Open To Surprise

In an attempt to make sense of the past, I find I am interrupting the process by having very narrow assumptions. I’ve wanted a quick resolve to my troubles, much like removing a cast from a broken arm after a few short weeks of healing. Sadly, this has not been the case. It’s been a full three years of ups and downs and I still feel like I’m only scratching the surface.

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There Is More To It

Dinner was served on hand-me-down plates from my late grandparents. Our everyday dinnerware was loaded into the dishwasher, hence the need for the ‘fancier’ plates. It worked out nicely since we were having a fancier meal: strip loin steak, baked potatoes and grilled asparagus.

Whenever I plate food or pour a drink into their antique dinnerware, I think back to memories I’ve shared with them. An odd but timely memory was activated during our steak and potato meal. I remember when I was a teenager my grandmother having to leave the kitchen anytime my grandfather ran the dish water. She couldn’t handle the violent sound the rushing water made as it filled up the sink. I thought that this was so peculiar and the reaction was just her being fussy.

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Misplaced

With not much to do these days, we’ve had to be creative in how we spend our free time. One of our new ‘fun’ activities is puzzling. Before all this, I never saw myself as a puzzler but, here we are! Our first puzzle was a beautiful starry night at an old lake house with three dogs sitting on the dock. Unlike our second and third puzzle, this one had very intricate pieces that had us seriously baffled. After an hour of puzzling our eyes were seeing similarly toned pieces as a wash of undistinguishable colours. Several times we had placed a piece in a spot that appeared to fit but did not. That one misplaced piece threw off the chance of fitting any other piece around the area, adding more hours to our puzzling fun. 

Time spent puzzling made for opportunity to reflect (a constant practice in my life). Puzzling revealed more than just a beautiful old lake house under a starry sky. It also uncovered an interesting revelation: putting the wrong piece where it doesn’t belong tries to solve a problem but in actuality it doesn’t. It only throws you off course. 

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Art of Resistance

My nephew (a new addition to our family) is absolutely adorable and full of charm. The other day I was video chatting with him (and my sister) while he was eating his dinner. My sister couldn’t get the food to him fast enough. I was surprised that he was enjoying spinach, broccoli and salmon. There’s not a lot this little guy doesn’t like to eat. Thinking back to my own childhood, boy was I a picky eater compared to him. I could not handle anything with a ‘funny’ texture, including eggs and most meat (to this day, I still can’t.) 

My video chat with my nephew during dinner time got me thinking about a much larger dilemma than my picky eating habits as a child. When life serves us a diet that is unpalatable we are quick to push the plate away. Our ‘food’ dislikes are actually unwanted emotions and experiences such as discontentment, sadness and loneliness. These can be brought on by loss, disappointment, failure and disagreements.

Just like I avoided eggs and most meat as a child (and adult), I’ve also pushed away many unwanted emotions and experiences. I did this by covering up reality with motivational mantras like, “Don’t give up! Stay positive! Do what’s right!” With such an unbalanced diet of motivational mantras, I neglected to notice any deficiency. The unbalanced diet, while tasty, caused an upset stomach. Unlike a child, I could no longer close my lips and shake my head, “No!” I had to acknowledge every platitude I had collected over the years: “Strong successful people persist! Don’t show weakness! Pray the roadblocks away!” All these taught me the art of resistance.

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Unmasking

I write this sitting in my backyard on a warm breezy fall afternoon. The setting is ideal. My demeanour calm and collected. I pride myself on how well I can hide the inner turmoil at times. I’m reluctant to admit how difficult the last few months have been and how the culminating eruption took me out. 

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Filling Space

Mulling over the drink menu at one of our favourite local restaurants, four of us sat on bar stools catching up about last week’s birthday celebration. It was a fun event that brought together a large crowd of new and old neighbours, friends from work and old band mates, as well as family. Being an introvert at a party and knowing only half of the crowd required a lot of energy (small talk is not my thing).

As the party was coming to a close, I met my friends’ former neighbours – an outspoken extrovert and his quiet introverted wife. Filling the air with colourful words, he told stories of anarchy while I stood there smiling uncomfortably and being shocked into laughter. He was a force, untamed, wild and free. He made no apologies. He is who he is, like it or leave it. As uncomfortable as I felt, I saw through the vulgarities. At his core he  is a committed husband and father – a family man. He described his relationship with our mutual friends as the best type of neighbours you could have – sharing meals together, shovelling snow from each others’ driveways, or helping move heavy furniture followed by a beer or two afterwards. He was such a fascinating guy that he became the springboard for an interesting conversation the following weekend with our friends about self-identity.

During our meal, the four of us all agreed that as vulgar as he is, people still like him. My extroverted friend (the only one at the table) passionately said that when we aren’t comfortable with our identity we are just filling in the spaces of someone else’s expectation of us. We are ‘space-fillers.’ With my cocktail close to being finished and my belly satisfied with delicious food, I was far from leaving this profound metaphor at the restaurant. This image of filling the space of someone else’s expectations was sparking so much intrigue that I had to give it more time to expand.

A space-filler….

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Summer-Soaked

Soaked with nature’s perfume, our day was coming to a close. After a day spent lake-diving, boating to a patio-restaurant for lunch and doing yoga by the water at dusk, we finally settled in for the evening. Our cottage playlist set the mood nicely. It was mostly background music playing off the stunning views of water, rock, lake and trees. Once the sun was put to rest, the dark sky drew us inside where the background music became our evening soundtrack. A joke earlier about the perfect fishing song was cued up. It was a fierce song with build and vibe and attitude. A song that could not be passively listened to – it demanded we move! With a relaxed courage, I stood up and started dancing. In no way ‘cool’ but fully committed, I summoned the courage of two more. Together we danced. One song turned into two, and two turned into more. We laughed and moved, and were as free as could be. In the comfort of a cottage on a private island where no one could peek in and say “Look at those weirdos!” we were free of judgement. My dance was silly and full of laughter with a bit of attitude. It was the culmination of a happy heart and soul. It was freedom!

The freedom I experienced came from a level of trust I had developed with my friends and myself. Uninhibited by the fear of judgment, I was able to be my ‘silly-self.’ Late night cottage dancing was the peak high after experiencing some very difficult lows a year earlier. 

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Lessons In Loneliness

A friend of mine spent a full day at a silent retreat in hopes to discover more about herself. I on the other hand spent two and a half weeks alone while my husband toured the country with a band. Whether silent for a day or alone for weeks, I know that spending time alone in quietness allows time for reflection and makes you vulnerable.

 

Underneath a poised posture, I feel alone. 

Day-after-day I live out my routine. I engage in self-talk, “You’re okay! You’re fine!” All the while I bear heaviness like a weighted balloon, expanded from belly to heart. It reminds me that I am sad and alone, and, I’m afraid to say, even a little jealous and upset. My conscience tells me these emotions are not to be shown or felt. I know for certain they are not productive and will not get me through the day. 

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God Is Enough or So We Say?

During an insightful conversation about relationships I caught myself whispering the possibly overused words, “God is enough.” The main topic of the conversation was the idea that we all have ‘holes’ (a.k.a. brokenness) and we can’t expect someone else to fix us. How can one broken person fix another broken person? Two halves do make a whole, but two ‘whole’ people make for a healthier relationship. I couldn’t help but comment, “…well faith can help fill the holes.” And to that my friend said, “…but even that isn’t enough.” Wait! I’ve been told that, “God is enough! He is all you need!” How is faith not enough?

When you think about it the words “God is enough!” seems to imply that we don’t need anything or anyone else to fulfill our desires and fix our pain. In my opinion, this is an isolating way to approach fulfillment and healing.

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Dare I say that if you’re human, you bear the scars of life. We all carry hurt, unfulfilled dreams and fear caused by the choices we’ve made, as well as non-choices made on our behalf. Our ‘holes’ or brokenness propel us into one of two directions. First, brokenness invades our self-worth causing us to make poor choices in our relationships and prevents us from believing we can accomplish our dreams. Second, brokenness makes us aware of our fragile need for repair.

We may know people or be that broken person who either is or has been in unhealthy relationships. If God is enough, he can heal our brokenness alone. Right? This seems to be true with a story of the Samaritan woman with five ex-husbands and a current partner. I’ll be the first to make the assumption that anyone with five ex-husbands has a bad track record with men and I’m certain she’d be nursing wounds (John 4).

The day the Samaritan woman met Jesus at Jacob’s well she got more than just water. In and out of relationships, the Samaritan woman lacked wholeness. However, the day she encountered Jesus, who was well aware of her brokenness and knew her every need before she made mention of it, gave her the gift of ‘living water’ welling up to eternal life. To me, this story seems to confirm that ‘God is enough’ to heal brokenness…but I’m still feeling challenged by friend’s comment that “even faith isn’t enough.”

God in His nature is three-in-one (God, Jesus & the Holy Spirit). He does nothing in isolation but consistently in partnership. Our very nature is the reflection of partnership – “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground” (Genesis 1:26).

Formed from dust and given life through God’s own breath, Adam becomes God’s partner to help work and care for the Earth. You’d think that if ‘God is enough’ than there would be no need for anyone else to be apart of Adam’s life. With God, Adam had all that he needed…or so it seemed. If God were enough for Adam than why did God say, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (Genesis 2:18). Let’s not forget Adam wasn’t alone at the time when God said this. Adam had every living creature on Earth to keep Him company and not to mention God Himself. Yet God points out the fact that, he is alone. So instead of using the ‘dust and breath method’ to create a suitable partner for Adam, God causes Adam to fall into a deep sleep and then takes one of his ribs to form Eve. “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man” (Genesis 2:23). A simple surgery couldn’t replace nor repair Adam’s missing rib instead that ‘missing part’ takes on a different form – a partner named Eve.

If God were enough then Adam would have been fit to be alone. This was not the case. God saw that it was necessary for him to have a partner. Honestly, this would lead us to believe that God is not enough and we need human relationships to have a sense of wholeness and belonging. Although I’m still uncertain of drawing the conclusion that ‘God is not enough’ because it sounds incredibly contrary to everything I’ve been taught.

Whenever I hear the words ‘God is enough’ what I really hear is you shouldn’t rely on friendships, family or romantic relationships; forget relying on pastors, fellow Christians or anyone else for that matter. Not a single person in this world can fill your holes or repair your brokenness, no one but God. This is an isolating way to approach wholeness. God does nothing alone yet we are expected to rely on God alone to repair us and make us whole. Personally, I think it’s a dual effort of us relying on God in addition to relying on each other.

You see Adam had God and needed human relationships. The Samaritan woman had human relationships but didn’t know God personally. If love is what we need, than God is love and He is all we need…yet His love alone is not what makes us complete. Loving one another completes God’s love in us (1 John 4). Within the statement ‘God is enough’ we find the triune God at the centre of our fulfillment and the overflow or connecting point that closes the gap is human relationships.

The possibly overused words ‘God is enough’ doesn’t imply that we shouldn’t rely on human relationships. It implies that God will satisfy our deepest hunger and thirst in life and will overflow our lives with relationships where we will see His reflection and where His love is completing us (John 6:35).

 

 

Who Am I Now?

Have you ever asked yourself “Who am I?”

At different stages in life we ask ourselves this question. It’s usually a question we ask ourselves when we feel we’ve somehow lost a part of who we are. This tends to happen when we experience change in our lives. Our relationship status changes from ‘Single’ to ‘In a Relationship’ or visa-versa, our family grows or shrinks, our career changes or our spiritual journey takes a few turns in a direction we didn’t think it would ever go.

I feel like I’ve asked myself this question several times in my life. I can remember feeling like, “Okay, who am I now that I’ve switched careers? Is this a forever switch or stage in my working life?” I’ve also asked myself, “Okay, who am I now that I am married and living in a different city away from every social safety net?” I really lost a sense of self when I didn’t have family or childhood friends close by. It’s funny how much of whom we surround ourselves with shapes our sense of identity.

What gives us our sense of identity?

Obviously our gender, nationality, family, geographic location, spiritual beliefs, personality traits, passions and relationships all play important roles in shaping who we are. I don’t believe just one ‘thing’ defines us or gives us our identity. Although all these pieces can shape our identity, some play a more prominent role in shaping us than others. While faith and gender may be stronger forces that shape my identity, it may not be the case for someone else. A student may have his/her identity shaped by a diverse group of university friends, the high pace of a big city and have his/her beliefs shaped and challenged by scholars. A woman on the other hand may be strongly defined by her role as a mother. Her sense of identity comes from the love and care she gives to her children as well as the community of moms she surrounds herself with. Our sense of who we are is constantly being questioned (and might I say refined) as we get older and experience change.

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The things that make me different are the things that make me. – Winnie the Pooh

“Don’t call me Naomi!” Do you think Naomi ever questioned her identity? From the statement above, I think she may have. Here’s her story:

Naomi is a wife and mother of two and an Israelite from Bethlehem, Judah, who leaves her home during a famine and settles in Moab. While in Moab she loses her husband, gains two daughter-in-laws and then loses her two sons. Naomi’s identity profile at the beginning of the story is an Israelite, a wife and mother from Bethlehem, Judah. Her identity profile quickly changes to widow, childless, living in Moab with two daughter-in-laws. Without a doubt, she must have questioned her identity – “Who am I now that I have lost both my husband and my two sons and I’m living in a place different from my hometown?” After having gone through such a drastic change, Naomi feels the Lord’s hand is against her (Ruth 1:13b). What an awful feeling! Her daughter-in-law Ruth encourages her by saying, “Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me” (Ruth 1:16b-17). Talk about someone being there for you when you really need it!

Together Naomi and Ruth head back to Bethlehem – a place familiar to Naomi. The town recognizes Naomi and exclaims, “Can this be Naomi?” Not feeling anything like the woman she was before she left Bethlehem (a married woman with 2 sons) Naomi replies with, “Don’t call me Naomi,” “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi?” (Ruth 1:19b-21a). Have you ever felt like the life you built and the person you thought you were changed drastically and just like Naomi you felt like saying to others, “I AM NOT…! WHY CALL ME…?”

If we’ve ever sensed a lost of identity, I’m sure we can all relate to Naomi in someway.

Who am I now that cancer has changed my body? Who am I after pregnancy? Who am I now that I am single, married, divorced, a widow, mother or grandmother? Who am I now that am unemployed, a stay at home mom, in charge of the company or entrepreneur? Drastic change and even the littlest change in our life can make us question who we are. …and it’s okay to question our identity. While some things in our life don’t change, others do. Even the consistent day-to-day can leave us longing for something more and questioning who we are. Either way, when the question surfaces don’t shy way. Engage with your thoughts and emotions. Take inventory – Who are you now?

Ask yourself the question once again – “Who am I?” or “Who am I now?” What words would you use to describe yourself?

When I answered this question I noticed that I answered it in categories – Adjectives, Relational Connections, Faith and Role in Society. I would describe myself as:

  • Adjectives: kind, quiet, thinker, creative, loving, sensitive, driven & responsible
  • Relational Connections: wife, daughter, sister & friend
  • Faith: Christian
  • Role in Society: communicator, teacher, writer & role-model

When taking inventory of your identity remember the truth of God in your life:

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  1. You are made in God’s image. (Genesis 1:27)
  2. You are designed for God’s purpose (You are called to a holy life of obedience and to bear fruit). (Matthew 16:24 & Galatians 5:22-23)
  3. You are his child and a part of a larger spiritual family. (Ephesians 2:19-22)
  4. You are forgiven and loved passionately. (John 3:16)

The story doesn’t end with Naomi feeling nothing like the person she once was  -“Don’t call me Naomi” (Ruth 1:20). Through her dedication to Naomi’s care and instruction, Ruth marries Boaz, the ‘guardian-redeemer’ and Naomi receives the land that would have been hers if her husband and two sons had lived.Who are you now Naomi? A widow with a faithful and loving daughter-in-law who marries the ‘guardian-redeemer’ Boaz and becomes grandmother to Obed, and who’s great great grandson would be King David.

You are not forgotten, empty and without family, you are loved and your life has purpose.

*PICS – healthshire.com, quotesgram.com & play.google.com