Somewhere Between 23rd & Broad

I lost my voice along the way

Somewhere between 23rd and Broad.

A man walked away with it.

He tucked it in his wallet and carried it like cash.

One more voice ‘cashed in.’

 

My pace, somber and slow,

disappearing with each step.

I fade into the rest

Faces with no names

Branded to fit the masses

Lost in the crowd

 

I lost my voice somewhere between now and then.

Gone.       Not lost.      Paused.

Gradually it returns

somewhere between Broad and New.

I made my own cash

Bought my voice back

Held my head high

Looked everyone in the eyes

 

My voice returned

It beats with sound

A rhythm felt with no words

Robbed and returned

It’s my voice – quiet and bold.

Lost but found.

 

I lost my voice along the way

never to be taken again

shoes

 

 

 

Brighter and More Beautiful

 

From time to time I reassess my life’s purpose. I feel that I’ve gained some life experience – at least enough to have an idea of what’s most important in life. My life’s purpose has changed from the need to figure out my vocation (my 9-5) to a method/means in how I live my life. My focus has shifted from ‘calling’ to the ‘day-to-day’ mindset.

A friend commented on my last post by saying how Isaiah 43 has helped her understand God’s love. I thought I’d refresh my memory and read it for myself. There were many parts of the passage that brought me encouragement, one of them being that we are made for God’s glory. Those words kept repeating in my mind and yet I had no practical understanding of what that truly meant.

The initial image I had in my mind after reading “we are made for God’s glory” was that of a proud and loving father who takes tremendous pride in his children. I have yet to meet a parent that doesn’t think his/her child is the best. Even when a child misbehaves, there is this unrelentless love a parent has that doesn’t allow behaviour to outshine all the good in his/her child. Despite the ups and downs that come with parenting, Moms and Dads dearly love their children, and if given the opportunity will let you know exactly how proud they are of them. Despite all our short-comings God, too, views us as His pride and joy.

…so this was the initial picture I had in my mind after reading “I have made them for my glory.” Isaiah 43:7b My second thought was one that crosses a critic’s mind “Isn’t that selfish of God to create us for the soul purpose of giving Him glory? As if He needs an ego boost!” Our idea of glory includes wealth, power and influence. People step back in admiration (or jealousy) when someone steps out of an expensive car or a movie star walks a red carpeted event or CEO of multimillion dollar company talks about his/her success at a conference. Not that these individuals are necessarily looking for admiration but their ‘perceived’ status makes others want to be like them. God, unlike our idea of glory, doesn’t need us to make Him ‘look good!’ He is glory. …and we are made for His glory.

To think that we are created to make someone other than us greater is an ego downgrade. This is hard for us to grasp since we humans don’t have a great track record for making someone other than ourselves look good. We are very selfish, and on the severe end of the spectrum can be down right evil to each other. If my perception of God is distant, power-hungry and uninvolved, than of course I’d think that He is selfish in wanting glory. I’m thankful that my experience with God is loving, forgiving and near therefore I have no problem illuminating who He is.

To be made for His glory frees me up from exhausting thoughts about my life’s purpose. To look beyond what I can get out of this life to how I might I illuminate God’s glory. “We weren’t meant to be somebody – we were meant to know Somebody.” – John Piper. Wealth, fame, glory, power and so on, are signs that we have somehow ‘arrived’ in life but have nothing to do with our life’s purpose. Our purpose isn’t to turn ourselves into a god (someone important or above others) but to reveal Him in our daily lives. “It is about the greatness of God, not the significance of man. God made man small and the universe big to say something about himself.” – John Piper. God was never made for us. We are made for God’s glory. Being made for God’s glory means we illuminate who God is – loving, faithful, kind, just and forgiving.

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Not to us, Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness. Psalm 115:1

Once again I feel like I am like a child trying to understand the complex truth and nature of God. Being made for God’s glory frees me from trying to figure out my life’s purpose. Instead, I know that in all things I need to embody who God is – kind, loving, forgiving, just and faithful. I know that God views me like a proud and loving parent, and hopes that I choose goodness, kindness, faith over selfish desires. When we welcome the living, personal presence of God we become “brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him” 2 Corinthians 3:18

God’s Love Is Permanent

With one hand grasping an Americano and the other spreading open the pages of a recently purchased book, I read the words “God’s love is permanent” and the noise around me ceases. A calm comes over me. I’ve heard the words “God loves me” many times in my life and in many different ways, but to think that His love is permanent brought a new perspective to my beliefs. What struck me was how I don’t live like I believe that “God’s love is permanent.”

It’s hard for me to imagine anything in this life as being permanent. Tattoos aren’t forever thanks to laser technology. Marriage is meant to be a life-long commitment but love often doesn’t last forever. Even landscapes change over centuries. ‘Permanent’ in my experience is simply ‘a really really long time,’ or ‘until I get sick of it,’ but not necessarily forever. It’s no wonder I have a difficult time imagining God’s love as being permanent.

I’m happy to say that I’m not the only one who struggles to understand God’s love. Paul described God’s love as “too great to understand” but wants us to have the “power to understand” it:

And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.” Ephesians 3:18-19

My limited understanding of ‘permanent’ has made it difficult to believe that God’s love isn’t just a ‘really really long time’ or until He gets sick and tired of my roller coaster life. Our human ‘forever’ love is conditional on how we feel about the other person on any given day. If we get annoyed with them, we have no hesitation changing our relationship status. Even the degree in which we love family (the most ‘permanent’ relationship) is conditional on how we feel about them. Our experience with relationships makes it difficult to understand this idea that God’s love is permanent – it doesn’t change and it is always apart of us. God’s love is not constrained by our sense of time or limited to our good deeds or lack there of.

While I’ll be quick and sure to say “God loves me,” if I take an honest inventory of my life, I live as if God’s love has an expiration date. It’s found in very subtle ways: When I’m overwhelmed with life, I’m so busy trying to figure out things on my own that I don’t have time for God’s love (or to think that He actually wants to be apart of my busy schedule). When I’m exhausted and feeling low, I go into a survival mode and can’t feel God’s peace. When I’m immersed in selfish pursuit, I picture God sitting at a distance with His arms crossed waiting for me to ‘get it together.’

As I sat amongst a sea of laptops at the coffee shop where I was reading, I knew I needed to let those few words “God’s love is permanent” take ownership in my soul. I’m finding more and more often it is the obvious truths (the truths that I once knew so strongly in my early Christian life) that I need to return to. It’s like hearing the words “I love you” over and over again but longing for the intimacy behind those common words.

The delicious yet bitter taste of my Americano became more rich in flavour with the words “God’s love is permanent,” and it triggered a month long journey back to a place of letting God love me. I’ve been allowing the words to sink deep in my soul and change my outlook of who He is and who I am. I’m discovering love doesn’t look for faults, neither does it overlook them. Love is patient when I’m ignoring God or pursuing selfish desires. Love doesn’t sit in the judgement seat but in gentleness holds a mirror of truth to my face and gives me time to reassess my life. Love is more than a pat on the back or an inspirational quote like “Stay strong and keep going!” Love believes in me when doubts have clouded my judgment. Love befriends me in my loneliness. Love is forever imprinted in my heart. It never leaves me and the more I welcome it, the larger its influence becomes in my life.

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“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.” John 15:9

Embrace the Silence

The pause between words in a conversation can stir up awkward jitters. We make like we’re okay with the awkward pause with a “hmmm” or a nervous scratch, or worse, make an off-topic comment about something in the room – “That’s a nice lamp!” Prolonged quiet isn’t always welcomed. Whether we’re with others or alone, quiet is often the sound most hard to embrace.

Quiet is usually shared only with a few very privileged individuals. Very few relationships are comfortable without the constant noise of technology or each other’s voices. Not having understood the moment I was quite guilty of interrupting a beautiful, silent interaction with the common “What are you thinking about?,” forgetting that BE-ing together was more needed than conversation. This silent social exchange got me thinking. Is BE-ing with God more needed than continuous chatter? Am I missing out on a deep connection with God by constantly feeling the need to talk?

Jared Brock, author of “A Year of Living Prayerfully” recalls an encounter in Taize, France, “It was a deep silence, broken only occasionally by a sneeze or cough. It was so beautiful to share prolonged silence with hundreds of brothers and sisters. In a world that competes for attention, that always has an agenda to push and a point to prove, it was incredible to share a moment of silence with a large group of people. For a small moment, we weren’t talkers and speakers. We were transformed into listeners and hearers.”

When we are transformed into listeners and hearers our agendas change, our hearts soften, we let go of trying to do everything and fix everything and welcome God’s voice into our souls. “Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for him to act.” (Psalm 37:7a) What if God simply needs us to ‘BE’ in order to for us experience His presence, hear His voice and for Him to ‘act’ in our lives?

I’ve chosen the word ‘BE’ to describe the silent interaction between God and us because BE-ing is an active verb (like all verbs) that requires little to no movement, but requires that we fully engage the moment. This verb/act could quite possibly be more difficult than exercising at the gym for an hour or studying for a test. You’d think that remaining still would be an easy task but it’s far harder than you can imagine. It’s even more difficult to centre your mind and emotions in the moment.

BE-ing takes on the posture of stillness (e.g., sitting, laying, kneeling) in which we allow ourselves to become aware of our breathing, let go of our stresses and welcome God’s presence and voice. During this time we will be inclined to muster up emotions or feel like we need to tug on God’s heart by telling Him all our troubles. BE-ing is the quiet act of welcoming God and trusting that He knows what’s going on in our lives.

In trying to practice the fine art of BE-ing I’ve found that ongoing busyness unintentionally but forcefully pushes pain and unsolved issues to the hidden corners of my soul. It’s only when I sit in solitude with no agenda, those buried emotions rise to the surface and the ultimate test becomes whether or not I’ll allow God to comfort and repair the “worn out me” or quickly find something to keep me busy.

If I can embrace the uncomfortable silence and stillness long enough, my body unclenches and begins to move with the simple life-force rhythm of my breathing. Every exhale feels like I’m shedding layers of relentless pressure “to do.” Weight lifts off one breath at a time, and I sense God vying for my soul. I become aware of my size in comparison to the universe and although I feel small, I know I am deepening my connection with God by simply BE-ing.

In a world that prides itself on busyness, it’s very difficult to not be doing something. We somehow have equated prolonged periods of BE-ing as lazy and unproductive. Productivity doesn’t only look like work and busyness. Although BE-ing may appear unproductive, there’s something incredibly restorative about it. What we may need more than a busy productive day is a productive silence! Let’s rearrange our outlook to value BE-ing just as much as doing. Embrace the silence!

birch

“But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31       *pic by @strbye

 

Living Prayerfully – http://jaredbrock.com

 

Risk of Insecurity

This has to be the loftiest of topics I’ve tried to tackle. It’s been weeks of reading, pondering, praying and experiencing and I’ve realized that the topic of insecurity has many angles – one too lofty for just one blog post. I felt the need to analyze my own insecurities because, quite frankly, I don’t like feeling insecure. Insecurity feels like isolation and judgement. It holds me prisoner to enjoying life, to believing I have purpose and prevents me from truly feeling comfortable being ‘me’ in social settings.

Being an introvert who also appreciates the company of others, I often find that most people around me seem to be very secure. They confidently spout whatever comes to their minds, and people listen to them. Insecurity seems to reveal itself in one of two ways:  withdrawal or overcompensation. When one feels insecure he or she either withdraws from a social situation completely, or will go out of their way to let everyone know that they are important in some way, shape or form.

I don’t think we begin as insecure people. Rather, external circumstances trigger feelings of inadequacy. Reflecting back on my teen years I can pinpoint a fracture that occurred in the way I saw myself. While standing in a circle with a group of friends talking, I piped up to give my opinion but was quickly shut down by an older guy friend. Being the impressionable teen that I was, my friend’s comment not only cut me out of that conversation but developed in me an insecurity. I started believing that as a girl my opinion didn’t matter – a lie that impacted much of my teen years and early adult life. I feel as though most of us have a story where we at one point authentically felt inner security but some circumstance challenged or replaced that inner security with insecurity.

Being human puts us at risk of insecurity. It starts as a comparison exchange that impacts our thoughts, potentially resulting in a long list of life inhibitors: envy, fear, disbelief in what God says about us or has called us to, or an attitude that says, “I can do it on my own” (lack of trust in God and others), to name a few. Whether it’s a social comparison exchange as one person/group actively places themselves in a position higher than you, or a self-perceived comparison exchange has you feeling inadequate, insecurity inhibits you from being your authentic self.

Your “authentic self” is a broad term. I’m in the process of re-discovering my authentic self (and as long as I’m alive I’ll be in that process). I know that I will never truly feel myself unless I’m connected to my Creator. I’m most secure when I feel loved, as I’m sure that’s true for all of us. I’m reminded that God is love. He is love and He loves us. His love reminds me that I am not a mistake or a blip in human history, but I am chosen.

“From all eternity, long before you were born and became a part of history, you existed in God’s heart. Long before your parents admired you or your friends acknowledged your gifts or your teachers, colleagues, and employers encouraged you, you were already ‘chosen.'” – Henri J. M. Nouwen

The disciple Peter seems like the most sure of himself in the bunch. In the middle of a storm at 3:00 am Jesus terrifies His disciples by walking on water towards their boat. After reassuring them that they needn’t be terrified, the over-confident (possibly more trusting) Peter wants to join Jesus by walking on water and he does…until the world around him looks less secure. As he begins to sink, Jesus immediately reaches out and grabs him (Matthew 14:22-33). Outside circumstances make us doubt who we truly are, our potential and our purpose. Even though we doubt and sometimes respond to our insecurities by withdrawing or over-compensating, Jesus immediately reaches His hand out to us and tells us to have faith in what He says to us and about us.

Instead of allowing external exchanges and inner lies crush your authentic self, grab ahold of your Creator’s hand and allow Him to remind you of your worth.

Being human puts us at the risk of insecurity. Insecurity taunts you with what you don’t have, tempts you to over-power and over-spend, isolates you, crushes your spirit, and it’s the root of evil and destruction in the world. But insecurity also keeps you aware that “it’s not all about you!” There will always be someone more popular, more educated, more successful than you. Being human puts us in a place to find security in the hands of our Creator who truly loves us and doesn’t want us to live in an insecure world of comparing.

St. Lucia

“I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness. I will build you up again.” Jeremiah 31:3

 

 

My Frame Is Frail

Although my frame is fit to the untrained eye, to the friend it’s frail.

Weakened by the weight of life I find solace in silence, sin and splendor.

My being vibrates with the pace of life sending desperate signals out to still the intense motion.

Quickened by stress in the atmosphere, the vibrations intensify, depleting any inner peace.

My frame appears intact but one touch, and it could crumble to dust.

Weakness is a pool of whirling waters where sin and glory convene: one grips me like a rope and rock tethered to my feet, pulling me to the floor of the deep; the other exasperates and jolts my body into flight, reaching for air and a hand to grab.

It elevates my weakness and with a firm grip rescues me, turning my struggle into a cleansing bath of redemption.

The warmth of the hand I hold makes my cold drenched body rise like steam reaching to the heavens.

waterfront

 

Walking To Stand Still

My mornings always start out the same way:  get ready for work, eat breakfast and walk the dog. Each morning I pass by the same children at the bus stop, say hi to the same neighbours also walking their dogs and watch the same cars pull out of their driveways on their way to work. Day after day, month after month and even year after year, I seem to be stuck in the same routine along with my neighbours. Sure, some mornings someone may be running late or working from home or out of town, but most of the time ‘life’ seems to run itself nicely.

As I walk my dog on the same path each day, from time to time I think about this man. I know – that’s quite general. The man I’m referring to happens to live about a 7-hour flight away from me in Paris. I’ve had the opportunity to visit Paris twice now and loved every minute of it. Since I’m creature of habit, for my second visit I stayed at the same hotel as the first time. It was a quaint hotel within walking distance to Sacre-Coeur (a beautiful Cathedral with a view of the city and a lovely spot to sit in the evening with red wine and a baguette). Every morning while on my way out for a full day of sight-seeing, I would walk past ‘the man,’ right outside my hotel sitting on his belongings with a can to collect money. He was a larger gentleman with dark hair and a beard. If I could guess, I would say he was in his late 40’s or early 50’s. From time to time people stopped and chatted with him. One day a young mother with her daughter stopped to talk to him. Although I couldn’t understand the conversation, it appeared to be a casual check in that I found fascinating. The young mother wasn’t afraid and didn’t even come across as judgmental. She simply chatted with him as she would a store clerk or postal worker. Once she received answers to her questions she was quite happy to give ‘the man’ money. I, on the other hand, passed by him each and everyday and never made conversation (partly because my French is grade school quality) or gave him any money. I did give him some extra food one day and he seemed grateful.

Despite having visited a city with so much beauty and history, this man seems to pop in my mind more than the Louvre or the taste of French red wine and baguettes (yes, wine tastes better in France!). I’m intrigued by the thought that while we are worlds apart, we both repeat our personalized routine day in and day out. While I wake up, get ready for work and walk the dog, he wakes up, walks over to the hotel and sets himself up for a day of collecting. I’m sure that if I were to travel to Paris again I’d see ‘the man’ in the same spot he was in five years ago.

I can’t begin to make the connection between my life and his. I may not be begging for money but my soul begs for healing. Like ‘the man’ I also feel stuck in life. I think about ‘the man’ often because I wonder what it would take for him to do something different and if he’ll ever get off the streets. It reminds me that just as much as routine can be safe and calming, it can be equally terrifying. There seems to be ‘something’ that ropes us in and traps us into a vortex where years can go by and we’ve got nothing to show for it. I know life is more than just a bunch of thrills. Christmas can’t be everyday. Date Night isn’t seven days a week – hence the name ‘Date Night.’ Epic vacations or parties surely aren’t a weekly occurrence for most people.

Rarely do we take the risks needed to make changes in our lives. I’m a complete sucker for routine, and when I find something I like or that works for me I stick with it…but my life needs a shake up from time to time. I’m talking about the shake up that pushes you to take healthy risks – risks that shake up the soul, stripping the routine called ‘life’ and generating a new way to approach our existence. I’m not talking about a complete disregard for routine but rather within the routine gain a new approach to our existence. To risk is to think differently, do differently and be a more passionate and fulfilled person.

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Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when we look back everything is different. – C.S. Lewis

So what will it take for my Parisian friend and I to make a change? Truly, we need to experience a severe discontentment with unhealthy routine. Then we can embrace the ‘new’ by regaining trust in the social systems, people and God. We do this by altering our thoughts and seeing ourselves in a new light (not as a beggar or someone with an inability to commit). Finally, we need to commit to a new routine.

Day in and day out a disabled man was carried out to beg in front of the temple gates. On their way to afternoon prayer at the temple, John and Peter spot this man begging. Although money may have seemed like the solution, Peter addresses the root of the man’s poverty and tells him, “I give you Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” With the charge “walk” Peter extends his hand, pulls the man up and the man’s feet and ankles become strong. Walking, jumping and praising God, the once crippled man goes into the temple courts and every eyewitness is filled with wonder and amazement (Acts 3:1-10).

What changed this man’s routine of begging? Healing! God healed him! Routine may be triggered by self-perception, poor health or circumstances, but every so often routine needs to be analyzed, shaken up and God needs to revive us to new health.

I have this weird thought-connection to ‘the man’ in Paris. It’s almost like I have this intel: “I know where you are and what you’re doing. I wish we’d both change our path from time to time. You’d get off the streets and have a job, a home, and loved ones around you, and I’d regain trust in areas of my life where I’ve lost it.”

‘The man’ serves as a reminder to me to ask myself what is healthy routine that serves me well, and what routine in my life is a result of hurt, self-worth or over-comfort. I too want to hear the charge “Walk!” and change my course. And with the helping hands of others be pushed into a place of praise where those around me notice a life drenched in love and purpose.

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).

 

 

Caught Off Guard – An Epiphany

Inspiration came to me in the strangest of ways. At the time I had no idea something incredibly insignificant would trigger such a response in me. It was a Friday (the best day of the work-week) and I had a scheduled meeting and needed to arrive early. It was one of those mornings where I was rushing. My mind was racing with what I needed to say during my meeting and the long and ever-rotating To-Do List (2 items get done and 3 more are added on). As I bailed up stairs with three bags balancing between my fingers and shoulders, I noticed this bug. Now, it’s not at all uncommon to see bugs in my building, but I had never seen this type of bug before. It was about an inch long and stood almost as tall from the ground. It had a hard shell and antennae. Nonetheless, I wasn’t about to kill it or classify it – I didn’t have time for that! The poor thing was moving very slow and appeared to be lost. I remember thinking, “Oh boy this little lost bug is going to be trampled in 45 minutes time when the herd of people arrive. Good bye little bug!” and off I went to prepare for my meeting.

The day went on. It was busy and full of ups and, let’s say, ‘stresses!’ At around 2pm I was walking through the herd of people and noticed ‘the bug’ again. I couldn’t believe it was alive. It made its course all the way to the end of the hallway and somehow never got trampled. Its head was facing the wall and it looked like it was desperately trying to find its way home (wherever ‘home’ was?). The way the bug was positioned it appeared as if it was trying to ignore the herd of people and go unnoticed, waiting for just the right moment to turn around and find an escape out of the chaos. Poor thing!

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Why did I take notice of a bug that day? First, rarely does a bug go unnoticed. We tend to have the same innate, jerk-response to all bugs: AHHH! Kill it! On this occasion there was no jerk-response, and frankly I have no idea why that little ugly-looking hard-shelled bug grabbed my attention. I know God sometimes speaks in weird and fantastic ways and can use the oddest things to speak to us. For some strange reason I had compassion on this little bug. It was lost and really lacked the ability to scurry like those gross centipedes do to find a quick escape. The poor thing had only travelled 100 feet in about 5 hours. Looking at the bug face-first against the wall I couldn’t help but relate to it: trying to go unnoticed and feeling very vulnerable in a herd of potential bug-crushers.

Is it weird for God to draw my attention to one of His tiny (and somewhat less-preferred) creatures? No, not at all! Jesus told His disciples to look at the birds as they are a reminder that we are valuable and God takes care of us; and to look at the flowers as they are a reminder to not worry about our appearance (Matthew 6:26-28). If Jesus directs His disciples’ attention to birds and flowers, then I’m sure that poor little bug became my object lesson for the day.

But why did I need to notice that little helpless bug? Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear” (Mark 4:9). When we open ourselves up to hearing God speak to us, He will speak. God speaks to us all the time. Sometimes it’s a small quiet voice, so we have to allow ourselves to see the things that go unnoticed. He may use the bright colours of our screens and the flashy messages in media, but sometimes it’s the tiniest things that speak the loudest.

Second, (I know this may sound odd) empathizing with that bug made me reflect on parts of my life – feeling of trapped, looking for my home, trying to get somewhere but unable to, all the while not wanting to get trampled by others.

One little insignificant bug caught my attention in the midst of a very busy Friday and held a mirror up to my face making me realize that I too feel trapped, wandering and unable to find home and simply wanting to be ignored by the ‘bug crushers.’ An epiphany, nothing more! It came with no answers, just a straightforward identification of underlying emotions – a first step to the process. Caution: life is full of many unnecessary attention-grabbers and awfully slim on soul-searching reflection. So look a little closer!

Sometimes God wants us to see beauty, other times he wants us to empathize, and He occasionally wants us to address our current situations and emotions by allowing us to see ourselves in something insignificant like a poor little bug.

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Look closer!

Happiness – a fervent pursuit and fleeting fulfillment

Sometimes we can appear to have it all but lack the one thing we desire the most: happiness. I recently ran into a successful friend who on the exterior seems happy, but within a short few minutes she let me know that she’s actually not happy. How often do we give off the appearance of happiness without having an ounce of it? Happiness cannot be bought or achieved yet it is a result of a purchase or an accomplishment. It is temporary but a necessary pleasure of the human experience. If only happiness could be a constant state of our existence then we would cease to chase it with purchases, achievements or experiences.

After much personal soul searching, I realized there are two types of happiness – the first is fleeting and the second is named ‘true happiness’ that is seemingly disguised as maturity. The first type of happiness is the rush you get during the beginning stage of a romantic relationship. True happiness may be likened to the second year of dating. It is less rousing and is more of a mature admiration of what you have.

The pursuit of happiness is a ceaseless endeavour lasting a lifetime. Although we, from time to time have allowed true happiness to make its appearance in our lives, we tend to spend most of our energy on the pursuit of the first type of happiness – the type of happiness experienced through a purchase, an adventure, a crazy party, a celebration and so on. This type of happiness is a result of all these things, yet it is a momentary emotion, and within time leaves you hungering for more.

True happiness is a conscious choice rooted in gratitude. It’s seeing and experiencing happiness in the less momentous things in life. It’s appreciating a conversation with a friend, enjoying a decadent meal with family, a robin perched outside your window or the overzealous kisses from a dog. It is also the adventure, the crazy party, the celebration and so on. It is the result of embracing both the ‘big event’ and the everyday occurrences. When the party is over and you’re back at home alone, the joy leaves and you long for the next ‘big event’ to give you that ‘happiness high.’

Once we’ve experienced the ‘happiness high’ or as C.S. Lewis says, once you’ve tasted joy you’ll want more. “I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. But then Joy is never in our power and Pleasure often is” (C.S. Lewis in Surprised by Joy). We mistake the thrill of a new purchase or an epic weekend for joy/happiness but as time passes the feeling slips away. Thinking we have control over generating our own happiness is a deception at its finest. Joy is never in our power but always begins with our choice.

In wanting to discover what the Bible has to say about joy, I noticed that Jesus talks about having full and complete joy. This idea of having full and complete joy doesn’t fit with my experience of fleeting moments of happiness. How does one have joy that is full and complete? It obviously isn’t based on emotions since they are conditional on favourable experiences.

Right before Jesus suffers, He talks about joy – complete joy. Jesus tells His disciples that they will see Him no more and yet they will see Him again. That they will experience grief but the grief will turn into a joy that no one can take away. They will have this relationship with Him where they can ask for anything in His name and receive what they’ve asked for and that their joy will be complete (John 16:16-24). Complete joy is rooted in a shared experience of trust and love. The Father loves Jesus, Jesus loves us and we experience complete joy when we remain in His love by obeying the command – “Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12). “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11). Complete joy is found in a relationship that isn’t without grief but requires trust and obedience.

True happiness is a mature acceptance of finding joy and gratitude in all things. It makes its appearance in the temporal events like vacations and celebrations but disappears unless true happiness sweeps in through gratitude. The type of joy that completes us is found in the One who loves us beyond anything we can even fathom. Jesus promises that His love will fill our hungry hearts. Complete joy isn’t perpetual bliss void of discontentment but it is the assurance that you’re loved. So that even in discontentment your heart may be reassured that God’s love isn’t just an overused phrase (God loves you!) but an emotional refuelling of your soul that comes in the form of gratitude and the kindness of others. His love completes us and His complete joy is found in a relationship of trust and obedience.

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”― C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, and Other Addresses

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“He who has God and everything else has no more than he who has God only.” – C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

*pics by author