Saturday, July 20, 2013

How Christ Compelled Me to Stop Eating Chocolate

Lately I have been paused on the topic of "Does God really care about that?!?!" with situations, events, politics, world news, the mundane of life, my shopping habits, how I spend or save money, reading material, dietary choices and dating.

Does God really care? REALLY?

If I spend $50.00 on clothing for myself, as long as I give an adequate tithing amount? Is it about tithing? Or is it about giving? About generosity? About not being greedy? About having enough and being content with what I have?

If I buy a candy bar from a company that is known to source from farms that utilize slave labor? If I have diamond earrings that cannot be certified "conflict free"?

Does God actually care? Am I chalking him up to be over obsessed with the miniscule parts of human life? That what I eat for breakfast, or where I go to the gym, if I go on three dates with a guy I don't intend to be serious about? Are these things that matter at all to the God of the entire universe, who sees the WHOLE WORLD and all the important events happening right now. Is he at at concerned with these tiny things?

And, the answer I believe right now (allowing myself all permission to change this belief if I feel to do so in the future!) is:


I think God sometimes does actually care if you wear a specific outfit. I believe that sometimes God really does care if you buy fair trade chocolate verses one that potentially was involved in the oppression of someone else. I think God is sometimes more honored in the extra $100.00 spent to certify that no one was killed for your diamond. I think God sometimes actually cares how you spend your money, how you spend your free time and what newspapers you read.

Some might suggest this makes God a micro-manager. But I don't think so.
I see that more as human laziness; an attempt to cop-out of actually making an effort in the small things. Consider: can you or can you not chose to honor God in the small elements of your life? Will one option bring God more glory over another?
If the answer is yes, then surely, since God deserves the glory, he must be interested that we would chose whichever brings him the most glory or better advances his kingdom.

And maybe, if I personally start honing in on the little things, the 'mundane of life' and seek to honor God in the small elements, then as a natural result, I will be also honoring God in the big. A life re-ordered, re-directed, recognizing God in every action I commit.
That sounds nice, but it isn't what motivated me, brought these questions to mind. Fear was.

Fear of Judgement. (dun dun dun.....)

This might seem a bit over the top, but honestly what got to my heart and remained in my mind was the image of standing before God Almighty at the end of time. In what most Christians have some concept of: standing before God and facing the wrong-doings of our life on earth. Having to come forward with an explanation for our actions (and ultimately, only able to throw up our hands and plead the blood of Jesus as our sacrifice).
But when I consider this and I look at my life, I wonder if God will name me innocent or guilty when I knowingly purchased an item that was manufactured and produced through oppression? Will God conclude that I was therefore involved in the oppression? Will he say that I knowingly supported such oppression because I financially backed it through my spending?
And that, quite frankly, scares me.

How can I rationalize that God cares if I have consensual sex with another adult prior to marriage and then question if God actually cares if I purchase clothing I know was made in a sweat-shop by a fellow humans in inhumane, unsafe and unjust working conditions?

How can I have any affiliation, contribution or participation with something that oppresses a fellow child of God and then plead "well, I am not the one in charge of it!" or "it's going to happen if I buy it or not." It's very, very easy to twist that same logic to say that horrific things shouldn't be opposed or are just going to happen whether we personally participate or not.

My concept of money has shifted over the years. Not only in the area of stewardship, but considering the idea of 'support' and 'investment'. If I pay taxes to the government or authoritative body, do I agree with how those taxes are used? the programs that are funded?
In that same vein, if I voluntarily spend money at a store, what makes me select that store, or that item? Do I support the business practices and the mission of that store? Because essentially, spending money there means that I do support it.
The same with buying an item - do I support that company? Do I want them to thrive and advance? Because my money helps them grow as a business.

I am not so naive to think that I, as an individual person can negatively influence major corporations or big businesses doing something I disagree with. But, I believe that I can positively influence the smaller business that I believe are doing something important and good in the world.
While it's not much, I do believe I should do so.
Because if I am to be a good steward with my money, I ought also to be a good steward in how I spend my money - in what I invest in, so to speak.

And this concept has changed how I shop.
From the tiny, local fruit stands of family-owned businesses to other companies like "Sole Rebels" for my shoes. Because I do have an option of where I spend the money God has blessed me with, and I think that I will be held accountable for how I spent it.

It does matter to God. It's his. And if my life is to be lived in His name, I need to act in all ways, in all areas of my life, to ensure I am embodying the Kingdom of God and bringing glory to God.

This is not about buying only Christian-made items, or only fair-trade items. It's more than that. Its making God Lord of my life in every tiny, minute area. Because I am starting to think that actually matters to God.

Written all across the Bible is God's heart for the oppressed, he raises up people to champion for the downtrodden, frees entire peoples from slavery and captivity, and he fights for the rights of the poor.

Clear in my mind is the memory of a few evenings ago, sitting with a friend while he ate ice cream and trying to explain why I had declined to join him in eating the chocolate-vanilla twist. I explained that some chocolate is sourced from plantations that use abducted children to work the fields or that the cocoa farmers who don't use slave labour are not paid adequately for their produce and that I only want to eat chocolate that I know without a doubt was sourced ethically and sold fair-trade. He looked at me as though even the subject exhausted him.
And then he said something that surprised me: "I think you're just being selfish."
"You just want to feel good. You do this so that you will feel good about yourself. You want to look good." And concluded that perhaps that was the motive behind all good deeds, volunteering, anything one might term 'self-less': actually a selfishness - desire to feel good. That all humans, regardless of religion, were just selfish people who did things for themselves.
My words were a reaction: "Think about your mother who adopted you - she took care of you because she loves you, genuinely loves you. People can do things simply out of love and goodwill."

His response seared me: "If everyone really loved other people like that, without selfish motives for them to feel good and just helped each other like you say they should, then my biological parents would not have been put in a position to have to send me away so that a Canadian woman could adopt me."

If everyone loved each other, he wouldn't need to be adopted.

He is right.

I get slightly 'messed up' in a good, convicted sense, every time I consider this conversation. A boy, with two parents that loved him, but could not provide for him and all his siblings allowed him to be adopted. And while his adoption is beautiful, it speaks of the depth of injustice and pain in the world. It makes the more and more convicted about fair-trade, about assisting small, family businesses, about purchases and donations that go directly to the people being serviced. It changes how I buy, and maybe, it changes me, too.

And so, on that note; that is why, to the best of my ability, I will no longer eat chocolate unless it is fair-trade. I've been heavily convicted about this. I mean - we're talking about potentially having to answer for this to God himself someday! And, as I learn more about the conditions and injustice around cocoa farms, especially verses the beautiful, good and helpful companies that are fair-trade. $3.00 difference actually means a great deal of difference.
The title is for attention- I still eat chocolate, but only chocolate I know was created without using oppression.

That is how Christ compelled me to stop eating (un-traceable) chocolate.
What about you? is there some small, almost-random seeming area of your life that you've altered because of your relationship with Christ, because of the Gospel, because of re-arranging your life in-line with Kingdom of God? I would love lists and tweets, statuses and discussions about "Christ Compelled me to _____". that raises questions, brings explanations, starts discussions.

Because maybe, SOMETIMES they are not random things to God.
Sometimes, God really does care.

And for the record, knowingly completely incriminating myself; I own a pair of Converse.
I've got a long, long ways to go in this respect.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Burning Alive

I wanted to share some of the things I’ve been pondering the past few weeks. This is not to be “preachy” or even be a conclusive idea: it is just what has been rolling around in my mind.

After reading a book about female Noble-Peace Prize winners, I was motivated to read about other Noble-Peace Prize winners, and with the famous Nelson Mandela in the news for being hospitalized, I figured he was as good a figure as anyone to start with.

My understanding of the South African struggle to end the apartheid government was minimal, somewhat loosely based on a movie I still remember; where a white South African girl visits a black American family, and some basic understanding that at one time blacks were oppressed and whites had the power, and then, somehow that changed and then they had a democratically-elected black president. Yay!

As I read about the life of this man, what I kept rolling over and over in my mind was the length of time Mandela spent in prison and how somehow, he did not give up, did not lose hope. Instead, he continued to fight with everything he could, using every resource available- writing letters often seemed the only possible way. Even from prison, he maintained a leadership role in the movement to end apartheid. That is how fiercely dedicated he was to this cause – imprisonment would hinder and slow, but it could not stop.

However, while I remained awed, I was also frustrated. And it’s a conundrum Christians meet again and again – how an Omnipotent, Omniscient and Merciful, loving God could allow so much injustice in the world. It is not easily answered by cute responses, or even targeting humans as the rightful culprits, that doesn’t answer everything. This God who sometimes steps in with miracles and frees people, and sometimes doesn’t. It’s a frustrating concept that I will probably never grasp.

It’s been on my heart for a great deal of this year, actually – the suffering of others in the world. Impoverished workers dying in a building collapse in Bangladesh, and knowing God loves each and every one of them, yet still, they died. Enslaved children on cocoa plantations just so the West can have chocolate cheaply and that God wants their freedom – both spiritually and physically. The ruthless killing of Congolese for minerals to make cellular devices and believing that God hates that and wants it to end. And, too, natural disasters: I remember years ago in Thailand, looking over a huge trench where approximately 700 bodies were washed together by the huge wave; being told that people still alive, suffocating under the bodies of drown victims, screaming for help but unable to be rescued in time. And I looked at the then-empty trench and wondered where the loving, powerful God I served was as these people died – all because of a natural disaster. Putting aside human effect on the environment, it’s not direct human evil that contributes to earthquakes, super storms, floods and tsunamis that claim innocent lives. Why does our All-powerful, All-knowing, All-loving God not always intervene!?!

When I read the story of Nelson Mandela, whose last words on the stand at the Rivonia trials clearly showed he was prepared for the death penalty. He believed that the sentence would be capital punishment for treason. And I hear the Spirit of God say, “that was the miracle – imprisonment” because Mandela and his fellow freedom-fighters were NOT executed. They were imprisoned. They were allowed to live. And even in prison they continued their campaign for a democratic, race-less society. It wasn’t easy or immediate, as sometimes we are told to expect miracles to be, it took approximately 3 decades before Mandela was freed.
            But even in that – the world, without Facebook or Twitter, managed to rally together for the cause of a democratic and race-less South Africa, and half-way around the world people protested the unjust imprisonment of Mandela and did what they could to stand up for equality. Another miracle!
            But the battle is not completely won, not yet. There are still injustices to fight, and it’s a myth to believe it will happen speedily or without sacrifice. I don’t mean that there requires human casualties, but that people will be required to sacrifice something for the freedom of others.

            This brought me around to a young adult service I visited last week. I’m an unapologetic optimist; I look for the good, hope for the best, believe that second chances are available and seek the bright-side of all things. Now, given that, I found the service to be overly-cheerful, not realistic. A typical message for young adults on their mission in the world, the impact they can have with their open, bright futures and that God will, without hindrance, carry out his plan for their lives. On the surface, it sounds wonderful, inspiring! But not realistic. There WILL be hindrances, things will not always go as planned. Even as God planned.
            I know, so sacrilegious for me to say.
Exibit A: the Fall of Adam and Eve.
            Exibit B: King Saul and God regretting he had ever made him king.
            Exhibit C: In Isaiah, God talks about how he has planned to rescue Israel by a supernatural means and for him to get the glory by saving the small, weak people, but instead, they lean on protection from Egypt, so God does not rescue them.
            We CAN go against God’s will, it is an ability humans have. But before I go off on THAT rabbit trail- back to the young adult service: It was too shiny for me and I left pondering the actual life of Jesus and the call of the Kingdom of God, without all the flash that was provided in that small, mid-twenties-filled room.
            And as I thought about how God comes to earth, and the way in which he shows up, presents himself in the Bible. Sometimes it really does look like disaster, like chaos; just like Nelson Mandela’s lengthy imprisonment.

Matthew 1:18 “This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant.”
This is how Jesus the Messiah was born.
Luke 2:6 “And while they were in Bethlehem, the time came for the baby to be born. She gave birth to her son… and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.”
This is how Jesus the Messiah came into the world.
Matthew 2:13 “the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother.’…Herod sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under.”
This is how Jesus the Messiah was received. 

            It’s tempting to add flash, to make Christianity more appealing – see, God will come through for you! Look! Look at the evidence!
            But we present biased evidence; Daniel in the lion’s den, the 3, then 4 in the fiery furnace. We glaze over Peter, who was crucified upside down, Paul who died in prison, Jeremiah who was thrown into a well, Abel who was murdered in his field.
            Following God will not equal ease or that he will always come through for you. Actually, he promised the opposite – that following him would mean suffering, persecution. He did not promise ease. He promised life, abundant life and eternal life but never, never an easy life. So where is this message on Sunday morning or any other church service? “What it means to follow Christ – the promise of suffering!” Instead, we want to assure people that God will bless them, he will pay their bills, he will provide all they need to be comfortable, to uphold their reputations and keep them in good rapport.
            Look at Mary: what about her reputation? What about the shame she faced from her community?
            Look at the birth place of Jesus: God did not open up a room in an inn, or make use of a kind person’s hospitality. Joseph and Mary stayed in a barn; that is where Jesus entered the world.
                When we say “God will come through for you” are we looking at the whole of the Bible? Or picking and choosing the aspects we like? Does it make God easier to follow, with the belief he will reward our devotion? And what if he does not?
            Remember, we serve a God who willing DIED. Who allowed himself to be unjustly sentenced to death and given the most torturous of death penalties. His concept of “salvation” is brutal and painful and bloody. That is the God we worship and we surrender to. Not because we believe he will reward us and always, always come through for us, but because we believe him to be Truth.
            Pain and suffering does not mean that we are being judged or punished by God, nor does power and money mean that we are being blessed by God. We have to re-think things, because we are part of an upside-down kingdom that understands power and might and meekness in completely different ways. A kingdom that points to sacrifice as good, brokenness as beautiful, says monetary riches are like dust.

            I have an idea about writing a story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego with an alternate ending: “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, that we will never serve your gods.” (Daniel 3)
            We know the ending, we know how God displayed his power and received the glory and even changed the heart of the most powerful king. But what if God would have received more glory had the three men died in the fire? What if God had not rescued them?
            Even if he doesn’t.
            They were still completely willing to die for their faith, to uphold God as the only one worthy of their worship. So what if they had died? What if that was how the story ended?
            Even if he doesn’t.
            What would that do to my faith? To my belief? Not only in this one story, but all throughout the Bible. What if we began to highlight the way people suffered for their faith, when God received more glory in their dying than in a miraculous rescue? Would I still stand, would I still refuse to bow and therefore suffer, maybe die, because of my belief in a God who lets me burn alive in a fire?
            While it is easy to immediately respond – ‘Yes! My faith is sincere!’ That’s not what I’m actually getting at. What I’m getting at is how I read the Bible, what is highlighted to make Christianity more appealing, but is actually quite biased. It’s what I hear ‘marketed’ to people that God will always come through and nothing will hinder his plans for us. It’s a nice thought, but right now, in this moment- it is NOT TRUE for the child enslaved in Gabon, or child who just became orphaned in Iraq.

            The question, coming back around to a heroic man lying in a hospital in South Africa – if you believe the Gospel and you worship this All-powerful, All-knowing and All-loving God who sometimes chooses not to intervene against injustice, but is a God for peace and justice – what are you (and I) going to do about it? And to what extent are you willing to go for that belief in God and in the Kingdom of God; knowing that sometimes God allows people to die in the fire and sometimes he miraculously saves them?

Friday, May 10, 2013

On dead dreams and babies named Joy

To really understand something and to get the truth out of it, we need to understand it within it's original context. Everyone knows the verses that have been taken out of context in the scripture and used to declare curse or blessing inappropriately.
I think if I elaborate further, most of my readers will nod, annoyed, as they already know this and agree with it.
But we probably all do it; read half of David's Psalms, praising God and skip the 'curse my enemies' portions and all the exact detail David likes to use in describing how he wants God to avenge him. I don't think its really a bad thing during our personal devotion time (but, hopefully we are not focused on revenge during that time with God!).

Today I was thinking of entering into my quiet time with God by reading a Psalm; an uplifting, cheerful one to partner with the bright morning and my delicious pineapple for breakfast.
I accidentally opened to Lamentations. Not exactly a cheerful book.

I read the chapter with the famous verse:
"The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; 
 his mercies never come to an end; 
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness."  Lam 3:22,23

Isn't that just so nice? I'm tempted just to read that part and no further.

But I read the whole chapter, starting with the beginning, which is not so nice.
Verses 17 - 19 I found very fitting to explain my situation when I was living in Edmonton:

"Peace has been stripped away, and I have forgotten what prosperity is.
I cry out, 'My splendor is gone! Everything I had hoped for from the Lord is lost!'
The thought of my suffering and homelessness is bitter beyond words."

And I consider which homelessness was more frightening, more bitter.
On crutches, dependent on friends and taxis and cars of friends. With only about 100 lbs total of everything I owned- mostly clothing and shoes and two winter coats. But I was surrounded in love and daily encouraged.

Able bodied, complete with a vehicle on my own and mere blocks away from an apartment I had claim to, full of furniture, electronics, and plenty of possessions. In this, even paying rent to the friend I stayed with, I felt as though I had nothing, I felt like I was in poverty so much deeper than lack of material things.

That "dark pit" as Jeremiah refers to, rightfully has to be acknowledged. We should not ignore or suppress it, Jeremiah says "I will never forget this awful time..."
Maybe not in the sense that one can never forget, but to chose to acknowledge pain and that part of one's life. Everyone has some dark pit, some desperate time that they would like to skip over and just jump ahead to the nicer verses, more pleasant part of their lives. "God is faithful! His mercies are new every morning!"
Which is entirely true.

But we only really understand this truth because of times when God showed himself to be faithful - which probably happened through a hard-time. Acknowledging a difficult time in our lives allows us to genuinely attest to the faithfulness of God.

Jeremiah leads into the famous verses with this: 
"Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this...
Great is his faithfulness, his mercies begin afresh each morning.
I say to myself, 'The Lord is my inheritance, therefore, I will hope in him!'"

Because Jeremiah acknowledges his pain, and inspite of it dares to hope, it makes it all the more powerful.

Jeremiah declares that the Lord is his inheritance. Before, he said that everything he had hoped for was lost. Good.
Good? Yes, good!
Because now, his hope is in God and God has become his inheritance, his success, his definition of prosperity. His own dreams have been destroyed, yes, it's sad. But they have been replaced by a hope in God and in something so much greater than his own miniscule dreams.

I'm officially divorced now, and don't feel as though I need to be apologetic about it. I also don't feel ashamed about it. However, I feel often awkward mentioning this fact among Christians or at church when I am meeting new people because they are often awkward about it.
They want to comfort me, which is nice, but the painful part and the struggle is over, I'm fine.
They want to offer me hope - "oh, you're still young and have your looks, you'll get another man." Which is VERY awkward and I want to back out of that conversation immediately.
They want to make suggestions, "Next time you need to date someone who is ____" (fill in with whatever word you chose, I've probably heard it) or "That's why you shouldn't date someone from another culture..." (Since I live in another culture, I guess I am setting myself up for failure, by their frame-of-mind). So I just nod and smile, because I don't really want to respond to that and start a conversation on that subject.

Or, they pity me, which is probably the worst of all. Because I don't feel bad about anything, I don't have regrets and I probably didn't bring up the subject, because I don't want sympathy or anyone to feel bad for me. But they asked, and therefore, I answered.

Not very long ago, my Canadian family and I were discussing futures and relationships. Now, they know pretty much all the details, and have faithfully prayed for me and talked for hours on the phone when I needed it. They knew how hard it all was and how much pain I went through and all that I lost or gave up. They have a pretty good understanding of my 'devastation.' Mama mentioned the fear that something that happened to me could similarly happen to one of her daughters- that she would marry a man who would stop loving God and it would devastate her whole future.
And I remember that I smiled, as ridiculous a response as that seems. I smiled.

We cannot control the future, we can't control other people. I mentioned that what if her daughter married a wonderful man, they had children together, a great marriage, but the man died early on in their marriage.
I can think of a woman in particular, with one young child and pregnant with another when he husband died of an aggressive cancer before the second child was born.
Yes, her life was devastated.
Yes, my life was devastated.
Many things can happen to us that devastate our lives. Even small things that hurt us, they don't have to be huge, gigantic life-changes.
As someone described, this woman would have been destitute - while 7 months pregnant and a baby on the hip - had God not stepped in and done a miracle.
She named the baby Joy.
And within only a few years, this hopeful woman remarried, immigrated to Canada and now lives in a cozy cottage on and island in British Columbia.

Our lives might be devastated, Jeremiah certainly believed that his life was. But, God is still in control. And when we make him our inheritance, we are not devastated, we are hopeful - joyous.

I reminded Mama that she had raised her daughters to be women of faith, who depended on God. No matter what happens in their future - car accidents, cancers, spouses or storms - what God has prepared for her daughters, the future he planned cannot be taken from them. His future for us is strong enough to withstand any devastation.

A lot of my hopes and dreams have changed, some are completely gone. And that's okay, because compared to what God had for me, they were small dreams. And this future God is laying before me is so wonderful that, while I understand the sympathy is well-meant, it seems very inappropriate.

So please, don't pity me. My hope and my future is in God, not wrapped up in a homeless, impoverished life. And while I acknowledge the darkness that he has taken me out of, I remember that "The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!"

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Belated Birthday Post!

I was so busy I forgot about my birthday post!
And now already, I started on some of my goals for next year. Happy Birthday to me! 

25 things from last year

1. Received regular massages *. Wonderful. Several covered by work, others reduced cost by Groupon or Craigslist promotions. Completely worth it!

2. Sold my first vehicle (to a non-family member). It was fairly easy, considering Kijiji/Craigslist. Not interested in having another car anytime soon!

3. Met my new niece. * She is beautiful and smart and quirky.

4. Met my new brother-in-law *, and enjoyed Christmas with his welcoming and unassuming family.

5. Met my god-daughter *. She is curious, but shy and has a beautiful smile.

6. Vacationed in British Columbia; saw Vancouver, Victoria and the beautiful Salt Spring Island.

7. Enjoyed kayaking off of Salt Spring Island, where I held my first live star fish! 
old paper with hand drawn number 26 on wood background Stock Photo - 13171646

8. Went whale-watching in Victoria, which was amazing and a whale swam directly under and lept out of the water 
directly beside our boat. It was so exciting and the Orca whales were gigantic!

9. Visited Jasper National park*. It was beautiful and so much fun.
10. Took the cheap bus from Toronto to Philadelphia, which allowed me the privilege of sitting next to a Libyan man who described how he participated in the rebel movement, complete with hand grenades and automatic weapons.

11. Played in a co-ed soccer team for the summer- our team won the championship! We were awesome, and one game I played exceptionally well and scored something like 3 or 4 goals in the game.

12. Ruptured my calf muscle. Horrible. Don't ever want that injury again. When my leg finally healed, my calf muscle was visibly smaller and had lost muscle compared to the other. And the pain! Never gain.

13. Used a wheel chair and cane as essentials mobile assistants. It was not very enjoyable, and buses rarely stop for 20-something looking women waving canes because they will not be fast enough to reach the bus stop.

14. Used the Canadian health-care system. I've been paying for it for years, but never really needed more than a regular health-check up. Finally I need it- for x-rays, screenings for surgery, physical therapy- and I feel like it totally failed me. So inefficient, slow and redundant.

15. Learned how to Salsa, Merengue and Bachata. I'm better at the Merengue and my favorite is when my dance partner spins or turns me- so much fun!

16. Was temporarily homeless. Again. I started off January 2012 living with a friend, sharing her itty bitty apartment, and also began January 2013 at a different friend's home, sleeping in her basement.

17. Sold or gave away everything I owned except a few clothes and sentimental items, including: a bed, dresser, desk, sofa and love seat set, television, restaurant, housewares, and a car to start over.

18. Lived in a stranger's home. She was on vacation, so I stayed at her apartment. I thought it was a little awkward at first, but it was a great living situation for 3 weeks and helped me out a lot. I recommend a home-stay or short-term housing rental for anyone moving to a new city.

19. Worked a temporary job in customer service. I hated hated hated hated it. It was a horrible job with lots of lying, apologizing, sucking up and not actually doing much for the customer.

20. Had some Ugandan/Congolese kids visit me in Edmonton which was so exhausting. I felt like I had to entertain them, feed them sooo much food. Kids are a lot of work!

21. Went horseback riding in Red Deer with a friend – his first time ever on a horse and he loved it!

22. I saw the northern lights!!!* I remember it distinctly- I was working an evening shift and just got off work and I thought they were strange spot lights, the type clubs put up for events. Except these were green, and horizontal, not vertical. When I really saw them, suddenly I saw a lot; shimmering, shaking yellow and green across the sky. It was amazing.

23. Started rock climbing again. There were not many places or decent places to climb in Edmonton- but plenty in Toronto, including outdoor climbing! I am even getting a membership to a climbing gym.

24. Finally tried zumba. So much fun, an I actually feel like I am getting a cardio workout, too.

25. Moved to Toronto! I love it here, and hope to stay for a long time.

26 things for the future:

1. Go hiking in Banff +++

2. Surf ++ (or attempt to surf)

3. Be a good nanny. I really enjoy my part-time job as a nanny and want to make the most out of it, for myself and the little boy I watch.

4. Volunteer in the area of justice again. I have contacted Prison Fellowship and the Toronto Jail, hopefully, I can begin volunteering soon!

5. Continue in work in the area of criminal justice. I have a part-time position, and I hope that in the future it becomes more secure, permanent and potentially full-time.

6. Go sky diving! jump out of an airplane and speed towards the earth? YES! But only tandem with a certified instructor to pull the parachute for me.+

7. Improve in my soccer ability. I haven't actively pursued my skills, only being able to endure the running. But I would like better footwork and ball control.

8. Move from Canada +++

9. Speak Amharic fluently +++

10.   Lead a program for groups of teens ++

11. Touch a dolphin +++

12. Learn how to make yogurt +++

13. Go to Spain +++

14. Be more conversant in Spanish +++

15. Do something with my writing. I have begun writing more again and I would like to submit some of it to poetry contests, or magazine articles, or SOMETHING! Not so much for me or money, but so that I can improve and grow and see productivity from something I really enjoy doing.

16. Drive a standard/stick-shift vehicle +++ (I started to learn, but it just made me too nervous)

17. Return to Phi Phi Island +++

18. Take a pottery class! I really enjoy pottery and would like to get my hands into clay.

19. Climb Mount Kilimanjaro.+
20. See the Grand Canyon, and not just from some fenced-off viewing area, but get down in there and hike parts of it, stand in the canyons and look up. +

21. Go to New Zealand.+

22. Learn different dances, I've been looking into break dancing and African-fusion classes. I just need to find time and a budget with rock climbing and soccer as regular activities.

23. Get laser eye surgery. I've wanted this for a while- no more glasses, no more contacts. +

24. Find a home church in Toronto where I feel community, encouraged and challenged and where I can also serve.

25. Visit Algonquin Park, for hiking and kayaking.

26. Be happy! 

* denotes on my list from last year that I completed
+ denotes on my list from last year that I still haven't completed
++ denotes on list for two years running
+++ denotes on list for three years running

Monday, April 15, 2013

Next Year...

My long absence is due to busyness in the best sense: full schedules, working a job, lots of time with friends and new acquaintances, and little time for writing.

I love Toronto and I am so happy living here. I feel like I have been living here much, much longer than the approximate two months I have been here.

I have a job. Actually, three.
I have an apartment (and two fabulous room mates).
A soccer team.
Two rock climbing partners.
I have been regularly attending the same funky church service.
And someone offered me a free sofa bed yesterday.

How did that happen so quickly!?

I have had God step in and move directly in my life many times, surely. But to have so many elements fit together so perfectly in a week, or two weeks baffles my mind every time I consider it.
From a room mate studying Swahili at the college level to a soccer field directly across from my apartment, I have to give the credit to Jesus for placing things so perfectly.

And did I mention one of the jobs (starting when my record checks are cleared) is working with young offenders? I had the interview when I was only in Toronto two days! and my cell phone number was still an Alberta number. That must be Jesus.

And I am baffled again when I consider how long and hard I planned for my trip to Kenya; how I set up so many details and made lots of connections- and then everything fell apart when I couldn't walk. And I hardly planned at all for Toronto- I only finalized where I was going to sleep two days before I flew to Toronto, and that was not a permanent plan - only three weeks.
I only had a place to sleep, in a city I had never set foot in, where I only knew two people and had no further idea of what I was going to do.

So, for the future- to plan? Or not to plan?

I am very happy here. I don't want to move, I want to stay. For next year, I intend to still be in Toronto.

That is my plan.

Friday, February 08, 2013


I've been in Winnipeg for approximately two weeks; two weeks filled with church services, Bible studies, randomly seeing old friends at coffee shops, visiting people in jail and lots of free dinners. I feel like I have a full-time job of 'catching up' with old friends!

There are some people I know with certainty that we have a beneficial, mentor-ship relationship. They impacted me, and I believe that I impacted them, as well. My friend Laura* (not her real name) always joyfully reminds me of the role I played in her transformation. I love Laura's testimony, which she so beautifully describes as finally saying "Fuck it!" as her surrender to Jesus. It's vulgar, yep. But it's real. And I like reality better than politeness.
And others who I know based on discussions, letters, and trust that I can speak into their life and hopefully, our friendship has an influence on their life.

Now, there are many youth I volunteered with in Winnipeg who probably don't remember me, I was a counsellor at camp, or a mentor they met with weekly for a year in high school. Important for some part of their life, I hope, but not memorable four, five, six years later.

I don't think so highly of myself that someone would remember me years later, when we have not had regular contact or even any contact in about 5 years. I expect to be irrelevant to some people over time, and I am not offended or sad about that.

I expect that many of the young men receiving an illegal income whom I used to visit, talk to, or just stand near would fall into this category where I am irrelevant. We didn't form a strong relationship; whether friendship or mentoring role. Some I never even remember having a conversation with.

Yesterday I went to visit one of these young men, I'll call him Jorge.
I wasn't really planning on visiting him because I just didn't think it would matter, or he would remember me, or it would be an awkward visit.
But someone kept encouraging me to visit, so I booked a visit.
So yesterday, I got to see Jorge and talk to him for a half an hour; this young man I hadn't seen for about 5 years. He told me he was fifteen years old when I met him in Central Park; a laughing, dread-locked kid who always ran - didn't walk - through the back lanes and alleys.
At the beginning of the visit, he did most of the talking: asking me questions about my life, with detail and information that flabbergasted me that he would even know. Again and again I would ask "How do you know that!" in surprise.
People talk, rumours spread.
But then I was left to wonder, why would he even care? I mean, I wasn't really a person in his life, I didn't really matter to him that he should ask about me or care what happened.
And then he wanted me to visit someone else that was there in jail, someone who I didn't remember, and who I doubted would remember me.

"No. He remembers. Everyone remembers you." He stated.
"But why? I didn't really do anything that great." There were some guys I went to visit in jail and we would have Bible studies, others who called me privately and we would have serious discussions about life and faith. But for Jorge and many others, it never went past me merely waving 'hi' or a quick soccer game.
"Yeah, but you hung around. I guess we could just tell that you cared. Why did you come around?"

And then I smiled, because he had just opened up the opportunity for me to tell him, to explain!
"There are a lot of churches around Central Park. And there were a lot of pastors preaching. Remember that guy who used to come with his mega phone and scream 'you are all sinners and you are going to hell!'"

I want to add some line that contrasts the screaming "you are going to hell" with standing silently beside them, but I don't know that I can properly write it. I don't think its an either/or, nor do I think that silence is the best response. Sometimes people need to be clearly and directly told that what they are doing is wrong (maybe a megaphone and damnation to hell is not the best method...). And I surely hope it goes past standing in silence, at least with some of the people. But I don't have a snazzy line that sums it all up, or is clear cut. Maybe because it is no so clear cut as that - it is people after all.

He remembered. Who could forget that?

"I didn't come with a plan or a mission. I just didn't want to spread any more of that hate. You guys all knew what you were doing was wrong, you didn't need another person telling you that..."

I told him why I came to Winnipeg, why I wanted to help people, that my job had initially been to help Christian kids and teenagers volunteer in the city, but that I was passionate about people who didn't already have a relationship with Jesus. Through getting to know Jorge and his friends I was driven to pursue an education in criminal justice.

And then Jorge responded.

Whenever I feel insignificant, that something I do is too small to matter, or that my role for that day or week will not make a difference to someone's life, I want to remember that conversation with Jorge.
As we continued to talk, he reminded me that just standing on a street corner with a group of guys made a difference. That my presence, even when I felt that it was not influential, is etched forever in the memory of each and every boy and young man that they are cared for and that they are human.

Not because I need to feel special, not even because I need to feel that I matter. But I need to remember that what I do matters. Even simply standing with someone can influence their life.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Vicious Cycle

I received a notification today regarding a job I applied for.

The good news is, based on my education and experience I am qualified for the position I applied for!
The bad news is, I am invited to a training to determine physical fitness this coming Monday.

And so begins the vicious cycle:
I need a job.
For most jobs I am interested in/qualified for, I need to be able to walk at a regular pace/run away from someone attempting to assault me.
Therefore, I cannot begin working immediately.

I need a place to live.
I can't decide on a new place to live, because I don't have a job anywhere.

I don't have a job because I am still healing.

This sucks.