Thursday, November 4, 2010

optimism or hope?

Thanks to my Masters courses and recent personal experiences, I've been reflecting a lot lately on the idea of hardship and suffering. I think that when you have some pretty tough stuff thrown at you, it's natural to start to think about the why's and how's and what-if's a lot more often than you do when everything is smooth sailing. Throughout the past few weeks, I've finally been able to admit how hard it is for me to let myself experience my brokenness. There's this little voice inside me that says I should have it all together, especially now that I'm in this position of learning how to professionally counsel hurting people. That if I expect to be a strong force in this world, an advocate for the broken, a ray of light in a dark room, I should have my shit together. (Translation: be perfect.) Right? No, not right. Not right at all. When I listen to that voice, all it does for me is remind of how much I'm failing to attain this impossible standard, fuels the pressure to somehow live up to it, and denies the rawness of my experience. And I think I'm finally at the end of my quickly fraying rope trying to do that.

My gut tells me that when it really comes down to it, all I want is wholeness. This isn't crazy or unrealistic or some fantastic pipe dream. This is actually what God intended for us when He made us in His perfect image, and obviously we're not living in that place. We're broken, we're affected by the hurtful actions of others, and heck, we're trying our best to make do and even rise above it all. But it doesn't somehow make us immune to pain. We're broken people in a beautiful world held hostage by sin. I'm really drawn to the story of Job these days -- especially the part when Job loses everything good in his life and rather than hiding his feelings about it, shouts out to God and tells him just what he thinks about this bunk. I love even more the part when God listens and loves him and gives everything back -- and more. God knows He's God. He has no reason to be insecure when we question or doubt Him, and I absolutely love that He's OK with our honesty. In fact, I think He loves it.

And the funny thing is, when I've opened myself up to honesty, both to God and to myself, I feel this wave of hope come over me. Because I've freed myself from trying to be optimistic and "spiritual" and only half-truthful with myself, and instead chosen to see the promise of God alive in my story. So I'm going to let myself wade around in this for a while, giving myself permission to be human and recognizing that to feel the mess is to live. But I'm also going to remember to hope. Because Jesus has already bought my freedom and victory. And while I may not see it in its fullness this side of heaven, I will see it one day. That's hope.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


If you read the title of this post, you've just read the name of our new dog! Jasper is a big old bumbling mess of legs and slobber, but it's amazing how much we already love him.

Back in August, David contacted a Weimaraner rescue society to inquire about any dogs that were in need of adoption. At the time, there weren't any, so we kind of put the idea out of our minds. Well, I did at least. (I'm learning that the secret inner life of my husband is actually quite active, and when his wheels get turning, there's no stopping him!) A few weeks ago, to our surprise, the woman from the rescue society emailed to tell us there was a four-year old male in need of a new home, as his owner was recently diagnosed with lupus and was unable to take care of him anymore. She said that because of the urgent nature of the situation, if we wanted him, we'd have to take him the next day. I panicked -- we weren't ready for a dog! We hadn't even asked our landlord for permission. Plus, I just couldn't commit to a dog being dropped off at our doorstep in twelve hours. Reluctantly, we said we couldn't take him that soon, so the woman told us she was sending him to a kennel a couple of hours away until the breeder was back from her holiday. (Apparently it's protocol to return your dog back to its breeder if you're unable to care for it.) It would be our responsibility to chat with the breeder later and discuss whether or not this was going to work for all of us.

About two weeks passed and we still hadn't heard from the breeder. To be honest, I sort of figured it wouldn't work out, maybe partly because of my apprehension (or pessimism) toward getting a dog. Then last week, I arrived home after class to a very happy husband who told me that the dog was ours and all we needed to do was drive out to the breeder to pick him up! As much as I hesitated on the inside, the excitement on David's face was just too adorable for me to fight this... After all, I did tell him months ago that I'd let him get a dog if we ended up moving to Winnipeg. ;) So, off to the country we went.

And now we have member number three of the McKay family, Jasper the Weimaraner. It's been both fun and frustrating getting used to this new transition in our life. He's a great dog -- so sweet and friendly and honestly just wants your lovin' ALL the time. He's trained already, which is a serious bonus when you're a new dog-owner, and apart from this weird thing he does when he's excited where he "smiles" (aka. shows his teeth and chomps at the air), he's actually the perfect dog. He definitely challenges my need for space, though, because when I get home and all he wants to do is play and be rubbed, I have to really step outside myself to give him that nurturing. Crazy that a dog can teach you a lesson about selflessness, huh? But he does. And I foresee him continuing to teach me that lesson over and over again during the next few years he's with us.

The neatest part of this whole story is that Jasper has been David's dream dog for a long time, but one we always knew we wouldn't be able to afford or be willing to fork out the money for, for that matter (these dogs cost at least $800!). And here we are, freely given this amazingly sweet, purebred Weimaraner. God is gracious, even in the small things.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


I came across a gorgeous site that offers the cutest free blog backgrounds and I just couldn't help myself. It felt a little bit like blogger heaven, to be honest. (Does that sentence make me a nerd? Probably.) So, what do you think? Sometimes it's nice to spruce things up a bit, and I think my life could use a little colour these days.

So here's to a new design and hopefully the start of a new season!

Thursday, September 9, 2010


So it's official: I am the worst blogger ever. We've been in Winnipeg for almost six weeks now, and believe me when I say there has been plenty to write about, but you know that paralyzed feeling you get when everything seems to happen at once and you just don't quite know how to process it all? That's been me.

OK, here's my moment of truth: It seems that ever since we set foot on prairie soil, nothing much has gone according to what we hoped for or expected. It's been one long month of rejection, frustration, second-guessing, and disappointment. Getting here was already a stretch for our emotional and spiritual muscles, but after believing everything would work out as soon as we took the leap and instead, watched it all fall apart, well, that was just too much. A lot of tears, a lot of doubt, and a whole lot of missing home was the stuff August was made of. We assumed we'd find a place to live within a couple of weeks at most, but after applying to several apartments and being told we didn't qualify, we started to feel pretty discouraged. We also assumed that the job David had lined up with a local church would be the place where he was meant to serve, but after a pretty horrible and hurtful experience, we found out otherwise, and again, more discouragement. We took a few good hard hits this month, my friends, and to be honest, we're still reeling from the whole thing.

So all this to say, it's been one hell of a month! It's been uncomfortable and unsettling and frustrating and so not what we planned, but thank God He's giving me perspective and the chance to just step back from it all, take a deep breath, and see His goodness. Because this is the good I see:

When no one would accept us as tenants, my best friend's dad (God bless his soul), bought us a house so we could rent from him instead. You heard me. The man bought us a house. When we thought we'd be spending the next two years in a cramped and smelly apartment, we now have our very own cozy little home with a backyard and a sundeck and a garage and a mailbox. My friend's dad saw a need he knew he could fill, and he filled it. God's goodness.

When we had nowhere to live for four whole weeks, these same parents welcomed us into their home, fed us their food, included us at family dinners and at the family cabin, not at all expecting we'd be there as long as we were but making sure we knew we were welcome. God's goodness.

When we were discouraged and missing home and desperately needing community, my best friend Heather and her husband made us brunch, listened over coffee, showed us the city, and welcomed us into their own friendships. God's goodness.

I can't lie and say that I haven't questioned God's purpose in all of this. I've definitely had it out with Him and wondered why this has to be so hard, so impossibly and annoyingly hard, why we didn't just choose to stay home where things were safe and familiar and maybe stagnant, but comfortable. But then I remember this prayer I've prayed for most of my adult life, the one that goes something like this: "God, do something deep in my life. Take me places that aren't ordinary or easy for easy's sake. I want to know you more." And then I think, well, what did I expect?

The truth is, while I don't want to be obsessed with comfort and familiarity, I probably am. I tell God I want an unordinary life, but when the unordinary happens, I'm angry and I feel jilted. Of course it's human, and I can't expect much more of myself (ah, the classic struggle of the perfectionist!), but I can make the effort to see beyond the circumstance. That I can do.

In other news, yesterday was my first official day at grad school. Can you believe it? There's another example of God's goodness! It was good and slightly overwhelming but at some point during my fifth hour of theology class, it hit me. I'm doing this. I'm actually seeing the dream come to fruition, and it's good! That in itself makes the pain of the past few weeks worth it - almost...

Monday, July 26, 2010

an ode to my husband

I've often told my husband he's my hero. Like the knight who swoops in and lifts his lady off the ground in a rush of surprise, wonder and excitement, so he did with me over three years ago when we met. I didn't expect him, but there he was. Chock full of all that goodness and love and faithfulness I've come to admire so much.

Heroes are usually the guys that rescue cats from tall trees or run into the middle of oncoming traffic to save a little girl from being hit by a car. They're the people that do these extreme, life-saving (and life-giving) things. They're remembered for all of time because they leave a legacy of self-sacrifice, bravery and a commitment to others. Who's to say, though, that these acts of selflessness have to be so dramatic, so grandiose?

Everyday, I get to wake up next to a man who works hard to provide for our little family. He packs me a lunch for work, making sure to ask me if today's a fruit bar or granola bar day. He humours me when I text him while he's working, sometimes even sending me cute little self-portraits so I remember how much I'm loved. He brings me dinner when I'm at work and sits with me while I complain about crazy hotel guests. He listens to my rants, my dreams, my concerns, my hopes for the future. He makes sure he's on the edge of the sidewalk closest to traffic when we're taking a walk. He massages my neck when I'm sore, even though I know it's not one of his favourite things to do. He changes the duvet cover because it frustrates me to do it myself, and makes us both laugh from our bellies when he grabs me and traps me inside of it. When I'm sick, he takes good care of me. When I'm sad, he lets me cry all over his shirt, and when I laugh, he's right there cracking up with me (and, let's be honest, sometimes at me). He believes in me, sometimes even more than I believe in myself, and he loves me in spite of my weaknesses. He accepts who I am, flaws and all, and he's intentional about being a good spouse. He said goodbye to his home so we could pursue our dreams in a city he's never even seen, and hasn't looked back. He's committed to Jesus, to us, and to His dreams for us.

This man, my friends, is as gold as they come, and without this heart beating next to me, I wouldn't know half of what I now understand of God's incredible, fierce and faithful love.

He leaves a mark on my life every single day and that's why I call him my hero. The past two years have been real and messy and beautiful and amazing, and not a day has gone by where I don't thank the good Lord for this gift I've been given. So to you, my handsome man, Happy Anniversary and thank you for loving me. Your kindness and compassion and faithfulness blow me away.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

the countdown is on...

It's been a long while since I've sat down to write for this 'lil blog of mine. Almost two months, actually, and that is truly a sad thing. Sad because I've had about a bajillion things on my mind that could've used some blog therapy to help process, and yet, a bajillion things is a pretty big and dangerous number to try and narrow down. At any rate, here I am. Back at the old drawing board, and quite honestly, I have nothing profound or insightful to say other than this sneeze of a sentence:

In exactly one week from today, D and I are packing up our life and moving halfway across the country to Winnipeg.

Although this move has been a long time coming (I started requesting materials about grad schools a year ago), the anticipation of that "far-off life-changing thing" has finally arrived at the crossroads called "Do" or "Die". I'd be lying if I said I haven't thought about changing my mind over the past couple of weeks. I've had my doubts, which I think comes with grieving the loss of something, but ultimately I'm trying to remember the reason we decided to go and that can be encapsulated in this: we're pursuing the dreams God has placed in our hearts.

And that leads me to something a friend said to me the other day. She said that sometimes when we're taking a big leap and doing something that will really change us, the letting-go-and-getting-there process is that much harder. I thought this was interesting because I'd never really thought about it like that. I've just always thought it was about me feeling sad to leave my home, my community, my beach, my family, my life, which is definitely a part of it -- not necessarily that my heart has been readying itself for something monumental. Which is kind of silly that I wouldn't think that, seeing that normally my mind (and heart) are mostly always overactive and self-reflective! So I think I actually really like what my friend said. It makes sense to me.

The next few days are going to be full and I intend to make them good and rich, like a fabulously decadent dessert after a good meal. There are still logistics to take care of and boxes of junk to sort through (any takers? no?), but that's all secondary to the fact that I get to spend some good quality time with the people I love in the place I love.

When I left for BC six years ago, I knew somewhere deep down that I'd be there for good. The wandering soul in me couldn't explain it at the time, but now that I've truly found home, it makes sense. It makes sense that my heart is grieving saying goodbye. It makes sense that I teeter between excitement and nausea. It makes sense that the unknown scares me and makes me want to stay where things are familiar. But at one time, this place was the unknown, and look where it's taken me. Full circle, baby.

So here's to changes of the good-for-you variety, and squeezing the juice out of life, and embracing the doors that have been opened to you, and trusting in the goodness and faithfulness of God. The journey continues, and what a journey it will be!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

delete the pain?

I read something yesterday that surprised me out of my daily humdrum and spoke volumes to me about the human condition. While researching Scientology, I discovered a therapy-like process Scientologists participate in called auditing. Its goal is to "restore beingness and ability", thereby providing a "precise path by which any individual may walk an exact route to higher states of spiritual awareness." Fair enough. Many of us want spiritual awareness, regardless of which religion or faith we associate with. But here's the thing that really jolted me:

"Auditing, then, deletes those things that were added to the reactive mind through life's painful experiences and addresses and improves one's ability to confront and handle the factors in his life."

Did I read that correctly? It deletes those things that were added to the reactive mind through life's painful experiences. Just like that, and all the pain I've been through and all the ways in which I've been hurt are simply erased. And isn't that what everyone wants? To be rid of the pain and discomfort we experience in our imperfect and messy lives? To feel nothing but happiness, contentment, peace and fulfillment? Sure we do. It's only natural.

But what really bothers me about this statement is the fact that we really do believe that in order to live a rich and satisfying life, we must delete the pain. After all, so many of us have experienced it ruthlessly, unjustly, and its after-shock is still writhing around in our lives, wreaking havoc and leaving broken relationships in its wake. We never feel stable or secure, we're anxious, distrusting, sad and lonely. Old wounds (and new ones) have ways of seeping into the cracks of our heart like nothing else can. So I don't condemn this sentiment or judge anyone who has felt it -- in fact, there are specific times in my life I remember crying out to God and begging Him to just take this pain away, take it away please...I'm no different than anyone else.

Yet what exactly are we doing when we're asking this question? We're desperate for our hurt to go away because we don't like imperfection. We don't like to feel uncomfortable or sad or angry or alone. And again, that is normal, especially when we've been deliberately and deeply wounded or mistreated. But when we deny ourselves of the experiences that we've had, the pieces that make up the puzzle that is our life, we only miss out on the richness that could be. In essence, we deny who we are. It would be so much easier, we think, to have someone press some cosmic "delete" button, our feelings the pain has caused evaporating as though it never happened. But the reality is it has happened. We have been hurt and wounded, we have felt sadness and brokenness, and the secret is, we'll be OK. We don't need anyone to erase our pain because, believe it or not, pain is a part of our story. It's sometimes the very thing that carries us into who we're meant to be and the part we're meant to play in this world.

So embrace the pain, but don't glorify it, because pain is never the end of the story. With God, there is always the light of redemption at the end of the tunnel, a newness to be discovered, a healing to be restored. We are made for and capable of so much more than the simplistic and disengaged task of merely pressing the delete key, and subduing ourselves in the process. We're created to experience life and life abundantly, and what could be more abundant and victorious than that final trudge out of the desert into the Eden that's teeming with life?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

good enough

I saw a video on youtube a few weeks ago and I can't get it out of my head. Take a look:

Brilliant, isn't it? And heartbreaking. A little uncomfortable too, maybe. I've been wanting to write about my reaction to this video for weeks, and yet each time I tried to corral my thoughts and feelings about it, I came up short. The concept of beauty pressure in our culture is so pervading and yet somewhat blurry, because a person can sit on either side of the ever-swinging pendulum. Some women (and I know men deal with these issues, too, but since I'm female, I'll speak to that crowd) are obsessed with their appearance: weight, calorie-intake, exercise, and diets. Yet others seem untouched by society's pressure to measure up to its standard and seem genuinely happy with how they look. I think at various points in my life, I have related to both sides -- in particularly content times, I've felt confident about my body. In uncertain times, I've felt more insecure and disapproving of the way I look. I'd almost bet on the fact we've all been there at one time or another.

But the issue that really struck a chord for me while watching this video was this: the root of all the insecurity, all the obsession over the way we look to others, the self-inflicted pain and feelings of inadequacy we experience in relation to our bodies, is fueled by a standard. And where did we learn about this standard? In the media. Magazines, billboards, music, TV, film, you name it, they've claimed it. Obviously the media isn't responsible for our response, but it certainly perpetuates that standard (that ridiculous, unrealistic standard) and bombards our lives daily.

For me, the most tragic part of all this is the fact that it gets to you when you're young and still so unaware about the standard. (The little girl in the video is a case in point.) I remember watching an episode of Oprah a couple of years ago where she interviewed a 7-year old girl who claimed she was "too fat" and "needed" to go on a diet. Seriously? How did this first-grader even know that she had the option of being too thin or too fat? Where did she learn it? Perhaps from Mom, whether intentional or not, but that idea originally stems from the culture she is surrounded and informed by. I have two little sisters, one eight years old and the other fifteen, and my heart breaks for them when I think about the messages they're hearing when they watch TV and listen to music. I pray that they realize and know the Source of their beauty and that it doesn't depend on an image or size or weight.

I think God is vying for my attention here. Perhaps for all of us who struggle to make peace with our bodies. I know it sounds overused and cliche, but sometimes the things that are most often said are the things that most need to be heard: we are beautiful, no matter what. Our genes are our genes, and we have the freedom and ability to treat our bodies with the care, love, and healthy attention it so deserves. We don't have to buy into what the beauty industry tells us -- the one that tries to make us feel any less a woman if we don't fit the mold. The mold, by the way, that was completely fabricated by people trying to sell clothes, beauty products, and an image. Let's remember this first for ourselves, as strong and healthy women, and then for our daughters, biological or not. We owe it to them to model acceptance, health, and a genuine love for who we are and how we were created. Choose whose voice you want to listen to, and let it be the One who loves and accepts you just as you are. I honestly think the world would be a different place if we believed and lived in this truth.

"Your kingdom come, Your will be done..."

Thursday, March 25, 2010


I said something tonight to my husband that made him respond with this:

"Wow, I don't think I've ever heard anyone say that before."

Let me elaborate. Today has been a fairly emotional day for me and when I get emotional, I often get introspective, and for me, introspection often begets epiphanies, and epiphanies beget statements that surprise. So tonight, out of (seemingly) nowhere, I said:

"The thing is, I'm just really tired of myself."

Has anyone ever felt this way? Perhaps I should elaborate a little more. Lately, there has been a lot going on in my life. I resigned from my job two short weeks ago, tomorrow being my last day, and despite the circumstances that led me to this place, I'm still sad. And painfully dreading saying goodbye to the 20 children I've laboured over for the past 10 months. I've been spending the past few months thinking about, wrestling with, processing, and finally coming to terms with a big move across the country so I can go to grad school and finally get the Masters degree I've been dreaming about for years. I've watched my husband struggle through a job he isn't passionate about, and tried to keep him afloat while still trying to keep my head up out of the water. I've been inside my head a lot in the past year and a half, maybe even more -- and while I do believe that there has been purpose in that, I guess I'm just tired. Tired of being so self-focused. Tired of feeling like my life, my calling, my issues, are at the epicenter of the plight of humankind.

As an aspiring counsellor, I'll be the first to admit that there's an important place for self-reflection. The psychology geeks (me! me!) call it self-actualization -- the process of realizing your full potential by working out who you are, who you're meant to be, and what you're meant to do in the world. And I'm a firm believer in this. Everyone needs to know who they are, what they're made of, and what they're made for. This is the stuff rich and fulfilled lives are made of. Without that focused time, I certainly wouldn't be the person I am now, and Lord knows where I'd be. The only problem I can see in this, though, is the potential to get stuck. And this is part I want to stress, because this is where I feel I am. I remember a time when I would wake up in the morning and ask God to let His love flow out of me and onto others I encountered. I spent my time, not just focusing on my education or work or hobbies, but on conversations that meant something to eternity, deliberately stepping outside my comfort zone to grow in faith, writing cards with encouraging and loving words and giving them to my friends. All small and everyday things, really. But things that last.

So here I am, today, reflecting on that time, not wanting to relive the past but maybe just be reminded of it and how satisfied I was when I lived like that. And of course, to give myself a little grace, knowing that the last 2 years have been chock-full of changes and transitions and that maybe it actually is OK to be normal. But do I want to stay here? No way. I want to move on, move beyond myself, move toward the Light that continues to glow and burn in the face of my self-importance and lack of perspective. I want to know a purpose that's bigger than me. I want to sow into others the way God has sown into me. Even though life's circumstances seem to change as fast as a candle flickers, I want to find contentment and joy in it because my Foundation is immoveable and that, I won't grow tired of.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

you're blessed

I'm taking a little break in my series to put forth some some words I was deeply encouraged by this morning.

They're from the book of Matthew, written in Eugene Peterson's fantastic style called The Message. This is his version of the Beautitudes and it's Jesus speaking:

"You're blessed when you're at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and His rule.
You're blessed when you feel you've lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
You're blessed when you're content with just who you are -- no more, no less. That's the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can't be bought.
You're blessed when you've worked up a good appetite for God. He's food and drink in the best meal you'll ever eat.
You're blessed when you care. At the moment of being 'care-full', you find yourselves cared for.
You're blessed when you get your inside world -- your mind and heart -- put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
You're blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That's when you discover who you really are, and your place in God's family.
You're blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God's kingdom."

These are words I needed to hear, to let penetrate the deep and abandoned little crevices of my mind and my heart. I've been exhausted and worn down, both physically and emotionally, and when I imagine Jesus sitting here next to me, gently telling me about who I am and who I am to be, I am refreshed. He wants to bless me, despite my fairweather-friend tendencies? He wants to teach me a way to live my life that is so counter-cultural, so unimaginably impossible if left to my own devices, and then empower me to actually do it? I'm in.

Monday, March 1, 2010


One of my favourite places to serve in Chicago was Casa Central. This organization was a social service program for the Hispanic people of Chicago. From parenting seminars to ESL classes for new immigrants to daycare, this agency filled a hugely significant need in the community. One of the most special programs was the 'summer school' they offered to elementary school-aged children.

I had the absolute pleasure of serving one week at Casa Central. We played games, led crafts, danced and sang, ate, and adventured with the kids there. And these kids were completely lovely -- fun, passionate, spirited, and boisterous. They were inner-city kids with attitude, and I loved it.

There was a particular group of little girls I noticed right away. Four little spitfires, all of whom, I eventually learned, had unique and beautiful personalities. I instantly wanted to be their friend.
I remember it taking me a while to get "in" with them, though. Picture it: the somewhat reserved, fair-skinned blonde girl in a sea of lively olive-skinned, raven-haired Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Mexicans... I asked if I could join them in their game of Chinese jumprope, and when I didn't quite perform up to par, oh, I heard about it! The ring leader of this little group, Alex, wasn't shy about letting me know how awful I was at her game. To be honest, I sort of felt like I was transported back to grade four and had just been mocked by the pretty, popular girl. Strange, but true. So I decided to man up, show them that I was, in fact, cool, and kick some Chinese jumprope ass!

And I did! I impressed them so much that they welcomed me into their posse. Alex was still a little apprehensive about me, but for whatever reason, I decided in that moment that she was my favourite. (Or did God decide that for me?)

The days passed and we had great fun together. I had managed to get to know these little girls; I asked them questions about their families and homes and the things they liked to do for fun, cuddled with them, giggled with them, and fell in love. They were exceptional. But my heart truly yearned for Alex -- the nine-year old girl with a fortress built around her heart. I just couldn't seem to connect with her like I did with the other girls, and yet strangely, she was the one I most wanted to love. Then, out of nowhere, during a post-lunch quiet time, God intervened.

The kids were all lying on their little mats scattered across the classroom floor, and I could see that some of the CSM youth were beside them, rubbing their backs and quietly whispering. I inched closer to Alex, who at this point still hadn't so much as smiled at me, and asked her if I could rub her back. I was surprised when she said yes. So there I sat, cross-legged and silent, while Alex lay on her side, her back facing me, and I rubbed her back. I started to ask her questions about her family and what her house was like. She was suddenly very honest and soft. She told me about them, about her parents and her brother, about the rat problem in her house and how she was afraid to open the oven because the last time she did, she found a family of dead rats inside. Alex said she never wanted to grow up and become an adult. I asked her why. She told me, in the most innocent yet worldly way, that adults worry all the time. They worry about paying the bills, worry about not having enough money, and worry that the police will show up at the house again. If someone were to take a photograph of Alex's perception of life, this was it. Anxiety. Poverty. Violence. Unrest.

I nearly cried when I heard such big ideas come from such a little girl. She was only nine, and it broke my heart that she already knew so much of the hardships of life. I immediately realized how blessed and gracious my childhood had been, especially in contrast to Alex's, and felt it unfair and confusing that she had to live like this. No child should ever dread growing up for these reasons. No child should have to live in the overflow of her parents' stress and anxiety. And when it really comes down to it, no child should ever have to be the victim of injustice.

These are the thoughts that stir in me when I think about Alex. I am so grateful for that small window of clarity and openness with her, because not only did I get to catch a small glimpse of her world, but I saw a piece of her heart. And consequently, the heart of so many children in the inner-city. We love until we break down walls, we love until injustice falls.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


I met Quintrell when I spent some time at a women and children's homeless shelter in Blood Alley, Chicago. The name definitely did the place justice -- it was a small, dark (in more ways than one) avenue off a larger, busy street in Uptown. Until recently, there weren't even street lights in the Alley, hence its namesake. Gang-related crime was a staple in this small neighbourhood, and these children, raised by single mothers, were frequent witnesses to fights, shootings, and other violence.
My group and I were at the shelter to help serve the evening meal. We chopped vegetables, set tables, washed floors, and wrangled the kids in for dinner. As my group was cleaning up after the food was served, I noticed a boy -- maybe around seven or eight years old -- who seemed to possess a rare calm and peaceful demeanor that stood out to me in the midst of the noise and chaos. I approached him and asked him his name.

"Quintrell," he said, quietly.

"That's a great name," I told him, smiling inside at the discovery of yet another interesting and unique "Chicago" name.

He smiled at me and seemed to be OK with my being there, which was notable in itself. You see, the kids who lived at this shelter were living right in the middle of a high-stress environment. Their mothers were single, unable to provide for their children, pushed out onto the street and eventually welcomed into the shelter. They were squeezed, seventy or eighty at a time, into a large room crowded with bunk beds and mattresses plopped on the floor, where Mom slept with sometimes three or four of her kids in one bed with the others sharing the top bunk. They were herded downstairs to the main hall for meals, where they lined up to receive a spoonful of something on their plate. And when it was playtime, the kids were led to a small rooftop playground where they could let out at least some of their energy.
My intention certainly isn't to diminish the value of this place -- God bless JPUSA for being a presence in Blood Alley -- but could you imagine growing up there?

So Quintrell, a kid I expected to be aggressive, loud, distrusting, violent even, like many of the other children I encountered at the shelter, was the polar opposite. His eyes were dim, but kind. He was subdued in contrast to the other kids, but not completely beaten down. He trusted me enough to let me sit with him. He seemed to carry a sense of "knowing", almost as if to say, "This place is hell, but I've got a light." He intrigued me because he was so different, like a wild flower growing in the desert. So we chatted a bit longer. I asked him what he liked to do for fun, how many brothers and sisters he had (eight!), and what he wanted to be when he grew up. He asked if I wanted to see his room, and when I said yes, his face lit up. He led me across the Alley, to the shelter's extension on the other side of the street, and there, up a few flights of stairs, down some long and dark corridors, I saw the place Quintrell called home. Yet another large room, littered with clothes, beds, moms, babies. It was nothing extraordinary for the eyes -- but he was proud.

We wandered back to the staircase and sat down, talking a bit longer, until I heard a loud and mighty shriek come from who-knows-where. "QUIN-TRELL!! Get ova' here, boy!"

"That's my Momma," Quintrell said, unaffected. I was still reeling from the sheer magnitude of that Momma's vocal projection when he stood up, looked at me for the last time with those kind, knowing eyes, and said, "I better go."
I told Quintrell I had fun hanging out with him and that I would be praying for him. And then he was gone.

I sat on those stairs for a while longer, thinking about the interaction. In a time when injustice and a sense of hopelessness tended to get the best of me, I had been blessed by a little boy who seemed to rise above it all. I found myself mourning Quintrell's future before it even had a chance to happen, imagining him dropping out of out school, joining a gang, maybe even being killed. I know this sounds horribly cynical, but these were the statistics and sadly, the reality so many African-American kids in Chicago faced and continue to face today. Yet I recalled the light in his eyes, the peace he somehow, against-all-odds, carried with him, and I said a prayer for Quintrell, that God would keep him and preserve him and carry him into freedom.

Quintrell, wherever you are, I hope you're there.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

a new series...

Many of you may not know this, but back in 2003 I worked for an organization called Center for Student Missions (CSM). Our purpose was to facilitate three- to seven-day missions trips for junior high, high school, and college students in the inner-city. My job as "City Host" was to welcome, orientate, guide, and debrief my group's experience in the city -- essentially, we were the bridge between the groups and the ministries with whom we served. We worked in soup kitchens, homeless shelters, after-school and summer daycamp programs, food banks, churches, and other parachurch ministries. We led prayer tours the night of the group's arrival to introduce them to some of the issues the city faces. We took our groups to a different ethnic restaurant every night so they could experience the rich and diverse culture of the inner-city. We even dedicated an entire night to walking through the city with nothing but a dollar to experience the reality of a runaway or homeless person trying to make it on the streets. And we led debriefing sessions at the end of each day, often witnessing the shock, the admissions of ignorance and guilt, the pain, and the disgust our groups felt as they saw and processed the harsh reality of poverty in their own backyard.
During the first five months of my time with CSM, I lived with a former Hell's Angel and his wife in a little brick house on Queen Street East in Toronto. I worked mostly at the homeless shelter down the street, a food bank, and at our office a block away. Just before our busy summer season hit, the directors of the organization visited from California and asked if my co-worker and I would be interested in hosting at the Chicago base for a couple of months. I gladly said yes, and my experience there was completely unique from the previous months spent in Toronto. There, in the Windy City, I worked almost strictly with children -- homeless, fatherless, displaced, and broken kids. Chicago had a completely different flavour than Toronto, and to be honest, I loved it most. I loved the challenge (although painfully hard at times), meeting new people, being uncomfortable, learning new things, and serving serving serving.

The truth is, I fell in love with the inner-city that year. I learned SO much, especially being the 20-year old prairie girl that I was. My eyes were opened to a world I never knew existed; to poverty, injustice, and serving (and even more, seeing) Jesus in the dirty, messy ways I had never before experienced. My heart started to break in ways that were new to me, and I think that was the year I truly realized that the world was a lot bigger than me and that following Jesus was going to cost me something.

For the past six years, I've intended to write about my experiences with CSM. I've found little tidbits in random notebooks and journals here and there, but overall, I've been very unfaithful to that desire. Two nights ago, as I lay in bed telling David a story from that time in my life, my eyes filled with tears and I remembered how much I loved that adventure. I remembered the kids I met in the projects and how much they affected me. I remembered the passion I had to right the wrongs in the world. I remembered that in so many ways, I've forgotten the needs of the broken and poor and have gotten a little too comfortable in my safe little suburb.

For the next little while, I'm going to be sharing some stories of the people I met during my time in Toronto and Chicago. I'm calling it "In the Shadows" because I think that's where these people are often found and why they are overlooked. Or perhaps where we keep them.

But they are so beautiful, if only we'd take the time to see them and know them.

*check out to get a taste of what this organization is all about. despite the debate on short-term missions, they do incredible work and i whole-heartedly support their vision. if you've got any questions, feel free to ask me.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

redeem the day

Today I had a painfully hard conversation. The burden of anticipating this conversation has been weighing heavy on me for a very long time, and I went into it nervous, uncertain of what to expect, and yet somehow still confident in God's unbelievably generous presence.
I can't exactly say that I feel completely released from the anxiety I've felt, now that it's all over -- I suppose I was secretly expecting the world to suddenly be made right after one conversation. But the reality is, life is hard sometimes and brings you circumstances that force you to make a choice about who you want to be. Regardless of how people view you or what they think or how the situation turns out. I'm learning to be me in all aspects of my life, whether I'm understood, accepted, validated or not. And I've gotta say, it's damn hard sometimes.

But isn't it like God to encourage and validate us, nevertheless? He did that this afternoon through one of the kindergarteners I work with. We were driving in the car, both kids in the backseat, when the little guy pulled out a book that was lying on the seat next to him. I think it's an old commentary on the book of Habakkuk (don't ask me how it got there). He began to read it, all matter-of-fact-and-professor-like, and this is what he said:

"Molly Jones* and Rachel Parker* and Lucas Cooper* and Alisha 'Kay, we have all entered into God's life...God is powerful and He is reading our life."

Yup. That's what he actually said. A five-year old who, to my understanding, has no extrinsic knowledge about the good Lord above. I don't know about you, but I was floored when I heard those words come from his tiny (yet often remarkably loud) mouth. Tears pooled in my eyes and I suddenly realized that Jesus was speaking to me through this little boy, reminding me that we are in Him and He in us. So interconnected it's impossible for our feeble, earth-bound minds to understand. When life is hard and complicated and unjust, we are invited to walk with Him, and when we fight for answers, for rest, for peace and comfort, He knows our story and writes us right through it.

So yes, today was a hard day, but I'm comforted by the fact that He is with me, and sometimes, that just has to be enough.

*names changed to protect the kidlets' confidentiality :)

Friday, January 29, 2010

here we go...

So here's the thing about this blog. A few months ago, I realized that one of my dearest passions, writing, was something that was severely lacking in my life. I had spent almost five years in school writing research papers, writing reports, writing notes, writing case studies...A LOT of writing. And despite my busyness, I was consistently inspired to write for pleasure. So I wrote short stories and poems and cards and journalled regularly. God was moving powerfully, subtly, gracefully, in my life and the way I responded, often, was through words on paper.

School ended, life changed in dramatic ways (engagement, marriage, wifehood, full-time job), and my writing fell to the wayside. In many ways, I was just too exhausted and overwhelmed to process my feelings and experiences on paper, so I let them be. Sometimes at night while I lay in bed trying to sleep, I thought about what I would write if I were to actually attempt the grand undertaking. But most often, that's where it would end.

Then the idea of a blog came to mind. I used to think that blogs were weird. I mean, how important do we think we are that we create our own little public journal, post it for all the world to see, and actually expect that people pay attention to it? This was my thought-process, and to be totally honest, a part of me still feels this way. But what I discovered, mostly through reading friends' blogs, was that this is a pretty great outlet for creativity. Not to mention the countless times I've been inspired, challenged, amused, and encouraged by following these people's written journeys.

So I started to think that maybe, just maybe, a blog is the very thing I needed to harness all those thoughts, ponderings, questions, wrestlings, and creativity rustling around in my head. Maybe a blog could provide some motivation to write and keep writing. And maybe it could secretly be that thing that keeps me accountable to this little love of mine. If people read it, great! I would hope they'd be inspired/challenged/amused/encouraged just as I have been. And if they don't read it, great! I'll be writing and that's my purpose here. (Although everytime I address you "readers" in my posts, I suppose I'll be addressing no one but myself -- ha!)

So there it is, folks. Welcome to my blog. I'm discovering more and more each day that life is an unpredictable journey; nothing we can formulate, plan entirely, control exclusively, or simply wish-upon-a-star for. God is the Author of our story, and as someone wise once wrote, He invites us to be co-authors with Him. So why not step out on a limb and write right along with Him? Literally and figuratively. If I can do it, anyone can.