Sunday, April 22, 2012

A Prayer

Inspired by Psalm 139:18b - I awake and I am still with you.

I awake, and I am still with you,
Still because you never left, your presence does not rest when I do,
Still because your enveloping presence calms me and I am at peace.

When I wake I do not often think of you. For fear of falling back to sleep, I neglect stillness.
But I am yours - known completely by you before I had thoughts, before I ever cried, before I ever kicked. How great are your thoughts, O God, and how great your compassion - how gracious you are in light of our frailty, my frailty. I could die any night, and I could forget you any day, but daily you wake me and you remind me that You are.
Beloved God, draw me to be still with you, to awake with you, to spend my days with you. For now and always, Amen.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Three Things Thursday [Vol.9]

These three picture frames were inspired by my readings on the internet about how to honour special memories while decluttering. The frame on the left displays memorabilia from our honeymoon, while the two frames on the right display program covers and tickets from shows Matt and I saw on special dates as well as a picture of us during intermission from the first show. I love this idea because instead of having to choose between keeping sentimental clutter or throwing out memories, we can enjoy and share our memories of these special times on the walls of our home! The only question now is where to hang them?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Room for Anguish

This year I had such a rich experience of Lent and Easter, and it really caused me to reflect on how Christianity is a faith that has room for anguish, that suffering is neither foreign nor unexpected. In the third verse of his letter in the New Testament, James tells believers to count it as joy when we face trials and suffering - not because we have to put on a happy face or it makes Jesus look bad, but because suffering doesn't ever have to be pointless.

One of the most common metaphors for suffering that I've noticed in Scripture is that of women in labour. In John 16, Jesus tells his disciples that he is going away and that they will have anguish, they will weep and lament, but then they will have joy, and like a woman in labour, the joy of birth and new life eclipses the fear and pain before it. "Then you will not ask me anything," Jesus tells them, because they will know everything they need to know when he is resurrected.

It would be great if we could skip the anguish part, find an epidural for the soul, if you will, but soul-pain has purpose just like body-pain does, and sometimes numbing will sabotage a real fix or deaden our realization that something is terribly wrong.

In the story of Mary and Martha, Luke tells us Martha was distracted by everything she needed to do, and reading this story reminded me that anguish can filter our priorities in a way that is often lost when times are good. Martha is so busy doing everything else that she misses the opportunity to be with Jesus. It is not so when her brother Lazarus dies. Then, she runs to meet Jesus on the road and pours out her heart: "Lord, you could have saved him. He didn't need to die."

When things are going well, I am so easily distracted from spending time with God - there is laundry to fold, books to read, dishes to wash, naps to take. But when I'm in pain, or sick, at the end of my rope, I don't even think about those things (okay, maybe naps). When my soul is sick, or my spirit is troubled, there comes a point when I can no longer put off taking time with God.

I have been meditating on Psalm 131 for the last week or two. I made up a tune for it, which made it way easier to memorize, and it has turned into a sort of lullaby for my soul. This psalm speaks of finding contentment and security just in being - like a "weaned child," not there for milk or a math lesson, just nestled in peace because a parent's arms are there. In liturgy and worship we love to "lift our hearts to God," but in this psalm we are passive, not striving or reaching or straining, not busy but calm and quiet. And somehow, surprisingly to our culture's mindset, this is a worthwhile place to be. I think that's because when anguishing times come, we know we don't have to do anything for God. We can just be.

Eventually the anguish will pass, but we can't be too quick to skip to that. I love Lent because it tests our patience to wait for joy, to focus on the wilderness journey to the cross and then the empty tomb, not just skip merrily along to Easter Sunday. On Good Friday, it is so hard to even focus for one day on the anguish of Jesus' death - his slow execution after hours of beatings and mockery, after years of ministry and its heavy emotional toll. We do not fathom his fatigue, the deep weariness he faced before he gave up his spirit to God. We want to talk about why it's Good Friday - He lives! - But what about people who are in anguish and don't yet know their happy ending, if they even get one? Jesus knows suffering. But I think too often we gloss over how much he knows it - inside and out; emotionally, physically, and spiritually; for himself and for others times infinity.

As Christians, we have access to that depth of compassion. We can call on this God who went there for us so that it will not be the end of our story.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Spending Time

Recently, taking some quiet time to reflect on my goals and priorities helped me decide to try and sell my old textbooks. I always liked having them around just in case I needed to look something up, and I remember looking at my parents' books on the bookcase while I was growing up, so I thought maybe one day my future children would do the same. However, that is a ridiculous reason to store shelves (and pounds) of books - if I haven't taken a second look at any of those books in the past year, what life circumstances do I imagine changing that will create a world where I suddenly want to brush up on critical thinking or sociology? I held on to books from when I studied Biblical Hebrew because I love languages, I used to know so much Hebrew, and maybe one day I'd try and pick it up again.

But here's the thing: I won't.

I know this because I cannot foresee any possibility that I'll need to - I know enough to use a concordance when I want to get deeper in Biblical texts, so I have no motivation to try and cram all that vocabulary and grammar back into my brain. And really, if I were to study a language, Biblical Hebrew falls on my list of priorities behind Spanish, Portuguese, and French. IF things come up that I never anticipated and I need those books down the road, I will replace them, but I think that is much less likely than the chance I'm taking on selling/donating them to make my present and future simpler.

So I am at peace with parting with yet more stuff. But the fruit of this reflective time is not yet done! Because remembering that I really do want to learn Spanish (Matt and I sponsor a girl from Nicaragua and would love to meet her one day, and I would love love love to be able to speak with her directly) made me a little bit sad that I never have time to study it. And then while I was reading on the internet I came across this quote in response to complaints of not having time: "Everyone gets 24 hours, and you decide how to spend them." And the more that sunk in, I realized that if I spent some of my time on the internet studying Spanish, I just might get somewhere with that.

This is true of everything I wish I had more time for - from keeping in touch with friends to getting more sleep to running to spending time with God. Some seasons are busier than others, and some have more flexibility than others, but ultimately it is up to me how I spend my 24 hours a day. And if I truly don't have time for the things that nag at the back of my mind, maybe it's time to check out my priorities and see what's out of order: the things I spend my time on, or the things I wish I did instead. Maybe like with those Hebrew textbooks, I'll find habits or self perceptions that I'm really ready to let go of.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Reading Less to Do More

I read a lot of blogs. It's a pretty entertaining pastime, and it always gives me something interesting to think and talk about. A friend of mine asked me how I find the blogs I read, and the answer is I hardly even know. Sure there are some I subscribe to, others I just check up on, and sometimes I follow links to other authors or articles, or just read the comments and check out new sites that way. It's usually good times - I learn lots and enjoy seeing people's different perspectives on the world.

However, all this internet reading can also be a time suck, and a number of ideas I've read recently are conglomerating in my brain to make me more critical about how I spend my time including time online.

One piece of the puzzle is minimalism and the journey Matt and I are on changing our relationship with stuff. Rather than taking our identity from it, we want to filter what we own by what we value, love and use. It has been a big deal to question, "If it doesn't relate to who I am, why keep it on my shelves or in a box in the closet?" and it has been refreshing to find that removing excess and distracting belongings creates more space and appreciation for what's left. Since letting go of the cheap jewellery I never wear, I've begun actually wearing the jewellery I love. Now that my jewellery isn't "organized" so that it fits packed in a certain space as long as I don't. touch. anything. I can actually see what I own and decide what to wear.

When it comes to the internet, a lot of the reading I do is not very purposeful, but I have all kinds of blogs in my reader that I just read to keep on top of. It's a habit, and it's comforting because I don't have to sit around thinking of my own ideas, I can just soak up other people's. Lately though, I've been feeling like my mind is so full of stuff that there isn't room to take in more new information. I don't want to spend my free time living 9 lives vicariously through strangers on the internet. At this point I have been exposed to a lot of ideas and lifestyles, and now I should probably give more time to living things out than just reading about them.

Related to this is an interesting point I've learned in frugality, and another piece of my time puzzle, that if you don't shop for it you won't buy it. And when you don't buy it, very often you can do without it. A great practice (especially since Matt and I are only two people and both adults) is to skip a week of grocery shopping and eat the food you bought because it was on sale/you had a coupon/you thought you'd use it for that new recipe you never actually made. I am all for having things on hand, but it is so easy to forget they are there when they are stacked at the back of a cupboard and you're buying new food you actually want to eat. I am doing Jello penance this week because I discovered four boxes of it that I don't even remember buying. I am sure it was on sale because I know myself, but it literally could have been last Fall that I bought it (I can imagine my train of thought exactly: "sale! and it won't go bad! and... we eat jello... sometimes....? I'll take FOUR"). So I made a box and have eaten two cups of jello this week. So far. Three boxes to go. And next time I want to buy Jello on sale, I will remember how it's not THAT good and that I left one box in the cupboard as insurance. And not later eat 8 cups of jello in a week.

How does Jello relate to me and my time? I have a ton of ideas, things I want to do and write and learn, but there is such a constant flow of new content to my mind, that I never get to do real justice to those sparks of true inspiration that pop up every once in a while. If I don't spend so much time "shopping" for new ideas, I won't fill my mind-cupboards up with stuff I don't really want to eat. And maybe I can finally fulfill some of those ideas I've been thinking of for so long!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Holy Week

I slipped behind on my Bible reading for the first time last week, but managed to catch up thanks to about an hour reading in our now-cleaned-out storage closet and not sleeping on my commute today. It's weird that by this time next week I'll be done, but that is also helping me push through so many chapters. At this point I don't feel like I'm getting too much out of the readings, although I am highlighting passages that stand out to me, so that could pay off on a future read through.

I also realized on the weekend that since we made our prayer closet, ironically, I have really not been praying much. I've been reading and writing and thinking (busy busy busy), but I haven't taken time to be still. I have felt the effects as I so much more easily get caught up in emotions or reactions instead of being steady and calm in my spirit. I read all of Jeremiah yesterday and today and there is such a huge contrast between Jeremiah and the people - they are swirling and panicked and clinging to every false promise of hope, while Jeremiah tells God's message faithfully. It's not easy for him - he gets depressed, people plot to kill him, he's imprisoned, the city is besieged and bread runs out - but he is anchored by God.

At church yesterday, the priest talked about the emotional roller coaster ride that Holy Week goes through, and I feel that as Lent draws to a close it is very appropriate to step off the ride and be still with God, to let him be the anchor that keeps us on track whether we are ecstatically hopeful, terrified, heart broken, or amazed.