Faith like Olu (Part II) – in a word

Olu, our Nigerian friend, the refugee, changed his Whatsapp profile picture.

Take that, Justin Trudeau.

Olu recently started to ask for something. Have I heard about any jobs? Do I know of any work? Can we put the word out for him? Olu is hard-working, excellent in customer service, energetic, a go-getter, a quick learner… He doesn’t need to convince me, I’m sold. Except I have no leads, I have no contacts, I’m new to Toronto myself. I don’t even know where to direct him. Continue reading

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42 years to learn

22 truths that took me 42 years to learn… and, by all projections, a lifetime to perfect:

1. Get your sleep, eat well, go for a walk. These are the best first steps to solving what ails you. If nothing else, it puts your mind in a better place to tackle the problem(s).

2. Pay attention to the words of those who stammer, stutter or blush because they are spoken with courage.

3. Embrace your tears. Those who know me know I cry almost daily. One friend has taken to calling me “Tina Tears.” Their involuntary appearance STILL takes me by surprise and, truthfully, sometimes embarrasses me. But I’ve learned to welcome them. I was marked with them in my early 20s when I received Christ. In welcoming these tears, I’ve discovered that they are a good gift. Tears detect beauty, break down walls, open the heart, and speak grace. They adjust my eyes to see what Jesus wants me to see. When your tears make a surprise appearance, acknowledge this good gift.

4. Welcome interruptions. Like tears, most gifts from God are not the things we planned or expected. The things that were/are an interruption in my life: my husband, my kids, my friends, and, well, 42 showed up kind of suddenly…  I can’t rightly say what good thing in my life wasn’t born out of interruption, even the things which initially seemed troubling. So welcome it all as God’s benevolence.

5. Banish offence. I believe it is possible to live a victorious life if we rid ourselves of offence. To qualify the term, I’m referring to when someone insults you either directly or indirectly, whether real or perceived. Root it out with prayer, kill it with kindness, walk through life unscathed and free.

6. Love others by keeping a record of rights. We know from 1 Corinthians 13 that when we keep an account of offences it is unloving behaviour. We like to either hold onto our offences and nurse them and/or throw them at others like a weapon once we’ve accumulated a good number of them. Is it possible to love by keeping track of, placing importance on, and speaking of the good things we see in others? I tried it. Suddenly, my husband is the most interesting man in the world, my kids are angels, I love Monday mornings, I have the best friends a girl could ask for, and I am saying hello to strangers on the street.  Gratitude is the outcome when we keep track of the good things.

7. Practice good gossip. Get caught talking well about other people. (That Karen is so amazing. Bob sure throws a great party. Don’t you just LOVE our pastor? And so on.) Start a new trend in the workplace, build the joy in your home, revitalize your church through good gossip.

8.  Asking for help is an act of generosity. Be specific with your needs and those who love you will thank you that you’ve let them in.

9. “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.  Live in harmony with one another.” Guidelines for life and social media from Romans 12:15-16.

On parenting (teens)

10. “Good for you!” “Use your words,” and “Play nicely” remain solid parenting principles well into the teen years.

11. Your teens actually do want to spend time with you. Force adventures on them, even if they resist. Do things together that make you hold your breath, use your muscles, tempt fate (within reason), laugh out loud. You’ve all just received a shot of perspective and joy. Now repeat.

Cockram Family Adventure

12. You are the boundary your teen needs to push against. Confirm for your teens that their home is a place where are they are safe to wrestle and doubt. Parents, this is Part II of your labour pains. There will be great rejoicing at the end of it.

13.  Parents of teens, you will need to add a sense of humour to your arsenal. No doubt about it, your kids will laugh at you, but if you join in, it means they are laughing with you.  Believe me, they’ll show you just how funny you didn’t know you are!

On marriage

14. Making the bed together is the best first thing to do each day. Bravo, you’ve accomplished something together. Now go, rock this day. It’s the two of you against the world. I also highly recommend unmaking it together at the end of the day, if you catch my drift…

15.  Dissatisfaction is never the other person’s fault, it belongs to you. Once you identify this truth, you can save/build/enjoy your marriage by ending the blame cycle and attending to the necessary changes in your own heart.

16. This one is for the wives. I’ve learned this little tip over time. (Don’t tell J-M, but it works like a charm). Whatever question you want to ask of your husband, ask it three times.  This is what it takes to get: 1) his attention, 2) the jokes out of the way, and 3) his real response. Try it and report back to me. We might be onto something.

17. Lighten up. If I may generalize, I think this is one of the brilliant things a man adds to a marriage – an easy going perspective. Women can place such importance on their deep thoughts and over-processing the minutiae.  If men and women are polar opposites in their thinking, perhaps the truth can be found in the happy medium. Emphasis on the happy.

On Faith

18. Faith is our spiritual muscle we must activate and exercise or else we become ineffective and unproductive. Train like an athlete. Digest good nutrients (truth). Work it off with strength training (service). Don’t get spiritually obese by only taking it in and never putting it to use. Don’t run yourself dry by always serving and never replenishing your reserves. And, just as importantly, rest once a week.

19. Worship God completely. Like, use every part of you – your voice, your strong legs, your wingspan, your thoughts, your heart, your eyes, your touch, your gut – to love and praise him. Discover how he wants to heal and restore every inch of you.

20. Thank God for the activists. They increase our proximity to the heart of God. They help us see and love the poor, the needy, the abandoned, the destitute, the lonely. So next time you see an activist coming, don’t squirm in your EZ chair, receive their good intentions and consider how you might take action with them.

21. Trade in Karma for Grace. Jesus paid what you owe. Best deal ever.

Final Word (For Now)

22. Seek after beauty. I have spent the past two years trying to understand what beauty is, where it comes from, where it can be found, who owns it. I can say with great joy that there are very real answers to these important questions. They all lead to a Creator God who decided that beauty is the way in which he would communicate his message of love and truth.  Look for beauty, find God.


Related Post: 40 years to learn

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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Let’s start with Gary Thomas

I recently had the opportunity to present a workshop to a women’s group based on Gary Thomas‘ book, Sacred Pathways.  Have you heard about this book? Really? Have I not talked your ear off about it?

OK, so the premise of the book is that, in the same way that we have personality types and spiritual gifts, there are worship temperaments that help us relate to God and understand how to love him with our heart, soul, mind and strength.  What I love even more than the freedom this book gives us to explore our own “worship styles” (and we’re not talking music here, we’re talking about how we study, pray, spend time with God) is being able to understand others and how THEY relate to God.  Heaven forbid – seriously, Heaven, strike me down should I suppress the worship of God by another. And yet… and yet, this is the tragic tale of many who have either been discouraged by others to worship freely or have pointed the finger and diminished someone else’s worship. Continue reading

Some of the most encouraging things Jesus never said in the gospels

To prepare for Easter, I have been reading through the gospels.

If you’re still with me and don’t feel judged by that statement, let me tell you that this was to be a daily commitment, and I’ve missed at least every other day.  I’m “behind” my original goal, but still ticking along, because THIS TIME I won’t let my failures make me a failure. (I’ve talked about spiritual temper tantrums before, one of the enemy’s ways to get us to abstain from Jesus’ goodness incited by our own feelings of fear or inadequacy.)  Even the bits and pieces are worthwhile.

I originally took on this challenge wanting to hear directly from Jesus, to know better his truth and understand his purposes.  That has indeed happened.   Unexpectedly, I’ve also been encouraged by the words and actions of others besides Jesus.

Granted, there are many in scripture who were written up for speaking with malice or doubt.  Jesus sighs a lot in the gospel of Mark at this unbelieving generation. I feel for him as he tries to show love and reveal truth but is accused at every turn.  How hard it must have been!

But when a few people “get it,” even when I catch a glimpse of someone trying to understand, I feel joyful on their behalf.  I can relate.  Doubt and skepticism come so easily.  There is a world of confusion around me if I take my eyes off Jesus even for a moment.  I struggle with my own unbelief, my own flaws, my own faithlessness.  So when I see others who can draw me to the Saviour amidst the confusion, I feel a camaraderie.  We’re on this journey together, even if they are 2,000 years older than me.

I have a heart cry like the man whose son was suffering from seizures.  As any parent would, he wants Jesus to heal his son, but perhaps worries that his own doubts might get in the way.  I see others who need healing and I want them to know freedom from their pain.  I too say,  “I believe, help thou my unbelief!” (Mar 9:24)

Or what about Blind Bartimaeus, sitting on the side of the road.  People who previously rebuked him tell him to, “Cheer up!  On your feet! He’s calling you.” (Mark 10:49)  If you challenge me in order to point me to Jesus, in order to remove the scales from my eyes, you are the best friend a girl could have.

Peter is the disciple I relate to the most.  He goofs up all the time: speaking when he shouldn’t, going ahead of Jesus, over-zealous and mouthy. I’ve made pronouncements and promises based on emotion, “Even if all fall away, I will not… I will never disown you!”  When fear invades, when reality stares me in the face, when I break my promises… I relate all too well to Peter’s pain. “And he broke down and wept.” (Mark 14:72)  While not everyone might find that encouraging, I have come to know brokenness as the first step in restoration.  It’s a dissolution of the lies we’ve been telling ourselves. I also know that God used Peter despite (or because of?) his failings to build his church. There is hope for everyone!

In Luke, Jesus talks to his disciples about forgiveness.  They get an inkling of how difficult – how supernatural! – it is to live a life of forgiveness.  Also, faith is a gift from God.  “Increase our faith!” they say to the Lord. (Luke 17: 5)

There is the criminal on the cross beside Jesus who says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23:42)  This criminal’s prayer is answered immediately and directly. “Today you will be with me in paradise,” Jesus replies.

And when all looks lost, when Jesus finally breathes his last, the centurion who stood watch says in THAT moment, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39)   He was given faith that defied the circumstances.  Without knowing how it would end, without anticipating Jesus’ resurrection, how is it that the centurion recognized Jesus’ power through his death?

There are many other examples in the gospels of people wrestling with the truth of Jesus.   They have the beginnings of the church.  Like the teacher of the law who agreed with Jesus, “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him.  To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”  (Mark 12:32-33)  We receive Jesus’ most encouraging reply, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

It is one week till Easter.  I’ve still got a lot of gospel to go.  As I continue the journey, I’ll take the words of my fellow wayfarers as prayers of my own heart.

Lord, increase my faith, let me hear your call, help me recognize your power and follow you.