Authenticity · COVID-19 · Faith · Health

Taking Small Steps Forward

Often I’m amazed at how many parallels there are in our natural world and our spiritual one.

For the past two weeks I’ve been trying to get my body into a healthier state, and it’s caused me to realize that not only have I been neglecting my physical body, but my spiritual one as well. It’s so easy to fall into a state of being physically unfit: Skip a workout here, eat a bit more junk there. It takes far more effort and intentionality to stay healthy.

It was almost exactly one year ago when I first heard the term “Covid-19″… that was just before it hit my world. At first, it was the distant “coronavirus” that seemed like nothing more than another repeat of the “SARS” or “H1N1″scare. I never expected it to effect me. I never thought that it would reach my country. And never in my wildest dreams would I have expected it to be here to stay.

None of us did.

As I look back over the past year, I realize that it took over so much of my emotional, mental and physical capacity and head space. I noticed my motivation to keep myself healthy – physically and spiritually – completely tanked as I became fixated on all the changes around me. Eventually, expecting change and disappointment became normal. Being adaptable was essential – and it’s where I put most of my energy into: Returning to homeschooling five kids overnight, cancelling all future plans, learning to meet with and lead my small group over Zoom.

Adaptable we’ve become, but it seems like all I’ve been doing for the past year. I find myself tired; burnt out, even. I’ve been physically trying to compensate for this fatigue by filling much of my extra time with unproductive activities, stuff that requires little to no effort. Logically this doesn’t make sense, of course, because if I’m going to run a marathon and do well, I have to take care of myself.

But here I find myself in that place where I’ve been running so hard for so long that I am in survival mode. In my few moments of free head space, I’m filling my mind and body with so much junk that I just find myself too full to eat a decent meal.

Something has to go.

I am hitting a wall and I just can’t run off of this cheap fuel anymore. I need the good stuff. I need the protein, the veggies; the word of God, prayer and fellowship with believers. I can’t keep grabbing for the granola bar to tie me over anymore, my body won’t let me.

So, I take small steps:

First Step: Two weeks ago I decided to give up processed sugar/junk food for 40 days during the Lent season.

Second step: Making wiser choses in what I eat… choosing a salad instead of a pizza. Grabbing fruit instead of chips.

Third step: Picking up my Bible instead of my phone when I wake up. Praying instead of complaining or worrying.

Fourth Step: This past week I decided to get back into running; just three days a week for half an hour.

Small steps I can handle, one choice at a time.

And today, I got pushed to take another small, but important step for accountability on how I’m spending my time: Being present with my family, instead of hiding away in my room to be alone. I need to learn how to be in community again, instead of pushing people away.

Today was a day I’ve been waiting for for a long time. It was the first time I’ve been to church since November 1st and even in my current exhausted state, I was ecstatic! Online “church” isn’t church to me. It’s watching a sermon.

Church is the people. My spiritual family. My second home.

Today marks the beginning of another step towards health: Meeting with other believers to worship our incredible God. It’s just one more step of healing from the isolation of this year… Fellowship. We need each other. If anything has shown us that, it has had to be this past year. As my community begins to heal and take small steps to open up, I want to heal personally and open up as well.

One small step at a time.

Have you been taking any steps lately?

Faith · Prayer

Without a Thought

One of the most unsettling stories in the Bible, comes from the chapters 38 and 39 in the book of Isaiah.

In this historical account, King Hezekiah becomes very sick… to the point of death. In walks the great prophet Isaiah. He has no fancy message, no hopeful encouragement, he just states the word of the Lord: “Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.”

I don’t know about you, but with Isaiah’s perfect track record, I would of wept in complete despair. For when the Lord speaks to Isaiah, those words are concrete.

He’s a prophet of God, tested and true.

I think it’s important here to note that a word from the Lord is true and final – however, God has given us a secret weapon that can change everything: Intercession.

He does this so that when we get a prophetic word, we do not need to sit in despair. We can DO something! We can turn to him and pray! In this sense, prophetic words are rarely concrete. In the hands of a prophet, God’s words are to be shared with others. But for the receiver of the words, they are to be brought to heartfelt prayer!!

Hezekiah does exactly this. He breaks down and prays; weeping and begging God to let him live, to not cut him down in the prime of his life. God hears him and listens.

Do we get this?!?

God hears him AND listens!!!

God gave the word, which was final: Death.

But then he saw his beloved child, weeping in despair, pleading for more time to serve him and God relents.

If this message doesn’t wake us up to prayer, I don’t know what will. Our prayers have the power to change our outcome.

How often do we do this? How little we take advantage of this precious gift!

King Hezekiah is healed! How I wish the story ended here!

After King Hezekiah gets better, the king of Babylon sends an envoy with gifts to celebrate Hezekiah’s recovery. Hezekiah shows them everything in his kingdom, all his possessions. We aren’t given a reason for this, but one would assume he did so out of pride. Then the prophet Isaiah asks about the envoy and specifically, what the king all showed them.

“Everything” is Hezekiah’s reply.

And Isaiah utters another prophecy: “Hear the word of the Lord Almighty: The time will surely come when everything in your palace… will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left, says the Lord Almighty. And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood born to you, will be taken away and become eunuchs in the palace of the King of Babylon.”

And we collectively hold our breath, awaiting another impassioned prayer by the king who changed his own outcome. Surely, after seeing the Lord change what was to come over his own life, he will cry out on his knees for the future generations!

Here’s Hezekiah’s response: “ The word of the Lord you have spoken here is good.” For he thought, “there will be peace and security in my lifetime.”

My children… taken into captivity!!

The word of the Lord is “GOOD”?!?
Shackles on these precious ones…

“The word of the Lord is GOOD?!?”

If this is not the most disturbing display of selfishness, I don’t know what is!

Where is the desperation? Where is the man who reminded God of his promises? Who reminded God of his righteousness? Where is the repentance? Where is the humility that he had claimed he would live out for the rest of his days?

Silence.

Reminding me of my generation:

Hours pined away on social media and screens. We know how damaging these things are for our children. We know it already! Yet… “It’s the easy thing to do.”

“I can’t adult today.”

Five minute devotional books sold by the dozen because we “don’t have the time for long devotions” while we laughingly post on Facebook about our five hour Netflix binge and ask “Is there anything else to watch?!?”

Our generation, splurging on frivolous and unnecessary things: expensive outings, over priced coffees, beauty care and home decoré… all while adamantly claiming: “we barely make enough to scrape by.”

Trust me, North Americans, we simply do not know what these words mean!

Our government spending outrageously, knowingly, unsustainably. Obviously with no care at all for the future generations, because “We want to live prosperously NOW!”

“We deserve better.”

Without a thought for future generations. What a hauntingly disturbing response from a selfish generation in the midst of a pandemic.

Who knows what lies ahead? Who has the wisdom to discern the times?

I think we would do well to remember King Hezekiah. Do we only care about the here, the now? We may not have the future told to us, but we most definitely can get on our knees and change the course of it.

What are we waiting for?

COVID-19 · Faith

Living in a COVID Fog

I used to write with such clarity. I used to spill out my feelings alongside God’s truth on the page with ease. Now it’s a struggle. My brain is in a fog and I can not do it. I start, only to lose my train of thought and my ideas jump around like a bunch of crickets set loose.

What I know:

  1. Something really big is happening in the world right now – a testing of the church, a revealing of hearts. I wouldn’t call this the “end times” maybe more like a prelude. We got a pop quiz… and we flunked it. Big time. Instead of rising up to meet the needs, we’ve hidden away watching them from afar. People are getting shaken – yet life goes on (almost normal even!)
  2. Most people seem confused or in a fog. A result is that they argue petty things on social media and comment sections. They are consumed with the news, as if reading and discussing it will change the world. Or even worse, they hide behind humour and ignore the fact that anything is going on at all. Posting memes, endless jokes… while there is tragedy everywhere.

But, we are missing the main narrative of what is happening here. So that Christians even, seem to be paralyzed. Some are paralyzed with fear, others with apathy.

Trial is supposed to be the churches finest hour! Yet I have never before been so disappointed in it!

Disappointed how?

We are spending these desperate times watching Netflix and doing home improvement projects!

We feast away in luxury while others starve.

We are becoming lazy, discontent, disconnected grumblers who seem to have little to no concern for those outside our circle of familiar faces.

Yes! I’m disappointed with the church. For I have found few who truly want to respond to the call of the gospel: to take time for the helpless, to meet and listen to the Lord together. I have found few who have any desire to worship together. Invite people for a free meal or a day in the backyard by the pool and they come rushing by the dozen.

But invite them to worship and pray, and crickets are my only companions.

How long, Lord, until you wake up your church? Or am I just supposed to watch it die out, one member at a time?

Something is very wrong. We’ve adjusted to comfort during a shaking that was meant to wake us up! Oh, God, wake us up! Help us to stop and listen, to be alert and watchful. You ask us to watch and pray, yet your followers are sleeping in the garden again.

Must you be on your own a second time?

Remove my mind from the fog, Lord Jesus!

I know there are some who are reading this who are saying “Yes!” Who are saying, “You aren’t the only one, I feel it too!” God, I ask you to bring us together. Not for chitchat and coffee, but together, seeking you on our knees.

“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am with them.” Matthew 18:20

COVID-19 · Faith

11 Sundays

11 Sundays of messages at home.

Of worship without people.

Of no church building.

11 weeks of struggling through alone.

Of feeling independent,

Unhurried – but ultimately unfulfilled.

11 Sundays of doing faith on my own.

Devotions becoming dry.

Prayers don’t change at all.

This isn’t a poem. This is my prayer.

“God, open up your church. To meet: in a special building, homes or outside. Makes no difference to me. In many small groups, in one spaced out large one. For if there’s one thing I learnt from all this, it’s that I never attended church for a sermon. I didn’t go for the coffee. I didn’t go to sing a few songs. I didn’t go for the child care or for the programs.

No.

I went for the people. Your people God. I went to meet with others you have touched and through them, got a little taste of heaven… what it may look like to someday meet all together.

God, open up your church. Faith was not meant to be lived out alone.”

Faith

Symbols of a Dying Faith

Sit with me a bit and mourn, will you? Dying doesn’t come easy.

I’m not, by default, a religious person. In fact, I would go so far to say that I hate meaningless rituals and religious services. They nauseate me. Yet much of my life, this is what I have perceived in the church and many of its followers.

Forgive me for being blunt. It’s one of my best and worst traits.

But just as I was ready to give up on it all – on religion – in my youth… there was Jesus. Out of the box, come as you are, a very real and uncontainable, Jesus.

Then there was church. Church felt shallow. Never quite fed the soul. Never quite understood what everyone was meeting for. To worship? Hmmm. If one hour a week does that. To fellowship? I guess. But why then, does everyone take off in such a hurry once the sermon is over? To feel righteous? Does a meeting take away sin?

But then, there was Jesus. Magnificent, wonderful Jesus. I met him, you know. Really met him. Not a voice in my head. Not words on a page. Real Jesus. I met him.

He was there that night, under the stars. He saw what those men did to me, though the alcohol made me forget.

He was there when I whispered the three words that would change my life: Jesus help me.

He was there as my son lay dying. Swollen. Glazed over eyes. Mouth as dry as the desert. He simply touched him and the doctors could not explain how the sick baby boy was restored. But I knew. Because I had already met the Healer.

He was there as the very people who brought me to him slandered me and rejected me, over and over without reason. He sat with me, not above me watching, but with me. Emmanuel, God with us, sat in the dust with me.

He’s been there as I’ve become invisible to everyone around me. Forgotten in the busyness of life. Every morning he was there. Speaking to me: “You are not alone.”

He was there when I lost my mind, over and over. When the panic took over and all reason was lost. Sheer panic and terror overtook me. Unexplainable. Yet, He was there all along, a constant peace: “Its okay. I’ve got this.”

But Jesus, where are you now?

The verse of the day doesn’t cut it. A short prayer before bed. Rhymes chanted before each meal. These aren’t you. These are symbols. Symbols of a dying faith.

Where are your people? They seem to have gone into hiding. I miss being with them.

Where are you? I’m searching everywhere, but you’re nowhere to be found.

Yet, because I’ve met you, I will not doubt. I will not be shaken. Those who haven’t, well, I can see why they leave the faith.

But as for me, I will remember you and wait.

Faith · Forgiveness

Believers Need to Love the Church

There is a disturbing trend I’ve been noticing in those who claim to be Christians. It goes something like this:

I don’t go to church. Oh I love God. I especially love Jesus. But the church? It’s full of greedy hypocrites. They’re judgemental, they’re selfish, they do not follow what they preach. No, I can serve God better without them.

I’m not going to refute the statements above with my own thoughts. I think we sometimes get far too caught up in our own arguments.

Rather, I’m going to let the word of God speak into these lies…

“Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother or sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.” 1 John 4:20

You cannot hate Christians and claim to love God. You are fooling yourself. These aren’t my words, they’re God’s!

“Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor your leaders.” 1 Peter 2:17

Interesting that Peter addresses four behaviours that servants of Christ should follow. And the second one is to love the family of believers. Is this not enough proof that God is calling us to love the church?

Want to hear it from Jesus himself?

“A new commandment I give you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” John 13:34

“This is my commandment, that you love one another just as I have loved you.” John 15:12

“This I command you, that you love one another.” John 15:17

You don’t think Jesus was serious? He repeated it over three times in one speech!! It wasn’t a suggestion. He didn’t say, “Oh, it would be rather nice if you could learn to love each other.”

He commanded it!

If we hate the church but claim to love God, we are fooling ourselves. We are liars.

These are some harsh words for those who can’t stand Christians, yet have the audacity to bear the name themselves.

Now you may be upset at me, for speaking this way. You may think that I just don’t understand the pain you have faced at the hands of believers.

That may be true.

I may not know the pain you faced.

But I most definitely know the pain I faced at their hands. I am not a stranger to the pain people in the church can cause.

A few years ago I was sent away from a church after being brutally wounded by many untrue words. Spoken by people who thought they knew how God saw me, people who claimed to have God’s sight into my heart. In reality, I was misunderstood when asking for help with my children while my husband led worship. I was called bitter, merely for expressing my complete loneliness in the church. I hadn’t accused anyone, rather asked. But I was first harassed, then eventually sent away.

To make matters worse, the pastor himself called up my best friends and told them not to meet with me. Instead of standing up for me, they obeyed.

If this wouldn’t crush one’s faith in the church, I don’t know what would.

But I think that’s our problem, isn’t it? We have placed too much faith in the church, expecting the church to be perfect, that we have completely forgotten who the church is: We are merely sinners in the process of being saved.

This calls for a lot of grace. It is in Christ alone that we are supposed to have faith.

I have never stepped foot back into the church that sent me away. But I would, if they welcomed me. For I have forgiven them. Because the funny thing about forgiveness is that I need a whole lot of it. If I’m not willing to give it out, who will be willing to give it out to me?

Yet, even though I haven’t been welcomed back into the church that sent me away, many other churches have opened their arms to my family. This has brought me so much love for the body of Christ. Yes there are some hurtful people in the church… But there’s also people who have brought so much healing into my life.

There are really amazing people in the church. They are not all hypocrites! Some would give their last crust of bread to feed someone else in need. I have met people who truly open up their homes to the homeless. I’ve met people who pray for strangers as they would for their own children. I have met people who would give their entire savings to help a brother in need, without blinking an eye.

This is the church!!

I’m glad I gave her another chance. I would not have healed from my experience if I have not tried again to meet with a body of believers.

Have you been hurt by a church? Forgive and don’t write off an entire group of people based on the actions of a few. In the world we would call that prejudice. Why do we think any differently in the church?

Depression · Faith · Freedom · Health · Running

I Met Depression… and I Won

A few years ago I was diagnosed with depression.

There are many reasons for falling into depression: Trama. Rejection. Bullying. Death or loss. Harmful world views. Stress. A life-altering event. Hormones. Lack of nutrition or sleep… and the list goes on.

Healing for each soul is a very individual path. So as I share my story of hope, that is all I want you to take from it.

There is hope.

Today I am alive. Joyful. Healed. Whole. And maybe what healed me can help you. But maybe you need to take a different path. That’s OK too.

I’m sharing to bring hope, not to say I have the answers.

In February 2014, I had my fifth child… a son. It was very, very difficult for me to face this addition to my family. Though I loved him more than words can describe, I was exhausted with the other children. I felt that caring for another baby was beyond my abilities and I was burning out quickly.

I remember a comedian once explaining how having a large family felt. He said: “Imagine you are drowning and then, someone hands you a baby.”

We laugh because it’s so true. It’s too true.

I was drowning. Everything I had ever found joy and meaning in, felt distant and out of reach. I didn’t find any pleasure in doing the very things I once loved. Life was dark, and though I saw splashes of color, it didn’t bring peace to my heart.

Fast forward a very painful four years: Spring 2018. I had gone through church hardships, loss of friendships, moving, and building a house. I had let go of my old friendships at the church that had rejected me and my family because of my depression. I was in the process of allowing myself to move on from the deep hurt that comes from being completely misjudged and misunderstood, forgiving them as best I could.

Our family had joined a new church (an act in itself which was hard), made new friends and our “baby” wasn’t so difficult to care for anymore. But I was STILL burdened under this load that was crushing me. I had pushed the pain so far down, that it was coming out in my health. My bones ached constantly! The smallest chore would leave me absolutely immobile for the rest of the day. I needed daily naps.

And deep down, I still blamed myself because I had been unable to make things right. I went over the details in my mind again and again, the burden of my rejected attempts of reconciliation lay heavy on my shoulders. Could I have done more? Should I have done anything differently?

Finally, after one incident where I went outside to clean up some garbage and I found myself sleeping for four hours that afternoon from exhaustion, I decided to see a doctor. After many questions and blood tests, he told me that I was depressed.

However, then he told me something I never expected to hear from a doctor: “There are many ways to go about this, but I recommend that you try gentle exercise before taking any antidepressants.” Immediately, I protested that I had tried to exercise but that it was just too painful. I was too weak.

“I said gentle exercise,” He chuckled, “I’m not telling you to train for a marathon. Just get out of the house, in the fresh air, and walk for 20-30 minutes at whatever pace you desire! And don’t do errands or make it into a chore. Make sure it’s time just for you.”

So in May 2018 I started to walk.

One of the hardest things I’ve done is put on those running shoes. I was so afraid that I would fail at walking. But the words echoed in my head: Gentle walk. Gentle Exercise. Over and over again those simple words challenged my way of thinking and gave me courage to at least try. For me, exercise wasn’t something that could be gentle. It was a way of pushing my body to the extreme. To be the best. To compete with myself and others.

I had never thought of it as something that I could actually enjoy.

I still remember that first walk. The warm air, the slow pace, the music on my phone. The sun shone down on my face. I heard birds chirping around me. I stopped to notice the buds on the trees that were forming. As I walked, suddenly I felt a peace inside that I hadn’t noticed for a very long time. That was it… I was hooked! Not that going out was easy, but I now believed that it could help me. Each day my pace was just a little bit faster and I was able to go just a little bit farther because I finally felt no pressure and my body was getting stronger!

At the same time our pastor started teaching a series on bible memory and the importance it has when we are faced with trials or temptations. During the message, I felt God speaking gently to me: “This is it Heather! This is what you need to get you through.”

I went straight home and downloaded a verse memory app called “Verses.”

I started with memorizing Psalm 34. While I walked, I quoted my verses. When my tears wouldn’t stop, I quoted them over and over. “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. A righteous person may have many troubles but the Lord delivers him from them all.” When I remembered the rejection of my friends, I spoke these words out loud. Little by little, I added to them. Psalm 139, Oh God… they may think I’m a horrible person, but “Lord, you have searched me and you know me… you are familiar with all my ways!” Then I added Psalm 103. “Praise the Lord my soul. All my inmost being praise his holy name. Praise the Lord my soul, and forget not ALL his benefits. Who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases. Who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion. Who satisfies your desires with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle. The Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed…”

As my body and spirit grew stronger, I began to run for short distances. I would run for a bit, then walk in between, all the while praying and reciting my verses. By Fall 2018 I could run 5K (I had never in my life ran a full mile before this) and God had given me the ability to memorize over 15 full Psalms. I knew 10% of the book of Psalms and could bring it with me everywhere! It was in my heart as well as my head.

My greatest fear was losing my ability to run over the winter. I was terrified that I would sink back into my depression. My husband knew this and bought me a treadmill. Not only did I keep up running and memorizing all winter, but by Spring 2019 I had a follow up appointment with my doctor and he told me that I was in full recovery!

I realize that this story may sound too good to be true to many people.

A few years of depression? And now you think you have all the answers??

No. No I don’t.

Remember: This was what worked for me… and let me tell you, if you think my answer is to mental health is: Just go quote some scripture or just go exercise, you have horribly misunderstood this testimony!!

Getting out every day to walk and run, had just as big of an effect on me as the scriptures I was memorizing. Exercise was just as spiritual as God’s word. Because you know what? I believe “Gentle Exercise” WAS God’s personal word to me. And obeying God’s treatment plan for me was hard work! Some days I wanted to stay in my room and mope, eating chocolates and watching Netflix. Or take a long nap. But I forced myself every single day to go out. Some days in the rain. Some days in the heatwaves. Sometimes I hated it. The next day was even harder to go out. Sometimes I was far too busy! It was near impossible at times! The truth is, the road to healing is never easy.

Don’t kid yourself: Healing doesn’t ever come without a cost.

Whether the cost of time, the cost of perseverance, the cost of faith, the cost of money, the cost of disappointments and trying again, the cost of failure and rebuilding hope… there’s always a cost. The question is, are you willing to try?

Or have we become a generation that wants all the answers and victories handed to us on a silver platter?

It’s hard for me to wrap posts like this up in a simple paragraph, because there’s so much to leave you with. Yet one thought keeps running itself over and over in my mind again: Are we willing pay the price?

Fast forward to this fall. If I miss two weeks of exercise, I find myself slipping. Anxiety and depression grow. This path, for me, may just be a lifelong treatment. But isn’t it worth it? For my health? For my joy? For my family? For those around me who can relate to the everyday struggle?

The answer I have to choose daily is: Yes. Yes… it’s worth it. 

Faith

Collecting My Thoughts

Sometimes writers run out of things to say.

Other times writers have lots to say but don’t quite know how to describe their thoughts… so they wait for the right words.

And then there are times when there are so many things to say that everything blurs into one big mess of thoughts… which is where I’m finding myself lately.

I have so much to write about, but over-posting often results in readers skimming through without taking the time to reflect. I want my readers to be able to actually stop and read the words!! I don’t want so much quantity in my writing that the entire point is missed! So my aim recently has been to pack more meaning into fewer words, keeping my posts at under 600 words. It’s actually been quite a good challenge for me!

Today though, I want to share my thoughts, in an unorganized sort of way. I know well-esteemed speakers suggest to focus on one thought and go deeper into it. This way, the human mind – which cannot grasp many ideas at once, can take one piece away from what you’re saying. Today I’m going to go out and do the opposite. If it’s hard for you to follow, go ahead and just take one thought to hold onto as I ramble through them. Slowly reading each thought, then stopping to consider it before moving on to the next is key.

Things on my mind recently:

1) Speaking less really does help people to listen more.

2) There’s so many people trying to be heard, maybe the best thing I can do for this generation is to stop and listen.

3) Why do people blame our technology for the busy and distracted lives we lead? The issue is and will always be the human heart.

4) Our world is beginning to hate children. This annoyance for the gems of our world is even creeping into the church. This deeply concerns me.

5) Everyone talks faith, but I can count on one hand those who are living it out.

6) In the west everyone seems to be depressed or anxious… I hear these words so often I’m sick of them. There are thousands of options to treat the symptoms, but everyone is too afraid to go and actually address the root.

7) I witness millions of miracles daily. I’m typing on one of them right now. I turn a switch and light floods the room. Amazing! Yet I don’t even notice any of it until it’s gone.

8) Friends are either honest or kind. But rare indeed are those who are both.

9) Requiring good behaviour doesn’t shape a child’s heart the right way. Only wisdom and gentle love does.

10) One joyful person is contagious, spreading lighthearted life to everyone they meet. But in the same way, a bitter person spreads their poison like a contagious disease.

11) Those consumed with talk of politics or the church are among the most unhappy people.

12) Daily time with God is more essential than food or sleep. No one seems to believe me. I’ve been told that daily devotions and prayer is an “unrealistic expectation.”

Yet I’ve done it for years because the fullness of good life advice and practical truth are found in God’s word… not in well written books or sermons. Which brings me to my last thought:

13) When God speaks, it sticks! I forget most of the sermons and books I’ve read over the years. But I’ve never forgotten a personal word from God.

Faith · Forgiveness

Two Authors, Two stories, Two Perspectives

I often read books on difficult topics like the holocaust, residential schools, slavery, war and about the horrors of living under communism. Some might think that I favor books like these because I’m a person drawn to drama – focussing on the negative events in world history…or that I’m a Debbie downer, one of those extremists who always seem to have their undies in a bunch about something.

In reality, I hate drama, especially in my own life and I’m incredibly sensitive when I read about it. I have to be careful how much I allow myself to dwell on these things, because I know that it affects my mood and my day-to-day life.

What was interesting is that in the past week I read two books: one written about slavery and the other about the horrors of residential schools in Canada. Both addressed the horrendous acts of those who felt that they had “God’s right” to behave the way they did. Both books shed light on some of the most shameful behaviour done by those claiming to follow God. Both highlighted racism, extremism and abuse. And of course, my heart broke for both of the authors and the torment that they had to experience in their lives.

But that’s where my comparisons end because each book was so starkly different from the other. They were obviously written for different purposes: One was written as a path to healing and the other tried to become the victim all over again, ever trying to draw sympathy out of the reader. It got me thinking about the real difference between the two books, and not just these books, but the differences between each of the books I have read about suffering.

I realized that the majority of stories on suffering can be lumped into two categories:

1) A message of forgiveness and redemption

2) A theme of bitterness and regret

The first category is refreshing and hopeful. The writing is hard, but uplifting. The experiences dark, but the message is light.

The second category is equally dark and hard, but comes about it with a feeling of hopeless. And honestly I feel gross after reading such books.

The one book, which I will not name in respect for the author and her experiences, ended her story with these words: “Some people say I need to let go of the past and learn to forgive… I say bullshit.”

This, my friends, is the saddest, most hopeless end to a trial I can think of.

In the well written words of author Lynn Austin:

Bitterness is one of the deadliest emotions we ever feel. You can’t look forward when you’re bitter, only backwards. Thinking about what you’ve lost, stuck in the past. In the end it devours all hope.

Bitterness is a subject that I don’t like to talk about much, particularly because it is one of those “acceptable” sins where we justify our legitimacy to feel the way we do. It’s also an awkward thing to address in others as one cannot simply listen to someone sharing about a difficult experience and then joyfully say, “just forgive and forget!” That would be cruel and cold hearted! Only a person with zero empathy could respond in such a flippant way towards suffering.

But one only needs to spend a few minutes with a soul who is deeply bitter, to realize that it is the most draining, depressing and deadly things to be.

I’ve shared before about a past church and the painful rejection my family experienced there with a leadership couple, but what I didn’t share much about was that at beginning it started with the confrontation: You are bitter.

To this day, this remains one of the most painful things that has been said to me. Not because it was said of course, but because of the timing and manner in which it was said. I was going through depression, health issues, loneliness, and a lot of changes in my life at the time. We had just moved homes, churches and jobs, and we had a baby that cried constantly. I was just beginning to open up about my struggles with it all for the first time and this well-meaning confrontation caused such a devastating break of trust in my life. Because of this painful experience, I avoided even using the word “bitterness” for a long time. But the truth is, no matter how hard it is for me to talk about, it needs to be addressed!

Bitterness.

Is it a lack of forgiveness? Is it a negative outlook on life? Is it resentment towards your position in life?

I think to some degree, we all experience bitterness in different areas of our lives. Some experience it to a much larger degree than others. And some people are more easily offended than others! Whether it’s towards coworkers, or spouses, extended family or friends…

OR maybe It’s not towards people, but towards the suffering in your life, towards your situation that seems helpess…maybe even to God for putting you there!

I know I most definitely have felt bitterness. I’ve seen it too.

During the most difficult time of this conflict in the church, I met another couple who were going through a church split. I was having a hard time forgiving and processing our own experience so I felt some comfort in being able to share my struggles with this woman. However, when she began sharing her experiences and I heard the hateful words come out of her mouth: “I just wish they were dead!” I realized that forgiveness wasn’t just a good option, it was the ONLY option.

Bitterness unchecked is ugly. And it kills.

Offences committed against us and the pain that follows MUST be dealt with in a compassionate way, with much grace. The more painful the wound, the more time it needs to heal. One cannot expect to be fatally injured one day and then skip about smiling joyfully the next…such an expectation is unreasonable and unhealthy.

Forgiveness is much like taking a difficult course. At first, you may sit down and have no clue what the professor is talking about. The books don’t make sense, the assignments are daunting… but as the course goes on (provided you’ve decided to continue), you begin understanding more and more about the subject. The longer you take to study and absorb the material, the more your experience and capacity is expanded. Only after long months of lectures, homework and studies, are you ready to write the exam.

However, just stepping into the room and writing the exam on the first day would’ve never worked out! It couldn’t of been expected of you, you wouldn’t have passed! You needed time, growth, knowledge and experience.

You can pass the exam, but you need to first decide to say in the class and keep working at it!

The first step to forgiveness is simply deciding to walk that path.

At first it’s so confusing and difficult you may even doubt you’re on the right path. But as you begin learning and seeing the situation in the right perspective, the path suddenly doesn’t seem so impossible.

Yet there are always difficult days! Dark thoughts and painful feelings will come out of nowhere. This is expected. Don’t get down on yourself.

Keep walking forward, don’t look back. The secret to forgiveness and redemption is this: Don’t give up.

The moment you give up trying to forgive, is the moment you let go of the lifeline that is saving you from the deep pit of bitterness and offence.

Faith

More Than a Building

I have a vision of a worship service that feels like a family gathering – a group that looks forward to meeting together, serving together, eating potluck meals together after singing and praying together.

A small, intimate like body of believers that live like Jesus lived.

Where the old are respected and teach the young, and the young are appreciated by the old.

Where the hearts of the fathers are turned to their children, and the children are turned to their fathers.

Where children are seen as a welcome addition to the church, rather than a burden to be dragged along.

Where the youth are the spark, not the dead.

Where the most hardened criminal is welcomed, loved and changed.

Where church means more than a building with brick walls, great big sound systems, fancy lights, and a large pulpit.

Call me a dreamer. Call me old fashioned. Tell me it’s not possible.

I will see it. I promise you.