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Archive for May, 2013

Practicing Gratitude

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I write this at the top of a mountain, covered with trees and ravines and creeks flowing through it. The clouds just opened up to allow the sun to shine through and to provide a bright blue backdrop to the scenery. I’ve been on the train for about 17 hours now with hardly any sleep. But here time seems to have stopped and I am enjoying the moment – each moment.

And I am thankful.

Gratitude has been a major theme in my reflection during this trip. It’s kinda hard to be immersed in nature for the past 9 days and not be thankful.

Christine Pohl, in her recent book Living into Community, writes: “Our capacity for gratitude is not connected with an abundance of resources but rather with a capacity to notice what it is that we do have” (pg. 27).

Shortly after I had arrived on Vancouver Island, we celebrated my friend’s birthday. The children (twins – age 3) took me outside because they wanted to show me something. A snail. We watched for I don’t know how long a snail that didn’t really do anything spectacular. It just was. Zion looked up at me with this huge smile, “He’s kinda cute!” Every day after it rained, we ended up doing a snail hunt at some point. Their curiosity and attention spans are admirable. But the joy that exuded from them as they took the time to notice the snail was inspiring.

Through these beautiful children, I was challenged to stop and notice. And there has been a lot to notice. We saw peacocks that just amazed me and goats that tried to climb on top of us. We saw trees wider than my height and 20 meters taller than the man-made Leaning Tower of Pisa. We danced in the living room to music and to just let our sillies out. We went window shopping in downtown Victoria where each window held something fascinating that captured their hearts and minds. We took a trip up to Nanaimo and sat on the deck watching humming birds and enjoying the stunning view.

Zion would frequently greet me with “How is your great day?” And as we gave thanks before meals together, both Amaya and Zion would give thanks for the day and for all the food before us.

Oh how I have so much to be thankful for. This trip has been more than I had ever hoped it to be. I feel full of joy and peace and a sense of being close to my maker. I’ve enjoyed good conversations with close friends and visited with relatives. I visited the Vancouver Aquarium which was incredible – I was amazed at the spectacular colours and designs of the jellyfish and how they moved and floated through the water. I’m now off to visit the rest of the relatives.

As I sit in the train with the movie of nature capturing my attention, I am reminded of the sheer privilege of being in a position to take a vacation. To afford to take time off work and to afford to travel through Canada. Thankful to be able to see a part of creation and to truly rest.

But there is more than this trip that I need to be thankful for.

I have so many friends – so many dear friends – who hold me up in prayer, encourage me and who care about me. I have people who have sacrificed so much for me over the years and given their hearts, homes, and so much more to me. There have been tons of people praying over the years – people I know and people I don’t know. I have a ‘family’ that is larger than I could ever imagine. I have relatives who have cared for me. I have people who have walked with me in dark times and light.

I have an amazing job that brings me joy and is opening doors that I never dreamt would be ones I would walk through. I am able to use both my gifts of creativity and my intellectual mind as well as do what I most love to do – and get paid for it! I take care of a little one year old who makes me smile and the parents have been a huge gift to me. I’ve been accepted into a program that is ‘right’.

I want to take the lessons that the twins gave me into my life in Toronto. It’s so easy to get caught up in the mire and frustration of this world. It’s easy to complain.

But I want to take time to notice the snails and caterpillars and to thank God for the beauty of this life he has given me.

I want to practice gratitude.

Our hearts are restless

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It’s about 9pm and I’m currently on a train from Vancouver to Edmonton. I’m listening to Martyn Joseph and wanted to put a few of my thoughts from this vacation together. I am not really sure where to begin. It’s been such a beautiful and wonderful journey – a good mix of laughter, beauty, rest, good conversations and good wine.

 

While waiting for the train to leave the station, I turned on a sermon that I had saved. The sermon engages with Moses’ encounter with YHWH at the burning bush. Moses is called by Yahweh – I am – the God of his father. And the pastor speaks of how it is in our blood to serve Yahweh and His people.

 

Interesting to listen to this at this point in my vacation. I had spent the day with one of my uncles and we were talking about my recent admission to Wycliffe for theological studies. I remarked that one of the signs for me that pointed in this direction was packing up my books. About 98% (an estimate of course… a low estimate most likely) of my books are theological in nature. I read and study Scripture, read about theology, love papers that deal with theological topics, very quickly move to issues of faith. And this is all in my spare time. This is me. This is what I am drawn to. This is what I am made for.

 

I’ve struggled with my faith over the years. How can a good God allow the suffering that I have endured? How could a good God ignore me – or worse, forget me – when I called out to him so many times to be rescued?

 

There was one dark night when I renounced God. I was angry. I was hurt. I had had enough of this ‘following and trusting God and everything will be ok thing’. Interestingly though, in that dark moment, I was still calling out to God. I told God that he didn’t exist. Darkness aside, I could not hide from my Maker – If I go to the depths of Hell, he is there. God allowed me to rail against him with every fibre of my being and did not leave me. In fact, he was strangely close. In the days that followed, I read several books. I’m not a fiction reader and my interest in non-fiction is limited pretty much to theology. And even in those days – when I was unsure if I wanted a relationship with God – I read Kierkegaard. And the message was that life without God was like sickness unto death except you don’t die. Even in my darkest moments, I couldn’t fully run from God.

 

I’ve resisted a calling to serve God. Veterinarian, doctor, psychologist, researcher, counsellor – just a few of the hats I tried on. None of them fit right. This time last year, I decided to go back to school with a new plan – to become a clinical psychologist. Now I don’t regret this plan at all. It forced me to work harder than I have ever worked before. The courses were fascinating – but in order to make my new plan happen, I needed to maintain grades that I had previously only hoped of achieving.

 

As December came, I knew that I needed to start thinking about potential research and volunteer positions that would increase my chances of getting into competitive programs. Yet, the things I wanted to do with my spare (and rare!) time were not clinical in nature in any way. My strongest desires were to start a Bible study or a young adult’s group or something within the church that would involve discipleship and the exchange of stories. I had aligned myself to succeed academically, but I knew my heart beat elsewhere.

 

I wrote for one of my classes – at it was a kind of homecoming for me. I wrote reflections on books and topics that had captured me. My final paper was really a response to the questions, thoughts, readings, and ponderings over my life. It came naturally. The words poured out of my life. Deep inside, I had found home. I ended last semester with the question ‘now what?’ My course in community engagement messed up my nice tidy plan of becoming a psychologist. This one particular course this semester helped answer that for me – ministry.

 

This is where my heart beats. Communing with God and serving his people is my heart’s strongest desire. It is who I am and who I am meant to be. My heart – once restless – has found its place.

 

And there is such freedom and joy that I cannot put into words. Yes, there are frustrations and struggles. I have hard days still and nightmares. While I am at the most peace I have been, I still miss my family and every once in awhile I think about reaching out with the hopes that they will receive me. It’s not constant as it once was though. And working for God has it’s challenges – there is resistance in expected and unexpected places and wounds within me that have me gasping for air at the slight squeeze of tension. But there is an undergirding freedom and joy that I have never known that is now constantly present. I am free to be who I really am. I am free to be who God made me. And as I rest in God and delight in His ways, I am filled with a joy and peace that passes all understandings.

 

O Lord, I have been restless until I’ve come to rest in you.

Wear Red for Josh

Friends and Readers – I write again about my dear friend’s child Josh. He will be having open heart surgery in the coming weeks. I ask that you keep Josh and his family in your prayers.

As an encouragement to this little five year old facing some difficult days ahead, his mom Laurie is pulling together a collage of people thinking and praying. So wear red, take a photo and send it to Laurie!

Here’s the link: http://lensofmotherhood.blogspot.ca/2013/05/will-you.html?spref=fb

The peace of wild things

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Last night, I arrived in Victoria, B.C. greeted by my dear friends. When we departed Toronto, there was a calm yet surreal feeling as I left the concrete and busy-ness. I watched out the window – it was a gorgeous ride for most of it. I have always loved clouds and skies and it was magnificent. I read and reflected. My mind was not that far from work – though I had left my brainstorming notebook in my baggage and I did not have internet access for over 5 hours. It was both frustrating and freeing. I watched the hockey game. Now, I’m not a hockey fan – but game 7 was amazing. Kudos to the Bruins coach for some brilliant decisions that resulted in a win. There was something cool about sitting with head phones on and cheering (or groaning) in solidarity with the rest of the people in the airplane.

The real treat though was flying into the sunset to victoria. Wow. Unfortunately I was told to put my camera away as we descended and therefore was not able to capture it’s beauty. But it was breathtaking.

Today, Meagan and the twins and I went to a local farm and pet goats, saw pigs and piglets, and all sorts of animals.

I was struck by the peacocks. What a magnificent creature! The colours were brilliant and bold. Their design spectacular. I took tons of pictures of these birds because I was completely enamoured by them! I was reminded of the passage in Matthew where we are instructed not to worry. Now I know I am mixing up the lilies of the field and the birds of the air, but I don’t think I’m getting the message wrong. I felt God remind me that he has clothed these birds with splendour and majesty, and his love for me will take care of me.

I read this poem by Wendell Berry and it describes how I feel on day 2 of my vacation.

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Be still

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Tonight I fly out to Victoria, B.C. to spend some time with some very good friends of mine. And then I will be journeying through the mountains and visiting relatives before I return home.

In some ways, skipping town is very easy. Who wouldn’t want to be surrounded by ocean and mountains, drinking wine and conversations with some of your best friends, and reading books just for fun?

In other ways it is a challenge. The summer program we are launching will go on hold in some ways for two weeks. Two weeks may not seem like a long time. But given that we are trying to get things up and running and I’ve made connections with the neighbourhood, two weeks is a long time. Yesterday, I spent 9 hours at church tying up loose ends and making sure that everything is left as I want it. I’ve worked hard to get all my ideas on paper (or the website) so that this program could happen without me.

But as I step onto the airplane tonight, I must let go and trust God.

It’s not easy – this is my baby! I’ve invested so much time into it and the pressure I feel to be successful is high. So many questions run through my mind – should I really be leaving for two weeks in the midst of all that we are doing?

there is a lot of work still to do. I’ve done an awful lot. But there is more. However, truth be told – even if I stayed and worked the next two weeks, there’s more work to be done than time. In some ways, the work is unending. There is always an email that could be sent, a phone call to be made, a workshop to organize, contacts to be made. I could work round the clock and still never be “done”.

A few people have cautioned me about the amount of time and speed that I am diving into this project. It’s easier said than done when ideas come in the wee hours of the morning. But one of the things that I am realizing is that I have to take breaks. There will always be tons to do. I Have no trouble filling my time. I recently took a complete day off where I didn’t do any work. Mostly slept out of sheer exhaustion.

Amazingly, the world didn’t stop. My summer project didn’t crash. My friends going through a rough time are still there. Life goes on. Humbling – how often do I plough through life as if everything depended on me? As if I’m this giant of faith?

There’s a picture on my piano that quotes Psalm 46:10 – “Be still and know that I am God.” I pray that this time will be one in which I can be still – truly still – and come to know in deeper ways who God is.

A new (old) direction

Yesterday, I got the official word on my “new” direction.

It’s actually quite an old direction.

Here’s the story.

When I was 17, I had the courage to ask God why the heck he had allowed me to endure what I endured. I remember that moment as if it had happened yesterday. I sat on my bed as I heard God gently speak “… the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3b-4). In that moment I felt called to be an Anglican priest.

I told God flat out no. I was going to be a doctor. At the time I was working at the university with my path paved to enter medical school if I could just keep up the grades in university. I loved science and loved studying. Clearly God was wrong.

I was taking online highschool credits at the time and while I finished with a 95% average, I very suddenly became disinterested in science. I’ve often felt that God took that from me. And I’ve often tried to take it back, to prove that I am a scientist at heart.

I spent months in prayer about this. It was a rocky time in my life. I knew if I told my parents this it wouldn’t go that well. But it was hard to hide. So I did. And it went worse than I had anticipated. Bitter words – “you are following the devil” – have haunted me to this day.

I remember praying and crying out to God in confusion. I didn’t understand how God could call me in a way that felt so real and then have the people who are supposed to love me the most be strongly against it. I remember during my prayer times being faced with the question of whether I would follow God if he called me to something and it meant losing my family. Three or so months later I said yes. I didn’t really know what the heck that meant!!!!! Remember – this was about 4 years prior to me leaving home.

I started going to a Bible study that very soon became central to my life. I had the courage to tell the pastor that I felt called to ministry – to which he responded “Cool” and suggested that I get my feet wet. In second year university I was somehow able to take graduate level introduction to the Old Testament courses despite my GPA not being the greatest. I loved those courses.

And then I suddenly left home. Everything changed. I was finishing up 3rd year university, but now I had to support myself. So much crazy stuff happened that year.

A couple of years ago, I applied to Wycliffe and they accepted me. Again, I loved those courses. But then I hit difficult times with the trial and my grandmother’s passing.

Almost a year ago, I decided to move forward with or without my family. Part of this was a decision to study psychology. I worked so hard in those courses and I loved the material. But it wasn’t me.

In December, I found out my stepfather was beginning his sentence. On the subway to an event, I realized that I had lost my family, but I was still following God. I was reminded of that conversation with God almost 12 years ago and heard God say to me that I am his good and faithful servant with whom he is well pleased. Tears came streaming down my face during that subway ride for those were words that I longed to hear from God. Longed isn’t a strong enough word. I’m not sure I can find words to describe that ache in my soul of wanting God’s love and acknowledgement so desparately.

And then I felt God say – “you are ready now”.

Ready? I knew exactly what that meant. But change direction, again? I wasn’t sure if I was indeed ready. I also knew this meant that I would need to talk to others. A call to ministry is one that needs to be discerned in community and is not something I can simply decide to do. It took me a little bit to get up the courage to mention it to a few people. For a little while, I kept it to myself.

But then, in the entire University of Toronto, I wasn’t able to get into any courses but theology related ones and a research methods course. If this was God’s way of pointing me in a direction, he certainly had a sense of humour.

I had a frank conversation with my counsellor who at the end of our meeting said “Sounds like the call of God on your life”. One of the people who knows me best and would tell me honestly had given me the go ahead. I knew I couldn’t keep silent. I approached people to be references or to pray and was shocked by the unanimity of response.

Yesterday, I had an interview with the principal. It was shockingly casual. I guess I’m not really a stranger to wycliffe, having had my foot in and out for 10 years. But I guess I pictured something far more intense and invasive. The conversation went on as if I’d already been accepted. When asked if I had any questions, I did ask when I would find out – “very, very soon. You’ll find out very soon.”

20 minutes later I got the call and an offer of admission.

I’ve been accepted to do a Masters of Divinity combined Masters of Theological Studies in Urban Development.

A new – yet also very old – direction.

Stepping stones

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My mother very prophetically claimed that my biggest problem in life is that I have too many interests. It is a blessing and a curse – for I have many gifts and many passions, but all too frequently find myself at the uncomfortable place of unknowing.

Or rather, feeling totally lost.

Yesterday, I had ample time to think of my future. I am doing reading these days on topics related to the summer program we are launching, with my most recent book on evangelism (awesome book and worthy of a whole post when I am finished). I’m also doing some reading on new monasticism. The wheels in my head are turning – there is so much that *I* can do and there is so much that needs to be done.

Typically, that is energizing. The possibilities are exciting.

But yesterday, I sat in the living room of the family whose boy I look after with almost tears in my eyes because I felt totally lost. I have too many interests. There are too many things that could be done and could be done by yours truly. I’m single, and therefore the sole breadwinner, and as much as I enjoy volunteering my time away bills need to be paid. I had a painful reminder of that yesterday too which might have added to my melancholic state.

In my panicked state, the continuous refrain flowing through my mind was “Trust God.”

Trust God? For those who have journeyed with me, trust has been a huge issue. Trust in a God who has allowed me to go through horrible things is frightening at times. Yes, I know that I’ve written many times about how wonderful it is that God can orchestrate beauty out of ugly things, chaos out of disorder, healing out of pain. But I’m kinda done with the experiencing ugly, disorder, and painful things in my opinion and think that God needs to come up with a new way to teach me.

Trust God with your life, devote your entire life to God, and you can be in for anything. As I read the lives of the saints, they most certainly didn’t have it easy. Trusting in God does not promise a comfortable life. A joyful life perhaps. But last night, I was wanting comfort.

Today I was reminded of a thought I’ve expressed before. Looking back over my life, I am thankful that God didn’t tell me all that I would go through up front. I would have run the other way. I think he gives us enough direction to keep us moving forward. And we take little steps – like steps on stepping stones – on the path he has marked for us. Sometimes we slip, for stepping stones often are slippery or mossy. But God helps us back up and we keep going.

I have an interview booked for graduate school. That is the next stepping stone. Not sure what happens after that interview. But today I feel ok about that. Cause God will show me in his timing – which is always perfect even if I don’t agree with it – and he will show me what to do next, in ways that I can handle.