Friday, May 29, 2015

Final Curtain

For five months, I have been immersed in preparing for this moment. Two performances down, one to go. Closing night.

In January, in a crowded rehearsal room with 34 other souls, we read snippets of characters we did not know.

Now, I know them all.

Intimately, almost. Or I think I do. As well as 1:24 hours of dialogue allow us to know twelve strangers around a jury table. Away from the jury room, I hear them tell their story, their background, where they came from, why their anger rises.

Sometimes our anger rises, too.

We push against and play with each one. Go home in shambles after a one sentence critique hits a soft place, reopens an old wound or pours salt on a current one. Talk long, think longer, memorize day in and day out the words of our character, explore, stretch and dance with the nuances of their nature, allow them to commandeer our body during rehearsal and bid them go to their corner and sit quiet when not rehearsing.

But she doesn’t sit quiet, Number 10 Juror. Not in me. She looks for gaudy rings at the thrift shop. She searches magazines for the perfect hairstyle, puruses the beauty counters at The Bay for the perfect shade of pink lipstick to match the shellac nails, eyes multi-rows of frames at the optometrist for the perfect animal-print cats-eyed pair. She startles me from the mirror when her haircolor wins the day at the salon despite all attempts to mute it. She tries to tunnel her bigotry into my head with a low, melodic southern drawl musing about who might move in to the house for sale next door.

I bid her be silent but she speaks in every nook and cranny.

Until I put her in her place. On stage. Only. Ever. Always. Just another character I will portray. One with whom I will spend these few days. We will dance, and she will not step on my toes. She is to be shown the light for the blindness she denies. And laughed at for taking her own opinion too seriously.

And then, when the curtain closes and the house lights rise, she will return to the pages of the now-closed script, to be referenced only as an example of one relationship that was doomed to end.

But one that has taught me much about human nature and the necessity of the examined life.

Rest well, #10. Thank you for the decadent dance.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Reading Deprivation

I'm on a "Reading Fast".

No reading. Yes. You read that right. No reading. No books, no blogs, no internet, no in-bound email, no text messages.

Wait. What?

Reading deprivation is a tool, a jump-start toward creative output. As Julia Cameron suggests in The Artist's Way, "For most artists, words are like tiny tranquilizers. We have a daily quota of media chat that we swallow up. Like greasy food, it clogs our system. Too much of it and we feel, yes, fried." (p. 96)

She goes on to explain the paradox of emptying our lives of distractions so that we can experience the sensory world, make observations we might otherwise miss, do things we have left neglected and begin creating our own art, writing and so on. We fill the well of our creative potential with new sights and sounds that we may otherwise numb ourselves to if we are constantly filling the void with white noise and/or other people's opinions and perspectives.

"We often cannot hear our own inner voice, the voice of our artist's inspiration above the static... reading can be an addiction. We gobble the words of others rather than digest our own thoughts and feelings, rather than cook up something of our own." (p. 97)

The time filler of Facebook and daily digest of emails from intelligent, spiritual and/or witty bloggers are not wrong. But setting them aside for a time, I have realized my dependence on them as distractions, diversions or excuses from actually getting work done or spending time in necessary and beneficial self-care. Full-headed days packed with mind-numbing volumes of reading have given way to satisfying personal entertainment, meditation, face-to-face engagement with real people in real time and diligent, satisfying work. I've had short story inspirations, time to write an article for the church magazine, plan camping trips with friends and decide where to spend our 2016 holidays.

So far this week (in three days), I have written at least three pages (longhand) every morning, sent some important emails, listened to music (blues), danced, rearranged my accessories drawer and jewelry cabinet, learned a new way to remove dried blood stains, sorted and filed half my stacked papers, fed the birds & squirrels and spent hours watching their antics, photographing them and listening to their songs and fights, visited Heritage Park, gone out for dinner, had several long conversations with my husband about stuff that really matters, made dinner several times and enjoyed one on the deck while watching the sun set, played cards and Crokinole, learned to appreciate blackbirds and magpies, called my banker about business, called Spa Lady about an incorrect charge, called the dentist to book an overdue appointment, practiced music for choir, took a walk, wrote a poem, rehearsed my lines every day for my role in dinner theatre, sorted pictures and made a to-do list in which I have already checked off several things. And I have laughed. There's more, but some things are private.

All the while, the undercurrent of my major writing project is simmering at a higher temperature. It is always in the back of my mind, sorting itself, ideas and outlines coming and going, notes sketched out in morning pages, taking on a shape, slowly but surely.

I'm on the journey.

I retired from my last job completely depleted. The volume of information I had to absorb, sort, categorize and act upon was overwhelming. I was working out of an empty well. After truly resting for a few months, I began filling the well and now I am working out of my strength and getting stronger every day. I'm studying, writing, singing, speaking, acting, directing, loving, dancing, laughing. Oh, so much laughing!

Reading and Digital Deprivation, by intention, leaves room to fill the well with new sights, sounds, thoughts, feelings, and inspiration. I am richer than I have ever been, and not one dollar has changed hands.

I've just started paying more attention.

And the return on investment is priceless.

Photo credit: #54606177, standard license

Friday, May 15, 2015

Obedience Brings Blessing

There used to be a common fear that if one surrendered to God, they would be “sent to Africa” or to do the very worst job they could possibly imagine – that to serve meant the most distasteful sacrifice. This was countered on the opposite extreme by “prosperity gospel” – where the opposite message was preached, that if you followed God you’d be rewarded with whatever material possessions your heart desired.

Proponents of these opposite extremes have an entire arsenal of horror stories or happily-ever-after stories that support their particular position. With little effort, they also find segmented, out of context, misinterpreted scriptures that appear to bolster their viewpoint. Yes, some have gone to Africa. Some have lost their lives. And yes, some even have all the material things they have ever wanted.

However, God is neither an ogre nor a vending machine.

We are called to sacrifice and surrender, yes. And we know that every good and perfect gift comes from the Father of Light. But the motive for obedience, surrender and service is love - not self-flagellation or self-gratification. The motive is "not my will but Yours". The driving force of life is "Thy Kingdom come, on earth, as it is in heaven"; not just in my life but in the lives of all those I encounter.

“What happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely. Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way. Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good—crucified.” ~ Galatians 5:22-23 (MSG)

“Obedience” means we allow the Spirit to live through us. We, as disciples of Christ, are to model the attitude of Christ (see Philippians2) who was God but set it aside to become a servant to his own creation. We set aside our demand to “do it my way”, release that tightly clenched grasp on my demand for a specific outcome and accept the idea that “blessings” extend far beyond simple material wealth or possessions. That blessing comes in many disguises.

Our personalities and skills are not obliterated; they are elevated and directed into use as our highest and best self. Through the power and presence of the Spirit of Christ: we live, move and have our being in ways that are infused, guided and marked by "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." Who wouldn’t want this? There is no drama here! Read that list again! There are no laws against any of these things. And there is no fear in this kind of life. God is perfect Love, and being in the presence of this perfect love leaves no room for fear.

Please notice that in this list of the things we are promised - as the outgrowth of having the Spirit of Christ living, empowering and energizing our life - that there is no mention at all of material possessions.

It doesn’t mean we don’t or can’t have nice things. God knows what we have need of, and has promised to meet our need out of the infinite riches of heaven’s storehouse. But dare I say it? It can also mean that God may choose to strip away anything or any person, position, possession, place, appearance, or pattern of life that gets in the way of us knowing God, anything that sets itself up as its own god, anything that becomes more important in our life than the presence of God. 

Jesus said it: 
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?” ~ Luke 9:23-25

Take up the cross daily? What does that mean? I believe the idea is that every day, I "die" to my own agenda, demands, preferences and wants and begin to learn, step by step, breath by breath to yield to the still, small voice of the Spirit that says, "This is the way, walk in it." I learn this by studying God's word, the Bible; by learning to listen to God in all the ways he speaks, by serving others, by meeting with others who are also learning to live in the Spirit of Christ, by caring properly for myself, my family, my tasks and my possessions as a good steward of what I have been given. Beyond this, I learn to see that my disappointments can become God's appointments. Wounds from others become the place where I learn to trust God. The worst circumstance of my life becomes a reservoir of wisdom that guides the remainder of my life. 

What is the biggest blessing, then?

God’s presence. The Spirit of Christ. In every circumstance, good or bad. My needs are met spiritually, relationally, materially, emotionally. I don’t earn any of this – it is freely offered to anyone who chooses to receive it. 
“So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture. None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.”  ~ Romans 8:32-29 (MSG)

And this is surrender to Love. This is the blessing that comes after obedience to the call on our hearts to follow after Jesus Christ.

We are never alone, never separated from Love. No matter what. 

And you can take that to the bank.

Photo credit: #8551214, standard license

Thursday, April 30, 2015

How to Pray

In our rehearsal last night, our large choir was led in an amazing prayer time of praise and adoration – sharing our declarations of love, awe, wonder and gratitude for our precious Lord and Saviour, our awesome God and the beautiful Holy Spirit. We were reminded that in the Lord's Prayer, Jesus gives us the model of how we can structure our prayers. He begins with adoration, humility and surrender. We remind ourselves of who God is and align our hearts with His will, just as Christ anguished in the garden, "Not my will but thine be done."

Prayer can take many forms, but one simple acronym that many have found helpful for their personal quiet time is A.C.T.S.

A = Adoration
C = Confession
T = Thanksgiving
S = Supplication

Adoration is what we experienced last night. When we focus on God and who He is, not only in relation to us but who He is in the beauty of his holiness apart and separate from anything to do with us. If you find yourself at a loss for what to say in adoration, consider reading scripture (some helpful lists are here and here), articles and study aids that help you get know the God we worship. 

We can only worship someone we love, 
and we can only love someone we know.

Confession is a necessary time of speaking before the Lord in open and total transparency. He knows everything about us, but as C.S. Lewis says, prayer doesn’t change God, it changes me. To name a thing takes away its power. We cannot heal what we do not acknowledge. When I confess sin in my life, God can release me from its power. His forgiveness for us was secured on the cross, but he instructs us to confess. As 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” For a more in-depth consideration, read David Whyte's thoughts regarding the value of confession.

Confession opens the door to healing and to a larger life 
where I do not repeat the self-same sin.

Thanksgiving is God’s will. “In everything give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (I Thessalonians 5:18). It is the internal attitude of gratefulness, cultivating the eyes of our heart to see His gifts, no matter how small, in every situation. Thanking God for all that comes in the journey, not for every circumstance but in the midst of it, realizing that every good gift and every perfect gift is from his hand, and that sometimes his gifts come disguised in trials or challenges that shape our character and require us to trust or wait on Him. Gratitude preceded many of the miracles Jesus performed. He lifted his eyes and thanked God before he broke bread, before he fed 5,000+, before he raised Lazarus from the dead. A wonderful resource on gratitude is here.

Gratitude and thanksgiving make it possible 
to live fully right where we are.

Supplication, petition and intercession is about humbly and earnestly asking God to act, provide or intervene. When we pray for God’s will on behalf of someone else, it is called petition or intercession while making a request for ourselves is supplication. There is nothing wrong with asking, in fact, God invites us to boldly approach the throne of Grace to obtain mercy and find grace to help in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16). Learn more here

Don't worry
Tell God what you need
Thank Him for what he's already done
and peace will follow

Note for the choir: As we have various leaders prompt different styles of prayer over the remainder of the season together, we will explore different aspects of God and our relationship to him, different ways of speaking with and hearing from the Spirit. We've practiced the beginnings of Listening Prayer, which is very different from speaking to God like we've discussed above. If you'd like to learn more about Listening Prayer, consider reading Can You Hear Me or Rivers from Eden, or watch the seminar videos by Brad Jerzak here.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

That's What Love Is

I woke at 5 a.m.

This is becoming more frequent as I go to bed at a regular time and am sleeping fairly well. It is not a bad thing. I am alert. I get up to write “morning pages” – a mind dump to clear the cobwebs of random thoughts – nothing to be read again, just a purging of whatever comes to mind. I write a minimum of three pages, longhand, not on the computer.

Today it was six.

I’m a wrestler. A rationalist. A “please-help-me-understand” debater. Yet understanding is overrated. Here, on earth, we can only ever know “in part”. We “see through a glass darkly”.

I start thinking someone else is wrong and I list all the reasons on pages one, two, three and then begin to see my arguments break down one at a time on page four and my personal self-protective barriers fall and crash to the ground around my blushing feet on page five and then I end on page six realizing the only thing that matters is love and boy, do I ever need a refresher course on what that looks like so I go to the seminal list in 1 Corinthians 13:

Love is not:
self seeking
easily angered

Love doesn’t:
dishonor others
keep a record of wrongs
delight in evil

Love is:

Love does:
rejoice with the truth

Yeah. That.

Now I take that list and replace the word “love” with my name. Ooomphhhh.
You try it with your name. 
Pretty humbling.
No time to point fingers when I start listing all the ways I get to love...

Photo credit: 8723007, standard license

Friday, April 24, 2015

Apples of Gold

“It really makes me sad to see you speak so harshly to yourself.”

I looked at his face, tender with concern. Harshly to myself? What had I said?

“I pray I will know when to speak and when to shut my mouth.”

It was, on the surface, a genuine concern to only say what is helpful. To not speak in unhelpful or hurtful ways. To carefully choose my battles and determine which hills to die on, then speak with the right attitude and in the right tone of voice. Because we know that it’s not so much what you say but how you say it that leaves the listener remembering how you made them feel. For goodness sake, I even pray about this sort of thing. And I sometimes decide not to speak when I listen to the still, small voice which cautions me to be still.

I had said the first part in a normal voice: “I pray I will know when to speak.” Speak up for those who have no voice. Speak peace into a troubled heart. Speak encouragement for the weak one. Speak up when I have been wronged. I’m still learning how to do that last one without being a prickly pear.

But when to shut my mouth? Ah, that I said with a snarl and a curled lip. A self-flagellation for every time I spoke out of turn, spoke too loud, spoke unkindly, hurt someone, accused someone, berated someone.

It takes me right back to Grade Eight science class when Bruce and Gerry gave me an unflattering nickname: Meramac Cavern Mouth. They were my friends, we sang together. I liked them. We teased each other. But I was loud and they poked me for it, choosing the largest cave in the state as my namesake.

Yes, I was loud in Junior High. I was obnoxious. I was funny. I was busy. I was a singer. I was confident. I was sometimes insecure and I was trying to find my place in the world, just having experienced my first kiss.

That was awkward and gross. I didn’t know what to do with that icky feeling. So I redirected it in anger against the boy who tried it and to my best friend and her boyfriend who goaded us into it. Sitting on the cold floor of her parents’ garage, we two couples, all the early side of 14 years old, decided to explore kissing. And it was a bomb. I was embarrassed. Was something wrong with me? Was it him? Neither one of us knew how. I was disappointed that I’d chosen poorly and I could never get “my first kiss” back. It was gone and now it would forever be engraved in history as a bad mistake I made with a pudgy Grade Seven boy.

What followed was my first experience with really hurting someone with my words. I broke up with the boy and decided I didn’t want to be friends with my best friend any more. I made unkind remarks about her to others at school. The vitriol went on until one of the teachers called me aside to say, “I know your brother (a teacher in Grade Six) and I know your family and I know they didn’t raise you to act like this. You are being a bully and it needs to stop.”

I did stop. I was embarrassed that someone had to take me aside like that, yet I was grateful because I knew he was right.
“The right word at the right time is like a custom-made piece of jewelry, and a wise friend’s timely reprimand is like a gold ring slipped on your finger. Patient persistence pierces through indifference; gentle speech breaks down rigid defenses.” Proverbs 25:11-12,15 (MSG)
My friend and I made up but it was always different after that. We had both been wounded and my words had left scars on us both.

The awkward, gross, icky feeling of Grade Eight surfaces every time I see that look in another person’s eyes: I’ve hurt them. I kick myself over and over for speaking at the wrong time or in the wrong way, even if what I said was valid. They couldn’t receive it because my timing or tone of voice was offensive.

As time passes, as I mature, I have earned a measure of success and respect for how I speak and what I write. But as many writers do, I write very carefully, wrestling long and hard over anything I put in print: to say it right, to say it well, to say it clearly. It can take an entire morning to write and publish one blog post. And I anguish over emails, writing and re-writing paragraphs to minimize any possibility of misinterpretation and still, it is sometimes misunderstood, the reader misses the point or fixates on one ill-chosen phrase.

I have no one to blame but myself.

Or so I thought.

In sober second thought, my rational mind can logically deduce that others are also responsible for their reactions. They hear what I have to say through their own background experience and emotional filters. They give different value, meaning and weight to my words than what I intended.

When another is offended, I can sometimes understand in retrospect how it hurt them, if they let me know. More often they don’t say anything. They just fade away. Not many people confront me about my words. Not many people confront anyone. It seems confrontation is avoided at all costs by a majority of us.

When that unsettled feeling rises, that subtle alienation after I say something intense, passionate or strong, I go away and analyze it. Replay the full conversation, maybe the entire event in my head more than once, guess at how it might have been interpreted (how impossible is that, since I’m trying to understand someone else’s filters through my own).

I know I am not alone in this practice. You do it too, perhaps?

So back to the original remark that started this all off. When I pray I want to know when to keep my mouth shut, I’m thinking of all that has come before. All the ways I’ve caused pain to the heart of another. That overbearing burden of being a person who so often wounds another, that somehow I should be able to not do that.

I should be perfect.

Or at least, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”

So I turn on myself. “Keep your mouth shut!” my inner critic snarls.

And the one who loves me best, who sees me at my worst, who has promised to love and cherish me until death parts us, tells me how sad he is to see that venom turned inward.

This is a shining moment in love, in marriage: the mirror held up by a loving hand to help me see clearly where I am self-cutting. The one who sees my heart, knows my life and moves to restrain my hand from the mea culpa.

“It is not only what you say but, more importantly, how you say it.”

Especially when you are saying it to yourself. Self-compassion is not selfishness. It is what makes it possible for us to live whole and compassionate in all our other relationships.

He goes on, “Ask yourself how you would speak to another person, and speak to yourself in that same courteous way.”

Words can heal and words can kill. Words wound and words give life. So, I will continue to pray about when to speak and when to be silent. Because silence is not always golden. Sometimes silence means consent or cowardice. In that case, speaking graciously is the most loving way to live in community with one another.

I’m so glad for the way another spoke healing words to me.
Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift. Don’t grieve God. Don’t break his heart. His Holy Spirit, moving and breathing in you, is the most intimate part of your life, making you fit for himself. Don’t take such a gift for granted. Make a clean break with all cutting, backbiting, profane talk. Be gentle with one another, sensitive. Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:29-32 MSG

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Not Fame but Faithfulness: Brian Doerksen

Before his 2009 concert in Calgary, Alberta, I spoke with worship leader, Brian Doerksen, whose original songs are sung in churches world-wide.  Over 85 are listed on the Christian Copyright Licensing (CCLI) database with “Come, Now is the Time to Worship” consistently ranked near the top. Doerksen has garnered a Dove, a Juno and multiple Covenant Awards but still believes the highest calling we have as human beings is to faithfulness.
The quiet-spoken Doerksen says he isn’t an expert, but is sharing a glimpse of the things he has learned of God. Doerksen explains that while humans fixate on success and achievements, God is interested in our character.
Doerksen is married and has six children, two affected by Fragile X syndrome. Since over 80 percent of marriages with handicapped children end in divorce, his upcoming 25th wedding anniversary will be quite a celebration. “How God shapes us in our journey has often to do with things that we wouldn’t sign up for,” Doerksen said, “and we have to learn how to follow the voice of the Lord. Most of that voice is not about grand things, it’s about staying faithful.”
His new book, MAKE LOVE, MAKE WAR: Now is the Time toWorship (David C. Cook, 253 pages), is a collection of stories behind some of his songs along with poignant personal anecdotes and practical tips for aspiring songwriters.
“There was a moment where the idea came to me that I’m supposed to do this,” Doerksen reflected, “and I immediately pushed it away and thought, ‘No.” I was 41. I remember hearing John Wimber say ‘Don’t write a book before you’re 50 because you don’t know anything’ and I thought, ‘Boy, that’s right.’” However, as his team of intercessors were praying, they would envision him writing and one asked, “I think you’re supposed to be writing, is something coming?”
“It’s not like I wrote the book and then shopped it around,” Doerksen says. “The publisher came to me and said, ‘There’s a book in you.’”
The book was two years in writing. Doerksen says he’s still learning but wants to link arms with the next generation through mentoring new worship leaders while still reaching back to his father’s generation.
“We need each other,” he says, “and sometimes writing a book helps.” When people read of what he was going through when he wrote certain songs, they are touched. But for the next generation, who just want to get on stage, they read the real-life drama and say “Woah, there’s more to this than I knew.”
The book received high praise from authors Mark Buchanan and John Eldridge as well as musicians Paul Baloche, Tim Hughes and others. Buchanan describes it as “both a pastoral and scholarly mediation on the character of God.”
Doerksen does not plan a book tour. “I don’t have time,” he says. He is prepping for a new live worship album in 2010 and serves as Worship Arts and Teaching pastor at The Bridge in Abbotsford. He stays available for his kids, from helping his college-age daughter move into her first apartment to being with the 10 year old who doesn’t speak and needs his dad to wrestle with him.
And about those awards? “What I do isn’t for people,” Doerksen declares. “If you’re doing it to win an award, it’s gone in a moment. Your reward has to be your fellowship with God and with other people.”

Doerksen’s project at the time was PRODIGAL GOD, the epic tale of two brothers and one wastefully extravagant father. See more at

For a current update on Brian's recent projects and work, see his webpage,