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,

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

What Do You Do All Day?

I've been retired for six months.

In the last couple weeks, two people have asked, "What do you do all day?" Maybe it was idle chitchat, maybe it was genuine interest, maybe it was based in our society's idolatry of productivity or maybe something else entirely. The thing is, while I don't keep a log and I don't deposit a regular paycheck, I know what I've accomplished and I'm very content with how I spend my time without feeling any obligation to explain this to friends or curious onlookers. In fact, the calendar has gotten so crowded that I've had to say "No" to some things.

(I wrote a long paragraph here listing the things I do, but it sounded like I was bragging so I deleted it.)

If I've said "Yes" to you, be sure that I thought and prayed about it and made an intentional decision to invest my time that way.

If I've said "No" to you, it was the same. A thoughtful consideration of whether I could invest my resources of time, intellect and/or emotion in whatever it was you requested. You accept my "No" very graciously, with understanding.

Then there are some others who might fit the following description which the historical fiction author Stephen Pressfield has outlined. I have known people like this. They aren't in my life any more, but once in a while a new one shows up and my "No" has to be a broken record.

Pressfield writes: "My problem is I like to think of myself as a nice guy. This is not good. I’m working on getting over that. There are people out there who are what I would call social sociopaths. They’re not actual murderers or criminals; they won’t hurt you. But, for whatever reasons of character or upbringing, they are utterly without empathy. They have no sense of the value of another person’s time or hard-won skill or hard-earned reputation. If you’ve got it and they can use it, they want it. They want it now. They want it free. And they want it again and again." excerpt from "An Ask Too Far"

Saying "No" isn't always easy. If you find yourself run ragged, maybe you are being affected by these kind of people. Maybe you need to practice your "No". Big warning here: it will make them mad. They will be disappointed in you. They will try to shame you for not helping them. Some family members and church people are notorious for this. Stay your course. Even Jesus didn't heal everyone. He went away regularly to quiet places to renew himself, even though the crowds were still asking for his help. Follow his example and realize you can't help everyone, including family members.

And if people demand to know what you do all day, you can simply say, "I make decisions."

Still having trouble getting your head around this? Here's another blog about it.

Photo Credits: 1) #10589068, Standard License

3) Quotes2Explore

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Changing the Narrative

This is the transcript of a talk given to First Alliance Photo Club on April 14, 2015. The theme of the evening was on photography in war. I expanded it to include our internal war.

The History Teacher
by Billy Collins

Trying to protect his students’ innocence
he told them the Ice Age was really just
the Chilly Age, a period of a million years
when everyone had to wear sweaters.

And the Stone Age became the Gravel Age,
named after the long driveways of the time.

The Spanish Inquisition was nothing more
than an outbreak of questions such as
“How far is it from here to Madrid?”
“What do you call the matador’s hat?”

The War of the Roses took place in a garden,
and the Enola Gay dropped one tiny atom on Japan.

The children would leave his classroom
for the playground to torment the weak
and the smart,
mussing up their hair and breaking their glasses,

while he gathered up his notes and walked home
past flower beds and white picket fences,
wondering if they would believe that soldiers
in the Boer War told long, rambling stories
designed to make the enemy nod off.

How often do we tell ourselves stories? Dumb down history?

There is always a narrative running in my head. And, by all accounts and observations, in your head too. For some of us, it sounds like the voices of those long dead or perhaps those who are still here. Father, mother, teacher, sibling, grandparent. And another voice, sounding much like our own has taken up the chant, or interjections like profanity, constantly speaking words of appraisal; judgments based on our actions or our output. The inner critic.

A chant that resounds as either an affirmation or a condemnation of who we are and what we have done now (or yesterday, or the day before). Sometimes the voice is a naysayer of what we will do tomorrow.

A sitting judge, this voice,
deciding on some sliding scale
whether we are a success or failure
good or bad,
smart or stupid,
athletic or klutz.

Stephen Pressfield, in his book, The War of Art, calls this Resistance. The scripture infers that this can sometimes be spiritual warfare. It can be negative self talk or neurosis. No matter the nature, complexity or volume of the voice, it can anything that keeps us bound from doing our best work.

Even when we think we are telling ourselves the truth, the inner voice can discourage us from finishing well, because to this judge, what is spoken is true. Like any referee can tell you, whatever call they make IS the offense that occurred, whether it actually happened or not. Once it is called, it is fact. So we take a photo and through post processing we make the photo look like what we saw. Once it is printed, it is fact.

A smile frozen forever on Facebook
says I have a happy life
A family gathering frozen over ice cream
says We all love each other
Dew drops in the new morning
may have placed on the leaf with a spray bottle
A landscape with brilliant blues and silky water
or stars that glow like diamonds under glass
stitched together over time, over space
but was boosted in PhotoShop…

Beauty exists for the taking.
Or the shaping.
Your call.

The earth is beautiful
My family is happy
My life is good
I have the pictures to prove it.

But what about the war in my head?
Or the argument we had yesterday?
Why do I never post pictures
of that ugly look I just gave him?
Why are there no pictures of the family
all heads bent over Xbox, iPads and cell phones

I don’t for a moment say we should
listen to the nagging voice
the accusing voice
and post only out of focus pictures
of the family laundry
of back alleys
and executions
men dying in the trenches
and the gas chamber

We are challenged in Philippians 4:8 to think about what is noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable—basically to contradict that negative or out-of-balance inner critic by thinking about things that are excellent or praiseworthy.

I’m not saying it is wrong to document the dark side of life. We see how photo-journalism and social media have transformed some very dark situations by shedding light on the truth of the injustices that are happening in the world.

On the home front, we’re not trying to be something we’re not when we post only our highlight reel: well-cropped, color balanced, rule-of-thirds, smiling faces and good news, or Photoshop our pictures so they pop. As photographers, artists, creative writers, we are doing our best to restore Eden. These happy moments and beautiful scenes ARE part of our life, even if they aren’t the reality 24/7.

Life is not one-dimensional. There are always things happening simultaneously in our lives and none of the pictures we share or poems we write or songs we sing can adequately portray that. Art is often about the ideal.

We have to be careful about assumptions we make when we look at pictures and status updates from others. Each of us seek beauty, seek to present our best possible self, our most excellent work.

These are the moments we live for:
The freeze-frame of beauty, motion, strength, excellence
This is a foretaste of heaven,
Thy kingdom come, a memory of paradise lost.
We are not rewriting history to make it palatable,
we are choosing to dwell on snippets of glory.

So when the voice in your head tells you
that you are a hack and your pictures are sub-par
Tell that voice to be quiet and find a new ruler.
Because Jesus is already ruling on the throne

And if you should be called or moved to social action
to document war, horror, injustice and darkness,
then in whatever genre you find yourself,
do your best work to show the truth of it

Then find a quiet space and dwell on what is worthy of praise.

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies. 
~Philippians 4:8-9 (The Message)

Saturday, March 21, 2015

None of the News is Fit to Print

When Brent died, a fellow widower recommended I eliminate from my life any TV shows and/or movies of a dark, emotional or intense subject matter as well as certain music and the daily news. For some time I got used to simply enjoying the silence, being quiet and focusing my thoughts on beauty, friendships, poetry, joy and my beloved Lord - who is the author of LIFE.

This is not pie-in-the-sky, ignorance of the world around me, but rather an intentional choice to soak myself in peace instead of angst, getting to know who I am, rather than listening to the cacophony of competing viewpoints, terror and tension of a world gone mad. For what else is reported on the daily news than horrific acts and extraordinary evil?

I missed absolutely nothing.

How, really, do any of us benefit by being externally stimulated to horror or anger or whipped up into a frenzy of activism? We can spend all of our emotional energy trying to change the world, or shut down out of despair that we cannot change the world, or numb ourselves by over-consumption of mass-market entertainment, but in the process, no matter the choice, we completely drain ourselves of any capacity to affect our own life or the lives of those right beside us.

What do you need to say "No" to today so that you can say "Yes" to your own responsibility and capacity to live in peace?

Photo: Carburn Park, Calgary, personal collection

Friday, March 20, 2015

Intercessory Prayer for Awakening

I'm currently involved in doing a study with my women's group. This week's lesson was very powerful for me and I would like to share with you one excerpt from the study as we seek awakening to the Spirit of Christ for those who have not yet come to follow the only One who has the words of eternal life.

Intercessory Prayer for Awakening
excerpt from “Children of the Day”, Beth Moore, p. 128-129

And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.

Matthew 13:58

He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.
Mark 6:5-6

Perhaps one reason awakening waits is that we are afraid for God to do whatever it would take. We fear the uncertainty of revival. We don’t trust God with the work of his own spirit. What if he embarrasses us? Or makes us change our minds? God won’t work contrary to his word but perhaps our greater worry may be that he could work contrary to our tastes. He may not use our methods. Perhaps many reasons cause a fresh awakening to wait.

The following prayer is offered in humility, in lack and in want. We cannot put words on a tongue detached from a heart. If this is not you and if these sins are not yours and these aches find no place in your soul, please don’t own them. If, on the other hand, these words could flow from your own pen, pray them with me.

Most glorious, all-powerful, merciful God:

Your son died for more than these. We thank you for what you’ve already done, but we beg you to do infinitely more. Look upon this ailing planet, pulsing with the hopeless, the helpless, the hiding and the dying. You have willed that people would not die in their sins but be saved and redeemed through your son, Jesus Christ. You promised that the cross was big enough for us all, with everlasting arms reaching to the ends of the earth. We know what your word says you can do and we confess to you that many of us have not yet seen it with our eyes, but we feel it stirring in our souls. Hosanna, Lord! Save now!
We willingly confess to you our sinful arrogance. We have prescribed to you by what means you should heal souls. You , the solitary healer have refused to sign your name to our prescriptions. We ask you this day to write your name across our sky and bring revival! Save by whatever means bring you glory. Bring it any way you like, but bring it, Lord. We free you from using our methods. We free you from using our denominational names. We free you from using our buildings, though we welcome you to them. We free you even from using us, though we cast ourselves before you at your complete disposal and beg that you would. Use none of us. Use all of us. Use whatever people and whatever means honor you most, but do it, Lord, Please do it!
We confess to you our appalling narcissism in asking you to mirror us. We confess to you our oversophistication and snobbery. We confess to you that we are terrified of your Holy Spirit. We confess our pathetic arrogance for having forbidden signs and wonders when there could be no greater sign and wonder than a tidal wave of salvation rolling on our dry banks. Oh, Jesus, that we would not leave you to marvel that you could do so few miracles among us because of our unbelief.
We repent this day for not trusting you with what revival should look like. We repent this day from prioritizing our dignity over your downpour. We confess to you that we have torn pages from our bibles and handed them back to you and demanded that you work through what was left. We confess to you this day that the tent pegs of scripture are vastly wider than our imaginations and our expectations.
Lord, if souls are saved by the thousands of thousands and millions of millions, we pledge to you this day that we will not, in our sectarianism, pick apart the process and reason how it was not legitimate. We are ready even if it’s messy. Even if, atop the beautiful feet carrying the good news are bruised and broken bodies of willing evangelists.
Open heaven. Rain down, Holy Spirit. We repent for having asked you to respect our boundaries. We bow now to your boundless Spirit and make room over our lowered heads for you to fall upon us with power and might and a firestorm of your great affection. You have loved us so. You have loved us well. Carve our hearts with your cross and love through us, Lord. Oh, Holy Spirit of the living Christ, come without limit. We have known you were able but begged you to be willing. All the while, we have been disabled because we have been unwilling.
To what conceivable degree we could have held them in our hands, we turn the reins of revival back over to the rider who is faithful and true and we plead that you would not let them rest on the neck of that great horse but that you’d bid him run.
Do what you want, but we plead for you to do it now. Do it here. Make your name glorious. Save now!

In the holy name of Christ our King, Amen.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Punctuality Punch

I will apologize in advance if this post offends you. I hope not. I’m writing it because I’ve lived on both sides of this issue so I’m preaching to myself here. I have no particular individual in my mind other than myself. Feel free to add your perspective in the comments or on my Facebook page.

I don’t remember if I heard it, read it, or saw it in one of those random Facebook pictures. It struck me funny.

“Better to arrive late than to arrive ugly.”

I may or may not have re-shared it. It sure got a laugh in Cave Creek at the pottery shop when I said it to my husband as a quote that should be on a plaque and a couple women in the store overheard me. They laughed uproariously.

But is it true?

On a favorite blogger’s recent post I read something that sounds like it. She’s just had a baby. Her fourth. A bit of a “Surprise!” baby, but she was eager and ready and happy and fully immersed in the new mothering of her little one, but wrote: 
“Dashing into the shower in the early morning, determined to get dressed, put on make-up, brush my hair. I’m my father’s daughter: I believe in the small dignities to keep life steady in the midst of change and chaos. I hear his voice in my head, look good and feel good. So I make beds, I put clean clothes on everyone in my care, I empty the dishwasher, we eat at the table. Normal structures, normal routines, all around an extraordinary newness. It’s true, I do feel better but now there’s a houseful of people who all feel better when I feel better.”
Hold that thought while we go back to the triggering quote. Is it truly “better to arrive late than to arrive ugly”? Will the people to whom I’m arriving feel better because I feel good about how I look? Is that the right measure?

I’ll give you a hint. It’s an unfair question.

It’s a false dichotomy, only two choices. The question assumes you must pick one thing out of two bad options, when there are actually many more options available. Let’s break it down a little further: The question assumes that if I arrive on time, I will arrive unkempt. Or that I am ugly unless I arrive late? Or that to truly do what is necessary to make myself presentable, I must take so much time that I cannot possibly start it soon enough to finish promptly and arrive punctually.

I’m sure you and I both have seen many beautiful people arrive on time and behave quite graciously, so this isn’t about them. Let me just pick this funny little quote apart. I’m going to seek names for what it may be hiding. Is it a procrastinator’s excuse for tardiness? An insecure person’s defense for being disrespectful of other people’s time? A comedian’s means to a backhanded insult? Or just a sarcastic joke which I’m totally over-thinking?

A good friend of mine asks a pointed question when we hear, read or say something which is initially funny or self deprecating that eventually doesn’t sit quite right when you think about it or give it a sober second glance.

She asks, “What’s the lie in that?”

Is there a lie in the phrase, “Better to arrive late than ugly”?

Promptness and punctuality were emphasized from day one of elementary school. We were graded on it. Businesses emphasize honoring their open/close times and expect employees to be present and engaged in productive work during their assigned work hours. Social etiquette refers to arriving “fashionably late” as being no more than 8 minutes past the invitation time but not arriving too early ahead of the specified start. Since social settings are voluntary, do we give tacit approval to late arrival? If I were meeting the president or the queen, would I think it’s better to arrive late for any reason?

So here’s the lie. Neither option is better.

Truth is, arriving late is ugly. I know there are occasional times when circumstances cause unavoidable delay. But there was a point in my life where I arrived late all the time. Even if I had committed to an event or a rehearsal, I would often arrive late. I even wrote an essay on it, trying to understand myself and this behavior I did not condone, condemning myself in every possible way for not being able to move my consistent tardiness into dependable punctuality.

I discussed the hypothesis that to arrive consistently late might be done out of disrespect. I used terms like arrogant and inconsiderate. Or perhaps a passive-aggressive act to exert power by one who felt an obligation to attend an event but doesn’t really want to be there. Tardiness can give the self-centered impression that what I am doing now is more important or more interesting than what you want to do at your start time. Or perhaps a narcissist likes arriving late and having everyone notice me when I get there. Even bad attention is better than no attention, right?


If we give the tardies the benefit of the doubt, perhaps they just attract roadblocks. I recently decided to attend my nephew’s band concert in an unfamiliar city. The GPS said ETA was 12 minutes, but that didn’t take into consideration it was rush hour and the GPS said to go north instead of south and the traffic in both directions was at a standstill. Exiting on a side road, we pulled over and it took a few minutes to reassess an alternate route that didn’t include the freeway. We were fine. Calm. Not worried because we still had lots of time, so we stopped for coffee at McDonalds. The clerk said they were brewing a fresh pot and it would be three minutes – no problem, we went to the washroom and returned, waiting while they served the two people now in line.

You know this isn’t going to turn out well, already, don’t you?

The second person was ordering for an entire basketball team, apparently, then didn’t have quite the right amount and had to make alterations to the order. When we finally stepped up to get our coffee order processed (we didn’t use the drive thru because we did need to use the facilities) and while she was taking our simple “two large black coffees” order, the clerk stopped and answered an interruption from the previous woman, then a second question from another patron who wanted more dipping sauce for his chicken fingers and we listened to the entire policy explanation as to why they were going to charge him $.16 for each one in addition to what’s given with his order and their warning to him about not being verbally profane or abusive with his language. Once our coffee finally arrived and we got back into our vehicle to continue our journey, it was a full fifteen minutes we hadn’t calculated into our transit time.

Then in the next block, after we exited McDonalds, a train is stopped across the road. Dead stopped. No movement at all. With a police vehicle already blocking access with lights flashing (on both sides of the train), I make the quick assumption that it is stalled for an indefinite period of time and we proceed with a quick recalculation again on the GPS for a second detour.

The address he gave was for the main office of the college campus where the concert was taking place, and as we arrived, we get a phone message from my brother with more detailed instructions as to how to find the concert hall, a full two miles further from the main office. All the while, I had been texting my brother about our ETA, updating him, figuring out how to meet for getting the concert tickets, which he eventually left at Will-Call so he could sit down as the concert was already starting.

We arrived late and were seated between songs as my nephew’s band began playing the last of their set. They were terrific. Small consolation, the following two bands were terrific as well and we got to go out for coffee with the family afterwards. But we were late. Oh, so late, for such very good reasons that were not at all our fault.

These are not the kind of tardy arrival incidents I am discussing in this post, but it was a “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” kind of a story, don’t you think?

Sigh. Even explaining why we were late took me on a long rabbit trail that has delayed my next paragraph.

Yes, even if I wanted to be at an event, I would still sometimes be late. Sometimes just because I couldn’t get my act together or took too long or didn’t leave soon enough. Sometimes, they couldn’t start without me. They still loved me and it made it easier when I could explain all the ridiculous and unexpected, unavoidable reasons for delays outside my control, but when it was due to my own negligence or impertinence, I made it just a smidge harder (and believe me, I am deeply grateful for the true friends who heaped forgiveness on this and many other flaws).

How did I eventually change? I learned from personal experience - when I’ve been on the receiving end: leading a rehearsal that requires me repeating instructions for the latecomers (one of the joys of working with volunteers) or hosting a dinner party that required closely timed guest arrival with placing the success or fail entrĂ©e in front of them.

If I arrive late to the theatre for a live show or concert, I’m not allowed in until a suitable break between acts or songs. If I arrive late for an airline flight, I miss it. We are penalized. What’s a person to do when someone arrives late to a dinner party or a rehearsal? Starting without them may drive the point home to them, but it doesn’t seem to make a difference for chronic latecomers.

My father wanted one of my brothers to be more punctual. So my father asked, “If we were to take a hymnal with us from every church we sing in, would that be okay?” My brother says, “Of course not, it would be like stealing.” My father’s point: “And when you take five minutes or more of our time while we wait for you to arrive, you are stealing our time. Nine of us waited five minutes for you, that’s 45 minutes you have stolen. It is time that is not yours to take.”

Some of the things I did to overcome my own chronic tardiness was related to realizing how I was impacting my relationships with those I cared about. I had a choir member ream me out for “expecting more of the choir than you expect of yourself.” She was right. I didn’t want to be kept waiting but there were times I as the director had kept them waiting.

Some practical things I learned:
  • allow extra time
  • leave earlier
  • start getting ready earlier
  • shorten the to-do list
  • eliminate all but the most essential tasks
  • set aside perfectionism
  • get used to saying: "That's good enough"
  • stop being overly optimistic about how long something will take
  • build in a buffer in case something happens along the way
  • leave when planned
  • discipline myself to NOT multi-task

I know all this. You know all this. But still, I push it. I’m no longer a chronic tardy, but sometimes I still arrive late. I see others do the same. Why?

Because I don’t want to have to be the one waiting on the latecomers. What a lame reason. Seriously? That’s a whole ‘nother blog post all on its own.

Back to the blogger’s paragraph. She felt looking good and keeping routines for her family (even in the face of being the mom of a brand new baby) would help her whole family feel better. She took the responsibility to keep routine and beauty and tidiness in the middle of all that change and upheaval. She was choosing beauty over ugly. Peace over chaos. Punctuality over procrastination. But later in her blog, she confessed, “the laundry will never be done” so we know she isn’t one of those uptight perfectionists, nor is she blowing smoke, creating a false image of how organized she is. She simply wants to help her family feel as normal and safe as possible as they integrate a new little one into their family.

I find from experience that late arrivers (including myself) begin to feel like unsafe people. I can’t count on them. Well, I can count on them to be consistently late. They signify by their repeated tardiness that they are not going to respect another’s time.

In the world of those who follow Christ, it doesn’t seem very loving. But then again, neither does my forensic dissection of the issue. I’m preaching at myself here. I’m just a writer trying to figure out how to live in this world in a way that will help others feel safe around me. 

I want to be a woman of my word. I want to be able to trust myself and be confident that I will honor time commitments of others and help them succeed by being prompt. I want to be respectful of others, honor their time, be a good steward of this one precious life. Help the entire production or choir or dinner party look better and feel better because no one is worrying about when the last person will finally arrive and things can get started.

It’s ugly to arrive late.

I want to redeem the time, arrive calm and collected so that I (and all the others with whom I am in community) will look and feel better. I want to make room for time, for others, for sanity. To maintain small dignities to keep life steady in the midst of change and chaos.

There’s no present like the time.

Photo Credit: 2354469, Standard License

Friday, March 13, 2015

In the beginning...

Sometimes I think I would like to go back to the beginning, to tell my story because I keep seeing posters and blogs and quotes that tell me how important my story is and how much it needs to be shared so that others can benefit. (Yours too!) Yet I’d rather curl up in the fetal position under the duvet and sleep it off. My story includes stupidity, joy, success and failure, shame and forgiven sin, brokenness and healing, struggle and dis-ease, sickness and health, riches and revoked credit cards, conflict, reconciliation, addiction, freedom, rage, serenity, horrific loss and a heart overflowing with gratitude. Yes, my story covers the gamut, as does yours. But I should start at the beginning.

Trouble is, how do I know? Where is the beginning?

Is it where I was born the youngest and only girl to a family already full with seven rowdy rollicking boys? To a preacher dad and a would-have-been-a-missionary-to-Africa mom?

To that house on 3056 W. Madison that now has been renovated and belongs to another family that somehow decided six bedrooms and a two-room annex would suit them? 

circa 1965
circa 2000
circa November 2013
Was the beginning of my life that 19-year family road-trip every weekend and every summer to sing in 200 churches a year and stay in as many different homes of total strangers and come out of it aware of how completely normal dysfunction can be?

Or is the beginning when I went to school at Westport in grade one because kindergarten was optional? Where I fell in love with reading in Miss Snyder’s grade three class, learned to sing “Supercalifragilisticexpealidocious” in the hallway, discover that sweeping compound can clean up vomit, learned to dislike corn from a can, forgot to collect the milk money from the machine to put in the safe and it was stolen, prayed every day that I could learn how to “just be nice”, discovered how much those soft red dodgeballs hurt when they hit your face, how good the honeysuckle and gooseberries tasted on the other side of the playground fence, where I was one of the best female softball players, often the fastest girl runner and had my first poem published on the grade six bulletin board?

Westport School
Or was Junior High at Study the beginning, since it was mercifully close to Dairy Queen and the donut factory which we only stopped at occasionally after Wednesday night prayer meeting, but school ended up being a place where I made a complete and total fool of myself in front of the entire student body trying to be a clown? Or where I played piano accompaniment for the national anthem at an assembly, shaking and terrified and didn’t make a fool of myself but only mom came to watch, not dad, and where I won a spelling bee and played guitar at our grad while singing a duet with my best friend?

Harry P. Study Jr. High School
Or was high school the beginning? A freshman while my brother was a senior, learning to drive his ’71 3-speed Camaro, where I took three years of Home Ec as a practical science instead of natural sciences because my first year biology and mutilating that poor frog didn’t help me understand anatomy at all? Where I was told about erections in cooking class from the senior girl with whom I later double dated? Where Mrs. Bilyeu let me sing solos and trios and madrigals and how the trio with Diana, Lori and I got #1 ratings at State Music Festival but my solos never made it past City Festival? Where I fell in love every year with a different boyfriend and I worked part time and kept a 4.0 GPA and then got robbed at gunpoint in my driveway after grad while on my only date with the valedictorian? Where my friend told me I was part of the popular crowd but I didn’t know that? (Isn’t perspective an odd thing?)

Central High School
Or was it the church I attended, recommitted my life to Jesus, got baptised and was eventually married in? Where I learned to play percussion in the band and sing alto in the choir and where a Junior High Sunday School teacher gave me The Way (a Living Bible paraphrase) which kept me company every single night for the next seven years and moved me to want to be a missionary and taught me that I am complete in Christ? Where some in the youth group were using drugs but I never knew until one of them got convicted during revival meetings and decided to give his joint away.

Or was the beginning going to college, thinking I was finally out from under my parent’s strict rules and discover that the college rules were worse? Where I became a rebel while studying why I believe what I believe, learned which liquor I did and didn’t like, and also against the rules - watched my first movie, Camelot, on a 70mm screen? Can I just say Lancelot (Franco Nero) was magnificent? (Apparently Vanessa Redgrave thought so, too.)

Or was the beginning when I began to live in community with others at college, in the pseudo-sorority house with my brother’s ex-girlfriend, and four years in the dormitory both with and without roommates and living across the hall from two Canadian girls who are still my friends? Or was it singing in oratorios, concerts and tours with the Chorale, where I first did an air for alto (He was despised) which brought some to tears, being the first one to solo in radio chapel with a recorded accompaniment track, or was it being in the quartet that traveled to recruit new students and counsel at camps? Or was it becoming a youth leader in my brother’s church clear across town, singing in their choir and introducing one of my young people to my boyfriend’s best friend and they get married five years later and are my friends to this day? Was it having a new job every semester, cleaning houses, toilets and soiled laundry for demanding rich women to pay tuition, or selling office supplies or making photo copies or monitoring alarm systems or serving in a bridal salon? (Completely out of my depth but did I ever get a good deal on my wedding dress!) Or was the beginning realizing that at college, I learned to believe for myself what I found to be true about God?

Or could “going back to the beginning” be the day I said yes to Brent’s proposal, finished my degree in music and then married him and moved to Canada? Yes, this seems more like the beginning of “my” story. For there and then, I was without family, without friends, and began – for the first time – to live life as an individual and as an adult.

Now that we’ve determined the beginning (thank you for sticking with me this far, it’s helped!), I think about where the story ends. As any writer knows, for good story you need a beginning, middle and end, with significant conflict and crisis to add interest and tension, with a satisfactory resolution or surprise twist. Well, I have all of that. Some you know, much you don’t. What to include and what to keep silent – this is the dilemma of the memoir. Readers tend to shy away from those who indiscriminately open their emotional trench coat to reveal every shocking, naked detail of their story. Can we say “TMI”?

So the story ends, we assume, with my death. So I can only write about my life up till now and how the life verse I chose from the epistle to the Philippians when I was in college seems quite appropriate to interject at this point:

“God, who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.”
(my paraphrase of Phil. 1:6)

God continues to shape, delight, love, teach, guide, relax with and comfort me. I trust in that, and am grateful for the place in which I find myself at this moment, despite trauma, despite being orphaned and widowed, despite gaining and losing jobs, buying and selling homes, and figuring out how to be an adult in varying degrees of success and failure. 

I am healthier now physically, emotionally and spiritually than I have ever been. Primarily because of God's grace and love, and partly because of an intentional practice of acceptance and gratitude (which isn't constant, but getting better). That brings me to the best attitude of my life so far, despite still struggling with ghosts from my past. I have a wonderful future ahead, my son getting married to a lovely young woman, my new husband and love sharing life with me for, oh, 50 years or so and then we'll re-negotiate...

I will begin at the beginning – at some point – and tell my story, but God says there’s still some “tweaking” that needs to be done before that day.

Thanks for being my friend. You’re part of my story and I am part of yours. Let’s write better stories together, yes?

To be continued…