Reporting from the trenches

I confessed to my friend Christa (see the Heirloom Tomato Sauce post), over a dinner neither of us cooked, that I was afraid I was out-of-touch. “I’ve come to believe that in some ways I’ve created my own reality for the past seven years. From ministry roles to owning small businesses, everything has been my doing and I’m not sure I totally know what real life looks like anymore.”

This may have sounded like false humility as I processed out loud with her all the “my  doings,” but I was speaking specifically about relating to others. I’m glad Christa tilted her head in the way she does and asked me to explain what I meant.

I was wondering whether I was an effective voice to and for the every day woman, who doesn’t have the same opportunities I’ve had. Do I truly understand the woman who has a boss to serve and bills to pay and a dress code to follow? What about the woman who does shift work and has limited sick days and co-workers and a policy and procedures manual? Do I know her story? I used to know her well. I used to speak her language. I used to be her.

By the grace of God, he had me on a trajectory that took me out of the “work force” into the “mission field.” This is what my brother-in-law refers to as the “Africa phase” as we inevitably bring up a story from our “stint in Ghana” in conversation.

Since then, since the “Africa phase,” since having my reality SHAKEN and AWAKENED, I sought to bring what I’d learned through the experience into my life and the life of my family. In business, I never wanted it to be about the money. In ministry, the message was pared down to putting God and people first. In my family life, slowing down and simplifying was an imperative for our soul survival.

My experience changed me, does this God-gift of truth not have the power to change others through my testimony?

It is not a good sign when someone responds with:

  • Easy for you to say
  • Wouldn’t it be great if we could all go to Africa
  • Yah, but you have freakishly well-behaved kids
  • Must be nice to be married to a pastor

Since that conversation with Christa, there appeared a crack in my blessed reality and what I had, up till then, speculated about became a factor. My North American business was suffering from my “African phase” mindset – I was mostly volunteering my time and more interested in making friends than a living wage. My husband asked me to get a job. 

The story from there is one that is months long with many connecting dots resulting in God answering my prayers very specifically to find me work.

I am a working woman now.

Which already means fewer coffee dates, less time on social media, zero time to write or dust… Haha! about the dust.

Strangely I’m not quite ready to share this whole story of answered prayer, and you know I love to share… even though it isn’t “easy for me to say,” has nothing to do with Africa. My pastor husband’s “lack of faith” (in quotes!) was the impetus for it, and my kids, well they’re teens now… Therefore, I should have your rapt attention! But no, this answer to prayer is a new page to be written, not yet the story to be told.

When I got the job, of course I told Christa and then I told her that I was worried about it. Would I be able to keep up? Would this be too quick, too big a change? How was I going to go every day to the same place, to the same job, day after day? And could I give up the spice of life I was accustomed to? Was I even capable of what was being asked of me?

“Oh don’t worry,” she said, “Knowing you, you’ll find a way to be all PASSIONATE about it.” She did not roll her eyes at all, something on the ceiling caught her attention.

Three weeks in, I will say this, I have a boss and co-workers and a job description that is so great I sometimes forget it’s work. I’m so sorry, but I AM passionate about it!

But I have ventured back into the reality of alarm clocks and bed times, of which I am currently truant. And my husband (and friends) have a new reality too. I’m not as available. I use a daytimer now to sneak in quick lunch dates here and there. J-M has quickly learned not to talk to me after 10 because, regardless of the fact that I’m sitting beside him on the couch, maybe even typing on this laptop, I’m already asleep.

One last thought before I move into REM. I would hate for you to think that this is like glamping (which our women’s ministry is, by the way, undertaking in a couple weeks’ time… which is still too close to camping for my liking). I am not working to scuff up the appearance of luxury with a little dirt. Trading my favourite pasttimes to work for a living is not my first choice – is it anyone’s? But I do believe, that it is my ultimate choice because it is orchestrated by God.

To those of you who know this existence well (I suspect there are many of you), to you who are in the trenches, perhaps living paycheque to paycheque, possibly dealing with demeaning bosses or bad morale or low pay day-in and day-out. What sustains you? What helps you to stay centred in the reality of Christ?

We need to hear from you.

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Mind-melting Miscellany

If I had a super power… it would be the ability to over-think a thing.  My enemies would panic in light of my ability to process and question their diabolic monologues till they themselves would wonder, how did this all get started and why am I wearing this cape?

It would be a contagious power because I don’t like to think alone.  Join me in this League of Queriers, won’t you?  The only criteria is that you’ve got nothing better to do.


Here’s a sampling of the things that I’ve been thinking about this week (links to articles in bullet point titles):

  • What women’s ministry can be – The author of this article says, “When you experience true, God-honoring women’s ministry, you want more of it.”  Of course, this pricked my virtual ears as this is what we want for our women in our ministry.  I just don’t love the part in the article where women’s ministry sins are aired.  I don’t love the fact that we all probably have similar stories to tell. I don’t love that there are women’s ministry drop-outs because of bad experiences.  I don’t love that if we convince women to come out to our women’s ministry that they will be looking to us to provide them with a good experience…  What’s the disparity?  And where does grace enter into the conversation?  Seriously, I’m asking.
  • Looking good in photographs – When I lurk your Facebook photos, I’m actually rooting for your good pictures.  I move a little quicker over your unflattering pictures and linger a little longer on the ones where you look dyn-o-mite.  Am I wrong? I’m willing to go out on the limb so that you can admit you feel the same.  This will bring me great  relief to know that I don’t have to tell my friend to take down the awful pics y’all are going to skip right over anyway.  #vanity #ihavemanylevels
  • The man who carried his son over burning coals – I’m following the blog of this author who is currently writing for World Vision and blogging his experience visiting his sponsored child in Sri Lanka.  I read this account and am astounded at a father’s devotion.  Where does it come from?  Fear of the gods he worships?  Love for his son?  Cultural pressure? Something entirely different?  I may never find out… but it does make me stop and ask what my devotion to a real and living God looks like.
  • Be secretly incredible –  “So many people want to cut a deal and convert people [to their way of thinking]. But I learned that we’re the ones who need to be converted into being better friends, who have no angle on anything we do, other than to just love people more and ‘leak’ Jesus. Because you leak what you love.” I’ll admit that my first reaction after reading this account was to wonder if this was an effective model for evangelism. And then I realized to wonder that is to miss the point (or prove it).

Day 40 – God speaks

It’s early in the morning.  I got up specifically to write this post out of a mix of obligation and inspiration (oblispiration?).  Those are the times when you wake up and say to yourself, You should probably write this down.

Of course I had to check Twitter first and was encouraged to get off Twitter and back to the blog by Anne Lamott‘s 140-character plea to, Seize and steal time to write, however & wherever you can–it’s a debt of honor.

There is something about this compulsion to write.  It’s so strange how God places this fervor in you to observe the world around you  and then find words for what you see.  It’s a bit of a madness. For instance, while J-M and the girls were planning what is to be a fun-filled long weekend, complete with beach days, BBQs and baseball, I was thinking to myself, I sure hope I get time to write.  Where oh where was this drive in high school English?

And to those who checked in yesterday, I’m sorry I didn’t post on Day 40.  My excuse is that Day 40 had to happen first before I “reported back.”  But the truth is, my family hijacked my plans and took me out to have fun instead.  I’m not complaining, just redirecting the blame.

So allow to me recap. I’ve been praying for direction consistently for 40 days.  During those 40 days, I have not eaten after 2 p.m., except for Fridays and three cheats celebration dinners. An undefined, but persistent desire to go deeper in ministry is what drove me to this fast, hoping to hear exactly what the “deeper in ministry” part was to look like.

I am happy to say that God was faithful and answered my prayers.

I didn’t write that sentence easily. I want to be sure I’m not conjuring up a “happy ending” to this fast, something to please me and you that this was worth the effort.  Of course it was, in a kajillion ways, but  I would not say God sent lightning bolts from the sky or a great heavenly finger to write on my kitchen wall.  In any case, I don’t believe he speaks that way.  If he had sent the finger, I might, in my sinfulness, ask him why then he hasn’t spoken up more about my Dad’s MS or a friend’s heartache or poverty and all the injustice in the world?

I believe God does speak clearly, consistently and powerfully.  He speaks through scripture, his word, which is a plumb line for discerning his will in this life and the next.

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature…. (1 Peter 1:3-4)

I encourage you to read the rest of that, about how we can increase our participation in that divine nature. Amazing, spine-tingling stuff.

A word should also be said here about handling scripture with reverence, in the company of believers, guided by the Holy Spirit.  But in short, we have access to God’s answers for all our questions.

God also speaks through others and this has been my experience throughout this fast.  I have been given tons of advice and encouragement – some conflicting!  Again, I returned to scripture to measure the words I received.  If they line up with what scripture says,  I accept – and wholeheartedly.  And God bless you for saying so!

Throughout the fast, God spoke clearly, like portions of food, replacing what I wasn’t physically eating. I received his word in bits and pieces.  Every bite from him was full of spiritual nourishment established by the peace he gave me when I digested it.

For my questions, I received the answers either no/not yet or keep going.

Let me start with the no/not yet.

God has made it very clear to me that “deeper into ministry” does not mean bigger.  I’d had some suggestions from people, that perhaps my role was being broadened from just working within my congregation to ministering on a larger scale with an outreach to others beyond our church.   I don’t doubt that God can move in mysterious ways and use the things one does on a small scale to reach out to others in areas or ways you could never anticipate.  But to change my focus at this time is out of the question.

First of all, I am very green – I have spent just one year leading the women of our church – this ministry alone extends my abilities to the max.  Beyond this, is the focus of our ministry.  Over the past year we’ve been purposeful about getting away from the common trappings of women’s ministry (fundraisers and friendly gossip, to name a couple).  We’ve been diligent to make sure that our focus is to grow closer to Jesus and to each other.  For the upcoming year, I believe we are to add to that by reaching out to others in our community.  That means finding the lonely, the needy, the desperate who hide behind closed doors, in our own neighbourhood.  I think it’s all this growing closer to Jesus business.  We’ve found out that’s where he’s always heading and we want to go with him.  This call is clear and so my personal pursuits cannot be any different.  I’m staying local.

As for the keep going message:

I have received an overwhelming response to this blog in the past 40 days.  No one would say that I write well – and neither would I –  but what joy to hear from others that they have been moved, challenged, affected, or convicted by something I’ve written!  I am not deceived – I may have a specific demographic who doesn’t mind the frivolous chit-chat mixed in with an exhortation, and a couple of typos for good measure.  But the few who respond to it, who see Jesus in it? Well that means this madness isn’t for nothing.  It’s for something.

To be clear, I do not wish to “be published” other than to click that button on the blog, but just to be faithful to write it all down.

I have the additional blessing of being paid to write.  My position as Social Media Journalist (decoded: blogger) for the Free Methodist Church in Canada, although part-time, is a huge privilege.  I want to fill the parameters I’ve been given to full capacity, “Telling our Stories” about God’s faithfulness within our churches.

Another part of the keep going message is my being available.  I love that I have been able to offer my time for what would otherwise be considered interruptions.  What a gift to know that when someone wants to go for coffee to chat, I can say yes, how about today!  Or if someone wants to meet to pray, yes, how about right now!  I have able to volunteer at a friend’s store for a few days over the past two weeks because she really needed the help.  I have been able to do stand up for another friend’s impromptu wedding.  If God can use me during this time of unemployment, I will not say no to that.

I will write more about this 40-day experience. For one, what about this problem of bringing home a regular wage?  Just a quick preview on this – Mom’s wise words that if God calls you to something, he will certainly provide the means to fulfill your calling.  We’ve known that well in our lives before, and I claim it now.  You can be praying for J-M to be receptive to this also.  His suggestion?  To add a “Donate Now” button to this blog.  Also to my t-shirt.

There has been so much jam-packed into the last 40 days.  I’ve been looking through my journal, comments and e-mails from others received since May 22 when this all started.  The picture is clear.  God speaks through all of it.

Fasting and praying day-by-day

Day 6 – Our women’s ministry team hosted our last event of the ministry year on Saturday night, which included a clothing exchange, a potluck and a time of worship.  The evening was a success, but I am not here to talk about it, other than these two things:

  • I know I’ve told all of you by internet that I am fasting, but it’s quite another thing to tell people to their face.  I’d decided I wouldn’t, that I’d keep myself busy while the potluck was on and people wouldn’t figure it out.  Except they did figure it out because ours is a loving group of women who care that everyone gets fed, plus seconds.  When one woman insisted that I try the potato salad, I had to tell her why I, the carb-lover, wouldn’t.  With great empathy she told me of a time that he had fasted – an inopportune time, between Christmas and New Years – but that God had honoured that sacrifice.  She looked off in the distance that thanked me for reminding her about that very specific answer to prayer she received, which she didn’t feel necessary to disclose.  When people find out that I’m fasting, they often share their fasting stories which involves growing deeper in their walk with God and answers to prayer. I hope that I will remember this fast years from now and the way that God provides.
  • After the event, when our team was cleaning up and ready to leave, the prayer team carried on, interceding for those who would come to them with their problems and worries.  They were doing their own thing and I was happy to let them do it.  But the prayer team leader came outside to grab me before I left.  “We’d like you to come for prayer.  God laid it on my heart to pray for you with the team.”  While I believe entirely in the power of prayer and the prayer team made up of Godly woman, I will tell you that my first reaction was to put my guard up.  Do I need prayer?  I’m tired, it’s the end of a long day, can’t I just go home?  But they sat me down in the hot seat and eight beautiful ladies opened up to pray for me.  With hands laid on me, they asked aloud for my renewal and strength, direction and peace, wisdom and anticipation for the year ahead.  They prayed for me.  I don’t remember all their words, but their love made a huge impact.  I’ve never known this kind of prayer support before, but from now on I will seek it out.

Day 7 – On Sunday, all three pastors spoke on 1 Corinthians 4:20, a short little verse that packs a punch,  “For the kingdom of God is not in word but in power.”  I’ve been mulling over it after the pastors explained, respectively, the kingdom of God can only be entered through the cross, faith in Jesus Christ; it is an eternal kingdom that starts in now; the power is what happens when we put that faith into action.  I considered how when you dwell in this kingdom, when you claim full citizenship status, the cares of this world, while they still exist, also disappear.

Day 8 – On a mini road trip, I absent-mindedly asked one friend for a couple of the delicious grapes she had brought from home.   It was after 2 p.m.  Things got awkward for a moment when she reluctantly asked if I should.  When I got home, I made sure she was on my Close Friends list on Facebook.

Also, I received this brilliant word, by two-part Twitter feed no less:

Your prayer for your job is not merely that it be stable and prosperous, but that it truly serves the needs of society and that in all your labor and all your relationships your joy in Christ and your love for people would make a name for Jesus. (John Piper)

Naked and unashamed

Our women’s group decided to tackle the topic of love and sex in response to media coverage, especially leading up to Valentine’s Day.

Sex hasn’t been a popular topic of discussion in Christian circles.  God’s love, yes.  Sex between a man and a woman is a discussion to be avoided.  Marketing and media have had free reign to discuss sex and saturate our culture with their messages, with hardly a peep from the church.  Granted, we aren’t often able to get a word in edgewise as a Biblical viewpoint is no longer seen as credible, but we also haven’t done ourselves any favours.  Christians can be seen responding publicly with offence and lots of finger-wagging and verse-bombing.

But we need to talk about sex in the church because, guess what, God created it.  He even created orgasm. He meant it to be wonderful in the context of an intimate, God-honouring (and partner-honouring) marriage.  And no surprise here, it has been twisted and torn and turned into an obsession that leaves us feeling empty, devalued and broken.

Some things I’ve discovered from conversations with women of different shapes, sizes, ages and circumstances of life are:

  • We have all struggled with this issue.  We all have things we’re not proud of, that we regret. We have acted sexually in ways we wish we could take back.  Whether we’re married or single, we do not have it all together.
  • We are often governed by fear in this area.  We are taught to fear STIs and pregnancy when we engage in sex before marriage.  We’re afraid to get caught in extra-marital sex.  We’re afraid to leave bad relationships because of loneliness.  We seem to make our choices based on the “lesser of the evils” instead of making positive choices.
  • A lot of our poor understanding about sex comes from our upbringing.  Unhappy mothers said it was something to be “endured.”  Discontent fathers looked elsewhere for love.  We either discussed sex in whispers as a shameful act or witnessed parents who didn’t honour a marriage commitment.  No one to exemplify a great, fulfilling love left us with a lot of  questions and deep hurt.
  • We justify our actions by comparing ourselves to others.  This came up in our study that we always seem to be challenging the rules in this area – how far can we go without getting burned. It’s easy to do when we look around as see others doing “worse things” than we are.  This applies to everything from our thought life to our behaviour. We can easily reason our way into, out of or through anything.  But what are the consequences?
  • We have separated our sexual lives from our spiritual lives.  Do we pray to God about our sexual struggles?  Do we pray with others about it? Do we listen to what God has to say to us about it? Do we believe our thoughts or “secret habits” are hidden?  Do we cope with our issues when we try to do it on our own, or do we thrive with the help of the Holy Spirit?

What I learned from this study:

  • God has a better way. To follow God’s will is to know deep fulfillment on every level, even sexually.  To trust in the plan he has for us is to take any fear out of our decision-making. God created man and woman in the garden naked and unashamed.  From the moment that man and woman sinned in the garden, a barrier was created both spiritually, in their relationship with God, and sexually, in their relationship to each other.  They were naked and ashamed.  But through the power of Jesus, we can live life the way God intended, free from fear, free from condemnation, free from shame.  Why wouldn’t we choose this?

This study is extensive.  We hoped to tackle issues of lust, marriage, divorce, sex outside of marriage, homosexuality in 6 weeks.  What were we thinking?  Every point, every verse could be opened up and contemplated for hours.  This is officially a starting point.  We approach the topic now without fear, but excitement for the life-changing truths God will show us.

Let me quote a passage from The Message (a paraphrase of the Bible, 1 Corinthians 6:16-20), age-old scripture that is so poignant for our time.

There’s more to sex than mere skin on skin. Sex is as much spiritual mystery as physical fact. As written in Scripture, “The two become one.” Since we want to become spiritually one with the Master, we must not pursue the kind of sex that avoids commitment and intimacy, leaving us more lonely than ever—the kind of sex that can never “become one.” There is a sense in which sexual sins are different from all others. In sexual sin we violate the sacredness of our own bodies, these bodies that were made for God-given and God-modeled love, for “becoming one” with another. Or didn’t you realize that your body is a sacred place, the place of the Holy Spirit? Don’t you see that you can’t live however you please, squandering what God paid such a high price for? The physical part of you is not some piece of property belonging to the spiritual part of you. God owns the whole works. So let people see God in and through your body.