The Beautiful Not Yet (A Review of Carrie Newcomer’s Latest Book and CD Album)

carrie-newcomer-tbny_-albumpage   Recently author and song writer Carrie Newcomer released a new book filled with poems, prayers, speeches, and lyrics from her latest album “the Beautiful Not Yet.”  Newcomer’s work could not have come at a better time in my life.

Recently, I have been going through a significantly painful transition.  I’ve had to leave a job and way of life that I’ve loved being part of for the past 3 years in order to embrace the unknown.  With no knowledge of what’s next it’s easy to become discouraged, discontent, and depressed.  Listening to and reading Newcomer’s work has been a breath of fresh-air and allowed me to shift my focus.

Newcomer whose spirituality deeply encompasses the Quaker values of peace, solitude, and simplicity, offers loving, honest reminders of God being present in the secular and the sacred, the marvelous and the mundane.  Her writings portray an honest sensitivity and deep emotional connection with her readers as she ventures into issues of aging, ill-health, and transition.  We joyfully join her in her gardening metaphors and marvel at her artistic grace in explaining painful daily realities.  Newcomer sings with a rich, strong acoustic-jazzy voice with poignant lyrics and smooth vocal energy.  Her work is profound not only as poetry but as prayerful artwork – a tapestry of taize, a dance of delight.

I was given a complimentary copy of Carrie Newcomer’s work with no obligation to write a review (whether positive or negative) about her work.  Yet, I can honestly say that this CD is one of the few where I listened to it multiple times, pausing and rewinding just to get the full feel of her words.  I hope you will also consider getting a copy for yourself and seeing the wonders that this album can bring to your heart and the strength it can bring to a weary soul.

For more information about how you can get a hold of Newcomer’s materials please visit: http://www.carrienewcomer.com/

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Should Christians Watch Horror Movies?

large_pbp5daeiylxazkrpkkkia6rikjb   In light of today, I thought I’d write up a festive post on a Halloween type of topic: ghosts, goblins, witches, and wizards.  Our cultural fascination with death and near death is nothing new.  Just last night I was flying home from Halifax when I decided to settle on an in-flight movie option.  Now usually I am not one to choose anything close to a horror film.  I have to admit, I do get scared pretty easily.  However, because it was Halloween and because the description of the film said “comedy” I decided to watch the 1988 movie “BeetleJuice.”  Now I wouldn’t necessarily classify BeetleJuice as a horror show.  In fact, I think it’s fairly suitable to all audiences. It does evoke a lot of themes surrounding the underworld (ghosts, heaven and hell, and death), but it doesn’t have all those gory concepts that we so often find in movies like Texas ChainSaw Massacre or The Human Centipede.   Nevertheless, it did get me thinking about what a Christian should really be putting into their minds and allowing their eyes to view.  Due to my pacifistic beliefs, I do not like to watch super violent movies, I even gave up watching V for Vendetta and James Bond, but does that now allow me to watch psychological thrillers like Pan’s Labyrinth?  Is fascination with the evil forces of darkness suddenly acceptable when watching a seemingly innocent children’s film like the Nightmare Before Christmas, the Corpse’s Bride, or the Book of Life, but not okay when watching Bloody Mary or the Evil Dead?

My answer might not be exactly what you’d think I’d say.  You see, I actually believe that there is a time and place for Christians (including good, solid, Bible-believing, evangelical ones) to watch horror shows.  In fact, there might even be something profoundly spiritual in these episodes.

Last year, I spent my summer break at Tyndale Seminary.  I was working at a local Pentecostal church finishing up my internship hours in children’s ministry and because my school was walkable distance from the church, it just made the most sense to stay there for 4 months.  Generally people at Tyndale can be fairly conservative.  When I was a student there we weren’t allowed to watch anything higher than a PG-14 rating.  Eventually someone mentioned that the Passion of the Christ is 16A and because of that, they began to make a few exceptions.  Nevertheless, as good-little church girls and Godly young men, we were always fairly astute to not corrupt our minds with the evils of this world.  That’s why, when one of my friends mentioned she had free movie tickets and would I like to go see the Poltergeist with her, I immediately was shocked.  I said yes because I’m a people-pleaser and didn’t want to disappoint her and also because I’m not one to turn down a free offer.  But the thought did run through my mind whether this is the type of movie Jesus would approve of or not.  She invited others as well, but they all said no.  One young woman in particular had just finished a one week intensive course on spiritual warfare and she felt that horror movies might be a gateway into the demonic.  She actually prayed with us before we left and urged us to pray in the parking lot of the cinema after the movie was over so that we didn’t bring into our dorm hall any spirit of evil, deception, fear, or death.  That was probably the first time I really started thinking about how serious this could be.

Well, I went to the movies.  Poltergiest ended up not being such a scary movie after all, but a psychological thriller – the kind of movie that completely messes with your mind and you leave confused about what’s reality and what isn’t.  I actually feel these types of thrillers are more detrimental to our  soul and mind than the ones that end with a person dying on the floor in the bloody mess.  Nevertheless, I did not experience anything so crazy, but I did have an urge to discuss and digest what I saw, because I believe that Poltergeist (just like many other horror films) is an incredible way to develop a deeper understanding of spiritual warfare.

Christians are told to turn from evil, to flee the Devil’s pursuits, and to not engage in the fear that grips our world, so why on earth would I recommend a Christian watch such seeming nonsense.  My reasons my shock and surprise you.

  1. Firstly, as I alluded to in the previous paragraph, horror movies are a great way to begin thinking about spiritual matters if you haven’t started doing so already.  When I took the spiritual warfare class at Tyndale, our professor told us that Horror movies are a way for people who otherwise are oblivious to demonic forces and presence to start understanding that they are (or at least could be) real.  A few weeks ago, I was visiting St. Francis Xavier University in downtown Antigonish, Nova Scotia.  A group of undergrads were gathered around with 2 university chaplains and the topic suddenly turned to exorcisms.  Kids these days are completely fascinated with the stuff and these kids wanted to know what a Christian response to such things would be.  (Note to self: pastors and chaplains should always have a back-up response to the most outrageous of questions!)  Furthermore, they wanted to have a movie marathon and watch “Dead-Man Walking”  and “The Walking Dead” in order to help process the information even more.  These kids were curious: do exorcisms really happen?  Are they effective?  Is demon-possession always scary?  Can a Christian be demon-possessed?  While there is much speculation on these issues and a myriad of theological opinions and interpretations, one answer the chaplain gave has stuck in my mind.  Exorcisms are actually a great form of evangelism, in fact, perhaps one of the best.  She mentioned that when someone is truly suffering from demon-possession and then by the power of the Holy Spirit set free from its torments and torture, not only does the person themselves often come to Christ, but entire families and in some places even entire villages.  So, we know this stuff is real, that it’s powerful, and that by God’s grace it has the ability to transform broken lives and families.  Now, we still have to draw a fine-line here because many horror movies make a mockery out of Satan and the forces of evil.  We also need to be careful not to pollute our minds for the sake of entertainment and then justify it as a spiritual learning exercise, nevertheless, it is a good reminder that such evil presences do exist.  There aren’t many opportunities to talk about things like spiritual warfare in most settings and in some churches you would be looked at quite strangely for voicing your questions, but a movie night to dissect and discuss might actually be one of the least intimidating and most meaningful ways to go about this discussion.

Take Poltergeist for example.  From my own personal study and from hearing about the experiences of others, I know children are more susceptible to demonic attacks than adults.  The reason is because they are pure and innocent and they lack a tool-kit for warding off evil.  So, it is no surprise that in this movie the main character who is constantly attacked is a young girl.  Furthermore, this movie portrays that getting rid of one demon does not mean they are all gone.  Unless the root cause and source is completely abolished, when we clean house, many more might arrive unless we put up walls which permit them re-entry.  See, these are the kinds of things I learned in school, but seeing them on the big screen just made them even more pronounced.

2. In some strange way, horror movies remind us of the reality we are all trying to avoid: that death indeed is a real thing and that it’s final.  Our culture is quite strange in that we recognize this fact, but we also fail to completely understand it.  Although nothing new, in recent years zombies, the zombie apocalypse, and the concept of the un-dead has really taken off.  Yet, some would argue that although technically death surrounds us daily in the media and in movies and that in someway we even honour it or “parade it around,” this is all just a defence mechanism on our part to believe it will never happen to us or those closest to us.  Our fascination with half-dead people fuels our fear that once dead there is no going back, there is no un-doing anything.  At least a zombie is still half-present, a real death is zero-present.

Although in a way, cinema-culture blatantly disrespects and disregards death by dressing it up as terrifying and something to be avoided at all costs, at least it doesn’t out-right dismiss it completely like the majority of us tend to do.  Death is nothing to fear and in-fact is a beautiful representation of how Christ redeemed our sinful nature in order to give us something even better, but still it is something we need to talk about.  Recognizing the presence of death and the fact that it is inevitable that all of us will face it at some point really can encourage us to think more about our eternal security.  It gives us a moment to pause and think about where we are going after this life and how we know for sure.  It also fills us with the assurance that we do not have to avoid it, but can gently accept it as a faithful companion.  And in the moment, we can think about how to spend the precious years we have here on this earth to love and serve all those we come into contact with on a daily basis.

Although the decision to watch horror movies or not is a personal choice and although I still recommend and encourage it to be done cautiously, I hope this blog post will give you a fresh new insight into why horror culture isn’t really all that bad.  I hope that this Halloween, you might even consider watching something a little bit “scary” but that you’ll still remind yourself of the God who has conquered death once and for all through the mercy and love of His only Son, Jesus Christ.

Sunday Challenge #2: Sharing Our Stories

storyteller_anker_grossvater_1884  We have an incredible tradition in L’Arche: story-telling.  If you aren’t a story-teller when you first arrive, you will be by the end of your first year.  One of our favourite stories to tell is our own.  Usually about the journey our lives have taken us on and how we inadvertently found ourselves in L’Arche.  Everyone’s story is different and completely unique, and no one’s story is better than anyone else’s. For some, the main driving factor was adventure-seeking.  They wanted to experience something completely different than what they had ever known before, they wanted to explore a new country, or they wanted to improve their English, French, or some other language.  Others were motivated by the idea of living together in an intentional way.  Some were drawn in because they needed employment and when all other doors were shut, they thought they’d get outside their comfort zone and work in an environment they never would have considered before.  Still others were quietly called into this sense of “being”, of “wasting time” and of being present.  Quite a few of our assistants are deeply spiritual.  Although not everyone identifies as a Christian (despite our organization having Christian roots), many still have a desire to reach out and to support others.  They live their spirituality in the broadest sense of the word…not for the sake of religion, but for the sake of life itself.

If you’ve been involved with L’Arche over a year or two, you likely have shared your stories on numerous occasions.  Every time a new assistant moves into your house, anytime you have coffee with a friend from the wider world who is curious about L’Arche, anytime you apply to move to a different community and go for an interview – you have the opportunity to once again live into your story and you invite others to share their stories with you as well.

Last year I went on my first ever all assistant’s upper year retreat.  This is an annual event that takes place in a rural town in Scotland where we spend 4 days together thinking, praying, imagining, and reflecting upon our journeys.  As is our tradition, each person was also requested to prepare a 15-20 minute presentation about themselves, their L’Arche story and their overall sense of call to our on-going ministry.  Although we have all shared our stories on numerous occasions, each time we recount the reasons we came to L’Arche we are intentionally drawn to the pause.

Why did I join L’Arche in the first place?  Are those same factors still motivating me or have new motivations taken root?

Am I still being fed and nourished by my original sense of call?  Or is my time in L’Arche perhaps coming to a close?

How can I remain passionate like I was in my first year, in my first house, and in my first community?  Is this calling meant to be an on-going thing or was it simply meant for a time and for a season?

Although this is just one example and clearly most of you reading this are not (and perhaps will never be) part of L’Arche, these are the same questions we must contentiously ask ourselves and test out with other regardless of our vocational calling.  Be gentle with yourself.  There are no right or wrong answers.

Who are the people you can share a part of your story with today?  Who are the people you’ve always been curious about that you would like to meet with to hear part of their story?  How can we live into one another’s stories gently and with respect?

This week, I’d like to give you a challenge: become a story-teller.  If you’re more of a shy, private type of person, challenge yourself to get outside your comfort zone this week and to share a bit of who you are with your closest friends and family.  If you’re more of an extrovert who likes to talk a lot (like I am), my challenge is the exact opposite.  Learn to be still, to listen, and to be fully present and engaged.  Ask a friend, colleague, or family member about their personal story.  Perhaps how they became involved in a certain cause or profession, or what lights up their life and really gives them energy and vitality.  Listen, don’t talk.  Ask leading questions to gather more information, but refrain from interjecting too much of your own story into what they are saying.  Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, talkative or shy…find a way to live into another person’s moment.

And if you don’t know where to start, here’s a great lead-in question:

How have you seen God at work this week? How have you seen God at work today?
At the end of the week, feel free to email me (deborahruthferber@gmail.com) about what you learned about yourself and others around you.  Happy listening!

What to Do When Your Daughter Tells You She’s Going to Be a Pastor

downloadThis article is written in response to the Gospel Coalition’s recent article on female leadership and women’s ministry which you can find here: https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/melissakruger/2016/10/25/hows-the-health-of-womens-ministry-in-your-church/

Anyone who has ever attended a preschool graduation knows that children’s wishes are beyond our wildest imaginations.  I’ve sat through a number of them myself and when kids make outrageous claims that are likely never going to happen stating that they want to be an astronaut or a cowboy, a rockstar or a ballerina we don’t shoot them down.  Instead we think it’s cute.  We think “yeah, sure, this kid may face some disappointments along the way when they realize very few people actually make it into the MBA or NHL, but for now, let’s let them live their dream.  If it motivates them, let’s encourage them to keep at it.”

And that’s the way I feel it should be.  Somewhere along the way, we need to teach our children to deal with reality and show them that their dreams will not be accomplishable without an insane amount of hard work, but we also shouldn’t shatter the self-esteem and self-image a young person has of themselves.

Sadly, there is one profession where we do exactly that: church ministry.  Over the years, the idea of not allowing women to engage fully in Christian service has troubled me.  There are a few reasons for this.  Firstly, I believe all Christians are called to leadership of some kind or another.  You’ve probably likely read this in some of my other blogs, but I also see the term “pastor” as being quite broad and all-encompassing.  Since I have a pastoral degree and have worked as a pastor myself, I know that although preaching and Bible studies may be a large and important part of our work, it is still only one part.  There’s also the ministry of presence, reconciliation, counseling, and working with young families that either gender is entirely capable of.  Not all pastors preach sermons to the entire congregation.  In fact many pastors never preach at all.   I also believe that a large part of our issue all comes down to semantics.  For example, when people hear me refer to myself as a “pastor” they automatically get their backs up.  There is this emotional blockage which will not let them continue just because of the terminology I am using even when I explain to them that I only work with kids.  Some churches prefer not to call a woman a “pastor” at all, instead they use derivations which mean the same thing such as “children’s ministry director,” “children’s worker” or “youth leader.”  If the woman is a children’s pastor or a children’s ministry co-ordinator she is likely doing the exact same thing, but for some reason people close themselves off and have an allergic reaction to the first term.  However, I truly believe that if we took the time to emotionally distance ourselves from these charged words and to really listen to what we all are saying we’d realize that in the end of the day, we are essentially saying the same things but because of our wording it comes across as if we are speaking a completely different language.

Secondly, it worries me that while our culture strives to incorporate women into all aspects of equal pay and equal rights, the church still tends to hold women at a distance.  I am not saying that all churches do this.  In fact, I believe that a church can believe in sole male headship while still respecting women’s rights and giving women a place to use their spiritual gifts and callings with dignity.  Whereas there can be churches which ordain women and still have inherent patriarchal structures or do not speak out against the sexualized violence that faces more women than we care to admit.  Nevertheless, it is a jarring fact for me that the church is perhaps one of the only institutions that does not follow our Canadian policy of hiring people regardless of gender and only because of an ancient book which was written in a completely different culture.

Young girl pretending to be a teacher to her teddy bearsI will always remember being 4 years old and in my pre-school Sunday school class.  From a young age, I completely loved God and adored the church.  In fact, I could never get enough of church!  Growing up, I had the opposite problem that most children have.  Most kids go through a phase where you have to drag them kicking and screaming to church.  They feel it’s “cool” to be rebellious or they become disinterested because their friends are doing other things on a Sunday morning like sleeping in.  Hey, we’ve all lived through puberty, we all know how great an extra few hours of rest is!  But personally, I not only wanted to go to church on a Sunday morning, I also wanted to go on a Sunday evening and Wednesday night.  And if that wasn’t enough, I set up my own personalized “teddy church” right there in the living room of my house.  It was complete with 5 teddy pastors (2 of which were women), and a solid team of deacons and elders.  My teddies would have bake-offs to raise money for their little mission trips and once back would make a report to the church.  The services were even recorded on one of those old-school radio tapes.  We even had an offering to keep up church expenses.  My parents faithfully sponsored two teddies (one each) and gave me a quarter for each one on their way to church.

So needless to say, the idea of being a pastor seemed like an obvious one to me.  A job where you get to spend your entire life in church?  Sounds like fun, sign me up.  I thought my church would also consider this to be a wonderful thing, but they did not.  They told me “honey, girls aren’t allowed to be pastors.”  They didn’t explain why.  And that sense of uneasiness has troubled me for most of my life.

Now that I’m a bit older and have poured massive amounts of research into this topic myself, I have begun to see why some groups of Christians do not affirm female pastors.  I can respect that.  But what I cannot respect is tearing down a little kid’s greatest wishes to serve God and recognizing the intense passion and longing that kid has to do what’s right and to follow God’s call upon her life.

I do not think it is easy to know how to respond to someone’s desire to be a female pastor, especially when it goes against your church’s or your own theology, however here are a few things to consider:

  • Congratulate the person. When a person of any age decides to be in any form of vocational ministry, it is not something to fear, but something to be excited about.  The honest truth is that more and more young adults in North America could care less about the church.  So anyone who wants to teach and train up others in good Christian living should not be discouraged, but rather should be mentored and taught how to best go about this.

    When I was younger and someone told me “honey, you can’t be a pastor.  You’re a girl.”  That didn’t end my resolve that just made me want it even more.  But I know that different people can have different reactions.  Telling someone they can’t do the very thing they feel they were created for, the very thing they feel makes them passionately alive, and the very thing they feel enables them to be all that God destined them to be is not only harsh, it’s abusive.  And I have seen the same thing happen to a few of my friends.  They weren’t women who wanted to be pastors but they were people who wanted to be missionaries but had health issues or they wanted to be Gideons but had speech impediments.  Some of them persevered and still managed to accomplish their dream, but others have now completely left the church because the church failed to harness that creative energy and channel it into something extremely positive.

If you absolutely cannot affirm female pastors, I’d still urge you not to squash a young person’s biggest dream, but instead say something like this:

“Honey, I’m so glad that you have such a passion and desire to serve God.  I’m so proud of you for wanting to follow His leading.  And while I don’t know where that’s going to take you in the future, I want you to know that if you’re following His will, you’re going big places and I can’t wait to see that.  In fact, maybe God will call you to be a great teacher, missionary, or inspire the next generation someday.  I’m sure whatever you end up doing, God’s going to use you to reach many other people, to help cheer people up, and to introduce many people to Christ.”

Then leave it at that.  You have not compromised your own theological viewpoints, you have not affirmed that it IS indeed okay for a woman to be a pastor, but you have boosted a child’s self-esteem and self-confidence and you’ve affirmed that what they are after is indeed a Godly thing.  So now there’s no more confusion.  They don’t have to worry about the fine points of theology – why God is calling them to do something but won’t let them do it.  They’re too young to understand that.  But they aren’t young enough to understand how important Christian vocation is.

  • Respect Each Other

Now that I’m older, I still find this part to be challenging.  A number of my friends cannot affirm my leaning to be a pastor because of my gender.  I don’t want to lose a friendship with them, but I also feel it’s important to be supported well by those you care about the most.  The Christian vocation is a lonely one, so not having that anchor makes it even more challenging.

However, in the end of the day, I think it really all comes down to respect.  If you’re a female pastor, respect those who disagree with you.  Don’t battle with them to change their minds.  If you’re the friend of a female pastor, respect them.  Don’t go into a theological tirade of proof-texting.

What I’ve learned over the years (and what I’ve shared in previous posts) is that I no longer believe that one is right and the other is wrong when it comes down to it.  Instead, I see how both groups are really trying to do the exact same thing.  A woman who wants to be a pastor goes against cultural odds and pressures and does what is unusual because she wants to serve the God she loves and she believes this is her calling.  A person who is against female leadership is trying to stay faithful to the Word of God.  In the end of the day, we all want the same thing, just in different ways.

My friends often get frustrated with my conclusions, but I think they fail to understand how much research I’ve put into it.  It’s troubled me many times and it still does whenever I read Paul’s words.  I want to do the right thing.  I want to be a Bible-believing Christian, but I also cannot be untrue to myself or unfaithful to my Lord who has called and chosen me.  I don’t come to my conclusions lightly, but from years of writing and research.  Likewise, it’s easy to shove-off my contrary friends and simply blame “proof-texting” but that isn’t fair either.  They’ve come to their own conclusions through careful, diligent research and I also must learn to respect that.

 

It is incredibly difficult to navigate ministry, period.  It becomes even more difficult and intense when issues of gender get involved.  Ultimately, though, our same Lord is really calling all of us to the exact same things.  We are all called to comfort the lost and broken-hearted, and we are all called to preach the Good News (the Gospel).  This means that realistically every single one of us who has accepted Christ’s full and complete Lordship over our lives is called to be a preacher, a pastor.  And this is true whether you are actually a pastor or not.

 

Two-Part Conversation Starter: I wonder how many faithful, Godly women have been denied the opportunity to lead and thus to do amazing things for the Kingdom. Conversely, I wonder how many men have failed to step-up and provide leadership because they thought the women would “do it all?”  Women in leadership has the potential to become over-powering, even a way to justify male laziness (cf. the fact that in many Canadian churches men usher and not much else because as one usher told me “it’s the least amount of work, but I still feel involved).  However, not allowing a woman to be faithful to what she truly feel God has called her to do also has inherent challenges namely confusion and frustration.  How do we find the balance while being faithful to both the Word of God and our individual testimonies?

God’s Not Disappointed in You

89ac6ffbdce48414b114e51a4cd8544e.jpg I used to think everything happened for a reason, but after this week I’m not so sure.  Everything was going so incredibly well in my life.  I had the most fantastic job with the best co-workers anyone could ever ask for.  I had an incredibly understanding supervisor (something not many people can claim) and I was living in the city of my dreams – Edinburgh.  Not only is the city of Edinburgh beautiful in and of itself, but God also richly blessed by life with so many incredible friends during my year abroad – the kind of friends you can be real with and you can be yourself around (exactly the kind of friends that are hard to find and impossible to leave).  Furthermore, these same friends were in the same life stage as me.  Although I love my Canadian friends very much and am delighted to spend any free moments I can with them, the reality is that most of them are moving on (geographically), getting married, and having children.  That’s wonderful for them, but it can also leave a single person like myself feeling a bit left-out wondering when my time will come (if it will come).  Being in Edinburgh was so powerful for me because I finally had friends who were single and loving every moment of their singlehood.  I didn’t find them complaining or questioning, but rather seeing life as an adventure that one can partake in with or without a partner.  Just by virtue of being with them, I no longer felt that familiar pang in my heart or that insatiable thirst for this unknown variable, instead I threw myself into social enterprises, church ministry, and trying to develop relationships with the intentional community I was a part of.  It seemed that although I was only 25, I was in my prime – I was doing what I loved, with people I loved, and for the God I love.  However, this all changed in July when due to my visa restrictions I had to come back to Canada.

At first being in Canada was incredibly rich and special.  It was great to be able to catch up with friends I had not seen in over a year and to share news with each other and even (in some cases) to meet their new spouse or children.  It was also great to be able to finally understand everyone’s accent and get some decent maple syrup (because anyone who has ever lived in Europe knows what a rare commodity this is!).  But soon I once again found myself discontented with life.  Coming back from the mission field with no real way to fully process my experience made the transition challenging, so did what I perceived to be a lack of interest in spiritual matters from many Canadian young adults.  But perhaps the most difficult aspect of all lay in the fact that the job market and the economy is near impossible to enter into.

Prior to leaving Scotland, I applied for a variety of positions.  Over the past several months I have been asking God for a clearer vision of where my life is headed.  God has spoken to my heart in very precise ways over the past few years so I know the basics:

I know God has called me into organized vocational ministry (whereas I believe all Christians minister in various ways regardless of their professional background, I know God has called me specifically to work with churches and para-church organizations).

I know God has called me specifically to work and share life with adults with developmental and physical disabilities (this has been confirmed through the intense passion He has given me for this people group).

I know that God has called me to continue writing (in whatever format that might take – my personal blog or the occasional article I pitch to outside magazines and websites).

I know God has called me to a specific location to do all of this – Edinburgh (although when I will go back and exactly for how long remains to be seen.  Prior to leaving Edinburgh I made the outrageous claim which thankfully a good friend called me on.  I claimed that God was calling me to Edinburgh permanently.  Although I have not entirely closed myself to that possibility, I now see it was a rather rash comment.  In reality, I believe God may be calling me back for another year or two or perhaps for the rest of my life…but then again, maybe not).

So I have the basics down, but I am hoping God makes it clear to me exactly what direction to take and soon.  So before I left, I got serious.  I sent out resumes to churches, non-profits, hospitals and nursing homes and I was met with the same response: rejection.  The rejection wasn’t always rejection because of me personally – in many cases it was an honest statement that the church or organization had no money to pay me and would I like to work for free (I would not).  At other times there were issues with timing or my age and lack of experience or my personal favourite the fact that I am a woman and we can’t allow a woman to be a youth pastor.  So I got pretty discouraged.  Since time was running out (and so was my visa) I decided to stick with the path I knew so well: to remain in L’Arche for another year.

Now L’Arche is a wonderful organization and I will forever be touched and blessed because of the years I spent with them.  But being in L’Arche also has incredible challenges that are sometimes ignored by the general populace who have a pastoral and idyllic sense of our community.  Additionally, due to circumstances beyond my control, not only did I end up back with L’Arche but in the most rural place you could ever imagine: Orangedale, Nova Scotia (never heard of it?  Don’t worry – me neither!).  Orangedale is the type of place where you could walk for 5 hours in either direction and you’d still be in the middle of a bush.  It’s the type of town that redefines “small town Canada.”  It’s the type of town that doesn’t even have a gas station, bank, or children’s play park let alone a barber shop, salon, or movie theatre.  When I first set foot in Orangedale I asked myself “why am I here?”  I knew it was not the place for me before I even arrived.

So why did I go?  I felt obligated.  I felt stuck since I couldn’t find another job.  And people kept telling me maybe there was a reason God was calling me there.  In the first few weeks along with becoming stir-crazy I faced depression.  I felt unhappy, unable to open up my heart to those I lived and worked with.  I felt like I could never call this place home.  This upset me.  I tried everything.  I called friends in Canada, Skyped or Facebooked friends in Scotland, prayed an insane amount of prayers, cried an insane amount of tears, and read an insane amount of Scripture passages.  But nothing helped.  I felt let down.  I felt I had failed God.  I felt that because my friends kept reiterating that there was a purpose to be here, that I was supposed to serve in some way or learn some new lesson but that I seemed incapable of allowing that to happen that God was greatly disappointed in me.  This fuelled my depression and made me even more disappointed in myself.

However, one day on one of my long, aimless walks I ended up just pouring it out before the Lord.  I neither blamed God or questioned.  I simply asked Him: what’s Your opinion of this mess?  I told Him that if He wanted me to stay, I needed some support.  I couldn’t do this alone.  I needed confirmation, but also supernatural provision.  I asked Him to make me happy.  But He didn’t do any of this.  Instead He spoke another word of hope and encouragement into my heart.

God told me He was not disappointed in me.  He said if I left I would not be punished.  He said that He’s not the type of God that messes with mental sanity just to make a point.  God doesn’t force depression on us just to teach us to “be content in every circumstance.”  He doesn’t run us ragged just to teach us to think of others more and ourselves less.  He doesn’t ignore our bleeding hearts for the sake of converting another bleeding heart soul.  God wants what’s best for us.  He wants us to serve – but He wants that service to come from a well-spring of joy, not from a depleted stream where there is literally nothing left.

Sometimes people make following God’s will so easy.  They make it sound like He’s a genie in a bottle.  You ask Him a question: should I go there, should I do that, should I study this, should I marry him and He will instinctively give you an answer and then right away reveal the reason for His answer.  I do not believe this is truly the case.  Sometimes in life God makes it clear what we are to do, but more often than not, He allows us to use our brains and exercise free choice.  It’s like that meme that keeps popping up around Facebook “yes, everything happens for a reason: sometimes the reason is you make stupid choices and now you have to live with the consequences.”  Sometimes we might pray and pray and pray over a decision, but still not feel confirmation one way or the other.  Sometimes we might actually have to wait until we take the job, move houses, or go back to school before we know for sure if that’s the place to be.  It’s not because God withheld that information from us in order to make us miserable…sometimes it’s just because that’s what needed to happen: there was a lesson in the journey (even if there is no lesson in the destination).

So is any experience ever really wasted?  Sometimes we start something and it goes terrible, but we see later it was meant to be.  My first year of seminary was like that.  I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and probably for the wrong reasons.  I was unhappy, but looking back I see I was meant to be there because that’s where I developed my heart and passion for people with disabilities.  If I never would have gone, I don’t know where my life would be today.

On the other hand, one time I applied to be a youth pastor at a Chinese Church about an hour away from Toronto and that really didn’t work.  The cultural barrier (enhanced by the fact that I, myself, am biracial) was too much, and I had too many car issues to continue the drive.  So I quit.  But because I quit, I was offered an even better position as a Christian Education Intern at a Pentecostal church right in the heart of Toronto.  Was it God’s will that I be a youth pastor and quit after a month?  I can’t say for sure.  I honestly don’t think either the kids or I really got anything out of it…I think it was just one of those things.  A fluke that happened, but that God redeemed for something even better.

So really I think it’s hard to blame God every time something doesn’t work out because I honestly don’t think everything happens for a reason.  But then again, maybe it does.  If you’re in a job you can’t stand or a location you don’t like, maybe there is a lesson in all of this.  Maybe the lesson is simply to push yourself to find something different, to take more time deciding on a career before pursing it just for the sake of money, or to finally be able to stand up for yourself and do what’s right for YOU rather than just what others expect.  Then again maybe the lesson is even more simple.  Maybe the real lesson is just to trust that you can back down with no repercussions.  That God really is not disappointed with you.

What To Do When Your Dreams are Shattered

20070905-164910  I’d like to give you a very common Bible verse in three very different translations:
People may make plans in their minds, but the Lord decides what they will do. (NCV)

We should make plans—counting on God to direct us. (TLB)

We plan the way we want to live, but only God makes us able to live it. (MSG)

Proverbs 16:9 (https://www.biblegateway.com/verse/en/Proverbs%2016%3A9)  

Here’s my question: have you ever been so incredibly sure that God was calling you to do something and yet He repeatedly closed the door?

For me, my time was in Edinburgh. When I was there I felt the Lord ask my heart “if I called you to Scotland permanently would you say yes?”  And after much prayer I agreed.  My heart was then filled with this peace I have never known before.  A sense of permanency in an impermanent world.  Saying yes to Scotland was far from easy.  Logically it made no sense to even go there in the first place.  I have no family there and although I’ve made plenty of friends, the truth is that the majority of them are transient, too.  Being part of L’Arche and being part of the International Fellowship Group were both wonderful experiences gathering students and young workers together from around the globe, however, the truth is that while some may stay in Edinburgh permanently, the majority of them will go back to their home countries once their contract or school term is completed.  Thus, my decision to move to Edinburgh, which I felt was confirmed over and over again by God was nothing short of a sacrifice on my part.  Additionally, it was a real lesson in humility and trust as I soon learned that Scotland is quite conservative compared to Canada.  Whereas in Canada my friends knew I was pursuing a pastorate and some still disagreed, there was always a sense of being open-minded and accepting.  For the sake of our friendship, people who otherwise were not in favour, soon found themselves attending church on days I was preaching.  In Edinburgh I learned that churches are still very traditional and that it is a big deal (perhaps even blasphemous) for a woman to preach.  Nevertheless, for the sake of the amazing people I met there and the lovely culture I was willing to suspend even this dream for the sake of the many other blessings being in this location provided for me.   That’s why when God repeatedly closed the door I was nothing short of surprised.

Being in Edinburgh taught me that there is so much I take for granted in my day-to-day life.  Good friends, a good church, and lovely scenery.  The truth of the matter is that for many of us, these things are only transitionary periods.   Being surrounded by such Godly and mature people 24/7 may have been the thing of Bible College or the Fellowship…but for many of us they are not the thing of real life.  Many of us don’t have those opportunities to constantly hang out with friends, talk about Habbakuk while sipping coffee, or engaging in a debate about predestination while drinking beer.

At first when I started this internal wrestling of why God seemingly gave me a wonderful and profound promise and then took it away, I started doubting.  Maybe I had heard God wrong.  About a month before I left Edinburgh I was sitting in Prince’s Street Gardens with a Big Mac in one hand and a large soda in the other and a man from my church group randomly walked by.  We struck up a conversation and he challenged my optimistic and naïve Facebook posts about coming back being a for sure thing.  He said I shouldn’t be so confident because if God had other plans it would save me a lot of embarrassment.  I tried to back pedal since that day, but I have to admit, maybe he was right.

A little while later, I started feeling hopeful again.  Maybe it’s not time yet, but who’s to say it will never be time?  Yet the more I thought about it, the more I decided this may not take place.  My brother’s getting married in the upcoming months and since I only have one brother there are just some things you have to make time for.  You may need to put aside your nomadic wandering for the sake of family.  That might just be what Jesus would do.  (Then again maybe not… He did say foxes have holes and birds have nests but He has nowhere to lay His head…but that’s another story).

My last thought on the issue revolved around theological constructs.  Maybe God gave me this dream, this passion, and this desire to go back in order to tempt me.  Maybe it’s something akin to Abraham being asked to sacrifice Isaac.  Maybe I’d start looking up flights and re-entering the visa process just for God to turn around and say “HAHA!  Fooled you there, didn’t I?  Just kidding” and then re-route me.

The honest truth of the matter is that this detour gives me more questions than answers.  Questions like: did God really ask me to do that or was it all just in my head?  Did God back-pedal or change His mind?  Did my own desires and emotions completely crowd my logic so that my head had no place to swim?  Has this interest in going back become an idol or an escape mechanism for the fact that I really don’t want to re-integrate back into Canadian culture?  If I actively pursue another opportunity (one with a locked contract of 3 or 5 years) does that now make me disobedient to Christ and His ultimate will and plan?

Although all these questions are valid…there’s something even more profound I am facing.  A shattering and dismantling of dreams and with that a bewilderment as to how to put those pieces all back together.

If you’ve ever found yourself in a similar predicament, I’d like to offer you a message of hope and encouragement.  Things may look bleak, unfamiliar, and scary now, but there is something even better over the horizon.  Something that will completely dazzle and defy your false perceptions.  Something splendid that will become a well-spring of hope and life for your soul.

But before that happens, there are a few things you may need to do first.  I’m not going to give you those stereotypical answers of just praying more, leaning into the Word, or speaking with your pastor.  Those things may help and maybe you should do them, but rather than giving you these pat-answers in the unforeign language of “Christianese” I’d like to give you three very practical steps we all can take and that don’t sound so daunting.

#1: Acknowledge Your Loss and the Subsequent Pain That Goes With It

Recently I made the difficult and painful decision to leave L’Arche completely.  Those of you who follow this blog know that L’Arche has been an incredibly big part of my life for the past 3 years so without it I feel a sense of impending grief and it covers virtually every fibre of my being.  The fact that I have decided to leave L’Arche also marks the fact that it is now going to be much more difficult for me to get back into the UK because L’Arche was quite honestly one of the few tickets back to Scotland I had.  Many people are congratulating me on the decision which seems strangely odd.  You see, I studied to be a pastor not a Personal Support Worker, a deacon not a Developmental Social Worker.  People think “finally, she’s growing up!  She’s going to be doing something in her field!  Something ‘worthy’ of all those years of education and finances invested.”  And that may be true.  People are excited that I’m now pursuing kids ministry and they think I’m going to be a great children’s pastor.  Thank you for your encouragement!  This may all very well end up being the case and maybe God is going to call me to a wonderful church, introduce me to that man who’s been looking for a Godly wife his entire life, and then I’ll settle down and increase the number of children in our kids program by 5 or 7 in the next 10 years.  However, at this particular moment I feel sad.  I feel a great sense of loss.  I even feel a wave of anger and discouragement.  And on top of it all, I feel like a failure.  I feel like I didn’t give it all I had and I am disappointed with myself because I always try to be passionate.

The first step in the healing journey is not to ignore or downplay your feelings.  It’s not to justify what you’re doing next.  It’s to quite honestly look yourself in the mirror and say “right now I feel like crap.  I feel like this situation is crappy.  I feel like it might not be getting better for a long while and that’s completely okay.  My feelings are mine.  They don’t belong to anyone else.  I am entitled to feel them in anyway that I feel them.”

 

#2: Look at the Whole Picture, Not Just One or Two Broken Shards

When you discern that your time in a particular ministry is up, it’s important to look back and reflect on the whole rather than fixate on one or two failures.  The truth is, that I’ve made plenty of mistakes in L’Arche.  I’ve burnt food, forgotten to sign documentation, and raised my voice once or twice…and that’s completely normal. But I’ve also done lots of really good things with people and for people.  It can be easy to think that there’s something missing when you’re leaving…maybe you could have done more or done better at something, but you won’t get that time back.  Worrying won’t get you anywhere, but planning for future improvements will.  Conversely, you may feel like the time you spent in ministry was wasted.  Maybe you could have started your career as a pastor 3 or 5 years earlier instead of going on a wide-goose chase that ultimately you feel amounted to nothing.  However, that’s really not the case.  The lessons you learned along the way will be invaluable and you will find that you use them at the randomest of times.  Don’t blame yourself, the organization, or the people you work with…cherish your fondest memories and hold them close.

#3: God’s Not Disappointed With You…So Don’t Be Disappointed With Yourself

I planned a blog post in advance and scheduled it for this weekend…that was before I officially put in my resignation.  But instead of changing the date and putting that one first and this one next… I decided to leave it as it is.  And if that makes it all seem a bit disjointed and unorganized, then so be it.

Anyways, my original blog post is called “God’s Not Disappointed With You” and it recounts how stepping down is not a sign of moral failure or weakness, but can actually be a profound gift from God.

We are often hard on ourselves and our toughest critics.  The truth is, no one in this world is looking as hard at you as you are looking at yourself.

Just yesterday I had hit an all-time low.  I was feeling depressed about leaving L’Arche and this sadness caused me to distance myself from the others.  Over my break, I did my daily Bible reading and it just so happened that the passage I landed upon was Psalm 34.  Suddenly those words washed over my soul and gave me a brand-new outlook filled with future possibilities and hopes.  Instead of writing a conclusion about how God’s got this and suggesting you look up, I think the Word of God is the best possible ending I could ever leave you with.  So to close, let me just leave this here and see how it speaks to your heart and soul especially in these present circumstances.
Grace and peace for your journey!

 

Psalm 34[a][b]

Of David. When he pretended to be insane before Abimelek, who drove him away, and he left.

I will extol the Lord at all times;
his praise will always be on my lips.
I will glory in the Lord;
let the afflicted hear and rejoice.
Glorify the Lord with me;
let us exalt his name together.

I sought the Lord, and he answered me;
he delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant;
their faces are never covered with shame.
This poor man called, and the Lord heard him;
he saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him,
and he delivers them.

Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.
Fear the Lord, you his holy people,
for those who fear him lack nothing.
10 The lions may grow weak and hungry,
but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.
11 Come, my children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
12 Whoever of you loves life
and desires to see many good days,
13 keep your tongue from evil
and your lips from telling lies.
14 Turn from evil and do good;
seek peace and pursue it.

15 The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
and his ears are attentive to their cry;
16 but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil,
to blot out their name from the earth.

17 The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them;
he delivers them from all their troubles.
18 The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

19 The righteous person may have many troubles,
but the Lord delivers him from them all;
20 he protects all his bones,
not one of them will be broken.

21 Evil will slay the wicked;
the foes of the righteous will be condemned.
22 The Lord will rescue his servants;
no one who takes refuge in him will be condemned.

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+34&version=NIV

 

Making Our Presence Known

download   What do you get when you cross an extroverted middle-aged woman with a profound developmental disability with a ton of unsuspecting tourists at the small town diner?  The answer: lots of confused looks, blank stares, and uncomfortable shuffles.

We live in a society that promotes “wellness.”  This unfortunately has redefined our perceptions of beauty, perfection, and strength.  Instead of being humbled, we are prideful.  Instead of being open to wonder, we believe that wonder only exists in those exactly like ourselves.  That’s why it’s such a refreshing moment for me whenever I visit a local store or restaurant with Maggie, one of the core members I live with in Cape Breton.

Maggie is always very energetic and active.  Upon first meeting you, she will often offer a firm handshake and perhaps a kiss on your cheek.  Maggie does not have this sense of “personal space” nor does she understand awkwardness.  Instead she relishes in the attention that she believes people are giving her.  She likes to always be at the centre – the one recognized and noticed.  Which makes complete sense because she has spent most of her life on the margins – being unnoticed, ignored, and walked over.  For Maggie, a quick hello is not enough, she expects a bear hug.  A slight wave is barely anything, she demands a full-on embrace.

When I first started taking Maggie on outings I admit that I felt strangely out of place and even embarrassed.  I wasn’t sure how others would take her invitation to be included in her life, so I used to stand there awkwardly.  Half the time I was trying to either prevent her from saying hi or to tear her apart from the unsuspecting shopper who she had already snuck up to.  However, recently my attitudes have shifted.

What is so awkward about a person with Down Syndrome, autism, or cerebral palsy saying hi to someone at the corner store?  I know it is a sad reality, but I sometimes wonder if these same abelistic mentalities still sneak up on those of us who work in the field, are caregivers, or parents of someone with a disability.  We, of all people, should be ambassadors, should “know better” but maybe there is still a part of us that has bought into society’s ideals.

A few months ago I attended a brilliant disability theology conference up in Belfast, Ireland and I remember one lady sharing with tears in her eyes about how a young man at a grocery store needed her help, but because she was not his caregiver and did not know him, she basically ignored him and went on with her own shopping.  Months later this thought still terrifies her and makes her feel incredibly guilty.  She also has a child with a disability and has worked in the field professionally, so she couldn’t wrap her mind around her response.  She didn’t know what caused her to panic in that moment and to feel awkward and shy.

She’s not the only one.  I know I’ve done it many times myself.  When I’m in L’Arche I’m full on involved in our core member’s lives.  I don’t mind helping in anyway, and personal care is not a strange or foreign concept to me.  But the moment I’m on my “day off” and at the grocery store it’s like I can become a completely different person.  I don’t know why this is.  I could blame society’s expectations, but I really think it comes down to how we personally think and feel about disability issues.

It can be difficult to know how to relate to someone who is quite different than we are, but it is almost always worth the investment.  We can start small.  When you see someone struggling at a grocery store, don’t walk into the next aisle, treat them like a child, or ignore them.  Ask if they are alright and if you can assist them in any way, even if it’s just opening a door or pushing that pesky shopping cart through those annoying turnstiles.  Approach the individual as an equal and as an adult, don’t ask questions in patronizing or condescending ways.  Don’t change your tone or your vocabulary to sound like you’re addressing a two year old, ask the person if they need help the same way you might like someone to ask you.

If you see a child with a disability having a full out tantrum in the store, don’t walk away or offer the parents a sympathetic or condescending look.  See if you can be a needed presence by distracting the child with humour.  Don’t make the parent feel like there’s an “us versus them” mentality.  If you’re a parent, chances are you’ve experienced the exact same thing plenty of times regardless of whether or not your child has a disability.  Offer compassion and empathy, not judgment.

And if you’re accompanying someone like Maggie to the store, just let her be herself.  Don’t hinder her from saying hi and reaching out.  Don’t take ownership for how you think other people will react.  Open your heart and mind to the possibility that maybe this type of interaction is exactly what the other person needs.  Maybe they are having a really difficult day, and Maggie just intuitively knows that and wants to cheer them up.  Or maybe, Maggie, like all of us, just wants her presence to be known.  Wants us to stop living in our abeslistic bubbles.  Wants to be heard, cherished, and loved.  Wants to be free to express herself.