Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Erosion by Fear

Last night, I made a mistake.  I was having trouble sleeping and I have a bad habit of having my phone beside the bed.  I am getting old enough (ugh) that I can't always focus enough to read a book if I wake up in the night but it's easy to scroll through Facebook posts.  Not only did I make the mistake of looking at Facebook, I made the mistake of reading comments.  When will I ever learn?

The post was on Shane Claiborne's feed and he had posted a lament for the loss of the 12 year old shot by police in, I believe it was, Cleveland.  As I read, I was stunned to see that a third of the posts were defending the actions of the police officer.  I quickly put the phone down and tried to get back to sleep but it was too late, my brain was engaged.

At first, I just felt helpless rage, you know, the kind you feel when you are watching a movie and the hero is being treated SO UNFAIRLY and you know that you can do absolutely nothing about it.  I composed angry retorts to the posters in my brain, knowing that were I to write anything, I would probably just get slammed for being a bleeding heart liberal communist constitution hater Canadian who has no understanding of how the world works.  Then, all of a sudden, as sometimes happens so late at night, I heard it - fear.

In the Bible, "Fear Not" or "Do Not Be Afraid" is said over and over and over again.  As I get older, I come to appreciate more and more that God has a depth of understanding of the human character that is deeper than that of any human being and that when God tells us not to do something, it truly is for our own good, not just because He likes to impose rules.  Fear is a natural human emotion and it can be very useful at times to prevent us from putting ourselves in peril.  On the other hand, it also leads us to stupid decisions, panic and reverting to the reptilian parts of the brain that control our fight or flight responses.  As a teacher, I have heard again and again that we can't teach when we are dealing with children who are in that fear mode because the parts of their brains that are capable of higher level thought shut down and everything happens based on instinct.  As I pondered the situation in the U.S., it hit me that so much of this insanity is based on fear:

-fear of anyone different than we are
-fear that if we don't have powerful weapons, we will be victims
-fear that if we don't prove our strength, we will be seen as weak and tormented
-fear of "bad neighbourhoods"
-police fear of the potential for violence and the risk in their jobs (which is somewhat warranted)
-fear by visible minorities that they will be victimized by the police officers who should be there to protect them
-fear of the loss of stuff
-fear that it is impossible to break the cycle of poverty and resorting of various life choices that lead to crime
-fear that if we help to support those living in poverty that we will somehow be "taken" or "used" by those who really don't need
-fear that if we impose restrictions on weapons that we will be overtaken by government (or some other enemy - I'm Canadian so I truly don't get this one)
-fear that if we venture out of our own locked enclaves that we will be hurt or killed or have our stuff taken

Fear.  It's so destructive.  We are going to feel fear, that's part of being human, but if we allow our entire lives and societies to be ruled by fear, we will continue to sink deeper and deeper into violence and despair.  Jesus did not allow fear of anything to stop him from reaching out, from touch the leper, from confronting wrong, from speaking with honesty and He truly had a reason to fear.   We can't allow our fear to turn us into animals, striking first to prevent being hurt ourselves and barricading ourselves from anyone different.  Sadly, many of those who most aggressively battle against peace and compassion are those who claim to NOT be afraid but whose fear is the most corrosive of all. 

It's time to admit to our fear, to face it and to accept that it can't be allowed to make our decisions for us.  We owe that to the dead children whose lives were taken entirely because of the evils of fear.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Yarn Along

Each week, Ginny, over at Small Things, hosts the wonderful "Yarn Along."  Each participant is invite to share their knitting and reading from the past week.  I have met some of my favourite authors there and most certainly some of the wonderful patterns that have become favourites!  It's also a wonderful place for inspiration!

I can't say that it has been an especially inspiring week or either knitting or reading - it's been all about stolen moments in between the concerts and rehearsals at church and at school, hosting family and trying desperately to finish the shopping.  So much for a quiet, contemplative Advent season.  Anyway, I did manage to sneak a bit in so I will share!

In terms of reading, I have been keeping up with my pattern of skipping around between books and of buying when I am already inundated with things I would like to read.  This week, I picked up Rebekah's Treasure again, by Sylvia Bambola.  I don't know where I stumbled across this book and I didn't actually think I would enjoy it given that I am not a huge fan of historical fiction but I must say, this book keeps my attention and it's hard to put it down for reasons other than going to sleep!  One of my goals this holiday is to do a lot of reading and I hope this will be one of the first books I finish.

The other interesting new addition to my reading list is Saint Francis of Assisi by G.K. Chesterton.  I was buying some things from ChristianBook.com and I started doing some very random browsing and somehow came across this.  Given my love of animals and of some of the prayers accredited to St. Francis, I've always been interested in him and this book seems to be a classic.  I've read the introduction and I'm looking forward to having time when I can focus a bit more when I read over the holidays!

In terms of knitting, I am frantically trying to get a few last minute gifts made.  I has several people for whom I need gifts but who aren't people that I necessarily feel comfortable buying gifts for (e.g., my friend's mother who will be there on our Christmas Eve annual dinner).  I love have a knitted gift at a time like that as I find it seems more personal than, say, a box of chocolate and shows care without being too personal when I just don't feel that I know the person well enough.  I've been making a few of the "Reversatile" cowls, which are a cinch to knit and work up really quickly.  I finished the claret coloured one last week and have the cream coloured on almost done.  I hope to get one or even two more done before Christmas, which may be a bit too ambitious but we will see!

Friday, December 11, 2015

Advent 2, post 3 - Loud and Clear

I was going to start this post off by saying that I really didn't hear anything from God today but then, I realised that would be lying.  I am hearing something loud and clear from God - SLOW DOWN.  I'm exhausted.  Dh was out at school concerts the last two nights and in addition to all of the regular parenting duties, acting as chauffeur to children and walker to dogs, I have also been trying to do Christmas baking in the little gaps in the schedule.  I was on "Teacher Treats" at work this week (several times a year, along with two other staff members, we bring treats for the staff on Friday), I made the treats for Dh's meeting Tuesday night, birthday treats for my dad from tomorrow (we are off to his 70th birthday tomorrow evening) AND treats to take to a Christmas tree cutting we are attending.  Add to that a band practice on Tuesday night for the performances Sunday and the knowledge that we will not have a moment of peace this weekend thanks to concerts, parties and family visits, I am dropping for exhaustion.  There is no way to hear God because I've been too busy running.  Clearly my prayer (and my word for 2016) will have to do with scaling back, quieting and restructuring to create a life that is a little less frenzied.  There is so much helping and reading and loving that I would like to do and at this frantic pace, there isn't room.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015


You know those times when you are just so emotionally wrenched and you can't really think straight?  That's me today.  It's not exactly that it was a bad day, just a day that was very powerful, I think that's the best way to describe it.  God definitely got my attention today.

When I came home from work, I was in a really grouchy, tired mood.  It's almost the winter break and the kids at school are nuts and I am tired.  We are up to our ears in prep for Christmas - rehearsals for the Christmas concert/service at church and rehearsals at school for the concerts next week and the fact that Dh is out three evenings for concerts at his school.  All this busyness has gotten to me and when you add in the fact that the weather has been so strangely English (too warm, too cloudy, too foggy, no sun), I am feeling very overwhelmed and TIRED.

On Wednesdays, I have that funny little prayer group I have mentioned before.  It's a bizarrely eclectic group of people and yet it's been really enriching for me.  As I drove there tonight, after dropping the kids off at Awana, I was kind of hoping for the chance to vent to someone a bit about how I was just worn out.  I was not expecting what happened.  It was supposed to be a casual, pre-Christmas visit.  One of the women asked a question of two of the older women (they aren't old by any stretch but they have children in their 20's and they probably have ten years or more on the rest of us) about the difference between having daughters and sons.  Well, for one of the women, that broke open the floodgates about some horribly upsetting parenting challenges she was having with her young adult children.  It ended up with her in tears, the rest of us crying and we prayed over her for about 15 minutes.  I cannot describe the power of that time.  It was overwhelming to be party to her pain (she really does have some challenging issues to deal with) and not to have the right words to say and yet to feel that there was power in showing her that she is not alone.  I have never cried like that in a prayer situation and now, I just feel absolutely exhausted but also strangely invigorated.  It really felt as if this prayer group was meant for this purpose - moms not being alone in their parenting struggles and being able to help to hold each other up.  I pray for this mother that she finds some peace and I pray that we are able to be there for her.

I don't know that this is an Advent message but I truly do feel that God was reminding me, yet again, that we are not alone, that one of the greatest gifts of being a Christian is that we do not walk alone and that there is such power and blessing in feeling as if you are helping someone else.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Advent Week 2 - What is God Saying to Me Today?

I love Shauna Niequist.  There is something about her writing that connects with me in such a personal way.  The other day, I was looking for something to listen to while I walked the dogs and I decided to search for a podcast that might feature her.  I was in luck.  I came upon an Advent message from Willow Creek last year (I often listen to Willow Creek - I love them). 

The message was about John the Baptist and the fact that he came to prepare the way for the Lord.  He gave people four major directions -

10 “What should we do then?” the crowd asked.
11 John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”
12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”
13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.
14 Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”
He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”
Luke 3: 10 - 14 (NIV)

Shauna called us to prepare for the arrival of Jesus by examining our own lives.  I won't say more right now, I don't want to do it an injustice but if you want to listen to it, you can find it here.

At first, after listening, I felt as if some of it really didn't apply to me and that my biggest challenge in relation to John's call was to stuff.  Yes, I have so much and I am often overwhelmed by how much we have packed into this house that we "need".  I know I need to get on to cleaning out and that is definitely on the cards for January.  It didn't really resonate as the more important message for me and while I wanted to focus on John and preparing for Christmas, I wasn't sure what it meant to me.

That's changed over the last two days.  It's funny how God can show me in unexpected ways where my strongholds are.  If you have been around here long, you know that a bit more than two years ago, I had a really challenging relationship in my life explode.  I am not even entirely sure how to describe it.  This was a friendship that had happened with the mother of a friend of PK.  I was always a bit uncomfortable with her (she was VERY forceful that we were going to be best friends and was constantly asking me to do things that would take me away from my family and truly didn't understand that given my work schedule, I don't want to be out all of the time).  I am an introvert and I have issues around needing very clear boundaries with people and I just assumed that this was my being difficult around that but I felt very uncomfortable.  She became friends with several of my friends (when she wasn't saying nasty things about them behind their backs), started to come to our church and wanted our kids to be best friends.  I tried for a long time and then, finally, after several episodes of her really having a go at me about something, I cut the tie.  I have never done anything like that before and I was heartsick about it.  I am such a pleaser and I really struggled with how to deal with it - where is the line between compassion and self-care?  To what degree did I have to put myself in harm's way emotionally to be a good person?  I really struggled and after the blow up, I was devastated.  I didn't know how to act and after a lot of talking with Dh, he convinced me that I just had to do what he uses as his life's mantra - "keep your side of the street clean."  I tried to be polite and kind, to continue to give her clothing for her daughters (which I had been doing for a couple of years), to not discuss it with friends (even though I felt betrayed by a few who had sat by and watched her be horribly nasty to me and while they said they felt that she "had problems", they didn't seem to mind as long as it was directed at me and not them).  I became really depressed about it and worried that it was my fault and that I hadn't tried hard enough to be nice.  Especially given that she became very, very close with the ministers at the church we had eventually left because we had felt excluded and unwelcome, it was a very dark time for me and a time that led me to doubt myself in really upsetting ways.

Fast forward two years.  I am in a new church that is much more healthy for me and for my family.  It's a church that is open, loving and active and in which I am called to do what I believe and to be out in the world, not sheltered in this little church and everything outside of it is undervalued.  We have moved on and several of our friends what were mutual friends with this person have also cut off contact with her because of similar issues.  We have cleared our lives a bit in terms of people who don't really connect with us and have made more room and built new relationships with people whose values align more closely with ours and who enrich our lives in many ways.  I have learned to see her picking up our kids at daycare and to smile and say hello and it doesn't bother me (much) anymore, even when she turns her back on me and refuses to see me.  Our daughters play at school and I'm fine with that.  I thought I had moved on and I try to pray for her at least once a week, that she find happiness and that the church she is at meets her needs and that she finds comfort and love and support in her friendships.  I really thought I had moved on and my self esteem had healed a bit.

Every so often, though, something comes along and it reawakens all of my hurt and worry.  She blocked me on Facebook after she asked for some bricks on a local buy and sell site and I offered her some we had (I don't know why...) and at the time, that was one of the things that really hit my hurt buttons.  I would see that there were four comments on a post that I knew would interest her and I could only see three or people would tag her and yet things would be hidden.  No big deal, right?  Not for me.  Every time I saw that, I felt like a failure and like it must be my fault.  I ended up hiding everyone mutual on my feed because it just opened the wounds each time it happened.  This past weekend, it happened again and all of a sudden, the hurt came back and I thought it had already gone.  I do find it a tiny bit reassuring because she appeared in an attack on someone from church who posted a question on our local buy and sell group along with the group of mutual friends.  It's so stupid and I feel so much like a fourteen year old girl who can't get past a hallway dispute but it really activates all my insecurities and shallow though it may be, it hurts.

God is clearly telling me that I need to do more to move forward.  I think prayer is in order and I have to make some important decisions, too.  To what degree does forgiveness mean having to have some kind of contact?  How do I find a way to deal with this that is healthy for me but also leaves me with no guilt?  If there is something that is keeping me away from full relief in my value in Jesus, this is it so I need to work it through now.  Looking back on the entire situation, I have known that this was something I needed to have happen - I have worked so hard to avoid conflict and to avoid people who made me feel lesser for most of my life.  After 43 years, I need to figure out how to be with people who don't work for me and be both compassionate and kind and safe emotionally myself.  God puts us in situations that break us so that we can heal better than before.  I just keep feeling as though I don't know how...

Friday, December 4, 2015

Advent 6 - Quiet

I am exhausted tonight.  I am often tired but this is that bone deep, gritty-eyed, unable to listen to one more rendition of Rudolph in the car without totally losing my stick kind of tired.  There's a lot of guilt that goes with this tired - it shortens my fuse, removes my patience, dulls my reason and blunts my compassion.

The really pathetic part is that, at least in part, it's my fault.  Our work-week tends to start slow(er) and pick up the pace as the week rushes on.  By Friday, the endless hours spent waiting for children at the barn and the rink, the wonderful but sleep depriving hours spent in fellowship and the lack of time to just be in my skin and listening for God have totally wiped me out.  On Monday, I did my daily walk at lunchtime with the iPod off and then, when I turned it on at the end of the walk, I listened to lectio divina (a post for another day).  It helped me to listen for God and to actually feel a call to do something.  By today, I was listening to mindless stuff and just trying to keep one foot in front of the other.  There was no time or energy for listening, just the desire to dull my mind to coast through the day.

That, in itself, is a lesson.  If I'm too tired to listen for God during this season of listening and preparing, something is horribly wrong.  I don't actually pretend to have an answer but I think it's time to start looking for one.  Is it that I need to say no?  Is it that I need to sleep less and meditate more?  Is it that I need to find a way to carve out a bit more quiet time?

Honestly, I don't know but I need to find the answer because I know this pace is taking years off my life.

Advent 5

I'm late with this post but it was for a great reason!  We have a Thursday night Bible study group with a few women from my church.  It's a really small group (my favourite way of doing things - too many people and my introvert heart starts to quake and I worry I've said something stupid).  We are doing a Beth Moore Study (Breaking Free) and it's time each week that I treasure.  It is so important to me that I have a chance to connect with other moms, especially when it's other moms with kids of similar ages and values that are similar to mine.  It's so important that we have time with other Christian women on our journey.  I am not, in any way, saying that we ONLY have Christian friends - if I'm totally honest, with a couple of exceptions, all of my closest friends are actually not Christians.  That's o.k. with me because funnily enough, my non-Christian friends share many of the same values as I do and are people who are all about loving and fairness and compassion and kindness and justice.  Our reasons for it are just a bit different.

I do have to say, though, that I really feel that God has been reminding me of the importance of having fellowship with other believers sometimes.  I didn't have much of that growing up - we tended to be in mainline churches with few kids and I never had Christian friends at school.  It was rather lonely and while I ended up with incredible friends who were respectful of my faith, we weren't on the same journey.  I always felt a bit of a gap in my life, a need to have support and mentorship from women of faith that I could lean on when I was feeling lost.  Miraculously, God has planted us in a place where I have so much of that and I can't express how much that has changed my life.  I can sit with people and talk about struggles and challenges of parenting as a Christian parent - balancing faith and believe with respect for others, the ongoing fight against the worst of the world (e.g., greed, materialism, the message to our girls that their sole value is as an object of use for men) and how to allow our kids to have freedom to learn and make mistakes while also shielding them from things they are not ready to battle.  I always stay too late on Thursdays and Fridays at school as I teach, I'm relying heavily on caffeine to get me through but it is with a smile on my face!

I feel as though God has been impressing upon me the importance of having fellowship (and of our need to work to ensure that opportunities for fellowship happen).  That's something that I don't want to forget in the busyness of my daily life.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Yarn Along

I haven't been present in the Yarn Along for a while and I have missed it so much.  I love visiting with Ginny and all of the wonderful knitters/readers who share some much inspiration.  Since blogging has been one of my aims for this Advent season, I thought I might try to add in my Yarn Along post as well and even try to visit other people's posts, too!

This fall, my reading has been all over the place.  I have had six or seven books on the go at once and I have bounced from book to book like a basketball.  It's great for my interests but it's terrible for actually finishing anything. 

First of all, in terms of fiction, I have been reading The Small Rain by Madeleine L'Engle.  She is one of my favourite authors and I have loved her work since I was in my teens.  I have made it my goal to start buying her adult novels and to read through and collect.  So far, this book has not disappointed!  It's definitely a book of a time and place and clearly has several elements of L'Engle's own life. 

In terms of faith, I have been meandering through An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor.  I think I can be forgiven for taking this one slowly.  In it, she outlines different spiritual practices that can bring you closer to God.  Rather than read it through all at once, I read a chapter or two a week and see what it has that I can bring to my daily life.  I find her so readable and this book has been really inspiring.

My latest non-fiction read is not exactly a light read and has been pretty challenging to me at times, The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.  I am not altogether sure how to understand some of the long term issues of crime and poverty and the relationship to the justice system for certain groups.  This exploration of race and the American justice system has been challenging but has also laid out the number of challenges faced by certain minorities in the U.S.  I don't know how families cope or how, as a mother, you could stay sane sending your child out into that world.

Finally, a friend lent me Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.  I have been hearing so much about her from other people with similar tastes to mine.  While I am not really a writer, there is something about her style that is really speaking to me.

My knitting has been fairly boring of late because I am in hard-core Christmas mode.  The orange hat came after I had to make my son several hats - he had lost all of his and I needed several to have ready as we ran out to the school bus each morning.  After I finished his, I read about the 25 000 toques project in which someone is organizing to ask knitters to knit a hat for each of the 25 000 Syrian refugees who will be coming to Canada in the next several months.   Each volunteer knitter is asked to write a letter of welcome to Canada to be given with the hat.  I LOVED the idea and couldn't wait to get started.  Now, I just have to get myself motivated to actually mail it.  My dad saw my son's hat and wanted one, too and he wanted one in "that aran wool you use" so cross your fingers for me that I can be disciplined and get it done for his birthday next week.  It's a quick pattern but my knitting happens in such fits and starts these days.

Advent Day 4 - A Great Gift

Today was one of those days that I started the day feeling frustrated.  We had a very stressful day at work yesterday and today wasn't much better.  As I drove home, I was feeling like all I wanted to do was to go home and crawl into bed until tomorrow.  I didn't know how I was going to make it through all of the rest of the day.

My first job was to walk the dogs.  Often, I take them for a run in the forest (at least, that's been my practice this fall).  Unfortunately, with the dark coming so early these days, it has gotten to be dark so early that the dogs and I have had a couple of very stressful walks in a "just shy of dark" stage of dusk.  Luckily, the dogs are white but I spend time praying that we won't meet any curious night creatures who may not be overly friendly.  I decide that I would message my friend who has a farm and ask whether the dogs and I could walk there.  She was thrilled.  As I drove into the farm, I was dying to vent to someone about the frustrations of my day.  By the time I drove out of the farm, I was smiling, making some Christmas plans and excited about life again.  It had been one of those times when I really connected with a good friend and it took me outside of myself and my own problems.

This evening, after supper, I ran to drop the kids off at Awana.  K, a friend of mine, is the greeter in the lobby.  We ended up chatting about some frustrations she is having at work and as I drove away from the church, I found myself excited about the idea of getting her a little treat to pop into the courier at work to give her a little surprise.  I was smiling even more.

I drove from there to my Wednesday night prayer and book study group.  I LOVE these women and yet again, I had reminders over and over again that there are other members of my faith tribe, even if we don't go to the same churches.  I left feeling refreshed, excited about my faith and most of all, connected. 

That's the message today - to get outside of myself, especially when I am brooding, and enjoy the company of the many amazing people that I have been blessed to have in my life.  When I count my riches, the people around me and the good friends that I may not have in my immediate vicinity but who I know are out there are definitely my greatest asset.  God has blessed me with these riches and I need to be sure that I don't forget that.  Advent can be a time for me that I remember - I remember to take time for these people, to listen, to help and to savour the time I have with them.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Advent 3 - A Bit of Tough Love

I woke up this morning on the wrong side of the bed.  I don't really know why but very quickly, I was finding everything annoying and I was grouchy.  Then, I made the mistake of turning on the news.  I'm a CBC-ophile and the news this morning featured a very upsetting story that the news division was having to close comments on any story about aboriginal issues because there were so many and such severe racist comments being posted.  I rapidly shifted from grouchy to righteously indignant and more than a bit sad.

I wrote a scathing Facebook post and then, brooded my way to work, thinking of a couple of people I know on Facebook who have said some things that I find HIGHLY offensive.   During our election and during discussions of whether we should take in Syrian refugees, I was shocked at the rhetoric coming from these people and I was most horrified of all at the fact that they were people who wore their Christianity loudly.

Then, the moment of conviction came.  At the moment, I have been reading take this bread (her lower-case, not mine) by Sara Miles.  It has been very gripping and has brought back many memories for me of the days when I did some work with street people.  I have had some struggles with aspects of the book - a bi-sexual from San Francisco who worships at a church that features dancing around the communion table and a lot of stuff that my Presbyterian heart would find "too much" isn't exactly someone I necessarily am going to form a deep connection to.  That being said, this book still managed to get me right between the eyes.  In the reading yesterday, in the chapter about when she wanted to expand her food pantry ministry to take over part of Sunday at the church, she met fierce opposition from some and she felt righteously indignant and then, finally, came to the realisation that church needs to fit everyone, even those whose ideas we find offensive.  It doesn't mean that their ideas are right or that we need to accept racism or bigotry or other forms of cruelty but we do have to accept that they are God's children, too, and that we can't force them out of the church because they don't hold our views.  I was so wrapped up in being self-righteous that I began to dehumanize those  people behind their keyboards.  Yes, they are wrong and yes, they are offensive but at times, I am wrong and offensive, too.  I even have had times, in the not too distant past, when I didn't want to go to church because I knew that I would be sitting with people who, I believe, are directly ignoring Jesus's message in order to justify their greed or their fear.  If I am being honest, it's a mix of feeling angry at them and also feeling a fear of being rejected (and rejection at church falls just short of being rejected by your parents - they are supposed to accept everyone there).

I am not going to be happy about the kind of comments being posted on CBC and I am not going to stand idly by and allow that kind of stuff to be said without commenting on it.  I am, however, being called to try and drop the self-righteousness and to love those who I don't find very loveable.