first draft series

We don't serve perfection; we serve the perfect One.

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We don't serve perfection; we serve the perfect One. There’s a difference.

Because when we serve Jesus it’s not about having all our variables in order. We make room for Him. We carve the intention to be in His presence in the life we live, in the day we are having; not the one we think we should.

This weekend something happened that brought this home for me in a very tangible and unexpected way. It was a small occurrence, made of regular life, which is what made it so important for me to note. It reminded me of the tyranny of perfection. How crippling a mindset it is to want and expect circumstances to align for us to feel like we can proceed. Like we are worthy.

I experienced blessing in the midst of incomplete and very imperfect circumstances. After a busy Saturday, filled with cooking, meaningful conversation with new friends about ministry and life, cleaning up, and some reading, I went to bed tired and sleepy. That state which warrants you will fall into a heavy slumber. Oddly though, after a while my body was wide awake and very restless.

What started as a sleep disturbance around 1 am felt very much like spiritual warfare by 4 am when I was cold, hungry, and anxious. Through the long hours I got up, walked around, changed into something warmer, tried to read, prayed, and ate something. All to no avail. I can’t remember when I fell asleep, but it was likely around 5 am.

Unaware of all this my husband had slept through the night and woken up with some dental pain. I woke up later than I needed to make it out the door on time to catch our bus and get to church. I was achy and exhausted. Although he was getting ready, when he saw me and heard the night I had he said we could just stay home. I laid in bed for a few minutes, feeling my joints ache and my back tense from the wretched sleepless night, I tried to visualize the rest of my Sunday. I’d drag my exhausted body heavy with fatigue out of bed and veg out on the couch.

The image left me wanting for something. I felt hungry for sermon words, weird as it may sound. Thoughtful challenging reflections to chew on, to look up on my own. My soul longed for the act of coming together under one roof to intentionally set my heart on the receiving end of what God does and gives when people come together to purposefully worship Him. The sentiment echoes this verse: “My soul languishes for Your salvation; I wait for Your word.” Psalm 119:81

I knew we would be SO late. Epic late, I thought. Not just the usual 10 or 15 minutes, but we’d likely miss half of the sermon. Yet, as wrong and incomplete as being that late felt, the alternative left me feeling worse. I knew I wouldn’t sleep and would just stay home and watch a movie or read. My body would get another chance at rest later in the evening, but my soul was longing for something that only comes on Sundays.

So, dragging my tired limbs out of bed I told my husband I wanted to attend church, late and all. I used a very quick shower to soothe the ache and help me wake up, gulped the oatmeal he made for me, and out the door we rushed.

 We caught the last third of the sermon, I think. When we arrived, the preached was elbow deep in his exposition of Acts 2. I savored what I grasped and listened in. New insights brought to light from familiar passages made me smile as I tried to take notes. Too tired, I put the pen and journal away and simply paid close attention, enjoying the experience of discovering new truths. I made a mental note to re-read the chapter later when more rested and take notes. (I did so this morning - totally worth it!).

Soon after, the sermon ended, and the worship team came on stage and closed with a hymn and a couple of contemporary pieces. While the gathering stood for the singing, we remained seated due to the excess fatigue. As I sang, from my seat in a low tired voice, “Thou my best thought, by day or by night, Waking or sleeping, thy presence my light,” the words rang deep in my soul. Indeed, I thought recalling the hellish evening and slow morning, whether sleepless or rested, by day or by night, God you are best thought.

 I left with a full heart. My tired self showing up to church almost 40 minutes late, felt like a meager and even shameful offering. But the alternative, which was to keep my tired self away, would also mean staying tired spiritually. One third of a sermon was better than no sermon at all. Saying a quick hello to a few friends was better than seeing no friends at all. While there are times when the best thing we can do is stay in bed and rest, I knew in my tired bones this wasn’t it.

 When we left my body was still very tired, but I noticed that my spirit wasn’t. I felt physically tired, but emotionally I felt joyful, satiated. The experience reminded me that drawing near to God is a respite. That the size of our offering - in this case how properly we show up - is secondary to the size of the grace and blessing that comes from drawing near to Him. That our souls need as much nourishment and rest as our bodies do. And that I don’t serve perfection, I serve the perfect One. Jesus, who doesn’t keep me from Him based on how well put together I show up. His love and approval are boundless and unchanging because they’re based on His heart not ours.

I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you.
— Psalm 63:5 NIV

[This is part of the “first-draft” series. If you want to know what it is and why I’m doing it you can read about it here.]

 

A Ministry of Words

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What do a large stage in Alberta, a tiny francophone church in Montreal, and my neighborhood coffee shop have in common? A ministry of words to steward, that’s what.


After I left the corporate world although I did not know it at the time, I was leaving behind a whole way of seeing the world and myself. Definitions of success and meaningful work would take on new wording. Through long months of soul searching, prayer, digging deep in God’s Word, and talking with my husband, I realized words were deeply important to me. And what until now had been a necessary tool and a fun one even, to leverage for my team and clients; was now to become an offering.


I discovered my knack for speaking if you will, through the PowerPoint presentation. Yes, that mandatory rite of passage for most corporate careers. I quickly realized I was at ease speaking to a room full of clients and I felt deeply engaged with my stakeholders when delivering their findings for any given quarter. I was not a fan for all the hard work it took to prepare one, especially in market research where the work entails interacting with statistics but did it gladly to offer the insights that came from that work.


I remember when I first felt the Lord calling me to a ministry of words. I wasn’t sure what it all entailed, what it was supposed to look like. But I pressed on in prayer and around that time younger women from our church started to ask if we could meet up for coffee to chat about career, life, and faith. My husband and I, a couple in our 40s are among the “older folks”. We chuckle, as in our previous life we were among the younger couples. Now, given our age and life experience, in a young church, we are vessels. I knew He was asking me to make myself available to listen, to devote some of the open spaces on my calendar and receive the words of others. So I did.


Around the same time, I felt called to write. It would take another two years before I’d take very insecure steps toward stringing words together in my first blogging attempt before taking it offline to regroup. In the meantime, I had a lot of coffee, listened in, and replied to questions and shared about my own experiences, along with the insight gained from the Bible.

God had placed on my heart this exhortation: to be a good speaker you need to become a good listener. And the practice of listening had to start with God’s Word. To listen closely to what I was reading, to dig deeper into it and in the process let it dig deeper into my soul. These things would then blend into the conversations I engaged in as I learned to listen.

The art of receiving words and offering them is at the heart of learning to steward them. A quick search online for the definition of stewardship yields this: “the job of supervising or taking care of something, such as an organization or property.” How fitting that to steward means to take care of something, to supervise it.

In calling me to a ministry of words to steward, He is asking that I learn to care for and supervise how I am going to use the words I speak and write. How fitting that this should start with the quiet everyday practice of meeting Him in His Word. The act of reading it, learning it, wrestling with it, praying over the words I read, treasure them.


And how fitting that this would be accompanied by the call to make time for others’ words to reach my ears. To learn to create a space for them to share and ask and wrestle. How much, His Word, His people, and His call to serve are pivotal to my learning to steward the words He puts on my heart to share.


All of this reminds me how much we are not meant to do life on our own, or,  on our own terms. That our gifts aren’t going to be uncovered, invested, and, nor will they flourish if we don’t start with His voice giving the guiding steps, and don’t engage with others to sharpen and be sharpened. Lastly, it reminds me that healthy growth happens over time, not overnight. That small everyday obedience matters more than any big picture idea. And to have one you need the other.

As I continue to learn to steward the words that weigh on my heart, and continue to pray for opportunities to offer them where needed, I want to share two exhortations:

The first-

You may not be one called to a ministry of words per se. At least not in the specific form of speaking, teaching and writing, like me. But, if you believe in God and follow Jesus as your Savior, then you are called to season your words with His. And that starts with spending time to read and learn His Word. No other endeavour is more worthy of our time and effort, I promise! It’ll keep you coming back for more. And in the process, it will make you a good listener. Which in turn will give you a door to say timely words as the Spirit leads.


The second -

Beginnings are hard. They are also exciting. And they always start small. So whatever you hold in your heart and hope to see flourish, be encouraged and take heart! Small obedience counts for everything. Pray and seek the Lord, spend time with Him, read His Word, and ask for guidance. He will meet you and use your availability to teach you, bless you, and use you for the blessing of others.

 

[This is part of the “first-draft” series. If you want to know what it is and why I’m doing it you can read about it here.]  


Making a way for the King in every corner of Canada

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I’m just returning from a five-day trip to the Canadian mid-west, in Grande Prairie, Alberta, for a speaking engagement, that turned out to speak to and engage my heart far more than anything I went over there to do. That’s how God’s economy works, isn’t it? We pray and obey, and He meets us on the other end of that obedience, with His presence.

For two years my husband and I have been praying for the opportunity to speak and teach beyond our local church, in response to a deep sense of calling and desire to share words that encourage and point women to God’s Word. The answer came through the invitation to speak at the Women Encouraged 2019 Conference. It was a surprise that bears deep meaning to this new Canadian.

Our world is large and messy; you just have to look at the headlines. But it’s also rendered small and familiar when you enter a space where people love the Lord and seek to learn and live His Word. Leaving Montreal behind, two plane rides and six hours later, with a two-hour time difference for good measure, I found Grande Prairie women and families busy displaying so much His beauty in their hospitality, faith, and love for one another and for a God they seek to serve so faithfully, it was a gift.

I made a new friend from Nigeria, who like me, has now become Canadian through the gift of immigration. I met ladies from as far as Belize, and as local as a 20-minute drive to the church hosting the conference. Finally I was able to put faces to names I’d been collaborating with for months. We sat together, broke bread and broke in laughter over shared stories.

I listened to Glenna Marshall, lead us into worship with both beautiful singing, and later sound teaching, as she walked us through the Bible story showing a God who wants to dwell with His people. Also, we had the opportunity to sit under the teaching of Bethany Barendregt, who leads the ministry Women Encouraged, which hosted the conference. Her voice and heart deeply familiar to me, as the Lord crossed our paths over a year ago through a writing group. Both spoke messages centering around what the Word of God says about Himself to us and for us. That while it’s not about us, it is our very life-line. Because to know Him is to live. And that our compass for behaviour rests on what is already done, and what we think, and feel is to be filtered through His Truth.

I’m honoured to have shared a stage with these women. But more importantly, deeply moved that we all get to point to the higher stage where Jesus is high and lifted up, and where our permanent citizenship belongs.

For my part, while soaking our minds in the letter to the Colossians, I shared a bit of the story of deep change God has performed in my life, against the backdrop of God’s big and forever story of pursuing us to make us whole, and how our identity rests on whose we are, not what we do in terms of performance or results. All of us one goal: to make much of Jesus and to whet our appetites for His life-giving Word. It was a most precious time that moved me deeply to worship even more the Author of us all.

When the Gospel is the connective tissue that binds us together, what makes us different becomes a trace of beauty from our Maker we image to one another. Distance and accents become evidence of God’s work elsewhere. He really does have the whole world in His hands.

I’m a city girl through and through. I was born in a capital city and have always lived in cities. Being an extrovert, I enjoy the noise of cars, the sound people’s shoes make on pavement and general urban hums. I spent nearly a week in a snowed-in plain, where “she lives right over here” was a 35-minute ride down a road that was a beautiful expanse of cold white slumber as far as the eye could see.

My city heart felt the isolation of so much distance between each dwelling, where nothing but road and nature separated houses from each other for kilometers/miles at a time. It was a welcomed remoteness because it invited the eyes to see, and the heart to behold, the work of God in a land of generous hearts. I loved it all.

In it, I remembered that God is everywhere His people dwell. And, it showed His people are scattered everywhere. Because He means to pursue and redeem this race of ours. So, you can find Him in the hustle and bustle of a city with the aroma of French croissants baking on a street corner. As well as the quiet, peaceful kindness of the great North with the stranger that opens her home and welcomes you with the delicious aroma of a home cooked meal, simply because you are part of God’s family.

God is busy doing a new thing. He’s at work, moving His people, raising disciples in every corner or the world, every crevice of society and square mile of land. He’s raising a people for Himself one soul at a time, and His kingdom looks like snowy roads for miles on end, like immigrant accents sharing a table with those born and raised in the cold beautiful North, like women from various walks of life and traditions, speaking all the same language; the language of a Hope that is based on where we’ll spend eternity. That same language infuses today with courage because of the Truth recorded for us in Scripture, because eternity begins right here right now. What a joy it is to see His people working together, making a way for the King!

But to all who did receive him, who beleived in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh, not of the will man, but of God.
— John 1:12-13

[This is part of the “first-draft” series. If you want to know what it is and why I’m doing it you can read about it here.]  

To grow we must be pruned

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The Christian faith is one where pain is a key component. And while most human beings find a natural aversion to pain, nowhere is this truer than in Western, and especially North American culture. For us, not just pain, but any semblance of discomfort, is deemed unacceptable. Our abundance and modernity have allowed for unprecedented comfort and convenience. Believe I’m as guilty/ delighted as anyone. With online grocery shopping and delivery service, my life has never been so easy, or convenient. I do 90% of my shopping from my laptop in my pj’s while sipping my morning coffee,and schedule the delivery for the day and time that most suits me. Convenient and predictable - yes please, thank you!  

The other side of this predictable convenient existence though, is that it has harmed our ability to weather and welcome life unscheduled and unpredictable. We see it in our attitude when a page takes longer than 3 seconds to load on our browser, or when what we want and expect to find at the store, is not available. If these instances catch us on a particularly bad day, our reaction can put a damper on the hours left with our poor families, colleagues, or friends.

We don’t like being inconvenienced. But we especially strongly dislike the notion that we will go through hardship, and so we freeze upon the possibility that something will push us outside of the area where we excel, where the roads and shortcuts are familiar to us, and where we feel we have control.

I personally sit in the tension of the self  I’m most familiar with, and the one I’m informed about in the Bible. Said tension is in essence what I write about in this blog. Hence its tagline “in the intersection of between everyday life and eternal perspective.”

That wrestling between the part of us that is asked to pick a heavy piece of wood and follow Someone; when all I want to do is sit irritated that no one is acting on my expert knowledge of how things are and ought to be, and everyone’s failure to follow suit.

What the Bible informs

Let's talk agriculture for a moment. The process of cultivating, to be more specific. First, the soil needs breaking. Being broken is what makes it ready for planting. Once seeds are placed, tending must follow. And then, a prolonged pause happens waiting for the harvest. During that prolonged pause where waiting seems to be the only thing taking up calendar days (instead of satisfying to-do’s we get to mark of) there actually is a lot of activity underneath all that dirt. It is during this last stage where growth takes place.

Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.
— John 15:2 (ESV)

He prunes so that we can bear fruit. The first time I heard this passage preached and unpacked I did not know the word pruning. It was in the early 90’s during my first year of university. Thinking it was because English was my second language,  I looked it up in Spanish only to realize I didn’t know it either. So, the issue was not language, but that I wasn’t familiar with plants at all.

More than 20 years later, doing my own inductive study of John’s gospel, I appreciated the details in John’s account. I took notice of the language and the intention. The cultural sensitivity revealed in the choice of analogy. Jesus often spoke in parables and used storytelling to illustrate important principles of the faith he came to live out for us.

He was speaking to an audience familiar with farming and agriculture. The people at that time derived their very livelihood from it. It was their day to day and means to make a living. Here he was, the Maker of everything using the very creation He had authored to paint a picture of how God parents us.

Pruned literally means to cut a part of a plant so that it will grow. The removal of a piece of its own composition will help the whole grow healthy. How interesting. I think of things that feel so close to me, so familiar and intimate, that its removal seems unbearable. Our reaction to the mere possibility ranges  from irritation when something doesn’t go our way; to utter despair when we feel out of our depth and the deep sense of injustice to have been placed in a predicament without our doing.

God’s economy is as wide as it is generous. So He is constantly pruning out of us the self that wants to stay comfy and the same always. Because that self has no interest in Him and will not naturally draw near to Him. That self is often found holding what we think is the reins of our lives, when in reality it is our spiritual demise we are holding on to. And so committed is God to our sanctification that both the mundane traffic jam-like irritations, and the deep crisis will He use to prune the parts of us that impede our soil to be broken and good seed to take root in our lives. Because the end goal is not to makes us comfy, but to make us like His Son.

What are you wrestling with deep in your soul right now? Ask in your heart; Am I resisting God’s pruning? Because, remember, His purpose in removing something from our being is in order to help us grow and be whole.

[This is part of the “first-draft” series. If you want to know what it is and why I’m doing it you can read about it here.]

The Main Thing Amidst all the things

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Today I had a busy day full of tasks. The kind that feel tedious but move our lives forward bit by bit. Things like sorting, washing, and folding laundry; making red lentil soup; washing and drying my hair ( I have long hair, so it’s definitely a task). There were also messages I needed to catch up with, reply to, and people to connect with. This too moves forward life. Actually quite an important part of it, as I’m sure most of us would agree.

Then I saw the time. The middle of the afternoon found me accomplished as far as my to do, yet distracted. I realized that I had not had a moment with Scripture all day. You see, I normally do that in the morning after getting up and making breakfast. Today, because I wanted to get done as much as possible, I woke up a bit earlier and tackled the day’s chores. Using every pocket of time, capitalizing on the interim of each activity to start or continue another. Chopping veggies while waiting to go downstairs to the laundry room to transfer our clothes from the washer to the dryer. Replying to a message between folding towels and sheets. And so on. My early morning and afternoon a symphony of efficiency in multi-tasking.

So with supper cooked, laundry done, and hair freshly washed and blow dried to style, my mind felt scattered and my soul distracted. I had addressed my to do list with gusto and now the rest of me was asking to be fed. I grabbed my notes, my Bible, and sat at my desk. Re-read where I left off yesterday and continued on to the next portion, Colossians 1:14-20.

I’m going through the whole epistle in small portions to outline it and simmer my mind in the words Paul so thoughtfully composed for a church he didn't plant but loved and which was steering away from the main thing, giving weight to matters of no consequence. To address this Paul begins with the Truth on which all hinges - who is Jesus?

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
— Colossians 1:15-20 (ESV)

I read Paul’s words and repeat them in my own: Jesus. He is EVERYTHING. The invisible God made visible. Holding all things together. Because all things were created by and through Him. He is the beginning. He holds the fullness of God. He reconciles, making peace with his blood shed on the cross.

And just like that, no more than 30 or so minutes, my thoughts and emotions, aligned once more. All the to-dos done could not give me that. Paul’s words written to a group of beleivers millenia ago, who were struggling with what was and wasn’t first order matters, reminded me how much I need that reminder too.

I got a lot of things done today. I have a fed husband and a closet full of clean neatly folded clothes and an almost up to date inbox to show for it. All good things by any measure, and a sing of a life in process; moving forward as it should. But it was those 30 or minutes that made sense of the rest of the hours, brought into perspective all the things, as His things, and made for the best part of my day. So much so, that here I am sitting down writing a first-draft post about it because it’s that important for me to record and capture life in the moment when that Life is Jesus Himself, the Word made flesh speaking to me through Paul’s words to a church on the other side of the world and time, reminding me that He is the main thing. Always and forever. From the first to the last. And that all things are held together by Him. Laundry, supper, messages, and my personal hygiene included. And remembering that holding it in the middle of my otherwise accomplished busy day is what made any of it meaningful. Those 30+ minutes reading, dwelling, and simmering those 8 verses, and thus spending time in His Word, were the best accomplishment of the day. May I always need it and carve space for it as a main thing on which all other things rest. Late or early, long or brief; worth it every. single. time.

[This is part of the “first-draft” series. If you want to know what it is and why I’m doing it you can read about it here.]



On Writing Unpolished to keep on Writing with Purpose

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If you’ve been reading me for a while you know that for the better part of last year I wrote regularly, publishing one thoughtful post every Tuesday. It was my commitment to myself and a group of supportive friends, for accountability and to help me stay consistent. By the end of the year, I was mentally exhausted. I learned that writing of that nature once a week was not sustainable for me, as it demanded time and mental energy at a pace I was not able to keep.

But 27 days into this year I realized that my writing needed attention. My writing muscles needed exercise to hone my voice. You learn to do something by doing it and making the mistakes that come with doing something for the first, second, and fiftieth time. You learn to write by writing. So, I need to write.

I need the fluidity that comes with a more unabridged way of writing. Otherwise, the time and effort it takes to write “properly” will keep me from writing at all. This atrophies the writing muscles. Which I realized is what’s happening. So, to help me warm up my writing muscles I will blog in a more “first-draft style”. What I hope to accomplish is more frequent writing even if less polished.

Needless to say, it is scary and humbling to write like this. I fear of coming across thoughtless and careless in my craft. But, ironically, it is by giving myself the space to write this way, that I hope to warm up my creative muscles and hone my skill to produce better work. Everything needs to start somewhere, and all writing begins with a first draft.

Inspired by a discussion Tim Challies started on the subject of blogging, and this post by Trillia Newbell, both whose writing I enjoy and respect, I decided to write more informally from now on until June. The exception, of course, will be those pieces I submit to other outlets like Women Encouraged which I also share on my blog as part of my writing.

In the end, the kind of writing I (and most writers) attempt to do is meaningful when shared with a reader. It is a privilege to share one’s thoughts with a willing listener. So I ask for your leniency dear reader, while I use this season to warm up my writing muscles.

What will not change is the intention behind all my writing. I wish with my words to beckon the reader to navigate the human experience with an eternal perspective. Because it’s where the follower of Christ is to spend his or her life. And that is a fact that should affect and color everything about our present. So I will continue to aim to write from that perspective, even in first-draft style :)

I confess I did a little editing with this post before posting, but considerably less than usual. Moving forward, for this series I will write when I can and give myself a set amount of time to write and post. No editing or wrecking my brain what pretty picture can I take to go with it. I will use what I have on hand or take a quick one (sorry ahead of time!). The idea is to write, and make it about that. This quote by Julia Cameron comes to mind: “Making writing a big deal tends to make writing difficult. Keeping writing casual, tends to make it possible.”

Trillia, thank you for the freedom and permission I feel your initiative provided!