Bible Study

Most people hate Mondays because they mark the beginning of a work week. But this year, Mondays quickly became one of the highlights of my week. Monday evenings brought friends crowding into my living room, on the couches and on the floor, and even some standing by the door at first, so as to have an escape route if needed. Each week we gathered, a core group consistently and a rotation of guests intrigued and drawn to our funny mismatched group of Christians and non-believers. There would be chatter and shuffling and throwing off of coats as people got settled into their spots. Often someone would bring a treat: cookies, scones, chips. Mondays meant using every mug in my house for tea, an open invitation to bring along friends and quickly whispered prayers as I printed manuscripts 5 minutes before my pals arrived, prayers that the Holy Spirit would make up for my gaps in knowledge and, sometimes, for my woeful lack of preparation. And then, when most people had arrived and everyone had a pen ready, we would start. 

Together we would dive into the Bible, into the book of John. As we worked our way through the book, John became our trusted narrator and eyewitness to the miracles of Jesus; we knew he was on a mission to prove his thesis that Jesus is the Son of God. We contextualized ourselves as best as we could, trying to figure out what ancient Israel was like in John and Jesus’ time, what these events and words would have meant to people then and there. And then we jumped back to Ottawa, 2020, and we asked honest questions: some nit picky, irrelevant questions, some easily answered questions, some big picture philosophy questions, and some real life “more vulnerable than we maybe would have liked” questions about who Jesus is and what he was trying to teach each of us. All of us asked questions: those of us raised in the church, who felt like we should already have every answer, and those of us who had never read the Bible before, and all of us in between. We noticed themes, of light and darkness, of living bread and water, of Jesus knowing people intimately, of people asking and seeing and believing. We shared what we had seen that made us believe in Jesus, or what we would need to see, or what we were desperately hoping to see and had yet to. We sat in tension. We came together to study and we took it seriously but, we also laughed a lot. We became friends. 

And as we became friends, we chose more vulnerability and we learned more and more each week from the Word and from each other. A deep fondness for and trust in our group grew in my heart as we wandered through each passage. We became a team and as one of the leaders I learned to adapt to the strengths of my people. They didn’t need me to have prepared application questions or to drag observations out of people; they just needed me to show up. I trusted our team to navigate well together, to ask the hard questions and be engaged in trying to find answers. I trusted us to be ok with not always finding those answers, to be ok not wrapping everything up with a bow for the sake of simplicity. Unspoken, we decided to leave space to walk away still chewing a challenging question. As a leader, I trusted my team but even more so I trusted the Holy Spirit to keep teaching us throughout the week. That trust meant that I got to walk with people rather than ahead of them, to be vulnerable, to ask my own questions, and to be deeply blessed by conversations we had. 

This year, on Mondays, I fell back in love with the Bible and with my community. A mixed bag of experiences with manuscript studies before, I should have had low expectations. But in September, at the start of the year, God gave me vision for this Bible study. He told me He was doing something new, whispered that I would get to watch the Holy Spirit change hearts right in my living room. He gave me specific names of people who would be there (despite some of their own proclamations), reminders of how He desires to speak to His Children, promises of investment and consistency and engagement. And He has been faithful to those promises. 

God doesn’t have to let me play a role in His ever evolving story of redeeming humanity. But, thankfully, He is in the habit of letting His kids step into what He is doing, letting them see and participate in and be changed by His work, despite their (read, my) many flaws. This year, on Mondays in a small way, I think I got to watch and participate in and be changed by what He was doing through the Word in my living room. And dang, I am grateful. 

Walk boldly friends, into the places and with the people the Lord has given you vision for. It’s a gift and a joy to see the ways He is making all things new. Speaking of, the song “New Wine” by Hillsong has been a beautiful ongoing conversation this year between me and God. You should give it a listen.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” – John 1:1-5

Week 7

Today I sat on the porch while it rained and I tried to focus on my work. Instead I was distracted and, my eyes weary from staring at the screen, I spent much of the day looking out over my neighbourhood cocooned in grey clouds. I listened to the drops hit the roof in an irregular rhythm and observed how vibrantly green the moss on the tree out front looked, in contrast to the gloomy sky. I watched the people go by. The two small children in classic yellow raincoats who passed around lunchtime, walking slowly as if their feet were heavy weights. The tinnier one spun in a half circle, bent over to examine some small treasure in the grass of my lawn, then stood up again to ask the wet and tired looking father how much farther to home. I watched pairs of friends marching two by two, separated too, by two meters…usually. Runners going full speed and runners clearly out of steam passed by, the sound of their feet catching my attention, pulling my eyes away from the report I was attempting to read. A cute boy with too-long hair hanging wet in his eyes, walked his dog by our house twice in the span of three hours. A friend stopped by to drop off a borrowed dish on the porch and called my name. The UPS man got confused about where to drop the (then damp) brown packages he carried and I watched him as he paced up and down the street until he sorted it out. The birds sang brightly all day, despite the constant drizzle. Around 3pm, the neighbour came out onto his porch for a while and we both waved, then sat in silence. All afternoon, I got up to make tea more than was necessary. I was restless; the weather and the street were too.

Today was Thursday, nearly the end of week 7 working from home during the COVID-19 lockdown. Week 7 of working from the worn-out yellow porch seat with a blanket over my legs and a cup of tea beside me, or from my bed with the covers pulled up, or from the floor in the corner of my bedroom, my legs crossed under me like a kindergartener. Week 7 of sitting on my couch with my laptop, trying not to be distracted by my roommates chattering over morning coffee, while I cross my fingers that the network connects easily and I can check my email without issue. Week 7 of daily Zoom calls, week 7 of missing chatting with colleagues in the bathroom and in the hallways. Week 7 of unsettledness, of an anxiety in my chest that comes and goes without warning. Week 7 of seeing the same walls and faces on an endless loop. Week 7 of dress shirts with pyjama bottoms, of sundresses while it snows, of lipstick as my only makeup, of not changing out of my yoga pants post morning flow, because I’m not going anywhere anyways. Week 7 of candles on my desk, sleeping until 8am, playing music and having a dance party at lunch time; it isn’t all bad. Week 7 of uncertainty about what comes next: where will I live, what will I do, how do I pray into this? Week 7 of working with choppy wifi and no printed documents for this paper and pen gal, week 7 of too much time staring at the light of my computer. Week 7 and I feel like I never know what day it is. Week 7…and I am tired. 

So today I watched the rain come down and I drank my tea and I tried to work, bit by bit. I accepted that this was Thursday of week 7 and that it was raining and that my brain, like the world, was moving a little bit slower than normal. Today I tried to work but really I just watched and listened and remembered that the world, while slowed, is still moving. It is raining and the moss is growing and the children are learning and the people are talking and the runners are running and cute boys are dog-walking and the UPS man is delivering  and the neighbour is waving from his porch. We are still living, still pressing forward albeit at a slower pace, day by day, in the sunshine and the in the rain. And we will be ok. It is week 7 and today I had to remind myself many times that we will be ok. 

Communion

Two weeks ago, on a damp and drizzly weekday, I went for an angry walk. My heart pounded and I walked quickly to convince myself that my rapid pulse was from the physical exertion and not my temper. I knew that the actual situation that had triggered my fury, which I can usually keep in check, would be resolved. But I also knew there was a lot of “feeling” I had been avoiding actually “feeling”.  My emotions had been piling up; I needed to get away from my house and take some time to process and pray. 

Three weeks had passed since the World Health Organization had declared a global pandemic and I had whiplash from how quickly life was changing, sometimes hour to hour. Three weeks in and I felt unseen. I felt unheard. And if I am honest, I felt like God was screwing with us all. As my plans in the short and long term seemed to be quickly slipping away in the wake of COVID-19, I wondered what else I would be giving up in what felt like the most whack Lent of my life. My house was in week two of a self-imposed quarantine but I knew that even at that end of our 14 day period, not much would change. Social distancing and self-isolation would not (and will not) be ending anytime soon. And I felt real damn angry about it. I felt exiled. More than ever before I could relate to the Israelites, wandering in the desert when the promised land had seemed so close. A little dramatic but hey, what else is new? 

That afternoon, I soaked my socks walking in mud puddles along the river bank, yelled across the water at God. I yelled and walked and prayed until my anger had burned itself off, leaving only a smokey sadness. 

As I turned towards home, it started to rain again, hard. And for some reason, I started thinking about church. I thought of how no one would be there that coming Sunday, nor Easter Sunday quickly approaching. I thought of the empty pews and darkened sanctuary, of the elderly folks struggling to figure out live streams with crackly internet connections. Most of all, I thought of how much I have come to cherish taking communion each week; I am often brought to tears by the honour of confessing and repenting, of accepting and resting in grace, of coming to the Father’s table with my community each week. I thought of how cared for I feel when the pastor gives the absolution to the congregation. Of how my mind, body, soul and spirit are being formed each week in the kneeling and the sipping and the chewing and the praying. Of how I can no longer drink red wine without remembering Jesus. Of how that moment of breaking bread is sometimes sorrowful and sometimes joyful and always communal. And as the rain came down so hard it hurt when it hit my skin, I started to cry. Not cute tears running down my cheeks but true sobs with my head thrown back, making me look like a cartoon character. Can you picture it? The pouring rain and then me, walking down the street audibly and evidently crying without even trying to hide it. Did I mention I can be dramatic? To be fair, I figured anyone who saw me would understand that these days, you sometimes need a good cry.

I couldn’t help but deeply feel the sorrow of being kept from gathering with other members of the Body. And while I knew deep in my soul that the Church is living and moving and united by the Holy Spirit, the more I learn about faith, the more I have become convinced that it is not a solitary activity. As I walked through my neighbourhood, I tried to get it together but every-time I thought I had done it, I would think of not being able to take communion with my church on Resurrection Sunday and start crying all over again. This year I have been learning that there is power in the liturgy: in the gathering and the singing, in the reading of the Word in public, in of the Prayers of the People and in the passing of the peace. I mourned losing that and I cried all the way home. On and off over the last couple weeks I have cried about the Body of Christ being scattered and separated, even as I studied the Bible on Zoom with friends, worshiped in my living room with a piano and a beat tapped out on the door frame, took communion with peach juice and rice cakes. There is so much grace in this season but I missed my church. 

But today, gathering or no gathering we celebrated the Resurrection of Jesus. Our Jesus is victorious. He reigns and is King over all. He is not contained by the grave and he is not restrained by social distancing. He is in the liturgy and in the prayers I can’t put words too, in the many walks around the block, in the tears and the loss and in the work from home. Today was Easter Sunday. And while it did not look as I had hoped, this weekend was one of the most beautiful I have lived in recent memory. Over the last couple of days I have prayed with members of my Bible study over Zoom. I have danced and sung in the lineup to go into the grocery store. I have baked 16 loaves of bread with my housemates (flour and sugar and eggs multiplying, loaned and passed on from neighbours). I have walked through my neighbourhood with my housemates delivering the bread to people we love; friends and family in Christ, our community, our Church. 

This morning, I got up and read the gospel accounts of Jesus’ glorious resurrection, on my rooftop as the sun rose. The birds were in full chorus, a woodpecker providing a beat behind the melody. I stood with my socks damp again, this time from the dew, and rolled my eyes, laughing at John calling himself the one who Jesus loved. He makes a point of saying that he ran faster than Peter to get to the tomb first. I’m not sure why that is important but hey, how bold and beautiful that John is so secure in his relationship with His Lord that he declares that himself the one that Jesus loved. May I be such dear friends with Jesus that I do not doubt his love for me.

After sunrise I crawled into bed, fell back asleep while still rereading the gospel of John, smiling and remembering Monday night Bible studies spent digging deeply into the disciple’s words and his thesis that Jesus is the light of the world, come to bring us into relationship with the Father. Later, my housemates and I feasted on strawberries and banana pancakes, strong brewed coffee and the sight of pink tulips in full bloom. I doodled lavender and greenery on cards for our friends as we watched the livestream service from my Pentecostal church in Barrie. So different from my Anglican church in Ottawa, today it felt like a hug from home and a reminder of the beautiful and diverse expressions of the Church. 

In the afternoon, we went door to door giving out the bread we had baked and braided and tied with blue ribbon, chatting with our friends from the sidewalk. When we got home my mom had sent us huge platters of shawarma and our house got to eat together for the second time in one day, a rare occasion. We talked and ate and praised the Lord. After dinner, I laughed for two hours straight on a Zoom call with my mom and sister, aunts and uncles and cousins. We drank wine, watched the aunties try to figure out the app and talked over each other so no one knew what anyone was saying. It was just like a real Kelly party and it made my soul sing with gratitude. As the sun was setting, my roommates and I went for one last walk, singing in the streets as we took cupcakes to our friend Aidan and my cousins Ben and Luke. 

We ended the day in our living room. And we raised our voices in worship to the King of Kings. We praised the name of Jesus because there is nothing else to do on a day like today, so full of joy and community, even from a distance. We drank wine and ate fresh bread and reminded each other that He is risen,  taking communion, in community. And while there was still a part of me that mourned not being in church and walking out the liturgy, the Lord was so generous in the joy of this Easter. It was one I want to remember the feeling of for years to come. 

The Church is alive and well friends.The Church is laughing and crying and coming together, meeting on Zoom and eating shawarma sitting on the living room floor in sweatpants and Easter dresses. She is yelling love across the street and in Instagram stories. The Church is dancing today as She remembers that Jesus is alive. On this Easter I am reminded that death and loss get their sting but hope and resurrection get the final word. Isolation and scattering may feel like long stretches of Good Fridays and Silent Saturdays but we are Resurrection people; hope wins. And wow, what a party it will be when this season ends and we can hug our loved ones and worship together again! 

Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Jesus is risen. He is working in this crazy season in ways I do not claim to understand. But I know that all is well and all will be well. Because Jesus is risen. He is risen indeed. 

“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:3-8 

Thoughts from visiting countless cathedrals

Soaring columns and colours that dance on the walls due to stained glass windows letting in the light, Gothic architecture is a pretty specific (and stunning) look. It’s one that is extremely prevalent in Spain and particularly in the many Catholic cathedrals and basilicas that sprinkle the country. As I learned more about the architectural choices and the significance behind them, I definitely grew to see the beauty in them as an offering of creativity by architects seeking to honour God and in some cases (such as the Santa Maria del Mar in Barcelona), an opportunity for the entire community to come together and create a place of communal worship in the centre of the neighbourhood. Cathedrals are truly awe-inspiring and I think some cases, really do create a sacred space that draws people into contemplation, prayer and ultimately, a meeting with God.

However, I also saw a lot of excess. A lot of wealth being demonstrated by ancient royalty to prove their power and “devotion to God” while they simultaneously allowed their people to starve, while they destroyed minority communities, while they exhibited cruelty instead of love. Some of the places I visited felt so joyful and spirit filled (guys, visiting the Sagrada Familia was actually such a holy experience for me, despite the crazy crowds of people trying to get their perfect picture). But some of the cathedrals and the history behind the buildings, the context of how and when these monuments were created, made me feel sad, made the hallways feel empty and hollow and fake. Monuments to man instead of God. Wars waged over who got to worship within their walls. Monuments to the institution of religion instead of a home for the Holy Spirit to work in people’s hearts.

I’m currently working on a post about what God was teaching me about having a pilgram’s heart and mindset while travelling, as well as some just about travelling with my mom and the incredible adventure we had. For now, I want to share with you this poem I wrote while exploring one cathedral that felt like a museum to the king who had built it and a space for the Church to honour itself instead of Jesus. I am not going to say which one because I don’t think it’s important for you to know. We must acknowledge the history of spaces and also know that the Lord renews all things; who am I to say that God will not meet you in that particular cathedral in a powerful way? He met me there. In that centuries old building that felt like an empty tomb, Jesus reminded me that He is wherever I am. And He also reminded me that I am not innocent of the same sins I felt there. I too try to build up things that show the world how faithful I am, instead of just walking it out and being the church to the people I meet. I pray that this poem will be a prayer I don’t stop praying, that I continue to seek to honour God with the things I am choosing to build with this life. And you dear reader, what are you building? What do you want the monument of your life to show?

 

Holy God.

You are not contained in cathedrals.

Yet we strive,

build up impressive monuments,

instead of creating churches out of our lives.

We each want to prove that we love you the most.

Build big enough examples to see for miles,

and yet we can’t even find a smile

as we walk past yet another beggar.

So easily we forget;

you are in the rags that we turn our eyes away from.

Gilded statues and gold,

we are willing to give our money but refuse to let you hold

our hearts.

Surrender is a false concept we bury deep in the foundations

to hold up our own creations

instead of being fully present in the one You gave us.

And Jesus, I know you are with me always,

in the mountains and in the hallways

of this church.

But may I never try to keep you here.

These drafty hallways and ruby coated walls,

heaven on earth is not this at all.

Lord,

you have all the riches you need.

Instead I offer you my heart.

Please,

take away my tendency for jealousy and greed.

Build cathedrals in my soul, Lord.

May I worship you each day,

singing holy, holy, holy is the One

who has shown us all the Way

to the Father’s throne.

It is not here, not made of velvet and stone.

Instead make pillars out of faith Lord,

to hold me up when life is hard.

I can survive without stained glass windows

but losing intimacy with You,

I can’t afford.

For though I see the beauty in these walls,

when our bodies are all temples, echo chambers of your call

for each of us to know You

we shouldn’t need a massive space to prove

our faith.

Lord,

may I never create for creation’s sake,

for conquest, power or for pride.

But as an imitation of your love

that is tall and deep and wide.

God thank you for this journey,

as you carve in me a pilgrims heart

Your Holy Spirit rests in me, in my study, work and art.

Let these buildings not distract me,

or others from the truth

that it’s not about the saints and angels

but the simple joy of knowing you.

Jesus,

teach me as I worship,

with each step and every breath,

how to find You in this world of wild excess

and more importantly, in the quiet and the rest.

These buildings are stunning and some have pointed me to you.

But others are empty of the Spirit,

honouring earthly kings and their world-views.

I learned that in Spain three religions warred,

wanting power and control,

but you Lord are the Lion

who comes in as a baby, with a cry and not a roar.

Though you are the keeper

of all Creation big and small,

You sacrificed the last True Lamb

to save us one and all.

Holy Spirit,

Cathedrals do not contain you

though they amaze me with their size

You are in our daily rhythms, in our hearts,

our prayers, our minds.

Build signposts in my heart Lord,

to keep pointing me back to You.

Let me love bigger than a basilica,

so that it is You my actions point to.

Make my life a work of art

A sign that reads humbly but clear

that this is not an empty building, temple, body.

The Holy Spirit dwells here.

 

Creating, Creation, Creator

Sometimes, my pride seeps through.

It likes to take credit for the things that “I” do.

My words dance and reverberate

with power

and I accept the compliments

“you’re a great writer”.

I wish I had the courage

more often to say,

thanks but no thanks,

I was actually such a mess today.

And then God met me

in my wild, tangled up mind,

met me with words the way He designed

for me and Him to know each other.

 

See everything in this world

echoes His beauty

every stunning thing you see

is just a fraction of His truly

magnificent Creation.

And all creativity is

just us trying to imitate

Dad.

 

Abba knows best and so

He guides

with gentle hands,

allows our still learning fingers

to paint green rolling hillsides,

to smash together crooked pottery,

and write crappy lines of poetry.

Our mortal souls

see Creation and let out sighs

of elation

and then we set to work, trying

to express our never ending awe.

 

Like children learning to speak

our parent’s language,

Creation evokes in us a

desire to Create.

Paintbrushes and music scores,

woven baskets and dances that make bodies into

moving magic,

we each become more and more dramatic

as Life

becomes inspiration for Art.

 

I meet God

best among trees and poetry.

Creation and Creating

help me know deeper

my Creator.

And remind me always

that I am an Imitator.

I want to be known

as a someone made out of

clay,

shaped more and more each day

by the One who imagined

each grain of wheat and blade of grass,

forms rainbows and icicles that shine like glass,

the Maker who sewed together

all the wild fish in the depths of the sea.

All the things the Lord created

and he still want to meet with me

through creativity.

Wow.

 

And so together we meet and He

teaches me to write,

speaking to me and through me

and my face lights up

and I can’t help the smile on my face

as I glimpse

Love.

 

I am a writer,

a storyteller too.

They are beautiful parts of

how God made me and I want

to share them with you.

But don’t forget for a minute

I am just the vessel

for the True Author’s words

when I meet with him in quiet or while listening to the

chirping of birds.

 

I lean in,

let Him show me.

I put pencil to paper

and tentatively at first,

I begin

to Create.

Return

It’s been a while since I’ve posted any poetry, friends. Here is one inspired by the parable of the Prodigal Son that I performed at a church “Slam Sermon” this evening. It’s a little messy and unedited but I love the way God teaches me through my creativity, that I get to write inspired by the First Author. I got a little emotional as I read this evening because even when I’m “doing good” with God and with life, I am reminded that I too am a bit of a mess, that I have a tendency to hide my weaknesses and failures, that I try to deal with them alone, and that every single time, the Lord calls me by name and seeks me out. He is the One who leaves the 99 to come after the one and throws a feast when we return. What a wild grace we’ve been given. What a kind Father we have.

Return.

A voice in the chaos cuts through

the rain and the tears

the insults and the jeers,

return.

Return,

you who have squandered

and wandered away,

hidden in caves

and turned your face

to hide the scraps and the pain.

Return

the voice calls,

because I see the bruises

that don’t bloom on the skin

but attack from within and

slither through veins

in ways you can’t begin to explain

the mental haze that has found you,

made you lose your ways.

Return

say the voice

because I have heard

coins clash together in scenes that feel blurred

as exchanges are made and

you smile as pleasures

are handed your way

but at the end of the night,

lonely, sad and frustrated

you just want

to take flight and escape

what you have created.

Return

though your clothes are dirty

and you feel unworthy.

Return

not as a thief in the night

slinks back and hopes to avoid being seen

come in the morning when the sky is blue

and the trees are green.

Return.

Return,

in the light

so that He can greet you

in the way that is right

for a Father

to embrace his Sons and Daughters.

Return,

to a love so reckless

that it kicks up its heels,

an outrageous love

that revels and reveals itself.

A love that does not hide,

loves fully and with pride

in it’s Beloved Creation.

Return.

Return,

urges the voice

and He will run calling out for all to hear

the one I love was far

but now they are near

Return,

the voice reverberates

through all the other noise.

Somewhere a man awakes

looks around at all he has destroyed

He rises and looks towards the door

Return

the voice whispers

with love the man

no longer feels he deserves

return

and you will learn

how the Father longs

for his children

and does not reserve

love for only those who are “worthy”.

Return,

all are welcome,

those broken and thirsty.

Return

from hard work in the field

or a wild life abroad

the voice calls them in

not caring where they have trod.

Return,

the voice

says

I have been waiting.

With love anticipating,

always hopeful,

never hating.

Watching the door for you.

Return,

now is the time,

the Father waits

to wash away any shame and crime.

Return

to Perfect Love

to Divine embracing

return to being fully known

instead of always chasing

more.

A King’s feast awaits,  not just the crumbs

Here is your home

where you can always come

So now,

without fear

or condemnation

come boldly

and be cherished

by the Maker of Creation

And the Father will smile and

with the same voice He will say

all I’ve wanted

for years has come true today.

For you, My Child

have returned.

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Morning Rhythms

This morning I was up before the sun.

A static melody fills my room as the radio alarm clicks on at “5am” which is really more like 4:50 since all my clocks are set ahead; my chronic lateness needs all the help it can get to make me be on time for something, anything.

Even though I want to snuggle down into the covers and wrap myself in the cozy denim coloured jersey sheets, I force myself to put my feet on the ground before I think twice. Half asleep, I hit boil on the already filled kettle and scoop this morning’s caffeinated drink – vanilla matcha – into a wide mug I need both hands to hold. Almost on auto-pilot I brush my hair, get dressed and gather my things for the day. Before 5:30, I am out the door, green drink in one hand, grey bible in the other. I head for the common room.

I spend the next hour or so sitting in front of the window. I journal while music quietly plays and sip my drink while reading about this week’s “spiritual discipline” of choice – gratitude. I pray and ask God to meet me, to teach me, to change me, to grow me, as I open the Word and read the Psalms. I am almost brought to tears by the beauty and emotion of the Bible’s poets. I praise the Lord for the truths I read: that He is my refugee, that He alone gives peace, that I ask and He answers, that He is angry without sin, that He delights in me, that He gives joy in the darkness. I do not feel the tiredness in my body any more. You could argue that it is the matcha kicking in but I can feel the Holy Spirit filling me with so much excitement about being alive. I ask for forgiveness for the times this week I spoke in anger, for the times I was lazy or selfish or unkind or prideful. I ask the Holy Spirit to be with me through my busy day.

I practice gratitude all the way to work. I realize that for the first time this year I can hear birds chirping in the tree on the Leblanc front lawn and think, “what a gift that is to me!” I watch pink streaks wind their way through the sky and smile to myself as I step into puddles. Whether or not it lasts, this morning feels like spring and I am grateful to be alive.

I talk to God about how much I love writing and getting to know people. I pray about the book I want to someday write and the blogs I have in the back of my head. I thank Jesus for the plans He has for me today, tomorrow, this summer and six years from now and day dream about all the countries I will visit soon. I remember my last year’s trip to Iceland and am thankful all over again for a God who fulfills the desires of my heart. I remember how I prayed last August that I would be able to find a non-profit to do co-op at this winter. I walk through the downtown core of the city I so love and cherish on my way to the job that is everything I asked God for, and more. Like the bonus of having Friday’s off to accomplish tasks for my many other commitments. I thank God that He actually does give me more than I can handle but never more than He can handle; I am grateful I have to rely on Him and not my own stubbornness and pride.

I pray for friends near and far. I pray for people I do not call friend. I pray in French and thank God for language and rain and my residents and for being a God who is “tu” and not “vous”. I stop and buy a tea. I tell the women behind the cash how grateful I am that she got up early to serve me this morning.

I get to work 20 minutes early. I sit and talk with my co-workers about how beautiful long-lasting friendships are and I think about how excited I am to catch up with my best friend on the phone tonight. What a blessing it is to have technology to keep in touch.

I sip my tea. I start up my computer. I make my to-do list. I get to work.

I gave up sleeping in for Lent and it is not easy to resist the snooze button. Sometimes I mess up, like last Friday when I convinced 3 friends to meet me on campus at 7 for prayer and then I slept through the alarm and missed it. 5am comes oh so early. But a 5am start to my day means I have time to meet with Jesus and focus my day on the Lord before the busyness of everything else kicks in and more and more I am finding beauty in this rhythm. I am truly giving God the first of my time and getting His view on my day long before the stress of work or obligations kick in. At 5am, there is nothing I need to do but sit in the presence of the Lord.

Morning rhythms, quiet cups of tea, birds chirping. I get to pray and meet with the Creator while most of Creation sleeps. Wow, if that doesn’t help me cultivate gratitude, I don’t know what will. I am so thankful for the life I get to live.

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” – Mark 1:35

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An ode to 2017

2017. What a year.

Thank you for being one of the best yet. Thank you for allowing me to pursue myself, to pursue passion, to pursue learning, to pursue adventure, and above all to pursue Jesus and the plans He has for me. It’s been so good.

2018: you’ve got a lot to live up to…somehow I’m believing you’ll be even better.

So here’s to you, 2017, with all your jumbled joy and challenge. Thanks for being:

 

A year of adventure and of travel.

A year of learning.

A year of working and a year of rest.

A year of strangers and of friends and of family.

A year of thriving.

A year of passion, of cultivating dreams, a year of sparks being fanned into flames.

A year of church searching and finding.

A year of getting lost and of laughing.

A year of rain dancing and mountain climbing, a year of paddle buying and canoe trip leading.

A year of address changing.

A year of deep question asking

A year of meetings and long days in a cubicle

A year of language learning and poem reciting.

A year of climbing and of hiking, of dancing and of stretching

A year of coffee shops and life chats that lasted until the wee hours of the morning.

A year of geyser watching and waterfall chasing, of cave swimming and pouring rain zip lining.

A year of book reading and blog writing.

A year of coffee drinking and bread baking.

A year of bike riding and of long walk taking

A year of chasing the future and a year of quiet nights taking it the now

A year of back porch dreaming and fairy light hanging

A year of prayer and of pensiveness

A year of breathing deeply in Creation

A year of gratitude

A year of changed plans and positive attitudes

A  year of late night essay writing, of co-op interviewing, of office hours visiting, of difficult exam taking.

A year of duty and floor meetings, of loving residents and loving my teams

A year of bucket lists actually fulfilled

A year of inspiration

A year of loving people and of being alone

A year of contentment and of peace

A year of ignition, a year of climbing to the high diving board and getting ready to leap

A year of being spontaneous

A year of being unapologetic in pursuing who God created me to be.

Sometimes a year of anger, of fear, of frustration.

Mostly a year of hope and of joy.

Always a year of Jesus, a year of faithfulness, a year of promises fulfilled.

Thank you.

2018. I am ready for all you have to offer.

 

God > Grades

Never have I ever written as much as I did this past semester for university. I’m not sure if it’s a 3rd year thing or just that I was lucky enough to have professors who loved written assessments but holy cow, my fingers hurt just thinking about all the typing I did! Counting only pieces that were 8+ pages, I wrote 9 academic papers this semester. Huh, when I see that number it actually doesn’t seem like that many but let me tell you, it felt like a million.

The last week of classes was, in particular,  rather brutal. In the span of 9 days, I had 3 final exams, an Arabic oral presentation and 4 papers due. I barely slept and I should have been stressed out of my mind. Shocking everyone, myself included, I was incredibly calm and focused. In comparison to last fall, in which I spent most of the exam period alternating between crying from stress and talking about how stressed I was to anyone who would listen, this semester I felt like I had everything under control, despite the overwhelming amount of work I had. I think the sheer volume of what I had to do actually helped because I felt like just finishing it would be an accompaniment, regardless of the grade that I achieved.

However, the most incredible thing I realized this finals season is just how much my perspective on grades and exam stress has changed since first year. As crazy as it might sound to those of you who don’t share my faith, I had this incredible sense of peace during exams (and really all semester) that God had this. That didn’t necessarily mean I was going to get As in all my classes but this was the first time in school that I genuinely, deep down in my soul, knew that my grades do not define me. That my best was enough, whether that meant I lost my scholarship or if it meant I got straight As, I knew I would be silly to think that something as little as getting a C+ in Arabic or failing a Statistics exam could possibly derail God’s plan for my life.

God is the Creator of the universe. He designed the tallest mountains and the deepest depths of the sea. He crafted the world’s most precise intricacies and set in motion the laws of nature. He imagined every language before any human tongue spoke it and ordered the world with incredible attention to detail. And most amazingly, I too am part of His grand, elaborate, creative and perfect design. Wow! Because of that, I am inherently enough. I was created enough.

I’ve known this in my head for years. But last year there was a time when I had to confront myself and ask “am I trusting God with school because I trust Him or because it keeps working out fine in the end? If I actually failed a class  or an assignment would I still trust Him with it and say that He is good?”. I was about to find out. I had a take home final due in my International Relations Class (which had been killing me all semester) and I had spent about 17 of the last 24 hours writing the final. I was doing OK in the class, but not great and definitely not as well as I wished I was. Finally handing in that paper felt so freeing; it was finally over, after much stress and striving.

Then I got home. A friend was going to come over before church and I was scrambling to clean my persistently messy room when I picked up a piece of paper and saw that it was one of the pages of my assignment. It had slipped off the printer and because the cover page had been there, I had just stapled the assignment and handed in, with about 500 words missing. Cue instant nausea and hysteria. God bless my poor friend Jon who showed up to my door to me sobbing and running around my room in a panic, trying to call my professor’s office, which was now closed. I tried to calm down and then Jon and I prayed for favour with my professor and TA and I emailed them both the electronic version of my paper, explaining what had happened.

As we headed to church, I was trying so hard to let it go and trust that God would make it all work together for good but I just couldn’t. I was furious with myself for not being more careful. I was mad that this class was, yet again, stressing me out. And to be perfectly honest, I was mad at God. Here I am, in university, trying to honour the opportunity I had been given to get an education, trying to do what I felt God had called me to be doing in this season of life and He, in all His power, couldn’t make sure I handed my paper in right?! Sounds silly I know but I’m sure we’ve all been there with anger that makes absurd accusations regardless of their truth. Thankfully Jesus is used to taking the ugliest parts of my human nature and drawing me closer to himself with patience, love and grace. 

We got to church just as I received an email from my professor telling me that she would not be including the missing page and that my assignment would be marked as it had been handed in. Of course, I start sobbing again and go hide alone at the back of the church. I spent the entire service in angry, crying prayer. Y’all probably think I am so dramatic and honestly, I knew I was being dramatic too. I kept telling myself it was just a paper, that it was just one class, that it wasn’t life or death but I was so distraught.

That’s when God really started getting deep into the heart of it all. Why did this academic setback send me spiralling so hard? Why did I feel like such a failure?

Even though I could say that my identity is found in who God says I am, was it really true? That afternoon, God softened my heart, drew me close in his presence and reminded me who I am. I am not an incomplete IR paper. I am not my transcript.  I am a daughter of the Highest King. I am chosen, set free and redeemed. There are plans for my life that will go beyond my wildest dreams if I am willing to give the reins over to the Lord. I had to level with God and admit that I had been idolizing academic success, for a long time. I had placed what my uOzone grade report said above what God himself said about me.

It was a hard lesson and it didn’t end that day. Last December as I headed home for Christmas I was utterly exhausted. I had had the worst four months of my entire life. Academically, personally, professionally. It had all been difficult. I was tired. So tired. My best friend and I sat in a parking lot one day and just yelled and laughed at how absurdly terrible our fall semesters had been. But then we talked about how good God is through those hard seasons.

I walked into my second semester and 2017 feeling more grounded in God’s word than ever before. I had learned what is means to hide myself in Him and His promises. I’ll be writing about 2017 year soon but for now, let me just tell you that it was been one full of grace, full of hard lessons and more anger at God and more running towards him all the same. It has been a year of growth and change and dreaming and hope. So much hope. We are so lucky to get to life this life, complete with all it’s joy and challenge.

So, who can stop the Lord Almighty? Not me and certainly not my grades. I am enough. I am worthy of the plans he has for my life because He created me, Jesus redeemed my life and I choose to value that above all else. That doesn’t mean I don’t try my very best at school – on the contrary, I believe my education is one of the biggest blessing I have been given and I want to steward it well. What it means is that I am free to do my best and have that be enough. I am free to hand things in and sleep in peace knowing that my world will not fall apart, regardless of what grade I get back. It means walking out of exams and not feeling like I’m going to melt in a puddle of tears. It means going home at the end of semester and not feeling like I just climbed into a lifeboat. Because I wasn’t drowning in the first place.

Trust God, friends. Rest in the knowledge that your best is enough. You are enough.

Until next time, Sam

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You Guat’a be kidding me

Hey there my friends! How is everyone?

So many drafts saved, so few posts published! The saga continues with the tension of this internet space, as I discover more and more about who God has created me to be, think about how to express my thoughts, figure out what I want to share here and ponder what, if any, my influence is through writing. It’s a fun journey but one that sometimes means not much actually makes its way past a draft!! To make up for it, here’s a reallllly long one with lots of pretty pictures!

Anyyyyyway. If you follow me on social media or know me in real life, you probably know that I went on a little adventure last month to a place I’d never been before – Guatemala! Wahoo! This was my first time in Latin America as a “backpacker” (LOL) since previously I’ve visited with my family but stayed mostly on the resorts, hanging out on the beaches. This was a very different experience! I also got to travel with one of my best friends and we had just the most fun time. Fair warning, this post may just be a jumble of photos and little stories!

Last year I decided to stop talking and writing so much about desiring adventure and travel and just friggin’ do it. I went to Iceland by myself and it was a really freeing and wonderful experience that I think helped me grow a lot as a person. It’s that “shut up and go” attitude that I’ve tried to carry over into my everyday life since then, from spontaneous weekend trips to Montreal, to canoeing in new places, to trying out a new hobby, to “adventuring” in my own city to find new places to study and explore.

That said, there is something very unique about international travel that I simply love. I love the process of going from one place to another, the fact that I can sit down in this mental tube and a few hours later be someplace totally different. I love, love, love the process of planning and dreaming, only to find myself totally winging it when I get there.  I love meeting people I don’t interact with in my everyday life whether that means locals or other backpackers. I love the tension and being kept on my toes and having everything just be a little out of my hands. I love trying to practice new languages (I got out a little easy this time because Nick’s Spanish is a lot better than mine and he bailed me out a bit hehe!)

Not to mention, the world is crazy beautiful.

Suffice to say, Iceland lit a fire under my feet and had me checking flight prices all winter and spring. After a while, I realized that my cheapest option was probably going to be Guatemala. So I started telling all my friends that I was going and that they were invited. Some people showed interest, a couple seriously. Eventually my dear friend Nick agreed to come along and we booked flights. Over the next couple months we laughed often about the fact that we were ACTUALLY going to go.

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Friend!! He put up with me being bossy and sick and bad at Spanish for a whole week! What a guy!!

So here’s 10 things I learned over reading week in Guatemala:

  1. You can be as careful as you like, but you still might get sick. Nick and I were pretty careful about where and what we ate and drank because we had heard that lots of people get sick while in Guatemala (and developing countries in general) but OF COURSE, the day we were supposed to go hiking, we both ended up really sick with some kind of brutal stomach bug or food poisoning. It had us out for the count for a full day/day and a half and didn’t fully go away until more than a week after we’d been home. I actually got it worse a second time after we were home and had to take antibiotics. All that to say a) you can’t control these things and b) you can’t be bitter about it and let it ruin your whole trip. I did warn Nick on day 1 that if anything bad could happen, it would surely happen to me/us. Y’all know the deal #samproblems

 

 

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A real-life view of what travel sometimes looks like #dying

2. Travelling with a friend is very different than travelling alone. Not better or worse, just different. When I went to Iceland, I loved that I was totally in control of my own time and that I was only responsible for myself. Travelling with Nick, I suddenly was aware that all my decisions had to work for another person too! There was some tension with that because I had planned most of our trip and felt responsible for whether or not Nick had fun. At the same time, he is an adult and can take of himself. So it was interesting to figure out how to balance those things and how to travel together and how to let each other do their own thing but also be together most of the time. At the end of our trip we had a really good talk about communication and sharing planning responsibilities and how to learn from this trip for future adventures together!

Also, I noticed that I am more chill of a traveller than maybe I realized? I don’t really stress and stay pretty calm in situations that could become concerning and even though I knew that about myself, it was interesting to…notice I guess, what others find stressful about travel. Nick noticed things that I didn’t even think to be concerned about and it was good for both of us to balance each other out in that way because it forced me to consider things more carefully and question my assumptions and I encouraged him to relax a bit. On the flip side (this is going to sound very contradictory), I think I am still a pretty cautious traveller. Like I said, it’s a balance. I don’t act rashly but I also don’t worry once I have made a decision.

Overall, it was super nice to have someone with me along the way, especially since Nick is one of my best friends and he and I haven’t gotten much one on one time since moving out of residence in first year so our time together was really precious to me!

3. “Dangerous” is a relative term and a little common sense can go a long way. Speaking of stress or fear or danger and using common sense, I think it’s worth noting that I never felt unsafe in Guatemala. Before we went, several people voiced concern for us because statistically, Guat has high levels of crime. However that is mostly gang related and concentrated in the capital where we did not stay.  There was one situation in a taxi where Nick thought we were potentially in danger but that was more due to a miscommunication in Spanish than anything else and everything ended up being ok. One other time, we were told a particular hike was unsafe unless in larger groups due to reports of tourists being mugged which, just that stipulation made me a little nervous. But honestly, we never felt like we were in particularly dangerous place. On our part, we took some precautions like not wandering around at night or flaunting expensive things around. In general we found Guatemalans to be very welcoming people who were open to sharing their culture (although sometimes they were pushy sales people lol)

4. A week isn’t long enough to appreciate the complexity of a countries history, politics and culture. Honestly, I have little to say about this except to say that I regret not learning more about Guatemala’s history before I went, that I really loved how present and prevalent the Indigenous culture still was and that I am constantly amazed by my own ignorance to other countries’ political climates, even though I am studying international development.  I have so much to learn.

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5. On that note, I’m still learning how studying development shapes my world view. I felt uncomfortable by how many people assumed my trip to Guatemala was to volunteer or do some kind of development work. Aside from the fact that I am still working through how I feel about “voluntourism”, the comments also felt a little accusative, as if my chosen field of study disallows me from travelling in the developing world for my own enjoyment. Yet, in a strange way, it does. Because of my education, I see things differently. I found myself hyper aware of my privilege as a visitor, painfully aware of my relative wealth. Although I am all for tourism because it is a source of income for many people, it’s impossible to visit Guatemala and not see the inequalities, the lack of drinkable water, the poverty.

Yet, as a student of development, I was ALSO really interested in the efforts I saw being made towards empowerment – Indigenous owned coffee companies, a newly opened restaurant that was part of a women’s co-op and vocational school, Spanish schools that teach the language through politics and education on colonial history. I could see small projects and changes happening. On my end, I am constantly learning and travel is just a small part of that. Even though this was a vacation and not an experiential learning opportunity, my education has changed the lens with which I travel and it continues to challenge the way I think and look at the world.

P.s. Like I said I have a lot of mixed feelings but a definition of voluntourism I would feel comfortable with would definitely involve way more awareness and knowledge of Guat than I had and would require longer term investment than one week – but that’s for another blog post.

6. Try to speak the local language. Just try a little. In Guatemala, you kind of had to know at least some Spanish. Although, in the villages, Spanish was actually the second language for many people who spoke one of 20+ Indigenous languages as a mother tongue! Although my speaking isn’t all that great, my comprehension in Spanish is ok and because of that, I got to barter and chat and hear bits of people’s stories – my favourite was talking to our taxi driver about swimming, a favourite activity we both shared. P.s. shout out to Nick for his Spanish skills saving me when I floundered 2 out of 3 times.

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7. Backpacker culture is different in different parts of the world. Previously when I’ve stayed in hostels I have found it easy to make friends and fit into the backpacker culture. In Guatemala I found it more difficult to “fit in”. Many people I spoke to had very different perceptions than I do of what traveling looks like, what it’s purpose is and why one should do it. Although I love talking to people with different points of view, I found the backpacking culture in Guat to be a little toooooo “go with the flow” for me. Not that being flexible is bad but everyone I talked to seemed to be traveling indefinitely, with no plans and no purpose, to the point where some of them were rather rude about the fact that Nick and I were in school – because in their mind, school couldn’t possibly be about anything other than conforming to societal expectations. Along with this, I found many of them didn’t seem to understand that their ability to travel in this manner is not a way of fighting back against the capitalist societal norms but actually a result of their Western privilege – hanging out at a hostel for months on end means you are wealthy enough to travel and CHOOSE an alternative to the corporate world. I don’t mean this as a judgement or to paint all Central American backpackers in a bad light because obviously there are many types of people who travel for various reasons, it was just an overall attitude difference than what I have seen other places. That said, Nick and I did of course meet some really interesting people, from a new friend from Colombia to a group Irish girls on their grad trip to a really cool German couple and an older woman on a spiritual journey. Travel always, always, always opens my mind to the diversity of people.

8. 20 is apparently still too young to be travelling. When I was 19 in Iceland I was “just a baby”. Apparently going to Guatemala at 20 still warrants “awww”s and disbelief that young people can take airplanes without adult supervision

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9. Splurge on some activities but don’t forget that just being present in a new environment is an amazing way to spend time. I absolutely adored going zip lining in a National Park and I am so glad we spent a day in Chichi at the largest market in Central America. But my favourite memory from our trip is when one morning we got up and went swimming in the volcanic lake. Here’s a little blurb I wrote in my journal that day:

“This morning when I got up, I looked out and saw nothing but trees. With only two walls and no electricity, our hostel room feels more like a secret club house than a bedroom. I got up and wandered down to the lake where the sky was clear and the tops of the volcanoes were visible, towering on the other side of the lake. Carefully picking my way along the boardwalk, I went to a quiet swimming place and jumped in, the clear, cold water enveloping me and then buoying me back up to the surface. As I turned back to shore,  I can hardly believe my eyes. Mountains reach up and up, covered in lush, dense jungle and spotted with coloured houses. Around the summits, fog swirls. Nick and I keep laughing because it honestly feels like we must be in a movie, it’s just so beautiful.”

The sheer joy of being a new place, seeing beauty I had never seen before, floating in blue water and laughing with my friend is a wonderful as any activity I could have planned. When travelling, make sure to take time to just be present in the place.

10. Travel always revives my sense of wonder and reminds me of God’s glory and creativity. Wow, wow, wow you guys. Guatemala is seriously incredible! And it just makes me want to see other places all the more. Seeing natural beauty and diversity always just makes me want to draw close to the Lord and praise Him for all He has created and blessed me with. One morning when I couldn’t sleep because I was sick, I went down and sat on a dock around 4am and sang worship songs as the sun rose up from behind the volcanos ringing the lake. It’s as beautiful as it sounds. Traveling around  and exploring Guatemala revived my child-like sense of wonder and made me grateful all over again for the world God created.

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SO that’s about all I’ve got for now I think. I guess I had quite a bit to say! I’m just so grateful for the opportunities I have to explore and live life to the fullest. Thanks as always for reading, for putting up with my ramblings and for following me along on this ever changing, ever challenging, ever exciting and ever grander adventure.

Until next time,

Sam