known by God

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.]  

Labels reduce, the Cross exalts

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“I wonder what this will cost me?”, I said to my husband right before sharing an article on social media about Jackie Hill Perry’s latest book. The book moved me deeply and my hope was that after reading the article, others would be curious to read the book too. He reassured me I should share it as worthwhile content. He was right. So, after posting the article along with my own enthusiastic recommendation of Gay girl, good God, as one my top reads this year, I put the phone down.

Shortly after posting I saw the first comment. There was pushback that misrepresented the piece and more importantly an open hostility against it. Jackie’s story, the article commenting on her book, and my own commentary, were all mixed together as part of the harmful efforts of the evangelical agenda against the LGBT community.

While I don’t expect everyone to agree with the faith professed by myself or the article, I realized it was likely they had not even read the article. The tone and words employed to express said push-back were out of sync with the spirit of the article. I understood it was a reaction to something more than what was shared. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said,

Nothing that we despise in other men is inherently absent from ourselves. We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or don’t do, and more in light of what they suffer.”

I wrote a short comment thanking them for their honesty, and affirming my affection for the person, as it was someone I know in real life. A short time later, they deleted the thread on their own accord and wrote me privately, where they apologized, and we engaged in written conversation for a long while.

During our private exchange, my friend expressed alarm at the harm the evangelical community was doing. It was a frank comment, and I took it seriously. While there are plenty of instances where in the name of religion people have engaged in behaviour unbecoming of the gospel they profess to uphold, I wondered how was that the case with my sharing this article? It didn’t matter. Their mind was made up.

I looked up the word evangelical in the dictionary. The root comes from the Greek evangelos, in reference to good news according to the Gospels or the New Testament, adding “of those Protestant churches that emphasize salvation by faith in Jesus.” (Webster’s New World Dictionary, Fifth Edition). It is an accurate word to briefly describe my faith.

As a person who writes and speaks openly about her faith in Jesus, I fall under the umbrella of evangelical. A word that has come to mean many things beyond the dictionary’s definition, and which groups points of views and behaviours I do not subscribe to yet fall under by virtue of being a Christ follower.

When do words cease being an indicator to inform, and become a label to categorize people? I think when we don’t understand something, and a word becomes easier than the time and energy it would take for us to know. Not agree with, but understand. We all do it.

As I processed the aftermath of the whole article situation, I was reminded we all use labels. The label I was reduced to stands for homophobic, verbal abuse, and even violence. Although I was not personally accused of partaking in all of those, I was quickly judged as someone who endorsed it all and was guilty of the first one. Being regarded in that light left me winded.

All are actions heavily condemned in Scripture as they blatantly violate the supreme truth that ALL humans are created in God’s image, including and especially people we don’t like or agree with.

A follower of Jesus is called to uphold the Word of God with their actions. This means that the same Scripture that compels me to stand for the rights of the unborn for example, equally compels me to treat with dignity and respect those who don’t share that conviction. This is a nuance many are not ready to grant space in their thinking in our culture today.  

Whether the issue is abortion, sexuality, or something else, the discussion becomes black and white. Obliterating the fact that our thoughts and emotions usually run in shades of gray. We’ve blurred the lines of debate to labels void of character or humanity. It’s easier to lash out at the evangelical community, a faceless entity filled with hateful voices, than it is to debate amicably with a friend who disagrees with you.

With a sober mind I think of the times we’re tempted to use labels to explain away so we don’t like to engage in real conversation. For example, an immigrant stops meaning a person who moves from their country to a different nation. It now stands for lazy and opportunistic. Muslim is no longer someone from the Islam faith, but is now a horrible person bringing violence to our neighbourhood. Homosexual is no longer same-sex attracted, but dirty.

Those of us who follow a crucified Savor must be mindful of how we steward our words, especially in the way we think of others. Because whatever we hold in our hearts will eventually show up in our words and actions.

The way of the cross is costly and hard, because love always is. It cost the Father His only Son. And it cost Him, His life. Investing time to listen and get to know others will be uncomfortable. Not everyone will want to engage. And some may still react with disdain. This is part of the cost. And if Jesus deemed it worth it, we should do no less.

While my views on the gospel are uncompromising, there is a difference between saying things that oppose, and using rhetoric that reduces someone to a word intended to strip them of all but an adjective that makes us feel safer for keeping them away. I invite us all reading this to examine where in our hearts is there room for more time to listen, and less adjective calling?

I was reduced to evangelical as an adjective intended to close any further discussion with me and likely cost me a friendship. While I assume the cost as part of the price of picking up my cross to follow Jesus, I also take the whole experience as a sobering reminder to walk in humility and always see everyone first and foremost as the glorious expression of a God who chose to make us in His image, and be careful to never reduce anyone – myself included- to one word.

We are so much more friends. More than what words we want to attach to our personhood, more than those we heard all our lives and still hurt us, more than the good ones we fight hard to earn. We are His workmanship.

And when we look at humanity, may we see what God Himself sees; the work on the cross done by Jesus on behalf of a people who couldn’t do for themselves what God could.  

 

What do you want to see at the end of the year?

There are 56 days left till January shows up on a fresh new calendar on my wall. For most of us, I imagine, the next few weeks will be filled with a mixture of equal parts tired and excited. The demands of the season will stretch our calendars and budgets to capacity between events we need to plan, attend, and/or host, a myriad of gifts we want to purchase, and all the coordinating the season entails.

All the while everyday rhythms continue to carry the same load of responsibilities. Carpool, projects due, work routine, in short life goes on. The engine that is everyday life is still running on the same resources. The day still has only 24 hours, and we are still operating as one person with only two hands.

But the 50+ days we have, also means we have the luxury of time. Imagine 56 days from now, on December 31st, looking back. What do you want to see? How do you want to close the year and enter the next season?

Oddly I think the answer to this question is the same if I asked it this way: standing on January 1st facing the blank page in your agenda as it offers you a blank slate, what do you want to see?

I recently asked this question to a friend who is powering through papers and exams before heading home for Christmas. In sharing my own answers, I realized they would be similar if I was looking ahead on January 1st because in the end, at the core, I want to see a life lived well. What that looks like may vary from person to person, but I think most reading this probably share some common ground.

For me a life lived well looks like building relationships over empires. Whatever “empires” may be yours, mine usually have to do with wanting to be right and generally getting my way. I want a life that truly resembles that of a disciple, where my chief concern is to model myself after the One whose life makes mine possible.

I am learning that a life well lived for me, therefore, often looks like a life that is not entirely comfortable. It can be choosing the more difficult, less “natural” option of holding my tongue in an argument or using it to speak an apology after giving in to my frustration.

In the next few weeks, for all of us, it means that more important than getting all the shopping done on time, or checking off every item on the ever-growing to-do list, what will matter is being present and take life in moments not just tasks to be completed. The task, whether a trip to the grocery store for milk and eggs or to complete the next assignment for class, is filled with small choices along the way, which when compiled make up the person we are becoming.

It’s not about the eggs, or the milk, or the paper due. It’s about what it will require of us to move us forward in the calendar through December, and move us in life.

I think about the expression “a life hidden in Christ.” For something to hide me, it must contain or cover me. And for that, it needs to be larger than me. Otherwise, I am the one covering it.

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For me, a life well lived implies living my everyday choices in front of a much larger presence than just myself. Because let’s face it, after a while, a meltdown at the store with a tired child, or another sleepless night to finish up that proposal, begins to feel more like a hardship than an inconvenience, when it’s the twentieth meltdown this week, or you can’t remember when your life was reduced to project deadlines.

Let hardship minister to us in the hardened places of our hearts. When we are running low on patience and sanity, may we let the tired moment bend us to Christ to say “ I can’t, will you Lord, please?”

Will you give me the kind word I don’t feel like saying? Will you hold me together so I can hold this broken person in your name? Will you be my strength when my weakness is giving in, and I want to despair?

And open-handed ask for discernment and stamina to carry out the next step, one foot in front of the other, in grace that abounds. Whether that is to the parking lot to head home, or to the meeting room to explain you will need another day.

For me, a life well lived is one that acknowledges only with Jesus can it be so, and not on my own strength. Is a life that is weak because then He is strong. It’s hard. But strangely there is a comfort too. Weakness invites help and means it isn’t all up to you.

Who we are becoming is important, so let’s pay attention. The choices we make, are in turn, making us. And this happens in the everyday minutes. Those moments that are seemingly too mundane and small to have much significance. The to-do list and the calendar are filled with them, and require many of them, to move forward. I want to be a person who is present for the people and tasks that God has called me to, and who needs Jesus to do it.

Because the end of the year is particularly busy, here’s an exercise to help us. Make a list of all the things that need your attention between now and the last day of the year. Include all tasks, from baking cookies, cleaning the car, that recital that will take all the planning to pull off, the presentation coming up, choir practice, packing up to visit family, etc. All of it. Then, look over the list and imagine all the moments pregnant with possibility for meltdowns, headaches, and frustration, those tasks will require. Pray over the list and invite the Lord into the crazy. Ask Him for the grace to choose Him and to let yourself be held.

8 weeks from now we want to see memories that will outlive the items crossed off a list. We want to see Jesus because our life is hidden in His.

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:32-34 NIV

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.