Spring!

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I have made it clear, I think, that I am not a big fan of the winter. If I had my way, it would last until about Jan. 7th and then we would head right into Spring.

Clearly that’s not what happens in the part of the world where I live. And since I am not all that interested in moving elsewhere, I will probably always find myself a little grumpy in February, March and April.

But right now I am so very pleased. The past two days have seemed to skip past Spring and head right on into summer. The skies have been blue, the birds have been singing, the breezes have been warm. And it does my heart so much good. My spirits lift and I am reminded that God is here. In every new flower, every bursting bud, every bright birdsong, I see the fingerprints of joy creator and I am thankful for new life.

I hope that you have been able to get outside in the last couple of day – to go for a walk or simply sit in the sunshine.

I hope, no matter what life is throwing at you, that your spirits are lifted by the natural beauty that surrounds us. I hope you are at to accept the gift God is giving us.

O Lord, what a variety of things you have made! In wisdom you have made them all. The earth is full of your creatures.
Psalms 104:24 NLT

In this together…

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I have always believed that since God is an ever-present, ever-loving community (that’s what the Trinity is really all about), and since we are made in God’s image, we are made for community. We are not made to do this – any of this, life in general – alone. We are meant to be in this together.

Now, having said that I am a single girl and an introvert to boot. I spend a fair amount of time alone (or at least with just me and my animals). And the introvert in me craves that solitude. I not only like a day where it’s just me, Koski and Fatcat. I need it.

My vocation requires me to be in social situations. And don’t get me wrong – I love the times I spend with my congregation (whether as a whole or in specific groups). I need those times, too. It is good to be with people who believe in what I believe in, who share in prayer and song and relationship in general. But one of the ways I know that I am an introvert, is that when one of those social situations comes to an end, I am exhausted. And what I want most is to sit quietly in my house.

Despite this, one of the biggest gifts God has given me in Ministry, is the opportunity to minister as part of a team. It may seem a contradiction, but I work better in a team. I think better. There is someone I can turn to when I am second-guessing my thoughts or plans. When one of us is tired, the other can pick up the slack. Some weeks I get to actually sit in worship on a Sunday morning and listen to good preaching, and some weeks Geoff gets to sit and listen. We are, each of us, blessed on those weeks. I am so very thankful that we are in this together.

The following passage from Ecclesiastes is under the heading “The value of a friend,” in the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible. Often it is read at weddings, but in this instance I mean nothing romantic or sexual by it. It is simply true that in ministry, as in most other areas of life, it is better when you don’t have to go it alone.

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help. Again, if two lie together, they keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone? And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one. A threefold cord is not quickly broken.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 NRSV

Stronger

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Last night I had the opportunity to do something I haven’t done in many years: I played Capture the Flag (look it up, it’s a simple game). This involved a lot of running and chasing and running. And despite my hope of getting in “jail” and therefore having a time out, I guess I was a little too good at the game, because it wasn’t until about the last quarter that I actually got that break.

Today, my whole body aches. My abs, my thighs, my right heel pad, my hip flexers…I’m pretty sure the shoulders are due to a class at the gym, but they ache, too.

I’ve toyed with the idea of taking up running, but I’ve never actually done it. And based on the results of last night I am not sure I ever will.

But I will say this for myself – despite all the aches and pains today, I was able to walk for 90min with my dog and do a Combat cardio class at the gym this evening. This is a sign of progress for me. I used to think I any little hurt or discomfort as a reason not to get any exercise. The pain/discomfort I am feeling today is the kind that means you’ve worked hard, but not the kind that means you need to stop because you are doing damage to yourself. It could have been an excuse not to work hard today. I am glad that I didn’t allow it to be that. I am growing and learning in this fitness journey.

You know, I am learning a similar lesson in terms of the community of faith where I serve. Occasionally – and probably without intent – people say or do things that are hurtful to me. And it could be an excuse to pull back from that individual or from the community as a whole. Certainly, that is what I would have done in my first couple of years of ministry. But the longer I serve in this capacity, the more able I am to take a long hard look at those injuries and decide whether they are just ‘growing pains’ or something more serious that needs some attention in order to heal. More often than not, they are growing pains – things that will teach and help develop my ministry skills, but anything that should be used as an excuse.

I love knowing that God is working on me, God is making me stronger…both in body and in spirit.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
James 1:2-4 NIV

Clean…

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Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.
1 Corinthians 6:19,20 NLT

So today was the final day of the fruit-and-veggie cleanse that I have been on. It’s gone surprisingly well. For a week I have cut out dairy, wheat, and sugar. I have been eating vegetables and fruit, a small packet of almonds and in the last 3 days of the cleanse, a small portion of lean protein in the evening.

I thought this would be a really difficult thing to do and to maintain. But it turned out fairly easy. What I have noticed is that I have been sleeping really well on this cleanse. I drop off to sleep so quickly and I haven’t had any of those nights where I just couldn’t turn off my brain.

Also, as one of my friends who has given up wheat and sugar says, I just feel “clean”…like generally…internally and externally. So my plan, going forward, is to only eat sugar once a week, and to keep wheat to an “only on special occasions” frequency (ie, less than once a month).

In the above quote, Paul is teaching the church in Corinth about sexual morality. And I don’t doubt that we have our fair share of that in today’s society. But I think a bigger issue is how we eat. We eat what is fake and that is bad for us. (There is a whole eating program called “Just Eat Real Food.”) And yet, we sanction this. We treat our bodies horribly by taking in chemicals that are known to cause cancer, and then we complain when we get sick. It is socially acceptable to eat poorly. Some people even brag about it.

But I wonder how that affects our spirit. I believe everything in life also has a spiritual component to it. So if we eat poorly, if we nourish our bodies poorly, are we also failing in our spirituality? God gave us these bodies and we are meant to treat them with respect, to keep them clean.

I do not mean this as a rant or a condemnation against anyone. I am only beginning to make this connection in my own life, after two years of striving for healthier eating patterns. I am not judging what others do, I am simply asking questions as they occur to me and as I grapple with them.

I have come to the belief that I must treat the environment with love and respect, because it is God’s creation. I have long held the belief that I must treat others with love and respect because they are God’s children. I think I am finally beginning to understand that I must also treat my body with love and respect because I am God’s child and God’s creation.

It’s good to know there is always something new to learn.

Kingdom Family

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One I the fun things about being an Associate Minister is that I occasionally get invited to preach at other congregations. My colleagues know that I don’t have to preach at my own congregation every Sunday, so I can spend some Sundays away. I love worshipping at St. A’s and I believe it is important to help lead worship and participate in worship even on those Sundays when I am not preaching. But still, it is a special thing to be invited to share my gifts with other churches.

This Sunday I will be preaching at Knox Presbyterian Church in Midland where my friend the Rev. Alton Ruff is minister. Alton has duties as an Interim Moderator at a two point charge in his Presbytery. So while he is leading those congregations in worship and Annual Meeting activities, I’ve been asked to preach at Knox.

I am excited about this. I love the drive up to that part of Ontario. I love that I will get to visit friends. I love that I will get to worship in another corner of
The Kingdom, before returning to the place to which God has called me.

Though I will be physically away from home, spiritually I will be right at home. Jesus prayed that all his believers would be one. Anytime I am with the church – I am home and amongst family. That’s one of the most precious things about belonging to God.

My prayer for you, wherever you worship this Sunday, is that you will know the joy that comes from belonging to the world-wide family of God. That whether you sit beside brothers and sisters who are well-known to you, or whether you are away from your usual church family, or even if you are not physically able to be in a sanctuary this Sunday – you would know you are part of something bigger than yourself and that you are loved by brothers and sisters who do not even know your name now, but someday will party with you in Heaven.

I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.
John 17:20, 21 NLT

Breath of Spring…

Spring

I don’t think it is any huge secret that I am not a fan of winter. I do not like having to think about boots and scarves and mitts. I am not a fan of salt coating my boots. I can’t stand being cold. And then there is the darkness and the flu bugs.

So you can imagine how thrilled I was this weekend as Spring made an appearance in my neck of the woods. I spent Saturday in Toronto with a friend, walking around the city. On Sunday, I had a long drive to visit some friends. And I had to turn the heat in my car way down. Both days I got out for lovely walks with Koski. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it.

And it wasn’t just me. There was more traffic on the roads, more pedestrians on the streets, more smiles on faces. There is something about this time of year that is special. It is like we are all waking back up. There is new life in the air. And it is joyful.

In the letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul writes:

…their evil intentions will be exposed
when the light shines on them,
for the light makes everything visible.
This is why it is said:
Awake, O sleeper,
rise up from the dead,
and Christ will give you light.

Ephesians 5: 13,14 NLT

I love the theme of Resurrection that runs through this time of preparation for Easter. I love the way that Spring reminds me of the new life that Christ gives to his followers.

I hope that you experience the beauty of Spring and that it lifts your soul and reminds you that we serve a God of new beginnings, in whom death is only a doorway to new life.

Best intentions & grace…

So clearly I have fallen off my pace when it comes to blogging. Just as I have struggled with more than my fair share of illness this winter, I am now struggling with finding my stride again. Despite my best intentions I have simply not been able to keep up to the pace I set for myself as Lent began. I want to be “back to normal,” but I am not. I am more easily tired than I was in the fall. And I am seriously paranoid about getting over-tired and that leading to another cold or flu.

All of that to say I am slowly (but surely) learning to have grace for myself. It’s amazing to me that I am a passionate believer in God’s grace for me (and all of humanity, actually), but I have a hard time forgiving myself for a missed workout or a string of nights when I am simply too exhausted to blog at the end of the day.

So this week has been a lesson on how to have grace for oneself. And, though such lessons always seem to come in times of struggle, I find I am still thankful for the continued act of learning how to live this faith.

Be gracious to yourself, my friends, as you are gracious to other and as God has first been gracious to us all.

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Romans 5:1, 2 NKJV

Complex…

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I have often struggled with the idea of Lent. I think this is because, historically, Lent was a time when you couldn’t sing happy songs, when you couldn’t eat tasty foods and when you couldn’t wear bright colors. All of this was because you were meant to be participating in the sorrowful sufferings of Christ…so how could you possibly sing or eat or dress in joy? You were meant to be in mourning.

But my experience of faith is that things are not so hard-and-fast. In a time of mourning you may find yourself smiling or laughing. In a time of despair you may find yourself giving hope to another. In a time of brokenness you may experience healing. Life is kind of messy and emotions don’t stay in neat little boxes. Nor does God allow us to experience only one emotion at a time. God made us more complex than that.

So while I appreciate the idea of taking a season to remember all that Jesus has done for us and all that it cost Him to do it, I find it very difficult to impose what sometimes feel like false restrictions in order to do that remembering. Because that isn’t true to the beautiful, messed up, paradoxical life each of us is living.

For me, this winter has been brutal. I have struggled with illness after illness and while none of these illnesses were debilitating in the long run (it’s been two stomach flus bookending a wicked boomerang cold that came back just when it felt like it was on its way out), they have knocked the stuffing outta me and taken some precious time away from me. That’s been tough. I’ve shed more than one tear over that this winter.

At the same time, there are some very exciting things happening at St. Andrew’s, Brampton, where I serve as Associate minister. Our G.R.A.C.E. Group network is coming along, we are making strides forward. You see? Even in a time of struggle, God is at work, birthing something new and beautiful in our midst.

This passage from Hebrews reminds me of this “life doesn’t fit into neat little boxes” theory of mine:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.
Hebrews 12:1, 2 NLT

Because of joy, Jesus disregarded the shame of the cross. Because of joy, Jesus went willingly to lay down his life for us. Because of joy – and shame and suffering, and death and new life – we know what it is to walk through this life as a beloved, cherished child of God, never alone.

I am thankful, even in a time of struggle or a time of mourning or a time of remembering suffering, for the fact that God made us complex enough to experience more than one emotion at a time. I am thankful that on the cross, joy and sorrow meet. I am thankful for the new things God is doing in our midst.

Source…

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I’ve been struggling with the cold-that-will-not-end for most of this new year. Being sick has wreaked havoc on my gym schedule. In the fall, I went 5 days a week, almost every week. But since the New Year, I have only had one 5-day week.

Today was the first day I made it to the gym in about two weeks time. Understandably, I’ve lost ground as far as my workout routine goes. It was harder to lift what I had been lifting before I got sick. As I worked out today, I sweated more, I was out of breath more, and I trembled more. One of the things that is often heard in the classes I take at the gym is the encouragement to keep going, even when your muscles are screaming for a break. That is the point where you’re really starting to sculpt your body – to make a real difference in the strength of your muscles. So often, our instructors tell us to mentally “power through the pain.” I did a lot of that today, more than I have had to do in a while.

But the thing is, when you do keep going despite screaming muscles, you discover that you CAN keep going despite screaming muscles. Your legs won’t actually fall off, just keep moving. Willpower can overcome the weariness.

But it is different if you are dealing with spiritual weariness. Willpower alone cannot overcome spiritual fatigue. This is why I look for ways to connect to God, daily. Whether it is a quiet moment of prayer, some time spent reading the Bible, conversations with those who share my faith, or a time of corporate worship. I need those moments to refresh my spirit, to renew my faith.

Paul wrote this to the church in Corinth:

Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:9-10 NLT

When I try to keep going once I am spiritually weary, I fail. Because the source of strength is outside of myself. The source of my strength is the Living God of the Universe – one who is outside of time, one who is all-present, all-knowing and all-powerful. To try to keep going on my own strength, means going somewhere other than the SOURCE.

In my gym example, if I tried to keep going based on the way my muscles feel in that making-a-difference zone, I would fail. The source of my strength in that moment is my mind, my willpower.

It is so important that we connect with the source of our strength. That we remember when we are weak, God is strong. That we rely on His strength and allow it to flow through us. Then we will not grow weak, and we will not stumble.

Thankful…

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Tonite I find I just want I express gratitude. I know I touched on that last night as well, but there are several things I am deeply thankful for today.

One is some time spent with my parents (and the reminder once again that I am so very blessed to be their child and so very blessed to have the close relationship with both of them that I have). Another is some good news that a friend is cancer free after a battle that has lasted the better part of a year. These are pretty big blessings, and it is good to stop and give thanks for them.

But the big things have a way of reminding me about the small things. So I am also thankful for good conversations, nourishing food, Cadbury’s Creme Eggs and a hot shower first thing in the morning.

On days like this it is easy to be thankful. But I love what Paul writes to the church in Thessolonica:

Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5:18 NLT

I am convinced that the difference between those who make it through hard times and this who seem to thrive and grow in hard times is the ability to give thanks in all things. Seriously.

Try it next time you are having a bad day. Stop and find something to be thankful for. Turn to God with that thankfulness. And then just watch how your heart grows and your day improves. It is really hard to be cranky or upset when you are giving thanks. I promise. And that is probably why Paul encourages the church to give thanks – he know it is good for us!

So on this day in my Lenten journey I am thankful. And I can’t stop smiling.