In the stillness, God speaks through Skye Jethani

This video of Skye Jethani recently circulated through our denomination’s e-mail list and is now circulating in my brain.

Skye addresses the issue: why is there a mass exit of young people from the church? But his observations are applicable to more than just young people (not that I’d know) and a wake-up call for the church.

Skye challenges the four “postures,” ways we try to control God.  Our efforts have actually inoculated us to the gospel.

Watch it.

Church: “Why the mass exit?” from Ed Burton on Vimeo.

7, again

I picked up a book today I didn’t want to love.  It had been recommended to me by a friend some time ago called 7, by Jen Hatmaker.  I was babysitting my nephews and saw it on my sister-in-law’s table.  She’d just finished it and yes, I could borrow it.  Which she never would have agreed to had she known I’d spend most of the day neglecting her sweet cherubs because of it.

The premise of the book is, well, let me just copy and paste from Jen’s website:

7 is the true story of how Jen (along with her husband and her children to varying degrees) took seven months, identified seven areas of excess, and made seven simple choices to fight back against the modern-day diseases of greed, materialism, and overindulgence. In the spirit of a fast, they pursued a deeply reduced life in order to find a greatly increased God.

Based on that description, you might agree that it’s a book to be avoided.  It might stir something up, something I’ve been really good at burying.

You see, I’ve done this 7 thing before, where you challenge your choices through the lens of the gospel.  I’ve fasted and I’ve lived a life in the spirit of a fast.  When you live by the message of Jesus, to surrender everything to follow him, it can will force you to make huge changes in your life.  My family was shaken and, as Jen refers to it, messed up by the challenge.  At that time in our life, we were personally convicted to sell everything we owned to do cross-cultural work in Ghana.

For the sake of full disclosure we did not sell our red couch, chair and ottoman, most of our books and, strangely, a bread basket.  These remaining possessions were distributed among our friends most likely to return them.   For the sake of over-sharing, I’m sitting on the red couch as I write and we just used the bread basket at supper.

Otherwise, we were shaken to the core.

You would think that when you experience such life-changing conviction that your life would STAY CHANGED.  I would like to believe that you cannot return to the person you were. The Spirit wouldn’t let you, would he?!  Haven’t we been freed?  But as I read through the pages of 7, when I hear how Jen’s fasting from excess opened her eyes and heart to others’ needs, I am troubled by my recurring blindness. I see how I have placed a sheathing over the eyes of my heart.  I’m hoping it isn’t as thick as it was before, but it has effectively confined my compassion.

There’s a crack in that “protective covering” as I have been deeply affected by chapters 1-6 of this book, read today in one sitting, held in one hand while pretending to play Thomas the Train with the other.  I was distracted, recalling what can happen when you feel like this…

Having done this before, there are justifications I’ve since made that need to be overcome.  I remember treating our house in Ghana like a dorm room.  Zero excess.  No decor, no extras, not even curtains on the windows.  I never thought I was saving the world because of it, but I did it out of respect for those outside my door without homes.  Then my Ghanaian friends told me to settle in already.  It made them uneasy that I wasn’t making my house a home, that maybe I wasn’t committed to ministering there.  This actually caused me to re-evaluate my thinking.  Did this mean I didn’t have to go without in order to serve others?

As silly as it seemed when my Ghanaian friend told me to put up curtains in my windows, I realized that they didn’t want me to suffer needlessly.  They wouldn’t live without given the choice, why would I?  Since those convictions were thrown into question, I was thrown for a loop, and the pendulum swung the other way.

It’s been 4 years since we moved back to Canada.  The first 6 months were spent in shock, so let’s say 3 1/2 years.  Still, I’m surprised at how quickly my old habits came back.  How I bristle at interruption – a phone call or knock on the door –  instead of seeing each moment as God weaving our lives into the fabric of his will.  How I turn first to retail or snack therapy, instead of prayer, to help me out of emotional crisis.  How I want to set up policies and procedures to fix problems instead of recognizing the unique way the Spirit moves in every situation.  How I long for approval from other people.  I fit prayers in here and there instead of first and foremost. I worry instead of trust…

My Dad said the most benevolent thing to me when I discussed this tension within me.  First he quoted Romans 7:15, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do,” which is probably the most empathetic verse that Paul wrote.  Then my Dad added, “But Loreli, cosmically, you are not the same person, even if you have the same struggles.”  He reminded me that the circumstances of my life have changed because of the work of the Spirit.   Despite my failures, my desire to walk close to Jesus remains the same.  The fact that there is even tension within me is the work of the Spirit.  I can’t go back.  I won’t.

The tricky part is moving forward.

Read the book. Even if you really don’t want to.

1/2 Hour Piano Practice

Sophia is at piano practice as I write.  I’ve got half an hour to kill.  I’ve decided not to go inside, but to wait out in the car today.  It helps that it’s gorgeous outside. We’ve had temperatures that make global warming seem less like a hoax and all of us a little more afraid of the end of the world, but my goodness, we’ll enjoy every minute of the end of the world while we can.  Yes, I’m in my car, on my laptop.  But my windows are rolled all the way down. Continue reading

Word on the Street – Part II

Hard to believe that less than a week ago we were experiencing a snow storm and today the whole world is baring their pasty legs and BBQing their dinner.

Since my foray into said snow storm to check out our downtown (why didn’t I wait just one week?), I’ve since heard from other concerned Barrie citizens about why it isn’t thriving, including but not limited to the following reasons:

  • dirty
  • poor parking
  • expensive parking
  • expensive merchandise
  • unsafe
  • high turnover of stores
  • hard to find what you want

My fav comment of Word on the Street – Part I was from Rebekah Ferguson who said our downtown has a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personality.

I would agree with every one of these comments. But there’s more to it than just the negative stuff.  There are some really great spots and it would be great to support those stores we do like downtown, that do not fit into the descriptors above.  Is it possible that patron-power can combat some of these problems?

Here are the places I visited last week.

MacLaren Art Centre

I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time going into an art gallery without thinking how lovely the art would look on my walls.  Wouldn’t you know it, Maclaren is displaying all the art for their Benefactor Art Exchange.  This is an opportunity to borrow REAL art through a payment plan (which is tax deductible).  The program is so great for local artists to get their art out there and in homes (if you love the piece you’ve borrowed for a year, you have an option to purchase it).  I heard today that only 10% of the proceeds are kept by Maclaren.  The rest goes to the artists!

Most of the pieces are gorgeous.  Some are absolutely hideous.  They tell me it’s all art.

Simply Tea & Chocolate

I don’t love the name, but I do enjoy this little tea shop.  They teach you how to drink tea.  They have over 75 flavours of tea to choose from, but my favourite, and their most popular, is the Raspberry Champagne white tea.  It’s as rich as it sounds.  My love for this flavour made me buy a special tea pot to brew it in some time ago and I always go back for refills and some more tea training.

I often run into familiar faces at Simply Tea, which will always make me want to come back.

The downfall of this place is the unfortunate view out their window.  In the summer, you can see the whole bay… and the Hooter girls who serve customers on the balcony outside.

Page & Turners

I love Chapters, but I want to love somewhere else. I want to be a loyal shopper at an independent bookstore, somewhere to hang out and share the love of books with other book lovers.  And I wanted Page & Turners to be that place.  They have the structure for it: an old building, leather chairs, big bookcases.  What they do not have – or didn’t have today – is customer service, a friendly guy behind the counter. There is a guy, but he was on the computer and I suppose he was letting me browse as book lovers are wont to do.  The book shelves were empty, many books faced out I presume to take up space.  I purchased a book and got an arbitrary 10% off.  The guy didn’t explain why and I suddenly felt too lazy to ask.  This is not the place I will love.  Not today.

Update: Just got the word that Page & Turners will be closing its doors this month.  Not enough business.  Hard to know why, but I could take a guess.

My Paris Apartment

Heard some good things about this place, so I thought I’d check it out.  Another guy on a computer behind a desk.  I’m not a huge fan of antiques, but there were some nice pieces in there.  At least the prices made me think they were nice.  The way they were set up felt like they’d just been dropped off and were about to be picked up.  No information was offered about the antiques.  I could have become interested in a couple lamps in there, but they’d need work.  Most of their furniture needed work. They’re called “Project Pieces” for just such a reason – but I had to look that up on the internet for find that out.    I am not a Do-It-Yourselfer and I have a few unfinished projects of my own in the garage to prove it.  Shabby chic-ers should check this place out.

Our House

Our House is jam-packed with great gift ideas, including jewellery, candle-holders, kitchen gadgets, dinnerware, clothing accessories, and bath and beauty products. And what’s this? It’s also jam-packed with people!  It was all abuzz when I ducked into the store to get out of the snow storm.  I had to ask if it was always like this.  Yes, always.  Ever any slow times?  Never.  And they’ve been around for 18 years!  While I was there, I watched a woman spend $250 on a Pandora charm and figured they were “making the rent” pretty easily.

Red Tulip #2

Red Tulip recently relocated to the South End, but have kept a small boutique on Dunlop Street East.   In fact, this store is Red Tulip #2.  When the sales clerk suggested I check out their store in the South End, I wasn’t sure why. Because I was already right there. In her store. Downtown.

I kinda like that although she was microwaving her lunch when I came in, she refused to eat it in front of me.  She insisted on giving me her undivided attention and even filled me in on the neighbourhood goings-on.  Here’s the scoop:

  • Sobey’s is going into the Foodland Location at the corner of Collier and Mulcaster.
  • Zest left because of personal reasons not because business wasn’t good.
  • Paper Merchant left possibly because it’s a specialty store and people aren’t using paper anymore.
  • A downtown business can be quaint, but it’s a lot of hard work.

She also assumed that parking was the biggest barrier for customers.  I almost agreed with her till I eyed a shirt for $175.  Does our downtown have the clientele to buy clothing at these prices?  If you appreciate the customer service, it might be worth it to you to pay extra.  But if you hate the parking, you can always go to the South End!

With the sales clerk’s help, I did find a t-shirt in my price range, which she called as “cheap as chips.”


Lakeshore mews is a little road that runs behind Dunlop Street, which once again is unfortunately landmarked by being across the way from Hooters.

Awkward Stage describes itself as “an environmentally conscious clothing design house.  Nostalgic with a modern twist, the line captures the imagination of art nerds and pin up girls alike.”  Alana, owner and operator, is the “Queen of all, maker of things.”

I bought a dress from here last year in the summer.  So perfectly pretty, made out of retro bed sheets.  I was wearing it one day and my mom asked me where I bought it.  I said “Awkward Stage.” My mom thought I was referring to the fit of the dress and said, “Don’t worry, just lose 5 lbs. and it will fit better!”

The place felt empty last week during the snow storm, but I’ve seen it full of clothes and people.  A friend had an art show in their small gallery.  I felt cool just to be there.  I’ll feel cool in that dress once I get out of my awkward stage.

Le Petit Chapeau

Why don’t I wear more hats? I wondered when I walked into Le Petit Chapeau.  There’s romance to it.  And the woman does beautiful work. This milliner has a special kind of snobbery which is the impetus for her success.  Admitting to how-could-you-leave-your-house-like-that!? inspiration for her work, proven by a recent blog where she wrote four long paragraphs of the atrocities people wear when they go out in public (i.e, jogging pants to a bridal show).

While there, I tried to figure out how to get invited to an occasion that would allow me to wear one of her cocktail hats.

The magic is where the hats reside.  I didn’t feel as compelled to own one once I left.  But I did feel that I should dress up a little more.

Since that day, I’ve been back downtown twice, where I went to The Magpie Bead Co., back to Simply Tea & Chocolate and checked out Anchique, the already done shabby chic decor store, which took over the lease where Zest was.  Highly recommend all three.

On my downtown TO DO list for another day:  Absolutely Fabulous – Upscale Consignment store and Old Forester Book Store – maybe THIS will be the book store I’ll love?

What do you love about Barrie’s Downtown?

This article, Buying Local:  How It Boosts the Economy, has great suggestions that anyone can put into practice.  We are buying more than a product when we buy local.

Thinking through my response to KONY2012

The only chiming in I can do on KONY2012 is to pass along the wisdom of those with experience or understanding in the matter. I want to hear from people who have been on the ground and in the field for years. (Ideally, I’d like to hear from Ugandans or Africans.)

I found this post very helpful: On Kony and Viruses.  It is from the blog, Paradox Uganda, of Drs. Scott and Jennifer Mhyre who currently serve in Kenya, but lived for 17 years in Uganda. Their perspective is realistic and resonates deeply with me.

I will be walking through each point with my daughters, including: (a) what was great about the Invisible Children campaign; (b) what we have to be careful about; and (c) the problem with critics.  Our kids are watching how we respond to all of it.

Another great resource is this short sound bite interview of Eric Frans of World Relief who speaks with wisdom and love.  He gives us tools to move forward on the issue.

These guys know what they’re talking about.

Word on the Street – Part I

I decided to give our downtown a little love yesterday.  I’ve been neglecting it for some time. I know it’s harder to appreciate store-to-store shopping in this weather, but there are advantages to being inconvenienced. There are the wider-reaching benefits of supporting local business… but even that seems to be shifting as retailers relocate to the large plazas in the south end where the world shops. On a personal level, however, those big plazas don’t give you the unique shopping experience of these old century buildings with their creeky floors, and exposed brick, with unique shopkeepers and their stories.  Our downtown core is also our cultural and community centre. It’s where you hear about what’s going on around town, including business seminars, live music events, festivals and art crawls.

But yesterday, after taking a three-hour tour (and returning), I left with this question: why isn’t our downtown thriving?

Photo from mikey_e at, who describes downtown shopping as “interesting to walk along for a bit, but unless you’re into paraphenelia it’s unlikely to retain your interest…”

It might be that it’s March. It’s the worst time of year for most retailers, whether downtown or not.  Until that sun starts shining again, people aren’t out in full force.  There could be several reasons for that: vacationing, catching up from Christmas, too cozy inside to go outside…  I have to keep in mind that I went out on a weekday in the middle of a snowstorm.

Does that explain the rotating FOR LEASE signs in the windows and the empty shelves inside the stores, though?  Is downtown itself to blame for the lack of interest?

Here are some things that people have to contend with, when shopping downtown, which might be a hindrance:

  • Parking is a hassle.  You probably can’t find a convenient place to park and/or you have to pay for one. And you have to PARALLEL PARK, which brings back fear-filled memories of your Driver’s Licence Test. I’ve been known to decide not to shop downtown because of lack of parking space.  Again, come the warmer months, this becomes less of an issue as it is enjoyable to walk to where you shop.  The walk becomes part of the experience, especially with all the work Parks & Rec put into beautifying downtown in the spring.  In winter, though, the parking sucks.
  • Inconsistent hours from store-to-store.  Downtown shopping usually means Saturday shopping for the average person who works 9-5, unless you plan to go straight from work to fit in shopping within half an hour to an hour.  There are some people who stay open later, but you cannot expect to experience everything downtown offers when there are no guarantees if and when a store is open.  You’ll see lots of handwritten Be Back in 10 Minutes signs.  Even went to a store today that posted a handwritten sign in the window, closed for two days.
  • More expensive. In order to support an independent retailer, you’re probably going to have to spend more money than at a big box store.  That’s just the logic of economics.  Buy at wholesale quantities, get wholesale prices.  As a consumer, it’s harder to pay more for what you know you can get for less. As a business owner, you must make it worthwhile for the customers to pay extra, either with unique products, better customer service, or more of an experience.  We will gladly pay this “Downtown Tax” if you provide at least one of these things for us.
  • Hooligans. What a great word that is. What about riff-raff?  There aren’t enough opportunities to use those words, except when you’re referring to downtown. Of course, I have no problem with anyone at all enjoying our downtown.  It’s free and lovely space to be enjoyed.  But there is something to the notion that if downtown shops share space with bars and restaurants, there is the consideration that things can get out of hand after closing time.  I spoke with a shop owner last year who told me she can no longer get insurance for her display window, which has been broken so many times, her insurance company ditched her.  A  couple years ago, I was considering renting retail space downtown, but I was told by customers that they would have a hard time supporting the idea, especially in the evenings. I wasn’t afraid of potential hoodlums, but my customers were.  Which might also attribute to the early closing times of the downtown business.  If no one is coming, why remain open past 5?  Actually, I’ve had an ugly experience of a man making violent and rude gestures at me and a friend when we were in a store downtown after dark. Thank goodness we were able to lock the door just before the man tried to get in.  He was obviously drunk.  He eventually got bored with us and left.  But I didn’t feel great about having to walk to my car after that.
  • Confused identity.  I wonder what our downtown is trying to be.  Is it a restaurant and bar district? Is it a shopping district? An arts & culture district?  Something altogether different?  One thing I do know is that I walked past a lot of payday loan places and convenience stores in order to find something of interest.  This identity is determined by two sets of people: customers and owners of the buildings.  The owners obviously want someone who can pay rent faithfully, but they have become indiscriminate about who that should be.  The customers determine the identity by which stores they support.  Strip clubs, loan sharks and bong stores don’t seem to have a problem garnering business downtown.

What about you?  Do you feel our downtown is thriving?  If not, why?

According to Sophia

Dear Sophia,

I’ve had the pleasure of spending a lot of time with you over the last few days because you have pneumonia. The only thing cool about having pneumonia is the look of shock people give you when you tell them.  However, the shock is minimal as this is a common diagnosis these days.  Those bugs are getting stronger… But forget about the bugs, you just need to get stronger.

You’ve been spending your days doing these three things: staring, drawing in your journal, and sleeping. You made the unfortunate, though honourable, commitment to give up TV for lent.  Now that you find yourself with an ideal excuse to zone out in front of the boob tube (I only said that because it would make you giggle), you remain faithful to your promise.  No TV till Easter.

I’ve even tried to find loopholes for you.”Would you like me to put in a video?  That doesn’t count does it?”

“Don’t tempt me, Mommy!”

And then you take the angel wings off, when all that staring and sleeping gets you down, and you wonder out loud if it would be OK if it you just looked up a show on the computer?  “No!” you stop yourself, “never mind.”

Obviously, you’re doing some thinking while staring because every once in a while you come out with a very deep thought like, “If Beyonce tells her boyfriend, ‘don’t you ever for a second get to thinkin’ you’re irreplaceable,’ she probably shouldn’t be with him.  You should probably only date someone you think is irreplaceable.”  That’s heart-melting contemplation right there.

I remember when you were younger and you’d come up with the things you’d been thinking about, like “What happens when robots eat glass?”  Maybe not as sophisticated, but still deep thoughts for a young one.  Here’s the thing, I didn’t even KNOW robots ate glass!  You’re smart too!

Your name actually means Wisdom.  That was a pleasant surprise when we found out after you were born and named and registered with a Social Insurance Number.  I’m so glad we didn’t find out it meant “ill-fated,” like Desdemona, or “broken-hearted” like Dierdre. (I apologize to all Desdemonas and Dierdres.  Thankfully there’s always the “alternate meaning” option.)

When you were a toddler, I thought that maybe you were given this name because God knew it was what you needed to hear the most.  I was a little worried about your choices in years 2-6.  Those were the years that found you often in the waiting room of the urgent care clinic.  Not because you had pneumonia, but because you’d decided to run down a slide, jump off a high wall, race into traffic.  Oh Lord, this child is going to need Wisdom, I’d pray.

But as you started to develop your mind, I saw that you had it – and a good amount of it.  I also realized that we get the privilege of giving you that blessing every day, every time we speak your name.  Even your nickname, Fifi, also accidental and simply a product of who you are, means God increase.  So every time we call you by name or nickname we actually ask God to increase your wisdom.   My opinion on this is that it matters what we name our children, even if your father and I had no idea at the time.

But you’re not always full of profound thoughts.  You’re a ton of fun too.  Usually you’re the first one to engage in a playful activity.  You still love to jump and hop and dance.  Even though you’re a pre-teen, there’s still toddler in you.  This is why it is so hard to see you just lying there.  So I decided to help you become un-bored by asking your thoughts on a some things, just for the heckuvit.

Here’s what you said:

  • On Joseph Kony. I don’t really know his full story. But by the sounds of things, it seems like he should be executed.  If he makes other people kill other people, then he’s murdering.  But does that mean if he‘s executed the one who executed him is also murdering?
  • On Lucky Charms. They’re way too sugary, but that would never stop me from eating them.
  • On dating. Some people date too young, like that are my age and even younger!  It’s not like they’re going to get married or anything.  People do it just to seem like they’re cool, but they don’t seem like they’re cool at all.
  • On piano lessons. I feel that I shouldn’t quit, even though I get frustrated sometimes, because you guys pay a lot of money.  If I quit it would be a waste of money for all that time I’ve been doing piano lessons so far.  I do want to play piano, but sometimes I think I want to  quit just because I get frustrated.  That reason isn’t good enough.  When I hear Daddy playing it makes me want to play.
  • On her favourite colour, blue. It seems refreshing and happy.
  • On how not be bored when you can’t watch TV.  My favourite thing to do is colour and draw because it inspires me.  I get really excited about making art.  I don’t know how to explain it.
  • On what you want to be when you grow up. Fashion Designer, because it’s fun for me, like what I do in my fashion books. You get to use your imagination and it can be YOUR creation that someone is wearing.
  • On Mallory. I love her so bad.  Sometimes she bugs me, but it’s what a big sister does.
  • On Jesus. Everybody should know him and the love that he gives.
  • On being 11. I love it. I feel like I can still be an old kid and a young kid.
  • On being frustrated. I get frustrated when I’m overwhelmed with things I need to do and I feel I can’t finish any of it when I need to.  If I have a project, but also piano and homework and chores.  I get frustrated with myself. I feel like someone’s definitely going to be mad at me soon.
  • On what might frustrate others about herself. [long pause] Maybe if say something by accident that could offend somebody? Oh I know! If I get distracted when I need to do one of my jobs and they keep asking me and asking me to do my job.  That’s gotta be frustrating.

And now, Sophia, it’s the end of the day. You need to get your sleep after a long day of… sleep.  The antibiotics are kicking in and I’m looking forward to seeing that light come back in your eyes. We’ll see if we can come up with any un-boring things to do tomorrow.

Good night, Sweetie, and may God increase your Wisdom.

Love, Mommy

10 Random Things You Should Know About Sophia, According to Sophia

1. I like matching my jewellery with the shirt that I’m wearing every day, unless today. I’m sick.

2. I like being warm and cozy.

3. I hate the thought of taking a bath or shower, but once I get in I love it.

4. I love the muppets and I like to draw cartoons of them.

5. I don’t like to walk to school.  I have to wear my snow pants and trudge along, but they keep me warm.

6. I don’t like when our feather pillows, the feather sticks out and I put my face on it.

7. I don’t like it when at night, when we’re driving down a hill and a car is coming up and the lights blind me practically.

8. I like to sleep in, but I like to stay up late.

9. I love Hello Kitty.  I’m not sick of her yet.

10. I like doing my hair when it’s long.  Even though right now I can’t because it’s just plain short.

Thunder in the distance

It’s never a good idea to post when you’re emotional.  Ah well.

Tonight I’m sad for a couple of reasons and they’re both tied to Africa.  The first is for the same reason you might be sad and shocked – or soon to be – by the video put out by Invisible Children about the war criminal, Joseph Kony, and the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, made up of over 30,000 kidnapped children.  Hard to stomach, hard to believe.

I know this is one atrocity of many in our world and a sober reminder of the evils we don’t often witness firsthand, just by video.  I’m so glad there is an action attached to this awareness campaign.  The work has just begun.

I’m also upset about my business.  Yes, the one I sold.  I’m not sad because I sold it – I totally love the two women who bought it and am excited about their vision for growing it.  But someone has put a damper on this time of celebration for the new owners.

Another bead store in our own backyard has ridden in on the coat tails of Big Village. For 3 1/2 years, Big Village worked hard to introduce Canada to these cultural beads from Ghana and spread the word about them and the amazing, resourceful, ingenious people who make them.  The business was built on relationships and fair-trade principles.

But another bead store – in town, no less – has used that hard work to their advantage. Unfortunately, we might have marketed too well!  Customers loved our beads and so they asked this particular bead store to bring them in.  But they chose not to go through Big Village and purchased the same kind of beads from another supplier. As the new owners host their first Open House, the other business is doing a big promotion of their new African stock.

But that’s business, right?  Nothing personal?

Of course, they had every right to!  But it seems unkind and uncool-operative.

I won’t go on, other than to say that the bummer of it is this heavy rain on our parade.  Big Village will go on and continue to build business, of course it will!  But the timing sucks.  RIGHT NOW, when we are celebrating the continuation of this great partnership with our guys in Ghana, the other business is crashing our party and taking a piece of pie for themselves.

I leave for Ghana with the new owners of Big Village in April – perhaps my last trip for a while.  I’ll savour every moment.  It will clear my focus too.  Whenever I go, when I see my friends and the hope that absolutely fills that place, I can’t help but gain a brighter perspective.

You know, Ghana has so much to offer.  Even in terms of what Uganda is going through right now, as a fellow African country, it can demonstrate hope to them.  Ghana can show her sister what it looks like on the other side of adversity, to live peaceful and productive lives. All the hard work happening here and over there, now and in the future, will be worth it.

If that’s true, then SURELY both businesses can share a piece of Ghana.

The storm clouds are lifting.

But is it generosity?

My daughter, Sophia, recently cut off her hair for charity.  WAIT.  Let me clarify that she did not grow her hair for the charity (to make wigs for those experiencing hair loss through chemo), she grew her hair out of neglect and laziness.  Then, when she wanted it cut, found an opportunity to offer the shorn hair to a worthwhile charity.   It was no skin off her teeth.

I’ve wondered about that kind of generosity.  I’ve been known to donate my spare change to a charity in a plexiglass box on a counter top because it’s easier than throwing it my pocket.  I’ve given clothes away because I’m already clearing out my closet.  I’ve donated to the food bank because I didn’t like that kind of non-perishable item very much anyway.  Does that count?

At one point I would have said no, it doesn’t, that giving has to “hurt” in order for it to make a real difference. There’s a lot to unpack in that sentiment, but suffice it to say, I’ve changed my mind.  That kind of giving does count.  Except I’ve classified it as something other than generosity, something more along the lines of thoughtfulness or resourcefulness, to have taken the opportunity to avoid wasting the thing(s) you don’t want any more by throwing them in a landfill.  (Kudos belongs with the ingenious intermediaries who provide a way to turn waste into beauty or usefulness.)

Thoughtfulness is the first step toward true generosity.

Because I love lists, if I were to articulate a Pilgrim’s Progress of Generosity, I might break it down something like this:

  • awareness of, thoughtfulness for the needs around you
  • giving away your “waste”, living without waste
  • giving away your “extra”, living without extra
  • giving a portion of what you have, living with less (inconvenience)
  • giving most of what you have, living without

I would even say that to be truly generous, the points would be accumulative, that with each new step, awareness of and thoughtfulness for the one receiving your generosity would be an integral part of your giving experience.

Each step we take is a personal response to the Spirit’s prompting in our lives.  It is an outpouring of our thankfulness for all that God has given to us.

There have been moments when I catch a glimpse of true generosity, an authentic selfless act and it gives me great hope on this road that we travel.

Sophia, God bless you for your thoughtfulness.

When people are “shoulding” all over you: How to use criticism as a tool to build your ministry

As a ministry leader, I receive criticism regularly.  I receive it from people I’m ministering to, people who minister alongside me, and even those who are looking in from the outside.  I’ll probably be criticized for the title of this blog.

When I first started as a ministry leader 8 years ago, I had the best of intentions.  I was going to selflessly serve in order to foster a culture of missions in our church.  This was something God had laid on my heart and had been affirmed by my pastor.  Apparently, there were many in our church who had the same desire to develop a missions ministry. I had a large team in the beginning.  It was an exciting time as we started to build a vision for how our church would reach out locally and globally.  We talked a lot, made plans, we prayed and started moving.

When we took practical steps to implement our vision, things began to change.   As we carried out our tasks, be it a fundraiser, education and awareness, or an actual project, tensions arose.  People didn’t like the choices we made, the way we did things, who was involved… People weren’t afraid to say how things should be done. Well, they might have been a little afraid because many of them used e-mail.

I can remember feeling very down about it.  Couldn’t people see that I just wanted to serve?  It all came to a head when a member of our church Board called to tell me that they felt our missions team was overly focused on raising money and that we were not working well with other ministries.  I hadn’t realized till that moment that ministry leaders (I) can be competitive!  The poor board member who was designated as the person to contact me was not prepared for my emotional breakdown, How come people only tell me what I’m doing WRONG?!

My outburst surprised me too.  I didn’t think I was harbouring these feelings. I thought I was managing things pretty well.  But I needed to take a step back and re-evaluate my motives and why I felt threatened by these criticisms.  What I found out surprised me.

Most of my critics were right.

I sat down and thought of everything anyone had said about either the ministry or my role as ministry leader.  Whether they gave it in anger, before, during or after the fact, whether it was petty or hefty criticism, whether it was made by e-mail or in person, I added the criticism to my list.

Things like:

  • I shouldn’t have asked a newcomer to pray and made her uncomfortable
  • I shouldn’t have such a large focus on money for missions
  • I should develop my leadership skills
  • I shouldn’t look at my watch when someone is talking to me
  • I should delegate more
  • I should communicate better

Truly, these are practical and helpful goals!  I couldn’t receive them because I was hurt by the way they were delivered.  I could only hear the “should” of their statements, meaning, in my head, that I must have done something wrong.  I felt like they were shoulding all over me!

Offence is a human reaction, but it often stems from our own pride.  If our source of strength, love and acceptance is Jesus, then we would probably never be offended.  A noble goal, but a difficult one!  My own offence was a trigger that my sustenance was not coming from the Lord. I was looking for my reward from people… and not receiving it.

With God’s help, I decided to be more receptive to my critics as they had valuable insights for future ministry.

Here are some helpful guidelines I use to turn criticisms into valuable tools to build my ministry.

React in prayer

When you feel that familiar twinge or knot in your stomach, it’s not time to worry, it’s time to pray.  Get rid of those feelings that can lead to anger and sin by talking immediately to the Lord about it.  Seek the Lord’s heart and his wisdom in the matter and you can’t go wrong.

Test your heart

Ask the Lord to assess your motives.  If you are feeling threatened why is that?  Are you hanging onto pride or personal motivation?  There is no room for this in ministry.  Ask the Lord to forgive you for putting your vision ahead of his.

Know your critic

Knowing your critic means loving your critic and trying to understand where the criticism comes from.  Is it out of their own hurt?  Or, conversely, is out of a desire to see the church live up to its potential?

I enjoyed this recent article that attempts to categorize 5 Types of Critics in Your Church.  It is insightful, as well as helpful to know how to respond to criticism. I agree that those who are constructive in their criticisms can be engaged to participate more in ministry, while others potentially need to deal with their emotional issues.  It’s true that there are some critics who will do nothing but attack and it’s good to keep in mind that it’s not about you.

Give weight to the practicalities of the criticism, don’t get caught up in the “should”

Which leads me to the point that if you get caught up in the “should” of the criticism, you probably think it’s about you.  If you can remove yourself from the equation, you will discover that a lot of your critics might have helpful things to add to your ministry, whether they’re given with proper motives or not.  (As a bonus, perhaps taking their criticisms seriously might be a step in the right direction to make them feel loved and accepted.)

Give equal weight to the encouragements you receive

When the Board member called me, my reaction was to say that people ONLY call me when something is wrong.  In short, I was having a temper tantrum.  I’ve heard it my daughters and in my nieces and nephews… OK, in me too.  When something isn’t going our way, we want to put absolutes on our statements: “He ALWAYS gets that toy…” or “I NEVER get to stay up late…” This is not a realistic perspective.  So as I wrote down my criticisms, I also wrote down my encouragements and I was very surprised to discover that many people, if not more, were blessing me with their love and support, but I wasn’t acknowledging it.  I had felt that I ONLY received criticisms. I couldn’t receive the encouragement because my perspective was tainted with worries about my own inadequacies.  I’ve learned to hear and give thanks to every single encouragement as it comes.  As much as there are criticisms, there are also cheers.  Both are valuable.

Gain focus and strength daily from Jesus

It is best practice not to find yourself at your wit’s end because you haven’t dealt with the criticisms.  They have an accumulative effect if you  ignore them.  The thing you should give the most weight to should be from Jesus himself through daily interaction with him through scripture and prayer.

I give this “criticism” in utmost love and appreciation for what you do in your ministry. Keep up the good work!