Faith

Brokenness

We are all broken people…in need of grace.

I was reminded of this a number of times this week.  Through a blog post here.  Through an article here.  When my son completely “lost it” on me and I “lost it” back.  When my husband shared his experience of this week.  When I was tired and in pain.

We harbour such weakness wrapped up in our facade of strength.  Though sometimes it is a facade, it is not always so.  We are strong…in many ways.  The human heart can be incredibly resilient.  But it is not invincible.  Each of us carries our own unique mixed bag of triggers which we have accumulated through our life experiences, genetics, and personalities.  Our weakness becomes apparent when these triggers are hit.

We are all broken people…in need of grace.

I find it comforting that we are all in this together.  I am not alone or unique in my weakness.  All humanity shares in this affliction.  It does not matter the nationality, race, or religion.  It makes no difference.  We are all broken.

And we are all forgiven.  We are all loved.  All humanity shares in this consolation.  Though we are broken, we have been given grace.

I do not have to make myself “perfect”.  It would be impossible anyways (though I tried to do this for many years).  It is better for me to accept who I am…all of who I am.  My weakness and my strength.  I’m finding as I do this (and it is a process) God’s grace is able to heal my brokenness (that’s a process too, a process I believe will continue until I die).  The more this happens, the more I experience the wonderful love of God…right in the midst of my brokenness.

I do not need to fear or disdain my brokenness for it is there that I see God.  And He is good and loving and full of grace.


What defines ‘legitimate’ church?

Lately I’ve been thinking about how people define the word ‘church’. Rachel Held Evans wrote a guest blog post on CNN’s belief blog a couple of weeks ago about millennials leaving the church.  It produced a veritable firestorm of feedback, with comments and responding blog posts on both sides of the issue.  While I’m not here to debate that particular issue, the article and responses got me thinking about the assumptions people make when talking about ‘the church’.

The traditional view would say ‘church’ is the meeting of a group of people, with a common belief, in a church building, most often on Sunday mornings.  There will probably be singing and a sermon or homily; liturgy may or may not be involved. There are different styles and flavours of this thing called ‘church’ yet I think most people boil it down to the above definition. Unfortunately I believe this is but a small part of the true meaning of church. And in reality I believe church can exist even without most of the above elements.

From my reading of the New Testament, the life of the church seemed driven so much more by relationships one with another than by attending a service.  And just to clarify, yes, I’m saying that I believe the life of the church can happen without attending a ‘service’.  At this point in time someone will probably pull out the verse in Hebrews as an admonishment to not skip the Sunday service: “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do…” (Hebrews 10:25). And I would counter that this verse is not referring to the ‘meeting together’ as we define it today (i.e., church services).

I must confess (for those who don’t know already) that I do not currently attend a church ‘service’ on Sunday mornings. I am part of a network of ‘house’ churches. What is a ‘house’ church? I would say it is a group of people with a common belief that meet in homes. They may or may not eat a meal together; they may or may not sing on a regular basis; sermons generally aren’t involved. There are different styles and flavours of this thing called ‘house church’ but I think it is just as legitimate a form of ‘church’ than any Sunday morning service.

There are people who would disagree. There have been times when I have told people I am part of a house church and I got the distinct impression they were thinking, “So you’re not part of a ‘real’ church.” This frustrates me and makes me sad. As I have not attended a Sunday morning service in a number of years, my definition of ‘church’ has broadened. For me, ‘church’ doesn’t just happen as a ‘service’. It is so much more than that. ‘Church’ is when I have breakfast with a friend whose life circumstance is difficult at this time. There’s no preaching although I may offer an encouraging word or two, but most often I listen…and she knows she is not alone in her struggle. ‘Church’ is when I have lunch with my son and I tell him (once again) that he is loved and accepted (and hope that one day this truth can really sink in and he can begin accepting himself). We don’t even talk about anything ‘spiritual’.  ‘Church’ is hanging out with my husband, sharing what God has been revealing to each of us.

Emmanuel (God with us) lived out God’s grace and love in the day-to-day life of the people he dwelt with.  We do a disservice to the Gospel, the “Good News”, when we water ‘church’ down to Sunday morning. It’s about relationships not programs. But too often our experience of ‘church’ is just that: the Sunday service, Wednesday night Bible Study, Friday night Youth Group, worship team practice, women’s group, etc.  I’m not saying there aren’t relationships in these things but I wonder if the emphasis is too much on the ‘program’ instead of the relationships fostered within them.  Are we limited to thinking about ‘body of Christ’ relationships in terms of the programs we attend and don’t look beyond that to the rich web of relationships we inhabit outside of those programs?  And what if we don’t attend any of those ‘programs’?  Does that make us less ‘spiritual’?  Although people might answer ‘no’ to that question, I know from my own experience that’s not the truth we live.  We assume people who don’t attend our programs, who don’t go to church on Sunday morning, must be back-sliding Christians.  They must be struggling in their walk with God.  This may be true for some people, but there are a lot of people who are doing just fine, thank you very much!

I would say that for those of us who have grown up in ‘Christian culture’ our perspective is very limited when it comes to what we believe are ‘legitimate’ expressions of church.  When I stopped attending a Sunday morning service, my perspective expanded significantly.  I’m not here to advocate one expression of church over another.  The Church is diverse and varied in its expression (that’s the beauty of it), and different forms will minister to different people.  I’m just saying, “Don’t look down on those people who experience church in a vastly different way than you and assume they’re not part of the ‘real’ church.”  I challenge us all to rethink our assumptions about ‘church’ and be open for God to expand our horizons on what living this ‘life in Christ’ can be.


A song for encouragement

I was playing around with movie maker software this weekend and came up with this.  I hope you enjoy…


Seeking the Beauty in our Lives

I’ve been doing lots of reading lately.  Most recently I’ve read The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd and Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.  I’ve been more watchful for beauty and goodness.  Life has been overwhelming at times over the last few months.  My cup has been full and I’ve been looking for ways to drain my cup of the overwhelming stuff and replace that with things which provide more of a sense of peace and stability.

It hasn’t been as if I’ve made a ‘plan’ and been very deliberate about this – I don’t think I’d have the energy to do that even if I’d wanted to.  It’s been more about being conscious of my own personal state of being and taking steps to ‘honour’ where I’m at.  It’s still very much a learning process for me, but some of the things I’ve done are: taking breaks from people/relationships that drain me more than energize me; seeking out those friendships that do energize me and spending time there; taking more time for myself (even if it’s only for short periods of time); recognizing when I just need some ‘space’ and being ok with that (by the way, it is such a blessing to have a husband who honours where I’m at – he’s the one encouraging me to take time out for myself while I’m still learning to give myself permission for such things).

Reading books has been good for me, too.  In The Secret Life of Bees I experienced powerful themes of unconditional love, acceptance, and learning to forgive oneself.  In Perks of Being a Wallflower I experienced the agony of adolescence and trying to ‘figure out’ oneself and one’s relationship to the world.  I think it’s important for us to recognize our frailty and our strength.  We are not invincible, although we often behave as if we are, expecting ourselves to ‘keep on trucking’ even when the best thing for us would be to rest.  Conversely, we need to recognize our resilience in the midst of adversity.  We are capable of much good and beauty even when we don’t feel like we ‘have it all together’.  We need to ‘give ourselves a break’.

I know that my expectations of myself run way too high but it’s hard to let go of those things, although I know it would be better for me if I did.  How do I know that?  Because I’ve let go of some of my expectations and the world hasn’t caved it, I have more peace with myself, and I think the relationships around me are better for it as well.  And why do I hang on?  I think it’s always provided a sense of security (albeit false security) against shame – if I am ‘perfect’ I will be protected against feelings of not been ‘good enough’.  If I can prove I’m good enough then I must be good enough.  The elusive truth is that I am already enough, apart from my ‘performance’.  It is a message that has been coming at me from various angles and mediums over the last year and I have been slowly, often reluctantly, recognizing the truth of it.

But does it ever make a difference when I do recognize the truth of it!  It’s about learning to love myself – having grace for and truly loving myself, and not putting conditions on my worth.  How much better I feel and think about myself!  And how much more freedom I have to truly live!  I’m not wasting my time to ‘beat myself up’ which doesn’t change my behaviour (rather it paralyzes me) and only makes me feel worse.

So although these past few months have been difficult, at a certain level I have more peace and contentment within myself.  There are still days where I am emotionally overwhelmed but I’m learning to accept myself in the chaos and discomfort.  It’s been good to write these things down and remind myself once again of the beauty of the journey that is my life.


A letter to my fears

I was inspired by Fresh Flowers today and thought I would write my own letter.

To my fears,

I know there are days when you get the better of me (like today) but you know what? That’s ok. You can try and knock me down and you might even keep me there for a while. But I won’t stay there. You know why? Because deep down inside I know I am loved and accepted by the God of the universe. And He accepts me even when I give in to my fears. I am not a disappointment to Him.

Though I forget it at times, deep down I know that “I am enough” (thank you, Brene Brown). I am in process. In the process of walking out from under shame (and from that, fear) into the Truth of the Light that says I.am.loved…period…no strings attached…no requirements to live up to. And when I sit in that Truth fear has no grip on me. It can’t. “There is no fear in love…” (1 John 4:18).

So take your best shot, fears. You may win a few battles but you will never win this war.


Random thoughts on Good Friday

Today is Good Friday.  This season of Lent is almost over and I realize my ‘project’ didn’t get very far.  But that’s ok, I’ll give myself some grace.  I’ve been doing lots of thinking over this season but not a lot of writing.  Here are some of my random thoughts:

I’ve been thinking about the life Jesus lived through the lens of compassion.  He reached out to the marginalized, those rejected by society.  In turn, they felt ‘safe’ to come to Him.  Just look at all the beggars and lepers and cripples who called out to Him…and He heard their cries.  I really like that about Jesus.  It gives me hope.  There is no one whose life is so broken that Jesus will not enter in and bring love and grace.  I want to be like that.  I want to love and accept people as they are, no matter how broken.  I admit there’s still a lot of work to be done in this area – I still feel uncomfortable passing the panhandlers whenever I walk downtown.  Sometimes I can look them in the eye but other times I pretend I don’t see them.  They must feel like they aren’t even people sometimes and I feel sad about that.  They need love and compassion, too. And I wonder, “What am I afraid of, that I cannot even look them in the eye and acknowledge their presence, their humanity?”

I’ve been thinking about the Truth.  Jesus said, “I am the Truth…”  I’m realizing there are times when doing the right thing is the hard thing.  It’s not easy, handling the truth.  Sometimes it would be much easier to ignore the issue, pretend it isn’t there, continue on with the status quo.  But that would be denying the Truth.  I think of a particular situation in the past year where I chose to speak the truth knowing that I would be rejected and considered the “bad guy” but knowing it was the right thing to do nonetheless.  This didn’t make the situation any easier but I have a peace and resolve knowing I walked in Truth.

A couple of people have asked me over the last week what our family’s traditions are for Easter.  I sheepishly admit that we don’t have any traditions.  In the past I’ve hardly recognized Good Friday and Easter at all.  When I was working at the hotel Good Friday meant a three day relief from the stresses of my job.  I mostly wanted to rest and do as little as possible.  Another house church group in our network had a tradition of celebrating Easter morning at a big rock overlooking the South Saskatchewan River and we would join them for that.  But that’s really the extent of it.  As I’ve been comparing myself to others I’ve wondered if I’m “less of a Christian” because I don’t practice any traditions.  Why do we have traditions anyways?

My focus has been on living out God’s love and grace.  As much as I can, I try to communicate to everyone (my children in particular) that they are loved and accepted, that there is grace for mistakes, that they don’t have to live in shame, that they can learn to accept themselves.  I know for my own life that coming to understand these things unleashes freedom from shame and fear.  I have much more peace and I feel more fulfilled and satisfied.  And I know I couldn’t come to understand these things without experiencing them.  So I aim to live these out so others can experience them and come to greater freedom and healing in their own lives.  Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life,  and may have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)

Which leads me to something that’s been bothering me and I’m not exactly sure why. I hesitate to write about it because I know people who are following this – I don’t want to come across as judging them and if I do, I apologize.   Over at holleygerth.com they’re talking a lot about “God-sized dreams”.  She even wrote a book about it: You’re Made for a God-sized Dream – Opening the Door to all God has for You.  Why does this idea of a “God-sized dream” rub me the wrong way?  I don’t have anything against people dreaming and living out their dreams.  I’ve done that.  I acted in a Gateway play a couple of years back, I went up in a hot air balloon last Fall, I started my own event planning business and have more flexibility in my life.  I think it’s great.

Perhaps I get the impression that people are declaring what they want God to do for them and demanding in faith that He does it.  Why are they so determined to have their dreams fulfilled?  And maybe that’s where I trip up.  Because dreams aren’t always fulfilled.  Sometimes life doesn’t happen how you want it to.  Maybe I’m jaded and cynical when I hear talk of “naming and claiming”.  Because my husband died when I was 29 and my oldest son has a mixed bag of mental health diagnoses.  I’m not a stay-at-home mom and life has not happened how I had “dreamed” it would.  And yet God is no less loving and full of grace.

Maybe that’s it.  There was a time when I had dreams and my perception of God was based on those dreams being fulfilled.  And when they weren’t it messed up my faith.  I didn’t know who God was because I thought my dreams were His dreams so why would He take those away?  There’s a line from a song, “There is freedom in surrender…” (Singing Over Me, by Kari Jobe).  I know this to be true.  When my husband died, I surrendered my life to God.  I said, “You are God and I place everything in Your hands.”  I let go of all my dreams and trusted God to get me through the shattering of them.  And I believe God has done (and is doing) wonderful, amazing things in response.

The life I now have is much more awesome than I could have ever dreamed up on my own.  Being married the second time around has been better than I imagined marriage could be.  My children are healthy and happy for the most part.  We live in a great old house that’s walking distance to downtown.  Now that I have my own business I am able to spend more time investing in other people, encouraging them, sharing life with them (one of the main reasons I quit my job).  My perspectives have changed on many things and I have a greater understanding of God’s love and grace and the Good News.  I have more peace and less fear and shame.  I couldn’t have dreamed this stuff up!

And maybe that’s my point.  I don’t know all the awesome and wonderful things God desires for me.  And who am I to tell God what they are?  And as if He doesn’t know what they are!?  So I don’t need to strive for and “claim” my God-sized dream.  God is already taking care of that.  I just need to be faithful with what He’s placed in front of me at this time.  The more I grow the more simple it seems to me.  Jesus really was right when He said that loving God and loving your neighbor summed up everything you need to know to live this life.

“But above all pursue his kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33)

“Now to him who by the power that is working within us is able to do far beyond all that we ask or think, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21).


Disappointment

I don’t feel like writing much today. I came to one of my favorite coffee houses thinking I would come up with something profound or an encouraging word about the beauty of mankind. But instead I read my emails and got some disappointing news. I feel discouraged and frustrated. I am experiencing questioning and doubt.

Disappointment is not a comfortable feeling. But it is a feeling all of us experience at one time or another. And I guess how we respond to the disappointment tells a lot about us.

The word “disappoint” is defined as “to fail to fulfill the expectations or wishes of”. I put expectations (and hopes) in many things – from the expectation that my car will start in the morning to the expectation that my husband will not die at the age of 29 (and everything else in between).

When those expectations “fail to be fulfilled” how do I respond? My responses have changed over the years. In the wake of disappointment I have experienced sadness, worry, fear, anger, confusion, terror. Those emotions have been excruciatingly intense and have stayed for a long time depending on the disappointment.

But I think I’m starting to gain a resiliency to disappointment. It doesn’t “take me out of action” as often or for as long. I am learning to believe and trust in the love and grace and goodness of God. Knowing that God accepts me and loves me and requires nothing of me to fulfill those two conditions gives me hope and encouragement and strength. He does not abandon me when disappointment comes, when my hopes go unfulfilled. Through my own life experience I know that even the darkest circumstances can be transformed into light. And that means I can have confidence that even though I am currently in the midst of disappointment, things will eventually work out. So I don’t have to worry or fear. I still feel sad but I know it’s not the end.

In the words of Matthew West…”But it’s not the end, The end of the world, It’s just another day, Depending on grace” (“The End” – song by Matthew West).


me, too

“the two most powerful words where we’re in struggle: ‘me, too’ ” ~ Brene Brown (from “Listening to Shame”)

There’s so much I can say about this and I’m having trouble putting it all into words this evening.  Those words, “me, too” mean so much to me.  It means I am not alone.  It means someone else has faced similar circumstances (and they’ve made it through them).  Or perhaps they’re still in the midst of those circumstances and they’re still standing.  I feel emboldened to continue on.  If someone else has walked before me or is walking beside me then I can walk too.

“Me, too” means someone understands.  That I can pour my heart out without the fear of being judged for my words, my thoughts.  It means a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear.

Empathy is powerful.  It connects us.  It brings us hope and renews our strength.


Hospitality, part 1

1 Peter 4:9

“Show hospitality to one another without complaining.” (NET)

“Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay.” (NLT)

I’ve been thinking about hospitality lately.  According to Dictionary.com, the word “hospitality” means “1. the friendly reception and treatment of guests or strangers; 2. the quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way.”

I used to think there were certain people who had the “gift of hospitality”, which meant their home was always clean and tidy and they always had fresh baking at the ready.  Which meant that I did NOT have this particular gift.  However my perspective has shifted in recent years.  For the past 5 years we have been opening up our home on a weekly basis for our house church group (my husband and I have housecleaning down to a science).  I used to get stressed if everything wasn’t practically “perfect” and would feel self-conscious when there were dirty pots still sitting on the counter.  But I don’t really worry about those things anymore.  For me, opening up our home has become much more about sharing in the lives of others than about how everything “looks”.  My desire is for people to feel comfortable and welcome in our ‘space’.  That they would experience grace and love.

I don’t get nearly as stressed out as I used to.  I think part of that has to do with the fact that I am much more comfortable with myself than I used to be.  For the most part, I’m no longer worrying about what people might think and if they will accept me.  I know I am accepted and loved and I am learning to accept myself.  With that new understanding comes a more relaxed approach.  It is much easier to be gracious and warm to others when I’m not busy berating myself for not having my house in perfect shape.  I can focus on the other person and value them rather than focusing on myself and my faults.

This past weekend we hosted friends from B.C.  Even though I had met them only once at a swim meet last November, our family opened up our home to them.  They had a need (hotel rooms in Saskatoon are very expensive) and we had a room and a bed so they stayed at our place.  It was such a wonderful weekend.  I am so glad we could share our lives and get to know each other better.  Each of our families face similar challenges and it was such an encouragement to know we are not alone in our ups and downs.  I felt ‘knowing’ empathy for my friends and gained a fresh perspective of my own situation.  They are wonderful people and I hope to be able to visit them in B.C. (whenever we get out there next).  And to think that if I had been too self-conscious to invite them or if I had spent the time together worrying about the state of my house, I would have missed out on something wonderful and awesome.

Those are my thoughts for now, but I’ve got more thoughts brewing about this idea of hospitality.  I hope to share them later.


The Empathic Civilization

Thinking about compassion reminded me of this video.

Here’s a thought: What if the reason we are on earth is to learn empathy, something we would never be able to learn or experience in paradise? And what if one of the reasons Christ became “God with us – Emmanuel” was to experience empathy alongside humanity?


Why “our common humanity”?

As I have been learning more about grace and the fact that humanity is broken and incredibly loved by God all at the same time I have found myself having more compassion for people in general.  I used to view people in terms of “Christians” and “non-Christians”.  I think using this distinction does more harm than good.  It pits “us” versus “them”.  It stirs up fear and judgement of others we consider “not like us”.  I used to be afraid to talk to “non-Christians” for fear that once they found out I was a “Christian” they would  reject me.  I know now that this isn’t the case at all.

We are all the same.  In as much as we all experience the same joys, the same fears, the same hardships, the same successes, we are all the same.  It doesn’t matter if we consider ourselves a “Christian” or not.  We suffer the same diseases, we have the same needs.  There is so much more that unites us than separates us.  According to the Bible we are all made in the image of God.  And to me that means we are all “beautifully and wonderfully made”.  There is beauty in every human being.

I believe Jesus saw the same things in people.  He healed and loved the diseased, the outcasts, the corrupt.  He was accused of hanging out with “tax collectors and sinners”.  He saw worth in people the religious establishment of the day viewed as worthless.  He had great compassion for many people.  The ones Jesus was most upset with were the religious leaders, the ones who lacked compassion for the people who needed it the most.

As I think about Easter and all that Jesus’ life on earth means, I want to think about it through the lens of Christ’s compassion and His ability to recognize, accept, and love our common humanity.


Sharing in suffering

This past Wednesday I had breakfast with a friend.  I have been having breakfast on Wednesdays with this friend quite regularly for several months now.  Her life has not been an easy one and it continues to be challenging.  There’s really nothing I can do to alleviate her situation.  But I spend time with her and I listen.  We share our experiences.  I enjoy her company and she enjoys mine.

I was thinking about our relationship after leaving breakfast this past Wednesday.  I was thinking about how I cannot take away my friend’s suffering but I can be present with her in the midst of it.  And I think there’s strength and encouragement that come from that ‘seemingly’ simple act.

I was reminded of this verse and it took on a new meaning for me: I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of  sharing in his sufferings {emphasis mine}…” (Philippians 3:10, NIV) I used to always think to “share in Christ’s sufferings” referred to my personal suffering.  But perhaps it means more than that.  Maybe to “share in the sufferings of Christ” also means to share in the suffering of others.

Matthew 25: 37-40 says “‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘I tell you the truth, just as you did it for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did it for me {emphasis mine}.’ (NET)


Another 40 days…

Today is Ash Wednesday which marks the first day of the season on Lent. I don’t think I’ve ever actually seriously practiced Lent (I might have given up something 10 or 15 years ago but I don’t remember what it was).

My understanding of Lent is a time of preparation leading up to Jesus’ death and resurrection. While I could ‘give up’ something for Lent, that ‘giving up’ wouldn’t necessarily strengthen the bond I have with God or prepare me for Easter.

I’ve been thinking about Lent the last couple of days and I desire to practice it in some way this year. I want to focus on a particular theme which I believe relates very well to Jesus’ life here on earth: Our Common Humanity.

So for the next 40 days I am going to look for things which speak to that theme. It might be a photo, a phrase, a conversation. I’m not sure where this ‘project’ will take me. But my “40 days of fun” was very good for me and I have the feeling this 40 days might prove equally enlightening.

For those of you who follow the traditional practice of Lent, I apologize. I don’t really know much about Lent and I’m going to be muddling my way through this.

Thanks for joining me on another adventure.


Rachel Held Evans and “The Scandal of the Evangelical Heart”

I first heard about Rachel Held Evans through my husband.  He’d bought her book on his Kindle called A Year of Biblical Womanhood and told me I should read it.  My first thought was, “As if! I’m going to read a book by that name!  It’ll probably tell me I should be calling my husband ‘lord’ and other silly stuff like that.”  Well, I read the book, and it was not what I had expected, and I ended up really enjoying it.  So I started following Rachel’s blog which I also have enjoyed.

This week she wrote a really good, thought provoking blog post: “The Scandal of the Evangelical Heart”.  She writes about her struggle with elements of Christian doctrine that seem to run counter to her conscience and sense of justice, empathy, and love.  And many Christians are perfectly willing to accept these inconsistencies without even a question – it’s as if there is no place for emotion or doubt.  Rachel makes some really good points in this post and in her follow-up post: “Love. You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”  I’d highly recommend reading both posts.


The Journey

I’ve been thinking about “the journey” lately. Back in the day when I was fresh out of high school and being introduced to different aspects of Christianity, people would talk about “the journey” – that the way God worked within us was much like a journey. I hated to hear that. I just wanted to get to the end…now! I wanted to be ‘fixed’, forget about this ‘journey’, this ‘process’ stuff. I thought the goal was to be ‘fixed’, to be perfected, so why not just get there already. I’ve come to view “the journey” from a different perspective. I’ve come to embrace it and see it for the beautiful thing that it is.

In order to better describe how I now see “the journey” I’ll use an example from my life. This past week I emailed a couple of friends to connect with them. I’d put this off, by a couple of weeks for some, by a couple of years for one. I literally had to ‘force’ myself to do this. I was experiencing fear and anxiety just thinking about doing it. This made me think about the fact that I don’t have any close friends that I hang out with (other than my husband and our mutual couple friends). I asked myself “Why is this? Why is it hard for me to make and stay connected with friends?” I believe God was bringing these things to mind. I thought about doors that have opened to me in the past – doors to connect with friends from the past or to make new ones, opportunities to be an understanding friend to those mourning over spouses who have suddenly passed away. I have largely ignored these open doors, avoiding making these connections. When I was working full time I used work as the excuse – I was too busy, too tired, too drained to make the effort. And when I think back to that I can completely understand why I didn’t make these connections – they created stress for me and I was already stressed enough as it was, I wasn’t going to willingly add additional stress to the mix. As I was thinking about these opportunities this past week I felt genuinely sad that I had not taken advantage of these open doors. And this is where “the journey” has changed for me.

In the past at this point I would have experienced a lot of guilty feelings and would have determined to “do better”. I would thank God for pointing this area of weakness out in my life and I would have tried very hard to ‘fix’ this problem. I would have made a schedule for myself to call so-and-so once a month and to email another friend on a regular basis. This effort would have lasted maybe a couple of weeks, a couple of months if I was lucky. But it wouldn’t have ended in any lasting change. For me “the journey” was about God pointing out my weakness and me following up on that by determining to change my actions…with God’s help.

I don’t see “the journey” that way at all anymore. This time around when God was bringing my “friendship weakness” to mind, I felt sad and experienced regret and I told God I was very sorry for missing these opportunities. I knew God’s grace is abundant to me and even though I missed those opportunities God did not judge me – I was forgiven and loved and accepted. I did not have to wallow in guilt and self-condemnation. Nor was God asking me to change my ‘behaviour’ in this area. I’ve come to realize that unless God changes what I BELIEVE in an area of my life, my actions will never change. So instead of focusing on “doing better” I have been asking God: “what do I BELIEVE in this area that is a lie?” Once I stop believing the lie and come to know the truth, a change of action will naturally flow out of that.

The New Testament talks a lot about believing and truth. Jesus went so far as to say that the “work” of God is to believe: “Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.'” (John 6:29 NASB). And again in John, Jesus says “and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:32 NASB). I have become fully convinced that the work of God in our lives is much more about revealing lies and learning to believe God (the Truth) than about focusing on changing our actions. “The journey” then becomes a partnership, a working together with God – not to perfect “doing better”, but to deepen our knowledge and understanding of the living God. To “experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then (we) will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.” (Ephesians 3:19 NLT). God’s goal for me is not to get from Point A to Point B. Rather, He walks along with me in this journey and takes every opportunity to gently guide me into a deeper understanding of who He is (which is love). The result is wholeness and a richer life with God.

I don’t know yet what exactly “the lie” is that I believe concerning keeping friends in my life – I have a feeling it has to do with messages communicated to me when I was a young girl – but I am confident that God will reveal it to me and that I don’t have to strive to figure it out. I can rest in God’s love, knowing He will set me free from my fears. I will “let God transform (me) into a new person by changing the way (I) think.” (Romans 12:1 NLT).

May God’s love and grace and peace be with you as you walk with Him on your journey.


Reflections on “no responsibilities”

Last week was the week of no responsibilities for me.  Meaning there were no children around. They spent the week at Grandma’s in another province.

I really enjoy these times.  I can do what I want to do, when I want to do it, without feeling obligated to anyone – not even my husband.  I think everyone should experience this at least once a year, even if it is only for a few days.

This time is precious to me, but in the past I have actually stressed about using the time ‘wisely’.  What if I don’t accomplish what needs to be accomplished (for my emotional, mental, and spiritual health) in the time given to me?  What if I squander it?  What if it was a waste?  These are thoughts that would go through my mind.  It was particularly bad if I only had a day or two without the kids.  As if it was demanded that I achieve some new level of spiritual growth, and if I didn’t I would have squandered that precious gift of time, never to get it back.

This time around I didn’t experience that kind of stress, although I felt a little anxious the last day before picking up the kids.  I think it helped that I had an entire week (7 full days) with no kids.  It also helped that I’ve started to let go of more of the expectations I put on myself and am learning to accept myself more…as I am.

I come away from this week feeling relaxed and refreshed.  I went for walks, took naps, slept in, read a book cover to cover in three days, wrote in my journal, and listened to a few books of the Bible.  My husband would ask me, “Have any plans for the day?”  And I’d answer, “No, I’ll just do whatever I feel like doing.”  No plans, no obligations, full freedom to ‘go with the flow’.  It was wonderful!

I think that it’s healthy and good – for one’s personal well being – to have a space where the cares and worries of our day-to-day lives are put on the shelf for a time and we are free to experience ourselves as simply ‘being’.  Our identity not defined by our accomplishments or usefulness.  I find myself, particularly as a mother and career woman, basing my sense of worth on my ability to contribute – in my home and work environments especially.  I recognize this isn’t a healthy place to be, and am thankful for the opportunity to experience and accept myself for who I AM, not so much on the purpose I serve.  It’s a long way to go for me in this area, but these times help the process, despite the fact that I was not planning on ‘accomplishing’ anything during my week of ‘no responsibilities’ (or perhaps…because of that fact).


Blogs, the Evangelical Church, and Love

As I’ve been reading various blog posts over the past few months, I’ve been running into something that makes me feel sad.  It’s hard to pinpoint or nail down.  I recognize that a few years ago I wouldn’t have been bothered by what I read at all.  I would relate, I would empathize, I would say “I know how you feel.”

What am I reading? Agony over decisions made, fear of falling short as a parent, guilt over not being a good enough parent/spouse/friend/(dare I say – Christian?), struggles with insecurity, fear, worry, stress.

It’s not that I don’t empathize, that I don’t relate, that I don’t know how they feel.  I do.  I guess the biggest difference is that my perspective has changed.  How I view the world, how I view people, myself, and God has fundamentally changed over the last few years.

How has it changed? Through experience, through revelation, through relationships with others, through the wonderful transforming work of my loving God.

So what has changed?  Here are some of the areas where my perspective has shifted:

  • My view of ‘the Judgement’ has changed.  I no longer believe that the final Judgement of God is to throw everyone who didn’t ‘say the prayer’ into a lake of fire to suffer agonizing torment for all of eternity – this does not align with my belief in an overwhelmingly loving God.  There are few references to hell and a lake of fire in the Bible and I’d say the references are a bit ambiguous, certainly not enough to base an entire theology upon. I’ve come to rely more upon this passage as a reference for ‘the judgement’: “This is the judgement, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19).   If you take this perspective, it is a person’s choice to hide from the Light (ie: God) that is the judgement – because a person is used to living in darkness, the glorious Light of God will be torment in and of itself.  It is not God’s choice to inflict torment on His child, it is just the natural result of rejecting the Light (ie: the very nature of God).
  • With this change in perspective, my view of God has completely changed.  There is a subconscious disconnect with the traditional belief that God is Love AND would willingly condemn the majority of mankind to eternal torment.  How can God love unconditionally and still have that ‘limit’ on His love? It must mean that God is not unconditionally loving.  Because actions speak louder than words (I know for myself) there were certain things I couldn’t ‘believe’ as long as I subconsciously believed that God would actively create torment for His children (I don’t care how much you tell me ‘God loves me’ He can’t love enough not to condemn my friends to excruciating pain).  With that belief gone, I am free to view God as truly unconditionally loving – there are no limits to His love.  “The Lord is… not wishing any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)  He never desires torment for His children, nor does He have to punish His children.
  • I think the traditional belief in ‘the judgement’ fosters striving, guilt, and fear as opposed to a reliance upon God’s grace.  We see God punishing those who don’t measure up and we must strive (consciously or subconsciously) to make sure God does not feel compelled to punish us!
  • This shift in belief away from the traditional view of ‘judgement’ has helped me to understand and experience the work of God’s grace that much more.  God recognizes that we are weak, broken, imperfect.  And that’s OK.  I don’t have to beat myself up for not being ‘good enough’ because God’s not going to punish me (and I don’t have to punish myself so God doesn’t have to punish me).   He has no desire to punish me when I ‘fall short’.  His grace is so much greater than my weakness.  As I come to understand this truth more and more, I have less fear, less guilt, less stress.  There is way more freedom in relying on God’s faithful love and grace to walk me through Life’s journey.

Let me interject by saying that by no means have I ‘arrived’.  There are numerous areas of weakness in my life where I continue to function in fear and I’ll have my bad days (and weeks), but my shift in perspective means that fear has much less of a hold on me.  I don’t wallow in self-guilt and loathing nearly as long as I used to.  There is more freedom.  There is more peace within myself.  There is more acceptance and grace for others.  There is less comparing myself to others.  There is less striving to live up to unrealistic standards – although I still have a lot of unrealistic standards (I have less than I used to).

This leads me to my opening comments in this post.  I feel saddened because I believe there has been far too little emphasis on God’s grace and love in the evangelical church (the church that I have grown up in and is my Christian point of reference).  And I see the results of this lived out in Christians around me.

It’s almost like we think everyone knows the ‘basics’ – God loves us and His grace is for us – but now we need to focus on the ‘more important stuff’ like daily Bible reading, prayer, faithful attendance, overcoming our weaknesses so we can be ‘better’ Christians, etc.  The problem is that without God’s love (and grace) as our lifeblood, we can’t truly be freed from the things that bring us down.  If we don’t really know God loves us, we will continue to live in fear, we will continue to be insecure, we will continue to compare ourselves to others, we will continue to feel that we’re not ‘good enough’, we will continue to strive.   God’s love is the answer to transformation in our lives.  I firmly believe this.  Nothing else will set us free.

Yet I see many Christians running around in circles striving to improve themselves (with God’s help), striving to free themselves from (insert sin here), striving to overcome the Enemy’s grip on their lives.  It won’t work.  Not without God’s love.

But in order to understand God’s love and grace we need to experience it (at least I found that for myself – I could read about His love and grace but it wasn’t until I experienced it that it started to make sense).  And that’s a topic for a whole other blog post.

I’ll leave you with one other verse (which makes more sense to me now from the point of resting in God’s love rather than trying to ‘will’ myself to not be afraid):

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.” (1 John 4:18).


Remind me who I am

I’ve heard this song a couple of times in the last week but today it really struck me. I’ve linked to the video and listed the lyrics below:

“Remind Me Who I Am” by Jason Gray

When I lose my way,
And I forget my name,
Remind me who I am.
In the mirror all I see,
Is who I don’t wanna be,
Remind me who I am.
In the loneliest places,
When I can’t remember what grace is.

Tell me once again who I am to You,
Who I am to You.
Tell me lest I forget who I am to You,
That I belong to You.
To You.

When my heart is like a stone,
And I’m running far from home,
Remind me who I am.
When I can’t receive Your love,
Afraid I’ll never be enough,
Remind me who I am.
If I’m Your beloved,
Can You help me believe it.

Tell me once again who I am to You,
Who I am to You, whoa.
Tell me lest I forget who I am to You.
That I belong to You.
To You.

I’m the one you love,
I’m the one you love,
That will be enough,
I’m the one you love.

Tell me once again who I am to You.
Who I am to You.
Tell me lest I forget who I am to You,
That I belong to You, oh.

Tell me once again who I am to You.
Who I am to You.
Tell me lest I forget who I am to You,
That I belong to You.
To You.


Remembering Mike 10 Years Later

Michael Richard Fisher (September 16, 1972 - February 26, 2002)

10 years ago today my husband passed away. 10 years ago today my world shattered.

A wave of sadness washes over me as I recognize this day. I am forced to look it in the face. I don’t want to re-enact the past. I don’t want to remember the suffocating sorrow. I don’t want to feel the fear, the panic. I don’t want to think back on how reality became surreal as my mind could not process what had happened. It was so terrible.

I pause…and breathe. Emotions flood my soul and I acknowledge them one by one.

The world has forgotten that day…so long ago. Life moves on. I accept that. Actually I bury myself in that. I don’t want to remember…for sadness is its comrade. And there is already enough sadness in this world.

The memories are there. It is not necessarily difficult to remember. I just tend to ignore the memories and carry on with “life”. There’s less sadness that way. I want a new perspective. I want to be able to remember without the blanket of sadness that accompanies it. After all, I know with absolute certainty that Mike is in heaven with God. I know there is great joy and peace there. I know I will see him one day.

But I miss him here on earth. I miss his laugh and his hugs. I miss his sense of humour. I miss the fact that David and Matthew, our sons, can’t know him. But it is such a huge blessing that Leighton, their stepfather, can tell them stories of their father. I’m sad that Lynae couldn’t know him (although if he was still here, Lynae wouldn’t even exist). I think Lynae would really like Mike and he would really like her – they both have a mischievous side to them. I miss the dreams we were never able to fulfill together, like owning our own home and travelling – we loved to travel together.

Despite these things I am incredibly happy now. And maybe that’s where there’s a disconnect. How can I feel sadness for missing Mike when I feel happy and satisfied with my life now…without him? I don’t feel guilt. But it doesn’t process very well in my mind. Perhaps that’s why I ignore the memories and focus on the present.

I believe Mike is very happy for me and the boys. He was always proud of my successes. He would be glad that we have a loving home. He would be happy that Leighton is my husband and David and Matthew’s stepfather (after all he was Mike’s best friend in high school).

And where have I come in the last ten years? I am a different person from what I was back then. Older, wiser, more “grounded”. It is our circumstances, the people in our lives, and the choices we make that shape us.

I have known the peace of God that transcends understanding in the midst of intense trauma.

I have come to understand the grace of God and with that comes an incredible confidence. If God’s grace is ever present and undiminished in the face of my sin then fear has no hold on me. What do I have to be afraid of if grace is always there?

I have less fear when relating to my children and more freedom to love them…as..they..are.

I know that clinging to God is the only way to keep your sanity as your world falls apart. I may not understand the “why” of my circumstances but I know God’s love will never fail me.

One other thing I know: if surrendered to God, He will always bring “life” out of death. I have so much 10 years later – in all facets of my life (physical, emotional, spiritual). God has greatly blessed me. I don’t know why Mike died but I know that God didn’t intend for that moment to end in despair. There is hope and I look forward to seeing Mike and swapping stories with him in eternity.


Hope

It’s a new year. And hopefully of new beginnings.

Hope…
Hope…it’s what keeps us going.
Hope…one of the “these three that will remain”.
“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, But desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” (Proverbs 13:12)

‘Hope’ is a powerful thing. It provides us with the strength to endure, to persevere, to ‘hang in there’ when everything inside us wanted to just lie down and give up.

But in what do we entrust our hope? In our circumstances, that they will change? I have hoped that my circumstances would change and although some of those circumstances have changed not all of them have. I have been forced to face the reality that I have to accept some of the circumstances handed to me and try to be faithful in the midst of them.

Let’s be honest. There is no way that I always place my hope in God. However that is the only constant. God does not change. So what is it about God that I place my HOPE? I can think of a few things:
– God is LOVE (1 John) – no matter what my circumstances are I believe very fervently that God loves me; the bad things, the hard things, the things that don’t make sense – they are NOT because God is mean or spiteful or vengeful; nothing can change that fact that God is Love and that He loves me
– I am not alone – God is with me; I don’t face my circumstances alone; and when I surrender myself to God, accepting my weakness and brokenness and allow Him to carry me and speak to me through those things it brings grace to the journey
– God is faithful (and He has infinite resources) – although I don’t understand why God does not do or provide certain things when I think that I most desperately need them He has done things in my life and provided in ways I could not have imagined (and often God’s solutions are better than the solutions I had dreamed up for Him to do on my behalf)

And this year I plan to step out of my comfort zone (my perceived security net) and embark on a new journey (that will probably be even better than I imagine). But it involves a certain degree of risk and uncertainty. I know I need to just step out and do it. And I need to hope… hope in the One who holds my life in His hands.


Serenity Prayer

I’ve been pondering this prayer lately.

“Serenity Prayer”

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.
Amen.

–Reinhold Niebuhr


“Blessings” by Laura Story

I heard this song for the first time this weekend. It reminded me of a time when I found God’s strength in the midst of the storm.

Here’s the link to the YouTube video:

\”Blessings\” by Laura Story

“We pray for blessings
We pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
All the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things

Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

We pray for wisdom
Your voice to hear
And we cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt Your goodness, we doubt Your love
As if every promise from Your Word is not enough
All the while, You hear each desperate plea
And long that we’d have faith to believe

Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near
And what if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

When friends betray us
When darkness seems to win
We know the pain reminds this heart
That this is not, this is not our home
It’s not our home

Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
And what if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near
What if my greatest disappointments
Or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy
And what if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are Your mercies in disguise”

Thank you, God, for your blessings in the midst of the storm.


Light that floods my soul

I am thankful for light.

I looked up the definition of “light”.  One website had 15 different definitions for the noun alone.  Another site had 23.  Wow…’light’ encompasses a lot of things.  Here’s just some of the definitions for “light”:

– something that makes vision possible

a : spiritual illumination b : inner light c : enlightenment d : truth

– the illumination from the sun

– the state of being visible, exposed to view, or revealed to public notice or knowledge; limelight <Stardom has placed her in the light>

I love the sun. I’m thankful that we have LOTS of windows in our house.  I love the sensation of taking a nap with the sunlight cascading over me; it’s a warm, comforting feeling.

I love the products of the sun’s light – green growing things – leaves, flowers, grass, etc.

I love the heat produced by the sun (I hate being cold so summer is a welcome thing!).

Without light we would not be able to see the multitude of colours in God’s creation.

In addition to all these things, I am thankful for the concept of Light.  The Bible (and John in particular) uses the imagery of ‘light’ to help us understand the nature and character of God better.  I did a quick search of “light” in the New Testament (NRSV) and 76 verses popped up.

Joh 1:9  The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

Joh 3:19  And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. Joh 3:20  For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. Joh 3:21  But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

1Co 4:5  Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive commendation from God.

There’s a pastor (Rob Bell) that’s stirring up a lot of controversy as he questions the traditional concept of hell in his new book Love Wins (A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. Rob Bell addresses one of the most controversial issues of faith—the afterlife—arguing, would a loving God send people to eternal torment forever…? With searing insight, Bell puts hell on trial, and his message is decidedly hopeful—eternal life doesn’t start when we die; it starts right now. And ultimately, Love Wins.)

I find it very interesting that the Eastern Orthodox Church holds a very different view of hell than our traditional Protestant view.  From the Wiki Gnomes:

The Eastern Orthodox church teaches that Heaven and Hell are being in God’s presence which is being with God and seeing God, and that there no such place as where God is not, nor is Hell taught in the East as separation from God. One expression of the Eastern teaching is that hell and heaven are being in God’s presence, as this presence is punishment and paradise depending on the person’s spiritial state in that presences. For one who hates God, to be in the presence of God eternally would be the gravest suffering.

When I read verses about “light” and especially John 3:19-21 (listed above) the Eastern Orthodox idea of hell makes a lot more sense to me.  And if I had not studied that particular passage a view years ago I might have thought of Rob Bell as a heretic as some other people are thinking.

If I think about God’s judgement as a natural consequence of choosing the darkness instead of the Light it seems to fall more in line with God’s character.  We consider people who torture others in this world as being evil, as committing unspeakable acts.  If God is Light and there is no darkness in him, how much “darker” can you get than deliberately torturing someone forever in fiery Hell?  It just doesn’t make sense to me.

Thinking about this life, the afterlife, the character of people, and the character of God makes more sense to me when framing it from the concept of ‘light’ and ‘dark’.  I am thankful the Bible has so much listed along those lines.

And lastly, I am thankful for God’s light of illumination, where He reveals more of Himself to me and I can grow in my relationship with Him.


Thanks…today?

As promised I’ve been trying to write one post a week about something in which I am thankful.  Today is a tuffy.  Last night was particularly rough with my oldest son and it didn’t leave me feeling very good (or thankful).  Today was busy with various activities and I haven’t had a chance to sit down and think about thankfulness…until right now.

I could list a number of quick easy things that I am thankful for: heat, sight, colors, cameras, friends, a wonderful loving husband, etc.  But my goal was for a little more depth in my blog posts.

Yesterday was the 9 year anniversary of my first husband, Mike Fisher’s, death.  A lot has changed in 9 years.  I have changed a lot in 9 years; the kids have changed a lot in 9 years.  I miss Mike.  I’d like him to see what kind of person I’ve become.  I think he would have a lot of fun with Matthew (his youngest son) and I think Matthew would really like his dad.  I’m not sure how he would react to David (his oldest son).  He might be saddened by how difficult life has been for David.  But then again he might have some words of insight, acceptance, love (coming from the other side of the grave) to offer for David.  I’m sure he would tell him that he loves him very much.

The last 9 years have been an amazing journey and I am a better person for it.  I have a deeper faith in God.  I’ve learned so much more about grace and bit by bit I am giving myself permission to accept God’s grace (versus my own perfectionism).

So…yep… that’s what I’m thankful for today: the journey.  I used to squirm whenever I heard talk about the importance of “the journey” more than the destination.  I just wanted to get where I needed to get to…NOW!  I didn’t want to have to suffer through “the journey”.  The journey was not always pleasant and I wanted to skip past the unpleasantness and arrive.  But now I see that it is in “the journey” that growth, maturity, transformation happens.  It is by walking those valleys of unpleasantness that my relationship with God deepens.  My faith is strengthened and I am tossed less and less by the wind and the waves of my circumstances.

My journey has not been easy but the rewards have outweighed the adversity.  And so I am thankful.  Thankful that God saw fit to take me on this journey so I could experience His love and grace in amazing ways.