God Help Us to Truly See

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I don’t know why I was cut to the core so deeply when I found out about Robin Williams death.

Maybe it was because I have been looking into anxiety and depression lately.  Maybe it’s because I have myself dipped my toe in waters of anxiety and depression.  Or maybe it’s because here was a man so loved, so entertaining, so successful in the worlds eyes,  but even so,  at the end of the day he felt the pain of death was sweeter than the pain of life.  He was completely without hope.  I was so sharply reminded that there are people all around us that are dying and bleeding and trying to live in a their shattered worlds.

What can we do?  Can we change the world?  Can we turn the tide of the whole world to see hope and peace in the midst of struggles - in the midst of pain?  Maybe not.  But we can change our neighbors.  We can change the people we work with, the people we pass by everyday.  The people we go to Church with.  We can change OUR world.  In fact, we need to be changing our world.

It’s time we give wings to our love.  It’s time we give feet to our message of grace and hands to our song of salvation.

The world and the Church need real.  We need authenticity.  The world needs us as broken and hurting people ourselves to reach out to the more broken and hurting.

We don’t really need any more programs.  We don’t really need anymore fancy lights on our beautiful stages.  What we need is to realize that there are people all around us dying - both on the outside and the inside.   And they aren’t just “out there.”  They are people literally around us - sitting in the pews next to us, staring into our eyes Sunday after Sunday.

Let’s knock the walls of the church down and spill out into the world, out in the community, out into their hearts.  Because we live in a broken and pained world today that needs hope, that needs peace, that needs a glass of water.   We need to reach out and feed a starving child.; clothe a homeless man.

It’s all about them.  That’s all Jesus asks of us - that we see them.  We don’t make it about ourselves, and our programs and our hurt feelings and our insecurities and our betrayals,  and our questions with no answers.  But that we make it out about them - the world and those around us.  Jesus was always reaching out - his whole life about them - always them.

We need to look at the people we see everyday.  Really look at them.. Look beyond their blue and brown eyes and into their souls.  We need to look beyond the beautiful body and see the broken pieces within.  We need to hear behind the smooth words and listen to their screams and cries for help.

Somehow in this world of beauty, in this world of technology and fake-ness,  our senses have been dulled.  Jesus looked beyond the paralytic, he looked beyond the man that couldn't move and said that his sins were forgiven him.  Why?  Because he saw a man crying out for salvation and for freedom of the soul even more than he was crying out for movement.  He looked beyond the physical needs of the woman at the well and saw that she was woman through and through who just wanted to be loved, who just wanted to be valued like everyone else.  He saw.  He truly saw.

God, help us.  God help us to truly see.

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Five Lessons my Parents Taught Me

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I have talked a lot about my father in law since I started this blog a year ago.  He made a huge impact on my life and I needed to write in order to navigate the waters of grief as he was dying.

Today,  I want to talk about two others that who have made the most impact on my life - my mom and dad.  I have been one of those fortunate and very blessed people who had amazing parents and then married into great in laws.

As I contemplated what I wanted to write today I decided to talk about five marks they indelibly left on my life as they raised me.  There are so many more that I am sure I will talk about later but for today,  I will talk about these.

1.  Never leave your passion.   My parents sacrificed a lot for their passions.  They could have had more money.  They could have led a more comfortable, a safer life.  But they never settled for less than the real genuine call that they had on their life.  They never compromised.  They have always been as solid as rocks sitting on the mountainside.

2.  Never stop giving.   My mom and dad are the biggest givers that you will ever meet.  No matter how much money that we had or didn't have as I was growing up,  my dad NEVER missed giving to the church his tithe.  At one time in my life,  that bugged me.  But now, as I look back on it,  he taught me a principle that is carved in my soul - you can't outgive God.  Always give to God because he will take care of you, he will see that you are provided for and he will see you through.  It isn't only God that Mom and Dad gave to.   They were always quick to give of their time, their food and their money to family and those they loved.

3.  Never stop praying, believing, hoping.   I owe my passion to my parents.  No matter what our lives were going through, no matter where our journey led, they have never given up on the values and beliefs that they hold so dear.  If they believed it, they were propelled by an incredible passion to go forward against all odds.

4.  Never give up on each other.   My mom and dad have had their share of disagreements and arguments.  Sixty years together shows a tenacity, a fierce loyalty even in the face of shaky ground all around.  Even as all their peers were separating, they found ways to work it out.  Sixty years together is something to truly celebrate!

5.  Never, never give up.    I think my dad’s favourite phrase in Japan was “gambate” (I am sure that I am spelling that wrong).  What it means is “keep on keeping on.”  There were literally seasons in their lives when they planted one foot in front of the other day after day, week after week, because that was the only option.  Keep going, keep believing, keep making the right choices, keep walking - one foot and then the next.  I applaud solidity like that.  It has taught me to do the same in my life when everything in me wanted to give up and walk away.

I am forever grateful to my parents for their love, for believing in me, for investing in me and for walking with me.  I know that this is a day late but  Happy Anniversary Mom and Dad!!

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My New Word

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I always choose a new word for my life in the coming year.  I have thought about this as the year has approached and I am going to do something that I have never done since that first year that I started doing this.  I am not choosing a new word.  I am staying with the word that I had last year.

In times past,  at Christmastime,  my month has looked like this:

We hosted a Church banquet with our church and then hosted a Christmas party at our house for our home group.

I hosted Muppet Christmas Carol for family and friends and had tons of goodies and appetizers and had a GREAT time.

I hosted a pyjama party for the ladies (watching a chick flick and exchanging gift pyjamas.).

I hosted an elegant ladies tea serving specialty tea in real china cups and offering yummy goodies on my beautifully landscaped Christmas table.

I hosted our family Christmas - every other year it’s on Christmas.  On the other year, we choose a different day to celebrate Christmas.

I co-host an Empty Arms group and in this group,  every year we went to the grave and lit candles and sang carols for our angel babies.  Often we went back to our place for hot chocolate.    Then during that season,  many of us would all go out and have a nice dinner together because we have formed a tight group of friendships bonded by hard times.

On the 28th of December is my son’s birthday and because December is the hardest month to be born in,  I always wanted to make sure that his birthday got recognized and wasn’t just glossed over because of the busy month.  I have always had elaborate birthday parties with elaborate goody bags at my house for all of his friends.  Then as his friends trickle out and go home, I clean up so that I can have the family birthday party.

On New Years Eve,  I would (with the help of Tiffany - she was a big help in this) clear out everything Christmas and decorate the entire house with the theme of the murder mystery we were doing that night.    This was a HUGE event and we invited tons of people and at that time,  our church was primarily a young adult church.  This would be a party not just for the midnight partiers but it would go way past midnight, into the wee hours of the morning.

This was all in between Christmas shopping, an evening set aside to look at the lights  and Christmas bake exchanges and all of the other normal things one does for Christmas.

Are you tired yet?

This year,  my December looked quite different.

You see, this is hard for me because I am a party girl at heart and I love to do everything.   But one year,  I had meningitis on the New Year’s Eve.  We didn’t know what I had but we knew that I was sick so I just kind of propped up on the couch and as people came for the party (because goodness,  we CAN’T cancel)  I stayed there on the couch the entire evening in quite a bit of pain.  I did manage to have fun though because I AM a social person.

The next year,  found us in the ER with Jeremy’s blood pressure through the roof.  At this time,  Jeremy and I looked at each other and said “We are putting too much on our plate at Christmastime.  Something has got to give.”

Over the last years,  I have intentionally learned the rhythm of a slower life.  I have listened to my body more - I have stopped pushing and pulling it into submission to my big plans and goals and listened to when it said I had had enough.

I have decided that if I felt stressed and my stomach was tied up in knots,  I am to sit and reassess as to whether I am doing too much or not.  I don’t want to live in stress anymore.  I don’t want to be driven by programs and obligations or even parties.  I don’t want to drill my body into the ground  thinking that I have to do it all to enjoy the season.

This year was perfect.  I chose only the things that were my priority this year.  I chose family.  I had Christmas.  I had muppet Christmas Carol.

I had a beautiful tea with fabulous work friends and went to the sweet candle light service at Victory.

I am learning about myself.  I am learning about what I really want - what really makes me tick; what really fulfills me and makes my heart full.   I loved doing all the things that I did in the past but there was a season for it and the season has definitely passed.  Sometimes we aren’t aware when our seasons have passed.  Sometimes it ceases to be a party and begins to be an obligation that you are stressed over.  Often we forget to listen to us.

Last year,  was a crazy year.   So much learning about myself; about what was really important; about what I really want to do and where I want to make a difference.

Last year,  we had to let our Church of 10 years go.  It was a painful time in our lives - one that still invokes questions and will for some time be a soft splintery spot in our heart.

Last year,  I had a cardio version to help stop the palpitations that were plaguing me almost every day.  I am much healthier for it.   I am very grateful for that.

In August,  I got to watch my brand new baby grand daughter enter this world.  She is adorable!

Finally this last year,  I published,  not ONE but TWO beautiful colouring books with inspirational prose.  Wow,  something that I have wanted to do for years and something that has opened up a new way of thinking and living.

There were a myriad of other things that happened this last year - my almost 16 year old dog was laid to rest.   My son moved out on his own this year also.   Both of those things make for very very quiet evenings when my husband is out of the country.

When 2015 came to a close,  I wrote a blogpost about my word.  It was ME.  (Check it out here)  This year,  it’s the same.  There are still things that I need to concentrate on here.  There are still things that I need to discover about myself.  There are still things that I know the Lord is tugging on my heart to work on.

So I camp here a little longer at this word.

Me.

Not because I am not creative or I am mildly selfish, but because I am still discovering who I am - even more now than ever.  I am discovering what I want, who I am.  I have come so far, but not fully ready to move on, in a good way.  NO need to move from this spot so quickly.  NO need to run away.  I am here. It’s important here.  It’s sacred here and I will stay here until it’s time to look to other goals, other words, other focus.

I am here.  Just here.  And it’s beautiful.

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It's in the Middles

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Do you have a goal that's just burning so hot in your chest that you can hardly breathe?  Do you need

a breakthrough that will change your whole entire life?  Do you see something that needs to be done, fulfilled, taken care of in your life and you are headed there but so far away still - in fact you don't really even know if you are headed in the right direction?!

Joseph, in the Bible was like that too.   He had a dream.  He had a vision for his life; he needed breakthrough badly.  Most of us know the story.  He was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers after he told them of his dream that they would bow down to him.   His father hadn't read any of the self help books about raising kids (although he should have known without reading anything in my opinion.)  and Joseph was undeniably his favourite.   This one choice by his father to make him more dear to his heart,  gave his brothers burning coals of hate that they carried around in their heart until one day, they lost it.  They sold him into slavery and went home and delivered  a filthy, dirty lie to his father about his death - one they lived with for many years.

Meanwhile,  Joseph was as good as dead.   His cushy life as he knew it, was gone - absolutely gone. Unlike the beautiful robe of many colours, his life felt like ashes in an open fire.   To say that he was in an awful place would be an understatement.

Some of us know the story well.  He worked hard until he became in charge of all the servants - an honor that was not so easily attained.  His life started looking up.  Until one day...

His bosses wife tried to seduce him and he ran away - which was the smartest thing to do.  Potiphar's wife was so upset and humiliated that he didn't take to her advances that again,  a filthy lie  was created about him that ended him in prison.

I wonder what Joseph was thinking when he was thrown into the dungeon - a lonely,  disillusioned, broken man?  A man who had tried to do everything right; a man who had followed his conscience and made all the right decisions.  He had been dealt a very cruel card.

So what did he do with the remaining dregs of his life?  I will tell you what he did.  He lived it well.  He knew that he needed a breakthrough.  He knew that he needed to get out of prison - to be a free man entirely.   In all honesty,  he didn't really know if that would ever happen or at the very least,  WHEN it would happen.  Instead of sulking about it, instead of letting bitterness and anger seep into his pores,  he lived every part of his life well.   And this is exactly what made Joseph the man that he became.

He served the people in prison.  He became the model prisoner.  He was one they could count on - so much so that they gave him responsibility in a huge prison.

They were a few times that he saw breakthrough right there in his hands until something cruel or unexpected would knock it out of his eager hands and he was stuck in prison again with no hope of reprieve.

How long was he in slavery??????  It is believed that he was in his situation for about 17 years - from the time he was sold into slavery until the time he was freed from prison.  Joseph is a man who knew himself but MORE importantly, his God.  He was a man who dug his heels in and would not let go. He was a man who took every opportunity to be the BEST man that he could be.  Everyday. Every step. Every crazy turn.  He gave his days 120%.

You see,  it's in the middles, it's in the process, that makes us who we are.   It's never the mountaintop and very rarely the lowest of the low valley.  It's in the middle, when we are putting one foot in front of the other, that we decide whether to serve life well or to just pine away for our moment - our breakthrough.  Its in the middle that shapes our character; it molds our spirit in a way that deeply changes our core.  It's in the middles where we decide to be happy even in the ordinary.  It's in the middles where life is hard and messy and questionable where we gain perseverance and victory.  We don't gain the victory when everything is going great - we gain it before our breakthrough - we just walk into it when we see the breakthrough.  And it's in the middles that most of our life happens.

If we learn what Joseph did, it's in the ordinary moments that can be deemed extraordinary. Because oftentimes it's not our circumstances at all that determine our victory and if we are going to live life well.  It is our heart.

Always our heart.

Joseph loved life - the very act of living and here is how you can tell.  Everywhere he was put - even in the deepest of the pit, he found a way to live it well.

Maybe your life isn't where you want it at this very second.  Maybe there are huge  obstacles looming before you; standing in your way.  How are you going to live life well TODAY?  How are you going to live victoriously today?   Today is as special as the day you get the breakthrough.

Most of our lives are spent in the middles.  What are we doing with the middle?  What are we doing with the process?  Are we letting "the stuff" get us down?  Or are we just not in the moment because our lives are not there yet - our lives are "over there."

Wrap a big beautiful bow around TODAY because today is our precious PRESENT.

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Have You Tried Turning it Off and On Again?

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Have you ever heard of the computer tech guy saying,  "Have you tried turning it off and on again?" to a frantic customer who calls in about a computer not acting right??  There is even a show on the television whose signature is this very question because it's about some guys who are set in an office that fixes computers.

Apparently, the body works very similar to that.  Last week I had  to have a procedure called a cardioversion.  It is a procedure where an electrical current is sent to the heart to make it stop for only a second.  Then they start it up again in hopes that it regains a correct rhythm - much like a computer.  Because I am not actually a computer, but a HUMAN,  I was terrified about it - imagining all kinds of scenarios.  It does come with risks, but so does crossing the street every morning.  I felt much better about it after talking to the doctor.  He was able to calm my fears and put some perspective into the situation.

As one does when they are coming close to a day that they  think might be  significant I have done a lot of soul searching these last days.  I wasn't sure what to expect.  I have asked God to show me if there are things in my spiritual heart that does not resonate with the One who created me.  I have searched my heart to make sure that it is soft and pure before God and people around me.  It's interesting that many times a physical issue mirrors a spiritual issue.  Jeremy and I have seen this many times.

David in the Bible said this:  Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts;  And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way.

I asked God to show me if there was anyone that my heart wasn't right with; anyone with whom I needed to make peace in my own spirit.  You know.  that's really one prayer that the Lord likes to answer.   Gently he began to put his thumb on certain areas of my heart.  Hurts I have gained while pastoring, pain I have adopted while growing up and even issues I have had with God Himself about decisions that he has made in my life.

The thing about issues of the heart is that hurt is sometimes justified but it's never very helpful.  In fact, hurt if left there to fester will only rob from you.  It robs you of your joy and your peace while the person who wronged you has gone on with their life sometimes completely oblivious of your internal struggle.

I love what Jeremy has been saying as he has been preaching (ironically about the issues of the heart.)  Sometimes the answer is so simple but it isn't always easy.

The answer to hurt and to pain towards someone in your life is to let it go.  Simply to let it go.    These last days as I had been preparing to get my physical heart reset,  I have been resetting my spiritual heart.  I was ready to let it all go.   I was ready to take any hurt that I feel,  wrap it up in a big giant grocery bag and hand it to the One who can handle the difficult issues of life; who can replace it with peace and joy.

You see there is something interesting about the heart.  Most of the time,  you don't notice it's beating.  You don't even think about it as you are going about your daily business.  That is,  until there is something wrong.  Then it becomes a big part of your life.  It limits you.  It worries you.  You begin to make decisions around it.  You begin to pull back just in case it starts acting up.  You begin to put dreams on the shelf.  It's the same way with the spiritual heart.  You don't really notice it until something goes wrong.  Then you feel the pain, the hurt, the debt, the jealousy, the pressure of wanting it to be the way it was.  When you feel that pressure; that discomfort in your heart - there is something wrong and you have to deal with it.

Today,  I went downstairs and danced to lovely worship music as I often do before I go to work.

This time something was different.  This time,  my heart did not go into  palpitations - something that has happened everyday for a long time.  When I was finished, I was so touched.  This morning, I felt free.

  Both my physical heart and my spiritual heart are in sync with the fresh steady beating of the Holy Spirit  - of the One who created my heart.

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ME

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Every year, I decide on a new word that will depict the coming year for me.  I think about it a lot.  I pray about it and I take into account  my own personal journey of life.  Often,  after  I have decided on a certain word, all of these things come popping into my day, on my facebook newsfeed and in my readings and casual conversations that further confirm the validity of that one special word.  This year was no different.

This year, my word is ME.  It’s funny actually.  The first time the word was dropped into my head,  it took me aback. It felt like someone had dropped an armful of dishes in the other room - the sound was so foreign in my head.   I can’t have THAT word for my one special word for 2016!!  It seems so selfish and so self serving.  The ironic thing about it is that I am far from that type of person.  My life story is reaching out to others - offering hope to those around me.  That’s what propels me - it’s what drives me and makes me happy. When I become inward I begin to feel isolated and depressed.

So this year,  I need to focus on me?  And I get a resounding YES!!

You see when you love yourself enough to practice self care; to gain a better understanding of yourself and your whole body,  you are actually doing those you love the highest service.  You are not being selfish at all.   You are better able to reach out, to serve and to love those around you when you pay attention to your body's language - listen to its whispers and understand its needs.

I had a sobering conversation with my 10 year old son the other day.  He was talking about when he would be 42 (the meaning of life and the universe according to Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy :)) and then suddenly, he looked up with tears in his eyes and exclaimed almost panicky,  “Will you still be alive when I am 42 MOM!!”   I said,  “Well,  I am pretty sure that I will be.  Let’s figure out how old I will be.”  So we promptly figured out that I would be 84.  His tears starting making their way down his cheeks as he sadly said,  “But Grandad was only 75.”   I explained to him that Nanna was 77 and his grandma and grandpa (almost) were 80, so lots and lots of people live past 75.   That seemed to satisfy him and then he said,  “Will you try really hard to stay alive until then?”   I assured him that I would.

It was a simple question.  A humble question.  But it was an "aha" moment for me.   And it deserved honest speculation and an honest answer.  You see there are things that I can redefine in my life in order to be healthier.  There are steps that I can take in order to gain more control of ME.  That was all the confirmation that I needed in order to make ME my word for 2016.

My one special word is intertwined with my goals this year.  I wanted to share them with you.

Magical Escape

All of us need moments of rest. All of us need to pull back, put up our feet and inhale peace.  God took a rest on the seventh day of creation so why do WE think we should do any less. These last few years have taught me that I need to carve rest into my calendar. Being too busy; being too rushed isn't healthy for your body or your mind no matter what you are busy with. I have already started working on this and will continue to do so in the coming year.

Multiply Expression:

  I love art.  I love creating things.   There have been pockets of time that I have felt that I didn't have time;  that I had to put it on the back burner..  I let the craziness of life steal my creative time.  This year,  I am going to intentionally invest time into my art.  I am going to write, to paint, to take photographs -to do those things that I love.  Because I am realizing that what feeds my soul,  feeds others as well.  What heals me,  reaches out to those around me and extends the same healing.

  Manage Eating:

There is so much out there to be said for healthy eating that I don't really need to linger on this point in this blog post.

This is important for me.  This is where the rubber meets the road - it is where I decide if I am really trying to live to be 84 or not.   All of our food decisions add up.  We have to remind ourselves that our decisions today mark some outcomes for our future.  Our future is often bought with today's actions.

Move Everyday:

I have a love/hate relationship with exercise.  I hate taking the time to do it - mainly because the BEST time for me is in the morning when I would rather be sleeping.  But even if I choose to do it at another time,  there seems to be a million other things screaming at me, to get done.   Good things.  God things.  Valid things.  Many many times I cave in to those things, forgetting what movement does for my body.  I can’t tell you what moving does in doctor’s terms necessarily but I can tell you what it does by self experience.

First of all movement,  completely takes my energy to another level.  I can always tell when I have been exercising regularly.  I have much more energy than when I am not.

It also improves my mood 100%.  It’s like a miracle drug - only much much better!!!!  I can face harder things; I can look at things through better perspective; I can tackle more difficult life questions.

Lastly,  when I stop exercising,  I can tell because I start to get achy.  My joints start to hurt more.  Even if I stop for a few days it starts to get harder to go up and down the stairs or sit on the floor and play with the kids.

These benefits don't even mention the weight loss that naturally comes with it.  So why if all these benefits come into play do I fight exercise so much?!  When I know the answer to that,  I will let you know.  Better yet,  if you know the answer to that, you can let ME know.

Mindful Excellence:

This year, there are some things around the house that need doing.  Some projects that need to be finished,  places that need clearing out,  things that need to be thrown out or given away and routines to get re- rooted.  I find that when my house is clean and tidy and free of clutter,  my mind is also.  I can think clearer and create better.  There are less things calling my name, beckoning me and taking me away from artful and beautiful projects.  I can more easily be the ME that I want to be.

I have some things to work on this year.  I have goals to attain.

I can honestly say that as I step into the newness of 2016, as the plot of the next year begins to slowly unfold, I can almost hear the drum beat of anticipation in my chest.

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Peace

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When I was a little girl,  I suffered greatly from anxiety attacks.  Debilitating fear was never very far away from me.  Traveling in the car was my worst nightmare.  I have no idea why.  I think I dealt with claustrophobia as well.  I would dread a trip in the car for days.   I remember a time in my life when we traveled a lot.  I believe  we were touring the States a little bit while my father ministered in different churches.  We had a station wagon and it was long before the seat belt laws of today.  In fact, many a time, I rode in the back laying down.  But in this season,  there was no sleeping or even resting as I climbed back there.  My body was overwhelmed by anxiety.  I couldn't shake it.

But I remember one key.  The only key.  Burying my face in the floor of the car, clutching anything so that my hand wouldn't shake so violently, I would lay.    As my body trembled and my hands shook,  I whispered a Name over and over and over again.

  Jesus.

Jesus

Jesus.

That's when Jesus became more than a Word for me.  That's when he became more than a Name for my heart.  He personally became the person who would rescue me.  He became that anchor for my soul and that rock for my sanity.  And in those moments of terrifying anxiety, as I desperately repeated his name,  I would begin to feel the  soft, warm blanket of peace laying over me.  Slowly, my body would tremble less.  Gradually,  my hand would begin to stop shaking and eventually  it was just Jesus and I rolling down the highway in that station wagon.  It was his Name that shattered the hold of panic.

Again,  when I was in the hospital with meningitis, there was a moment that I was terrified.  Looking  onto facebook, trying to distract myself,  I clicked on one of my memories of three years prior.  I had posted a song called,  "Steady My Heart."    It spoke deeply to me.  Sitting there, in that bed,  I cried - like I had cried when I first heard it.  There was a line that particularly struck me.  It read,  "I'm not going to worry.  I know that you've got me right in the palm of your hand."

You see,  things in my life had not changed.  Circumstances were still crazy around me and shadows loomed ahead that I did not know.  But in the midst of it,  Jesus was there, poised, able, willing to take me through whatever  the future held.  And when I could get a hold of that reality,   it broke the power of fear.

Whoever you are worried about, whatever you are worried about, whatever your financial situation,  your health situation,  he has you in the palm of his hand.  It doesn't always mean everything will turn out as you planned.  It doesn't always mean everything will be victorious or even successful in our eyes.  That's not reality - it wasn't in the Bible and it's not in today's world either.  What it means is that if we are in God's hand, if God sees us, if He understands, then we can make it through.  We can do it.  We are at peace. God's peace is simply more than perfect circumstances.  It carries us to the other side of treacherous seasons of life.

  Look up at Him.  Reach up and grasp his big knarled, nail scarred hand and put one foot in front of the other until you reach the end of this part of the journey.  It will be okay with Him by your side.

Jesus said in the Bible, "My peace I leave with you.  Not as the world gives..."  What kind of peace does Jesus give?  He gives the kind of peace that doesn't make sense from a natural point of view.  The world around you can be crumbling.  The situation you are facing can be too large, too strong, and too overwhelming and Jesus reaches out to you - arms open wide -  with the gift of peace.

So many times we try to find our peace elsewhere when we really need to cuddle up at Jesus' feet, stare hard into his adoring eyes and never look away..  That's all Jesus was talking about when he said he gives us peace "not as the world gives."

We try to find a new hobby.  We go to the beach.   We leave our stressful friendships behind in search of peace.  Those things are good things and often ways that God uses to bring us to that place we need to be.  But let's not forget the true maker of peace; the true giver of peace.  He is the one who will bathe your spirit and your mind in that peace that doesn't even make sense in our natural mind.  That's how he was able to walk through His life on earth - knowing what his last day would bring.  That's how he was able to take those brave steps to the cross when he knew he was going to be persecuted and killed - because He Himself is peace.

His peace is like a fire dancing in the fireplace when your bones are achy cold.  His peace will carry your icy shivering heart to a warm safe place.  His peace comes in the midst of your struggles, in the middle of your pain,  during  those debilitating circumstances and provides water in the desert.

Peace comes from knowing that you don't know - but He does.

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Hope

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It was two years ago.

I gazed at the twinkling lights on my Christmas tree and with a sudden pang realized that it would be the first Christmas tree that Jer and I had ever ever had  that his Dad would not see. It was a strange thought that hit me out of nowhere. Not that our tree was much different than any of the other years - a couple more ornaments, but the same theme.

It was a season of firsts; a season of finding our footing in the new “normal” of our lives. There was a big piece of the puzzle missing and we were discovering ways of moving forward.

It wasn’t just Dad’s death that Christmas. There were a million other difficult things happening in my life in that season. A mountain of worries and concerns and battles that I was fighting both personally and for others.  It was a tough time and one that I felt truly lonely in.

Christmas is my favourite time of year by far. I LOVE Christmas shopping.   I love the lights, the bling, the beautiful Christmas paper, the colourful ribbons. My heart literally leaps as I round the corner near my mall because I KNOW there will be tons of beauty, smiling faces, laughing children.   Wild, chaotic, mesmerizing fun everywhere.

But that Christmas, for a split second, I wondered if I was in the Christmas “spirit”. I wondered if I felt like celebrating. I was talking to someone who was going through some dark waters herself and she said, “I was going to put up my decorations and I just decided not to, because I wasn’t in the Christmas spirit.” I nodded in understanding and empathy. I wondered if I should convince her to put up some stuff around her house anyways - no matter what she was going through - but for what purpose? Her life was in a difficult season right then. Why can’t she just skip Christmas altogether this year and get to the part where she gets through this difficult season? I totally understood her pain.

But suddenly it hit me; something that I had forgotten just for a moment.   She needed to decorate. She needed to put stuff up around her house. She needed to celebrate. And I needed to too.

Why? Because even though our lives were going through some painful times, even though our hearts felt like giant boulders stuck in our chest -  though it seemed hard to hang on to anything that will hold our souls - there is a reason that we celebrate Christmas season.    There is a reason that we do ALL of this.

Sometimes, in the busy-ness of the season and in the crazy adventures we find ourselves on, we forget.  Truly forget.   It's not about the lights, and the bling and the presents.   And it’s not because we need to get gifts or because we need a giant month long interruption in our lives. It’s not because we need to spend money that we don’t have.

It’s because we need to remind our selves that no matter how hard life gets - we always have hope. That’s what Christmas is all about. Christmas is about hope. Christmas is about a Mom and Dad cradling a tiny baby in the crook of their arms - that came to earth to save the world. It is about a God who left a perfect world to step into a fallen world and give them hope. There is always hope because there is always God.

That day I chose faith instead of fear. I chose hope instead of doubt. I chose beauty instead of ashes.

This year, if it just seems too hard to get through the day; if the world around you seems hopeless, come a little closer. Close your weary eyes and picture a baby born for you. Picture an innocent baby that came into a guilty world to give you hope.

If you can only light a candle, do that. If you can only put some music on, do that. Find something to do to celebrate His hope. Because that is what it is all about...

He came for me.

He came for you.

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On Loving Well

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I used to see only black and white.

I was that person that got mad at you if you didn’t treat me right going through the till.  I was the one that let you know swiftly if my coffee wasn’t hot enough.  I was that person who  honked at the cars that cut me off - not to let them know that I was there but to let them know that I was super angry at them.  In my mind, you were either right or wrong.  Lifestyles were either right or wrong.  It was black and white and I left no room for colour or for gray.

I am not the opposite of who I was - I will still send my coffee back if it’s too cold.  I will still ask the teller if I am inconveniencing her if she acts like I have interrupted her day. I am rarely embarrassed or hesitant to state my true feelings.  But these days,  I am more often asking strangers if they want prayer; if they know that Jesus loves them or if they need anything.  Now,  I find myself looking beyond their outward actions and looking deep within their heart, knowing that there is a person who goes through pain just like me.  There before me stands a person fighting for freedom in his/her life; struggling to stay above the water.  I am realizing more and more that people often carry heavy loads on their shoulders that they can’t possibly lay down at the door of their work.  Instead of a rebuke, they need an outstretched hand, they need a loving and kind word from a stranger.   A snide remark will stick arrows in their back for a week, while a beautiful gesture of love might possibly change their life.

How interesting that Jesus actually came to earth to fulfill the law so that he could replace it with one word - love.   That’s not to say that he wanted us to run around killing each other in the name of freedom. He didn't take away boundaries or conscience.  But he taught us that we need to follow a path that is so much greater and at the same time, much much harder.   People that live in black and white think that love is a grand cop-out.   Sure, just love people.  But when you think about it, when you live by the principle of love, it’s much harder than following a set of rules and the results so much better.

Jesus left us with two commands.  Love God and love one another.  When we live by the higher law we are freer.  We have added color to our lives.  Life is not a simple answer.  Sometimes there aren’t any easy solutions. In my years of ministry and counseling, I have learned that often there aren’t hard and fast rules for a lot of things in this life.  Often, it’s hard to untangle the truth from the lie - the right from the wrong.   There are so many variables.   So instead of living in judgement, suddenly you realize that the better way is love.  The noble gesture is a soft hand on a tired shoulder.

All of us need to be loved.  All of us, no matter what age, race or religion need to feel important - we need to know that we matter deeply to the world around us.

I love the story in the Bible of the woman caught in adultery.   The Pharisees brought the terrified woman before Jesus and told Him of her sin.  Clutching stones in their hands, they were waiting for the signal from Jesus to stone her.  It was simple to them.  This woman was a sinner - she was caught.  Stone her.   What Jesus did next is a mystery to this day.  As the crowd waited for his approval, silently He bent down in the dirt and began writing words on the ground.  Then He  looked up and simply said,  “Okay,  the person without any sin in their lives - YOU cast the first stone.”  No one could be that person because they all knew that they had sinned in their lifetime.   He then turned to the panic stricken lady who was looking on with awe in her eyes.   This is what he said,  “Go and sin no more.”  How could he say that so casually?  How could it be that easy for her to just go "and sin no more." Maybe she was in love with the man with whom she was committing adultery with.  Maybe it was an addiction to her.  There are so many things that we don't know about this story.    This is how He was able to say it with such confidence; such conviction.   Because instead of stones,  she had experienced love.  Instead of hate,  she was bathed in kindness.  Her very life was saved.   And because her very life was saved with love, her soul was saved.  She experienced the love of God and she was a different person.

Our love will change people.

When you go to the grocery store, look for people that need your love.  Keep your eyes and heart open for those that need to hear a kind word or receive a smile.

Jesus didn’t tell us to love people that believed the same as us.  He didn’t tell us to love in spite of... He didn’t tell us to love even though...

He simply told us to love people.  Simply love people no matter the race, no matter the religion, no matter the beliefs, and no matter the actions.

Love.

That’s it.

Let's take a look at three ways to love well.

1. Don't keep score.   Don't love only those people who can love you back.  Don't just love people to show them you are great - you are lovely.  Love them because they need to be loved, they want to be loved.  Even if they can't love you back.  Even if you love them in ways that are anonymous.   Love them.  Love someone for no reason.  Love someone who you will never ever see again.   Do it even if it doesn't make your name more popular; it doesn't bring anyone else into the church; it doesn't advertise ANYTHING at all - you are just showing genuine love to show love.

2.   Love the way you want to be loved.  What is your love language?  On any given day, what would YOU want?  What would make your day?  Would it bless you if someone gave you a gift - just because...?  Then choose someone to give a gift to.  Would you love it if someone just came up to you and gave you a compliment;  told you how much they appreciate you?  Then do the same for someone.   Would it make your day if someone left a card for Starbucks under your windshield?  Then find someone who would love the same and do it for them.  Do you know what that does?  It heals you.  It refreshes you.  It uplifts you.  Because love doesn't only help the one who receives it, it helps the one who gives it as well.

3.  Give lavishly, wildly and generously out of your love bank today.   I had a pastor once who said it was always good to error on the side of grace.  I adopted that saying because I LOVE it.  But I want to take that a step further and say that you can never error on the side of love.    One of the things on my bucket list is to stand behind someone in the grocery store and step up and say,  "I want to buy her groceries."  I can't wait until one day I can do that.

I want to love with abandonment.   I want to see my waitresses through eyes of love.  I want to see my co-workers, my neighbors and those I meet,  through eyes of love.  I want to be motivated in my everyday life through eyes of love.   Because I know that one day 2000 years ago,  there was a Man who died for me.  His motivation was sincere, genuine, lovely and wild love.

Tomorrow, when you wake up in the morning,  choose to think this very question.  "Who can I love today?"  When you begin to wake up every morning with this thought,  it will change your life.

I promise you.

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A Gift to Me

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I was standing on the edge of a big decision and I wasn't sure if I was brave enough to jump off.  I deeply wanted to go to Taiwan and celebrate with the Church there but I was also terrified of the risk.  I was completely torn.  I had just spent two weeks in the hospital with meningitis.   The doctor that attended to me,  knew how badly I wanted to go to Taiwan but doubted that I would ever get there - not this time at least.  I could tell she felt sorry for me - was even trying to work it out for me but it seemed hopeless.  There were so many things to work out physically.

The clock was ticking and I still didn’t know if I was even able to go or not.  I wouldn’t even think about going without getting the okay from my family doctor,  my heart doctor, my rhinologist and my gynecologist (much was going on that could have led me right back to the ER so I needed her okay for sure.)   My last doctor to give me the okay was my gynecologist and it was looking like she was the most important one for me.  I was excited the day I was to visit her.  I needed to let everyone know whether I was going or not.

Twenty minutes before I was to have an appointment,  I got a phone call telling me that she couldn’t make her appointments that day.  I had to reschedule which put me only two weeks away from the trip I had already purchased long before I got meningitis.   I was annoyed, but what can one do?  Nothing.  It seemed to take forever to get to the second appointment and then I got the phone call again - she had to go in to emergency surgery.    I had to reschedule.  Again.   I was starting to get panicky - I was beyond the annoyed part.  I still didn’t know what decision I was going to make even if everyone DID say that I could go!!

Knowing whether it was even a possibility was the first step to even making the decision.

Finally,  I got to my appointment a week and a half before my scheduled date to leave the country.  I sat there in her office.   I actually thought that she was going to tell me that I needed an emergency hysterectomy. Instead, she said that with the latest health issues that propped up, she wouldn’t touch me with a ten foot pole unless she knew she absolutely HAD to.

Okay.

I asked her about going to Taiwan and she didn’t understand why I wouldn’t go.  It was that simple.  But with my complications, what if I bleed and end up back in emergency?  That was my complicated question.    She didn’t really have an answer for that but still didn’t think it warranted me to do anything less than live my life normally like I would if nothing was wrong.

It was pretty simple.  She was giving me the okay.

I left the office that day with a spring in my step - but with an incredible weight on my shoulders.  It was easy for her to say that I should still live my life normally but the fact of the matter was, she could not guarantee that I wouldn’t end up back in emergency.  I was an unusual case.  She wasn’t sure what my body was doing.  That wasn’t great insurance for me.    There was so much about this trip that was nebulous - a bit like a flimsy piece of golden material swaying in the warm breeze or gusty wind.  It wasn’t concrete at all.  I like concrete; especially when it comes to my health.

I knew I needed to give Jeremy an answer.  There was only 10 days left.  My job needed to know and Taiwan needed to know.  I prayed about it for a day and talked to my family.  My family knew how much I have invested in Taiwan, both in going and in blessing my husband to spend so much time there.  They knew my love for Taiwan.  They said go.

I decided to go.  The minute, I made the decision, I was literally panic-stricken.   I had pockets of excitement but mainly I was working with some serious questions in my spirit.  What if I got halfway around the world and my health started doing crazy things?  There were many scenarios that danced in my head.   I only had ten days to get ready for a last minute international trip.  I had to get some things ready at work and get a lot ready at home.  It was a crazy week.

The Sunday after I made the decision and just a week before I was to board that plane,  I stood in my Church and asked God for peace.  Our worship leader started leading a song that hit me in the gut.  The chorus was “I’m no longer a slave to fear.  I am a child of God.”  I raised my hands as I sung the song and let the peace wash over me - from the top of my head to the tip of my toes - over and over again.  I felt like I had taken a shower in grace after the meeting.  It was exactly what my soul needed.  Peace had overwhelmed my spirit.  It was a spiritual meeting with God.  For the first time since I had made that decision,  I knew without a shadow of a doubt that it was a good one.

But as fear is what it is,  the next day when I woke up,  I felt a knawing again at the corners of my heart.  I battled it.  I talked to God a lot and asked him to confirm that I was supposed to go.  Again.

Immediately, he brought a story to my mind from the bible.  It was the story of Peter.   Peter was in the boat and as he stood looking out over the oceans suddenly he saw a figure of a man or ghost walking on the water.  He didn’t really know what it was.  It terrified him and intrigued him at the same time.  Immediately, he wondered if it was Jesus.  He said,  “Jesus if that is you - tell me to come to you.”  I am sure that Peter did not think Jesus would say come even if it was him.  Only Jesus could walk on water.  But Peter was eager.  He was one of those guys who wanted to please,  wanted to experience life with everything he had.   He gave life 110 per cent.  Sometimes, he said silly things and this was one of those times.  I wonder if he thought Jesus would just sort of rebuke him and say just wait for me to get there.  Why was Peter so anxious to meet him?  Why couldn’t he just wait.   Because with all that was within Peter,  he wanted to see Jesus.  That was his life's passion.  He was willing to risk anything - even death in order to be with Jesus.

Jesus said,  “Come.” and Peter knew it was him.  He knew that this was Jesus who held out his arms to him - it was not a ghost and nothing - not even a vast ocean or the waves that were bigger than the boat was going to stop him from meeting with the one that he loved most.

He climbed out of the boat.  I am sure his legs were wobbling.  It was exhilirating and terrifying at the same time.    As Peter stepped out of that boat,  he was taking the biggest faith step that he had ever taken.  He was leaving the boat that  was so comfortable to him.  He was leaving the familiarity of the friends, and the safety that the boat represented.  He was leaving it all behind in order to walk on water - something that humans can’t do.

  This is what I felt the Lord saying to me.  I was leaving everything familiar to me.  I was leaving the hospital that had kept me alive in the summer.  I was leaving the doctors who knew my case inside and out and I was leaving family.   I was leaving it all to follow Jesus and Jesus was asking me to make that faith step.  It was such revelation to me that I knew the Lord would be with me.

The next day at our little Christian school, we had Bible time with all the students.  The young man got up and said, “I want to tell you a little story.  His name was Peter and he walked on water...”   

Two weeks later, as I stood in a group of two thousand people crammed into the Banner Church - others pressing to get into the shut doors,  I stood with my hands raised I realized that that day was a significant day.

Some people never get to see the fruit of their labour.  Some people spend hours, weeks, years working, striving, pushing toward certain goals,  toward breakthrough in something and often people never see the outcome of all that hard work; they never see it come dancing fully alive before their eyes.

  That day, I saw it.

I saw the fruit of leaving my kids, many years in a row to go to Taiwan.  I saw the fruit of kissing my husband good bye even when it felt better to keep him home.  Through pregnancy, through treacherous teen years, through difficult toddler years - saying good bye and giving my husband the blessing to go - knowing that God would take care of me.  I saw the pay-off of hours of prayers and tears and love poured out to a Church that was our home when we were in Taiwan.    As I stood there,  I realized that the Lord was giving me this - all the sacrifice of all those years wrapped up in a big red bow and handing it back to me.  It felt freeing.  It felt right and  itt felt humbling.

Standing there,  arms open wide,  heart full to the brim,  I knew that even though I didn't have a lot of money, I was a very rich lady indeed.

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