Thursday, August 06, 2015

Journey of Faith

A friend asked this question and I thought it deserved a thoughtful answer.

Everyone has a 'journey of faith'. What is yours and my narrative? 
Describe it, with intellectual honesty.

My journey of faith is like a very long hike, following my guide, Jesus. The path sometimes feels like a scramble up a very steep, unstable slope. Rocks are falling from those who are ahead of me, and other times, these same folks reach back to lend a hand up and guide me to the best path around dangerous obstacles. I regularly consult the trail map (the Bible), travel with or simply confer with other followers of Jesus for the best routes and look for cairns left to mark the way. The path sometimes requires me to look down at my feet so I don't trip up and sometimes I look up to see my final destination.

There are many beautiful things I explore along the way, places and ideas I discover, I sometimes walk alongside others or stop for refreshment with a large group, and other times, I travel alone. The backpack of resources, memories, and burdens which I carry sometimes gets heavy. I have discarded some things along the way which I've outgrown, were mislabeled or weren't helpful any longer and I also picked up other resources along the path.

At times, I've relaxed beside quiet water, kicked off my boots, reflected on my journey so far, or even taken a nap. While the quiet moments of non-movement restore my soul, staying too long in one place on the faith journey is not healthy.

It's dangerous to travel alone. This mistake has cost me some painful tumbles in steep places where traversing alone was fool-hardy. There have been times my Guide, Jesus, has cautioned me not to go a particular route, but he won't stop me if I'm determined to go there. I've lost my sense of direction more than once when I didn't follow the One with the compass.

Ultimately, the majority of this interactive, dynamic, ever challenging journey involves steady, plodding, step-by-step movement toward eternity. Eugene Peterson calls this "a long obedience in the same direction."

Just like an aircraft has a flight path to which the pilot constantly must make course corrections to stay the course, my faith journey requires me to  keep in step with the Spirit, my eyes on Jesus and my heart fixed on the goal: the presence of God.

Sometimes this is obscured by cloud or darkness or my own blind determination to be self-sufficient. Sometimes I lose the path and need time to find it again. In those times, the voice I most long to hear is my Guide whispering "This is the way, walk in it." Sometimes I don't hear anything and then, I have to choose to continue walking, not doubting in the dark what I was shown in the light.

For we walk by faith and not by sight.

Photo credits: personal collection

Tuesday, July 14, 2015


This past Sunday, I was privileged to attend my soul daughter's bridal shower. She has been friends with my son for five years, dated for two and they will be married in 17 days. This bridal shower was primarily a family affair. Aunts, cousins, sister, mother, grandmothers and lifelong friends shared personal memories and reflections, gifts of heirloom pieces, souvenirs, hand crafted treasures, and family recipes. I was struck by the interweaving our histories have within a family.

As the mother of the groom, living in a city nearly 1,000 km away, I'm so grateful my son is being absorbed into this long legacy of treasured memories and look forward as he and his new wife will together build a legacy of their own.

I attended another gathering Saturday on Sunset Beach, where the son of my husband's best friend exchanged vows with his bride. When it came time for the photos, my husband's 40+ years of friendship earned a spot in the family grouping along with me as his wife. As a recent newlywed, these summer weddings and preparations are a sweet reminder of my own recent nuptials and the value of relationships: friends and family members which support and strengthen each union.

This intergenerational blending and intertwining of my family with my new husband's family and his long time friends' families, and us with my son's new family, along with his cousins, grandparents, uncles and their families who will be joining us. It truly will be a united nations wedding: Dutch, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, American, Canadian and more.

As I was searching for the words to express the emotion of all this, Dr. David Benner shared the following quote from John O'Donohue. It captures the essence of family:
Superficially, a family might look like an accidental gathering of individuals called together by the chance meeting of a man and a woman who fell in love and wanted to express the depth of their love in procreation. At a deeper level, a family is an incredible intertwining of multiple streams of ancestry, memory, shadow, and light. Each home hosts the arrival of history and assists the departure of new destiny. The walls of the home contain immense happenings that occur gradually under the subtle veil of normality. Though each family is a set of new individuals, ancient relics and residues seep through from past generations. Except for our parents and grandparents, our ancestors have vanished. Yet ultimately and proximately, it is the ancestors who call us here. We belong to their lifeline. While they ground our unknown memory, our continuity bestows on them a certain oblique eternity. In our presence we entwine past and future.  ~ John O'Donohue
Be present. You are carrying forward the legacy.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Inspiration and Maintenance

In “The Artist’s Way: Creativity as a Spiritual Practice,” Julia Cameron offers a wide slate of encouragement, exercises, prodding, tasks, tools, proven advice and hard-learned lessons which, when applied, can move writers and others from stuck to stellar, from blocked to blossoming. I'm going through the book in a 12-week class.

It’s one reason I’ve not had the urge to blog. And why I’ve not felt a need to see my therapist. And one of the contributing reasons as to why I’m happier than I’ve been for about as long as I can remember. Well, besides the fact that I’m a very happy newlywed, married to an astonishingly perceptive, funny, loving, gifted man.

I also must tip my proverbial hat to the course facilitator, Caroline Russell-King, a successful playwright and dramaturg who has run the class numerous times through Alexandra Writers Centre Society. She has guided the participants of the course with gentleness and stewardship.

It’s not a walk in the park, though. week four and week nine are typically the weeks participants quit, according to Caroline. And I am procrastinating on the week nine assignment quite a bit. Self-discovery is not always about mining the good stuff. Sometimes there’s a lifetime of sludge, negativity and denial, even outright lies we have believed about who we are.

Yet, it’s worth the excavation, moving the rubble out of the way to get to the buried gifts. One of the most significant discoveries has come through an increased self-awareness: what’s going on in my body, mind, heart, soul. I’ve come to finally recognize how I have had a negative narrative running incessantly for most of my life: accusing me, name-calling, cultivating doubt, pointing out past missteps and all sorts of imagined failures; raising up the spectre of past wounds and offenses, stirring fear. It is the sum total of all the unkind voices of my past, plus my own, at times, when I’ve chosen to agree with the dark whispers regarding my perceived limitations.

“You’re a loser.
“You’re fat, lazy, rude, unlovable, unworthy.”
“You will never succeed.”
“You will never be enough.”
“You don’t deserve anything.”
“You are nothing.”

Until now.

Now I speak the truth against it. Speak affirming words, kind words, filled with self-care and truth. I re-read the cards of thanks for those who were touched or changed by my care or prayer. I sing songs and repeat scripture passages that tell me who I am and what God thinks of me. Loved. Treasured. Worth dying for. Daughter of the king. Gifted. Called. Chosen. Blessed. Shepherded. Fathered. Cherished.

Self-care is part of the assignment. Making that a habit. Eating right, setting up routines that help me get to sleep, learning how to process thoughts and dump them onto the page each day so they don’t get stuck in an infinite loop. Solving problems, setting goals, having fun, taking play dates with my inner artist.

The past ten weeks have been full. I write daily, complete class assignments, poems, articles, projects; I was acting in the dinner theatre, prepping for my son’s wedding, doing a weekly Bible study, camping and hiking, directing and singing at the choir year-end concert, speaking three times to different groups, working on a script for a grief recovery video, finding a new medical doctor, making medical and dental visits, preliminary appointments with specialists before impending surgery, doing home maintenance.

Everything needs maintenance.

Not only do I need to do maintenance on my heart, soul, mind and body, I need to do it on my physical environment. Even as I write, there is an HVAC specialist here replacing the air conditioner. He replaced my furnace three years ago. The year before that, I had the roof redone. I replaced two-thirds of my windows two years ago.  I have a fireplace that needs repair or replacing. These are the major items and not unexpected in a home nearly thirty years old. Yet the details of getting all this done can take up enormous time.

Then there are smaller chores and minor maintenance. Replacing plastic parts in the dishwasher - twice. Installing a fire pit in the back yard. Five large trees and multiple shrubs require regular pruning and fertilizing. I maintain a flower garden, several bird feeders and have nine large potted plants to water and dead-head each week. The deck chairs need new cushions. Then there’s the challenging load of trying to help the grass grow in the midst of shade and spruce needles without helping the weeds flourish. And regular chores like cooking, cleaning, laundry, and so on.

I know none of this is unusual. I love many of the activities I’ve listed, but they all simply take time. So writing sometimes gets the back seat, the lower priority on the to-do list. So this blog is the first to languish without my attention. So, I thought I'd throw out this little crumb of a summary.

But, truly, no news is good news. I’m finally at a point in my life where it seems I am living out the reality of those quiet verses in Psalm 23: “He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside the still waters, he restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name sake.”

I refuse to cave in to foreboding joy. The next verse says, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” I know the cycle of life well. I know death comes, and I have had more than the average share of lives cut short among those I love. So, I choose to focus on the last part of the verse: “I will fear no evil, for You, Lord, are with me… your (guiding) rod and your (disciplining) staff comfort me… you anoint my head with oil, my cup runs over. Goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.”

Thank you, God, for this life. For this joy. For the capacity to see it, soften into it, relish it and love the life you have given me for as long as it lasts without worrying about when it's going to end.

And when life IS over on this earth, “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” What could be better than that? "In your presence is fullness of joy, at your right hand there are pleasures forever!"


Photo credit: #46399219, standard license

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.