Feeling Newsy

When I missed the Canada Post deadline to send out Christmas cards for the sixth year in a row, I decided to call it a passive boycott to make it seem less lazy. I had no reason not to send them other than something had to go to preserve my sanity in this overly busy season and that was the first on the list, followed closely by anything resembling a craft, and door-to-door caroling. (Gift-wrapping was in the running.)

If it’s been years in a row that you don’t do a thing, at what point does one scratch it off one’s list permanently? Christmas is so weird like that. It’s a hopeful, overly nostalgic season, and so I retain hope. (If I send you a card next year, please frame it.)

But I sure did love receiving the cards and newsletters from friends. Now newsletters are vintage, aren’t they? Those who send them are preserving a bit of our past that we’re often so quick to dismiss – good, old-fashioned communication. A piece of paper to grab onto with whole sentences put together to form paragraphs. Those paragraphs give us an overview of the lives of our friends – many parts of which we may have witnessed or experienced with them and it gives context and a sense of continuum. We humans are in the process of building, moving forward, journeying, progressing. Sometimes our understanding is so present- and future-tense. Looking back, even at the not-too-distant past can have the effect of grounding us.

This is why I thought I’d try my hand at an e-newsletter. There’s no fancy or festive border here, no stamp on the envelope, no searching for your address, nothing but a synopsis of the Cockrams’ 2014. Here are the headlines.

Man turns 40, throws vanity concert, 150 friends indulge him

“You only turn 40 once,” he says

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40 years to learn

There’s less than one week till my 40th birthday. Oh, have I mentioned that already? Well, anyway, it’s on Friday, October 25th. I’ll give you a moment to mark it on your calendar.

I’m making a big deal of it. Since the beginning of the month I’ve been talking about it all over the place, reminding my friends and family daily about this upcoming milestone. Perhaps over-celebrating it will reduce the impact when those big numbers – in Roman numerals that’s XL – actually hit.

Physically, I’m noticing my age. Not just on the surface, like wrinkles and age spots, but functional things like failing eyesight and a chronically sore left knee.

But I’ve recently come to view the aches and pains not as a sign of what’s to come, but as the sign of transition. This is what trade-off feels like. Wisdom for beauty via pang, spasm and twinge. And that’s when I realized that I am going to be A-OK with 40.

Because (a) I never had this beauty thing down, certainly not in my teens.

Grade 10

Follow along the full #theawkwardyears series on Facebook!

And (b), I was a foolish young woman with regrettable behaviour. It’s taken me 40 years to learn some very important things, things I wouldn’t trade for the world. And they’ve come with age and most often they’ve come via heartache. Strangely, it’s resulted in a gift worth more to me than gold and I wouldn’t give it up for minimized pores or rocking skinny jeans.

At 40, I understand I get to be obnoxious, correct? So indulge me as I share 20 things that took me 40 years to learn. 20 things I didn’t know at 20… because I hadn’t yet had the full experience of it (which can mean doing it the wrong way one or a few times).

On Friendship

1. Life is meaningless without friendship. Therefore, work to keep the friends you have (especially your family) and be a friend to those who need one.

17877_430546365446_200261_n2. Do not fear conflict. When addressed properly, it has the potential to deepen your friendships.

On Marriage

3. .Just because you’re right doesn’t mean you’ve won. I’ve bolded that because this was the biggest lesson I’ve ever learned – which cleansed our marriage – with a fantastic back story of turmoil and tension and those words coming from John-Mark’s mouth toward me. My insistence on being right (and trying to correct what was “wrong” in him) almost tore our marriage apart. It is much preferable to win in marriage than to be “right.”

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4. A nap is often the best remedy for an argument. If you feel grumpy, critical, negative, go to bed already, then we’ll talk. Again, J-M’s words to me.

On Church and Ministry

5. Church can be so very ugly… and breathtakingly beautiful. On this side of eternity, it’s a holy mess. But at its best it’s a foretaste of heaven.

6. The key to loving the church is realizing that we are the church.

7. Hope for everything, expect nothing. Hope keeps you encouraging, challenging, and loving others.  Having no expectations takes the weight off your shoulders and keeps you from taking it personally when others have their own unique journey of faith…

8. Use your gifts. God has equipped believers in a unique way to be a part of the church. How thrilling when you discover that he can use you. Also, let others use their gifts. Sometimes stepping away from ministry so that others can step in is the right decision.

On Faith

9. It’s God’s kindness that leads us to repentance.  There is nothing you have done that (a) he doesn’t already know about; (b) he won’t forgive.

10. There’s no more important thing to learn than forgiveness. God has forgiven you, you must forgive others. Walk in it, practice it daily. How about this – PRE-forgive! This is love.

11. We need others on this pilgrim’s progress – the faithful, the hopeful, the charitable – to teach us, to make the load lighter and the journey a joy. To seclude yourself is to weaken your faith.

12. God’s promises are not the mantra of the happy, they’re the lifeline for the suffering.

On Parenting

13. Neglect produces independence. Let me qualify this tongue-in-cheek statement – it’s about life skills. Let’s say that you forget to make your child’s lunch one day, they will most likely choose to make it themselves the following day.  If you don’t pack their favourite PJs for their sleepover party, they’ll want to do it themselves next time. If they run out of underwear because you haven’t yet done the laundry, they may choose to learn. HYPOTHETICALLY of course.

14. Never refuse a request for a hug from your child. Never, never.  You can’t over hug. Drop everything to give the hug. And force hugs on them from time to time, even when they don’t want them.

61911_10152334595785492_1861113051_n15. One’s role as parent has a progression from protector, to teacher, to coach, to friend. Try not to put these in the wrong order.

16. Your example will be the most powerful lesson for your kids, so love well, fight fair and make your bed too.

On Truth

17. In order for truth to be the strongest voice in your head, immerse yourself in it. Preferably daily.

On Work

18. You must put your time in the trenches. The most mundane task, done well, leads to growth and opportunity. Everything is useful.

On Decision-Making

19. Never make a decision based on fear or solely on money. That is for those who feel they have no choice. One’s choices should be life-giving.

AND FINALLY (FOR NOW)

20. Stay curious. It is the remedy to many things, such as boredom, ignorance, and self-consciousness, to name a few.

***

Of course there’s a whole bunch more, like HAVE FUN, READ LOTS, GET REST, TRAVEL, but I’ve got my forties to beat you over the head with them. ;)

And so, believe it or not, despite my ranting, I’ve come to appreciate 40. Not because it’s “fabulous” or “the new 30.” Because it reveals a gift, given through the fine lines and grey hairs. There is great value in them.

Although… I’m still inclined to cover up the evidence.

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Clear as Mud

We were right to cancel zipping down the mountain yesterday. It rained heavily for most of the day.  Today it is sunshine-y beautiful.  The difference in the weather is so extreme, you’d hardly believe that yesterday’s storms happened if the ground wasn’t still soggy and the vegetation nursing its casualties.

Yesterday morning, I was happy to discover that I could access the internet from my room and not lug the computer (and thereby ignore J-M’s company) to the restaurant.  We were expressly told that wifi was not available in our rooms.  Therefore, I beat the system.  I’m beating the system right now.

I chatted with Mallory, and posted to my blog, quickly and easily, while J-M finally finished the behemoth of a biography of Walt Disney he’d brought with him.  You know it’s tough going when you flip through the last few pages and say, “When is this guy going to die?”  But J-M doesn’t like to leave any book unfinished.  J-M’s synopsis of the biography:

People believe that Disney was famous for his control of wonder and fantasy, but the opposite is true; he was actually fascinated by the wonder of control.  His pursuit of power and control lead him to build his own world.

J-M has chosen to leave this book behind at the resort and bless someone else with this insight, and reduce the weight of his luggage.

And the rain rained.  The cabin we’re staying in has a clay tile roof, which surprisingly amplifies  the sound of the rain.  That makes a torrential downpour super exciting.  My heart races when the rain starts and as it builds, sheets of the wet stuff driving down on us, I get downright giddy.  I would compare it to a soccer match when goal after goal is being scored and the crowd gets wilder and wilder. You get caught up in it. It’s never not exciting!  And if the thunderstorms are this exciting, just imagine how freaking awesome the zip lining is going to be!

Yesterday afternoon, J-M and I decided to enjoy the mud bath offered by the resort.  I do believe they just scoop the stuff out of the ground and put it in a plastic container.  You carry that container down a path, past the hummingbird and butterfly observatories and the botanical gardens to a small wooden sauna heated naturally by the river it sits on.  A hole is cut in the bottom of the floor and the steam rises into the cabin.  A sign is posted cautioning you against touching the water, which is approximately 70 degrees Celsius, or 160 degrees Farenheit.  There are no real safety barriers, not like in Canada where every mishap would be anticipated and prevented with over-measures taken with fencing, signage and waivers.  The sauna was by no means toddler proof.

The cabin itself sits over the river and you can see the water and feel the heat from it, not only from the hole in the middle, but beneath the wooden slats in the floor as well.  What is this thing even secured on?  What if it the whole cabin went into the boiling hot drink?  I quickly figured out my plan of exit –  up onto the bench I was sitting, up the slats on the side of the wall, right through the sun roof at the first sign of trouble – so I could relax.

We spent 20 minutes in the natural sauna opening our pores.  The sauna was odourless.  J-M was bored.  It might have been more like 15 minutes, but seemed like 30.  The heat from the sauna also loosened the mud in our containers.

The containers were about the size of a margarine tub.  When we were first given the containers, we didn’t believe there would be enough mud in them to cover our whole bodies. The mud itself was grey and goopy and smelled of sulfur.  I avoided putting it on my face till the end because I was grossed out.  But then we got into, kind of like a paint fight, smearing and slathering the stuff all over us and each other and the tubs never seemed to empty.  Absolutely disgusting.

You then wait for the mud to harden.  We used the opportunity to get our camera muddy too and snap photos of each other.  We were feeling very primitive and wondering if Adam & Eve participated in such skin care hijinks.

Next step is to move into another naturally heated flowing river.  This one about 85 degrees Farenheit.  What we didn’t anticipate was that the ease with which we spread this muddy butter on ourselves, takes three times the effort to remove.  The stream doesn’t have a current that flows fast enough, but the rain started up again and helped us scrub clean.  This is natural living at its best!

For the rest of the afternoon we enjoyed the hot springs.  We chatted up another Gringo family, who happen to share the cabin beside us, who happen to be from Ottawa!  After listing all the names of friends in Ottawa, the couple knowing none of them, we then got into what we all do for a living.  The husband teaches, the woman works for IBM in data management, J-M’s a pastor… I’m a pastor’s wife… who blogs. That last part surprisingly didn’t shut down the conversation.  In fact, it opened it up.

The couple had been recently part of a church plant that didn’t go well and were feeling burned by the church.  They were actually hoping to spend time on this trip “getting away” both physically and mentally from the drama.  That’s the thing about church, like the girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead: when it’s bad, it’s horrid.  We talked a bit about what they’d been going through.  We were happy to hear that they weren’t willing to give up on the church completely, but were actually considering the Free Methodist church in their area. So it took us a while, but we landed on a connection and had a great conversation about it we felt was divinely guided.

Although we’re leaving this resort today, we’re going on the zip line with this couple and their two kids.  (In fact, we leave in about 15 minutes – no time to proofread!)  We’ll have to be on our best behaviour now.

Let me leave you with this – one of my fav pics from the botanical gardens.  I think my girls would love the teensy pineapples.

 

Fasting and Praying: Day 31

Day 31 of my fast and I feasted.  J-M brought home some really delicious grapes last night, crunchy and sweet.  I was good and waited till morning and then I ate almost all of them, a whole bag’s worth.  Then I had a giant bowl of Mini Wheats, which he’d also bought last night and I was also thrilled to eat this morning. But I felt stuffed and all through lunch too.  I don’t like this feeling anymore.  It used to be a common occurrence.  The fast has shown me that being over-full is worse than hunger pangs (and lasts longer and has a lot of unnecessary guilt associated with it). I was actually looking forward to that hungry place I reach every night now.  But in the afternoon, J-M reminded me that the pastors families were invited to a BBQ potluck put on by one of the small groups from our church.

“But I can’t eat!” I whined.

“Don’t eat Friday, then” he said.

“But I wasn’t eating Friday anyway because I was reserving Thursday for my Women’s Ministry Team Appreciation Dinner!”

Then he didn’t say anything.

This is why I’m glad the fast will be over in just nine days.

No more navigating social functions.  No more bending the rules, which confuses the issue for me.  I thought I’d just stick to the fast for the remaining eight days, but Mallory has her Grade 8 graduation banquet and John-Mark, his birthday.  I’m thinking that for the rest of this fast I may be doing a lot of eating.  Eating rhymes with cheating.

Let’s talk about this morning instead.  If you have never before met God in the morning, gone outside and had praise and worship service with the birds, if you have never embraced the solitude that feels like time stands still, if you’ve never had an audience with your Heavenly Father with no one and nothing else competing for your attention and Him ready to meet you, if you haven’t felt the sun rays roll over you like a celestial embrace, you are missing out on one of the most inspiring times to commune with our Creator.  C’mon, if you get up tomorrow morning, I will share him with you.  You won’t regret it.

This morning I talked to God about how I love to write and how I love to send out into cyberspace the words that he gives me.  I told him how I love to visit my friends and be available day-by-day to those who need it.  I thanked him for the opportunities he’s given me whether they’re about to end or continue on indefinitely.  I thanked him for my family (I tell them and God all the time I can’t believe they really exist).  I thanked him for you.  Yes, you.  I have so many wonderful, encouraging people in my life and the fact that you show up, that you’re reading this right now, it makes me thankful enough to get teary-eyed.

Then I read 2 Corinthians 3 in The Message.  In this passage, Paul is writing to the church at Corinth saying that the people there are the “letter of endorsement” or success of his ministry, having visibly changed hearts because of Christ’s work in their lives.

Your very lives are a letter that anyone can read by just looking at you.  Christ himself wrote it – not with ink, but with God’s living Spirit; not chiseled in stone, but carved into human lives…

I love that.  Paul has nothing to prove, no need to defend his call, because Christ is doing the work of changing hearts.

And you know what? I want to be a letter–better yet, a book–written by Christ himself.  Whether by my words or my actions, I want to demonstrate the glory of God and the love of Christ in my life.  Every decision, every turn in the road, every idea, every encounter with someone a new page about God’s faithfulness.  The outline would look like this:

Chapter 1 – God is faithful

Chapter 2 – The Lord can be trusted

Chapter 3 – God provides

Chapter 4 – He will see you through

Chapter 5 – The Father knows what you need

Chapter 6 – God is still faithful

Chapter 7 – The Lord is watching over you

Chapter 8 – He cares for you

Chapter 9 – God knows you and loves you

Chapter 10 – Our Father calls to you

Chapter 11 – The Lord will see you through

Chapter 12 – God saw what you ate today, but guess what, he’s still faithful even when you’re not

In the absence of your presence

Dear Mallory and Sophia,

OK, I know.  Between your father and me, if my math is correct, this is the seventh time we’ve gone to Ghana without you.  After the third time you stopped asking to come.  After the fifth time you stopped getting upset about it.  After the last time, you stopped asking for souvenirs.  There are only so many carvings, recycled glass beads, and batik dresses one can own.  You did make an exception for banana gum if I really felt the need to bring you something back, which I do, to manage the guilt of leaving you behind.

You’ve been very sweet to keep telling me how much you’ll miss me.  We all remember missing Daddy a lot when he went to Ghana back in February.  At first it was because he wasn’t there to take out the trash or make us dinner, but once we got used to that, we missed him just because he wasn’t with us.  As for me, you skipped straight to the last part, possibly because you couldn’t think of any tangible way that I contribute to our family life other than our regular Star Trek (Original Series) Snuggles on the couch and my presence.

“You’ll miss my presence?”  I asked.

“You know we mean p-r-e-s-e-n-c-e and not p-r-e-s-e-n-t-s, right?” Sophia clarified.

“That’s… nice of you to say,” I decided to not argue about all the work I do around here.

That’s because you’ll figure out the work I do when I’m gone, like… like, DISHES!  I do dishes. Sporadically.  I vacuum! When company’s coming.  I tidy.  I do tidy.

So you’re right, snuggles count big time and my presence will miss you too.

Mallory, it was super-kind of you to offer me to take your iPad to Ghana.  I can’t even find an ulterior motive for you lending me this precious gadget you bought with your own babysitting and allowance money after months of saving!  You use this object daily to chat with friends, do your homework, or make us laugh on Facebook.  You’ve known me to both resent your iPad and desire it for myself.

This is how I talk to you about your iPad:

Look how easy it is to use!  Look how much fun you’re having.  Mallory, stop having so much fun, we miss you.  You made that Stop Animation movie all by yourself?  On your iPad?  This thing is amazing!  It shouldn’t be called an iPad, it should be called the i of Mordor, because it sucks you in with its power. We’re losing you to the i of Mordor!  Hey, you should take your iPad to Aunt Tracey’s to take a video of Baby Bridget!

And so on.

I was complaining about the bulk of my laptop and how inconvenient it might prove to be on this trip.  Without skipping a beat you wondered if I’d like to take your iPad.  After feeling such shock and relief that we haven’t yet lost you completely to the iPad, my reaction was ABSOLUTELY YES!  And then I had another conversation with you about the iPad:

I think I’d like to take it.  But there’s the typing issue.  I love to type and I can’t do the touchscreen thing.  Oh, but you have the keyboard attachment!  But my files.  I have a strange attachment to my files – I may have to refer to things or access things?  You just never know. But how will I chat with you if I have your iPad?  How will you do your homework? What if I love your iPad so much I won’t give it back?

You did the right thing and ignored most of that and suggested I bring both the iPad and your laptop.  What a little voice of reason you are. I was talked out of it by an even bigger voice of reason, your Dad, who reminded me that I’m already bringing two cameras, iPod, voice recorder, two cell phones and my big old laptop?  How much technology does one need?

“But I won’t be able to play Bejewelled Blitz on the plane!” was my last ditch attempt to convince myself that bringing your iPad was possibly the best worst idea.  I wasn’t so indecisive before I had a teenager, you know.  A loving, selfless teenager.  Do you know how much banana gum you’re going to get because of this?

Sophia, I know I confused you a little bit when I told you and Mallory as I tucked you into bed on our last night together, “Remember, you’ll be the Ladies of the House.”  I must have gleaned it from a TV show, like the Waltons or Leave it to Beaver, when I was young and took it to be something good parents do when they leave on a trip.  It seemed thoughtful and wise to assign a replacement in one’s absence.  Usually it was the eldest child.  Certainly it was a deemed honour. Maybe because our family is small, it seems unfair to assign the title to one daughter and not the other. You both got the title.  So in my absence, you’re both Ladies of the House.  But you raised your hands in the air, waved them like you just don’t care, and said, “Can I get a whoop, whoop?”

“Sophia, it’s Ladies of the House, not Ladies in da House.”

Your response? “Ladies of the House in da House!  Whoop, whoop!”

Clearly, we are products of two very different TV generations.

Seven times or not, it’s no easier to leave you two behind!  Even though it’s only for 10 days, I know that all kinds of important things are happening in your life, like your poetry recitals at school, the 30-hour famine with the youth group, requests from friends for sleepovers, and awesome moves on Just Dance 3.  I am well aware of the privilege of being with you almost every day, getting the chance to debrief with you after school, prolonging bedtime to talk about secrets, doing errands with my little buddies.  Even on those days when we don’t specifically do anything together… well, your presence is very special to me.

I’ll miss your presence more.

Love, Mommy

The church is not the gym

I hate it when people leave our church. It breaks my heart. They have their reasons, and a broad range of them, which I’m forced to acknowledge and accept. But it means our fellowship is broken. It means I don’t get to see them. It means they are removing themselves from our care. I wonder if I could have done more to keep them with us. I just hate it.

A light bulb went on for me recently when I realized that some people have not actually left. They just aren’t coming! If you can imagine, this got me excited!

And then concerned. Because why aren’t they coming? This is when you hear the excuses instead of the reasons.

The other day I ran into someone at the mall who said:

It has been a while since I came to church. I really should come out. It’s just that it’s hard in the winter to get up early in the morning.

Might I also say that I did not ask why they hadn’t been at church. I’ve stopped asking. Not because I don’t miss them, but because they say things like this.

I give this person credit for her painful honesty. But what made her think that this is an acceptable thing to say, to me, someone who wakes up on Sunday mornings in the winter? I’m not being self-righteous, it’s the truth of it, certainly as a Pastor’s Wife.

No, this is something someone would say to their personal trainer… A-ha! People treat going to church like going to the gym!  They know they should go. They know it’s healthy for them. They know that if they are disciplined about going, they’ll see changes–Stop. Just stop. The church is not the gym.

Ironically, we meet in a gym. Make that a gymnatorium. Which urbandictionary.com defines as:

The most craptastic multi use performance space in the world… second only to the cafegymnatorium… When you see a gymnatorium you know your day will suck.

I hope you pulled out the operative word “multi use.”

Yes, we have basketball nets, floors with shock absorption, poor acoustics, zero ambiance… and you can play volleyball on Monday nights where you worship on Sunday mornings. But that’s too obvious. I believe other churches with wooden pews, pipe organs, and stained glass windows hear excuses like this as well, “My bed is too comfy.”

We do a different kind of body-building at church. We, collectively, you who attend and you who believe while you sleep, are called the Body of Christ.

If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. (1 Corinthians 12:25-26)

When you stop attending, you miss out in one of the greatest blessings: doing life together. Having your people in your corner when you are in pain and celebrating your victories. That’s the benefit.

If the cozy family vibe doesn’t getcha, how about this? What about the call?

So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. (Romans 7:4)

…so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. (Romans 12:5)

We belong to Christ and each other. To clarify, this is not an “assimilation” type of belonging. (I may have to do another post called The Church is not The Borg.)

Just for kicks, I referenced urbandictionary.com again for the word “belong.” And like gymnatorium, they hit the nail on the head:

loving someone as much as your life.

Perhaps we’ve forgotten that whomever belongs to us should mean the most to us and vice versa. God proved this by literally giving up his life out of love for us. But we can’t get out of bed.

Let me clear, this isn’t about rules or points for perfect attendance. It will not be necessary for you to swipe your membership card at the door. God designed the Body*, so that we would love one another, build one another up, work together for the benefit of his Kingdom, to know what it is to be a part of something infinitely greater than we are on our own. Sunday mornings are a regular opportunity to get in on that. If we understood the call and the blessing of belonging, we would want to do this as frequently as possible.


*How and why God designed us to be the Body of Christ… is worthy of a proper Bible study. Do a word search for “Body of Christ” at www.biblegateway.com to learn more about who you are and where you belong.