Archive

Posts Tagged ‘fear’

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”

Broken wings

February 19, 2015 1 comment

Photo on 2015-02-17 at 4.01 PM

Somethings are harder to talk about than others.

I have often claimed that it would be easier to talk about physical health problems than depression, abuse and various ways of coping with the inner and invisible pain that so many of us carry on a daily basis. I thought some words are more acceptable to say, that some struggles are more acceptable to acknowledge and that people would find it easier to respond to certain types of suffering that are more physical.

I was wrong.

physical health problems are not easier. just different.

In December, I was diagnosed with a low grade glioma (Brain tumour) deep in the brain. There were a few weeks when it was easier to talk about it. A diagnosis made my symptoms legit – I’m not making it up. It was so shocking to me that I needed to tell others.  I also wanted to invite others to pray.

but now people express concern and understanding and I want to talk about anything but physical stuff. I don’t want to accept my limitations. I struggle with chronic pain and exhaustion – but I want to keep up a pace that I’ve always known. I don’t mind people praying, but lately I’ve not wanted to talk about it.

this week I received copies of my MRI reports. The second one talked about increased problems though thankfully not an increase in hydrocephalus or the glioma.

but it also didn’t say that the glioma and hydrocephalus decreased or even disappeared.

Many people have prayed for that – many people including myself. I’ve had people say that as they pray they visualize it decreasing and others say they know that God wants to heal me. I’m typically skeptical of those remarks. But deep down, I hoped for this too. I’ve known miracles. I remember praying for one of my unborn siblings with our church community when a rather negative report came through the prenatal ultrasound. The next ultrasound astounded the physicians as nothing was wrong and a perfectly healthy looking baby presented himself. I know a number of cases in which people “got their miracle”. Many people praying and prayers answered in amazing ways.

But that didn’t happen for me. At least not yet and with God, there’s always a possibility that a miracle could happen when we least expect it. This is not new in my life – the hard way seems to be the path I must travel. I do believe strongly that God is not finished with me yet and so somehow the story is not over. Which means the glioma doesn’t win the day. But it’s still there. And a miracle has not happened to remove or shrink it.

I’ve been really bummed out about this.

Tonight, I was reminded of butterflies and how delicate their wings are. As they emerge from a cocoon, they struggle but you can’t take the struggle away and fix it for them because they will most likely die with interference. But even after they’ve emerged from the struggle, their wings remain delicate and damage to them would render them unable to fly in all their glory.

Martyn Joseph (one of my favourite singer/songwriters) has a way of speaking into my soul with words and melodies that carry healing and hold the inner parts of me.

I’m not very strong when it comes to this/ Deep in my heart I know it’s here/ Guess I’d rather wait until the morning/ Hope that it would bring a brighter sun/ Time has had a chance to do good healing/ I must take these pieces as they lie/ Offer them to You in my sadness/ I guess broken wings aren’t always meant to fly.

Oh I need you – more than I ever did before/ Oh how I need to hear Your voiceI will if I will listen to the lesson that you’re whispering/ Life is a painful journey/ But you knew so you took it for me long ago.

(Broken Wings)

I’m not very strong when it comes to what is happening in my brain – from depression to extra fluid to strange masses and cysts. I must take these pieces as they lie. And offer them to the One who laid down his life, knowing life is a painful journey.

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.

More thoughts on facing serious medical issues

254088_218757891479161_4036922_n

Last night I went to ER yet again.

Rather reluctantly. I have seen more doctors in the past two months than in my entire life. I’m still not a fan of doctors or hospitals and will avoid them whenever possible.

But when the pain started to get worse on heavy narcotics and after talking with a couple of people in the know, I knew that I had to make another long trek. Thankfully this time I had my tablet charged with some fun computer games to distract me. I’m playing a fun strategy game that has me evolving a virus with an attempt to infect the entire world. A bit ironic that I was sitting in ER with this game. The best part though is naming the viruses – I name them after the heretics I am learning about in my History of Christianity of course. Besides the humour, it has actually been helpful to remember who’s who and what side they are on.

I am stronger medication to tie me over to the Neurosurgeon appointment in 11 days. I had some wonderfully encouraging news though – last week’s neurosurgery on call team arranged for me to have an MRI and in the midst of some challenges around it, I’m very thankful I will have it tomorrow.

But I had another dose of reality in the ER and beyond and wanted to share some of my learnings.

  • Sometimes God shows up in unexpected ways. I called someone on my way to the bus stop to let them know I was going to the ER. I have a transit pass and it’s about the same time as taking a taxi. Plus some recent unexpected expenses made a taxi unrealistic last night. While waiting, a taxi driver stopped and offered me a ride. When I explained I didn’t have any money, he said that’s ok as he is going to the subway, it’s late, I’m alone and it’s cold. When I got into the car he introduced himself and said in his country it’s not safe for women to be out at night and said that he saw a charisma in me waiting there in the cold that made him want to stop. He asked my name and where I was going so late. I told him, and his response was beautiful: “Elizabeth, I knew there was a reason I need to stop for you. God is with you. You have many people who care about you and want to help you. You help others and give generously as you can. But now I need to accept people’s care.” On reflection, it sounds a bit weird. But in the moment, I felt I had met Jesus in this man and was reminded that I do not go to the hospital alone.
  • Waiting sucks. I’m not the most patient person. However, I have always taken great comfort at the long waits in ER as that means two things: 1) It’s not urgent and 2) I’m not as sick as others. Now that I’ve had the experience of short waits and lots of medical attention, there is a part of me that while thankful for a bed, I wish I could wait in the waiting room for 5 hours. Last night I was triaged and had a bed within half an hour. Fifteen minutes later I saw a doctor.
  • Prayer works. I asked people to pray specifically for the triage nurse and the emergency doctor. Last week, when I was in emerg, I was triaged wrong and my symptoms were not taken seriously until they called a neurosurgeon 12 hours later.
  • ER is not the place for being tough. I have a high tolerance level, don’t like to complain and don’t want to be a burden. Add that to having a hard time facing how Ill I’ve been and my people-pleasing side, and I can play down my symptoms quite well. Pain rating scales are useless on me as I tend to think of 10 being someone who is dying and not “the most amount of pain you’ve been in”. I have just realized that this is a subjective measurement and playing it safe with a low number isn’t going to get the help I need.
  • I still am easily intimidated by people in positions of power. On a good day, I will struggle to stand up for myself when feeling dismissed and unheard and working with someone who does not seem to want to budge. When I’m sick, overwhelmed, or anxious this is extremely difficult for me. While this is an area of growth, I will need people to come alongside me until I grow. Many have asked how they can help, and I’ve been ok with the waiting alone but maybe this is something I can allow people to do.
  • Sometimes doctors just don’t know what to do. I’ve had multiple opinions, hypotheses, and degrees of immediate concern. It’s confusing and frustrating as they conflict and what the heck do I know?! But they really seem perplexed – it seems just as confusing and frustrating to them.
  • This is scary stuff. the unknown is scary. the symptoms are scary. being in hospitals is scary. having to prepare for different scenarios is scary. I’m scared. I don’t think I’ve felt that throughout the past few months. But I do now. Sometimes I want to just cry as life is not going the way I hoped and I have no control over it.

Courage is not the absence of fear

September 7, 2014 1 comment

10615578_10152668528514518_6836528953167843808_n 

 

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear” – Nelson Mandela

This past week, I have attended many social events for Wycliffe’s orientation and there is indeed much to write about. An incredible concert by Martyn Joseph, whose music is prophetic and pastoral; and a sense of homecoming as it turned out to be a meeting place for all sorts of longtime friends from various places that I have travelled over the years. A bbq and chance to reunite with alumni who I know, students from last year and to meet some of my cohort. Over the weekend, we went on a retreat – and there are many happy moments that I am recalling to mind – especially the campfire singing and drama last night that had me in pain for laughing so darn hard. It’s been truly wonderful and I’m very thankful for a wonderful few days.

But – I am an introvert who has lived the extraverted life the past few days. I welcomed the opportunity to take my cat outside on a leash with one of my textbooks and immerse myself in reading. When one friend heard about my weekend, her response was “Elizabeth, I am so proud of you.” I love coffee or walking dates. The intimate conversation between two friends. I can sometimes chat more than my extraverted friends. Introversion is not equivalent to shyness necessarily. I am often most confident when I am leading events with lots of people – my role is defined, I’ve thought about how the event is going to go, and largely, I am prepared and am not met with too many surprises. Yet, if I attend an event with lots of people – whether I know them or not – it is usually true that a lot of anxiety has been present before I get there. The conversation is not predictable and I am not in my element. I back out of events due to the fear I feel. My cave with my cat, books and cds are far more ‘safe’ than a weekend full of people I don’t know and social encounters.

I am reminded once again that courage is not the absence of fear. I met everyone on this retreat – students, faculty, staff, spouses. I introduced myself if I didn’t know them, I pushed myself to chat with people I had not met instead of sticking with the comfortable person I found. I also took care of the kids during some of the time, and I have to say – that provided a much needed haven from the anxiety-provoking chatter. And it was awesome! Awesome people with awesome gifts and stories. I loved it – it was hard for me, but I was happy that I had each conversation. I feel connected with the various people in a way that I hadn’t through orientation sessions. I’m ready to start classes and feel apart of the community!

There was one particular conversation that I would not have had if I had let the fear overtake me. I felt God lead me to a table of people I had not conversed with yet. I reluctantly sat down and peered over to the other tables full of people I already had met and wondered why I had just dived into the deep-end. Someone else joined our table and sat across from me. Our conversation led to opportunities to explore my giftings and calling in ways that I had not anticipated. Things are shifting and happening fast – and it’s exciting.

Courage is not the absence of fear – but the ability to feel the fear and do it anyways. I’m thankful for a God who pushes me out of my comfort zone to blessings that do what I naturally would hesitate to do. There is joy on the other side of courage.

Serving at the Table

February 16, 2014 1 comment

Today, I visited a church where I will be doing an internship of sorts this summer. It’s a totally different setting from other churches where I have worked and so today I just went to observe and listen and to pay attention to what goes on there.

I have to admit, I wandered in my mind during parts of the service. Over the past couple of months, I have been wrestling with God about calling and ministry. God has heard some pretty angry words from my heart. As I realized some of the potential in this space, I started to get excited. Now, usually that would be a good thing. But I was frustrated as I want to run from ministry these days. I’ve been reflecting on my experiences lately, trying to glean lessons from them, especially as I embark on projects. And a recent ‘aha’ moment enlightened why I am so reluctant to get involved again in leadership. My most “successful” week in which God daily added to our numbers and conversations with children, youth and their families went pretty deep – was also an experience where I felt utterly and completely alone and void of comfort. I won’t go into all the details of what happened that week, but there is a side of the story that doesn’t get told in the joyful celebration of what God did. And believe me, it was amazing and I am blessed to have been a part of that experience. But that deep sense of alone-ness haunts me. Is this what it means to be successful in kingdom work? As I’ve presented this question to God over the past few months, I’ve followed it up with – if it is, then no thanks! I have contemplated, once again, if I should just quit school and get a real job. Data entry. something like that.

And then, unexpectedly, the priest needed someone to serve the chalice and asked me. And I held the cup and looked into each person’s eyes saying “The blood of Christ, the cup of salvation”. I have no words to describe this experience. There was something profound and beautiful at being able to share in this sacred moment with other Christians. To remind in words and actions that Christ died for their salvation, that the blood of Christ was poured out for them as this cup of wine was given to them. It was a holy moment. A beautiful moment.

And as I served at the table – I found myself saying yes.

yes to serving. even if it is hard. even if it is lonely.

yes to walking with people, in their brokenness and in their joy.

yes to serving the cup of salvation and reminding others that Christ died for them.

Interestingly, as I’ve been reading about the priesthood and talking to God about my calling, one thing I have said to God is that I have never felt a call to serve at the table. I feel a call to write, to preach, to counsel, to lead, to disciple. But not to serve at the Lord’s table. I could see myself doing it, but never felt called.

Today, I felt called. And it’s a beautiful thing.

Make me believe

Image

 

Last Sunday, the kids and I looked at the story of doubting Thomas. I began our discussion with talking about things that we believe on faith – things that we know to be true but don’t see it or have proof. We talked about how we believe in ‘wind’ because we see what it does, that we believe that the air has oxygen in it because scientists have discovered it and we believe that there are people living in Australia even though none of us knew anyone there or had visited. We also talked about how there are things we know to be false even though we don’t have any proof. For example, i couldn’t convince these astute kids that there are igloos in Egypt or that Aliens were taking over the world. The point of this exercise that led to many giggles was to talk about how there are things we know to be true without needing to prove they are true.

After talking about doubting Thomas and how Christ met him where he was at, we talked about our own doubts in the stories that are handed down to us. The kids found Jesus’ miraculous healings to be among some of the hardest things to believe. We then went to draw something in our discussion that stood out to us.

The above picture was drawn by one youngster. It is a picture of people being healed by Jesus. He told me he was done and I asked if there was something he wanted to write on the page to help him remember what we talked about today. He asked if he could write a prayer.

His prayer: Make me believe.

I sat there with a huge smile just enjoying the precious moment.

All week, I’ve had this picture and this simple prayer on my mind. The youth program I’m running is quite exciting – but my to do list is multiplying at a faster rate than it is decreasing. And, as I’ve mentioned on here before, I wonder if I can do it.

I’m waiting to hear if I got accepted into the graduate program I’ve applied for. And doubts, many doubts arise. I can’t help but ask what if I don’t get in?

Opportunities are opening up and I bounce between feeling confident and wondering if I’m really capable of what others think I am.

I wonder about my future – will I be able to find a job that is fulfilling post graduation? Can I really find a partner who will walk the journey of this life with me? As I was taking care of the little boy I babysit, I started wondering if I am really capable of being a mother?

So many questions, doubts, fears. I seem to have trouble believing that God takes care of me and that he has my life under his sovereignty. I seem to think I have to take care of everything because God may not. I easily slip into thinking that everything depends on me. I worry that I am not up to the task that God has called me to do and forget that he is with me.

The young boy’s prayer – make me believe – is mine tonight. Make me believe Lord that you have everything in your hands and that you love beyond what I can imagine. Make me believe that you are trustworthy. Make me believe that I can do all things that you have called me to through Christ who strengthens me.