Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Spiritual Gifts

Among different denominations and even different individual churches, the topic of spiritual gifts is dealt with in different ways. Sometimes it is front and centre, with even Sunday school children doing personal inventories to find out their own spiritual gifts, while other churches may never really delve into it and people can spend their whole life without ever feeling comfortable to say they have or don't have certain spiritual gifts.

I spent time with a friend of mine this weekend, and we were talking about some difficult things she is going through and struggling with, and she said "I'm so glad that God has given me the ability to do art because it seems like the only way to deal with these things that doesn't hurt me." She is a fantastic artist and certainly gifted, and the way that she put it reminded me that God's gifts to us are not just hobbies on a checklist or ways that we prefer to get involved at church - they are gifts. Presents. For us to enjoy and often times to share with others, but so often it seems to me that we skip the enjoyment, or we leave it out of the equation when we are trying to discern what exactly God has given us.

If you think about a really amazing gift that you have ever received, chances are its awesomeness rippled out to affect other people than just you, and I suggest it goes the same way with spiritual gifts from God. Being good at something doesn't mean its your gift - if you can organize a chaotic office in 20 minutes but it doubles your blood pressure to do it, I wouldn't say that's a gift from God; if you are a great Sunday School teacher, but corporate prayer is what really makes your heart come alive, you really shouldn't neglect one for the other. As a body, the church is called to live and serve in a variety of ways, all in submission to Jesus so that he can make it all meaningful. We won't always get to serve according to our gifts, but we must not make the mistake of assuming that God has nothing more for us than what we've always done.

And most of all, let's remember not to over-spiritualize the gifts God gives us by turning them into obligations and duties!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Promised Photos

Me, graduated!
My proud supporters: Grandparents, Mom, Matt and Marie! - Dad's taking the picture
And after graduation...
We got down to business attacking every cockroach hideout we could discover in our kitchen!
So bugs died in every direction... disgusting, but gratifying. We are still seeing them every once in a while, but the cupboards are clean and we have hope that with a few final seals and caulking (and maybe, worst-case scenario, a new fridge?), we can enjoy our second year of this apartment without the bugs!!!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

An Important Challenge

Soon to come (as soon as I have them, I guess :P) are pictures from grad, and pictures from bug-ageddon, which Matt and I participated in with my parents. For now, I wanted to share from a great post that I read on Seraphic Singles. This is a blog that I enjoy very much even though I am not single, and I am not Catholic! There are usually great nuggets of truth and pearls of wisdom in the advice she posts for readers who write in (mostly single Nice Catholic Girls), and there are also many posts of just good thinking. I am hoping to buy her book soon, especially if Crux will take my gift certificate from three Christmases ago that was lost but is now found. But I digress.

Yesterday's post was a very worthwhile read (as was Monday's: On Chasing Lazy-Ass Men!), and a very good reminder of a cultural landmine we often ignore, so I wanted to share the reminder. Here is an excerpt, although the full post is well worth your time. The context is a reader who may or may not have contracted herpes from her boyfriend who just told her he had it. Seraphic says,

It shouldn't take an incurable disease to make a woman see that the man who won't commit to her but still hangs around is clear and present danger to her happiness. Sometimes, however, it does.
The sickness of our age is that we privilege the will over the intellect. We prefer to think the world is what we want it to be, not what it is. Perhaps the most extreme and visible example of this is the man who has his genitals surgically removed, swallows umpteen hormones, dons huge high-heel shoes and tells everyone around that he is now a woman. Thanks to the sickness of the age, some governments and societies choose to humour him. It is unlikely that they will be woken up by some child shouting "The Empress has no vagina!"

If you don't have time to read the full post (because I think it's very obvious in the full context), know that this is not a rant about transvestites or others who are sexually confused. It is about the LIE our culture has bought into that reality is ours to shape into hopes and dreams and desires rather than something concrete that frames our existence within which we have free will. I have no doubt that this contributes much to the sexual confusion and perversion that abounds in our culture, but that is fruit, not the root of the problem, and the root of the problem equally affects everybody: married people, single people, successful people, desperately unhappy people. The problem is believing lies that we want to believe instead of facing difficult truth.

This post was timely for me because I was getting caught up and distracted by some what-ifs. I knew they weren't worth thinking about, but I let them rattle around in my head anyways because I wasn't sure what else to do. It's not easy to banish rogue thoughts, but happiness and sanity rely on being present in REAL LIFE. My circumstances aren't permanent, but they are what they are for now, and I don't want to waste all of the goodness I have on fantasizing about if things were different. So I hope this is encouraging for you too! Seize the goodness!!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Royal Wedding Photo

Some of you didn't know that I was invited to my pals Will and Kate's wedding celebration at the end of April, but I was there and finally got some pictures back. Here I am with my trend-setting fascinator!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Graduation Reflection

I gave the student reflection at my grad ceremony on Sunday, so for those of you who couldn't make it or who want to relive the magic, here it is :)

It is such an honour to be asked to speak on behalf of my class, and also a huge responsibility. Tyndale is such a rich and diverse place, and I know that it impacts everyone who spends time here in different ways. We have all been impacted though; Tyndale has changed each of our lives, whether it was plans for our future, the type of relationship we have with God, or the kind of person we want to be. As I have reflected on my experience of Tyndale and sifted through what would be worth sharing, a theme emerged, based on Hebrews 3:4 “For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.”

My time at Tyndale has been five of the most formative years of my life. I have been transformed from the girl I was at frosh week, fresh out of high school and overwhelmed to be surrounded by people my age who loved Jesus and were passionate to know him more. I have grown in faith as I saw God provide for five years’ worth of tuition; I have had my heart broken and comforted by God’s words in scripture; I have learned to pray with my whole body, to lay on the floor or to stretch out my arms; and I have caught a glimpse of Christian community as God’s workshop, where none of us is a finished work, but none of us is too rough or broken for God to use today. I have been to foreign cities, to Camden NJ in the States and to Aguas Lindas in Brazil where I was humbled to be among people very different from myself who love and worship the same God. I have been nurtured academically and spiritually by professors who do not distinguish between their fields of expertise and their love for Jesus and his people.

A huge lesson I have learned at Tyndale is that if the builder of all things is God, then the builder of all things cannot also be me. Tyndale has helped me understand my role as a servant. As students, many of us have been mentored directly or indirectly by faculty and staff who minister selflessly and show by example the importance of grounding our efforts in Christ. We have been challenged to let go of feeling entitled or proud and have begun to learn how to serve others for their sake on behalf of Jesus, not for our own validation.

The students in this community at Tyndale have also taught me important lessons that I hope I never forget. The first is that God will use absolutely anybody. Year after year I have experienced God using people in my life and seen God change people’s lives who I never would have expected anything from. God has also turned this lesson back on me by showing me how amazing it is that he would use ME for anything. I have learned over and over again how few resources I have on my own, and how I need to rely on God always.

Another lesson I have learned in our community is how much God loves his Church. I see this by all the different kinds of people he has brought together in one place to be built up and sent out equipped for the church today and for the future. Our grad class is evidence that God is at work with a plan to redeem a world that a lot of people think is too far gone to save. We are evidence that God is mighty and his love changes lives, and that the people he pursues are not only the good kids that grew up in Sunday School, but the bad kids that grew up in Sunday School, and that kids that never darkened the door of a church, and the people who spent every day giving God the finger until he did a miracle that changed their heart.

As a body, we at Tyndale have been through everything, and yet we have been called by God to learn and grow in Him and then take everything and continue it in the world. The experiences God has brought together through the lives he called to Tyndale include divorce, drug abuse, rape, depression, abortion, homelessness, promiscuity, death of loved ones and self-harm. Together, we are a living declaration that none of these things can void God’s faithfulness, and we are called now to take this message beyond the walls of our campus to our churches and communities throughout the world where there are people who feel ashamed and are hopeless that God can bring them through their situation. This is the power of the Gospel: that God has made himself available to us - his grace and love are there for the taking. Jesus died so that no matter what our circumstances are, we can have His life.

It is easy to get sidetracked sometimes when we don’t see this power at work in our churches, and this brings me to another lesson I have been blessed to learn at Tyndale: there will always be Christians who drive us nuts. For those of you who never lived in res, this lesson may have not been driven home quite as intensely, but I would be shocked if there is anyone completing their degree today who is always able to see all their peers with the eyes of Christ.

On the bright side, every time I meet someone who I realize will probably drive me completely nuts, I try to remember that I am that Christian to somebody else, and that like me they are a work in progress. Reminiscing about how Tyndale had changed him, a friend of mine once said, “If by the time you graduate you don’t look back on yourself as a frosh and either laugh at or want to strangle that old you, you probably haven’t had the full Tyndale experience!”

Maybe this is why the cliche of coming to Tyndale for a spouse and getting a degree while we’re at it keeps being fulfilled. This is a place where many people realize that they are not as smart or holy as they thought, and that makes them not only SO much more attractive, but also much better husbands and wives. It is the foundation of the gospel that we do not deserve the relationship God offers us through Jesus, but he has made it possible. Our authenticity is more valuable to God than lip-service, and if he has already changed us so much for the better when we were arrogant and stubborn and ignorant, imagine what he can do now that we know we still haven’t made it!

The builder of all things is God, and what God builds does not come undone. No matter what the future brings, we can live boldly for Christ and know that we are never alone and never beyond hope. May our lives continue to be testimonies of God’s mercy, faithfulness and love as He continues to build his church. And may we celebrate the miracle that we can now put letters after our names! Congratulations, class of 2011!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Grinding Flour

Matt and I decided to give our grain mill a spin last night, and some amazing bread is in the process of being made!
Matt is showing off his speed here - although it is pretty easy to spin. The mechanism definitely does all the work of turning wheat grains into powdery flour, but it gets a little tiring turning the crank.
Here's a view from the top: wheat on the left, and the bowl collecting the flour as it comes out of the mill.
And here's the end result! A bowl of FRESH whole wheat flour :)

The bread turned out kind of crazy, but I think it might be because Matt braided it instead of just cramming it in a bread pan, and he says next time he will try blending in some other kind of flour. Now I kind of want to try grinding flour the next time I make muffins!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mother's Day Hike

Okay, so this hike was just Matt and I with our dog after my parents had headed out to visit family and friends this week, so it was a Mother's Day hike only because of the date, not the people! It was a much more adventurous hike than either of us expected, but it was very fun and a refreshing time together.We drove down to Scarborough Bluffs and walked a gravel trail that ended at the beach. Or so we thought. But then we decided to make our own trail through the woods following a tiny stream of water. We ended up climbing through a whole bunch of muck and dried up stream beds up almost the entire cliff and enjoyed the view from up top. Nimoy as usual, just loved life and was scrabbling around like a scruffy mountain goat.Once we got up as high as we could, it was so funny because we could hear people talking on the path way down below! Also, we freaked out some people hiking up at the top of the ridge, because I think they thought we climbed down (which is impossible lol, look at how steep the cliff is! We climbed up to the bottom part of that steep cliff).

My pants are muddy, and our shoes are all muddy, and we both almost fell pretty epicly, me down the side of the cliff (I basically skied down it on my shoes), and Matt in a marshy river bed. What a great adventure :)

Friday, May 6, 2011

Trust and Obey

I have been thinking a lot lately about obedience and grace.

The first piece in this train of thought was the sermon at our grad chapel, and the speaker said that praying for forgiveness should be part of our daily discipline as Christians, to remind us of our need for grace.

When Matt preached on Sunday, he talked about Jesus being accused of breaking Sabbath, and one of the verses in that story really struck me:
Matthew 12:5
"Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless?"

It stuck out to me because I have been reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer's biography, and he experienced such deep moral dilemmas during the Nazi rule in Germany, including participating in a plot to assassinate Hitler. Many in the church supported Hitler because they assumed he had been allowed to have authority by God, and who were they to challenge that? Even for those who saw the necessity of challenging Hitler, it was a broad and deeply gray area what specific form that challenge should take, and especially whether his murder could be an acceptable course of action.

From his biography by Eric Metaxas:
"For Bonhoeffer, the relationship with God ordered everything else around it. A number of times he referred to the relationship with Jesus Christ as being like the cantus firmus of a piece of music. All the other parts of the music referred to it, and it held them together. To be true to God in the deepest way meant having such a relationship with him that one did not live legalistically by "rules" or "principles." One could never separate one's actions from one's relationship to God. It was a more demanding and more mature level of obedience, and Bonhoeffer had come to see that the evil of Hitler was forcing Christians to go deeper in their obedience, to think harder about what God was asking. Legalistic religion was being shown to be utterly inadequate." (366-367)

He joined the Military Intelligence and worked undercover as a pastor to be a spy, although his position as an intelligence agent was in fact a cover for his participation in a conspiracy against Hitler. So he was a pastor who helped to scheme against Hitler, pretending to pretend to be a pastor so he could move freely and continue his ministry much better than if he had openly rebelled.

"Bonhoeffer was not telling little white lies. In Luther's famous phrase, he was "sinning boldly." He was involved in a high-stakes game of deception upon deception, and yet Bonhoeffer himself knew that in all of it, he was being utterly obedient to God." (370)

I have been reading in 2 Chronicles in my devotions, and this passage struck me as so relevant to all the things I have been thinking.

2 Chron 30:18-20
"For a majority of the people... had not cleansed themselves, yet they ate the Passover otherwise than as prescribed. For Hezekiah had prayed for them saying, "May the good LORD pardon everyone who sets his heart to seek God, the LORD, the God of his fathers, even though not according to the sanctuary's rules of cleanness." And the LORD heard Hezekiah and healed the people."

This is the attitude that I see echoed in Dietrich Bonhoeffer (again, from his biography):
"Bonhoeffer knew that to live in fear of incurring "guilt" was itself sinful. God wanted his beloved children to operate out of freedom and joy to do what was right and good, not out of fear of making a mistake... He knew that to act freely could mean inadvertently doing wrong and incurring guilt, but if one wished to live responsibly and fully, one would be willing to do so." (424-425)

This is a very challenging view for me. It seems so easy to slip into a cheap perspective of grace in which God tritely forgives us for whatever we do and pats us on the head for trying our best, but I know this runs deeply contrary to what Bonhoeffer meant. It is also helpful for me to understand these quotes in the context of his whole biography and know that he never rushed to a decision or made a choice before bringing it to God. Freedom and grace are no excuses for mental or moral laziness.

God cares about the choices we make and wants us to live well, to make good decisions, and these decisions must often be courageous and sacrificial. But we cannot become so self-important that we are paralyzed at the idea of imperfection. It is God's jurisdiction to convict or to pardon, and he does not always act according to human expectations.

Yet another book I am slowly reading is The Gospel According to Job. In the chapter I read the other night, this theme YET AGAIN came up, and I think the author puts it well: "God's delight is not in a life lived in undeviating virtue, but rather in seeing the most twisted and chaotic life turned in humble expectation towards Him."

This is why it is good to pray daily for forgiveness, not because I am the wormiest of worms but because I need forgiveness daily, and by committing myself to God's grace I am free to live without fear of messing up. Yes, I will mess up, and even my obedience to God may bring me through uncertain moral territory, but Jesus did not say to follow his rules; he said to follow Him. As Christians we must obey God and trust that he will lead us AND forgive us when we need it.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Voting Story

Our voting station is an elementary school very close to our apartment building. When I was walking through the hall after voting, I heard two little girls talking, and their conversation went like this:

Six-or-seven-year-old #1: Do you have play-doh?
Ditto #2: I have play-doh! I have so much play-doh!
#1: I have red and orange.
#2: I have rainbow!
#1: Gasp.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

May Starts Well

I have the best husband ever.

Saturday was a team-building, mission-trip-prep day for Matt and the youth going to New Brunswick this summer, and I was happy to be able to join them! It was a really great day, with a delicious breakfast (one of the girls made crepes!!), a really helpful talk/discussion on engaging culture in our city and living "on purpose," plus fun activities and good volunteer experience helping to promote a community event later this month.

Then, when we were just about to head home, I realized that my keys were not in my coat pocket or my purse. Somehow over the course of the day I had misplaced/dropped/lost our only keys to the car (and kill-switch), and we were stranded. We managed to break into the car to check that the keys hadn't fallen somewhere inside (which was hilarious, but also a little concerning, since nobody really questioned us, even with a giant screwdriver and coat hanger in the door).

It could have been much worse, but it all worked out in the end (more or less). Even without BLAT, we had enough seatbelts in the other vehicles to get everyone home; one of the other leaders for the trip, a dad in the youth group, had CAA, and we were able to get the car towed to Scarborough under his card; Youth Sunday went great even though we weren't able to practice the music as planned, and Matt had less time than he hoped to polish his sermon; I am going to get a new key from the Honda dealership for $10.

Most amazingly of all, everybody stayed kind to everybody else through the whole process of looking for the keys EVERYWHERE, trying to figure out what to do when we couldn't find them, and generally having nothing to do for three hours. We have such an amazing group of youth, and everybody worked very hard to not get cranky and to make the best of a really sucky situation!

Most amazing for me was how great Matt was - really proactive in trying to solve our problems, but he never made me feel bad (I felt terrible, but I was so grateful that nobody felt the need to tell me how dumb I was for losing the keys or what a loser I was for messing up everybody's plans for their Saturday night).

For this reason and many, many more, Matt is the best, and I hope I can be as lovely a wife to him as he is a husband to me!

In other news, the oil cleansing method is going well, as is making kefir! No miracles to report, although kefir may have contributed to curing Nimoy's diarrhea last week. That. Was so gross.