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Archive for January, 2013

What do you want?

If you were to meet a wise and benevolent spirit who asked you what you wanted, what would you ask for? It seems a simple question, but it is perhaps trickier than we think. What is the one wish which would give you your heart’s deepest desire?

As a kid, I remember the Sunday School story of King Solomon, before he was a king, who was visited by God in a dream. He was told, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” (1 Kings 3:5) Solomon asked for wisdom in 8D2CF7243D5B4B018DB848E3A395F8A2.ashx_governing the people and God gave it to him in abundance.

I came across this question this week in several contexts, and it was even asked of me – a synchronicity which once again made me think God is up to something in the learning I am receiving lately.  The first synchronicity was two picture books which I read to my students. I hadn’t planned it, but they had very similar themes.

Each book featured 3 brothers. In each book, like Cinderella, the two older brothers were strong and in charge, but the youngest was a simpleton who received the scorn of his older brothers. In each book, a reversal of fortune happened as the simpleton received the good future which the older brothers thought they were entitled to. And in each book, the simpleton was met by an animal, like a toad or rabbit, and asked a question :

“What do you want?”

Of course, the simpleton asked for the very thing which helped him pass the tests of the story and win his good fortune which included not being a simpleton anymore.

The story our community was studying in Mark this week involved Jesus asking the same question to several groups of people. He asked his disciples but their heads were filled with visions of grandeur. “When you reach glory,” they told Jesus, “we each want to sit at your right and left hand.” Little did they know that the road to Easter first involved Good Friday. They wanted all the glory without the cost. Jesus told them, “You have no idea what you’re asking.”

Blind-at-midlife-pictureJesus also asked a blind man. As soon as he heard Jesus was coming, he began  hollering for Jesus to come over and help him. The guy threw off his begging blanket and ran over to where Jesus was. “What do you want?” asked Jesus, as if the answer wasn’t obvious. “I want to see,” answered the blind man, who received his wish immediately. Jesus said that his faith had healed him.

We were asked, “What would we ask Jesus if he asked us what we wanted?” What would we want Jesus to do for us? Here is my answer.

I want the same thing as the blind man. I want to see. To always see my life through God’s eyes, because way too often I think my version of things is the end of the story. I’m a lot like the disciples (and like the older brothers in the children’s books), who wanted and even expected glory without the cost.

Way too often I give in to defeatist attitudes and despairing thoughts instead of running to Jesus with my cares like the blind man did. Timothy Keller, an author and preacher, has a good quote. He says that our normal assumptions, pride and egotistical thinking blind us to the truth. One example is worry. “Naturally, if you love people, you’re going to worry about them. But do you know where constant worry comes from? It’s rooted in an arrogance that assumes, I know the way my life has to go, and God’s not getting it right.”

I went back to prayer the next morning and gave God my request. I gave God my worries. My worries that I’m not reaching all those tough kids and tough situations; my worries that I’m too controlling as a teacher; my worries that I will be too swamped during the report cards that are due soon. I asked for my blindness to be healed.

Scripture has a great line: “You do not have because you do not ask God.” (James 4:2) Our worried ways of living can become as addictive as drugs, and it’s hard to throw off the blanket of our old life, like the blind man did. But when we give up our own ways, God always comes through. I shouldn’t be surprised by this, but I found that as soon as I asked, I received. I asked to see my students through God’s eyes and God healed me.  My worries slipped away as I stepped back into service instead of worry. Life felt joyful once again.

The Two Blind Men, detail, 6th Century Mosaic

I know it is not a one time fix. Like a bad habit, my blindness tends to take over again and again. I pray that it will be healed “more than less”, as we say in our community. Jesus keeps addressing me with the question, “Lydie, what do you want?”. I want to see, and I figure if I keep bugging God, I’ll be ok.

Eye of the Needle

“In India, we have a saying: ‘Everything will be alright in the end.’

So if it’s not alright, it is not yet the end.”

-From the movie, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

I recently heard this wonderful quote read on CBC’s Tapestry show on prayer. It brings to mind that other great prayer from 13th century Christian mystic Julian of Norwich, “All shall be well; all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.”

Often when things are not well, we are led to despair and dark thoughts, yet, these prayers remind us to keep the big picture in mind. Maybe, just maybe, the story is not over yet, and something will be resolved even if it seems impossible in the moment.

Last Sunday, our community had a time of reflecting on the past year. We’d all been asked to bring a picture or symbol of something that happened in 2012 which encouraged us, gave us comfort during a difficult time, let us know we weren’t alone, or something that evoked a greater openness of heart.

Ladder of Faith - photo by Paul Patterson

Ladder of Faith – photo by Paul Patterson

One by one, everyone began to share a story along with their picture, which we put on the centre table. We all know each other pretty well, so most of the stories weren’t new, but when we put them all together, we couldn’t help but be amazed – God had helped each person with problems they thought were insurmountable. In each situation, everything was indeed alright in the end.

The story I shared was one I wrote about in a February blogpost – about our Ash Wednesday service in February. We were asked to give to God a memory which dragged up our mistakes, losses or failures; something we felt helpless to change. I remember at the time that I was struggling with a certain problem and the evening gave me a ray of hope in a dark time.

Looking back, it was a turning point in that winter. After giving it to God, praying about it, and having the prayerful and encouraging support of friends, a miracle happened months later. Something I could not do was solved in a way I could not have predicted, but for which I was so grateful.

There’s a phrase that Jesus uses in the New Testament. He talks about something being impossible – like a camel trying to walk through the eye of a needle. Don’t worry though, because Jesus says, “With humans it is impossible, but with God, all things are possible.” (Mark 10:25) It seemed that each story that was shared was like a camel whisking through the eye of a needle. Each person left the Sunday morning meeting encouraged.

Then came Monday morning. I don’t know why, but I’d been feeling the old discouragement come up for me at work since going back in January. It’s an ancient and depressing feeling I know too well. “I’ll never change,” is usually the theme of my thoughts.

But a thought interjected on Monday morning as the underlying dark thoughts began to kick in again. I remembered the eye of the 220px-Eye_of_a_Needleneedle, and how God had gotten all of us through impossible situations. “Why can’t it apply here?”

This thought changed everything. If God brought me through the eye of a needle in 2012, why can’t it happen again? I began to pray. It has always been my experience that when honest and heart-felt prayer is brought to a situation, God always comes through. Hope began to bubble up again and love began to replace the despair that I’d been feeling.

I was looking for a book to read to my students for my lesson when a book called The Eye of the Needle, by Terri Sloat, caught my eye. I laughed at the synchronicity. In the book, a boy has a problem that is too big to solve and he has grown too large to re-enter his grandmother’s hut. His grandmother has a booksmagic ivory needle and tells him to come through the eye. The problem of the story is solved. He thought he was a failure, but somehow he becomes a hero who feeds the whole village.

I think everyone can identify with being caught in the horns of a dilemma – something that is too large to solve. As my students gobbled up this well told tale, I knew that in their own 8 and 9 year old ways, they understood perfectly. No one in this life, not even at their young age, is exempt from problems that seem impossible. They say God is closer than our own breath. It is often hard to remember that during difficulties. They seem so large and the way through is so tiny, almost miniscule. But with God, all things are possible. We all laughed as the boy got through by the needle’s magic.

I hope I remember next time the ancient troubles start to stare me down that I am not a victim of my circumstance. Everything might not always be alright, but there is more to the story than I can see. I was grateful that God saw me through one more needle this week.

 

Writing for a Living

Well, it was back to work for me after a 2 week break. I woke up at 2 am on Monday morning from a dream which gave me hope at the same time as it let me down. I didn’t remember anything except this joyful feeling which came with one thought:

“I write for a living!” writing1

I remembered the dream with a chuckle when the alarm finally buzzed 4 hours later. What was that all about?! I wondered as I packed my lunch and headed back to see my students.

Dreams are interesting messengers in this life of ours. Sometimes they encourage and guide us, sometimes they terrify and warn us and sometimes they just leave us mystified with their bizarre  images and symbols. As I re-entered the fast paced life of the class, the dream got left in the dust. My day job is a far cry from the solitary, reflective experience I know as writing.

Teaching is such a juggling act – trying to pull lessons off while interruptions of every kind are flying at you all at once, never mind kids who after the holidays can be as tired as their teacher. It requires equanimity… or at least the appearance of it! Some days the motto “Fake it till you make it” is my mantra. I wasn’t exactly overflowing in the equanimity department this week, and after a staff meeting reminding me of expectations in the weeks ahead, I found myself wondering about that dream. What about that “other” job of writing? I didn’t actually think the dream was meant to be taken literally, but I found myself less content as reality felt like a pair of too-tight shoes.

I knew God was looking out for me when I tackled the questions for our Wednesday night study and they addressed my temptation to want to be somewhere else. In the passage from Mark’s gospel, Jesus is walking with his disciples. He told them in plain language about the days ahead – that he would be put to death and resurrected – but his disciples’ thoughts were elsewhere. Instead of taking in Jesus’ words, they began arguing about which one of them was the greatest!

Ever the teacher, Jesus gathered them and responded to their squabbling with a lesson that rang true for me: “So you want first place? Then take the last place. Be the servant of all.” (Mark 9:35)

Hearing this tempered my squirmy thoughts and helped me focus. I realized I had gotten afflicted by the “Me-my-mine” syndrome again, wanting be first place like the disciples, wistfully wanting the “glory” of a cushier life. I chalked up my feelings of discomfort to the “back to school” blues and set my sights on “doing the right thing” and being a servant. I prayed for stamina in each day and like any one of my runs, I stuck with it. Nothing heroic about it, since I’m sure every teacher in the building was doing the same thing, but some days it’s these small battles that must be fought and re-fought on the path to becoming a wee bit wiser.

I mentioned the dream at our Wednesday night discussion and I was surprised by Paul’s quick interpretation. “Yes!” he chimed, “you do write for a living – it keeps you alive.”

His words seemed so obvious and yet it hadn’t even occurred to me. It wasn’t a dream about a source of income, but a reminder of where the well is if I’m going to make it through the school year. It’s that constant searching through the week, looking for God in each setting I’m in – that’s my true living. It’s worth more than any paycheck because it keeps me alive with meaning and hope.

 

Out With the Old

This week our house got upheaved as we had our kitchen painted. We carried countless items to another room, marveling with dismay at how much “stuff” we’ve collected in our 22 years here. Our friends Cal and Sean scraped, filled in holes, washed, sanded, caulked and finally painted.  The kitchen is sparkling new now, transformed from lifeless beige to “Lazy Sunday” blue with white trim. Thanks to their

The new kitchen

The new kitchen

hard work, we’ve entered the new year in style.

My work began once the last of the drop sheets and paint paraphernalia had been carted out –  the sorting and tidying of the post-renovation task. It became an opportunity to decide what we wanted to keep and what could be given to thrift stores. De-cluttering is a time-consuming job, but also energizing as we made our lives a bit more simple and organized.

As I spent time emptying cupboards, I realized that much of the de-cluttering would be hidden. Few people besides us cooks would really be looking into the far reaches of the cupboards. Yet it was still an important task, as we emptied our lives of things that were no longer useful to us.

I’ve also been doing a fair bit of sifting through the events of 2012, and the parallels began to emerge as I cleaned the kitchen. I realized that God had done some cleaning up of the hidden corners of my soul this past year. Like the items in my thrift store pile, some old attitudes just don’t feel important anymore.

One of these hidden corners is my outlook on my job. For some reason this fall, a shift took place in me. My friends and family can attest to all the years of agonizing I’ve done over my role as a teacher – all the planning and stresses that come with the territory which I’ve taken way too seriously. I have not done this perfectly, but it has felt like this time is over. Like living in a new room, I have been reading or writing more in the evenings, and have come to value and draw strength from this place of inner quiet. To me, this is one way that  prayer feels real.

I think the weekend trip to Vancouver that Lyle and I took just before school began had a lot to do with it. Instead of stressing about

Josh Garrels live in Vancouver

Josh Garrels live in Vancouver

school, we took walks, “wasted time” in Vancouver’s beauty, and of course took in a great concert. It was like I was marking the destination of my year as tending to my soul rather than to the many manufactured crises that I think I was previously addicted to.

Perhaps I state it better if I say God gave me an invitation to walk a different way: “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10) Ironically, within the stillness, I have felt more myself with my students and co-workers.

Another old attitude that God cleaned up in 2012 was that God helped me let go of a situation that I could not resolve on my own. In place of anger, God gave me forgiveness and freedom. It was a true testament to the power of prayer.

2012 was a year of many visible blessings:

  • Running
  • The many times of study and worship with our community which kept us steeped in God’s hope and meaning
  • Singing at Lion’s Manor with my buddies Marilyn and Eldon
  • Volunteering with Habitat and Monarch Teachers Network
  • Increasingly enjoying my job
  • Seeing Josh Garrels live in Vancouver with Lyle
  • Seeing many great movies, plays and concerts with Lyle

These were some of the visible things that happened this year, but as I cleaned out the kitchen cupboards, I realized it was the hidden healings that I felt the most grateful for. I know it is something I still need to nurture and tend, and I certainly don’t do this perfectly, but I look forward to 2013 with hope and gratitude. God’s got a pretty good track record, so I know that when (not if) I flounder, God will set my feet back on the path.

Hanging out in Vancouver

Hanging out in Vancouver

Now it’s off to the thrift store!

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