What Have You Learned Lately?

“So many things were impossible, until they weren’t.”
Jennifer Donnelly, Sea Spell

This weekend I’m attending a workshop, hosted by a friend and one of the things she asked us to come prepared to talk about is learning a new skill. Negative Nelly that I am, I thought, “I have not learned anything new.”

Until I thought about it. Just this past weekend, I attended writing workshops at a conference to learn about writing fiction. Fiction has always been off-limits for me. I love to read but the idea of writing a story that I created out of my imagination was terrifying.

Who would read it? Nobody. It would be terrible. I just don’t have that kind of creative magic. This is what I told myself and I believed me.

Writing fiction was an impossibility, a fairy tale. Something I’d dream about as a child. It wasn’t going to happen even though I’ve wanted to tell stories since I can remember.

 

As my book, Whole, was published, I began to think about new projects. A little voice kept whispering, “Fiction.”

It was tempting.  As the summer waned, I decided to try. I looked around at creative writing courses but decided I couldn’t go back to school at this time. Then the writing workshops showed up in my email and I excitedly said yes! I felt like God was saying Yes to me, too.  I am cautiously optimistic. I have a lot to learn. Nothing may come of it except personal satisfaction but at least I will have tried.

Am I learning something new? You bet! Why did I sell myself short? Why do you?

Stepping out into the unknown can be scary. I have made every excuse not to get started. Procrastination was a front for fear. I was afraid I couldn’t do it. I was afraid I’d be awful at it. I’d fail. I’d look stupid. We’ve all been there as we set out on a new adventure or journey.

What I’m starting to understand is I’d rather fail at something than regret not trying. It’s a lesson that’s been a long time learning.

I think as we get older we lose the muscle of trying new things. We are too afraid of failure or the consequences of even trying. We settle into our comfy couches and get complacent. How did this happen?

I look at my boys. The things they are passionate about, they act on. Shooting hoops relentlessly in the driveway. Writing and drawing just because they want to. Creating just because they can. Fear doesn’t seem to factor in or maybe it just isn’t allowed to dominate. As adults we need to start exercising those muscles of trying new things again. We need to say Yes! more and then get up and Do. Maybe if we let our desires and our passions have more sway, we’ll create more. We’ll be more content. We’ll learn not just a new skill or reinvigorate an old one but we’ll grow as people too.

We teach our kids these lessons but we stop applying them to ourselves. Why is that? Educating ourselves and creating beauty makes the world a better place. It makes a difference. When we try, it inspires others. I have friends who have gone back to school to get a teacher’s degree or a degree in a dream they put off. They make me want to try. It’s contagious.

What impossible dream sits in your heart, waiting to be released? To be attempted? What do you think you are too old to do? Or too young? What would you do if you had no limitations or obligations?

 

Maybe what seems an impossibility is really a matter of trying, of saying Yes! to God so He can say Yes! to you.

Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.” Matthew 19:26 NLT  

Do you believe it?

When You Feel Lost

I have been fascinated for the last while with the concept of being lost. I think we all feel that way at different times in our lives. It’s not usually a pleasant sensation. Being lost can trigger a host of emotions. Fear, exhilaration, sadness, depression, excitement.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing, being lost. Lessons learned while adrift sometimes stick more than others. For example, if you lose your way going someplace, chances are, once you correct your path, you won’t make the same mistake again. Right?

As I’ve mulled the concept of being lost, I stumbled on some quotes.  Just as there are many emotions involved in being lost, there are also a lot of different ways to think about what being lost means.

Here are a few I like:

Fireheart – why do you cry?
‘Because I am lost,’ she whispered… ‘And I do not know the way.’ ”
p. 281 Sarah J. Maas, Heir of Fire

Sometimes being lost happens because we’ve lost our way. We don’t know whether to go right or left or up or down. Direction is skewed. We may have taken our eyes off Jesus and in doing so, stumbled and lost our bearings. Circumstances aren’t helping matters. They are making things more confusing. Maybe we’ve had to rethink some things and now the ground is shaking beneath us. Our foundation was built on a lie. There are many ways to lose direction and become lost.

“He showed me how to get lost, and then I showed myself how to get found.” p. 367 Gayle Foreman, Just One Day

In this story, the traveller would go to a new city and find an area he did not know, go there and wander. He called it getting lost. At first his friend thought he was crazy but then she saw the miracle and the beauty of it. This is where getting lost is not bad. It’s an adventure. The terrain is new. Foreign. It may not be like we are used to but what’s wrong with that? It’s a chance to grow and open yourself up to new experiences, and expand your horizons. It’s a chance to explore. It’s a challenge and as you navigate your way to being found, you learn some things about yourself.

“ ‘I wasn’t lost. Just because you couldn’t find me doesn’t mean I was lost.’ ” p. 208  Kristen Heitzmann,  The Edge of Recall

There are times when other people think you are lost but you really aren’t. They may question your struggle or your direction. They may think you’re nuts. But you aren’t, you’ve just chosen a different path.

The thing I realized in all these scenarios and many others not mentioned is we are never truly, totally lost.

“Jesus can find you in the darkness.” P. 80 Dee Henderson, The Guardian

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19:10

Even when finding our way seems impossible to us, there is One who never loses sight of us. We are never lost to Him. Ever. No matter what we may have done or not done. No matter where we go. (Psalm 139)

There are many stories in the bible that talk about God seeking out that which is lost. A coin, a sheep and a son for starters. These stories mirror what God is actively doing. He relentlessly seeks us out when we are lost. In all three of the stories, the person who lost something, never gives up. They search until they find it. God will not give up. The price of the life of His Son means that God’s plan is always Search and Rescue.

He is also going to fight for us. If someone is searching for something, he will not be deterred. He will fight for the right to keep searching and he will fight for what he has lost. “The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.” NIV Exodus 14:14

This was the message to the Israelites as they escaped from Egypt but came up against the Red Sea. The chariots of the Egyptians were chasing them down from behind. But God fought for them.

Yeah, but then they wandered for forty years, you may be thinking. Were they lost? It might seem so but God knew precisely where they were and why there were there. We may not always understand God’s plan. God used those forty years to teach them about himself, what His plans were and that ultimately, He was in control. They were not lost. They were right where they were supposed to be.

Sometimes the shake-up of going astray gives us the jolt we need to awaken to our surroundings.  We are so distracted we need that sharp intake of breath and narrowed focus that realizing we are lost, brings. Jesus knows where we are, but do we? Do we even realize we are lost? Honestly, we don’t.

Ultimately, being lost means that at some point, we have to let go of our pride and accept help. Acknowledging being lost is acknowledging that we are not in control. That in the dark, in the confusion, in the fear, in the challenge of being lost, we need a guide who can find us in the dark and take us to the other side.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Middle Space

“There has to be a middle. Without it, nothing can ever truly be a whole. Because it is not just a space between, but also what holds everything together.”
                                                                           – Sarah Dessen,  Just Listen

There’s a prevalent lie today in Christian circles that we have to be “okay.” That we can’t doubt God or question him. That we can’t be mad at him. We can struggle, yes, ask a few whys but it should never get to a fist-shaking and faith-rattling brawl with God.

I tend to disagree. Some of us need to go through that fight as part of our journey. In fact it’s integral to it. It’s working out our faith and relationship with God.

Paul writes to the church in Philippians 2:12:
[ Do Everything Without Grumbling ] Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling

Wrestling with God is one way to work out your salvation.

Journeys have a beginning and an ending. Usually, we are in a hurry to begin, to get going on the adventure. Equally so with the arrival at our destination. No one really likes the middle part, after a bit.

It starts out okay but then someone has to go to the bathroom, gets car sick or lost. Tempers start to flare as boredom or anxiety sets in. “Are we there yet? How much more time?” It’s accompanied by a whine. This is the middle part of a journey. It’s ugly and messy and painful. I know you’ve been there in your mini-van which has started to feel like a clown car with one too many clowns in it. It’s getting uncomfortable. Who hasn’t been there?

Our spiritual journeys aren’t much different for some of us. We go through bursts of enthusiasm and vision at the start, only to stumble through the middle part. The waiting. The boredom. The fear and frustration. The feeling lost and directionless. The anger. We struggle with the suffocation of questions and doubts. The feeling that we can’t take One.More.Thing.

We’re spoiling for a fight. We start to wrestle with God.

Sometimes the church and followers of Jesus have a hard time with those of us who fight with God. There’s a slight air of disapproval. A purse of the lips. That’s a human perspective. I believe God can handle our grappling with Him. There’s nothing we throw at Him that He hasn’t already seen coming. He is our safest “opponent.”

Jeremiah certainly doesn’t make any bones about his complaint with God in Jeremiah 15:18.
Why then does my suffering continue?
    Why is my wound so incurable?
Your help seems as uncertain as a seasonal brook,
    like a spring that has gone dry.”

He echoes my own lament. He’s not the only one.

In Genesis chapter 32, starting at verse 22, Jacob physically wrestled all night with God. He came away from that fight with a blessing and a limp. And a new identity. No longer Jacob, but Israel, which means “God fights”. Interesting that, isn’t it?

I’ve always felt like I was less of a Christian because I was a fighter. Feisty. Not sure I would have survived if I hadn’t been. I have battled with God. Many times. I understand where these guys are coming from and I’m thankful their matches are right there in ink on the pages of the Bible.

If you find yourself locking horns with God today, don’t back down. He has the answers and He is truth. There are times we struggle with God and who He is to figure out the truth – about Him, about ourselves. It might take all night but don’t give up because someone gave you a disapproving “hrumph”. Seriously.

Jacob came away from that night better than he was before it. He met God face to face. We do too when we engage in combat with God. You can’t fight blindfolded or if you are hiding. For some of us, it’s the only way we let Him in close enough that He can grab hold of us.

Struggle, wrestle, fight, call it whatever, but it’s a part of our middle.
Not the entirety. The journey is full of ups and downs and good and bad. All those things combined, including the wrestling, make us who we are. Moulds us into the whole. It is the middle part that strengthens and deepens our relationship with God. James says it in his book in the first chapter.

Dear brothers and sisters,[a] when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. 3 For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. 4 So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. James 1:2-4 NLT

So when testing and trials come and you find yourself wrestling with God, remember you are in good company. Don’t pretend it’s not happening or you’re too spiritual for that kind of thing. God can take it. He’ll see you through.

Don’t give up and believe the lies that keep you from the truth. That takes the fight right out of you before the battle begins. It’s what the enemy wants. For you to give up. So don’t. Fight. Fight to get to the other side. Fight for the truth and fight for your relationship with God.

When we get to our eternal destination, it’s our middle that holds the beginning and the end together and it has God’s fingerprints all over it, glueing it together, creating our whole.

Why People Win Over Achievement

“I’m learning over and over again that connection heals me more than achievement ever could.” Shauna Niequist

Often times we believe when our dreams come true, everything else will fall into place. That we’ll be content, happy. That we’ll be the person we want to be. Finally.

The shocking truth is it doesn’t happen, Even remotely. Because if you’ve attached your emotional health, your worth to achievement then you are sitting on a rocky foundation. It will be shaken at the first criticism or self-doubt.

With success and achievement come the whispers that you can do more. Be more. It will never be enough, especially if we believe we aren’t enough to begin with.

Why? Because we’ve attached ourselves to a black hole that can never be fed enough. There will always be someone better, faster and smarter. There will always be another level to conquer. Another award to win. It’s become all about us. It’s a ton of pressure.

I’ve been thinking about Shauna Niequist’s quote since I read it a week ago. It was in my Overcomer study on Philippians by Margaret Feinberg.

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Niequist is right but I don’t really want to admit it. It’s a bitterly hard pill to swallow for this introvert and recovering people hater to admit that we need each other. It’s one of the hardest struggles I have in ministry. Sometimes I drift to the “dark side” and think ministry would be so much better if not for the people. We might actually get God’s work done. Oh yeah, that’s right, God’s work is people. Shoot.

Why is connection, key to healing and not achievement? Because it is through people we get glimpses of God, His love for us and his acceptance of us. Achievements, success, more money, awards are momentarily great but they can’t do what people do. Love us. As we are. Achievement always demands more. That we be more. Do more. Acquire more.

Connection is relational. It only requires we engage. That doesn’t necessarily mean talk either. Sometimes it means just listening for our benefit or someone else’s.

 

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Connection is spiritual. I totally believe in kindred spirits. But I also believe connecting to someone totally different than you can be equally as rewarding.

It’s spiritual because it comes from God, who created us for relationship. It also points us back to God.  He’s the only relationship that can totally heal us.  He uses other people to help us down that road and direct us back to him but He is the true physician.  He gifts us with other people and the connection they bring to our hearts.

People who genuinely love us let us be who we are, while at the same time they inspire us to be better. It’s not the same as achievement. They love us even if we hadn’t written a book, got a promotion, won a race. It will never matter what we do. It only matters that we be.

Love. Acceptance. Understanding. Kindness. These are a few of the building blocks to health and healing. Kids who are loved, accepted, and are understood and grow up in a kind environment, usually grow into healthy adults. For those of us who missed out on those things, as adults we can still do ourselves a favour and learn to love, accept and understand ourselves. Be kind to ourselves. It’s never too late to grow into the person we want to be.

If we in return show love, acceptance, understanding and kindness, they can help us on the road to healing. Every time we choose to give them away, we become more of who we were meant to be and that is healthy. If I make the effort to join in and be a part of a group, instead of hiding, I find that my heart gets lighter and my mood better. (Usually 🙂 Knowing you did the right thing too, can certainly make a difference in feeling better about yourself.

How did I learn this? In community. Of. Course.

In many different communities; a course that helped me deal with anxiety, many different churches, MOPS, family and friends. My life is richer because of them all. The awards and accomplishments have added to it too as well as the failures but they fade, the friendships, the love do not.

Maybe I’ll take that pill with a little bit of jam!

 

 

Asking for Directions

My scenery has changed this week. As I look out the windows, I see trees and cedars and I hear the waves crashing on the beach just beyond the front door. You can see the lake from the big front window.

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It’s a week to unwind, rejuvenate, and create. It’s a week I have begun to look forward to every spring. Last year I put the finishing touches on Whole here. Who knew then, what a year would bring!

This year I am in a different place on so many levels. I feel like I have ended, started and am in-between. Can you be in all those spaces at once? Do you ever feel like that?

I feel like I need to stop and ask for directions.

I’ve walked along the beach the last couple of mornings in the sunshine and wind. Watching and listening to the waves roll in is hypnotic, soothing. My shoes dig into the wet sand. (No I’m not a barefoot sand person!)

I see footprints (someone is a barefoot sand person!) shoe prints and dog paw prints in the sand. I notice the colour of the water – grey up close and a thin line of turquoise and cobalt blue along the horizon.

I beach comb by taking pictures of interesting things as I walk. Driftwood, rocks, little streams feeding into the Great Lake.

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As I reach the point where I’m going to turn around, I see a sailboat beached. It’s yellow and pretty. Reminds me of summer stories of fun, sea and romance.

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After taking a couple of pictures, I turn around and head back the way I came. I’m thinking about the boat. I liked it. I wonder about what it would feel like to sail it?

As I’m walking back, I spot another boat. A blue rowboat. It looks like it’s made of wood.  I hadn’t seen it on my way up the beach. I stop and take a few pictures. The beauty is in it’s rustic appearance.

How could I have missed it before? I had walked right by it.

Blind. How many times are we blind to things that are right in front of us? Like the rowboat, we pass by, absorbed in our thoughts, our worries, our stuff.

How do you walk? Do you walk with your head down? Where are you looking? I often walk looking at the ground, intent on where my feet are taking me. Do you do this too? We miss a lot because we are not looking up, don’t we?

I had caught myself a couple of times staring at the sand rather than the beautiful water and trees and sky around me. I was missing the good stuff because I was looking down instead of up.

Look up.

Wake up.

Get up.

It’s starting to become my mantra. Perhaps it’s the directions I’ve wanted to ask for.

Looking up instantly engages us in our surroundings. We see who’s there, what’s happening. We are free to enjoy the scenery. We become aware of where we are and our place in it.

Waking up frees us from our blindness. Sometimes we are so involved in our heads, in what we are doing, in just trying to keep up with everything, that we fall asleep to everything else. We miss the boat so to speak. We don’t see the offer of something else, something new, something different. We bypass the beauty because we are engrossed in our small worlds.

Getting up is action. Don’t just sit there but go investigate that invitation, that beauty. Get up close to the boat. Touch it. Get in it. Take the next step.

If we don’t start to look up, wake up and get up, what are we missing? I think we miss not only things in this world but also in the spiritual world. As we look up, wake up and get up we become engaged not just physically but emotionally, and spiritually. We become more in tune with what is going on in both the physical and spiritual realms. We are ready to receive the next directive.

We become available. “Here I am Lord send me.”

I’m not sure about you but I want to be that person who doesn’t just see the boat, but gets in the boat and heads out to sea, following the One who does know the way.

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Seeking His Face

I’m not a big socialite. But when I do venture out into the masses, I usually don’t go just for something to do. I go with a purpose. I am seeking someone or something.

If I go to a party or a gathering, there is one person I will seek out. I scan the crowd looking for the face I am seeking. I listen for their laugh and the timbre of their voice. I may be searching for my husband, my sons or a friend.

When we seek, we look until we find, don’t we? We are purposefully looking for someone or something in particular.  Children seek out Easter eggs on Easter morning.  They eagerly look until they find the brightly coloured sweet treats.

Today’s verse of the day from biblegateway.com was from Hebrews 11:6, The Voice. Without faith no one can please God because the one coming to God must believe He exists, and He rewards those who come seeking. (emphasis mine).

It was the last part of the verse that caught my attention. He rewards those who come seeking.

It struck me that all I have to do is come seeking Him. I don’t have to be anything else. We think we have to have cleaned up our mess first before we seek Him out.  We believe we need to at least try to have it together before we go to God. We tell ourselves we need to have solved our problems before we seek His face.

We have to be perfect.

But it doesn’t say anywhere in that verse or in the bible, that we have to have it altogether to come to God. To look for Him. To seek Him out.  The ill and infirm sought Jesus out.  Those who had blown it and those who were socially unacceptable came looking for Him. Those who had doubts came to Him.  He welcomed them all.  He didn’t turn them away.  He could handle it all.

We just have to come. Seek and you shall find him. (Mat 7:7)

If we had solved our problems or cleaned ourselves up, we wouldn’t need Jesus right? We’d be patting ourselves on the back.  We would be thinking we did it ourselves.  Our pride would tell us that we can handle it. No need to bother the Almighty. We got this.

It’s a big lie that we believe. Satan likes to keep us feeling like we are not good enough so we don’t seek God.  If we do manage to make some small progress bettering ourselves, then we believe we don’t need Him. It’s a vicious cycle.

However the verse from Hebrews is simple, Believe He exists and seek Him out. And he’ll reward you.

There may be other rewards but the main reward is Him. I AM, present in our lives.  His presence trumps everything else; the unsolvable problem, the explosive mess, the unredeemable relationship, the life that looks unsalvageable. His presence turns it all upside down and makes it workable. So the impossible is possible with God.  (Luke 1:37 The Voice)

All we have to do is seek His Face and He does the rest.

The Whole Story

Do you have a childhood dream that still sits in your heart and mind? That you go back to when you daydream?  Since I can remember, I have wanted to tell stories. Then it morphed into writing and then into writing articles and books.

I fulfilled part of that dream recently. I wrote a book and it’s being published next month. I wrote it with pastors’ wives in mind but it’s for anyone who ever felt they didn’t fit the role they were in. Pastor’s wife, ministry leader, mother…

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I set out to write a guide because I felt so lost as to what it was I was supposed to be doing as the spouse of a pastor. (Seriously, seminaries need to offer courses for the spouses! But I digress.) The book did not turn out to be a guide.  I never really figured out what I was doing so how could I instruct others?! Instead, it’s about how God can use each one of us, even when we think He’s made a mistake in choosing us because….you fill in the blank.

It took over ten years to write it. I began the project when my boys were teeny tiny. On Mark’s day off, I would head to his office for a couple of hours to write. On the way, I’d grab a Tim’s (that’s Canada speak for coffee), a bagel and cream cheese (those were the days I could eat cream cheese). Then I’d sit, savouring the food, the coffee and the quiet. Then I’d get to work.

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I didn’t own a laptop so I’d write old school or I’d borrow Mark’s laptop and then email my document to myself. I lost a whole chapter once. It wasn’t always easy or convenient but it was important that I carve out that time.

Many of those years were tumultuous and the writing was a cathartic exercise. It provided a way to put a voice on the last few years of ministry, marriage and motherhood. It provided me an outlet to vent my frustrations, anger and sadness. It opened a door to look for God in it all. It maintained my sanity.

I have a gem of a husband who not only encouraged me to go on his day off but insisted on it if I tried to get out of it. He knew I was a better mom and wife when I had time to myself, to do the things I loved. I realize that not everyone has this. I am so grateful.

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I tried to walk away from this book, this message, so many times. I didn’t always want to be the messenger.

I finished most of the writing a couple of years ago. I tried unsuccessfully to pitch the book with publishers but they felt it was too much of a niche book.

Last spring I heard about a Canada wide contest for non-fiction faith manuscripts by women. I decided to enter.

I didn’t win but I placed as one of the four finalists. It opened the door to publishing. And here I am. Scared out of my wits and crazy excited at the same time.

It’s been a lesson in perseverance. We want what we want right now. We are impatient. I am one of the worst. I am surprised that God stuck with me because honestly, I’ve been a bit of a brat over the years. But then, that’s grace, right? We are given what we don’t deserve. That’s love. That’s God, I Am.

If you have a dream, a vision, something laid upon your heart and you think there’s an expiry date, stop. As long as you breathe, there is no expiry date on your dream. Keep taking the next step.

The end result is worth it, but it’s the journey there, that gives it value. It’s in the journey that the message on your heart gets it’s first student. (You.) It’s the path there, that teaches the lessons, sustains growth and prunes the rot. In the end, you reach your destination (book, dream, etc.) which is totally awesome, but really, you are the prize.

Because along the journey, you have matured, deepened your relationship with God and are that much closer to being who you were created to be.

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It’s an awesome experience to see a dream fulfilled. It is humbling to put something you created out there for people to read, dissect and judge. They may love it or they may hate it. I have freaked out at both aspects. It’s taking me way out of my comfort zone.

In the bigger picture, beyond my comfort,  I am excited to see what God is going to do. This is not my book. It’s not my message. It’s His and I’m anxious to see where He’s going with it. I want to see Him do what He does best.  Work the impossible.

I’m going to enjoy this gift while it lasts, but I’m also looking to Him for the future, for the next adventure.