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Archive for May, 2011

The Big Picture

For this second blogpost, I’m going to pull the camera back a little from “God in my day” to “God in my life”. By way of introduction, I’ll welcome you to a small memoir of God finding me on this winding path of life – a life that usually looks more like a messy plate of spaghetti than anything else! Good thing messes are God’s specialty!

Photo by Joel Penner

My faith journey has not been dramatic. I grew up in a faith community in North Kildonan, where church, Sunday School, prayer meetings at home and even Bible stories at school from Miriam’s Book of Bible Stories were my bread and butter. I remember sitting beside my dad in church as a kid, wondering about things the preachers were going on about – like, how did they know it was Paul the apostle who wrote all those Bible verses, or, why on earth did Jesus have to die for our sins? Another question, still with me today, was why did some of those preachers have to yell so much?!

When I was around 7 years old, I became “convicted of my sins” in DVBS, aka Daily Vacation Bible School. In the basement of my friend Doris’ house, I heard the call to “give my life to God”. This conversion experience was a mixture of a fear of hell (always fun for a 7 year old!), a sense of doing what was expected and a response to Tante Bargen (Doris’ mom and my second mom) who I loved.

It’s hard to sort out the beginnings of these journeys, but as far as I can tell, that was my first conscious coming to faith, and my signature on the dotted line in the DVBS handout became a life-long consolation to my Mom who wanted above all for her daughters to follow God in their lives. For many years I have dismissed this early conversion experience as a mere rite of passage that we all went through, but, remembering it now leaves me feeling grateful that I received this early grounding direction.

Around the same time, I remember kneeling on my bed in front of the headboard in the evenings, praying the lines I’d memorized, but also praying from the heart for my sister Hildi, who was 17 years old and suffering from leukemia. She sadly passed away one year later, but one of the lasting gifts she gave me was this sense of prayer, and of going to God in our troubles.

Among the gifts my parents passed on to me, one was enrolling me in a faith-based school from Grades 7-12. Mennonite Brethren Collegiate Institute (MBCI) was not a perfect school, but its teachers were instrumental in opening my mind and heart further to God. Friends to whom faith also mattered surrounded me. We also sang in many choirs and small groups, and the many hymns and songs of faith were a huge influence to me in keeping my thoughts open to God amid all the hormones and misdirection of a regular teenager. To this day, singing can soften my heart back to God like few other things can.

Many blessings have come my way to keep me on this God path. This is definitely not to say that my life has been Easy Street. Early marriage troubles (which have eased as we grew up), a job of teaching which has never been easy for me but which I’ve always felt called to, and battles with headaches have all served me in “keeping me on my knees”, looking to God for help. I could never have made it with hope, had there not been innumerable interventions by God.

One of the biggest interventions was that God brought my husband Lyle and myself to a small church early on in our marriage. This church, led by Paul Patterson,  folded early on but has continued on for 20 years under his leadership in the unconventional form of a house church called Watershed. Paul has a heart for God like no one I’ve ever met, and has been a huge blessing to myself and many others. He has been a mentor, giving perceptive insights that have steered me away from trouble and guiding me to readings that have helped me. He was the one who years ago gave me the wisdom to look for my deepest voice in writing rather than talk therapy. Along with our small faith community, he helped Lyle and I get our rocky marriage out of troubled waters and back to a larger vision.

Watershed under Paul’s leadership has been a huge influence for me in the last 25 years, keeping me tethered to faith when I would have easily given up in cynicism or gotten mired in depression. In a time where faith and church is largely considered obsolete, God has worked in Watershed to make faith relevant and as necessary as food and water, a metaphor that I do not use lightly. It is only becoming more true as I get older. I have seen many stories of God’s healing in the lives of my friends.

These are the broad strokes of God’s story in my life’s story. No doubt I’ll tell more of the story in other posts. As I reflect on it, I cannot say for one moment that this is something I have done. I consider myself standing under a ton of mercy, where God has intervened in my life and provided healing when I would have long ago given up on myself. One of my favorite quotes by Eugene O’Neill says it well:

“We are born broken. We live by mending. The grace of God is glue.”

How about you? Do you have times in your life of faith being stirred up in you?

where was God in my day – post 1

Where Was Who?!

Photo by Joel Penner

Have you ever received life-changing advice? This happened to me several years ago. The road leading from this advice has brought me to the creation of this blog. Here’s my story.

Paul Patterson, the pastor of my small house church Watershed, has been an invaluable guide to myself and many others. He had always noticed in me a certain habit of seeing the worst in situations and especially in myself, and so the advice he gave me years ago contained a certain confrontation. “You are getting so good at this habit of emotional thinking. Why don’t you try something new – instead of the automatic catastrophic way of thinking, why not ask yourself, “Where was God in your day?

The advice woke me up. Had I heard it in my 20’s or 30’s, I would likely have ignored it, but sometimes in our 40’s, we start to get sick enough of our old habits that we become open to something else. Having grown up in church and church school, you’d think this wouldn’t be a new question for me! But I’m afraid it was. My world had seemed to shrink to one word – ME. I was mostly an angry and depressed person by then, and I was in need of healing.

The advice reminded me of an old Bible verse from the New Testament.

Phil. 4:8   Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Around the same time, another good friend of mine told me that Paul’s advice had reminded him of something he’d heard – that when scientists are aiming a rocket ship at its eventual destination of the moon, even the smallest shift of the compass can make the difference of an accurate landing. And so it was that I began to shift my thinking, letting my mind and heart dwell instead on this question, not where did I screw up today? Not, why am I not doing as well as so-and-so? Instead, I shifted the compass to “Where was God in my day?”

Every spring, I go out to a local pond to look for frog eggs to take back to my classroom so we can all watch the metamorphosis from tadpole to frog. Spotting the egg masses floating amid the twigs and spring debris is almost impossible at first. But, once you’ve developed an eye for the camouflaged eggs, suddenly they are everywhere! Starting to look for God in my day has been something like that. The evidence of God is everywhere, once an eye of trustful seeing has developed.

I’m certainly not always good at it, and ofttimes I fear I’ve lost the capacity altogether. I am often still so mired in my old habits that I find myself miserable, back on God’s doorstep, pounding at the door asking to see where God is. My experience has been that whenever I’ve asked, I’ve never yet been let down. It’s a way of being convinced that can’t be written about in scientific textbooks. I could never convince a skeptic. I just know that for me, I’ve received so many examples that I’ve lost track. The evidence is that my once turbulent heart has received peace over and over again.

A friend at work started a blog this year about her vocation of being a mother. Her reflective entries have been enjoyable to read, and it wasn’t long before I began to think that I’d like to write a blog. But, what would it be about? That’s when this question came to me. No sooner had I uttered my idea to my dear friend Bev, than I started to hear encouragement to do it.

And so, there you have it. Maybe you are someone who also has this desire to see God. Maybe you’re someone who is more on the skeptical end of the spectrum. No matter, I invite you to join and if anything rings true for you, please join me and offer stories of your own, evidence of that great question Paul gave me years ago, the question that is changing my life, one compass degree at a time. Who knows, one of these years, my old habits will become healed altogether and my metamorphosis will be complete.

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