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…