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Archive for February, 2013

You’ve come a long way, baby

When you live with the mire and grind of this life, it’s sometimes easy to lose hold of how far one has come. Every once in awhile, I get a glimpse. This weekend had moments as such.

I babysat for some dear friends of mine. Their eldest boy who is 5 has had open heart surgeries, stroke, and huge challenges. This kid is my hero. I have prayed for him for over five years and I’ve heard my friends’ struggles with the challenges, particularly around speech. Now I hadn’t seen him for a while – and I had my first conversation with him. This kid has a wicked sense of humour. My favourite moment was when we were watching Disney TV before bed. we caught the end of a cartoon. And then a show with princesses turned on. J. said to me “you will like this one.” I asked him why? He smiled, “princesses”. I was just blown away by how smart and funny this boy is and how much he has grown and changed. It is truly amazing.

But I also saw a glimpse into how far I have come. My friends have seen me through so much… leaving home and all the drama around that, attempts at family counseling, a gruelling trial and all my ups and downs and struggles as I’ve tried to heal and at times given up on healing. I felt so much joy in being able to tell them that life is good, that I am happy, that I love God more than I ever thought was possible and that I am discerning where God is calling me. I left noting the self-confidence I have and the comfort with who I am – from the eyebrow piercing to sitting in the not-knowing of where exactly God is leading me, but absolutely sure that God is here.

Then yesterday, I was meeting a good friend at my old church and bumped into the rector who has known indirectly my struggles over the years. And I was able to tell him that I am well and loving life and where I’m leaning in my discernment.

The past 8 years have been rocky. They have held many challenges.

But I know beyond any doubt that I am utterly loved by God and that he is here with me. And I love him. And there is a joy and peace that I cannot contain as i seek to follow him and strive to do his will.

A year ago, I chose a Greek word for my writing pseudonym – “Achimah”. It means “God raises up”. And I have seen that manifested in my life – God has raised me up from the pit, out of the miry clay. My first name – Elizabeth – means consecrated to God – and I see how God has taken me and protected me and called me forth. And the name Aine, a Gaelic word for joy and radiance, is a name I will be taking on as I live into the joy that Christ has given me.

I’ve come a long way.

Thanks be to God.

Children’s Psalm

The Psalm for this Sunday was Psalm 27 – a psalm that I have held very closely over the years. So the children and I talked about this psalm – and the many ways we can talk to God about anything and everything. We talked about how we can take both our thanksgiving and our anger to God. And that God desires our honesty even when what we have to say to God is not the greatest. One thing that came up was whether we could challenge God or say no to God. I told them that I have argued with God many, many times over the years…. later I realize God was right and usually confess my stubborn insistence on my ways. But through my honest wrestling with God, I’ve grown to love God more and more.

Afterwords, we wrote sentences of things we wanted to say to God. and then arranged them to make our own psalm. and then we offered them to God.

Here is the Psalm we wrote.

 

I want to follow you all the days of my life.

The Lord is our light and our Saviour.

You are always with me.

I will tell others of your love.

You will put courage in my heart.

You will always love and care for me

I will follow the Lord.

I will always love you.

Give me courage, Lord.

Do not forsake me Lord.

Listen to my prayer. Answer me when I call to you.

I will wait for the Lord.

 

Glimmer of Hope

February 21, 2013 1 comment

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I want to give thanks.

Ten children, four parents and two other adults came to my soup Lenten series.

I have to admit, I went into this week not expecting much. I decided to go with the pear lentil soup that I posted on here before because it is souper (pardon the pun) easy to make and cheap. I cooked a considerably smaller amount, thinking about how much room I had in the freezer. I made cornbread muffins with the intention of freezing anything that didn’t get eaten as I didn’t want to make bread again. I set up three tables – just in case. But I was prepared to eat with just my friend and my boss. I wondered what I should do if no kids showed up yet again… does one continue to make soup and hope? When does one throw in the towel and say, “well, that didn’t work.”

5:29 – a minute before the program was to start. The great hall was discouragingly empty. I whispered a quick prayer of desparation – Please God. Let children come. Please.

a few minutes I heard a knock on the door – ten children heard that there was food and games and crafts and came with their parents to check it out.

My heart warmed and I practically lept with joy. We made crafts and talked about Jesus being the bread of life. Oh these kids melted my heart. Two of the girls ran over to give me a hug goodbye and they all asked if they could come again. Of course!!!

Children’s ministry is challenging. I was talking with one of my mentors who is at a more evangelical conservative (forgive the words… the labels are meaningless at one level, but make a point on another) Anglican churches said that they are struggling too with Children’s ministry. In some ways that is disheartening as he goes to one of the churches I visited once upon a time and have always heard good words about. Disheartening because if one of the “thriving” churches struggles with children’s ministry, how the heck am I – as one of the few under fifty – to have any impact in this area? And yet comforting, because I am not alone. In my conversation with him, I felt utterly heard and understood… enough to go in on Wednesday.

It’s so hard to fight the temptation to define success by numbers. Each week I am asked, “How many kids came today?” I know not to define success in ministry by numbers of heads. But it’s hard to not get discouraged when your answers are no or one. Or perhaps more concerning – when the one child who is there the most asks you “Why doesn’t anyone else come?”

There are particular challenges that I am facing that I won’t get into other than saying getting the word out there is my biggest road block. Community centres and libraries won’t post our programs because they are in a church. This neighbourhood is filled with kids. But I don’t know how to reach them. It’s been suggested that I put notices in other churches – and I am resisting this simply because I want to stay clear from stealing kids from other churches. If I had to legitimize this ministry in numbers alone, I’m sure I could beg my friends with kids to come. But that isn’t the way to grow a ministry. The lessons I learned during my time with the Jeremiah Community I hold dear – one of them being a deep sense of rootedness to the community and parish bounds. But I live an hour commute away from this church and moving is not in the near picture. Add in time and financial constraints, and advertising events is a huge challenge.

And then there is the problem with marketing the gospel. I know without a doubt that relationships are what make a ministry grow. But when you are starting from scratch, how do you get the word out there? I don’t want to covertly indoctrinate the children with the gospel with an event like cupcake decorating. But how does one go from being unchurched to churched? Especially when all churches are facing a decline! Growing up, church absence was not an option. In my adult years, I have taken breaks… though not complete breaks as I’ve been involved in Bible studies which are a church of sorts. So I cannot draw on personal experience. But one of the biggest things that I am opposed to is building a relationship for the purpose of conversion – people can tell when that is your aim. And typically it isn’t met with joy and thanksgiving. I want to love people – because they are God’s special creation. I want to get to know them because they are interesting to know. But again – in building a ministry – how do you go from no ministry to one that is thriving?

The crowd on Wednesday gave me hope. Gave me hope that God is at work. Building relationships takes time. And while I thought I learned patience with the whole court stuff, clearly that is not the end of the struggle for me! But I needed a glimmer of hope to persevere. And seeing these beautiful children smiling and having fun gave me that.

Thank you God. For working even when I doubt, for providing strength in my weakness, and hope in my discouragement.

Emptying

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Discouraged and tired. Those words describe how I feel these days more than I would like. I  still remember the words of one pastor many years ago who told me that through my suffering I will know God’s love more than most. I’ve referred to this conversation many times on this blog. And each time I feel the need to qualify the “than most” part as I’m not sure I agree with that part of the statement. Still, I feel utterly loved by God and I love God. Each morning, the celtic daily prayer liturgy asks do you serve God with your whole heart? mind? soul? strength? Sometimes it is an enthusiastic yes. Other times it is a weary nod offering not much strength, soul, mind or heart but offering all I have.

Now that I have experienced God’s love that penetrates my soul and gives me life and hope and meaning, I am not satisfied with a half-hearted striving to follow God. There’s a song that for the life of me I can’t think of the rest of the words, but there’s a line that says “demands my life, my soul, my all” or something like that. Another part of the liturgy of morning prayer is – “to whom shall I go? you have the words of eternal life and we have come to know that you are the Holy One of God.” This I know is true with all my heart.

But this road is not easy.

And quickly, I get discouraged and weary.

Yesterday’s meditation in the Celtic Daily prayer by Arthur Burt has stuck in my mind:

The Christian life is not hard to live – it’s utterly impossible to live! Only One can live it! Let Him! in you.

I cannot begin to tell you how encouraging these words have been to me. Encouraging because I feel like this road is impossible – it is lonely, filled with struggles and opposition from others. It’s encouraging to know that I am not alone in my struggle to follow Christ with my whole heart, mind, soul and mind. I am not alone in my discouragement or even my weariness.

But it is also challenging – for I cannot and am not meant to walk this road by myself.

It’s lent. And people are talking about giving stuff up. I haven’t found too many meaningful things to give up. But today it hit me – I need to give up myself. I need to empty myself before God to allow him to fill me.

I need him to fill my life with HIS strength, energy, passion, heart.

But I also need to make room.

So this lenten season, I will strive on emptying my life before God. I’m guessing this is not going to be an easy process for there are things I cling to. Pruning is painful. But this is how growth and surrender happens.

This Christian walk is utterly impossible on my own. Dear Christ, fill me so that I may walk it.

Curried Pear and Lentil Soup – Original Recipe

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I’m living with a good friend who knows how to cook really well but doesn’t use any of the spices that I’m familiar with. Yesterday, I was itching to cook but too tired to go out and do shopping. After searching the internet with the various ingredients that inspired me, I decided to set out on my own and create the culinary experience I was looking for.

So here you have it – Curried Pear and Lentil Soup by yours truly. (Please read list of ingredients and quantities with a grain of salt… as per the usual, I do not measure and I’m relying on memory after a full day of reading.

Ingredients

  • onion, diced
  • garlic cloves (3-4), loosely chopped
  • olive oil
  • 6 cups of water
  • 2 vegetable bullion cubes
  • 2 cups dried lentils
  • 1 heaping tablespoon of curry
  • pepper and salt, to taste
  • 3 pears, chopped (leave skins on)

Saute onions and garlic in oil. Add rest of ingredients and bring to boil. Simmer until lentils are soft (approximately 20 minutes). Enjoy.

Integrity

I think it is appropriate to begin a blog post in which I point out something that I think is deeply wrong with a few words from a profound song by Alanis Morissette, One. I cannot speak about integrity without acknowledging that I too forget all that I am about to say.

I am the biggest hypocrite/ been undeniably jealous/ I have been loud and pretentious/ I’ve been utterly threatened… I have abused to your power to forgive me. – Alanis Morissette

I am seeing a lot of posts on facebook that really really bother me. They mock our leaders. I am not a fan of Prime Minister Harper or our Mayor Rob Ford. Some of the policies and decisions make me sick to my stomach and make me want to cast away my Canadian citizenship. But I am disturbed by the really offensive mockery that has become so easy in our society. Furthermore, I am disturbed that Christians are behind some of this propaganda, or at the very least, freely share it.

Mockery makes enemies not friends. You aren’t going to build a campaign based on mockery. Those who already do not see the cause you are putting forward do not react kindly to mockery. It offends them. But not in the way a prophetic voice does. I think Walter Brueggemmenn’s words (from The Prophetic Immagination) prove instructive: “The task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us” (pg. 3). Mockery offends in a way that gets people to react in defensiveness and to focus on the words used in mocking rather than looking at the heart of the issues.

Mockery lacks imagination. It fails to provide an alternative to the situations of injustice it mocks. It is cheap. Easy. It’s easy to forward a cartoon that makes our Prime Minister to look like a total fool. It’s much harder to get involved in social justice and advocacy and to do something that actually makes an impact. Occupy, Idle No More, and many other movements lose credibility in their opposers when mockery is used.

Mockery stoops to a level that undermines any act towards justice. Why is it wrong for one person to oppress a person, but it is fine to oppress the oppressor? I recognize that not all my readers are going to agree with me on this one. But I hope this causes a pause to reflect.

As a Christian, I think we are especially not off the hook with mockery. Look at Christ’s response as he was mocked, flogged, crucified – his words were calculated, intentional and purposeful. His silence speaks of humility. He did not stoop down to the level of those who treated him so very badly. I was recently reading about how physically painful it would have been to be nailed to a cross and how each breath would take a tremendous amount of effort that I take for granted. And one of Christ’s last words were “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” THIS is our example. We are told to pray for our enemies, to do good to them. This is not a complacency that allows injustice, but a subversive response of integrity and love. I left my Wendell Berry book at work, so I can’t find the quote at he moment… but in a speech opposing the Iraq War, he spoke about radical forgiveness for the “embittered few”. And he takes a moment… a realistic moment… to say, if this is too hard, think of the innocent children who will die. I think we could take it a step further. The “embittered few” are someone’s children. Perhaps even more importantly, they are made in the image of God. People are free to squander the beautiful imprint of God’s image… but Christ died for them too. Christ loves them, like he loves you and loves me. This is the radical life we are called to as Christians.

It’s always dangerous to build an entire theology on one verse, but there is a verse that is frequently on my mind as I think through situations I am in. It’s found in my favourite Psalm (25) which has provided challenge, comfort and encouragement as I’ve dealt with my family situation. At times I have recited the verses in my head over and over and they have become a shield to flaming arrows and, at times, have allowed me to act with integrity under duress.

May integrity and uprightness protect me, because my hope, Lord, is in you. – Psalm 25:21 (in the version I memorized years ago, it says preserve me).

Integrity is a beautiful word. “The state of being whole and undivided”. When we move and act and speak with integrity, we cut at our opposers in a deep way. Ironically, our own integrity can show up the other’s faults in a way that underscores them far more than mockery ever could.

Integrity is the hard road.

But it is the one we are called to. Let us oppose injustice and oppression with integrity and righteousness.

Prayer request

February 12, 2013 1 comment

Dear Friends, family and faithful readers,

I am calling on you to ask you to pray. As you most likely already know, I work for a church as the children’s director. I love my job and am passionate to take the lessons of community I have learned into this relatively new context with me. I am well liked there and my hard work is seen and appreciated.

But children’s ministry in a time when Church is not central to people’s lives is a longly and difficult job. I don’t believe in evaluating ministry in terms of numbers. But the very small sunday school that we have proposes unique challenges and frustrations. I love the children and seem to have a good relationship with them. But I am not their peer. Some weeks we have one child. Others none. A good week is three. A ‘high’ week is six. Games and activities are hard to maintain with a small group of one!

I have been praying about this for months now and been seeking advice and suggestions. My observations and insights about church generally and this one specifically have been confirmed.

Starting tomorrow night (Wednesday), we are starting a Lenten series for the family. I will be making my blackbean soup and some cornbread muffins and if that doesn’t win them over, I’m not sure what will! (hehe, that is a joke – but the blackbean soup recipe is pretty darn good if I am allowed to say that about my own cooking!!). There will be singing, teaching, crafts and conversation.

Please pray for the work we are doing together. Pray for strength and wisdom for myself as I – without a family of my own – seek to support families in the church and in the neighbourhood. Some days, I feel like I am walking in the dark. Others I feel like I’m banging my head against a wall. Pray that families will come and that they will come to know God’s love in ways that they haven’t known before. Pray for those of us already at the church that we will be a welcoming presence.