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.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Annal 196: Tale from Undead Eyes, Blossoming Trees, and Unconditional Love

It's Friday morning (yes, I'm aware that I'm writing and posting this on a Saturday night, but for the sake of this story, pretend it is Friday morning.  Please).  It is the final Friday of your teaching practicum and for the first time in over two months you are running late (and by "running later" I mean you are only going to get to the school forty-five minutes before class starts... not two hours).  Your eyes feel as though they could close for eternity.  The skin of your face feels tight, like butter spread over too much bread (because quoting Bilbo makes you feel better), and as you glance in your rearview mirror you catch a glimpse of your reflection that sends tremors through your being.  The shadows you worked so hard to disguise only an hour earlier have been washed clean by your recently-shed tears, causing the resemblance that has been growing all semester between you the zombies from The Walking Dead to become undeniably apparent.
This glimpse is all it takes.  Your exhausted eyes begin to fill with tears yet again and as you take a deep breath to try to quell their shedding, the breath turns into a shudder and the tears break loose.
You try to regain control.  You try to pray.
All you can utter is, "God, I can't do this."
Your body feels weak as you maneuver your car onto the highway. All you want to do is turn around, crawl back into your small, hard, uncomfortable bed, burrow into the blankets, and disappear from the world.
Instead you keep driving.
Just as your eyes feel like they are going to glaze over your breath catches in your throat.
It's spring on the West coast, and this means not only that it rains only slightly less than in the winter but that the trees are blossoming.  And by blossoms I mean branches laden with gorgeous, pale pink blooms.
(if only I was also travelling down a fence-lined dirt lane too)
"I love you."
I'm fairly certain those were the words being uttered to me as I took on the view.
And with their utterance I felt that peace.  That perfect peace that passes understanding.
Now for some context :)
As I have mentioned before, my full-immersion practicum is done.  Right now is my "phase-out" period, where I hand back the reins to my mentor teachers and go back to being an observer.  Should be stress-free, right?
I think we have established the fact that I don't sleep particularly well.  And for the last two weeks my sleep has been plagued with "school dreams"--the ones where you are doing everything wrong.  The kind of dreams that make you wake up in the morning convinced you are going to fail your practicum (even though you know that you aren't going to fail).  This week was my final exam conference.  You see, I had to write a final report about my practicum experience and how I have grown, my Faculty Associate had to write a report, and my two School Associates had to write a report.
Even though I knew I passed, I was still nervous.
My conference went better than I could have expected.  I received some pretty high praise.  My one SA told me that while he has had other student teachers, and they were all good, none of them had teaching in their DNA.  He said I was born to teach.  I'm the first student teacher my other SA has had and he said I set the bar really high.  My FA told him he hit the jackpot by getting me.
Incredible, right?  I had to try not to break down in front of these three men as they said this.
So my nerves should have been set aright.  Right?
But they weren't.
Because now that this one hurdle has been crossed, I have to cross the next.
I need a job.
I'm moving to Ontario in four months (yikes... that is coming fast)... and it would be wonderful if I had a way to support myself.
At this moment in time there isn't anything I can do about that.  But that doesn't change the fact that I felt immense stress over this issue.
I also got hit with a massive car bill and I had to ask my parents for help.  I was so proud of the fact that I was able to make it through this semester without asking them for financial aid (last semester was pretty humbling for me with respects to that).
So by Friday morning I'm feeling about as stressed as I can feel.  And I'm trying really hard not to vent to anyone about it because I figure no one really wants to hear about it, and most of my friends/family are also stressed, so they don't need me dumping on them (poor Charming... he didn't get the dumping but he definitely got my mood... but more on that later).
As I'm getting ready to head out the door my Mom calls me.  What ensues is about a twenty minute phone call where I finally let loose.  And my Mom proves to be incredibly understanding.  She sends me a hug via the phone and prays with me.  And with that I'm rushing out the door, no time to fix my now broken face.
I'm sure I could go into more detail, but this is getting long enough as it is.
The point is, the beauty of these trees began to break through all of the stress, fear, and hurt that I was harbouring.  I knew God was trying to get my attention.  You see, I wasn't even fully confiding in Him about all I was feeling.  I would tell Him snippets, and then I would stop.  I don't know why, I just know this is what I did.  So instead God got moody silence from me
Kind of like how poor Charming couldn't say anything this week without me taking some sort hurt from it (I keep hoping that he didn't fully notice and just assumed that some of my biting replies were merely sarcasm... the one perk of a relationship where most of our communication is through writing?).  By the time I got to my school I was beginning to realize all that I had put him and God through this week.  Both of them received an apology.
After school I drove out to my brother's place for the weekend (had to get my car fixed).  Along the way I was struck by how lush everything was.  The trees had far more buds on them than they had even a week ago.  It was rainy, but the sky was a dark, foreboding grey that cries out to every creative bone in my body.  I could tell this was having some sort of an effect on me, but still didn't know to what extent.
That night Charming went out of his way to let me know he cared.  Which in a way made me feel worse.  But it also made me better understand something I don't think I fully understood before.
God loves me unconditionally.
I have honestly been a mess emotionally this week (can't even blame PMS).  It has been over things out of my control, things I can't do anything about, and maybe that is why they have bothered me to such an extent.
I wouldn't have blamed Charming if he decided he wanted nothing to do with me.  Many are the times I lament my emotionalism and wish I could trade it for a calm, collected rationalism.  Instead he was patient and cared for me.
Kind of like how God gave me the blossoming trees and foreboding sky.
God took the beauty of nature to remind me that despite my craziness and despite the unknown that lies before me, He still loves me.  He took the beauty of Charming's words and time to remind me of His own unconditional love.
Despite my resembling a member of the undead horde, God wooed me.  Despite the fact that I was trying to keep my worries and fears from Him (silly, I know) and wasn't talking to Him, God wooed me.
He is continually taking what I would call my un-beauty and is reminding me that in His eyes I'm still beautiful.  He still loves me.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Annal 195: Tale from a Wretched Treasure

I know.

It has been a while.

As in longer than a usual while.

You have my sincerest apologies.


You see, after my last post I was plunged into the most stressful part of my long practicum.  That finished about two weeks ago and I have been enjoying that luxury known as "Spring Break."  I would have written sooner, but Charming came out for a week long visit, and I'm afraid I wasn't willing to spend what little time we get together on a computer.  Not even if it meant writing a post that I'm sure all of you have just been biting your nails with anticipation over.  Because people are just that into my blog :P

But that is not the only reason I haven't written in a while.  For the last 5 or 6 weeks I have had so many ideas circulating through my mind, but none of them have quite seemed complete.  I have talked to people, done reading, looked at pictures... but I could not seem to draw the connection between all of my numerous thoughts.

Then came my drive to church this morning.  You see, I'm visiting my brother and his family, and the drive to their church takes you through glorious farmland surrounded by rolling hills and mountain peaks in the distance.  It has been gloriously hot weather (for March anyway), and the sunshine is breathtaking.  Yet this beauty was not what  caught my attention.  While thoroughly enjoying this beauty, I have to be honest and say that my mind was more concerned with missing Charming (I put him back on a plane on Tuesday, and now have to wait a few more months before our next visit).  I finally pulled my thoughts away and decided to focus on the fact that it is Good Friday.

Last year I didn't get to go to a Good Friday service.  I had class late the night before so my sister and I drove back home the Friday morning.  So my thoughts went back to two years ago.  What I remembered shocked me.

Two years ago was the Easter after my Mom was fired.  It marked the beginning of a year and a half long journey through forgiveness.  I hadn't even started blogging at that point.

My mind started thinking about that journey of forgiveness.  If you had told me two years ago that God was going to take something that left me so hurt, rejected, and angry, and was going to somehow bring beauty from it, I honestly don't think I would have believed you.  Two years ago forgiveness didn't seem like an option.  One year ago it was a possibility but still something incredibly difficult to deal with.  While I will be the first to confess that I still deal with cynicism, that there are some parts of church that will get my back up, I can also confess that I am not the same person today that I was two years ago.  God has changed me.  He has taken something that was twisted and hurt and angry, and made something beautiful out of it.

There is this house near Fort Langley that a good friend and I love to drive by.  It is red, abandoned, and nestled in the middle of a field.

This house catches my attention every time I see it.  I wonder at the story of it.  Why was it abandoned?  What happened within its walls? 

Most importantly, how did a house like this come to be so rich in beauty?  How does it grab your attention and draw you in? 

During the service today we sung the song "How Deep the Father's Love for Us."  Here is the first verse:

How deep the Father's love for us,
How vast beyond all meaure.
That he should give His only Son,
To make a wretch His treasure.

As we sung these words I could feel something within me stop. 

I am such a wretch.  Lately I have become more and more aware of this.  One thing I have noticed with being in a relationship is that I suddenly become far more aware of my flaws.  I would love to tell you that dating someone means you always feel great about yourself.  But the truth is that I have become far more aware of just how human I am.  Specifically, I begin to realize my shortcomings when it comes to my relationship with God.  And in that process I realize just how incredibly patient He is.

I am such a wretch.

And yet the Father's love is so great, so measureless, that He gave His Son to make me His treasure.  He takes me, a wretched, imperfect creature, and somehow He makes something beautiful out of my life.  He takes a wretch and makes it a treasure.

This process is not always fun.  Sometimes I get to spend time basking in God's love.  Sometimes He spends time telling me He loves me and that He finds me beautiful.

Other times He draws attention to my faults.  He shows me that while I have come a long way, I still have a long way to go.  I am nowhere near perfect.  I am flawed.  But with His power and His strength, I am being transformed.  To be left alone would be easy, but would produced only more wretchedness.  He Christ did not die for me to remain a wretch.

He died to save me.  To resore me.  To make me His treasure.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Annal 194: Tale from the Name Change

I had a realization over the weekend, and this realization provided answers to something that has been bothering me since the summer.

You may have noticed that I don't blog as much as I once did (I went from 4-5 times a week to twice a month... if I'm lucky).  To be honest, I wasn't sure why this was.  I have time in the evenings when I get back from my practicum, and writing posts has always been the perfect way for me to sort through all that is going on in life.  Yet I haven't.

My brother started blogging in September (and yes I am inserting a little plug for it... you can find him at, so most weekends when I go to visit him and his and family blogging comes up in the conversation.  True to form, it came up yesterday.  We were discussing the purpose behind our blogs.

You see, when I started writing, I did so because I was tired of the stigma attached to being a Christian single.  I knew there had to be more to life than waiting around for "Mr. Right."  And, let's be honest, I had more than my fair share of humorous encounters surrounding being single that I found it fun to share :)  God ended up taking my blog, especially during the last year of my undergraduate degree, and used it to help show me the identity that I had in Him.  And those of you who read what I wrote were privy to all that was going on in my life--the good, the bad, and most definitely the ugly!

Then something happened this summer, and in the most unexpected twist of fate (or more accurately God working in mysterious way), I found myself being pursued by a Charming.

And ever since then I have had a bit more trouble writing.

Why is that?

I think I finally figured it out this weekend.

You see, I'm no longer at the same place I was at when I first started writing.  In more ways than just my relationship status, I have changed in the last year and a half.  And the truth is that I felt purposeless.  I haven't known what to write about.  I haven't known what to share.  A part of me has still felt like I needed to be true to the "Annals of a Christian Single" and yet almost every blog I have written since September has felt somewhat forced.

To be honest, I had somewhat of a mini identity crisis in the last 36 hours.  I started asking God, "Who am I?"

And then I remembered all that He showed me last year.  How He spent a year wooing me and showing me how beautiful I was in His sight. 

I was feeling like I didn't know who I was apart from my "single" identity, but what God showed me is that I'm not a different person.  The woman He spent last year showing me I was is still me.  It wasn't my "single identity" in Him.  It was my identity in Him.

So while all of this was going through my head I came across something in the book The Jesus Way by Eugene Peterson that I am reading for my devotions.  I'm in a chapter that is looking at the book of Isaiah and here is what I found.  I'm writing out a full paragraph, and it is long, but I'm hoping you will bear with me.

"Beauty is commonly trivialized in our culture, whether secular or ecclesial.  It is reduced to dcoration, equated with the insipidities of 'pretty' or 'nice.'  But beauty is not an add-on, not an extra, not a frill.  Beauty is fundamental.  Beauty is not what we indulge ourselves in after we have taken care of the serious business of making a living, or getting saved, or winning the lottery.  It is evidence of and witness to the inherent wholeness and goodness of who God is and the way God works.  It is life in excess of what we can manage or control.  It arrives through a sustained and adoratioal attentiveness to all that we encounter along the way: a forced march across a desert, a rock, a flower, the dragon Rahab, a face, a rustle in the trees, the 'cup of staggering,' a storm crashing through the mountains, wounding and bruising of all sorts, an old man's gesture, a lamb led to the slaughter, a child's play, an altar call, a good death, wings like eagles, the Scriptures, Jesus."

I read this this morning and it got me thinking.  It seemed to strike a chord within me, but I wasn't sure why.  It reminded me of a year God spent telling mye He created me beautiful and how to Him that meant so much more than simply my exterior.  It made me think of how once I finally accepted that to Him I am truly beautiful, He brought Charming into my life, and how at least once a day he tells me the same thing: I'm beautiful.

But I still didn't know how this pertained to me and my blog.  So, when I realized I wasn't going to be falling asleep as early as I wanted to tonight, I decided to read a little further.  And here is what I found:

"Every sunflower and oak, every dachshund and elephant, every young girl's lithe form and every old man's worn face, has an interior, a depth, a meaning.  There is always more, much more than, as we say, meets the eye.  There is far more to seeing than a functioning iris and retin.  Imagination is required to see all that is involved in what is right before our eyes, to see the surface but also to penetrate beneath the surface.  Appearances both conceal and reveal: imagination is our means of discerning one from the other so that we get the whole picture.

"Likewise every verb and adverb, every noun and adjective, every interjection and copula, is in living relationship with every other word said and sung by voices past numbering.  There is far more to hearing than an eardrum free of wax buldup.  Memory is required to make sense of even the simplest sentence.  Language is vast and intricate and living.  Memory is our means of keeping the complexities of syllables and syntax coherent, of bring together the voices of the entire membership, of getting the whole story, of hearing the voice across the room but also the voices from across miles and centuries.

"Imagination so that we can discern what is beneath the surface and respond appropriately to the life presented to us in this place.

"Memory so that we can stay in touch with conversations and sounds previous to and beyond those that are coming into out ears at this moment.

"Without imagination and memory we are reduced to surface and immediacy, we live in a cramped prison cell of the five senses and of the immediate moment.  But when imagination and memory are healthily active, the prison door springs open and we walk out into the large, multi-dimensional world that continues to expand exponentially.  'Beauty' is the word of witnes that we use to identify this world, this world that is both outer and inner, both present and other.  When we become aware of and then participate in the coming together, the wholeness, the intricacies of what is implicit always and everywhere, we exclaim, 'How beautiful!'"

I realize that was a large chunk of text, but I wanted you all to read what I read.  What were two means that God regularly used to show me how He saw me?  He used my imagination, my ability to see what rested beneath the surface, and He used the memories of past encounters, past conversations.

As I read that passage last night, I began to see my purpose for this blog.  I never want to stop encountering the beauty of God.  Rather, I want to be continually aware of it.   And not just that, but I also want to help other see it, to help others become aware that beauty is the "evidence of and witness to the inherent wholeness and goodness of who God is and the way God works."

It is not lightly that I do this, but I have decided to change the name of my blog.  For a time I was called to share the "Annals of a Christian Single," but I believe that was a step to a deeper calling, a much-needed step, but a step nonetheless.  I never want to lose sight of true beauty, of the goodnes of who God is and how He works.  And I want to help others to see this as well.  It is my hope that by sharing "Tales of Beauty," I will continually grow as the woman God intends for me to be, and that I will also help others to combine imagination and memory in a way that allows them to experience the beauty of God and His creation.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Annal 193: Tale from the Misty Mountain

I started my long practicum last Monday and the result has been me arriving at my placement school between 6:45 and 7:00 in the morning.  No big deal, but it means I don't have quite as much time for contemplation in the morning.  Add to the mix a cold I'm trying to fight before beginning my full-immersion teaching next week and a sore knee that has kept me from running, and I'm sure you can imagine what my mornings have looked like.

But this morning was different.  Today I am meeting with the other student teachers in my pod on campus (which is great since I live on campus).  So I could sleep in a little, take my time getting ready, and actually have a bit of time to think.

The sky is just starting to lighten now, and my mountain dwelling is completely shrouded in mist.  I can't decided who I'm more likely to see emerging from the grey: Rochester or Smaug.  To be honest, I think I would take either.

Yesterday morning I read something in my devotions just before heading to school and I have been mulling it over, off and on, for the last 24 hours.  It's from a book I'm reading called Wednesdays were Pretty Normal by Michael Kelley.  He was a pastor who decided to pursue full-time writing and whose two year old son ends up diagnosed with Leukemia.  This book chronicles the story of what he and his wife went through during that time.

In the chapter I just finished he talked about the idea of pain.  About having to press the button to give his little boy a bit more morphine when the pain became too much.  About longing for something that could dull his own pain.  This leads Kelley to a discussion of Job and Job's engagement with pain.  About how Job asked the real, hard questions that result from pain.  Questions like: "Why is this happening?" or "Is God real?" or "How can a loving God allow this to happen?"

Then Kelley starts talking about Job 38 when God speaks back.  Here's what he says about that.

"...after these thirty-seven chapters of accusations, questions, and pain, the answer God gave was not the 'Why?' Job was looking for.  It was the 'Who?' he wasn't.

"For the next four chapters, God talked about... Himself.  He talked about His power and His creativity.  He talked about His wisdom and His justice.  And He reminded Job that he, as a human, possessed none of those qualities in comparison to the Almighty.  Never once did God crack the door of eternity and say, 'See, this whole thing started when Satan came walking in here...'  Never once did He take Job into the future to show him the good that would come from his struggle.  Never once did He reveal the way He would redeem Job's pain.  Never did God show  Job one of the billions of Bibles that would be printed in the future, all containing his story.  Not one single answer to Job's specific questions.  Just descriptions of Himself.

"While that may seem unsatisfying on our end, to know that God doesn't offer answers or promise a glimpse 'on the inside,' we've got to ask outselves the question: Would knowing why really help?  And at least on our part, the answer is no.  It wouldn't.  Why doesn't bring back the lost time.  Why doesn't gather up the tears we've shed.  Why doesn't make the ache go away.  Why doesn't help with the anxiety of the future.

"But 'Who' does.  God is the redeemer of moments small and large.  God gathers up our tears and holds them in His hands.  God is the healer of the soul.  God is the caretaker of the future.  Who helps tremendously in ways that why never could."

I don't really feel like I can say much more to add to that.

But I would love to hear what others think.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Annal 192: Tale from Holy Ground

When I was twelve years old, I went through this phase.  I know you may find this hard to believe, but I am in possession of somewhat of an overactive imagination.  Shocking, I know.  So I fully understand that you will struggle believing me when I say that throughout my grade seven year I was constantly trying to find a way into Narnia.

I had The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe paper dolls that came with a backdrop.  I would close my eyes and try to stick my hands through the backdrop.

I would try walking through the back of my closet.

I would close my eyes and try walking through the coat rooms at my school.

Even now I will come upon a particularly romantic lamp post and will find myself scanning my surroundings for the arrival of Mr. Tumnus.  Sometimes I even refer to myself, in my head of course, as a Daughter of Eve.

The reason I say all of this is because you will then understand why everything about my devotions this morning led me back to C.S. Lewis, specifically to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

One of the books I am reading right now is The Jesus Way by Eugene Peterson, where he looks at how Jesus is the way and how this is particularly reflected throughout the Old Testament.  Right now I am reading a chapter on Isaiah that looks at the holiness of God.  Peterson talks about King Uzziah, a man who had feared God yet ended up desecrating the temple.  He wanted to deal with God how he wanted to deal with God--"as one sovereign to another."  As a result Uzziah became leprous.  Peterson then compares this experience to Isaiah's temple experience, where instead of trying to use God, Isaiah went to worship and to pray.  He says something that really caught my attention: "'Our God is a consuming fire' (Hebrews 12:29), not fire to be played with.  Holy, Holy, Holy is not Christian needlepoint."  There was another point where Peterson commented on holy ground also being dangerous ground--you approach with reverence.

Hearing this brought be instantly to a discussion the Pevensie children had with the Beavers in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

"Ooh!" said Susan, "I'd thought he was a man.  Is he--quite safe?  I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion."

"That you will, dearie, and make no mistake," said Mrs. Beaver, "if there's anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they're either braver than most or else just silly."

"Then he isn't safe?" said Lucy.

"Safe?" said Mr. Beaver; "don't you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you?  Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe.  But he's good.  He's the King, I tell you."

So here I am sitting, thinking on what Peterson had said while envisioning a scene from one of my favourite books.  Then I reach for Worship by the Book, and start reading the last two distinctives of worship that Hughes outlines.  He talks of worship being wholehearted, and then his last point stopped me in my tracks.  He says that worship is reverent.

In Hebrews 12, Hughes points out that two mountains are mentioned: Sinai and Zion.  He says the author of Hebrews states that we have not come to the consuming fires of God on Mount Sinai, but rather to the consummate grace of God that is Mount Zion.  However (and this is key), Hugues tells us that our graced standing requires two things: obedience and worship which we see outlined here: "Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our 'God is a consuming fire'" (Hebrews 12:28, 29).

First of all, I thought it was pretty fascinating that Hughes used the same reference that Peterson used (Yay!  I love it when there are connections in what I am reading).

Secondly, I love how Hughes summarizes this.  Here is what he says:

"Very simply, both mountains reveal God.  The God of Zion is the same God as the God of Sinai.  And though we can approach him because of his unbounded grace, he remains a holy consuming fire... Christians ought to enjoy life to the fullest.  But they must also know and understand that God remains a 'consuming fire' and that acceptable worship takes place when there is authentic reverence and awe in all of life, not the least in corporate worship."

Sometimes I think I forget about who God is.  I know He loves me, I know He has given me grace, I know He has forgiven me, and I know that I have a personal relationship with Him.  But sometimes I forget that He is also a consuming fire.  That He is holy.  And that this means that while He is good, it also means we are not "safe" as Lewis terms it.

I think Peterson shows this best.

"Holiness is the most attractive quality, the  most intense experience, we ever get out of sheer life--authentic, undiluted, firsthand living, not life looked at and enjoyed from a distance.  We find ourselves in on the operations of God himself, not talking about them, not reading about them.  But at the very moment that we find ourselves in on more than ourselves, we realize we also might very well lose ourselves.  We cannot domesticate The Holy."

This is scary.  It is frightening to stand on holy ground and know that to do so means you will never be the same.  That to give God the reverence and awe that is rightfully His, to fully worship Him in such a manner, means that we have to put ourselves aside.  I wrote on Monday about how particularly self-centered I have felt lately.  But the truth is, it isn't about me.  And if I want to live my life in the holy presence of God, I need to realize that He is a consuming fire.  That He will bring to light the things about me that I don't want to see and that I definitely don't want others to see.

And that's not safe.

But it's good.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Annal 191: Tale from the Children's Bible

I have arrived back at school.  My plane got in bright and early yesterday morning, and I ended up having a bit of time while I waited for my ride.  Rather than just people watch like the last blog post I wrote about time spent in an airport, I decided to pull out some of the books I'm doing with my devotions and to do a bit of reading.

I am not going to lie.  It has felt like tough slogging this last semester.  Every so often I would find a gem it what I was reading, but it was nothing like last winter/spring, where everyday God brought something to my attention.  Where everyday it seemed like my mind was being blown away.  Maybe it was just a dryer period in my reading, I don't know.

When I was in Ontario, Charming and I were invited for lunch at the home of some of his friends, a couple who are both teachers.  After lunch they reached for their Bible.  Now they also have a two year old son, and as he had not gone down for his nap yet, they grabbed his Bible instead.  I had to smile, as it was the same Bible all the children in my family now possess (my father made it his mission to look for the most theologically-sound Bible he could find).  After they had read a story in it, I remarked about my niece and nephews having the same one and mentioned the effort my Dad had put into finding it.  The wife smiled and explained how much she liked that every story pointed to Jesus.  How He is the theme of the Bible.

For whatever reason, this memory stuck with me throughout my Christmas break.  Then I had a moment, in the Vancouver airport, where everything began to come together, and that lunch time experience was the jumping point.

One of the books I'm reading right now is Worship by the Book and it is a collaborative work by D.A. Carson, Mark Ashton, R. Kent Hughes, and Timothy Keller.  Each of the men come from a different denominational background, but discuss a biblical theology of worship.  Right now I am working my way through Hughes' section, and at this point he is discussing what he calls the distinctives of worship.

The first point, and the one I read yesterday, is that worship is God-centered. 

Seems pretty basic, right?

Yet we miss the point a lot.  Hughes does not say that church should not be culturally sensitive, or that it shouldn't appeal to the hearts of the people out there.  What he is saying is that at the root of it all, worship MUST be God-centered.

When worship becomes human-focused, we can end up with preaching that focuses on lighter, topical subjects because we believe that teaching what is in the Bible is too "heavy."  The result is that churches are "producing a people who are weak in their knowledge of the Scriptures as well as of the great writings and music of the church."  We end up "dumbing down" church.  I know Charming and I discussed this a bit when I was visiting him with regards to teenagers (me from a high school teaching perspective, him from the perspective of a youth leader).  We have this knack for thinking youth stupid--for thinking that they can't handle being challenged, that they must be spoon fed everything.  Yet what does that teach them?  Does it make their faith something strong?  Something they can depend on?  Something that will keep them from drowning when the storms start raging? 

Today I read Hughes' next distinctive: worship is Christ-centered.  Here is how he begins this section:

"The New Testament does not reveal a greater God than does the Old Testament, but the New Testament provides a greater revelation of that God.  As the Apostle John so beautifully said, 'No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known' (John 1:18).  The phrase 'has made him known' is the single Greek word exegesato, from which comes our English word exegesis--so that, as Carson says, 'we might almost say that Jesus is the exegesis of God.'  Jesus explained (exegeted, narrated) God for us.  As the Word, he is God's ultimate self-expression."

And then I had to stop.

Jesus is the Word.  Jesus is the running theme of the Bible (the Word).  Jesus is the Word that explains God.

Maybe it's just the English student in me, but I find this exciting!

Sometimes I think we fall into the habit of asking God what we get out of this whole Christianity deal.  Our focus becomes what the Bible has to say about us.

But the truth of the matter, is that it is all about God.  One of the things that Hughes points out, and that Jesus also stressed in Luke 24:25-27, is that the Old Testament all points to Him.  And He is the Word that explains God.

A.W. Tozer is quoted as saying this:

"Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other?  They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow.  So one hundred worshipers met together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be were they to become 'unity' conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship."

Maybe none of this has made sense, and if that is the case I apologize.  I just know that for me it was an incredible experience to read something that grabbed my attention and, in a way, blew my mind by the connections that were made.  And that ultimately made me step back and re-evaluate myself.  What is my focus?  Is my worship God-centered, or is it me-centered?  The stress of a new semester has been clinging to me (I may or may not have had an emotional breakdown on both my sister and Charming last night), and I'm not going to lie, my focus for the last little while has been more selfishly focused.

And I don't want to be that person.  I want to be a piano tuned to that one Fork.  I want my life to be a life of worship, and worship that is focused on God.