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Finding balance amidst the ever changing constancy of life

Journey Through Lent 2017 – Day 8 and 9

Signs of Mercy

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“This generation is an evil generation;

It seeks a sign but no sign will be given it,

Except the sign of Jonah” – Luke 11:29

I spent a couple of days on this verse. It has become my day 8 and day 9 reflection.

The reading talks about accepting the truth that people we may not like or approve of, are a part of God’s plan too. It drives home the point that we are all God’s creations. Not one person, denomination, culture, or spirituality outshines another. It may help to see God as a loving parent with many children, all with different personalities and talents, and all of whom He loves. We are not all cookie cutters. We are all worthy of a relationship with God. Everyone gets a chance.

I have allowed this concept to settle within me over the last 48 hours. It has been very helpful in my journey to healing this Lenten season. I have mentioned the church I used to attend, and how I was hurt. The most hurtful – and final – thing that happened was I received a letter saying I was to be removed from the membership in not only the local church, but the entire denomination. The reason cited was lack of attendance and financial support. No other reason was given. I cannot begin to describe what something like this does to a person after years of faithful service. To add further hurt, my expulsion was to be done at the meeting of their board. How completely humiliating! The church board was made up of people I knew and worshipped alongside for years. All because somebody deemed me suddenly unworthy.

After this letter, I started to see myself as an “outcast” – sent away from Christian life.

It was isolating

It was embarrassing

It was infuriating

And it was soul crushing.

Admittedly, I was not attending anymore (I had my reasons). But it is such a shame they could not have simply left it at that, without the letter being sent. I would have either decided to come back, or not.

Signs of Mercy. I needed some back then.

Afterwards, I began to define myself as the “outcast”.  This thought grew. Soon, it was not just this church that I felt estranged from. I started to see all churches that way. I had lost trust. And when you feel unable to open your heart to corporate worship, unfortunately your relationship with God can suffer.

Reading the Jonah reflection, together with prayer, has opened my heart up to a refreshing possibility. Perhaps the next time the idea of “outcast” enters my mind, I can replace the thought with something more positive and healthy. I can start to define myself according to who I really am – I am a child of God. As worthy as anyone else of His love, care and blessing.

I am not an outcast.

I am one of His own.

This is a big shift in perspective for me.

This is the direction I would like to continue on.

Journey Through Lent 2017 – Day 6 and 7

The Holiness Program and No Empty Words

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“Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.” (Lev 19:2)

Holiness.

This is a loaded concept for me.

I spent many years in an evangelical holiness church. There was a lot said about “holiness”. We had sermons on it, talked about it, even sang about it. Despite all of this, the meaning was never completely clear to me.

So here we are, sixth day of lent and holiness is the topic. How shall I start? Well, sometimes, when I cannot figure out exactly what something is, I find it helpful to go over what that something is not. So here goes. I will be using Jesus’ life as the framework in this.

  1. Holiness does not mean I follow the “rules” of a particular church, denomination or even society. Jesus often broke the “rules” in order to tend to the larger needs of the people around him. He healed on the Sabbath, and his disciples harvested grain on the same day. He hung around with “undesirable” people like a tax collector, and allowed a woman of ill repute to anoint his feet with oil. All this to the chagrin of the Pharisees.
  2. Holiness does not mean that I consistently face the world with a calm and serene disposition, appearing full of faith and never doubting. Jesus experienced all the emotions we as human beings share. There were times when he was angry, frustrated, impatient, weeping, anxious, afraid … He was fully divine. But also fully human.
  3. Holiness does not mean I am set apart from the rest of humankind. Jesus made himself available to people from all walks of life. He did not live cloistered away in religion. He travelled from place to place, meeting, talking to, socializing with, eating and drinking and healing all sorts of people.
  4. Holiness does not entail regular attendance and a prescribed monetary giving at a church. None of this was a part of Jesus’ life. He did not postpone meeting with people because He had to attend temple on the Sabbath. He did not turn over 10 percent of the money he earned during the week. He needed what he earned to look after himself and his disciples. There is no sin in this. And holiness seems to be about so much more.

So, what is holiness?

I’m no expert. But from looking at Jesus’ life, I think it has a lot to do with these two things:

  1. Being authentically yourself, which is the self God has called you to be. I don’t believe any of us are required to fit into a small claustrophobic box of what some church feels is an appropriate example of “holy” behaviour.
  2. Being authentically in relationship with other people. Get to really know people. Listen to them. Help where you can. Encourage them. Visit them. Meet people on their own turf. Offer Grace and Forgiveness. All this brings healing.

I have kept up with my pledge to read my booklet and reflect on Lent each day. However, I have been sick with a flu and unable to write each day. Consequently, I have combined two days in this blog entry. Day 7 was about praying the Lord’s prayer. I think it builds nicely upon day 6 and holiness. To me, this prayer has always been about loving and honouring God and showing this through our respectful and loving behaviour toward others.

God bless.

Journey Through Lent 2017 -Days 4 and 5

The Fasting Tongue and Rewriting the Story

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“If you remove from your midst, oppression, false accusation and malicious speech … Repairer of the breach, they shall call you, Restorer of ruined homesteads” – Isa 58:9b-12

Saturday’s reading touched me very deeply. In my understanding, the above passage is warning about the destructiveness of gossip. Unfortunately, gossip is something that travels quickly and often develops a life of it’s own as the story gets embellished as it passes from person to person. I have no patience for it. This is where the roots of my church hurt started – ungracious words about my “behaviour” under the guise of concern, prayer or venting. To anyone reading this, please know that this type of talk is incredibly damaging to all parties – the person talking, the person listening, and the person who is being talked about. If you are tempted, please don’t do it. And if you are the receiver of gossip, please shut it down. If you wonder about someone’s actions, simply ask them. Nobody can judge what is in another person’s heart, but God himself. Please remember grace.

“Jesus was led by the sprit into the desert to be tempted by the devil” – Matt 4:1

Sunday’s reflection was a call to remember who we are in God. It described how Jesus was tempted in the desert to relate to God and people in a way that was twisted from God’s original design. Jesus fought the temptation to be anything other than who God made Him to be, even if being so included a more difficult path to walk.

I have decided to put the week-end devotionals together. So how do these two reflections build upon what I have learned this week?

Well, with respect to the warning against gossip – I don’t participate outwardly. However, I do think ungracious things about people who have hurt me. I have become judgemental at times. This is something I have to give up this season. Any negative commentary about someone that starts swirling around in my head should be replaced with something positive. And if this is not possible, then remaining neutral is the next best solution. Thinking bad thoughts about a person does nothing to encourage or repair a relationship. Plus negativity just brings a person down. Better to drop the whole thing and go marvel at the beauty of a sunset.

Sunday’s verse reminds me of who I really am when I face malicious gossip directed at me. No matter what anybody says, God’s love for me never changes. I am still his child. He still loves me and has good plans for me. Other’s may give up on me or abandon me, but He never will. Harsh words may cause me to feel like I am “less than”. But God’s love reminds me that I am just as worthy as anyone else. I live my life on this. It has brought me through some rough waters. I hope this writing can serve to encourage others.

Journey Through Lent 2017 – Day 3

Wounded Eyesight

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It was with amusement that I started this reading today. “Wounded Eyesight” and there was I unable to find my glasses, holding the booklet with arms stretched out, trying desperately to focus on the small printed words. Wounded Eyesight. Yes, indeed!

When I could finally focus, I enjoyed today’s scripture reading Isa 58:6-8. I love the way Isaiah warns of legalism; that, although fasting, almsgiving and prayer are 3 pillars of Christian life, they are not complete without a heart surrendered to Jesus.

I am sure we are all familiar with people who trumpet their super spirituality with personal anecdotes of  giving and service disguised within their public prayers of “thanksgiving” or “teaching moments” for disciples. This type of behaviour is so obvious. But, before I become a braggart myself, boasting of how I keep my good deeds private, I decided to spend this day considering what I can learn and apply from this bible verse.

As I searched through my now ripped open heart (see day 1), I saw a few shards of evidence that I do need this exhortation as much as any other struggling pilgrim. This is why.

Many times I have brought up the church where I was wounded deeply. Truthfully, when I think about how I was hurt, I become self-righteous. I realize that now. I let out a long-suffering sigh to myself and think (or say): “After all those years of faithful service, attendance and giving, how could they have treated me like this? I was so good …”

But, you know what? Isaiah is saying that my faithfulness should never have been about them. It was always about God. It’s  not about being part of a church, and being “so good” that when life deals me some challenges, they owe it to me to be “good” back.  No. Nobody owes me. Faithfulness that is acceptable to God comes from a heart that is centred around Jesus; A heart that seeks to do His will and bring Him pleasure. In the end, it’s about the motivation – not the actions. Whatever I do, should be done for God. Period. No expectations on anyone else beyond that.

The truth is, we live in a broken world full of broken people. All have fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). And no matter how “good” or “faithful” we are, there will be times of being taken for granted, or being exploited or neglected, etc. When we recognize this, we do not need to stay in toxic or unhealthy relationships. However, I realize we also do not need to take the unfortunate actions of other people personally and remain angry at them. God wants us to give freely and from a generous heart, without setting up expectations upon others. Expectations often lead to disappointment and then hurt. In reality it helps to remember that people are not necessarily against us as much as they are simply just for themselves. I’m thinking this is why when we give, we should give solely for the glory of God.

Today’s reading has brought a lot of healing.

 

 

Journey Through Lent 2017 – Day 2

 

The Burden Borne

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“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” – Luke 9:23

I must admit, I stumbled over today’s reading. To be honest, I was filled with fear. I am a former people pleaser in recovery. I will always have the temptation to slip back down that people pleasing vortex – and this scares the heck out of me. So I am very careful. And I therefore struggled with Luke 9:23 and the idea of taking up a cross each day. I imagined myself as I used to be, bent over with the weight of carrying burdens that were never mine to bear in the first place. Never again is the promise I have made to myself. Yet I do want to be faithful to this Lenten journey, so I opened my mind and allowed today’s bible verse to ruminate in my mind and heart.

This is what I have discovered.

I contemplated Jesus and the way in which He carried his cross on a daily basis. He was no push over. He was very adept at establishing boundaries. And He was described as being quite a commanding figure. So what does carrying one’s cross really mean?

Well, Jesus spoke His truth, and remained faithful to who He was called to be, to the end. When it would have been easier to water himself down, He refused. He would not be swayed by the expectations and comfort of others – even of His closest friends. He was who He was. So, maybe carrying my cross means I live my own truth, despite any societal pressure to be something else. Of course this does not mean living selfishly and inconsiderately. I should live to be the best self I can be. I want to be a beautiful reflection of a life lived to please God. And I should press on with this, even when it is hard. Even when the bitter seed of hurt and distrust threatens to make me cranky. Even when others are not treating me as nicely as I think they should. Carrying my cross would mean to faithfully approach each day positively, peacefully and grounded in a healthy love for others and myself as well.

This is where I am at right now, on this second day of Lent.

Journey Through Lent 2017 – Day 1

Heart Workhome-1

Well, the pancakes have been consumed last night, and today is Ash Wednesday. This year, I have decided that instead of giving something up for Lent, I will add something. The something I will add is a written contemplation on this 40 day journey. To assist, I have purchased this small book. It guides the reader with short reflections on the daily Mass readings.

Today’s reading was entitled “Heart Work” and was based around Joel 2:12-18. The words that struck me most were “Rend your hearts, not your garments…”

Rend my heart? My goodness … to rend one’s garments means to rip them apart in mourning. I’m to rend my heart? But I have worked so hard these last years to mend my heart – this heart that was broken at a church. And now I am to tear it open again?

I continued on to the next reading 2 Cor 5:20-6:2. The words that jumped out at me were “We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” Be reconciled to God. Yes. That’s part of my intention this year. To return to the faith I have allowed to dwindle in my ambivalent response to the aforementioned hurt. Yes, I would like this very much.

Now, finally, the last reading Matt 6:1-6 – “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them.” I love this. It is so refreshing. To me, it is about staying humble in your faith and good deeds. There is nothing to prove.  There is no contest on who is the most spiritual. It’s just about quietly helping out where you see a need.

Clearly, the job now is to put these readings together in order to find the initial direction for the next 40 days. After some thought, I realized something important. I actually do need to break this meticulously mended heart apart in order to reveal what needs to be removed. I have knit it so carefully together, but inadvertently have included the unfortunate church experience as part of it all. This hurt does not belong in me. It’s no longer something I need to carry. And it has been directing my approach to God as well as to other churches for too long. This is not healthy. How ironic it is that I decided to leave that particular faith community in order to protect my relationship with God, but, ultimately, have allowed that hurt to become a bitterness  within me. This hurt is now my stumbling block. Today I realized that in order to heal, and in order to reconcile with God and His Church, this bitterness needs to be eradicated. These old memories of hurt need to be weeded out.

So, here I am on Ash Wednesday, heart broken wide open and waiting for all that God has planned. I am ready!

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future –  Jeremiah 29:11

My New Year’s Wish for All of Us

A few days ago, I was at McDonald’s and had ordered our darling grandson a Happy Meal. He was jumping around, looking at everything and everyone. And when the meal came, he was SO EXCITED about the little toy inside. He jumped up and down and gave a little “whoop”! One lady passed by us and said: “I want to be as happy as he is”! And I thought about that. This is what I want for myself and for all of us in 2017 – to be happy, joyful, excited; to notice the little everyday small blessings that occur and to be so excited and thankful for them! Life lessons from the little ones are the best lessons of all!

Now New Year’s day has come and gone, and I think a good way to start off is to set some intentions. I did this last year, and upon review, noticed writing them down helped me to assess how things were going 6 months down the line.

So, without further ado, here is my 2017 list:

  1. I want to reconnect with my faith. Anyone who has read this blog will know that a few years ago I suffered a deep hurt within my former church. I have noticed that unfortunately, this has caused me to disconnect a bit with God. And I’ve realized that what happened in the church had nothing to do with God. It was not God’s will. It was not something God permitted in order to “teach” or “refine” me. It was an unfortunate and very human event. Period. It’s time now to reconnect with the Divine. To accomplish this, I am setting the intention to read a bit of the Bible each day. Even if that means one verse. I believe this will reignite my faith. I also believe this will further contribute to my spiritual healing.
  2. I want to care even less about what other people think of me. Not that I don’t want to be social. Of course I do. And of course I want to get along with people. But, at this age, I realize that a life lived to please others is not a life fully lived. I am responsible for my choices and the consequences thereof. I want to live as I please so far as it causes no harm to anyone else. As a former “people pleaser”, I believe this intention will further contribute to my healing.
  3. I want to find a way to help others outside of a church/religious environment. Maybe I will take a turn at a food bank. Maybe I will give a gift card to a homeless person. Maybe I will sit and listen to someone who needs to be heard. I would like my heart to be open to these opportunities.
  4. I want to return to my yoga practice. I have been busy for the last couple of years helping my daughter raise my wonderful grandson. But I realize I need to build in some time for myself again. A lovely friend has signed me up for a yoga class starting this month, and I intend to carve this time out for me.
  5. I want to continue to support and love this little family. I can’t think of anything more worthy to do. As Mother Teresa said: “What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.”

I wish everyone a lovely successful and joyful new year. May all your dreams for 2017 come true!

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Grief into Joy

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As I write this, we are well into the Third Week of Advent – the week of Christian Joy. And I am pleased to say, beautiful joy has descended upon my heart this season! How wonderful!

Flash back to a few years ago, in the midst of leaving church, this was not the case. I experienced a lot of fear. I was nervous to leave the only path I knew and that I was sure to be the sole path acceptable to God.

Time passed and eventually distance brought more clarity. I came to believe I had come to a fork in the road, and was compelled to chose the direction that best fit me. There was always some sadness, as I envisioned my former path was one that had to be left behind.

This year I have come to realize, there was only one path after all, and that this one path was my own unique life journey. In church or out of church, neither choice was right or wrong. This individual journey consists of moments in time with learning opportunities along the way.

I recall how, a few years back, I took a pause during a particularly painful moment. I sat still with the discomfort, breathing it in with the brutal yet loving truth it brought. I believe that it was at this point that this messy journey became the strengthening path of a warrior. I had faced fears, loss, hard truths, and arrived safely on the other side. This time has become one of the greatest blessings of my life.

So here I sit, smack dab in the middle of the third week of advent. And I am so ridiculously excited to be embracing the lovely pink candle of joy! I want to light it up and hold it out for everyone to see in order to encourage all who are soldiering on through their own paths – paths of grief, paths of love, paths of sorrow and paths of joy. I am sending love and light to all.

It’s ironic, but it appears that great contentment is birthed only from the tougher lessons in life. Through hardship we learn that nothing truly essential to us can ever be taken away; we learn that sometimes life can be very dark, but to keep pressing on as light always returns; we realize people may come and go, but those who stick with us through the hardest of days, are more precious than jewels. Most importantly, we learn to be humble because we know we make mistakes; we learn to forgive because we realize how much forgiveness we require; and we learn to accept others and ourselves, flaws and all.

We are suddenly overwhelmed by unexpected joy!

Gaudete! Rejoice!

Truly, truly, I tell you, you will weep and wail while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman has pain in childbirth because her time has come; but when she brings forth her child, she forgets her anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy – John 16:20-22

 

Leaving Church? Some Refreshing Thoughts for Your Journey

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As anyone who has followed this blog will know, I have struggled with my spirituality. Well, actually, that is not quite accurate. I have strong hope and faith in my spiritual journey. My struggle lies in the expression of this faith.

I grew up regularly attending church. This was once my path. And, until a few years ago, I never dreamed that church would be anything other than central to my faith. It was the light house that illuminated my way. But circumstances conspired to lead me away from my comfort within church walls. I will not delve into the whys and wherefores that led to this. Suffice it to say, everyone who leaves church after being a regular attender has their own unique reasons. This is not a decision that faithful folk take lightly. This is the main point of today’s writing. Each of us has our own personal reasons for our choice, whether we stay within a church community, or choose a path outside of those walls.

Today, I want to offer encouragement for those of us who have chosen a path outside of the traditional church system.

When I first left, I noticed that outside of church I heard and read very little criticism of those who choose regular church attendance. On the other hand, though, wow did I ever hear and read a multitude of negative commentaries about those of us who choose another path. Just google the subject, and you will see what I mean! And I am going on the record right now to say that this negativity is hurtful, sometimes bordering on rude, and absolutely never helpful. Let’s face it – nobody has ever been convinced to return anywhere as a result of being criticized.

What follows are some observations I have made, along with the perspective I have developed as a result of my own experience outside of church these past 5 years. I hope this will serve to be encouraging to anyone who has found themselves on a similar journey.

I had barely begun my out-of-church walk, when I encountered statements that implied that leaving church means the same thing as leaving God. This is absolutely not true! In my own case, I am closer to Jesus than ever before. I am freed up from dealing with all the aspects of church that led to my departure. Resultantly, I am now able to focus all my energy on the Beautiful Creator!

I have also met with proclamations that exclude. Some say those who leave church are no longer a part of the “Bride of Christ”. My reply to this? The “Bride of Christ” is not found in a building, denomination or community that gathers together on the regular. The authentic “Bride of Christ” refers to the assembly of True Believers – none of whom can be accurately identified by any mortal man or woman. It is Jesus alone who determines this. My authority in saying this? Matthew 25:31-46

Some church proponents will tell us that only by belonging to a church can we effectively carry out our Ministry as appointed by God. I contend this to be false. There are many secular organizations that minister to the needs of the poor, the hungry, the lonely, the prisoner, and the unclothed – school breakfast programs, food banks, big brothers/big sisters,  transitional programs and community managed coat programs, to name a few. And as a bonus, these programs have no hidden agenda, i.e. they aren’t handing out prayer cards or cute Christian tracts. In sum, caring for others is the result of the Fruits of the Spirit, which are available to everyone who desires them. They are not a gift reserved solely for regular church attenders. Church is not even mentioned within them. They are evident in anyone with a heart for God. Read Galatians 5: 22-23 for a lovely description.

And, finally, there are those who will try to convince us that without regular exposure to church, our faith in God and our walk with Him will dry up and die. They profess that church is the only possible venue to:

  • feed your spirit
  • grow in your faith
  • be rebuked when you have stumbled off course

In my opinion, this view is not only erroneous, it is also unnecessarily disheartening.

Here’s the truth: Nobody knows the state of somebody else’s faith. Nobody, that is, but the individual and God. In my own experience outside of church, I have had plenty of opportunities to nurture and feed my spirit and to grow in my love for God. As well, when I am off track, God has blessed me with a wonderful community of family and friends who will set me straight in no time! The magical thing is, they love me. They truly love me. So it is very easy and natural for them to speak the truth to me in love. Exactly how God said it is supposed to happen.

Look. I am not against the church. Nor am I against church people. Hey, I spent years in church myself, and that is where I originally grew in my faith. I am grateful! Plus, you know what? I cannot authoritatively say that I will never return to church again. Perhaps I will. But if this happens, it will be in God’s time. Meanwhile, here I am. And here is anyone else who has chosen a similar path. We continue to carry a heart for God. We just express it in a different way. And we still belong to Him. So please be gentle with us.

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. (1 John 4:16)

 

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