Archive

Posts Tagged ‘faith’

Testimonies, Interviews and Casual Conversations

As I apply and interview for various Christian organizations, there is one question that is inevitable, and yet the one I dread most: Can you tell us about your faith journey? I struggle with this question every single time. I typically draw together a few strands of my life:

  • I was homeschooled and my curriculum was heavily influenced by Scripture and so Scripture and prayer were a part of my daily life as long as I can remember
  • I was baptized in a Fellowship Baptist church when I was quite young – while my theology on baptism has shifted over the years, this was an important moment in my life and I was earnest. But I smile to think of what I could have shared as my testimony – my being saved from sin and my desire to follow Jesus.
  • We switched denominations a lot so I had a very rich and varied experience of church.
  • In my teens, we went to an Anglican church which is the place and time when I really started to distinguish my own faith from my family’s faith. It was in this church that I was “confirmed” – after weeks of preparation, the bishop laid hands on me and prayed for me, confirming my faith before the congregation.
  • I discovered the daily office in my teenage years and it is one of the things that held me together. I remember fondly lighting a candle, with music by John Michael Talbot in the background, saying evening prayer or compline.
  • I discovered a love for Scripture – a fascination that God would speak through words on a page and that it didn’t matter how many times I read a passage, God would STILL speak and there was something new there.
  • A pivotal moment in my life was feeling that God was calling me to ministry – not just as a member of the body of Christ, but as vocation. Specifically, I felt called to become an Anglican priest when at the time I was wanting to become a doctor. Much of my adult life has been wrestling and figuring out what that calling looks like. I remember one particular Sunday when I was working for an Anglo-Catholic church many years later realizing I am living into who God made me the most when I am working for a church and seeking to share the gospel with those around me and in the neighbourhood.
  • Sometimes I will mention the questioning and wrestling with faith in university and beyond as I seek to understand God in the midst of the broken aspects of my life.

All these things are true.

And all these things can be shared in the expected five minutes or less or paragraph on an application.

But I’ve never been satisfied with any answer that I have given. It seems so disingenuous. Part of this is because so much of my faith journey is intertwined with my healing journey that it’s really hard to separate the two. And, I’m not convinced that all stories are appropriate for interviews or first encounters.

I’ve been dwelling on this lately. And something came to me.

This isn’t just a struggle with what is appropriate to share. It’s a struggle with two very different testimonies.

The first one – and the one that I usually share – is about what *I* have done. I decided to be baptized. I discovered Scripture. I wrestled with God. I pursued theological studies.

But as the days and years go on, I realized that my faith story is not so much what I have done, but what God has done in me. When I think about my faith development and healing, I recognize that there are things that I have done that have contributed to where I am. But healing has only come from God through Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. When I think about any of the moments that were significant in my faith journey – the really meaty part of my story – I could not have orchestrated those moments. Sometimes God worked through people. But the deepest, most meaningful moments that have had a lasting impact on who I am and my desire to follow God have caught me by surprise, often coming in moments when I am at the weakest for perhaps the same reasons Paul claims he cannot boast about his own life.

And so, I think the way that I have approached interview or casual questions about my faith journey are flawed. I recognize that I am where I am at only by the grace of God and yet answer as if I have achieved this on my own – or, if generous – that God saved me through the cross, but my faith is my recognition, my response and my doing.

Do Not Be Afraid

I have to admit – the past few days I’ve been a bit concerned about what is happening in the world. Trump and Putin talking about expanding nuclear weapons – whether this is a joke, a threat, or policy -has made me feel the darkness of the world in a new way.
 
Living in Canada, I’m pretty privileged. I am free to worship Jesus with fellow believers with the occasional jest made at my expense but nothing that really threatens my being. I really don’t know what it’s like to be a Christian in a closed Muslim country, a missionary to North Korea, a Syrian Christian in Aleppo. I understand from my Muslim friends that even fellow Muslims are not protected from ISIS attacks. I live in such privilege that I can choose not to even think about what others face.
 
But in the past few days, the topic of nuclear weapons has been on my mind. I read one article that talked about the capacity of these weapons to destroy – the capacity to decimate a large area and to cause 3rd degree burns in survivors. If the powerful countries with nuclear weapon capacity deploy weapons of mass destruction, the world could be a very different place. I shudder at the thought. I cry at the knowledge of how many nuclear weapons there are in the world – and these are just the ones that are known. And I fear. I fear the days ahead. The comments made by Putin and the President-Elect are not clear as what they would do with nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons may never be used. But the possibility that they could be – frightens me. Partly because of the world wide chaos that would ensue. But mostly because my own protection is not guaranteed.
 
Throughout the Gospel narratives, angels are telling people not to be afraid. Mary doesn’t need to be afraid because God has found favour with her. Joseph needs not be afraid because Mary is pregnant due to the hand of God and not infidelity. The shepherds don’t need to be afraid because the babe in the manger is the Christ child. In fact, one of the most common phrases throughout Scripture is “do not be afraid”.
 
I read the story on Syrian Christians in Aleppo celebrating Christmas (click here). In the midst of real danger – and danger from simply being Christian. And I am humbled. This is real faith. Faith in the midst of possibly losing your life for celebrating the birth of Christ. Faith that is determined to worship out of profound love for God and determination to not be afraid of man; The embody the words echoed throughuot scripture “do not be afraid”

Giving All

1011642_536491556406173_125226764_n-2

A group of kids taping their written prayers to the walls of a church in Toronto

The other day, I watched the documentary “Jesus Camp”. It’s about a radical group of Christian fundamentalists in the US and how they train up their children. It’s not a movie for the faint of heart – I had to watch it in two parts as there was much that was troublesome. There was also much that I know all to well. So I don’t recommend the film. But it’s made me think, which of course, is the purpose of documentary.

One of the key pastors looks at how radicalized muslim youth are trained from a young age and indoctrinated with values and ideas about the world as well as a belief system that leads them to want to sacrifice themselves in acts of violence for the sake of their pure radical vision. She looks at Christianity and how watered down it can become, how lazy we can be about our faith and points to the muslim example that we should be at least as radical as they are. That we should train our children that the Christian faith is worth dying for. That fasting and prayer are important.

Her tactics are wrong. But she has a point.

Did you know that one of my devout Muslim friends gets up at 5 in the morning to pray? I have trouble getting up early enough to pray before I have to go out of the house and I don’t have to get up nearly that early! And this isn’t the only time that she gets up to pray. Conversations with my Muslim (and for the record, a non-radicalized one), taught me about a religion that took prayer and fasting very seriously – perhaps more seriously than many Christians, including myself.

Another couple of Muslim friends have taught me about generosity. Even though I was an employee, they showered me with generosity, often topping up my pay check, offering me food, giving gifts. They also offered listening ears and encouragement in everything that I did – whether that be school work or Christian work.

Meanwhile, I am trying to finish up a course on Church history and have been reading about some of the great people of our faith. Some of them would give up everything they had to go and live lives of prayer in the desert. And some had a lot to give up!

I disagree with the methods of “Jesus Camp” and the theology that it tried to indoctrinate the children and youth with. But I wonder, in 2016, how do we be – and raise up – people who would give everything up for Jesus. People who love Him with their whole hearts, minds, soul and strength who would devote all that they are and all that they have to Jesus. People who would serve those who are abandoned, unloved, hungry, poor, alone. People who stand out and whose lives point to Jesus in all that they do.

Misneach (MISH-nock)

November 29, 2014 1 comment

I recently came across an Irish word that is full of beauty and meaning in my life: Misneach (MISH-nock). It speaks of courage, spirit and hopefulness in pushing forward in the midst of uncertainty. I have been thinking about this word throughout this week.

I have written of some of the health struggles that I have faced this fall. This week, I met with the neurosurgeon. Much hope and anticipation had been put into this one appointment – all the specialists I have seen were deferring to this neurosurgeon and it was the appointment that promised answers and a way forward. The number of people who assured me that I was seeing the best of the best and that God’s hand is upon me is more than I can count; as is the number of people who assured me everything would be fine.

Words fail me as I think about that appointment and what the past week has meant for me. It caught me by surprise. I was prepared for the various possibilities – or so I thought. There was quite a bit explained to me during that appointment but one thing stands out: low-grade glioma. A brain tumour. in the Glial cells (supportive tissue). In the middle of my brain.

Three months ago, as I waited 8 hours in emergency with eye pain, I never ever in my wildest dreams or fears went down this road in my mind. I wasn’t expecting a tumour. In fact, I had several professionals assure me that that wasn’t going on in the waiting period – just in case I was worried about that. I wasn’t. But it was assuring.

I once was told that when a doctor gives a diagnosis of a tumour, the patient hears “blah blah blah TUMOUR blah blah blah”. And there is a lot of truth in this. There is a lot of power in that one word. Objectively, I know this doesn’t mean cancer. All we know is there looks like something that is a tumour. We don’t know if it is malignant or benign, new or always there. For all we know, it could be something that has been there my entire life, something we happened to stumble upon thanks to an MRI and it will never require any medical intervention. Or that could be wishful thinking.

For me, the struggle is around the treatment options. Because of where it is in the brain, surgery is really not an option – there are too many risks. Radiation is a possibility but the neurosurgeon wants to wait and do another MRI in 6 months before taking this route. So we wait. I’ve gradually been sharing this with friends and family members. I have debated sharing on here but some conversations with people have made me realize that God is at work, somehow, and will use this.

In September, I admit I was quite mad at God. I had cut down all my commitments so that I could enter into seminary life to the fullest. I became the missional chair in student council and signed up for a full load. And on the first day, ended up in emergency. This was not the deal I had made with God.

But conversations lately have made me wonder if I have blamed the wrong source. What if this is not God? What if this is just more evidence that as we embark on God’s will and are involved in kingdom-work, we are faced with resistance of the evil one? What if this is not a test of my faith, but a strong attack against it. To knock me down. To discourage me. To have me quit.

I have always believed in spiritual warfare. I think there is a tendency to either blame spiritual warfare too much or too little. But, in the words of one friend, never thought something so harsh would come my way as an attack. Maybe this has nothing to do with God, but with the evil one. I don’t know if that scares me or comforts me! Scripture says that we should expect and not be surprised by resistance – and I am trying to follow the call to pioneer ministry and living life among those who do not know the love of God.

Is the tumour just one way in which the evil one attempts to knock the wind from my sails? I have to admit – if this is true, the evil one picked a good way to attack. I do feel the wind taken from me and at various points this week, I have toyed with quitting – whatever that means.

A few friends are gathering tonight to pray for me and to anoint me with oil. Join us? Join us not just in the desire for healing. But in requesting Misneach – courage and hope in pressing forward into the world of the unknown as I face something I hadn’t even imagined.

Rest and Trust

10428715_794282133926731_13205729646005700_n (1)

At the beginning of June, I was aware of my own need to take some time to rest but also believed that I simply could not. I am running a youth mentorship program at another location this summer. While I have much to build on, still a good portion of the work is from scratch. It is a new neighbourhood, with its own uniqueness, and different needs and hopes in the community. Sometimes I feel like I could easily split my job into multiple positions to cover the many facets that go with starting up a new program with primarily unchurched groups of people. In other words, there is no end to the work and not enough hours in the day.

I developed a serious infection called cellulitis in my non-dominant arm. It is a deep tissue infection that had spread to the tendons and I was put on a high dose of antibiotics in attempt to stop the infection from spreading. In addition, my arm was in a hard splint for a few days and then a soft splint for a week. I was under strict orders to rest. Stubborn is my middle name and so I tried to work still… and the pain got to be too much. I tried to do things on my own but it’s really hard without your non-dominant hand! The family I live with and the friends in my neighbourhood helped me with getting the various things done that needed to be.

And I rested.

I think one of the difficulties of resting is trusting God – trusting that He doesn’t rest, that He can operate without me. That might seem so basic to some people but it is something that I struggle with. Partly because I don’t have answers to why he didn’t stop the many things that I’ve endured – including times when I abandoned myself to sleep as a young teen. Can God really handle this if I take a leave of absence?

The infection sort of forced me to take a break. The consequences of not resting could be really problematic and result in time off. I’m happy to say that it is all under control and other than still tiring easily, I am back to normal. But a break was actually not a choice – whether I felt like I could afford to take time off from a work perspective, I knew I couldn’t afford it from a health perspective.

I’m not sure that I’ve grown in my trust through this experience. Especially the past 24 hours as I have felt panicky about the summer program and whether it is even possible. I’m not sure taking breaks will be an easier.

But I do know – I’m better off with the time to do nothing but rest. I was able to connect with people in ways I hadn’t. I had time to reflect and pray about life. I was forced to ask for help and in doing so gained a bit of perspective on life and work. And I do know, that if this is going to be sustainable, I need to take breaks.

Interesting, during some of that time off – connections were made with the public and in the church and people signed up for camp – and I really didn’t have much to do with it. God is faithful. Even when I can’t trust, can’t rest, or can’t do anything but rest.

the wrong crowd

on the subway today, I was reading about the rules that many of us have grown up with as to what it means to be a Christian. one of them is to not hang out with the “wrong crowd” or as we used to joke, “I don’t smoke, don’t chew or hang out with those who do.” I am aware of my need to be around Christians, to be held in my faith journey by the prayers, wisdom and presence of other sojourners on the way. I need people to encourage me when I’m discouraged, cheer me on when the going gets tough, challenge me when I need to grow. Sometimes I need to be surrounded by Christians  just simply know that I am not alone.

also, I do know that youth is a time when you are quite impressionable combined with wanting to be accepted in a social sphere. it’s probably wise to be careful who influences you – not just in your youth.

But as I was on the subway, I found myself wondering – what does it mean to be with the “wrong crowd”?

who would count as the wrong crowd? obviously those sinners (not me, of course!)

who did Jesus hang out with? prostitutes and tax collectors. heathens and the unclean. lepers and the demon possessed.

is it possible that as a follower of Christ I hang out with “the wrong crowd” if I merely hang out with people who are like me, believe as I do, etc?

and perhaps a more humbling question: am I – a sinner – part of “the wrong crowd”?

Just plain hard to get

One of my assignments that I am working on is based on journal entries over the past few weeks and see what God is teaching me in terms of missional spirituality. It is fascinating to see themes throughout what at first seemed like random thoughts. There is one theme that speaks of my heart’s deepest questions at the moment. How do I trust God? This was a particularly poignant question as I sought to walk beside a dear friend who is hurting so much. The only answer to my constant worry and fear was to trust God. And I have struggled with this. Seems so basic – trust God. God is good, God is great, God is faithful – I know all these things. Or at least, I thought I did.

Let me explain.

I hear so often in church land “Trust God, and everything will be fine.” I believe that is a true statement. But not in the sense that it is so often offered. Trusting God is not a recipe for an easy life by any stretch of the imagination.

Here’s what trusting God has looked like in my life:

  • Praying as a young teen for safety, staying up reading Scripture hoping that God would protect me. And the abuse continued.
  • Telling a pastor couple that I need help which resulted in a phone call to children’s aid as there were young children in the home.
  • Trusting that I did the right thing and that God was at work- meanwhile my parents dump my belongings in the back parking lot of where I worked, long hurtful letters from my mom and other relatives, and a birthday present wrapped in a red plastic bag with the inscription “We won’t be needing this anymore”
  • attempting a reconciliation process that blew up in ways unimaginable and therefore put an end to a process that I thought God wanted me to pursue
  • after prayer and consulting many, I pressed charges. While I have wavered in whether this decision was right, I don’t have any doubt any more. One of my most intense experiences of God’s presence in my life was in testifying. After testifying for 3 full days, I needed a break and told my friends that I simply could not continue. Somehow (and I believe this was God) I got back up there and the defense closed the cross-examination when his last line of questioning proved to be based on an argument that was proved false. As I stood up there, I had a powerful experience that God was there with me. Doesn’t make sense unless you’ve experienced this sort of thing in impossible situations but God’s presence was unmistakeable.
  • decisions to keep pressing on and trust God through a lengthy appeal process. I wandered from God several times during this wait and faced many dark days. But when the decision came in and the lengthy account of the panel of judges’ account said everything I had hoped it would, I knew God’s hand was all over it.
  • believing that God would work a miracle of reconciliation and restoration and not being able to hug goodbye my Grandma and Grandpa

this is just a glimpse. God also allowed me to make my own bad choices and suffer the consequences. Some of these decisions were more severe than others. In hindsight, I see God never failing to leave me and staying by my side even when I told him to leave me alone. I can see that God answered my young cries in a way that I never asked – protecting the deepest part of me, the most precious aspect of life – my relationship with God and my soul. Sometimes people comment that it is amazing that I am following Christ after all I have been through. Perhaps, but I do believe that God would not let me go, even when I tried to escape him. Moreover, I see how God is using my experiences to help and bless others… and each time this happens, I find myself thankful for my painful experiences as I know how to sit with pain, I know what it is to hurt, and I know what it is like to have God hold on to you and not let you go. I am also realizing that my experiences shed light into what Christ experienced and somehow, there is a beautiful aspect in sharing in the wounds of Christ.

But in the words of singer/songwriter Rich Mullins, sometimes God is “just plain hard to get.” As I watched my friend suffer this semester, I knew that I needed to trust God. But if the God I entrust her to is anything like the God I have trusted in my own life, there is very little comfort. This God allows a whole gamut of things to happen. Trusting God seems to be more about pledging your life to the one who died on the cross and walking the way of the cross than about security and safety. The hope from trusting God is that God can use and redeem anything in this life for His glory. There is peace in knowing that God is here no matter what. But as I wrestle with fear for my friend – or my own life – I am bereft of comfort. For if Christ, the perfect son of God who trusted in God, was despised, rejected and suffered – how can I expect anything different?

Do you remember when You lived down here where we all scrape? […] Well, I memorized every word You said/ Still I’m so scared, I’m holding my breath/ While You’re up there plain hard to get.

Let’s face it – sometimes God is plain hard to get. And if that’s the God we need to trust, it’s no wonder I have trouble trusting.

But I do know one thing. In my suffering, I have met God. And here the conclusion of Rich Mullins’ song ring true:

You’ve led me here/ Where I’m lost enough to let myself be led/ And so You’ve been here all along I guess/ It’s just your ways and You are just plain hard to get.

Lyrics are from “Hard to Get” by Rich Mullins