"There is no more lovely, friendly and charming relationship, communion or company than a good marriage."
--Martin Luther

Monday, 31 December 2012

2012 in Retrospect

Can you believe 2012 is nearly over, or actually is over in much of the world as I type this. Craziness...

I tried to think of the highlights of the year, but when I look back, it seems like so much has happened that it's difficult to pin down the best parts. Since we got married close to the end of last year, and then did all the honeymooning, moving, etc. that comes with being newlyweds, 2012 was when we really settled into being married. Some major things happened this past year, including:

--Church: I went from feeling isolated at our church to working and serving there. I also started attending a Bible study at another church and am gradually making some friends there as well.

--Travel: Last spring, I visited NYC and Washington in a fun road trip; Gil and I went to Poland and Mexico, as well as some shorter road trips.

Gdansk city centre
Malbork Castle
Brooklyn Bridge



White House
--Weddings: We started the year out with a mid-January wedding in Ottawa . Two of my cousins got married this year (but we missed one of them), as did my brother. This year didn't top my record high of 8 weddings (2008), but was still a good one for nuptial celebrations.

My cousin M's wedding, Letchworth Park, NY

--Babies: At one point, I think there were at least 10 of my friends and acquaintances who were pregnant. Although I haven't had a chance to see many of them in person, I celebrated as friends welcomed little Evan, Ainsley, Ophelia, Mathai, Zara, Kenzo, and Silas.* (Guess it's true that there aren't many baby Johns and Jennifers these days!) I also saw both of my wonderful nephews turn one, and watched many little ones grow up via Facebook. I'm excited for another little one due at the end of January, and of course wondering who will be the next to get pregnant. (And no, that's not me hinting at something.)

--Housing: We moved into our first house in May. It's still half-empty as we haven't felt the need to furnish rooms we are not yet using, but we are enjoying it just as it is.... even though moving from an apartment to a house meant that I had to shovel snow for the first time in years last week. I'm gonna have buff arms by the spring, that's for sure!  We never did get the roofing work done in 2012, so hopefully that will get started next spring.

Our snow-covered lawn, December 27

These are all events, but in my mind, the year is really about the things you cannot measure: what happened day by day, how we lived and grew. I think over the past year, I've grown in my relationships with my family, especially my mom.  I've definitely pondered a lot of things as a Christian, woman, and wife, and have realized how much I still need to grow.  Gil and I made steps in understanding each other and ourselves better. We've supported each other and prayed together, and ultimately, we've been happy. That's what's really important, right?

Happy New Year, Friends!!


PS:  Don't forget to vote in my sidebar poll!  I've extended the deadline by one day.  So far there is only one vote.

PPS:  If I missed anyone's baby above, please let me know.  2011 and 2012 are all jumbled up in my memory....

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Christmas 2013 (In Pictures)

Happy Boxing Day!  It's hard to believe another Christmas is over.  It's been a fairly quiet affair for us.  On Saturday, we had an early Christmas, exchanging gifts with my brother, sister-in-law, mom, and mom's boyfriend.  Gil and I exchanged gifts on Christmas Eve, just in case he was called in to the hospital super-early.  I spent Christmas day with my mom.  We had a mid-day brunch and cooked while listening to Handel's Messiah on the radio - pure joy!  Some relatives came by in the later and we had a nice turkey dinner, followed by Christmas pudding (yuck) and cupcakes (yum!) for dessert.



Tasty Christmas!

We had planned to drive down to Ohio today to see some friends, but Gil applied to renew his passport a few weeks ago and the replacement has not arrived yet, so we can't go to the US.  I don't mind.  We are aiming for a quiet day of watching World Juniors hockey and eating pizza.  Tomorrow it's work as usual for my husband (wait, that's what he's been doing all week....), but I am off so will be going to see Les Misérables at the IMAX with some friends and I cannot wait.

Other than that Santa a.k.a. my husband gave me a new fancy camera for Christmas to replace the one that took a dive into the Caribbean Sea, so I've been playing around with it, taking photos like these of my living room:

Woo, trippy...


Or these ones of my cat:






Because nothing says Christmas like gratuitous cat-posting.  Enjoy your day!

Monday, 24 December 2012

But Why?

My husband (somewhat) jokingly tells me that I ask too many questions. I'm always wondering, why he does think that, how does this work, etc. I say I'm just curious, but he thinks its hilarious (and occasionally annoying). This past week, however, was one of deeper questioning. I had applied to a full-time position where I work, and found out that I didn't get the job. I had not been seeking to work full-time until this opportunity arose, and even though it looked interesting, I didn't think my heart was set on it. Being turned down, however, threw me into a day or two of deep and anguished questioning what I am doing and why.

I was always “the smart one” in school, the one expected to go far. One of my high school teachers even insisted I was a future Rhodes scholar. Although I didn't fulfill her dream and go to Oxford, I did complete six years of higher education, and then worked for several years in an intellectually stimulating environment. And now.... I answer the phones. Even though most days I like my job, there are times when I wonder what I'm doing. This week I found myself crying to God, asking why He gave me this mind and educational opportunities only to end up answering phones. Why does it feel like I am squandering my potential? Will I ever have another job that's intellectually fulfilling? What if it takes us longer than we assume to have children, and I end up spending years and years doing routine admin work? Why don't things work out the way I plan them?

Fear is really at the heart of all these questions, and some of those fears are pretty shameful. I'm afraid of being dependent on another person. I'm afraid that people will look down on me because of my job. I'm afraid I'll lose my sharp wits and become dull, or that I'll never cut it in a domestic role. Most of all, I'm afraid because I don't understand God's plan for me.

What I'm realizing in my Bible reading this week, is that Christmas, far from being a feel-good jolly time, is actually full of these kind of fears and questions. There are so many questions in the Christmas story. Zechariah and Elizabeth wonder why the Lord has not blessed them with a child. Mary asks “But why me?” and “But how can this happen when I am a virgin?” Joseph asks what he should do about Mary's situation, and how they will manage the probable scandal of the pregnancy. They both wonder how come they have to go to Bethlehem at this inopportune time, and when the Jesus finally comes, they must have wondered how in the world they were going to raise the Messiah. The shepherds in turn wonder what is going on and why they are the ones blessed to be able to see the Messiah. And in the background, the whole nation of Israel is asking, “But when, Lord, when will the Messiah come?”

Our fears and questioning, far from taking us away from God, actually lead us towards Him as we seek answers and comfort from Him. We can know that we are not alone in not knowing the game plan or being confused; in fact, we're probably in good company with most of the people in Bible. We can marvel at the lowly carpenter and his wife who chose, in the midst of their fears, to obey God and find joy in His plan. And we can enjoy the presence of the One who knows all the answers (even if we don't understand them all).

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders. 
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace


Merry Christmas, from our little family to yours!!

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

On Reading (Follow-up): A Marriage Reading Plan for 2013

About a month ago, I posted about how even though I would like to read books about marriage and relationships, have trouble getting through them.

This week, I had the idea that if I commit to reading a few of those books and blogging about them, that should provide some accountability to actually start and finish some recommended readings on marriage.  I will commit not only to read them, but to journal through them and write one (or more) posts on my response.  These posts won't be reviews, per se, in that my aim is to write what I'm learning rather than to critique the books.  After all, this blog is about marriage and what it is teaching me, and I am certainly no expert!

For now, I'm aiming to read and blog about five or six marriage books in 2013, so that I'll still have time to read the fiction and history books that I love.  To start with, there are five books that I think would be beneficial, and that I already have (except Keller's book, which is available at the library) but I'd love your input.  Which one should I read first?  What would you like to see when I blog about them?  Do you have any further recommendations?  Feel free to leave a comment saying which book I should start off with, and why, or else vote via my new sidebar poll.

Tentative list:
Gary Chapman, The Five Love Languages (a gift from my wedding shower.  Update:  See my post here.)
Linda Dillow, Creative Counterpart (recommended by Jayme)
Hayley DiMarco, The Fruitful Wife (which I read about here)
Timothy and Kathy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage (Update:  See my post here.)
Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage (a gift from my wedding shower)

Monday, 17 December 2012

Leaving and Cleaving over the Holidays

When I got married, I was naive enough to think we had it so easy for holidays.  My mom lives in Toronto like we do.  My dad lives in Florida and does not expect us to visit at Christmas time.  My in-laws live in Asia and likewise do not expect yearly holiday visits.  Problem solved, right?

We failed to consider, however, that this meant that my family was the default for every single holiday.  I mean, it's not like we're the Braverman clan on Parenthood (love that show!), but we do have somewhat regular get-togethers, and over Christmas, they can be numerous.  Last year's family gathering at my mom's became somewhat of a gong show:  Way too long, too many people, me serving everyone and Gil forced to make small talk with my relatives for what felt like eons.  At the end, we we were exhausted and not so full of holiday spirits.

This year, my husband will be working on the 24th and on Christmas day, so I'll probably end up spending the majority of time with my family again, but I've realized that we need to have an ongoing discussion about how much family time is too much.  Of course, this is hard, and I'm a people-pleaser.  I've already had to tell my mom that I won't be coming over to do Christmas Eve dinner.  Gil and I will not have much time together, and it's important that we make use of what little we do have.  Saying no is not easy for me, but leaving and cleaving is important in establishing my little family with Gil.  Some small things I've learned so far are:

1)  It's important to have an ongoing discussion about Christmas plans.  What works this year may not work in a few years when me and my brother (God-willing) have little ones.  We started talking last winter about what worked and what didn't for Christmas 2011, and how things may change in the future, so we will be ready for that.

2)  Not all traditions are worth keeping.  Sometimes you just can't even remember why you started doing something year after year.  If everyone still likes it, then that's great, but there's no reason to keep up things that have become meaningless or onerous.  (Now if only my family would "see the light" about our annual plum pudding tradition... Yuck.)

3)  Bring up plans well in advance and with grace.  Some people hate change, especially at Christmas, so it's important to give them time to process and prepare if the status quo is changing.

4)  Don't get so bogged up in your own needs that you forget to extend love.  Some people over-extend themselves and entertain until they are exhausted, but others cocoon so much that they shut their families and friends out.  I try to remember that most of my family do not love Christ, so sharing His joy is an important part of this season, even if it means making time when I would prefer to be with my immediate family or husband only.


Edit:  One day after I wrote this, I discovered that my mom did not remember that I wouldn't be coming over on Christmas Eve, annnnnd all of the suggestions we'd made on making family Christmas a little less onerous were not implemented.  I guess there's always next year for changing traditions!  Merry Christmas nonetheless.  :-) 

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

On Grumbling (Or Not)

When I worked at summer camp, our staff coordinator always started out training with her own set of "10 Commandments".  For some reason, although most of them have faded out of my memory in the last decade or so, #2 still stays with me:  "Thou shalt not grumble."*  It's pretty obvious why that was important.  Camp counselors work long days for little pay.  Their attitudes set the tone for the kids in their care, so it's important not to complain and whine... unless they feel like dealing with 12 children whining right back.

Since I work in reception, it's still very important to have a good attitude.  I don't want visitors to the church to hear me complaining, nor do I want to come across as a whiner to other staff.  Still, the temptation can be so strong to go home and vent to my husband about all the "trials" of my day, and while that may feel helpful, it often doesn't actually help me to adjust my attitude.  Instead, a small grumble leads to a bigger one, and now suddenly I'm annoyed at things that didn't even bother me before.  This certainly doesn't help me connect with my husband either:  He would certainly not prefer to spend our brief time together listening to my list of woes.

It's so easy to be a society of grumblers.  We hate waiting.  We hate bad service.  We hate traffic.  The problem is, most of these are unavoidable if we continue to live in cities and (usually) to put ourselves and our convenience ahead of that of others.  Living in a grumbling society, we use our complaints as a form of bonding:  "Yeah, I hate that cable company too!"  This doesn't make us any happier, however, because instead of building one another up, we're tearing other people and things down. 

Last week was quite a "grumbly" week for me.  We were super-busy at work, and in general I wasn't busy with tasks that are among my strengths or giftings.  Several times, I came home in the evening wishing I had checked my attitude more.  This week, I'm resolving to be more careful about the things I let come out of my mouth, and the attitude I am cultivating. 

What does the Bible say about this?  Oh yeah, "Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe."  (Philippians 2:14-15).  Obviously, I have a lot of room to grow!


*Evidently I'm not the only one who remembers this commandment.  A few days ago, said person posted a facebook status that was somewhat negative.  She immediately received this reply from another former counselor: "Is that grumbling I hear?"

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Interesting Holiday Traditions Chez Nous

--> T'is the season, friends! I loooooove Christmas! Today I was thinking a little bit about holiday traditions. Gil and I have yet to really develop our own set of traditions. Where he is from, Christmas is primarily a religious holiday, so other than going to church, there is not much that people do to celebrate it. I, on the other hand, grew up with the whole gammot of Christmas traditions, from turkey to Santa to carols. I love everything... except eggnog and fruitcake.

While my family have a lot of your typical North American Christmas traditions, like decorating a tree there are a few oddball ones that I and my family have developed over the years, so I thought I'd share a few:

1) Christmas Carols as of November 1. This tradition started in university. Most of December was usually consumed by exams, so my friends and I would go gift shopping in early November so we wouldn't leave it too late. Now I always crank up the carols after Halloween. Last year we returned from our honeymoon late on October 30, spent one day in Ottawa, and moved all my things to Toronto the following day. Gil drove the the U-Haul with me following in my car, and you better believe I was listening to Christmas music all the way! My husband is not so keen on this tradition, so now it is mainly limited to my car and when I'm home alone.

2) Garfield Santa and Garfield Angel. We got these stuffed toys from McDonald's some time when I was a kid*, and they have aged remarkably well. My mom let me take them off to university with me (I believe I hung the Garfield Angel from the ceiling by his halo using dental floss). Ever since then, I bring out the Garfields to decorate at Christmas time. Even though I have some classier decorations now, these plush friends still make me happy.



3) The Santa Stocking. As a kid, my mom had a set of four stockings, each with a different design: Santa Claus, a snowwoman, a nutcracker/soldier, and a teddy bear. I had the teddy bear and my brother happily had the soldier, but when my dad moved out, we each decided we liked the Santa stocking best. Every year, we would fight over who should have Santa, so my mom made us take turns.... and we still do! We have a slip of paper in the stocking to keep track of who had it each year. Come to think of it, I'm not sure who's turn it is for 2012...

4) My Mom's unintentional insults. This isn't a real tradition, but it's something my mom ends up doing every year by accident. When we were little, my brother and I were kind of obsessed with fairness, so I guess Mom tried to keep the presents even. Now we don't care, but my mom still tries to give us a similar number of presents and even give us similar gifts. When this fails, she always feels the need to explain herself, which leads to hilarious statements like, “Now Neil, I've bought your sister several books and none for you, but that's not because I think you can't read very well.” Mom never fails to make us laugh each Christmas with her explanations.

Of course, there are serious things to ponder, and I am trying to be more mindful than usual of the spiritual significance of Advent this year, but that doesn't mean I can't also enjoy the lighthearted side of life.


*A little digging found me this McDonalds ad ca. 1991 featuring my Garfield buddies.  Check it out!

Thursday, 29 November 2012

The Last Name Project

I promised something new and different today, and here it is:  Today I have a guest post over at From Two To One

I found Danielle at From Two To One and noticed a series of articles called "The Last Name Project".  This is a series in which women write about why the decided to keep, change, or hyphenate their last names upon marriage.  I found my self spending hours reading all of these women's stories and thinking over my own decision.

Changing your name is a very personal choice.  While for my mom's generation in English Canada, it was expected that a woman would change her name, this is not so for my generation, and certainly not for women in other parts of the world.  In my own family, one of sister-in-law hyphenated her name, while the other is using her maiden name professionally, and my step-sister has taken her husband's name.  I didn't really feel any pressure to take Gil's name, but I decided to do it anyway.  I knowingly did this realizing it will mean some confusion meeting people who know me by name first, who will in all likelihood assume I am Chinese.  (For any new readers:  I'm not.  I am a mix of Belgian and English-Canadian.)  You can find my post about my decision to change my name here

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

On How Making Friends Is Kind Of Like Dating

"So, there's this woman around my age that I see around church.  She's always friendly and in our brief conversations, it seems like we have some things in common.  Can I ask her to go for coffee with me, or I seem creepy?"

If you read the above sentence with no context, you'd think it was a guy hoping to go out on a date with this lady, right?  Except it's not.  It's about me.  And no, I'm not trying to get myself a girlfriend!  The hard truth is that after a year living here, I'm still finding it hard to make friends. Now that I work at our church, there are a lot more people that I'm friendly with, and colleagues that I like talking to, but no one who I could call out of the blue or with whom I hang out outside of the church.  I didn't even realize this until a friend of mine was in town last weekend and said she wished she could attend our church with us to meet my friends.  My first reaction was, "Oh, I don't have friends."  And then I realized that was true.

In my "old life" in Ottawa, it seemed like I didn't have to put in a lot of effort to make friends.  I was involved with several ministries and served on missions trips, so I just naturally met people and got close to them.  Here in Toronto, however, I try to stay home in the evening to have time with my husband, and that's meant that my main interaction is with the retired crowd at prayer meeting.  They are lovely and inspiring ladies, but I crave friendships with people closer to my age too.

I'm coming to realize that it's time for me to be a little more active in forming friendships.  Those "let's all go for wings after fellowship" nights are probably less likely to happen now that people my age have spouses and kids (and, speaking for myself, lower energy levels), but that just means I may have to go a little out of my comfort zone to make friends.

So that brings me to my first question:  Is it creepy to ask this woman out to coffee??  Any suggestions or advice?

Sunday, 25 November 2012

On Reading: Biographies, Politics, History, Cultural Studies, etc.

This is the final entry in the my reading series, and it's going to be a bit of a catch-all for the categories not discussed thus far. This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but it includes the books I read most often. I haven't touched on topics like children's books, travelogues, or humour books because I don't read enough of them to have any insights.

Historical Books:  I actually read more history books than any other category after fiction. I guess that's what comes from being a history major in university. Because of my background, I'm fairly picky about the quality of history books: I'd prefer they be written by an academic (rather than a journalist), and I'll generally check the bibliography and avoid books without a lot of footnoting. Yes, I'm a big nerd. If you have any recommendations for books of this type, feel free to let me know!

Biographies and Memoirs:  I love biographies. In fact, I've been reading biographies since I was in grade school. One of my first was called Kelly: At Home on Third (you can find a photo here; your respect for me just went through the roof, didn't it? :-D) I typically read biographies of historical figures, political actors, and well-known Christians, rather than musicians or actors. As with history books, I prefer to read biographies that are well-researched and footnoted. I also am sometimes picky when reading Christian biographies: Christian subjects are often of interest to biographers who admire them, but this they may be tempted to skim over the more unpleasant aspects in the lives of prominent Christians (at least after they had come to personal faith). Personally, I feel that people like Luther and Bonhoeffer were conscious of their own flaws and would have preferred to have them documented so as to better show the grace of God in using imperfect people. Of course, there are also lots of great Christian biographies out there, so I'd encourage believers to read about people who went before us in the faith.

Politics and Cultural Studies:  I don't read a lot of books about politics, partly because a lot of them seem a bit like “preaching to the choir”; people don't tend to read Ann Coulter unless they already agree with her... If I do pick up something political, it will tend to be about the development of nationalism or something equally nerdy.

Cultural Studies is a more broad term, which could encompass politics, but also books that look at other aspects of society. I'd include here works like Fast Food Nation, Freakonomics, and a lot of the stuff you'll find on the New York Times bestseller list for non-fiction. I read from this category from time to time, usually books that ask questions about where our society is going and challenge me on how I live my life (for example, I have enjoyed Neil Postman in the past), and things related to the role of women. One of my favourites in this category would be Wendy Shalit's Return to Modesty.

Thanks for stopping by to check out this series on reading. I've enjoyed the chance to ruminate on why I read what I read, and have been challenged to be more intentional choosing books in the future. I'll be back to “regularly scheduled programming” for now, but check back in for something exciting and different on Thursday.

Friday, 23 November 2012

On Reading: Marriage, Family, and Other Lifestyle Books

This category would include books about marriage and raising a family, but also others geared to your real life right now: books about dating or engagement, books about living the single life, books about womanhood or manhood, books about aging gracefully. It's kind of a catch-all category, but I'm thinking of books that you read to help you in the stage you're in right now, or to prepare you for what's ahead. They may be Christian in nature, but tend to the more practical side, whereas yesterday we talked about literature that is applicable to all Christians.

My aim in this series was to talk about books, reading, and my own reading habits, but also to have some application to the reading habits of others. When I read other blogs of women around my age who discuss books from time to time, it seems the top three book categories mentioned are fiction, Christian lit, and “lifestyle” (although probably more family-oriented since I'm old most people my age seem to have kids.) Hence, I included today's category, even though I don't read these books very often, or at least I don't finish them often. (Hmmm, there seems to be a theme here...)

Nevertheless, I see the value in reading these kinds of books. Marriage is hard sometimes, and unless you have really solid, honest friendships and mentors you interact with regularly, it's difficult to get input and advice that will strengthen your marriage (rather than just give you an outlet to complain). On the other hand, reading only this kind of literature can give you a kind of “information overload”, where you may feel stressed about which advice to follow or so full of new information that you can't take it in. Of course, as with yesterday's category, Christians should carefully examine marriage (or other lifestyle books) in light of the Bible.

I have a few marriage-related books that I've always intended to read, but honestly the only one that I actually finished was obligatory reading for our pre-marital counseling sessions. I started Love and Respect, but only got a third of the way through, and have high hopes of reading Sacred Marriage and The Five Love Languages one of these days. I think my downfall is that I want to really engage with these books by journalling while reading, but that makes the process fairly slow so it doesn't get done at all.

Whenever we start our family, reading parenting books will probably come a bit more naturally, since there are so many decisions and habits to put in place with little ones and neither Gil, nor I have much experience. Until then, I'd love your input: Do you read books on marriage, dating, family-raising, etc.? Which marriage books are the most helpful or insightful? What should we plan on reading when we have children?

Thursday, 22 November 2012

On Reading: Christian Literature

You could possibly re-title this post “Christian books: a plea for help”. While the first few entries in this series involved me saying a lot, here I would love to listen to you, because, friends, I stink at reading Christian books. I'm talking books about theology, about living the Christian life, books that encourage you to grow in your faith. Yes, I stink at reading these books.

Firstly, though, let's get clear that the most important Christian book to be read is the Bible. Christians ought not to read a lot of John Piper or Tim Keller or Max Lucado, but neglect the Bible. Knowing the Bible is what helps us know God, and also to discern whether a Christian writer is worth reading in the first place. Personally, I'm not big on reading daily devotionals or going through study books; instead, I try to read the Bible every day, and I know that's more important than reading classics of Christian theology.

If one is reading the Bible, however, there is real merit in also reading across the broad spectrum of Christian literature. My problem is that I am great at starting these kinds of books, and lousy at finishing them. I've got C.S. Lewis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Randy Alcorn sitting in my to-read pile, and while I've opened all of these works, I have yet to get through any. Sometimes I think it will help to read a one or two of chaptersof such works a week, while keeping another book on the go for when I want to read to relax, but it still doesn't happen.

So readers, help me to read better! What Christian books do you recommend? What has changed your life? How do you get through heavy books and balance the need for something with more of a story? Are you judging me right now? :-)

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

On Reading: My Love for Fiction

Of all genres, fiction is hands-down my favourite. Of the 29 books I've finished this year, 23 were works of fiction. To me, there is no greater pleasure than getting lost in a good novel, the kind where I am tempted to stay up into the wee hours of the night just to find out what happens next.

There are people who look down on fiction because, of course, it's not true. They see it as “fluff” and would advocate reading biographies, cultural studies, and history instead. This is a false dichotomy; there certainly are heavy works of fiction (Crime and Punishment, anyone?) and lots of non-fiction that is light on substance. Nevertheless, it is true that there is some “fluff” in the fiction world. Our culture is self-centred and pleasure-seeking, and in general, the fiction genre tends to be female-oriented, so it's easy to find books that are all about finding love and finding oneself but with little of substance. That said, there is so much more to fiction than the latest “chick lit” title.

What I love most about fiction is the ability to fall into a story and experience a different time, place, and culture through the characters. Biographies also tell someone's story, but it can feel like the reader is at a distance because the writer him/herself has not been through the experiences (unless it's an autobiography, obviously); in a work of fiction, however, you have the opportunity to put yourself in the action. This means that you can learn while you're reading, and you may not even realize it. I recently read Moby Dick, and in addition to enjoying the story, I learned so much about whales and the history of whale hunting. Of course, I could have gotten that information elsewhere, but I am unlikely to ever research the subject, and articles about whale biology would probably put me to sleep. Likewise, it's great to read about contemporary Afghanistan, but The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khalid Hosseini make the experience of Afghans during the 1980s and 1990s real in a way that a history book cannot do without sacrificing some objectivity.

In the second place, a good work of fiction is often not just about the story. Many writers use fiction to discuss societal problems, human nature, etc. I am a huge fan of Jane Austen, and it pains me when her work is described as “romance” because if you read her more carefully, she has so much to say about the place of women in society, and about the development of character. Although I love the end of Pride and Prejudice, one of my favourite scenes is in the middle when Elizabeth reproves herself for believing Mr. Wickham's account of Mr. Darcy, and admits that she believed Wickham because he appealed to her vanity. She may not be a real person, but Elizabeth's willingness to search her own conduct and mind for where she went wrong has been a real example for me.

If you hadn't gathered it already, I love reading “the classics”; many of my favourite books are from 19th century England, although I also read classics from other areas. Part of my interest stems from my background as a history major in university, and part of it from a desire to read works that have impacted society. In addition, I find that while many of the classics are not specifically shelved under “Christian fiction”, most pre-20th century works were written with a Christian worldview in mind and I know I won't have to sift through any explicit sex scenes. This fall, I read Quo Vadis, a late-19th century book by the Polish writer Henryk Sienkiewicz, which is an engaging account of Rome under Nero's reign and of the Church during this period. Sienkiewicz won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1905; it's hard to imagine a Nobel Prize winner today providing such a compassionate picture of the Apostles Peter and Paul and portraying the idea that the New Testament is actually true.

Christians often wonder about the merits of reading secular fiction. It's sometimes difficult to tell whether a work of secular fiction will have objectional content or is written from a secular worldview. Should we limit ourselves to the fiction section of Christian bookstores? How do we engage with novels that proclaim ideas contrary to our faith? Personally, I think this is one of those Romans 14-type gray areas. There are obviously books that I think are unwise for believers to read. Any genres with illicit sex scenes (e.g., erotic fiction and often the romance section of a bookstore) will not help to follow the guidelines of Philippians 4:8 or to keep your heart from lust. Other than that, rely on prayer and the Bible for guidance, and consider your own weak areas. A person struggling with a violent or abusive past may want to skip a lot of contemporary murder mystires or thrillers, for example. Personally, I am not interested in horror or romance novels,* nor do I tend to read books that are overly violent or deal with the occult/demonic elements unless they it is in a specific Christian context. If I'm reading a book and encounter unexpected elements, I try to remember that I have the power to skim or skip passages or even to stop reading if the book will violate my Christian conscience.

The other side of the coin is that if you are strong in your convictions, it can be beneficial to read books with which you disagree. I wouldn't hand The Da Vinci Code to a brand-new Christian, but a person strong in their faith should be able to enjoy the engaging story AND also understand enough of Dan Brown's arguments to be able to discuss them with friends. In the past, I have read books that were popular in my youth group so that I'd have some idea of what kids were obsessing about and be able to have more meaningful discussions. My Dad and I both enjoy books by Robert Sawyer, a Canadian sci-fi writer whose works have a strongly atheist leaning. I don't agree with his worldview, but his books are interesting and thoughtful, and while reading them, I engage with some of the atheist movement's argument. Sure, I could read Richard Dawkins, but Sawyer's writings are much more enjoyable. I know when I open one that he is writing with an atheist viewpoint, but don't have to fear that because I know in Whom I have believed. In sum, I don't think we need to avoid all books that do not agree with the Christian viewpoint, so long as we are strong in our beliefs and prepared to think through things that counter the tenets of our faith.

Readers, what do you think? Do you read modern secular fiction? What's your favourite novel?


*Meaning the “romance novel” genre, which are normally has its own section within a bookstore and typically involves simple plots and a lot of sexual scenes, rather than merely novels with romantic themes (which could fall into many categories)

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

On Reading: Tips on How to Get Going

You could say that I was born to love books. We keep a log in our family cottage, and this past summer I started reading the entries from when I was a child. I had to smile at my Grandpa's words from August, 1981: “Margaret is a budding bookworm.” I was 11 months old, so it's funny to see that even then I was interested in books. It's probably in my blood, as my mom and dad both love to read, and actually my father is one of the most prolific readers I know.

On the other hand, many people don't grow up with readers in their family, and struggle to find time to read. When they do pick up a book, they may feel discouraged at their pace, or else just have trouble getting motivated or deciding what to read next. Even born-readers like me sometimes need encouragement to branch out into different categories, or to read books that are complicated or hard to get through. While I certainly don't have the answers, below are some of my best tips to get reading and to increase the depth and breadth of your reading. I would be remiss, however, if I neglected to pass on some advice from a person who reads (much) more than I do. Tim Challies is a well-known Christian blogger and a fellow GTA-resident, and you should probably check out his tips for reading before reading mine!

Maggie's Reading Tips

Befriend your local library
Many cities (Toronto and Ottawa included) have excellent public library systems. You can find almost anything if you are willing to put books on hold and wait a while for them to come in. Otherwise, just take a walk over to your local branch and browse around for a while. Take time to look at any titles or covers that catch your eye. You're sure to find a writer or subject you've never tried before.

Join a book club
I tend to be a “lone wolf” reader, because I don't need the motivation of others to get me going; however, a book club is a great way to meet new friends AND get introduced to some new books. If you don't know where to start, try your local library. Many libraries hold monthly book clubs. You could also check the bulletin board at a local coffee shop or even look at Craigslist or Kijiji. No luck finding one? Consider starting your own with some friends or colleagues who also enjoy reading. In fact, this fall, a group of friends and I started a book club and I've already been introduced to some books that I never would have picked up otherwise.

Keep lists of the books you want to read
I do this on my iPhone and have a more extensive list on my computer (with both books that I have and those that I aim to get at the library or elsewhere). Keeping a list means that when I finish a book, I already know what I want to pick up next. (The challenge, of course, is choosing just one!) It also helps when reading something that's feeling dry or slow-paced, because I know that when I'm done, there's an inviting book waiting for me. This also means that if I get a gift card from Chapters, I have an idea of what I want rather than going into the store and buying the first thing that catches my eye (which could end up gathering dust).

Check out other peoples' lists
You don't need to be indiscriminate and read books off of “RandomDude's 15 best zombie novels” list on Amazon just because, but it is worthwhile checking out the to-read lists of other readers. About five years ago, I discovered this extensive list online. I copied it onto a Word document and periodically read books from this list, not because I want to pat myself on the book for being well-read, but because many of these books have impacted our society and culture. I've also been introduced to amazing works through this list... Sure, there have been others that I could take or leave, but they have so far been the minority.

Keep lists of the books you read
You know how they tell dieters that writing down all of the food they eat motivates them to eat less? This works kind of the opposite way. For a couple of years now, I've kept track of the books I finished. It helps me to be able to see the breakdown of what I'm reading (fiction/biographies/etc.), and it also prompts me to be somewhat discriminating in what I read because it'll all go on the record. In fact, while writing this series, I took a look at this year's list and realized it was heavy on fiction, so I've decided to balance things out a bit to the end of the year. Keeping a list also helps when you're trying to remember the name of that book about _____ you read two winters ago.

Set personal goals
Setting goals can be anything from “I will read 25 pages of this book each day” to “I will read 6 books this summer”. Setting a number of pages or minimal time limit per day can help when you're trying to get through a slow-moving or dry book, or when you need to have something finished by a hard deadline.

Find books relevant to you (right now)
Before we went to Poland on vacation, I picked out two WW2 spy novels, one set in Warsaw and another featuring a Polish military officer. They weren't great works of literature, but they were an enjoyable accompaniment to our trip. There is no rule that to be well-read, you need to read long tomes that bear no relevance to your actual life. If you're having trouble getting into books, maybe you're not reading the right books. If you're into soccer, check out fictional books about soccer players, or books on the history of great soccer clubs, or books on how to improve your physical strength and stamina to improve your game. If you're going on a trip to France, there are a plethora of books on French cuisine, French lifestyle, French history, etc.. For traveling, I find the “travel literature” section especially enjoyable, like most of Bill Bryson's works and A Year in Provence and its sequels. You may find that reading on certain subject gets you into the habit of reading more in general.

Look around your home
I'm willing to bet that many of our homes are an abundance of riches when it comes to books. We get books as gifts, pick up books on sale, buy books with a birthday gift card that we really did want to read one day. Sometimes jump starting your reading habit is as easy as picking out a few books off your shelf that you've never actually tried reading. I mean, you did buy them for a reason, right? Bonus: This can double as de-cluttering; you may realize that you are unlikely to read them again, so you can give them away to others.

Now I need your input, friends: What are your tips on how to read more? Do you keep track of what you read? What good books have you read lately?

Monday, 19 November 2012

On Reading: An Introduction

In case you weren't aware, November is NaNoWriMo which means that people all across the world – and all over cyberspace – are trying to write a book in one month. I love this concept! It's always been a dream of mine to write a book. I'd like to try NaNoWriMo one of these years, but since I procrastinated this year, I'm going to focus on writing's equally wonderful counterpoint: Reading.

If you know me at all, you must be aware that I am a total bookworm. There are few things that I would consider more enjoyable than curling up with a book (and a mug of hot chocolate). There are certainly people out there who do not read books at all, and who have no plans to do so. On the other hand, there are other people who enjoy reading as much as I do, and some who wish they could get geared up to read more books or just read more broadly.

I conceived this coming series as a bit of a mishmash of purposes: I'll ruminate about on why I like reading specific types of books, and I'll also add tips for those who are trying to read more or just looking to branch out in their reading. In addition, I'd love for some of my bookworm-y readers to give their own advice, recommendations, etc., on reading. It's kind of like meeting up at Chapters or Barnes and Noble to discuss books while holding warm mugs of tea... except on the Internet.

In case you're asking yourself, “Why is this lady qualified to tell me how to read more?”, let me tell you that I am certainly not the most prolific reader out there, but I DO love books and consider myself a fairly well-read person. According to some sources,* the average American reads 17 books a year, and I typically read double that amount. (For the record, as of Nov. 18, I have read 29 books in 2012.) I also consider myself a fairly across-the-board reader. While I don't cover every existing category of books, I do read classical fiction, more modern fiction, biographies, history books, and books on spirituality/Christian issues.

For this coming series, I will start with a blog entry on how to get reading more, and then look at some specific categories of books. This next week will look a little something like this:

Wednesday:  Reading Fiction



That said, I'm sure to be missing some of your favourite categories, so please let me know if you have anything else you'd like me to add. And don't forget to get yourself some cocoa and let me know some of your favourite books!


Saturday, 17 November 2012

Why I Love My Job

For about four months now, I have worked as a part-time church receptionist.  It's not glamorous or exciting.  Many people have expressed surprise that I am working at a job so "beneath" my education and work experience, but in general I like my job and find that it has its own challenges.

The past few days have been really hectic.  I was transitioning back after a fantastic week of relaxing, and we have been busy with Christmas concert ticket sales, not to mention IT issues.  It is easy to get bogged down with these little headaches and forget what I love about this job, but the past 24 hours have reminded me.

Last evening I had a great conversation with a woman who had basically walked in off the street to ask some spiritual questions.  I don't want to share her personal details, but it was soooo interesting how even though we are very different, through my education I understood a lot about where she was coming from, and I was able to use some of what I learned in university to relate to her.

Yesterday a couple came into the church in preparation for their wedding today.  They wanted to set up decorations, but were short of ideas on what things should look like.  It was beautiful to see two of our employees take some time out of their busy workday to give suggestions.  The decorations could not go up yesterday, so my colleague and I came in to assist this afternoon.  I got to spend a few hours of my Saturday chatting with the couple's two friends, practicing my Mandarin (they are from China), and helping make a multipurpose room look pretty for the wedding.  Even though I don't have much of an eye for decor, it was fun and I never would have had this opportunity if I hadn't been on the reception desk.

In sum, it's easy to look at education as an X --> Y result, like if you study engineering, you become an engineer, etc.; in my experience, however, the things that you learn in school come back to help you in ways you'd never expect, and even if you don't work "in your field", you'll find ways to use your education and be stretched!

Monday, 12 November 2012

Refreshed

We got back late Saturday night from our trip to the sunny south.  What a great vacation!  We enjoyed perfect warm, sunny weather and hours of poolside lounging.  More importantly, Gil and I were able to really spend time together, rather than just grabbing an hour or two after a long work day.


I've noticed since being married that my concept of downtime has changed.  When I was on my own, I never craved a beach vacation.  Even though my life was busier, I had no desire to go away just so I could sit and read poolside; after all, I could read on my own at home.  When I did travel, I subscribed to a "go big or go home" philosophy. With Gil, however, his free time is so limited that it is worth it to fly far away just so that both of us can relax together and we don't have to field incessant work-related calls.  We do still enjoy active vacations with cultural sites, etc., but I'm finding it's important to find time to get away and just zone out sometimes.

The one downside to our trip was that my camera took a nosedive into the Caribbean Sea on day 3, only to drift onto the beach covered in sand and seaweed.  Its prognosis does not look too good.  Thankfully, the memory card is fine, so I didn't lose the photos from our first few days away, so here are some shots of our wonderful trip.

My favourite way to relax!
Welcome to Mexico!

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Heading South

I'll be out of commission for the next week or so as we are off to Mexico to celebrate our anniversary, or as my sister-in-law says, to "hold Gil hostage from the hospital" for a few days. I hope to be back relaxed and tanned in 7 days. In the meantime, have a great week friends!

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Happy Reformation Day!

On this day in 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of a church in Wittenberg, Germany, beginning what became known as the Protestant Reformation. I like to take a moment to pause and reflect on the courage of Luther in standing up for Truth even when this pitted him against church leaders. If you get a chance, take a few minutes to read up on his amazing life story.

Today is also Halloween. I know Christians are often divided on how to respond to this day. Because we are new to our neighbourhood and have had limited exposure to our neighbours, I will stay home and hand out candy to the kids. I hope to at least get to know a few names and faces from the area. Bonus: Since it is Reformation Day., I feel like it's appropriate to wear break out my dirndl. That's not weird, right? (Wait, don't answer that... :-D)

Sunday, 28 October 2012

...But God

I recently attended a fellowship lunch with my Bible study group. Our study time is fairly rushed, so we focus on the Word rather than spending much time getting to know one another. The lunch was a wonderful chance to hear peoples' stories, and what fascinating stories they were!

As I listened, there was one common theme that stood out. I kept hearing statements like, “I was so unhappy when I moved, but...” or “I didn't understand why this would happen, but...” We had all had experiences of coming to a place or situation that we just did not like or understand, but God met us there.

It was a great reminder of my own short-sightedness. So often, if I do not see the immediate results or if I feel pressed at this moment, I do not understand why things have to be a certain way. Yet, I have been through so many difficulties that God ultimately used to produce more lasting effects that I ever would have imagined. I must remember to live day by day in anticipation of the “but God” to come.


Ephesians 2:1-5 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ. . .

Romans 5:6-8 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Genesis 50:20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.

1 Corinthians 1:26-27 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.

Monday, 22 October 2012

One

It's hard to believe it, but as of today, Gil and I have been married for a whole year.  Honestly, it feels like the past 12 months have soared by.  I remember thinking in the midst of our house-hunting search that one day, it would feel like our time renting the condo was a tiny blip in our life, and it already does.

This year has had its challenges, but through it all I have never once looked back and regretted giving up my Ottawa life to marry Gil.  He has been my rock and my best friend in his own quiet way, and I am so blessed to have him.

We are celebrating quietly since, of course, my husband ended up being on call.  I'm hoping we can squeeze in a nice dinner out some time this week, but the most important thing for me is just taking time to remember how we got here and to celebrate the blessing our marriage has been.  Of course, it's an added bonus that a few minutes ago, the doorbell rang and I received a delivery of beautiful roses that my husband had ordered.  Nice work, Gil!

Edit:  We did go out to dinner!  Gil emailed me at 7:15pm to say he would be able to get away from work in time for dinner, and had made reservations.  We went to a great Italian place and came home to enjoy coffee and a cupcake from the same bakery that supplied our wedding.

Looking forward to many more fabulous years together!



Thursday, 18 October 2012

Oh, That Adam and Eve...

Wrecked. Alone. Ashamed. Foolish. This is how I was feeling the other night. I try not to blog much about within my marriage, because those are, well, personal. We do have conflict and strife at times (like everyone does), and this past week was fairly eye-opening to me.

One evening last week, I sat down with Gil to talk about an issue that had been bothering me. It was something we had discussed previously, but I did not feel like he had been working towards making things better, and as time went on, I found myself growing bitter about it. Didn't he care? Didn't he see this was hurting me? I sat down with Gil to have a heart-to-heart talk, and he promised to work on the issue, although he still thought I was over-thinking things. It seems like a typical, boring, married-people discussion, right?

After we went to bed, everything changed. I couldn't sleep, and my mind was filled with doubts and anxieties. Did Gil really care? Had I screwed up our relationship? What if this issue was never resolved and we had to live with it for the next few decades? I oscillated between anger that Gil didn't seem to care about my feelings, and regret that I had brought this up in the first place. I felt like a terrible, unloving wife. Despite the anger and regret, though, my overwhelming feeling was shame. I was embarrased that I been so vulnerable in the first place. I was ashamed that I could not overcome my emotions. To top it off, I was ashamed of my shame, because I should have felt free to be vulnerable with my husband. The words that kept flashing through my mind were, “I feel naked and ashamed.”

You see, that morning I had attended a Bible study where we discussed Genesis 3. Although I've probably read that chapter a thousand times, being married brings it to life in a different way. When I woke up after that awful night of second-guessing my actions, I realized that Genesis 3 holds some answers for me right now. Firstly, that this struggle is normal. Shame is was one of the first consequences of sin: Adam and Eve were suddenly embarassed of being naked, even though they were married and one flesh (not to mention they were the only people around). To me, this means that my feelings of discomfort with being (emotionally) exposed to my husband are deeply rooted, and will take time and prayer to get over. Moreover, verse 16 pretty much guarantees that conflict will happen in a marriage, so if Gil and I have trouble resolving an issue, it's not because there is something wrong with us personally. It seems strange, but the idea that marital conflict is a guarantee actually gave me a lot of comfort, if only because it reminded me that we are normal and not failures at marriage this early in the game. On the other hand, Genesis 3 also holds the promise of redemption. Jesus came and He allows us to break free of the patterns of sin, so that even though I can be sure we will always have conflict, I can also trust that as we grow our characters in faith, we will be growing in our abilities to respond to each other with love and grace.

And our issue? We're still working at it. We spoke again over the weekend, and I apologized for coming on a bit too strong. Gil has also been doing his part to make things better. And I am reminded that there is always hope in Christ, for our marriage and for all other things too!

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

On the Lighter Side...

Remember how I blogged about all the pressure I feel about having babies?   Sometimes you just have to choose to laugh instead of getting stressed out.  For example, my mom has lately taken to telling me all her favourite baby names, just in case.  I've reminded her that she already had the chance to name me and my brother, but she persists in throwing random options out there, and honestly, they are all really weird!

The most recent example of this is that my mom just got back from in Italy and was eager to tell me her new favourite girls name:  Lucrezia.  Let's just note that any future biological babies will be Belgian-English-Scottish-Chinese-Canadian, with some Malaysian and German cultural heritage thrown in for good measure, but certainly not Italian.  Not to mention that the only association I have for that name is the Renaissance figure Lucrezia Borgia.*  Sometimes, she makes me want to pull an Elizabeth Bennet and shake my head while softly murmuring, "Oh, mamma..."  It also makes me wonder what kind of name she'd have chosen if she had gone to some place like Iceland** instead.

Does anyone else experience this??  How do you handle it?


*According to Wikipedia, "Lucrezia Borgia (18 April 1480 – 24 June 1519) was the illegitimate daughter of Rodrigo Borgia,  the powerful Renaissance Valencian who later became Pope Alexander VI, and Vannozza dei Cattanei.  Her brothers included Cesare Borgia, Giovanni Borgia, and Gioffre Borgia.  It is often suggested that Cesare and Lucrezia may have had an incestuous relationship." You can read the full article here.  Hmmm, I'm not so sure I want to name my future daughter after this person....

**According to this site, one of the most popular girls' names in Iceland for 2010 was Hrafnhildur.  (And I'm not naming my kid that either!)

Monday, 8 October 2012

Thankful

This weekend is Canadian Thanksgiving.  Since my mom is on vacation, Gil and I decided not to bother with turkey, pumpkin pie, etc.  (Actually, I hate pumpkin pie.  Honest.  It is one of the few desserts that I cannot stomach.)  We "celebrated" non-traditionally by going out for a dim sum lunch, because nothing says Thanksgiving like BBQ pork buns.

There is, however, nothing about turkey and mashed turnips that make one more thankful than on other days, so we are still trying to be extra-cognizant this weekend of the tremendous blessings in our life and to be thankful for them.

Some things I am thankful for:
--God's gift of salvation
--50 amazing weeks of marriage to a fantastic husband
--Our home
--Family
--Cats
--The last 10 years as a Christian.  Some of them were very difficult, and I am still growing, but I can truly say I have a changed and redeemed life
--Coffee
--Wonderful friends all over the planet
--The opportunities I have had to travel and see the world

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!  What are you thankful for this weekend?

Saturday, 6 October 2012

A Great Day

Last Sunday was a great day.  Our church was having a ministry fair after both services that morning.  As I mentioned last week, I've started serving with the youth ministry, so I volunteered to help at the youth display.  Gil was on-call, so he was out of the house super-early anyway.  Helping out was fun, and I got to know our youth pastor and some other volunteers a bit better.

After the second service, I ran into someone I know from prayer group.  We are among the only younger ladies who attend.  She mentioned that she would be going to a potluck lunch and she had wanted to invite me, but did not have my number or phone number.  I got the information and drove out to the potluck.  It was a fun afternoon, with some games and just chatting with new people.  I left a bit early to head home before a family birthday dinner that evening.

Why am I telling you all these boring details?  Why was this such a great day?  It's not like the potluck games were the most fun I'd ever played, or the ministry fair was amazing.  The great thing about Sunday was that for the first time in nearly a year, it felt a bit like my Ottawa life.  It felt as though I was part of the church rather than someone who just shows up on Sundays.  It felt like I was making friends rather than just shaking hands with strangers at the service.  I love Gil, and I love my life with him, but it felt like I finally had a Toronto life outside of my marriage, and that felt soooo good.

Interestingly, this past week at my Bible study, we were talking about Genesis 2.  One of the leader's comments was something like, "Can we trust God to put the right relationship in our life at the right time?"  The immediate context was, of course, Adam and Eve, but it is so applicable in other areas of life as well.  It felt like I waited a looooooong time for my husband to come into the picture, but when he did, he was worth the wait.  Likewise, I feel like I've been waiting a long time to make friends at our church, but I have faith that God has been using this lonely time in my life to develop me.  Can't wait to see what He does in these new friendships over the next stage of my life!

Saturday, 29 September 2012

I ♥ Youth Ministry

I am super-super excited to announce that after nearly a year of floundering at church, I have finally stepped back into regular Christian service:  I just signed on to work with our youth group for the 2012-13 school year.... and I am sooooo excited about it!

For those of you who know you, this probably isn't much of a surprise.  I was involved with youth for quite a while back in Ottawa, but somehow, whenever the thought of doing the same in Toronto came up, I hesitated.  After we got married, there were so many transitions going on, that I needed to stop and really process it all.  Not only that, but I needed to almost distance myself from my old youth group that I loved so very much, to ensure that I wouldn't be that annoying girl who constantly says, "Well, in my OLD group, we did X like THIS..." [The previous comment would possibly be  accompanied by an obviously dissatisifed expression.]

This summer, however, I started working at the church and getting to know the various ministries, and I felt the pull back towards youth ministry.  Last week I finally got to talk to our new youth pastor, and he invited me to check out the group.  When I walked into the room, even though I didn't know the kids or most of the volunteers, I felt like I was coming home, back to a ministry I love, back to an age group I love.  There are lots of people who enjoy teaching Sunday school and working with little kids, but as for me, put me in a room full of awkward or surly teens, and my heart fills up. I ♥
teenagers!

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

32 (Sigh...): A Post in Which I Get Real

--> Disclaimer: Parts of this post are new, and other parts I have written and re-written many times over the past few months. If this piece comes out as disjointed as a result, I do apologize and welcome your input!

I had a birthday this week, and am now 32 years old. Sigh... It was a good day of relaxing, going for a run in beautiful weather, doing errands, and a surprise dinner with my husband. (I thought we would have to postpone as he is on-call this week.) He also gave me a Kindle, so I am in the process of downloading lots of books (mostly free!) from my reading list, and also of eating my words, as I have been known to proclaim loudly that I would *never* give up physical books. :-)

I had mixed feelings looking forward to this birthday. It was exciting as it would be my first birthday as a married lady, hopefully the first of many. I imagined the joy of Gil being the first person I would see on my birthday, and looked forward to that morning. On the other hand, my feelings are mixed as I find myself deeper into my thirties every year raises the pressure I feel to start a family ASAP.

When I was young, as any young child, I did not understand why adults would be upset about their birthdays. What's not to like about having your own special day? Now I kind of understand that frustration. It feels like I am constantly being bombarded with reminders of declining fertility in the thirties. It's on the news, it's in my inbox (usually from news sites), and it's in conversations with other women around my age. My mom has been hinting for a while now that she'd like a grand-child, and mother-in-law asked us right after our honeymoon when we would have a baby! Even my brother-in-law recently asked Gil when we going to give their mom a grandson. (Seriously? Is Downton Abbey and we need a male heir?) Talk about pressure!

The thing is, I don't think any of this pushing is helpful. There are lots of great reasons to have a child, but “got tired of my mom's nagging” and “all my friends were doing it” are not among them. Honestly, when I read another scary article or undergo an interrogation, it doesn't make me trust God more. Instead, I feel as though I need to get on it and have a baby while I'm still young enough for God to bless me. That's not the heart of the God who gave Isaac to Sarah, and Samuel to Hannah. I'm not saying it is wise to postpone childbearing and expect a miracle, but I am saying that we need to be careful not to use biology to put God in a box. It makes me sad that some people are not giving us the freedom to enjoy these first months of marriage without the pressure of starting a family right away (let alone the freedom to make our own decisions). I know friends who have started families young, and many of them took a lot of flack for being young parents, but I do believe that those of us who marry older also bear some stigma as well. Can't people just mind their own business sometimes? Not only that, but we all need to mind our words and make sure we are not being insensitive. We never know all the details of another person's life and struggles.

I just want to clarify: I have no issues with discussing these things when I'm with close friends. If you are my friend (AKA you know my last name, we have had conversations in places other than the church lobby, etc.) PLEASE don't be afraid to ask me about my hopes and plans. In fact, I love talking about pregnancy and babies, as it helps me get read for if/when it finally happens. I don't mind casual joking about having a baby if I know it comes from someone who genuinely cares about me and not just my ovaries. I just don't need the constant reminders that I'm getting older.

Okay, end of rant. :-) Thanks for reading and letting me be vulnerable.

Ah, the days when birthdays were angst-free... and bowl haircuts were all the rage.

PS While am not endorsing this movie in its entirety, any discussion of the unhelpful things people say to unmarried/childless women is best illustrated by this clip.  Seriously makes me laugh every time.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Mini Home Tour

Gil is *almost* back from the Rock!  He should be home in a few hours.  As much as I am able to keep busy fairly easily, it's been lonely with him away.  For once, though, it seems that my actual productivity almost matched desired productivity, and I did get a lot done with Gil away.  In terms of my list from Monday:

1)  Have a mini-spiritual retreat. 
I did "fast" from secular music and television, with one exception of watching a favourite program online, and I did get back into better Bible reading habits, although spent less time in prayer than I meant to.

2) Study Chinese.  Like, a lot. 
I did a lot of vocabulary review and am energized to get my study on for the next four weeks.

3)  Hang pictures up around the house. 
Finally finished this task this afternoon!  See below for more info

4)  Organize my closets and my clothes. 
Done!

5)  Potentially set up some autumn decor.  I'm thinking a wreath may be in order...
Not at all, haha!  I seem to have forgotten that I don't have a crafty bone in my body.  I found one wreath that I loved online, but it required a glue gun, which I don't have.  And then I realized that I don't actually care, so there will be no seasonal décor at our place until Christmas.  Is it too early for Christmas decorations?  :-)

Anyway, all that to say, I know that some have asked me whether I will post some pictures of the new house.  In truth, I am really not satisfied yet with our furniture situation, BUT I decided to give you all a hint of how things are looking, so without further ado, here are some photos of my recent picture- and art-hanging escapades.

This is a little piece of our kitchen.  I found this poster in Lake Louise, AB, a few years ago and I love it.  It's framed and mounted in a fairly cheap Ikea frame.  Underneath are a couple of photos from our living room, and bedroom.



Chair free from Freecycle and a wax on canvas that my step-dad gave me ages ago

Wedding photos!  Next to the bowl is a photo of my grandparents.
 
And now to the bedroom.  This is the space between the window and the closet.  I put up some of my favourite wedding photos, one with my fabulous bridesmaids, and one with my dad and brother.



Our new(ish) bed. The needlepoint above was a wedding gift.
 I got this bedside table and it's twin (on Gil's side) off of Freecycle and spray-painted them black.  On the left is just about my favourite pic of my Ottawa girlfriends, and on the right is a great shot of me and my brother when we were little.
Our en-suite bathroom


So, there's a little glimpse into our digs.  I'm not much of a decorator, but I do love hanging pictures as it makes things feel more like our home and not just any old house!