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It’s been a difficult day. I had some interactions with a Canadian Christian leader who behaved in a manner that was disappointing; arrogant, completely lacking in any obvious humility, this person was the antithesis of what I expect from one who claims to follow Jesus.
Maybe my expectations are high. But shouldn’t they be? This person is responsible for leading other people and teaching them what it means to be a Christian. How can one teach what they don’t themselves practice?
Of course – I know there are lots that do.
But then, even as I type these words I feel the weight of conviction – for all the times I fail to meet up to the standards for thought, speech and action that I know I should – for all the times I don’t even try.
And so once again it comes back to this; even as I want to have a right to feel wounded and upset over how I’ve been slighted, I am reminded to stop looking at the speck in my neighbour’s eye, when there is a plank in my own.
And I find my sense of “righteous” indignation fading away.
“How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
- Luke 6:42
Sitting in church this morning, waiting for service to begin, my husband turned to me and whispered in a searching sort of way, “You look sad.”
“Do I?” His statement gave me pause to examine my own thoughts. “I’m not sad. Just empty, I think. Needing to be filled.”
That’s how it is with me and church. Again and again I go, like countless others the world over.
Sometimes, I admit, I go reluctantly. At the end of one busy week and the beginning of another it can be tempting to claim those Sunday morning hours for other priorities. It can feel – at times – like a frivolous luxury to submit time to the practice of “being still and knowing.”
But it’s not a luxury. It’s a necessity.
I remember clearly a conversation I had decades ago with a cameraman named Ray. We were colleagues, travelling together to a shoot somewhere, and as we drove, he asked me about God. When I told him what my faith meant to me, he responded that he thought all faith “a crutch,” and he neither needed nor wanted a crutch in his life.
I felt ashamed then. Somehow his statement seemed more like an accusation, like something I should have a good answer for. I didn’t.
But if I were to meet Ray today, I’d tell him this: my faith is a crutch. It’s a crutch I need to lean on every single day. I wouldn’t want to go through life without it.
And that’s what keeps me going back to church. For often, in the quiet moments before the service starts – or within the first few minutes of worshipping – I’m struck by an awareness of my great need. My need for God, for His help or comfort, His strength or peace or presence, for boldness or love, for forgiveness or guidance or courage or wisdom. It’s like a hunger that’s crying out to be fed, an emptiness longing to be filled.
So it was this morning. And as the service progressed, and I focussed my mind on worship, the hunger pangs subsided and my spirit felt renewed.
After service, I visited with a couple of other people in our little church family only to learn of battles that they are fighting in their day-to-day lives. And I realized I’m in good company on Sunday mornings, for I’m not alone in my need.
In fact the entire global Church is probably composed primarily of spiritually hungry people who recognize their great need to be filled with God’s grace and mercy and strength. Over and over again.
“Jesus said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.’”
- Mark 2:17
It’s been a season of intense busyness and I admit I’ve found the past few months both emotionally and spiritually challenging. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in 50 years on the planet, it’s that it’s often the most significant challenges in life that lead to the greatest growth in character – and to new depths of understanding of the goodness of God.
That’s certainly been true for me in recent weeks.
But in the midst of the challenges, there have still been delights. One of the most delightful: my eldest daughter Stephanie has given me yet one more reason to feel proud of her. She’s begun a blog with a friend – called Cooking With Tea – that combines some of her favourite interests: her love of good food, exotic teas and whimsical words.
Stop by, pay them a visit, then consider liking Cooking With Tea on Facebook! You’ll gain access to wonderful original new recipes, illustrated with beautiful photographs, and have a place to interact with and encourage a brand new Canadian blogger!
I admit I didn’t want to write it; two days before Christmas, and a million other things to do.
I admit that writing it was a struggle; I wrestled over what I had to say for a day and a half, and then finally wrote it in the wee hours of the morning on December 23, when sleep eluded me.
I admit that I finally wrote it out of nothing more than a grudging awareness of the need to be obedient.
And you know what? I learned a lesson.
This piece, headlined “The nice road to Santa and the difficult path to Christ” was published over at the Holy Post, the religion blog of the National Post newspaper, December 23. The editor there wrote me on the morning of December 24 to say that it had gone to number one – not just on the blog – but up against every other story on the newspaper’s web site for that day.
Sometimes, lessons are hard learned.
And sometimes, God teaches us lessons, and then gives us a gift.
This lesson came with a gift. And I am grateful.
I have the privilege of working as a producer on a television program that examines news and current affairs from a Christian faith perspective. I love my job.
This week, we put together a show examining the potential impact of a recent Ontario court ruling that strikes down Canada’s laws surrounding prostitution. A beautiful young woman named Natasha was a guest on that program. On camera and off, she shared the story of how she entered the sex trade.
It broke my heart. She had loving, involved parents, and she was a good kid; did well in school, a leader among her peers, star soccer player, the whole bit. But at 14, her parents went through a messy divorce and Natasha got lost in the mess. Seeking the love and attention she could no longer find at home, she got involved with the wrong group of kids and started making poor choices.
It’s a story that repeats itself over and over again in our nation. As the mom of a 14-year-old daughter myself, Natasha’s story disturbed me deeply, and fired my passion to speak out against the decriminalization of prostitution in Canada. You can read my thoughts here.
“We say that slavery has vanished from European civilization, but this is not true. Slavery still exists, but now it applies only to women and its name is prostitution.”
- Victor Hugo, Les Misérables
It’s a grey day, and my mood is slightly grey as well. Our family has been hosting friends from France for the past week, and they fly home tonight. We will miss all the hustle and busyness of having five extra bodies in the house, and friends to chat with around every corner. Life will no doubt feel very quiet as we readjust to the normal routine once more.
Speaking of adjustments to normal life – the newspapers have been filled these past few days with stories of Conrad Black’s release from prison – and so I’ve found him – once again – in my thoughts and prayers. It will no doubt be interesting to follow news of his journey in the weeks ahead as he readjusts to freedom. So for today, I thought I’d share my own recollections of the day his life and mine intersected, in a post from this blog’s archives.
A book I read some years ago called “Blessings” by Mary Craig left a deep impact on me. In it, Craig writes of suffering, and that “Our tragedy is not that we suffer, but that we waste suffering. We waste the opportunity of growing into compassion.”
From all I’ve read about and by Mr. Black throughout the period of his incarceration, he wasted not a minute.
Since taking on full-time work for one client in April, while continuing to juggle the needs of other clients, family and friends, I’ve found myself feeling a wee bit stretched of late. And so, I’ve been considering purchasing one of those handy mobile computing devices; you know the kind, the pocket-sized wonders that seem to keep their owners on an invisible leash, yanking them to attention with the merest sound of a little “ping.” Wondering whether such a device would help to simplify – or only complicate my life, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about how I use technology today, and how it’s shaping the person I am.
I’m a person who loves to reflect. It’s not enough for me to live my life – I also need to think about how I’m living it, and to think such thoughts regularly, otherwise it feels somehow like the days just slip away.
So recently, without sufficient time and space to quiet my soul, I’ve been sensing some “slippage.”
This article got me thinking: for work related reasons I spend a great deal of time on the Internet over the course of an average day, and I’ve done so for years. Could my dependency on online media be changing the very structure of my brain?
I admit it: I find it increasingly difficult to settle myself to read a book these days. My best reading seems to happen in the summer time – when I can get away from technology for a while and return to the slower, calmer pace of a distraction-less life and actually settle myself enough to immerse my mind in chapter after chapter.
So how else might technology be impacting my life? When I heard about Quit Facebook Day, I knew this was a subject I needed to explore.
You can read about my conclusions here.
Meantime – what do you think? Should I resist the call of the iPhone?
A little over a year ago, my life – and the life of my youngest daughter – intersected with that of a young woman who chooses to wear a niqab.
It was a privilege to get to know that young woman, for she was – in every sense – a lovely human being.
But as the debate has intensified in Canada and elsewhere over what constitutes appropriate dress for women in western society, I found myself wrestling with the issue, and weighed in with my thoughts here.
Richard John was born March 6, 1929. The fact his parents married in the weeks before his birth saved him from being labelled “illegitimate,” at a time when such labels were a curse. It did not save him from the resentments of his father, who viewed this son as the root cause of his many troubles.
Richard’s was a difficult childhood. Chronic asthma, exacerbated by the acute poverty of depression times, meant long summer days were spent gasping for breath, sitting upright in a chair. Nights saw him confined to the same chair, for his lungs would become so congested, lying down was impossible.
When Richard was 10, his mother left, whether by choice or by request, he never knew. But he loved her. He found out where she was staying and secretly, would ride his bike to see her.
For her birthday, he saved money from his paper route and bought a box of chocolates. But when he knocked at her apartment door a neighbour told the boy his mom didn’t live there any more. Richard never saw his mother again.
Psychiatrists today would describe his family as “dysfunctional.” But Richard never talked to a psychiatrist. He didn’t cling to how he was wronged. He didn’t point fingers, or talk about his problems, or ask “why?” He made a different choice. He had faith in God and he chose to focus on his blessings. He worked hard and was honest to the core. He developed a wonderful sense of humour and kept a positive attitude no matter what came along.
Eventually, what came along was a gift. It came in the form of a beautiful girl named Virginia. She literally danced by him one night at Hamilton’s then hot spot, The Alec. “That’s the girl I’m going to marry,” he told the friend at his side. And it was.
In Ginny, he found his soul mate. Also the product of a tragic up-bringing, she was determined to be better, not bitter. She had long wavy hair, a cute figure and a vibrant smile.
She found Rick intelligent, well-mannered and interested in so many things. He was also romantic. He taught her about the constellations.
They waited two years before they started their family. Then in quick succession, four children came along; two boys, two girls. “A millionaire’s family,” people would say, and Rick would agree. Though his job wasn’t what you could call a career (he was a shift worker at a local steel mill) he felt like a millionaire, and he made sure his family knew it. His greatest pleasure was his wife and kids. They knew that too.
When the kids were grown and gone, he’d call them and start each telephone conversation with, “When you comin’ home?” They went home often. It felt good to be there. For it was a place of laughter, understanding and acceptance. In a word: love. As his children married and grandchildren came along the laughter and good times increased. The small house stayed small, but it never felt that way. It only felt full. Of love.
After years of living on a shoestring and saving for the future, he took an early retirement. He and Ginny started to travel, the culmination of lifelong dreams.
When they weren’t travelling, they contented themselves at home, with their garden, long hand-holding walks and games of dominoes or cards over coffee.
But seven months after his 70th birthday, he was diagnosed with colon cancer. He met the diagnosis with courage and battled it for almost five months. Two surgeries. False hopes. His weight dropped and dropped. Finally, a doctor’s confirmation of his family’s worst fears; the cancer had spread.
At that point, Ginny said she was taking him home. The doctors, seeing her resolve, didn’t argue. It was three days before Valentine’s Day when Rick was transported there by ambulance. But before he left the hospital, he arranged for the delivery of Ginny’s favourite roses. The card read, “It’s so good to be home with you again!”
From a hospital bed in the living room, my father continued to give love and to focus on all the blessings God had bestowed upon his life. He showed me, by his powerful example, that joy is truly in the journey of living, not in some hoped for destination, and it’s the love you give, not the love you get that counts. It was, for me, his greatest legacy.
Only two-and-a-half weeks after my mother brought him home - on February 29, 2000 – dad died.
Mom was holding his hand.
Versions of this reflection on my father’s life were previously published in The Mississauga News and in ChristianWeek.
I’ve just finished watching Tiger Woods’ apology.
Apparently genuinely chagrined, Tiger looks straight to camera, and humbly owns his sins. “I was unfaithful. I had affairs. I cheated. What I did is not acceptable. And I am the only person to blame. I stopped living by the core values that I was taught to believe in. I knew my actions were wrong. But I convinced myself that normal rules didn’t apply. I never thought about who I was hurting. Instead, I thought only about myself. I ran straight through the boundaries that a married couple should live by. I thought I could get away with whatever I wanted to. I felt that I had worked hard my entire life and deserved to enjoy all the temptations around me. I felt I was entitled. Thanks for money and fame, I didn’t have to go far to find them.”
The apology impressed me as honest and courageous, and as one that could only have come at the end of a great deal of soul-searching. Perhaps Tiger is on the road to becoming the man of integrity he claims he wants to be.
But in the middle of his statement of remorse and repentance, five words of explanation jumped out at me: “I felt I was entitled.”
And in that moment, I knew that he and I had something in common. For the portion of the Bible widely known as “the love chapter” came to mind: 1 Corinthians 13. Freshly planted there during church this past Sunday (Valentine’s Day) the words of verses 4 and 5 resurfaced in my consciousness.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking …”
I felt a deep sense of conviction as I heard those words read aloud on Sunday. And I felt it again as I listened to Tiger talk. For when I think about my many relationships – with my husband and children, my extended family and friends – I also recognize all too often that my love is impatient, unkind, envious, boastful, prideful, rude and yes, self-seeking.
In marriage, I think I’ve struggled with the whole “self-seeking” bit most. And I’m guessing the same struggle lies at the root of Tiger’s professed sense of entitlement.
But if there’s anything that almost 25-years of marriage have taught me, it’s that what Jesus says is true: “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”
Real love, great love, the kind of love that a great marriage demands is the self-sacrificing kind. It’s the kind of love that puts the needs and interests of your spouse ahead of your own. It’s the kind of love that fights the impulse to yield to temptation, and to satisfy your own desires at the expense of your loved one, simply because to do so would be at the expense of your loved one.
It’s not easy to live that kind of love. And heaven knows I haven’t even always wanted to. But the rewards that come with trying – and the joy of living with a man who’s also trying – are more than worth the effort.
I hope – for Tiger’s sake and for the sake of his family – that in the days, weeks, months and years to come, they might know the joy that comes with making – and succeeding at – the effort too.
One of the best explanations I’ve come across for the Christian view of the importance of sexual fidelity is by Regent College’s Dr. John Stackhouse. You can find it here.
It was almost three weeks ago when I submitted this piece to the Holy Post. In the days between submission and publication, the story of the 10 American missionaries – who tried to spirit 33 Haitian children across the border – hit the headlines. Officials charged the missionaries with child abduction and criminal association. A judge has recommended their provisional release while the investigation continues.
Like Jeff Groenewald, I hope those 10 turn out to be as well intentioned as they claim. I hope their motives – even if naive – were entirely honourable. I hope the children involved aren’t scarred by the experience (heaven knows they’ve already had enough to deal with), and that they are returned to their homes and families soon.
I pray that Haiti can become a nation where parents don’t feel the terrible necessity of handing their children over to strangers to ensure their little ones have the chance of a more meaningful future. I pray that the misdeeds – or indeed the crimes – of the 10 don’t in any way hinder the careful, ongoing work of the thousands of others who serve their fellow human beings in Haiti.
And I hope that all who are genuinely, altruistically motivated, take a lesson from this situation: that whether we serve our fellows here in Canada, or in some other land, it’s important to be well-informed and thoughtful in our service, because even good intentions – when not well thought through – can do terrible harm.
… than the desire that our lives should count for something? That just by virtue of our having been on the planet, the world might, somehow, be a slightly better place upon our exit, because we were here for a while?
I admit that wanting to make a positive difference has been a driving force in my own life. And yes, I realize it’s a desire that’s likely rooted in pride, or at least in the self-indulgent kind of thinking that’s only possible because I’ve lived my entire life in the affluent West. For I wonder if the thousands of souls that perished in Haiti recently had the luxury of wondering if their lives were making a difference? Or were they so consumed by the harsh realities of the day-to-day struggle for mere survival, that there simply wasn’t opportunity for such reflection?
Making another comparison, when I contrast my own existence to that of people like these folks (whom my friend Peter writes about) I am acutely aware that so much of my life – and so many of my choices – have been centered around my own needs and desires and those of my immediate family.
And yet, the desire – to make a difference – is there. And I know I’m not alone. I see the same compulsion in many, if not most of the people I meet. And I think that wanting our lives to count could be the root cause of the ambition that leads some to seek fame or fortune, others to build organizations, businesses, buildings or congregations. I think it’s often what motivates people to try to be great parents, raise great kids, sign petitions, volunteer, write books or blogs, or create beauty through art, music or dance. It could even help explain what motivates some people to accumulate vast numbers of “friends” on Facebook; the need to affirm that indeed, our lives do matter.
I’ve had two experiences in recent days that have caused me to reflect on the difference my own life is making: the first was visiting a funeral home to show support for the family of a young man I didn’t know. He was the brother of friends of mine. Only 27 when cancer claimed him, he was a beautiful young man whose death will leave an enormous hole in the lives of those who love him.
I know that because my friends are shattered. And I know it because the night I went to the funeral home, I was only one of about 800 people who were there. It was a cold evening, and the line of visitors was so long, it snaked back and forth, back and forth inside the building, before spilling out the front door, down the walkway, around the corner and down the city block. It took an hour of shivering in the cold, gradually inching forward in the line-up outside before we made it through the doors. It took another hour of solemnly, silently, respectfully inching forward inside following the snaking line, before we – who’d gone to pay our respects – had the opportunity to shake hands, share hugs, and express our sorrow for his family’s monumental loss.
The second experience was something I’d experienced 48 times before. I celebrated another birthday. But before this particular birthday was even hours old, a thought occurred to me: if I were to die this year, it would be said that I’d died in my “50th year.” And somehow – even at the ripe old age of 49, “fifty” sounds so much riper and older.
The thought led me to reflect on the number of years I might have remaining. My father died at 70. If I knew I only had 20 years left to live, what changes would I make? What would I do differently? Am I using my time well? Am I living my life and using each waking hour in such a way that I’m caring for others to the degree that I should? Am I demonstrating gratitude to the One who gives me the gift of being able to awaken with every sunrise, to draw breath each new day?
They’re powerful questions, the kind of questions that can send me searching beyond myself to greater sources of wisdom for answers.
One of my favourite such sources is the Bible. And as I’ve been pondering my own life choices, and the influence they enable me to exercise on my world, I’ve been reminded – through the words of an ancient prophet – of God’s wonderful mercy, compassion and grace. And I’ve been reminded that perhaps the answers aren’t really all that difficult after all.
“He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.”
- Micah 6:8
Am I the only one who found this morning’s paper sadly, pathetically, ironic?
There – on pages A8 and A9 of today’s National Post, right in the midst of full colour coverage of the devastation in Haiti are two ads for TD Waterhouse / TD Canada Trust (one on each page). The two ads combined probably consume 7/8 of one page. The (also full colour) ads depict typical Canadian dreams of the ideal Canadian retirement, on a golf course and at a ski resort. The ad headlines are clever: “When can this be my morning drive?” asks the text positioned beside the image of the golfer mid-swing, while the words above an attractive older couple riding a ski lift ask, “When can this be my full-time job?” The rest of the copy is warmly inviting; “Let’s figure it out,” it beckons.
It’s got to be some layout editor’s sorry idea of a joke. Or more likely, the layout editor was trying to make a point.
For on the same two pages, under the headline “Faces of Despair” are a dozen photographs of the faces of anguished Haitians. The words of a foreign aid worker in Haiti are quoted in bold type: “Money is worth nothing right now, water is the currency.”
The juxtaposition of those ads - enticing readers to prioritize a fantasy retirement – with the harsh reality of what’s going on in the poorest nation in our hemisphere was just too much for me.
Maybe if we in the West – and I’m including myself here – didn’t spend so much of our energies storing up wealth to ensure our own future comfort, there’d be more to go around and Haiti wouldn’t be in the mess it’s in today. This is a country, after all, where countless people endure on less than $2 a day.
And as I wrestle with my own guilt over the relative ease and comfort in which I live, while seeing the images of people whose suffering seems to know no end, I am reminded of some words of Mother Teresa’s that moved me once to the degree that I copied them down. And I wonder if the answer might be as simple as those words seem to imply it is. She said:
“You must live life beautifully and not allow the spirit of the world that makes gods out of power, riches and pleasure make you forget that you have been created for greater things – to love and to be loved!”
Interestingly, U.S. President Barack Obama is also quoted in bold type in the newspaper’s coverage of the tragedy. His words are placed directly above the “golfing” ad.
“To the people of Haiti, we say clearly and with conviction, you will not be forsaken, you will not be forgotten.”
And I find myself wondering – given the realities of their lives and ours – why Haitians should believe that?
Ever come away from a conversation feeling like you just might have been changed by it, forever?
That was my experience before Christmas, when I had the privilege of interviewing Tim Huff. Tim spent 10 years working on the streets, in the back alleys and under the bridges of Toronto, seeking out and befriending homeless youth. Today he spends much of his time advocating for the homeless, speaking, writing and consulting with organizations caring for the poor.
He’s seen it all, and probably heard and experienced even more. For Tim’s is a heart that loves freely. He’s been wounded and he has the sensitivity to prove it. But he believes in justice and he’s determined to hope. You might say he’s “bent” on it.
He’s also a man of deep thoughts and deeper compassion. Towards the end of our conversation he told me he doesn’t like the phrase “There but for the grace of God go I.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Only because it sounds like God has extended his grace to some people and not to others,” he explained. “If you’re on the other side of that statement, what does it sound like? The person who lives on the street might say, ‘So God’s given his grace to you and not me.’”
Evidence of that sensitivity. And a profound thought besides. Tim is a man of many such thoughts.
He shares some of them in his book Bent Hope: A Street Journal. He shares more online, here.
I began reading some of Tim’s work in anticipation of our conversation. In one essay titled “Scraps and Leftovers” he writes, “I have never seen God present, or the face of Jesus revealed anywhere like I have with those who have no home.”
I asked him why he thought that was.
“I guess there’s something incredibly resonant about the fact that Jesus was born homeless,” he began, and went on to say that many of the homeless people he’s known are people of deep faith. “They are so authentic. Many of them will talk about God, and they’re not talking about him from a comfortable couch but from a heating grate.”
We touched briefly on the reasons people find themselves on the streets and Tim made this observation, “I have yet to meet a person on the street – particularly a young person – who was not homeless long before they were houseless.” Then he shared a story with me, of a time he found himself sitting on a heating grate near Toronto’s Eaton Centre with a friend who had no home. Together, they watched people walk by. People, said Tim, “who – even if they wanted to – couldn’t give any change because their hands were too filled with shopping bags.”
That image has played itself over in my mind repeatedly since we spoke. An endless movie on a loop. I’ve seen myself in it. And I’ve wondered how many times I’ve walked by people who have no home, my hands too full or my schedule too harried and hurried to reach into my pocket or purse in order to share a little from out of the abundance I’ve been given.
And when I headed downtown later that day – and on every trip since – I made sure my pockets were full and my hands were empty. Just in case.
“Either we are all beggars, hookers and junkies, or none of us are …
“Every day I play the role of a beggar. I look to the charity of others, seemingly wanting something for nothing to feed my ego and the overwhelming need to belong. Every day I play the role of a hooker. I try to sell the words, ideas and actions I think might make me desirable to others, often against my own better judgement, in order to get the emotional validation I need to survive. And every day I play the role of a junkie. I feed my addictions, supplying relentless cravings with products, entertainment, daydreams and relationships that are bad for me. Thus, when rendered solely in vulgar human slang, I believe we are all beggars, hookers and junkies. And if raw humanity existed as the only gauge, I know for certain that I am all of these.”
- Tim Huff in Bent Hope: A Street Journal
One recent morning, while sharing a few quiet moments over coffee in the kitchen
My hubby: “You see – being married to a billion dollars is no guarantee of happiness.”
Me: ”Neither is being married to a Swedish bikini model.”