Seeing redemption in my world

In my small group (or D-group as they are affectionately known here), we take turns telling a “Redemption Story”.

Sounds cheesy?

I thought so.

But, this is my third year here and I actually really like that part. Because it isn’t just a hokey “I was bad and then I got to know Jesus and now I am good” sort of thing that you hear on TV. It is more like saying because I am in Christ, I am being convicted of my sin. Things are happening and changing and they are really subtle or really big and I want to share about it, so the others in the group know and can pray for me and be encouraged by what is happening.

The thing is, nobody is perfect. And no human on this Earth is without sin. It breaks my heart to see how high and mighty we all get with ourselves from time to time. It is easy to get caught up in comparing yourself up higher than others or down lower than others.  It also kills me to see the hurt that comes from it.  That isn’t real love or grace.

Sometimes, it is nice to step back and identify areas that you are struggling in or that you have struggled in and see what is happening. It is okay to be a work in progress. It is okay to feel like you aren’t making progress, because at least you know there is a problem and can seek help. Because it isn’t about the past. It is about the present. What is happening right now.

I think that makes it more relevant. I think it, for me, makes redemption more real, more tangible.  It frames it in a way my concrete mind likes to see it.

There has been this Classic Crime song stuck in my head called “Glass Houses.” For me, it illustrates that struggle to identify those areas that we ignore or don’t even realize are there and how judgemental and hurtful we can be of others. It also points out how things fall apart when we start “playing God” with ourselves and others. How hypocritical we can be.

I’ll admit that I am broken. That I have all kinds of faults and flaws and that sin is in all kinds of little places in my life. I’m thankful that God is working that out in me day by day. And that he stuck me in a community that pushes that along without throwing stones.

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Waiting, Anticipation, Hope and Gifts

‘Tis the season of anticipation.

Anticipation of holidays, anticipation of time with family and friends, of presents and for some of us, for anticipation of a celebration of the birth of our Saviour.

Anticipation is a part of waiting. Waiting can be hard. But, sometimes the wait is well worth it.

Look at the Jewish people in the Bible before Jesus’s time. They waited a long time for a Saviour. So long that some had given up hope and many had ideas of how He should look or be.

And of course, in the way God only can do, Jesus came in an unexpected fashion. In a way that defies our human expectations. I think that is so cool.

Sometimes God makes our lives like that. The things we anticipate, that we long for sometimes come in ways that we don’t fully look for or expect. I think it is a good lesson when I look at the way the world is headed or when things aren’t going according to plan. God’s plans sometimes get a bit weird or outside our expectations.

I think anticipation and hope is a form of worship. As we look forward to the Christmas season, I see hope in all kinds of ways, and really if our hope is in the right place and our anticipation is looking forward to celebrating well, it is a good thing.

Our life has recently had some moments where our anticipation and waiting turned into a more discouraging time. As we waited and hoped for a baby to come into and stay in our lives, we began to learn what hoping and trusting looks like when things start to fall away from what we anticipated, when pain keeps creeping in. Sure, we trusted, but I can relate to those who started to think otherwise when waiting on God to do something big. Who let bitterness and distrust sneak in. Because it can be easier to let that happen sometimes. Even though so many awesome things happen every day.

But, cool stuff happens when God is involved. I found out about “the Creature” the day before Patrick’s birthday. I told him as a part of his birthday present. Because after this long waiting, news of a baby really is a birthday present. “The Creature” is due just a few days before my birthday. Pretty cool.

I was thankful for the nausea, for the fatigue. Because that meant something was happening. It was affirming what we had been waiting for. That being said, I then started hoping for it to stop, but continued to (oddly enough) thank God everyday for the barfing (but confirming that it could stop anytime).

Laying in bed one night praying, I came to the realization that so many people had been praying for us, for a maybe baby and how lucky we are to have so many people in our lives who support us and intervene for us. It blew my mind how this was planned by God and seemed so intentional now, even though for so long it just seemed like we were forgotten.

We had our first (and only) ultrasound so far just a couple days before what should have been Elim’s due date. Seeing a flickering heart and a tiny human at a point when my heart was breaking was a big gift in and of itself.

On Friday, we got to hear “the Creature’s” heartbeat galloping along. Merry Christmas. There really still is a tiny human in there who will eventually come out.

So the anticipation continues. For this child, probably for others and all kinds of other things.  And I know it will persist the rest of my life.

The wait was worth it. I see that now. I see the trust that grew from that wait, the witness that it was and the growth we experienced. We learned practical lessons about suffering well and waiting well. In retrospect, I’m glad for the wait. It has taught me about how to love others in the midst of waits.  I think it is helping me to celebrate well.

Sometimes the best gifts come in ways that weren’t planned or expected in our human put-things-in-a-box way. Sometimes our anticipation makes things even better. Although my baby pales in comparison to the epic beauty of the Christmas story, I can see how lessons in waiting and hoping and not putting God into my human realm box can parallel the story and make me get how big it really is to an even greater.

The Christian “Look”

Sorry for the lameness in lack of posts recently.  I won’t make excuses.

I will, however share with you this awesome article from Relevantmagazine.com a few friends of mine just posted on Facebook called “Being a Christian Doesn’t Always Look Like You Think It Should.”

The article speaks well about how grace and “real” Christianity does not always look the way other Christians or society wants it to look.  Really, by looking for Christians to appear a certain way, we are putting God in a box.  Grace is a process, we are works in progress and we are made perfect only in Christ, but still exist in changing earthly bodies with personalities and characteristics that change and grow and may not always be perfectly Christ-like.  And maybe being Christ-like isn’t what we all imagine it is sometimes.

I go to church at an inner city church plant.  The pastor call the congregation a “motley crew” and it is true.  We come from all walks of life.  There are hipsters and homeless people and wealthy people and young and old.  People are grappling with addictions, with difficult life circumstances with being students or stay at home moms or with growing up in this world in general.  We are all sinners.  Our thing in common is Jesus and what God’s grace is doing in our lives.

If someone walked in looking for people to look or act a certain way, they might be shocked.  People should know Christians because they are different.  Because of the love and grace the exude.  That does not mean they all have to be extroverts who dress and behave a certain way.  They can have tattoos and piercings or wear skirts and have long hair.  They all still struggle in one way or another.

I am guilty of it.  As humans, we all judge.  We compare and put people and things in boxes.

We need to stop putting God in a box.  And just as much, we need to stop putting what God does in, with and through people in a box.

Bear Hug

Some days, you wonder if you are doing enough, caring enough, loving enough.

You go to rounds and hear things like doctors don’t care or don’t spend enough time with patients.  And you sit there wondering how you can do more.  Because maybe, just maybe, they could be right.

You spend time researching to help someone.  You talk someone through even the simple things.  Sometimes you just make small talk because it seems right.  You stay late.  You go in early.  You think about them when you are home.

Then, someone you cared for dies.  And you get a big, tearful bear hug from the most challenging family member.

Suddenly, it is all worth it.  Suddenly, I believe it might just be enough.  Suddenly, I remember God put me here for a reason.

Nehemiah is not Nineveh

I was reading Nehemiah in my nightly Bible reading last week.

I kept getting excited when I opened up my app (because I am that kid who needs an app to follow any kind of Bible reading plan) because I kept thinking Nehemiah was Nineveh.  Which is not a book of the Bible, but a place… The place where Jonah had to go and didn’t want to go and got scooped up by a whale.

I love the book of Jonah.  I get Jonah.  I’m a big chicken sometimes.  And I freak out to the point where God just sticks me in a situation where I have to suck it up and face the music.  Not quite eaten by a giant fish music, but you get the picture.

I love the lessons of grace seen in Jonah’s misadventures.

But, Nehemiah isn’t Nineveh, which isn’t Jonah.  

But, every night for about 3 nights, I got crushed when I realized that all over again.

It also made me remember this song that we once were forced to sing one Sunday night because the pastor was preaching about Jonah and other Father thought it was a great idea.  I thought it was a funny idea.  Everyone else on the worship team was kind of irritated to sing a children’s song, but I never heard it before, so I didn’t make the connection.  I have been singing it to myself for days.  Problem is that apparently the internet cannot read my mind and find the song I am searching for based on the few words and tune I remember in my head.  I’ll get over that, though.

Plus, I found this gem (although it does get annoying and doesn’t have a lot of point to it)… 

 

“BIFFs’ Weekend”

Last weekend, we had yet another awesome weekend.

We went away to a place near Kouchibouguac National Park with two of my best friends and their husbands (Child&D and L&C).  We decided last year to make it an annual tradition to go on a “BIFFs’ trip” (BIFFs is a word we made out of the abbreviation best friends forever back when we were in very early undergrad… We don’t really use it anymore, but it works in the context of naming the trip).  A trip where V&D, L&C and Child&D and Patrick and I could go away just (kind of) like old times no matter where we were in this world.  

Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out that all of us could go.  I was very disappointed.  Such is life.  But, we went to the park from our separate corners of country and met for a weekend adventure.  It was all the more exciting for me because it was most of their first times there and it was where I spent a large chunk of my childhood summers.

Although it was my second weekend full of people, it was worthwhile.  We saw lots of beautiful scenery (and Child too tons of pictures).   I took people on random back road adventures.  I got to eat scallops at this place we always stopped at when I was a kid.  We took L and Child for their first trips on kayaks.  We saw giant man-eating (okay, not really man-eating that we know of) jellyfish and caught all kinds of marine life at the beach.  We ate a ton of food.  Played some games, including one of my favourites, Bang where the other outlaws and I won, read books and laughed a bunch. IMG_0202 IMG_0214IMG_0197IMG_0219

A highlight of the trip was the fact that the house next door seemed to be particularly sketchy and had a lot of animals.   We think that a very feral looking cat who hung around while we cooked and barbecued was part of that household.  When we went out for a bonfire that evening, we acquired a very adorable kitten, who crawled into all of our laps and ate our hot dogs (she stole them from beside someone while she snubbed him).  Patrick had to try really hard to get her to go back to what we thought was her home, only to have her show up crying at our cabin door.  She wasn’t the only one, as it turned out, cats started appearing everywhere once night fell.  IMG_0230 IMG_0224 IMG_0226

I’m lucky to have friends who have been around since I was an awkward teenager (or even tween… ugh), or who I have stuck with since they were awkward teenagers.  I know not everyone is so fortunate.  Yes, that proves to be challenging because people do grow up, get married and change, but they are the closest things I have to siblings, so I’m stuck with them for life.  Even if it is sometimes insanely difficult for some and suspiciously easy for others.

A terribly embarrassing "selfie" from Christmas vacation 2007.  Back when the Child was still literally a Child.

A terribly unflattering photo from Christmas vacation 2006(?).  Back when the Child was still literally a Child.

So, I have someone who gets up early, drinks coffee by the pound and discusses things like books, life and music.  I have someone else who hugs me more than anyone else I know (less my mother and my husband) and somehow understands my crazy and knows what I actually am feeling even when I don’t.  I have someone who will always laugh hard and long at stories with me (even if they shouldn’t be that funny).  The cool part is that although everyone is unique, they all crossover too.  

Pretty cool, huh?

White As Snow

The M family has been on the road (minus our guard cat, Jeter). 

Vacation is a beautiful thing.  Especially when it is spent with friends and family (and good books and beautiful scenery).  It is late, we are still away and I am lazy, so no pictures for today.

I just wanted to quickly share a song that has been on my heart.  It is called “White As Snow” apparently, although, I thought it was called “Create In Me” so it took some epic searching to track down the actual song and not some random hymn.  We have been singing it a fair bit in church the last few months and some words in the song are taken from Psalm 51.  

 

 

 

 

Have mercy on me, oh God

According to your unfailing love

According to your great compassion

Blot out my transgressions

Have mercy on me, oh God

According to your unfailing love

According to your great compassion

Blot out my transgressions

 

Would you create in me a clean heart, oh God?

Restore in me the joy of your salvation

Would you create in me a clean heart, oh God?

Restore in me the joy of your salvation

 

The sacrifices of our God

Are broken in a contrite heart

Against you and you alone

Have I sinned?

The sacrifices of our God

Are broken in a contrite heart

Against you and you alone

Have I sinned?

 

Would you create in me a clean heart, oh God?

Restore in me the joy of your salvation

Would you create in me a clean heart, oh God?

Restore in me the joy of my salvation

 

Wash me white as snow

And I will be made whole

Wash me white as snow

And I will be made whole

Wash me white as snow

And I will be made whole

Wash me white as snow

 

Would you create in me a clean heart, oh God?

Restore in me the joy of your salvation

Would you create in me a clean heart, oh God?

Restore in me the joy of your salvation

I have been struggling with anger and guilt and a whole host of other emotions because of a friend and some other crummy circumstances life has thrown my way.  They have come to a head of late and I stated to notice some of my behaviours and tendencies.  To be honest, I don’t like them.  I also realized that although some circumstances are crummy, some people don’t always treat me the way I know I should be treated and some difficulties are bigger than I can fix, it doesn’t mean I can’t pray through them and love and act in such a way that demonstrates grace.  I haven’t been so grace filled.

And yes, I am human.  And yes, I am allowed to feel hurt.  But, it is wrong for me to be bitter.  And I shouldn’t be spiteful (even if it seems satisfying in my head at the time).  Really, I choose how I feel.  And yes, feelings are just feelings, but continuing to fester can be harmful.  And it is sinful.

So, basically I have been reminded that those thoughts, those tendencies, although completely human, they are wrong and hurtful to God.  And in the end, they are hurtful to me and those around me.  But, most importantly, they are wrongdoings against God who has done a ton for me and loves me despite the crap I do.

I don’t deserve to be forgiven for some of this garbage.  But, the cool part is that God has taken care of all that stuff.  A big sacrifice.  And I keep getting second chances.  And that is awesome.  And should make me more excited than it does sometimes.

I really want to be restored to that kind of joy.   The happiness that comes from knowing what I have been saved from and how loved I really am.  I want to move away from some of my harshness and bitterness.  I want to love those who hurt me and those who seem beyond my reach.  I want to be patient.  I know there is no magic switch.  Relationships are hard.  Life is complicated. I’m human.  

But, He is God.  So, He can move me in the right direction better than I or anyone else can.  So, this song is my prayer.

Reuniting With Some Favourites

I had the best weekend.

We spent time with the core group from our small group from when we lived on that lovely island for med school.  The 7 of us were together for basically 3 years and other people came and went.  It is the first time we were ALL together in 2 years.  I have been looking forward to this time, since I found out it would happen in May.

There are people that life is simple with.  There are people that, for introverts like me, barely count as people.  Who you can just exist with and not feel completely drained.  The kind of people you can just pick up where you left off and hardly miss a beat.

These are those people. 

We went to Magic Mountain, a pretty awesome water park.  We played mini golf.  We made up our very own road trip game to drive to one couple’s home complete with mid-trip car switches.  We stayed up until 2 in the morning playing Sing Star and were up and off to the races again at 10.  We explored a market and watched Highland games.  We grocery shopped and went to games stores.  We BBQed and lounged around just talking for hours.  We played a million new board games until almost 2 in the morning again.  We went to church, we went to lunch and had a great discussion.  

I barely took any pictures except at the Highland games.  

I love that we can be real with each other.  Really, truly honest and open about where we are.  That we can talk about tough stuff.  And in the next breath crack jokes about being “tied and pleasured” (long story).

It was a full weekend.

I was sad it was over.  

We are blessed to have many good friends.  Despite that, we have been feeling discouraged because we don’t have as many close friends where we live currently (but we still have a few we are attached at the hip to), but part of that is because it is so rare to have the kind of friendships we have with this crew we spent the weekend with.  God provided us with great people when we needed them in a certain way and I know He is doing the same here, just in different ways.  It has been a slow go feeling like we are a part of things here.  And part of that is because it was so easy when we were there.  And maybe that is because we needed it to be at that time.

Community stretches you and grows you.  Spending time with what was our main community was amazing.  And comforting.  And a true testament to how awesome God is.  Our church here encourages community, and I can sense the community, but it is bigger and broader than what I once knew in some ways and the relationships, like people are different.  But, then again, so are we.  It is a good thing.  

I am thankful for full weekends.  And friends who change and yet stay the same.  And for the comfort that comes from really loving and knowing people.

We get to go away with some other very special friends this weekend.    People we have known and loved much of our lives. I am super excited.  So, really, we are very fortunate.  Two awesome weekends in a row!

I have a musical interlude for this post.  A song that was stuck in my head the whole weekend and, well, is still stuck in my head.  It isn’t quite about amazing friends or community and yet, in some ways, it fits because of the concept of coming together.  

What is one thing?

What is one thing you can’t live without? That thing that would send you into a downward spiral if you lost it? That thing you need for your life to feel fulfilled?

Think about it for a minute.

That was a question we’ve been discussing in church and D-group the last couple of weeks. It makes my head hurt and yet has opened my eyes to how I perceive my reality.

My first instinct was Patrick. I can’t live without my husband.

But, I can live without my husband.

My second instinct was children. I want children. Living children.

But, I can live without children.

The list goes on… My family, my friends, my career, my home, my health.

Losing any of those things could send me on a downward spiral.

What does that say about me? What does that say about my faith?

Life goes on despite monumentous loss. We survive these things that we often can’t even fathom. I see people dealing with these things every day. How do we do it? How do I do it?

I know some people say strength and fortitude and a positive attitude.

I am talking about deeper purpose and something bigger than just getting through.

I know some people will disagree, but that something is Jesus. And maybe I am hum drum, but I don’t feel like I can find meaning in all of life and things without Him.

The passage we were looking at is John 6. It is a long sucker, but the cool part is that John is really intentional in his writing. He doesn’t include irrelevant details and generally stuff goes together to kind of show some bigger point about Jesus. He wrote the book, so that people would believe, so that makes sense.

This is the loaves and fishes chapter. It is also the walking on water and calming the seas passage.

I have seriously heard those stories a thousand times, so what is the big deal?

Well, check this out…

When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone wholooks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” –John 6:25-40 ESV

It is kind of a ridiculous conversation. Jesus kind of talks in riddles (Is that blasphemous of me to say? I mean he really does kind of say stuff that comes off as bizarre and people don’t get him…) and the people He is teaching struggle with getting the point. Heck, even the disciples get kind of weirded out.

But this is what it is getting at (I am not that clever, this is what others say it is getting at and it makes sense to me)…

Jesus is enough.

Love the giver and not the gifts. You aren’t sustained (really) by things and relationships and all that stuff. In the end, even the thing you most want to cling to and think will make you complete won’t.

In essence, you can’t take it with you when you go. But when you go, you’re going to want Him on your side.

I like concrete things, so this is tough to process. How do I make Jesus enough. How do I stop being satisfied in stuff and people and start being satisfied in Him? How do I stop trying to fix and control things, but know that it is all completed through Him for His glory?

That isn’t something I just do.

In our conversations over the last little bit, our group has discussed that it is a tough thing to put into practice. It starts with having the desire (just like kicking or starting any habit, you need to want to start).

I’ve got that.

Action starts with awareness.

I have come to realize what I prioritize. What I think will fill me up and keep me content.

I am trying to remember that that satisfaction, although very real, is short lived and not complete. And that there is much more out there than having a happy marriage (although it is super important for a bunch of reasons).

Having real purpose and deep seated peace and joy is bigger than stuff. It is bigger than comfort. Sometimes we have to suffer well and know we aren’t alone in this.

Being sustained by Christ alone isn’t simple. It isn’t intuitive. And it is definitely by standards of our culture weird. But that’s okay (and I need to remember that).

A Good Father Gives Good Gifts

A good father gives good gifts.

This is a concept that I don’t struggle with. At leat not the statement itself.

I was fortunate to grow up with an awesome Dad who provided for my needs and many of my wants. So, the fact that God would do that too, doesn’t stretch my imagination too far.

And yet it does.

I was talking about this with some friends from church last week and it has been coming up in the study I am doing this Lent season.

God gives good gifts. Tons and tons of them.

For some people, that alone is tough to process because they grew up in environments where that doesn’t seem plausible. Where their loved ones didn’t provide good gifts, so the concept that God would is tough to grasp.

For me, it is tough to process because that is a lot of gifts. And those gifts don’t always seem good.

The thing is, that sometimes we are so needy that we miss out on the real gifts. And we miss out on the biggest gift of all, Jesus.

In church a couple weeks ago, we were talking about how we really shouldn’t be giving God ultimatums. Because ultimatum faith is not faith at all. The concept that we will believe if we see a sign. We will believe if good things happen. That our faith is based on our day to day experience only. That can’t be the case. There needs to be trust. Our reality needs to be changed.

Realistically, there have already been signs. The whole water into wine thing… A sign that God provides the best for his people. The whole healings and miracles chunk of time, again, sign of provision, sign of who He is, etc.

Should that be enough?

I mean, there is a place for seeking signs.  It happens in the Bible.  But, in our discussion it was that people sought signs in faith that God would respond.  And it wasn’t an I’ll do this if you do that kind of sign.  It was a seeking evidence for God’s will sort of thing.  And even then, if  you get down to it, often, it was more of a confirmation because the human was doubtful than a necessity.

I am an empirical person, so I admit that it is tough for me sometimes, as I am sure some of you reading this think I am bat crazy. But, I have read around the manuscripts and the origins of the documents and have drawn conclusions that God and Jesus make sense to me.  And that those gifts are good gifts.  And that the changes in me are good gifts that couldn’t be because of me alone.

The reading I have been doing asked the question last week that also kind of followed along with something we were discussing at church.

How would the presence of God be more satisfying to you than answers from God? –Huag and Walker (2013)

Agh. That is a tough one.

I would love to say that I am super holy and that the presence of God is always satisfying without answers.

I would be lying.

Realistically, I know the statement is true. The presence of God is comfort and peace and joy, but it just isn’t simple and happy go lucky butterflies and rainbows.

Answers are tangible. They are the evidence for an empirical mind. And I want answers because I like being worldy brand happy. I want my career to be perfect, I want my family and friends to be happy and healthy, I don’t want to worry about money or housing and I want to have kids. The thing is answers aren’t always what we think they should be and answers will only satisfy me for so long.

I have been struggling with answers. It is tough sometimes to remember that an all knowing, loving God is present when you are hurting and longing for something you can’t have.

It brings me back to ultimatum faith.

Belief because I got what I wanted and acts of faith because I want something. Or disbelief because I can’t have something. That when bad stuff happens, God must be judging us and we aren’t good enough.

It just doesn’t work long term. In fact, it can get to be soul crushing.

I have been learning, especially over the last year or so about valuing the presence of God even when things aren’t going right, when I’m not happy, when things are tough and when loss happens. I have lots of gifts. More than I can ever count. More than I realize I even have. My last couple years have been emotional roller coasters.  But, I feel best in the presence of God because that is better than the stuff I have here in the long run. Sometimes the best gift is no gift at all. Just time and love.

I am striving to switch my perspective. To value the presence over the gifts all the time, not just when it is easy or when things are going terribly or awesomely. Kind of like we should enjoy time with our loved ones, not what they give us.

Presence of God is more permanent than answers. Sure, it is more fluffy sounding, but really it is more hearty.

A good father gives good gifts.

I am thankful for that. I like my gifts. But really, in order to be a good father and give good gifts, being around is key, otherwise you can’t know what to give when. You need to know who you are gifting to.

And that is why I prefer the presence of God. Even if I like the gifts.