Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Remembering Daddy's Soup

A fresh pot of homemade beef barley soup is in on the stove and the kitchen is clean again... finally, a contented sigh and I can sit on the couch with my little guy.  He watches Thomas, and my thoughts drift back to cold and windy days that I would walk home from school with the knowledge that the second I walked in my front door, wafting aromas of daddy's soup would welcome and warm me.  He would make them daily at the restaurant and bring some home for us; tomato vegetable, chicken noodle, turkey with wild rice or beef barley.    He would be napping by the time we got home so we usually scavenged the cupboards for cookies or chips instead.  More often than not, we didn't even touch the soup, but it was there every day, just in case.  And looking back now, I know that was what mattered.  I did eventually reach an age where I appreciated the warmth, health and care behind this simple act and I suppose that's why it's so important to me to make it now.  I suppose, that's why I do a lot of things. 

My husband habitually asks me why I have a vegetable garden, can dozens of salsas, sauces, jams and jellies every year and batch cook meals every week.  It's a lot of work and a lot of mess. Truthfully, I am only a decent cook and a horrible baker, but I do love spending time in both the garden and the kitchen.  I love working with my hands and anticipating the fruits of my labour.  I love all the different aromas and the contentment in knowing the meal I provide required a bit of sacrifice for the people I care about.  But probably, most of all, I love the nostalgic feeling of daddy's kitchen.  It's always there in the background, mixed in with the repetitions and the sights and smells of home.  And then there's the knowledge, that we had this in common. That this is a language of love, passed down from generation to generation.  Even in the busy-ness and high demands of our current culture it is something that is impossible to forget.  I suppose that's what I too am aiming for...








Monday, 15 September 2014

Marriage, Parenting & Dying to Self


Tensions build.  Communications fade.  Insecurities take root.  Stalemate.  Roommates. And the sudden realization that this, left unresolved and compounded by a year or two, could be marked as the beginning of the end.  Except I have already vowed that will never be an option.  And even in this day and age where everywhere I look divided families are managing a new way of life, that vow grips my heart.  Something needs to change before that becomes our story.  Someone needs to change.

So I pray.  I pray for God to change him. Of course to no avail. But then He whispers in my ear,  "the real question is not who needs to change, but rather who is willing to change."  Am I willing? Do I trust in my God enough to lay down my own life for my husband, knowing that would require a part of me to die? The part of me that is selfish.  The part of me that needs to be right.  And sometimes even, perhaps, that part of me that has nothing left to give.  I don't even know if I can do this. Dying to self hurts! It doesn't seem fair.  But in a moment I am reminded of just how much of my life isn't deserved, and the voice of self-pity is silenced.  So I will cling to the conviction that at least this kind of pain leads to life. 
 
“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.” Luke 9:24 

Each marriage is a story all it's own; full of different chapters, conflict, character development and resolve.  Our story, was actually quite pleasant for the 7 years we had together before these tricky, plot-changing, all-consuming characters (our kids) entered the picture.  Before they came along we could hide the fact that we really weren't teammates.  We could sweep this and other issues under the rug of our perfectly clean house and have a ton of fun in the meantime.  No responsibilities.  Time for friends, time for us to pursue dreams and utilize our gifts... time for everything!  All that changed with the addition of one new heartbeat. Then, as if on cue the curtain dropped and we became painstakingly aware of how incapable we are of accomplishing anything together.  We can agree on where we want our life story to go, but not on any single determining factor that will get us there.  Perhaps our problem has always been that we are so similar.  Strong-willed, motivated and highly opinionated...  We have both been employers for much of our adult life, each of us used to calling the shots and exercising our own perfectionistic and obsessive compulsive tendencies.  The fact that we didn't agree on anything was mostly just a joke to those who knew us... until having a family made the need for us to be on the same team more than just a necessity. 

I have been trying to grasp the concept of submission for some time.  I wonder what our marriage would look like if I was one of those women that came by it easily.  But I am not... it is not my nature.  I never saw it modelled and my husband has even told me if I was the submissive type he would be less attracted to me. However, I know that there cannot be two heads of one household for "a house divided against itself cannot stand." And yet I yearn to experience the kind of marriage that actually functions as a team. I don't believe submission looks the same on every person.  I just still haven't figured out what it should look like on me.  I have wondered if perhaps it looks less like the wife I know I can never be, and more like a trust in God to fill in all the gaps apparent in both husband and wife.  And that doesn't start with a "change him" prayer.  Maybe this house cannot have two heads, but it can have one head and one heart. I think I'm beginning to understand God's purpose and design in that.  The point is not who needs to change but rather who is willing to change. That is a prayer; a heart that God can work with in a situation such as this.  And in truth, if I knew how to change the things I don't like about myself, I would have done it by now.  I don't know how.  I need the unconditional love of my father and creator to work through my walls of insecurity and pride and remind me of who he created me to be. 

Marriage is not easy.  Throwing children into the mix does not make it any easier.  I firmly believe that couples, especially in this day and age, should know that any area of the relationship that has problems, will be magnified when kids are added.  Children are a blessing. They are beautiful and incredible and... they bring out the worst in us! They demand the entirety of our attention and reflect all the ways we fall short every single day.  But for some reason it is still easier to lay down our lives for them than it is for our spouse. Unfortunately, I think all too often, it ends there. 
 
It’s a choice and it is mine; to lay down my wants and petty expectations for his… and trust that whatever needs I have that are not being met in this season by an imperfect man will be covered by a perfect father in heaven. My older sister once told me not to expect that my husband and I will ever be putting in 100% of the effort at the same time.  There is a give and take (when one is giving, the other is taking!) If we do find we’re in a season where we are both contributing, sacrificing and serving the other… well, that’s marital bliss (and it’s not impossible.)  But, it would be unwise for me to expect it.  And if I'm brutally honest with myself, I've most often been the taker. He is a good man.  It's time for a change... a change in heart.  

         





 


 

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Wilderness






This…  wilderness.  Where God’s people wandered aimlessly for 40 years before they were fit for the promised land.  Where John the Baptist exercised his devotion and complete surrender to his creator.  Where Jesus was tested for 40 days before he set out for ministry.  And the season of life in which the apostle Paul had to re-learn every thought pattern and belief that had previously defined him. All of these happened in a wilderness.  And that sums this up perfectly… for this is mine. 

Deserted.  Uncomfortable - painful even.  Confused.  Empty-handed.  Alone.  Even still… If I had the choice, I would choose this same path again.  I may have kept my convictions to myself in the process but… we all learn our lessons in our own way.  And I still would have had to come alone. 

Conviction: a fixed belief.  In other words - it’s not changing (even if sometimes I wish it would.) The only thing that is changing is me.  I can’t be the same na├»ve people-pleaser that I used to be.  Nor can I continue living as if my actions don’t have power to build or destroy.  Because they do.  I’ve had my seasons of misguided self-sufficiency.  I’ve had my seasons of insecurity.  But this season I am in, (be it a wilderness) I have irrefutable clarity on who God has created and equipped me to be.  I have the mind of Christ. (1 Cor 2:15, Phil 2:5)  I have the power of life and death on my lips. (Prov 18:21)  and I can move mountains. (Mark 11:23)   Every decision that I make and every word I speak causes ripple effects.  Whether I like it or not I AM changing the world around me for better or worse.  And if anything matters, everything matters! I sometimes wish I just knew how to be something in between all or nothing… but I can’t.  I can’t just succumb to the matrix of this life.  I can’t chase after the American dream while the rest of the world suffers for it.  I don’t buy into the lies that what I am searching for can be found in anything this world has to offer.  The joys of simplicity and the miracle of the moment beckon me.  I just want to be where He is…  


the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life -

is not of the Father but is of the world. 

And the world is passing away,

but the will of God abides forever.”

John 2:15-17 

 So… Here I stand in the stillness of this desolate place.  Where the influences of man and the distractions of my own plans are nowhere to be found, and I can truly hear His voice.  It comforts and guides me. And suddenly I don’t care if it takes 40 days or 40 years… I know the one who led me here and I trust Him.  I asked for a change of heart and I got it.  My soul craves something different, something deeper. I know that I will find it here… and just knowing that enables me to embrace this season more fully.   

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials,
for we know that they help us develop endurance. 
And endurance develops strength of character,
and character strengthens our confident hope…
and this hope will not lead to disappoint. 
 For we know how dearly God loves us,
because he has given us the Holy Spirit
to fill our hearts with his love [through this trial].
Romans 5:3-5

Learning to Like the "F" word



It is a word that society teaches us not to say out loud.  It instils negative connotations.  It is aptly used as an expletive when things go really wrong… And yet something about our comprehension of this word is strangely amiss.  What four letter word am I talking about?





Today’s reading is brought to you by… an expert failer! Seriously, I could probably host my own weekend seminar.  I could call it “How to Fail - Successfully.”  But don’t sign up.  I can‘t guarantee that it wouldn‘t be a huge flop! :) Besides no one I know would actually take such a course.  No one sets out on anything with an intent to fail.  No one posts even a single failure on their timeline.  We just try to hide it, forget about it and move on.  Except that big `F` word is stamped over our heart and for some of us, we know we will never truly be able to dream the same way again.  In my 30 years I have dreamed big dreams.  I have worked my butt off to get them.  And I have failed miserably. 

Did you know that there I a difference between a failer and a failure? We are all inevitably failers.  We can't avoid failing.  It happens to the best of us. But a failure is something that none of us have to be.  Let me explain.  A failer believes that their lack of success is due to a lack of effort.  They either didn't work hard enough or they haven't kept at it long enough.  They believe that by changing their effort commitment, they will eventually succeed. On the contrary, a failure believes that their lack of success is due to a lack in and of themselves.  They don't believe that they have what it takes.

I used to believe that I wasn't capable of success.  I have struggled with this wrong belief for most of my life.  I was so convinced of this in high school that despite the fact that I was ranked as one of the best high jumpers in all of Canada, I never actually won a medal or achieved my dream of getting a scholarship.  I jumped a national ranking height once in a low-level track meet and then I could never do it again.  It got so bad that I would run up to the bar at a height that I could have done in elementary school and I would hit the bar on purpose with my hand.  It couldn't have been more obvious that my belief was wrong - I had done it before! But that was what I believed in my heart.  So if you feel like you believe something stupid about yourself that you know you shouldn't... I feel you. 

 
Did you know that studies had been done on the brain patterns of some rather fascinating individuals including Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein and Henry Ford? The most spectacular discovery was that there was actually nothing spectacular whatsoever.  These hugely successful, almost phenomenal individuals just had some regular old brains.  Despite their renowned successes in life, they were each quite familiar with failure.

“I have not failed.  I have just found 1000 ways that won’t work.”  Thomas A. Edison
 
“Failing isn’t bad when you get to learn what not to do.”
Albert Einstein   
 
“Failure is simply an opportunity to begin again,
this time more intelligently.”
Henry Ford
 
Can you imagine failing at the same thing 1000 or more times? If Edison didn't know the difference between being a failer and a failure, we might not have electricity today.  What's even more amazing is that these guys didn't just endure each failed attempt - they embraced them! They knew they were going to learn something crucial to helping them eventually succeed.  THAT is a belief worth changing in your heart.

If you have kids and if you're anything like me, you probably don't want to see your kids make the same mistakes you did.  So how can we keep them from letting their failures define them?  I had terrific parents and I did pretty good in school, but I didn't learn this concept until recently. 

If you want to train your kids to think positively about their failures - praise their effort instead of their accomplishments.

Say stuff like, "I'm so proud of you for working really hard" instead of, "You are so talented." Because not unlike the majority of the population, they just want affirmation.  You train them what to value based on how you praise them. AND buy them lot's of puzzles! Puzzles help them understand that they need all of the pieces to succeed.  They are less likely to expect shortcuts and they value each learning curve.  Children raised this way have a refreshing attitude towards failure.  They do not ruminate over their mistakes.  They simply perceive errors as problems to be solved and get to work. 

Finally, if you want to turn your own failures into stepping stones, develop gratitude about each failure you come up against.  It is teaching you a valuable lesson that you MUST learn before you can move forward.  AND recognize your true worth.  Every decision you make and every word you speak causes ripple effects.  Whether you like it or not, and whether you are aware of it or not, you are changing the world around you.  If anything matters, you matter! And the way you view your failures matters.  

So friends... don't stop dreaming, don't stop trying, and don't stop failing!  

Dear Present Self

I wrote this in my journal on my 1st night home with baby Teli… I try to read it every morning as a reminder.

It is presently 3:45am, Sunday, August 11th and you hold a brand new baby in your arms.  I know that you haven’t slept for 72hrs and you are very much wishing to be elsewhere - in bed fast asleep, or somewhere just beyond this current season of your life where baby has turned your world upside down and needing all - perhaps more - than you have to give. I know that your body is aching and recovering and you have every physical right to not want to participate in the moments right in front of you.  But there are also a few things that I want you to know, that you may think you know, but you don’t really know, or else you wouldn’t allow yourself to feel this way.  So I’m just going to remind you…

In a matter of days… your baby won’t need you to hold him every waking second.  He won’t need to hear the constant beating of your heart in order to feel safe in this world.  He will adjust to life outside of your womb.  He will need you less than he does now.

In a matter of weeks… you will be packing away outfits and booties that he no longer fits in and you will be able to leave him with a caregiver so you can start to get back to the rest of your life.  That precious little baby won’t need you quite as much as he does now. 

In a matter of months… he will be eating solids and walking and talking.  As much as you love to see him thrive you will miss the days you spent nursing him, carrying him around everywhere you went and trying to interpret his cries and coo’s.  He will need you less than he does now.

In a matter of years… his days will be spent studying, playing and working.  He will be in quest of his identity and independence.  He won’t need you as you does now.


In less time than you think… he will be having babies of his own and only occasionally calling with questions. He won’t need you as much as he does now.

I know these things because I am at already at the end of your life…  when your best days are behind you. When that little baby doesn’t need you the ways he does now.  And I know that these exact moments that you are in a hurry to get through are the very moments that your heart will ache for.  So right now, while you are in the midst of midnight feedings, changing dirty diapers and longing to just get past this season of life I beg of you, be present.  Never forget that what you hold in your arms is nothing short of a miracle.  Know that I am here and I am longing to hold his little fingers. I’ll never get those moments back.  So treasure them while you can. Turn off the distractions.  Ignore the voices that try to tell you your fulfillment is elsewhere.  Because right now he does need you. These precious moments that he won‘t even remember, were created especially for you to enjoy.  Be thankful for every moment.  They are among the greatest gifts you will have in life.  Know that I am sitting here at the end of your life… and there is no where in the world I would rather be than where you are right now.





Sincerely,
Your Future self

Dear Baby Marconi

You are nearly here and I can hardly wait to meet you!  I’m assuming you’ll have gotten your long legs from me, because they haven’t let up for about 5 months.  I’m hoping you’ll get your daddy’s dimples.  But I am absolutely certain that no matter how you come you will be perfect.   

We have been working on your name for a long, long time.  We both believe that there is great significance in a name and we wanted to give you one that would best suit our very best intentions of raising you.  Easier said than done.  You will soon learn that we both value our heritage as well.  We finally made the decision to name you after a very special man, whom you will unfortunately not meet in this lifetime…

I called him Daddy for 25 years before he died.  You would have called him Papoo and I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that you would have adored him.  He would have rang the doorbell incessantly every time he arrived to play with you. He would have given you backflips into the pool and taught you how to play soccer.  He would have made you listen to his crazy Greek music and taught you some very interesting dance moves.  He would have been your best pal. 

But as fun-loving as he was, the legacy he left behind is actually something of much more worth.  The characteristics that made him a man worth remembering are the ones your dad and I hope to pass on to you.  Our hope and prayer is that as his name continues on through you, so too will his legacy…


He was brave.  He left his country when he was 17 years old in hopes of finding better opportunities than he would have had otherwise.  He left everything he knew and made a new life for himself in a country where no one spoke his language, where no one knew his family and where he had no advantages whatsoever.  He took a big risk and it paid off.  He supported a family of seven and had always been able to give us more than enough. 

He valued family.  We used to laugh at the simplicity of his coined phrase, “Family is family.”  Us kids in our far superior English-speaking skills couldn’t understand the depth in this.  But in getting to know him as an adult we came to see how much he sacrificed to protect not only our family of seven, but every in-law, cousin, aunt and uncle we acquired as we grew.  One of the best ways he did this was by showing us that there is freedom in forgiveness.  In the big things and in the small things.  Better still to find that the freedom comes much more to the one who is giving it than those receiving it. 

He showed us the strength of a servant.  He loved having a full house of people; family, friends and all their kids. He always served up huge feasts and he usually cleaned up the mess too.  He hand-crafted our entire yard complete with vineyard covered patios, swings, a pool and a bi-level tree house.  He served and always put others first, expecting very little in return.  

He taught us the treasure of simplicity.  Daddy accumulated almost nothing of his own.  Except a HUGE VHS library of movies he taped from the TV and he had his own area called “behind the bar” which was strictly off limits to us.  We always believed that was where he kept his best hidden treats and secrets.  After he passed away and we had to go through his things, we found that his best hidden secrets and most valuable items were simple things like medals we had won, school books, cards we had written him when we were little, family albums and a few things he had brought from Greece.  He kept everything! And none of it had any monetary value.  He was a simple man who lived a life of true abundance.    

He loved our mom.  He was fiercely loyal to her.  He respected her.  He protected her heart.  He never stopped trying to win her over.  As a father of five girls, there is no better way that he could have loved us than by giving us a shining example of what we should look for and expect in a man.  I am grateful to him for the part he played in making sure I ended up with your dad.  Your dad is such a good man.  He loves me so well.  And I know you will learn from him. 

Aristotelis, his name and now yours, means “the best of the best” and that is truly what he was.  And we hope all of the very best things in life for you too.  As much as I loved him and want to honour him by naming our first-born son after him I want you to know one more thing about your Papoo…  It actually wasn’t my idea or my insistence that you have his name.  It was actually your dad who knew him only a few years, who adamantly refused any other name I suggested.  Everyone loved your Papoo.  Everyone will love you too… so welcome to the world baby “Teli.”



Greece - A long way home


All my life I heard about the country my dad loved. I heard about the sea, the land and the people.  I knew that it was a huge part of him thus making it a part of me.  I knew he would have loved to take me there himself… and I knew that even after he died, I absolutely had to go. 

The moment I arrived I felt like I was home.  From the busy streets of Athens and Kalamata to the quiet shores of Avia, I found my dad everywhere.  I saw his peculiarity in the mopeds that flew past us with giant cooler chests strapped to the back seats.  I saw his high-spirits in my cousin who kept time to the music by swinging his arm outside of the window and slapping the top of the car.  I saw my dad’s signature handiwork in the land he once tended to and the house he once built. But mostly I saw him in the hearts of the people there, the other ones that he left behind.  People whom I had never met, who loved him.  People who would open their hearts and homes and give the very best they had for one of “Telly’s little girls.”   If I had to pick only two characteristics about my dad that impacted me the most they would be his ability to give and his value of family.  Over the past week I saw that this legacy had been written on more hearts than just his.  I never got to meet his parents; my Papoo and Yaya.  But I feel like I know them in a small way because of the trends I have seen in their children and grandchildren.  I am so incredibly grateful to at least know this much.

I went to the mountain village where he grew up.  I saw his old school and the olive orchards he worked in as a young boy.  I heard stories for the first time about what he was like before he moved to Canada.  I got to know my dad in a entirely new way and my perspective on his life has been drastically changed.  For a number of years I have secretly wondered why he didn’t take more chances or try to break out of a small-minded mentality.  To me it always seemed he didn’t believe that his dreams could actually come true.  But in the small village of Agia Anna, as I walked through the house he grew up in I realized that he did dream big and he made all of his dreams come true.  One of those dreams would have been to have a nice house in a safe neighbourhood for his family.  Another would have been to give us a pool and a tree house and a big yard to play in.  Another still would have been to have his own garden and vineyard to give us good produce.  And finally he would have wanted me to have dreams that were bigger than his.  All of which came true.  It wasn’t until I saw his beginning that I truly recognized all that he accomplished in the end.  And for that in a new way he has become my hero again.

This trip has so far been everything I had hoped it would be and even more.  The islands were breath-taking and our historical value unlike anything I have seen before.  I know my dad would have been so happy to see me falling in love with his country.  But probably more than anything else that I love here, I love the family that I have met.  I knew that I would love them.  I knew that even if I didn’t understand them or the differences that defined us, I would love them.  And when we said our good-byes a little piece of my heart stayed there with them.  I think it has always belonged there.

Tribute to my mother-in-law

Mama. 



That’s what I have been privileged to call her since before the day I married her son… and I have not been the only one.  Aside from her four boys she has actually been “mama” to countless neighbourhood kids and international students throughout the years.  Her door and her heart always, always open - to anyone. 

She is steadfast, loyal and unswerving in faith.  True to the bit o’ Ireland in ‘er… and maybe even a wee bit fiery when the day calls for it.  She is precious… and she is one of the strongest women I know.

I watch her interact with her sons and I know there can’t a weak bone in her body. She don’t take no guff from nobody! Perhaps that’s the only way she survived four boys.  Yet at the same time, she is just the truest and gentlest form of  “mother.” I know that because of her boys and their unreserved love for her.

She has an uncanny ability to listen to what hasn’t been said.  She listens with both ears if you know what I mean… and recognizes the struggling emotions underneath.   Her children know that she is listening - really listening… and it matters.  This is just one of the many ways that she has, without any conscious effort, taught me how to better love her son.  In times when I haven’t known how to help him, I would invite her over and just quietly observe how she loves him.  She teaches me much more than she knows.

She is a woman of great faith in God.  Her relationship with Him is in no way put on.  His love is very evident in her life… as she constantly allows Him to move through her.  I know she prays for us.  I know she takes her concerns to Him instead of trying to fix things on her own. In doing so she shows her respect for our relationship and her trust in a very real and very big God. 

I didn’t get to choose her as a mother-in-law… but I would have.  I count her more than once when I count my blessings.


Happy birthday Mama!

Love you.

 

Plank in my Eye



It had not been a good day.  The dark grey clouds overhead reflected my mood perfectly. I just needed to pick up a few more things, get through this ridiculously long checkout line and then I could finally head home, crumple into the tub and pretend the whole day didn’t happen.   So when I saw them out of the corner of my eye… well, I think I may have actually whimpered out loud.  I knew them from church.  They were the emotionally needy type and I had never seemed to have enough patience for them.  I had served alongside them for a few years up until about a year ago.  I hadn’t actually seen them in a long time and I knew a conversation would be awkward at best…   So, I did what any good “church-going” person would do, I picked up the first magazine I saw (I think it was Cosmo) and held it directly in front of my face, hoping and praying that they wouldn’t see me.  Whether they did or not, I’ll probably never know.  They left the store, I put down my guide to great sex and cut in front of an old lady to get to the next cashier.  The cashier was just ringing up my receipt when I happened to look out to the parking lot.  The couple was crossing over a speed bump with all of their parcels in tow and the woman tripped.  I didn’t see her fall so I didn’t think much of it as I thanked the cashier and collected my bags.  But as I made my way to the exit I saw that the woman had actually dropped her groceries which now lay scattered all over the pavement and her husband was flailing his arms around wildly and yelling at her.  I was more than a little shocked and I noticed that a lot of people around me were too.  This man, that I knew, was causing a real scene.

For a minute I considered walking back into the store with a made up list of things I forgot to buy but I just wanted to get home so badly that I didn’t even care if I’d have to walk right past them.  Another man from the front of the store threatened to call the police because things were getting so out of hand. The woman just stood there, with half a carton of eggs at her feet.  I could almost feel the embarrassment that flushed her cheeks.  But in a split second decision I was halfway across the parking lot, avoiding the scene entirely, like some sort of Pharisee on Sunday - I had somewhere important to be!  But to my utter dismay, it turned out that my car was parked directly beside their car and they were going to get there right before me.  Left with no other choice I walked straight towards them.  He was still yelling at her about the broken eggs but when he looked up and recognized me he stopped dead in his tracks.  I could tell they were both waiting for me to say something.  I, being fully aware of the crowd behind us, just cast him a disproving glare and raised my chin.  I didn’t even think.  I got in my car and drove away without one word. 

As I pulled out of the parking lot I tried to convince myself that my actions hadn’t been quite so awful.  But there was a lump (about the size of an egg) in my throat.  And before I knew it there were tears spilling down my cheeks.  I thought about this couple who hadn’t been to church in a long time, and who probably needed their broken eggs more than I needed anything in my bag.  No my response hadn’t been awful… it had been worse.  A good, non-judging person would have stopped to see if they were doing okay, or even offered to replace a few groceries.  Not me.  Not that day.  The only thing that I did do, was ensure that he knew that I felt that he was beneath me. In that moment of truth as both of my hands clutched the steering wheel, I saw in myself someone who I was very ashamed of…  How quickly we forget the judgement that has been cleared for us, when we get the opportunity to judge another.
 
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” Matthew 7:3-5

Worship in the Wreckage


“In Christ alone, my hope is found.

He is my light, my strength, my song. 

This cornerstone, this solid ground. 

Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.

What heights of love, what depths of peace. 

When fears are stilled, when strivings cease.

My comforter, my all in all. 

Here in the love of Christ I stand.”


 

It was a sight I would love to forget; an etching in my minds eye that I hoped time would erase.  There lay the man I had always called my Daddy.  Or at least there lay the wretched inhuman version of his now disease-stricken body.  He was propped up in the starch white hospital bed and his eyes sank so deep into his skull I wasn’t sure if he could even see.  My stomach seemed to turn completely upside-down at the sight before my eyes.  Surely, this couldn’t be the same strong man who once perched me high above his shoulders, and made cyclones in our pool, and built a tree house that had made all the neighbourhood kids jealous.  My Daddy had always been so full of life;  dancing to his crazy Greek music, repeatedly ringing the doorbell to announce his arrivals, and riling up our dog. He was the one cheering loudest (and most embarrassingly) at all our sporting events.  When he walked into a room where he was known, people literally applauded.  Just three years earlier when he walked me down the aisle he had been so strong and vibrant.  He was my Daddy and  I was his “Goofy.”  This man before me now was barely a shadow of the one I knew so well.  I stood there unwilling, unable to believe that this was really happening.  For a moment the walls seemed to close around me and I couldn’t breathe.  I suddenly understood why some people hated hospitals.  I had only just arrived but I knew I needed to leave.  Regardless of  how much I loved my dad, I could not see him like this.  I would not see him like this.  And for the next five days as his health rapidly deteriorated I did everything in my power to stay away. 

 This had gone on for a few days, when I realized that my actions had been affecting the rest of my family who refused to leave him unattended.  My mom hadn’t slept for days, or even months depending on how you looked at it.  So finally I offered to spend a night with him in the hospital so she could get some rest.  I think my youngest sister Becca knew that this would be difficult for me because she insisted on staying with us.  I couldn’t have been more grateful, especially once we learned what the night had in store for us…

It turned out to be his worst night; far worse than any of us could have imagined.  In a disillusioned frenzy he screamed for hours on end as if he were living a nightmare.  He didn’t know who we were; he repeatedly exposed himself and ripped out his catheter.  The nurses had nothing to ease his pain or calm his nerves and eventually they just stopped responding to our calls.  My sister and I were at a complete loss.  Despite our best efforts we could not in any way better his situation yet we were forced to sit there and watch.  We held one another and cried as his torture rampaged on. 


And then, from somewhere deep inside of me rose a voice to sing.  It was the last thing my heart wanted to do. I had been so angry, and scared and empty all at the same time for weeks, months even.  But for some reason, I knew it was what I needed to do.  A strength more resilient than my despair pressed through and with a staggered breath I sang the first few stanzas to one of my favourite songs, “In Christ alone.”   Hardly a moment passed when an indescribable peace settled over the room and I no longer felt at loss.  The weights of stress and fear that I had been carrying seemed to fall right off my shoulders and I no longer felt the need to handle the situation.  I am certain that I entered a time of worship unlike anything I had ever experienced, and that time of worship brought acceptance and understanding.  Somewhere in my sub-conscious I stopped believing that all would be well and I started to believe that all was well right then in that moment.  Even in the midst of such pain and loss I recognized that we weren’t alone.  We never had been.  It was just that this was the first time I was actually focused on God and the fact that He is good, He works all things together for good and He never changes.  My dad had stopped screaming.  He rested his head and closed his eyes.  Becca joined in when I switched to hymns like “Tis so sweet” and “Amazing Grace”.  I have no idea how long this lasted but before I knew it my mom entered the room.  She had been unable to sleep and wanted to spend the night with him after all.  As Becca gathered up our things I leaned over his bed, kissed him on the forehead and told him that I loved him.  Just as I started to rise I heard his whisper, “I love you too, Goofy.”  Later I realized that this was our last lucid moment together.  He was gone less than 24 hours later.

And now, just over a year later I recognize how much of a gift that seemingly horrible night was for me.    Up until that point I had never felt so completely useless in a situation.  It was there that I truly learned to rest in the everlasting arms of my Saviour.  As far back as I can remember  I have had a heart for worship.  But it was there, in the wreckage of my wishes, that I truly understood the heart of worship - which would give Christ my complete focus regardless of the situation.   And perhaps, the greatest gift for me that night, was to know that my daddy, a relatively new believer of Christ had learned both of these incredible truths with me…


 

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Where Redemption Waits

 

“Nothing keeps us so lonely as our secrets.”

Paul Tournier

 
 
On the Niagara escarpment, just past Stoney Creek Ontario, there is a lookout platform at the Devil’s Punch Bowl conservation area.  From this point there is a breathtaking view of a 37 metre high waterfall over stratified rock that was said to have been formed at the end of the last ice age.  If you enjoy the outdoors, I highly recommend that you check it out - it is a truly stunning sight to see.  Also at this lookout point, there is a 10 metre high steel cross complete with 106 light bulbs that was erected in 1966 by a man named William Sinclair.  His reason for establishing the cross? To bring a little more light to the world.  And so it shines, and can be seen for miles on a dark night.  At the foot of this cross is where my story begins...
The arches of my feet pierced with excruciating pain as I trudged up the snow-covered pathway -  in ¾ inch heels.  Oh yeah! There I was hiking up the Niagara Ridgeway in the middle of January sometime after 1 o’clock in the morning -  in heels!  Okay, fine, at that height they don’t technically warrant as heels - but it‘s not like they were hiking boots either! Even if they had been, by that point I was hardly consolable and I was tired of being polite.  “Okay, this is ridiculous! I have to wake up early to sing at church in the morning -  and I’m wearing a dress Cam!  I’m wearing a dress - and heels - and it’s like -10 degrees out here! Can we please just turn around and go home? ” I heard my own pathetic beg.  He took three more giant steps before he triumphantly announced. “Here we are! Just check out the view! Don‘t you think this was worth the trek up here?” he asked as he rubbed up and down my arms in attempt to keep them warm.   I let the silence settle for about one minute before I answered. “Yup, terrific! Can we go now?”  He took a deep breath and let out a long exaggerated sigh.  “I’m sorry Babe. This wasn’t exactly like I planned.  But I really wanted to bring you up here, for a special purpose… I wanted to ask you something” he began as he slowly lowered to one knee… 

 My heart lurched in my chest. No! No! This wasn’t happening! Not yet! I hadn’t had the chance to tell him!  I… I hadn’t even tried to tell him.   I was nearly twenty-one years old and we had been dating for exactly one year.  He had surprised me by repeating our first date; the Toronto Boat show, dinner at a jazz club and now a midnight stop at the old cross off Centennial Parkway.  Everything had indeed been lovely but  in the months leading up to this night I had absolutely no inclination that we had gotten this serious.  I hadn’t even considered the idea of marriage yet.  I wasn’t ready for this decision. I wasn’t ready for honesty!  And then suddenly before I could stop it, I was sub-consciously dragged back to the darkest, loneliest and most hideous part of my life.  A part I had been desperately trying to leave behind…

 
The lights were off, because I insisted it this way.  The air was heavy; he was heavy.  And there was that old familiar darkness creeping in through the closed door, up the bed and into my soul.  I knew it well. It was thrill and dread; victory and defeat.  It was the beast that took up residence inside of me, coursing through my veins and hauling my body through the motions.  It was master; I was slave.  Yeah, I knew it well.  We had made acquaintance a long time ago.  It was like a constant companion to me; always there, just lurking in the corners.  And now, here I was feebly attempting to temporarily satisfy an unquenchable thirst.  I was in a dark smelly apartment, with a guy that I hardly knew, who I wasn’t even remotely attracted to and I was cheating on my boyfriend.  I hated myself.  I hated my weakness.  I hated that I could not see past the fulfillment of my lust.  I hated the fact that sooner or later the beast inside of me always got its way…

 “Babe… Did you hear me?” Cam said with a nervous chuckle.   My thoughts raced back to the present, to the man on one knee, waiting for an answer.  “I… I don’t know what to say.” I finally choked out.  Which was of course true.  Was I supposed to say “Yes, a thousand times, yes!” and just bury the darkness deep into my past?  It was, after all, definitely in the past.  I knew that a lot had changed in six months.   But… I guess not enough.  Otherwise I would have been able to tell him.  So what then? Was I supposed to tell him the whole truth now, after he had gone to all these lengths to create a perfect moment? Would he understand? I had never wanted to hurt him, there was just something wrong with me on a very deep level.  It went back as far as I could remember.

 Despite the fact that I had grown up in a happy, healthy Christian home, I guess I had figured out at a young age that I was something of a cardinal sinner. I believed with all of my heart that I didn’t truly belong to the “club” that my family met with every Sunday because I wasn’t really that good.  I don’t know when this belief started to take root.  Maybe in the Sunday school room when I didn’t know all of the answers, or because I made faces at the girls who sat perfectly proper in their pretty little dresses.  Or maybe because in our family, I was always the instigator; the “common denominator” in every argument.  Or maybe it was just because of the fact that even when I tried my best to be good, I still fell short.  As I got older, this belief only made room for more secrets and addictive behaviours.   Maybe this wasn’t all that irregular to most girls my age but I lived in a world where make out scenes were fast-forwarded, the word “sex” was worse than the “F” bomb and little girls just didn’t have dirty thoughts.   I didn’t stand a chance! I was already guilty.  So I did the only thing I knew how, I pretended.   I had always been a good pretender.  I worked so hard to appear holy like everyone else, but inside I knew the truth and it bore heavy on my shoulders.  I kept my secrets and I thought that was the best option but in effect no one knew how broken I was.  At least not until I ran up a long list of boyfriends, hook-ups and flings.  By then no one could help me anyways.

 I gulped in the frosty night wind and forced myself to focus on the present.  Cam was exactly the type of man that I needed.  He challenged me to reach for higher goals and he stood by me while I stumbled towards them.  He laughed when I barked (if you catch my drift) and he truly, absolutely loved God.  In short he was exactly what I had always wanted… but I wasn’t what I wanted.   I felt deeper in that dark, dank pit than I had ever felt.  I desperately needed a way out.  And here was my knight in shining armour, patiently waiting for an answer.  I swallowed the lump in my throat.  Maybe I would still tell him some day.  But for now, he would be my resolution. I wasn’t doing anything differently, this was who I was, who I had always been.  I just had issues that no one knew about.   I would never cheat on him again… if I could manage that much.  Surely I could manage that much.  I looked him in the eye and I told him yes.  I would marry him.  I would continue to live this lie.  But things would be better.  I wouldn’t have to deal with it all alone anymore.  “Yes” was definitely the right answer.  He proudly placed a beautiful ring on my finger.  I knew it should have been such a perfect moment to be remembered for the rest of our lives but for me it was stained with regret.  

 The following eight months flew by with wedding preparations and renovations on the condo we had purchased.  For the most part I stumbled along with the plans.  It was truly the busiest time of my life, which was good because it left little time for me to think.  But every so often, on a restless night, I would find myself staring up at the ceiling and desperately wishing for a way out of it all.  It wasn’t that I didn’t want to marry Cam.  It was more fear that he wouldn’t want to marry me if he knew who I really was and what I had done.  This fear choked the excitement right out of me.  And as the countdown began the fear only intensified until eventually I didn’t want the celebration anymore, I didn’t want the flowers or the dress or the little white chapel… I just wanted to know - I needed to know that Cam loved me for who I really was,  a twenty-one year old girl with much more baggage than he knew.  And as my resolve settled, I knew that I really loved him.  Perhaps I had never really understood love before then.  But I loved him enough to let him know the truth even if it cost our future together.  Even if it meant that all the gifts would have to be returned and that most everyone else who had been invited would find out why we had really called it off.  Sadly, it wasn’t even until that moment, that I realized the position I had put him in.  My secrecy, which had only ever  been constructed to protect myself, would actually be wounding someone else deeply.  It was time to tell him.  But I needed some time alone with God first… I was certain I didn’t possess the wisdom or the strength to do this on my own.  What I didn’t realize, was that God had been sitting there waiting for me.  He planned to do a lot more than just grant me the wisdom and the strength to talk to Cam.  God was about to change my life.

 Over the next few weeks in the early hours of each morning I met with God.  In the beginning I was afraid of Him.  I put on my “Sunday best” attitude and still did a lot of pretending even though I knew He already knew everything.  I’m sure I looked an awful lot like Adam and Eve as they tried to hide behind their fig leaves.  But every single day God showed me one thing, and He showed me over and over again in a million different ways.  He showed me that He loved me.  That even with all of my faults, weaknesses and failures I was like a radiant, holy and beautiful bride to Him.  And this love had absolutely nothing to do with my ability to be good or because of any good thing I had ever done in my entire lifetime.   It had everything to do with Jesus.  Of course, I had grown up in the church, I had head-knowledge of this since I was a kid.  But for the first time in my life my heart and my head were speaking the same language.  As each day grew into the next, I started to feel more comfortable to let Him into deeper parts of my soul.  Like the skins of an onion, He was peeling off one layer at a time of the relational walls I had put up between us.  I started to understand that His love for me and the fact that He lived inside of me was the only reason why I was even capable of doing anything good.  I learned that freedom is found in relationship with Him and the relationship doesn’t come simply because one spends hours in devotion or prayer with Him. Degrees of relationship with God are no different than the degrees of relationship between humans.  It comes from an understanding of how deeply you are accepted and loved.

 Finally, one morning I felt God telling me that it was time to say good-bye to my constant companion.  Darkness and light cannot co-exist.  Except the darkness wasn’t the bad thing I had done.  The darkness was my belief that I could make myself holy, whether by good deeds, lack of bad deeds or just a mask I tried to hide behind.  I knew I had to go straight into the centre of my pain to be done with it.  I had to come to the end of myself.  I asked for forgiveness for the sin that encompasses all sin; having a god that was other than the true God.  I had believed that I could somehow earn my own righteousness (even if that meant living with secrets and avoiding the truth.)    I suddenly understood that it is my freedom from this sin of believing I can make myself holy, that enables me to live free of the sins that held me so tightly.  In that moment of repentance, I knew I would never see that darkness again.  Something else had filled my soul where that aching thirst had been.  It was a joy that quenched every desire and filled every crevice.  And the guilt was gone.  There is no room for shame in the arms of grace.  I was finally whole and assured of a love that would be more than enough for me for the rest of my life.

 Later that day, with the wedding less than one month away I asked Cam to come over.  That night, on my living room floor, I told him my entire story.  I didn’t know what to expect.  I only knew to trust that God would work everything out for His good.  Cam didn’t say anything at first.  He was like a stone, void of emotion.  I could only imagine how difficult this was for him to hear, about a woman he thought he knew well.  I finished my story and we just sat in silence for what seemed like an eternity.  Finally he said he would need some time to deal with this and I said that would be okay.  He took a deep breath, kissed me on the forehead and turned to leave.  But not before I saw the pain and betrayal that I knew he felt… the pain I had put there.

 He didn’t call the next day.  I didn’t know what else to do except pray.  I prayed for him unlike any time I had ever before.  I reminded myself that God was my source of happiness.   My world would not shatter if Cam decided he couldn’t accept my mistakes.  I prayed for the healing of his heart and I waited.  This went on for another four days.  Not a single word was spoken between us.  By this time I was starting to lose hope.  I was starting to wonder how he would call off the wedding and how I would be able to tell everyone.  I thought about everything that I knew about him.  I knew that he had been stabbed in the back before by business partners and friends and that hurt ran deep.  I knew that he and I were very different in the way we viewed other people.  I easily embraced people.  He did not trust others or let them in until they earned a place in his heart.  I tried to guess my response if the roles had been reversed but of course, I had no idea how I would have reacted.   It wasn’t my heart that had been broken. 

 By the fifth day I had prepared myself for the worst, as best as I knew how.  He called me during his lunch break and said he would be by to pick me up when he was done work.  For the first time since we started dating, I was ready when he arrived.  He met me at the door with a coldness, a distance that I had not experienced from him before.  He hardly said a word as we walked to his car.  Normally I would have found something on the radio and put my feet up on the dash but that day I sat with my hands awkwardly still on my lap.  Silence filled the car.  I wanted to ask where we were going but I didn’t.  Cam had grown up in the area and seemed to know all of the back roads to any destination.  We were out in the country somewhere.  So, I allowed myself to take in the scenery of the Niagara escarpment outside of my window. 

 When the car finally came to a stop I suddenly realized where we were.  It was the same conservation area he had brought me to the night he had proposed.  I hadn’t recognized it because our first visit had been at night in the dead of winter.  Here, now, I sat momentarily transfixed at the kaleidoscope of nature and colours all around me;  the rush of the waterfalls to my left and the density of the brush to my right.  Directly ahead was the lookout point; a bird’s eye view of Burlington and Lake Ontario and looming large above it all, the old cross.  Without thinking I broke the silence, “This is incredible.  All I remember from that night was darkness and cold.  How could I have missed this?” I asked. 

“If I remember correctly, you were a little preoccupied with all your complaints about the despicable torture I was putting you through” he replied with a wry smile.  I cringed at the memory.  He held out his hand to help me over a large fallen tree and he didn’t let go when I had safely crossed over.  My heart leapt at the simple gesture that had once been so easy between us. 

 He sighed and turned to face me.  “I wish I could have talked to you earlier.  I didn’t want to keep you waiting.  I just… didn’t know what to say.  Nothing you could have said that night would have surprised me more.  I still don’t really know how to handle this.”  He absently thumbed circles on the back of my hand as he tried to collect his thoughts.  “Cam, I am so sorry.  I wish more than anything that I was someone else; that I didn’t have to put you through this.”  “ I don’t want anyone else.” He cut in.  “…I don’t want anyone else,” slower this time and his eyes looked deep into mine.  I still saw so much pain there.  God, what could I do? What could I say? But it was he who spoke next, “I haven’t changed my mind about us.  If the unconditional part needs to come before the vows, that’s fine.  I’ll do whatever it takes.” He said with eyes searching mine.  “I just can’t… I’m not very good at the forgiving part.  I love you Steph.  But I’m still so angry… it’s not going away.  And I do trust you.  I know it won’t happen again, but I still have all these thoughts coming at me all the time.  I’m not strong enough to fight this on my own.” He looked away. 

 I just stood there, shocked. How on earth had this turned into his problem; his guilt? I was the one with the issues.  But
then it hit me like a load of bricks.  I didn’t have the issues any longer.  The guilt and shame had been gone for weeks, since the very day I took it to God.  The day I stopped trying to fix it on my own.  “Cam! You’re exactly right! You can’t fight it on your own.  I tried doing just that every day of my life and that’s basically why we are standing here today.  We weren’t created to fix this on our own.  We were created to know God’s love.  I was always so busy trying to prove that I was worthy of God’s love; trying to make up for all my mistakes… I completely missed the fact that He loved me first.  And you know… I think it was when I started to really know His love that I was finally able to love Him back.  I stopped doing things out of obligation.  It was more like cause and effect, I couldn’t help but love Him.  I just wanted to be with Him all the time… kind of like when I fell in love with you.”

 Cam stared at me for a moment and then led me around to the lookout point so we could see the whole picture before us.  “None of what you just said has been news to me… I’ve heard it all since I was a kid.  But just now, it’s like my head and my heart were speaking the same language.  It’s so easy.  Why do we try to make it complicated?” He asked.  “I don‘t know.” I responded. “Maybe because then we would deserve some of the credit?”  Then we just looked at one another.  Feeling overwhelmed and awkward I turned back to the lookout. “I still can’t believe I missed all of this that night, eight months ago.  It’s so vibrant and alive… maybe my perspectives have changed in more ways than one.  I was so focused on the negative before.” I turned to look at him but I was surprised to find that he wasn’t standing beside me anymore.  Instead he was behind me and he was kneeling again on one knee.  This time it really was perfect.  There wasn’t a shadow of guilt to cloud the memory.  It was just a moment of love, a moment of worship, a moment on bended knees.  I suddenly knew then that redemption had been waiting for me all along and I found it there… at the foot of a cross.

 

“Maybe redemption has stories to tell.  Maybe forgiveness is right where you fell.

Where can you run to escape from yourself?”

Switchfoot