Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Word for 2012

This post at Red and Honey was the kick in the pants I needed to finally put this post into words before the new year actually starts, sharing the idea I have been mulling over for the last month of choosing a word for the year rather than making a resolution.

The thing with taking a word is that it covers so much more of my life than making a resolution. Resolving to pay down debt doesn't affect whether I sleep or read during my commute, and resolving to eat well won't change how I treat Matt when he comes home late after a long day.

And so, my word for the year is kindness. Not to be confused with niceness! Heaven knows people generally think I am so nice already. But very often I think niceness is a social smokescreen to avoid doing the harder work of kindness, and for all the people I am nice to it would be better for my soul if I could manage to be kind instead.

So what does kindness mean to me? Ultimately I think it boils down to remembering that others are image-bearers of God - that I am an image-bearer of God! - and that how I treat others must reflect that. Focusing this year on kindness means I will not let sarcasm slip into cynicism, that when I catch myself looking down on or thinking badly of others I won't simply let that be.

Most of all, I think reflecting on kindness and recognizing my failures to be kind will keep me running back to God. Without his help, kindness is impossible for me, and I know that only by soaking up God's kindness that I can never earn or deserve will I have any hope for change. I could resolve to be kind, sure, but where would I start? My willpower sucks. My regard for others is generally not that good. I don't always even want to change!

So my only hope is like I said, to soak up God's kindness and goodness until I am so full that those things are what seep out of my life. Not judgments or put-downs or sarcasm but love. Or at least love's little brother, kindness.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Great Day at Home

It is nearing the end of my four day Christmas weekend, and I am bracing myself for three busy days of work before another long weekend for New Year's. I managed to avoid my usual day-at-home-alone habit of constantly grazing on Christmas chocolates, and I think that is part of the reason I feel so good about this day spent relaxing [not eating]. I enjoyed beginning Anne of Green Gables on my new eReader, and Nimoy had our first walk in snow this Winter (in the air, not on the ground yet). I had some company from one of our youth, hung a picture that has been waiting to go on the wall, and I'm looking forward to dinner out with Matt.

All this to say that it takes much longer than four days off work for me to get bored and wish myself busy again - I am just finally starting to relax!

And a belated Merry Christmas to everyone <3

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Thought

Reading this article in National Post about happiness, I was struck by this idea from philosopher Gregory Currie:
When we fail we blame circumstances, but when others fail we blame their bad character. He called that “an error as crazy as thinking that wherever I happen to be marks the centre of the universe.”

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Startling Encounter

I was completely startled on my way to work one morning this week when what I thought was dropped clothes on the floor turned out to be a homeless man sleeping in our stairwell.

The elevator has been on the fritz for a week or so, with buttons spontaneously lighting up or going out, and if I don't have anything heavy to carry it's simpler to just take the stairs. This morning I was heading out to work but noticed the stairwell door was propped open with a hat, just a crack, and when I opened the door further I saw a tshirt on the floor. Matt brought laundry up last night, so my please-make-sense-of-this brain filled in the blanks - Matt dropped some clean shirts out of the basket and forget to turn back to pick them up. But then I saw that the tshirt had arms. And a long white beard. And an open mouth, because the tshirt was on a sleeping man. And I smelled that he was probably homeless.

So I went back into our apartment and told Matt - not that I wanted him to do anything about it, but just so that if the man was still there, Matt didn't barge through the door down the stairs and step on him or something. And I took the elevator downstairs - stopping on four or five floors for no reason.

I don't know why I was so flabbergasted by this experience - other than that it was completely unexpected. Why on earth would a homeless man go up to the 11th floor to sleep in a stairwell? Did he take the stairs up or go through the hall from the elevator?

And I'm curious what kind of person he is - if Matt had gone out and woken him up to offer our couch would he have accepted? Or thought we were weirdos who kill vagrants? Would he have stolen from us?

I am extra disturbed because of an idea I read from Dietrich Bonhoeffer this weekend - "...we are faced with the shocking reality: Jesus stands at the door and knocks, in complete reality. He asks you for help in the form of a beggar, in the form of a ruined human being in torn clothing. He confronts you in every person that you meet. Christ walks on the earth as your neighbor as long as there are people... This is the greatest seriousness and the greatest blessedness of the Advent message."

As I was thinking about why I so quickly backed away, and would I have done the same if I knew it was Jesus sleeping there, I realized it was because I didn't know what would happen if he woke up. And then I realized how often I'm not afraid of Jesus and his message, and it isn't because I'm really spiritual and we're just tight like that. It's because I don't think of Jesus as a real person who is beyond my control; I assume he wants everything I want, and he wants it how I want it too. I never worry that I would get yelled at or stabbed or robbed not only because I trust that he is good but because I assume we would never ever be in conflict.

No tidy conclusion yet, just food for thought and a reminder that when I'm 100% comfortable with my faith I'm probably focused a lot more on myself than on God.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Trying Old Things

Nimoy peed on the bottom shelf of a bookcase this week, which triggered a domino effect that ended in me looking over old school work from university deciding what to continue to store.

The thing that struck me most was how much I have forgotten. Example: old worksheets and tests from my two semesters of Biblical Hebrew. I used to be able to translate passages! I used to know what qal perfect and imperfect tense meant and identify verbs that had been parsed! I aced vocab tests that now mean nothing more to me than the wingdings font in Word.

While I am not interested in getting back into Hebrew, I was also inspired by notes I have from courses on Biblical books. I have been in somewhat of a rut lately for reading the Bible and praying, and it occurred to me earlier this week that committing to studying something specific might help me be more motivated and focused. As long as I don't let my perfectionism get in the way and sabotage everything! So we'll see. I am hoping that the more I write, the more I will want to write.

Time will tell :)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Gift of Service

Last weekend was our church Christmas dinner. It was much more formal this year than in past years, so rather than simply having all the food arranged as a buffet for people to serve themselves, the youth (and Matt) were recruited to all wear ties and serve food and pour drinks right at the tables. I arrived at the church that night feeling not too sociable and definitely not eager to squeeze in at a table while Matt co-ordinated the youth, so instead I hung out in the kitchen and washed dishes with my friend Joyce. All night. And it was great!

It struck me that this was probably one of those moments of spiritual gifting, where what needs to be done is exactly what you want to do! I'm sure if I had made myself find a seat at the dinner I could have had a very nice night, but instead I was all dressed up with one friend (have I ever mentioned HOW much better I am with small groups than big groups?) and an endless stream of dirty plates. We listened to Christmas music and perfected a system for pre-washing, rinsing, loading, and unloading racks of dishes. It was very simple, very tiring by the end of the night, and exactly what I would have wished for if I had a choice. PLUS because we jumped in right after the first course was finished, the clean up took way less time than if the dishes had piled up all night, so everybody got to go home sooner. It might have been my favourite church Christmas dinner yet!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Three Things Thursday! [Vol.1]

First off, I am still LOVING December. Still can't explain it, but I am soaking up all the happiness and serenity and joy that just keeps bubbling up in my heart this month!

Next, the apartment is decorated! It's not anything crazy, but it is very nice in the evenings (especially since the sun goes down so early these days) to have such a cozy, Christmassy home :) However, my phone has stopped taking pictures, and that was the easiest way I had to get pics on this blog SO picture evidence will be delayed until I find some batteries for my real life camera.

Last, I just had my day made by this website. Apparently OB tampon company needs to apologize to everybody. Why? I don't know. BUT if you are a lady, go ahead and type your name in to the little box that pops up, then give it a couple minutes and enjoy! Gentlemen, somehow none of the male names I tried worked out, but you probably wouldn't love this as much as I did? Pass it on to a lady friend (NOT a new girlfriend).

Friday, December 2, 2011

December thoughts

I am in love with December!

The last two days have both ended with outrageous sunsets - bafflingly beautiful to look at - and there is a fresh excitement in my spirit for the Christmas season and New Year that are approaching.

Last night, Matt and I visited our friends to celebrate their daughter's first birthday! It was so fun to see how quickly she is growing and developing - now walking on her own, testing out her voice, laughing and clapping.

Matt and I have started to decorate our apartment with lights on the living room window, and hopefully we will get to decorating the tree this weekend so I can post Christmassy pictures of our apartment!

And as I've been thinking about the New Year, it has occurred to me to choose/discern a word for the year rather than worry about resolutions. I saw this over at Red and Honey in January and love the idea, so I will probably sit on it for the rest of the month and see if I stick with the (secret-for-now) word I have in mind :P

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Resolutions

I have been thinking about New Year's resolutions for the last week or so, trying to decide whether I should make any, and trying to figure out what it/they could possibly be. 2011 was the first year that I really made a resolution and kept it - it was to finish making a baby blanket for my friend Jo whose daughter is turning one tomorrow! I am much more likely to start and project than to finish it, so very early last January I decided that I would remember how to crochet and that I would make this blanket, and I promised myself that it would not be left as half a ball of yarn and a bunch of squares needing to be joined together. I think it was near the end of March that I finished it, and alas I gave it away without taking any pictures. But I finished it!

I think part of my problem with New Year's resolutions is that any ideas I have tend to be things I want to do whether it's a new year or not. It's not so much about making a big change, that this year will be different from all the rest, but instead I feel like, "Hm, it's January again, and I've stopped flossing again. Maybe I should resolve to floss."

This leads right in to another challenge I face: the attention span conundrum. This is my why resolution for 2011 was perfect - I only needed it until March! Just when my blanket-making attention span was fading, my New Year's resolution attention span kicked in to push me through.

There is one thing I can think of that is worth resolving to do this year, and that is a joint goal for Matt and I to pay off our student line of credit. We both have oodles of other student debt, but this would be a huge step and accomplishment in our financial goals to be clear of that particular debt by the end of 2012. It's not something completely unreasonable (and therefore disappointing), but it will certainly take discipline and attention and more than minimum payments to achieve.

As for flossing (and continuing to read my Bible regularly, and trying new recipes) - I will certainly do my best. But I don't think I will enshrine these particular hopes and dreams for the new year as resolutions.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Back

Clearly November has been a very different month than October, but every time I think of doing a post, this is as far as I get. So I am setting my perfectionism aside, allowing for the fact that I can't possibly catch up/cover everything in one post and just say what I have to say.

November has been full.

Going to Philly two weeks ago was fantastic - Matt and I both loved the trip itself, just to be away together, plus we met some really cool people and were part of great conversations about community and Christianity and broken places.

Last weekend we went on an unexpected trip home to Victoria for my Grandma's funeral. There is lots I am still processing about all of that, so I think I will leave it mostly unsaid at this point. It was good to be together with family though. Also, I am having really intense jet-lag for the first time I think. Obviously I have had to adjust to time changes before on my many trips between here and there, but yesterday and today I was FALLING ASLEEP at 9:30am - like, unable to function, hold-my-head-up-with-my-hands-at-work, did-someone-slip-me-rohypnol tired. While last night I slept in 30-50 minute segments without ever quite feeling sleepy. Also I woke up at 2am STARVING. Fortunately work is forcing me to keep a normal schedule so I can't give in to my confused brain, and I am hoping I'll be back to normal soon.

Lastly, thanks to the internet and a couple hours of me doing crochet while Matt read books, Nimoy has a homemade sweater. Aww!! He is not as pleased as I am with it, but he doesn't seem too annoyed either.Good pose, Nimoy. Good pose.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Five Years

Sometimes it seems like the more exciting life is, the less exciting this blog is, lol. And really, I did so much posting in October, it is only fair that I dropped off the face of the internet for a week.

However, I had to reappear to mark the fifth anniversary of the day Matt asked me to be his girlfriend. Aww!!!Here we are way-back-when, celebrating a year of dating, when Matt surprised me with tickets to see Dirty Dancing ON STAGE!!!!!

In the last five years we have had many great dates, taken trips together and trips apart, cooked, cleaned, kissed, got married, moved, got a dog, and have learned and grown so much.

Today has been a fun day to remember and celebrate our great relationship and all the promise and hope it still holds five years after it's humble official beginning :)

Monday, October 31, 2011

[Fragmented] Month End Thoughts

October always seems to pass so quickly! But I knew it would. Now November is starting, and in two weekends Matt and I will be at School for Conversion! I started re-reading Irresistible Revolution today and am loving it just as much as the first time.

I was blessed today by Psalm 86:4,
Gladden the soul of your servant,
for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.

I have been realizing this month how much anxieties and busyness and fatigue have been wearing me down. Transitioning from Summer to Winter certainly doesn't help, but I am hoping that iron and/or fish oil supplements may help me feel better physically, and that will give me a stronger foundation to feel better emotionally.

The bright side of my dark moods lately has been inspiration to write. For myself. I loved reading and writing poetry in high school, had no time for it at university (except for the very beginning of falling for Matt), but the last few weeks it has been a great outlet for me.

Daylight savings is next weekend, which means today is probably the last Monday I came home before dark. I probably should have savoured it a little more.

Last thing - Nimoy got pink eye. I feel like he is just one diaper change away from being more like a home ec assignment than a pet. But he's a trooper, and we didn't even take him to the vet on this one.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Laughing at God

I noticed something new today in Genesis - can you believe it? I have read Genesis every time I ever tried to read the whole Bible, which is tons of times. Like, I grew up trying to read the whole Bible. Never have gone cover to cover, although I do believe that by now I have read the entire Bible at one time or another. My Old Testament class at Tyndale really helped me push through Leviticus and not celebrate by stopping half way through Numbers.

But enough about me.

In Genesis 17, God promises Abraham (whose name he has just changed - pretty big deal) that he will have a son by Sarah (also a new name to reflect their new destiny), and that nations and kings will come from this son.

Abraham falls on his face, and he laughs because the promise is just so ridiculous. He is almost 100, and Sarah is 90 and Sarah has always been barren. Abraham's only son, Ishmael, had been conceived by Sarah's maidservant 13 years earlier because that seemed to be the only way for Abraham to ever have an heir. In response to this mind-bending promise from God, Abraham says,

"Oh that Ishmael might live before you!"

Sometimes when God makes a promise, it seems better to us that he would have consulted with us. Abraham already has a son, and he prays that God would bless him, that he would reel in his extravagant promises of Sarah having a son and just bless Abraham through the son he already has. Abraham can't muster up hope for another son, especially by his now 90 year old wife.

One of my new favourite verses in Scripture is Zechariah 8:6, which boils down to God saying, "If what I say is amazing to you, does that mean it is also amazing to me?" Here, God has just promised restoration to a conquered and exiled nation, and I guess he knew that everybody was a little hesitant to take him up on his offer, to put their hope in a promise that was too amazing to really believe. It must be a familiar feeling for God, since we know it goes at least as far back as Abraham.

God is never content to give us the best things we can imagine for ourselves. He understands that we humans are prone to doubt, that time weighs heavy on us, that our hearts can only hope for so much.

But he doesn't give in to our smallness, our frailty, our fatigue. He accounts for it! But he doesn't limit himself by it. He tells Abraham that Ishmael's blessings are already in place, that the child conceived in desperation to make God's promise come true has not been forgotten or left out, but that the original promise also stands. A son will be born, and his name means he laughs.

Nothing is impossible for the God who has always been making people laugh in disbelief at his promises.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Loving Enemies

There is someone who I hate. Who I have been trying not to hate, swinging back and forth for the last year maybe, from hate to conviction, to hate, to fatigue, to hate, to numb, to rage, to grief. It is astonishing how much emotion has been spent on this person, who I would prefer never to see again.

For many months, I have been praying that this person will leave my life. At the beginning of the month I prayed that this person would be gone by the end of the month, and it intrigued me, because I wondered why God would lead me to pray with a specific time frame for no reason that I could see.

And then last week this person barged into a special event, and I was SO MAD. And I was dreading getting stuck next to them and having to overhear their lame small talk or even worse make lame small talk, and I thought if that happened I would probably just puke in their lap. So I let God know I'd do my best not to be a huge jerk but that He should also note my fragile state and give me some outs.

And then God nudged me: "What if you reached out and tried to love this guy instead of just avoiding him?"

To which I replied, "Um, Lord, I can't. I am already using up everything I have to not hate him. Thought you knew that."

And God interrupted my sarcasm to say, "Isn't the easiest way not to hate someone to love them?"

Which had me stumped.

Fortunately I found an empty seat at the table that was not only across from Matt but also far enough down from he-who-shall-not-be-named that I could mostly pretend he wasn't there.

Because the moral of this story is not that I loved my enemy and it turned out okay. I can't make myself love this person any more than I can gain 20 pounds.

The moral of the story is that God hinted to me that his plan might not be to get this person out of my life but to change my heart.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Gifts/Responsibilities

Last year at Change Conference, I wrote in my journal that I felt led to prayer, that I think it might be a spiritual gifting. This year, I looked back at that entry and it still rang true - very often when I am worshipping God, prayer rises up in my spirit. Very often when people share burdens with me, I am moved to pray, even if they don't know about it, and that burden of prayer stays with me for a day or two. Prayer is one of the ways that I know God the best, that I feel him near me, feel his coaxing and guidance of what to say, and it leaves me peaceful.

This year at Change, I believe God added an instruction to this gift of prayer, which I am sharing to hopefully create some accountability, that it won't be something God says to me and I write in my journal and forget about until next October. If I am to pray for others as I believe God calls me to, then I have to make a better effort to connect with people, to learn what they need. I cannot be content in having a quick answer if anyone ever asks me about my spiritual gifts, and I cannot coast along with general prayers for well-being and help when God has called me to deepen relationships, to be more vulnerable, and to risk learning and prayerfully saying the specific needs of others.

It is not that prayer is easy and relationships are hard, because both of these pursuits have been gifts that come easily at times and elude me at others. Ideally, I think they should be inter-woven, each one deepening the other.

But just as talking the talk is no advantage if it does not translate into action in real life, being able to draw a diagram of how prayer deepens friendships that in turn lead to deeper, stronger prayer, gives no benefit unless it is put into practice.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Talking the Talk

Sometimes I give great advice. I can be really good at stepping back from the messiness of other people's situations and shifting the perspective just enough to bring some sense. Or even if there's no specific problem to solve, I can weave such encouraging words to spur people on in doing the right thing, to challenge apathy, to motivate.
Or so I think.

Because very often times, the great advice I give doesn't even move me one inch off my butt. The things I know in my head are so compelling in my mind, but there is some kind of feel-good force field that stands between my inspiring articulations and my life.

Last weekend was a great example of that - I shared with one of our youth about growing up with a Dad who always asked, "have you read your Bible yet today?" when I was just about to level-up some pokemon and definitely had not read anything because it was Saturday/Summer Vacation/I was sick. I said that I appreciated this nagging so much in hindsight because it kept reminding me (even if it was only subconsciously to my annoyance) that God loved me and was waiting for me to spend time with him so he could grow our relationship.

But the fact of the matter is that I still struggle to be motivated to read my Bible, that I weigh the odds of getting anything out of it before I even look at a page. I can give a great speech about spending time with God, but it's not always authentic, even if it is always true.

So yet again, God is busting me for being a hypocrite, and I am grateful (if uncomfortable).

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Uncomfort Zone

I outlined a short, three-part series of blog posts last week to sum up some ways that God has been challenging me lately, but then last week got full with other stories. I'm scheduling the posts now, so they will all be up in the next few days - Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Turning Down Free Stuff

I had the most hilarious time listening to Matt turn down an offer for six free months of TV. The thing is, when we had TV I lost hours of my life every day. Normally now if I am bored, I read some blogs or look up recipes or otherwise kill time on the internet. Sometimes I read a book or journal or play music or email someone or call someone or otherwise participate in life in the real world.

When we had TV this was not the case. When I was bored I'd turn on the TV, four hours later I'd be too hungry to function, and all I would have seen was some fat people get skinny and some woman find her wedding dress.

So Matt tried to convince this poor woman that we were not interested in free TV, and that she shouldn't call back tomorrow, "not if it's about free TV."*

I'm happy, but I do hope this woman didn't lose her job since she couldn't even give away free TV.

*After talking about it after the call, we decided if she DOES call back we should get free TV so Matt can watch football, and I will just exercise self-control :)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Being Too Slow

Today I was eavesdropping on the subway again. It all started out with a very surreal experience, where the couple to my left, and the couple sitting across from me were both paired teams preparing to do canvassing to raise money for WWF. So when I first sat down, I just thought they were talking, but then I realized their conversation was scripted, and then I realized both conversations I could hear were scripted, and THEN at the end of the conversation to my left, they immediately switched roles without any discussion and repeated the conversation from opposite sides, and it was all very trippy.

After a couple run-throughs, the pair on my left started talking about relationships. I switched brain-modes from trying not to listen while I read to half-listening while I read, and it was very interesting because both people totally spilled their guts. The woman had been in an on-again-off-again 7 year abusive relationship with a childhood friend that really messed her and their friendship up; the guy had never dated anyone longer than a year, but this one girl had really gotten into his brain and "cracked" him, leaving him still messed up until last year when he finally sorted out all the circuits she had tinkered with.

It was very sweet to hear about the woman share about her relationship to her husband now, compared to all the brokenness she'd had before. I guess she used to work at a bar in her underwear, which her ex hated because he was jealous and controlling, but her husband didn't hassle her about it because it was her job and he knew that she was coming home to him not anybody else that looked at her. But she stopped doing that kind of work because she wanted to, because she wanted only to show her body to her husband, to respect him by doing that, even though he never said anything to her about it. The guy thought that was very cool, and he talked about a friend he dated that was a great friend but terrible romantic relationship, and fortunately they broke up in time to save the friendship. He hasn't dated since last summer because he always goes for broken girls to try and help them, and he needs to get himself straightened out before he can ever hope to help someone else.

When we got to the end of the line, I went to my bus and they went off to raise money I assume, and as my bus pulled out of the station parking lot I was struck by all kinds of things I wanted to say to these two people. I kind of ignored it and kind of let the imaginary conversation run its course in my mind, and I wished that I had thought of these things when I was sitting next to them.

Then God told me to get off the bus and find them at the mall where the bus station is.

And I thought... I can't. The first stop is a 5 minute drive from here. But we hadn't left the parking lot yet, and THEN. The driver opened the back doors.

I can't, I told God - I won't find them, and I wore heels, and it's too far to walk across the whole parking lot for some impossible mission.

And God said, "If Matt was lost, or your future child was lost, or someone who you love, and you thought they might be at that mall, would you go look for them?"

And of course I would.

And the back doors opened again - well, not opened, but were engaged with the big green light above them lit to show that if you push on the bars they'll open.

So I got up and asked the bus driver to let me off before the light changed, and I walked across the parking lot into the mall. And I searched the mall for half an hour, feet on fire by the end, because I needed to tell those people that whatever they have heard about Christians, or whatever they have experienced of the church, that a relationship with God is not about trying to be good or giving up everything that might be fun, or acting any certain way, but it just means accepting that you are loved and wanted and LOVED by God, who made us. And that any change in your life is just something you do because you love God back and want to make him happy, to respect him, to appreciate your relationship. And that the reason it's so hard to understand and so hard to do is that all of us have had our minds messed up by sin, like bad relationships leave us scarred and scared, and we keep trying to fix ourselves so that we can have a healthy relationship one day, but the truth is we can never fix ourselves. But if we invite God to be in our life and trust him, he can gradually, gently make us new and whole from the inside out.

I realized too late that these people had been telling each other the gospel in the words of their lives.

I don't know what it means that I never found them - other than I guess they are doing their fundraising somewhere else. Or another day. I felt so bad that I was too slow to think everything I thought and do what I tried to do, but God reminded me that the Holy Spirit is never too late. So for whatever reason, I had this intense experience that left me aching to just tell these people that God loved them.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Answering Prayer

Today I had the crazy opportunity to push a stranger across the street. I was crossing the road toward our apartment when I saw a large black woman with her foot swollen and wrapped, struggling to move the wheelchair she sat in. The rubber had come off both front wheels, and the hard plastic rims had no grip on the pavement, so she was pushing and pushing her wheels but making hardly any progress.

The crosswalk was already counting down, so I didn't have time to feel awkward, and I asked if she needed a push.

"Yes I do! I was so scared, and I prayed, and he must have heard me. Thank you."

So I pushed her across the street, and she directed me to turn her around and pull her backwards up the little curb back onto the sidewalk and then push her up to the bus stop, and she was very patient all the times I fumbled and her broken wheels got stuck. She said she'd be fine to get on the bus, that the driver would help her, and that she was going to the hospital up the street, and she would make it.

I was struck by the opportunity to do something useful, and I was struck by what a gift community is and how vulnerable we are without it, that this woman was almost stranded in the middle of the street because she has no one to fix the wheels on her wheelchair.

Ephesians 2:10 says,

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

I am thankful for this reminder that it is all grace, that even the good things we do are not independent of God providing the opportunity.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Friendly Advice

Yesterday coming home from work, I overheard a great conversation between two friends. One girl sounded a lot like Jackie from That 70s Show, and her friend kind of looked like Jackie from That 70s Show in the reflection on the subway window (this is a decent way to spy on people if looking directly is too awkward).

The girl who looked like Jackie was planning to take a year off school to save money for her Master's degree. She was also planning to move out of her parents' house and split rent with her boyfriend in an apartment in the city.

The girl who sounded like Jackie thought this was unwise. "Why do you want to move out if you are taking this year off to save money? It's not as cheap as you think."

The girl who looked like Jackie tried to bluff her friend that she had really thought it through, she won't drive her car if she lives close to the subway (big savings), and she knows a guy who has a bachelor apartment downtown ("like, it's a really good neighbourhood") that only costs $800 a month.

The girl who sounds like Jackie mentioned that two people need more space than one person, EVEN IF they share the only bedroom (Matt and I found this to be true in our "awesome" first apartment that went bad, lol). She reminded her friend that a Master's degree could cost her $100 000. She reiterated that needlessly blowing $12 000 in a year that is intended to save as much money as possible doesn't make sense.

Jackie-face continued with her "yeah, but..."s.

By the time it was my stop, it was clear to me that the Jackie-look-alike is not as concerned about saving money on this "year off" as something else, perhaps establishing some independence and/or feeling adventurous about her life. I was glad for her that she has a friend who can tell her clearly and repeatedly, but lovingly, when her decisions don't make sense - that is rare! And always better coming from a friend than from parents (who might not like the boyfriend anyway).

Of course, I also think there is more to life than saving up money to buy degrees, and if this girl wants to waste a bunch of money living with a guy so she feels grown up, that year might teach her tons more about herself and about life than any time she spends at U of T. Bad decisions do that to us sometimes :)

I hope that Jackie-face and Jackie-voice continue their obviously strong friendship and love and support each other through whatever comes their way this year. I pray that I will also have people who can speak clearly to me when I am confused in my motives or losing my way.

Last note: I am scheduling this post ahead of time because of Change Conference! Yay for this conference, and I hope you are entertained by fresh new stuff to read :P

Friday, October 14, 2011

Change Conference

It is Change Conference this weekend - the third year that Matt and I have gone with an ever-growing group of youth. Both of the last two years have been so good for me! As a leader, sometimes I am really into stuff we do with the youth, and sometimes not so much, but I really love Change conference. I love the worship and the speakers and the time together. I have been looking forward to this weekend for the last month, and I am excited to see what God does this year - how I'll be challenged/shaped, how the youth will respond, if I'll FINALLY pull it together and buy something from the nationwares table...

I feel like I have a bunch of conversations with God that are in progress, and I am very interested to see how they carry on/come together over this weekend and moving forward.

Please pray that it's a great weekend for all of us who are going and for God to work in ways that go well beyond the two days we'll be spending together :)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Borrowed Inspiration

I was struck by a quote by Beth of Red and Honey, about meeting God in daily tasks. I was really struck by the connection author Kathleen Norris draws between cleaning and liturgy:

...
like liturgy, the work of cleaning draws much of its meaning and value from repetition, from the fact that it is never completed, but only set aside until the next day. Both liturgy and what is euphemistically termed “domestic” work also have an intense relation with the present moment, a kind of faith in the present that fosters hope and makes life seem possible in the day-to-day.

What Beth put in bold is exactly what drives me nuts about cleaning, why it is so discouraging to stare down a kitchen full of dirty dishes, because I know cleaning them will just make it faster to dirty them again. Some days are much better than others, but on my worst days, everything feels futile - making the bed, sweeping the floor, picking up clothes, clearing off the dining room table.

But I love liturgy. I love that it waits to be repeated each (day/week/year), and although it is not part of my spiritual life right now, it soothes me when we meet. Liturgy does not represent feel-good spirituality to me, but it is sturdy and meaningful.

Could I ever find the same comfort in cleaning?

It's ridiculous to hope so, but that quotation above has given me a ridiculous glimmer of hope that just maybe I might.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Weevils!

I thought this was something that only happened to people who spent weeks at sea!! All those dark spots are in fact living bugs. So we will need some new wheat before we can make any bread, that's for sure.

On the bright side, they're contained, so we don't have to worry about weevil-cockroaches running around. And actually, the cockroaches have been few and far-between lately. Which is great :)

Saturday, October 8, 2011

A Flat Tire (or - The Most Boring Day Ever)

I don't have pictures for this post, because I didn't think of it until far too late. But I made my first call to CAA today! Then cancelled it because we are just around the corner from Walmart and decided it would be better to drive there on our flat.

It turns out that might have been a bad decision, since 95 Honda Civics use tubeless tires, and we ended up with side-wall damage that left our flat tire irreparable. So Matt put the spare tire on it in the Walmart parking lot and we drove to Canadian Tire since they had all-season tires in stock - Walmart didn't.

At Canadian Tire, I spent the longest hour of my life in the waiting area. I was so bored I wanted to fall down. My body hurt from boredom. Matt and I had wandered the store for a little while, but there is only so much time a broke person with no outdoor hobbies can pass in the aisles of CT. After about 6 minutes I sat on a folding stool that was on sale while Matt looked over cooking sets for backpackers. An African woman wandering by with her friend asked if I worked there, which puzzled me, slouching on that $15 stool in my jean skirt, flip flops and brown hoodie. Maybe Canadian Tire is different in Africa (a little joke).

Having managed to kill maybe 10 minutes, Matt brought me to the waiting area, which I hoped would have ANY kind of diversion. We could see that Blat was still parked where we left it, so there was no end to our waiting in sight. There was however a specialty coffee machine that was out of order, two fake plants, some CT flyers, a car maintenance magazine and a TV.

Since the waiting room was empty, I didn't feel shy to walk up to the TV and change the channel to find something that could move the time along - I was hoping for TLC maybe, or CSI re-runs, even infomercials could have sufficed.

But there was only one channel.

And that channel was playing NASCAR.

I could end the post there - I know for some people the chance to watch a NASCAR race on a Saturday afternoon would be a dream come true. For me, it was the empty shell of an afternoon that had its soul sucked out with a side-wall-damaged, tubeless straw. I actually flipped through the CT flyer AND magazine, reading a whole ad about why do-it-yourself liquid truck bed liner is a great option. And a full-page diagram/flow-chart of how to spend hundreds of dollars on roof racks and cargo accessories.

But the silver lining of this whole extra-boring cloud was that it happened today and not tomorrow, when we will (by God's grace) drive up to Orillia right after church to have Thanksgiving with my family there. And for that reason, I am truly, truly grateful that the tire went flat today.

Not only that, but Matt and I were together through the whole adventure, so we got to spend all that time together, and we got to share a small crisis that didn't end with me in tears. This is the stuff marriage is made of :)

AND we went on a date to the movies tonight, so it wasn't actually the most boring DAY ever, because most of the day was quite great. But that HOUR felt like 700 HOURS. So in that sense, my title stands.

Friday, October 7, 2011

I Love Words

I am reading The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, and it has the most beautiful words I've read in such a long time! It is a work of fiction told from the perspective of Death, so it is very unique in that sense, but the power of the words just blows me away sometimes.

This is a Jew in Nazi Germany, waiting for a friend to find out about a potential safe house: He had eaten only the foul taste of his own hungry breath for what felt like weeks, and still, nothing.

And the account of his father's death in WWI years earlier: Erik Vandenburg would later be found in several pieces on a grassy hill. His eyes were open and his wedding ring was stolen. I shoveled up his soul with the rest of them and we drifted away. The horizon was the color of milk. Cold and fresh. Poured out among the bodies.

The whole book isn't quite so dark and heavy, but it is all very moving, and I feel like every chance I get to read from it is a chance to sink into words.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Freedom!

I must admit that from time to time I become quite discouraged by the vast student debt that Matt and I carry. In many ways it has been a blessing because if we had no debt, Matt and I would have a ridiculous income and probably waste a good part of it and develop selfish financial habits etc. Instead, we have spent the last two years of our marriage figuring out how to budget, how to compromise, how to live simply and frugally without giving up on having fun, and we have been challenged to figure out how to fit generosity in there too. It's still a work in progress.

But sometimes it is sucky that no matter how greatly we succeed each month, there are still tens of thousands of dollars waiting to be paid off. I will admit that this week I started praying for God to forgive my debts (instead of trespasses) in the Lord's Prayer. It is easy to become discouraged when I think of all the choices that would open to Matt and I without debt.But maybe that is a blessing as well, that we are limited in dreaming up distractions from what God has called us to. I was encouraged by Peter's exhortation in 1 Peter 2, for servants to serve their masters well no matter how they are treated. What on earth is the connection? A pastor who preached on this text pointed out that servants were a middle class of people between slaves and free people. They might be people who had become heavily indebted and pledged themselves as servants to pay off their debt. It was a good reminder just to do what we have to do well to pay off our debt.

So that struck a chord with me, and then the pastor also referenced 1 Corinthians 7, where Paul tells people to live the life God has called them to, not seeking to change their status (circumcised/uncircumcised, married/single, slave/free), saying only that if a slave has an opportunity to have freedom they should take it.

So today I have a little more peace about this debt that God has not yet felt the need to remove from our lives. We are doing what we can to get rid of it, and in many ways it has shaped us and our marriage in helpful ways, although I have sometimes leaned close to idolizing paying it off. But I am finding freedom from constantly spiritualizing the simple reality that we have great big student loans - it is part of life but it doesn't need to define us. We are working towards "freedom" from debt, but our situation is not like living in that hole in the picture! In all reality we are free --

We eat, we laugh, we worship, we play, we share and we love.

There is no reason in light of all that to think that a bunch of numbers on paper somehow mean we aren't.

Monday, October 3, 2011

School for Conversion

I mentioned that I had exchanged emails with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, the author of New Monasticism. Here's the story:

Last year I finally got around to reading Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne. I recommend this book to everybody! I should get around to re-reading it, but I think someone is borrowing it right now. Matt read it too, and we were both challenged/inspired by so many of the ideas of how Christians can live out the gospel. Shane quotes Mother Teresa who said, "We cannot do great things, only simple things with great love," and this mentality is behind the formation of a community where he lives in Philadelphia called The Simple Way. I loved his book because it was radical and had big ideas, but it is also based on the simple concept of taking Jesus at his word.

The Simple Way is one of the best known communities that reflect the values of new monasticism, a movement that values among other things:
  • relocation to abandoned places of Empire
  • sharing economic resources with fellow community members and the needy among [them]
  • hospitality to the stranger
  • nurturing common life among members of intentional community
  • commitment to a disciplined contemplative life
Within this movement, married couples live alongside celibate singles, and communities exist across generational and racial lines. It also recognizes the importance of staying connected to the greater body of the Church and is a movement within the church, not apart from it.

So a few weeks ago Matt and I were looking at how we might be able to go and visit Simple Way, and it TURNS OUT that they are hosting a course for School for Conversion (SFC)* on the exact weekend that I have time booked off. But when I tried to register it said I would be waitlisted. So I figured it had filled up and we should just keep an eye out for it next year.

But last week I got an email from Jonathan asking if I was still coming and if they should continue to save Matt and I spots. So I said yes please. And then Matt told me who Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove was, lol, which is a friend of Shane Claiborne, the director of SFC and author of New Monasticism (which I bought and read shortly after this whole encounter), among other books that he has authored and co-authored.
(I took this picture of Philly when I went to Camden, NJ at the end of my first year at Tyndale. I think that's cool!)

SO this November, Matt and I will be road tripping to Philly to spend a weekend at Simple Way!!!** The School for Conversion course consists of 5 sessions on the "theology and practice of Christianity as a way of life." And the course is facilitated by Shane Claiborne! So instead of hoping to meet him when we go to see his neighbourhood we will actually get to spend a bunch of time together! And hopefully we'll meet a bunch of other people who are interested in these ideas too!

I don't know if this will sound crazy to anybody, but to me it sounds really exciting, and especially in light of the reading I have done by Shane and Jonathan I believe that no matter what changes Matt and I end up making in how we live out our faith, we will learn tons, and it is just a great big awesome opportunity!

I am working on my application to have my passport reflect my married name (ehem), we are expecting a course package in the next few weeks with a bit more info, and THEN there will just be the small matter of waiting for November to roll around!

*The "conversion" in SFC is "conversion to a new way of life" - the blurb about it in the back of my book on new monasticism says,
"Based in Christian communities of neo-monastic discipleship, SFC facilitates study directed toward the creation of new community and creative expressions of God's kingdom in the abandoned spaced of society."

**Don't worry Mom and Dad, we finally got CAA! So if somehow BLAT fails us, we at least won't be stranded.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

New Month, New Hopes

Fall has arrived. It is cold and gusty and sunny today, the wind sucking any heat or moisture out of my hands and face, but the colours seem more vibrant, as if Autumn were proud to be neither Summer nor Winter but a season fiercely its own, appealing and torturous in its own ways.

I finally used up a gift card for a bookstore downtown that I have been sitting on for years. I have had that gift card longer than I've had an engagement ring; I was lucky the store didn't expire it on me! I bought three books, which totalled about $4 less than the value of the gift card, which is close enough for me :) Cash intact, I left with New Monasticism by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, with whom I have been exchanging emails this week - more on that later! - A Year with Dietrich Bonhoeffer compiled by someone who has never emailed me, and a blank notebook to stay under my gift card limit, to reward myself for all the beautiful notebooks I haven't bought for the last several months, and to motivate myself to journal more so I fill up my current journal before starting in a new one!

With the start of Fall for real, and in light of things I have been reading and thinking, I am hoping that Matt and I can make space and time to regularly have people over and practice hospitality. It has been months if not a year that we have been saying we should have people over more often or reach out to get to know some people better, but we haven't lived up to those plans very well, and it's mostly because of me. I need a plan much more than Matt does, and I psych myself out over the preparation involved in being good hosts, and it all amounts to a lot of fuss in my mind and not a lot being done. So I am planning to chill out and focus more on my attitude than my performance. I hope that living more hospitably will keep my heart soft to others and help me avoid the trap of thinking how important it is to love people and share life together without actually doing that.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Taking God at His Word

I finished reading Luke today.

I am overwhelmed with tons of ideas and convictions and hopes and fears and will try to skip over all of them for now to just say one point that stuck out for me in Luke:

We should take God at his word.

The first person to have an angelic vision in Luke was Zachariah, the high priest, and he questioned it, so he was struck dumb until what had been promised came to pass.

The next person was Mary, a righteous young woman, and she was frightened and confused by her vision as well. She asked how the angel's words could be true, but she accepted them in faith.

The next vision in Luke is an appearance of angels to some shepherds outside Bethlehem. These uneducated, low-in-status men were terrified, but when they were told that the promised Saviour and Christ had been born and was in a nearby town they went to see it. They took God at his word! And it was as they had been told, as nobody would have ever expected.

Sometimes people who think they know what to expect from God completely miss the point.

Including me.

But God's word says that it's never too late to make things right, and I am believing it.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Why Bad Things Happen

I heard a clip from an interview with Rob Bell and he was asked whether God is all-powerful, or whether he is good, because he obviously isn't both given the state of the world (the tsunami in Japan was the example in the interview; there are countless examples). Rob Bell answered that it was a paradox.

So I was thinking about that tension that we face as Christians in reconciling beliefs that God is both all-powerful and completely good. But I don't think necessarily that it is a paradox when you account for God's gift of free will and for the reality of sin in the world. We know that God will restore all of creation after judgment day (which ISN'T marked on my calendar, by the way), but until then the world is not as it should be. There are times when God intervenes, and times when he doesn't, and in his sovereignty and goodness, that is allowed.

The problem for me is when people say that they don't believe in God or in a good God because bad things happen in the world. Because in addition to what I've already said, I also believe that nobody on Earth is innocent. First of all, we all participate to some extent in the broken systems that oppress or objectify people, and that pollute the earth. In our personal lives we sometimes make wrong decisions, selfishly hurt others and fail to be loving or compassionate.

SO
when we see things that are wrong - injustice, natural destruction, death, abuse - we can wish that God would set it straight and make it all right, but when we wish for that we also wish for our own judgment and reckoning and that of our loved ones, family, neighbours.

God's love for the world causes him to suffer infinitely more from its brokenness than we do. Because we are part of the system, some of the bad things benefit us, and we are participants in the whole broken system even when we despise it. Where do our clothes come from? How much money is in our bank accounts while people across the world and in our own cities starve? God has no benefit in any of this system except that by extending his grace and allowing this world to continue allows us the opportunity to turn to him, to share the Gospel with others, to enjoy the goodness that this life has to offer, flawed though it is.


I was thinking about this after hearing a sermon that challenged the message of Rob Bell's book Love Wins. Rob Bell says that Christians do not have reason to believe that God's redemptive work though Jesus depends on us believing/accepting Him in this life. Eventually, even the hardest cynic will be softened by God's love and accept Jesus, even if this acceptance takes place after earthly death. Thus, Hell is not a place of eternal conscious torment where unbelievers are banished on judgment day, but it is a state of resistance to God that can be left behind in exchange for Heaven once a person chooses to believe in Jesus.


If Hell is not real/permanent, and if everyone will ultimately put their faith in Jesus before their eternal fate is sealed, then what is the purpose in the ongoing suffering of life on Earth? If Love Wins every time, why should God not let the world collapse, call off the failed experiment that is Humanity, and get to work winning souls without having to endure the suffering caused by sin?


One of the big misconceptions about Christianity is that it is primarily concerned with getting people into Heaven. Yes, as a Christian, I believe I am going to Heaven when I die, and I hope that everyone will believe in Jesus so they can go too. But I believe there is a lot more to this life than a bunch of us getting our feet in God's door - I believe this is a time of preparation, of personal formation, of learning about God and what it means to be human and how to live well, AND to share the message of God's love and redemption so that other people can also accept this offer of salvation and make the most of their time.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Coping

I have been having a hard time with church lately. There are tons of factors, but it has boiled down to a lot of bitterness that I'm not quite sure how to handle. Part of my frustrations are justified, but I know that I also overreact to a lot of things, so I basically repress everything at church, talk about it with Matt to try to sort out what if anything I should hold on to, and over all it's a great big struggle.

Being emotionally and spiritually drained by church has meant focusing more on personal time with God, not as a substitute but as kind of an anchor for my faith in the midst of confusion and anger and hurt. Something I started this week which I LOVE is downloading sermons to my mp3 and listening to them at work while I process cheques. It's great because I'm pretty ADD, so having something to do other than just sit and listen actually helps me stay more engaged and pay attention to what is being said. And for most of my morning, I'm just sitting and processing, so listening to mp3s doesn't disrupt my work either. After the sermon ends, my music starts again and I have stuff to think about :)

Friday I was reading my Bible on the subway home and read a passage in Luke that didn't make sense to me. Part of what I have been realizing in the last few months is that I don't know Jesus very well. I know what church says about Jesus, but that is often cliches or political manipulation. I want to know Jesus better, so I am trying to read the gospels. I am trying to avoid glossing over all the stories I know and read with fresh eyes. Happily for me, Mars Hill church is going through a two-year sermon series on Luke, which is posted online, so if there are passages I want to hear teaching on, I can find a sermon on it!

I'm not sure what to think of myself for being someone who listens to sermons on my mp3 player (okay, I think its really geeky), but since it's working for me for now I think I'm just gonna go for it. This week, listening to sermons has been such a motivation for me to get into the Bible for myself and learn and seek God, much much more than anything that has happened at church. Rather than label myself a nerd and try to avoid something that God is using in my life, I will be grateful for this provision of encouragement and help at the time when I really need it. (Oh, by the way, my mp3 player was lost for a year, and then when I found it I had misplaced my charger, so it is only in the last 10 days that I have had a functioning mp3 player. I see God in that.)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Rouge Park

So, my resolution to keep living in Summer until October hasn't panned out very well. In general, I have gone from work to home to errands etc. even on nice days when I could have feasibly done something outside. This is why I never get tanned, because given the choice between being outside and sitting on my couch, I usually choose my couch. Or chores. Outside is boring when I'm by myself. (More boring than chores. Oi.)

But Thursday after work, Matt and I went on a gorgeous hike at Rouge Park, so I wanted to post some pictures.

These pictures are in reverse order of how I took them, but you weren't there on the hike, so you won't know any different, and wrestling with pictures in blogger is pretty frustrating. So enjoy :)

In real life, this picture was an explosion of colours, yellow, orange, green, red, purple, brown. But cameras-in-general can only capture so much, and my cellphone camera is even more limited. So imagine :)
Some beaver bit off way more than it could chew.
Find the chipmunk in this picture! (If you click on the picture it will open in a bigger size) It sat on this tree for probably five minutes while I tried to change the settings on my cell phone to let me zoom in, but it never worked out and finally the chipmunk dove off the tree and scampered off. So cute.

Now that Fall has officially begun, I am planning to enjoy IT on its own terms. No longing for strong Summer heat, no dreading bitter Winter cold, but soaking up Fall. Hopefully this means more hikes, making soup and bread, and cuddling Nimoy more than ever =)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Fall Cleaning

Matt and I have been on a roll this week, de-cluttering closets, sorting clothes to give away or store for the colder months, and generally making our apartment awesome. Nimoy has faithfully observed us with short breaks to lie in his crate or snack on his dinner.

It's nothing too too special, but it has felt so good to make such visible progress making this space we live in cleaner and more comfortable. We still have a ways to go, but we are enjoying what is done without stressing too much about what is still to come. For example, we had a pile of stuff at the base of a bookcase in our living room. I emptied a few of the shelves that had stuff instead of books, and picked up everything that was on the floor around it and just put everything in a box in the corner. Now instead of waiting until I can bring myself to sort through odds and ends that might be garbage or might just need a home, I can enjoy a clean living room.

May my happiness be motivation to stop procrastinating dealing with whatever pile-of-stuff had invaded your living space :) It's worth it!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Feeling Old

Some days I feel more like an old person than others. This past Friday was one of those days, spending time with girls from our youth group as we decorated for a surprise birthday party. They had the radio blaring, which was okay because... I don't need loud noises to feel energetic, but sometimes it's fun, and they loved it, so I kind of settled in a happy place in my mind and focused on the task I had at hand.
My complacency was shaken though, when TGIF by Katy Perry came on. Radio overwhelms me sometimes because so much new music is SO skanky. And it's awkward for me to listen in on artists bragging about how drunk they were when they slept with so many strangers and how they can't wait to do it again. "It's a blacked out blur, but I'm pretty sure it ruled." Thanks for that Katy, please, keep sharing your "artistry" with young people. If everyone keeps acting like that's what grown-ups do, then eventually it will become self-fulfilling prophecy, and anyone who gets burned can just feel like losers for having regrets.
I remember a girl I used to work with who frequently had bad reactions to alcohol and would black out if she drank too much. Did she drink less? No, because what is the fun in partying without drinking? One day she came to in a strange part of town with no underwear and her pants on backwards. Proof of a great party, I guess.

So my happy place slipped away beyond my grasp when the girls started singing along to the next song, Give Me Everything by Pitbull. "Excuse me, but I might drink a little more than I should tonight, and I might take you home with me if I could tonight, and baby Imma make you feel so good tonight, cuz we might not get tomorrow... Can't promise tomorrow, but I promise tonight." I decided to make a compromise with the OLD lady that was freaking out inside my head and instead of lecturing these poor girls about filling their minds with trash I just said that if they ever get hit on by some guy saying he'd like to get drunk and take them home, then they should call me for a ride and I will come pick them up.

It's "just a song" I know. And I remember being 16/17, wishing desperately that I could be one of those girls who is sexy and powerful and desirable and in control. Singing along, dancing around my room, dreaming of the day when I could be a woman who gets noticed and wanted and isn't afraid or awkward about the attention.

But falling in love for real, growing up and finding yourself, becoming strong sometimes - this is all so much better in real life than in a shallow club hit. Why this is the music that makes billions of dollars while artists who tell stories and weave ideas and create beauty and improve the world are so often sidelined.

So I am officially an old person, I guess - grossed out by sweaty-sounding songs about bottles and bodies. If it's a true portrait of some people's lives, that just makes it more awful. And I hate that people I care about listen to this crap for hours a day and don't think anything of it.

And with my rant concluded, I will now blare some Taylor Swift while I clean my apartment :)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

September so far

Although I haven't written for two weeks, September has been a great month so far. Matt and I have been transitioning (back) into a routine and kind of figuring out how to pace ourselves for the upcoming (school/ministry)year. I decided this year that summer would not end for me until October since I don't have school to fill up my time. The summer weather has been kind of winding down though, and even though I am not in school, our youth all are, so youth ministry is morphing from retreats and mission trips and other summer events back to weekly events, small groups, and homework help.

The first two weeks of the month have been filled with fun though! We did a camping mini-retreat with the youth on the long weekend, and I loved my first real camping trip. We even had a huge storm Saturday night, but our tents mostly held up, and it was all a really cool experience. I was waiting to post anything about camping until I got pictures, but that still hasn't happened, soo... yeah.

The day after we got back from camping I turned 23 :) It was a quiet birthday spent lazing around at home, watching a movie with Matt and going out for dessert that night.

Since then we have sort of begun a big project to de-clutter and reorganize our apartment so that it can be even more enjoyable to live here and easier to share hospitality with others! After 5 years of storing my trumpet without ever playing it consistently, I finally decided to sell it, and it only took a week or so to post the ad online, find a buyer and trade my trumpet in for cash :) It wasn't the easiest decision to sell my trumpet, but I am glad I did. Other than that, Matt and I have started a bag of clothes to donate to Goodwill, and step-by-step, room-by-room we have begun to organize/clean/clear out the mess that has slowly accumulated over the last 8 months of being very busy. It feels great!

The emotional slump that I hit when we returned to Scarborough has lifted, and I have been doing my best to keep a good attitude about different circumstances as they come to keep my emotions on an even keel. Matt and I shared a sweet moment about a week ago when he had just come in from walking Nimoy. I told him that he has seemed a lot happier and more relaxed since our vacation and since his internship/second job wrapped up at the end of August. He said that on his walk he had just been thinking about how much happier I seemed to be lately and how great that was.

SO life is not perfect, but it is very good. Thanks to everyone who has been praying for me/us, and please continue to do so as Matt and I plan and share dreams for this next year of our life/marriage/ministry :)

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A No-Poo Update

I shampooed my hair the other night. And conditioned. (If you don't know why that's worth blogging about, read it here)Link
AND IT WAS FANTASTIC!

My hair was like silk. So I even though I am still happy to keep my hair clean without shampoo, I might shampoo/conditioner once a month or so and let my hair benefit from whatever all those chemicals do :) Everything in moderation!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

More Thoughts on Home

I realized leading up to this vacation that I use the word home for both the house I grew up in where my parents still live, and for the apartment that Matt and I share now. It is strange to be in this situation, and I have noticed how hard it was to come "home" to Scarborough after such a wonderful time in Victoria.
It was interesting to notice that I did not feel home AT ALL when we landed, or on the drive home, although I do love how comfortable and familiar I am with Terminal 3 and the 401. When we got back to the apartment, I felt familiarity and comfort, but not really rest. My parents' home is a place of rest and safety and belonging (and I know it will be, even after my bedroom gets repainted/repurposed :P). Our apartment is... a shell I think. A home when we are living in it, playing games with friends, chasing the dog around, cooking meals, watching movies. I am fond of this place, bugs and all (so many dead bugs when we got back lol). But nothing happens here that couldn't happen somewhere else.

This somewhat melancholy realization, however, has emphasized the deep importance of my extremely great husband Matt to my comfort and safety. We were talking about being sad that our vacation had come to an end, but I was sooo happy that at least we were together here, that I don't have to be away from home AND him.

Even before returning to Scarborough, God was preparing a conversation with me about home by reminding me that true, deep satisfaction will never be permanent on earth. Even the greatest moments of contentment and peace and joy are only foretastes of Heaven/eternity/God's unbridled presence. Realizing this is always a reminder for me to guard against distractions and idolatry, to review where my time, energy and hopes are focused. Leaving home to come home, and longing for home has crystallized the truth that even more than Matt is my anchor as a partner, God has to be my ultimate anchor, who can make living anywhere a joy, who will fulfill every longing in his time, and who shapes and strengthens me through all of these experiences, from easy to hard.

Trusting that God is just as good here as at home where I feel him so much MORE is often hard. Each day back home was overflowingly, abundantly, deliciously good. I felt like love was soaking into my soul like sun soaking into my skin, and I hadn't realized that I have been thirsty, drying out little bit by little bit. It is scary to be back now, and I am afraid to lose the joy of home and the generous, flexible spirit that comes with it.

I think my instinctive response to this fear is to harden my heart to new places and people. Letting my heart stretch is not easy for me, and the more I love, I feel the harder it will be for the idea of home to ever be fulfilled for me in one place. This isn't how I want to live, but I also don't want to overcompensate by pursuing tons of shallow friendships or going broke making the apartment "homey" or other distractions to avoid ever feeling sad or lonely.

I do not believe that God would have me give up on ever feeling truly happy and at rest on Earth. BUT I also believe that God would not have me pursue happiness or rest instead of Him. He is the way.

He is home.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Coming Home

I managed to get some sleep on the flight home from Victoria last night/this morning. When I woke up, I was excited to see some cities out the plane window - city lights are so pretty from up in the sky. Then, when I looked over the plane wing (instead of behind it), I saw just a strand of intense red light in the middle of the darkness as we neared the edge of daylight (the pictures don't do ANY justice to the colours in the sky). It was special to me to get to see it because I just happened to be awake and 40 000 feet in the air. It is extra special because it is my and Matt's anniversary today! So, here are thoughts from my journal on the plane:Every day starts like this somewhere - a slash of red on the horizon that slowly widens to make a rainbow of colour, testing if this day might need to appear in black and white. The purple of this new day sinks into inky blackness stretched over the plane, and for now the wings mark a boundary line between now and then, last night and tomorrow.Behind us is night, and just now light is creeping even into that fading memory. We have slipped into today, and it is a new year.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Help and Deliverance

I was surfing around on the internet a few nights ago and came across resources to memorize Colossians over the course of a year (only two verses a week!). I kind of wanted to go for it... and I still might. But I realized that before I jump into a lofty goal like that, I should really wrap up my current memorization goal first: to learn Psalm 40 by heart.

So I buckled down, and after much muttering to myself in public places, double checking words (is it Lord or God? Hurt or harm?), I am pleased to say that I think it's all in there! I will continue reviewing it daily for a few more days at least, and I hope to review it once a week or so to keep it in my mind. Which brings me to the other thing I wanted to do - brush up on Hebrews 12. I used to know so much of that chapter! And, while we're talking about it, Ephesians 4 as well, but that has faded away even more than I should say. Let it be known I memorized Ephesians 4 before I learned and forgot all the Brazilian Portuguese to do with my semester abroad. SO. It's pretty gone.

But it is so much easier to re-learn than learn something new, and committing to finishing off Psalm 40 has reminded me of how much value there is in memorizing Scripture, of the depth that you can begin to sense when you spend an entire day focused on one verse and it doesn't get old. So before I jump into Colossians like a crazy person, I want to soak Hebrews 12 and Ephesians 4 back into my mind and go from there.

I had wanted to post more reflections from Psalm 40 as I went along, but it can be really hard to articulate. I'm not giving up, but I am not going to hold myself to the idea I had earlier of going through in order. To prove it, this tidbit I want to share now comes from the very last verse:

You are my help and my deliverer;
do not delay, O my God!

What struck me was this: help and deliverer are not the same things. A deliverer rescues, releases, sets free. Help... helps.
This is a bit of an echo from verse 13:

Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me!
O Lord, make haste to help me!


These two concepts are intertwined in the psalm, but they are not the same. For me, it is a reminder that we have to trust God - whether he delivers us from a situation or helps us through it. Sometimes I think he does both. But it strikes me how David concludes this psalm because he opened it by saying that the Lord heard his cry.

Not to sermonize (too much?) but that also emphasizes to me that when God hears our cry it is no time to stop crying out. Let God hearing your cry be the start of your prayer :)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Better Than L.A. Ink


I had a good chat with God last night, and that was a gift because I had been very close to spending my evening watching Netflix. Then when I was heading to bed, I debated whether to read my Bible or go straight to sleep. My mind thought, I have already heard so much from God today, I don't really want to read my Bible because what if he says more!? I'm too tired to write it down, and I'll never remember it all, and then how will it change me. I shouldn't waste both our time.

And then God so gently said, With Matt you don't worry about remembering every great thing he has ever said to you, but those words nourish and shape your relationship all the same. You can't have too much of me, Alyssa.

God is right! I could never have too much of him, and even when I have SO much of him, that is right. I was designed to overflow with God's love. And I trust that what he wants to stick he will make stick.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Busted

Oh this heart of mine, so crafty and tricky, dressing up so nice and making me think it is so pretty.

VBS is this week, and I know it will be hard on Matt. He has been working SO hard for SO long, and now he has this five day marathon of ministry dealing with kids and volunteers and families, managing all kinds of schedules and melt-downs and thrills. This is really the home stretch because we are looking forward to our vacation next week, and we just have to make it to Saturday.

Earlier today I sent Matt a quick message while I was at work to say that I was praying for him and hoped he had a GREAT day, and I was going to say "let me know if there's anything I can do" but I didn't bother because I knew there really wasn't. Short of skipping work to go to the church (which wasn't going to happen), my contribution to his day was going to be minimal, so I accepted that. But I decided maybe it wouldn't be so outrageous for me to go by the church after work and get a drive home with him. VBS would be over, but I could hear about his day, and I figured he would really appreciate the gesture; I can't do much, but I'll do what I can do.

And as I walked to the church from the bus stop I thought how great the weather was (it's been pouring, SLOSHING down rain on and off, but this was an off time), and how pleased I was that I had decided to meet Matt instead of going straight home.

Fast forward a couple hours to when I realized that while I thought I had pure and loving reasons for going to the church today, I mostly wanted to feel good about myself, to prove that I could put Matt before myself. Because everything was pretty good when I first arrived, but the longer it took to leave (it takes a long time for the camp director to leave after the first day of VBS), the hungrier I got, and the more bored I got, and finally at the very end, all my good intentions faded completely away.

Leaving me hungry and bored.

And exposed.

It turns out I am just as bad as the people I complain about who "want to help" with VBS but only on their own terms, so they never manage to help much at all. Today I discovered that my attitude is exactly what has been driving me nuts in others - the "service" I want to give is not what is most needed, but what suits me best.

I have caught myself doing this before, stressing myself out over housework because I want to be a great wife/woman whose home is clean and welcoming and comfortable. The thing is, this goal keeps backfiring because I end up with a cleanish house and a miserable attitude (NOT welcoming, and NOT comfortable). Matt doesn't care if there's stuff on the coffee table. Killing myself to keep the coffee table clear doesn't serve anybody.

And this is important to keep in mind because I am going on a youth retreat next month that involves sleeping in tents, and I have never done that for real before. I have slept in a tent in the backyard (and had orange juice in the kitchen the next morning). I hope I really love camping. Matt loves camping, and I love Matt, and I would love to love camping with Matt SO much...

But even if I don't love it, I am committed to camping on this trip for two nights. And if it doesn't go great (I hope it goes great!!), I need to remember that self-sacrifice is not a hobby to pick up when I feel like it and abandon when it becomes tiring. I need patience and humility and God's grace for all things, but especially for when my heart runs out of steam for acting pretty.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Blessed to Have My Sister

Esther flew home last night, after a 40-day trip here and in New Brunswick.

It was so fun to have her around and get to hang out, to make a point of doing fun things like spending a day downtown and going to the zoo. It was also such a great visit because it confirmed what I already knew, that I am a lucky girl to have such a rad sister.

The thing is, with four years between us, we haven't always... known each other very well? I think that we have always loved and mostly liked each other, but four years is a sizable gap when you are growing up together, and for most of the time that I still lived at home we were just in different stages of life. Then, when I was almost 18, and she was 14, and things were just about right for us to get along and spend time together not only as big-sister and little-sister but as friends, I peaced out to university.Five years later, she is taller than me, she can crack me up, and we are able to share our hearts together, valuing the similarities and understanding we have for each other, and enjoying learning the differences we have in experience and disposition. When people first met Esther, so many commented on our similarities, and I think the imprint of our family is very strong on both of us, so that makes a lot of sense.But people who think we're the SAME are crazy; we agree on that. And one of my favourite things I learned from this visit was that my sister is a friend who comes pre-programmed to understand so much of me, and I am that for her. One of our shared traits is the recognition that we are more than we seem - that there are bits and pieces of us closed off or hidden away, and we don't even always know what's in there or why. And each of us is in progress, trying to figure it out so we can be the best version of ourselves. Our different selves :)

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Connecting

The mission team had their debrief last night, and I was lucky enough to go along! We were hosted by a couple from the church who have a great yard (including pool!) and newly finished basement (so when it started raining we were able to continue inside).

It was really awesome for me to be able to sit in and hear about the highlights and challenges that the team faced, to hear what different people took from their experiences, and it was exciting as each person shared how the trip has changed them or helped them going forward now that they are back home. Many youth realized they can do more than they expected, and many were humbled to realize they may not have everything "together" as much as they thought.

For me though, the biggest impact of the debrief meeting was getting to chat with our hostess, who has been away from church for the last few months recovering from a broken arm and some subsequent poor health. I have known that she isn't well for all the months that I haven't seen her, but spending time together last night it really struck me how hard it is for her to be not only stuck at home but to be to physically limited every day and fight off the discouragement that comes with all of that. Today she is very much on my heart, and it is not because she complained to me or even because things are SO bad that I can't get it out of my mind. It's just that the situation has finally sunk in for me because I saw it instead of just hearing about it.

The Bible says when one part of the body suffers, the entire body suffers, and so it is with the body of Christ. But just like our physical bodies, the only way to share in the suffering or joy of other people is when we are connected to them. Bodies have bones and muscles and nerves that connect and animate different parts of our bodies, and that physical reality is necessary. Just being Christians doesn't move us with each other's pain; living in each other's worlds until they become intertwined in our hearts is needed to forge the kind of relationships that manifest the gospel.

This is what I'm having a glimpse of anyway, and it is still sinking in for me.