Operation: Recipe Swap Status Update

It may seem like my Operation: Recipe Swap (herein “ORS”) posts have been lagging.  This is true.  I have many excusesreasons.  This  hierarchy of concerns has been on my mind, showed up in my shoulders and possibly affected my immune system.  How have I dealt with these priorities, the grandest of which is a half-finished Wesleyan theology paper due at the end of the month?  I’ve effectively procrastinated myself down to the lowest determinant on my TO DO list.

I find myself polishing my mirrors and plucking my eyebrows a lot lately in order to avoid finishing the things of utmost importance.   This means that hardly anything of intermediate value gets attended to.  But I’m working my way up! My windows are so clean, I am now forced to blog. I’ll finish the paper… tomorrow. Continue reading

Travelling Titles

Too many people have said to me, You know you’re going to Costa Rica during rainy season, right?  I’ve taken it that they are concerned, not cruel, so I asked J-M what he’s read about the rainy season in all the 11 travel books from which he’s received a complete education.

It would seem that most days it will rain, but not till the afternoon or evening. The amount of rainfall varies depending on the region you’re in.  Since we’ll be all over the map, we can assume that we will, indeed, experience rainfall.  The country isn’t Costa Sol, it’s Costa Rica.  This might be the first tropical trip I’ve taken where I’ll return less tanned than when I left.  Anyway, this trip is meant to be a retreat and an adventure, rain or shine.

I’ve decided to bring lots to read for those rainy days.  I went out and bought 11 books of my own!  Not travel books on Costa Rica, mind you, but still 11!  J-M calculated out loud that that would be more than one book a day during our trip. I can take a hint so I whittled it down to these five titles (that’s 2.2 per day and don’t forget there are a couple of long plane rides in there) which I think will be the perfect travelling companions:

Costa Rican Spanish, by Lonely Planet – (This is actually the sixth book and it doesn’t totally count because it will mostly be used when we venture out when it’s not raining.) I have been going all Dora the Explorer on my family, practicing my limited Spanish phrases (learned on a short-term mission trip to Bolivia in 1991 = inaccurate). I’m happy to confirm that counting to ten, asking, “Where is the bathroom?” and saying “Thank you!” remain the same.  However, a Costa Rican distinctive includes the phrase Pura Vida! (pure life) which is used to ask “Everything fine?” and “How’s it going?” and also say, “Great!”  “Cool!” “Right on!” etc.  Dora has never been so hip!

Rumors of God, by Darren Whitehead and Jon Tyson – The tag line is “Experience the kind of faith you’ve only heard about.”  Bought this on sale at Treasure House earlier this year. I’m hoping to be renewed on this holiday by a book like this because I completely believe in those rumours.

She Writes – This is a collection of short stories written by “youngish women.”  That and it’s $2 price sticker drew me in.

The Conde Nast Traveler, Book of Unforgettable Journeys, Great Writers on Great Places – Self-explanatory.

At Home, A Short History of Private Life, by Bill Bryson – Again with the sales! This one, 50% off.   He’s written some travel books.  He’s supposed to be funny.  This I heard in the bookstore when someone else was contemplating buying a Bryson book and his friend had read a bunch and had never been disappointed.  In this book, Bryson takes us on travels of a different kind, around his own house.  This will be my inspiration when I write in detail about the inside of our hotel rooms.

Bad Trips – another collection of stories, another travelling book, but this is of “worst trips possible.”  It will make me feel better if we really are trapped in torrential downpours for the whole 10 days. Perhaps even give me something to write about myself since “The only aspect of our travels that is guaranteed to hold an audience is disaster…” (Martha Gellhorn).

Bring it, rain.  Pura vida!

Anticipating a Costa Rican Anniversary Adventure

In just one week, John-Mark and I will be going to Costa Rica to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary.

Before you go saying how romantic this is, I would also like to point out that John-Mark purchased our accommodations via wag jag (sketchy) and we’re not even going to bother about our transportation till we get there (cheeky).  This, my friends, is an ADVENTURE.

I know next to nothing about Costa Rica.  I’ve heard of two other people who have travelled there before and one person who ran a resort that went bankrupt (didn’t sell enough wag jag coupons?).

I know that Costa Rica is located in Central America.  I know that it is hot and humid and we’re visiting during rainy season.  I’ve heard that the wildlife is “quite something,” which scares me more than excites me about the trip.  I know they speak Spanish.  This is the extent of my knowledge.  Typical dwellings? Cuisine?  Handicrafts? Clothing? Music?  No clue!  But can’t wait to find out!

John-Mark, on the other hand, checked out every travel guide the library had – 11 seems right – and read them cover to cover.  He would have checked out 12, but one was out on loan by another patron of the library.  However, John-Mark was sure to put number 12 on hold, to be notified for immediate pick up.   I forbade him to check it out.  11 was enough.  More than enough.  If he read that 12th travel book, he would no longer need to visit Costa Rica.  I would go without him.

He knew that was an empty threat since I have no idea where I’d be going or how to get there.  Still, he was kind enough to remove the hold.

I love the idea of going in “cold” and discovering Costa Rica, as shown to me by the country herself.  This is the opposite of our regular Ghana excursions, as we are always trying our best to understand cultural practices and to pass them on to others who visit for the purpose and benefit of our partnership.

But this trip is not to Ghana and it is not a mission trip.  Crazy, eh?!  This will be the first vacation that J-M and I have spent alone together since our honeymoon.  We plan to do nothing for 10 days but explore Costa Rica, relax, read lots and… other private stuff.

I am anticipating that time will slow down a little.  That might be unrealistic?   It will be just us and no real agenda.  I am bringing my camera and my laptop.  J-M is letting me write while we are there.  I can pretend I’m a travel journalist and let you know about some of my discoveries.  Maybe I’ll make friends with a monkey.  You’ll want to know about that.  John-Mark would check that out at the library.

I have no idea if we’ll have WiFi because I have no idea where we are staying.  J-M said we’re travelling from the mountains to the rainforest to the coast to the city.  Sounds perfect to me.

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 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

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.