Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Round 2 of Coffee...

I can remember the night like it was yesterday. The air was warm and yet slightly crisp for a fall night. The lights glistened and the noise of traffic and people filled the city space. I was downtown Toronto with two of my most favourite people in the whole world, my parents.

I realize it’s not everyday that you hear someone talk this way about their parents, but then again, you probably don’t know my parents. I will admit it a thousand times, I’m a very lucky girl. Living independently over the past two years has only served as a big reminder of that. I love my parents but not just because they me life and raised me but because they’re just two of the best people I know. They love to have experiences, they love conversation, they like to travel and they’re bent on not getting set in their ways. They like to think about things, especially their faith. They love to meet interesting people. When we’re together we laugh and we tell stories and we remember why life is such a gift. They are the people who I desperately seek advice from on almost everything, because what they think matters to me, and because too often than not, the words they give me change my perspective on life.

So this past September, on the weekend of my 25th birthday, my parents drove to Toronto for the evening to take me out for a special birthday dinner at Marche. If you’ve never been to this restaurant you really need to go, it’s one of those places you have to experience at least once. So we went and we sat at a cute little table under a large skylight, surrounded by white lights in green trees. And for the next few hours we ate food that made our taste buds spring to life, and by candlelight and white lights we talked and laughed and shared stories. And a while after the first round of dessert coffee, they decided it was time for the second round of coffees. I love having coffee with people; it’s actually one of my favourite things to do. I’ve been on enough coffee dates to know that there are only certain people and certain circumstances that make you entertain the possibility of a round 2 of coffees. And so on this perfect night, we enjoyed round 2 of coffee because there was nowhere else we wanted to be than right there, in that moment, with each other.

This is the memory that I can’t get out of my head. It was everything about that night. It was being in the city, it was the pizza my Mom and I shared, it was watching my Dad’s eyes light up while he ate one of his favourite desserts, it was the feeling I got inside when my parents stood up to go and get round 2 of coffee. It was the realization that there wasn’t anywhere else they had to be; they just wanted to be there with me. Tears come to my eyes as I think about this night and as I consider that this is what it feels like to be loved. This is what it’s like to be fully present with someone. This is what it feels like to all of a sudden realize that those people are not just your parents; they’ve become two of your closest friends.

And when my counselor tells me to close my eyes and think about a memory that makes me feel safe, and seen, and heard, and loved, this is what I think about.

And when my mentor talks to me about Jesus just wanting to be present with me, this is the memory that I compare it to. Because if this is what it’s like for my parents to just want to be with me, then what might it be like for my Heavenly Father to just want to be with me?

I don’t know if my parents know just what that round 2 of coffees meant that night, but for me that second cup of coffee was a spiritual experience in every way.

Utterly thankful,

The Kindred Spirit

Monday, 5 November 2012

Sometimes You Need to Leave…

As I sit here and write this I am flying high above the clouds, on my way home to Toronto after a wonderful weekend spent in the South.

I’m a firm believer that sometimes in order to remember why you love a place, you have to leave it. Even if you leave for just a short time, for the good of your heart, and your mind and your soul, for the good of your story you need to go. As I look out the window and see the moon shine on the clouds beneath me, and every now and again catch a glimpse of the land below, I am reminded that I am so small and insignificant. Yet here I am surrounded by gifts, starting with the very blood that runs through my veins and gives me life.

Airports are one of my most favourite places. I know, I’m weird. People from all over the world in one place, everyone on the go with some place to be. I sit and I watch them. I wonder about their lives. Where do they come from? Why do they dress like that? What is their story? Why does she look so sad? Why is that man wearing a dress? I listen to the accents, to the languages, I hear them talk on their cell phones and wonder where their homes are? The men and women in uniform walk past and I look in their eyes. I can’t help but wonder where they will serve and if one day they will give their life for their country? Are they afraid? All of a sudden I can find myself sitting beside someone from across the world and if only for a 2 hour flight, isn’t is strange that our stories will collide for such a small amount of time, probably never to intersect again? There is no other place like an airport.

I blink and I’m in another country, and it seems like another world. I’ve been here many times before but it always feels different. The culture is not what I know and yet I’ve seen it in the movies. I’m shocked that the portrayal isn’t that far off. And as I’m swept into the south, I am also swept into the presence of people that I love so dearly. And for one weekend we laugh and cry and watch hours of Dr. Quinn Medicine woman. I spend hours holding the most precious baby that I’ve ever laid eyes on. I shower him with kisses and hugs and whispers of “I love you”. We make fun of each other’s accents, we reminisce about times past, memories that feel like they were just yesterday and at the same time seem so far away. We celebrate new life and the heartaches that have brought us to this place. We aren’t who we used to be. Time has made us deeper, scarred us in a way but if we could, would we choose to go back?

At the end of the day, I lie in bed and check my phone. I read updates of home. I think about my life there and my present reality, they are so different. My heart can’t help but feel overwhelmed with thankfuls. How can I be so blessed? Why me? I have been showered with gifts and so easily I forget them. I’m sorry. Illuminate my sight; I don’t want to miss what is all around me.

The moon is beautiful tonight. I’m closer to it up here but it still seems so far away. Where did this weekend go? I blink and I’m in another country and it is indeed another world. This is why I love to travel. This is why I love the rush and the hustle and bustle and newness of a different place.

Because sometimes you have to leave to remember what you have.

Sometimes the money that it takes to get you there just doesn’t matter, because your soul needs those people, needs that place, needs to know what it’s like to come back. Sometimes your eyes need to see the moon from the other side of the clouds. We need to “awe”, we need to “wonder” and be overwhelmed with our own smallness.

Sometimes leaving isn’t just about going; it’s about opening yourself up to the God of the universe who is bigger than we can comprehend. It’s about letting Him amaze us. It’s about letting Him make us feel small, so we remember how big He is.

So, maybe you need to leave, even for a short while, so you can remember the things you don’t even realize you’ve forgotten.

And the funny thing is, sometimes the leaving makes the staying all the more richer.

Yours truly,

The Kindred Spirit

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

WARNING: NAKED MAN on the 4th Floor...

You know those days that are supposed to go according to plan? The ones that are scheduled and timed in order to keep you on track. And then all of a sudden the day is here and it's happening and you realize that there is nothing about this day that resembles your plan whatsoever!?!

Today was that day.

I'm taking an art class this semester, to be more specific, it's an art appreciation class. I'm learning how to appreciate art (insert joke here). We were assigned to write an art exhibition critique. So we had to choose a museum from a list we were given, and then choose an exhibition from a list given, and then choose a specific art piece in that exhibition to critique. The class is very small and so a few of us decided that it would be fun to go on this "field trip" together. Our museum of choice was the Art Gallery of Ontario. So since today was a reading day we figured that I'd pick everyone up at school around 9:45am, get to the museum around 10:30am, spend an hour or 2 in the museum and then grab a bite to eat before heading back. That was our plan.

I have a good friend who is known for his sense of direction. I figured I might as well just ask him to tell me the best way to go rather than to consult my GPS, since I don't really like using those things anyways. I texted him fairly late last night to get the route. So this morning I arrived at school and picked up the motley crew. It was a grey and rainy day so we put on the tunes and cruised to the city. I thought we were taking an odd route but I trusted my friend's directions completely and didn't give it another thought. We chatted and laughed and took the opportunity to get to know each other better. And about an hour passed and we were still driving. I kept thinking that we should be arriving any minute because my friend had told me the route, and we all trusted him and his directions would not lead us astray. Another 30 minutes passed and still no museum. I pulled the car over and consulted the map. I gasped. We had overshot the museum by....well....by a lot! So we found our way to the gardener and started the trek back to the city. One of the girls had to go to the bathroom very badly and so of course we got stuck in major traffic! We finally found the museum and managed to locate a parking lot a few blocks away. It was still raining. We were all starving so we opted to eat before we hit the AGO. We were on the hunt for a pub and just before we stopped to eat at The Black Bull, we passed this guy on the street....for real....

It's Gregory Smith, the actor. He's from Rookie Blue, one of my favourite shows, and no I didn't stop him on the street to get a picture. I mean come on, I'm not that girl! ;)

We enjoyed a great lunch and again asked for directions for the AGO. We somehow managed to overshoot the museum again so we had to walk back the way we came.

Once arriving at the museum and checking our coats, we spent the next 2 hours observing and appreciating art. I got separated from the group at one point and wandered up to the 4th floor, I was interested to see what art exhibits were up there. As soon as I walked onto the floor I saw a sign that said "live art class in progress". I thought that it would be interesting to watch for a bit so I headed in that direction. I walked in the room and saw a circle of artists sketching. I looked to see what they're sketching...


I froze. At first, I thought he was a statue.

Nope, he moved ever so slightly, not on purpose. He was real and very very naked. It was a good thing that last week our professor had us read an article on christians and nudity in art because I might have been more shocked had I not read it. But seriously, how does one just bare their entire body openly to an entire room and whatever onlookers that may happen to wander in? And do you think that perhaps on the sign they could put "Live art class in progress. WARNING: NAKED MAN!" Just saying.

We finished at the museum and headed home. We hit rush hour traffic but half the car was snoozing at that point. I think I dropped the last person off just before 6pm.

It's funny because there was absolutely nothing about today that went according to my plan. Yesterday I began praying for the Lord to illuminate the areas of my life where He is so present and where there are gifts that I miss because my eyes become fixed on other things that I think I'm missing. Today I spent a few hours downtown Toronto with a wonderful group of people. As we sat around the table at lunch we all reflected that in any other circumstance it would be very odd and probably very unlikely that the 4 of us would ever hang out like this. And yet there we were, wet from the rain, tired from the drive and all trying to write a paper on a topic that we don't really have any knowledge of. I didn't think that I'd spend the day laughing and getting to know the storiess of these 3 individuals, I was going to go in, get the information and get out. Today was a crazy, unexpected day that was full of so much laughter. I doubt that I'll ever forget it.

Sometimes those days that don't seem to go according to plan, those days might actually be God taking the opportunity to throw a handful of gifts your way!

So thankful that today I had eyes to see.

Yours Truly,

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Dear 16-year-old Self...

Sometimes I wonder if I knew what I know now 9 or 10 years ago (say that 10 times fast), how much would it change things? Would it change anything at all? What advice would I give my younger self straight from my much wiser, older self (please note the sarcasm)?

These are a few of the things that I think I would want my 16-year-old self to know…
  1. Math never gets easier, just accept it and move on.
  2. Put that bowl of chips away! Seriously, 9 years from now you are still going to be trying to work off the damage that they’ve done!
  3. You really don’t need to figure out what you’re going to do with your life right now. I know the guidance counselors are telling you that you have to have it all figured out but you don’t. And those kids who think they do have their future pegged down, there’s a good chance it’s not going to play out exactly the way they think it will. Relax!
  4. It’s ok not to worry so much. That stomach disorder that you think is going to ruin your life, well it’s not going to. You’re going to figure out how to manage it and all that worry is really only making it worse. So just breathe, it’s all going to be ok.
  5. Do yourself and favour and stop saying you want to be married by 25! You’re going to get there and not be married and do you know what, it’s actually ok! You’re going to meet people and learn things about yourself that are going to change you. And you could have never learned those specific things if you were married. Don’t rush God’s timing.
  6. It’s not cool to buy all of your clothes 2 sizes too big. First of all, every shopping trip you go on with your Mother will end up with you both in tears. I know you hate your body right now, I know you feel ugly and sometimes just wish you were invisible. I know you hide in your oversized clothes. It won’t always be like this. One of these days you are going to lose some weight. You are going to buy your first pair of jeans and a bra that isn’t just meant for sports. You’re going to colour your hair and actually like layers! You’re going to learn how to wear make-up and jewelry and you’re not going to cringe every time you look in the mirror. The frump years will end and you will blossom. So stop telling yourself that you’re worthless. Stop saying that no one will ever love you! Stop scarring yourself with those words because in 10 years you’ll still be dealing with the deep wounds they’ve left.
  7. Stop yelling and arguing every time you’re mad, it doesn’t help anything. Take it down a notch; it’s ok to be wrong. It’s ok to say I’m sorry. It’s ok not to have the answer. Realize that the people you yell at are the people who you love the most, think about what kind of words you use.
  8. That boy, you’re not going to marry him. Don’t waste your time fretting about him. You can do better. Enough said.
  9. I know you’re grieving. I know your family is broken. I know it feels like those things will never be whole again, but they will. Time is going to help ease the pain. Your family is going to heal. You will never forget him, but you will come into a new normal. One day you’ll share his story and you’ll talk about all of the ways that it has changed your life and impacted who you are. You’ll never forget; it will become a part of who you are. And one day your family will sit around that same table and they’ll talk and laugh and life will be full again. Trust me.
  10. Jesus really does love you. You live with this fear that you’re the exception to his love. You worry that He’s out to get you. You don’t think you’re good enough or worthy enough for His love. You think you have too many questions, too many doubts, that you are too screwed up. You’re not. He really does love you, all of you. And He’s going to help you as you walk with Him. He is going to lead you, He’s going to protect you from some things that you can’t see right now. Don’t be afraid to really trust Him. Let go of all those things you hold so tightly to, just take His hand. Release your heavy load. You are so loved girl, you are so loved.
  11. It’s going to be ok, it really is. I know some days are harder than others but you’re ok. Don’t give up, keep going. Remember to laugh and give thanks, it will make a difference. Be intentional in the way that live and love and lead.

I’m not sure if had I heard those things at 16, I would have listened to them or believed them? Just writing them out I can feel some of the pain that I carried then. Sometimes in order to see how far you’ve come, you have to stop and look back to the journey you’ve taken.

Lord, thank you that I’ve never had to walk any road alone.

When I meet with younger girls, the things I wish that I had known when I was their age often leak into our conversations. It might be the natural caregiver and protector in me, but I think it’s also that I feel such a strong desire to see people living full and rich lives. But sometimes life just has to be our teacher and it doesn’t matter if I’ve been told or warned ahead of time. Some things we can only learn when we walk through them, as hard as it is to say. Maybe in 10 years I’ll write another letter to my younger self, hopefully some of these lessons won’t need to be repeated!

Yours truly,
The Kindred Spirit

Sunday, 7 October 2012

New at Church? Welcome to the Club...

At the beginning of September I started a brand new adventure: I moved into my own little apartment. It’s really the perfect little set up for me. I have a cute little place in my aunt and uncle’s basement. For a girl who didn’t grow up with family around (other than my brothers and parents) I am absolutely loving having my aunt and uncle and two little cousins upstairs. It’s been one of those sweet gifts from the Lord, which only He could have arranged. In light of this new move I’ve been on the hunt for a church that is a little closer to my neck of the woods. I’ve recently found one that I really like so far; it’s actually the church that my Mom found the Lord in so it’s kind of neat being there. The only thing is that I only know two people, my Mom’s cousin and his wife, who luckily feel as close as if they were actually my aunt and uncle. Other than that, I know no one. Not one single soul.

Before my family moved to Wainfleet, I spent the first 4 years of my life living in Stouffville, where my Dad was the youth pastor at the Stouffville Missionary Church (now called East Ridge). Then we moved to Wainfleet where my Dad became the lead pastor of the Wainfleet BIC Church for about 19 years. Now he’s in a role where he helps to lead other pastors. So sufficient to say, I was born into the church. I’ve always belonged, even when I may not have felt like I did. I’ve always known pretty much everyone at church and vice versa, and I’ve always been overly involved in church life, being the social butterfly that I am. I’ve never understood what it really feels like to not belong.

Until now…
I wake up on Sunday morning and decide that I’m going to do it; I’m going to go to a new church. So I get ready, hop in my car and find the place. I walk in to the church, it’s fairly large and the service has just begun. There are people everywhere. Where do I sit? I look around acting like I’m looking for someone so the usher doesn’t suspect that I’m actually terrified because I came here alone. I walk up the aisle and choose a seat. I feel like people are looking at me because I’m alone. Do they wonder if I’m a Christian? Maybe they pity me because I’m alone?

I can’t even sing, I feel sick. Should I stay? Of course I should stay, if my experience is that bad by the end of the morning, I just won’t come back.

Is this what it feels like? Have I become the target for “church hospitality”? I can’t be, I’m already “saved”. But, maybe I’m still a so-called “target”.

The tables in my head for a moment: you say you welcome new people, here’s your chance, prove it!

The service continues. There’s a guest speaker. Why is there always a guest speaker when you’re trying to get a feel for a “regular Sunday”?

The service ends and I’m frozen in my seat. What should I do? Leave? Go to the guest centre? I hate this, I hate it, I hate it, I hate it.

Everyone is visiting. The young people are all crowded together. People are having coffee, kids are running around, there’s laughter. No one seems like they’re in a rush to leave. I like that, it reminds me of my childhood. Could I belong here?

I can’t escape the feeling like it’s a club and I’m not part of it.

I feel completely rescued when my Mom’s cousin and his wife somehow recognize me and chat for a while. They both hug me and I feel so relieved, there’s nothing like family. After they leave, I decide to go to the newcomers table. I meet a lovely lady, who knows my parents, small world. She talks to me for a while and introduces me to her husband and son. We have more mutual friends that we talk about for a while. I ask about small groups and college and careers. She says it’s happening right now, if I want to go.
I freeze.

Um, no, well, um, maybe next time. Maybe you can show me where it is and maybe next week I’ll try to go.

After a quick tour I make my exit. My first Sunday impression is good, I think I’ll go back next week and maybe go to the College and Careers group.

I do indeed go back the following week. I walk to where I think the College and Careers meet. I don’t see anyone. I can’t escape the feeling of the club again. There’s people running around, they look at me but no one says anything. I feel lost. Maybe I shouldn’t go this week, it’s too soon. What if I get there and it turns out to be the “I just graduated from high school” type of college and career group? There’s nothing wrong with that, I’m just not in that zone anymore. I wait for a few minutes. I feel like a total idiot. I’m leaving.

I book it out of there. I have this sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. Is it this hard to belong somewhere? What happens when I actually meet people, people that have probably known each other for years and have histories together and inside jokes and stories only they know? Will they welcome me? Will I feel safe and accepted?

I become introverted in these situations. I can’t help it.

You say you want me to come but do you really want that? Do you really want to know my story? Is there actually room for me here?

Do you know how much courage it took for me to walk through those doors, to sit in your gym, to fill out a visitor card?

Because before now, I didn’t know.

Because I’ve always been in the club.

Until now…
Even though it’s terribly uncomfortable, I’m thankful that I’m experiencing what it’s like to not belong, to be new and to come alone. I’m thankful because I want to believe that it’s these kind of experiences that shape how you lead, how you really learn to create a welcoming space, how you become a person that makes people feel safe and accepted. I don’t want to forget that sometimes just parking your car and getting up the nerve to walk into the building takes courage. And I don’t want to forget that maybe there are people that will walk through those doors and leave feeling like they’ll never be part of the club, so what’s the point?

But most of all, I don’t want to forget the message that I think Jesus himself would say to anyone who feels forgotten, invisible or alone:

You are not.

So I’m thanking the Lord for new experiences that are giving me new clarity and perspective. And I’m praying for courage to try and meet some new people in a new and unfamiliar place.

And just maybe I’ll find out that it’s not a club after all.

Yours truly,