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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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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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.

Prayer and Fasting – Day 30

For want of an hour a blog was lost.

I have five posts floating in my head waiting to be fastened to the blog.  For now they’ll have to keep floating as I have offered to help a desperate friend with a moving sale at her bead store for the next two weeks.  Yesterday was my training day.  I said a lot of, “Bear with me, I’m new,” after saying, “Did you know the store is moving locations?”  I’m hoping the 10-50 percent off sales will persuade people to put up with all the inconvenient news I’m delivering.

This working for a living is hard stuff.  I was on my feet for eight solid hours yesterday.  And guess who’s the idiot who wore heels?  Plus I used up my word quota within the first two hours.  Rookie move, I’d made plans with friends after work.  They graciously kept the conversation going while wondering if I was ticked at them for no apparent reason.  (Sorry Chels!  Sorry Kim!  I can move my lips again and not in the sneer I thought was a smile.)

Today, I get to be on my own for the afternoon.  It’s actually a lot of fun.  I love hearing about this customer’s wedding in October (bridesmaids will be wearing eggplant), and this teacher’s summer plans, and this gal’s creative projects on the go. I forgot how much I love interacting with customers!  But keep in mind, today’s Day Two!  I may change my tune by sundown.

As for my fast, it’s ongoing and habitual.  I’ve found it’s easy now to only eat two meals and to ignore the hunger cravings.  Prayer has become reactionary now in most situations, which I’m thrilled about.  My one struggle is that I seem to run out of time each day, unable to spend long amounts of time in conversation with God.  Whether I’ve been working at the store or for other reasons, my days have become full.  I see that I didn’t make it the priority it needed to be each day – first and foremost – and so over the past week it has been bumped off the calendar when other things have “come up.”  I must now get up a little earlier to rectify that. I notice the difference – a big one – when I miss that concentrated time with God.

And although some parts are getting “easier,” I miss the struggle of the fast that it was in the beginning.  I have all kinds of thoughts about that, about how there is great joy and privilege in wrestling and in struggling when you commit that to him. God blesses you with wisdom and peace in the midst of it.

Right now, though, I have to wrestle on a pair of flats and get my butt out the door.  Day Two, here I come!

Unemployed – Day Two

I’ve written too many Day One entries whether on a blog or in a journal, full of enthusiasm and optimism for specialized goals I’ve conjured up for myself, only to find that on Day Two the spirit wanes and the resolve weakens. I remember writing about homeschooling the girls in Ghana on Day One.  Something along the lines of, “Look how organized I am!  Look how well-behaved my kids are!  Look how much we’re getting done!”  You can only imagine what Days Two – 500 looked like.

In order to avoid the Day Two denial stage, I’ve added an accountability option – to tell you about it.

So, to explain, despite the title, this is not Day Two of my being unemployed (I think we’re on Day 92. I’m not even technically unemployed.), nor is it Day Two of a job search in earnest.  Ah heck, why didn’t I just name this post, “Loreli – Day 14,023”?

Because. This is Day Two of a 40-day self-prescribed fast/quest to hear from God about where he is leading me, as far as my employment situation is concerned.   Right now I would technically call myself “underemployed.”  I wish to be fully employed, as in certain and disciplined about how I occupy my time each day, hopefully resulting in a pay cheque in my bank account. Although that is not my primary motivation; that’s my husband’s.

During these 40 days, I intend to spend a lot of time clearing out the detritus of my heart in order to hear God more clearly.  I feel like my head is fuzzy, full of stuff I want to do, can do, must do! Plans! Ideas! What ifs!  But there’s no clarity of vision.

I’ve been feeling a little lost since making the final decision to sell my business.  My reasons were valid – not burn-out, not loss of interest in the business, but an understanding that God was pulling me deeper into ministry.  I feel this call, it’s just undefined at the moment.  When something you feel so deeply is undefined, you get a little restless.  I believe that if you were to rev the engine in your car, plus your car had no wheels, it might feel something like this.

I find myself in this no man’s land of wanting to work, but not willing to compromise.  That’s a dangerous place.  I honestly worry that I might do something stupid in my eagerness to get a move on.  I’m already a ministry hog, leading women’s ministry, doing communications for our missions project, managing social media for a few different organizations, plus the assemblage of duties one acquires as a “Pastor’s Wife.” Plus, hello, I blog.  Besides this personal one, I write a weekly blog for our denomination, which gives me technical “employed” status.

Here’s the thing: if I am excited about what you’re doing and I can get involved, I most definitely will.  The dangerous part is that I overbook and overwork myself and miss out on what’s important: listening to God’s voice, spending time with my family, making meaningful connections, and Sabbath.

In her book, 7, Jen Hatmaker talks about fasting.  I agree with her findings.

According to scripture, fasting was commanded or initiated during one of six extreme circumstances:

  • Mourning
  • Inquiry
  • Repentance
  • Preparation
  • Crisis
  • Worship

I believe my circumstances fit into the category of Inquiry – which we Canadians spell enquiry, so I’ll make that small change – which involves me asking God a lot of “What about…?” questions.  More so, this is about Preparation. I believe God is preparing me for… something.  That’s all I’ve got for now.  But I know from experience that at the end of a period of uncertainty or crisis, we can usually  look back and say, “So that’s what this was all about!”

Fasting increases my reliance on and desire for God. My physical hunger alerts me to my spiritual hunger.

I just want to home in on what God has in the works.  I want to be a part of his plan, not the other way around.

Just so you don’t worry that this is a hunger strike,I will only be skipping supper.  I won’t eat after 2 p.m.  As provider for our family and cooker of our meals, my husband is so annoyed by this.  I did this for Lent and he felt like he was forced to fast too, from my company, because it was just him and the girls at the dinner table each night.  So I’ve made some changes, that I will still sit with the family and engage in conversation as we usually do – and it can’t be about my wishing I could eat.  I will have one day a week where I will eat supper (which will be Fridays).

I feel it has to be a supper thing because that’s where the hunger hits the hardest.  I want to eat the most then.  There’s the proviso that the family feels this is an imposition on them, I will change my fast to suit their needs.  Next option is giving up Diet Coke, so I’m really hoping this supper thing works out.

These 40 days are about hearing from God.

Just today, I had a few interesting nudges.  Check this out.

We should take the stigma out of being unemployed so that people won’t have to say they have a blog.
-Andy Borowitz

OK, I just found that incredibly funny in a nervous laughter kind of way, since I do tell people I blog when they ask me what I do, which they always ask.  And I always hope they don’t think I’m as delusional as I might actually be.

For real though. I struggle like most people with where I find my worth.  Blogging falls short.  So this was timely:

So you want first place? Then take the last place. Be the servant of all.
Jesus (Mark 9:35)

I don’t even hardly know what that means, but I want to. I think it’s a Best Kept Secret about fulfillment and purpose.

If you’re a fellow believer on this path that we travel, seeking God’s will, I would love you to walk with me.  I’d sure appreciate your prayers if you feel so inclined.  I intend to write about the experience.  Writing helps me process my thoughts.  Writing keeps me accountable. Writing will help me work through Days Two – 40.

No stranger to these parts

I have been blogging for over six years.  I jumped on the bandwagon in September ’05 with an apologetic first entry, sorry that I hadn’t adopted the trend earlier, not unlike Baby Boomers and The Facebook.

I was an almost-daily blogger for the years 2006-2008 when my husband and I, with our two daughters, moved to Ghana, West Africa to establish a mission partnership with our sister church there.  After realizing that cross-cultural work is much harder than those triumphant missionary biographies would have you believe (see Jackie Pullinger for details), I found it cathartic to tell my story of day-to-day living in Africa to the internet.

The Silent Years were when we returned to Canada to change my husband’s job description from “Missionary” to “Pastor.”  As faithful a listener as the internet had been, I didn’t feel up to processing my intense reverse culture shock so publicly.  You would have enjoyed some of the stories, though.  Like the time, at the peak of it, at a girly get-together, I listened to my friends’ oh-so-dogmatic opinions about whether one should find out the sex of their baby before he/she is born.  I might have thought “Blah… blah… blah…” OUT LOUD.  And we had at least 12 seconds of uninterrupted, awkward silence.  Sitcom Gold.

I kept trying to write, even got a nudge in that direction when I was published in a small Christian magazine. I tried opening a new blog (right here), but I was uninspired and my posts sporadic.

Instead, I started a Fair-Trade business.  For 3 1/2  years, I built a business importing beads, baskets and batik from my friends back in Ghana.  A large part of my job was marketing the products by talking about the resourcefulness and ingenuity of the Ghanaian people, which inevitably opened a way for me to speak of my experiences.  I may have gained friends of customers by over-disclosing.

As of last week, I have sold the business and have an itch to fire up the old blog.  I’ve gained some new experiences in my recent roles as a business owner, (reluctant) Pastor’s Wife, (enthusiastic) Women’s Ministry Leader, (reluctant and enthusiastic) mother of two girls entering their teens.

As I approach middle age–I’ve been trying out this term  since I recently had to move a product away from my face to read the fine print.  Horrifying.–I’m reflecting on my life experiences: the different jobs I’ve had, the places I’ve been, where God has led my husband and I in ministry and our relationships… They seem so varied it’s hard to see where or how they might  be channeled for use in the future.

The way I see it, there are two things that link my past experiences and my new adventures.  The first is an absolute peace that God is working out the details, just as he promises.  The second is that I can write about them.