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Archive for January, 2014

I’ll never know

I have to do some writing about my life. Don’t bother asking what it’s for – it’s not that important. I only mention it to say that today I’ve been revisiting court documents which of course hold records of some of the most painful details of my life. Let’s just say – this sucks. But it needs to be done. I asked some close friends to pray for me as I dive into this material once again and start filling out the paper work. Well, after filling out the paper work as much as I can and writing two paragraphs of a summary, I was more than ready for a break.

Decided to go for a walk. I can walk pretty fast when I am determined and frustrated and angry. even on the slippery sidewalks. I wasn’t really all that aware of anything but my own frustration and God who walks beside me. I got thinking about the details of my life – details that very few know. And found myself wondering yet again – why do I have this story???? Why couldn’t I have been given another story to tell of God working in me – why one with so much suffering and loss?

My siblings came to mind, picturing them shaking their head as I rehearsed in my mind the three reasons I went through with a statement. For their protection. I remember too well when that was read out at the appeal and four of my siblings shook their heads in disbelief.

They do not know what they have been saved from. They do not know the pain I have been through. They have been spared – of how much, I may never know – but definitely, they have been spared of the full depth of pain I have endured. I am thankful. But I may never hear gratitude from them. And why would they – they have no idea the cost I have borne to keep them free of the pain I know.

Longing for comfort, and admittedly quite angry at God, i shouted in my mind to Him. God – you don’t get it. you don’t understand. You gave me a task that cost me a great deal including the ones whom I have tried to protect. And guess what? They’ll never know! They’ll never know the cost. They will never know the price I have paid for their sake.

I didn’t think God would have a real answer to my angry cry. So I kept walking. Frustrated, hurt, angry.

On my way back from the store, I found myself humming a praise and worship song. Couldn’t think of the name or even the words, but it’s a pretty tune. So I kept humming.

And then the words came.

I’ll never know how much it cost to see my sin upon that cross.

(Here I am to Worship)

In that moment, I felt God say to me that actually he does understand. More than I’ll ever know.

every once in awhile I get a glimpse of how my suffering teaches me about God and Christ. Not just about his unfailing love or grace or whathaveyou. But it is a glimpse into the heart and mind of God. For I now know pain endured for the sake of another, a cost that the other will never know, never fully understand.

But then – I’ll never know what it felt to look upon your son, your only son, who died so that a broken and sinful humanity might life. I’ll never know the cost of my freedom.

Tonight though, I caught a glimpse. From the God who understands my pain from a depth I’ll never comprehend.

On the gift of writing

We are a week into my list of 40 resolutions. It’s been an interesting adventure. I find each morning, I am reflecting on one or two resolutions and how in order to grow in these things this year, I must be intentional. I also find that as the evening winds down, I’m thinking about what I need to do before sleeping. I can’t say that I’ve kept these resolutions for the first seven days of 2014, however that was never the goal. I knew I’d fail – and likely on the first day! But growth isn’t about meeting a goal once, but about a life transforming over time demonstrating God’s work in us.

So I thought, a week into this adventure is a good time to stop and reflect on how it’s going, taking stock and noticing what God is already doing, and where I might need to let him work. Tonight, I found myself wanting to tackle the whole list, but this blog post has morphed into a reflection on writing. Or more, the gift of writing.

I am (re)discovering my gift and calling to write. For those who haven’t heard this, each post on here flows from me almost effortlessly. I very rarely edit my work on here and many times, the most attention I show a written post is a quick glance. Each post must pass a test, however, before I press the all-too-easy “publish” button: Could I stand by this post if tried? When I was a witness in a criminal case, this was a very important question. My journals were subpoened (though thankfully not used) and my therapy records were used at length on the stand by my stepfather’s defense lawyer, trying my words in every way possible. When I made the choice to blog again while in the midst of that long process, I knew I was taking the risk – any and all of my words could be used against me. Now, the literal answer to the question is less important to me. Still, I find it a helpful litmus test – if I had to, could I stand by these words and say I wrote them? Sometimes I wrestle for other reasons whether something should be posted. Should I post only hopeful happy posts? Recently, in my Waves of Grief post, God spoke to me mid-way through writing. I warned relatives who are grieving the loss of Grandma and Grandpa as I didn’t want my references to catch them off guard or my pain to trigger pain. At that point, I wondered if I should even bother writing about grief and struggles.

Several people have written to me about how that post spoke to them. One friend who is discovering God’s love decided to crack open her Bible and read Job after being intrigued, writing to me that she couldn’t put the Bible down. It’s pretty awesome to have God work through my art. I think an artist’s greatest joy is when the art begins to take a life of its own and meet people in their joy and in their brokenness and point them towards the Great Artist. The more I live into this calling to write, the more joy fills me. I remember watching Chariots of Fire and the athlete whose name escapes me says that he feels God smile when he runs or something like that. I feel that when I write. When words flow from my fingers onto a page, I feel God’s pleasure and delight in me. I write because I must write. Words are my art.

I am trying to write every day. But I have also learned when it is a gift flowing out of me and when I am forcing the process. Of course, there are times when I must force myself to write without that beautiful sense of Inspiration… such as the night before a paper is due. I think this is part of the discipline of art. Musical giftedness comes supernaturally, but also comes through practice. One can’t expect to sit at the piano and suddenly play some complicated piece. I think it is the same with writing. There are many drafts that go into the deleted folder – perhaps many more than actually get posted. And that is all part of the writing process. Still, I try not to post writings that I know come from a forced place. For me, that means that it isn’t the right time, or perhaps I don’t have the right ideas yet. There are posts that are lost in the abyss of bad ideas and ones that I return to at a later point in my life. There are posts that never meet the worldwide web but have shaped me or been an expression of where I am at that needed to get out, but needs not to be known or read.

Right now, words are flowing out of me rapidly and continuously, hence the increased number of posts. It is a wonderful thing that I can’t quite explain how joyous it is – but trust me, it’s joyful and I find myself thanking God daily for the gift and art of writing. My part time job is a lot of writing too – what a blessing to write about what I love to read and write about, and get paid for it. But more than that – people are reading my writings. And even enjoying them. And because I know the words flow in and through me, I find myself thanking God for gifting and using me in this way.

The big 3-0

This year I turn 30. Like many others, I have pondered this more than other birthdays. Mostly because people suggest that there is something special about turning 30. Sometimes these are really positive things. But mostly, it’s a negative thing. I have known people who have cried about turning 30, who have desparately wanted to meet the love of their life before 30 and there are countless lists going around facebook of the things you must do before you’re 30 (who creates these lists and and why do they get to say what accomplishments are worthy to name and need to be done before 30?

On my birthday, I will wake up much like I do any other day of the year. To me, there really isn’t anything significant about a birthday, let alone my 30th. It is another day in the calendar. I often don’t even celebrate it as it is a day that has painful memories attached to it. But as I move from those memories, I find it odd to celebrate my birthday – it’s just another day.

Still, people are quick to comment about this significant year.

You’re not young anymore

True. There was a time when people used to be impressed by my resume and the amount that I had accomplished at such a young age. Things have leveled out more or less with my peers and it is no longer something special that I worked for a university, have publications, have volunteered many places, have run my own business. Many of my peers have done the same – and more! I have grey hairs and my face shows signs of aging. I can no longer eat whatever I want, however much I want. Funny enough, someone last year thought I was in highschool. So perhaps my young at heart side shines through.

Still, the only time I really think about my age is when one of my siblings has a birthday. I am old enough to have a 27 year old brother. My sister who I saw being born at 14, turns 16 this year. And then there was the time that I was talking to a group of teenagers about a disney movie that they had never heard off as it was before their time. I feel old in those moments.

But why is aging negative? With aging I have knowledge, experience and wisdom in me that when I was young, I lacked. I have a different perspective on time, on my life, on God than I did when I was young. I wouldn’t trade these things for being younger.

When I was your age, I was married with kids

This one is interesting to me. I have not found my soulmate, life partner, love of my life. I would like to be married. And I would like kids. So yes, as I age, I do think about being single in relationship to my age. To be honest though, I really enjoy singleness. Sure, it would be lovely to have someone special – but so much of my life would change. Rather than pine for a boyfriend, I have embraced this stage of life. One is no better than the other, just different with different joys and different challenges.

I do fear at times that I will be old and alone if I do not find someone. I recently watched the movie about Dorothy Day (who started the Catholic Worker Movement). I don’t know how much is hollywood-ized, so i will take what the movie offered at face value as its veracity doesn’t actually impact my argument. The movie showed her young daughter who struggled with the fact that her living space and even her sleeping quarters were invaded by the ever-needing poor. In the movie, Dorothy tried to make her daughter feel like she was her first priority, but when it was cold and raining outside and someone had no where to go, Dorothy let that person sleep in her bed and she and her daughter shared. A poignant moment is when the daughter didn’t want to leave a friend’s house as the guests in the catholic worker house stole her things.

This got me thinking. Marriage and family life would have beautiful blessings that I would embrace if God gave them to me. But there are many things that I can do now as a single person that marriage and family life would make difficult. I can give of myself without consulting a husband, without caring for a child with a cold. I can up and leave. I can be out till the wee hours (not that I do, but I can). Watching the movie made me think that my life could be very rich and very full if God called me to a permanent state of singleness. In otherwords, if the worst case scenario happened and I never found a soulmate – I would still be ok and even enjoy this as a gift.

30 was when I realized I am an adult and no longer a child

This shocks me everytime I hear it. As a young teen, I took on the role of protecting (in my child-like ways) and making sure no one was hurt like I was, and no one would be hurt because of how I was hurt. When I was 16, my parents went to Europe for two weeks and I homeschooled and took care of all the day to day stuff with two of my siblings. My mom was often pregnant and needed to be on bedrest and so I homeschooled the children each day. Before my 21st birthday, I was trying to find an apartment, job and how to survive after suddenly leaving home. I have been homeless, out of work, a witness in a 5 1/2 year criminal trial process. My belongings were dropped off at the back parking lot of where I worked. It’s been so long that I have felt like I am an adult that I don’t remember what it’s like to be a child. Turning 30 is not significant in this matter for I have dealt with adult things for a very long time.

So as I ponder this year and the fact that I am turning 30, I do not approach this with excitement or dread. There is pride that I have made it this far, there is hope that God will show me wonders, there is joy as I am satisfied with my life. I hope that my thirties will be a time in which the fruits of God’s work in me show abundantly. I hope that whether I love a family of my own or the family of God, that I will offer myself generously and selflessly. That I will share the wisdom God has given me through age and experience, and to come alongside those who are young and needing the love of someone who has been there. Turning 30 is only special because it means another year of seeing and receiving God’s grace.

So bring on the big 3-0. I am ready.

Waves of Grief

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In keeping with my New Year’s resolutions, I am trying to get my place ready so that I can offer hospitality at a moment’s notice. I make it work, but often feel like i need to apologize for not being organized or tidier. I am a natural born slob. I can live in a state of chaos and not have it bother me. Until people come over. And then, I become acutely aware of my strong disorganizational skills!!! Tonight I’m tackling my room which has books that need to be organized, clothes that Shalom has claimed as his bed, and piles of paper and photos. At first this was a joyful task, in part because I am seeing a floor that I haven’t seen since I moved in. But more importantly, I found pictures of my siblings and drawings and letters they made for me. Last post I talked about what is necessary to me. These are gold to me – these little pieces of paper are worth more to me than all my belongings put together. These treasures give me hope that one day they will look back and at least remember fondly some moments with me. Maybe not yet. But one day.

But below the treasures are other things. There are court documents. Lots of court documents. I’ve kept everything. When you are involved in a criminal trial as a witness and your words are the only evidence, you keep every written word possible. I can’t bring myself to read these papers yet, though the day is near as there are things that need these documents. But for now, I have the willpower to just stick them in a file folder.

But then there are letters. Letters from my mother. Letter from some distant relatives. Letters from my grandparents. And whenever I rediscover them, I lack the willpower and strength to put them aside. I’ve read them so many times looking for hope that I have most of them memorized. It doesn’t matter how many times I read them, the bitter words are still there and the words of hope that I long for are missing.

There are letters from my grandparents – Grandma’s unmistakeable handwriting. I’ve always loved the way she writes my name. It’s an elegant letter E that I have never been able to replicate (My handwriting today is a culmination of trying to copy the way various people wrote their letters in a cool way!). These letters hold their prayers along with some difficult words. Grandma and Grandpa were prayer warriors when they were alive. They faithfully prayed for so many people, including each of us every morning after breakfast. I had the privilege of sitting in many times as they condensed their prayers for my sake.. they were still long!

We love you Elizabeth […] and know that one day our prayers for reconciliation will be answered. {2006}

We miss you very much and pray that 2007 will be the year of reconciliation. We know that God hears our prayers and that His answer will come in His own way and time. {Christmas 2006}

The way reconciliation works in this situation is that it all depends on me. I received many letters that conveyed prayers to God that *I* would reconcile. There has never been a full recognition for what I have been through. What my stepfather did might have been wrong, but reporting it – that was the unforgiveable sin. Reconciliation meant, then at least, that I would apologize for making it up and calling children’s aid and go back to the family that has only ever shown me love. That ‘reconciliation’ hasn’t happened. Neither has the real thing.

But as I read my grandmother’s words that were no doubt faith-filled, more waves of grief fill me: We know that God hears our prayers and that His answer will come in His own way and time. I still struggle with this for I have prayed too. I have longed. The above letter was the last time I heard from Grandma by mail and I had brief phone conversations in winter of 2007. That was it. I had short exchanges with Grandpa up until a year and a half ago. They left this earth to be with our Lord. And reconciliation never came – not even a chance to say goodbye.

God’s timing? God’s ways?

Is it possible that there is still time? With a God who orchestrates all of eternity, sure. But not on this side of earth. I don’t know what to make of the many prayers that have been denied in effect by my grandparent’s passing. What’s the point of praying for these things? Is reconciliation not what God is about?

I find myself again before God in tears – the time has passed. it is gone. they are gone. I am left with an ache and a longing for something I will not have on this side of earth. Death is pretty final. And has a bitter taste. And it hurts.

I don’t understand what God is up to sometimes. My unanswered prayers for reconciliation and my unanswered prayers for safety as a young teen still have me wounded by God. I may never understand his ways. I may never lose the ache. But somehow, God is still God. God is still faithful, loving, compassionate, wonderful, generous and all the other things that I have come to know about him. I don’t know how these things work together. He doesn’t always feel close.

And the words of the Lord to Job come to mind

Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it?

[…]

Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place, that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it?

[…]

Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? Tell me, if you know all this?

What is the way to the abode of light? And where does the darkness reside? Can you take them to their places? Do you know the paths to their dwelling? Surely you know, for you were already born! You have lived so many years!

[…]

Can you raise your voice to the clouds and cover yourself with a flood of water? Do you send the lightning bolts on their way? Do they report to you, ‘Here we are’?

[…]

Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!

[…]

Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself? Do you have an arm like God’s, and can your voice thunder like his? Then adorn yourself with glory and splendor, and clothe yourself in honor and majesty. Unleash the fury of your wrath, look at all who are proud and bring them low, look at all who are proud and humble them, crush the wicked where they stand; shroud their faces in the grave. Then I myself will admit to you that your own right hand can save you.

(Job 38:4-5, 12-13, 18-21, 34-35; 40:2-3, 8-14)

This is found at the end of the book of Job, a theodicy of sorts that addresses the Problem of Evil and how a good God and evil co-exist. God has heard Job’s agony and bitter complaints. He has listened.

And I, having reread these words and realized yet again that I can do nothing of the sort of things that God has done, I find myself lacking words. I, the writer, have no answer to God to these questions. All I can do is say the words that were Job’s reply:

I know you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted. You asked, “Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand. (Job 42:2-3)

Give me only my daily bread

With moving and setting up home in a new place, I’ve frequently been asked if there is anything I need. I always draw a blank when asked this. One person wanted to buy somethings that I really needed and I think was disappointed that the only answer I could come up with is cutlery. But seriously, dollar store cutlery isn’t all that great (it rusts) and it’s hard to have people over – so this is something that I need. Seemingly perplexed, this person asked me if there was anything else that I need.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. When I had everything provided for me, I could have easily come up with a list of items that I needed. The latest cd, the newest dvd, the newest style. I had no problem turning my wishlist into needs. Somehow the experience of living without so many things has made me redefine what I need.

Really, there is very little that I actually need.

I need shelter, clean air, food, clothing. The recent ice storm showed that I could live without electricity or heat. Albeit, it would be a struggle and a struggle that not everyone in society to could survive. I rely on electricity and assume that I will be warm. But you can live simply and make a go without electricity. Generally, to function in society though, you need electricity, heat, warm water, internet and access to a phone. I can make a  good argument for needing coffee too, though I can go without.

For me, I need to read and write. I need a Bible. I need God. I need love. I need community.

Beyond this – is anything a need? Or do I blur the lines between need and want?

The challenge to me saying that beyond cutlery I don’t really need anything more for my place was that I need to live well and comfortably.

I don’t think I gave a great response to that challenge. Throughout the rest of the day though I have been reminded of a verse that has been my prayer at many times. Today I pray it, trusting that God will give me my daily bread and that that will be enough.

Two things I ask of you, Lord;

do not refuse me before I die:

Keep falsehood and lies far from me

give me neither poverty nor riches

but give me only my daily bread.

Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you

and say, “Who is the Lord?”

Or I may become poor and steal

and so dishonor the name of my God.

– Proverbs 30:7-9

New Year’s Resolutions 2014

I haven’t made New Year’s resolutions in a long time (they last the first day or two and then quickly recede into the background of life). However, I have seen a few resolutions that have been inspiring and I realized that this post could speak to what I hope to do in 2014. Maybe I will discover that God had totally different plans. Perhaps though, it will serve as a measuring stick – to give me something to assess where I am in relationships with where I hope to be. Perhaps it will be something I can continuously refer back to in order to keep me moving forward in life. I am aware that these goals don’t follow the much-advocated S.M.A.R.T. goals – this method for goal setting is pretty useful, I think, however, I fear that in setting achievable goals, that I will shoot lower than I want, scraping by to do the bear minimum. This is an effort in growth, not accomplishments.

So here we go.

1. To maintain a rhythm of Daily Morning, Mid-Day, Evening and Compline Prayer

2. To immerse myself daily into Scripture

3. To read a book a week and to jot down a few notes of each to be compiled at the end of the year

4. To write every day – whether this be a blog post, a journal entry or a paper – something to keep the writing juices flowing

5. To pray for our political leaders. This has been inspired by a news article that I read that made me realize that if we do not have an alternative to our current mayor, nothing will change. also, in the face of mockery, I have been realizing that mockery is cheap. Prayer and action are required.

6. To accept whatever comes as if it comes from God. To joyfully give thanks in everything, even those things that I do not like or do not understand.

7. To stay on top of readings for school and assignments.

8. To create to do lists and do what is on the list

9. To exercise regularly. To provide a physical outlet for stress and frustration. To lose weight. To increase health.

10. To be gentle with myself. I am quick to say “It is what it is” in refering to other people’s situations but am never that kind to myself. To say to myself only what I would have the courage to say to a friend.

11. To write notes of appreciation and gratitude

12. To keep a gratitude jar. To write each day something that I am thankful for, stick it in a jar and then read on new year’s eve.

13. To make sure I schedule at least one coffee with a friend each week.

14. Make one new meal a week.

15. To eat breakfast.

16. To keep Sabbath. Even when it’s hard.

17. To go unplugged for 24 hours at least once a month.

18. To keep my place organized so that I am prepared to offer hospitality at the drop of a hat.

19. To save money. To keep a money jar, increasing the amount I put in each week.

20. To buy what I will eat, and to eat what I buy.

21. To support local businesses and coffee shops.

22. To play the piano each day.

23. To snuggle with my beloved cat each day, and to enjoy being loved unconditionally by this creature God has given me to care for.

24. To decrease packaged foods or foods with preservatives or other additives.

25. To increase how many foods I will purchase fair trade.

26. To only buy used clothing and dishes. To replenish the stock at second hand stores with items that I no longer use or don’t fit.

27. To only buy books for school.

28. To stay on top of paper work. To file my taxes on time. To catch up on my taxes. To replace my ID when it needs to. To change my address. To file paper work. Basically to be organized.

29. To drink more water every day.

30. To travel somewhere outside the province.

31. To say no if I can’t do something or don’t want to. To weigh each opportunity with what God is calling me to.

32. To give generously of my time and resources, remembering that to whom much is given, much is expected.

33. To worry less. To trust that God is with me and that He is big enough to take care of the details of my life.

34. To go to some live music every month. The city has lots of free opportunities along with opportunities that are low in cost.

35. To get outside every day, if only for a walk around the block or to the coffee shop.

36. To remember and acknowledge people’s birthdays. On time.

37. To feel fear or anxiety – and to do it anyways. To take risks and to congratulate myself for doing so. To try new things.

38. To regularly learn about the saints.

39. To wash the dishes before bed.

40. To freely give, and to freely accept,  knowing that all good things are God’s to give and receive.

With only a half hour left of the first day of 2014, I already have a strong sense that this list is going to be difficult to accomplish. But again, accomplishment isn’t the goal.

Maybe by this time next year, I’ll be able to read this list and praise God for the wonders and growth he has done in me throughout the year 2014.

Blown by God towards newness

Last night – new year’s eve – was interesting. It was quiet and low key as I’ve been battling a cold. I had plans for a rambunctious games night to welcome in the new year but then didn’t quite feel up to having people over. I was inspired to put together the music for the youth band that I am leading. Quite the fun, yet challenging experience to arrange music for the young musicians of varying abilities and with instruments I’ve never played. I am quite pleased with my first arrangement and am now in the process of transcribing to paper so that the musicians can play what I hear in my mind. And then the countdown to new year’s began.

If I wasn’t feeling sick, I might have done cartwheels while I heard fireworks go off in the neighbourhood and listened to Carolyn Arends’ New Year’s Day. I am excited to enter a new year! Not that the old one was one I wanted to do away with – but because I am excited to see what God is going to do in and through me.

For those who know my story well, the stretch between Christmas and new year’s is the most challenging week in the calendar. I dread Christmas, but I manage every year to get through it. People open their doors, people remember me, and I grit my teeth and bear it. But that isn’t possible for long as eventually it catches up to me. The holiday week is a time when most people I know are busy and it is hard for me to ask for support when I know people are busy with family or on vacation or whathaveyou. Add to that some pretty bad choices on my part and efforts to not embrace another year, and this is a time that is typically pretty brutal.

But I made it! It is 2014 and the dreaded week is over. There is relief – but more than that – there is excitement! 2013 was a pretty incredible year of watching God work in and through me, in and through my circumstances, and in and through the people I have come into contact. I am totally excited about what God will do in the year 2014.

I’m excited for the new beginnings that a new year brings as Carolyn Arends writes:

One more chance to start all over/ One more chance to change and grow/ One more chance to grab a hold of grace/ and never let it go

The song also reminds us that every day is a brand new day with new opportunities. Every day is a chance to live for God, to see God, to know God, to love God. Every day is a chance to experience God and his love. As I explored other songs for the youth band, I was reminded of Matt Redman’s 10,000 reasons:

The sun comes up/ It’s a new day dawning/ It’s time to sing your song again/ Whatever may pass/ And whatever lies before me/ Let me be singing till the evening comes

You’re rich in love/ And you’re slow to anger/ Your name is great/ And your heart is kind/ For all your goodness/ I will keep on singing/ Ten thousand reasons for my heart to find

It’s pretty cool to look ahead at the coming year and think about the wonders God will show me and the ten thousand reasons (or more!) God will give me to praise him this coming year. It’s cool to embrace 2014 and want to sing God’s praises and thank him for a new year. It’s pretty cool to embrace the newness of the day knowing that God walks before, beside and behind me.

Last year, I posted a prayer for the new year by St. Francis. This year, I have a prayer by Walter Brueggemann that speaks to where I find myself in the newness of this year – blown by God, fueled by God, filled by God:

The news is that God’s wind is blowing.

It may be a breeze that

cools and comforts.

It may be a gust that

summons you to notice.

It may be a storm that blows you where you have

never been before.

Whatever the wind is in your life,

pay attention to it…

and the blessing of God,

Father, Son, and Spirit,

will abide with you always

– Walter Brueggemann, Blown by God towards Newness, In: Prayers for a Privileged People