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Vertigo

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Vertigo (noun)

[Latin: a whirling around, from vertere]

1. A sensation of dizziness or abnormal motion resulting from a disorder of the sense of balance

2. A whirling around

In one of my undergraduate courses, I was introduced to U2’s song Vertigo through watching the music video. If you’ve ever seen it, you will identify with the sensation in watching the black and white images turning – vertigo. This thrilling, sickening, disorienting, exciting, confusing, fast-paced constant changing that is out of one’s control.

U2 describes best where I’m at right now: I’m at a place called vertigo.

Over the past few weeks so much of my life has shifted or changed. End of August, I completed a pretty awesome and intense summer filled with all sorts of experiences working long hours. People teased me that I practically lived at the church and there were days that I admit I began to call it home. I kept Saturdays sacred most weeks and tried not to think of work. The rest of the week though was spent somewhere in the basement of a church. The fact that I called it home at times speaks to the familiarity I had with it.

That ended and I seek out new experiences. I’ve been able to be at a church that I would infrequently visit. I’m surprised at how quickly it has felt like home – in part because of the overwhelming welcome I’ve received and also because I know a number of people already. This church is a good fit for me and at this time in my life, it is a place of refuge. I haven’t been asked to do anything yet and have refrained from volunteering. I warm a pew (which I’ve learned is actually an important job) and sometimes am able to give a word of encouragement or something. It never feels like much and I haven’t gotten past the idea that I’m not contributing but it is good. Still, it is new. I don’t know my way around the building, the service, the church let alone relationships.

School is good. It is a joy to be in my classes and to study God’s word and those who have gone before me. Grad school is different than undergraduate studies, and seminary is a very unique setting. I get the academic side well – but it is the rest that is new and I do not know always how I fit in or what is happening next. I don’t know many people and for an introvert like me, this is not an easy task. For those who saw me execute the summer program – you might be perplexed. In fact, many have confused me for an extravert. In my role in the summer, I knew my part and knew to be strong and how to be confident. Take me out of that setting and I will choose to be quiet and take my time in figuring out the lay of the land. My start of seminary studies has been more focused on family related stuff than I had hoped. This adds a deeper problem to finding my place in relationships that are new and forming – what do I tell people? I struggle with wondering if people really want to know what’s going on in my life on a good day. But with a funeral that brought to head some of my deepest pain – how do you tell someone how your day is going when they barely remember your name?

Grandpa’s passing brings another layer of disorientation into my life. For both my grandparents, I held on to the hope that reconciliation would happen on this side of earth. Now they are both gone. It cannot happen here. The loss marked at the funeral was deep with it being about Grandpa, but also more complex than that. I’ve lost so much that I’ve held onto. Including hope of reconciling. The rules have changed. I’m not sure yet what they are. I’m not sure what they mean. But things are different now. Very different.

And so… I am at a place called vertigo. Many of the changes are good. But they are all disorienting. Things inside me are swirling around and I find myself clinging to any bit of stability I can. Somedays that is just my cat, other days it is my books or my closest friends. I’m dizzy, disoriented, disordered… you name it. Everything around me and in me is changing. It is hard to find my balance. I’m at a place called vertigo.

Perhaps that is why I deeply enjoyed a moment in a rather formal service at the Cathedral today. I honestly wasn’t looking forward to it, but am learning that if I submit my life to the church through holy orders than obedience is very much part of that submission and my life will not be mine (is it even mine now? a topic for another time…).

We sang the Gloria to the tune by Merbecke – something we sang every week practically for the past year in the church where I served.

And for a moment, the vertigo had stopped.

How to be a Christian without being a jerk about it

September 27, 2013 2 comments

This is awesome.

Feet in, Arms out

A few weeks ago, the marvelous Lindy West over at Jezebel wrote an excellent post called, “How to be an Atheist without being a dick about it.” As someone who has been the target of my fair share of dickish Atheists in my life, I really appreciated it. However, the behavior of dickish Atheists pales in comparison with some of the behavior of my Christian brothers and sisters. So, dear people, I give you some recommendations on how to be a Christian without being a jerk and turning everyone off to not only Christians, but to Jesus. (I’m going to try to cut back on the language in the event that some Christians who need to hear this are turned off by the swears. Let’s see how I do.)

1) Stop threatening people with hellfire and damnation. Nobody likes it. It achieves approximately nothing so far as spreading the…

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When you lose someone you love

When you lose someone you love life becomes strange,

the ground beneath gets fragile,

thoughts make your eyes unsure

and some sad echo drags your voice down

where words have no confidence.

Your heart grows heavy with loss;

and though the loss has wounded others,

no one really knows what has been taken from you

when the silence of absence deepens.

 

You know there will be days ahead

when you will have your heart back

and you will be able to function well

until in the middle of work or encounter

suddenly with no warning

you will be ambushed by grief.

 

Flickers of guilt will kindle regret

for all that was left unsaid or undone.

But take heart; in life and in death,

in life beyond death, God is with you.

 

Gradually, you will learn

that the one you have loved is still with you

in some mysterious way,

still part of your daily living.

And when the work of grief is done,

the wounds of loss will heal

and you will have learned to wean your eyes

and be able to enter the heart in your soul

where the one you have loved awaits your return.

 

John O’Donohue

Sacredness in the brokenness

September 22, 2013 1 comment

Here is the prayer I read on Friday after I said goodbye to Grandpa, knowing that had been promoted to glory as the Salvation Army says and is with our Lord forevermore. Those few minutes were sacred ones and I am profoundly grateful, as hard as it was, to have the opportunity to say what I longed to say with a hope that Grandpa can hear me now. It was a sacred moment to cry with my whole body in God’s presence, not holding anything back in my tears.  Not many get to see me hurt to the point I cannot stop tears and shaking. But God sees for there is nothing I can hide from him.

I prayed this prayer in that moment, with everything within me. A sacred moment indeed as I felt God hold me and embrace me in my deep pain. Sacredness in the brokenness.

 

O God,

I cannot undo the past,

or make it never have happened!

– neither can you. There are some things

that are not possible even for You

– but not many.

 

I ask You,

humbly,

and from the bottom of my heart:

Please God,

would You write straight with my crooked lines?

Out of the brokenness of my life

will You make something beautiful for You?

 

Teach me to live at peace with You,

to make peace with others

and even with myself.

 

Give me fresh vision. Let me

experience Your love so deeply

that I am free to

face the future with a steady eye,

loved,

and strong in hope.

 

– A Prayer in Brokenness, Celtic Daily Prayer

My summer experience

September 16, 2013 1 comment

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This summer I had quite the wild adventure running a nine week youth mentorship program out of a church. My role has ended there and I am excited about the things that lay ahead. I have some writing to finish that I’m slowly getting to it. This letter (or some version of it – this blog version is quite edited in terms of revealing details and a few specific ‘thank yous’) is being put into this week’s newsletter for the church. Thought I’d share it as I received a lot of prayer support and encouragement from people I know – and many who I do not know – as a summer of my experience and to encourage you about the good work that God did in our midst.  

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Wow – what an incredible adventure the youth program was this summer. I feel quite privileged to have journeyed with these amazing youth, to be trusted with their stories and invited into their lives as they grow as leaders and individuals. I have so many stories to tell, so many precious moments.

It was exciting to see how the Lord added to our numbers – sometimes even daily! We started with a group of three youth who quickly invited their friends. By the second week, we had a group of 14 youth who came almost daily for 9 weeks to the basement of the church and 3 youth who joined in the fun every now and then. Having worked with youth in many settings, this growth and commitment is rather significant. Youth do not tell their friends to come to something in less they are absolutely confident that it is safe to do so. Some of the youth turned down other commitments because they wanted to be here.

We witnessed a quiet group of youth grow into enthusiastic learners, teachers and leaders throughout the summer. We watched as they took risks, trying new things and invited feedback into the experience – and I watched them thrive as they discovered themselves and that they were loved in our group. One common goal this summer was to learn how to cook. So,daily we traveled the world in the industrialized kitchen discovering the joy of cooking together. For most of the youth, this was a new experience and a highlight of each day. 

We journeyed together for four weeks, looking at the biblical concept of covenant and creating our own to make this an environment where we can learn and grow together. We participated in workshops that made us reflect on who we are and built skills that we can take into our lives. One interesting workshop led us to consider how we get our needs of approval met. The workshop leader spoke from his experience of finding those needs met in ourselves, while the majority of our youth find their approval through doing things with others. We all agreed that if we look to others or ourselves for approval, eventually we will be let down. We then had a very interesting conversation about needing to find a different source – my suggestion was Christ, which we explored a little together.

We led Animalia Day Camp with a small group of children. While our numbers were small, the needs were great and we were able to offer much needed attention to each child as well as mentor the youth as they work on their leadership skills, dealing with real time situations. We traveled to several parts of Toronto that the children had not seen before including the Humber Bay Butterfly Park. One of the many highlights of the week was our trip to the zoo during which we marvelled at each creature that we saw, the magnificent colours and beauty, and the intricate details. 

Week six was a rest week for us as we debriefed the day camp experience, prepared for the next few weeks, and relaxed together! Team dynamics are very important when working day in and out with each other. Our rest and ‘wasting time’ were just as important to the summer program as the workshops themselves as they tightened the relationships and allowed for spontaneous conversations and sharing. 

Week seven was our Mad Scientist Day Camp and an opportunity for the youth to continue working on their skills and for us to connect with more children and families in the neighbourhood. Some children returned from the previous day camp and others joined us. Our big adventure for the week was a trip to the Science Centre, however a surprising highlight of the week was the Allen Gardens. What a joy to watch these children discover God’s creation in new ways!

Our last day camp program was definitely a highlight of the summer. In the morning, we ran a high energy vacation Bible school program in which the children learned through songs, Bible stories, crafts, games and other activities the missionary journeys of St. Paul. By the end of the week, 34 children could tell you that God loves them (and you!), recite 5 Bible verses, and tell you why Jesus died on the cross. Each day we filled the sanctuary walls with our prayers of thanksgiving to God. Unlike most vacation Bible School programs I have been a part of, these children were largely from unchurched homes which opened lots of conversations with parents. One boy found a Bible in the house and went searching for Jesus – he came back the following day asking if we could help him! In the afternoon, we were joined by a Christian arts educator for a high quality arts program, exploring all sorts of art mediums.

 Our camping retreat and final week was a pretty awesome time. Many of the youth had not been outside the city let alone camping before. There were times of intense conversation with different small groups. We talked about who we want to be/known for (as opposed to what media/society tell us we are) and how we might live that out. A very beautiful time was sharing what we learned this summer!

I’d like to thank my awesome summer team for the many hours, enthusiasm, creativity and love they poured into this ministry over the nine weeks. We couldn’t have asked for better camp counsellors!

The summer was a beautiful experience and I am grateful to each of you for your love, support, financial givings and encouragement so generously given to me and this ministry. Thank you for your trust of me and your love of youth and children and their families in the area. As I move on to further studies and future ministry, I will cherish the many lessons and blessings from the opportunity.

I continue to pray for you and the good work you have done with me this summer in reaching new families for Christ’s kingdom.

Peace.

homecoming

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A little while ago, I stepped into liminal space – that in between, uncertain space in life where what you know is confusing and uncertain and the world around you is changing. A space in which everything is called into question and answers are rare. It has been anything but comfortable. I’ve tossed and turned many nights, shed many tears, and begged God for clarity over and over. Answers didn’t seem to come, but time passed.

For a control freak like me, I wanted to control the calendar… I knew the liminal space was coming, but I wanted surety prior to stepping into it! I wanted to know what’s now, what’s next, before taking the next step.

But stepping into the liminal space wasn’t actually something I could control. The land of certainty and what I know was coming to an end and the questions remained unanswered. I can’t say I trusted God, really, as I stepped into the liminal space. I think it was more like being on an escalator – you get to the top of the stairs and there isn’t much choice but to go onto the level which the moving stairs have taken you. the escalator part ends. Now my analogy breaks down as I suppose you could keep stepping backwards and stay in the same place, where as time does not allow such freedom.

The other day, I walked into a church and was greeted by friends, welcoming me “home”. I didn’t have to explain myself nor did I have to be anyone but me. My friends celebrated where I’ve come from and what I have been doing, telling others so that they too could join in the beauty of God’s work. I felt that my friends’ words were apt – I had come home.

Today, another experience of homecoming almost overwhelmed me to tears. I attended orientation at my theological college. It was a strange day. I am no stranger there. About 10 years ago, I took old testament courses as part of my undergraduate. As soon as I left home, I was done with philosophy and tried very hard to skip that degree. But my professor offered wise counsel – finish my degree. It took awhile, but I did a couple of years ago. I had taken courses on and off, always having one foot in at the college. They saw me through pretty rough times.

Today I was greeted by professors and staff members who know me. They didn’t use these words but – they welcomed me home. THese are people who have loved me, taught me, guided me, prayed for me… and they, along with many many more people, are a very important part of my family. I was reminded today – as I have been all summer – that in Christ, my family is quite large and it is quite an amazing thing to ponder how many people have prayed for me over the years.

This may be liminal space that I am in. But God is here. and I am where I belong. I don’t think ‘home’ will ever be a physical place for me. My B.A. thesis was about ‘home’ not being dependent on a building, but rootedness in Christ. I am seeing that. over and over. God is here, in this liminal space, and I am home even in the midst of confusion and disorientation.

I have come home. As switchfoot sings (lyrics below), I’ve found a place where I belong.

I’ve got my memories/ Always inside of me/ But I can’t go back/ back to how it was/ I believe now/ I’ve come to far/ No, I can’t go back/ Back to how it was/ Created for a place I’ve never known/

This is home/ Now i”m finally where I belong […} I’ve been searching for a place of my own