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on headaches, a bike tour without my bike, & loving this thing called living.

Today marks 10-days until the Love Does Bike Tour. It’s hard to believe really. Months of anticipation and preparation leading up to a trip that is almost here. I’ve been going over gear lists and training plans and fundraising for months - all the while counting down to my departure date for California, eager to meet up with the team and embark on this tour together. But, being real here - this doesn’t look or feel like what I hoped or even expected it would.

I leave for California in a week. But, after a a few months that have been challenging in ways I didn’t expect and after weeks of countless conversations with doctors, close friends, and lots of prayer (and lots tears and letting go of what I wanted this to look like), I’ve made the decision that I’m leaving my bike at home.

Wait. What? A bike tour without a bike? That doesn’t make much sense.

It doesn’t. But isn’t that so often how God seems to (graciously) show up in our lives?

When I launched Project Hope six months ago, I thought that I’d train hard and that it would be hard but that the hard would be worth it as I finished each race and somehow recovered the competitive athlete I used to be. I hoped that I would get to run fast and be strong again, that I would get to celebrate and remember all the amazing people we’ve lost to cancer and how brave and bold they were in their battle(s) with illness. And I thought that maybe-just-maybe I wouldn't have to deal with any injuries or sickness anymore myself. I hoped that somewhere in all of that I’d be able to raise lots of money for work I believe in completely. I thought that I come May 10th, I’d be packing up the last of my gear and going for my final training rides/runs before shipping my bike south and getting on the plane.

Basically, I wanted all of the things associated with this adventure to pan out beautifully and for this to be redemption unfolding in a clear and linear fashion.

Well. Can we just laugh at that a bit together, for a moment?  

In reality, it’s looked a bit different – and far more nuanced - than that.

So far: I crossed the finish line of a race for the first time since I first got injured (thinking the whole way of all the days when I thought I’d never get to run without pain again) and was nearly overwhelmed with gratitude for how huge that day/moment was. I trained as hard as I could last winter and slowly begin to feel my strength and speed coming back (and I ran the fastest 10k I have post-injury!), but early in the new year, my migraines kicked it up a notch and as a result I haven’t been able to run or bike nearly as much as I hoped. I’ve had to pull out of a few races and rearrange my race schedule. I finished 3 more races, celebrating the amazing people each race was meant to remember - and was more blown away and humbled by that process than I expected I would be. And, so far! thanks to the generosity of some incredible people, together, we've raised quite a bit of money for Love Does!

But, I also started getting really bad vertigo and found myself blacking out - especially after I exercise. I’ve spent lots of time at doctor’s appointments and trying to adjust to new medicine and treatment plans and my diagnosis was officially “upgraded” to Chronic Migraine(s), which comes with a new level of "risk" for living regular life much less training hard. I’ve had to reduce my days at work so I can rest more. I’ve slept a lot. I’ve cried a lot of tears because it hurts and it’s disappointing and I’ve struggled against the idea that I’m failing and that my body is always going to be broken.

I wanted redemption to come in a clear and linear fashion, but I’ve seen it unfolding in nuance and complexity. I wanted to be “strong”, and I’ve had to embrace “weakness”. I wanted “success” and I’ve had to embrace “failure”. I wanted resolution that came wrapped with a nice ribbon-and-bow and I’m still living in the unknown and the tension.

This isn’t redemption arrived: This is redemption in motion.


This whole adventure came out of a question that buzzed around my head and heart for months, taking root in the wake of loss and injury and in a space when I felt repeatedly bashed against the rocks. The question(s)? “How would you live if you lived out of a place of love?”

What risks would you take if you lived like you know – and fully believed – that you were at home and fully at peace in His crazy love for you? What would life look like if you embraced anchored love & audacious hope?

And you know what? In a lot of ways that started as an almost subtle whisper and now bellow with more strength, I’m laughing a lot lately at how vastly different my life looks than I expected. Laughing at the way that things have almost systematically imploded in the best possible ways.

Not because this version has in. any. way. been easy, but because every step and twist has pointed me back to Him, back to a Love that’s so much better than I ever knew it could be, a peace that’s so much more steady than I ever could have known, and a belief - that I now know and believe with all that I am -  that holding on to and fighting for Hope in the midst of all the mess of this thing called living is the hardest and yet best thing that we’ll ever do.

I don’t always like what’s going on here and I don’t always understand how God works in all of this, but oh, how I’ve come to love Him. How I come to love this life I get to live and these people around me who love me so well and this stunning place we get to savour and explore.

But I do. I love it. I love them. I love Him.  

With all that I know and all that I am: I love this thing called living.


I don’t get it, really. This dance of light and dark, of death and life, of dreams and disappointment, of possibility and limitation. I don’t understand how it is that pain makes us love more fully or how it is that death make us live better. How it is that the shadow really does proves the sunshine (thank you, Jon Foreman) or how the rain teaches us to dance in ways the sunshine never could.

There were seasons when the pain felt so heavy and I wondered if life would every be full of light and love and whimsy again. There were long days where grief and loss and death and disappointment seemed so dominant that I struggled to see past the looming clouds. I remember clinging to hope like a scared toddler does their favourite toy – desperate, white-knuckled, & wondering almost constantly if I was entirely foolish for holding on so tight to something I couldn’t yet see.  

If you’re in those days right now, my heart aches with you. Those moments and days sting in ways that words will never explain, like a fog that weighs heavy on the heart and threatens to silence every ounce of goodness and mute every ray of sunshine. But they end. Someday. They do.

And until they do, let's dance in the rain together, shall we? And then, when that day comes, we'll sit in the sunshine and celebrate all the ways that new life - in tiny glimpses and in sweeping scores - does come.

With all that I know and all that I am: I love this thing called living.


Chronic headaches are weird and frustrating thing, because you never really know how you’re going to feel until you’re there, when the pressure builds and you can feel the trap slamming shut around you without much of anything you can do to stop it. There are some factors you can control and yet most is a game-day decision and you have to make the best “in-the-moment” guess on how you’ll respond to light and sound and movement and certain foods. Sometimes you can feel the pain coming and prepare and sometimes it comes at you with the speed and impact of a truck.

For me, the hardest part is choosing to slow down and rest and coming to terms with that having to be my normal right now. I hate not getting to do what I love, hate missing out on any sunshine and activity, and hate not being able to work to the level of focus, creativity, and productivity that I typically demand of myself.

Earlier this week I had a pretty good day. I made it through the work day with a relatively low amount of pain and it was sunny outside and I was dying to move. So I went for a run. Or, rather, I tried to go for a run. Within a kilometre, I felt light-headed, the world started its now familiar spinning game, and I had to stop, sit down in the grass, and close my eyes for a bit to regroup before getting up to walk home.

I sat in the grass and cried.

I cried because I was so frustrated and everything in me in that moment hated everything about being sick and not being able to do the things that I love. I cried because I so badly want to see God bring healing to whatever is going on in my body and He hasn’t yet. I cried because I knew this final “failed” workout, especially in the same week that I crashed by bike due to a blackout, meant I was definitely not going to be able to bike during the Bike Tour. I cried because in that moment I just wanted to talk to my Dad and ask him how He learned to love Jesus so well in weakness and wished so desperately that I could somehow magically rewind so much of what has happened in the past few years

But then, sitting there in the grass, shaded from the sun, I also started to laugh.

I laughed because I realized that for a few minutes I probably looked like I had passed on on some random person's lawn and now just looked like I was a rookie runner who was super out of shape. I laughed because I felt a wave of His peace and an overwhelming promise from God that He was/is doing more in this than I can see right now. I laughed because living with headaches makes me live life a bit like a sun-starved Vancouverite when the first week of spring hits (sun! beach! ocean! mountains! music! drinks on a patio! must.savour.every.moment.) and I think it's actually teaching me to love and appreciate life a bit better.

With all that I know and all that I am: I love this thing called living.


I hate feeling weak, but Jesus meets me there over and over and reminds me that His joy and peace surround me regardless of how weak I am or may feel.
I hate knowing limitation, but God keeps reminding me that it’s there where the power of His love gets to shine the brightest.
I hate so much of this, but I'm more grateful for it than I can say because of it, He's making more of His strength, His beauty, His goodness, His presence, and His redemption in me

That's worth it. Oh, that's worth it.


On paper, Project Hope is pretty much just a crazy idea about a girl and a bike and some running shoes and trying to make a difference in the lives of some incredible kids around the world. And, it is about that. But it's about a heck of a lot more.

This is about learning that proactive love and audacious hope is lived out in really small ways (that are actually really big ways). This is about redefining failure and success. This is about community and support and encouragement and the dismantling of ideas that we have to do or accomplish epic things to make a difference. This is about embracing and celebrating all that we can do to make the world better – one life and moment at a time - and living without any guilt or shame for what we cannot. This is about freedom and whimsy and learning over and over and over that love is simple, and in its all-encompassing simplicity, it's the single most powerful thing in the world. This is about looking death and loss and sickness and disappointment in the face and tangibly saying, “You can’t - not now, and not ever - silence this love.”

  

I used to think that “success” was more powerful than “failure”. I used to think that a project had to be perfect to be worthwhile, that my body had to fit a certain mould to be beautiful, & that a goal was only truly successful if I lived up to my own unrealistic standards of success at every turn.

But, what I’m starting to see and believe more and more though, is that the very act of trying and persevering is the most powerful and meaningful part of any journey. That “failure” is inevitable, brave, and even beneficial. That these broken bodies of ours deserve far more credit (in both insane beauty and intricate function) than we give them simply because they were crafted so brilliantly by the living God and they allow us to live and laugh and move and be. And, that false, limited, and unforgiving notions of "success" only rob us of joy and hold us back from doing the things that are truly worthwhile. 

  

Sometimes love does look like biking 800KM down the California Coast. & sometimes love looks like leaving your bike at home, embracing plan B and all the adventurous unknown it can hold, and cheering on and supporting others while they ride. 

T-10 days. I still can’t wait.

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Here we go May.

It’s May.

I’m not quite sure how the first four months of 2016 have come and gone so quickly, but here we are. The sun is shining bright, the average temperature is settling in the high teens and low twenties, I find myself carving out as much time as possible to be by the water, the Whitecaps and Jays now dominate my sports schedule (Canadian teams in the NHL Playoffs #fail) and summer plans are in full-force.

It’s May.

Although this has been in the works since the end of last summer, It’s been 6 months since I launched this “little” project. We’re officially at the halfway mark of the one-year framework in which I’m endeavouring to run 9 races in honour of the nine members of our family lost to cancer, take part in the Love Does Bike Tour down the California Coast, and raise $10,000+ for Love Does (formerly Restore International) by November of 2016.

When I decided to take steps forward to make this crazy dream a reality, I knew it was a huge risk. I didn’t really know what I was getting myself in to. I didn’t know if this would “succeed” or “fail”, but simply felt the gracious invitation by God to join Him in this.

So I did. I jumped.

And it’s already been so good and so hard and amazing and meaningful in some ways I expected and in many I didn’t either. One of my favourite things Bob Goff has said is “when Jesus invites you on an adventure, He shapes who you become with what happens along the way.” When I took the first shaky step forward for this particular adventure, I didn’t know how God would use this to shape me and mould me and grow my heart for the people around me, for the work of Love Does, and all the ways He would draw me deeper into His heart too.

What I’ve been reminded of again and again? God seems far more concerned with the way we love and the people we become through the adventures than with the adventure/journey itself. I love that about Him – He’s far less concerned with what we do than who we are. He’s a God after our hearts. And, when our hearts come more alive in His love for us and are shaped more and more to love like He loves, that’s when our feet start to move and dance more freely towards things that reflect His heart.

So far:

  • I’ve ran 4 races. One in pouring rain, one in freezing cold, one in thick fog, and the other in sunshine (welcome to Vancouver, folks). For Aunt Tina, Renaye, Uncle Rick, and Grandpa.
     
  • I planned and hosted a fundraising Gala full of balloons and desserts and dancing and was absolutely blown away by the support of local businesses and my friends/community. It was my first attempt at throwing anything like that and the evening quite possibly stands out as one my favourites that I’ve lived so far – a tangible reminder that joy and whimsy and love are worth chasing and savouring together. And together, through that, we’ve raised just over $3000USD. (You can check out some photos from the Gala: here. Credit my good friend, Kevin Jacob)
     
  • I’ve also had to rearrange my race and training schedule a bit due to chronic and increasingly severe migraines. I’ve had to wrestle through ideas of success and weakness and fight against the idea that I was somehow failing and come back – again and again and again – to the reality that this “project” was never actually about biking or running. This was, is, and has always been, about celebrating the faithfulness of a God who turns mourning into dancing, who sprinkles and saturates life with joy and hope regardless of circumstances, & about chasing, celebrating, and investing in proactive hope a world away.

It’s May.

Which means the Love Does Bike Tour is this month. 20 days away, actually. Say whaaaaatt?! Our team – from all around North America - is eagerly preparing to join together in California in a few short weeks and embark on this part of the adventure together. We’re training. We’re fundraising. We’re encouraging each other and counting down together. We’re praying for and anticipating God to do awesome things. We’re excited.

 

 

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In Memory: Uncle Rick Oegema

October 2012 was a pretty brutal month.

I was in my first semester of grad school and trying to keep my head above water in my research and slowly adapting to the sheer amount of mental energy post-graduate studies required. I had moved to BC the summer before, but was still navigating being in a new city and not knowing or feeling connected to many people in Vancouver. And then, like a 2-for-1 deal, we found out that my Dad’s pancreatic cancer was “back” and had spread to his liver. And this news came only a week before my Dad’s little brother - my Uncle Rick - lost his hard-fought 3-year battle with kidney cancer.

Uncle Rick was 53.

I remember every phone call and update that month so well. The fear that came when we found out Dad’s cancer was back followed so quickly by the heartbreak and anger that Uncle Rick was gone, that Aunt Gam had lost her man, & that Brittany, Kristopher, and Cory had to live life now without their dad. I called my own dad the day after after Uncle Rick died and when I asked him how he was doing with everything that had happened, he responded with the longest pause I ever remember in conversation with him. “It’s tough, Lider” he finally responded, “cancer is just tough.” And then more silence, where I choked back tears, trying so hard to be tough for him, but feeling pretty undone by what we had lost and the looming realities of what other loss might be coming. Honestly, I’d never seen/heard my Dad wrestle like that - as per his usual, not with many words, but the weight of what He was trying to process in his head/heart was so evident. It took every bit of financial self-control that I had to not immediately book a flight to my parent’s place just so I could give my Dad a hug/get a hug from him.

To me, Uncle Rick was in so many ways my Dad’s cooler (sorry dad!) blonde twin. All of the Oegema boys were athletic, had/have incredibly charismatic personalities, and laughs/big smiles that would light up a room, but Uncle Rick always stood out amongst Dad’s siblings in all of those categories. He and my Dad were so close in age that I can hardly remember stories from their growing up where Rick and my Dad weren’t playing sports, pulling pranks, and/or getting into trouble together. I admired and looked up to him in ways I never got to communicate to him and loved that we would so easily connect over sports when our extended family was together. I often wished that we could live closer to Dad’s siblings because I loved the friendship they each had when they were together and I wanted to see that unfold on a more regular basis.

In ways that I'm sure only made sense to them, Dad and Uncle Rick got closer when terminal cancer became a part of both of their lives at such an early age. Even in facing cancer/death, they went at it as teammates almost. My Dad was first diagnosed in October 2007 and Uncle Rick was diagnosed in December of 2009, so they both knew what it meant/felt to have to face death and leaving families behind much earlier than either of them ever expected. I remember Dad mentioning on more than one occasion in those "in-between" years that cancer made their conversations with each other so much deeper & that they clearly reminded each other that, when their lives faded here, the only thing that actually mattered was how they loved God and how they loved their families and friends.

Uncle Rick was smart, incredibly hard-working, and yet laid back too in a really wonderful (and rare) way. Of Uncle Rick, his wife Gamble said, “Whenever I think of Rick the first word that comes to mind is brilliant. He was so incredibly smart and talented. His family was very important to him. He was devoted to us and to many friends.”

Before cancer, Uncle Rick was already strong and devoted, but his battle with cancer only highlighted his strength, bravery, and care for those around him. “I was so proud of the strength that he showed in fighting cancer. He never complained but instead encouraged others to keep fighting,” Aunt Gamble wrote.

Of her dad, my cousin Brittany said, “The first thing I think of is how hard working he was. Not only at his job but also at home from small projects/to finishing floors of the house/constantly updating things. He always had a "project" and wanted to have something to work out. Even for those last few years while he was so sick he wanted to be working. He still wanted to be actively involved in his job at work & tried to do as much work as he could from home when he felt up to it. There was a period of time where he was feeling better & even went back to the office for several months to work. He wanted to make sure everything was taken care of. Even in a time where most people would have used being so sick as an excuse to not go to work or not do things around the house that wasn't him.“

But even more than his work-ethic, she remembers his presence. “He was always there. While he was super hardworking, but his family came first. He was at all the sporting games/races/etc. I don't think I understood this part as much until becoming a parent & realizing how hard it is sometimes for both parents to be available & we haven't even reached the crazy activity/schedule yet. But if you wanted him to be somewhere or if you needed help with something he was there.”

When Uncle Rick’s cancer had spread to his brain, my cousin Brittany moved up her wedding date by a few months “because we were afraid he wouldn't be there or be able to make it for the later date.” As it turned out, that decision was a wise one, since Uncle Rick died only a week after their originally scheduled date. There’s no way to describe how thankful I am on Brittany’s behalf that she got her dad with her on her wedding. The pictures of her and Uncle Rick on her wedding day fill my heart with more joy than I know how to explain. I remember looking at the photos a few months after my own Dad died and crying because I was just so happy that even though she wouldn’t get him for so many things after, she would always have that: a stunning gift in the midst of deep pain.

There’s something about walking through cancer and loss that changes us - in profound and yet almost subtle ways. It re-shapes our priorities, shapes our character, and influences the decisions we make in ways that are hard to articulate. And in a upside-down kind of beautiful way, talking with family members about our different journeys with loss has given me new glimpses of the ways God really does weaves redemption in the wake of death - breathing hope and compassion and wisdom into and around the pain.

Brittany speaks beautifully of how cancer made her “really realize how short life can be & living each day (as cliche as that sounds) to the fullest." How it inspired her to give up her full-time income so she could stay at home with Jackson (her adorable son) "because I don't want to miss anything with him." And in regards to faith, "it’s definitely made my faith stronger & relationship with God stronger in the absence of having a dad on earth.”

My Aunt Gam herself is an incredible fighter, and watching her strength, spunk, and selflessness in responding to Uncle Rick’s battle and death has inspired and blown me away again and again. When I asked her how losing Uncle Rick has changed her, she said, “I am a better person for knowing Rick. He had such faith in me. He was my encourager. I blame him for my tenacious spirit. My faith in Jesus Christ is so much stronger today partly due to Rick's fight with cancer. The adversity brought us even closer. I have peace knowing that Rick is healthy and happy in Heaven. Because of what I saw him go through, I continue to help out in the chemo room as a volunteer. I hold hands, I pray with the patients and I try to lift their spirits."

It never ceases to amaze and encourage me that our own pain really does make us more aware of others' pain and more willing to step into those places with them. And, as crazy as it is to articulate as such, how those places are so often the most powerful reminders that hope, compassion, and strength grow in the most unexpected of contexts. It's an honour to not only remember the impact and legacy of the family members that we've lost, but to stand encouraged, inspired, and so proud of the strength of the family members "left behind" too.

And a fun timing story? I pretty randomly picked today as the race for Uncle Rick. But then I found out from Aunt Gamble that Feb. 7th was the day she and Uncle Rick went on their first date - Feb.7th, 1987 - twenty nine years ago today. Her first impression, “I loved his big beautiful smile and the way he looked at me.” Maybe it's the (unashamed!) hopeless romantic in me, but I just love that.

So - here's to you, Uncle Rick. To your spunk, your work-ethic, and your consistent presence & steady support for your family and friends. For facing cancer with such bravery and strength and fighting so so well. It's truly an honour to have know you and been influenced by the person you were and the life you lived. //

Throughout Project Hope, I'll be running a race for each one of my family members that we've lost to cancer - 9 running races in total - and taking part in the Love Does Bike Tour in May 2016. All with the goal to celebrate how crazy beautiful life is, to honour those that we’ve lost to cancer, to mark that cancer and death and injuries and sickness aren't the end of the story, & to support the incredible work of Restore International in Uganda, India, Nepal, Somalia, and Iraq. To find out more about the project: click here, and/or how you can get involved/support this goal: click here.

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three years.

Dear Dad,

So much of me can’t even believe that I’m writing this, but today marks three years.

I drove out to the north shore this morning and went for a run in one of my favourite places – a small cove-side community in North Vancouver that hugs the water and boasts all the quintessential and wonderful parts of coastal life. Everyone was decked out in gum boots and rain jackets and quickly ducking inside cafes and their cars to avoid the rain, so despite being completely soaked within the first few minutes of being outside, I was almost entirely by myself on the path by the water.

It’s pretty staggering to me how much the past three years has unfolded in these water-meets-mountains spaces, and how these oceanside rendezvous have been and continue to be some of the most sacred spaces where I’ve met with God, wrestled with with him, cried with him, and (re)fallen in love with him again and again and again. How golden summer sunsets by the water and colourful autumn drives up the sea-to-sky and subtle spring sunrises curled up with tea and a blanket at Porteau Cove and these moody and rainy winter runs would be the places where grief would happen, where worship would happen, and slowly and often in ways I couldn’t even see or feel – where healing would unfold too.

This morning as I pounded out the familiar rhythm of one foot in front of the other, tears blurred into the rain on my face. I so wish that I could show you this place, that I could share these spaces where my heart has come alive and these places too where I’ve faced things harder than I ever knew I would face. I wish I could show you the city that’s captured my heart and introduce you to the friends and community that have made it home in all the ways I dreamed it would be and in ways deeper than I expected too. I wish that I could tell you in person (or even over Skype or the phone) about all the things that have happened since you’ve been gone, about how brave and strong and wise Mum has been, yet weak too in a beautiful way that’s shown how tender and compassionate that golden heart of hers is; how big Marty-man has gotten, that he has an adorable little brother named after you now, and that there’s another little one on the way; and all the ways God has continued to meet us and lead us each forward. I wish I could laugh with you about all the ways I’ve fallen on my face, and stand in awe of God’s graciousness and power in all the ways I’ve grown too.

__

Sometimes I wonder if you would have lived differently if you knew you'd only get 54 years. Or if I would have approached our relationship differently if I had known that my time with you would be short. I never come up with an answer.

It’s a bit strange and almost a bit cruel that it’s death more so than anything else that inspires us to ask questions about what it means to live well. In the wake of war, we ask how to rebuild with more equitable, empowering, and humanity-honouring policies. In the wake of tragedy, we write preventative strategies and revisit questions of proactive ethics.

Death is a powerful teacher, but the cost is high.

I picked up a book this past week, “When Breath Becomes Air”, the memoir of a young and brilliant neurosurgeon who died of lung cancer at the age of 35, leaving behind a young wife, newborn daughter, and professional credentials left largely unutilized. I started reading at 11pm and finished it by the middle of the next day, barely sleeping because the story was so powerful and beautiful and I cried my way through the rawness, honesty, and power of this young doctor’s story. He spoke of learning to live well and facing death with honesty and bravery. He wrestled with the wonder and value of life.

But the thing that lingers the most in his story and in yours and in watching what feels like a few too many family members and family friends die at what feels like too young an age, is what every single person holds on to and savours and deems important in the moments when they know their life is fading beyond the horizon and soon to be reduced to little more than memories.

It’s not the “big” moments or the professional credentials. Instead, it’s these sacred, ordinary days and the people who fill them. They hold on to the joy of knowing and pursuing Christ and meaning and beauty and fullness – even within the confines of limitation and limited time. They savour the day-in-and day out faithfulness, where life unfolds both in rhythm and routine and in spontaneity and adventure. Where some of the most beautiful an impacting moments unfold on sun-lit back porches, around campfires in summertime, lazy Saturday mornings in the places we make our homes, cozy kitchen tables full of food, and moments of connection at the end of long (seemingly ordinary) days.

__

You often said that the Gospel came alive in your heart and life only after all of your own plans fell apart. That God truly became your delight and your joy after you wrestled through and finally surrendered (and surrendered over and over and over) your own ideas of how you wanted your life to go. You always called it your defining “be still and know” or “sit down and listen!” moment and I got to spend the whole space where your life overlapped with mine watching you wrestle and rejoice and live in the freedom of the stillness and the joy of knowing that He is God and endlessly good and extravagantly gracious and always worth pursing with everything we have to give.

I think I’m starting to understand that a bit more, in ways I didn’t know that I would. And you’re right: it does take a bit of a storm, eh? You haven’t seen the past few years unfold and it’s been a bit surreal to face all the joy and challenges that they’ve held without your wisdom and support and ridiculous humour. They’ve been tough. They’ve been beautiful. They’ve held more tears than I knew they could, but they’ve also been home to more laughter and beauty than I expected would come out of that kind of a context. They’ve shaped and moulded and humbled me in ways that I can’t articulate, though I suspect you would understand that space well. At times I thought my heart might not recover and I’d be forever marked by the pain.

But this grace that meets us when things feel like they’ve completely fallen apart? This hope that points us back to him in the midst of heartbreak? This truth that we’re loved more deeply and wildly than we can ever understand? It really does change everything.

You used to say these kind of things too and I remember listening and admiring you for it and also never quite understanding. I couldn’t quite see things from that angle (yet), but I saw that it was the most real thing to you and I saw the way it increasingly shaped your thoughts and words and actions. I saw how it made you able to love God and love people and love life better all at the same time.

But, I’m starting to see and feel and know the crazy upside-down reality of this a bit more.

Because, right here: in the mess and wrestle and the pain, He’s never been so beautiful. I’m still wrestling. Still rebuilding. Still healing. This redemption thing is a slow and hard process. But, I’ve never been more in love with Him than I am now. Never found his unchanging character to be so profoundly comforting. Never found the power and audacity of the gospel so captivating.

__

I don’t know how to tell the story of who I am without telling the story of who you are. But maybe that’s just a tiny glimpse of what Jesus meant when he said to live our lives in such a way that speaks and points to who our Father is. Where His story becomes our story and where His character settles into our very DNA and overflows into the way we live.

You did that so well. I hope I do too.

__

I think about our Tetons trip all the time. It was my eighteenth birthday and you gave me the best gift I could ask for: a week of exploring and time together. At the time it just seemed like a wonderful adventure, but looking back now with the knowledge that that space represented some of the last (and incredibly rare) one-on-one space I’d get with you, I see that space as an immense gift to me from God.

We hiked behind waterfalls and up mountains and mountain biked down intense trails and even though I know you didn’t like the water like I do, you let me spend a whole day in a kayak on Jackson Lake. We made campfires and laughed. We laughed so much that week. That was the week that it hit me that you were not only my Dad, but also one of my very best friends. And as much as I miss you for all the quintessentially “Dad” things, I frequently find myself just keenly missing the friend you were too. You told me the familiar stories of how and why you fell in love with Mum and all the things you’d come to love and respect and admire about her even more as the years had progressed. We talked about sports and art and big life decisions and living in the aftermath of your cancer diagnosis and my injury and as the summer sun danced with strong rays on the windshield as we drove, we listened to U2’s The Joshua Tree.

What I only realized in shadows while you were here, but I now see with more and more clarity, is that the way you loved me so clearly and repeatedly showed me a glimpse of the love of God. His is not a love that demands perfection or keeps a track-record of performance, but rather a Father’s love that demands nothing and authentically and joyfully delights in time with us and delights in who we are – as we are right in that moment. I’ve spent so much time demanding high-achievement, impossibly high-standards, and non-stop hard-work from myself both in an effort somehow “prove” my love for and devotion to God and to somehow make him proud. But that’s never been true of the the love, grace, or freedom that I found in Him, and that was never true of the love you showed me either. You always responded by giving me your time, your unwavering support, your continual reminder that “Lider, I love you, I’m proud of you, and you don’t have anything to prove.”

___

Sometimes, I still crumble under the weight of realizing you’re never coming back. That what is now three years without you will slowly turn into a decade without you and then a life without you. That Mum won’t ever get you back. I still burst into tears knowing that if God gives me a husband someday that you’ll never get to meet him, that I won’t get that dance you owe me on my wedding day, and that if I get to have kids that you’ll never be their Opa.

I find myself wondering if I’ll ever stop missing you. Or if I’ll ever forget the sound of your voice. It scares me a bit to think that someday I might.

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The first year after you died I thought that January 22nd was the cruellest day on the calendar. I figured that I’d always hate this day and I’d feel the need to run away because it marked the day when we lost you and I couldn’t wrap my head or heart around ever seeing the pain of that as a good thing.

But as we approached the one-year anniversary two years ago, I felt God asking me to spend this day differently. “This is a day you celebrate my faithfulness,” He whispered. “A day you celebrate that I beat death (forever), that the pain you feel here is temporary, and that beauty resounds far wider and deeper than the grave.”

I think of the way the Israelites piled up rocks in the wilderness as a sign, for anyone who walked by and all future generations to come, that here – right here - God was faithful. It’s a pretty random practice, really. But it spoke powerfully in memoriam that both in the midst of obvious deliverance or in the midst of the dry and exhausting wilderness: God was/is always worth trusting.

I sometimes wonder if the practice of remembering was more for the sake of others, for the benefit of future generations, or was a practice that the Israelites themselves needed to do to remind themselves of who God had been (even though they had just witnessed God’s faithfulness and power first-hand) and who He would always be. I’m more and more convinced that it’s both.

Seems more and more to me that both grief and celebration are always both.

January twenty-second marks my most hated day that I’ve lived so far, yes, but it also marks the day you were set free from a broken body and the day you got to enter fully into the majesty and power and glory and goodness and absolute perfection of Jesus’s presence (I’ll admit. I’m quite jealous.)

This day was an end and this day was a beginning. This day was healing and this day was loss. This day was power and this day was pain, none (incredibly) to the exclusion of another. This day reminds me of God’s faithfulness and gentle care and compassionate goodness to us in the wake of losing you. Of the depth of community around me and with me and all the ways that life still unfolds in a palpably beautiful way.

Here – right here - God has been and always will be faithful.

___

Thanks for living so well and dying so well too. For being real and honest with your own weakness. For giving me space to dream and training me in what it means to be wise too. For believing in me, praying for me, and speaking truth into and over my life. For making me laugh and passing on your goofy smile and thirst for adventure. For loving Mum so well. For pursuing Christ with such steady and rooted passion. And most of all - in all of these things and more - for continually pointing me to Jesus.

Your life echoes with how much you loved Him and how His love changed you. I’ll never know how to say how thankful I am for that or how much that has shaped me.

I’ll always be your little Lider,

A.

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on a game-changing year.

2015. 

oh man. 

As is my annual tradition, I’ve sat down in an attempt to write through this past year multiple times over the past few weeks. I’ve curled up in my favourite spot in our house by our cozy fireplace clicking through photos and letters and journal entries. I’ve sat in coffeeshops poking away at my keyboard and pen in a notebook trying to articulate what this year has been. I’ve written lines and I’ve thrown together paragraphs and I’ve scribbled rambling pages and I’ve felt like I’m just scratching the surface of what this year has been and meant and changed in me: both in ways far more difficult than I can say and in ways far more beautiful than I know how to articulate. 

But maybe that’s exactly what makes this year what it was. 

This year was a hurricane. This year was intense: it felt a bit like living multiple years crammed into the space of only one. This was a year where everything “fell apart”. This year was chaos and calm. This was a year of failure and this year was freedom. This year was really beautiful and this year was really hard. This was a year where I let myself be weak and let myself admit where I had been weak all along but had previously been too scared to admit it. This was a year where I laughed and danced so so much and also a year where I cried almost daily. A year where I let myself hope and dream and dared to take more risks. This was a year that changed me, moulded me, broke me, and grew me more than I know how to express. 

And I think I'm still there - still right in the process of healing and growing and finding a new way of living and thinking here.

__

To be fair: I started 2015 tired. bone-tired and oh-so exhausted. The few years before had been long and hard and 2014 had been particularly draining in its own ways and I was so desperate for something new. But, I think I wanted newness and new life to come in a neat package, somehow (as if that’s even possible). I never would have articulated it as such, but I think I wanted an almost hyper-sanitized version of God leading me into the dancing that comes after mourning and the joy that comes after weeping. I wanted to run as far and as fast as I could away from the pain and hurt and unknown and tiredness that had been the few years prior and I wanted newness and joy to sweep in gracefully to save the day. 

Short/simple summary of this year: it was not that. In fact, it didn’t even remotely resemble that. 

But it was newness and it was joy. But it came in a way that looked a lot less like a walk along a sunny beach in summertime and more like a tough-mudder race in the pouring rain. It was newness and joy that actually started to come through leaning deeper into the pain and hurt and unknown and tiredness: when I finally felt strong and brave enough to face and admit the sheer depth and weight of where I actually was. It was newness and joy that started to come through acknowledging and wrestling through the foundational ideas that kept me bound to old habits and old paradigms. It was newness and joy that started to come through making decisions that made no sense on paper and seemed almost foolish, but that were rooted in a freedom from my own unforgiving and unrealistic expectations. It was newness and joy that started to come through walking away, learning to saying no, failing repeatedly, admitting weakness, and owning up (to myself and to my community around me) that I was as tired and heart-broken as I actually was.

At the very beginning of 2015, I scribbled this in a notebook: 

How would you live if you lived (really lived!) out of a place of love? If you lived like you knew and believed to the core of who you are that you are loved: fully. deeply. extravagantly. by the God whose love is more deep and crazy and all-encompassing than you’ll ever understand and more personal and specific than you’ll ever be able to fathom. How would this year change if you lived like you truly believed that you were loved by the people around you - not because of what you have done or will do, but just because of who you are? How would you live if you broke free of the pressure to perform and live up to ridiculous and unrealistic expectation of “success” and perfection? If you let yourself truly embrace rest? What risks would you take if you dared to live free from the lies of not being enough? What dreams would you dream if you dreamed from a place of anchored love and audacious hope? 

I scribbled the How would you live if you lived out of a place of love?” in bold black marker on one side of an index card and the words: anchored love & audacious hope on the other side and kept it as the bookmark in my Bible, having no idea at the time how much making my home in that idea would change me and impact the year that was about to unfold. No idea how a year later I’d be sitting in a coffee shop in a new neighbourhood and be tearing up with a wow. things really have changed kind of gratitude while revisiting those ideas because they now sound different and feel different and they’ve come alive in me in ways I didn’t know they could.

And the crazy (read: beautiful/humbling/astonishing) thing is that this newness and joy has come both in ways that I could see and feel in glimpses as it was unfolding and in ways I think I’m only beginning to grasp. It’s changed me. It’s changing me. 

I’m not who I was a year ago: and, I think, only credit the grace of Jesus, that's a change that's the best and hardest gift. Sure, it may mean that I’m entering 2016 unemployed, with a master’s thesis left unfinished, mostly unsure of my “long-term” professional trajectory, (still) recovering from severe burn-out and long-term health issues, (still) wrestling through hope-deferred and dreams unanswered, and (still) navigating the ache of grief. 

But what that circumstantial check-list doesn’t tell you is that a year that looks so much like failure and continued heartbreak and challenge on paper is a year that feels a lot like freedom and a year that held more beauty than any list can ever accurately depict.

Was it/is it hard-fought, tear-stained, and frequently doubted and second-guessed freedom? absolutely. Is it still - right now even - one of the hardest seasons I've ever had to walk through? without a doubt.

But I’m starting to think that’s part of what makes it as truly impacting and meaningful as it actually is. Where being fully alive and fully awake to love and hope isn’t the result of easy circumstances, but comes most beautifully, when - against all odds - we keep making and rebuilding our homes in hope. When we together learn and re-learn (over and over and over) to relax into this always unconditional and always undeserved love that changes everything. Where hope & tears share the same space. Where bold dreams & honest lament go hand-in-hand. Where we equally embrace the best of who we are & the pain that crushes our chests. 

What the checklist doesn’t tell you is that it was this year where God brought me a new expression and depth to community that I’ve been dreaming of and praying for for so long. It was this year where already deep friendships went deeper in profound ways and people I only met this calendar year now make up a significant portion of my closest friends: the kind of kindred-spirit heart ties that only Jesus can orchestrate. It was this year, where I felt truly at home in this city, in my community, and in a literal house (a Vancouver miracle!). It was this year where my heart come alive in ways it hadn’t before and I let myself hope and take risks and even fall. And that even when many of those risks didn’t end the way I hoped they might, this space showed me that the risk is always worth it. It was this year, where laughter was frequent and easy and healing. Where I started dancing far more and with much less hesitation. Where I starting say no to things that I was doing out of obligation and started carving out more and more space for spontaneity and creativity and adventure and rest. Where I started - in lots of small ways and in some big ways too - to live as if I actually believed that I didn’t have anything to prove and my identity and worth wasn’t linked to what I could or might do. (And the best part? I actually started to believe that.)

____

Maybe it's the perfectionist in me or my love for clean resolution, but I used to think that my story would be best told if it was neat and tidy and had a consistent thematic arc that testified to God’s faithfulness in an "clear" way that was easy to understand. I used to think my abilities and successes and dreams were the best things I had to offer to the work of the Kingdom. I used to think that to live out the radical hospitality and grace of Christ, I had to have my own story and my own stuff figured out: at least to a certain degree. 

The good news though? The “scream this from the mountains!” kind of good news - is that none of those things are true. My story isn’t neat nor tidy. Much of it definitely hasn’t been easy. And I'd be willing to bet that yours isn't and hasn't been neat, tidy, or easy either. 

But, if 2015 taught me anything, it taught me that the mess is actually really beautiful. Because it’s in the mess and the pain and the cracks and the bruises where the stunning light of His love shines brighter and where the true worth and irreplaceable value of the people who stand with you in the downpour, who walk with you as you recover, and who face the wreckage right beside you stands out so clearly. It’s in weakness where the steady and strong foundation of His character is revealed to be as truly beautiful and absolutely necessary as it really is. It’s in the failure and the falling where my own ambitions and goals and ideas about success fade miserably in comparison to God’s steady faithfulness, his sustaining presence, and this upside-down Kingdom where you live to die and you die to live. 

The two stories that I came back to again and again and again this year? The woman at the well in John 4. And the reconstruction and rebuilding of the temple in Nehemiah. 

The first: a story of the audacious love of this God who meets me/us exactly where we are - in the mess and grime of our stories. That says that it doesn’t matter what we’ve done or haven’t done: He is the God who sees us, knows us, is with us, for us, and who loves us as we are in that exact moment. Not some future “better” version of ourselves that we aspire to become, but the versions of us that we are today - with all our hurt and dreams and joy and exhaustion and all the weakness we’re carrying. 

And the second: where, in the midst of occupation and wreckage and against all odds and in a non-linear and almost illogical way God brought about a stunning work of redemption for His people in Israel. Where the restoration and repair were entirely the work of God and the tasks given to his people were to root themselves in and continually call to mind His faithfulness, mercy, and steadfast love. That it was in His timing and His way that God would (and did!) bring about restoration and in doing so showed us that He’s is a God who repairs ruined cities and causes wildflowers to sprout again in desert valleys and makes dry rivers flow with new water. But also that when this renewal comes - it comes from God working through man, not the micromanaged efforts of men on their own. 

___

I fell in love with this God in new ways this year. And in ways I don't think I've loved him before.

With the God who is both a friend who sticks closer than a brother and the Saviour who rescues and comforts. The God whose crazy and extravagant love meets us right here and right now. Whose love invites us into an abundant & fully-alive way of living. And the God who is never removed from the pain or the wreckage we may face, but who weaves redemption and healing and new life into our stories in ways we can't imagine or bring about on our own.

I almost forgot there for a while that this love that sets us free isn’t a love we can earn or validate or even rationalize. I almost forgot that freedom doesn’t come when we find all the “right” answers or when we build lives of upstanding morality and the endless pursuit of good efforts and important causes, but instead comes when we surrender all that we know of ourselves to all that we know of this Jesus and this love that meets us in all our imperfections. Almost forgot that a life of knowing him and being know by him is one that echoes with wonder and joy and anchored love & audacious hope that invites us into a completely different way of living. 

___

2015 was a year where that truth rolled through like a hurricane: tearing down a lot of what was wasting space, time, and effort and in the aftermath graciously giving me an opportunity to rebuild in a different way. It was a year of tearing down and clearing away and needed time for recovery and rest. It was messy. Oh, it was/is messy. 

And yet - yet! -  in all those spaces and in both the baby steps and the big strides towards living a life more fully from a place of love: the gospel is coming alive in me in ways I didn’t really know it wasn’t alive before. It’s opening my eyes and heart to see and know the love of Jesus as sweeter and deeper more comprehensive. It's making me more honest, more brave, and less concerned with having it all together. It’s making my relationships and community better & deeper. It’s making me willing to take risks I wouldn't have before. It's re-framing my ambition and making me embrace both adventure and rest more fully. 

slowly. messily. but it's progress. And that's grace: sweet sweet grace. 

This anchored love and audacious hope ? It really does change everything.

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In memory: Renaye Kahler

Sometimes family is people you’re biologically related to and sometimes family is the people who become part of your life and shape and mould you in profound ways, without sharing bloodlines or a last-name or even a common background.

For me, some of the first people who tangibly showed me that family has far less to do with biology or genetics and a whole more lot to do with the love that connects us - across years and distance and through hell and in moments of joy indescribable - were the Kahlers. 

Bri became my best friend in middle school and her family quickly took on the affectionate title of my “second-family” in those years and throughout high school where we went to school and played sports and did, well, virtually everything together. Her parents, Dave & Renaye, were/are two of the most authentic, contagiously adventurous, and steady followers of Christ I knew/know and being around their family always felt simultaneously welcoming and epic. 

Renaye was, in so many ways, the epitome of hospitality to me. She loved having people over and throwing parties and had a knack for creating spaces and contexts where people felt loved and cared for and even celebrated. I’ll always remember when she pulled me aside at Bri’s graduation party and told me “just because Bri’s done with school (she was a year ahead of me) doesn’t mean we don’t want to see you around here next year.” She was absolutely selfless, wise in an amazingly down-to-earth way, incredibly kind, and had the most endearingly cheesy sense of humour. She taught me in so many ways that life was too short to sweat the small things and that every day was full of goodness to be cherished. 

When I asked Bri to write a bit about her mom, she wrote: She was not only my mom but also my best friend. She taught me so much. I remember every morning her opening her Bible to do a devotional. What a legacy she left us. I remember her jokes. She had four or five she would always tell and usually the punch line or the actual story with the joke was mixed up. She was a wise woman, loving wife, selfless mom and woman after God.”

“She was always game for whatever everyone else wanted to do. She was the most selfless person. As a mom she always put her kids' needs before hers.” A clear example of this is that as it became more and more likely that she was nearing the end of her battle with cancer, she made videos for Jeremy (Bri’s older brother) and Bri for different stages in their lives: kids, graduation, marriage. As Bri says “I can't imagine how difficult that would have been for her. We wanted her there for those stages as much as she wanted to be there for all of them.”

There’s a beautiful and particularly humbling thing about people who become such a key part of your story in particularly significant seasons - and especially in seasons when you knew little of who you were or who you would become. I laugh a bit now about the version of myself that I was in high school, but I can’t look back at that or the grace over how I’ve grown since then and not see the impact of Renaye’s life and the influence of Dave & Renaye’s support and belief in me as an adopted part of the crew of Bri and Jeremy’s friends that they opened their lives and home to during high school. 

When I think about Renaye, it always hits me that she lived a life full of joy and whimsy and that the vast majority of that unfolded in ordinary spaces: in the moments so real and deep and beautiful and powerful and joy-filled that you hardly know the significance of them until they’re in the rear-view mirror and all you want is to have them back. The moments when we can feel God’s smile so profoundly ad where the most sacred act of worship we can perform is to just soak it all in and live it up as if we actually understand how incredible this gift of living really is. 

She showed me in a thousand ways that so much of the beauty of life unfolds, not necessarily in the “big” moments of achievement or success, but in the seemingly mundane moments of laughter and conversation and good food and spontaneous bike rides and rock climbing adventures with your family and freezing cold camping trips and work-days at their family farm and track meets and soccer games and decorating christmas cookies and dancing around to Christmas carols in November and snowshoeing and going to the lake no matter how cold the water would be. 

She and the whole Kahler family gave me the incredible example of what it means to really live - to be joyfully and gloriously alive. And a glimpse of what it means to love the people and moments God blesses us with fully and completely. To eat amazing food, to wear your favourite cute shoes on random days because you can, to be crazy generous and breathtakingly hospitable, to use a purple vacuum because it’s more fun and life is to short to be bored or bogged down by chores when you can make them fun, to bring blankets to the lake so you can go earlier in the year and thus spend more time with your family, and to seek and soak up as many moments with the people you love. Her enthusiasm and joy smile and generosity were so clearly reflective of how deeply she understood Jesus’ love. 

We lost Renaye on October 28th - 6 years ago. It’s a bit crazy to think of all that has happened in that space. How much healing and restoration has unfolded since that day. How real the redemption of Jesus has been - and is - in shadow of death. How much we’ve grown and how much we’ve walked through. 

This past spring I was able to visit Bri and as we walked around the tiny local lake in that small town where we’d walked and ran and biked hundreds of times before, we talked about how much things have changed since we were the starry-eyed 15-year olds dreaming about who we would become and what life would look like someday. About all the dreams we saw come to pass and all the things that happened so much differently than we expected. Had anyone told us in high school that we’d both lose a parent to cancer before our 22nd birthdays, we never would have believed them. And yet, we walked, tears in our eyes, talking about how much that reality has changed both of us forever. 

I remember walking and crying and praying with Bri when my Dad was first diagnosed with cancer. And her celebrating with me when his cancer went into remission. I remember bawling in my university dorm room when she called me to tell me that her Mom now had cancer too. I remember scraping together all of the money I had to spend some time with Renaye and Bri and their family in the weeks before she died and I still think that’s some of the best money I’ve ever spent. I remember crying with Bri the morning of her wedding because her mom wasn’t there and dancing the night away in celebration too. I remember calling her from the hospital when we lost my Dad and both of us bawling together without any words. I remember countless text messages and Skype conversations where we’d be able to say very little beyond “I know” - and we both knew on the deepest level possible that we did know and we would always know without many words to describe it: how much it hurt, how much it felt like it would never not hurt, and also how crazy faithful and more-beautiful than we could describe Jesus was with us in all of it. 

But it hit me in a really tangible way as we walked and talked and laughed at old stories and about our new contexts that life does follow death and growth does come out of places of loss and the darkness of mourning does, somehow, turn into to the celebration of new life.

Bri walked with her almost newborn son cradled against her chest and I chased and ran alongside and giggled with her stunning 2-year old daughter. She and Dan’s house was full of art and photos and toys and the kind of real-life-unfolding-in-ordinary spaces that we always dreamed of, seeing Bri as a mum made my eyes swell with pride for the woman she is and how clearly she carries Renaye’s legacy, and my heart just swelled with this indescribable gratitude for the faithfulness and goodness of God. 

So - here's to you, incredible Renaye. To all the ways you taught us to embrace all the adventure and joy and people that fill our lives and our homes. To your generous spirit, your laid-back sense of humour, your deep and contagious love for your family (and the people you adopted as your family), & your steady pursuit of Jesus. My life will forever be marked by how well you lived yours. // 

Throughout Project Hope, I'll be running a race for each one of my family members that we've lost to cancer - 9 running races in total - and taking part in the Love Does Bike Tour in May 2016: to celebrate how crazy beautiful life is, to honour those that we’ve lost to cancer, to mark that cancer and death and injuries and sickness aren't the end of the story, & to support the incredible work of Restore International in Uganda, India, Nepal, Somalia, and Iraq. To find out more about the project: click here; and/or how you can get involved/support this goal: click here.

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on admitting fear & holding on tight.

One of my favourite pieces of art is a sketch draw by a little refugee girl from Syria. It’s a picture of her family, complete with a bright yellow sun and each family member wearing eclectically mismatched outfits. It’s pretty unspectacular on its own actually, varying little from the typical colourful and quirky drawing that might be produced by any little kid around the globe. But there’s something about it that stands out so powerfully to me: beside the family, there’s a cute little snowman holding an umbrella.

A snowman holding an umbrella? It’s particularly endearing mostly because it’s just ridiculous. But what makes it so noteworthy to me is the context from which this drawing came. It was part of a collection created as part of an art therapy program for young refugees caught in the midst of the ongoing Syrian conflict. A large group of refugee youth were asked to draw their experiences with war and forced migration, primarily as a non-invasive and non-verbal way for them to tell their stories and begin to process the trauma they had endured. The collection is illuminating and entirely heart-breaking. The vast majority of the pictures depict death and separation, with varying degrees of severity and detail. Some pictures are harrowingly clear in what they represent, some are quite abstract. Red is the most used colour - because blood was the most consistent detail across the pictures. Almost every print includes a weapon of some kind.

And then, tucked away in the middle of the collection of prints is the drawing of the colourfully dressed family, the bright yellow sun, and the snowman holding an umbrella. In stark contrast to the pervasive bloodshed: imagination and wonder. In the midst of war and wreckage: the joy of being together. In the midst of “the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time”: the childlike ridiculousness of a snowman in a desert and an umbrella in a drought.

I don’t know exactly why I fell in love with that print like I did, but I framed a copy for my wall and in the past few months since discovering it have often found myself looking at it and reminded of the audacious hope and childlike vision that it represents. It got packed away with all of my other art a few months ago when I moved, but I’ve found myself thinking about it a lot recently. So much of me wants to be like that little girl: relentlessly and authentically optimistic in the midst of complete heartache.

I think a lot of me used to be. But when I’m honest, I often feel a thousand kilometres down a scenic and bumpy road from that little girl. almost unable to recognize that version of myself in my own story. Gone is the girl who was characterized by ambition, romanticism, and optimistic drive. I can still remember how it felt to have resolve and passion to step into darkness and make a difference: where I used to believe that there no place was too far, no dream too big, no research too complicated, and no issue too dark. But I’m not that girl anymore. I find myself feeling less like someone strong and ready to fight and more like a scared little girl who just wants to climb up into my Daddy’s lap and settle into the comfort of His strong embrace: still wide-eyed and dreaming - but also broken & tired, looking upward into His face, desperate to know that it will all be okay. 


I could be wrong, but somewhere along the line, we seem to have become so accustomed to living as fighters that we almost don’t know how to live any other way. Like scrawny little boys wearing superman costumes with fake muscles, we fight to appear strong, fight to belong, and fight to prove ourselves to ourselves and to anyone around us who will listen.

We try so desperately to cover up our fears and failures and our well-hidden secrets. We spin and move without pause because we’re so afraid that if we slow down or stop for a minute that they might see that we’re not as put together as we’d often like to believe and we don’t have all the answers we’d like to think we do. We’re searching endlessly for a place and person/people to call home and the comfort of being known, and yet - with each scene of our “perfected” act - are scared to admit that sometimes, sometimes we’re just scared. And scared to acknowledge that even though we’ve outgrown our fears of monsters under our beds - that we still hardly know how to effectively step into the pain and mess that surrounds us and is within us without it swallowing us whole.

We might grow(ing) up, you and I, but I don’t think we ever get that far away from the starry-eyed kids who dream that life will be an epic adventure fully of wonder and whimsy and that we’ll always be safe and loved. With our degrees and our paycheques and our greying hairs, we might get better at tricking ourselves into thinking we have (some of) the answers, but I think we’re all still a lot like those kids: looking upwards with both sadness and sparkle in our eyes, desperate for someone to tell us that it’s all going to be okay.

Desperate for someone to reassure us that our hearts won’t break past the point of being able to recover. That this pain isn’t the end of this story. That these losses aren’t for nothing. That this goodness is just a glimpse of what’s coming. That this rawness and this brokenness isn’t all there is. That someday it won’t hurt so much or feel so overwhelming. That the risk is worth it. Desperate to know that what we’re doing matters. That we matter. That we’re worth choosing and loving and celebrating and not just spinning here without purpose. That we’re not alone. That the way we’re spending our time and money and emotional and mental energy is making the world better somewhere, somehow. That God is always good and always in the business of making all things new. & that especially that when it seems to like He might not be that it’s okay to feel that and talk about that and wrestle with Him about that.  

Tell me that the light will always shine into the darkness and that the darkness will never win. Tell me again that love alone is worth the fight.


I’ve been thinking about the incarnation a lot lately: about the crazy beauty and audacity of a God who came to be with us. The God who moved into our neighbourhood(s) and made his home on these broken streets. The God who subjected himself to rejection and pain and isolation and loneliness and loss and ache and temptation so that he could not only rescue us out of those things, but so He could also be with us - in the tears and the ache and the frustration - and weep with us.

Because sometimes I wonder if the almost overwhelming pain we feel and the anger that rises up in us about injustice and disease and violence and loss and babies who have to go to sleep hungry or kiddos that growing up in families where they don’t know love is just the tiniest glimpse of how much God feels about all of that and the tiniest taste of how much His heart aches with every tear and cut and bruise. 

Sometimes I wonder if He just so badly wants to be the kind of Dad who just gets to lavishly spoil His kids and shelter us from ever knowing the pain of rejection or the sting of loss. Or if sometimes - sometimes - He just wants to wrap us up and hold us tight and take away everything that makes life here so hard. 

As appealing as it sometimes feels or seems, we don’t have a God who waved a magic wand and made everything easy for us. But I think we have something so much better: the God who promised us that no matter what we would face: He’ll be with us. And the God who showed us by example that there is something so much deeper and more beautiful and more powerful going on here that what we can see or yet understand.

He's the God who is here: In the broken real life places. Not removed from the hurt, but right in the depths of it with usIn all those places so painful we don’t have words to speak of them. In the cracks and bruises. The shadows and secrets. The wonder and the wilderness and the waiting. The ache that comes from the people we loved who didn’t love us back and the dreams we dreamed that imploded rather than took off. The rawness of hope deferred. The consistent and jarring pain of loss. The uncertainty and the monotony. On the nights filled with tears and the days when we feel so numb we almost wonder if we’re actually living.

And the God who – in the midst of all of that -  still wows us and sustains us and sweeps us off our feet. Who strings snow-capped mountains into ranges and fills the vastness of the ocean with life so diverse and colourful and who lights the sky on fire with sunsets so vibrant. Almost as if to tell us, even when we feel like we’re barely putting one foot in front of the other or hardly keeping our heads above water, that life is still crazy beautiful here. The God who surrounds us with people who show us, in a million tiny ways and some really bit ones too, what love is and who gives us chances to do/be the same for others. Who never promises that the road will be easy, but does promise that no matter how many bruised elbows, scraped knees, or broken hearts, we will never walk alone.


There’s something eye-opening, a bit humbling, and also really beautiful about realizing that you’re not the person you used to be any more: that you’ve changed and grown and weathered storms you never expected to face. That you’re stronger than you ever thought you were or could be, but also weaker too (in a good way), far more sensitive than you used to let on, & a lot less concerned with having all the answers. That you’re slowly getting better at rest and grace and that means you’re also getting better at letting go of ambition and more quickly seeing through the unforgiving and unsatisfying lies of achievement. That your heart still beats with the same fierce passion, but that it’s also been broken and bruised a bit because of that, and so, both out of necessity and out of growing wisdom, it finds itself a little bit more careful about where and to whom it pours its energy. That, even after learning and seeing and experiencing more about evil and pain than you wanted to or thought you could handle, you still believe the world to be insanely beautiful, even almost magical at times, and humanity still capable of incredible good.

Here's the deal: I don’t know why we face days and weeks and months and even years sometimes that feel like endless downpours or why life is full of moments when it feels like the darkness just might not lift. I don’t know why the big picture is often far too much for us to handle, why the economy always seems broken, why politicians are so hard to trust, and why the traffic always seems to be particularly terrible when when need to be somewhere quickly.

But I do know and have come to believe this with all that I am: that there’s always enough light to keep putting one foot in front of the other if we look for it and if we’re willing to shine a little light on the path in front of each other once and a while. I know that as much as it hurts to hurt, that pain does open our hearts to love in far deeper ways than we are able to love when we still thought the world was only safe and good. I know that because I’ve seen and felt it happen in my own heart and slowly - as days turn into weeks and weeks turn into years - it even starts to feel like freedom somehow. I know that even when we can’t muster up enough optimism and hope for the big picture, that we can combat extraordinary pain with ordinary goodness when we go at it moment after moment and day after day.

We can only start where we are. So we do that. Over and over and over. One step, one moment, one person, and one conversation at a time. We own up to our fear. We love fiercely. And hope with abandon. We learn to dance without hesitation and we learn to cry without shame (which I’m starting to think are some of the truest signs of being fully alive).

We wake up each morning and celebrate the wonder and the miracle of being here: of getting another day to be alive and to feel and ache and dream and laugh. We give ourselves more grace than we think we need and we give even more grace than that to the people around us. We laugh and we dance and we wear silly hats on our heads collapse into fits of giggles on the floor when we're hanging out with 3-year-olds. We make cup after cup of tea, listen to music that makes us feel alive, and go for long walks on city sidewalks covered in colourful autumn leaves. We stay up late talking with our roommates, wake up early to catch sunrise(s), and take lazy Sunday afternoon naps. We get on planes to visit people that we love, drop handwritten notes in the mail, and curl up in our favourite chairs with our favourite blankets in our favourite corners of the houses and urban apartments that we make our homes.

We read the news as much as we can to be reminded that the world is vast and beautiful and broken and that we’re part of something so much bigger than ourselves, but not so intensely that we lose the beauty, possibility, and invitation of that reality. We drink red wine slowly and roast vegetables and wild Pacific salmon in the oven. We deliver meals to friends who just had babies and we cry with friends who want babies and don’t have them. We paint and do our laundry and read and go for bike rides and we escape to the mountains and drink coffee by the ocean and we host dinner parties and we scream at the TV when our team is losing and even louder when they pull off the win. And, we pray slowly and honestly, not because we feel that have to, but because we need to and we want to and because it’s the safest and best place in the entire world.

Someday it will all be okay.

Someday the same God who never abandons us to the darkness and who even teaches us to dance in the rain will tear open the sky and make everything okay again. everything. 

But we're not there yet. And so we hold on tight. We start where we are. And we fight - not to prove ourselves or to hold it all together - but to keep choosing love, to keep choosing hope, and keep choosing each other. Step by step. Day by day. Moment by moment.

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October Update: #takeoctober

#takeoctober

Or, so runs the tag-line of every MLB team vying for control of the postseason. Despite the baseball fever that spread across Canada and the impressive and exciting run by our boys in blue, the Jays, however, only took part of October. But it was pretty incredible while it lasted. And there's always next year, right? 

October always feels a bit like being reaquainted with the slower and cozier rhythms of fall and winter: pulling jackets and scarves and boots out of our closets that we haven't worn since much earlier in the year, curling up by the fireplace with a book or to watch a movie, and crisp bike-rides and early morning runs where we have to get used to wearing layers again. But, as if to ease the transition, it also give us Thanksgiving, and - with the bulk of baseball's postseason, the start of soccer playoffs, the kick-off to hockey season, & this year the rugby World Cup - one of the best month of sports the year has to offer. 

This October was a bit different than anything "normal" for me, as I'm currently on a sabbatical-of-sorts and neither working nor in school right now. In so many ways, that space has been (and is) good and necessary and in so many others, incredibly difficult. But with the extra space and time it's given, it also included some unexpected surprises like moving into a new house with roommates I adore, a trip down to Northern California for some time with my Uncle, Aunt, cousins, and brother who live there, getting to visit (incredibly gorgeous!) Yosemite and drive out to Lake Tahoe, geek out about the lead-up to and results of the recent Canadian Federal Election, and to finish the month in Arizona where I'm currently enjoying summer 2.0 (read: sunshine and temperatures in the mid-twenties) and time with my oldest brother, sister-in-law, adorable nephews, and one of my best friends from university. 

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October was also the official kick-off to the races for Project Hope! Woohoo!

By necessity, we Vancouverites become quite accustomed to running in quite a wide-array of weather - especially rain - and the Granville Island Turkey Trot was certainly no exception. It was very wet. And yet it was still so much fun.  

It's hard to know how to explain how unspectacular the race was and yet how huge this one was too. Let say it like this: I crossed a finish line without pain. I finished a 10k that I ran the whole time and didn't have any injury pain during or after the race. And as simple as that seems: it's something that hasn't happened since I first got hurt: 7 years ago. There's something about that that holds more redemptive promise than I know how to express. There were a few points during the race where I almost teared up thinking about countless moments in the past few years where I wondered if I'd ever run without pain again or if the doctors' initial prognosis that I should "try to wrap my head around life without running" was actually going to be correct. 

My/our pace wasn't impressive. But maybe the best part of that is that that doesn't matter. In fact, I almost laughed when a friend asked me what time we ran the race in because I legitimately didn't know. The girl who used to be driven and consumed by athletic perfectionism and statistics and splits didn't even think to focus on the clock. Which sounds and feels a lot like growth and freedom to me, in ways that make me so beyond thankful for the ways God works in our hearts and minds and re-wires some of the ways we tend to chase our identity in all the wrong places. 

This race wasn't about competition and it wasn't about pace. It was the beginning of this crazy journey and it was a step forward. And, as my incredible friend Chandler (who ran the race with me) told me at the end: This was a win.

And this race - the first of 10 in the next year - quickly showed me that this is also about the people who are around me and with me as I do this. It was humbling and inspiring to run this race for my Aunt Tina and to think of and pray for her family as we ran. It was beyond exciting to get to run on my beautiful Mum's birthday and tell her - the person who's more closely than any other experienced the best moments in my running/athletic career and also been my biggest support in the roller-coaster of tears and frustration in the worst moments - that I finished. And, I can't imagine running this first race without Chandler by my side: a woman of passion and wisdom beyond her years, who makes me laugh and inspires me to live well and to give myself more grace than I ever think I deserve, who breathes and speaks encouragement like it's air, has impeccable taste in music, and is one of my go-to people to talk to about politics/social justice with. She danced and laughed with me as we warmed up, encouraged me every step of the way, & celebrated with me afterwards with a post-race brunch at one of my favourite hole-in-the-wall coffeeshops.

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This season is teaching me a lot about what it means to rest. And what it looks like to give myself space to breathe and recover and heal. I'm not particularly good at any of those things. In fact, I'm still much more comfortable with the familiar world of "hold-it-all-together", "do-as-much-as-you-possibly-can", and "just-keep-fighting" paradigm(s). 

Rest isn't easy. It's beautiful, but it's hard, because it's still so counter-cultural to embrace and acknowledge weakness and limitation. And in that, I'm slowly coming to see that Mary’s choice (in Luke 10) to rest and sit at the feet of the Saviour who wept rather than to keep busy working for the sake of working was not only the better choice, but also the much harder and braver choice.

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In Memory: Tina Geleynse-Aukema

“We have something we need to tell you guys,” my Dad told us as our family of six was gathering around the table for supper.

The words themselves weren’t that unusual, but there was something about his tone that night that caught our attention. He and mom went on to tell us that our Aunt Tina had been diagnosed with cancer and then gave us space to ask all of our questions, to cry with them, and to pray together. 

I was ten when she passed away. I don’t know what ten-year olds can process about terminal disease or death, but I remember seeing my super-hero, strongest-woman-I-know mom cry and that wasn’t a common thing. I remember seeing my tall, safe, and steady dad cry too and that was an even less common thing. Aunt Tina's daughters Anna and Karen are close to me in age, and at one point I remember asking my parents, does this mean that Anna and Karen might not have a mom forever?” and having my mom cry and pull me in for a long hug when she told me that, sadly, yes, this kind of sickness meant that they might lose their mom. The first memory I have of crying myself to sleep came that same evening because I couldn’t imagine - and never wanted to have to - a world without my mom and my heart hurt more than I knew how to handle thinking that my cousins might have to. When Aunt Tina did pass away and Mom flew out to Ontario for the funeral, I remember crawling into my Dad’s lap and talking with him about death and heaven and what everyone meant when they said that she wasn’t sick anymore and that we’d all see her again. Death was a distant and almost vague concept, but also now palpably real. 

For most of our family, Aunt Tina’s life ending at what felt like far-too-soon-a-date was the first taste of disease hitting home. Cancer became an irreversible part of our family’s story: my mom lost her big sister, my Opa and Oma buried one of their children, my Uncle John lost his wife and my cousins - at heartbreakingly young ages  - lost their mom. The Geleynse family with nine siblings now had eight siblings in every photo and that loss echoed and stung for a long while. 

She died in 2000. Which is already 15 years ago now. But, loss isn't something you can quickly balm or ever erase entirely. On looking back, my incredible cousin Karen also wrote this: “The experience of cancer, her death, the years following - how does one share about it? It left a lot of questions, but it also made us mature more quickly than others our age. It increased my capacity for grief and despair, but, I'm discovering, by the grace of God also my capacity for joy and hope. It's impossible to live through an experience like that and remain unchanged.”

[Left]Aunt Tina with daughter Karen as baby; [Top/Centre] Aunt Tina's grad photo from nursing school; [Bottom/Centre] Aukema family: Aunt Tina, Uncle John, Anna, Karen, Everett, & Robert; [Right] The three Geleynse sisters, from left to right: Aunt Ellie, Aunt Tina, and my mom, Anneke (Anna).

[Left]Aunt Tina with daughter Karen as baby; [Top/Centre] Aunt Tina's grad photo from nursing school; [Bottom/Centre] Aukema family: Aunt Tina, Uncle John, Anna, Karen, Everett, & Robert; [Right] The three Geleynse sisters, from left to right: Aunt Ellie, Aunt Tina, and my mom, Anneke (Anna).

Death changes us. For better or worse, loss marks us and changes us forever. And yet, I love that the beauty of lives lived well and fully echoes beyond any dates or details written in an obituary.

As much as Aunt Tina's death was the first loss for our family, hers was also the first deeply personal example that the people we are and the stories we live echo far beyond our time here.

I grew up hearing stories of Aunt Tina and became quite accustomed to moments in high school when my mom would remark, "sometimes you remind me so much of Tine!" - almost always in reference to my early-bird habits and when I'd already be well-into my day's to-do-list by 9am or off on another one of my solo outdoor adventures. Since she died when I was so young and I consequently never got to know Aunt Tina that well, I loved those comparisons. I loved hearing about her little blue Toyota pick-up, and I loved how dearly my mom, her siblings, and my Oma and Opa would speak of her. 

Memories are a complicated thing really: both in the scope of their beauty and their pain. They're bittersweet when accompanied with the sting of loss, but laced with an almost unexplainable glimpse of what made a person who they were and why having them in our lives mattered. We tell stories of who these people were because their lives mattered and we want their lives and personalities and influence to live on somehow. We carry and call to mind mental photographs of moments and smells and expressions in our minds, where time almost seems frozen somehow. 

Of her sister, my mom wrote this: "Tine (as she was called at home) was born in the Netherlands, the 4th child in a family of 9, and the middle of 3 girls. Being that I was only 3 years younger, we spent our childhood entangled in each other’s lives both as sisters and friends. I remember countless hours spent playing“house”, “school” or “hospital”, our dolls in turn being our children, students, or patients. Sharing a bedroom lent to multiple late night whispered conversations, giggling, and even singing in hushed tones together. It was also the trigger for some sibling fights, usually over how tidy (or not) I kept my side. Hers was always in order, with bed made, and everything organized and in its right place. She approached life that way: if there was something that had to be done, you just did it. She was an early riser, preferring to see sunrises over sunsets, and definitely a classic morning person. Her independent spirit, and love of adventure were apparent in her solo camping trips to wherever her little blue Toyota pickup would take her." 

Similarly, when writing about her mom, my cousin Karen, who was only ten when she lost her mom, wrote this: "Much of what I remember now comes from a combination of what I've heard from others, mixed with my own memories. I've heard I look a lot like her and am decisive and practical like she was. I'm also told she had an independent streak and would go camping alone before she got married." 

Across the board, however, the common themes that always emerged when our family would speak of Aunt Tina was her heart for those in need and what it was like just being around her. As Karen said it, "what made her her was how she interacted with others." She spent time volunteering with a disaster relief program with CRWRC and later pursued a career in nursing. She loved her work as a home-care nurse visiting people, but long after she was done working there she continued to visit people and make time for them. Bringing meals to neighbours or helping at the Lighthouse in downtown Toronto were integral to who she was, and what she felt was important. Between her smile that was constantly "comforting and inviting" and her "uncanny way of sending a card or letter to you exactly when you needed one," her life echoes with the compassion and selflessness with which she lived. 

[Left] Aunt Tina, [Right/Top]: Aukema Family: Anna, Robert, Aunt Tina, Everett, Uncle John, Karen, [Right/Bottom]: Karen, Anna, Aunt Tina, Robert, Everett. 

[Left] Aunt Tina, [Right/Top]: Aukema Family: Anna, Robert, Aunt Tina, Everett, Uncle John, Karen, [Right/Bottom]: Karen, Anna, Aunt Tina, Robert, Everett. 

"What I remember most [about my Mom] is what it felt like to be near her: snuggling beside her on the couch while she read us stories; sitting beside her in church playing with her ring during the sermon; or choosing to play in the kitchen so I could be near her while she prepared dinner. It was the sense of security, the sense of her love that drew me in. So that's what I miss about her too - her presence."

Aunt Tina's biggest dream was to be a wife and mother; to have a family and home of her own. So, when was diagnosed with cancer my mom told me that "she argued with God about the wisdom of giving her a loving husband and four little children, only to not let her see them grow up." But, despite the honesty and hurt, she never lost faith. "She had an authenticity and boldness in her relationship with her Lord that was noteworthy. During her journey with cancer and the associated chemo and radiation treatments, she constantly spoke of the source of her strength and comfort coming from the fact that her future was not dependent on her holding on to God, but rather Him holding firmly and faithfully onto her." 

So - here's to you, beautiful Aunt Tina. To all the ways you lived so well. To your adventurous spirit and compassionate heart, your love and care for your family, & your steady faith faith in the God who always.always.always. holds tightly to us - no matter what life brings our way. // 

Throughout Project Hope, I'll be running a race for each one of my family members that we've lost to cancer - 9 running races in total - and taking part in the Love Does Bike Tour in May 2016: to celebrate how crazy beautiful life is, to honour those that we’ve lost to cancer, to mark that cancer and death and injuries and sickness aren't the end of the story, & to support the incredible work of Restore International in Uganda, India, Nepal, Somalia, and Iraq. To find out more about the project: click here, and/or how you can get involved/support this goal: click here.

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on crashing waves & choosing rest

The ocean coastline that lines the northwest is different than the coastline anywhere else: an almost paradoxical mix of ocean calm and wild unpredictability. Most of our beaches are lined with as many dark grey pebbles and jagged rocks as they are with sand. And for the vast majority of the year, you’d be more comfortable in a sweatshirt, rain jacket, and gumboots than in a swimsuit and shorts. 

Yet, for all its ruggedness and moodiness, there’s something particularly peaceful about these colder shores. Something deeply and inherently calming about the early morning fog rising off the water, the sound of thunderous crashing waves, and the cold blue-grey hues that colour everything in this space. 

Before moving here, I didn’t know I could love the ocean as much as I now do. I certainly didn’t expect that I’d come to crave it and need it like I have. I didn’t know how this saltwater air would start to taste like home almost as much as crisp high-elevation mountain air does. I didn’t know how I would fall irreversibly in love with summertime and the months when these beaches are golden and warm, when these skies light up with fiery sunrise and sunsets, and how much I’d come to cherish and hold tightly to the long days and summer nights; just as I would come to love the freezing drizzling days by the water and deep fog that settles over these trees in fall and winter. And, I didn’t anticipate all the ways that my heart would come alive in a particular way in the spaces where the blue of the ocean meets the granite grey or black silhouetted mountain range(s) on the horizon or the expanse: the backdrop to so much laughter and life and the place that caught so many tears. 

This past week, I jumped on a ferry headed westward to a tiny coastal town on the east side of Vancouver Island. I needed to get away from Vancouver’s city streets. I was hungry for wilderness quiet, space to disconnect completely, and desperate for time with the Father. I needed space to process and pray and write and sleep and do nothing at all. I needed to escape.

I needed the ocean. The powerful, crashing waves and vastness of the ocean. 

This past year has been a whirlwind: a perfectly maddening and yet stunning hurricane. Where my own plans and efforts failed and almost systematically crumbled around me. Where weakness became my default and where I started to move past all my well-intended but misguided “superhero” efforts of having and holding it all together. 

I didn’t know that you could feel this tired. I didn’t know that my mind and my body and my heart could reach the point where they would simultaneously feel like they had so little to give. I didn’t know that I could feel so much like a ghost of myself. That I'd feel paralyzed by decisions and unclear of what to do or where to go. I didn’t know that you could cry so many tears and feel like you’re chasing a compass with a broken north. Exhaustion took the place of creativity and kicked vision to the curb. Dreams and passion felt distant and almost impossible to articulate, yet at the same time still so deep, real, and almost hauntingly alive.

I never thought I’d tell the story of a year when I walked away from the dream/goal that fuelled the past few years of schooling, became reacquainted with ongoing health issues, put grad school on hold indefinitely (with only my thesis left to write), quit my job without any back-up plan and no alternative income, and put in notice on my apartment before knowing where I’d move to next. I never thought that repeated failure and weakness and brokenness would start to feel like my normal.

And I certainly never expected that if that day would come, that I’d come to look at that space and story and be able to say - and actually believe - that it was/is one of the absolute best parts of my story. That this perfect storm of burn-out and weakness and sickness and grieving would become one of the very places I would be most thankful for. Where I’d cry so many tears because of how freaking hard it has been and is, but like wildflowers sprouting in a war-zone, those hard tears would lead to being continually blown-away by the beauty that - against all odds and in so many ways that seem utterly impossible - can sprout and grow out of such a difficult space. 

It’s hard to describe a space where your heart has felt like it’s been repeatedly bashed against the rocks and yet the very place where it has (consequently?) grown deeper and come more fully alive. It's hard to articulate how the best gifts are often the ones that you find after you dig through a heck of a lot of dirt and mud. Or how the most precious gems often emerge out of places full of a lot of brutal and unwanted pressure. 

Maybe it’s like the paradox of the northern coastline: Frigid and yet inviting. Rugged and yet comforting somehow. I never thought I'd come to love and need the ocean like I do. And I never thought I'd come to appreciate and recognize my need for this brokenness & weakness like I am starting to. 

I think there’s something about the love of God that we struggle to understand or embrace until we’ve walked through some kind of loss or death. Whether it’s the death of people we love or the death of our ideas about what life could or will or should look like. The death of dreams or the death of thinking that we can be strong and hold it all together. The loss of our health or the loss of our innocence and romanticism. All of it. When the messiness of life bubbles over or crashes into our false ideas of strength and resolve and we find ourselves a bit tired and weak and feeling hopeless. 

I don’t think the gospel mirroring a story about dead things coming to life and dry bones being given new life and wildflowers sprouting in deserts or dancing in torrential downpours mattered to me until I needed those pictures. Until I lived those pictures. Until I was sick and tired and broken and the only thing that mattered to me were the promises of a God who would and was making things new. All things new. Including my own broken heart and tired body and exhausted mind. 

This past week, as I walked slowly along a foggy and remote coastal beach and listened to the firework crackle of the crashing water pulling back over the shorelines rocks and tried to detangle all the thoughts and feelings raging in my mind and heart, I felt God so clearly remind me that there are multiple ways to look at every story. We can surrender to the places where things didn't unfold the way we hoped or even worked for. We can grumble and we can lose heart. Or we can look to Him and remember all the places where this life of following God looked like seeing possibility, hope, and redemption where it seemed impossible. Dry bones or an army? A barren womb or the mother of generations as vast as the stars in the sky? Giants too big or the promised land and the leading of a God who could overcome? A pile of temple ruins or an opportunity to rebuild more beautiful than ever before? 

On paper, this past year looks like failure after failure. In so many ways, that's true. On the surface, these decisions to step back and rest and wait for God to speak and lead look like complete (and possibly foolish) unknown. They might be. But in so many ways that don't even make sense to me, the small and major decisions I’ve started to make in the past year to say no to things and choose rest and slow down and more fully embrace the beauty of everyday and savour ordinary moments and step away from things and to start to construct healthier boundaries for myself are some of the decisions I’m the most proud of. The decisions that God's graciously given me the bravery to make. 

Because, it’s here: in more yes to rest and space and time and margin and spontaneity and more no to hustle and pressure and packed schedules and stress and achievement-driven-trying-to-prove-myself ambition, where I’ve learned and am learning what it actually means to love and be loved (by God and by the people around me). Where it's starting to go deep in me that love isn’t something you can or have to earn. That love doesn't run or hide when things get messy. That perfection is both impossible and entirely overrated. That this crazy love of God isn’t just the stunning remedy for social ills and issues, and isn’t just the hope of the nations and the hope of all the broken hearts around me, it’s (also) absolutely the foundation of love and hope to my own tired, broken, weak, and wandering heart. 

It’s been in this restless, weak, heart crashing against the rocks season where I’ve continually re-fallen in love with this Saviour who spoke of a Kingdom where weakness is strength, where foolishness in the world's eyes is true wisdom, and where it’s in dying that we truly find life. Where, even in the unknown and “what-the-heck-am-I-doing-here?!” my heart is more and more captivated by love of this Father who meets us and graciously lets us crash and run and rest and be a mess, without an ounce of condemnation. The same Father who sees all of our weakness and misguided efforts and still cares for us with compassion. This King who doesn’t demand anything of us, but invites us to make our homes - and ourselves fully at home - in His palace. Who knows us fully and still calls us His beloved. Who meets all of our unknown and hurt and frustration and brokenness with unrelenting love.

This love seems a lot like the vastness and power of the ocean: unpredictable and wild. So much bigger than we can imagine and so entirely enveloping. It crashes over us in waves that take our breath away at the same time that it teaches us how to breathe and shows us what it means to be fully alive. I never expected to need it like I do. I didn't anticipate that I would need to re-learn how to breathe and rest and heal before I could run again. I didn't think I'd need to take a step back like this. 

But here I am: wrapped up in one of the messy and difficult and maddening and yet stunning best parts of my story. Where this tired and restless and yet-still-passionate heart is continually blown-away by the reality that - against all odds and in so many ways that seem utterly impossible - he's doing something truly beautiful here. 

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Project Hope

In October of 2007, my Dad was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer, a diagnosis that took our family by surprise and rocked my then 17-year-old world. Cancer immediately became a deeply personal part of my story, but I had no idea at that point that it was just the beginning of how far this disease would reach in to my and my family’s lives: becoming almost heart-breakingly “normal.” 

We had lost my Aunt Tina to lung cancer in 2000, but hoped that the pain of that loss would be the “isolated” end of the journey. But, sadly that wasn’t/hasn’t been the case. My best friend in high school’s mom, Renaye - who was like a second mom to me during middle school and high school - was diagnosed with and passed away from stomach cancer in 2009 at the age of 49. And the rest followed almost like a tidal wave: We lost my Aunt Bonnie in December of 2010, my Grandma Oegema in December of 2011, Oma Geleynse in June 2012, my Uncle Rick in October 2012, my Dad in January 2013, my Grandpa Oegema in December 2013, and my Aunt Ellie in July 2015. 9 people. 

9 incredible people.

Needless to say, cancer and loss have changed us and broken our hearts and and marked us forever.

But that's not the end of the story. 

In high school, I was a competitive athlete: caught up in the world of soccer and track&field and cross-country. The world of sports was the world I knew and loved: I felt safe and alive there. Running was freedom for me - the place where I felt God most clearly and where I came most alive. My dreams and ambitions were wrapped entirely in those pursuits and as I was preparing for university, all I knew what that I wanted to “follow Jesus and run.” 

And then I got hurt. And watched my dreams and plans crumble around me as I sat in doctor’s offices and spent hours at physio and in rehab and became familiar with crutches and sports medicine surgery and being told that I may never run without pain again. 

But, that's not the end of the story. 

My passion is "social justice" - particularly related to marginalized & displaced people in post-conflict settings. I’ve walked the dirt streets of Cambodia and India. I’ve desperately prayed my way through red light districts in Thailand and Amsterdam. I’ve stood on the streets of great cities like London and New York City and my own city of Vancouver and been overwhelmed by the paradoxical juxtaposition of urban poverty against spaces of stunning architecture and wealth. I’ve stood on a hill in the West Bank and wept over the brokenness of Palestine and the tensions in Israel. I’ve spent the majority of my education deep in the world of international affairs, human rights, refugee studies, and studying about genocide and war and initiatives of peace and transitional justice. Much of my research rooted me in reports and policies surrounding systemic and structural discrimination, exploitation, and injustice and on more occasions than I can now count, I would walk away from my work in tears, completely disheartened and frustrated because it often just felt like too much and that no effective solutions could be found. 

But, that's not the end of the story either. 

There’s a funny thing about loss: as familiar as it may seem to become, it never gets any easier. The pain may start to feel like your new normal, but it’s still painful. The tears still fall and the ache still persists and there are still days when you wonder if your heart will ever fully recover or if you’ll always be broken or if the sun will ever shine as brightly again or if life will ever be able to be quite as beautiful as it seemed to before you became so aware of pain.

But, throughout the past few years, I've learned that the same story can be told a hundred different ways: as an epic or a tragedy or an unresolved and meandering mess. We can focus on the darkness and the shadows and the rain or we can trace the dance of the light, the warmth in the midst of the cold, the lanterns that illuminate the darkness, and the relentless rising of the sun.

My story doesn’t look like what I thought or even hoped years ago. My family’s story has unfolded in a way that we never expected and couldn’t have prepared for if we tried. Cancer. Loss. Injury. Sickness. My eyes being opened to injustice and completely broken by its reality. 

This is our story now. This is my story.

But, as much as mine is a story of loss and weakness, to me, it's far more a story of hope. A story where the exquisite faithfulness of God has been made deeply and tangibly personal. Where the mark of death isn’t the end or even the main point. Where cancer doesn’t win the day - not today and not ever. Where mourning has been and is being turned to dancing. A story of redemption unfolding in real time. A story of learning to walk - and even dance - in the rain. Of learning to savour and cherish life for all of the thousand tiny and major reasons everyday that it's so exquisitely beautiful and breathtaking.

And in the midst of my story, this is what I've come to believe about life: It's messy. It's hard. It's irrevocably broken. And yet it's so incredibly beautiful, full, and bubbling over with hope and goodness.

I believe that hope and despair are not mutually exclusive. That life is both bitter and sweet: a constant and overlapping mix of strength and weakness. I believe there is time to weep and to mourn. But there is also time to dance and to laugh and to celebrate the wonder and the whimsy and all the ways that life and love and peace sprout and grow, regardless of how hard the ground may seem or how much opposition seems to stand in the way. 

Because, maybe more than anything else, I believe that the light always shines brighter. That God is making all things new. That we're still capable of doing incredible good when we work together. That beauty always wins, that love always resounds louder, and that hope is never lost. 

And so, part of my story now is learning to fight back with hope. 

Enter Project Hope: Running nine races (ranging from 10K-marathon). Riding 800KM (500 miles) down the California Coast as part of the Love Does Bike tour. All with the goal of celebrating how crazy beautiful life is, honouring those that we've lost to cancer & raising funds to support the absolutely incredible work of Love Does in Uganda, India, Nepal, Somalia, and Iraq.

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This project is an idea that was born from the overlap of major themes in my story coming together in a shared place. This is part an anthem of "cancer hurts more than words can ever express but life is still really really beautiful." This is part injury recovery and choosing to keep celebrating what my body can do, and how it can move and live (and dance and ride and run) for the sake of others instead of primarily focusing on the where I am or have been limited and weak. And this is part a response to the passions that rage in my heart and choosing to do what can do to invest in human rights and education - an effort to chase and celebrate hope a world away, to say that even though the horizon often does look bleak, there's still so much good to champion and put our time and money and prayers and hands and feet towards. 

I want to fight back with wonder and adventure and the steady, proactive, & daring kind of love that changes things. I want to remember always that life is still crazy beautiful and that’s something worth fighting for. I want our experience with loss and pain to turn our hearts towards others and to inspire our feet to run quickly to come alongside in any way that we can.

Hope is never lost. Love Resounds louder.

 

 

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on travel, coming home, & living fully alive.

I sat across the table from a friend, a condensation lined cold-brew coffee cradled in my hands. My eyes settled on the horizon in the background, squinting as the sparkle of the late spring sunlight danced off the water and through the windows. Without even noticing it, I found myself completely lost in the moment and the view, which must have been obvious to my friend, because after a minute or so of my contemplative silence, she jumped in with a “okay, dreamer, what are you thinking?”

I laughed. Mainly, because anyone who knows me well (or really, even just a little…) knows that I’m a dreamer and visionary almost to a fault, often lost in a world of possibility and ideas and long-distance planning, and fueled by the potential of what can be. But, as I sat in that well-loved coffeeshop across from that dear friend, it hit me that my thought wasn’t of being somewhere else or in anyway consumed with what was coming next. My thought was that in that moment there simply wasn’t anywhere else I wanted to be. 

Just a few weeks before, I sat with a dear friend on a park bench in a quaint and historic British town on the outskirts of London, the last stop in a month of travel that took me from the dusty village roads and crowded urban streets of colourful India, the cobblestone streets of snowy Oslo, snowy alpine passes in Norway’s interior, and the sunny harbour of Bergen; to artsy Bristol, the bustling streets of London-town, and the history-rich architecture of Oxford. 

It was the kind of trip you plan and count-down to for months, an unusual combination of places, laced together because of the people in the places as much as(if not more than) the places themselves - and the budget-saving opportunities of extending and expanding international layovers. 

And it was incredible.

One of the hardest questions to answer is the one you always encounter on the edge of a trip like this, when people eagerly ask, “How was it?” I never know how to answer that. It was an adventure. It was wonderful. It was tiring and life-giving all at the same time. Aside from a flight delay-turned expensive flight change between India and Norway and a terrible migraine in India, it’d be hard to have four-weeks better. The combined diversity of the places. The depth of the - very different - flavours. The slow mornings and full days and late nights with dear friends. The collapsing into bed at the end of every day, tired and overwhelmed with gratitude for all the ways God showed up and wondering how the next day could possibly match the day I just lived, but waking up and finding the next day to be a splendid gift of equal value and adventure all its own. 

I stood on the shores of the Bay of Bengal, with a hot South Asian breeze flowing through my hair and sand between my toes. I danced in the rain with young students at an English primary school in the mountains of Andhra-Pradesh, got to preach about the hope and power of the resurrection (translated two times) in a remote Indian village, found myself completely captivated by the passion and hospitality of the Indian people, ate curry for breakfast, lunch, and supper, and in countless moments of having my camera to my face and the back-and-forth-take-a-picture-show-them-their-picture-and-laugh-together, with stunning children with sparkle and spunk in their eyes, remembered all the reasons I love photography and travel and the diversity of the world’s people. 

I walked in Oslo while April snow fell from the sky, arm-in-arm with one of my dearest friends as we explored Norway’s parliament and the Nobel Peace Centre, breathed deeply of the northern air and was reminded why mountains and snow and clear northern skies are my absolute favourite, drove in the rolling Scandinavian countryside and collected stunning purple flowers from the forest floor, ate smoked salmon by the harbour in Bergen, bought extra strong black liquorice every single time I went to the grocery store, watched game six of the Norwegian hockey finals in a local pub, walked all over the city and up its hills to catch the sunset over Norway’s west coast, drank lots of strong coffee and spent hours talking and laughing and dreaming and listening to music. 

I explored the (greater London-area of the) UK by train: meeting up with friends from Vancouver in Bristol and London and local friends in Guildford. I read about Banksy at a bookstore in his hometown, ate authentic English breakfast on back-to-back mornings, embraced the buzz of London town with three days of perfect sunshine, ate perfectly spicy tacos and Mexican hot chocolate along the River Thames, did a walking tour of the city of London, and took off to Oxford for a day where we geeked out about the history and architecture and the extensive collection of international development/human rights textbooks in the bookstore, ate gelato at the meadows by Christ Church Cathedral, and had drinks at Lewis and Tolkien’s go-to pub. And, as the perfect end to the trip and the best way to prepare for the new season that awaited me at home: I spent a gloriously relaxed and unstructured week in Guildford with two of my closest friends, watched films, drank cocktails, spent lots of time in prayer together, talked about music and life and marriage and finding joy in the midst of suffering, and was so lavishly blessed by my friends’ generosity and culinary creativity with every meal. 

It was a gift, in ways I can’t quite describe. I think travel and adventure always is, in the way it inspires us to lean in and live more intentionally, more fully almost. How it wakes us up from some of the ways we can so easily just go through the motions in our own lives. How it it opens our eyes to see new things and to see familiar things in a new way. How it teaches us to be awed and inspired by the ordinary. How it reminds us about all the ways we learn and re-learn that we are not what we do. And shows us just how life-giving it is to give ourselves spaces to rest and reset and dream and pray and worship and just be. 

And then I came home. And I teared up when I walked off the plane and was greeted at YVR with the familiar “welcome to Vancouver” sign - three words that have proven more comforting every time that I see them than I before knew they could be. Reminding me that one of the very best parts of leaving is the way coming back reminds you that home is beautiful in a different way than anywhere else can be. And that as beautiful as it is to explore and adventure and see new things, there’s something particularly profound about the places we live our ordinary, everyday lives - the places we sleep and buy our groceries and cook our meals and build community and go for walks and meet with friends for lunch or drinks after work and dream and pray and worship and do laundry and hike and live the vast expanse of the both the mundane and extra-ordinary moments of the human experience. There’s something about the streets of our own neighbourhoods and our regular coffeeshops and favourite restaurants and routine running routes and the messiness and familiarity of our offices and places of work. Something about the beauty and brokenness of our own cities. 

Credit the generosity of jet-lag, for the first few days home, I woke up early (even earlier than my usual) and walked down to the ocean to walk or bike along my favourite stretch of the sea-wall and take in the sunset over the familiar Coastal Mountains-meets-Pacific Ocean horizon. I watched the sun rise over the buildings and streets of this sleeping city and I teared up and freaked out a bit with all the ways God has a knack for wowing us with how creative and stunning He is if we’re willing to open our eyes to see it.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the quote (credited to St. Irenaeus) that says, “the glory of God is man fully alive.” Mulling over those words as I sat on the plane headed back west to BC, as I helped pack up the house where I grew up and the last place with memories of my Dad and cried on the trail where we'd mountain bike and beside the lake where I spent countless hours in high school, as I celebrate birthdays and engagements and weddings and babies with friends, as I wash the campfire-scented laundry from my camping trip with dear friends this past weekend, as I make tea and lounge around in my urban apartment, as I sit by the ocean and soak up this stunning early summer sun, as I pay bills and update my budget, as I walk to and from my downtown office and to meetings at coffeeshops, and as I lock myself in the library trying to find/force the focus I need to finish my thesis. 

And it's hitting me over and over that this ordinary, walking around life is the. most. incredible. gift. These tears. This pain. This beauty. This hurt. These dreams. This confusion. These responsibilities. These joys. This hope. This strength. This weakness. The full gamut of emotion and experience and wonder and frustration and faith and failure. All of it: the most. incredible. gift.

Because all of it is an invitation to know this God who hung the starts and yet cares about all the tiniest details of who we are. And invitation to enjoy Him forever. To live with no guilt in life and no fear in death. To rest in His unchanging character. To dive deep (and deeper still) into His heart. To taste and see that He’s good. To savour and celebrate all of the beauty and wonder and whimsy of a life fully embraced, not in the sense of selfish humanistic hedonism, but in the sense of living with open eyes, hearts ready to love boldly, feet ready to move, and arms ready to embrace all the beauty and challenges that life and breath have to offer us.

And maybe I’m starting to get it just a little bit more: the crazy gift of this ordinary, walking around life. These moments we mistakingly call “normal.” These spaces that become far-too-familiar. Maybe the most radical act of worship we can give is to truly engage and be here. right here. right now: with these faces, these streets, these views. these flavours. these sunsets & these sunrises.

Where being fully alive means a be-still-and-rest-because you-don’t-have-anything-to-prove and you-don’t-have-to-earn-love kind of living. A life that embraces the terrifying and yet freeing vulnerability of being willing to be seen and known and loved for who we truly are, not just the versions of us we try to perpetuate. The kind of living that tears down the insecurities and hesitations that hold us back from being the best versions of who we are.

A kind of living that is fully present and awake to our own hearts beating and breaking and the beating and breaking hearts all around us. A living that surrenders to the range of joy and laughter and pain and hope and sorrow and weeping that come with chasing dreams and stepping into difficult things and opening our hearts to give and receive love.

An all-in kind of living, where worship meets us in every moment, because we walk into every place knowing that Christ is in us and sustains us and leads us and is crazy in love with us and madly in love with every.single.person we ever lock eyes with. Where the simple things are the big things. And the “ordinary” things are the extraordinary things: A fully alive kind of living. 

A month away may have reminded me a bit more - in a thousand beautiful ways - of what that can look like, but this summertime sunshine dancing on these mountain peaks and city side-walks and these conversations with friends who are like family and all the ways that Jesus meets and wows us and sustains us and invites us to know Him deeper and more fully in the day-to-day is reminding that it's here too: right here. right now. 

And (right now) there's no where else I'd rather be. 

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on mountains, natural spaces, & worship.

This past weekend, a group of my friends and I headed up to Elfin Lake Trailhead in Garibaldi Park for an overnight hiking trip. Garibaldi Park is one of those expanses of wilderness you catch glimpses of in travel magazines and dream about in moments of poignant mountain wanderlust. Nestled in the coastal mountains and just a few hours up the Sea-to-sky Highway from Vancouver, it’s the kind of place where BC Tourism commercials are filmed, because these views stand amongst the best in the world. The kind of place that makes me fall in love with life and adventure and my home all over again.

It’s a thin space: a space where the gap between heaven and earth doesn’t feel quite so distant. Where beauty nourishes you and gives you strength. Where the presence of God is almost palpable. Where you’re so in awe of the panorama stretching across the sky, that you can hardly think of anything else.

I’ll admit: mountains have a particular hold on my heart. There’s something about the stillness and beauty of the alpine air and the rugged peaks that makes both the best and the worst parts of life better – more beautiful almost. If mountains had eyes or if they could tell stories, they could testify to some of the most meaningful and impactful moments in my story. For some people, the ocean has the same effect: they come alive most in the space where the water and the horizon are hardly distinguishable, where their feet are buried in the sand, and sun dances off the waves and across their skin. For some, it’s rivers rushing white and trees climbing far above their heads.

Many of us have those spaces. The spaces we come back to in our minds and we long to escape to when we need to be reminded that life, though difficult and messy, is still breathtakingly beautiful and so full of wonder and possibility.

In university, I took a course on how art has historically represented man’s relationship with the natural world. I buried myself in the words of Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, and Wendell Berry, spent hours pouring over the photography of Ansel Adams, and read Into the Wild for homework. (Translation: it was one of the most enjoyable classes I have ever taken.) Many of my classmates were the quirky dread-locked, vegan, rock-climbing, live-out-of-the-back-of-a-VW-van and snowboard-away-the-weekends kind of crowd, and together we made up a motley crew of kids searching for hope and meaning beyond the sprawl of consumerism and materialism.

And in that searching we looked primarily to the mountains and to the wilderness. Because, across the spectrum of religious and political opinion, there was a common belief: natural spaces matter.

I don’t know of very many people who would dispute that – especially in Vancouver. Few cities have as deeply an ingrained outdoor heartbeat and environmental ethic as Vancouver. People move here specifically for the access to the mountains and the ocean and the city. It’s the ultimate 3-for-1 West Coast package.

There’s really good news there: natural beauty is a safe and accessible space for our pluralistic society, because we tend to all agree that it’s both important and wonderful. It’s a part of shared humanity we can all get behind. And that shared space is both important and incredible.

Yet, as I stood looking out at the sun setting behind the coastal mountains this past weekend, I was reminded of so many conversations with my mountain-loving uni classmates where I would walk away saddened that to them, the view was the end of the story. The mountains made them feel alive. Nature made them happy. It even brought them a certain degree of peace and pushed them into something beyond the routines and rhythms of everyday life. But that was it. That was the end of the story.

As incredible as these views are, as breathtaking as these sunsets over snowy mountain ranges and pink-hued sunrises over the ocean are: they are only a glimpse of how beautiful and majestic and powerful God is.

But that isn’t the end of the story. If we settle for the shell of the beauty we’ve missed the best part of what creation is meant to show us. The wonder of nature speaks to something beyond ourselves and something necessary beyond the confines of our busy, industrialized lives, but it does so in such a way that fundamentally points us towards Christ. God could have created a purely functional space for us to live, but He instead filled this space with colour and texture and beauty and stillness and diversity.

Fundamentally, natural spaces matter because worship matters. Beauty matters because worship matters. In Psalm 18, David wrote that the heavens declare the glory of God and the very skies proclaim his goodness. In Psalm 148, all of creation joins together in praise. I love that. I love that creation itself testifies to the goodness and grandeur of God himself. That the stars join together in song because they can’t do anything less. And yet, this song is silent. Subtle even. The kind of song that doesn’t over-power, but invites you to lean in close. Where God isn’t invasive or harsh, but extends a compassionate and awe-inspiring invitation to taste and see that He is good. Where His invitation to us is one of wonder.

In his beat-poet style road-trip memoir, Through Painted Deserts: Light, God, and Beauty on the Open Road, Donald Miller wrote: “These mountains, which have seen untold sunrises, long to thunder praise but stand reverent, silent so that man’s weak praise should be given God’s attention.”

So that man’s weak praise should be given God’s attention.

Because, as incredible as these views are, as breathtaking as these sunsets over snowy mountain ranges and pink-hued sunrises over the ocean are: they are only a glimpse of how beautiful and majestic and powerful God is. The most stunning of all vistas pale in comparison to His grandeur. The most awe-inspiring panoramas are only a taste of His majesty. And in that abundance and wonder, creation exists to inspire praise and awe and wonder at how vast and glorious and powerful and good He is.

John Piper said it like this: “God means for us to be stunned and awed by his work of creation. But not for its own sake. He means for us always to look at his creation and say: If the work of his hands is so full of wisdom and power and grandeur and majesty and beauty, what must this God be like in himself!! These are but the backside of his glory seen through a glass darkly. What will it be to see the Creator himself! Not his works! Not even a billion galaxies will satisfy the human soul. God and God alone is the soul’s end.”

The mountains themselves may be silent, but in response to this immense beauty, our lips need not be.

[Originally posted at: St. Peter's Fireside]

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all the single ladies.

Confession: I have a secret wedding/love-themed Pinterest board.

Well, at least it was a secret. There’s no wedding on the horizon. I’m not in a relationship. And, the thing is, I don’t even love weddings that much. I just really really love love. I love love stories and I love the way that two people can become each other’s “person” and become a team that makes both stronger and better somehow. I love how marriage reflects the heart of Jesus like few other things do.

And so, alongside the collection of beautiful places around the world that I want to visit and ideas for interior design that I love, I have slowly amassed a board full of candid wedding and engagement photography and flowers and stunning white dresses. And, unlike my mountain obsession and self-curated collection of photojournalism and fashion inspiration, I’ve kept it hidden.

Mostly because I was embarrassed to be the stereotypical single girl with a wedding Pinterest board. But, also, because it’s often hard for me to admit, both to myself and to others, how deeply I want to be loved and to love in that context. How much I desire to be married. And how confusing and heartbreaking the tension between hoping for something I don’t have and living in the reality of it not being part of my story has sometimes felt.

Because, as much as that is an honest part of my life, it’s not (and will never be!) the main part of my life. As much as it’s a piece of my heart, it is not the thing that captivates my heart the most. I don’t love being single, but I do love my life. I haven’t particularly enjoyed the moments when I’ve felt really alone, but I certainly don’t want to trade away all the ways that God has been faithful and with me and exceedingly good in all of the places I’ve walked in this space of it being “just” me and Jesus.

And, admitting that I myself am part of the problem, I wrestle with how much we talk about this stuff, particularly within the church.

The problem of singleness in the church

I hate how trite and even toxic some of those conversations become. And the last thing I want to do is say or perpetuate anything that makes singleness sound like something to be pitied or marriage something to be idolized. In fact, for many of those reasons, I used to say I would never write a publicly posted blog about relationships or singleness. But you know what they say about saying never.

Because, the reality is: this is real and personal and deep and I have more conversations about this with women — both inside and outside of the church – than about anything else. There are few places where we struggle to trust the goodness of faithfulness of God and the truth of who we are in Him more than this area: sandwiched between trying to graciously and wisely acknowledge the good things that we want without shame, yet keeping our eyes always locked on Jesus and steadfast in our faith that He is completely worthy of all we are, and have, and hope to be – regardless of our status as girlfriend, wife, and/or mother.

We’re caught between competing messages from our culture and the church and the consequent convoluted feelings in our own hearts. Inundated on all sides with the messages of contemporary feminism that tell us to be fiercely independent and to not admit weakness or longing. Told that the institution of marriage is archaic and rooted in the injustice of patriarchy. Told that we can do whatever we want with our bodies and our desires, so why hold back at all?

And then the church. Where, for better or worse, we seem to have a bit of an obsession with pairing people up. Where the conversations about what it means to flourish and thrive as a woman of God rarely finds vernacular outside the confines of being a wife and a mum (which, for the record, are crazy beautiful and hugely important roles!). We throw around cliches and we try to wrap up the nuanced and deep-rooted feelings with neat and tidy bows. We try to force notions of one-dimensional contentment on legitimate (and good!) desires. We’re told to be patient, as if it was a task easily accomplished.

The lingering tension between the truth that marriage is a really beautiful, God-ordained, and God-honouring thing and the absence of that good thing in the lives of many men and women who have surrendered their lives and desires to Jesus is a really hard one to navigate. It’s a hard thing to live well. And it’s a hard thing to talk about well.

No empty promises

Here’s the deal: I know some absolutely amazing, beautiful, passionate, kind, interesting, and creative women love Jesus who are married. And I know some absolutely amazing, beautiful, passionate, kind, interesting, and creative women who love Jesus who are single.

The separation makes no sense to me. Actually, it baffles me.

And, often, in every well-intended effort to be encouraging and kind, we reference the “season” of being single or “waiting” for marriage only as a temporary space. Because we’re even told false platitudes like “Oh, don’t worry, you’ll find someone someday!” or “God has a great guy for you, the timing just isn’t right yet.”

Those things may be true. I so deeply hope they are true. I can’t even tell you how much I hope and pray that you get to trade your Beyonce single-ladies dance moves for the ring and the white dress and a life alongside the one you love. I so badly want to definitively tell you that someday you will get to hold a child of your own in your arms.

But, I can’t guarantee that for you. And I’m sitting in JJ Bean with tears falling down my face because I hate having to type that. And, even in all my own longing and hopeful romantic, yet pre-mature Pinterest dreaming, I certainly can’t guarantee that for myself either.

Jesus never promised us romantic love. He never promised that we’d have all of our desires met this side of eternity. God is an exceedingly good Father who delights in giving good gifts to His children, but it’s not ours to get to designate what those things are.

It’s ours – married or single or wherever we are in-between – to seek Christ. It is ours to rejoice in the reality of His salvation that brought us back to life. To love boldly. To worship passionately. To love our neighbour. And to surrender ourselves completely to Christ: Every hour and every day. The reality is that a life of following Jesus is difficult and beautiful and messy and complicated and still worth more than anything else. He alone is our exceedingly great reward.

But there is no guarantee that faithfulness to him will mean that you will fall in love with someone who loves him too and that you’ll build a life and family together. In fact, it very well may mean that you surrender those things for the sake of remaining fully faithful to Jesus.

It’s okay to want to be married

Can we just agree to be a bit more gracious with ourselves and with each other? It is okay to want to be married. In fact, that’s actually a good thing. The love of God is exceedingly better and more extravagant than the love that any other human can offer us, but it’s not the same. And, before creating Eve, God himself said that it wasn’t good for man to be alone. We were created for relationship and deep community.

And in the absence of something you want, it’s okay to wrestle with the disappointment and the hoping. It’s okay to be sad sometimes and it’s okay to be frustrated sometimes too. It’s okay to be honest with yourself and with other people and it’s okay to pour your heart out in complete honesty before God. The amount of time that God and I have spent in prayer and tears about this topic rivals that of any other. This goes deep in us and the best news is that we have a God who already knows our hearts completely and who loves us extravagantly.

To be content in God does not mean that we have to check our true emotions and thoughts and desires at the door. It actually means that we take all that we are and run hard towards Jesus and live with such a posture as to say, “I may not have all that I want, but in all my brokenness and wanting and weakness, I’m still all in. I choose to find my hope and home and purpose and rooting in You – no matter the circumstances.”

However, in wanting marriage – as with the desire we have for anything good – we need to guard against the thing we want and don’t-yet (or perhaps never will) have becoming the thing that we actually worship. If we desire marriage more than we desire Christ, we have constructed an idol that we need to repent of, dismantle, and surrender before Jesus.

Marriage is not a value-statement

If you hear anything in this, please hear this: Your relationship status has nothing to do with how worthy you are of love.

Your being single doesn’t mean you are any less worthy of love, any less important, or any less significant. You are more than your career or education (or lack thereof). You are more than your family (or lack thereof). And, you are more than the person or people who do (or do not) love you.

Jerry Maguire lied to us. Romantic love does not and will not complete you. You are not half of a whole without a spouse. You are already full and complete. One of my favourite authors, Shauna Niequist, says it this way: you are significant with or without a significant other. Marriage and romantic love is not – and will never be – a solution to the ache that exists in you for Christ himself and for the fullness and hope of eternity. Our hearts are restless until they find their true home and rest in God, not until we fall in love and assume the prefix of Mrs.

Fundamentally, marriage is not the goal: Christ is. For some of us, God will use marriage to point us to Christ and reveal some of God’s deeply personal love for us through the beauty and challenges of marriage. For some, God will use circumstances devoid of romantic love to point to Christ and reveal some of God’s deeply personal love for us through the beauty and challenges of being single. For many of us, God will use both. We each have different stories and circumstances and they constantly change throughout our lives, but the end goal is always the same: Fixing our eyes on Jesus.

Being single isn’t “just fine” or second best

One of my favourite movies is the 2005 romantic comedy, Hitch. It’s cheesy and endearing and hilarious and well, just wonderful. The amount of times I’ve watched that movie is almost embarrassing, but it remains one of my perpetual go-to choices.

There’s a pivotal moment in the love-story of Will Smith and Eva Mendes’ characters when Sarah Melas (Mendes), the guarded independent career-driven woman, says, “Maybe it’s like what you said. That we’ll each go our own ways and we’ll do just fine.” To which the smooth-talking Alex Hitchens (Smith) quickly responds: “What if fine isn’t good enough?”

And as much as that scene makes we want to cheer with its dramatic and romantic resolution, the sentiment is flawed: dangerously flawed. Because, even when it feels like we’re missing out on so many things that come with the partnership, friendship, and romance of marriage and perhaps spending more moments than we want to alone – your life is no less full or wonderful or important or significant if you are single.

I get it. I feel it too. There are a lot of moments when it feels like maybe singleness is missing out. That for whatever reason, we missed the mark for the “good” and we’re stuck living the “good enough.” That maybe – and worst of all – we’re even missing out on an expression of God’s heart. But that’s simply not true. Whether or not you are in a relationship or married or single and loving it or single and struggling with that reality: your life is full and beautiful and significant. Right here. Right now.

We need each other

Remember what I said about living in and talking about this tension being really hard? This is part of why we so badly need each other. Why we need to be open and honest and real with ourselves and with our communities. Why we need both single friends and married friends to walk with us. Why we need to hold each other up on the days that are particularly difficult. Why we need to be quick to listen and willing to sit in the in-between and unknown without trying to find answers or trying to fill the space with empty words. Why we need to celebrate together, not glossing over the hard places, but not letting the hard places diminish any of the beauty either.

And most of all, we need to be bold to remind each other of the gospel: that nothing – and that really means nothing – compares to the gift of knowing and being known by Jesus. We need to let the truth that we are already loved more deeply than language will ever articulate sink deep into all the broken spaces and the deepest dreams. On the days when I hate being single, I don’t need false hope: I just need the assurance of His love. Even if God doesn’t answer prayers the way we may hope that He will: He is still exceedingly good and abundantly generous to us. Even if our stories look different that we may want and even if some of our deepest dreams go unanswered: even then, He is still good.

// Originally posted at: http://www.stpetersfireside.org/2015/03/all-the-single-ladies/

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on plans, surrender, & embracing a life of interruption(s).

A few weeks ago, I found a list I wrote when I was 16 of all the things I had hoped and planned to do and see by the time I turned 25. I nearly died laughing at how optimistic, ambitious, and entirely unrealistic (translation: idealistic) my 16-year-old self was.

I had plans. I had dreams. I had goals. Some were big dreams and some were more tangible ones. Some, I held to tightly and worked really hard to see happen. Many happened. Some never did. And a few nearly broke my heart in the way that they fell apart. 

Read more at: http://www.stpetersfireside.org/2015/03/dont-trust-your-plans/

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on two years, the journey of suffering, & death defeated.

Today marks 2 years. 2 years since I walked out of that hospital room and collapsed in the ICU waiting area, numb and overwhelmed with the reality that he was gone. My Dad – once healthy and strong and so full of life – was gone.

The best news? Death doesn't win the day. Not then. Not now. Not ever.

"One of the most audacious things about the Christian faith is that when we put our full hope and complete trust in the life, death, resurrection and return of Jesus, we’re actually banking everything we believe and know on the unseen reality that death is not the end of the story.

We’re putting all of our hope in the reality that Jesus beat death. We’re staking a claim in the reality that what Christ has ultimately won for us in eternity by conquering death is actually way better than the cost of all of the struggles we face."

See more at: http://www.stpetersfireside.org/2015/01/death-defeated/

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on limping to the finish line, & the unforced rhythms of grace.

This fall.

It’s hard to know what to write because it’s been a complicated and overwhelming and yet somehow really beneficial space. Bottom line is that my ongoing attempt to balance as many things as possible and to carry everything reached it's end. Enter a few months of acknowledging the beginning of burn-out and slowly taking steps to combat it.

It’s been clumsy and messy. Moments of reprieve intermingled with hard-fought moments of focus and many other moments of resigning to the bone-tired exhaustion. I’ve felt weak and distracted and anxious. I’ve cried over my research and whilst driving and in grocery store parking lots because the notion of getting groceries felt like too much. [Insert wholehearted praise for the beauty of take-away sushi here.] Insomnia and I again became well acquainted. I almost quit my job. I nearly put school on hold and walked away for a bit.

There’s this really beautiful thing that happens when you realize you get to that place though: you have to make changes. No amount of self-motivated focus or vision or determination can sustain themselves indefinitely. You can’t hide forever behind your well-practiced “I can do this!” resolve. There’s a tipping point when the exhaustion wins out over any go.go.go. and do.do.do. mentalities and you just collapse.

In so many ways and in so many layers, I’m realizing more and more that this weakness is grace and this season is grace. Because God is here and he keeps pulling me close and reminding me of how desperately I need Him (every day and hour and moment) and how clearly and faithfully He’s never failed me.

And, really, that’s what life is, isn’t it? Fumbling and stumbling our way through beauty and struggle and growth and clinging tightly to grace. Life unfolds in the spaces of all the ups and downs and nuances of strength and emotion and beauty and pain and weakness and the whole gamut of those experiences show us that wisdom often isn’t found in trying to fix circumstances, but rather in learning to dance in the rain and celebrate the small things and make room for margin and rest. Wisdom is learning to cherish the weakness and hold tight to the Saviour who sustains us in the midst of it, and the ways He leads us and carries us when we make our homes in hope.

[I didn’t quit school. I cut back my hours at work (thanks to the graciousness of the team at my work) and I gave myself space to rest and to sleep a lot. I started drinking less coffee and more herbal tea and I went for more walks and discovered the beauty that is lavender essential oil. I’ve spent more time in prayer and and clung to worship with complete desperation. I made some other big and small decisions that will help shape both this season and the next few years. I’m surrounded by a core group of people who constantly humble me with their love and support and I’ve leaned hard on them. I feel like I’m limping to the end of the semester, but I’ll get there, one-shaky-step-at-a-time.]

I need to preach the Gospel to myself daily. I need the reality of my complete desperation to sink deep into my bones. And louder and deeper than any other message: I need to know that before I am anything else, I am loved.

I am loved.

Completely. Extravagantly. Without condition and for no reason except that my Father has rescued me and redeemed me and calls me His own. Right now. Right here. In the midst of this space and this hurt and these deep-rooted dreams and this exhaustion and this weakness. He knows my heart. He holds my heart. And He loves me.

Full stop. Drop the mic.

That’s it. I don’t have anything to prove. I don’t have to achieve or accomplish or make a tangible difference. I have the single task of seeking Him and glorying in His salvation and and fixing my eyes on Him and letting that love overflow in the way I go about loving others and doing the work I have before me. It’s like Henri Nouwen wrote, “I am convinced that I will only be able to truly love the world when I fully believe that I am loved far beyond its boundaries.”

I’m getting better at that. Clinging to love more and more. Limping and stumbling and crashing into that reality, but falling more and more in love with Jesus with the way He patiently catches me every.single.time. I’m slowly letting it wash over the ridiculous expectations I put on myself to accomplish and to carry things on my own and to contribute.

Because at the root of it, I ache and dream and work hard because I want to be a part of something that makes the world better somehow. To stand in the gap and against injustice. To illuminate beauty. To charge the darkness with light. I want the nations to proclaim His goodness. I want to see this city flood with light and I dream continually of the day it will shine even more with evidence of God’s work in this place. I want people in captivity to be set free. I want just laws to reign. I want relationships restored. I want refugees to be protected and welcomed and to find safe places to make their homes. I want the multi-cultural and multi-generational church to grow and to thrive and to pursue the upside-down Gospel in our post-Christian contexts with creativity and boldness. I want the Kingdom to reign with all of its life-altering beauty and steady power in all spheres and all places.

I want Zion. I want Him to tear open the skies and bring justice at last and restore everything that is broken and bring the perfect lasting peace that is impossible without Him.

And I feel it. The pressure and the burden. The ache and the longing. The tension between the person I am and the person I want to be. The gap between the here and the not yet. I love this city deeply and yet it breaks my heart. I’m pursuing all that I’m pursuing because I really do believe that it matters and can make a meaningful difference, but the work that it takes to get there is hard and difficult and often feels crippling.

At their best (in the proper context of fixing my eyes on Jesus first) these things act as motivation and vision that inspire me and keeps me going and keep me dreaming and leaning hard on Jesus. At their worst (when I try to carry the burden on my own), they cripple me and overwhelm me because I take on the worry and burden that was never mine to carry.

This season has exposed that I need to pick up the tent I’ve pitched in the latter and (re)make my home in the former. I need to realign the rhythms and boundaries of my schedule with Christ and a right theology of His love and redemptive power. I need to make rest a priority. I need to take a step back from my jam-packed schedule and well-intended, but over-committed balancing act and learn to live in the unforced rhythms of grace and the freedom of Christ in that space.

The world is not mine to save. And that’s really really good news. The pressure is off. There’s freedom here. Lives of meaning and impact require hard work and committed effort, yes, but they demand effort that is worked out over years and in sustainable rhythms, not in a unsustainable rotation of crash-and-burn. Perfection has never been something to aspire to nor something we are capable of attaining.

Wisdom would have been to build proactive rhythms of sustainable rest and not letting myself get to the point of burn-out in the first place. But, the thing about burn-out is that you tend to think it’s something that happens to other super-busy and over-committed people, but not you. I knew my schedule wasn’t sustainable, but I rationalized its intensity by saying it wasn’t for forever and I would recover and let myself rest later. Part of me just assumed this crazy rhythm was a necessary part of the student/grad school/mid-twenties experience. That I didn’t have an excuses to not be working as hard as was absolutely possible. That was foolishness. That was pride. That was a misunderstanding of what God calls us to do and to be. [Here’s to learning and growing through everything.]

The bottom line is this: I can do no good things apart from His presence in me. I can only love this city and my neighbourhood if that love comes as an overflow of Christ’s love in me. I can only think and engage in difficult questions well if that insight comes as an overflow of the Holy Spirit in me. I simply cannot run on empty.

There’s a song by Jon Thurlow (off his new “Walking Through the Night” EP) that I’ve been listening to over and over, called Never Dying Love. Part of the lyrics are: “I need something stronger than my resolve, something trials or floods cannot quench.” That’s exactly it. I need something deeper than passion, something stronger than resolve, something so absolutely beyond the limitations of human intellect and the failures of social systems. I need the transcendence that smashes through the hopelessness of the closed imminent frame. The enduring hope that illuminates the struggle and the waiting and the not yet.

I need the fiery seal of His love.

It’s sounds crazy, but this humbling and exhausting season that has continually exposed my weakness is captivating my heart with His love. In so many ways, that’s been the recurring theme over these past few years and in all the cracks and bruises within. It’s been crazy hard. In a steady and lingering pain and a darkness that almost feels like it may never fully lift. But, It’s been beautiful in a way I’ll never be able to convey or articulate. I’ve never been so captivated by my Jesus or by the way He pulls us close and sustains us and I just keep falling more in love with Him.

And that’s the mind-blowing and joy-lined space that makes this season such a gift too. Because in the tension, His strength is made perfect in my weakness. In my failings, He still speaks vision and plants big dreams and asks us to love extravagantly and hope steadily and trust unswervingly. He still asks us to pray with confidence and to boldly approach Him. He still asks us to live and to enter into the mess of humanity, but in such a way that we lean on Him and not our own strength.

He speaks life and sustains. And He writes His love on our hearts.

This fall has been clinging to the crazy and stunning promise of Isaiah 35:

Wilderness and desert will sing joyously, the badlands will celebrate and flowers. Like the crocus in spring, bursting into blossom, a symphony of song and colour. God’s resplendent glory, fully on display. God awesome, God majestic. Energize the limp hands, strengthen the rubbery knees. Tell fearful souls, “Courage! Take heart! God is here, right here, on his way to put things right And redress all wrongs. He’s on his way! He’ll save you!” Blind eyes will be opened, deaf ears unstopped, lame men and women will leap like deer, the voiceless break into song. Springs of water will burst out in the wilderness, streams flow in the desert. Hot sands will become a cool oasis, thirsty ground a splashing fountain. Even lowly jackals will have water to drink, and barren grasslands flourish richly. They’ll sing as they make their way home to Zion, unfading halos of joy encircling their heads,Welcomed home with gifts of joy and gladness, as all sorrows and sighs scurry into the night.

Resplendent glory.
Singing en route to Home in Zion.
Healing.
New life in barren places.
Joy and gladness.


Talk about a promise.

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on parliament, prayer, & the pursuit of justice.

Writing about one of my heroes, Mr. William Wilberforce.

"When we read about heroes of the faith, it is easy to see their accomplishments and to notice a linear progression of what was written about their life. So often this plays out like a highlight reel and fails to acknowledge that most – if not all – stories of meaningful faith unfold in the space of the ordinary. Lives of faith that left an impact are comprised of thousands of ordinary, and often difficult moments sustained by God that together pave the way for something worth remembering..."

Continue reading at: www.stpetersfireside.org/2014/10/parliament-prayer-pursuit-justice/

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on the LSAT, ambition, & redefining success.

"Our society tells us that our value is often commensurate with what we can do. With what we accomplish. Our ambition-driven culture has little regard for stillness and great accolades for success, so we try to do much and to do much well. This world of high standards and high pressure is so familiar to so many of us. Stillness and surrender? Choosing grace over perfection? Ain’t nobody got time for that. Surely we have places to go and good things to do and money to make and people to help and degrees to acquire and promotions to earn…”

Read more at: http://www.stpetersfireside.org/2014/10/lsat-getting-ambition-straight/

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on the passing of time & making something beautiful out of the brokenness.

The passing of time is a funny thing.

In so many ways comforting and in others like a treadmill that’s set at a pace a little too fast for comfort. The seasons come and go: the summer sun has set, the leaves have started to change, and soon fresh snow will cover the peaks in the distance.

The change is welcome. Necessary even. The first walk with crunchy leaves underfoot and the first day the snow falls from the sky like glitter are still two of my most favourite moments the year has to offer. I cherish the rhythms of the seasons and the way I still get all sorts of giddy and excited when I get to pull boots and toques from their summer storage. And how when spring and summer come again next year, I’ll be again savouring every glimpse of sunshine and warmth and longer nights. There’s an ebb and flow that reflects in the spaces and rhythms of our lives: a cycle that’s familiar and comforting somehow.

I promised myself last year that I’d always celebrate today - that I’d do something to mark this day just as I would have if he was here. I can’t call him. And I can’t skype. And I can’t mail him a silly card. And he was never one for days that focused their attention on him. But his life is something worth remembering. Something worth celebrating.

Someday. I’ll bake apple pie on this day and tell my kids funny stories about him and they may roll their eyes, but I’ll keep telling them nonetheless. I’ll point to pictures and tell them all that I can remember about this man who so tangibly shaped and influenced my life and I’ll cry because they’ll never know him and he’ll never read them stories and they’ll never know what it feels like to get a big strong hug from his tall, lanky frame or get to hear his laugh. I’ll watch Joe Sakic highlights and I’ll pick up one of the books that used to be on his shelf and I’ll flip through the pages and read all his notes and I’ll chuckle about how excited he always got about theology.

Today. I let myself sleep in and went for a walk in the rain and came home and and made a pot of tea (or 3) and put on the playlist I’ve listened to thousands of times in the space since he’s been gone. I pulled out pictures and I laughed and I cried and I wished that I could somehow transport myself back to countless campfire conversations or mountain hikes or nights watching hockey or kitchen table conversations where we’d dream and plan together and just hear his voice and his laugh and hear him call me Lider or hear him pray or make a corny joke. one.more.time.

This grieving thing, it’s a puzzling space. One moment overwhelmed with sadness. Another overcome with anger with how much I hate cancer and pain and loss. Some moments marked by intense gratitude and laughter. Others where life is so full and beautiful and I almost forget that he’s gone or that things are different now. And a lot of moments that mix and overlap across those spaces. Some days I can tell the story of how he died and it just blows me away with how near God was and how tangibly the grave holds no victory. Some days I can tell the stories of who he was and they’re not marked by pain or the loss, they’re just marked by how crazy thankful I am that he was ours for the time we had with him. And, sometimes I still cry myself to sleep and cling desperately to God’s promises to heal us and carry us and I wonder if this will ever not hurt.

He would have been 56 today. 56. A number that makes me cringe because everything about it feels too soon. too. freakin’. soon.

I’m keenly aware of how much this space has changed me and grown me and yet I also know how much I still hate it. It’s here where I’ve learned (a bit more at least) how to give myself grace for the process and for the pain and to let myself be weak. It’s here where God has expanded my understanding of compassion and opened my eyes to wounds in myself and in others I likely would have previously overlooked.

And yet I so often just wish all of it would just go away or that I could be stronger or that I could somehow turn off all these feelings. Brokenness and surrender are sexy catchphrases in the church, but in reality they’re pretty brutal.

Sometimes I wonder why we endeavour to step into brokenness at all.

Sometimes I want to embrace the survival mechanism of comfort and apathy and I want to close my eyes and my heart to the way that all of creation groans that things are broken and in desperate need of renewal and restoration and hope. I want to stop feeling so much. And I want to turn my brain off.

Build a life that seeks justice in places where it is lost? Creatively and proactively seek out ways to care for the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed? Share my life with honestly and vulnerability and generosity? Follow this Jesus who asks us to live according to this Kingdom that asks us to give up our lives? No thank you. Lest I just turn into a weepy mess over here and buckle under the pressure.

Because sometimes, I don’t think I can handle the weight of it.
Scratch that. I know I can’t handle the weight of it.

Cancer. War. Loss. Corruption. Sickness. Poverty. Brokenness. Hurt.

It’s too much. too. much.

And then I take a step back - eyes swollen with tears - from of the birthday that would have been today, from how much cancer has stolen from us (and from too many dear friends of mine for whom this is also reality) and how death leaves you feeling a bit helpless in its aftermath.

And I take a step away from the systemic brokenness I study about and care (perhaps too much) about and (perhaps foolishly or idealistically) have chosen to build a career around and the pressure to do or say something - anything - meaningful in that space.

I take a step back and remember the seasons.

I remember the way that the sun always sets against these gorgeous mountain peaks and rises again against the horizon of the stunning Pacific Ocean. The way that the rising sun whispers boldly of his faithfulness and the morning shines as a promise that his mercy never runs dry. The way that the crisp air makes you pause and breathe deeply in the same space that it makes you shiver and want to run inside to warmth. The way that you sometimes wonder if winter will ever end - but it always does. The way that you can’t imagine a life without someone and yet, as moments turn into days and days turn into weeks and weeks turn into years, you find yourself living one - and it’s still beautiful. still really really beautiful.

And in the space of the tears and the pain and the nearly crippling feelings of inadequacy and weakness, I hear the promise of the God who has never left us. The God who never will. The One who goes before us. The One who weaves redemption and healing and renewal in tiny and miraculous ways and who never asks us to carry the weight of that on our own shoulders, but just says, Come to me. My yoke is easy and My burden is light.

The One who whispers that He is the one who will fight for us - we need only be still.

We need only be still.

Today: in the space of all my tears for what we’ve lost, I’m really really humbled by how far we’ve come. Of how I’ve so often just feel like a scared little girl nearly paralyzed with pain and fear, but a little girl with the best Father who keeps taking my hand and leading me forward with the encouragement of taking it just one step at a time and the promise that He’s not going anywhere in the process. A Father who has let me stop and let me rest and let me run and let me fall and let me cry and let me be angry and let me wrestle and who has carried me and never left me alone in any piece of it.

And how - somehow - in that space, despite all odds, we’ve covered a lot of ground.

I’m just really blown away with the Saviour who steps into the mess of our stories and the most painful parts of our lives and speaks of His sustaining presence and the enduring promise of hope. How I’m more in love with my Jesus than I have even been before, not because following him rescues us from the struggle, but because He walks with us through it. How He’s a God who can take all of our questions and our hurt and our anger.

He does heal and He does lead, but rarely do either look like the way we expect them to. He does sustain and He does speak. Hope does not disappoint and justice is attainable, but both most often unfold in the slow and subversive spaces of of quiet and faithful lives committed to both. Joy does resound louder and beauty does shine brighter - always.

This process of learning and walking in this space takes more bravery and courage than I expected. More bravery and courage than I thought I had. More bravery and courage than I do have on my own.

But, maybe that’s the whole point.

Because one shaky or strong step at a time, we cling to Jesus and we keep going. We keep dreaming. We keep choosing love. We keep giving ourselves grace to cry and to mourn. We throw our nets into the ocean even when we’ve been fishing all night and we’ve caught nothing. We keep building our homes in hope. We take risks and we fail.

And slowly - amidst the pain and the brokenness and the failures and the successes and the best moments and the worst moments and all the moments that overlap in between - we just might find that we’re building something beautiful here. Something that our hands couldn’t build on our own - something only He could build.

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