BRAVE: Finding Those Kindred Spirits

“Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.”

– L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

There have been times in life when a friend, a kindred spirit seemed very far away. A loss, a move, a betrayal, we all feel the pain of loneliness at times. It’s a very real emotion. I heard a sermon on the importance of friends on the weekend and I’m preparing a message for Mother’s Day.  It got me thinking.

When I really start to think about it, I realize like Anne, that there are far more kindred spirits than I give credit for. My life has been blessed with them. Sometimes I didn’t even recognize them until much later. Some have been a fleeting encounter. Others have become lifelong friends like Anne and Diana, Jonathan and David.

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A time of reunion with some old friends.

Like snowflakes, no two are alike. They come in all shapes, sizes, and ages. I have been blessed with many friendships over the years with older women who have encouraged, supported and prayed for me and my family. I have had younger women offer their strength and sense of adventure when mine was sorely lacking.

Here are a few of the kindred spirits who have crossed my path over the years. Maybe it will get you thinking and remembering about some of your own encounters.

In one particular volatile church situation, I would sit with Jean, an elderly woman, after church, in the foyer. I had been taken to task one time too many because my husband, one of the pastors on staff, was considered to be on the “wrong side”. Jean offered friendship and safety. I would sit nervously beside her and chat. She was lovely. No one came near.

Kathy would meet me as I came in to that church and walk with me to my seat or sit with me. Making sure no one spoke to me unkindly. Protecting me from further hurt.

Ish was always a safe place to go in that same situation. I was a new pastor’s wife, green behind the ears, in a situation that was way beyond out of control and these women, along with a few others, extended me grace, love and protection. Where others had stabbed me in the back, these women provided the balm that would eventually help heal those wounds. I’m not sure I would still be in ministry if not for those women.

There have been others.

One teenage girl, used to meet me as I drove into church, a baby in the car seat and a rambunctious two year old waiting to get loose. She helped me every week for months, to get those kids into the building. I am filled with gratitude every time I remember this act of kindness. I was usually undone by the time I got to church. My husband leaving several hours earlier, I was left to get the boys and myself ready.  Feeling the pressure to be a good pastor’s wife (my own issue) and ready to blow my stack, by the time I got to church, I wanted to turnaround and go back home. Her cheerful smile and helping hand got me through the front doors.

Another couple weren’t just friends but became like family providing us a home away from home when we lived far away from family.

Anne mentored me in my first job and became one of my best friends. I have never forgotten her even though I have now lost track of her over our many moves.

I have also appreciated the couple of close friends who have been secure enough in our friendship to kick me in the butt when I needed it. It was done kindly but firmly. Opening my eyes to other perspectives and areas I needed to work on personally.

I have sobbed on a couple of women’s shoulders, exhausted, hurt and feeling like the world was never going to right itself. They offered comfort. There was no judgement even after I confessed I hated the church we were serving in at the time. (It was emotional moment. The truth was I hated what was going on. They were mature enough to understand that and let me cry my broken heart out.)

I have been blessed by women who have let me be me, encouraged me to continue to seek out what God has for me. Acceptance has been a priceless gift in my eyes as I try to fit into a role of a pastor’s wife that seems very misshapen for this introvert. These women have let me loose, to discover my own path, my own way to create that role. They’ve let me rant and freak out, knowing eventually I would calm down and see truth. Friends who let you freak out without judgement, never.let.go.of.them.

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A lot of friendships are made over meals. Who could you share a meal with, get to know a little better? (Panera is always a good bet if you have one nearby! You’ll make a friend for life!)

Who are the people who have crossed your path over the years who made a difference?

When we’re tempted to have our own pity party, we need to remember the many friends, kindred spirits who grace our lives, even for a season. They enrich us and make us better people, if we let them. The challenge is to let them in. Be brave and break down our walls and take a risk. Courageously cut the safety nets. It’s so hard to do this. Believe me, I understand. But as I think through this list, it’s abundantly clear that it’s worth the risk.

BRAVE: Clear Vision

Have you ever gotten a new prescription for glasses and the first time you put them on, your stomach lurched and your head spun? It felt like you were looking through a fingerprint smeared window? Ugh.

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I’m discovering that it’s not only new glasses that can cause your vision to distort, make you dizzy. Sometimes it’s our internal perspective that gets contorted as well. It may be fear, unforgiveness, loss or jealousy that twists our view of our worlds, our lives.

Our hearts and minds are moldable. It depends on what we let mold them. Joy, love and kindness for example can mold them one way. There is clarity in these things. Fear, unforgiveness, jealousy twist our hearts and warps our sight lines. We get dizzy and unfocused. We don’t make good decisions because we can’t see straight, figuratively speaking.

I know this because for far too many years, anxiety distorted my view. Everything I did every day was seen through the fear filter. It was exhausting. It was a joy stealer. It made everyday life hard work and when life got busy or stressful or even happy, it made it terrifying. What about you? What’s the filter you see life through these days?

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This is not how we were intended to live. Where was the abundant life that the bible talked about? I had no idea. I believed the bible was true, I just figured somehow I got something wrong. A lie the enemy likes to whisper in our ears. We need to rebuke it.

The warped fear filtered life is not what God had in mind when He created us and then sent His Son to give us victory over death. Not just literal death but the fear, anger, sin that causes us to live like we are dead while we are alive. We live like prisoners when we should be living like victors. How do we get to the victor part?

Just like new glasses, it’s going to take a bit (or longer) to get clear vision so we can see. It’s those few days of that dull pounding in the back of your head and eyes, a little bit of nausea that make it hard. If we are prisoners to our fears then it’s going to take hard work so we can see clearly and begin to live the way God intended us to.

Sometimes it’s about facing up to the fact that we live in fear. Denial is so easy. We make excuses why we react to situations or people. Friends and family will agree with you too because it’s easier than facing a mess. Or they are in denial themselves about you. Some people just don’t want to take you off their pedestal. Do them a favour and take it down yourself.

Sometimes its staring down the pain that remembering pushes to the front. You can try to sweep it away but it’ll just keep resurfacing. We might as well deal with it right now. Understanding the why, what, how, when and where brings forth truth and it will set you free.

Finally it might involve forgiving others or yourself. This road also leads to freedom.

Wherever you are in the journey, because that’s what it is, the goal is to get to the destination of abundant life. To clear vision. That doesn’t mean we’ve reached perfection because we never will this side of heaven. What it does mean is we are no longer mastered by our fear, our sin, our hate, our whatever. It means we have clarity and can make good decisions. It might mean facing a new layer that needs unfolding. Because there’s always one more that needs attention. It’s just the way it is. But fear can’t hold us back any longer. Truth and joy replace the anxiety and anger, which ushers in the path to victory.

We might get brave and try something new. Newness breathes life back into our weary souls. It stimulates the mind. It brings joy. Instead of berating ourselves for being scared, we are proud of accomplishing something, of being courageous. It doesn’t even have to be a big thing. It can be something as small as trying out a new restaurant. Taking a class to learn something we’ve always wanted to do. Deviating away from the old normal. Start a new normal. Get a tattoo. Or funky new glasses.

Things I Learned at the Music Festival

As I filled out the form for the year of music lessons, the boxes for festival and exams stared back at me. For about 2 seconds, then I immediately checked NO. I hated playing in the festival and exams as a kid. My son was just starting piano lessons. Why would my son want to do it? I didn’t want to scare him off.

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Practice makes perfect.

At his Christmas recital, he mentioned he wanted to play in the festival. He had progressed so well with his lessons that I said okay he could get his teacher to enter him.

Secretly I was wondering how they managed to switch him at birth. He looks like me. He has some of the same temperament traits but he has something I don’t. A fearless streak. The child is not afraid of anything. Every new experience is an adventure to conquer. A thrill to be enjoyed. Some new thing to be learned and then filed away in the computer, known as his brain.

So for the last two days, we’ve been at the music festival. He was entered into two classes. His adjudicator was awesome. I remember some being gruff or detached. She was neither. She was kind, knowledgable and had some encouraging things to say to the kids. She was dressed in black except for the red heels. I liked her immediately.

As I sat there and listened to the trilling of the piano I learned a few things myself:

1. Kids are brave. Every single kid that got up there and played their instrument or sang a song, showed extraordinary courage. She told them they “were brave to be here”. So true. Most kids are naturally brave…until fear takes hold. Where did it come from? we wonder. Sometimes it came from us. How many times have we stopped our kids from doing something beneficial, because truthfully, we were the ones scared? For their safety, for their feelings being hurt, for their being rejected. For failure. So we held them back and taught them fear instead of courage. Agh! Instead we need to encourage that bravery and not let our own fears rule our parenting.

At the ROM in Toronto, ON.  They loved putting on the armour.
At the ROM in Toronto, ON. They loved putting on the armour.

2. Not every child will win a prize but they are all winners. All five of the kids in my child’s class got marks over 80. They are first prize marks. But there were only three kids who took home ribbons. The adjudicator told them they were all winners. It wasn’t just a bunch words, placating egos. They were all winners. Their marks proved it. What really made them winners was their participation. They had entered the contest and then did the work needed. They had performed, battling nerves and fear. They had tried. We don’t always need to have a prize to know that we are winners.

3. “Every time you play, you learn something.” That’s what she told them. Truth. Every time we decide to join the game, whether that means taking a real interest in our kids’ lives, making the extra effort in our marriages or trying something new or different, we can learn something. Just because we are adults, doesn’t mean we have to stop growing. There’s always something else with which to grapple. To pull out truth. To apply to our lives.

4. We were all brave kids at some point. It’s easy to forget. To get trapped in our ruts and fears. As I’ve sat and thought about myself as a kid, I had some fearless moments too. When it came to ballet, no one could stop me. Every dancing class or exam, I did on my own. None of my friends danced. For the first time ever, I didn’t have my twin. I was on my own but I went ahead and did it. We all have those moments. Those scary moments that we thought we’d never live through but would die if we didn’t try. The auditions. The tryouts. The exams. Camp. As adults we’ve all too often forgotten those blissful, adrenaline pumping moments when we were unstoppable. Fearless. Brave. Everyday life wears us down. Makes us forgetful. We need to remember those moments of our childhood. And make a few more memories as adults.

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My dancing shoes. My treasure.

5. Don’t just stick to List A, B, C. Go play some other music not on your list. The adjudicator was talking about playing not just the pieces assigned to you but others in the book, that were not. I think sometimes we get caught up in our lists A, B, C and forget to turn the pages and see what else there is for us. What if we did turn the page and try that piece of music not assigned to us? What if we sought out something new and different? Things/people we ruled out because they weren’t on our list but just maybe we might like if we gave it/them a try?

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6. The arts are a wonderful gift to be shared with others. Don’t be afraid. Go out and bravely share your gift. You’ll be fulfilled and you will touch other people’s lives in ways you can’t imagine. And then turn the page and go try something new. Go to a ballet or an opera. The symphony. Take a painting class. Write some poetry. Share the outcome or the experience. Your life will be richer for it.

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Mark passing on some of his talent and knowledge.

Why Getting Closer to God Is So Important

About a month ago, my husband was preaching a series called 20/20. This particular Sunday, his sermon was entitled, “Closely Set Apart.” I wrote down this quote. “Instead of figuring out how close we can get to sin without sinning, we look to how close we can get to God.” IMG_1355 It echoed something I had read previously. I had never really thought about sin in that way. It stuck with me because I think it’s a game we all play. A dangerous game. We try to figure out how far we can go without yielding to temptation. Like a toddler, we test the boundaries with God. How close to the line can we go before we get the warning, the tap on the wrist. We regularly play with fire and don’t even realize how vast and hot the flame really is, naively thinking we can handle it. We rationalize and justify our actions. We can feel the heat but we aren’t burnt so we keep tiptoeing closer. Until we are swallowed whole. Or we’re yanked back from the white-hot flickers just in time. IMG_0916_2 Unless we really stop and think about it, we’re rescued only to go right back down the same path, daring ourselves closer to the fire. Beth Moore has talked about this in some of her bible studies and books. How we can choose to turn away ourselves or have God “help us” later on. She advises the first choice rather than the latter. It will be less painful.

Our kids are our great teachers. We think as parents that we’re showing them how to be and do when in reality, it’s the other way around. As our kids enter each phase of childhood and on into adulthood, we usually have to go through our own stuff, figure out the good, the bad and the ugly and then reevaluate what we want them to learn. I find this is especially true as they get older and the world throws more temptations at them. Cyberspace, friendships, bullying, dating, drugs, alcohol. Just to name a few. You can’t run away from it. You can ban it all you want but really, how’s that working for you? It doesn’t. It’s makes it forbidden fruit.

Rhetorically I believe in facing it head on. Honestly, some days, I don’t want to. It often means looking in our own hearts and lives to deal with our own sin before moving on to teach our kids. As parents, I don’t think we much choice about this. The stakes are too high.

As we face our own issues, focusing on the positive stance of getting close to God instead of the negative don’t do list, can make a huge difference. Kelly Minter, in the her Nehemiah study, talks about God bringing us to repentance with His loving kindness. What if we focused on that? Asked Him to bring us to that point? Wouldn’t we be more apt to turn away from the flames earlier if we focused on who God was? That He is for us. That He brings us to repentance through his wooing and his kindness not a lightning bolt? That he loves us with an unfailing love? If we focused on that, wouldn’t we want to turn away from our sin? Wouldn’t our relationship with Him grow deeper and more intimate? Wouldn’t that kind of relationship transform our lives? The kind of transformation that our kids would see? Wouldn’t that be much more of a powerful witness than many lectures?

The more I read and study, I am convinced that it’s not about us and what we can do in our own strength. It’s what we can do in the presence of God. He’s the power source. If we aren’t in His presence, if we don’t know Him in a personal way, then we aren’t accessing the source of power. That source of power is full of grace and love which causes transformation if we are willing to let go of our sin, our agendas, our wills. If we are willing to follow where He leads. It’s gonna hurt. Anything worthwhile is hard work. The outcome is worth it. IMG_1354 That power source is also full of majesty and holiness. We’d be wise to remember that. Sin separates us from God. He wants a relationship with us. He will do what is best for us to get us to that point. As Beth points out, I’d rather go willingly, wouldn’t you?

So instead of seeing how close we could get to sin without sinning (which I’m not sure you can do) what if…we tried to see how close we could get to God?

Some Thoughts on Mary Magdalene

It’s been over two thousand years and still the rumours fly. There are so many falsehoods out there about Mary Magdalene that it’s hard to know what’s the truth unless you take the time to learn about her. Read the scriptures and a few commentaries. I’ve been doing some research on her over the last couple of months. She is a complex character who has been made to be larger than life. I think if she was alive today, she’s be surprised and embarrassed. She had a servant’s heart and the fact that people practically worship her instead of Jesus, would grieve her. So let’s clear up a few of those rumours.

Here are a few things Mary Magdalene was not:

Romantically involved with Jesus or any of the disciples. It’s a lie no matter how true Hollywood would like to make it. There is no scriptural evidence of this.at.all.

A prostitute. Again no scriptural evidence. She was not the woman who poured expensive oil over Jesus’ feet or the woman about to be stoned.

A figurehead for women’s movement. Many women like to hold up Mary Magdalene as an example of women’s liberation. As good as any man, maybe better. In all honesty, I’ve probably done it myself. It’s just the way we like to twist the truth to suit our own agendas. I believe she was a strong woman. An integral part of God’s plan. But it was to suit God’s will and purpose not anyone else’s.

Here are a few things Mary Magdalene was:

A woman who was possessed by seven demons. Demonic possession meant that Mary Magdalene was a social pariah. She wasn’t allowed to be with people. She was unclean. Jesus cast those demons out and healed her. Luke 8:1-3

She became a follower of Jesus and lived out a life of gratitude by serving Him and his disciples. She probably helped out monetarily as well. Luke 8:1-3

She witnessed the crucifixion. Unlike some of the disciples, she watched her Saviour die. She was incredibly brave. Mark 15:40-41

She was the first to see and talk with Jesus upon His resurrection. Mark 16:9

She was the one who was given the joyful mission of telling the disciples that Jesus was alive. Mark 16:10

These are incredible and wonderful things but what stands out for me is Mary Magdalene was included in the story of the Resurrection. She didn’t have to be. Why didn’t God let John or Peter be the first to see Jesus? To tell of His victory over death? Instead God choose to use Mary, an uneducated woman who had once been possessed by demons. Was it because she was superior in any way? No. If you’ve read any of the bible at all, you realize that God isn’t into superiority when it comes to people. Nor is He concerned with promoting anyone’s agenda. God doesn’t tell us why He chose Mary but here are a couple of my own thoughts.

God says it himself. He’s concerned with our hearts not our outward appearances. (I Samuel 16:7) I think Mary Magdalene had a pure heart. A grateful heart. She lived her life out serving the one who had rescued her. She recognized the extreme gift of grace she had been given and never forgot it. She lived out her love for her Master by serving Him and those who served alongside him. She wasn’t in it for her glory. She just wanted to be near Jesus. To help out as He walked grace out for the rest of the people. If we’ve ever been truly grateful for something, then nothing can stop us from showing it. Mary’s life exemplified this.

She was a woman. In 1 Cor 1:27, it says: “Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful.” (NLT) All the pharisees and religious leaders of the day thought they deserved honour and glory. They thought they had earned it. They did all the right things but their hearts were black. Jesus called them “vipers.” God isn’t interested in the religious elite or anyone who thinks they deserve to be. “There is no room for pride in God’s kingdom,” a very wise woman once told me. Mary was humble in heart and deed. It’s one of those upside down kingdom moments, when Jesus turns all our preconceived assumptions on their heads and shows us the truth of who He is and what He stands for.

Finally, Mary Magdalene was good enough to be used by God. The ancient world probably wouldn’t have agreed. She had a past that contained a few skeletons in her closet. Yet God didn’t see that at all. He didn’t need a perfect candidate to go tell the greatest news ever to the people who cared the most that day. He just needed somebody who loved His Son deeply. Who was present and willing. She was there early in the morning in that garden because she cared what happened to Jesus, even in death. She didn’t have to earn her way there. She was good enough, as she was.

So many times, we avoid Jesus or Easter or the cross because we think we aren’t good enough in some way. It’s a lie. Just like Mary, we have to be willing, present and have open hearts. It really doesn’t matter what litters our paths. The cross has a way of evening things out. Because in the end, there was only One who was good enough and He died, crushing death completely. So we didn’t have to be good enough to approach His Father. We could come. Just as we are.