calls him to care for his people.

I believe the call given to Peter at the end of John’s gospel is for us today as we come to eat at the table and to be filled with the love, grace and peace that is so lavishly and freely poured out into our lives. It is a call not only to be fed through the Bread of Heaven but also to be sent out into the world. The words of Christ speak to us – right here, right now:

My friends – do you love me? Feed my lambs.

My friends – do you love me? Take care of my sheep.

My friends – do you love me? Feed my sheep.

 And so, today, as we come to the table hungry and yearning, may we eat of the bread that sustains us and gives us eternal life. May we go from this table into a world that is hungry and broken, offering our lives in response to God’s love and sharing this life-giving bread with all whom God brings us into our lives.

 Amen.

Categories: Uncategorized

Quinoa recipes

Due to popular request, I am sharing a few of the quinoa recipes that I have been trying this summer. My cousins gave me an amazing cookbook that is all about quinoa and I have been enjoying these recipes so much.

For those who have not yet discovered this amazing “ancient grain”, here are a few facts that might encourage you beyond my very high recommendation to incorporate it into your diet:

  • Quinoa is a complete protein. Typically when you eat a protein source you also need a grain source in order to get the full nutritional effect – so you eat beans with rice, peanut butter on bread. But this grain is complete – you can combine it with another protein source if you like, or you can eat it all on its own.
  • Quinoa is gluten-free. In a time when gluten and wheat free diets are in style, quinoa is an awesome substitute.
  • It only takes 15 minutes to cook quinoa… and it doesn’t stick to the pot like rice does! You can cook it in water, broth, milk, coconut milk and more!
  • quinoa is high in vitamins and minerals such as riboflavin, calcium, vitamin E, potassium, phosophorus, magnesium, folic acid and beta carotene
  • Quinoa isn’t technically a grain, however, it’s nutitional benefits are similar: reduces high blood pressure, helps prevent heart disease, and boosts the immune system
  • Although you might be surprised by the price on your first purchase, it is a highly economical meatless option as you do not need very much to fill you up.

How do you cook quinoa? The most basic method is this: Boil 1 part quinoa to two parts water. Once boiling, reduce to simmer for 10 minutes. Turn off burner and let sit for 3-5 more minutes.

Here are some of the recipes that I have tried so far.

Pina Colada Quinoa

Image

1 cup quinoa

one 14oz can light coconut milk

one 14 oz can crushed pineapple

1 TBSP brown sugar (I omitted this as I found it was more than sweet enough for my taste)

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Instructions: In a medium saucepan, bring the quinoa and coconut milk to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat to low and cook for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave the covered saucepan on the burner for an additional 6 minutes. Drain the pineapple, reserving the juice. Stir 1/2 cup of the juice into the saucepan. Add the sugar and vanilla and mix well. Stir the crushed pineapple into the mixture and serve. Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.

Pomegranate, Almond and Feta Salad (I left out the pomegranates as they are not currently in season)

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1/2 cup water

1/4 cup black quinoa (I used red quinoa)

1/2 cup sliced almonds

4 cups spinach leaves

3/4 cup crumbled light feta

1/4 cup sliced red onion

1 pomegranate, seeded

3 TBSP red wine vinegar

3 TBSP olive oil

4 tsp honey

1 tsp Dijon mustard

Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions: Bring the water and quinoa to a boil in a small saucepan. Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 10 minutes. Turn the heat off and leave the covered saucepan on the burner for an additional 4 minutes. Remove the lid and fluff with a fork. Set aside to cool. If you want to toast almonds (I didn’t) then preheat the oven to 350degC. Spread the almonds on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for about 5-7 minutes, until they are fragrant and lightly browned. Mix in spinach, quinoa, almonds, feta, onion, pomegranate seeds. Whisk the vinegar, oil, honey and Dijon in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle the dressing over salad.

Mango Chicken Quinoa (this is absolutely amazing and I highly recommend it!)

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2 cups chicken or vegetable stock (I used vegetable stock)

1 cup quinoa

1 TBSP olive oil

4 boneless, skineless chicken breasts, diced

1 1/4 cups diced zucchini

1 cup diced red bell pepper (about 1 pepper)

2 TBSP orange juice

1 ripe mango, diced

2 TBSP chopped fresh cilantro

1 cup shredded aged cheddar cheese

1/2 cup light sour cream

Instructions: Bring the stock and quinoa to a biol in a medium saucepan. Cover, reduce to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Turn the heat off and leave the covered saucepan on the burner for another 6 minutes. Fluff with a fork and set aside. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the diced chicken and cook for 5 minutes, stirring the chicken to lightly brown on all sides. Add the zucchini and red pepper and continue to cook for another 10 minutes, until the vegetables are tender and the chicken is thoroughly cooked. Add the orange juice and stir to coat all the ingredients. Contiinue cooking until the mixture is warm throughout. Fold in the mango, cilantro, cheese and sour cream and allow to heat slightly. Serve over cooked quinoa.

Thai Cashew Chicken and Broccoli on Quinoa (This is a super protein dish!)

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4 boneless, skinless chicken breast

1/4 cup soy sauce

2 TBSP oyster sauce (I didn’t have any so I omitted this)

1 tsp minced fresh garlic

2 tsp minced fresh ginger

2 cups water

1 cup quinoa

4 tsp sesame oil

2 cups broccoli florets

1 cup thinly sliced onion

3/4 cup water

3 TBSP peanut butter

1 TBSP honey

1 cup unsalted toasted cashews

Directions: Slice the chicken into thin pieces and place in a large, sealable plastic bag. Combine the soy sauce, oyster sauce, garlic and ginger in a bowl and pour into the bag with the sliced chicken. Place in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour (and up to 24 hours) to marinate. Bring the water and quinoa to a boil in a medium saucepan. Cover, reduce to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Turn the heat off and leave the covered saucepan on the burner for another 6 minutes. Fluff with a fork and set aside.

Place 2 tsp of the sesame oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the broccoli and onion and cover the pan. Stir frequently and add 1 TBSP of water if the saucepan appears dry. Cook until the onion is opaque and the broccoli tender, about 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

Remove the chicken, reserving the marinade. Place the remaining sesame oil and the chicken in the large saucepan on medium-high heat and cook until the chicken is no longer pink, about 7-8 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and add the marinade to the pan. Stir in the water, peanut butter and honey and cook for 1 minute. Toss in the broccoli-onion mixture and cashews and stir thoroughly. Serve on top of quinoa.

Moist Chocolate Cake (yes! cake that is pretty good for you!!!)

2/3 cup white/golden quinoa

1 1/3 cups water

1/3 cup milk

4 large eggs

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

3/4 cup butter, melted and cooled

1 1/2 white or cane sugar

1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

Directions: Bring the quinoa and water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Cover, reduce to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave the covered saucepan on the burner for another 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork and allow the quinoa to cool. Preheat the oven to 350degC. Lightly grease 2 8-inch round or square cake pans (I just used bread pans).

Combine the milk, eggs and vanilla in a blender or food processor. Add 2 cups of cooked quinoa and the butter and continue to blend until smooth. (I didn’t have access to either machines but it still tasted good… was just a bit grainy). Whisk together the sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Add the contents of the blender and mix well. Divide the batter evenly between the 2 pans and bake on the center oven rack for 40-45 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean (note that this cake does not really rise). Remove the cake from the oven and cool completely in the pan before serving. Frost if desired. Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week or freeze for up to 1 month.

***While all the pictures are mine, the recipes come from an amazing book: Quinoa 365: The Everyday Superfood by Patricia Green and Carolyn Hemming. I highly recommend this cookbook

I’ve got a smile on my face and I’ve got four walls around me

I can’t believe how time is flying… today I have been preparing for my last midterm tomorrow night, thursday is my last class and the following Tuesday is my final exam. I have always been told that summer courses are intense -but I never realized exactly HOW intense they are. My life has been mostly studying and sleeping lately. My psych textbook seems to be a permanent fixture that goes anywhere I go, and if I leave it behind I go a bit crazy as if I didn’t know what to do without the textbook constantly at my side! In my last post, I talked about how I am trying to create balance and I feel like the past few days have been much better on those terms.

I have also have had some good and long study periods. I remember my first few years of undergraduate studies. The abuse was still going on and I was increasingly needing to get away from the unpredictability of home life. I would stay at the university longer, stay at friends’ houses when it was exam time. I was also working and had lots of family responsibility during those years. So unsurprisingly, my first few years were not much fun. While I was well prepared to write papers, I was not prepared to enter into a science stream with multiple choice exams. Coming from a strict Christian background, evolutionary theory was never taught and so first year biology was not only overwhelming, but I went into the course with the prejudice that everything I was about to learn was obviously false – hard to do well in a course that you think is completely bogus. I struggled those first few years for so many reasons – and those struggles resulted in marks that only reinforced the messages that I believed about myself – that I was stupid, unworthy and a complete failure.

When I moved from home, self-sustainability was the primary focus and so school was put on hold. I worked as a veterinary assistant with a wonderful team of people. School wasn’t an option in those days for obvious reasons plus the fear that came with the shortened proximaty to my dad’s workplace – For many years I stayed clear of the university and the area around his workplace for fear that I would bump into him. I’m not sure what I expected to happen, but I figured it wouldn’t be pleasant.

Then eventually, I decided that I was going to go back to school. This was in the months leading up to the trial. And being the stubborn person that I am, I did not listen to the advice of my mentors when it came to course selection. I had decided to switch from philosophy to science and try to shoot for medicine – only not only was I going to take science courses, but I was going to take intense science courses to which I didn’t have the appropriate background. My mind was divided between abuse stuff and school, and my grades plummetted. My conclusion was that I really am not capable of science and should just return to philosophy and theology, the two areas of study that I know how to succeed in. Partly due to the ongoing court drama, those last couple of years were full of ups and downs, starts and stops, until finally, I graduated in Fall 2011. I originally wasn’t even going to go to my graduation – I thought the degree didn’t mean much to me, it was such a horrible experience, my mother (who I desparately wanted to be there) would not be present for convocation – so I thought: what’s the point? But as the day drew closer, I began to realize that this degree was not a culmination of many failures and disappointments. Rather, it was an accomplishment – when you look back over those 9 years and see all that I accomplished and conquered and had to deal with at the time, it really is a huge accomplishment. Yes, many of my peers took the typical 4 years or perhaps 5 at the most. But when you look at what was happening in my life, the fact that I persisted is quite incredible and the fact that I accomplished this degree in spite of everything is also incredible. So I graduated and celebrated it with people who are close to me. And I closed that chapter of my life.

Or so I thought.

I began to have a growing hatred towards undergrad studies, and my studies in particular. The thought of undergrad made me shudder and cringe.

And then I had my epiphany that I wrote about a couple of months ago – that with God, the whole world is full of possibilities that are open to me. I am now a second year psychology (science!) student. And wow – this is a completely different experience than being an undergraduate before. This relatively newfound freedom from the abuse has enabled me to dive into courses without the memories and pain that dominated my first degree. There are so many exciting opportunities available to me that I can participate in. Over and over, I feel like God has given me such a beautiful and wonderful opportunity to redeem yet another thing in my life. I love every moment of studying. I am fascinated by the studies, the research design, the concepts that I am learning and I am making connections to other things I have studied or read. I am going to take full advantage of this opportunity! And it is going to be beautiful.

Once I am done my course, I am going to see if I can volunteer in a research lab to gain vital experience that will not only help me get into grad school, but will give me a taste for psychological research. I am going to join an intramurals soccer team – this decision I think is worth elaborating on. In the past, so many of my decisions in life and reasoning behind my behaviours has either reflected the notion that I do not deserve better, or has been for the bettering of another even at the cost to myself. Academically and career-wise, most of my decisions have revolved around what would look good on a resume. But playing soccer is purely something to do for fun, something that I love, something to do for me. Period. There is no reason. No superior purpose.

I’ve been trying to decide what I will minor in. I will have a few electives and have decided that I want to choose carefully as I already have a degree and my course selection needs to reflect what I want to do with my life. Increasingly, I have become attracted to this idea of doing work on trauma-informed care in an African context. Well, there is an african studies course…. with african drumming (I love african drumming!!!), learning swahili and learning the culture and structures. How cool is that?

And then there are opportunities to be involved in research studies, in community development, and in work overseas. Do you know how amazing it is to be given a second chance with a heart full of joy, peace, love and freedom and to be able to pursue it with all your heart, soul and mind?

Ultimately I think this new phase of my life is due to an absolute assurance that I am loved by God. I remember meeting with a pastor awhile ago and in an email exchange he said that I will know God’s love in a deeper way than most. Let’s forget the “than most” part for a moment – the love that I feel and the security that I feel in this love is far greater than anything I imagined was possible. The ups and downs I experience along with the frustrations and anxieties all seem to be normal. And I am being completely honest when I say peace and joy and contentment and hope and strength and courage and love are the dominant feelings that possess my heart.

To reach this point of healing – and yes, there is more work to be done – is such an incredible blessing. I never thought this was possible – I often thought my toil and struggle was for nothing. But I was wrong – all that struggle and pain was totally worth it now that I have come through it and experience this incredible amount of love and joy. Some days I wish I knew how to do cartwheels. I never knew that I could ever be “happy”. But I can be – and I am – happy.

I’ve been listening to an awesome song lately that a good friend introduced to me by the group Great Big Sea: Ordinary Day

I’ve got a smile on my face, I’ve got four walls around me
The sun in the sky, the water surrounds me
I’ll win now but sometimes I’ll lose
I’ve been battered, but I’ll never bruise, it’s not so bad

[Chorus:]
And I say way-hey-hey, it’s just an ordinary day
and it’s all your state of mind
At the end of the day, you’ve just got to say,
it’s all right.

Janie sings on the corner, what keeps her from dying?
Let them say what they want, she won’t stop trying
She might stumble, if they push her ’round
She might fall, but she’ll never lie down

[Chorus]

In this beautiful life, but there’s always some sorrow
It’s a double-edged knife, but there’s always tomorrow
It’s up to you now if you sink or swim,
Keep the faith and your ship will come in.
It’s not so bad

And I say way-hey-hey, it’s just an ordinary day
And it’s all your state of mind
At the end of the day, you’ve just got to say
I say way-hey-hey, it’s just an ordinary day
And it’s all your state of mind
At the end of the day, you’ve just got to say
it’s alright

‘Cause it’s alright, it’s alright
‘Cause I’ve got a smile on my face and I’ve got four walls around me

 

Yes… It’s alright, it’s alright. I’ve got a smile on my face and four walls around me

Categories: Uncategorized

Balance

8 weeks ago, I was contemplating what to do with my life: 1) stay on disability, be heavily involved in my community and continue volunteer work; 2) work full time or 3) Go back to school. If someone had told me all that I would be doing in the next 8 weeks, I think I would have gone crazy at the thought. Thank goodness God keeps us in the dark at times.

Several people have written me wondering how I am since my blog has not been updated in quite awhile. Let me assure you, I am truly well and enjoying life, but the past few weeks have been so incredibly busy. I have been struggling to fit everything in, and at one of my follow up appointments, my trauma therapist said that in this time of change and stress I need to up the self care. I nodded and then left her office scratching my head and trying to figure out where the heck I would fit in time for self care. As I mentioned much earlier, I am in need of housing and have been working hard to organize a student house that lives an intentional rhythm of life in line with our community and provides hospitality to the needy and the vulnerable. This has taken meetings, numerous house viewings and the ups and downs of getting my hopes up for a place and having them dashed. Community life has kept me busy as I have committed to a lot and yet not enough in some ways as there are so many areas of the community that need people. Keeping clear boundaries is not my strength, and I have been testing the waters on this. Some days it is easier than others. But I frequently feel pulled by the amount of need and by my own heart’s desire to serve the Lord. And then there is my course, which I have to say I am absolutely loving… but it is intense…. a full term’s load of material crammed into 6 weeks. Then the court stuff is brewing constantly and I am anxious for a decision to be made so that I know what the future holds for me (as much as anyone can know such things). Despite being well and happy, I have been feeling increasing stress.

This past week, I was reading the chapter on health, well-being and stress and feeling more stressed in reading what chronic stress does to the body. I realized that I have all these pressures on my time and have been struggling to sleep, to make food so I can maintain a healthy diet, to exercise (which for me cycling is both a joy and huge stress reliever) and to just hang out with friends. When I was provoked to tears this week, I was reminded of what my therapist said – I need to increase self care. That is, I need balance.

I have never been good at balance. I get excited about ideas and projects and always quickly overschedule my calender. School is forcing me in a sense to watch the commitments I make as in order to do well, school has to be my primary focus. But still, there are some many needs in the world, and I have many gifts and abilities, and I tend to want to be a rescuer. But I am learning that balance is important. And because balance does not come naturally to me, I am learning that I need to be intentional about it. Balance promotes thriving. If I don’t eat, don’t sleep, don’t exercise, then the stress builds and I am ill-equipped to deal with it. As an introvert, if I do not take time to recharge my batteries, I cannot give to others in the way I desire.

So this week I pulled out my bike. It was quite the day. I didn’t look at the forecast and by the time I got to Camino house, it was raining cats and dogs and I was practically a drowned rat. I needed to get a new bike lock as my old one was no good. After the rain subsided, I left to fill up my tires with air. Literally ten minutes later I heard this loud sound like an explosion – I drove my tire over a huge piece of glass which meant I had to replace the tire. Then I got to campus and spent half an hour trying to open my bike lock, asking people around me to help me, and right before giving up and trying to figure out where I would put my bike where it wouldn’t get stolen during my 3 hour class, I decided to check and see if I was using the right keys. I wasn’t. The whole ordeal was a pain – but getting my bike fixed was the best thing I did for myself this week. Do you know how awesome it is to fly down a hill and feel the wind on your back? Or to pedal with all your might up a steep hill and reach the top? Cycling is fun, healthy and a stress reliever.

I have also been scheduling in tea dates (Did I mention I gave up coffee? I think that is proof of miracles in itself!) at the end of a chunk of studying time which satisfy my needs for human interaction as well as provide an incentive to work hard.

And yesterday, I took a Sabbath…. something that I have often tried to make happen on Fridays but have failed miserably on. Yesterday I slept in and was able to catch up on some much needed sleep. Then I hung out with a close friend and her two beautiful children (including a 6 week old baby who is the cutest thing ever!). There is something awesome about holding a newborn or making funny faces with a two year old. And then, to end a wonderful day, my best friend and I went for a long walk, gelato, and then talked for a long time with our feet in a little man-made pond under the full moon. And then I came home and slept.

Let me tell you, adding these three things to my week has made the world of difference to the level of stress and anxiety that I have been feeling.

Balance is important.

We need to work. We need to take care of our bodies through nourishment, exercise and rest. We need to serve. We need to have fun.

Balance is possible. But it can only happen through making wise choices with your time and by learning to set boundaries and say no. Balance, for me at least, is hard. But balance is worth it.