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.

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

Awakened By Silence & Song

There’s nothing quite like collective silence. Whether you’re standing at a school Remembrance Day assembly as the Last Post is played on the bugle, or the moments before communion is served at church, there’s something special about collective silence. Silence makes some people feel awkward. At the same time, it has a way of tapping into our vulnerable parts. It’s the means in which the soul speaks, and is heard. Collective silence is usually an intended experience, therefore, is less awkward and intentionally taps into our soul.

I had the opportunity to experience collective silence during a concert of one of my favourite singer-songwriter artists. When we arrived at the venue we were shocked to find out that we would not be sitting in the theatre seats. Instead, we were ushered onto the stage to a table only a few feet away from the very intimate make-shift stage. It was everything I dreamed of – a dimly lit room with a sea of small tables, each with a candle. The small stage faced the audience and their backdrop was the imperial-looking empty theatre seats. The room glowed with crisp white, blue and orange spot lights that illuminated the dancing dry ice high above the stage.

The well-planned atmosphere set the tone for what I was about to experience. Like most fans, when you see your favourite band you feel the excitement more intensely minutes before the band arrives on stage. I was in a happy place – anticipating certain songs and elated that I got to share this experience with my loved one and a room full of fans.

After the opening artist exited the stage and the crowd had a few minutes to stretch, the moment I was waiting for had arrived. There was no grand entrance. He was dressed quite casual and addressed the audience like friends. The first few chords synchronized with the warm whispers of his voice called us in. The crowd’s excitement was not concealed, and after the first few songs the largely generational crowd clapped (which was most appropriate for this artist – it wasn’t a chanting, screaming, moshing type of band). As the evening progressed I became mesmerized by the collective silence. The music generated the silence. It created a sense of awe. To me, it felt like the music danced on my soul. I feel a lot. Usually it’s the emotional response to daily stresses, but not tonight. Tonight the music tapped into the depths of my unattended emotions. His musical stories played in perfect unison by each band member entered my space and danced. The mournful melodies matched with honest lyrics and the strikingly somber bowing of the violinist swayed back and forth on my soul. Those pure emotions of joy and sorrow surfaced and met each other in a dance. Together with strangers, silent and in awe, my soul experienced the dance. I felt connected to the stories not entirely because of firsthand experience but in an empathic manner.

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“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2

In the silence, I wondered if the crowd was experiencing what I was experiencing: the resuscitation of emotions through song. “You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1). In my emotionally parched world, I experienced a wonderful array of emotions during the concert. Was it a spiritual experience? Yes, without question. God was present in the collective silence, in the stories sung and harmonious melodies of each song. My soul thirsted for connection and an emotional awakening, and I found God.

I love it when musicians are all right when a crowd responds with silence. I know sometimes musicians call for ‘response’ and seem to feel insecure during silence. To me, when music is so inspiring, silence is a golden sign of respect. Collective silence is a powerful means of connecting us with each other and our forgotten emotions.

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To you Donovan Woods, I say thank you for your accessible and beautifully sorrowful songs that aren’t depressing, but awaken long-lost emotions and make them dance.

Donovan Woods

*photos by author

White Roses

It’s October and I’m making one last attempt at fixing the mess of my lawn. I haven’t a green thumb at all and I’m trying to ‘over’ seed to choke out the weeds. As I sit outside watching the sprinkler water the weedy mess, my attention becomes devoted to my grandfather’s white rose bush. First of all, I can’t believe I’ve been able to keep it alive now for 10 years considering that every other plant I’ve tended to has had a short life span. It’s not a beautifully manicured rose bush, but has a variation of small buds, full blooms and rose hips with a few petals hanging on. My grandfather’s rose bush is symbolic of my priorities these days: rarely do I take the time to labour for something beautiful. I find I spend most of my time on the life essentials like food, clean clothes, bills and of course, social media. By slowing down long enough to just sit on a lawn chair (no social media check-ins) I was able to appreciate my grandfather’s un-manicured white rose bush. It’s the only plant in the garden with flowers still on it. Grandpa’s white roses are a reminder to not only slow down and smell the roses, but that beautiful things are an investment.

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Throughout my childhood, I watched my grandparents tend to their garden. They never seemed stressed out with 1000 things to do. They were present. They were in the moment. They catered to each plant, pruning, fertilizing and watering them with expertise and care. My sister and I took pleasure in the fruits of their labour enjoying garden picnics with delicious cherry tomatoes, crunchy carrots and homemade desserts with fresh berries from their the garden. I wish I had more time to focus and invest in things that don’t have an immediate result like my health, home or art projects and flourishing relationships.

Jesus said that a man had a fig tree in his vineyard that didn’t produce fruit for 3 years, and told the man that took care of the vineyard to cut it down. This tree was a waste of useful soil. ““Sir,” the man replied, “leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down”” (Luke 13:6-9). The gardener in the story refuses to give up on the fig tree and knows that if he provides the fig tree with what it needs then it will produce fruit…but if it doesn’t produce fruit a year later, cut it down (Luke 13:6-9).

This story has greater significance than just tending to a plant in hopes that it will produce fruit. It’s about repentance. God is the vineyard owner and Jesus is the one providing us with all that we need to receive repentance and live a fruitful life.

“Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” Matthew 3:8

Similar to how I don’t take time to slow down and invest in something ‘great,’ I also don’t regularly repent. I just expect to become that beautiful blooming flower without the need for any pruning. I need to invest in my spiritual health by regularly recognizing that I’m not perfect and I need God to make me more like Him. Repentance is the pruning that allows our lives to bloom.

Taking a few minutes to appreciate what’s always been in my yard, was both a sad reminder that I trade in beauty for quick results, and a joyous memory of my grandfather’s devotion to invest and labour because something beautiful awaits.

I know the deepest longings in my heart need to be fed with those things in life that are free and cost the most. Beauty is all around us but it costs us time to embrace it and labour to bring it to life.

“Psalms 128:2 “You will enjoy the fruit of your labor. How joyful and prosperous you will be!”

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At my grandfather’s funeral my grandmother laid one of his white roses across his chest. It was grandpa’s favourite flower. Today I wish I could slow down and take joy in something so simple. Instead I rush to clean up dinner, prepare for the next day and try to quickly solve a serious weed problem in my backyard. Thank goodness grandpa’s striking white roses are the beauty among the sea of weeds that brought me back to fond memories of grandpa and made me stop long enough to smell the roses.

 

*photos by author