immigration

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.]  

Canadian Thanksgiving and the Kingdom of God

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I always say I’m Canadian through the gift of immigration. It’s funny how that small stamp in our passports back in 2012, gives us a freedom we did nothing to defend, earn, or build. Immigration has taught my husband and me so much about the kingdom of God.

Though we were not born here, we get to call this nation our home and enjoy the same stability, peace, and prosperity as any other Canadian. This paints a picture of the kingdom of God, by which we face each day covered in grace and acceptance, just like the Son.

The hard things that bring shame, the hurts we carry, the ones we carelessly inflict, all – forgiven. Every day we get to face 24 hours worth of mercies. Grafted into a family, we enjoy a membership we didn’t work for, or pay. Through no doing of our own, we belong.

Yet membership is not always easy. Adaptation is the hallmark of being an immigrant. From your new home address, which will take more than a year to feel like home, to grasping social cues and looking awkward because you haven’t grasped them yet. You are frequently settling in and thus feel unsettled often. You feel your life uprooted, and taking root elsewhere is challenging.

Isn’t that like the kingdom of God? We are placed in it because we are in dire need of saving. The very process is painful. Being saved often will mean having to confront things we considered familiar, normal, and even comforting. After all, having our way feels like that. So, letting go feels contrary to our intuition.

Grafting connotes pain and certainly discomfort, for it includes cutting from somewhere to place elsewhere. But it also means new life will stem from the graft.  I googled the definition to shed some light. Graft: noun - a shoot or twig inserted into a slit on the trunk or stem of a living plant, from which it receives sap. The very purpose of grafting is so that the inserted piece may feed from the living organism where it’s been placed.

In this, our sixth Canadian Thanksgiving, celebrating with our small group, I got to see this so clearly. Looking around the room, I saw twelve very different people. From early twenties to mid-forties, some students, some working full time, some married, others single, a few born and raised in Canada, while several grafted from as far as the Middle East and Asia, all under one roof, filling the space with laughter that has no accent, while skin colors of every tone.

We come with a specific history, a set of beliefs, and our own ideas and preferences. And it is in the body of Christ that we sharpen one another’s edges by the work of the Holy Spirit, using imperfect, flawed vessels placed together under His grace. Jesus is the living water who feeds us new life.

I think belonging is one of the deepest needs we feel as humans. We long to be part of a clan, to have a community and say, “these are my people,” because it means we are known, seen, and heard.

But I think belonging is also one of the hardest things for us. We need it to survive and thrive because belonging creates an opportunity for needs to be seen and met. We end up undressing our hearts and letting our messy parts spill out. Whether we need fellowship, a plate of food, or clarity for a moral dilemma, belonging to His family calls to wash feet and raise our hands when our own feet need washing. It’s hard and beautiful.

He is building a new kingdom where every tongue, tribe and nation is represented. The colliding of all those accents, histories, and colours, makes for a beautiful tapestry, more unique in the sum of its parts, than any one of them all by itself. It makes for a messy picture this side of heaven but a glorious one in the life to come.

The transformation from a life lived according to me, to one lived according to Him, is nothing short of a miracle. That is the result of cutting and replanting us; the miracle is less of me and more of Jesus because all of me is being moulded into His likeness.

On this Thanksgiving, as I ponder on His active work of cutting and replanting my life, I want to invite you to look for His work in your life. A prayer for us both-

Lord thank you for saving us, that we may have new Life.

Give us eyes to see the present circumstances of our season in light of your plan. Help us remember you are building a Kingdom to make your name famous, through the miracle of changed redeemed lives,

and that redeeming and changing is what you are doing in our lives every day through cutting and grafting.

Lord reveal our heart to us. Where are we refusing to be grafted and take root with you? Show us and give us teachable hearts, willing to yield to you Lord.

Grafting is painful Lord, you know because you were willing to be cut from heaven and grafted into humanity, renouncing your power and glory, for death on a cross. Thank you, Jesus!

Please help us to trust you with our broken pieces, as you cut and graft them to renew us.

Fill our hearts with joy we pray,

That strange joy that coexists with more questions than answers, because we know the One who holds all answers. Lord we pray for blooms, a fruitful life in the things that matter to you.

We love you, and we need you, for everything.

In Jesus’ name we pray- amen!

We Want to Be Known

We all want to be known. To be known makes us feel like we belong. When we are known, we feel acknowledged in our personhood. It says we are more than a name and last name. It recognizes we have a story comprised between another time and right here. To know someone is to make them feel seen and heard. See their life and hear their voice.

The longer the gap between another time and now, the harder it gets. My husband and I immigrated in our early 40’s. For the past six years we’ve called Canada home. It has been an inexpressible blessing and longed for answer to prayer. It has also been one of the hardest things we’ve done.

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Immigration is a “starting over” of sorts. It’s moving to a new address, times 20. In a new setting, you become a stranger surrounded by strangers. The experiences that have up to this point filled the pages of your life, feel suspended with a to be continued. You are an accent and a nationality. Beyond that, there is no point of reference or previously existing connection. You literally must start all that process over. Build points of reference, create connection. All the while adapting to a new everything – culture, geography, language, climate, customs, etc. Right in the middle of your lifespan.

The things that make us known, I’ve realized, have to do with others. In your setting, you are someone’s long time neighbour, this person’s daughter, that school’s alumna, or their friend. And the people with whom you have shared your life through the years know these things about you, because they were there with you. They are witnesses to your life, they know your story, and they are part of it. And you are part of theirs.

Over the past month we’ve had the joy of meeting up with several different friends passing through Canada. It’s been a tremendous gift to share a bit of our new life with old friends. It always makes the new feel more like home. Just this weekend, the couple who taught the college Sunday school class when I was a college student, visited Montreal from the US as part of their summer travels. We met up on Sunday at the church we attend and after service we took them to one of our favorite places for lunch.

We laughed at old stories and found new ones to share. We talked for hours about anything and everything. We had seen each other over the years, but to see them here, that was a special gift. It was a conversation as rich as it was familiar. The richness of sharing a plethora of common interests and the comfort of familiarity that makes long clarifications unnecessary and awkward pauses inexistent.

That comfort– it says I know you and I know your story, we only need to pick up somewhere and the words just flow. When we are known, don’t we feel like we fit in? To feel and be known, I need others. Self-sufficiency is of no value here. When life’s joys, hurts, trials, and growth have witnesses who knew me then, have known me since, and know me now, I don’t feel alone because I am not.

When you are a stranger, you don’t know anyone, and people don’t know you. It’s hard to feel like you belong when you feel like a stranger. I think that’s why it is almost a primal need for us to be known. The two are intimately connected in the human heart. It hits me then; God wants me to know Him, that I may see how deeply known I am: “My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” Psalm 139:15-16 (NIV).

 All the days, including the previous 40 years spent elsewhere. And all the days after. Including those part of my Canadian life. In my life I have been blessed with extraordinary friendships. I know that well. So being far from them is very hard. They’ve known me for 20 or more years. They know all the messy details.

So does God – “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?” Psalm 56:8 (ESV)

I’ll admit having the comfort of a human voice who I’ve known for the better part of my life is what I want to have always near me. As with any lack for something good we’ve had and want more of, it becomes an invitation to trust the Lord. To get to know Him, His character, His promises. To believe Him. He has provided and blessed me many times over. But what I need the most is to know the God I belong to who knows me intimately.