Friday, 30 August 2013

Annal 201: Tale from a New Beginning

Well... a lot has happened since I last wrote. 

I finished school (insert happy dance).

I worked some more with the electricians (insert happy dance).

I spent two weeks in Ontario visiting family I haven't seen in ages (insert happy dance).

Of those two weeks I got to spend 10 days with Charming (attempt to remove stupid grin plastered all over my face).

But something else happened over that time.

I began to think about this blog.  I began to think about the lack of purpose and drive I have felt in my writing.  I also started to think about the new direction my life is taking.  Which led me to a decision.

This is going to be my final post... for this blog.

But I'm not going anywhere.

This year I am in a new town, teaching high school, living away from my family, meeting new friends (and some old friends), and entering into my second year in a long distance relationship.

Obviously life will be anything but boring!

And so I have decided to create a new blog.  It's called "The Zany Teaching Adventures of Miss S."  I would love for those of you who followed and encouraged me through my Annals of a Christian Single and Tales of Beauty to join me on this next chapter.

I can promise you ample amounts of laughter.  And probably a few good cries as well.

Thank you to all of you who stuck with me--it has been an incredible experience!

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Annal 200: Tale from the Scare

I sleep in a basement.
I know.  Awesome way to start a blog post, right?

One of the perks of being not just an Auntie, but an Auntie who lives with her niece and nephew is the fact that I am privy to cuddles.  I used to sleep on the couch and every morning my niece would make her way downstairs and we would get about 10-15 minutes of quiet cuddles in before she would want me to get up.  On rare occasions my nephew would also show up by my bed on the couch.  The really interesting mornings were the ones when both of them wanted to cuddle with me on the couch!
The reason I tell you all this is that I am now in the basement.  Which means my niece and nephew don’t make it downstairs to cuddle with me all that often (okay, I have yet to get morning cuddles since I moved).  A few weeks ago I actually scared my poor niece.

It was the morning and I was making my way up the stairs.  Now, you need to keep in mind that I’m somewhat of a horror when I wake up.  My hair is sticking out of its knot, the shadows under my eyes that I usually conceal with make-up are now visual, and I’m wearing pajamas.  As I slowly and rather ungracefully ascend the stairs I reach for the doorknob at the top.  Before I can grasp it, it turns, the door opens, and my poor niece is standing there.
She screams.

And jumps back.
And stares at me with huge, terror-stricken eyes.

It isn’t that she wasn’t expecting to see me, it’s that this wasn’t the context she was expecting.  She had planned on coming down, seeing me asleep in my bed, and crawling under her.  This was the image in her six year old mind, and I ruined that.
Just fifteen minute ago something similar happened.  My youngest sister is spending the rest of the summer here until I’m done school (did I mention I have less than four weeks left before I am OFFICIALLY DONE?).  Now my little sister is pretty well the coolest Auntie ever.  She plays with the kids, she’s fun, she gives great cuddles (I still try to tell myself mine are better, but I think I’m only lying to myself), and so as a result the kids are pretty excited to have her around.  Last night she was bunking with me in the basement (or was supposed to.  I had a nightmare, woke up, turned to just see if she was there so I could draw comfort from her presence, and discovered she had moved up to the couch).

My internal clock is slowly getting back to its slightly earlier hours, so by six-thirty I was out of bed and getting ready to head for a short run.  I came home, sat in the living room (tossing the occasional dirty look at my sound-asleep sister on the couch), and read my Bible.  As I was reaching for my computer, intent on writing a blog post today but not really sure what I was going to write about, I heard footsteps coming from the second floor.  Rather than come into the living room once said steps reached the main floor, they went to the basement door, opened it, and went downstairs.  I tried to call for my niece, to tell her the Aunties were in here, but she didn’t hear me.  She was intent on her mission—find her cool Auntie and cuddle with her.  I could hear her looking around the basement and then making her way back up here.  I called to her again.  This time she heard me. 
“Where’s Auntie?” she asked me (is this where I add that my name has always been “Auntie” but that I have been usurped?  But I’m not bitter :P)

I directed her to the couch where she joined my sleeping sister and the two of them cuddled.
Why am I telling you all of this?

On my run this morning I was listening to some older David Crowder music (I don’t own any of his new stuff... something to add to my list of things to buy when I have money!).  His song “O Praise Him” really caught my attention, specifically the second verse. 
Turn your gaze
To heaven and raise
A joyous sound

This probably doesn’t strike all of you as being all that awe-inspiring, but you don’t know where I’m living right now.  Chilliwack is in a valley and is completely surrounded by mountains.  The views is breath-takingly stunning.  The morning sun casts a glow over the world as it peeks over the tips of the peaks.  I love it.  As I heard these lines, I couldn’t help but turn my gaze to the heavens.  Yes, I even let out a joyous noise (good thing no one else was out running this morning).
But being surrounded by the beauty of my Creator did more than turn my eyes upward.  They turned them toward God Himself.  I didn’t come home with anything to share, I simply came home with an awareness that God is present.  That He is holy.  That He is God.

Sometimes (actually, let’s be honest, a lot of the time), we are like my niece.  We come looking for God and we want Him the way we want Him.  We have a plan in our heads of how life is going to work out.  And often times God surprises us.  Sometimes it’s like my niece coming downstairs with her intention to cuddle with me, only to open a door and discover I’m coming up toward her.  And this can scare us.
You can ask any of my friends—I’m the queen of making plans.  I have everything figured out in my head and have a plan in place to carry it out.  And then God changes things.  Sometimes He throws a Charming into the mix.  Other times he throws a job in BC into the mix.  These are not bad changes, not by any stretch of the imagination (I have already started planning for teaching next year and am so excited to have my own classes, and I definitely wouldn’t trade my Charming in for anyone/anything).  But they are changes.  And they are unexpected.

Other times I think we are so intent on doing things our way that we ignore it when God does try to get our attention.  My niece wanted to cuddle with my sister.  She knew me sister was supposed to be sleeping in the basement.  So she went to the basement.  She was so focused that she didn’t hear me calling her back, trying to tell her that we were all in the living room.  My niece didn’t get into trouble or get hurt or have anything bad happen as a result of her trip to the basement.  But she was a little confused when things didn’t turn out the way she had intended them to.  It took her going back up the stairs to hear me and to come.
So those are my thoughts this Sunday morning. 

Friday, 28 June 2013

Annal 199: Tale from "Blessings"

Sometimes I wish, more than anything, that I could strike the word “blessings” from Christian vocabulary.

It’s not that it is a bad word.  And I know lots of people who use it because they genuinely mean it.  But for many Christians it has become the go-to phrase when you can’t think of anything else to say.  “Oh crap, this person just poured out their heart to me and I don’t know what to say... umm... ‘God bless you!’”

Now I know that sounds harsh, and the truth is that I use the phrase too.  But over the last few years I have tried really hard to only use it when I truly mean it and to really think about the context in which I am using it.  I will never forget emailing with one of the people who had fired my mom two years ago.  We had been good friends at one point, but over the period of a year or so had drifted out of contact.  All I remember is the very platonic email that ended with a “Blessings.”

I almost threw my computer across the room.

I read something today though that made me think of the real reason I often wish we could get rid of the word “blessings.”

I have been reading Ross Douthat’s book Bad Religion: How we became a Nation of Heretics and it chronicles the rise of various heresies in the United States (thought it applies to more places than just there) throughout the 20th century and into the 21st.  The last few chapters have touched on ways heresy crept into both the Protestant and Catholic churches during the 1960s-1980s.  And that has been fascinating.

But today I got a little angry.

Today I started the chapter on the prosperity gospel.

I have talked before about my frustrations with this particular heresy before.  And today I think what hit me the most is that the reason this one makes me so angry is because this one has directly affected me.  Much of this was what was preached at me on youth retreats, at youth camps, and yes, sometimes right from the pulpit.

And this is where I come to my reasoning about the word “blessings.”  As Douthat puts it, the prosperity gospel is the idea that “God wants nothing more than to shower riches on believers.”  This also ties into the word faith or “name it and claim it” belief.  Douthat describes the belief behind this being centred around the following idea.  He says, “After all, what did Jesus’ career represent if not the triumph of the spiritual over the physical, of divine mind over earthly matter?  What was Christian prayer, in the end, but a quest to bring the individual soul into alignment with God’s purposes?  ‘If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed,’ Jesus told his disciples, ‘you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea’; and it would obey you.’  Wasn’t this a suggestion that true Christians should be able to bed the universe to their purposes through spiritual exertions alone?”

I still remember being told at a youth camp one summer, “God wants you to have that good parking spot close to the store entrance.  You just need to call it forth in Jesus’ name and it is your spot.”

Yup.  Cool right (sorry... I will try to stop the sarcasm).  I just remember my parents trying to convince me that this was not the way to do things after camp.

Later Douthat goes on to say that the prosperity gospel “preserves orthodox Christianity’s emphasis on prayers, miracles, and divine actions—on a God who loves and cares and intervenes—while avoiding anything too medieval or visceral-seeming... Everyday blessings and ordinary triumphs are the miracles... that promotion, that new car, that long-awaited child or family reconciliation—they’re all instances of divine providence responding to your petitions, and holding up heaven’s end of the bargain Jesus made.”

Now some of this doesn’t sound so bad.  Learning to see God’s hand in the little, everyday parts of your life is not a bad thing.  There are two things about this that really do frustrate me though.

The first is the idea that all of this is based on our petitions and our prayers.  The problem with this is that when we don’t get our healings or our raises, it is because we didn’t pray hard enough, didn’t believe hard enough, didn’t have enough faith.  When things don’t go smoothly it is because we aren’t praying enough or aren’t spiritual enough.  When we went through cancer with my mom five years ago our family had to struggle with that.  Had we made a mistake?  Was my mom facing cancer because we didn't have enough faith?

The second is the belief that “blessings” typically mean financial blessings. If you’re serving God then He wants to give you that private jet.  That promotion. 

This has been a hard year.  I have been humbled more than I can ever begin to describe.  I have always been able to pay my own way, and this year I had to borrow money from my parents.  I almost had to take a change of sequence in my schooling because I didn’t know if I would be able to afford my school.  My cousin’s son committed suicide in December.  I was rear-ended my first week of school.  I have been living in a strange place away from most of my friends, the majority of my family, and four provinces away from Charming who I only get to see once every 2-3 months.

You could tell me all of this happened because I haven’t prayed enough.  Or maybe I haven’t been a “good enough Christian.”

But despite this, I would say I am blessed.  I have had incredible experiences this year.  I had an amazing practicum.  I have been able to spend time near my brother and his family.  I have a boyfriend who is not just willing to date me while we live so far apart, but takes time for me every day.  I have family and friends who talk to me, love me, and walk with me through all of this.

It has been hard, but I would definitely say I am “blessed.”

I suppose this is more of a rant than anything else.  But I’m tired of hearing that you need to serve God because then you will be “blessed.”  That God wants to give you your “best life now” (I have tried hard not to mention Joel Osteen, one of the major faces of the prosperity gospel, but there you have it) and that having that “best life” means you will have lots of money and your life will run smoothly.

I’m tired of people thinking that if things aren’t going the way they think they should go that means that God doesn’t love them, or they haven’t prayed enough.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Annal 198: Tale from the Wind

I have what you might call a love-hate relationship with the wind.  Some days, it seems as if the wind is blowing perfectly, stirring the imagination and bathing the soul.

Other times, it seems like its sole purpose is to disrupt everything you have worked hard to keep in order.

This is one of those posts that I don't really like to write.  Because the Wind has been blowing quite strong lately, and while there have been moments of peaceful caresses, it has mainly been a deconstructing of all I have worked to build.

I have been made aware of something this year that, while I always knew, I tried to deal with it on the surface in hopes that it would go away.  Most of you who know me or who have read this blog for any amount of time probably won't be too shocked by this.

I deal with a fair bit of insecurity.

Yeah, I know.  I can hear your gasps of shock.

The reason I hate to admit to this, is because I feel like I always deal with insecurity.  I was insecure about my body, insecure about my personality, insecure about school, insecure about a job... insecure about everything.  And I thought that last year God took away my insecurity.  I felt confident in who I was in Him.  But in the last week, I have been made incredibly aware of the fact that my insecurity goes deeper than just feeling unsure of how I look. 

I have watched my insecurity turn my into a self-pitying, crying mess.  I have watched it infiltrate my dreams.  I have watched it awaken me throughout the night.

Now if I were to be honest, I would have to say this insecurity really shows its head about once a month (draw your own conclusions).  And because this is when I am usually made aware of it then, I brush it off as simply being PMS.

Today I went for a walk.  An honest-to-goodness-phone-put-to-silent-date-with-God kind of a walk.

And it was a little windy.  Not windy enough to drive me inside, but cool enough to keep me from ever being fully comfortable.  I couldn't completely relax.  I couldn't find the peace that used to accompany these walks.

I started off by talking to God.  And then I realized that everything I was telling Him I have said before.  And then I was pretty sure I heard Him say, "Just walk with me."  So I shut my mouth and walked.

The wind kept blowing.  I kept fighting back some tears.  But in the silence something was being done to my heart.

Life is a little unsure for me right now.  I'm somewhat of a homeless nomad.  I live in the homes of the people I love, but I don't really have my own home.  So I'm unsettled.  I have a job for next year, which is fantastic, but it is also a year of being away from the guy I love and want to be with.  There is so much uncertainty, that all I want is for something to be certain.  To be steady.

To be true.

I tried to remember lessons from the past.  But to be honest, that wasn't where I needed to be.  God was doing something in my present.  As I walked through the neighborhood, I thought of what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10:

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Paul spends the time before this passage and after it talking about his weaknesses.  And talking about how ultimately it has been his weaknesses that have allowed God's strength to shine through.

I paused in my walk at a park, and sat one a little stone wall.  The wind calmed down a bit, and instead of being cold and uncomfortable, I was embraced.  I asked God to take away my insecurity, but I also accepted that fact that this could be something I struggle with for all of my life.  That doesn't mean I allow it to cripple me, it means that I allow Him to show His strength through it.  There have been times when I have felt quite low, and I hear God talking me through it, speaking truth into the lies that I'm allowing myself to be told.  Lately I stopped listening to Him.

And that was wrong of me.

I was talking with a friend the other night about the idea of being self-aware of our flaws.  We were talking about how often it seems like God allows everything to culminate into an unbearable mess that causes so much hurt.

Which led me to a revelation.

We humans tend to not want to change.  And we are very likely to not change if we don't feel pain.  I don't think God likes to see us hurt, but I also think that we are not very good at listening to his urges when there is no cost to ourselves.  I don't realize that the way I am running, or where I run, is hurting me until I spend a day with my knee in constant pain.  That pain is my indicator that I need to change something.  Ignoring the pain doesn't make it go away--it compounds it.

I would love it if God would take away my insecurities.  But I am also aware that this is something that may never go away.  I'm not content though.  I am not going to lie down and let insecurity overtake me.  I'm going to turn to the One who made me, who holds me in His hand, who controls the wind.

I'm going to let Him be my strength.

Because when I am weak, then I am strong.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Annal 197: Tale from a Heavy Heart

You know, I have sat down so many times over the last four weeks to write this post, and despite numerous ideas, nothing has really seemed to flow.  I could tell you all about the full-time teaching position that I have for next year, and how as excited as I am for this job it also sucks because it is in BC... which means Charming and I are doing another year of long distance.  I could tell you about the flowers I was sent after making this decision and how I'm a dork who keeps a petal from one of the red roses and from one of the white roses in my Bible.  I could regale you tales of working with the electricians again for three weeks, about lugging around 50-pound 8-foot long light fixtures and the bruises that covered my legs.  I could talk about the battle with insecurity over the last few weeks, the end of my long practicum, and life thus far living my brother and his family, how my life is infused with kid cuddles.

And each time I have sat down to write, one of those stories has been the centre idea.

It is also Mother's Day, so I could talk about my incredible mother, and touch on all of the other wonder moms that I know and love.

But today I just can't do it.

This morning I woke up sick to my stomach and all I could do was pray.

Tuesday morning, Charming sent me a text asking for prayer.  I don't know how many of you have heard about Tim Bosma from Ancaster who went missing Monday night.  Charming actually knows Tim.  They are from the same church and Tim had been friends with Charming's older brother growing up.  So all week I have been thinking of Sharlene, Tim's wife, my thoughts and prayers directed her way.

And today I find that all I want to do is weep.  Tim is still missing.  So it's Mother's Day, and here is a mother and wife who is without her husband.

I know this post is shorter than most, but I'm asking that all of you would join me in praying for the Bosma family.  Pray for strength, for comfort, for peace, and for the safe return of this man to the family that needs him.