What We Water Will Grow (part 2)

Because the grass is greener where we water it. So, water your soul in the well that never runs out-

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That is what dwelling in God’s Word has taught me. With these two posts my goal is to encourage you to seek God in Scripture, it’ll change your life!

In part 1 I shared how reading the whole Bible impacted my life. If you haven’t read it yet, or want a refresher, you can read it here. For part 2, I want to share a few of my favourite books and some tips to encourage you. At the end I will list some tools I found helpful to navigate the text.

Without a doubt, the most valuable aspect was to see the overarching theme of Scripture throughout all sixty-six books and the history they cover. While the books include hundreds of years spread across cultures and various territories, the story remains one and the same. It is God’s interaction with humanity. His creation, our fall, the necessary rescue, and the new life and hope He provides.

Indeed, God’s Word is piercing, it confronts, it holds us, comforts us. It can save and change a person’s heart. To read Scripture with a humble heart that desires to draw near to Him, is to have an encounter with the very God who commanded waters to quiet. It is an awe-striking experience from which you do not come back the same.  

My favourite book by far is Deuteronomy, which I shared in part 1 . Prior to reading the whole Bible, my favourite books were Psalms, Proverbs, and the Gospel of John. Although those are still among my favourites, my selection has widened to include some surprises.

In the Old Testament, for example, Ecclesiastes was a book I found dry and depressive in my 20’s though I could see value in its lessons. Reading it in my 40’s with different life experience and worldview, I found the same words freeing. Because everything is meaningless I can enjoy things without having to serve them. And then they are meaningful as gifts the Lord grants us for a time.

Proverbs has always been and will remain, a solid favourite. Its teachings often taken for promises are great observations for Christian living. They grab me by the heart today as they did twenty years back.

Hosea was among the minor prophets, the one I enjoyed most. How God uses the very names of Hosea’s children to illuminate His redemption story for His people, brought me to tears. Isaiah went from a book with a handful of chapters I had read and lovely quotes sung in Handel’s Messiah every Christmas, to a pivotal link between both testaments, and a gateway to a deeper understanding of Jesus’s pain, sacrifice, and Lordship. To see Jesus so clearly throughout the Old Testament narratives was a most compelling experience.

In the New Testament, to cover the gospels chronologically meant reading all four simultaneously. I loved the insight it provided into the writing voices of the different authors. John remains today, as twenty years back, my favourite book in the New Testament, and John 15 my favourite chapter.

Luke is now a favourite gospel too. I could appreciate his Greek heritage and medical training in his attention to detail. I often felt his words placed me quietly in the scene and showed me small moments of humanity in the face of the divine.  

It was exciting to read the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew as I recognized the names listed because I had read all the Old Testament! He wrote as a Jew for a Jewish audience to share that Jesus was the Messiah, and the text is rich and beautiful.

Both letters to the Corinthians and 1 Peter felt personal. Hebrews is a gem to understand the gospel. If I had to pick a favourite epistle, it would be Galatians. Finally, the book of Revelation was a phenomenal read. Purely from a reading standpoint, the book captures the imagination, frightens, and convicts. Regarding faith, it seals a precious Truth for the believer – God is in control, and His justice will prevail.

When I finally got to the New Testament, I read relieved and hopeful! Jesus is God confirming His intentional love and care for humanity. He is the promise in Genesis 3:15 delivered to fulfill what all the prophets foretold. Jesus embodies the ideals that wisdom literature points to.  He comes to show in human form the holiness and power and justice and love of God displayed throughout the Old Testament.

He is King and present in creation, yet also intercepts human history and binds Himself to the laws of space and time He fashioned. He came to fulfill the sacrifice that up to then could only be fulfilled by ritual through the law. He filled the gap of our inadequacy, which the law pointed to all along – our incapacity to attain holiness on our own. I wish I were a better writer to convey what my words fail to express!

I loved the experience of reading the whole Bible in chronological order and hope to do it again. But it is the reading of God’s Word that I want to encourage you to do. You don’t need to read it in chronological order to yield meaningful fruit.

All you need is to open your schedule, your Bible, and your hand to receive what He will give you through it. Establish a conversation with God today. He speaks through His Word, we respond by praying.

If you struggle, pray for a teachable heart and show up. That’s all. It doesn’t have to be fancy, complicated, or look a certain way. Ask a friend to do it with you or build accountability by sharing what you are learning. Put one foot in front of the other in the direction of His Word. Don’t let the tyranny of perfection get in the way.

If any given day all you have time to read is a couple of paragraphs or a handful of verses, read that and make it count. Chew on it, ask God to meet you there. Look for what the story or passage informs of His character, and how that changes you. Dig deeper; I promise you no endeavour is worth more your time and effort.

There were times when I felt that a few paragraphs were plenty because the book I was reading was so dense. If you fall behind in the reading plan you chose, or the goal you set out for yourself, don’t let that detract you. Invest what time you have, not the amount you think you should have. God wants the real you and will meet you right where you are. Read the next paragraph from where you left off.  The goal is not to have a perfectly completed plan. The goal is to create a habit of abiding in His written Word.

Whether that means to set an alarm, reserve thirty minutes of your lunch hour, or listen to the audio while you run or do laundry; whatever works during your season, bring a teachable heart. His Word will not return empty. What matters is not what it looks like, but what it does to you.

To build engagement and continuity, pick a book and read it through. The gospel of John is a good option, so are Genesis, or any of the epistles. You can do a paragraph of a chapter each day. If you are a mom of littles, or a busy student, you probably don’t have a lot of margin. It’s ok if all you have is 15 minutes between naps or 20 before class. Obedience is in the attitude, not the quantity. And faithfulness is built little by little, consistently, amidst the imperfections of life.  

To quote Jen Wilkin, the Bible is not about you, but it is for you. Time spent getting to know God in His Word is time not only well spent, but it’s also a lifeline. I found my thoughts changing as I kept reading intentionally, meditating the words and storing them in my mind. They’ve help me to grab hold of Truth when my emotions want to take me elsewhere.

Scripture is living water because the Spirit of God divinely inspired it. You and I thirst for that water, all the time, whether we can articulate it or not. Because it’s living, it will interact with the deepest part of our being and break the soil that is dry to make it soft and fertile to bear fruit that brings new life.

Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the LORD, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you. (Hosea 10:12 ESV)

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Tools that helped me:

·         A Study Bible was essential. Study Bibles contain a detailed introduction to each book, outlining its purpose, author, intended audience, historical context and date when it was written. I chose the ESV (English Standard Version) as the main translation because my intent to dig in and study, and for that, a word for word translation is best.

·         Reading different translations helped me grasp some texts that were harder and where my brain slowed down too much because the writing felt dense. Although I did all my reading in the ESV, I complimented with NIV (New International Version – a thought for thought translations) and CSB (Christian Standard Version) for some of the historical narrative books in the Old Testament. The NIV is very readable, and I found it particularly useful for devotional reading.

·         I would be remiss if I didn’t mention, as I have before, Jen Wilkin’s Women of the Word. That book forever changed how I approach my reading of the Bible ever since I read it a few years ago through a small group study at my local church. I can’t recommend it enough! It reads quickly. If you haven’t, get a copy and read it, you won’t regret it.

·         There are good online resources that can make some basic tasks quicker. If I wanted to compare a short exert in other translations, I would use BibleGateway and click on the option to see several on one screen.

·         For commentaries and other tools, Bibletools and BlueletterBible are useful to dig deeper. These also exist in app form that you can download on your phone.

·         Youversion was great for times I left early in the morning and didn’t have time to read. I would listen to the audio while on the subway on my way to an early meeting. It helped me to cultivate my time in the Word, no matter what.  

·         Often, when I’d finish a book, I would watch the corresponding video from the Bible Project. It is short, beautifully done, creative, and a great way to review what I had studied.

 

How can the Church love Single Women?

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I married late in life—at least later than my circle of close friends. I witnessed most of my friends’ relationships blossom and lead to marriage. Over the years, I saw several become parents before I was in a stable relationship at the age of thirty-three. My calendar was busy with weddings, and I had no one to attend them with. I didn’t mind not having a "plus one" to bring, but I worried that I was running out weddings to attend before I was the last woman standing with no wedding invitation to send. I remember well, being single is not easy.

Your single years can be …

My Rescue Story

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Some of us are rescued from the very life we’ve always wanted. Freedom from self is the hardest to understand because it goes against every narrative we hear and feed in our minds. Here is my freedom story which Heather graciously includes in her wonderful series -

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Heather: Okay, before we get into your story, I want to know some of the fun stuff! Tell me about where you’re from, what you love to do, and anything else that will give us a little slice into Paola’s life!

Paola: Several addresses and many accents along the way summarize my life. I was born in Spanish, live in French, and think in English! Born in Venezuela I was raised and educated between cultures. My formative years were spent between Europe and the US. I became a believer in college through the ministry of Inter-Varsity, and later joined a local church that became my home church for ten years. Years later I would return to Venezuela, now an adult. This makes me a TCK – short for Third Culture Kid.

Practically a foreigner, it would prove a hard experience, and by God’s grace, a great blessing. It was there that I met and married my husband. As the political situation there worsened, we began to …

What We Water Will Grow (part 1)

I learned this truth in a personal way as I wrapped up a difficult endeavor that proved worth every moment, mental effort, and sacrifice it required to be completed.  This is the first of a two-part post on my experience reading the whole Bible in chronological order.

As 2017 approached a few days away I was looking back and pondering on goals for the coming year. What needed to look different in 2017? I wanted my faith to take precedence over any other plan. It was clear that if anything else was to be planned and carried out, it would need to spring from a place of quiet mature faith. My mind was noisy, and my soul felt dry and spent. So, my first goal was to nurture my relationship with God.

In the 20+ years I’d been a believer, much of my knowledge of the Bible came from sermon notes and Bible studies. I had read a few of the books in their entirety and was acquainted with most through the instruction of pastors and respected writers. I was generally familiar with the overarching theme of the Word through these teachings but realized I did not have a personal grasp of the story. I had bits and pieces floating about in my heart, which I tried to grasp for comfort or counsel in moments of need. I wanted to have an anchor of understanding rather than ideas floating. It was time for me to go deeper in my relationship with God by way of His Word.

The same way we deliberately spend time with others when we want to get to know them better, I felt the need to be intentional in my reading and studying of Scripture. The goal was not to gain knowledge, but to get closer to God, to draw near to Him and let Him draw near to me. I wanted to take Scripture on face value and let it be the light unto my path it says it is.

I decided I would read the Bible in its entirety in chronological order. I wanted to look for the overarching theme of Scripture in the sequence of the events. This meant I would not be reading it in the order in which the books were printed. I looked online and found a plan that had the passages in chronological order.

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Being a slow reader by nature I chose not to have a set deadline. The point wasn’t the time it would take, but the learning it would yield. The goal was to read Scripture and soak my mind in its message, one book and story at a time. Last week I finally finished reading all 66 books, cover to cover. The experience took my breath away.

A surprising thing happened, although I should not be surprised at all. I’m not the person I was when I started almost two years ago. The endeavor called for stick-to-it-ness I didn’t have when I started back in January of 2017.  Often it looked like this: me showing up, tired, distracted, humble, broken, and prayerful. In that place God met me. And what wasn’t there at first would develop little by little, throughout the past year, nine months, and thirteen days.

I remember the first time I noticed this subtle change in my heart. My soul felt raw and my body tired during a particularly hard month. It was busier than foreseen and burdened by hard conversations with friends. One day I the midst of it all I found myself thinking out loud these words in front of my husband: “I just want to stay home by myself with my Bible and my journal!” After I said it, I realized amidst the whiny tone a real longing to just be with God in His Word. I was taken aback. My time with Him had become a place of comfort and safety. I sought it when tired and upset by others.

Interestingly, when I ran to Him for comfort, it was also the Lord who showed me through His Word, that I needed to embrace the hard in the season and the rough edges in others. Trusting He was as present there as He was in my private moments at home with my Bible and journal. This was an important lesson.

No, I am not the same person today. Reading the Bible with intention, expecting and praying to meet Him in those pages, changed me to the core. It deepened my dependence on God, my awe of His work, and gave me a taste and a lens for eternal perspective.

What we make room for, treat as important, and show up for open-handed and humbled, He will receive. Closing the last pages of Scripture’s last book, Revelation, my soul felt small and so whole. Deep sense of awe fills me even now typing these words. Without a doubt, God’s Word is the most worthwhile investment of my time, intellectual effort, and heart. Indeed, dwelling in His Word, wrestling with it, digging deep, praying through it, learning from it, abiding in the Truths uncovered; is a discipline worth cultivating.

Reading the Bible consistently has shown me that God works in the unseen quiet moments more often than the spectacular ones. This was understanding I did not have going in and now cherish looking back on the last year and half.

Reading the entire library that is the Bible took a lot of effort. At times the narrative was fast paced and fascinating as it took me through the sequence of events. Around the middle, at any given time, the text would take me through a psalm, a battle field, and a king’s court, all in one reading. But it also felt disruptive. There were parts that often meant jumping from one book to another, back and forth. I prayed through it all, asking for focus, discernment, and most of all a heart for His Word.

My favourite book, bar none, is Deuteronomy. It became my favourite when I completed the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible). As I made my way through the rest of Scripture, it remained so. Its content, which most of us associate it with laws and regulations, reveal the heart of God and what is important to Him. I understood His tender care for His people in a way I hadn’t before. Those laws and rules were there to provide safety and Life for them. No wonder it is along with Psalms, the book most quoted by Jesus.

I do not have a natural bend for those things, like obedience and holiness, concepts that at best feel lofty and even cumbersome. But the more I read, the more I dug, the more the words changed my preference. I still don’t have a natural bend per se, but I have tasted how personal the beauty of God’s Word touches my soul, my life. I now have a taste for it that makes me long for it and go back to it.

I loved the practice and hope to take it up again in the future. For the next few weeks I am reading a devotional to reset and rest my brain. Afterwards I plan on choosing a book of the Bible to read. If you want to get to know God better, show up with your need, and a naked heart before Him. Open His Word and prayerfully dig in. Read and look for Him. I assure you the quest will be infinitely worth it.

In part 2 I share what were some of my favorite books of the Old Testament, my takeaway after reading the New Testament considering the Bible as a whole, and some resources that I found helpful to learn and to stay on track.

Till then, a lovely verse and some words I prayed over myself when I first read it last year-

He is your praise. He is your God...
— Deuteronomy 10:21a ESV
 

Dear soul, take note. He is my praise, my song, my gratitude, my salvation. Boast in the cross!

 

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When We Find Ourselves in the Wilderness

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In Western culture, we have no affinity for discomfort. Those hard situations that don’t come with a compass and often feel beyond our control. Those things that make us feel helpless and bring to surface how inadequate for the task we are.

We will work hard to keep these out of our path. After all, it gets on the way of us having our way. Sometimes, however, it is very much within our human rhythm to face things that have this effect. Like being on the deep end of the pool without knowing how to swim. Hard places where we feel out of our depth. I’ve watched several of my friends for whom motherhood felt that way. For others grad school brought those struggles.

I think of situations where I’ve felt entirely out of my depth. Immigration certainly was that for my husband and me our first years. Calling my home address a foreign city neither one of us had visited prior to landing here was as exciting and disconcerting as it sounds.

No matter the situation, for any of us, it looks like a condition with so much unknown the days feel overwhelming. You face them, feeling each moment a little behind where you think you should be. You have no real reference as far as direction, just trekking along until the new becomes current, and you can keep your head above water. Even though you see pieces of your sanity still floating around!

We are a people of comfort, competence, and self-sufficiency. Our efforts and planning aim to attain a life that is comfortable and safe, rather than cultivate a life that is faithful. While it’s natural for a person not to want hardship, we’ve made it our goal to design a life free of anything that rubs us the wrong way. We don’t want our lives to land in a situation that demands beyond what we know and can handle. After all, isn’t that consistent with the popular saying “God will not give you more than you can bear”?

I used to find (and offer) comfort with that expression. Over the years as I’ve gotten older, I’ve heard that view challenged by godly men and women. Then, reading the Bible more intentionally has helped me understand hardship in a different light. The saying seems to imply He will give us within the measure of our capabilities. This begs the question, then why would we need Him?

I think of the story of the Israelites told through the books of Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy. Their journey through the desert shows a people inadequate in every way to make it on their own capabilities. They are utterly dependent on God for everything.

The wilderness was beyond what the Israelites could manage on their own. Without the pillar of fire by night they would get lost, without manna from heaven every day they’d starve. The adversity of the wilderness, the risk factor of the hard conditions of that environment, contrast with the safety and provision only God could give.

We see a rhythm in their existence during those years. The circumstances were teaching them daily trust and faith. The manna was good for that day’s provision. This taught them to trust their empty plates would again hold food the next day. They were learning to trust their emptiness to a promise-fulfilling God. For the Sabbath, He instructed to take enough for two days’ worth, to teach them in practice the importance to rest, while showing Himself trustworthy to obey.  They would end up with spoiled food if they collected more than what they needed. Paradoxically, the wilderness was as tender a place for their faith to grow, as it was a rough place for their daily living.

Looking back on my life, I wonder how often hard things I was fighting tooth and nail to avoid, were actually wilderness seasons designed with a tender purpose, by a tender God, caring more about the condition of my soul than my comfort level or self-reliance. Self-denial makes us needy. If we deny ourselves, we are left with a lot of need and not a lot of resources. The invitation to deny myself goes hand in hand with the invitation to follow Jesus. Either act is folly on our strength. We deny ourselves because we follow Jesus. We follow Jesus because we no longer follow our own will.

The wilderness is meant as serious training ground for the believer, where utter dependence on God will put our limitation not only to the test, but to right use.  So often we fight the drought, the hard state of being taken away from what is comfortable. But what happens when we are removed from what is safe and familiar? We need God, that’s what happens. We are humbled and broken.

And in that state, we are vulnerable, receptive, malleable. In our personal wilderness, we no longer hold all the answers -we can barely understand the questions, and this is terrific training ground for faith that is meant to save our lives by breaking it apart. Doesn’t that sound like the last hard season you went through, or the one you are facing now? It does for me. My life broken apart by circumstances so outside of my control I felt the only way to make it to the next moment sane was on my knees, sometimes literally! Yes, dependence on God so sincere, so needy, it eroded any delusions of strength. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

What’s your wilderness right now? What uncharted territory are you crawling through? Does it feel crushing beyond your own strength? What do you need to move forward? How can you access that? Welcome to the wilderness friend, hold out your hand needy, pray and ask for help. You are on territory that is fallow ground, and He intends to use it to cultivate otherworldly fruit out of the soil of your heart. I pray comfort that surpasses our human comprehension cover you in peace as you take the next steps, even if they are on your knees. Blessed be the name of the Lord, in your life and mine, blessed be His name!

Small life, Big God

A few years ago, I heard a podcast interview with Ann Voskamp. The podcast was hosted by hope*writers, a writing community I had just joined. I had recently read One Thousand Gifts, so I eagerly listened in to learn more about her. Unexpectedly, about 35 minutes in, the episode found me weeping like a child on my couch.

As she talked about a book tour, her take on celebrity gripped me. Ann expressed, “I want to stay small,” and shared that while in New York City, “I was on a book tour and all I wanted to do was be home and do the dishes.” Her words winded me. They punched the hunger for large right out of me. The hot tears rolled down my face faster than I was able to process the reason why. That word, small, confronted me.

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We don’t like to be small. Small feels so not enough, so insignificant. Small is so close to nothing. Small is not a lot and is not strong. It often goes unnoticed. We will go to great lengths to enlarge, hide, and dress up what is small. Yet being small is our most natural state.

Small is how we came into the world. Our smallness puts us in the right context with God. His magnificence and all-sufficiency become visible when I’m not in the way. Less of me, more of Jesus, my soul whispers.

His size overwhelms and comforts all at once. It is a frightening thing to be in the presence of His Might, and at the same time, also utterly comforting to find yourself covered and protected by it. This is why I wept.  

Kingdom logic is not at all consistent with our own. Because the Kingdom we belong to is not of this world. Scripture shows the small favoured in ways that prove foreign to our way of thinking. For years I walked the halls of corporate culture where the cult to the powerful was the rule of the day.

God’s Word puts the lowliest at the level of Jesus, His Son, when it says “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,  I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’  Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?  And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’  Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers, you did for me” (Matthew 25:35-40 ESV).

Achieving status that sets above the rest is of the utmost importance today. It certainly was for me. Again, the Bible’s standards stand opposite to this saying “The last will be first, and the first last” (Matthew 20:6 ESV).

After wanting so much to have a big life, full of accolades I could show as shiny trophies for my strength and smarts, my current life feels very simple. It is small, slow, and lived one moment and prayer at a time. The empty space left after removing the busy from my calendar and the relentless pursuit is now filled with a deep awareness of my need for Him who loved me enough to give up His throne to wash feet and die on a cross. The smallness I so badly want to cover, even now, is safely held by Him who holds all things together. My life is small, and my God is big. That’s eternal perspective I cling to.

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A prayer for you and me, dear reader:

Jesus would you teach us how to measure our lives the way heaven does? Where small is the way, great is the price, and greater still the joy and reward? Would you open our eyes that we might see others as You do?

Remind our hearts, Lord, that the least and the last ought to be our first concern and standard. Show them to us, in our churches, in our office, in our communities. In our mirrors as well. That we might see ourselves in Light of Your Son, of His life -

Lord Jesus thank you, that having held the sun and the moon in your fingers, you came as a baby and experienced our smallness. Lord thank you for showing us with your life how things are measured in heaven.

 Thank you for showing a King kneeling on the floor to wash dirty feet, that we might learn the beauty of small and lowly.  Thank you for living a small life at huge incalculable cost. Thank you that it was five loaves that fed thousands because kingdom economics multiplies and completes the small, not the grandiose.

Thank you, Lord, for speaking of the small mustard seed as the size of faith strong enough to move mountains, showing small is all we need to get started, to follow, to believe. Give us a heart for your things Lord, eyes for the small, and a life where large is our desire for obedience; for You.

We love you Lord, and we need you. In Jesus’ name

Amen!

 

 

 

 

Choice, Repentance, and Our Need for Jesus

The year was 1998. The news was all headlines reporting the president’s sexual indiscretion, and how his lie about it could cost him the presidency. The details were messy revealing more information than I cared to know. I was 26, fresh out of college, and in my first real job. A young Christian taking in what was happening. As the information unveiled and I tried to navigate it with new faith, I remember talking with my roommate about the importance of a moment.

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That moment, for which a president risked going to trial, had a before and after. I imagined time rewound like in a movie where the footage goes back through a myriad of interactions, thoughts, and choices. And pause at a place before those headlines had a reason for existing. A time where instead of an indiscretion covered by the 6 o’clock news, there is only a moment. A set of minutes with a choice to make. A moment that once allowed to happen, once pursued, would culminate in hard and hurtful consequences.

That moment inevitably was followed by many more. The reel continued with many other small choices along the way after that. This shed light for me. Reverse engineering that headline, helped me see beyond the harm of misused responsibility and the weight of the consequences, the monumental importance of what we can do with a small fraction of time.

A sobering realization hit me then and hits me even more so now that I’m older: I am no different than that president. I may not have engaged in inappropriate physical contact with a subordinate, but I too face choices every single day which at the time seem infinitesimal in size, and yet carry great potential for harm. And I don’t always choose wisely, even though I know better. This recalls Paul’s famous words, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15 ESV).

The idea of choice is so central to humanity – free will; which is tightly bound to its limitation – sinful to the core. We are beings with the freedom to will our choices, all the while our choices stem from a sinful heart. Our very disposition is toward sin. So where to from here?

I remember as a young college student what impacted my faith the most was to watch people live regular lives in a radically different way. For example, this story: when my friend and his siblings were small, his father punished the dog for a gate opened in the backyard. The kids were upset too. After learning the dog hadn’t done it, he apologized to the kids and to the dog in front of the kids, explaining he had been unfair to him. Showing no one was too insignificant to apologize to, and no wrong too small that the opportunity to make right should be passed.

It’s a very small example that made a deep dent in terms of how a life in Christ looks different. The father modelled a heart of humility for his small children, and for me, years later through the telling of the story. Which no doubt, was part of years of intentional living on the part of my friend’s parents, to shape their faith.    

Last year, during a sermon, the pastor, who was in the army for several years before attending seminary, explained the term repent. It was a revelation for me who loves words. Repent is used as a military term, he clarified, to signal a troop to turn and walk in a different direction. As he marched across the stage, he illustrated by stopping to shift the direction of his steps. Literally, repent looked like turning away from where he was heading to walk in a different direction. That’s an image worth a thousand headlines.

This paints a picture of immeasurable grace and hope for me. I think back to that situation splattered all over the media back in 1998. I think of my own seemingly “smaller”, certainly more private, and equally harmful sin, which can and will manifest itself throughout the thousands of minutes that comprise a day’s moments. All those tiny choices I make every day. From what I will eat for lunch, to rolling my eyes and be rude to the person on the counter preparing my order. The picture is both confronting and comforting.

The free will I use to roll my eyes also grants me the opportunity to choose to apologize for my rudeness to someone who for minimum wage is helping put together my meal. I can choose to give my husband kindness in the form of a quiet restful evening or tell him I’m sorry for being short with him for needing something that doesn’t suit me. It’s so hard to turn around and will myself to walk in a different direction. Yet I am called to repent.  

I see the next hundreds of minutes ahead of me, filled with moments where I get to use my free will. I imagine some will be non-moral choices like what to shoes to wear. But I also know that all of them are pregnant with potential for sin. I can pick certain shoes merely out of envy, for example.

This is where Paul’s words really resonate. If ever my utter need for Jesus is made clear to me is in this tension. Knowing better yet choosing worse. Knowing what is worse and still walking right to it. Friends, this is what we need that our free will can’t do for us. To be saved from ourselves we need help from outside of ourselves. We need Jesus.

To make wise decisions when we don’t want to. To change the direction where our wrong choices take us. To receive the grace each small set of minutes holds along with our capacity to sin, we need Jesus.

 

 

What Do We Fear?

Fear. One syllable word heavy with meaning.

As defined in my Webster’s Dictionary, fear is anxiety caused by real or possible danger, pain, etc.; fright.

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Whether it is a real factor like the dread felt from being fired, or feeling afraid at the possibility of becoming unemployed, fear occupies a lot of head-space, usually in the form of worry. We are afraid of both real or possible hardship. Fear is an integral part of the human experience.

So many can be present in our everyday. Fear of the unknown when confronted with new information. Fear of looking ignorant, incompetent, or irresponsible. Fear of the wrong political party or politician being in power. Fear of not meeting budget and having to go into debt. These are all potential scenarios we entertain and house in our minds regularly.

What we fear colours what we think. And that in turn drives us to choose a course of action. Fear can be a useful driver. After all, it’s out of fear that we avoid walking down a dark alley at night. But it can also drive us crazy. Ask me how I know.  

I think fear is such a natural part of being human, like sleep, that I’m sometimes confounded when I read in the Bible the words do not fear. Really? But how, Lord? How do I not fear?

We often use repetition to make a point. It says this is important, pay attention. The word fear is mentioned 353 times in the Bible. (It could be almost one mention per day for a year.) The exhortation “do not fear” appears 327 times. And almost 200 times in the variations “be not afraid” or “do not be afraid”. 

Last week I was reading the first letter of Peter when a short sentence struck me. “Fear God. Honour the emperor.” (1 Peter 2:17c ESV) Other versions use king instead of emperor, making the point that honour is to be given to government and figures of authority. But fear is reserved for God exclusively. The juxtaposition of those verbs made me think. Peter is telling first-century churches, and us 21st-century dwellers, to fear the right thing.

There are plenty of other places in the Bible where fear is in the affirmative voice. And it is always only in relation to God. What’s interesting in 1 Peter is that the mandate is sitting next to another one. We owe honour to the ruling authorities. But we fear God. Why is that? And more importantly, is that the same fear I have of an accident or of what others think? In a sense yes, because both fears produce a certain behaviour. We try to drive safely to avoid a car accident. And concern for the opinion of others may cause to modify our own.

Since being afraid drives us to choose to do or avoid something, I understand better when Scripture says to not be afraid. The words are not simply a command, distant from humanity’s reality. On the contrary. It’s because we are so susceptible to fear and anxiety that the words are recorded so often. In doing so it’s saying to not act out of fear. Because fear lives in our head feeding our thought life, the words “do not fear” are a call to not let that specific thing drive how you will think and feel. When the Bible calls to fear God, it is saying feed your thoughts awe, reverence, and wonder for God instead

Our reverence for God becomes a compass to help navigate when we are afraid. It supersedes my fear of what others think, it puts in perspective how I act when feeling insecure.  It is the tension I’m invited to sit in when I dread a hardship that makes me feel small. A reverence that acknowledges the presence of a much bigger being than me or the possibility causing the fear.  I say this because I often feel very small vis-à-vis my fears. They seem bigger than me. Bigger than life. God is bigger. Infinitely so.

Some of our fears can often be found neatly tucked away under our insecurities. Afraid of not measuring up, I strive to more, to make up for the “not enough” I carry. Fearing others’ opinions, I try to hide behind perceived accomplishments. Or dreading a potential outcome, I let it design the mood of my day. It’s what we do. It’s human. And I think that’s why the word fear appears hundreds of times in the Bible. Because it is so common a struggle with such distressing effects, we need the Truth reminders often.  

Finally, a closer look at the whole verse in 1 Peter evens the field and provides us with a right perspective: “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the emperor.” (1 Peter 2:17 ESV)

Honour is something we owe everyone, including those in authority. In a way, the verse is elevating everyone as it calls to give all the same respect owed to the emperor. The regard we have for God, however, is distinct from the regard we give others; even those in positions of authority. We can fill in the blank with those people or situations we give authority to in our minds.

What would it look like to fear the Lord more? If we feared His name more than not making a name for ourselves? If we regarded what He says more than we fear the opinions of others? If we trusted His sovereignty over any political party rather than make a person, the end all be all answer?

There are matters of discernment and conscience. We pray for discernment and act on faith. But when what we fear robs our peace and makes God small, we lack the right perspective. If all our contentment or discontent rests on an outcome, we are driven by fear, not faith. What we fear own us. Peter’s words slice me open. They confront me in the hardest and best possible way. Honour man and fear God. We usually do the opposite.

We genuinely want to honour God with our words and actions. While all along, we fear man. In the form of the attention we crave or the approval we seek from fellow broken limited humans with the same tendency to sin that we have.

Feelings are indicators, not dictators. They reveal our heart. As with our other emotions, fear is not wrong. Is what we do with it, that becomes an issue. In his book Take Heart, Matt Chandler shares this quote from James Neil Hollingworth: “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important that one’s fear.”

God is infinitely so.  

 

Slow Is Good

A few months ago, a realization caught me off guard, only because my day slowed down enough for me to see it.

I was reading and taking notes. My work felt worthwhile and busy. A few hours in, feeling tired, I stretched my back and looked up. In that pause, seeing my tiny apartment cleaned and orderly, I remembered when I vacuumed and did laundry earlier that week. It’s work that feels tedious and that God had been teaching me to view as an offering. A way to love my household well and honour him. I realized how the Lord of the universe makes Himself just as present in the mundane, as in the extraordinary. All moments are lived in his presence. We may not feel it, but He sees us and hears us, always.

It’s not the sort of thought I would have had in the past, simply because I would have powered through the reading and studying as quickly as I could to move to the next thing. Same with laundry or cleaning. Furthermore, I would not have viewed folding laundry or cleaning as something to do for the Lord.

Slow is good. It creates a pause, which allows for quiet, unseen moments to be seen by us, and remember they are seen by God too.

Slowing down enough to stay still and hold a quiet pause is hard. It doesn’t come naturally, at least not to me.  I think we often feel we can’t afford it. After all, time is always running somewhere, and we are usually behind it. There is something rushed about our rhythm.

In this season of redefining worthy and successful in light of God’s Word rather than my own narratives, a gentler pace has been essential. It shifts me to a slower gear, facilitating that breathing room to exhale. In that breath, I lift my eyes from the ordinary and glimpse into the grace of the moment.

When you think of the word slow, what comes to mind? Give it a moment before reading on.

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These are the thoughts that come to my mind: not fast enough; two steps behind; a long wait; not efficient. Basically, all negative connotations that bring frustration to any given day. And I confess, in my mind, the list ended with “not first.” See my point? It evidences so much of the narratives that have in the past dominated my thought-life. It’s interesting that I did not equate it with steady, gradual or leisurely. All valid synonyms according to my thesaurus.

Over the past year and a half, I have been reading the Bible in chronological order. The experience has been deeply enriching, and eye-opening. I purposefully try to let my mind steep in one book and story at a time and look for how is God’s character revealed in the story. What is important to him, and his interaction with humanity. Throughout both the old and the new testaments, and especially the gospels, I’ve noticed that God is never in a rush.

There are plenty of messy situations where circumstances are hard. And they may call for swift action on the part of the people facing them. But a rushed existence is not the call, nor is it God’s pace. In fact, quite the opposite. Abraham had to wait fifteen years between receiving the promise of a child and Isaac’s birth. After the call by Jesus on the road to Damascus, it would be another three years before Paul would formally begin his ministry. Waiting is often part of the equation with God. And, in the waiting, we feel the narrative slow down. In the slower pace faith is tested and refined; the soul is trained for living.   

I often catch myself acting like life must be taken in big gulps at a certain speed to show it’s going somewhere. This familiar passage in Ecclesiastes shows in the very words a rhythm for living. The fact that there is a time for each activity marks a space between them. We’re not meant to live all moments at once. Or skip through them to get somewhere faster. There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens

The human experience happens in morsels and sound bites. And God can be invited into each one of these. There are new mercies for each day’s worth. When I’m in a hurry, I remember to invite God mainly because I need him to finish up quickly, not because I want him.

I’m so grateful for the gift of slowing down enough to find grace in each moment, especially in the unseen ordinary ones that are so easy to dismiss. He is working in my life through those, likely far more than the big events I look to as markers.

 

 

 

 

Entering Social Media with An Empty Tank

Last September, my husband took a much-needed two-week holiday from work. He had vacation days accumulated that would expire soon and had just completed a heavy cycle of projects that lasted months with many long hours at the office and often working weekends. We didn’t have the budget to travel, so we decided to make a fun and light staycation out of it. Lots of sleeping in, ordering takeout, watching movies and reading. I was overjoyed to have him all to myself for two weeks. That alone felt like a vacation to me. And that is what motivated me to do the following.

When our staycation began, on a regular Monday of a regular week, my brain went into regular mode. I wanted to grab my phone all the time. To tweet, to check Instagram, see who wrote what on Facebook, etc. Only, this time, I would look up and see that my husband was there in the room. We were together during hours that normally I don’t have the joy of his company. Wanting to not waste the opportunity to engage in meaningful conversation, or simply enjoy him, I’d resist reaching for the phone.

Finally, I decided to regulate my usage. About twice a day for 10 minutes, I would check it and participate by posting, liking, etc., if I felt compelled. Having my husband home for an extended period was much more alluring than endless scrolling, tapping, and commenting.

By the end of his two-week break, I noticed something that wasn’t there before: I had a lot more emotional energy. Not only was there more desire to engage, be present and pay attention, but the energy to do so was in better supply. It was feeling emotionally fully present, more whole (less fragmented?), more focused, and even more content, that helped me realize how much I normally didn’t feel that way.

After that, I became more observant of my own mood and mindset. I began to be more intentional with how I approached social-media, and for what purpose.

I was so taken by the sudden increase of energy, emotional clarity, and focus, I prayerfully decided to create a social-media filter for myself. An inventory if you will, to check up on my emotions and gauge expectations:

1.      Filter to gauge my heart’s conditions.

Am I running on empty? Have I gotten my fuel from healthy sources, like God’s Word, or spending time in real life with loved ones?

2.      Filter to discern what I share or consume.

Is it truth based? i.e. from God’s Word, consistent with it? Honouring it?

Is it true? About me, my life? And not to make me look/feel better.

Is it life-giving?

3.      When sharing or consuming remember…

Don’t try to speak to everyone about everything. (refer to #1)

Don’t try to consume everything from everyone. (refer to #2)

Fast forward to the present. Over the past 8 weeks, I’ve been taking one day a week off from social media. The experience has been revealing. It’s helped me understand on a deeper level our need for connection, and in my case, my own mismanagement to satisfy it. It’s brought full circle those questions I created for myself back in September.

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I chose Sunday to soak in the respite of a slower rhythm and counter the emotional fatigue I often feel by the end of the week. Although sometimes I switch it up and fast Friday or Saturday, I find Sunday works well. Usually, I begin my fast, late Saturday evening. Then on Monday, either late morning or early afternoon, I will re-engage, catch up with notifications, read status updates, and post if I have something to share.

Now two months into this practice, I’ve noticed that I’m less eager to grab my phone come Monday. Willing yes, but not needing to. Finding that I need it less is refreshing, liberating. It’s also very telling, begging the question: What need was I satisfying?

On the other hand, disconnecting on Saturdays stills feels sudden. It’s when I will reach out for my phone and with a deep sigh remember that in a few hours I’ll sign off. Less habit there. Why is that? I wonder. The answer, for me, has to do with why I use it, why I engage with it.

Like most, I use it to connect. Being far from my closest friends, social media is a way to stay in touch and share a bit of our lives. Funny moments, cool adventures, and the occasional rant. Or to consume what I think of as high calibre content; thought-provoking articles, posts written by fellow writers, etc.

The problem occurs when in that myriad of interactions and connections, the pictures and words become my measure for performance, validation, or happiness. In my longing for connection, the small squares and short paragraphs become failed mirrors and definitions, which leave a vague feeling of sadness.

Vague because the cause is almost subliminal. Quiet thoughts that run underneath the regular frequency of my day. Undercurrent narratives like I am not as skilled. My life does not look like that and perhaps it should, oh no another thing I am behind! And so on. They are more a general malaise than a clear statement.

I am reminded of these words found in the gospel of Mark: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” Mark 2:27 ESV. What most catches my attention here is the wording. It’s informing me that I was made for something, not the other way around. This verse is Jesus’ reply to the Pharisees, who watching him along with the disciples collecting food from a field, question him, presuming they hold the higher moral ground because a rule they know well is not observed.

Jesus’ words are piercing. The nuance between something being made for us vs. us being made for it marks the difference between life-giving and life-draining. How often I behave toward something as if I was made for it. That is a picture of idolatry. If you think you were made for something, your reflex is to work for it, to serve it. When we see something made for us, our attitude is to enjoy it, soak it up, we use it.

His answer makes me think of how we engage social-media. Like other man-made inventions, is a tool that can be useful. The problem is the heart is always looking for ways to fill its emotional tank. Connection morphs into comparison, validation, and so on. I feel empty. I want to connect. Rinse and repeat. This reverses its role of the tool, something made for me to use and instead makes me a dependent, made for it.

We have a maker and we were made for Him.

 

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This post had been on my mind for a long while, but I didn't feel ready to share. I found inspiration in this piece by fellow writer Carrie Roer. Great tips!

Learning informs my decisions. First from God’s Word, letting it steep deep in my thoughts to rewire them. Also, sound advice backed by solid research. Tony Reinke’s book 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You is a resource I can’t recommend enough. Another excellent book on the subject is Andy Crouch’s Techwise Family.

Lastly, Deep Work: Rules for Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport is a worthwhile read. Heavily researched, the book covers methods to work productively and efficiently in areas that demand focused attention, including writing. I read it in May and I am still chewing on the insights. The chapter on social media alone is worth getting the book. 

The Gift of Shared Tears

Loneliness is a hard companion. Yes, I say companion, because although its literal meaning is that you are by yourself, unlike solitude – which we may long for and need at times, loneliness feels like an unwanted and burdensome companion. Its shadow-like presence goes wherever you are. In a room full of people or standing in line to pay for your groceries, you feel alone and devastated by it.

Sometimes it’s difficult to articulate to others why our sadness. We need people to be a safe place, where our words can land safely, quietly. A place absent of platitudes, and well-meaning but ill-fitting “let me fix it” type of comments. It’s hard because we really do want to fix things, don’t we? We want to fix them for others, and at times we desperately wish to fix our own broken hearts.

But not everything is fixable, and not everything that is can be mended right away. Sometimes it is meant to take time because in that space God is doing something in our lives. The hurt is being used for future fruit and today’s pain is an ingredient thereof.

There is that instance where someone will have the right word that speaks directly into our situation. Or we may have that timely word of encouragement that fits and helps someone discern and feel better. There are other occasions when we just want company in pain that is hard to articulate.

The Word says “Weep with those who weep”. This two-part verse also calls to “Rejoice with those who rejoice” (Romans 12:15 ESV). Both statements call to partake in the situation of the other person. Which means we place ourselves over there, wherever they are. This paints a picture for me. Sitting where they are to experience what they are facing and partake with them of that joy or sorrow. Some time ago I got an unexpected front row seat that helped me understand one way to weep with those who weep.

For days I carried my heavy companion. Some dear friends kept coming to mind. Online connections, who though removed in terms of geography, were close regarding some of the things I was wrestling through. I felt awkward and even silly at the thought of reaching out. Finally, I worked up the courage. With a lump in my throat, teared-eyed I shared with words a piece of my heart, challenging to articulate, needing a home away from home to land.

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At the other end, my teary words were received in addition to compassion with vulnerable expressions of similar burdens these friends have experienced. They shared openly about their own struggles and cried as they dug deep into their own hurt, to bring it to me in words. It was a sacred gift that felt like a balm. I had shared pains that felt heavy, and they were met with tears that said, “I receive your heart. Please hold my heavy heart too”, and in doing so, conveyed you are not alone.

These women wept on the other end of the line. Real tears and words spoken in a broken voice. Thank you Lord I whispered, feeling accompanied. This was an unexpected picture of “week with those who weep.” By that I mean, I had not seen its effect in my own heart. I understood better the inkling I had had all week to reach out to them. It felt uncomfortable to reach out to strangers in the traditional sense of the word. Women who lived in different time zones. Our friendship had been cultivated entirely in the digital space using technology in the form of email, voxer, and social media.

We knew each other’s voices and writing. We’ve seen each other’s faces in photos. But we’ve never met up for coffee or worshiped together on Sunday. Yet, these were the vessels God used to minister to my soul. In their own way, each sat by my side and beheld what I was seeing, feeling its weight alongside with me.

They wept with me as they opened their own heart to share what made theirs feel heavy. It made all the difference. Through this experience, I learnt that a way to weep with someone is not to be afraid to invite them into what makes you cry. Although this experience happened a little while back, I carry the lesson close to my heart.

Some of the things I shared that day remain today, as not every hard thing is meant to have a resolution, immediate or sometimes ever. But the one thing that was most life-giving was to find myself among fellow sufferers. To be shown their own tender areas with the pain they carry and wrestle in prayer moved me profoundly and made me feel cared for enough to be trusted. Being sad together was a gift that made my own sadness less overwhelming. It’s not sexy. It’s not what the world calls efficient or smart management of one’s emotions. But then again, neither is the suggestion to weep with those who weep.

It brought me closer not only to them but especially to God. There is beauty and sweet company in crying together. It puts us in touch with our own humanity. Weeping with others means I allow myself to feel things I don’t want to feel, or which disrupt my otherwise very organized life. It’s a call to break with the broken. Which I am as well. I’m so grateful for these friends, for the courage God gave me to reach out finally, and for the chance to weep together. By sharing in their sorrow, I felt less alone in mine.

 

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.

When I pray for Direction but what I mean is Control

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So much of my decisions are often stagnated because I am waiting for perfect circumstances to align so I can move forward. I think part of it is being a recovering perfectionist. But I see it goes deeper. An agonizing decision process, where we need to make a choice. Whether to take a job, move to another city, marry this person, or choose that school, we seek the comfort of the right answer.

Not knowing is hard. In an age where “information is power”, to not know feels powerless. And we certainly don’t like to feel unable, so we want to know.  Knowing puts us at ease, like we know what we are doing. As we pray, we look for very specific answers, so we will know exactly what to do when to do it, and how to do it. I’ve noticed that pattern in myself. I want the whole picture, the entire roadmap with signposts and all, to know the exact route from where I am standing to the desired outcome.

We want not only the confirmation of what steps to take but also a guarantee that we will get there successfully. The comfort we are after is the sense that we are in control. And so, we get frustrated with God when we pray, and things don’t become clearer. I wonder how often the clarity I am waiting for is really the ability to control the situation? And isn’t that me wanting to be in God’s seat? A job I am severely underqualified for.

The friction for most believers occurs because we are called to a life of faith. Not our natural bend. Paul wrote, “…the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God” (Galatians 2:20 ESV). So, the life I live here and now, in my flesh, subject to the allures of the flesh and the pain of the flesh, this life with its ups and downs, twists and turns, I now live by faith? Faith implying trusting Who I know with what I don’t know.

Often in my quest to know all the possible outcomes and details thereof, I ignore what is made known to me. The Bible is the primary place to know God and learn what He wants us to know. This, however, seems insufficient if not irrelevant when I am pressed for information. After all, it is of no use to me in terms of specific answers about who to marry, what job to accept, or how to get that outcome I want.

While it may not contain the details relevant to each personal situation, it contains the words God deemed relevant to record and make available. Interacting with it will usually do one of two things: either frustrate us or recalibrate our position. The purpose of the Bible is not to give us the answers we want; it’s to give us God.

So, it may not say what job to take, but it does say to work in all things as unto the Lord. It says to honour the Sabbath, thereby pointing to our need for rest and pause, and not making life all about the work of our hands. It does not say who to marry, but it does give instruction on how to foster a relationship. And the kind of person I should strive to be and the kind to look for.

I admit living by faith means taking risks in my decisions, where while I try to act on good faith and obedience, I know that the outcome and the actions of others may not follow suit. And yet I am told to not tire of doing good. I know that in this life I will be subject to unforeseen circumstances that will not fit neatly in a five-year plan. Illness, death, injustice, job loss, accidents, pain and conflict can and will affect our lives, and obedience and faith will not exempt us from these trials.

For me, I think a life lived by faith in the Son of God means learning to find comfort in the Son of God rather than in outcomes. Is stepping in faith and prayerfully making a choice with the information I do have from His Word and trusting God will meet me on the other side of that decision.

“Draw near to God and he will draw near to you…” (James 4:8a ESV).  Complete control over my circumstances will not draw me to God but away. After all, if I am in the driver’s seat, is there space or need for God?

 

 

Turning 46, Pain, and Eternal Perspective

I recently celebrated my 46th birthday and underwent emergency surgery to remove my gallbladder. What can I say, it’s been a busy two weeks! Prior to my surgery, I had planned to write a reflective post looking back at the past twenty years. But then life happened in the form of excruciating pain, surgery, and a week of post-operation care afterwards. So, the following reflects the decade I’m in the middle of, the context of the past two weeks, and the biggest difference I see in my heart at 46; eternal perspective.

When I was 26 I wanted to eat the world. Fresh out of university, I was eager to claim and own my place in the world through a shiny job title and the perks and accolades that I expected would accompany said title. I wanted desperately to be somebody, and my plan was to make that happen through my job.

When I was 36 I was eating the world, avid to chew more, feeling that my enough was out there, yet to be discovered. I’d changed jobs often. I needed to be permanently in conquering mode. It was exciting and somehow unfulfilling at the same time. By the time I was 42, the world - that is my world- the one I had relentlessly pursued, was eating me alive and spitting me out in pieces. You can read more about it here and here.

The severe burnout that took place in my early 40s was God’s saving grace. Waking up to the life you always wanted and looking for ways to quit it, will sober you up quickly. God radically changed my perspective from one filled with hunger and urgency for control and definition here and now, to one with eternity as the destination and intention while I am living this one life I’ve been given.  

God’s purpose never fails, He will have His glory. And it is a gift to us that He does. Seeking our own is detrimental to the very fabric of our spiritual DNA. We were created, we have a maker. We were made to know Him and be with Him. When we seek to captain our own ship and look for our own glory we are usurping the very purpose for which we were created. At best it will consume us enough to confront us. At worst, we will get what we want, and alienate ourselves from the One Who can give us purpose.

So, eternal perspective. What is it? What do I mean by it? I’ll start with what it isn’t. It does not mean having clarity in all things always, or a guarantee of a long-term plan in place. It does not mean a life free of complications, pain, or conflict. It does not promise the ability to outline the right steps with the assurance of a desired outcome.

Rather, it is having a vision that covers more than what I see and want here and now. It is a filter that helps navigate what we don’t know, can’t handle, or fear. Instead of eliminating those things – which is what we’ve been taught should be our life’s goal, eternal perspective equips us to live through it. For me, it has meant living with hope that goes beyond tomorrow or the next thing I wish to achieve. Is the reminder that God is still God, He is still good, and His purposes prevail, even when circumstances seem to point otherwise or aren’t what I want. It is the lifeline that assures him getting the glory will also result in my good. It is the reshaping of my heart that now wants Him to be glorified through my circumstances, rather than me getting my way.

For me, it means to set my eyes on what is eternally important, that I may discern all things in light of that. It helps to put everything in the right place, including and especially myself.  Pressing needs here and now, like rent money, or food, or a health issue, are human needs that point to my limitations. We need food to survive, shelter over our heads, and the means to provide for both. We need help when our bodies malfunction or fail. We need. Eternal perspective sheds light on who I am not. I am not God. I am not self-sufficient or all powerful. As much as post-modern thought, my college education, and corporate career would beg to differ.  

While I was at the ER waiting for the doctors to decipher what was the source of the blinding pain I was experiencing I thought of friends who have experienced hospital visits under much more severe circumstances. Eventually, I thought of Jesus on the cross. The Romans perfected a torture device designed with a slow and very painful death as the end goal. I saw the room full of trained medical staff, several of which were working hard to try and understand what was wrong with my body. My pain, 14 on the scale 1-10, was treated, and in the comfort of a medical facility with a bed, and generous painkillers.

His pain was inflicted while simultaneously depriving him of his dignity by removing his clothes, spitting on him, beating him, making him carry his execution device on a raw back after receiving forty lashes, and then hammering nails through his wrists and feet. A sentence reserved for the worst crimes at that time. Endured by an innocent man. All because His Father willed it, for our sake. This perspective is one I didn’t have twenty years prior.

Eternal perspective humbles me as it reassures me, that I am not in charge of everything. And that which I am charged to do, I face with the understanding that I have access to the One who holds all things in His hands. Pierced hands, for my sake. Eternal perspective is knowing this is not the whole story and having deep joy and expectation for the rest to come. Eternal perspective is knowing I serve a crucified resurrected saviour. And that I too must die to myself, my will, my plans, my preference, in order to be made new with Him.

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Why I Read the Bible

During Christmas of 2016, I pondered on what I wanted the following year to look like. In January of 2017, I decided to read the whole Bible in chronological order. I did so with no desire to accomplish the goal by a certain deadline. Instead, I wanted to take my time, read slowly and seek to learn. I wanted to see and understand the overarching theme of the Bible from Genesis through Revelation. 

Because the events aren’t always recorded in the order the books are printed, I looked for and downloaded this reading plan that specified the chronological order of the events, in order to know what passages to read. Eighteen months later, as of my writing this post, I’m currently in the last chapters of the gospels and about to start Acts. Whether you read the Bible one book at a time, or chronologically, it is the most worthwhile investment of your time and effort you will ever make.

With these words, I want to share my personal reasons for reading the Bible, and in doing so, make a case for the importance of Bible literacy. If you are a believer, simply put, reading it is a lifeline. You can’t afford to do without. Hard days will feel harder, and joyful ones will seem like not enough or go unnoticed altogether. We need eyes to see what we can’t see on our own.

If you are a curious seeker, it is a place to get to know the Person behind Christianity. Because Christianity is not simply a set of beliefs. It is a Person Whose life and words hold the truth and meaning you are looking for.

But first, quickly, two reasons for not reading:

-I don’t read it to be a good Christian, there is no such thing. Jesus came for the sick not the healthy. If you identify yourself as a Christian, you are (or should be) aware of how not good you are.

-I don’t read it to be religious. That sounds exhausting and for sure not sustainable in time.

 

Why read the Bible? And why I read it.

Over the past year and a half, the soundest investment of my time and effort has been cultivating the habit of reading the Bible regularly. To view it as vital a habit as breakfast. Sure, we can go without it, but over an extended period, it will show in our health and concentration. And we can all agree that while a sit down hearty breakfast is ideal, a granola bar on the go or something similar, is still preferable to nothing at all. It is no different for our soul.

So, I will try to have time to connect with God’s word every day. On busy days it may look like a paragraph or two instead of one or two chapters. Every now and then it may be listening to the audio on the metro while running late for a meeting. But the “granola bar” is still better than skipping this vital lifeline altogether.

 

1)To learn God’s heart and what’s important to Him.

I read it because I want to know God better, what is important to Him, His heart and character. I do not have a natural bend towards those things, so I read it to wrestle and study and savour what it says. To learn and let it simmer deep, one story and book at a time.

2) To let it change me.

Jen Wilkin wrote there is no self-knowledge outside of knowing God. I don’t want to fall prey believing my own faulty narratives or this noisy world’s. For that, I need to know my Maker. What He says about me matters. But it starts with getting to know Him first.

We can’t change ourselves. This is a blessing because in our insufficiency we find He is able. After all, it’s in our weakness that His power is made perfect. Those things we so much want to emulate and give our children, spouse, or neighbour; patience, love, kindness, etc., are fruits of the Spirit. Not ours to bloom, but His. Our time in the Word makes the heart and mind fertile soil.

3) Vision determines direction. What we put our focus is what we will walk toward.

This life we have is a gift, and it is short and precious. While I am here, I want to be savvy with my investments of time, talents, and attention. I have a plethora of good intentions. I have plenty of dreams and aspirations. But all these need direction and wisdom I do not possess. Moreover, I want to put them in a place where I am not looking up at them for validation or identity, and I know that’s easier said than done in my case. Instead, I need a vision of Christ high and lifted up.

Because there are so many things I want to do, and I have a limited amount of time on this earth, I don’t want to go through life in relentless pursuit feeling I am running out of time and always wanting more of something that does not satisfy. I’ve been there, and the results were detrimental.  Rather, I want to tend to the opportunities at hand, from a place of peace, secure with my identity firmly rooted on the Rock of Ages, whose validation of my personhood is provided through His sacrifice on the cross.

***

You don’t need to read it chronologically. Doing so simply provided a plan for me to follow. I chose it because I wanted to get an appreciation for the whole picture. But prior to this, I picked a book from either the Old or the New Testament and studied it one chapter at a time. A tool that has been pivotal in my approach to Scripture is the book Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin. Other than the Bible itself, if you read only one book this year, make it that one. I was blessed to be part of a church community that intentionally sought out women to read and discuss this book together. It forever changed how I read the Bible.

Lastly, a word of encouragement. The Bible is a living breathing Word, written intentionally about God, for you. As we seek to sincerely interact with it, we will find in those pages Truth that sets free and gives life in a way that is otherworldly and changes you from within. Nothing will minister to you more than witnessing your own heart change in the hands of a God that is beckoning and responding, doing things inside you that begin to show on the outside through no doing of your own.

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When Life is Too Hard to Live

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(Photo and drawing by my husband Gustavo Ruiz.) 

I wrote this on Saturday. The day announced beautiful, with a bright sun and cool breeze. The kind that brings home the idea of fresh new mercies. Yet, all I kept thinking was Anthony Bourdain's eleven-year-old daughter. Nothing about Saturday felt fresh when I thought of her and the family. The newness of a regular sunny Saturday felt dark, painful; a new I desperately wished to be old, before Friday, for her. I prayed while crying for a stranger’s child, who didn’t feel like a stranger to me.

That Friday, each time I heard the news anchor say “…he took his own life” the words felt too heavy to receive. Less than a week before, designer Kate Spade also took her life. Something about life ending by one’s own devices screams wrong in the soul. Why?! We ask. What happened?

Anthony Bourdain's death hit me and my husband closer than expected. Like many, we enjoyed his amazing expeditions around the globe recording a wonderful mixture of culture, gastronomy, and most of all humanity. He was no doubt very skilled in the kitchen. Personally, his diet scared me more than enticed me. But his storytelling I found spellbinding. He made the culture he visited feel seen and heard. And then shared it with us through the common and every day; one plate of food and conversation at a time.

I feel heartbroken. For the people that will have to reconstruct life minus one who leaves a void that can’t be filled.  My heart breaks for Anthony and for Kate. I call them by their first names because they were -aside from their fame and success- like you and me. They had jobs, friends, loved ones, dreams, good days, and bad ones. Until one day putting an end to it all seemed to be the only option. I do not know what made them make that final choice, nor do I mean with these lines to assume I do. I weep with their families, because I weep for humanity, for us all. We are broken and can’t fix ourselves. Our time is made of moments, and the sum of them makes our life. How much one single moment can carry, Lord; how much it can take away. One moment can splinter everything.

I have wrestled with these words. I hesitate to share because there is such a stigma about mental health. I also hesitate for fear of being judged as an adult unable to function despite being a healthy, educated woman with a life by all accounts pleasant with “no real problems”. But as a follower of Christ, I belong to one body with many parts. So, I want to share honestly and openly for the sake of the body member who might be reading this, and find in these words, that you are not alone.

***

In November of 2014, I was wrapping up my last week at my well-paying corporate job. For the previous three years, I was a successful Senior Account Manager. My clients were big name companies. I had worked hard to earn their respect and establish my credibility as someone smart and reliable, able to offer strategies that could make a difference for their business.

I travelled occasionally on site to present findings to C-level executives, usually directors and VPs. The travelling was just the right amount, enough to make it exciting and yet occasional enough to not drain. My salary had been increasing steadily and by the time I left I was earning well. I was also held in high regard by my boss, my clients, my team and the CEO of the company.

Yet, by fall of that year, I was also suicidal.

For the previous 15 years, I had relentlessly pursued a very specific definition of success. I had traced myself career goals that encompassed climbing up a never-ending ladder, searching for the next achievement. My heart longed after what my bank account would say about me, how impressive my resume might look to the beholder. Meeting those goals became my life. The line between career and purpose blurred into a shade of sameness.

I want to tell twenty and thirty-year-old me that it is not the what that makes it or breaks it, it’s the why. And my why was breaking me.

I want to clarify, a corporate job, a good salary, travelling for business, and a portfolio of big-name clients, are all fine goals. I am in no way suggesting these are evil things to have or to desire. It’s why I was pursuing these things, which revealed the condition of my heart. My inner narrative said that to be a person of consequence, to be regarded as worthy, I needed to add to what is already there. Because what is there was too small to be important. And I wanted to feel important.

For that entire year leading up to November, I was exhausted. I slept poorly and was falling into deep depression. I came to believe that my life made no difference. I felt empty. The definition of self that I had built was not holding up. I remember feeling like there was no way out of feeling this way. Like I had no choice.

My husband started noticing my exhaustion and would comment that I looked tired. Was I ok? Then a few weeks later, he would say “you don’t look well sweetie, talk to me.” I told him I just felt awful, but that it was me, not us. “When you are not ok, we’re not ok,” he replied.

It made little sense to me at the time. One day he looked at me and said, “honey you know you can walk any time.” But somehow, I didn’t think so.

You see, the identity I had built was so strongly rooted, I struggled thinking if I quit what would I do?! More importantly, who would I be? After all, mature, together people, don’t just quit their jobs. They do so if they have a better one lined up. I was too burnt out to look for anything.

It got worse. I remember one day, on the bus on my way back from the office going home. It was toward the last days of summer. The sun was setting, and it was beautiful. The colours in the sky were amazing. And in the most sincere and natural manner, I thought “I will miss this when I’m gone. It’s so beautiful.” I realized immediately what I had meant by when I’m gone. I scolded my mind for thinking such a thing. Yet in my depressed state, I wanted to entertain the thought. And I did.

As the first days of fall appeared, my spirit became more and more restless. My depression reached its peak. I would cry regularly. I would muster an unbelievable strength to show up to work and put up a front to be functional for the hours I was in the office.

I always did my job. Always up to par with my peers, meeting my responsibilities, and even trying to outperform my own objectives. And again, gaining the praise of my superiors and clients alike. I was “attaining” what I wanted; that which I had worked so hard for. Yet inside I felt depleted. I would arrive home beyond worn-out, a shadow of a person.

During that time, I would often go for walks in the evening to try and clear my mind, as the thoughts and feeling of anguish were oppressive. There is an indoor pool in our building. We never use it. Once I walked by it around 10 pm. There was a sign that said it was locked to the public after 9 pm. I remember thinking - I guess it’s better if it’s locked, It would be so tempting to just go and drown, and end this.

My heart was empty, and my mind was a dark place. The meaning I successfully built was not giving me any significance at all. I was successful on the outside. Inside I was literally a dying soul.

I was addicted to what my job fed in me. Like an addict needs his fix to function; I needed to derive meaning from the existence I thought I had created for myself. The problem is that it was not giving me the fix I wanted. Not anymore. That sense of importance, I was somebody because of what I did. I could not quit that. So, quitting my life instead, seemed to be the option left. That is how blinded I had become.

God’s saving grace came through the few who knew I was not well. I reached out to my best friend in the US regularly, often through sobs on the phone more than anything. I did speak with my husband, although he was the one who did most of the talking, trying to reach out to me. And there was a co-worker, who is also a friend, and a brother in Christ, who saw the severity of my state.

They didn’t tire of speaking truth and wisdom even -and especially- when it seemed I wasn’t listening. I believe, especially their prayers made a dent. I came to an abrupt conclusion that I needed to quit my job, more than my life. Although at the time the two were one and the same thing to me.

Quitting was an ordeal for me. Because breaking up with your addiction is hard to do. But by God’s grace, I did leave. The suicidal thoughts slowly subsided, while the depression lingered for a long while. The road to recovery has been a slow steady one. One baby step at a time, letting new narratives from God’s Word take captive old ones and replace them. Much like a recovering alcoholic, I now walk through life with a deep sense of sober-minded awareness. Identity, purpose, and success are all definitions I revise regularly against eternal perspective, rather than the here and now. My life is now small, and my God big. It is a blessed shift that has literally saved my life.

I feel the burden to open my eyes wide to those I share my life with, to try to see them, to hear them. My neighbours, my church, my friends online, abroad, and those I see every week here in my city. If you are clear-headed as you read this, please embrace that burden too.

If you are struggling, I may not know you personally or the root of your struggle, but I know the burden of a life too heavy to carry. YOU ARE NOT ALONE. And your life is of immeasurable value, for the simple reason that you are an image bearer. There is grace for you. Please reach out, talk to someone. Let someone do the talking like my husband did with me. Allow others an opportunity to prove you wrong and let God, through them, show you He is present and cares. Please give your life a second chance. After all, we say everyone is worth that. So are you.

Whatever you are facing, please let this speak Truth into your life:

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible. Matthew 19:26

***

 

Suicide Prevention

Canada–in French or English: Phone toll-free 1-833-456-4566 /Text: 45645 /Chat: crisisservicescanada.ca

US: 1-800-273-8255 / En Español 1-888-628-9454

 

Dying to Self

Since 2012, I live in a city where each of all four seasons is experienced deeply. It is one of my favourite gifts received through immigration. I am not poetic, deeply is indeed correct. Winter can go as low as -35 C (that’s -31 Fahrenheit for my American readers), while summer temperatures can trampoline all the way to the other end of the thermometer at 40 C (104 F). Autumn is a beautiful carpet of crunchy brown and red leaves, that quickly turns frigid. A prequel to a long cold winter. Spring is often a wet mess of rain, melting snow, cool temperatures and then a magnificent show of colour when least expected.

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Winter is, if you know me at all, my beloved season. I’ve lived in countries with seasons, but Montreal’s winter is its own category. I’ve never seen anything so majestic in a metropolitan city. It’s winter showing off beauty seen on a mountain while skiing. For weeks on end, a death-like slumber of white covers everything like a blanket. The same streets that only months before you walked wearing Birkenstocks, now you must struggle through feet of snow with arctic boots and coat on. Nature is dead, it seems. Trees are grey and naked. Parks are colourless. It’s hard to recall the rainbow of leaves and flowers of previous seasons.

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Each activity needed for nature to live and thrive is allotted a time. An appointed space in the calendar for a specific purpose to enable the whole to operate. The rhythm of winter, spring, summer and fall, is a promise of hope straight from Genesis: “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” Genesis 8:22

In other words, while there is life, there will be seasons to sustain that life. The sustaining includes a series of events by which life must diminish, weaken, and die, to then regenerate and bloom again. To be fruitful. To be born again.

I think of the seasons of life. The entrance into a different chapter requiring new rhythms. Motherhood. College. Marriage. New job. Divorce. Moving. The death of a loved one. Growing up. Growing old. Like in nature, to enter a new stage of life usually means the ceasing of another. Something is given up to gain something. The college student gains more freedom and gives up the comfort of the familiar. Motherhood is an invitation to live for someone else and no longer is your time yours. When you marry, mine becomes ours, I is now we, and so goes for the calendar, the budget, and the remote control.

Mostly these are small deaths unto the self. But, what does it mean to die to oneself? Perhaps the better question is, what does it feel like? Sometimes it feels like a disappointment.  Or giving up a preference. It often feels like the unwanted middle seat in a row of three of an airplane. Uncomfortable. Not our first choice. Can we take this back, please? - we ask.

I think of my husband who every day dies a hundred little deaths to put me, his wife, first. I think of the way a parent will forgo personal comfort to provide for their child.

It is both simple and so hard to die to oneself. To let that seed of desire and pride to fall and crack open, be rendered small, that I may grow into someone that understands the cross better. It’s not our natural bend. None of us begin our day thinking of ways to give up what we want, go last in line, give up our seat and stand on our tired feet, and trust that we will still feel full after giving up our space. Because a small part of me dies, and I don’t want to.

But if a healthy thriving life implies dying that we may be made fruitful, then we need help outside of ourselves.

These words of Jesus strike me: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” John 12:24 (ESV). The New International Version says, “it remains only a single seed,” as in fruitless.

If I remain all of me, my desires and my will unhindered, I remain only a seed. No fruit. Like a kernel of wheat, when I am broken, my life is fertile.

Some seasons feel like we are given more than we can bear, maybe because we are. Not to defeat us per say, but to help us need a Saviour more than we need to have our way.

Like nature, seasons shift us dramatically from one state to another. Who we are and what supports it, falls apart. It’s like a seed. It must hit the ground. It must break open. Then it will germinate, take root. And in due time, the old patterns of thought, old habits we like a little too much, give way to new ones. That is the Master Gardener pruning and cultivating the heart, that out of a single seed broken it may yield life. That’s what Jesus is doing in your life and mine through the season we are facing now and the ones to come. And it is ultimately good. Because He is good.

What is Home?

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What is home? A specific geography, a city, a neighbourhood?  Perhaps it’s the smell of your grandmother’s cooking invading every room of a place, that makes it home. Is it the culture we are familiar with and part of? I let the question sit in for a moment, while I ponder answers.

It goes deeper than a zip code, and even the aroma of familiarity. Home is where our history is carefully housed. Our personhood is known, our roots contained. Home is where our belongings belong. Is wherever we are welcomed to spend that safe, restful series of moments when we most need them. Home is a familiar, effortless, sense of acceptance. Whatever gives us this, is the closest to home we have.

For me, being a child of divorce at a very early age, the idea was fragmented from the beginning. Soon after I was sent abroad to live and study. It would define my formative years. While it was a blessing no doubt, I was no closer to having a sense of home among various geographies and accents.

I’ve observed others with a more cohesive upbringing for whom home is clearly defined in terms of geography and family. Rooted in clear and coherent memories that thread an entire personal history. For me, this has always been the experience of an outsider looking in. I understand it but am unable to relate to it.

Sharing this as a 20 something, I remember my mentor -at the time in her 40’s- gently mentioning that Jesus did not have a place to lay his head. The Son of God, God made man, did not have a home while he walked the earth. In my heart, I ask why? Part of the answer, I think, is because He already had a home. It’s simplistic and I am sure there is much more to it. I see that it models something for us. Most of us know more physical comforts in this life than Jesus ever did. The simple often taken for granted gift of a permanent address and a bed were things he did not have, here.

The fact that most of us have an address and a bed is a blessing and evidence of God’s grace in our lives. The fact that He didn’t models for us a vision and intention of His time here. It was a trajectory to a final destination. Earth was not His home, but a temporary dwelling to accomplish the Father’s purpose. As Scripture says, He didn’t come to be served but to serve. No Jesus didn’t come to be comfortable, but to be broken for the broken.

So, how did He live out the concept of home? The safety, acceptance, and assurance that home represents, Jesus found in the Father. His utter dependence on God the Father was his home while here. It kept him anchored to the Truth of Who He was and Where his permanent address was; in heaven at the right hand of the Father. This was his source and point of reference, on how to live in the temporary place where he didn’t have a place to lay his head.

He didn’t have a home here, because he came to build a kingdom. A kingdom for which he was the cornerstone. He came to give his life as a ransom for many. Obedience to that purpose, and dependence on his Father to carry it out, is where he rested. That intimacy shared with the Father was the source of his actions while he was on earth. Actions that included washing feet, feeding crowds, healing the sick, confronting the proud, speaking Truth, and forgiving sins. In doing so Jesus was modelling the kind of home he came from and what kind of kingdom he came to build.

Everything changes when you become a believer and follower of Jesus. Everything inside of you that is. So much on the outside remains the same. Life’s hard things, people, and situations may never change. My background is still my background. Becoming a believer didn’t change how my life began and the weight thereof. But it did change me. From within. Deeply. And forever. Including what home, I look for.

For me, the ache of not having is an invitation to wait for the kingdom. It’s an active waiting. I wait for it as I learn to depend on God more than on myself. I anticipate it and feel I am getting small glimpses of it when I share with others joyful moments that feel otherworldly. It is a welcomed blessing in that way. It’s a good hunger to have, that says this is not the main course. The feast is yet to come.

Over the years, so many close friends have shown me with their love, a foretaste of that feast. They have taught me so well by example what it means to wash someone’s feet. They’ve made, quite literally, an eternal difference in my life.

Whether home is a well-defined place of comfort, one lost due to life’s circumstances, or an elusive concept altogether; the offer is the same. Let Him hold you and all your personal history. Learn to rest and lay down your head in the safety of the Father. Let yourself belong to Him. That’s what Jesus did while here. And what he came to do; make a way for us to have our home with Him.

To Be Seen and Heard We Need to Show and Tell

I don’t want to undress my heart and show others what I carry because vulnerability is emotional nakedness. And like physical nakedness, it feels embarrassing. The imperfections come spilling out. The not enoughness of my virtues. The too muchness of my issues. It’s an insight God has brought to my attention gently over the past few weeks.

Although I noticed it in my writing first, where I began to hear my own guarded voice, I slowly saw it present in all spaces of my life. My heart wears a heavy wardrobe. I am still processing. So, this is me, sharing with you, my reader, for accountability, and to process with you what God is teaching me.

We fear rejection, or best-case scenario, judgment. “Best” because you may judge some parts and still let me in. Rejection feels more final. Like red ink letters stamping the word “rejection” on an application for example. It’s the whole effort being rejected, no parts approved or wanted.

Because we all long to be accepted. We want our whole person to belong, not just the likeable interesting pieces, those we intentionally let out, as the business card of emotional interacting, here’s the better worthier part of me in a nutshell, but all of it.  

I do not mean we should wear all our emotions on our sleeve all the time. But to connect deeply, depth is required. And keeping a tone that floats on the surface, to ensure the heart stays afloat in others’ company, is sinking any possibility of serving and being served. I’m still figuring out what that means for my writing voice and the things I share. That fine line between fearing making it about me and humbly sharing my stories that bear His writing, that it may bring Him glory and that it may serve you. Connect with you. Draw us closer to Him and to one another.

My humanity and the limitations thereof are meant to need Him. And so are yours. The not enoughness and the too muchness, are indeed so. Not nearly enough to measure up, and too much to overcome alone. Yet I am gloriously created with limits because I was made to be complete with my creator. In and through Jesus, limits are made into enough and lack is completed with his provision. Like the fish and the loaves of bread, which although were just barely the lunch of a kid, were made enough to feed thousands.  

The tension we feel in our deficiencies is an invitation to step into the sufficiency of our Maker. This week’s post feels a lot like that for me. An imperfect string of letters I offer, knowing full well their value won’t be measured in literary quality. But hopeful that they are good enough to plant a seed in someone who may need to look at their long list of lack, considering God. Sounds lovely, and in my heart profoundly true.

I realize it also sounds hollow on days when deficient is all I see in the mirror. And I don’t have an answer for that and I think we’re not meant to have one. There are occasions when we are to go through the feelings. Because it is in the hard place where we can be comforted. Taken in. Understood.

And how healing that is, in the presence of the One Who holds our days and every tear we shed, in his hands. We skip on the hard feelings; we miss the healing. We deny the weaknesses we carry; we reject the power by which they are made strong in His strength.

How hard, dear reader, it is for me, I confess, to grapple with all of this, in terms of sharing and digging deeper in this space. I pray these words that feel spoken from my fingers to the keyboard, unto your screens, may help connect us a little more to one another, and to Him who wants all of you, and all of me. The good parts, and the ones wearing too many layers. Making them heavy to carry.

The next time someone shares more than what you are comfortable with, imagine how you would want to feel in their shoes, and offer them that. We all yearn for the same thing. We want to belong. To be seen and heard. But how can others see and hear who we really are, when few of us want to show our true selves and tell our stories? How else are we going to build the Church if we can’t serve one another, in the offering and receiving of what we carry, the way Jesus did for our sake?

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When Need is what You Need most.

When you follow Jesus the logic of things is often, well, missing. While reading the other day I was struck by these words of his: “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” Mark 10:23.

This statement makes no sense when seen through the eyes of everyday life. Affluence is something associated with power. The wealthy have influence. A person with financial means will have access to better education, a nicer home, newer cars, etc. And yet, in these words not only is having wealth not useful, but it is also a hindrance. The one thing worth having above all else – the Kingdom of God, is hard to attain for those who have an abundance of resources. Why?

It’s interesting that Jesus never says having wealth is wrong. He says for those who are wealthy, to enter the kingdom of God is hard.

We tend to think having means reduces our needs. And of course, in the here and now, it is true. Having financial resources helps meet many of our basic needs like food or shelter, as well as our recreational ones, such as travelling. The danger is when we believe that having financial means takes care of all needs. Or that the only needs we have are those met with resources we can produce.

I was raised in a comfortable environment. I was blessed to receive a great education and did not have to worry about how it would all be covered. Somewhere along the way from youth to adulthood, not needing (help, money, etc.) became an important marker for success. Yet need is our most primal basic state before the cross. We are needy. In every way. We need salvation, discernment. We need healing. We need community. We need. Period. But, how hard indeed it is for those who have much and think it enough, to understand their need for God and His kingdom.

So hard, that Jesus then adds, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:25). I think the mindset that comes with resources is where the rubber meets the road. Whether we are rich or not, our goal is to become like a rich person. Perhaps not all of us will have the goal of amassed wealth in the form of a trust fund or overseas accounts, but in the end, we are all seeking to have enough means that lead to worry-free self-sufficiency.

Still digesting his comment about a camel going through the eye of a needle with more ease than a rich person entering the kingdom of God, the disciples grapple among themselves “Then who can be saved?”. The answer is a verse often quoted, that I did not know this was the actual conversation where it occurred:

Looking at them, Jesus said, “With man it is impossible,
but not with God, because all things are possible with God.”
— Mark 10:27

When it comes to the Lord, there will always be this upside down/ right side up kingdom logic. I think for me it boils down to being made poor in order to be made rich in the right things. In 2014 I had a severe burnout that came crashing down with depression and a meaningful life decision to quit my job at the time and the career I’d been building for years. For the next few years, I became “poor” in the things that I thought mattered so much. I went from having a fattened bank account, so to speak, to a very slim one. I went from having a nice title in my LinkedIn profile to answering the “What do you do?” question with “I stay at home. I mentor younger women from my church. And, I write.” While thinking to myself, “all the while earning zero."

I remember the first time my husband did our taxes after I had quit my job. I felt shame. There was a big, fat ZERO where my full name appeared under the heading of “contributor.” That is exactly how I felt. And ashamed I told my husband as much; “My contribution to our household budget, there is it, ZERO!” To which he replied warmly that wasn’t true at all, and that this season was most important for my well-being. That it was God, who was supplying all our needs, like always.

Funny how it’s the kind of truth I would have said earlier in my life, but not entirely grasped or lived out. But now, at that moment, it went straight into my heart like a fresh and needed wound. Yes, a wound to my ego, to my self-sufficiency.

I want to be clear. While I was a believer back then, there was a thick layer between what I believed and how I lived it out. It impeded me from needing Him enough to delight in Him also.  

Stripped of what was my go-to for security, feeling inadequate and not at all self-reliant, I turned to Jesus with new eyes. Having zero as my contribution to my household economy in that tax form provided a realistic picture of how we are vis-à-vis the cross. We bring nothing to the kingdom. We can’t. It does not need anything we complete, and has everything we need to be whole.

I am learning to appreciate becoming "impoverished" in worldly measures, to take in the wealth of the kingdom we are called to. It was God’s mercy that circumstances are helping me become poor in the things I held dear and upon which I relied for my needs; that I may see and taste the sufficiency and abundance of Christ.

Going back to where I began, remember this whole conversation is taking place between Jesus and the disciples. So why then does he say that it’s hard for a wealthy man to enter the kingdom of God, to a group of men who aren’t? If their position in life isn’t directly related to the example provided, why use that wording? I think Jesus is deliberate and intentional in these words. He meant them for a group of fishermen and middle-class men. And He says them for us, 21st-century readers.

In talking about the person who is wealthy, He is talking to the person who regardless of financial standing, thinks that having resources is the goal and answer. And he is talking to the one who while being deprived thinks if only he had wealth then he would have no needs. Essentially, He is talking to all of us.  

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