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Posts Tagged ‘healing’

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.

I heard the voice of Jesus say

Rock from St. Beuno's Church in Wales. Many pilgrims pressed their thumbs on engraved cross and then crossed themselves as they began on this journey

Rock from St. Beuno’s Church in Wales. Many pilgrims pressed their thumbs on engraved cross and then crossed themselves as they began on this journey

Holy Week is one of my favourite times in the church year. There’s nothing like slowing down and walking through the week from waving palms to seder to stripping the altar to the crucifixion to the eery silence and darkness until Easter morning. I have found memories of Anglo-Catholic services rich with meaning and symbolism, putting a nail into a wooden cross, a silent retreat on holy Saturday where I had to contemplate the space inbetween when the resurrection light has not yet pierced the darkness.

This is the first Holy Week though in which I am doing more than passively walking through. Preparing for a neighbourhood egg hunt on Saturday (exciting – but wow, lots to think about!), reflecting on a passage for Good Friday, teaching piano. Oh and I discovered that I need to get a bunch of things done for school including figuring out placements and bursaries.

I was cleaning out the sanctuary with increasing excitement (there’s lots of places to hide eggs!!) and anxiety (there’s a heck of a lot of work to do!) and kneeled before the altar wondering whose crazy idea this was (not mine alone, but I approved the idea!).

In an overwhelmed moment, I turned to God and said, “I can’t do this.”

I left that prayer feeling like maybe that’s the point. To realize ***I*** can’t do it.

Rather than get back to work, I longed to play on the badly out of tune piano in the corner. I closed the sanctuary doors so it was just me and God who could hear what came from these shaking fingers. The hymn book I found was falling apart. After playing a few easter hymns at the beginning, a page fell… and it opened to a celtic song that is one of my very favourites.

I played it.

I heard the voice of Jesus say “Come unto me and rest.”

“Lay down thou weary one, lay down, Thy head upon my breast”

I came to Jesus as I was – So weary, worn and sad

I found in Him a resting place And He has made me glad

So it wasn’t exactly audible in the physical world.

But… Tonight I heard the voice of Jesus say, “Come unto me and Rest. Lay down thou weary one, lay down – thy head upon my breast.

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.

Robots, Dreams and Networking

Every once in awhile, I catch a glimpse of how my life has changed or how God has worked a miracle in my heart. Today, I was walking around the annex handing out flyers of some events that I am running in the near future and caught a glimpse.

For most of my adult life, I’ve been shy. I used to be the student who thinks and rehearses a response over and over and then the class moves to the next topic before I gain the courage to speak in class. I used to write out questions to ask people and things that I could talk about before grabbing coffee or making a phone call. Speaking in public was enough to make me sick for days before. And talking to strangers was something simply deemed impossible for someone like me.

Today, I boldly went to speak to parents in the park to invite them to some family events in the park near the church where I’m currently working. I boldly talked to them about the Robot making day and other exciting events. Some people looked at me oddly – I think in major cities such as Toronto, we are so innundated with material and requests that we don’t react friendly to the people handing us flyers. That didn’t stop me  – where a single rejection would have been enough at one point to curb my boldness, today I continued.

And as a result, there are families coming. Families that never would have walked through the doors of the church. Families that would never come because of a poster on a wall. Families that will come because they talked to a person and found out details. What I once could only dream about, I am now doing.

Funny enough, this is the part of my job that I love – meeting people, talking to strangers, putting myself and the program I’m heading up out there. I’m energized and passionate after meeting each family.

God has a way of healing us – and redirecting our paths so that we do the very things we thought we could never do.

Showing Up

Last year’s Lenten journey began with a series of difficult questions around what it meant to serve God and the loneliness that would accompany it. I was encouraged by a good friend to pray through these questions over the coming weeks and I found myself contemplating the cross quite a bit. I wrote a piece for school that is my most read piece on here based on the passage in the Gospel of Matthew in which we are instructed to take up our cross and follow Christ. I was told by the professor I hold in high esteem that it was “profound.” Nothing like having your writing guru tell you that your paper is profound. I decided that I wanted to repeat that this Lent – read and write another “profound” piece that would be frequently visited from around the world.

And then my church announced a sermon series and focus on the healing journey. Have I mentioned yet that I am sick of “the healing journey”. I’m done – I want to get on with life, never feel depressed again, never struggle with the lasting impact of traumatic events. So I skipped the first Sunday morning. Quite easy to do actually as we lost an hour sleep that night. But even if we gained an hour, I didn’t feel like hearing a sermon on healing.

then a good friend wrote me and asked if I was coming to the evening service. it was a healing service – a “safe place to lament”. Well, this service sounded interesting – perhaps another tool in my toolkit for when I am involved in church ministry again! I didn’t go because I need healing – but because others need healing and perhaps this would help me help them. I cringe at my arrogance strong capacity to avoid and resist.

The service of lament was rather powerful. we were encouraged to write our own laments. I did – and I launched my heart’s accusations against God. I was so not prepared to confront God that night – or to accuse him of being enemy, not friend. and there I was. I went for annointing and had trouble finding the words to ask for annointing. My pastor prayed for me. I don’t remember much of the actual words other than the reminder that the only way out of our pain is through… and praying that the church community would walk with me as I walk through my pain.

I got back to my pew and I couldn’t stop crying. I became aware of the pain inside in a deep way. The pain I feel is really not so much related to either of my parents – there is still pain and unhealed wounds, but what I mean is – they are mortal and sinners. In that respect I know two things are true – they are a sinners just like me, and in a sense, they also cannot escape the sinful nature that is so deeply embedded in us. The deepest wounds I face are from God Almighty – to whom I prayed for safety, and that prayer took many years to be answered. THIS is the part of my healing journey I have not wanted to face. That night the floodgates to my heart were open and I have known since then that there is no turning back. I’ve asked – no demanded – God to give me answers, answers that only He can give. My theological reading and training enables me to articulate the “right answers” – but they are no longer adequate. God is on trial – is he friend or foe? the healing of my darkest and deepest pain demands an answer.

and since that service of lament two weeks ago, I have felt a great many things. But I have not felt the intimate presence of God that I have known. I know with my head that God is here and never will leave me, and that he can handle the deep questioning that I have started. But at a heart level – I feel empty when I pray. I feel like I am talking to a ceiling, or as I put to some dear friends, I feel like I am talking into the abyss of nothingness. Mother Teresa felt a desolation her whole life of serving God. St. John of the Cross speaks of a dark night of the soul – something that pop culture has taken up but for him, I think it was not so much a state of depression but an shedding of himself as God led him to depend on God alone and not on feelings, blessings, or what-have-you. I’m not sure what it is that I am experiencing these days, but it is a lonely and challenging place to be. I am deeply angry at God. I sit in church as I hear how God is working in and through others’ deep pain – and while others seem to be praising God for how amazing he is, I find myself questioning the God who “allows” more than being moved to praise. Why do we praise the God who heals the wounds he does nothing to prevent? what if – as in the case of the blind man or Lazarus – God causes a state of suffering so that his glory may be shown. I suppose, God – God Almighty, afterall – can do this because, well, he IS God. But how is that fair? We confess sins of commission and omission. what about God and the things he has left undone? To illustrate this question further: I have first aid training. If someone collapsed in front of me, I have a duty in one sense to do something about it. Suppose I watch this suffering person and just remind them that I am there, but do nothing to help. How good is that? What if that is what God does – why is it ok for God to stand by, but not ok for me?

There may not be answers to my questions. Or I may not like the answers. Ultimately, I might come to confess and repent of the bold accusations. But for now – I can’t pretend to an omniscient God that I’m not mad at him, or that suddenly I feel he is friend again and has always been. So right now my spiritual journey has taken a lenten journey that I wasn’t anticipating and frankly, didn’t want. Getting through a day is hard enough with God. getting through without him – that’s not exactly what I wanted to face! and yet, the only way out seems to be through. this journey is hard though. I talk to God frequently in my day – now I don’t know what I want to say or even if I want to say anything at all. Going to church is hard. Praying is hard. My theological classes are hard.

There is an image that keeps coming to mind. Some close friends have had very little sleep over the past few months as their newborn has struggled with colic and insomnia. I have read/heard their frustrations. And yet, they are frequently speaking of how much they love their little boy. The continue to care for him – in the middle of the night when they are totally exhausted. The dad drives him around the block on really bad nights to get him to sleep or give mom a chance to catnap. This is love. I’m not a parent, but I’m not sure that if I was this boy’s mom that I would feel that I love this child after many weeks of chronic sleep deprivation. But love gets up and takes care of the baby whether one feels love or not.

maybe this part of my journey with God is somewhat like this. I don’t feel God’s love, and don’t particularly feel like I love God right now. It’s not that I hate God, I’ve just called everything into question and feel nothing towards him but anger and frustration. But maybe I don’t need to feel in order to be in relationship with God. Maybe my act of love can be more about showing up to meet with God in church, in the privacy of my own home. Maybe this is what it means to love God in this part of my journey.

There is solace in the idea that maybe I just need to show up.

I might not have all the answers I want, but I can still show up.

I might not have the faith that God can come through right now, but I can still show up.

I might not be able to like how God has or hasn’t worked, but I can still show up.

and maybe that’s what this lenten journey is about. not writing some spectacular piece of writing that makes it onto the first page of google searches. not about serving others. not about feeling.

but about just showing up.

Living Water – A reflection on John 4

Streams of Living Water
Somewhere on the VIA Train through the Canadian Rocky Mountains, far from any roads, electricity or anything man-made.

It started as an ordinary day for me. I quietly grabbed my bucket and headed to the well in a town called Sychar. I liked this particular well as it was known as Jacob’s well and it reminded me of my ancestry. It was some connection with my people, sometimes my only connection.

See, I’m not really liked in my community. I’ve had more than my share of relational failures. I’ve had five husbands. People aren’t so interested in my story or my thirst for love that has yet to be quenched. I’m just known as that woman. This is why I come to the well at midday. All the other women come at the beginning or the end of the day as it’s much cooler. I can’t handle their whispering any more or their glances as I walk by to get water. So I come at noon. It’s the heat of the day, but at least not many people come. I quietly come and then I leave.

So on this day, I set out as usual to quietly fill my bucket with water and then return to my home. There was a man sitting by the well. I’d never seen him before but he looked Jewish. That in itself was strange – what was a Jewish man doing at a Samaritan well? He must have been travelling from Galilee to Jerusalem. Traveling through Samaria is the fastest route. However, not many Jews actually wander through our land – they take the longer route around us through the Jordan Valley and Jericho just to avoid us. Jews and Samaritans do not get along. In fact, my people tend to attack Jewish pilgrims – we don’t want them here just as much as they don’t want to be here.

As I went to draw water, this man asked me “Will you give me a drink?” He looked tired and I wanted to help him, but I didn’t understand why he was asking me – a woman. Devout Jews are not supposed to be alone with a woman, let alone talk with her. Oh the rumours that would start if someone saw him talk to me! To make matters worse, I’m a Samaritan woman.  Yet, he was asking me to give him a drink. He didn’t have his own bucket or cup – that would mean he would have to use mine. This would be another transgression for a Jew. In my confusion, all I could utter was, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?”

This man simply replied: “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

Right, living water. Water that continuously flowed, like water from a stream. We all know that such water is prized – if someone wants to be cleansed or healed, living water is far more effective than stagnant standing water. Very different from the water in Jacob’s well. This man didn’t have anything to draw water! Where can he get this living water? Also, Jacob’s well has been providing water for many, many families throughout the years – how could this man be greater than Jacob who gave us this well?

The man just said, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Never thirsty again? I definitely want that kind of water! I would be quite happy to give up coming to this well in the heat of the day and to not have to face the loneliness and rejection I feel as I try to avoid others each day. So I said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

He then got personal – “Go, and call your husband and come back.”

What do I tell him? Will he reject me if he knows my story like all the others have? I want this living water – will he give it to me if he really knows who I am? I decided to be cautious – “I have no husband.”

His response astonished me. “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you have now is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.” He knows me and he’s still talking to me! He hasn’t judged me yet. He said it just as matter of fact with not even a hint of condescension.

I have to say, this was a little too uncomfortable for me. I see He is a prophet. It was time to change the subject. Let’s talk politics – that will definitely steer the conversation away from the ache in my heart! My people have a lot to say on it. When the Jews were rebuilding their temple, we offered to help. But because we didn’t accept all the Jewish scriptures, we were considered heretics and so they didn’t want us to help. Eventually, we decided to build our own temple. The Jews destroyed our temple because there could only be one temple to God and that was in Jerusalem. Let’s see what he has to say to this!

The man then gave a spiel on how a time is coming when we will worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth. He seemed to be saying that a time is coming when it doesn’t matter the precise location of those who worship. As a woman I don’t have any formal theological training, but I did know that the Messiah is coming and that He would explain everything to us.

And then this man said, “I, the one speaking to you – I am He.”

This man in front of me is the Messiah, the one we’ve all been waiting for. He used the bold words “I am” that the God of my ancestors used.

I ran back into my community. I totally forgot my bucket and what I came to the well for. I also forgot that I was an outcast. I just was so excited – I wanted everyone I met to come and see the man who promised living water, the Messiah who knew everything about me. He knew my heart and its thirst for love and met me where I’m at without judging me. Maybe the living water he provides would purify my heart and heal my deepest wounds.

I wanted to share with them the One who invited even Samaritans to worship the one true God. I wanted everyone to know that He wants to give living water to them too and heal their wounds. That he knows them and loves them, that there aren’t any outcasts in his eyes – he offers living water to all.

This ordinary day and trip to the well turned into one extraordinary day because of this Messiah – because of Him, my life is forever changed!

So will you come and seek the man who told me everything I ever did? Will you drink of his constant, purifying water that will change every part of your life? Will you come to know and believe that this man I met at the well really is the Saviour of the world?

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