Does God want you to be happy?

It’s been said that happiness is fleeting and that joy is deep down and lasting. Joy is a choice and happiness an emotion. Some suggest happiness is trivial and should not be pursued. After all, joy is spiritual while happiness is, well … not.

For North Americans, happiness sits at the top of the “want list.”

So, what is happiness anyways? Why does everyone want something so badly that doesn’t seem to last?

We want what we can’t have. We can’t have real happiness without Jesus.

The Hebrew word in the Old Testament for happiness is ashre, translated as “well-being,” “flourishing,” and “happiness.” This word carries the idea of someone experiencing authority, peace and rest in God. It is used through the Psalms and Proverbs to describe the happy state of those who know God. Tim Keller teaches that happiness is indeed an emotion or a feeling and it happens deep down in the soul. Bible scholar Jonathan Pennington writes, “This flourishing can never occur fully apart from a proper relationship with the creator God.”

For those who want some, listen … Jesus shouted nice and loud for the crowds gathered near the mountain just off the shores of the Galilean Sea… Can you hear Him?

“You’re happy when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God …”

“You’re happy when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

“You’re happy when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

“You’re happy when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

“You’re happy when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

“You’re happy when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

“You’re happy when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

10 “You’re happy when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom. – Matthew 5:3-10 msg

Recently, I went along with a brave girl to deliver cards to elderly friends with words from Jesus scrawled inside. The words were gems of hope and produced happy hearts. What stood out to me though, weren’t the smiles of the elderly, but of that girl … that selfless girl who has been spending days in palliative care with her family as cancer wages war against her dad. Her warm smile. Her peace. As we walked out of the building – she smiled wide with tearful eyes and said, “That made me so happy.”

Happy is she. No one can steal that kind of happy. No one can explain it. Everyone wants it because it makes smiles in the wasteland. Jesus’ famous echoes from the Mount take us right to it. It’s there waiting for us.

No, happiness is not shallow or superficial. It is deeply spiritual – in fact, it’s born in the Spirit – in the very place your life is connected to Christ through the cross – if you believe the cross was enough. Through relationship with Him. This kind of happy is starkly durable. Paul writes about it saying, “Happy are those who are declared righteous without working for it…” – Romans 4:6 NLT paraphrase

Kay Warren says, “Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of the details of my life.” Maybe joy and happiness are not that different after all – maybe choosing joy – a settled assurance – brings feelings of happy – peace and rest.

Gleaning Meaning

The top five regrets of the dying:

  • I wish I hadn’t worked so much.
  • I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  • I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  • I wish I had let myself be happier
  • I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

-The Guardian by Bronnie Ware

Everyone wants to do something on earth that matters.

You were created for this.

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  

The purpose of your life is to bring God’s Kingdom to earth. To bring justice and mercy to all the broken parts with your very own hands. This is a big commission.

“And what does the LORD require of you? To Act justly to love mercy…” – Micah 6:8

This doesn’t mean you need to feel pressure or be all-important…

“Walk humbly with your God.” – Micah 6:8

 This doesn’t mean you need to be exhausted…..

Jesus says, “Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch up I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Yes, you can work towards big things while taking a real rest.

We weren’t made to carry life alone – we were made to thrive in collaboration. Scripture shows us how it’s done…

King Joash took on a mighty project saying, “Repair whatever damage is found in the Temple.” The project sat dormant and hopeless for 23 years before wise strategy was applied and the project thrived.

Success exploded when many were involved. Many were empowered to use their skills and contribute. Many took responsibility. Many had a voice. Many invested in the project and the initiative thrived for God’s glory. People lived with deep down Godly meaning, they accomplished big things, and no one needed to carry the burden alone.

While the building of projects and initiatives is important-

God always cares more about the building of people and relationships then he does about the building of buildings, projects or initiatives.

Love God. Love people. Bring justice and mercy to earth and do it humbly – in genuine relationship with others. This is how we can Glean Godly Meaning, live in joy with lightness of heart, while accomplishing mighty things for God’s Kingdom.

Generations after King Joash restored the Temple, King Josiah restored the temple again. This time, he followed the systems established during the time of King Joash that worked so powerfully and effectively – and the project was completed with ease. May we heed the wise advice those who have gone before us … may we listen to the regrets of the dying – each one wishes they had lived valuing people and relationships more.

We don’t just avoid this because we are busy, but relationships take work! They take some building. It’s through this building that God’s Kingdom comes and we glean lasting meaning. Love God. Love people. Bring justice and mercy to earth, humbly – through relationship with others. This is how we can live in joy, with lightness of heart, while accomplishing mighty things for God’s Kingdom.

Lean Right

“The problem is that everyone has these expectations of me, and then I feel like I have to fulfill those expectations for people to like me. It’s exhausting!” This week, these were the words of a beautiful teen girl getting brave and honest about her hopelessness.

I have certainly felt that way in my life. I know that others have too, because this summer, Sisterhoodyxe asked women of all ages to vote on the 3 most common ways women and girls feel hopeless right now in our culture. We want to shine hope for women and girls right where it is needed most. Voted number three was the topic: Traditional vs. Liberal Woman.

When it comes to fulfilling the role of a woman, traditional or liberal or otherwise, is there a right way to lean?

As my new friend spoke, I felt a burning passion to dig into the pages I profess as “Living hope” (The Good Book) and experience it, and spread it.

The book itself is one big story. God’s story of redemption. Redemption means to purchase back what was lost, or to atone for wrongdoing. I know this. I’ve heard this. But what does this mean for girls and women today?

In John chapter four, Jesus has walked a long distance. His dust stained feet and parched mouth have had enough of the journey. The land is dry and the well is hope. The Samaritan woman is there at midday. Odd. Only an outcast would saunter to the well in the scorching heat.

Jesus, tired human Jesus, has ordained this moment in his unmatched divinity. He knows her, and He sees her as no one else can – he sees her as she cannot see herself.

Jesus doesn’t see her defined by the cultural divide, her devastating divorce trail, or her isolation. Jesus is not bound by time – He sees vividly, like it was yesterday, when He crafted woman in the Garden with infinite affection and understanding. He didn’t only sculpt her physically, but he breathed his very essence into her, uniquely.

As his gaze meets the eyes of the woman at the well, hope stirs stronger than any well could contain. He offers her water that satisfies and He knows it originates back in Eden. It comes from his original intentions for her – it comes from the soul connection Jesus creates by His blood between woman and Jesus. Redemption.

He remembers weaving her heart uniquely and calling her Ezer kenegdo. Some have translated this name as “helpmate” or “helper.” When He named her, God did not think, “lesser”, “subordinate” or “servant” as some in our culture do. This name is used over 20 times in the New Testament and always refers to a powerful kind of help and rescue – In fact, God named woman after himself. In the Old Testament God is called Ezer kenegdo when he shows up big to help the Israelites fight a fierce battle. This is a warrior name and reflects the powerful heart God gives woman. The word Kenegdo implies she is equal to Adam, an equal support. She is not the same as Adam, but carries a unique expression of God’s image as woman.

Jesus looks at the woman at the well and sees Ezer, woman – created to be and feel empowered. He sees the Samaritan woman as beloved creation – he sees her weary eyes…. He looks at her and thinks: I made you to be Empowered. This is my redemptive work on earth, to remind you who you are, and to help you live as such.

But would she be brave enough to LEAN right? To LEAN right into Jesus? To really listen? He says…

Let your heart be seen … He tells her everything she has ever done. He knows the heart-design that is made to live transparently – and thrives when it does not hide in shame. After all, there is no shame in Eden. Even though this is uncomfortable for her, He reveals the truth of her wrongdoing – and tells her it’s ok to face the truth about her own life. She is more powerful than she thinks.

Examine your heart … He tells her that deep satisfaction can only be found when true worshippers will worship in Spirit and truth. It is never about where one worships, but how… In Eden, God’s goodness was known and felt and never doubted. The woman at the well would be able, through Jesus to feel His goodness by the blood of Jesus. She could know unfathomable love and experience fulfilling connection to God. She is more powerful than she thinks.

Accept the truth in your heart … He tells her that He is the Son of God, the awaited Messiah. Jesus remembers that He created Eden to be void of deception. He created her to trust Him fully and know Him deeply – when she does this, she will experience vitality… But He does not choose this for her … Because Choice is Empowerment and allows for authentic relationship and love… There is more power available to her than she knows.

Nourish your heart … Jesus goes on to say that his food is to do the will of God, and he recognizes that the Samaritan woman at the well had the choice whether or not to nourish her heart – because he created her that way – with choice. She can make choices that bring them closer – or put distance between them. He knows that eternal satisfaction is found in her intimate connection to Him – after all, this is what she was created for. She can choose to LEAN in to Jesus, to let her heart be seen, to examine her heart, to accept truth and to nourish her heart one choice at a time. This LEANING would lead her to experience an inner satisfaction that nothing could compare to… But the choice is hers. She has great power, Ezer.

As she chooses to “Lean Right” into Jesus, she need not worry about the women who abandoned her, or those who continue to judge her. They would be coming to the same well in the cool of the evening – she need not be offended. She need not be angry with them, she need not feel self-conscious, or hide in shame. She need not feel or act powerless. As she chooses to “Lean Right” into Jesus, she is empowered to bring change on earth as she was uniquely created to do. She, the weary and tired woman at the well, runs wildly to Samaria and chooses to speak powerfully, boldly and passionately about the goodness of God. Redemption is happening in her own heart – and she is empowered to bring God’s Kingdom to Earth so that others can have it too. This is the satisfying sweet drink of leaning right into Jesus. Freedom. Empowerment.

 

Couraging

This week, countless graduates mounted distinguished caps on their heads with pride – ready to pursue purpose. One of the most common grade twelve graduation themes is: Follow Your Heart. We live with heart when we live with purpose. Deep down – everyone wants this.

This year, I taught a student I will never forget – Tim. On the first day of class, I was spilling with enthusiasm for an exciting year ahead of standard deviation and Pythagorus’ theorem … (don’t ask me why Tim wasn’t sharing my excitement). Tim was having none of it – and refused to open his book. I asked him what was wrong. My over-the-top-first-day-teacher-enthusiasm died fast when he angrily said – LOOK – I am the kid that never passes anything so I don’t try – and I won’t be trying … You should know that about me. I am just putting in my time, but I will fail. I always do.

I’ve always been one to love inspiring words, quotes and ideas and flashy phrases like “FOLLOW YOUR HEART” … but looking into Tim’s defeated eyes – and knowing that feeling of defeat in my own life at times, it got me thinking: How do we actually experience courage and inspiration that leads to change? Tim needed more than a pep talk – and I recognized that sometimes, so do I. I think we all do.

So if not a pep talk, then what do we really need to live with heart?

For graduates, it seems purpose is all about what we DO in life … I bet every grade twelve grad is sick and tired of that question … What are you going to DO next year and for your career?

My Question for graduates is not what you plan to do but instead, who are you going to BE? I believe that the answer to this question is the key to whether or not you will find purpose and deep down lasting joy.

The thing is: It’s easy to plan what you want to do – but HOW do you PLAN who you want to BE? How do you plan to follow your heart?

To live with HEART is to live with courage…

A person’s ability to live with courage is the number one indicator of how successful one’s life will be. (Success defined as a fulfilling job, sufficient finances, personal fulfillment and happiness) It’s not intelligence, talent, or charisma. It’s your ability to be courageous!

What is courage? “Mental or moral strength to withstand fear and adversity.”

I used to think that courage was something some people had and others had less of when in fact– Courage is PRACTICED. Dr. Brene Brown calls courage a verb – it’s something we choose to do! Verbs end in ING. we can actually PRACTICE couraging.  By choosing to do it, we build it. Mental strength can be built like a muscle… over time… with practice.

Physical strength is built in the gym. Mental fortitude is built in the mind.

So as I thought about Tim… and my own desire to get couraging, I got a mirror in the classroom and scripted the famous quote “Life is like a mirror and will reflect back to the thinker what he thinks into it.” If Tim believed he could pass, he would. If he didn’t – he wouldn’t.

The mirror was more for me than it was for students. (Mostly because I thought – if I am supposed to get any learning going in this classroom, I’m going to need all the courage I can get!). Every day we practiced couraging. One author says there are five characteristics of courage – As a class, we focused on one characteristic each day of the week.

  1. GRIT – Motivation Mondays

“You have a choice – you can throw in the towel, or you can wipe the sweat off your face” – Unknown

  1. INTEGRITY – Tell-All Tuesdays

“Integrity is choosing courage over comfort; choosing what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy; and choosing to practice our values rather than simply professing them.” – Brene Brown

  1. JUSTICE – World Wednesdays

“Small things done with great love will change the world.” – Mother Teresa

  1. THANKFULNESS – Thankful Thursdays (Default brain setting)

“The happiest people do not have the best of everything. They make the best of everything they have.”

  1. FREEDOM from fear

“Fear is much more a limitation than having no arms or no legs.” – Nick Vujucic

We take inspirational words like “Follow your heart” and bring them to life by choosing to practice couraging.

To all grade twelve graduates, at your ten year, twenty year or thirty year class reunion … It’s not going to matter so much what you have done. Picture yourself – it’s going to matter who you have become. Are you joyful? Fulfilled? What kind of a life you have chosen to build? You don’t build a life with designations and titles – although they may be a very important part of the equation. You build purpose-filled life by living with heart.

So to all 2017 Grads, may you choose to..

  1. Worry more about WHO you are than what you DO.
  2. Choose everyday to practice courage – especially in the small things
  3. Choose to live with GRIT, INTEGRITY, JUSTICE, THANKFULNESS and FREEDOM from fear.

And may you be surprised by the JOY that grows big and the ways you impact the world.

Oh yeah, I should tell you – This week, Tim passed the math class. He said on the last day of class that he went from being the failing guy to the passing guy. He didn’t talk so much about the credit he earned, but about who he had become. He chose it. He built it.

And tomorrow when he wakes up – He will get to choose again. And so will you. Because the reality is we are all going to mess up sometimes – we will slink back and make mistakes.

Everyday offers a new choice – we can simply read inspiring quotes like “Follow your heart” Or we can actually do it – one practicing moment at a time. It doesn’t matter what labels we’ve worn, or what you chose yesterday. Today, we all choose new.

Finally, people aren’t meant to produce courage – but to practice it. Keep your faith. If you look to God to provide the courage and you commit to practicing it – you will be amazed at your own ability to follow your heart through this life!

Father’s Day Thoughts

I gave my dad a few great flicks today and wrote him this note: I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what makes a life significant. I bought you some movies because some favourite childhood memories are cuddling up next to ya on the couch watching a good-for-the-hear, laugh-out-loud movie. I always knew you enjoyed me around (Good thing too because I was was always trailing behind!) The sense of comfort, love and friendship a Father can give a kid is invaluable. I recognize more all the time that what makes a life significant is knowing the love of Father God and making it known to others. Thank you for the ways that you consistently live that out. May we all continue to know the love, joy, peace and comfort that comes from living close to Father God – and making it known to others”

Happy Father’s Day everyone!

Telling Taglines

Telling Taglines

Bring on exam season! School and university hallways are thick with pressure and people wanting to acheive! Final marks will soon be rolled out and much is on the line. I posed the question to students this week “How do you feel when you receive negative feedback from a coach, parent or teacher?” Most said they feel badly about themselves and it puts a damper on their day. It’s de-motivating. I can relate. It is rare to find people who can attach negative feedback to the task that they do – and not to the person they are – but research shows this is the key to success and to long lasting joy.

Shane Snow, after researching hundreds of success stories, identified important patters in the lives of those who were able to do incredible things in short periods of time. He suggests that we all should seek #fastfeedback. For him, this is a life tagline. If we get feedback fast, don’t take it personally, and adapt and improve before veering too far off course – we will be most successful!

“In a recent study, research showed that experts – people who were masters at a trade – vastly preferred negative feedback to positive. It spurred the most improvement. That was because criticism is generally more actionable than compliments. Crucially, experts tended to be able to turn off the part of their egos that took legitimate feedback personally when it came to their craft, and they were confident enough to parse helpful feedback from incorrect feedback. Meanwhile novices needed encouragement and feared failure.” – https://www.nateliason.com/lessons/smartcuts-shane-snow/ 

Debates around the topic of feedback and assessment in the classroom continue to swirl in the world of education. What is most effective?

Ultimately, feedback effectiveness depends more on the attitude of the person receiving it than the particulars of the feedback itself. Is that person able to apply the feedback to the task? Or is it taken as a personal blow, inhibiting motivation and confidence? In school and life, it is important not only to be a fact learner – but also to learn to learn – and to get #fastfeedback and apply it without fear of feeling like a failure.

But we all know we feel better when we succeed – so what is they key to staying motivated to improve in the face of disappointing feedback?

There are certainly tactics and ploys to honing a mindset ready for growth and learning. However, as long as our value is dependant on our performance – this mindset cannot be maintained. However, when we find a sense of worth from the perfect source of Christ and his full acceptance of people through the cross – we know we are free to enjoy lives of learning, adventure, failures and feedback while maintaining a deep-rooted confidence in Christ. The first missionary Paul found the keys to this confidence saying,… I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” – Philippians 4:11-13

One woman who knows and lives this kind of confidence is the Zoe Network Coordinator, Leanne McAlister. The ZOE Network exists to empower, activate and mobilize women to live out their God-given commission on earth. Leanne works with several teams and on various projects locally, nationally and globally to push Kingdom power forward and bring flourishing to earth one life at a time. It sounds glorious, and at times, it is. At other times, it’s downright tough. She told me between laughter and stories this week that a popular tagline on her team is this: #wetrythings. She sees that successful teams take risks, strategize new ideas and step out of comfort zones – and when results are not glorious – they step back, collect feedback and confidently continue forward with the bold, fun and free montra – #wetrythings. Shane Snow would likely add, #wegetfastfeedback #weattachittothetask and #wetryagain.

So in the midst of pressure times or heavy study seasons, remember that the life taglines playing on repeat in your brain are remarkably important. it’s worth taking the time to set them well and be set free.

For more details about ZOE Network and the empowering work they do, check out http://www.zoenetwork.ca!

 

 

It’s Worth It

Welcome my friend Jocelyn Ens as she tells about her courageous journey to choose a vulnerable life instead of a self-protective one. She explains how God is shattering walls that have kept people at a distance. Vulnerability is bringing vitality and joy into her life in exciting ways. May you be encouraged today by her empowered story, as I have been…

It’s Worth It

Vulnerability // the quality or state of being open to the possibility of being attacked or harmed. Vulnerability can also be translated as being exposed, sensitive, passive, unguarded.
A long list of things I do my best to avoid.

  • I want to stay hidden.
  • I want to be in control. ALL. THE. TIME.
  • I want to be blunt and tell people what I really think.
  • I want to be perfect and have it all together.
  • I want to not only have a plan A and B, but a C, D, E and F (just in case)

The idea of vulnerability makes me uncomfortable.

Exposing the good, bad, and the ugly pieces of myself to others terrifies me. What if they don’t like me?
What if they betray me?
What if they disappoint me?
What if… (you fill in the blank).

I do my best to selectively choose who I will trust and open up too. (And trust me, there are a lot of hoops to jump through to get there).

God’s word says something different though.

2 Corinthians 12:9 says, “For my grace is sufficient for you. For my power is made perfect in weakness.”

My imperfections and weaknesses are no surprise to God. It doesn’t make him love me any more or any less. His love is constant, unconditional, and unchanging. In fact, my weaknesses give God space to reveal His great power.

2 Corinthians 4:7 says, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”

I don’t need to be afraid of exposing my weaknesses to others. Being open and authentic with those around me allows the light of Jesus to shine through me.

By now you’re probably thinking, yeah that sounds great but don’t you know how hard that is. Believe me, I know it’s easier said than done.

I struggle with the idea of not being perfect. I struggle to trust others. I struggle when I don’t have a clear plan.

What I am realizing is, I am missing out.

I forfeit joyful laughter with friends, encouragement from others when I need it most, and giving and receiving genuine love in my relationships.

Will no one ever disappoint me again? No. Will everything work out exactly the way I want? No.

The beauty of vulnerability is being willing to risk it anyway.

The pros far outweigh the cons.

The best part is you don’t have to do it alone. When others let you down, disappoint you, or betray you, there is a loving heavenly Father waiting to comfort you with arms wide open.

So be encouraged.

When it seems easier to retreat. When it seems easier to pretend everything is fine. When it seems easier to put up a wall no one can get through. Remember…

It’s worth it.

-Jocelyn Ens

 

About Jocelyn: You will usually find Jocelyn studying at school, working, or volunteering. She is a second year nursing student at the University of Saskatchewan. She has a passion to work in health care and hopes to apply to the College of Medicine one day.  She also work as a Swimming Instructor and Lifeguard. Jocelyn is spreading her passion to live joyfully, courageously and vulnerably by helping others to do the same. She serves on the LEAD team for Mirror Mirror YXE – a non-profit community group that exists to place value on girls and women. They do this by providing tools and education that foster a strong sense of identity, belonging and purpose and to inspire girls and women to make a difference in their world! Check out their work at http://www.mirrormirroryxe.com

18156951_2303552159869415_4872149488559974629_n

Blast from the Past

Family reunions. High school reunions. Weddings and anniversaries. Ah, and of course – we all love that delightful sighting of a summer fling from years ago. Many of us have experienced these blasts from the past – and they tend to cause us to examine ourselves asking, “I wonder if he thought I looked older”, or “I don’t think she recognized me in this outfit…” These encounters spark the question, how have I changed?

Yesterday I sat across from a lively university friend I hadn’t connected with for a few years. She has changed in amazing ways! Her eyes danced with vibrancy as she told me about her business and passion to help people live their best lives. She still has challenges, but she talked about them with new strength and resiliency – with a deep down certainty that things would be ok. Since university, Marie has started her own venture to help others reach their fitness and wellness goals. As she told me about her own journey, she said her new joy is not so much about body transformation as it is about character growth and a mindset switch. Science shows there is a deep down fulfillment that can’t be compared with when we foster healthy thinking.

Marie told me excitedly about a study that shows the way you choose to think about food actually affects how effectively your body processes that food. This makes sense because anxiety and fear have countless negative effects on your overall physical health including: aches, pains, weakness, digestive problems, and a weakened immune system.

Marie consistently chooses to replace anxious thoughts with a healthy mindset. She is enjoying happier days as a result! Fear and anxiety take up a lot of brain space in North America and studies show that 95% of the things people worry about never actually happen.

We can’t thrive with fear and anxiety building nests in our minds. God didn’t make us for worry – Jesus inspired his friend John to write, “Perfect love drives out fear.” This happens in a person’s heart and brain – and it changes people for the better! In your brain – the acceptance of God’s love, which is never based on your performance but on His grace established on the cross, kicks fear out! Receiving this mindset changes and liberates people to live their best lives! Sometimes we don’t want to make changes because we are afraid to fail. The truth is if we take risks – we will fail. The good news is God’s love is unchanging and always dependable. The grace extended through Jesus’ death and resurrected life is always certain – you can set your life on it and count on it lasting!

When your mind is set on the perfect love of God, you are strengthened to perceive life’s circumstances with faith that God is in control and He is on your side. With these thoughts percolating, worry seeps out of the brain and your body functions more effectively – you change for the better and your life is enhanced!

So don’t dread your next blast from the past, wondering whether that person will think you have changed in positive or negative ways. Instead, live with the confidence that as you set your mind on perfect love – you will be changing for the best!

Art, Health and Wholeness

Do you feel like you can’t keep up to the treadmill of your life? Like everyone else and the world around you is moving faster than you can clomp along? Yesterday, I felt the track of the tread as I rushed to pick up sketchpads and get to school to facilitate an art session with high school girls between lunch bites. In the past, my solution would have been to push harder to catch up in all the ways I felt behind … but I am learning there is a better way to live…

Yesterday, as I pulled the classroom door closed behind me and the art session began – I was reminded that instead of running faster to catch the busy – we can choose to stop. To step of the tread and readjust the speed.

The art instructor gave colors and hues of all kinds – the girls opened the massive sketchpads and began drawing and coloring self-portraits – “A healthy self.” The room was calm. Rich, vibrant and explosive colors invaded the white space of sketchpads and creativity oozed like melting butter around the room.

Near the end of the session, the instructor asked the group to consider the questions, Who am I? Who do I want to be in the future? How am I growing in to that person? These reflection questions helped all of us to consider what is unique about us, what is important to us, and how should we be spending our time in alignment with our values. This empowers us to live true and authentic lives.

This is satisfying – and society is in a desperate claw seeking deep down satisfaction.

Creativity (anything that we create with originality – this could be a strategic plan, a short story, or a new cloth diaper design) connects us to our authentic identity and helps us to live in the zone that says,I know who I am. I know what is important to me, and I am empowered to live according to those values. I do not live to meet to the expectations of others and I am not driven by the treadmill of societal pressures.”

When we make creativity  a priority, research shows we thrive.

“Stuckey and Novle considered more than 100 studies, concluding that creative expression has a powerful impact on hearth and well-being on various patient populations … engagement in the arts have a variety of outcomes including a decrease in depressive symptoms, an increase in positive emotions, reduction in stress responses, and, in some cases, improvements in immune system function.” – The Huffington Post

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszntmihalya said during his TED talk, “When we are involved in creativity, we feel that we are living more fully than during the rest of life …” 

PhD Cathy Malchiodi says, “It’s our capacity to actually “create” where we begin to live more fully, experience transformation, and recover the core of what it means to heal. It is your authentic expression through art making, music, song, movement, writing, and other forms of arts-based imagination that are central to the equation of why creativity is a wellness practice.” – The Huffington Post

Walking through the Royal Tyrell Museum with students this week reminded me that God is the Master of Imaginative Ingenuity. The replicas were stunning!

“All of us are the work of your hands” – Isaiah 64:8

So instead of looking to the busy treadmill to provide fulfillment, health and wholeness – look to The First Extraordinary Designer, for this is where we find ourselves.

A Mother’s Day Hope Float

“I had never felt so desperate … Like I couldn’t go on … I thought my life was ending…” Winnie’s words were slow and real as she recounted her own mothering journey as a newcomer to Canada. She battled hopelessness for years while raising her baby girl named Hope.

As she told me her Hope story, she gazed up from behind tinted glasses and said, “When Noah built the ark, it didn’t just appear. God gave specific instructions about how to build the boat so it would float. God made us to float too – but we’ve got to pay attention to His instructions.”

The ark is a ground-shaking symbol of hope, restoration and protection. It evokes images of rounded rainbows that fill skies around the globe and speak hope to all who gaze on these rich rain-stained rays. The image of the rainbow, of Hope, transcends culture, color, language and worldview … it shatters biases and misunderstandings and unifies the hope-hungry world. It shouts fresh anticipation to human hearts from pole to pole, and is painted by the finger of God for this very purpose. Just as Noah’s boat was meant to float, we are all meant to live with hope.

There was another kind of Ark before Jesus came to set the world free, the Ark of the Covenant. This Ark carried the presence of Hope Himself … Warrior man David danced with rowdy passion at the sight of it.

The presence of God is the hope-sprouting goods we are meant to feast on and is available to all through Jesus. I was chomping bites of it as Winnie recounted the stories that have marked her mothering years. There were seasons of trials, uncertainty, sickness and fear – but in the midst of it – Winnie tells two defining moments when God subtly spoke Hope to her heart, once through a television sermon and another time through the mouth of another struggling mama. It was these two distinct moments when Winnie had absolute assurance that God’s presence was with her, and Love was on His way. Her circumstances had not changed, but Hope changed her heart and propelled her with energy and courage to walk on under the rainbow banner of God’s presence.

Love always hopes. (1 Cor 13:7) and God is love.

I saw God’s present-day Ark-Building instructions being carried out by two other mighty moms this week.

Rebecca is journeying through her first year of motherhood and told me about a key to contentment that unlocks joy. She said she avoids comparison chatter about her little one and overlooks the buzz about first year landmarks and baby accomplishments. She avoids reading content that may tempt her to evaluate her worth as a mom measured up or weighed against anyone else’s. She looks for baby health and lives in moments and finds life by following these instructions, “Let everyone be sure to do his very best, for then he will have the personal satisfaction of work done well and won’t need to compare himself with someone else.” – Galatians 6:4

There isn’t room for thoughts of envy and joy to co-exist in a brain and feelings of greed and gladness cannot mix. Rebecca’s choice to heed God’s instructions keep her hope floating and I was inspired by the size of it in the midst of life-waves.

Janice, another mom, runs a school on a Saskatchewan First Nations Reserve. She daily cooks breakfast and lunch for many students, assists in the classroom and cares for several children at home.

As Janice told about the school and the fourteen-year journey of keeping it running in her community – the focus was not on the struggle … although she could choose to focus there … The thrust of her story centered on God’s provision and presence through it all. Janice follows God’s Hope-building instructions, “Fix your eyes on Jesus” (Hebrews 12:2) and “Be strong and courageous, put your Hope in God” (Psalm 31:24).

Winnie, Rebecca and Janice have very different life experiences, but they have all built Hope rafts that bob with endurance and laugh with authentic joy. We were all made to float, and enjoy the thrill of brilliant blessings and persevere through unruly waters knowing that Hope is present and Love is on His way. Float on through life, my friends! Have a Hope-filled Mother’s Day!

Pass the Pen

On a Monday I sat at a banquet celebrating literacy in Saskatoon. The festivities included dancing, performances, local artists, and keynote speaker, Bill Waiser. On the cover of Bill’s fascinating historical account, A World We Have Lost: Saskatchewan Before 1905, there is a photo of a Bison looking out at the vast Canadian plain. During his keynote address, Waiser explained that the perspective of the Bison is reflective of his publication. He wanted to tell the story of Saskatchewan’s history from the perspective of Canada’s First People. He wanted to give voice to their stories.

Throughout the evening, stories of Aboriginal people were told in a variety of ways. Lights flickered elegantly while people laughed and experienced captivating dance and music that told stories of the past and of today. The commemoration was spectacular and great progress is being made as stories are told. However, there is still much rebuilding to do.

Literacy is defined as: The ability to read and write.

Voltaire said, “Writing is the painting of the voice.”  

Malala Yousafzai wrote, “So let us wage a glorious struggle against illiteracy, poverty and terrorism, let us pick up our books and our pens, they are the most powerful weapons.”

When someone’s story is silenced – they become disenfranchised. Marginalized. Isolated.

People are empowered when they have a place to tell their story – from their perspective. Dignity is restored. Unearthed pride buds. Future hope is charted.

Earlier, on that same banquet Monday, literacy and Canadian Aboriginal peoples were the subject discussion of our English classroom. The voice of Documentary Producer Hannah James filled the room as we learned together. Like Bill Waiser, James tells the stories of Canadian First Nations people on Global News 16X9. The TV segment explores the reality that many families in First Nations communities face the challenging choice to send their kids away to school or keep them at home without an education.

The storytelling film says, “We see an Ontario district where the literacy rate is as low as 21%. This statistic is among the lowest literacy rates in the world” … Our classroom is shocked. Then, through the screen, we meet Shannen. She was a girl from Attawapiskat First Nation on James Bay. She attended school in portables that were cold and mice-infested. She courageously and boldly gave voice to her education story – reaching out to whoever would listen. She said, “It’s hard to feel pride when your classrooms are cold and mice run around … Those younger students are still thinking that those portables are real schools.” Shannen passed away in a car accident at 16 years old, while travelling a long journey to school. Her legacy and story lives on and continues to influence and sanction other young people to tell their stories.

On a Wednesday, I attended a the film Release at Saskatoon’s Broadway theatre called She Has a Name. The movie, written by Andrew Kooman is about the trafficking of children in sexual slavery and tells the true story of 54 women who were left to die in the back of a broken down semi-trailer on the side of a Ranong road in Thailand. After the film, a justice-fighting-friend Cassie Van Camp, along with other members of Saskatoon’s Hope Restored Canada told the stories of sex trafficking in Canada … in Saskatoon. Through stories, the voices of abused men and women were given room and space … and knowledge became the responsibility of all present.

Yes, literacy is power.

Story-telling is strength.

And knowledge is responsibility.

When we hear someone’s story, we are responsible to act in ways that give honor and dignity where it has been taken.

Bill’s publication. Hannah’s documentary. Shannen’s appeal. Kooman’s flim. These are earth-shaking forces that bring change and healing – and each unique perspective spreads through words. Literacy. May we be people who actively pass the pen so untold stories can be scripted. By doing this, we ascribe worth to all humanity.

“And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly…” – Micah 6:8

 

 

 

Vision Ripples

A few years ago, I moved to Saskatoon to jump into university life alongside an incredible childhood friend. One of our favorite adventures was attending wildly inspiring worship services at the Third Avenue United Church hosted by the Saskatoon Worship Community.

I remember seeing faces from university classes, sports teams and advocacy groups in the city! I couldn’t believe how many people from various groups and backgrounds had gathered around one power vision. I also couldn’t believe how many of them were interested in a night of worship. The numbers and passionate voices loving God motivated and inspired many to leave these gatherings believing they could take Christ empowered passion and change their worlds where they had been planted. People came from all church denominations, and many simply because they were hope hungry. The inspiration of the movement transformed and strengthened people and is still positively impacting the community of Saskatoon and beyond. People attending had different ideas, interests, viewpoints and strengths – but they rallied around a vision.

A powerful vision changes everything. Vision is an aspiration that gives clear direction, and direction takes us places.

The Vision of the Saskatoon Worship Community was this: To bring people together in unity, to foster healthy relationships and build each other up, and to share the love of God.

With this vision in focus – the worship services become a remarkable reality!

The diversity of people at the worship nights was vast but the harmony of voices and shared celebration of The Gospel was rich and ferocious! Many strengths, contexts, viewpoints, and contributions united people to make a difference in their world.

Clear vision brings change for individuals, churches, organizations, institutions and political parties – and aren’t these the very change agents of our world? So what are the visions you own, live and love? Everyone has vision whether scripted or not – we all have aspirations. Taking the time to jot and share it gives a vision life!

A study by Bain and Company indicated that organizations with clearly defined Vision and Mission statements always outperform those who do not. This is true for an individual’s life too.

Andy Stanley says in the most successful purpose-driven groups and organizations, every person knows WHAT the group exists to do and WHY they do it. They also have a power-one-liner that defines their individual contribution or responsibility within the purpose-driven-crew. Confidence, strength and passion build when you know what you are doing and why – and you know that your contribution makes a difference!

Last Saturday, I went to visit that same childhood friend who had experienced the Saskatoon Worship Community with me a few years ago. Now newly married and farm-settled, she is seeing new vision for her life and God’s Kingdom in the place she is planted. On Saturday, she was a part of a similar worship service called Tunes at Timber Ridge. Hope swelled on that beautiful Saskatchewan ski-hill as confidence filled people through song and one God-inspired vision.… And the ripples will echo into the future of every life present and the lives they touch.

IMG_0321

Celebration Never Stops

Last weekend the world slowed to acknowledge Easter celebrations. Homes filled with scents of slow roasted meat, chocolate abounded in workplaces, stores and tummies of all shapes and sizes. It’s Amazing! The Carpenter from Nazareth, the unrecognized Savior of the world, stops the world while holding the world together, still today. Some celebrations come and go, but the celebration of Easter will never stop.

John Ortberg writes, “True celebration is not pleasure for personal gratification … this always follows the law of diminishing returns, so that what produced joy in us yesterday no longer does today … Our capacity for joy diminishes. When we celebrate, we exercise our ability to see and feel goodness in the simplest gifts of God … Our capacity for joy increases!”

When I jetted to Israel months ago, I couldn’t get enough of the empty tomb. I wanted to put up camp there and live in the comforting shadow of the massive rock stashed just near the gaping entrance. Even though I couldn’t build myself a shelter in the rock’s shadow, I have been reminded this week that we are completely powered to live in light of the tomb, and God’s stone-turning power everyday.

In Israel, as I gazed at the massive rock plopped beside the entrance of the Christ-tomb replica, I was astounded by it’s size. Sometimes in my own life, I can feel like barriers and challenges are tomb-rock sized and I forget the rocking power of God that flows through my veins. Jesus was all about turning things over and upside down – but he had to extend effort to allow God’s power to flow through him. At the temple, he upturned tables, in the synagogues he upset the Pharisees, on the Sabbath he healed, and he was brazen enough to eat with tax collectors and have Samaritan chums. Jesus was not afraid to upturn the stones between Him and God’s mission: To love God and love people. The tomb symbolizes death, decay and destruction and when that stone rolled, the pathway was paved for you to receive from God the very Spirit of Christ in all of His confidence and power. If there are stones that are preventing you from receiving and experiencing the love of God today – make it your mission to extend your effort to uproot those stones, hurts, or thoughts. As you turn every area of your life over to Christ, He will leave no barrier stones unturned that may lay in your path.

“Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’” – Matthew 19:26

 

Life is Like Easter Saturday

As we walked through the Tomb Garden in Israel, songs of worship were offered by people groups from around the world, focused on the wonder of Love Incarnate buried and resurrected. The songs spoke of restoration, hope and renewal. However, as we passed faces and people from around the globe – there were tears, struggle, sorrow and pain. The stark contrast of vibrant worship and uncomfortable pain reminded me of the three days the disciples spent asking questions and wondering. After spending time at the garden I hopped on the bus and sat beside the most delicate face with deep-rooted faith. She told of her husband’s eight-year battle with debilitating cancer. She told of quitting her job to care for him. She told of when He was too sick to go out of the house. She told of his death. As I listened, I thought of the disciples – for those three days before the bursting of the tomb rock, they must have been scared and confused. Jesus had already told them that He would rise again, but they did not understand. In many ways, we live in a similar waiting period as the disciples did on Easter Saturday. We have His Spirit, we know the end of the story – but we don’t yet live in the fullness of it. We see glimpses of his plan, but at times feel scattered and uncertain of His presence. One day, all will make sense. Until then – we can rest in the assurance that our Good Father knows what He is doing, there is a plan, and just like the disciples had a huge surprise coming Easter Sunday, we have incomprehensible glory ahead too. Sunday is coming!

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” – Revelation 21:4 NIV

Eye to Eye

“…It is finished…” – John 19:30

Golgotha means “Place of the skull” and it derives its name from the jagged natural carving of a skull found in the side of the hill at the place Christ was crucified. Bible historians widely believe this is where Jesus hung two centuries ago on a day like this – a ghastly Good Friday. Golgotha is located just outside of Jerusalem’s walls and in Jesus’ day it was preserved for outcasts and deemed for criminals. Today, there is a bustling bus station where Christ’s cross was. I stood at this site months ago, and as my tour guide spouted information, I pictured the Champion of Heaven gasping for breath in this place. Oh He suffered for us, for me. We must remember, the symbol of the cross was not yet glamorized and celebrated and there were no treasured hymns written about Calvary, Roman nails, flogging or thorns. No, these were all shameful execution icons – they would have been regarded as we think of an electric chair … there is nothing prestigious about it. In the depictions we often see of Good Friday today, the cross is on a hill and Jesus is centred and elevated above two criminals. However, Jesus was not crucified on the hill, but at the bottom of a skull-carved cliff along the side of a busy highway where many passers by would have trudged. He would have hung at eye level with the people. As I stood at the crucifixion site, I wondered how many people would have taken the time to look into the eyes of God that day to see His heart. I pictured broken-hearted teardrops clouding bloodied eyes of love and I felt the weight of it. The weight of God’s love received through trust in this dreadful moment of history. May you take time to meet him eye to eye today too, as he offers freely all you need to walk through each circumstance scattered ahead. Your greatest life will be lived with eyes fixed on His.

IMG_3376

The Unfinished Story

“He anointed us, placed His seal on us, and put His Spirit in our hearts as a pledge of what is to come.” – 2 Corinthians 1:22

As we sat in a small theater in the Old City near the Excavations of David’s Palace, a multi-media presentation blasted the history of the remarkable historical site. The short video was called, “Where it all Began” and it highlighted the history of Jewish occupation in the area dating back to the Prophets. In fact, they just found a Jewish seal with Hezekiah’s own personal seal on it, amazing! Today, since the coming of Jesus, the Holy Spirit lives in us and acts as a seal, “guaranteeing what is to come” (2 Cor 1:22 NIV). The short video outlined historical events leading up to the present day occupation of the famous landmark, and at the end, a caption flashed on the screen “To be continued.” I was reminded in that moment of the truth that we live in the middle of an unfinished story. This truth was reinforced as I stood up and began to walk out of the small theatre, my sweet new friend became dizzy and fell on the rock stairs, overcome by chest pains and the physical demands of the day’s adventures. This woman knows God, loves God, and possesses His Spirit in full – but struggles, as we all do, because the story is not over yet. Several days of rest restored my friend to health, and one day, we will all completely be restored – but we, like the landmark of David’s palace in Israel, live in the middle of the story – believing that a triumphant ending is coming soon.

Reflect to Reach

One year ago, on my 25th birthday I let my thoughts leak from my heart to a computer screen. I had read somewhere that when you own your story you gain power. I wanted my 25th year to be marked by genuine change and growth, so I started mad scrawling stories … desperate for raw gospel power to be at work in me – right in the ordinary of life. And it has. And it does. When I have taken time to reflect, right here – on these digital pages… This year I will keep reflecting and sharing the stories of empowered people I encounter so that I can keep the learning rolling…

The truth is: Travel doesn’t instantly mature. Adventure doesn’t directly make you interesting. Experience doesn’t equal seasoned. Character doesn’t automatically shine from a well-read person.

Character, growth and transformation don’t happen automatically because of what we experience. Instead, how we process experiences dictates how and if we grow through it… Writing out what I have been learning this year has helped me to change and grow through experiences. My brain does a particular kind of dance when I take time to process it all, and so does yours … we are wired for this. When we reflect, we internalize – we choose how experiences will shape us and if it will grow us.

This week Cheryl and Keith Kowalski were guest presenters in our English classroom (Scroll down to see some incredible photos and stories). This dynamic duo told about their 8-year mission stint living in Botswana and their upcoming plans to head to Uganda with their family. They oozed passion for the Nation of Botswana as they told stories of hopeless women and fatherless children … they also told about renewal and unfathomable restoration they witnessed In Botswana too, all in the same hour. The tales sent jolts of joy, sorrow and motivation through our tiny Saskatoon classroom. By the end of the hour – thick inspiration and life-giving love floated between us as we were challenged to live for something greater, to do something more…

Sometimes after a presentation like this – we feel inspired… but then let the bustle of life whisk our hearts and minds away, untouched and unaltered.

We can have heads full of knowledge and hearts waning and wanting – unless we take time to reflect. When we reflected as a class, we came up with several things we can do to make a difference. We also talked about the ways the presentation changed our thinking (which in turn hits our behaviour and our feelings too)Change. Growth. This is the life God intends for us.

This week I turned 26, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the adventures that have shaped this year. I have learned to trade bustle for breaks – to reflect, to doodle out stories, to practice being still – with God himself. This year I will keep reflecting and sharing stories of empowered people so that I can keep growing with them too. It’s important to take time to reflect back on God’s work (in your own life and in the lives of others) so you can reach forward in life with power.

For me, the highlight of year 25 was the Jesus-trodden trails of Israel. There, I experienced and I wrote and reflected … Although my heart-shaping scribbles are nothing more than sentences strung together … These sentences continue to fuel my spirit to reach into the future with might – you are welcome to journey along with me under the category, Living History.

Please check out Cheryl and Keith’s powerful photos and stories below! Be Empowered. (Check out http://www.mac/org/missionaries/kowalski if you’d like more information or to support this couple)

PIC3

The Holy Spirit gave me the directive to plant a church in our yard.  I didn’t know what that would look like but it started with a 5 day Bible Club.  Over 100 kids attended and from that point on about 40 children would come play almost daily in our yard after school.  We had a trampoline and slide and swing (the only ones in the neighbourhood) and the kids loved to come and worship and have a safe place to play.  We would pray for their needs and teach a Bible Story or scripture, and little by little the Lord was helping me to make little disciples who love Jesus! – Cheryl

 

Publication1

We were invited to pray for the sick at the government hospital after my neighbour from across the street was healed when I prayed for her.  She told everyone about the miracle and sent anyone who was sick to my gate to be prayed for.  I would tell people that their Father in Heaven cares deeply about them and that is why we were in Botswana. I also brought the teen girls from my Bible Study along and they prayed with incredible faith. Many people were healed and delivered.  We would bring in little care packages and Bibles too which were greatly appreciated. – Cheryl

Publication2

I got to teach Sunday School to the village kids who came to church.  The room we taught in was a metal shipping container with windows punched into it and a door.

Holy Spirit gave me the directive to plant a church in our yard.  I didn’t know what that would look like but it started with a 5 day Bible Club.  Over 100 kids attended and from that point on about 40 children would come play almost daily in our yard after school.  We had a trampoline and slide and swing (the only ones in the neighbourhood) and the kids loved to come and worship and have a safe place to play.  We would pray for their needs and teach a Bible Story or scripture, and little by little the Lord was helping me to make little disciples who love Jesus! – Cheryl

2011 April clothing distribution 066

Winter months in Botswana could get very cold (down to 5 degrees Celcius at night)  We collected lots of sweaters one of our visits back to Canada and distributed them to the destitute kids we got to know from church. – Cheryl

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Right after Johnathan (Cheryl and Heath’s son) died, my mother in law came to visit and brought me beads and a few clasps and tools.  Around that time a met a group of 5 girls that wanted to learn about the Bible, so we started a Johnathan’s Seeds and Beads group.  We would have Bible studies once/week and beading lessons on another afternoon.  We would listen to worship music and talk about God and Life and what we were studying. Beading itself was so healing to me as I was grieving and I’m sure to them as well, and with that skill they could go on to make necklaces to sell to tourists. – Cheryl

DSCN1395

We were asked to help teach at Afterschool Bible Clubs at private schools around town.  As part of their homeschool, Jacob and Abigail learned to perform funny puppet skits that taught Bible Stories and Character truths to kids.  They would lead worship songs and prayer times as well. – Cheryl

IMG_7537

Enter a caption

We ran several Bible Clubs and Camps.  In this one, God gave me the idea to do something fun and dress as Professer Praise.  Professer Praise appeared many times throughout our time in Botswana at Churches and Afterschool Bible Clubs.  Professer Praise would teach kids worship songs, scriptures, and how to PRAISE THE LORD!

Here Professor praise is running a PRAISE POWER LAB where the kids got to do science experiments that taught Biblical truths.  Professor Praise was cool because rich kids from the private school loved it just as much as the poorest village kids.  And when they figured out it was actually me dressed up, they felt so clever! – Cheryl

 

 

It Is Well

“I remember putting my head down on the table and thinking to myself, ‘I think I might die’ … the chemo treatments were making me so sick…”

My friend Anne spoke candidly to a small group of listening mamas about her journey with breast cancer. While she spoke, infant drool slipped from a beautiful tinny mouth onto my black leather pants. My polished-looking, teacher-ready outfit was now marked by the gaping giggles of a bouncy girl. Her unbounded laughter had spilled right onto me. It was messy and gorgeous – and later that day, my students would be sure to let me know.

Anne continued telling about her life as a mom saying, “We make mistakes …. I don’t lose my temper often, but when I have – it’s been with my kids.” Heads nodded, smiles cracked, and knowing laughter filled the room. There is something sublime about stark honesty … when you encounter it something ripples deep inside – Look at that person expressing their true life, thoughts and feelings – I can sit comfy in my own life too, even if it is untidy. As I sat with a dimpled delight looking up at me, I thanked God for the sincerity of the moment.

If you ever get the chance to hear Anne speak about her life and her Jesus, you would never think it difficult for her. I know it is, but it doesn’t stop her. Anne has been entrusted with a story and stamped with words designed to set freedom free – and she knows it. So, she shows up and opens up.

Two years earlier, Anne carried the same gutsy honesty onto a church choir stage and spoke with pails of conviction telling the congregation that her cancer fight was well with her soul. Her chemo hat moved with spirit that day as she shared about the struggle of an unfinished battle.

In the room full of moms, several of us recalled Anne’s song from two years prior – we agreed every time we hear it we think of her, and we gulp courage. For us, the song is forever linked to the real brave of a bold woman – the kind you can drink from … because it’s human. It’s fit for human consumption – it’s not fake-baked or preservative-packed – it’s real soul nourishing.

Two years ago, Anne showed up on that stage and she fought her heart out with her song and story. She sang It Is well and sick people felt well while thirsty wells were filled by sopping wet song tones.

Two days ago Anne showed up again to a toy-stranded room filled with hollers overflowing from the playroom. She didn’t mind any mess. Again, she opened her mouth and soul with story and song and sang fears and insecurities right out of hearts. It Is Well.

The more we can show up, the more we will live life full and leak out life. Whether we show up with slobber-colored pants, a cracked heart, battling bones, unsettled nerves or gentle rolls of laughter … to show up and be together is to fill up where the unwell get well and the well overflows.

God-Guided Growth

Growth is defined as the process of increasing. Some synonyms are: expansion, extension, development, progress, and advancement. We either live stuck or growing and both options are challenging.

Students often say, “I am not organized person” or “I cannot do questions like that.” The connection between thoughts and ability is enormous and often our own thoughts prevent us from growing in areas that would greatly benefit our loved ones and us. A growth mindset approaches problems and skills with the belief: I have the ability to learn and improve in this area. Research shows having this thought about any challenge increases motivation and resilience insurmountably.

Grit is the number one indicator of a person’s long-term life success. It’s not intelligence, looks, grades, charisma, or charm. It’s grit – and plucky character emerges from the cultivation of a growth mindset.

This week – I moved and swayed at hip-hop dance lessons with the thought – “I can grow in this.” The truth is – growth is struggle and it takes courage. Sometimes, I try new things in areas my natural talent doesn’t flow. Let’s just say, dancing is one of these areas. God must have smirked as he mixed the love of dance with two left feet in my make-up. This concoction makes for excellent conditions to practice a growth mindset – and for frustration to creep in along the way too! When I was practicing one move at a time, the great big mirror was my friend. However, as soon as teach decided to mix knee movements with hip thrusts and heel taps– my goodness! My reflection became my enemy and everything in me wanted to quit. It was good for me to feel like a fool and relate with frustrated students when we approach a new concept in class. It was good for me to choose to believe I could grow if I kept going, practicing, learning and trying … and I did. We all can.

The old saying, “You get what you expect in life” is tried, tested and scientifically true. Thoughts, actions and behaviors are all connected. As you choose to think and act today, your brain will be blazing a trail of neurons that are in alignment with those thoughts and actions – you get to choose how these trails are forged.

In her book, The Broken Way, Anne Voscamp writes, “What if the point of everything is simply this: change your life expectations to focus on what life expects from you – and your life changes.” In order to start focusing on what we can offer in life we need to step into novel situations with confidence that we can do everything God is asking.

The Bible teaches us to live with this kind of a mind. It says, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness…” – 2 Peter 1:3. We have all we need to bring God’s life on earth in creative ways and unexpected places, as he leads us. As we learn to hear his personal instructions daily, a growth mindset allows us to adapt and keep going. This is not pointless advancement but is God-Guided growth and is the gateway to becoming more likes Jesus. The world could use a lot more of Him.

Princess Talks

Princess talks. Groan! This has often been my response to talks about “real beauty”. Many are tired of the pretty stuff and the fluffy words that can feel inauthentic and lack depth.

Last night girls of all shapes and sizes with varying interests and abilities filed into a buzzing auditorium with snacks, colors, music and some random dance. Nametags were distributed and shy uneasiness was broken by table questions and introduction challenges. We were together to talk about beauty.

So, why is beauty important to keep talking about? What is it, anyways? Webster says to have beauty is “Possessing qualities that give great pleasure or satisfaction to see, hear, think about … delight the senses or mind.”

Part of your purpose is to appreciate, value, and delight in beauty. The right kind of beauty – the real stuff.

The definition of Biblical beauty is closely tied to God’s glory. God’s glory is found where God “dwells” or where he “settles in.” God’s glory and beauty is evident in all he created. To be made in His image means to be like him. One way humans are like God is that we recognize and appreciate beauty. We were made to see it, to admire it, and to value it in the world, and in one another.

When God got busy creating – he invested his own characteristics in humans – we were perfect. Biblical beauty is the redemption story – the process of things being restored after Adam and Eve opened the door for beauty to be tainted and twisted. When Jesus died and rose, he released the restoration of beauty on earth – because we were given His Spirit – which dwells in His people.

Real beauty is process of you being restored – becoming the person God created you to be. Real beauty is doing the things you were created to do without shame or insecurity or fear. It is the remarkable process of genuine transformation and growth – the restoration of a broken heart, a hurting family, a desolate situation or a dark city. Beauty is the invasion of the Kingdom of God in a world desperate for hope. This kind of beauty spreads through people and dashes madly and wildly as people recognize and value the beauty of their life, in light of God’s life. When people recognize the beauty of God-dwelling, God-settling in their hearts, homes, and lives – empathy springs and relationships are restored. A family becomes beautiful with laughter, celebrations, quality time, peace, and elastic joy! A community becomes vibrant with engagement, new ideas and authentic connection. A city becomes the birthplace of hope and a beacon of light in a world crying for it – with politicians and leaders who care genuinely, leaders who inspire, students who are challenged and employees and business owners who invest in their work. Yes, life emanates from people who believe and recognize this kind of beauty.

Last night, I got to talk about real beauty with tons of beauties. Beauty is living at one’s full potential, and feeling fulfilled and satisfied – just like God intended in the beginning. God himself is where this kind of beauty comes from. Can you imagine a world that defined beauty like this? I look forward to arriving there one day. Until then, may our world recognize and spread real beauty more and more. With this kind of beauty in mind – let the princess talks roll!

 

 

Who I Am

Nyla joins us this week with a story that unleashes the weight of God’s mighty care and his massive love…

Who I Am

Do you know what I regret about my wedding?

It’s not the fact that the ceremony started an hour late, or that the bottom of my dress is now stained with red and yellow from the leaves we trudged through to get some beautiful photos. No, the thing I regret was forgetting to look up at my soon to be husband as I walked down the aisle towards him!

“I always look at the groom when she’s walking,” I’ve heard people comment before, saying it’s their favorite part of the wedding, to see the way the groom is gazing at his bride to be.

But me? I totally forgot to look at him! I was following other instructions, from the pastor’s wife who had moments before fluffed my dressed. “Savour this moment,” she’d instructed into my ear. “It will go by fast.” So cherish it I did. I remember smiling wide as I met the faces of co-workers, past Bible study friends and fellow workers at Bible camp. They were all intermingled, his friends and family and mine.

A few days after our wedding, I realized what I had done, the moment I had accidently missed out on. “How could I forget to look up?” I moaned to my new husband multiple times. “I’ll never get that chance back!” I shed a few tears and chided myself for not taking the opportunity to see how Mark had looked moments before we became husband and wife. But you know what? God cares about every detail of our lives and is a compassionate God. As I was journaling about our wedding later that week, I began to read some of my previous entries.

One was all about “The Look”, dated nine months before we got married.

“I believe God told me that I’ll be married at 25… makes me wonder if it’s Mark I will someday walk down the aisle towards. Oh, what an expression that Mark would be wearing. Definitely The Look I catch him giving me now as we date. A look I can only describe as similar to the way I believe Jesus will have upon greeting me at Heaven’s gate. Delighted. Accepting. Joyful. Adoring….”

How amazing is that? That God would hear my groans of regret and lead me to read something that would comfort me? To tell me exactly how Mark was looking at me that day as I walked down the aisle in my lace dress to him? “It’s the way he always looks at you, Nyla,” God was telling me. “He gave you his special look that day.”

And you know what, reader friends? You have someone who is giving you The Look everyday of your life too. But a thousand times more intensified. I have struggled since elementary school, and even today in my mid-twenties, with body image issues. Unsuccessfully trying to find my identity in the way my body looked and in the way others looked at me. If I was skinny, fashionable or fit, I identified with being of more worth and being beautiful. If people praised my social media posts or my writing and singing abilities, I identified with being enough.

But that is just plain wrong! My identity is not in the shape of my body or in how others see me. It’s in how God sees me, how God looks at me.

Because I am who The Great I Am says I am.

Because I am who The Great I Am looks at me like I am.

I am loved.

I am chosen.

I am cherished.

I am adored.

I am an artist’s masterpiece.

I am enough.

And so are you.

Identify with that, world. It’s true through and through. True for today and true for the remainder of your days.

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” 1 Peter 2:9

-Nyla Wiebe

Nyla Wiebe spends her days working as an Educational Assistant and loves writing, fitness and being outdoors. She and her husband live in Saskatoon and have been married for five months.

Fearless by Vanessa Samuel

Please Welcome Vanessa Samuel’s empowered life to our scene…

Fearless

A strange sound startled me. 2:30 am. Heart pounding, I leapt to my feet with a sense of dread. I ran into my three-year-old son’s room and found him unconscious, shaking and moaning in the throws of a seizure.

The first time he had a seizure, I was terrified. But now, the third time, I felt an ominous cloud creep over my life. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t leave his side. I couldn’t leave him unattended in the bathroom, or playing cars in his bedroom. I couldn’t think about anything else. The seizures were so sudden, so unpredictable.

I tried to explain to my husband and extended family why I kept snapping like an overstretched rubber band. Despite their attempts at comfort, I felt alone. I was losing ground in the most intense battle with fear I had ever fought before.

It was less than two weeks before Christmas; we had just moved; I had our three young children to look after and “put on a happy face” for. I had to be strong. But I did not feel strong at all. I felt broken. I had so many questions, and no human response could settle them.

Where do I even start, God? What am I supposed to do? How can I protect my child? How will I ever sleep again?

Then I heard His loving whisper. “Do you trust Me with your children? I gave them to you. Do you know that I love and care for them even more than you do?”

Oh, trust. Trust.

Fear tells me it’s not easy to trust Him. It will cost. His eternal perspective chooses character over comfort, growth over short-term success, heavenly value over earthly happiness.

But that’s because He – all powerful, eternal, wise, perfect, pure, and good – loves us enough to pull us into His beauty and goodness, despite the fact that it cost Him everything. Like a loving parent, He walks through these struggles by our side, revealing purpose in our pain and giving real hope to our souls. His way is not easy, but I can trust in His love.

That is when it changed. Not my circumstances; my confidence. I found freedom from fear. As 1 John 4:18 states, “No fear exists where His love is. Rather, perfect love gets rid of fear.” The more I trust Him, the less I have to fear.

When seizures struck again months later, I found myself waiting at home for my husband to text updates from the hospital. In the tension of the moment, my older son turned to me and said, “Mom, I learned this verse today: ‘Jesus said, “Take courage; I am here.’” (Matt. 14:27)

With those words, the mounting storm in my soul stopped. And His love, not fear, won.

-Vanessa Samuel

A note about Vanessa: Vanessa Samuel loves Jesus, and loves using language – written, spoken, visual, musical, and creative – to praise Him. She also loves gardening, running, learning new things, and going on God-led adventures with her awesome husband. She is in the process of learning how to homeschool her three young children, and enjoys seeing the world from their perspective.

Change for Change

The underdog, long shot, weaker one, the little guy, the sitting target, the downtrodden. Why do we have a tendency to pull for these ones? Our brains are actually hard wired for hope, to believe that positive change is possible.

Right now, high schools across the city are opening their doors for annual “Open House” events splattering students with new information and opportunities. These students get to choose, and choice is great power in this world.

Last night I walked with a big number six around the hallways of the high school I teach at as we enthusiastically moved from one presentation to another – teachers and students displaying the unique learning opportunities in our building. It was fun to hear students show interest in different areas. Some gawked at the photo lab, others were drawn to yummy sweet treats in process in the cooking lab. Others hopped in the science room (and left sporting a fine static hair do).

As our group walked down one hallway, one parent turned to me and remarked, “This is intimidating as a parent, I can’t imagine being a student!” Intimidating… I was disappointed to think that with all of the fascinating options before these students, many likely felt intimidated. Some may even leave feeling overwhelmed, anxious, and disengaged – even though all of them have abilities and skills that can be developed so they can contribute and make change.

The classic education mantra remains: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi

But maybe the best change happens when we change.

“Everyone thinks of changing the world but no one thinks of changing himself.” – Tolstoy

As long as we feel intimidated or like we don’t have much to offer, that belief will dictate our actions, and we will live small lives. One student told on the second day of class that he does not believe its possible to pass the course. Whatever he chooses to believe about passing, he will be right. My privilege is to convince Him he has something to offer – pass, fail or otherwise. I believe His mindset can change. So can mine. This is hope – and we are hard wired for it.

Hoping for change is not always exciting; sometimes it’s downright hard. This week, I also continued to pray for things to change in a heart-breaking situation … Years have passed – still no change.

Yesterday in a meeting a colleague said, “What is the Gospel after all? It’s the belief that people really do change.”

And I was reminded again. We don’t need to wait until our situation changes to experience change ourselves. To receive more peace, more strength, more joy and more love from God. This is how he wants to be changing us, daily, if we let him.

We are hard wired for hope – and maybe in order to reorder anything around us – we must believe we can change. Change for change.

Let Go

One week ago highway snowdrifts sent a small Subaru shifting back and forth on a Saskatchewan highway. Traction was gone and the beauty of night ice shone in our swerving light beams. I wondered which one of us would take the blow of the oncoming truck as our vehicle continued to spin out of control. Control. Who is in control, after all? In those moments, I was deeply aware of my own frailty and there was One Helper I knew controlled all.

There are so many things about our lives we cannot control. Sometimes we try desperately to clench the things we think we can. Trying to control gives us a false sense of security and all the clasping and squeezing is exhausting. We weren’t made to live clenched up tight. We can care without clenching and we can feel fear without breaking or faking strength. We can just feel it with brave unclenched fingertips stretched out to that One Helper.

We cannot steer out of every swerve, but His Sovereignty and kindness can sustain us within it. We will not always walk away unscathed, life is uncertain, but He is not. We cannot piece together what is broken but we can know peace before anything is fixed. We can trust Him to do deep fixing, knowing well He loves us the same all throughout the process. How can He though? How can He love the same throughout the process, the mess and the fixing? His love doesn’t depend on the state of my soul or yours, it never has.

After the spinning stopped with minimal damage and the journey continued, I asked my friend about the value of a life in the country she comes from. She said in Syria, the human does not have the same value as in Canada. Many are regarded as dogs or fleas. To be human means to be something in Canada.

To the Christian, to be human means God invested in your make-up big time, and His love for human souls is insurmountable. This kind of love couldn’t stop at Eden’s tree, or Eve’s distrust, but thrust Christ the Roman Tree for the reclaiming of all human souls. Real love is always a choice, so God lets us make it and there He hangs offering life to all as His own life blood flows out.

After our highway spin stopped, my mind continued to. Our clenching hands tease us making us feel powerful, competent, certain and safe. What if there is something better than safety and more constant than your own competence? What if you don’t have room in your hands to clench both? Let go. As you experience the inevitable free fall that comes after letting go, choose to remain there, don’t cling for the safety of a cliff. It’s not really safe there.

You will discover something better in the free fall. Movement you never thought possible and surprising moments of exhilaration. Moments of fear will undoubtedly come, but don’t let them drive you back to the clenching of the cliff. Instead, let love drive it out. It is Love who is truly at the wheel anyways.

 

This is Living

Most students in North America spend between 175 and 180 days in school every year, with about 900 to 1000 hours of that being instructional time. What we do with our time shapes our brains, thoughts and character. A teen brain is capable of mighty developments as it undergoing major construction. Let’s just say, the hours I get with students are sacred minutes. They matter.

The semester is coming to a close this week and it’s reflection time. My teaching experience has altered dramatically in the last year.

During my first year teaching – I found myself feeling downright insecure in many ways – this effected my practice more profoundly than I care to admit…. I remember being offended when a student spoke unkindly to me – this would cause me to dislike the student. I remember feeling agitated when students would come in late because of the distraction to my perfectly planned out lesson (sometimes not bothering to ask what is going on at home that would cause the ongoing tardiness). I remember taking it personally when a student neglected to hand in assignments, as if it reflected on my ability as a teacher. I remember being angry when the class achieved poorly on an exam – as if this was a “Kait Cey value statement”. I remember feeling frustrated with students who were too shy to ask questions and then performed poorly, and those who couldn’t understand English but never came for the extra help they needed. No, this is no way to live my one life – frustrated, graceless, desperately clawing for evidence of my own worth as a teacher … as a human. This is no way to lead lives in the classroom– this is no way to spend 1000 hours of God-given moments set apart by our Nation for lively free learning. I’m sorry for these moments. I’m sorry.

Today, I get it, deep down in my bones, that I am worthy and valuable, because I am human – no more than the next person – but equally and carefully crafted by the hand of Almighty God. Until I got that, I was incapable of teaching in the love mode John Lennon describes:

“There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back form life. When we love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance. We need to learn to love ourselves first, in all our glory and our imperfections. If we cannot love ourselves, we cannot fully open to our ability to love others or our potential to create.” – John Lennon

One day last semester, I quietly asked a disengaged student in my classroom to remain after the class because I was concerned for her. She came in with an attitude and had missed more classes than I can count without taking any initiative to keep caught up. I gently asked her if she hoped to pass the class, she said yes. I asked her why she does not open her book during class, or come for extra help (even though I had asked her to do this countless times). My gentle questions prodded unexpected authentic responses that broke my heart for her. In the past I may have asked the questions out of my own frustration (Had I done this, you can bet she would not have shared so authentically) instead of genuine care for her.

Today, I do not feel more valuable when my students succeed. I celebrate their success with all my might and strive to provide every support I can so that they are able to flourish – but their success doesn’t make me more valuable. I am remarkably valuable to God, and so are you. The more I understand this – the more I recognize the stunning value of each student – pass or fail, attend or don’t attend, mistakes, disrespectful comments, awesome success, or otherwise. They are worth it. We all are.

This is how God treats me after all– with all of my imperfections – he sends waves of crashing grace through blood-spilt love that gives me freedom and ability to spread love and live free. He’s done this for you, too. Yes, this is living.

Getting Ready

There were tears and gaping smiles as the bride took strides down an isle decorated just for her. The ceremonial room held sparkles, rings, a husband and family and friends – just for her. Even the music was selected and sung with lyrics and tones that she chose with care and thought. Her dress was striking and spotless as she walked lightly on the pathway marked, just for her.

As long as I’ve known Kendall, she has been on a fierce and committed journey to become all she was created to be. Kendall has had the courage to recognize things in her life holding her back and worked diligently to change those things. She was humble enough to let other people keep her accountable when change felt impossible. Prayer has transformed painful periods in her life into shimmering treasure that she now shares liberally – to help others navigate pain in healthy ways.

Kendall’s commitment to a healthy life in soul, mind, body and spirit is authentic – she has allowed God’s power to flow through her, and has chosen healthy thinking and exercised the willpower God offers each of us to make consistent healthy choices. The girl loves her Joyce Meyers and looks for God’s truth to stand on in all situations. Behind her striking face is a passion to see people freed on the inside from inner hurt, unhealthy thought patters and addictions. She knows the way to freedom, she knows the Greatest Grace displayed by Roman nails pounded through God-flesh. She knows how to lead others there, too – forgiveness and freedom.

As our quirky wedding party crew got ready for the big day, I thought of all the ways Kendall was “ready” for this life change. Anyone can sign up for a hair do, a good old spray tan and book a much-needed pedicure. Outward beauty can happen quickly – inner beauty is often a slow grow that requires commitment and grit, and it is the inner beauty that her husband is going to treasure for a lifetime.

Yesterday, I talked with my students about making healthy habits for 2017. We joked that no one sets out with the following habit list “bite nails, waste money, check phone every ten minutes” – However, our brains are habit-making factories and whether you intend to or not, your brain is making habits in alignment with your behavior. As a class, we agreed to make thankfulness a habit by listing three things we are grateful for each morning. Eventually, our brains will make this a habit – and our capacity for joy will expand, just as research shows.

John C. Maxwell says, “You’ll never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine” – John C. Maxwell

Kendall was ready for her wedding day. Her make-up was flawless, the preparations were all in place, even her shoes shone like the sun … but more importantly, Kendall had spent years practicing healthy habits in many areas of her life – so that she could be the woman God created her to be. As the doors flung open and Kendall moved forward towards this new life, she truly was “wedding ready” inside and out.

Gaining Weight

In October 2013 Jared was in a car accident. In one instant,  his life would never be the same.

This week the world is opening an unknown package labeled 2017. The New Year is about to drop 31,536,000 New Seconds into your lap, and into Jared’s too. What are they for? What can we do with them? What should we?

Following the accident, Jared swam in months and moments of rehab, hospitals, questions and courage. I met him in Saskatoon City Hospital, and months later found myself plopped beside his motorized chair at a Church Service. Following the service, a group of us sat around talking about how we could see God’s goodness. One young man told the story of his own recent car accident. Without knowing Jared’s story, the young man looked around the circle and repeated several times, “I know God is good because I walked away without a scratch.”

Sometimes we see the ways God spares us from discomfort and difficulty – and we say this makes God good. After all, no one goes looking for adversity. It is good to be well. But what is wellness? What makes God good and what makes us well?

In that circle, I was far too afraid to ask Jared if He thought God was good and would not have blamed him for thinking otherwise. Jared glanced over at me as if he could read my mind and said, “I’ve been reading the book of Matthew. God has been so close to me, it’s amazing. He is good.” That’s all He said, that’s all he had to say. There was nothing glittery about his words or explanation. I remember wondering, How could Jared possibly say that God is good, even while facing such challenge?

In the Bible, goodness means glory and is called “fruit of the Spirit.” Goodness is a piece of God made available through blood shed on Skull Hill by God. Goodness is God’s presence. Goodness comes from within and makes glory without. The original Hebrew word for “Glory” means the “Weight of God” and it looks like moments saturated and soaked through with Him – sometimes muddled and untidy, always consistent and steadfast. Jared knew God was present with Him. Jared knew God’s goodness within.

Psalm 96:1-3 says, “Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day. Declare his glory among the nations.”

As time passes, the question becomes, How do you sing a new song of God’s goodness when you are living same-old, same-old days?

Yesterday, I sat beside my buddy with football sounds and Christmas sparkles in His living room celebrating the New Year. He is continuing rigorous therapy to build muscular strength. One faithfully lived day at a time, Jared builds muscle strength of his own and heart strength for all who meet him.

With 2017 balloons floating behind him, I asked him, “What are you hoping for in 2017?” He told me he hopes to drive his motorized chair with his hand. He paused, and then added plainly, “I don’t really have goals. Everyday I just show up and give it my all. That’s the goal.” As Jared works to make muscle, he gains weight for himself and glory weight for all. He knows God’s goodness within and shines glory without.

What if the secret for you to experience God’s goodness and to sing new songs in 2017 is to gain the weight of glory one day at a time? To experience God’s goodness through His presence, and to make glory in the world day after day … No shimmer needed. No glam necessary. What if the goal for 2017 is simply to show up and to do what’s necessary to gain the weight of glory in your own life?

Jared, you know the secrets of drawing dripping pales of God-fount strength and of singing new songs on same-old days. You, in your unadorned words and steadfast heart, have taught me much about God’s goodness and true glory.

Yes, it is good to be well. True wellness is having the ability to draw strength from God’s wells, and to daily gain the weight of glory.

Feeling the Meaning

This week I was honoured to sing the hymn requested by my Aunt at her funeral. The song was called, “It is no secret what God can do” and is stuffed with familiar God lines:

“With arms wide open, He’ll pardon you”

“You’ll never walk along”

“You’ll always feel at home wherever you may roam”

“There is no power can conquer you”

“God is on your side”

Sometimes, when I hear “church songs”, I unintentionally separate the meaning of the words from the song. I grew up with hymns and choruses and although I still love them – the power of the words can lose their punch and become commonplace. However, as I drove to Vera’s funeral, the expressions of the song unlocked the commonplace-I’ve heard it before-familiar fog that can prevent me from feeling the meaning … As I drove, I understood these words with clarity, and I could see them in Vera.

The line, “You’ll always feel at home wherever you may roam” reveals the uncommon beauty of Vera’s life and her authentic relationship with God. Too often, when I walk into new rooms or spaces, I feel fear or insecurity – and this prevents me from loving others freely. Vera was one of the most secure women I have ever met. Her security was entrenched in the love of God, and she lived drenched in it – with more than enough to give away.

Vera thrived on the celebration of others. She walked with photos of people in her purse so she could tell stories – vividly highlighting their strengths – she would pass out these pictures so all could esteem them. She told the stories of dance competitions, music festivals and various sports players with expression and life! Everyone mattered to her.

Vera walked with her head held high – She felt the Holy beams of light and love God purchased on the cross for her – and she radiated this light liberally. Vera walked in this rare joy that was fuelled by the promotions, achievements and the growth of others. This made her one of the most attractive, hope-spilling people I have ever met.

She did not need to get ahead. (Although, she usually was ahead because of her speed walk and quick talk)

She did not need to be the center of attention.

She was not easily offended.

Her sense of self was secure in God.

She was brave beyond boundaries. (Setting out on the roads in storms or sitting in -40 degree weather to catch the good old hockey game)

She lived with nothing to prove and one to please.

She did not need to strive to be accepted.

She lived accepted by God, and then could accept all.

She did not need to be complimented.

She was too busy generously spewing her admiration for others.

Yes, to my fun, spontaneous, adventurous, courage-sopping, joy emanating, pet-name-calling Aunt Vera, many are waking up missing you deeply this morning – myself included.

We miss how you always felt at home.

We miss how you made us feel at home.

But we know that you are more “at home” now than we can imagine. See you soon, cherished friend.

Poppy Red Footsteps in Israel

Jesus, today I saw courage in Nazareth wearing jeans and a T-shirt. They were draped on a Messianic Jew drenched in sweat, telling your story in a synagogue. He read your courageous hometown chant, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). You must have known they would reject you – just like so many in Israel reject the message of the Pastor in jeans who read your words today.

I saw your tenacity today on the rock stairs you skipped on as a boy. It emerged from the enduring steps of my new sweet friend struggling to climb the hill, but determined to walk in your footsteps.

I heard your desperation today to know God the Father and to walk closely with Him. Your heart sounded across the Sea of Galilee through the passionate prayer of a warrior woman declaring truth over each life on our boat.

On the road you walked between Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee I shared a bus seat with a testimony that reminded me just how real you are and that your roads are always right. She followed your footsteps from pain to surrender to glory and joy.

I saw a cross today, just like the one you endured for the joy set before you.

I saw your lovely humility today. It was in a woman who carried a stool to accommodate the pain of a replaced hip. Her resolution to stay with the group, despite the discomfort, and walk in your footsteps reminded me of your “resolute” journey to Jerusalem, to hang in torture. For me.

I saw your unshakable commitment to your Father today. It was in the supper-talk of a woman who will sink into the baptismal waters of the Jordan tomorrow. Between bites she said, “more and more I cannot deny that He is real. I cannot.” Yes, truth is unshakable, and you call yourself truth.

I saw your humour today. In the same way you playfully popped from the sight of your Emmaus comrades, I was duped by the wit of my mischievous new clan of friends- providing comic relief for the whole crew.

I heard you speak mercy today on the Sea of Galilee. Through the storytelling of tour guide tales, you spoke to me saying, “Peter did nothing to earn my saving hand in the water. In fact it was in the very moment he MOST lacked faith that I reached out my hand to meet his need. You need not perform, daughter. I AM more than enough.”

I saw your honour for your Father today. God the Father remained in heaven, but you represented Him with honour on the foreign earth-ground. I saw this today in a red poppy pinned in the hat of my Canadian tour mate. He displayed the four red pedals in this foreign Israeli land where many don’t recognize its massive significance. You shed the MOST valuable red the world will ever know. Also Unrecognized by many.

I saw your pain today through the stories of peoples’ disappointments, divorces,  sicknesses and unanswered prayers. You asked that the cup be taken before bearing the cross up skull hill. You know unanswered prayer. But you walked on to lay down your life. Many of my new friends are doing the same. They are following in your footsteps, saying “not my will but yours be done”, for the joy set before them.

Yes, Jesus, I saw you today. Not because your presence lives only in Israel, but because your power lives where your people walk in your footsteps.

Thank you for walking.
Thank you for dying.
Thank you for living.
And leading us on.