How to be a light bearer in a torch bearing world

I’m not usually a current events writer, but something about the riots in Charlottesville this past weekend stuck with me and I can’t let it go.  The term torch-bearers kept rolling around in my mind.  What seemed to be an innocuous term now has violence and hatred associated with it.    And rightfully so.  The people that were bearing those torches are evil.  I can’t think of a better word.  What they stand for and what they believe and what they do is so against the Bible, it can only be called evil.

I believe that its important to publicly condemn these people.  Its important to say the words and put on the labels.  But what I really thought about this weekend is, how can I actually change the world?  I don’t have an internationally read blog, so its not like saying anything here is going to change people’s minds.  A Facebook or Instagram post doesn’t change the world, and honestly, did a fight on twitter ever help anyone?

So, then what do we do?  Do we stay silent?  Pretend that it was an isolated incident?  That it has nothing to do with us?

No.  Staying silent is not the right answer.  But we can’t fight hatred with hatred.  As a Christian, I believe that the best way I can change the world, is one person at a time.  Some people have huge platforms and God has called them to a public life.  But most of us are just like me – a regular person leading a regular life, yet called to do something extraordinary.  Love people the way God would love them.

I’ve been spending a lot of time in the book of Job these past few months.  You probably know the story – a man who is going through the worst time of his life.  And he has terrible friends.  Friends who tell him that he must be doing something wrong.  That if he would only repent, things would get better.  They assume they know the ins and outs of the situation.  They assume  they know the depth of his grief.  And worst of all, they assume they know the reason for Job’s trials and that they have all the answers.  Sounds like a lot of words being spoken these days.

In chapter 16 Job tells his friends just how it is – “miserable comforters are ye all”.  And he goes on to tell them three things he wishes for from his friends.  I think when someone in pain speaks up and tells us what they need, its a good time to listen closely.

“I would strengthen you with my mouth”  The words we use when speaking to others matter.  When so many words of hatred are spewing out on the streets and on the internet, words of love stand out.  Words that strengthen are not the norm anymore.  May we always look for those who are hurting and use words that strengthen them, build them up, help them to feel the love of God through us.

“the moving of my lips should asswage your grief” Asswage is an old word that means to lessen the intensity of (something that pains or distresses).  Do our words bring healing?  Do they lessen grief?  Or do they add to it?  I know that I am guilty of that sometimes.  I think the biggest point of this is that in order to asswage someone’s grief, we first have to listen for a long time to understand it.  We can’t be afraid of people’s stories, of their opinions, of their grief.

“ O that one might plead for a man with God, as a man pleadeth for his neighbour!”  The last thing Job says at the end of the chapter is that he really needs them to pray for him.  And not just pray, but plead with God.  The most important thing we can do for those who are hurting, those in our little circle of influence, is to pray for them.  We desperately need prayer for our countries, our cities, our friends, our homes, our governments.  Its scary out there and people are hurting.  We are called to be the light of the world, to shine God’s love to each and every person out there.  To strengthen, to asswage grief, to pray.  But we can’t do that in our own strength.  It is a mission that only God can give us the strength to do.

May we go out tomorrow with determination to shine God’s love to each person that we can and change the world in a small way.


Home

Do you ever feel like your soul is searching for home?  Like you’re a little restless?

I have been.  I keep waiting for my house to feel like my home.  I keep thinking if I could just get the main floor the way I want it.  If I could only get Arianna’s room done – my hopeful project for this week – if I could just…then I’ll finally feel at home.  But so far it hasn’t happened.  I have pictures hung up, but still no warm fuzzy feelings.  I bought some chairs to sit in the backyard, maybe that will help.

Then this week I had to take my kids to camp.  I was kind of dreading having to go to the property again.  I drove up and memories flooded, good and bad.  I stood in the kitchen talking to the camp cook and fought back tears knowing I wouldn’t be there during camp this week – this one that was my favourite of all.  I looked over at the houses that I used to live in and felt a strange sensation.  The one that tells you this used to be home, but you no longer belong here.  This is not your home.  My youngest daughter and I cried ourselves down the driveway.

We went and stayed at my moms that night and although we had a wonderful visit surrounded by family, its not my home either.  I walked into my house this afternoon and had to admit, I don’t yet feel at home here either.  I feel a little untethered.

I have a feeling that this has less to do with my actual house and more to do with my soul.  In fact, the only place I feel perfectly at rest is at church.  Because the only thing that hasn’t changed in my life is my core belief.  My belief that no matter the circumstances, no matter where I live, no matter if my house is painted and decorated, no matter what, God is good.  And He is working out everything for my good.

There’s a quote I found a little while back that I really loved – “It may not be well with my circumstances, but it is well with my soul”.  I love that clarification.  That it can be well with my soul no matter the circumstances.  No matter if I don’t love my house yet.  No matter if I still haven’t figured out this whole new life and who I am and where I fit in it.  No matter if relationships are hard.  No matter the pain, physical and emotional.  My restless soul can always find its rest in God.  That is where my real hope lies, my sense of belonging, my home.


When God gives it back

Just over a year ago I really wrestled with God.

I felt that He was asking me to give up some things that were really important to me.  First was my own music education – even though I was so close to completing my dream and had worked away at it for so long.  The second was teaching music.  I had been teaching music in some form for almost 20 years and yet felt that God was calling me to quit and focus on my kids and my health.  It was a very difficult decision and one that I wrestled with for a while before I finally surrendered, choosing to believe that God’s way was best, even when it was hard to see.

Then, a few months later, that October, everything changed again.  We moved cities, jobs, I no longer homeschooled.  But the saddest part for me was I was no longer in ministry.  Besides my family and my relationship with God, the only thing I was more passionate about than music was ministry.  Now that was gone too.  It seemed as though everything was being stripped away.

And it was.

But when God asks us to give something up and we follow in that step of obedience, there is always reward.

Its easy now to look back and see why He asked me to give that all up – logistically, it would have made the move harder and I would’ve felt bad about leaving people in a lurch had I been teaching a bunch of kids.  But still, this year I wondered what would happen, how God would replace those parts of my life.

But recently, God has given it all back to me.  This fall I will officially become the music teacher at Heritage Christian Academy, my kids school at our church.  Its seriously the dream job.  Ministry and music combined!  Its like the cumulation of everything I worked for.  It also gives me the opportunity – and a good excuse – to go back and and study under a teacher again.  I honestly couldn’t be more excited.  And summers and breaks off too – perfect for a mom. (I tried super hard in this paragraph to not use multiple exclamations marks and/or smiley faces on every sentence.)

My heart has always been for the ministry and music is a love, so to combine the two is amazing.  I’m grateful for the opportunity.  But more than that, its pretty amazing to see when God gives you a glimpse of why He asked you to make the hard choices.  Because we don’t always get to see that!  Sometimes we just have to trust that He is good and have faith that it will be the best decision.  But once in a while He allows us these glimpses and we can see the direct result of our surrender.  And it is so faith building.

Is there something that God is asking you to do today?  Maybe its something that is hard to give up, or scary to start.  Either way, we can always trust our God.  It will always be His best in the end.

Also, I’m super excited.  Just so you know.


eternal focus

Do you ever feel like quitting?

There’s life in general, which I feel like quitting every day.  Seriously, I have this awesome new bedroom and bathroom that feels like a spa and I can watch Netflix with the touch of a remote.  Throw a fridge in the corner, and I would never emerge to real life again.

Then there’s the spiritual life.  Can we just be real for a minute and say, its not always sunshine and roses?  Its hard, and you have to think a lot, and its time consuming.  Take away all the church and serving and working on my attitude, and there would be a lot more time for Netflix.  Or the cottage.  Or hanging out with friends.  Or whatever it is that makes you want to quit real life.  I think we could all agree on naps.

Sometimes I feel like quitting.  Whether its difficult situations, or a time thing, or I’m angry at God about something, sometimes I lose my focus.  So how do we keep from quitting during these times?

In John 6, Jesus delivers what His followers call, “hard sayings”.  There’s certainly hard sayings in the Christian life, aren’t there?  Love, grace, forgiveness, these are all awesome when they’re directed toward us, but when we have to start extending those to everyone else, things get a little harder.

After Jesus teaches these hard sayings, many followers leave.  They quit.  This Christianity thing was too hard for them.  Too many demands, not enough miracles.

Jesus then turns to His 12 disciples and asks if they will leave too.  Peter responds with an answer that has stuck with me for a while now.

Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.

We can quit, but then what?  Where else is better?  Who is better?

And most importantly, who else offers eternal life?

I’ve found that when I most feel like quitting, its because my focus has gotten off the eternal and onto the temporal.  It has gotten off eternal life and onto the comforts of this life.  Off of the glorious and onto the mundane.

Off of God and onto myself.

I have to preach these things to myself because some days, like today, I feel overwhelmed and tired and like I would just like to nap forever.  But this hard, time-consuming life is worth it.  And the only way to remember that is to keep my focus on the eternal.  As in, it doesn’t really matter if the kids bedrooms are painted and the yard is cleaned up.  But trying to speak truth to K-6th grade kids does matter in the end.  Even if it was entitled, why its awesome to be weird.

So keep on serving and loving and working in whatever way God has called you to.  But keep your focus where it needs to be, or you will want to quit.

But I think short naps are important too.


sitting with sadness

I heard some bad news a couple of weeks ago.  The kind of news that makes you want to cry.  The kind that pulls up a chair, sits with you, and brings up all sorts of memories, good and bad.  This sad news sat with me until I was not only thinking of that particular news, but many things associated with it.  It brought up terrible things from the past year.  It made me think through things I had hoped were forgotten.

I sat with this sadness for a while, until I started worrying about how sad I was.  With my struggles with depression, I start to worry when I feel on the verge of tears for two weeks.  So, in my weird way, I sat down and started analyzing myself.  Was I depressed?  My sure indicators are that I want to stay away from all. the. people. / run. away.  But I wasn’t doing that.  Instead, I actually told a few people about it.  I told them that it was breaking my heart, and even that it was bringing up other things for me.  The other indicator that I’m depressed is that I’m completely overwhelmed by the thought that nothing will ever be ok.  And I honestly don’t feel that way right now.

So, I said to myself, if you’re not depressed, why are you so sad?

I came to this conclusion.  Some things in life are just overwhelmingly sad.  And its not wrong to feel that way.  It doesn’t even make you depressed.

If you start looking around, the world is a pretty sad place.  You can always find something sad going on around the world with a simple click.  But you don’t even have to look that far.  Its almost guaranteed that someone you know is going through something hard and sad.  For that matter, we often have something going on in our own life!

So how do we sit with this sadness?  How do we acknowledge the sorrow without letting it ruin our lives?

I was reminded of a verse out of II Corinthians 6 this week.  “As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing.”  Yes, we will always sit with sadness, to varying degrees, but we can always invite rejoicing too.  It feels weird, but they can both sit at the same table.  As Christians we have so much to rejoice in.  Our salvation, the hope of Heaven, the delight of His Presence, the list goes on.

So if this week you find yourself sitting with sadness, that’s ok.  There’s nothing wrong with sadness.  Sit with it.  Feel it.  Allow it to make you more compassionate and soft.  But don’t let it take over your life or make you bitter.  Invite rejoicing to join you at the table.


Notes and Lessons

There has been a great mystery in my life the past six months.  I’m pretty sure the person wanted it to stay that way.

But alas, I am not built for not knowing things.  Seriously.  It drives me around the bend.  I get a little obsessive and I start checking post marks and comparing hand writing.

For the past seven months, someone has been sending me lovely little cards, accompanied by a piece of chocolate, with scriptures written on them.  And not just written, but very nicely done, with loops and swirls and bold and cursive.  Something my handwriting could never achieve!  These verses started coming when everything fell apart last October and continued for six months.  They found homes on my fridge, on my counter, piled up in different places, getting splashed with food, getting read over and over.

I finally figured out who was writing them.  I won’t put her name here, because she obviously doesn’t want to be recognized, but I intend to write her a private message to thank her.  And to tell her to read this blog post.

These verses meant so much to me.  I’ve never had anyone do something like that for me before.  Completely anonymous, purely for encouragement.  I learned a bunch of lessons from this experience, and I hope to keep putting them into practice in my life.

First, she did this for me without knowing the whole situation.  I’m pretty sure at the time, she only knew that I was hurting.  I’ve never told her about what happened, although someone else might have.  But the cards started very quickly, so I doubt she knew.  It didn’t matter to her if I had done something wrong or not, if I was making the right decisions or not, all that mattered was that I was hurting.  She just saw another hurting woman and did something about it.

Second, we were not super close friends, and she reached out anyways.  I love her, and I enjoy every minute we spend together, but it only amounts to a few hours a year.  We don’t talk on the phone, or text, or message, or see each other often.  But that didn’t stop her.  She is a great friend in the truest sense of the word.  She was there for me when there was nothing in this for her.  No recognition, no accolades, no one to see her doing it.  I shouldn’t have been surprised when I found out who it was, because she’s such a loving and giving person.

Third, she used the best form of encouragement possible.  She didn’t send me memes, or platitudes, or quotes, or tell me to keep my chin up.  Just verses.  Carefully chosen to speak to a hurting heart, no matter the situation.  When someone’s life is falling apart, the best thing we can do for them is to keep pointing them to Jesus.  Oh, I need people too, and I was so encouraged that someone thought I was worth that effort!  But in the end, we just need to keep pointing people back to Jesus.

Those little cards made such a difference to me.  I would brighten up every time I would see one come in the mail.  So, thank you, J, for the blessing you were to me, for those precious cards, and for the lessons learned.  I can’t wait to give you a hug in person.


Beauty and Jesus

So, my life is kind of disaster right now.

I’m behind on everything.  I completely missed one of my daughters music festival classes last night.  I haven’t cleaned up dinner yet.  Every day I’m told that my renos will be done in two to three days.  For about five days now.  There is drywall dust and boxes everywhere.  But I abandoned it all to write for a few minutes.  Because I can’t get something off my mind.

Its been very easy to feel overwhelmed the last few weeks.  Moving will do that.  Moving into renos will make you lose your mind completely.  But even more than the overwhelmed feeling, I’ve needed an attitude adjustment toward my house.  There are some pretty ugly parts.  And the parts that we’re trying to make pretty are far from done.  I can’t even make things look presentable yet because I can’t unpack anything else till I can have the rest of the house back.  I keep looking around and just wishing I could fix it all immediately.  That my house would be pinterest perfect with the snap of my fingers.  I wouldn’t even mind the work of shopping and picking out finishes, if only I had an unlimited budget and could pay someone to do all this painting and cleaning.

Then a quote by Ann Voskamp came up in my Facebook feed.  It simply said, “All longing for beauty is a longing for Jesus”.  Well.  Talk about a sermon in one sentence.  Or as some of my blogger friends say, That’ll preach.

I keep looking around my house, longing for the pictures to be hung, the shelves to be arranged just so, the pretty colours on the wall, to get rid of the terrible backsplash in the kitchen.  When what I really need is more of Jesus.  On the good days, I can live around the boxes and the inability to move forward.  On the bad days, the ones where my perspective is skewed, I wind up frustrated and miserable.  And all this week Jesus has been using my house to gently remind me that I don’t need anything but more of Him.  I’m trying to let every wayward thought, every frustration, every bad attitude, point me to Jesus.  Instead of buying more pretty things, get more of Jesus.  Instead of complaining, talk to Jesus.

Now, I’m not saying that I’ve completely accomplished this yet!  If you ask a few of my friends, they will tell you I’m still a little testy sometimes!  But the gentle reminders are still there all the time and this house is trying its best to point me to Jesus…

Maybe today you find yourself longing for something.  We all look for beauty in different ways.  In our houses, in ourselves, in our lives.  But what we really need is Jesus.  So continue on your search for beauty – I definitely intend to make this house beautiful bit by bit – but let those times remind you that the deepest longings of our soul can only truly be filled by Jesus.


You don’t have to do this alone

Recently I went with my kids to convention.  I’m sure convention has a more formal title, like Christian Student Convention, or something like that, but in our small circle when you say convention, everyone knows what that means.

I love convention.  Like, weirdly.  Its one of my favourite events of the whole year.  Most students and teachers don’t because its a lot of work, but I love it and always have.  In the past 24 years, I’ve only missed a few.

When we moved to this new town/church/school, I thought there was no way I would be involved.  Surely they were too big and organized and professional to need my help.  But the music teacher asked me for help!  I was going to convention after all!  I was so excited.

Till I wasn’t.

It suddenly occurred to me in the two weeks leading up to it, that this was one of the first events where I would see “everyone” and not be from my old church.  I started getting a knot in my stomach.  Started worrying about what people would say to me.  Started wondering what I would feel like.  I ended up being very anxious about attending the event that I generally love.

So, I did something revolutionary for me.

I told some people about it.

And not just a few close friends, I told some people that I’ve only known a short time, but people that were going.  And could help.  That could stick with me.

This might seem like a logical conclusion to some of you, but some of the people that know me well may have just gasped.  Its hard for me to admit things like that to people, and harder still to ask for help.  But hey, these last few months have been a little crazy, why not throw this in the mix as well.  One of my friends that was going even told me she would be my “emotional plexiglass”.  I love that.

So off to convention I went, armed with people who knew it was going to be difficult and would help.  I was trying this out and really felt I would be fine.  It was weird at first, but people were great and things were going well.

Then I found out something.  Things were about to get much worse.  I literally thought I might throw up.  I went and told my pastor’s wife.  Then at lunch, in the middle of hundreds of people, I went and sat down beside my Pastor, told him about it, and started crying right there.  Right in the gym, balancing a plate on my lap.  I told him I didn’t think I could do it.  And then he said something to me that just confirmed everything the Lord had been showing me in the past few weeks.

“You don’t have to do this alone.”

He repeated that phrase several times while telling me that I was part of them now and they as a group would help me get through this.

You know, I think it was the perfect thing to say.  There was no denying the fact that this was going to be hard.  There was no false bravado of “You can do it!”.  No glossing over feelings or situations.  No platitudes.  Just, you don’t have to do this alone.

How many times in my life has my refusal to ask for help ended up in me having to do it alone?  Too many.  And my life in the past few months has had things too hard and too heavy for me to do alone.  And I’m learning that I don’t have to.  God has sent people to help carry the load.  Just as there were times that I was willing to help carry other’s burdens, I need to acknowledge that there are times when I need help with mine.

Let me remind you today, you don’t have to do this alone.


Mixed Emotions

We got the keys to our new house last week.

In case our life seems confusing – because it is – we moved to Barrie suddenly in October and found a rental.  We then sold our house, that we were renting out because we lived at the camp, and bought one here.  So we finally closed last Thursday.

We got a good deal for the city.  Its an older house that needs some updating for sure and we’re putting in a second bathroom but its a nice house in a nice neighbourhood with a big backyard and some big trees.

So I should be thrilled right?

I went to the lawyers, picked up the key and waited for the excitement to hit.  It never came.  Still hasn’t.

What is my problem, you might be thinking.  I was too.  I thought about it all weekend.

First of all, I don’t want to move.  Really, really, don’t want to move.  No one loves it I’m sure, but this will now be the third move in less than 10 months.  Insanity.  At least this one I knew was coming, so I didn’t really unpack the last time.  It will be very nice to have all my things out again and have my pictures and decor but that will require unpacking.  So there’s that – moving is so. much. work.  And the house is filthy.  And we’re getting some renos done.

But I think what it really comes down to is, I’m done with change.  Almost every single aspect of my life changed a few months ago.  And it was necessary, if painful, and it has turned out amazingly, as God’s plans do, and I love my new life, even if it took some adjusting.  But I’m not sure I have it in me to change even this one thing.  Even if it is for the better.  The kids will be happier, the dog will be happier, I’ll have a brand new ensuite, and I just look at it all and think, I’m tired of this.  I should be ecstatic and I’m not.

I want to hide out in my bed, but instead I’m meeting the water guy on Thursday and the ESA guy on Friday and I picked out tiles and I’m trying to find a vanity.  Because life throws us curve balls and hard days and mixed emotions.  But there is always strength to go on.  Even on the days I want to stay in bed.  Because I’ve learned a little formula for these days.

Acknowledge the emotions and that life stinks sometimes.

And then get your strength from God.

Because some days are hard.  And some days you tell your husband that you’ll do this one last move and then its stay in the same house or divorce.  I may or may not be kidding about that one.

But this little formula is exactly what I would love this community to be about.  To be able to share that life gets hard sometimes, but to pass along the hope that God is so good.  And He imparts His strength to us – its there for the asking!  Maybe today you’re like me and need someone to come along side you and say, Yup, this stinks, but God is good and you can do it through His strength.

And also, if you could pray with me that there would miraculously be a vanity that I love that is less than I was hoping to spend on the entire bathroom.  Amen.


Failure, mess-ups, and love

Last Sunday night I was standing in the back hall waiting for the choir to file out.  I had only been in the back line once before, but I knew the drill.  The only way to know when you’re supposed to file out is to keep peeking out of the door to see when the other row started.  I peeked out once.  Nothing.  Then promptly forgot my job.  Yup.  Even though it was about 30 seconds till church was supposed to start, I forgot to look out again.  I got laughing at some story being told.  Just enjoying myself like the fate of the back row didn’t rest on me.  Suddenly, I thought to open the door and look out.  There stood the other half of the choir in their nice neat row.  The director was waiting behind her music stand, the pianist had already started in the intro.  And our row was completely empty.  I practically ran out the door, not looking to see if anyone else could keep up.  Its a good thing I don’t wear heels or I would’ve added falling on my face to my embarrassment.  The pianist had to completely restart the intro.  Horrors.  Not only that, but in my haste, I threw open my music until I realized that everyone else was calmly standing with their music closed, waiting for the director.  Like the good choir people do.  So I shut it at the precise moment she told everyone else to open theirs.  I tried telling myself that it was Sunday night, not morning at least.  Everyone knows that Sunday night is more relaxed and errors are more acceptable.  That in the grand scheme of life, this was not that big of a deal.  And on and on I talked to myself, trying to not feel absolutely horrible.  But horrible it was.  I felt terrible.  Like a complete failure.  Not only that, but one of the church staff members teased me about it right on the platform and I told him to shut up.  In church.  To a staff member.  Although, I really can’t bring myself to feel like that was a complete failure.  He kind of deserved it and he’s way younger than me.

And earlier last week, I was helping with the church website.  I’ve basically sworn off anything complicated to do with church websites for the rest of my entire life.  But this was just changing the theme on WordPress.  I knew I could do that.  So I got my computer, camped out in my bed – my office these days until we move – and installed the new theme.  Which basically takes the website down to nothing until you build it back up.  I distinctly remember thinking, what if I fail at this?  These people don’t even love me yet.  They hardly know me, let alone love me.  What if I totally mess this up, can’t fix it, and I will be known as a failure.

And that’s when it occurred to me.

We’re all just looking to be loved.

And when we mess up, we feel like no one will love us.  So I had to have a little talk with myself.  Some days we just need to preach a little truth, right?  Because we forget so easily.  In the middle of stressful situations, in the middle of our mess-ups, when we do actually fail big time, this is when the lies start.  We allow the lies to tell us that we are the sum of our mess-ups, that no one loves us, that we are not worthy of God’s love.

But that is just not the truth that is in God’s word.  God loved us first.  Before we ever did a thing for Him.  He died for us while we were yet sinners.  We don’t have to earn His love.  He loves us more perfectly than anyone ever could, every day, every minute, through every mess-up, every failure.  So rest assured in His love today.  Even if you messed up the choir, or cooked a dinner so bad you had to feed it to the dog (which I also did last week), or yelled at the kids again, or just generally feel like you’re failing at life.  God loves you no matter what.