Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Hunger... (and learning I don't need to be a scavenger)

Being a mother of six means that life can be fairly hectic at times, as we are a family that enjoys a moderate amount of extracurricular activities such as gymnastics and music lessons. So if you take a moderate amount of activities multiplied by a large amount of kids, it equals a lot of running around and crazy days!

Monday night was no exception, and I found myself waiting in the van for my oldest kids while they attended a monthly group piano lesson. The only problem is, I was famished! Okay, not truly famished, (because I often tell my kids that they don't comprehend the literal meaning of that word) but I felt pretty darn hungry! I knew we would have supper waiting for us at home, but I had just worked out at the gym while the kids were in swimming lessons, and now I had to wait for 45 minutes until this class was over and we could go home and eat.

For some reason my stomach felt much more empty than normal, and was grumbling loudly. I tried to distract myself with a book, but even the suspenseful story wasn't working. I rummaged in my purse and noticed some Halls left over from a cold I had the week before. Hmmm.... sugary and temporarily satisfying. I felt a little dishonest having a Halls without a sore throat, so I gave a weak, fake cough and figured there was enough "cold" left in me to merit eating one.

Sadly, the Halls lasted a mere 5 minutes, and within minutes after that, I realized I was still hungry. Apparently sugar and menthol have no tummy-filling abilities. Considering I was in a mini-van that was continually filled with children traveling to and fro, I thought I would search around and perhaps find a stay granola bar or cookie. I first looked in the glove box and saw a round, whitish object; just the size of a sugar cookie. Score! I grabbed it and immediately sensed that something was wrong. This "cookie" was extremely hard and probably inedible. If indeed it had ever been a cookie, it was now mummified. I then noticed the etchings of a child's initials across the surface and remembered that this was no cookie! It was a craft my kids had made many months ago, with salt-clay. Yuck!

Since there was nothing more than leftover crafts, an emergency diaper, insurance papers and other random junk in the glove box, I had to get more adventurous in my search. I began to shovel through the children's debris that layered the van's floor. (Yes, I admit it! Our van tends to be on the messy side.) As I pushed papers and books and bags aside, I saw a take-out menu for Papa John's. My mouth began to water as I gazed at the tantalizing pizzas. Sadly, this was no time for ordering take out... it probably wouldn't arrive before the lesson was over, anyway!

In the next few moments, I discovered many potentially edible objects. There was half of a stale, dried out blueberry bagel; a shriveled up piece of an orange; a mini-container of margarine in a bag that had held a muffin from the McDonald's drive-thru; and then the obviously inedible: a blackened, shriveled-up, slightly slimy banana peel. YUCK! I even found my husband's empty can of cherry coke in the cup-holder of the van, but when I tried to shake the last drops into my mouth, I discovered that they had dried to a thick syrup, coating the bottom of the can. Okay... this was not working out very well!

I then realized I was not so desperate to eat food off of the floor of our van. Who am I kidding though - it's not just about desperation - it would be more like making myself a human test subject for breaking the record of how long food can be on the floor and still be safe to eat! (You know, like the the "5-second-rule"). I was back in my purse again, with my hand hovering over the Halls. Nah.... Then I found my Maple Sugar Liplicous Tasty Lip Color and decided to put some on. The mouthwatering artificial aroma drifted up to my nose and I'll admit, I licked some off of my lips just like my 5 year old would do and ate some!

When it became firmly established in my mind that there was nothing I could eat in the van, I settled on being patient and waiting the last 25 minutes or so until my kids would be done their lesson. There was real food at home... and I wasn't truly famished. This did however get me to thinking about the nature of hunger and cravings. Hunger is an all-consuming drive. We as humans cannot survive for more than about 40 days without food (and that is at risk to damaging some of your organs and causing your body to break down tissue -your muscles- in effort to keep other vital systems running). Most people can't go a full day without feeling quite hungry, and we in North America are so used to feeding our faces whenever we have the slightest sense of perceived "hunger".

The dictionary defines hunger as "a strong or compelling desire or craving". We can certainly relate this to food, but the idea of hunger can be applied to many other areas of our lives. I began to wonder what I hunger for in life. How much do I hunger for God? I asked myself these questions and began to ponder the longings deep in my heart.

I know that deep down, I hunger for love and acceptance. I need this more than anything else in life - in fact, there have been times in my life where I didn't feel secure and loved and this affected my physical appetite. My hunger for love was greater than my hunger for food. I also hunger to know that my life and my kids' lives are going to turn out. That we'll make it through the gauntlet of child-raising and family life and come out successful on the other side. So in actuality, this tells me I'm longing for peace and knowing that God is going to take care of us.

Knowing that these are my driving needs and *hungers* in life, tell me that deep down what I'm hungry for is God. He is the one who can satisfy these deep longings in my life, and give me peace and security related to these needs. By knowing Him and entrusting my fears to Him, I would learn that He does want to take care of me. I would know Him and be secure.

I remember as a child, being told the illustration that there is a "God-shaped-hole" in each of us. We can spend our entire lives searching for things to fill that space in our heart, but only a relationship with God will satisfy that hunger. It seems that the things I long for most can easily be satisfied by learning to be satisfied in God. The more I get to know Him, the more I realize He is concerned with my entire life - my emotions, my family, my marriage. To top it all off, He created me to naturally be hungry for the hope and security and peace that He offers. I can try to quench the hunger with other things, but they are temporary and artificial at best.

Psalm 63: 1-5 talks about a longing, desperation and hunger that is satisfied by seeking God:

O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water. I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands. My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you.

We spend much of our lives with a sense of need; a hunger, really, for something that isn't satisfied by anything on earth. We commit ourselves to seek after intellectual pursuits or emotional attachments or even physical food to satisfy a hunger and longing that is like a bottomless pit. When you read Isaiah 55:1-3a, you get a pretty clear image of our fruitless attempts to fill our human longings:

"Hey there! All who are thirsty, come to the water! Are you penniless? Come anyway - buy and eat! Come, buy your drinks, buy wine and milk. Buy without money - everything's free! Why do you spend your money on junk food, your hard-earned cash on cotton candy? Listen to me, listen well: Eat only the best, fill yourself with only the finest. Pay attention, come close now, listen carefully to my life-giving, life-nourishing words." (The Message)

It's easy to get caught up pursing what will only temporarily satisfy. Too often, you can coast along in life and keep yourself going on "junk food", only to find out that when a crisis occurs, or you go through a particularly trying season in life, you just don't have the endurance required. However, by filling up on the right things; by filling up with what God provides, the hunger is quenched and you can be sustained through the most adverse trials. What God gives ensures that you don't have to walk through your life feeling like something is missing - you don't have to struggle with a sense of lack.

We can be filled; we can be satisfied! We don't have to go through life hungry and feeling the ache of longing inside our hearts. Best of all, everything's free - this is a gift from a loving, compassionate Father who cares deeply about you. Why would you bother scrounging the floor of the mini-van when this extravagant gift is offered to you?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

How Do You Compare?

There's a place where people become swept up into eager expressions of vanity and prideful showmanship. It's a spectacle of the power of human accomplishment. Or, you could be reaching for success in a fitful climb to greater physical achievement. I'm talking about the gym.

I *love* how there are so many mirrors at the gym. Continually guys and girls check themselves out - sometimes unabashedly, other times with a sideways look as they walk by their reflection. Maybe you've noticed the LuLu Lemon variety with their headbands, exercise top and yoga pants all sporting the LuLu Lemon logo. These are the girls who often have gone to great lengths to do their hair, as if being at the gym is more about being seen than it is about the work-out they plan to do there. And we can't forget the macho men - the ones with bulging muscles who strain profusely and watch their biceps furtively in the mirror, as the veins in their heads pop out and they work to become greater, more powerful and mightier than their peers.

Then there is me. And who am I kidding? It would be wrong of me to describe the people I observe at the gym on a weekly basis, without being honest about myself.

I admit that I compare myself to the girl working herself to a frenzy on the elliptical trainer. I tell myself that she's thinner because she has a different body type, yet in some ways I still allow myself to become frustrated and wonder if I should work out harder. I also have fallen way to the sin of pride at times, as I run on the treadmill, stealing glances at the runner next to me and realizing that I'm faster. I compare myself to others. I shouldn't compare, but there is something in me that looks for a way to measure my existence and worth, and it is so easy to do so by looking at the examples next to me - using the real life people whom I know nothing about.

This dismal behavior doesn't seem to stop at the gym, but is so easy to carry into other areas of life. I can compare my clothing, parenting, cooking, education, home, and even my "wifeliness" (how great of a wife I feel I am). It's just that in the end, I feel short-changed and the temporary satisfaction I may feel by judging myself as "better" than someone else is quickly thwarted by the fact that I can easily find someone who looks and appears to be better than me. If I take it a step farther, there are even times when I can compare my family, marriage - and namely my kids to others, and I cheapen their individuality and God-given gifts by turning them into a commodity that I can rate to then provide myself with feelings of pride or disappointment.

I've been convicted over the last few years of the ugliness of comparison. As my oldest daughter grows into the awkward tween years, and has begun to be aware of the harsh, judgmental world around her (that has so many ideas of who she should be and look like) I've sobered up in realization of my own worldliness and unhealthy views of myself.

We often hear how important it is to have a good self-image. We are admonished to promote a pride and sense of identity, that everyone is special and unique. While I agree that it is important to have a sense of self-worth, I would question how one derives this sense of worth. Too often, I think we (mostly us women) spend far too much time comparing ourselves to others - or simply comparing ourselves to a bunch of made up rules and standards we hold within our minds, and we lack a focus on the individual that God has uniquely created us to be.

Imagine a school with no grade levels, and individualized classes and programs. Each student would be marked according to their individual effort and not compared to one another with standardized tests and percentiles. Grades would be achieved based on each student's personal best effort - not based on how they compared to others. This type of school may only exist in the realms of my imagination, however I do think this is an example of how we are measured in the grand scheme of life. 1 Samuel 16:7 tells us that "Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart." In everything we do, God isn't comparing us to how well others have done before us, or by how well those beside us are doing - God simply looks at our hearts. He knows exactly the challenges we face, and the emotional hurdles we battle. He knows our past, our pains, our successes and whether or not we have been granted a firm foundation in life. When He determines our success, He looks at what is going on inside our hearts and He has a all-encompassing view of whether we truly have put our best effort into life or not.

When we compare ourselves to others, we have no idea what is going on in the inner sanctum of their lives. We don't know the challenges they face, and it is not up to us to judge the productivity of others. Additionally, when we compare ourselves to others, we remove ourselves from the accountability to the One who truly knows us, inside and out. Ultimately, the only measurement we should use to feel successful, worthy and accomplished, is the kind of measurement that comes from being sincere and open before God.

I love what Paul says in Philippians 3:8,9. He had all the qualifications to credit himself as having a superior status among the people around him, yet he laid it all down to become a follower of Christ. Here's what he said, captured so poetically in the Message translation:

Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant - dog dung. I've dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ
and be embraced by him. I didn't want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ - God's righteousness.

While Paul may be talking specifically about holiness, and how "righteous" he could make himself out to be according to his actions, I think the same perspective can be applied to other areas of our lives. We measure ourselves by how "good" we feel we are, and by how successful we are at life. The problem is, our perspective of who we are and what we're worth becomes pretty empty if we measure ourselves by society's standards. Riches are fleeting - one tragic event can erase your net worth and put you in financial ruin. Beauty fades; everyone will grow older and more wrinkled in time! There is always going to be someone stronger, smarter and faster - adversely, you can always find someone whom you can outwit, belittle or show-up. That being said, it doesn't matter what other people think of me, and it doesn't matter how I feel compared to other people.

I want to be embraced by something more meaningful. I want to raise my kids to measure themselves based not on what their peers think of them - or even what I think of them! What matters is our hearts. What matters is whether you are doing your personal best, and placing all your merit and justification and hope in Christ.

"If you want to claim credit, claim it for God." What you say about yourself means nothing in God's work. It's what God says about you that makes the difference.
-2 Cor 10: 17,18 The Message

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Speaking with an Inside Voice

I was drifting in a land that wasn't real, and hearing noises that seemed to be filtered through a tunnel. The colors began to blur into one another and I knew I was sleeping, and didn't want to wake up. But there was this call back to reality, a whisper that cut like dull scissors into the balloon reality of my dream, and sucked the life out of it.

"Pssstt.... Moooooommm!!!" an urgent little voice whispered. "Moooooom!" It was quiet, yet insistent, and despite the fact that the whispering came from outside of my bedroom door, I couldn't deny hearing it. My attention was required. I could barely prop my eyelids open and I notice the red numbers on the clock: 3:16am. I'm like a drunk when I am pulled prematurely from my slumber - the room seems to spin and I stumble around and feel lost! Regardless, my mother's heart was stronger than my worn-out mother's body, and I was propelled to respond to the needs of my child.

We aren't often confronted by a quiet voice in life. Too often, the voices that speak to us are loud, demanding, and sometimes obnoxious. It's a rare thing that my children will talk to me in anything quieter than a roar. I constantly chide them to use their "inside voice". It's not entirely their fault though - their father is known to have a voice that can overtake a room full of people!

There is someone who consistently speaks quietly to me, though. He always speaks gently. He often waits for me to be quiet and still before speaking. He never yells at me, and I wouldn't consider him demanding. Often He is trying to speak and I'm too busy and preoccupied to listen.

I had a bizarre experience a few weeks ago, when I was shopping. I was pushing my cart - loaded up with small kids and toilet paper, apples, butter and milk, and I heard behind me someone calling my name "Lisa!" I turned and saw other people shopping, but there was no one I knew, and it didn't look like anyone was calling me. I was puzzled, and thought I must be hearing things, but I had a peculiar feeling. I continued on with my shopping, bought my groceries and was then on my way out the store when it happened again. This time, I clearly heard "Lisa" from the entrance of the store, just ahead of me, on my right. I stopped in my tracks and peered to my right - but there was just a couple of East Indian women wearing saris, sitting on a bench by the door chatting with each other. They weren't looking at me, and they weren't even speaking in English! I gave my head a shake and continued out to the van, to unload my groceries and kids and head home.

For the next hour or so, I was perplexed and befuddled, trying to figure out what was going on in my head - why was I seemingly hearing my name being called? What the heck? I may be a little crazy, but I'd never heard voices before!

Something occurred to me. I felt an impression that there was a message for me to glean from this experience. I realized how often I'm so busy and preoccupied with life, and God is trying to get my attention. This was a tangible admonition to "listen" and take notice.

There is a story told in the Old Testament of the Bible, of when one of God's prophets, Elijah, was feeling very alone in the world. He was in a place of terrible persecution and felt like no one else wanted to follow God. He ran off to hide in a cave, and needed an answer from God, to know what to do! God began to speak to him, and I'll pick up the story of Elijah in 1 Kings 19 -

11 Then He said, "Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord." And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. 13 So it was, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. (NKJV)

I like the idea of a still small voice. Maybe it's the mother in me, but there is a certain appeal to communication that doesn't require shouting, nagging or obstinate, incessant articulation! It is intriguing to me that God could do a variety of things to show his power, and get His point across. He has the ability to tear through mountains with a ferocious wind, shake the earth with a mighty earthquake, or burn with a blazing fire - but that isn't His modus operandi ('mode of operating', in Latin). He chose a gentle communication - something that requires the audience to be quiet and to tune their ears to listen.

Another example of this in the Bible was with a young boy, Samuel, who worked and lived in the temple with one of the priests, Eli. God chose to speak by waking Samuel up at night, calling his name. At first Samuel was convinced that Eli was calling him, until the priest recognized that God seemed to be speaking to the boy and instructed him to say "Here I am" (to God) "Your servant is listening."

I think there is a certain type of receptivity required for us to hear God. It has a lot more to do with being open and aware that God wants to get through to us, than it has to do with some sort of supernatural ability. It involves not being so caught up in the "affairs of this life" (2 Tim 2:4) and not being so incredibly busy that we miss what God is trying to tell us. Clearly we can't just stop everything we're doing and sit around all day, hoping that God will start to talk to us. I have neither the time, nor the attention span at the moment to be able to engage in quiet meditation all day long! My responsibilities dictate that I must learn to listen "on my feet" so to speak. Like the day I was in the supermarket - you never know when or where God is going to put something on your heart. You don't know when He is going to reveal something to you, so it's important to be receptive and willing to slow down and listen when you feel a prompting in your heart to do so.

On the other hand, I very much believe in the art of quiet meditation. Once in a while, my house is strangely silent and still. This seems to only happen in conjunction with everyone in the house being asleep, and it being 5am, but there is something really awe-inspiring about the stillness of the "middle of the night". Sometimes, if I am up to get a glass of water, I relish the quiet. Sometimes I feel drawn to sit on the couch for a moment, and seek God's presence. Even though I should be sound asleep, and I worry that I will be tired in the morning, I chose to relish this moment of being alone, and quiet in His presence.

If you want to hear God's voice more, you have to be willing to listen carefully. He seems to speak with an "inside voice". Unfortunately, you can't just turn on the radio to "God's channel" and tune in for today's broadcast. (Although we do have the Bible to turn to for His words, whenever we need it.) It seems that if you want to know and experience God for yourself, it requires a bit of patience. It requires a willingness to stop what you are doing once in a while (or get out of your bed in the middle of the night) and say "Here I am, your servant is listening." Sometimes it requires heading out to the wilderness and standing on the mountain alone, waiting for the wind to die down, and the storms of life to calm - so that we are left alone, standing in silence. Then He speaks...

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Too Much Bad News...

She stands with a shell shocked look in her eyes, tears streaming down. Her hands fall limp to her sides and her hair is disheveled and in her eyes and blowing across her face. Her lovely olive complexion and beautiful almond shaped brown eyes are marred by the devastation surrounding her. The beach is a decimated, miserable place. It looks like someone turned it into the local dump, but days before this was a humble sea shore with homes and boats and picturesque docks for fishermen and children alike. Tsunami.

Thousands of miles to the west, a family mourns. They huddle around a young man, who used his body as a message board to protest the government. Somehow in the clash of crowd control, he was beaten savagely and a blow to the head ended his young life. He was a beloved big brother and friend to many. He was someone's son and now he is gone. War.

You can't be near a computer or television these days without hearing about the suffering in Libya, Japan, or some other disaster-torn nation in the world. It's upsetting and horrifying and for the most part, doesn't seem real. Here I am, carrying on with my life and my family, and the suffering of thousands of people on the other side of the world seems like it could be suffering on another planet altogether!

I struggle with the appropriate response. There are moments when the suffering gets to me, and my heart wants to break as I empathize with the pain of families - mothers, fathers and children who are torn apart in tragedy. My prayers mingle with my tears and heartache.

Other days I hardly think of it. I turn away from the news articles and broadcasts on tv. It is just another day in the world - this screwed up world. I can't help. I can't fix it. Why should I bother to carry the burden of someone I will never meet?

I found myself really questioning what the Christian response should be to the current events in the news. For one thing, we are in a time like no other. The technological connection we have with others on this planet means that we can hear about a tragedy moments after it has occurred. We can plant ourselves on the front lines emotionally with the sights and sounds of suffering. I hardly think this is a healthy or natural thing, but this is what the internet and satellites and Facebook and Twitter have given to us.

Sometimes I wonder if I should just shut it off and ignore it all. I certainly have enough in my own "world" to handle. But I don't think that is the answer, and if we have any hope of affecting people for the better, of pouring out any measure of compassion on humanity's suffering - then we must not close ourselves off and harden our hearts.

If we consider how Jesus lived on this earth, we know His heart was touched by the suffering and pain He encountered everywhere. Matthew 14:14 says: "And when Jesus went out He saw a great multitude; and He was moved with compassion for them, and healed their sick." He routinely got in trouble with the religious Pharisees for healing the sick on the Sabbath. He saw the need, and would rather reach out in love (which is the ultimate law) than try to impress people with how religious he could act. He was known to spend time with drunkards, prostitutes, tax collectors (the bane of society!) and was continually in the company of the poor. The people who followed Jesus weren't typically the rich, uppity people - but those who were downtrodden, blue-collar, poor, nothing-better-to-do individuals. Sometimes they just hung around to see what miracle he would do next and to get a free meal! So what I'm really getting at here, is that Jesus was a compassionate person. I think if Jesus had come in a more technologically advanced time, He'd be tweeting all about the issues of today! Hmm... there's a new one: WWJT? What Would Jesus Tweet?

I think it's pretty fair to say that most people know there is a difference between pity and compassion. But for comparison's sake, let's look at their definitions:

Pity: sympathy or sorrow felt for the sufferings of another

a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering

Pity is normal - we all feel sorry for others at some point in life. Compassion moves beyond pity and desires to be a helping hand, to effect change. Jesus didn't spend His life on earth feeling sorry for people, He always offered them hope, and enabled them to change.

So we're left wondering just what we can do - how on earth do we show compassion to people on the other side of the world? Should we do anything at all?

The second most important commandment in the Bible, next to loving God, is to "love your neighbor as yourself" (Mark 12:31) Are the suffering Japanese people our neighbor? Is war-torn Libya our neighbor? (I won't even get into the details of loving our neighbor here at home, that's another topic for another blog!)

I would argue that if you have the ability to observe the suffering of another individual, you are close enough to be their neighbor. When Jesus told the story of the good Samaritan, He talked of how various people walked by a robbed, beaten man on the road. The first two, although maybe more culturally obligated to this man, looked the other way and dismissed themselves from the need. They chose not to help. The Samaritan, a man who was not religiously inclined to do the right thing, had compassion. Jesus finished the story by saying: "So which of these three do you think was a neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?" (Luke 10:36) The generous man acted as a neighbor, thus fulfilling the law of love.

I think because we aren't physically close to the suffering, that perhaps we can argue that we are not responsible for these people, and we are not their "neighbor". But I don't believe that is the Christian response we ought to take. My concern is that every time we close ourselves off to the needs and suffering of others, even those who are far away, we are hardening our hearts and inhibit the compassion of God from flowing from us in our local sphere of influence.

Living compassionately means being willing to become "inconvenienced" by the problems of others. It means taking your valuable time and effort, and quite possibly your money, and giving it with no expectation of return.

This challenges me to not ignore the situation, and to be willing to become involved. Firstly, it is always within my ability to pray for others; to pray for relief from their suffering. Yet in offering up a prayer, I think I ought to be willing to ask "What should I do, Lord?" He may not always have a specific task in mind. He may not be leading me to give money to every charity and every problem. But I believe it is an essential element of my Christian walk to consider the need and ask if I should do something. It is essential that I have a willingness.

To sum up my thoughts, I think it is legitimate to realize we can only help according to our ability. I know that you could give and give and give everything you have, and there would still be thousands of other problems that could use your money or time and help. I noticed something in the book of Acts that seems to help with this issue:

One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.) The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea. -Acts 11:28, 29

In this situation, they were called upon to help others - but the key is that they helped "each according to his ability". This is practical advice, and makes a lot of sense.

In the end, I still am still stuck with the emotional aspects of caring for others. This is difficult. This is inconvenient. I don't know how I can hope to reconcile in my mind all the cares and pain of this world. I can't. But I will keep on caring. I will allow my heart to be moved by compassion; to help according to my ability and conviction.

Monday, March 21, 2011


I ran my first 10 K race the other day. It was at night, and that was both a strange feeling - to not be able to fully see one's surroundings - and thrilling. I was surrounded by hundreds (actually over 2000) other contestants, and we ran through the valley on the river pathways, though trees and gullys and along the abandoned roadways. All you could hear for miles was the slapping of running shoes on the asphalt, and the labored breathing of competitors. It almost felt primal, like running among a pack of wild animals - all seeking the same prize! Some of us ran for pleasure, and the sheer enjoyment of being among so many others on a beautiful winter night. Others ran to conquer - whether that meant earning a position in the top ranks, or to conquer their own personal giants.

I ran hard. I ran well. The last leg of the race involves a steep uphill climb, out of the river valley, and by then many people were walking. I refused to give in to the burning of my muscles and the feeling that my energy was depleted. Finally, at the top of the hill, I could catch my breath, but I knew the finish line was close. I managed to find the strength deep inside me; strength that had more to do with my mind and emotions than my physical self and I sprinted to the finish line! I passed quite a few people in those last moments, and I was satisfied knowing that I had given it my all.

On the other side, among the swarms of other spent competitors and their supportive families and friends, I suddenly felt extremely weak and faint. My muscles were twitching, my head felt light and I was dizzy. Had there been anything other than the street to collapse onto, I probably would have ended up sprawled out, totally depleted of energy.

Oh the feelings... I was in a place of utter contentment. For all my hard work, I had little to show for other than my souvenir sweater and an orange racing bib with the number "3355" on it. The contentment came from deep within, bubbling up from inside. It was a state of peaceful euphoria - the kind that money can't buy, and others can't give to you.

The dictionary defines contentment as: peace of mind; mental or emotional satisfaction.

In the Bible we read: "Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content:" (Phil. 4:11) In my lifetime of up and downs, joys and trials, I have learned that there is a secret to being at ease with life. People have commented time and time again on how calm I am, and how I can be seemingly relaxed in spite of turmoil and upheaval. I would attribute much of this to contentment.

When we lived in Thailand, we inadvertently "adopted" and cared for a young female cat. After a couple months of Dan feeding this little kitty leftovers from our dinner, and fish from the wet market, she was beginning to look quite rotund! I accused Dan of spoiling this cat and "What will happen we when go back to Canada - then she'll starve!" but he took pity on her regardless. Soon after we noticed her improved weight, we realized she was indeed pregnant. She was a shy and wild kitty, who only occasionally allowed us to pet her - so we tried to come up with a way to provide shelter to her for when her kittens would be born. We ended up leaving a few cardboard boxes out on our porch, hoping that she would accept one of them as shelter.

One day we discovered that she had birthed some kittens in the night. Sadly, one of the kittens was stillborn and we removed it from the box, but there were 3 other tiny little kitties, snuggled next to their tiny young mother. Have you ever seen a mama cat nursing her kittens? She will be stretched right out, with her eyes closed into perfect little slits and you can hear the subtle roar of a contented purr. Here was our poor little 'third-world-nation' slum kitty, nestled in a cardboard box, surrounded by ravenous bugs and cockroaches and ants - in a state of utter contentment. Calm, peaceful, quiet and not a care in the forefront of her mind as she nursed her new litter.

(We gave the kitty and her babies shelter in our home for the next couple of months until she could begin to teach her kittens how to survive outdoors.)

I have had times in my life where nothing makes sense. I have looked at my situation, and had no clue how things would ever improve and yet, deep inside I feel peace and contentment. This spans beyond reason, and steps into the position of faith and trust in a loving God. Then there have been the high points of life where it seems that the sun is shining down on me and the world's "all as it should be". Those are wonderful times to feel contentment, and it's also a natural out spring for praise and thanksgiving.

No matter what, we are instructed by God's word to learn contentment. I don't think this means that you are obligated to ignore when things are going wrong and deny that you are in pain. This life is certainly full of it's share of pain and struggles. What I think it means, however, is that we are rooted in something greater and deeper than this emotionally draining world.

Consider this proverb:

You can't find firm footing in a swamp, but life rooted in God stands firm.
(Proverbs 12:3)

If you honestly think that your emotional well-being should be directly connected to your success in this life, I think you will be gravely disappointed. Life seems to give us stability and a foundation about as firm as a swamp.

When you look at an enormous, old tree, you might see a glimpse of the storms it has faced in it's lifetime. The trunk may be gnarled and there maybe be "scars" where branches were broken by the wind. But it grows and reaches towards the sun; tall, majestic and enduring. What you don't see are the deep, widespread roots. A mighty tree must dig deep and have far spread roots if it is to withstand wind and drought. In our own lives, I believe it is the foundational truths that we cling to, that maintain us through every season of life. You can't just wait for the high times to give you a boost. There needs to be something deeper and greater from which you pull your strength.

My contentment is in a God who loves me unconditionally. I know that it is not about me measuring up, and doing the right things. I know that my performance is not going to be graded before he "measures out" his love for me. What it comes down to, is my acceptance of His love. The contentment I feel is usually related to feeling fully satisfied with myself - which can be attained temporarily by my achievements - or, can be a lasting, complete contentment based on my revelation of God and His acceptance of me. We all want life to make sense, and I think when you have the right perspective, it truly does make sense.

Many years ago, a friend of mine wrote a slogan on my Bible notebook as a reminder to me. It said: No God, no peace. Know God, know peace.

Do you know Him? If you do, then are you getting to know Him better? I assure you, when you find Him, you will know peace and you will experience great contentment.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Running On Empty

I made a huge mistake... let me tell you about it.

My husband and I decided to squeeze in a "late-night" workout at the gym, right after the kids were tucked in bed (and monitored by their Aunt and Uncle). The problem though, is that I had been extremely busy in the hours prior to this - running kids to piano lessons, then going to their special AWANA car race event. I had eaten a small sandwich around 4:30, then had snacked on some super-salty, definitely not good for you, popcorn and a couple of juice boxes during the kids' race. As a side note, in lieu of having our 14 month old operate as a vacuum and eat up the popcorn that was all over the floor at the event, I gave the little guy a small bag with some popcorn. Let's just say it was like crack! I don't think he'd ever had anything so salty and artificially enhanced in his life (and I'll do my best to prevent it from occurring again in the near future!)

Anyway, I had consumed little more than a chemically enhanced, hydrogenated oil product, salt and a handful of corn kernels, along with a couple little juice boxes and we were off to the gym.

I began my workout with gusto, ready for some serious training for my upcoming 10K race that was fast approaching. Something was wrong though... about 10 minutes into running, I was feeling strangely weak and nauseated. My legs felt like they had lead weights strapped to them, and I just couldn't seem to keep up my normal comfortable speed. I felt really unhappy and unmotivated. I wondered why I was struggling so much when it hit me - I was hungry! The sandwich I had consumed in the afternoon had long since been depleted of energy, and the popcorn and juice - well that was a complete mistake! I dragged my feet halfheartedly through my workout, and cut down on my time and distance. Once we were home, I ate like a ravenous wolf, having learned my lesson!

I began to consider how "running-on-empty" has such an effect on our overall performance and state of emotion. While this may be obvious when it comes to our physical being, it applies as well to the state of our soul and spiritual well-being. When you are re-fueling on a constant basis with prayer, scripture, and active meditation of God's truth, it makes sense that you would be in a healthy state spiritually; ready to face a challenge, not easily distracted or worn down by life's cares. When you do not prioritize your spiritual needs, your mood is prone to swinging up and down, you are more likely to resist challenge and growth, and the idea of putting out effort to help others is probably exhausting.

So you say that you regularly attend church, and that sees to your spiritual needs? Unfortunately, I think this is a mistake many believers make. I think Christians can treat church a lot like a cinema. They come in with the crowd, ready to see the "Feature Presentation". They may even splurge on something extra to munch on (that is often of little nutritional value). It's fast, easy and accessible, and that is the way we like it! Do you see a connection at all with church? I believe it is possible that we can learn from the sermon, and once in a while be granted a life-changing revelation during a Sunday service. However, just like most movies you can watch, the contents of Sunday are probably not going to stick with you beyond a few hours or maybe a few days. At least, that's how it ends up without any further effort on your part.

If you were any sort of athlete, and could only fuel up once a week... what kind of medals would you win? Oh wait, you'd be dead! Sure, it's not exactly like physical food - the nourishment we need from God is deeper, and carries us farther and in different ways. However, it is imperative that if you want to grow and change; if you are seriously seeking to live the Christian life and want to experience the adventure that God has in store for you - then you MUST look at both your "diet" and your spiritual appetite!

I understand that some people just lack the resolve or desire to earnestly seek God and make prayer and Bible study a priority. In that case, I would challenge you to look at your life and see what is plugging you up - to put it bluntly. Are you filling up on "junk" that takes the place of God in your life? I heard someone explaining the reason for fasting and it make a lot of sense to me. If you really crave something and have a hard time putting it down or letting go of it, then it has power over you. This could be video games, music, sweets, junk food, Facebook, anything... By fasting these things, you re-enforce that the most important thing in your life is your relationship with Jesus. You shouldn't crave anything more than Him, and nothing should have that power over you, to control you.

It's not enough to rely on others to feed you spiritually. It's not enough to coast along on last month's prayer time or Bible reading. If you really want to race well, you have to eat well! Remember what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:24 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And Hebrews 12:1 also talks about us running the race with endurance. This doesn't come from a "dine-and-dash" Christianity where we "do our time" in the pew on Sunday, and hope it carries us through the week.

One of the ways that has really changed the way I receive from Sunday services, is the fact that I meet with other people and discuss the sermon on a weekly basis. Suddenly, by reviewing the scriptures, and putting my own efforts and thoughts into the theme of the sermon, I am able to retain so much more!

Apart from that, I know that I can fill myself up spiritually in many different ways. There are countless books and online resources available to us, unlike any generation before! We have so many ways to "fill up on God", and yet we often don't. However, back to the popcorn - I think that only listening to what other people have dug out of God's Word, is a lot like only eating popcorn. It is really easy, and will carry you for a short time, but it doesn't exactly "stick to your ribs". When you dig into the Word for yourself, processing the scriptures bit by bit and allowing it to settle in your heart, there is something more lasting and "meaty" taking place. I'm not writing off the value of people who can teach and minister to you. We can learn so much... but really, what I'm trying to say is that you can always take it a step further. Don't just sit in front of the TV watching "Best Body Boot Camp Workout". You have to actually get up, and go through the motions yourself if you want the benefits. The same goes with the principles in God's Word. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (James 1:22)

So, from now on, when I'm planning to work out, I'll be paying attention to what I've eaten. And since I want to move forward in the purposes and plans of God for my life, I plan to pay attention to my spiritual diet as well.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Missing Persons Report

Case Name/Number: CWR11275

Missing Person Report


The MPR provides a format to collect information in an efficient and coherent manner and is used to support a missing person investigation. It may also be used as a guide for conducting an interview. Information used to complete the form may come from multiple sources and from multiple interviews. Use a separate form for each interview and collate the information in a master file. If there is more than one missing person associated with this case, use a separate form for each subject.

Last seen:

Approximately 12 years ago

General Appearance:

Attractive, modernly dressed woman with an artistic flair.

Distinguishing marks:

Some freckles and a couple small scars - no stretch marks to be seen

Describe all items the subject may have been carrying such as pocketbook, wallet, backpack (describe contents of each), cell phone, keys, pocket knife, pager, camera, weapon, etc.

Subject is likely carrying a backpack containing art pencils and a sketch pad. The backpack may also contain hand-written sheets of music, and various books.

General Mental Health:

The subject is of sound mind - She is known to be creative and bright.

Additional Information and Comments:

This person went missing shortly after becoming married. The spouse is not considered a suspect in the disappearance of the subject.

The subject liked to frequent obscure coffee shops where she would indulge in local music, and write poetry. She was known to keep a journal. She was known to spend hours a day immersed in musical pursuits, and for a period of time was involved in a band.

Any information leading to the whereabouts of this missing person would be considered strictly confidential. We do not need your name, just your information.


I've lost someone! Long before I had children, there was this soulful, artistic, creative person who had time for art and music and who wrote nonsense in a journal. Somehow, having one baby (and then 5 more), has transformed me to a different person altogether. I have stretch marks, wrinkles, and I think even a few white hairs! I don't stay up super late at Denny's drinking coffee with my artist friends. I don't have time to make sure I'm dressed in the latest fashions, with my hair done perfectly. Often I just make sure I have a clean face and pull my hair back into a ponytail.

Lamenting aside, the person I have become isn't a monster. (At least, not usually.) I've learned to organize a houseful of people and become the master-scheduler - keeping everyone on time, and looking half-decent. I've ascended the Mount Everest of socks, time and time again, without passing out. I've learned to cook fabulous food for a hoard of people, on a shoestring budget. My art consists of child-like drawings and paintings, as I hold a baby in one arm and paint or draw with the other, alongside my children as they do art. My music is most often lullabies - sung while snuggled next to a cuddly preschooler as I put him down for a nap. My coffee is a requirement, when I wake up in the morning - it's no longer an accessory to being "artsy".

For now, it's more about time not belonging to me. I've lent it out to 6 little people, and a husband whom I love dearly. Someday, I'll wonder where everyone has gone, (everyone but my spouse, that is), and in the back of my mind, stirrings of a former life may emerge. I'll pick up that pencil and sketch a tree or flower... I'll play the guitar until my fingers are numb. I might even find an obscure coffee shop and sip a latte while writing wise words in my journal. For in that re-emergence, I will be able to draw upon the years and memories I've made.

I'm not really lost - just metamorphosing. I'll put effort into what really matters right now, and one day emerge more beautiful, developed and wise for all the effort.

This post is dedicated to my "artist" friends... Whether you have become transformed by parenting as I have, or somehow have managed to maintain your sanity and creativity... may my words be a toast to you!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Liar, Liar...

From behind the nearly closed pantry door, I could hear plastic crumpling. Little feet could be seen on the floor, with the rest of the suspect hidden behind the door, almost fully in the pantry.

"You can't see me" a sweet little voice said, when I came into the kitchen.

I took a quick moment to hold back a chuckle and sternly opened the pantry door. Cracker crumbs and an opened package were in the hands of the cute little culprit.

"Are you stealing crackers?" I questioned in a gravely serious voice.

A big pouty lip came out and in all seriousness, my adorable 3 year old said "No!"

Uh-Oh... time for some discipline!

I find it remarkable the development of dishonesty in the life of a child. There have been times where I've caught a child red-handed and they lack the ability to be devious, so they either bold-faced lie or the truth comes out immediately.

With one of my middle children, (I will not mention names to protect the identity of the innocent!) we can catch her in a lie because her face gets an obvious smirk - she can't keep a straight face! I think in this case, her heart is telling her that what she's doing is wrong and her head is saying "protect yourself from punishment!"

As kids get older, they can become far more devious and intelligent in their dishonesty. I've had far too many times where I honestly believe that something is amiss, but I can't pin down the details and therefore, I can't discipline and correct the situation. (Don't get me wrong, I have good, obedient kids - but my kids are not perfect, and I'm not a perfect parent either!)

So what I've noticed with the older child, is that it becomes less about an outright lie, and more about dishonest actions and behavior. They might counter your chastisement by saying "You never said I couldn't ride my bike in the house!" And that statement may be true, but then I've learned to say "Did you know that you probably shouldn't do that?"

I am realizing that I would like to see more of the character traits of honesty and truthfulness in my home. I guess in a way, this means my focus is more on the positive action than the negative one of lying.

I have also realized that if I would like to see my children emulate a certain characteristic, it is vital that I exude that characteristic in my own life. I should not require something from my children, that I don't display in my own life. That would be hypocritical, and even if you can produce results by saying one thing (whilst doing another), I believe the results would be quite temporary.

This got me thinking to truthfulness and honesty in my own life. Are there areas in my life that I lie to myself? Perhaps it is not as obvious as a clearly definable lie, but more of a general level of dishonesty. Do I act one way at home, and totally different when I'm out among my peers? Am I trying to be someone or something I'm not? I feel that it is worthwhile to be concerned about seeing overall truthfulness in my life and that I am real and honest. If these characteristics are obvious, then it is proof of the genuine person inside.

It is important to remember the One who sees the heart and not just the outward actions... (1 Samuel 16:7) God doesn't just desire us to be truthful, but He will give us the strength to live our lives honestly.

Psalm 51:6 says: Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, And in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom.

When I was in my late teens, I became rather jaded in light of the many "fake" Christians I perceived in the church. I felt like I had been a fake myself for so many years - standing up in front of the crowd, singing, being one of the "leaders", and inside I felt so broken and weary. My heart craved what was real - and if that meant sitting in the back of the church and not being involved for a time, then that's what I would do. At least it was what I really felt like doing, and not just what people expected me to do. When your actions and behavior are being held up by the expectations of others, this is a form of dishonesty. I want to be true, the same person in public as I am in private.

I might not be hiding any major sins, but I don't want to pretend to be what I'm not. If I'm feeling weak, I hope you'll see it and not condemn me (because I'm "supposed to be strong"). We live in a society where appearance is of utmost importance. Everyone wants to look good all the time, have the best cars, house and clothes - and really they are lying about themselves because they bought everything on credit! Ouch... I guess that is another symptom of our dishonest society.

I want to be REAL. I want my behavior to line up with what is in my heart. I have a long way to go, but instead of pretending, I'm ready to lay down my pride and admit that I can only do this with God's help.

It's time to take an good, hard look at our lives. It's vulnerable to be real. The words of Psalm 139: 23,24 have been my prayer and heart's cry many times over the years: Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

When you are willing to take ownership and be responsible for what's going on inside your heart; when you are willing to be real and take an honest look at your life, then you are in a place conducive to positive change.

I'm committed to truth. I'm willing to see reality for what it is, even if it is uncomfortable or hurts. I think what is ironic, is how convinced we are that we can hide our faults. Yet to God, you're just like that little toddler with cracker crumbs all over his mouth - caught red-handed. He sees all and knows all. Despite this, He doesn't look down on us with disgust. He is ready to lovingly direct you on a path of change and growth.

I think the words of Psalm 139 bear repeating, this time in the Message translation:

Investigate my life, O God, find out everything about me; Cross-examine and test me, get a clear picture of what I'm about; See for yourself whether I've done anything wrong - then guide me on the road to eternal life.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Perfectly Safe

Just before bed last night, my husband was quickly checking the news online and exclaimed to me: "There's been a tsunami in Japan!"

We watched in horrified silence at some raw footage posted by a BBC informant that had been uploaded a very short time after the tsunami hit. Cars were floating in a bloated river of water that was filled with the debris of decimated homes and shops. Large apartment complexes were engulfed in flames. Another tragedy, to be added to a long list of this decade's tragedies.

Since my husband and I were married, close to 13 years ago, we have witnessed a lot of catastrophes together. I clearly remember the morning of 9/11, just as millions of other people could tell you exactly where they were and what they were doing when they first heard the news.

I was a week overdue with my second baby. Dan had felt quite ill that morning, and stayed home from his office job in downtown Calgary. I was about to turn on the morning children's shows on PBS for our nearly 2 year old daughter, when I saw the horrifying scene on TV.

I remember sitting with my husband, thinking - it could have been us! What makes us so different from those people? I thought it ironic that he had stayed home from his own downtown, high-rise office job when we were watching a high-rise office building plummet to the ground.

Seeing humans come against tragic events makes you feel small and frail. It is a sobering thought to know that with all of our technology and money and power and influence, we are unable to stop the force of nature.

We are weak, we are human. We all desire the same sense of security.

Back in my teen years, I sought security outside, running wooded paths whether it be rainy or cold. I would run hard and long, until my muscles burned and my feelings seemed to be released in the exertion.

Sometimes feeling secure is found in the company of a loved one - knowing that you have someone beside you who might not be able to make it better, but they won't leave you on your own.

The security I find in God is usually grasped in a quiet, still silence. I am alone, but not alone. My heart is aching, but I know that Someone hears my silent cry.

For some reason I often hesitate to go to God when I'm feeling overwhelmed. I *know* He is the first place I should run to when there's trouble and hurt and stress in my life, but I'd rather slog my way though with self-pity or, go in a completely different direction and become the martyr and glutton for punishment, than give it all up to Him. Whether you choose to give up (not looking for help from God) or choose to grit your teeth and just be strong when the storms of life come, both responses are lacking and won't keep you going indefinitely. We all come to the end of ourselves at one time or another.

When I come to my senses, and remember to look to the ultimate Helper, I am not disappointed. When is the last time you ran to Him with your concerns? When the going gets tough, how do you usually respond?

Jesus told us that this world would be a tough place to exist in. Even as a Christian, you can attempt to forage through life on your own, with occasional acknowledgment of God's involvement in your life. This isn't what was offered to us in our faith walk, however. He promises to never leave us or forsake us - even if you mess up. (Hebrews 13:5,6, 2 Timothy 2:13)

I am constantly strengthened and encouraged by Jesus' words to us in Matthew 11:28-30.

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.

If we are willing to submit to Him and do things His way, there is rest for our souls. Knowing that there is a God who has a better perspective and handle on things is comforting.

I will run to Him.

His huge outstretched arms protect you - under them you're perfectly safe; his arms fend off all harm. -Psalm 91:4 (The Message)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Returning to Rest - Part 2

(If you haven't read Part 1, check it out here)

I left my last post hanging a bit, with the idea that God needs to rest. In fact, He ordained rest and sanctioned it as one of the 10 Commandments! Remember the sabbath, to keep it holy. (Work for six days, and take the last day off, is what we are told.) It is this law that I am currently challenged with - what does it mean for me today?

So is God taking a nap? (And if He does take a nap, I'd love to jump on His "King-sized" bed sometime!) Okay, really, I'm not trying to be disrespectful, but I do really want to understand what it means for God Almighty, All-Powerful, to rest!

The Hebrew word, rest, in the Exodus 20 passage, is: shabath, which can mean "ceased" and also "refreshed." Although scripture clearly shows us that God does not get tired (Isaiah 40:28 and Psalm 121:3,4) I think it is also important to recognize that the very first sabbath occurred the day after God created Adam and Eve. It seems that His intent was to show a habit and pattern to them, for them to emulate.

I wonder if the first sabbath involved Adam and Eve spending quality time with God, talking and walking with Him in the garden? I imagine they also spent a lot of quality time together, enjoying each other's company. This was a day like no other - a day sanctioned for rest and refreshment. A day to cease from creating, fixing, making - working. It was a time to enjoy the fruit of one's efforts. For God, it seemed to be a time to delight in His creation. For Adam, it was a time to enjoy the garden that God gave him to keep, and the wife God had blessed him with. (For Eve, it was a time to be fed peeled grapes and relax on a flower-strewn hillside...)

This principle exists in cycles we see all over our world. Even back in the Roman era, 2000 years ago, they had developed a strategy of crop rotation that involved the soil having periods of rest. By allowing the field to lay fallow, it could replete the nutrients needed to grow healthy, plentiful crops, along with allowing a time for the weeds, pests and disease to be dealt with. Those who tried to grow continuously found that the crop yields declined.

When you are training physically, (as I am doing in running,) your schedule must allow for days of rest. If you try to train continuously without a break for your body to recover and for muscles to repair and strengthen, you are far more prone to injury, and you actually impede your ability to improve.

Even on a more grand spectrum, with our seasons, there is a definite cycle of renewal and growth, followed by rest and slumber. I know I feel like hibernating in the winter with the blanket of snow covering the ground, and the absence of fresh green leaves. This cycle is quite obvious in the climate where I live, but even in the tropics, you see that trees bear fruit for a season, then rest for a season.

We need rest.

I've seen my share of "work-a-holics" in my lifetime, and it is fairly obvious to me that they often miss out on what really matters in life. Often their spouse, children and relationship with God is left on the wayside. Their priorities are slanted to a work ethic that could be reaching for significance, fortune or they may even just trying to make ends meet, but life has a way of speeding up and they end up missing many of the important moments and memory making opportunities.

It was never my intention to dictate a legalistic plan for observing "the Lord's day" once I studied it's significance. Instead my hope was to instigate thought and introspection regarding your current recognition of a sabbath day.

I feel a conviction to change the way I approach my sabbath day. (Whether it be on Saturday, or Sunday, I believe this is more an issue of heart than rules and regulations.) To be honest, I have been living my life without any sense of sabbath at all! Yes, I do attend church on Sunday, putting God at the beginning of my week - but that's pretty much where my "rest" and rejuvenation ends.

What if sabbath became a day where you set aside distractions so you can connect with God and with others? Jesus clearly stated that the most important rule was to love God first, then love others. (Luke 10:27) His life showed this in perfect balance. When the Pharisees were condemning him for his actions on the sabbath (healing people was one of the common complaints they had), I think we can be assured that Jesus was observing the sabbath. He wasn't breaking God's law, but his actions were objectionable when compared to man's laws and ideas of holiness.

If cutting out most of my "work" helps me to focus on what is really important and make this day of the week special, then that is something I will be working on. If I cut out the work, but don't bother to invest in my relationship with God and others, then I've become hypocritical and just like the Pharisees.

According to the New Testament, meeting with other believers is required. Acts 2:46 tells us how they met together daily to pray and eat together. This doesn't seem to give a specific clue as to how we are to treat our sabbath - but talks about the group of believers... a.k.a. the New Testament Church - as something that you are involved with on a daily basis. So, to me then, the sabbath involves others, but unless you spend your whole Sunday (or Saturday) with your church, how you celebrate sabbath is subject to interpretation.

It looks like it would be a good idea to not work on your sabbath day. If you do work on Sunday, I would suggest you take a look at your week to see if you can fit in a day of rest and refreshment at another time. The only concern I would have is that you may not be able to be in fellowship with your family and others the way God intended. Perhaps that is why the idea of sabbath was so ingrained into our society. If everyone knew that a specific day was THE day of rest, then it would be far easier to interact, love and care for each other without the typical work day's distractions.

I think for me, the word distraction is what sums it up. By dedicating one day to my relationship with God and my godly relationship with others, I can fulfill his mandate to rest and refresh and encourage others to do likewise. I must cut out the distractions in order to do this. If cooking a fancy meal, grocery shopping and doing the laundry is going to distract me and take away from this sacred time, then I ought to cut these things out - or at least cut them down as much as possible. I'll still have to take care of my kids, change diapers and feed them - but I don't necessarily have to make sure that all the toys are picked up and the dishes get done right away. Instead of vacuuming crumbs up off the floor, it might be a day to say "No, that doesn't matter right now, but spending quality time with my family does matter."

When you set this time aside, creating a habit of quality connection, I believe it will breed godly discussion. It will be an opportunity to teach what really matters. It will give you the chance to exhort one another and encourage, to build up and create deeper bonds.

In all of this, remember to keep it "holy." This isn't the time to sit down and watch "Terminator" as a family or spend your time in front of technology. This is subject to interpretation of course, as you may feel that a games time on Sunday is of great benefit to your family culture, and brings you closer together. But above all, seek to honor God on this day. Are you doing things as an individual (or family) that show delight in what He has created and given to you? - because those are the the things that give Him delight.

I hope that my post does not come across as sacrilegious, or belittling to your current interpretation of sabbath. I pray that you will see my heart in this, and my desire for you to be closer to the Father; growing more in love with Him every day, and that you would also better learn to love others.

Do Hard Things

I love a challenge. I love to test my limits and try new things. That's why my husband and I have made a hobby of cooking - so we can try the strangest, most obscure foods. That's why we traveled to Thailand with 3 children (and came back 8 months later with 4 children, having given birth to a little girl while living there!). That's why I'm entering a half-marathon this summer. My thrill with doing hard things, is probably what gave me the guts to have a large family - while it's "easy" enough to "produce" 6 children, I know it's a whole other issue to raise them!

We have such a short time to live on this earth and make an impact. I learned quite a few years ago that I did things differently, and at first this bothered me. I often felt that I did not fit in with my peers. Then God spoke to my heart and reassured me about following the path that HE had planned for me, and not trying to do things based on everyone around me. He gave me a motto for life:

"I don't have to be like everyone else".

That's something that has stuck with me. Whenever I wonder why I have to go through the trials I do (often self-inflicted because of a decision we made to do something hard), I remember that I'm not like everyone else, and I have to live according to my specific path. I'm not saying to go out and do something stupid for the sake of creativity, or to be different - but if something challenges you, and you think: "Could I do that?" then maybe it is something to tackle. Don't be afraid of the unexpected! Don't be afraid that you might fail or appear weak... or the worst fate of all - that people will think you are WEIRD. Believe me, it's not as bad as you might think!

While a sense of adventure is a fantastic trait, you don't have to trek to the other side of the planet to do hard things. You don't even have to become a teacher among the troubled inner-city youth to do hard things. Do you know what's hard? Laying down your life on a daily basis - it's not just the once in a while challenges that are hard to do, but giving of yourself to your family and those closest to you, who know you best.

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.
1 Pet 4:
8-11 NIV

However, that doesn't get you off the hook to step up to some other challenges in life. Think about it... what's in your heart to do? Get started, make a plan, don't just dream - act on it.

"Expect great things from God,

attempt great things for God."

-William Carey

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Returning to Rest - Part 1

Recently I was part of a conversation that included what it was like in the "olden days". We were talking about how Sunday has become a day like any other day for most people - all the stores are open, and you can hardly tell that this used to be a day held in reverence. I remember reading the "Little House On A Prairie" series as a child, and I read it again with my kids just a couple years ago. A few times in the books, there is mention of Sabbath. (For future reference, I will be using the terms Sabbath and Sunday interchangeably in this post.) When Laura Ingalls was little, and it was not practical and often not possible to travel through the snow in the winter, they observed the Sabbath as a family.

"On Sundays Mary and Laura must not run or shout or be noisy in their play. Mary could not sew on her nine patch quilt, and Laura could not knit on the tiny mittens she was making for Baby Carrie. They might look quietly at their paper dolls, but they must not make anything new for them. They were not allowed to sew on doll clothes, not even with pins."

"They must sit quietly and listen while Ma read Bible stories to them, or stories about lions and tigers and white bears from Pa's big green book, The Wonders of the Animal World. They might look at pictures, and they might hold their rag dolls nicely and talk to them. But there was nothing else they could do."

(excerpt from "Little House in the Big Woods" by Laura Ingalls Wilder)

One particular Sunday, Laura couldn't stand the quiet any longer and she began to run and shout and play with her little black terrier, Jack. Pa told her to sit and be quiet and she had an outburst "I hate Sundays!" she exclaimed. Pa very sternly told her to come to him, and as you can see from the picture on the right, she knew she had crossed the line! Her Pa was understanding though, and went on to tell her a story about when his father was a child, and how Sundays back then were even MORE strict.

There used to be a time when once a week, shops were closed down and very few people had to work. Soccer and baseball leagues knew better than to schedule games or practice on Sundays, for fear of public outcry and the imminent lack of participants they would encounter. So this conversation got me thinking. First of all, how did the extreme idea of rest on the Sabbath or Sunday become a thing of the past, and is this something I should revisit in my life and in my family? I remember that even a short 25 years ago, when I was a child, there was still a sense of Sunday being a day off; a day of rest. Gradually, over the last couple of decades, this idea has lost it's foothold entirely and even "good Christians" head off to the store to get groceries, go to soccer games or even work on Sunday.

As this idea was brewing in my mind, I happened to come across the following advertisement in a weekly community flyer:
It's no surprise to me that there are many who uphold the idea of Sabbath here in this so-called "Bible-belt" of Alberta. We have a large population of Hutterites, Mennonites and Calvinist (to name a few) families in the surrounding area whom I'm sure are quite mortified with the condition of our sinful society and blatant disregard for "the Lord's day".

One of my first thoughts about the necessity of a rule, is whether it was something that God imposed, or man invented to make us seem more "holy" to God. I don't think you could get any clearer than the 10 Commandments, of which this is number 4. So we are directly asked by God to "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy". I know that many Christian denominations have devised numerous rules, and I won't get into that, and I'm not about to argue about laws. However, when it comes to a specifically spoken command from God, I am not about to argue with it, or try to change or add on to it. In the same way that the remainder of the 10 Commandments still clearly apply to me as a Christian today, I must look at the fourth commandment and re-visit it to consider how it applies to my life.

Here is the commandment from Exodus chapter 20 in it's entirety:

8 "Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. 11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Besides the law about not making idols (which takes up 3 verses), this is the only other command requiring more than one verse to explain. In fact, God uses enough explanation to require 4 verses for this law! I believe that there is something to this rule, beyond God just wanting us to pay Him respect on a certain day of the week. When He describes how He took a sabbath day of rest, I don't think it was because He simply felt he needed a day to be worshiped. The above verses tell us how the LORD rested on the seventh day. So how does God rest, and what does that mean to us?

- This ends my first post on "Returning to Rest", read part 2 by clicking this link! -

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Early Morning Light

I remember a time, in my early childhood, when waking up in the morning was reason to jump up and cheerfully embark on a new day of adventuring. I couldn't wait for morning to come! If I woke up when it was still dark, and the house quiet, I would often quietly dress myself, then climb back into bed under the covers until I heard some noise - any indication at all that I was allowed to get up!

As I became a little older, and I had grown into the responsibility of school, my excitement for mornings did not wane. I was finally "bigger" and could meet new people and learn new things. Mornings were filled with hurried bowls of Rice Crispies and the obligatory blue Tupperware tumbler full of orange juice gulped down before dashing out the door. My brother and I walked together, with my little legs hurrying as quickly as I could go to keep up with his lanky gait.

Somewhere along the years, waking up became more of an effort. When I was in grade 5, my brother was starting grade 7 and we had to go to a new school that had an elementary school and middle school so we could remain together. We began to take the c-train and city bus about 35 minutes every day and had to get up quite a bit earlier. Since we were old enough to wake ourselves, and get our own breakfast, my mom let us be responsible to get to the bus stop on time on our own. With that new schedule began the ever-compulsive disorder of time-gambling. It was hard to get up that early - only to shuffle outside and wait in the cold for a smelly bus full of strangers! How many times could I push the snooze alarm? How late could I get up, and still be on time for the bus? The downward spiral of dreading morning had begun.

In my teen years, I was addicted to sleep, as many growing adolescents can attest to. Fortunate for me, I had began to homeschool in grade 7, and while my mom did require us to be up in the morning "working on schoolwork", I quickly learned to prop my books open on my chest, against my knees while I snoozed on the bed - the appearance of a diligent student, but napping the morning away!

Over the years, I had numerous commitments that had me rising early - whether to attend college classes, get to church early for worship practice, or get to work on time. Now I'm committed to getting up in the morning for a crowd of children who need my attention. I am often tired - and having a young baby is a rightful excuse for exhaustion. However, as my baby is getting older and sleeping all night long, I am quickly losing my excuse for an addiction to slumber.

I LOVE my bed and my husband can attest to this point. I adore clean, new, fresh sheets and I feel like a kid in a candy store when I get a chance to shop for new linens. We recently replaced our mattress (after 12 years on the same mattress, it was time for something new) and we upgraded to a king-sized bed. I hate to brag, but for descriptive purposes, I'll let you know that this bed is AMAZING! It has a euro-top (so basically a huge pillowy top, on top of an already wonderfully comfy mattress). I received some fantastic Egyptian cotton sheets as a Christmas gift last year, so I am set with the perfect sleeping conditions!

Most mornings, I have begun to hear stirrings in the house long before I feel rested and want to get up. To be honest, I shouldn't complain because the noise rarely starts before 8 am. For a family with 6 kids, I understand that is rather miraculous - but we prize our sleep and have worked hard to teach the kids to stay in their rooms and be quiet when they wake up, until the appointed time to come downstairs for breakfast. So, back to waking up in the morning - I often notice the light outside the window, and hear little noises in the house, but I resist waking up with all my might. I will bury my head under a pillow, or cover my ear by flopping an arm over my head... sleeping is just too easy and comfortable and it seems like I never get enough time to myself, to relax!

I've known for quite sometime that this pattern isn't necessarily... healthy. It's not wrong, in essence, but I've wondered at the deeper meaning behind my reluctance to start a new day. I have felt the conviction to "start my day right" and get up before the children, and gather my thoughts; spend some time in prayer and meditation. Yet my bed is far too inviting to leave behind.

A thought has crossed my mind. When I was young, there was excitement with every new day. There was the joy of learning new things, facing new challenges and experiences. As adults, we have many stresses in life to deal with. If you don't get up and go to work, you might lose your job, and if you lose your job, you won't have money to pay your bills, etc., etc. We have responsibilities in the form of children or school or work - and if we don't do it, we are placing an incredible burden on those around us (or things will slide and not get done at all).

Not surprisingly, when I'm on vacation (especially somewhere wonderful and warm), it is difficult to sleep in! I don't want to miss a single minute when I could be out in the sun, playing and having fun. If only I could bottle some of that ambition and package it and sell it! I could make a fortune.

For the time being, there is no magical pill or wondrous trick by which I can motivate myself to jump out of bed every morning. Yet, in understanding the problem does not lie directly with my physical state, but in my mind and emotions, I believe there is an available remedy to give a sense of impetus to my weary self in the morning. Where is the lack of wonder for each new day? Have I been expecting a frustrating, strenuous day or am I looking for adventure and joy?

David wrote Psalm 118:19 which says "This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it." I wonder if that was a true reflection of feeling like everything was great - or, if it was actually a confession and purposeful re-direction of his emotions? That verse is immediately followed by :"O Lord, Save us" so I'll let you draw your own conclusions!

Expectation is key in how you experience life. I talk about it a lot, probably because so much of my life is out of my control. I can't make my kids be good all the time, and I can't stop my babies from teething (and whining all day and crying half the night!). We can't keep people from frustrating us and saying hurtful things. We can't keep our boss from wrongfully accusing us and we can't stop the economy from taking a downturn. It would be very easy to look at all the bad things, and despair, but on the other side of things, there is hope and grace.

If my thoughts were focused on the wrong things, which (I admit) I can tend towards, then of course it will be difficult to get up in the morning and face another day of drudgery.

I don't want to miss another day, though. Each day is a gift from God. If I wrongfully hold fast to things that are beyond my control, and stress out over what is not in my power to change, each day will be a trial beyond bearing. If I truly believe that my life belongs to God, the one who created this universe and loves me beyond measure, then each day is an opportunity to see His blessing and power in my life!

Although it may take putting a timer on my coffee maker to prop me up for a while, and adjust to getting up earlier, I am committed to working on a fresh morning attitude and perspective. Part of that simply involves centering and focusing on what is most important. It involves seeking God and His involvement in my day and my family.

In the early morning light, as I awaken to a new day of possibilities, I will do my best to clear the cobwebs from my mind and declare: This is the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it. (Hopefully it will NOT be to the tune of that popular chorus we used to sing in churches back in the early 90's... but if that inspires you, go for it!)