Friday, 10 October 2014

Sailing Excursion and Reflections on Christian Community

  This past week I had the privilege of sailing around the Golf Islands of the West Coast with some of the dearest friends and mentors I could ask for. It was during this time when a reflection in my devotional time led to a heightened awareness of the need for routined prayer and Scripture reading in my daily life. I recall reading about the monotonously disobedient lives of the Israelites and how they were given the blessing of manna. The day prior to each Sabbath they were to collect enough to sustain them for the next day; if they collected more than they were instructed to they would awake the arriving morning with the extra portion having rotted in the night. 

  Per usual to the average adolescent, I’ve lived the majority of my spiritual walk from one mountain top experience to another. More often than not, I come away from Church, youth conferences, camp, etc, with the expectation of surviving on the received spiritual instruction until the next opportunity arises. I attempt to stuff as much “spiritual food” into my backpack as I possibly can only to return home and realize that it’s not sufficient. My ambition this year is to walk daily with Jesus, not relying on the spiritual revelations of others to guide me through life. To receive intimacy with Christ through my own prayer time and scripture readings. 

  During this time I also spent some time reflecting upon the thought of Christian community and what a tremendous privilege it is to be a part of a local Church over the next eight months here on the Island. There is a spiritual ethnicity to the Church of Christ; Christians are blood relatives, joined by the blood of Jesus. It's been a genuine encouragement to see how, at Bethel Pentecostal in Ladysmith, the congregation has welcomed us wide-eyed, clueless college students into their family. They're momentarily going through a pastoral transition and I can only imagine how difficult it is to remain joyful when the shepherd of the flock is called elsewhere. Non the less, each Sunday morning they arrive with hopeful spirits and welcoming arms. 

   Being the introvert that I am, the prospect of sitting alone in a Church service is a bit daunting. However, the three of us students thought it wise to split up and sit amongst some of the congregation we hadn't yet become acquainted with. Unfortunately I sat through the entirety of the service alone ... (I was tempted to lean over to the people five seats away from me and whisper, "I don't bite, you know!") once the message concluded, I turned to exit the sanctuary and before I could even take a step my lonely spirits were lifted by two women who began to converse with me. Hearing about their daily lives and how God is revealing himself to them was a tremendous encouragement. Needless to say, I'm learning a great deal about the human-comfort zone I have and the many exciting things God has called me to that lay just beyond it's boarders.
This evening I'm heading off to "Gravity", the congregations weekly youth night. Ministry with adolescents never ceases to surprise, stretch, and challenge, and encourage me .... 

Until next time,
Gracie Ann 

Thursday, 25 September 2014

The Adventure Begins...

The speed with which time seems to pass on the west coast is that of both immense discomfort and surprising severity. 

Fourteen days, seven hours, and eleven seconds.

Although unnerved by the realization that the entirety of two weeks has already slipped by, I'm thrilled to be challenged by such intentional community and academics. 

My scripture meditation this morning was spent enveloped by evergreens, resting under the cedar roof of a small gazebo and glancing upward ever so often at the looming fog. Amidst the brisk air, I was drawn to a particular passage:

"So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others." 
Philippians 2:1-4

It's abundantly clear that examining the life of Christ leads to taking the form of a servant and humbling yourself in obedience. We are to follow Christ's example of Humility.

During our eight months of adventure and growth, each Kaleo student is assigned a Church to minister in and given an opportunity to experience a different worship setting than that of your home Church and to offer yourself in service for the growth of their community. Though I've only been able to attend two services, I'm already overwhlelmed by the hospitality and the genuine faith of the small congregation. In the coming months I eagerly anticipate the joy of leading along side them in youth events and Sunday morning worship. The denomination of the Church I've been assigned is that of quite a significant difference from my beloved congregation at home. However, I have been so encouraged to see the various ways the body of Christ can bring glory to our Fathers name. Such an immense privilege it is to experience the presence of God is so many diverse places! 

Keep an eye out for further writings on my adventures (and challenges!) out here on Vancouver Island.

Live in intentional intimacy with Him ... allow your spiritual walk to flourish in coexistence with obedience

May the peace of our Lord Jesus be with you,

Friday, 23 May 2014

Vulnerability Regret: Reflections on the LTD spring retreat

  Recently, I had the privilege of attending Gull Lake Centre’s LTD (Leadership Training and Discipleship) spring retreat. Per usual, it was a lovely time of connecting with old friends and experiencing the joy of making new ones. Like most of my visits to this sacred place, where I have time and time again met at the feet of Jesus, I came away with a challenging (potentially life-altering) view on vulnerability. GLC has always been exceptionally intentional with creating space for others to connect. It was during one of these times of connection that I sat down with a friend / mentor to discuss the unraveling parts of our lives. She gave me an entirely fresh way of approaching vulnerability and intimacy with others … humility. The following post is a journal-reflection that I hope you’ll glean from as well.  
"I climbed into bed, pulling the covers up simultaneously. It was a cool night and frost had already begun to collect along my window sill.

I sighed, plunking my head on the pillow.
I had fun…
I think I had fun?
No … I had fun.

But then why did I fell so unsettled? Why was there this emotion hanging over my heart that felt much like the lingering frost outside?

I traced the evening back in my head while tossing and turning in the mess of my blankets.

I had just met a few friends for a weekend retreat. It had been a lovely time. We laughed, we joked, some of us even cried. I carefully and thoughtfully asked them about the details of their lives, wanting to make sure I listened more than I spoke. But did I? Did I talk too much? Did I ask enough thought-provoking questions? Did I place value on what they were saying more than what I was waiting to say?

I signed again as I glanced upward to my moon-lit ceiling.

“The problem wasn’t when you were listening, Grace. But when you were talking …” A voice within me whispered.

I began to quietly panic, internally going through the lift of conversation topics we had covered: church, school, our work places, where we wanted to be in five years, the pros and cons of facebook, past relationships, personality quirks, personal struggles…

Maybe I had divulged a little too much. Perhaps I didn’t sugar-coat my struggles enough. I probably seemed high-maintenance, a train wreck waiting to happen.

I groaned; reminded once again that although I pride myself on being an open and honest book, I grapple with feeling of insecurity once I reveal on intimate piece of my soul. Although I craved vulnerability, I was afraid of it. Works and stories are so easily articulated, so easily shared in the moment. Because in the moment, one craves the vulnerability that’s entangled with intimacy: I desire to know and be known.
I want someone to be aware of all the details, even the gory ones, and see through it to who I am at the core. To see good, even though there’s some bad. But afterward I’m afraid, afraid that I’m too much, my past mistakes too messy, my personality too loud, and my jokes to borderline inappropriate. I’m terrified that the experience that have shaped me into who I am will discredit me and send others fleeing.

I tell myself that it wasn’t that bad. That nothing I said was really that horrifying. We all have our things right? But next time, if there is a next time, I would just hold my cards a little closer. Talk even less, listen even more. But that didn’t feel right either. If felt safer, sure. But something inside me told me that isn’t how we’re called to live. I started to scrunch up my eyebrows, an annoying habit I picked up in my lifetime of contemplation.

“What am I doing to myself?” I asked silently, rubbing my eyes in exhaustion.

Why was how I feel about myself dependent on how someone else perceived me? Why was whether or not I had “fun” with my friends determined by a make-believe approval rating? Why did I assume that everyone else was judging me as critically as I judge myself?

Vulnerability regret: the desire to live vulnerably, truthfully, being open and generous with one’s stories in order to great real, long lasting relationships only to feel insecure afterwards. Like maybe my stories were safer inside … maybe I liked giving people the illusion I had my life all together better than who I am, really am: flawed.

Even as I continued thinking, I knew that although I may prefer to maintain my “image” by, staying aloof … I would never be truly “known” that way. Nor would I truly “know” someone else. I would be safe but I would not be fulfilling my God-given purpose to cultivate community, discipleship, accountability, and growth. I’m not saying the way to a godly life is to become a consistent over-sharer or that you should be doing all the talking. But a funny thing happens once I’ve shared something uncomfortable … I’m humbled by it.

I realize that I’m not perfect. And that’s okay.

Because if my joy is dependent upon how other people perceive me, whether or not I have it all together, then I will continually be running on a hamster wheel trying to do damage control whenever that image does not align with reality (which is always). I will sacrifice who I really am, the experiences God has given me, and how I have grown, in order to maintain a false ideal of myself that does not, and cannot exist.

The fact of the matter is … I do not have to keep my image polished for God. He already knows who I really am and loves me all the same. The people Jesus was last impressed with were the Pharisees, leaders who were always worried about keeping up their perfect and “righteous” image. In fact, he told them they were like white washed tombs … they may have looked great on the outside, but on the inside they were rotting.

So what am I doing to myself? What compels me to critique my performance, afraid that someone might take something I say and realize that I’m less than perfect … I AM less than perfect. And that’s a good thing, because it is when I realize this truth that I become more dependent on God and who HE says I am. He actually already knows me, loves me, and has made me enough … regardless of any other opinion. And if that’s the best reason I’ve ever heard to be courageously vulnerable.

… I went to sleep smiling."

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Power belongs to those who care less?

Quickening my pace I made my way down the wet sidewalk, inwardly cursing myself for not bringing an umbrella... or rain boots. Fortunately, I was nearing the coffee shop where I was to meet one of my dear friends. We’ve always preferred to meet up in warmly lit places where the air is filled with chai and ginger cookies, catching up on the little details of life.

“How are you?” I asked Nicole, while I shook water droplets from my jacket.

“I’m fine.”

“…You’re not.”

“No, I AM. I’m fine. It’s just – I don’t know, this whole thing – that isn’t a thing – with James.”

“Have you guys been talking a lot?” I asked, taking a sip of latte from my mug. James was a guy that Nicole knew from church and had been interested in for a couple of months.

“Well, we hung out a couple of times, but … nothing seems to be progressing,” she breathed. “I keep telling myself that I don’t care, because it doesn’t really seem like he does. Or well, sometimes it seems he really likes me … and then nothing.”

Nicole glanced down at her phone at the black screen of no new messages. She intentionally placed it down and crossed her arms, looking up at me, “I think … think I’m done.”

In that moment I understood what she was really saying, “Caring is too hard. I can’t do it anymore. It’s too scary; I’m safer if I just hide behind this wall I have now decided to build.”
About half way through our coffee date, Nicole’s phone lit up. I watched as she peered down at the message and then purposely placed her phone in her bag.

“Was that James?" I asked, my curiosity tingling. 

“Yep,” Nicole replied, lacking emotion.

“Hello, aren’t you going to respond!?”

“No,” Nicole said with conviction. “I don’t care. He can see how it feels to be ignored for once.”

I was disheartened as she changed the subject. We didn’t revisit the topic of James for the remainder of our time together; but as I was walking back to my car, the sun finally beaming from behind the clouds, I began to ponder some of the implications our conversation held. Thinking, not for the first time, why in our nation it seems whoever cares less holds all the power. Why is it that the ultimate personification of “attractive” seems to be a concoction of indifference and emotional aloofness?

My heart ached as I realized that we've traded in vulnerability, and genuine empathy for a facade - a facade that loudly declares “caring is beneath me”. We value nonchalance above consideration.
Like pieces of a puzzle coming together, I began to realize that I was just as guilty of this as Nicole and James. Countless times I’ve deliberately waited to answer a text or Facebook message. How often do I hide behind humor and sarcasm to deviate from my feelings?

Why though?
I have asked myself this for a long while and still do not have a clear answer. I know it has to do with desiring safety. I also know that it is wise to guard and protect your heart. However, how often is our motivation for “guarding” out of fear rather than wisdom?  Is the reason we hide behind this façade of indifference because we are being wise and guarded? Or is it because we fear vulnerability, lest someone wound us? Why is pretending not to care, when we actually do, the ultimate?

Because then we have all the power to wound and no perceived weakness.
But this is not power. It is merely a cheap façade that comes from partaking in the illusion. This, at the very core and definition, is cowardice. Cowards flee from battle, hiding behind bricks. Heroes humble themselves for the benefit of others. Heroes run into the heat of the battle knowing they may become wounded. But they know there’s something worth fighting for, worth more than their own safety.
That’s true power. Making people feel safe. Helping them believe again. Hope again.
Compassion and empathy is the goal. Never indifference. No friendship, no romance, no legendary story, nothing worth anything was ever built on indifference. Not even your image. Because to put it quite frankly, no one likes that image, it makes people belittled and worthless.

Intentionally making people believe that they are unworthy of your attention is not, and will never be, attractive.


Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Un-distracted Prayer

  Perhaps the most profound privilege of the Christian life is having the opportunity to storm into the throne of grace and fervently pray for the things burdening our heart. However, anyone who has ventured on such a heroic act would readily agree that it requires much focused attention to fix your eyes on Jesus – and keep them there. Although it may begin as a well-intended, passionate time of communication with God, things can quickly turn into a mental struggle where our brain becomes a revolving door with random thoughts trailing in and out.

While none of us have reached perfection in this area, every morning is a new opportunity to present our full attention to Christ and allow Him to renew us through prayer. If we are intentional about addressing (or removing) anything that might stand in the way of communion with our Savior, He will be faithful to shape us into the mighty men and women of prayer we are all called to be.

Some friends / mentors of mine were kind enough to send me their thoughts on this subject and I have no doubt you’ll benefit from their wisdom and experience:

Yes, I am afraid un-distracted prayer is something that is never fully conquered, a battle never fully won. I have heard of and tried many tricks but my favorite will always be an idea I heard from a pastor at a church conference several years back. He said every morning he made himself and God each a cup of coffee. So while the pastor sat and prayed he always had the second cups presence to remind him someone else was in the room with him. I find this a comical but very affective trick.

I used to struggle against what I called distracting thoughts - thoughts that jumped from one person or issue to another, and stopped conscious prayer mid-sentence. Then I read somewhere that it's okay to embrace the scattered thoughts and draw them into prayers. Pray for each random person that comes to mind. There is a lot to be said for disciplined, focused prayer, I am sure, but for where I am in my life roles right now, I appreciated the freedom this concept brought: that the seemingly distracting thoughts can also be a means to communing with God if they are wrapped up in words offered to Him. Intercession can be a fleeting few seconds or concentrated hour. As a busy mom, I'm at the fleeting seconds stage, and I am grateful for the guiltless freedom to connect with God in this simple way. He wants to hear from me, and right now this means just turning my ever-leaping thoughts toward Him, and taming them in prayer. This was a good exercise in pondering my prayer times.

When I am praying, and I know it is going to be a longer time spent in prayer, i.e. prayer closet, I do my best to clear my head of everything else. The main thing that I do is I pray out loud. When I pray out loud, yes, the prayer might go slower, but then it is more difficult for me to get distracted. And I go in with the attitude that this is the time I have promised God, I GET to talk to my Jesus! The ONE who loves me, and forgives me, who doesn’t hold any sin against me after repentance! My love for him should be shown through talking to him. –If I can have a conversation with my best friend for hours and hours with no breaks, and no distractions, I can do that with Jesus as well.

I think for me praying on paper is the most helpful. I write out prayers in my journal. I read a book about prayer God's word by Beth more a long time ago and I had a pastor's wife teach me a bit about it too. The idea is that to pray to God is powerful like a stick of dynamite and God's word is powerful like a stick of dynamite and when you put the two sticks of dynamite together the impact is more explosive.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

The Proverbs 31 Woman

I will first acknowledge that this is a tremendously tender topic within the Church - boil yourself some tea as I venture to tread through these delicate waters. 

Throughout my studies I have found there are five types of Biblical Literature:
  1. Narrative | Story
  2. Epistle | Letter
  3. Poetry | Art
  4. Prophecy | Prediction
  5. Wisdom Literature | Advice
  All Scripture is paramount. All Scripture is true, but not all Scripture is intended to be read in the same way. Different kinds of literature have different expectations. In the same way that you would read Henry Longfellow differently than you read C.S. Lewis, you should expect different things from a Psalm than from Acts. Although I would love to delve into the complexity of each literary type, my main focus today will be on Wisdom Literature. 

Wisdom literature is full of very helpful but very general advice. Many people can become confused when treating wisdom literature like a dogmatic truth. A classic example would be Proverbs 22:6 "Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it." While often read as a divine promise, this verse (as my mother can well attest) is only meant to be a piece of conventional wisdom.

 Proverbs 31 naturally falls into the plethora of misconceptions surrounding wisdom literature, especially in that it is only directed towards woman. We are all to be Proverbs 31 wives. The Church as a whole is preparing to be the spotless bride of Christ - men and women alike.

The first aspect we observe in Proverbs 31 is kingship. Proverbs 31:1-2 refers to King Lemuel. History records nothing on King Lemuel however his name consists of two parts: Lemo (towards) and El (God). Therefore, it means towards God. This text is directed towards the elect and their not being distracted from God’s law by their flesh or worldly preoccupations.

Throughout the Proverb, we see again and again how we (as the Church) are all to be brides of Christ.

Verse 13 "She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands."  shows that the Christ is preparing spiritual garments for others - we need to provide spiritual food and understanding for others. This is manifested not only by our prayers for others, but also in our on-going love and empathy for people.

Verse 14 "She is like the ships of the merchant; she brings her food from afar." shows that our salvation comes from afar through the Holy Spirit. Our food is to do the will of Him who sent us (John. 4:34).

Verse 18 "She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp does not go out at night." exemplifies how we are to meditate on Scripture to determine our actions in how we should interact with one another, and in how we empower the Church. Her lamp not going out at night is a reference to the wise and foolish virgins (Matthew 24). Through the diligence of the Proverbs 31 woman, the lamp remains consistently lit. 

Verse 27 "She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness." affirms that every detail of the home is done in humility and fear of God. She is diligent, and full of zeal to do God’s work.

In closing, Proverbs 31:31 "Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates." informs us that we are judged in accordance to what we do. The Church, as the bride of Christ, is empowered by Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit to edify other believers and ultimately bring glory to God's Kingdom.

Another misconception that's commonly thought -and sometimes preached- (pertaining especially to women) is that only when you're married can you be virtuous, only when you can perfectly care of your household & family, and only when you reach a certain age can you truly become a Proverbs 31 Woman. This makes many of us feel insecure in our ability to ever attain such a goal, an overwhelming sense of inadequacy and impossibility set's in and we accept the lie that's being presented to us: you're not enough. 

The Proverbs 31 Woman (Bride of Christ) is able to be all that she is because of her committed and unwavering spiritual fervency.  Not because she's perfect or because of her deeds, but because she lives a life entirely surrendered to God, the fruit of that relationship being evident in all areas of her life. She puts God first and trusts in Him - not her husband, family, beauty, or housework.


Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Gentle and Quiet Spirit

"Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” – 1 Peter 3:3-4 (NIV)

Time and time again many of us miss a fundamental quality in this specific verse and therefore insist shame and indifference on numerous young women. Demanding that they retreat into an over-spiritualized mold, denying who they truly are, and failing to realize their potential in Christ.

Paul indicates a gentle and quiet “spirit”… not a personality – and there is quite a distinction between the two. Your spirit (your soul) is the core, the center, of who you are: it’s your character, your integrity, the immaterial essence of who you are. Essentially, it’s a direct manifestation of your relationship and intimacy with God.

The observation that a woman likes to converse frequently, loudly, and is strongly opinionated, is no indication that she does not have a gentle and quiet spirit. In the same way, the observation that a woman is less outspoken, comes across as reserved, and mostly keeps her opinions to herself is no indication that she does have a gentle and quiet spirit. She might appear silent, but her spirit could be raging, out of control on the inside. It’s not necessarily the tone of someone’s voice, the amount of words they speak or how they can respectfully perform a debate that ultimately dictates if they possess gentle and quiet spirit. Another misconception is that it occurs overnight, it’s a consistent and ongoing process by which one commits to becoming more and more like Jesus.

You need not be constantly in a corner, afraid to speak up to have a gentle and quiet spirit. You do not need to be a wallflower. In conclusion, the “quiet” that Paul is referring to is not a literal one, but rather, it describes the essence of a soul that is firmly rooted in God’s love, submission, peace, and Holy Scripture - this is the mark of a godly woman, of a “gentle and quiet spirit” whether she is a frequent conversationalist or the shyest of them all.