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Archive for June, 2013

Behind the mask

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I have been wrestling lately with what it means to be in leadership, to be a mentor, to be someone who people look to for comfort and wisdom and help, when I myself am broken. One community that I have been exploring keeps mentioning the words “availability and vulnerability.” I’ve got the availability part down quite well. I make myself available to those in need as much as I possibly can.

But the vulnerability part – I’m not sure I know what it means to be vulnerable in leadership and/or ministry.

Last night I was able to get together with a few of the lovely ladies in this community that I am exploring. I had briefly met them but didn’t really know them and they didn’t know me. They asked a lot of questions to get to know me and I tried to keep up the happy face and share the joy that I was feeling as if that is continued right now. And then one of the ladies said, “Elizabeth, I can see that you are really hurting.”

Do you know how much I wanted to deny that? How much I wanted to shout out that that is not true at all? That I am fine. I was struck with no response though. I wasn’t expecting it. And then we sat down for dinner and two ladies expressed that they were sensing that this evening was really meant for me. Oh, I squirmed in my seat and tried to get out of the hot seat. And then more questions came.

I always face a dilemma when people are getting to know me. There are questions that are so easy to anticipate but I never know how to answer them. Where are you from? Do you get to see your family often? Did you grow up Anglican? Typically homeschooling comes up and that seems to fascinate people. Often if I can get it to that topic, I can avoid answering that I don’t have contact with my family and why. To an extent. The trouble is, I share a story of this amazing family – the talent, the intelligence, the giving, the large number of siblings. My family is amazing in many many ways. I have never denied that.

But unless I can divert the conversation away from me I usually get into trouble sometime along the way. Around special occasions, particularly as people often want to know if you are going home for Christmas say. Then the details don’t match up. If I grew up in a tight knit family, why don’t I have contact? If my family is so amazing and wonderful, why do I not know what is going on in their lives? Would you homeschool your kids? My answer is probably not as the danger was inside my home, and not outside.

The dilemma comes whenever there is a question that nudges at my past. Do I keep up the story and lie, or do I tell the truth and drop a bomb?

The problem with the bomb is that I never can anticipate how it will go for those around me or even for myself. The bomb still hurts within me. And particularly over the past little while, there has been much pain. But the story that everything is fine is a darn hard story to keep up.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve been told that I am young and therefore don’t have too many worries in life or something along those lines. People tend to think that I am pretty inexperienced. Just the other day I had someone tell me that youth go through difficult things – just in case I wasn’t aware of this. I guess I wear the mask well.

There’s a handful of people who know what is going on in my life these days. Life is hard. My life is hard. I don’t tell people often and I keep up the appearance – or the mask – that all is well. And in Christ, all is well in a sense. But I am just as broken and fragile as the next. I am hurting. The mask – well, it’s just that – a mask. I strive to love and be strong for others, when inside I feel terribly alone and weak.

I was thinking today about a song by Casting Crowns as it came on my playlists. This song describes me exactly. This is me – behind the mask.

Is there anyone that fails
Is there anyone that falls
Am I the only one in church today feelin’ so small

Cause when I take a look around
Everybody seems so strong
I know they’ll soon discover
That I don’t belong

So I tuck it all away, like everything’s okay
If I make them all believe it, maybe I’ll believe it too
So with a painted grin, I play the part again
So everyone will see me the way that I see them

Are we happy plastic people
Under shiny plastic steeples
With walls around our weakness
And smiles to hide our pain
But if the invitation’s open
To every heart that has been broken
Maybe then we close the curtain
On our stained glass masquerade

Is there anyone who’s been there
Are there any hands to raise
Am I the only one who’s traded
In the altar for a stage

The performance is convincing
And we know every line by heart
Only when no one is watching
Can we really fall apart

But would it set me free
If I dared to let you see
The truth behind the person
That you imagine me to be

Would your arms be open
Or would you walk away
Would the love of Jesus
Be enough to make you stay

Fragile Glimpses

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These Hopes

fragile glimpses of a

better future

glances at the wide-angled

vision

struggle for a word that

describes the road

we share

asking the honest question

“why?” untroubled

finding a solidarity, a

kinship in loss

our griefs combine without

explanation

and tell us of a better way –

the way of shared

suffering and

fragile glimpses of a better future.

– Phil C. Zylla (The Roots of Suffering)

26 second break

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Today was the day that I decided to quit procrastinating.

After 10 months of hanging out with doctors, the conclusion (and thousands of health care dollars later) is that I need to lose weight and de-stress. Yay for nothing too big going on – but couldn’t they have just given me a medication that makes it all better?

Add to that I am pretty sensitive when talking about weight issues. Who isn’t? I may not talk about it, but I notice when I look in the mirror or when a picture is taken of me. I notice every time I go clothing shopping and the brand marks XL and doesn’t fit me. I’m not even super overweight! Add to that my weight gain was pretty much medication induced as I was on something that made me ridiculously hungry and interfered with the metabolic processes of fat burning (and, having come off it, I’ve already lost a bit of weight!).

I’ve come along way. I can now look in the mirror and see beauty as well as extra weight. I think this has come through seeing pictures of my female family members. I can try all I want, I will never be a toothpick. My body simply is not built in that way. Instead of trying to be something I will never be, I have learned to shop for clothing that flatters me instead of buying a size down to serve as motivation (which never worked by the way).

Today, I decided that I am going to run. And so I did. I decided on a manageable route took walking breaks when needed. And almost gave up half way. Especially after a few too many whistling and making comments – dear male persons: I do not believe real men whistle and ogle. You will never score a date with me in doing this – I do not believe in grace in this matter and you will never reach the level of “possibilities” in my mind. It took everything within me not to punch them in the face.

As I was walking and ready to abandon all, a homeless man smiled warmly and said, “You know, you only get a 26 second break. Keep going!”

And so I did. Total: 1.7 kilometers in 21 minutes.

Thank you dear homeless man for encouraging me not to give up. I needed encouragement as I embark on this new venture.

Confessions of a Work-aholic

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It’s Tuesday morning 1:44am. I am lying awake thinking of the myriads of things that I need to do over the coming hours, days, weeks and months. I’ve worked long days the past few days. I won’t tell you how long as typically the response is not so favourable.

I work too many hours. I understand this. On one level at least. the past few nights I have found myself turning off the computer at 2 or 3am. I was just so into what I was doing that I didn’t realize how late it was. Of course, as soon as I noticed the time I realized how exhausted I was.

It’s been awhile since I have written on here, so let me take a moment to catch you up to date on my life. In a week, we launch a youth mentorship program for ages 13-18. As of 5 days ago, I hadn’t received any applications and I felt both the panic and pressure of having no one registered. My week became about doing absolutely everything I could to get the numbers up, often crying out to God asking why the heck this is so difficult.

Difficult. That’s a word I keep coming to. Truly, I love the work I am doing. But it is hard. I recently told some friends that I feel like I jumped into the deep end without knowing how to swim and I’m just figuring it out as I go. Sure, I have skills and I have done this before. And creative bursts of energy as well as networking skills have been at their finest these past few months. But website design, grant writing, fundraising, publicity – these things are new to me. And while I have many who are lifting me up in prayer and encouragement, I have often found myself feeling alone – much like the picture of the flower, struggling to grow and thrive in a territory where one is alone. It has not been an easy journey. But it has been rewarding in many ways.

But the work is plenty, the workers are few. It is so plentiful that I could work round the clock and never be done. and so I do – literally. I take naps when I can, work until the wee hours of the morning, wake early and hit the ground running the next day. Just one more thing, and then I’ll be done for the night. And then hours later, I’m still fiddling with things that need to be done.

Awhile ago I looked at my summer calendar realizing that if I didn’t carve out a day when I could rest and not work, I would struggle throughout the summer. Working Sunday to Friday leaves open only one day – Saturday. At the end of a crazy and intense week, I was looking forward to staying in my PJs all day Saturday and resting and doing nothing.

And then I opened up my laptop. Got thinking about the program’s website. the lack of registrations. the learning modules I have to prepare. the staff training meetings. the budget that needs to be revised. the emails that need to be returned (if you are reading this and haven’t received a response, I’m terribly sorry – I’m not keeping up with email that well lately).

And then I started to work.

And work.

And work.

At 2 am Sunday morning I realized that I needed to hit the sack as I had to work the next morning. And then it hit me – I hadn’t thought of Sunday school. Now lately there haven’t been kids. But the rule of thumb that seems to be accurate in this ministry is that if I prepare lots, no one will come… if I don’t prepare… everyone will, including visitors. Feeling completely exhausted I knew I had to go to sleep. I asked my facebook network for help.

Got to work tired and there were no kids. But my day’s work had only begun. it was a long, long day. with some good moments splashed into it. But the lack of sleep did not make its length easy. But when I came home, my mind quickly turned to the work that needed to be done.

Next thing I knew, it was 3am Monday.

I am tired. I am grumpy.

But it is my own fault. I am a work-a-holic.

I need Sabbath. I need rest. I’ve done enough research, writing and talking about these things. I worry about others who have too much on their plate… focusing on the speck in their eye and ignoring the log on my own. I joke when others question how many hours I am putting into this and say “Well, I’m crazy, what can I say?”

Someone reminded me today that I need to take Sabbath whether the work is done. And that everything will not fall apart just because I take a day off. I think he hit the nail on the head.

Trust.

I work because I think it depends on me. I work because if I don’t, no one else will. I work because if I don’t, the project will fail.

I work, because I don’t trust that ultimately God is in control. I work because I somehow think that taking time to rest and play and be restored seems foolish – and amidst the distrust there is a certain arrogance that places me at the center of all that is happening… as if what i do (or don’t do) could usurp God Almighty’s plan.

I am a work-a-holic.

I need to let go of my work.

And trust God.

Thai Mango Salad (Vegan)

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… the result of sticking several internet recipes into a blender!

Ingredients

2 Mangoes (sliced into matchstick-sized pieces)

Red Pepper (sliced into matchstick sized pieces)

Lettuce

Onion (sliced lengthwise)

2 Avocados (sliced)

1/2 cup peanuts (finely chopped)

Handful of cilantro (finely chopped)

2 limes (juiced)

1/2 cup rice vinegar

1/2 cup soy sauce

1 tsp chili sauce

Make dressing (sauces, rice vinegar, lime juice). Toss over the rest of the ingredients

Entertaining Angels

I was sitting on the bus today, minding my own business and about to pull out a book that I have started to read. The woman beside me commented on my make up, saying that the colour brought out my hazel eyes. She said some encouraging things to me. We made small talk and then she said she was really glad to meet me. I wished her a nice day and opened my book.

The next stop, I looked up and she was gone.

I didn’t notice her get up. I tend not to notice a lot. But her sudden absence struck me and the song by the Newsboys, Entertaining Angels started playing in my mind. What if I had been entertaining angels, unexpectedly.

Each morning (well, if I’m honest, most mornings), I pray along with others in the Northumbria community a canticle. Each time I pray this prayer which has now become committed to memory, I am struck by how two lines in particular speak to me each time:

Be in the heart of each to whom I speak;
in the mouth of each who speaks unto me.

What if Christ was in that woman’s words this morning? I left that encounter with this odd feeling that Christ had been in my midst. What if she was sent to encourage me – to speak my love language – in a moment when I was feeling more discouragement than anything. What if – in those brief seconds – Christ met me in a way that only he could know would be powerful to me?

Sometimes I wonder if these chance encounters are more than chance.

Maybe we are entertaining angels in our midst more than we realize.