Dear North American Christian

I have had the amazing privilege to be in 14 different countries in my life so far.  I hope to go to many more!  Some were quick visits, some were longer, and I lived in the Philippines for about two years.

This week I’m adding a new one to the list.  I leave in just a few days for Chile.  I’m going on a missions trip with a group called Medical Missions Outreach.  If you haven’t heard of them and the awesome work they’re doing, please click on the name and find out more!

I’m excited about this organization because I love the way they reach people.  I believe that the Gospel is the most important thing that we can give to any living soul on earth.  But I also believe that they will be much more open to the Gospel when we show God’s love to them in physical, tangible ways.  I don’t have any medical training, but I’ll be able to work alongside Doctors and Nurses as they care for people’s physical needs and then missionaries as they care for their souls.

I also believe that every North American christian should leave North America at some point if at all possible.  Seeing so much of the world has opened me up to new cultures, new ideas, new ways of seeing the world.  I’d say new foods too, but I’m so picky that hasn’t happened too much!  All of that has been great, but when you sit beside someone in their cardboard house and they want to be the one that shares what they have with you, it changes something in your perspective for the rest of your life.  It doesn’t take away that we have problems here, because each of us has real problems in life and I wouldn’t diminish that.

It gives you more of an eternal perspective.  Helps to remind you of what is really important.  And that most of what we have, is not important at all.  It helps me remember that money doesn’t bring happiness, contentment does.  That there are Christians being persecuted for their faith, so I should be able to stand here for mine.  That God loves people in every country in the world, and I need to also.

I know not everyone can just go on the next missions trip this year!  But there are ways we can all broaden our perspective and live with eternal vision, even here in North America.  So if you can, go on that next trip, but if you can’t, figure out a way to be involved in missions some way in your city and church.  You’ll be surprised what you can come up with.


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.


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.


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.


Messy Love

I really don’t love Valentine’s Day.  If there was the equivalent of a Scrooge, I would probably be that.  What could you call that anyways?  I think we should make something up.  Before you think I’m completely horrible, I did make all the kids Valentine’s Day popcorn to take to class.  It even had pink and red smarties and sprinkles in it.  Of course, it was covered in sticky marshmallow goop, so maybe the teachers won’t be so thrilled.

Anyways, not my favourite day.  I always say that Michael and I get along every day except holidays and anniversaries.  Too many expectations, too much pressure.  And some days, I just don’t feel the love.  Because you know what?  Sometimes people are terrible.  And they hurt us and disappoint us.  And its not just romantic love that disappoints.  Friends, family, kids, they all have the ability to wound us and make us hate days where we’re supposed to be celebrating love.

So, should we just throw it all away?  Become the Scrooge of Valentine’s?

This morning I got a nice card and a little gift beside my bed.  And it was lovely.  Please don’t judge, but I didn’t even get Michael a card, let alone a gift.  And we probably won’t even make it out for our plan of dessert at this little cafe because, well, Tuesdays and kids and homework and robots.  Yes, my older two children are on a team that’s building a robot for a competition.  And yes, its ruining my life, but they’re happy and have zero time for watching youtube, so there’s that.  Does that mean Valentine’s Day is ruined?

Depends.

Depends on your definition of love.

If celebrating love means roses and butterflies and notes and chocolates and feelings, then yes.

But if this past year has taught me anything, its that love is actually very rarely those things.  Instead, love is forgiveness and grace, again and again, and its messy and heartbreaking and self-sacrificing and sometimes you have to fight with all your might to keep it.  Sometimes you have to beg God to give it to you, because its impossible to give of it yourself.  Its praying for the people who have hurt you and turn their back on you and refuse to text you back anymore.  Its cleaning and meals and rides.  Its a lot of work.

But that kind of love?  That messy very very hard love?  Its the most wonderful, fulfilling thing you will ever experience.  Because it comes straight from Heaven.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t have it in myself to do all those things.  To keep sacrificing, to keep forgiving again and again.  But God does.  And He’s living right inside me.  Teaching me about love more and more every year.  Pushing me to love more, love deeper.

So for me, this Valentine’s Day has very few of the mushy feelings – lets face it, I’m generally not that person anyways – but thinking about it today has renewed my determination to love people in the real, messy, and hard ways that true love requires.


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.


Brave

There’s a quote by Ann Voskamp that’s been running through my head the last couple of days.

Fear can be what we feel but brave is what we do

I can’t get it out of my head because its just what I need right now.  The boxes are mostly unpacked.  The kitchen is mostly organized.  I think I’ve recovered physically from the move.  The most important address changes are done.  So basically, its now time for this introvert to look for some community and find friends and get involved at church and all those other hard things.

I went to the same church for 28 years.  I’ve been on staff or practically on staff for many of them.  I could pay a bill, I knew how to get into every door, I knew where the extra toilet paper was.  I knew all the faces, all the events.  Now, I’m a part of this huge new church and I still haven’t figured out which back hallway gets me to the right part of downstairs yet.  Emma forgot her some of her homework last night and asked why we couldn’t just go back and get it.  Well, at this church, they lock the doors.  And they don’t announce the number to the keypad from the pulpit like our little church did.  Its a very odd feeling.

I’ve been trying to jump in and get involved and get to know people.  It was going really well until this morning.  For some reason, I started crying this morning and was having a difficult time stopping.  Then a friend from home texted and asked if I was homesick.  I didn’t think I was until after I answered and then realized that its finally hit me.  The finality of this transition.  My life completely and utterly changed in a matter of a few weeks and now I have to start rebuilding.  And I’m singing in the choir and making pot pies and going out for coffee but its hard and its scary.  And this morning the last thing to send me over the edge was my hair.

Can we just pause here for a moment and talk about this??  I left right before my last hair appointment.  Which is a tragedy because I absolutely loved my hairdresser.  She was the best.  So I missed my appointment and now my roots are really showing.  And I’ve never noticed how much grey there was before.  So I started asking around about good hairdressers.  And do you know what they say?  I’ll ask mine if she’s taking on new clients.  Um, pardon?  In Rodney you didn’t turn away clients.  There was no crazy talk of not being able to go to whichever hairdresser you chose.  And one lady told me to call hers because she was so reasonable and then she quoted me a price that was almost double what I paid in Rodney.  So, I’m sure you can see why this just pushed me right over the edge.

Well, I had my good cry, got up, put on my makeup, did what little I could with my hair at this point, drove to the church and got on this bus.  I desperately did not want to do this today.  I had no idea if there was anyone going I would know.  I’ve seen people I barely know every day for quite a few days now and that makes me tired.  And weepy, apparently.  But I went to a hospital and handed out muffins for a love works campaign.  And praise the Lord, out of the four of us, I knew two well and one lady whom I had met on Sunday.  We brought a lot of joy to staff and patients at the hospital.

And you know what I felt by the end of the afternoon after working through all that fear?  Brave.  And maybe still a little weepy.  But a lot more brave than I did this morning.

Feelings are real and fear is real and its ok to feel and to fear.  But its not ok to stay there.  So maybe today we can acknowledge our fear, but face it.  And do something brave.

Fear can be what we feel but brave is what we do

brave


Me Too

I’m currently sitting on my couch.  I’m wrapped in a blanket trying to warm up from walking in the rain this morning.  I would start a fire but Michael still hasn’t called anyone to hook up the new wood stove.  Also, did I mention that he left yesterday to drive up to Barrie to play 54 holes of golf?  But at least he got stuck in traffic and its pouring rain all day so there’s that.

Its that kind of dark, cold, rainy day that makes you want to do absolutely nothing.  Except that today is laundry day.  And my living room is filled with a new piece of furniture that I decided to buy and paint.  Today, I had planned.  But that would require venturing out to McNaughtons and buying the actual paint.  Oh, and getting off the couch.  And I borrowed a special ladder so I can paint the wall above the stairs.  So I could do that too.  Or pretty much a thousand things.

Emma is currently in the kitchen sitting in her poop emoji shirt.  Yes, you read that right.  I’m now in that stage of parenting where you have to take the children with you clothes shopping because its hard to guess what will fit them anymore.  And what they will agree to wear.  Oh for the days that I went to Children’s Place, bought “outfits” for the season and was done.  And everyone was happy.  And a pair of jeans didn’t cost $50.  And no one in the house wore a shirt covered by poop emojis.  I kid you not.  But they are colourful, and some are wearing sunglasses, so you know mom, its the coolest shirt ever.  She’s also doing some sort of weird stomach dance, but I’ll take that over the exhausted crying that happened several times this weekend.  And she just looked up from her school and asked,

“Mom, is a python a snake?

After a yes reply she says,

“Why would my school have to mention snakes?  Don’t they know I’m already in my fear of spiders stage?  Now they have to mention snakes?”

I may have desperately not wanted to homeschool this year but at least it makes me laugh about something most days.

I had to walk in the rain today because I’m determined to loose the weight that my doctor, after several tests, told me is “just because you’re getting older, dear”.

I’m extremely offended about something right now.  Its part of an long standing issue, but I’ve just had it now.  And I know I’m not supposed to be offended.  And I’m praying about it.  But seriously, I’m reading a book about writing right now and somehow, someway, the entire chapter I read this morning was about how unspiritual it is to be offended.  I just wanted to read about writing, not get a sermon.  It was before 7am for Pete’s sake.

By now I hope you’ve at least had a smile at my expense.  But what I really want to say is, I’m struggling right now.  A lot.  And usually I write about victory, and Bible verses, and all the spiritual things.  But life also has negative emotions and unfinished projects and marital spats and poop emojis.  And no matter if you dress it up with rainbows and sunglasses, a poop emoji is still a poop emoji.

But I really think honesty and the truth are key.  I think that we should be ok with saying, I’m struggling.  We won’t admit that often enough.  A friend and I went for that walk in the rain this morning and I texted her and told her that it was good for my soul.  Just to have someone see you and say, yup, life is hard sometimes.  Not that Bible verses and encouragement and 7am sermons aren’t necessary and helpful, but sometimes you just need someone to say, me too.

So here’s my me too.  Are you struggling today?  Maybe we could go for a walk in that stupid rain together.  And eventually I’ll give you more Bible verses and advice, but today its just a me too sister, me too.

Now if someone could please tell me how to get my daughter to stop referring to herself in the third person as “Me-sa”.  I’m thinking speaking like JarJar Binks is not going to help with the whole homeschooler image…

me


Faithfulness

So there was this couple that lived a few streets away most of my childhood.  For basically all the parts I can remember anyways.  They were my Pastor and his wife but to me they were so much more.  I think some days I was at their house more than mine.  Their oldest daughter was my best friend.  We all went to homeschool day together, we cleaned each other’s houses, we played, we fought, I ate lunch there a million times.  These people were my second family and Pastor and Patti were my second set of parents.

As I became older, they became an even more integral part of my life.  We laughed, cried, sang, and served together.  I ended up working for Pastor for a few years, we flew back and forth from the Philippines, our families celebrated Christmas together.  Pastor helped my husband find the courage to start a relationship with me, and he married us a year later.

Its really hard for me to put into words exactly what this couple means to me.  If I had to whittle it down to one thing, one sentence, it would be, they love me.  That’s what I feel from them.  They love me.  They love my husband, and they’re starting all over again with my children.

We all need that feeling.  That there’s someone that just plain loves us.  I would be embarrassed to tell you how many times that I sat crying in Pastor’s office.  Or that Patti listened to me say lots of unspiritual things in venting sessions.  They know when to listen and when to offer a little direction on the right path.  Pastor asked for the very first copy of my book for his office.  Patti welcomes my girls to sit beside her in church with an outstretched arm and a smile.  Its not just the big moments like coming to the hospital to visit us when our first child was born and put in NICU, but also the small moments like laughing together at our lives before ladies prayer time on Sunday mornings.  I have thousands of memories of them enriching my life.

Yesterday we as a church family celebrated our Pastor and Patti because they have been serving at our church for 30 years.  One place for 30 years.  And the Lord has blessed and done amazing things here and I’m so glad that I got to see most of it.  Pastor Lyle and Emily were able to pull off a surprise service for them and I’m happy that we as a church family were able to honour them in this way.  Michael and I have been blessed to work under them for five years now and can truly say that Pastor must be the best person ever to work for.

So to Pastor and Patti, thank you for loving me and my family and my church family for all these years.  You have inspired us to love each other too.  I love you both very much and your example of faithfulness is something that I hope to learn from the rest of my life.

Faithfulness


El-Roi

Invisible

Do you ever feel that way?  No one sees you?  No one knows you?

I do.  Tucked away in my little corner of the world.  I wonder if anyone sees how hard I worked today.  Sees that my heart was broken.  That I wasn’t sure how to deal with the life change.  I wonder if anyone sees that good decision I made.  Or even that bad one.  Is there anyone who even sees me enough to know what’s going on in my life?  Or am I invisible?  Or even worse, is the real me invisible?  Do they see me and judge me, but don’t really know me?  Don’t really see my soul?

When I first started looking at the names of God, this one jumped out immediately.

El-Roi – the God who sees.

The first time its used in the Bible is when Hagar talks to God.

Hagar.  Out in the desert.  Completely invisible.  Scorned and cast aside by those who should have loved her.  Those who should have taken care of her.  It says that Sarai dealt hardly with her.  All of this after Abraham and Sarai had wronged her!

Hagar was at the worst point in her life so far.  Pregnant and alone.  Out of options.  All of this not of her own doing.  After all, it was Abraham and Sarai who hatched this grand plan.  And then expected Hagar to deal with the consequences.

She stops at a well and an angel of the Lord comes to her.  Tells her what to do.  Gives her some promises.  Then says these comforting words…because the Lord hath heard thy affliction.

She responds by calling God El-Roi, Thou God seest me.  You know, if you read Hagar’s story, it doesn’t really get that much better for her.  But in all she went through, one thing stuck out to her.  That God saw her.  Really saw her.  And her affliction.  She didn’t call Him Provider or Saviour.  What really comforted her was that God saw her.

And God sees me.

And God sees you.

Even when things are hard.

Even when people misunderstand you.

God sees you.  And loves you.

God sees your broken heart, your rejection, your insecurities, your intentions, your hopes, your dreams, your defeats.  He sees the way that person treated you, your labour of love, your faithfulness in the small.

Do you feel invisible today?  Because you’re not.  Be comforted that our God is El-Roi, the God who sees.

El-Roi