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

Friday, 24 February 2012

Life Update

After a lot of “heavier" posts lately, I thought it might be a good time for another update on what Gil and I have been up to lately. Here is the low-down:

Our House: We take possession of our new house on February 29! I can hardly believe that after so much time searching, this is finally happening! We won't move in right away though, as there is some work needed and we will get that done first. I have been pretty busy this week trying to set up utilities, insurance, etc. I have a rough estimate that I've spoken with my new best friend Irene at the insurance company EIGHT TIMES in the past 10 days. I have also spoken with my mom twice, and for much less time... At any rate, I'm super-excited about the house!

Work: I'm still not working, but I continue to look for positions. It's probably been for the best that I'm at home during all this house stuff, because it does take up a lot of time. Gil continues to work long days, which I'm still getting used to.

Getaways: We were off in Collingwood a couple of weeks ago. It wasn't really a getaway, because Gil attended and taught at a medical conference. I got a the chance to get my winter groove on and spent one morning snow shoeing (soooo fun!) and another morning ice skating. Even though it was -18º, I really enjoyed my first real winter experience this year.

Running: My mom, younger brother, and I signed up to do a 10km run on Mother's Day. My first post-Christmas run was cut short when I tripped after about 1km and had to go back because my hands were scratched and bleeding. My knee ended up with possibly the worst bruise of my life! Today I forced myself out again despite freezing rain, and am hoping that I'll get in at least a couple of runs a week until the race. I'm looking forward to the training, because spring running is amazing: Not too cold, and I love watching the greenery start to grow.

Summer Vacation: We're starting to plan our summer vacation. We plan on going away for a week or two in June. More on that later...

Smash: Is anyone else watching this show? I kind of love it.... (This is what happens when Gil works long days and CTV makes all their shows available online.) After years at band camp, I'm still a sucker for musicals.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Ten Years

The other day, I went to see the movie The Vow (yes, I know, cheesefest, please don't judge me :-P). It actually was better than I expected, and gave me a lot to think about. The basic premise of the film is that this young couple get into a terrible car accident and the woman – Paige – ends up with a brain injury that causes amnesia. She cannot remember anything from the last five years of her life. Unfortunately, those five years encompass the time she met, fell in love with, and married her husband; he then tries to remind her of who she is and ease her into her life. Here's the kicker though: At some point before Paige met her husband, she went through a series of events that were a catalyst for her making some drastic changes. Because she cannot remember the events, she has no idea why she made those choices and she has trouble reconciling who she remembers being to the woman whose life she now leads. Sounds confusing? I'm trying to edit out anything that will wreck the movie if you're going to see it.

So, why is this important? It seems like there are people whose lives from early on follow a trajectory that does not veer off course. For those people, “losing” several years of memories would of course be disorientating, but the “new” life would feel “right” in some way, because it lines up with their expectations. My brother is one of those people. If he were to wake up tomorrow with no memory of the past 10 years, I do not think he would be shocked or surprised at his profession (lawyer), his friends (the same guys, basically), or his fiancée (because she is the sort of girl he has always preferred – and she's wonderful, by the way).

On the other hand, there are people like me. What stood out for me was the fact that Paige's transition is a little like mine. Ten years ago this very week, I found out my step-father was cheating on my mother. It pretty much threw my life into a tailspin which coloured the decisions I would make over the next few years, the most definitive years of my life. This experience drove me into the arms of the God that I had been rejecting and ignoring since I was a young teen. I can definitely imagine that if I were to have an accident today and wake up with my last memories being from January 2002, I would not recognize the person I am today, or understand the choices I have made.

The movie asks the question: If Paige never gets her memory back, will she eventually make the same choices and become the same person? It's an intriguing question. Although I want to avoid jumping into the whole free will debate, I do believe that I would choose God again and again, because I believe He chose me. But would I again choose all the big and little things that I love. I am pretty sure that 21-year-old me would be utterly shocked that I had, for example, taken up running and completed a half-marathon. What would I make of Gil, if I was still stuck in the mentality of my younger self?

While I have a tendency to mull over the past, I also want to think about the future. We are only a few weeks away from my 10th “spiritual birthday”. (I don't know the actual date, because I never wrote it down, but I because a Christian somewhere in late February/early March of 2002.) Where do I want to go in the next ten years, and who do I want to be? I'm not talking about practical goals like “Put X amount into my RSP” or “Take future kids to Disney World”, but rather: What spiritual groundwork do I have to lay so that ten years from now, I can look back and be pleased with where I ended up? What qualities do I want to ask God to sow into my life now so that in the future, I will reap the spiritual benefits?

What about you, readers? (That's assuming anyone is reading this :-D) Do you think that if you lost five or ten years of memories, you would recognize the person you are today? Was there a point when your life veered off of your familiar trajectory? Who do you want to be in ten years?

PS  When I hear "ten years", I always think of this crazy film clip.

Friday, 17 February 2012

I Looked and Found a Good Friend

I think I've mentioned before that I'm currently taking Mandarin classes twice a week. In our first month or so, we learned a song that goes like this:

找,找,找朋友 (zhao, zhao, zhao pengyou)
找到一个好朋友 (zhao dao yi ge hao pengyou)

It means: “I look, look, look for a friend; I look and find a good friend.” Actually, I thought my teacher had made it up until I heard it recently on a song of Chinese children's songs. Enjoy it here with some awesome karaoke:

Anyway, I digress as usual, but this seemed a fitting song today. I've been feeling lonely lately. I miss my friends. I was finding myself reading a TON of blogs by other women, many of whom I had never met. It seemed like I was obsessed with this, and could spend hours reading other women's stories. Finally, I realized that this was an attempt to fill my loneliness with virtual friends, and it's probably not so healthy... As I mentioned in in my last post, I know it will take some time to form deeper friendships here in Toronto, but in the meantime, I crave connection sometimes.

Enter my old friend... the telephone. Today I called up my former roommate Dana, a woman whom I love so much and who was such an encouragement to me in my Christian walk. We actually had been emailing back and forth regarding some practical, but this afternoon I decided it would be better to actually hear her voice. We talked for TWO HOURS. I didn't even realize until then how much I missed this kind of connection. It felt like old times, when we were living together and would be in deep conversation, stopping at intervals to say, “We should really go to bed,” only to talk for another 30 minutes. We talked about marriage, friends, children, cats, baby names (even though neither of us are pregnant, FYI). It was just what I needed. Thanks to God for good Christian girlfriends!

PS You can see more of the Chinese children's album that I bought here.  These kids are so cute!!

Friday, 10 February 2012

Waiting, part IV: Waiting for Community

I've posted a couple of times already about how I miss Ottawa. No, it's not those icy breezes or the commute on the 95 that holds my heart; mostly, I miss people and I miss my church. While this is the first time that I've switched churches in the years since I became a mature Christian, it is definitely not my first time moving to a new place and feeling like I have to start over.

I think the lack of community, people who know me, is the hardest part of these kind of transitions. The problem is, that takes time. Unless you're going to back to summer camp, it can take a long time to get close to others, and especially to develop a group of close friends. This seems to take even longer as we get older and have more stuff in our lives.

In a sense, it feels like I'm waiting on community. I'm waiting because I know that at some point, these relationships will come and I will feel at home, but I don't know when that will be. So what do we do when we're in this place? I'm not thinking of how to get to know others, but how to handle the waiting period in a way that honours God and strengthens our faith.

1) Have community with God

It's easy to pull away from God when there is (almost) no one around encouraging you to seek Him. In Ottawa, I never struggled with getting out of bed on a Sunday to attend church... well maybe just a little bit for the 9am service. ;-) Still, attending church was a highlight of my week because I felt loved and welcomed. I am just beginning to realize how much my previous desire to attend church was affected by this fact. I still go to church, even though I hardly know anyone, but it's harder. The problem is that when I don't prioritize church, everything else slips too: my devotions, my prayer time, my overall spiritual life. It's funny that when I am most in need of community, I forget that I always have community with God. If that relationship is not there, even regular church attendance is little more than going through the motions. Hebrews 10 calls us not to give up meeting together, and I take that pretty seriously.

2) Allow yourself to feel lonely

There is a tendency in Western Christianity to equate having “joy in the Lord” with being happy. I see that in the Bible there are calls to rejoice in our circumstances, but that does not mean that being sad was not an option. Jesus wept for Lazarus, even knowing that his death was temporary. David wept when his son was dying. Nehemiah wept over the state of Jerusalem. We are allowed to cry. In fact, if Nehemiah hadn't allowed himself to be sad, he may not have been moved to action. It's okay to mourn over the loss of community and to miss friends who are far away. My struggle is not to camp out in the mourning period until it looks suspiciously like feeling sorry for myself.

3) Give grace to others

Doing this is probably the hardest of the three. When I am feeling lonely, it is soooooo easy to get caught up on what other people should be doing to welcome me. I can start to badmouth a whole bunch of people (in my head, at least): The church welcome centre, that lady who didn't say hello, etc., etc. In truth, we do need to better welcome newcomers to large churches. On the other hand, love keeps no record of wrongs, and I am called to love the bride of Christ. I've heard people grumble before that “the church” was not there for them in a time of need. That's not okay... but it's not okay to hold a grudge either. There have probably been hundreds of times when I've been too caught up in my own concerns to notice someone who was new or in distress. I shouldn't be shocked when the same thing happens to me. Recently, I attended a function at another church which did a terrible job of welcoming visitors. I may write more on the subject, but basically the whole set-up was so bureaucratic that no one even asked my name except to write it on a name tag. That sucks, but my own response was even worse: I was so caught up by grumbling (in my head) about the structure that I missed parts of an edifying and insightful sermon. When we fail to extend grace to others, we wind up being bitter, and no one wins.

Grace and peace to you who are in this place. I'm trusting that God will bring me the community that I so long for... in His own time.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Is This Really My Life?

I don't know how many of you have thought that from time to time.  It can be thought in a moment of wonder, when you can hardly believe that things are so great: "Wow, is this really my life?!"  When I lived in Germany, I would ride my bike over the Neckar river to get to school, and frequently have to keep from pinching myself because I could barely believe that I lived in such a fairly tale city.

Shameless plug for Heidelberg, my favourite city
There have been times when I've been in the thick of stress and frustration, and thought to myself:  "Is this really my life?  Didn't I expect that things would be better?  When do I give in and realize that I may never be a world famous novelist or some other glamorous profession?"  Usually these thoughts come when I am in the midst of feeling very sorry for myself and in general, I end up feeling very silly afterwards.

There is still a third mood for the "Is this really my life" statement, and that comes when it seems as though things could not be absurd, or you would be in an Ionesco play.  This was the kind of day I had.  My mother is taking care of our cat Sadie until we move into our new house.  She is quite attentive and likes to give me regular cat updates.  Somehow, she has recently come to the conclusion that Sadie was never spayed, and probably should be.  I am fairly certain she is wrong, but there have been a lot of back-and-forth emails between us.  So today I found myself spending the morning googling the menstrual cycles of cats, watching online videos of cats in yowling in heat, and wondering, "Is this really my life?"  It's a good thing God gave me a sense of humour so I can laugh at at these strange moments!

Saturday, 4 February 2012

An Ode to My Condo

Today is a bit of an emotional day for me. Today is the day that new tenants move into my Ottawa condo. Don't get me wrong; I'm very happy that this day has come, or at least my bank account is very happy. On the other hand, the condo was a huge step for me and the place where my life took place for several years, so it's strange to think of other people living there.

How I ended up in the suburbs is really a story of God working in my life. I had been renting the same apartment for over two years, sharing it first with one friend, then another. When my second roommate told me she was leaving, I started to wonder what to do next: Should I move to a smaller place on my own, or seek out another roommate, one who might also have to take off and leave me with a room to fill? My best friend was buying a condo in a new development, and suggested I check it out. The idea slowly came to me: I could be a home owner. Me. I could do this.

My biggest reservation was fear. What if I couldn't handle this big step? Did this mean I was a real grown-up? (Apparently three years of gainful employment and having my own car didn't count...) Did owning my own house make me one of those independent women that would scare away single men? Despite my misgivings, I made the choice (okay, my parents helped a little), and ponied up more money than I had ever spent at one time.

The condo in the midst of packing to move out.  Note how nicely organized I am with my tax documents.  :-)
And then I waited. It was seven long months until my home was finally finished. In that time, God provided through some belt-tightening times. I found a temporary sub-letter who ended up being a 60-something vegan hippie. (Very nice, but extremely odd.) Finally, the day had came and I took possession. I brought a couple of boxes in, did a prayer walk around the rooms, and played guitar in my living room for a while, just so the place would feel like it was mine. A couple of days later, half a dozen of my dearest friends came to help move (and two of them even baked cupcakes and unpacked my dishes while I went back for the second van-load).

My Spadina sign (available from Walloper.com)
My condo became home. I hung up my grandma's oil paintings and this awesome wall decal that reminded me of the Toronto subway. (Yes, such a nerd.) The cats found their favourite places to sleep. In my condo, I hosted my first (and only) dinner party. In my condo, Gil and I spent many hours watching movies and talking while we were dating. In my condo, I bawled and mourned when my beloved kitty Scout died. In my condo, I planned our wedding and put personalized stickers on hundreds of Hershey's kisses. And now some other couple will be starting their life out in my condo.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Waiting, part III: Waiting to Serve

Most of this post came from a couple of sermons by my excellent pastor Charles Price, so I take no credit for it. I thought it was pretty relevant to my waiting series, as it looks at another aspect of what waiting is and why it can be positive. Please note, there was a lot more to the sermons than this; I'm just blogging about what was relevant to the “waiting” theme.

Our church has been going through Nehemiah. First we looked at Nehemiah 1 and how Nehemiah wept and mourned over the brokenness of his people. The second sermon focused on Nehemiah's actions in the first part of chapter 2. Pastor P. noted that the actions of chapters 1 and 2 took place about four months apart. That means that Nehemiah was mourning and praying for his people for several months before he was able to speak to the King. It seems like a really long time to go on with this burden on your heart. The pastor pointed out that when we feel an emotional reaction to something, especially if we perceive it as a call to act, sometimes the appropriate response is to... wait.

What? Shouldn't we just GO? Not so fast, said our Pastor. We should take time to pray to God for the burden to be deepened, or lifted, according to His will. We need to discern whether this is an emotional response to a need, or a true call. The truth is, there are so many needs around us that we cannot respond to them all, so we ought to put careful thought and prayer into our calling. The Pastor mentioned that out of every 100 people that step forward at conferences or otherwise express interest to missions in becoming missionaries, only about one person actually ends up on the mission field.** That's pretty sobering. Perhaps some of that is due to other factors such as life changes, but much of it surely is due to people making emotionally charged decisions without thinking through or praying about the next steps.

Of course (and I'm adding my own comments here), we can prepare as we pray. While Nehemiah was fasting, mourning, and praying, he was likely also thinking about how he would go forward, what he would need for the journey, etc. We too can pray with our minds open to HOW God may use use us to serve. We also may require training before we can go. Perhaps we need to finish school or to study a new language. This prayer time is not meant to be an excuse NOT to serve, but rather a time in which our hearts are prepared for the service.

Pastor P. also mentioned in a later sermon that we are called to serve where we are. He said this in reference to the men and women who helped build the wall around Jerusalem; many of them built sections of the wall that were close to their homes. Of course, we also are called to be servants of God at all times, so just because we are waiting on a calling does not mean that we should give up serving in the meantime!

I hope this is helpful. I found the message both encouraging and convicting. There is the encouragement that if you've felt a call to something, but not had the chance to act, it may just not be the right time yet. I also felt convicted as there have been many times when I felt a burden, but rather than prayerfully consider it, I got discouraged when the opportunity to act didn't open up in the short term.

**I don't know the source for this information.