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.