Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Redemption in Brokenness


The very thing we are afraid of, our brokenness,
is the door to our Father's heart.
Paul Miller

I sat there, near the back of the little chapel hearing the murmurings of His truth from the pulpit.  Good, solid, Godly words being spoken loud and clear, but they only came through to me as murmurings. I willed myself to listen, to hear the words of Truth.  I begged God for the healing of my shattered heart. Take this fear away, God! It does not come from You! My heart pounded inside my chest. My mind swimming. My lungs gasping for air. My ears filled with cotton.... 

Continue reading at Compassion That Compels, where I am a guest blogger today:


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provides HOPE to women battling cancer. 
They are a resource to equip cancer warriors 
spiritually, emotionally and in a tangible way, with Compassion Bags. 

Courageously yours,
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Monday, March 27, 2017

Nevertheless


I think we all go through times in life where we wonder, 'Why'?
Why are my children not following God?
Why did my marriage fail?
Why do I go through so much physical pain?
Why do I have to endure so much abuse?
Why do we struggle financially?
Why did my loved one die?
Why did I lose my job?
Why is cancer ravaging my body?
Why is everything in our home falling apart?
Why does my child suffer so much?
Why? Why? Why?

I have my own share of 'why' questions, and they all lead to the question of 'If God is able to change any situation for us, and I know that He can, with His mighty hand, then why doesn't He?'

I have learned that this line of thinking can lead to much toxicity in my mind and soul. The enemy loves weakening us through this line of thinking.

I think the biggest 'If You, God, were able, then why didn't you?" leads back to a cold winter day a few years ago when I sat beside the stiff, life-less, body of Mikail and begged God, 'If you raised Lazarus from the dead, You are able to raise Mikail to life. I know You can. Breathe Your breath into him! Please, God! Please!'

And He didn't.

Where do we allow our minds to go when God says 'No', even though we know He is able? The easiest thing is to turn our backs on God. Believe me, that was a real option for me at times, but somehow I always came back to the knowledge that God is sovereign. God is in control. There is a reason why the answer was 'No'. I may never know, this side of heaven, but I do know that God is good and God is sovereign. No, it doesn't make our everyday life easier. It doesn't make the 'missing him' go away. It does give some sense of comfort though.

One thing I started doing last year was what I call my 'Nevertheless' thinking:

Life hurts.
Nevertheless, life is a gift from God--a gift I must honour.

Mikail died.
Nevertheless, he is now with God.

People's words sting.
Nevertheless, God's strength is what will pull me through.

I feel hopeless.
Nevertheless, God is present in my depths of despair.

Regardless of the outcome of my life, the ultimate 'nevertheless' is that God has a plan. He is sovereign. If we focus on the negative, toxicity will take over our mind and soul, and open the doors for the enemy to darken our souls. And that's his plan. We have got to fight this. God is our hope.

Mercy Me solidified my 'Nevertheless' way of thinking with their recent song Even If:

I know You're able and I know You can
Save through the fire with Your mighty hand
But even if You don't
My hope is You alone

May you walk through today with thoughts of 'Nevertheless', that recognize that God IS able, but even if He doesn't, our hope is still in Him.

I hope you join me in making this our anthem this week:





Courageously yours,
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Saturday, March 11, 2017

Snowdrops

This winter has been pretty dreary. We didn't have much snow to cover the brown dullness of the bare trees and frozen grass. Somehow a white blanket of snow over the brown world makes winter more bearable for me. So, a couple of weeks ago, in February, when I was looking out our bedroom window at the dull brown and grey world before me, I saw a little blanket of white in the brown grass and went out to investigate:


What I found was a little patch of these snowdrops coming out from the frozen ground. Did you know that snowdrops have a hardened stem that help them push buds and leaves up from the frozen ground in ice cold temperatures? God created these delicate little flowers with much strength. The drop-like flowers make me think of tears of sadness in the winter of our hearts, but the strength that they show make me think of the 'hope' we have in the winter of our hearts. Hope for new growth, new beginnings, and a bright future.

Spring is coming...

Courageously yours,
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Friday, March 3, 2017

The Liturgical Calendar & Lent


In my lifetime there have been few times where I've attended a church that does not follow the Liturgical or Church Calendar, but when I have, oh what a deep, deep hole I am left with. I believe the New Testament is quite clear that through the freedom we have in Christ, we are not required to observe the church seasons, but are free to do so if we wish.

What is the Liturgical Calendar? It is the calendar that some churches use throughout the church seasons to follow the life of Jesus. Churches such as the Catholic and Anglican observe more of these days than the Protestant church does. The seasons which have been observed in my experience, are represented in this beautiful diagram:
Diagram by Katie at Look to Him and be Radiant
To me, the observance of the liturgical calendar represents a season of simplification, a time of  honouring the life of Jesus.  During Lent we are encouraged to look at the abundance in our lives and are invited to remove that which distracts us from living an abundant life--taking up our cross to deny ourselves. I've always loved the lighting of the advent candles combined with a short devotional shared by someone in the church to invite us to reflect and remember. I loved the contemplative invitations to prayer that Lent brought in the church I grew up in.

I can see how so much contemplation and self-examination could be uncomfortable for some, but for me its a true time of reflection, thanksgiving, and growth. Although I am drawn to the self-examination and contemplation that Lent invites us into, yet I believe that much has been lost in the idea of 'giving up' something for Lent. When someone says they having 'given up ____' it makes me wonder why they chose to give that particular item or practice up?

I remember the first time I gave up something for lent. I was teaching 29 grade one students at the time and it was a tough year. By 2 p.m. a can of coke was much needed to give me the energy needed to make it through the next two hours. That year I 'gave up coke' for Lent. I couldn't tell you why, I just did. It wasn't that giving up the coke was drawing me nearer to God, it was actually making my day more difficult. I didn't understand what Lent was all about. I didn't understand that the denying myself of something was so that I would be drawn nearer to my God. I didn't make the connection that in denying myself of something I was creating a deep connection with Jesus, who made the ultimate sacrifice of denying himself, taking up the cross and giving up his life so that we all would have the opportunity for eternal life--the ultimate sacrifice.

For the past number of years, I've missed the communal observance of the liturgical calendar, but it has spurred in me a deeper longing to personally take this time of simplification and reflection upon myself, but still miss sharing this holy time with other believers.

So, what is it that I do in this season of Lent?  Some years I've followed Ann Voskamp's Trail to the Tree and hung the corresponding ornaments on our 'easter tree'.


This year I am going through Paula D'Arcey's Daily Reflections for Lent and Easter and am drawn to Karen Ehman's Reverse Lent challenge.


I also see that Ann Voskamp has a new devotional tool to use through Lent this year. Can't wait to try it next year.

Do you observe Lent? Do you 'give something up' or 'add something' to spur on the abundant life within you and honour the sacrificial life Jesus lived for each of us?
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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Lately...

...I've been feeling way too much. 

For years I have felt guilty about needing alone time, not liking to be in big crowds of people, preferring authentic one on one relationships with others, and being vulnerable to emotional and sensory overload. My parents and my dear husband have always been very understanding, supportive and accepting of this part of me--yet always encouraging me to grow. I am so grateful for this.


As a teenager, I went to a private boarding school, and I will never forget the one 'report card' I received and the Resident Dean's note included something to the effect of, Iris is very conscientious in her studies, has a few very close friends, and seems to spend too much time alone in her room. This statement was like a knife to my heart. What was wrong with me?


In my teaching career, I had a principal who knew that I was sensitive but didn't hold it against me. I had joked that I cry when I am happy, sad, proud of my students, broken for them, and when I am angry. So, the times I needed to meet with him, he would jokingly place the kleenex box in the middle of the table, knowing I'd probably need it. To me it was one of the most accepting and kind gestures anyone has ever done for me. He didn't judge me for my sensitivity or tell me to 'buck up'. He accepted me for who I was and didn't make me feel any less of a professional teacher.


When Mikail passed away, our family doctor (at the time) said that if we weren't done grieving by the one year anniversary of his death, we would have to look into medication. Although there is a time and place for medication, the finality of this statement showed us that he clearly knows little about loss and the non-existent timetable of grief, but that little comment put pressure on me to 'get it together' in one year. The reality of our grief is that year one was a piece of cake compared to year two.


Over the span of my life I have heard the comment, "You're just too sensitive" or "You're one of those sensitive people" many, many times. In the past two years these comments have stung the most and left me deeply wounded, even though I believe they were never made maliciously, just out of a lack of understanding and perhaps fear.


All of these deep feelings leave me filled with guilt and shame, as though there is something innately wrong with me. There's this deep pressure within me to be 'normal'.


In the past six months all of these things have been magnified by grief, depression, and disappointments, leaving very few places that feel safe for me.  All because of this 'feeling too much' thing I am battling. 


Sometime in the past two years, Jason and I were talking to one of those few people, who is never afraid to ask those 'hard' questions that most people steer away from. We were talking about our grief and I was sharing how I feel so guilty about needing time away from the noise of life to re-fill my cup. I feel like I need too much of that time according to the 'norm' I see of those around me. He encouraged me to take the time, without guilt, and spoke about the concept of being wired as 'highly sensitive' and that there is nothing wrong with that. I didn't look into it further until recently when Jason and I were visiting family one Sunday afternoon and I was sharing similar thoughts with a dear, dear aunt about this journey of 'feeling too much', being so exhausted, my mind feeling numb, and my body physically aching. For the first time I wasn't met with a confused blank stare or given the 'buck up buttercup' speech of 'encouragement. She hear my heart and recommended the book The Highly Sensitive Person by Eileen N. Aron and for the first time in a very long time, I felt understood. I ordered the book and took the little self-test online. It claims that if you score 14/27 or higher, you are most likely a highly sensitive person. My score? A resounding 27/27! Wow!


As I am reading this book, there is an amazing sense of self-recognition I have never experienced before. 






 My whole life, I have loved this passage:

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be. 
Psalm 139:13-16

It confirms that God did not make a mistake in how He created us. We are 'fearfully and wonderfully made'. No matter how much we try to meet the expectations of the world around us, our frame was not hidden from Him. He knows the way we think and feel-- better than anyone does. There's a reason God created each one of us the way He did and He is continually shaping us to become a better version of ourselves (if we allow Him to). I have always known this to be true, in my soul, yet the following quote describes how the world has left me feeling less than 'wonderfully made':


“ Our trait of sensitivity means we will also be cautious, inward, needing extra time alone. 
Because people without the trait (the majority) do not understand that, 
they see us as timid, shy, weak, or that greatest sin of all, unsociable. 
Fearing these labels, we try to be like others. 
But that leads to our becoming overaroused and distressed. 
Then that gets us labeled neurotic or crazy, first by others and then by ourselves.” 
Eileen N. Aron

To me, this book is confirming with current day examples, that I am okay. There may only be 15-20% of us who are wired this way, but...

...we are God’s handiwork, 
created in Christ Jesus to do good works, 
which God prepared in advance for us to do. 
Ephesians 2:10


And now that I have all of that off my heart (teeheehee), maybe this little place on the big wide web will feel like a safe place to share my thoughts and share encouragement for you once again.

                                   Courageously yours,
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Saturday, January 7, 2017

cour·age


I am not one for New Years Resolutions. I am famous for not keeping them, but one thing I have done for several years now is pick one word to guide and encourage me throughout the year. Choosing one word has provided me with clarity in the big dreams I have for life. The word centers around my character and creates a vision for the year.

Last year I clung to the word 'hope' and even now as I look back at 2016, I know I felt hopeless a lot of the time, but having picked the word 'hope' spurred me on. I think I expected the year to be easier than 2015. You'd think it would be. I went into 2016 filled with so much hope for what was ahead of us, but the year landed up being more difficult than 2015 in many ways. Picking the word 'hope' encouraged me to surround myself with scripture and art that reflected the word 'hope' and reminded me that even in the midst of what felt hopeless (grieving Mikail, miscarriage, change in relationships, disappointments around most corners etc), I have One I can turn to for hope when it seems there is none left.

When looking ahead at 2017 there are a few things that we have set forward to do and these things frighten me ~ in a good way. They bring with them a lot of unknowns and will need a lot of faith and grace and courage as we strive toward the goals we believe God has placed on our hearts. Amidst this all we still bear a lot of pain and grief and have to consciously look to Him for our strength. This too takes courage. So, as I was thinking about my one word for 2017 it soon became abundantly clear that COURAGE was to be it.

When I think of courageous people, I think of their strength and their bravery. Not often do I think that the journey they have been on to get to the point they are at, was probably filled with many uncertainties, fear, and hardships. They have courage because they faced their fears face on. They didn't give up when everything about their situation should have made them give up. They had strength in the face of great pain or grief. This year I need to remember this...that courage isn't easy, but it's worth getting beyond the fears and unknowns and facing all that is ahead. Why? Because through it all God is there with us...wherever we may go.


Do you make resolutions or have a one word for your year?
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Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Roller Coaster of Christmas


The Christmas season this year was the most difficult I've experienced to date. On November 15th I decided I would get a head start on the things that needed to be done, so that when we got closer to Christmas and grief would possibly get magnified, the bigger things would be done.

I had dreams of having people over to our place every Friday of advent. I had dreams of having meaningful quiet time, reflecting on the most spectacular gift we have the opportunity to receive. I had dreams of delivering baked platters to the neighbours. We didn't have people over once. It was just too much for me this year. My quiet time didn't happen. Any reflections on advent were done with Olivia before she went to bed...at an age 4 level. Only Jason's co-workers and employees got platters this year. My Christmas gumption was missing this year. Part of it was grief. Part of it was illness after illness all season.

So, when the week before Christmas came, I was dreading the three days of Christmas. My expectations up until this point were not met. I was left feeling disappointed and the guilt of what I felt was obligations we needed to meet was eating at me. When people asked me whether I was looking forward to Christmas, I would answer 'yes'. In my mind I knew the 'yes' was because the sooner it was here, the sooner it would be over.

In all that we did, the emptiness of missing Mikail was always there in the corner of my mind. His presence in my heart was constant. Always there. Forever frozen in time, yet it wasn't an angry 'missing' as it was last year. This year it was an ache and a longing.



When Christmas Eve arrived  I was pleasantly surprised by the peace and the joy I felt. Our home felt cozy and the roller coaster of emotions had not been unbearable. The three of us seemed to ride the emotions in sync. We had our traditional meal, just the three of us, and surprisingly we felt the emptiness of the dining room table, missing our tradition of having people over who didn't have any family nearby to celebrate.  Our Grande Prairie 'family' was sorely missed. Those were such fun, relaxing, and enjoyable Christmases.

Christmas morning we woke up and the laughter and joy was real. Olivia's excitement over the only thing she asked for was enough to take any sadness away.


Our morning was leisurely and we just enjoyed being together. There was no rushing and I think that was the key.

Spending the afternoon and evening with family was balm to our wounds as well as we celebrated with games, great food, presents, laughter, and a few tears as we remembered Mikail, watching the last Christmas Concert performance he was in 2 years ago.  Jason's colleagues son was in Mikail's class and his son happened to sit beside Mikail in the concert. A few days before Christmas he emailed us the video of the concert 2 years ago. What an amazing gift to share with family as we remembered him together for a few moments.

To end Christmas day with family, singing praises to our God, for sending Jesus to earth as a humble, innocent baby, was a perfect ending to a special day. Olivia joined in the 'worship band' and felt so important strumming along on her ukulele.



We drove home with tears in our eyes. Not tears of sadness, but tears of gratefulness for a Christmas filled with true joy when we thought that joy and peace would not be attainable for us for a long long time. This was the greatest gift we could have received and it was only made possible because of that little baby in that manger that, with His birth, brought peace, joy, love, and hope for us all.
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Tuesday, December 20, 2016

When We Sit Upon His Knee



Olivia asked if she could visit Santa, so off we went and stood and waited in that long crazy holiday line. She didn't once complain. We thought she would back out at the last moment and change her mind, because that's often what new situations do to her, but she didn't. She ran up to Santa and gave him the biggest hug. She wouldn't let go. Then she climbed on his knee and they quietly and intently had the longest conversation. What was said, I do not know, but it was the sweetest thing I've ever seen. The innocent trust and belief that shone in her eyes. Incredible. 

It brought tears to my eyes and I whispered to J,
"Mikail never got to sit on Santa's knee"

Then it hit me. 
That look of complete trust and innocence Olivia had when she sat on Santa's knee. 
The quiet whispers and giggles. 
The awe in her eyes. 
Mikail never got to sit on Santa's knee, but he's sitting on Jesus' knee and I am sure that the trust, innocence and awe in his eyes for his Saviour are far beyond what I saw Olivia have for Santa. 

And then the tears rolled. 

I love that she believes in Santa. I love even more that she knows and believes that Christmas is truly about Jesus and His ultimate gift for each of us. I love that we have the opportunity to teach her the true meaning of Christmas, and still enjoy in the magic of Santa and the ancient story of St Nicholas. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Finding the Spirit of Christmas


Years ago I read that if we take care of our outward appearance, we will start to feel better inwardly as well.  I think there is some truth to that. This morning I threw my hair into a pony tail holder, exchanged my pj bottoms for yoga pants, threw a jacket over my night shirt and brought Olivia to the bus. On days where I get up 30 minutes earlier and take the time to shower and comb my hair and put on a little bit of make-up, I feel so much more ready for the day.

I've been applying this to the Christmas season this year as well. You see, last year we did what we thought the world expected of us at Christmas. It was almost like we were trying to prove to the world that even in the throngs of raw grief, we could do it all. It was a hard Christmas.

J and I recently watched a made for TV Christmas movie. I can't remember the name of it. In the story, the main character lost her Dad that past year and he was the one who always lit the Christmas tree in the town's square each year. This year she was not interested in continuing the tradition, but her Mom insists. As everyone is counting down to the moment the tree gets lit, her mouth is moving without a sound coming out, she is going through the motions, but the sound of everyone around her is muffled and they are all moving in slow motion. Jason and I looked at each other and both said 'That was us last year.' We went through the motions, but inside we were completely broken and all that happened around us was in slow motion and we were going through the motions too, but now sound was coming from our mouths. That was grief for us during the holidays.

This year we are being mindful to do only that which we can handle and at times things we think we can handle one day, land up not being attainable the day of the activity or celebration and we are choosing to listen to our hearts this year.


Sunday was our tree decorating day. I automatically got out the red and gold decorations and then J reminded me that we also have blue and silver. Was it because Mikail's favourite colour was red, that I was drawn to the red ones? I don't know, but it felt good to put up the blue and silver this year. He would have loved those too. We don't have to put up his favourite things all the time. We decorated two minature trees with the kid's decorations. To hear Olivia  gleefully shout out 'This one's Mikail's!! It goes on this pile", as she sorted through them, deciding which ornament would go where, was healing. She was so excited to put his ornaments up for him and so were we. This year the tears were different. They were brief and filled with longing and joy. Our grief is changing. It will never go away, but it will continue to change as time goes on.


As I think about taking the time to take care of my outward appearance, in order to help my inward spirit to be brightened, I am applying that same thought to Christmas this year. If we take the time to decorate our home in such a way that will point us to Christ, perhaps that same spirit will start to fill our hearts and our minds as well. It's working
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Friday, November 18, 2016

Building a Bridge of Healing with the Broken Pieces of our Hearts



This morning I was early for an appointment, so I made my way to the river for a bit of solitude on this beautiful November morning. As I was sitting there, thinking about the myriad of heaviness in our lives right now, I asked God when things would start looking up, instead of more hurt and brokenness being added to our already heavy hearts. Of course I didn't hear a voice answering, or a neon sign showing me our future, but my phone lit up and caught my attention. There was a quote by Ann Voskamp:


A smile threatened to shine through my broken hearted tears when I read this. I'd just been thinking, "How much more can my heart break? And how can I be strong for others when I'm so broken?" It's so tempting to just blurt out a piece of our mind, when in truth, that is not the most helpful. I sat there under that bridge that connects two countries and I wondered whether healing can take place with all this brokenness? Are we willing to allow healing to take place? Can the broken pieces of our hearts build a bridge of healing? I sure hope so. I so badly need it to. 

 
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