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Merry Christmas Chaos

It is Christmas Eve.

I am sitting in a cafe a block away from my fiance's church, where he is now prepping three (count 'em, THREE) Christmas Eve services. I will attend two - the first, where he is preaching, and the late one, after which we will drive out of the city and all the way to his childhood home. In the meantime, I'm going back to our new home to pack for the holidays with our families, wrap gifts for his family, and maybe unpack another box of my things.

For the first time in 2.5 months, I feel like I can breathe without panic seeping in. For the first time in over 3 months, I feel a strong urge to write a little blog post. And for the first time in almost 4 months, I really truly believe that I'm getting married on Sunday.

It has been a bizarre and often difficult fall. Our collective goal has been to just make it til Christmas. And now it is Christmas. And we made it. And the last of the Big Things fell into place this morning, literally under the wire.

Critical White Studies - Sign Me Up

I think the time has come for white men and women to reflect critically and honestly on how their whiteness makes them different. How their whiteness accords them privilege and access to resources that they withhold from those who are "not their kind." How their whiteness has been made the unacknowledged norm of what it means to be human. How their whiteness has brought hardship and misery to millions.

- Asian-American theologian Gayle Yee.
Mea culpa.


I try to avoid being publicly political, but the past few weeks have been beyond outrageous when it comes to race relations, crime, and oppression of non-caucasians.

I didn't feel like I had much of anything to add to the conversation, as a caucasian Canadian female - we need to hear voices from within marginalized communities. At the same time, silence leaves me seated on the side of the oppressors, the majority who are not aware of the roles we often complicitly play in maintaining the unhealthy status-quos. A place I do …

Difficult Days & Difficult Conversations

Folks.

This semester has been a bit unreal. I know we talk a lot about whirlwinds and busyness and time flying by, but this has been a new height of chaos for me.

Maybe chaos isn't the right word.

Stress and fullness and struggle. There have been a lot of those things.

There have also been a lot of good things - laughter and someone to hold me when I cry and learning new ways to be.

So that's good.


There are two huge-life-things in process these days: a condo purchase and a wedding. They require a lot of energy, have near-unending details, and are gateways to goodness. So I'm hoping I come out alive on the other side.

(I'm mostly kidding.)


But here's something exciting I want to tell you all about! A book that is quite literally changing my life. It's called Difficult Conversations.

If you're anything like me (that is, human), there are difficult conversations in your life that you either actively avoid or brashly plow through.

This book is one of the most …

Hello, I've Missed You

Folks.

I didn't realize, until after I posted the link on FB, and got all your kind notes and likes in return, just how much I'd been holding back from blogging. I wasn't ready to talk about this relationship, but I also didn't know how to not talk about it. So I said nothing.

And now the floodgates have opened.

Not that everything I blog about from here on out will be relationship-stuff (I certainly hope that isn't the case, and probably won't let it happen), but now that I'm not concerned about that particular piece, I can talk about anything I LIKE, again.

Like my friend Jared, who wrote a book. It is coming out in the spring from Tyndale Publishing, and he told me earlier this week that his thank-you to me in the acknowledgements is probably his favourite, and then he laughed, which makes me nervous but also excited. I can't believe my name is in the acknowledgements of a real-live-soon-to-be-published book! Next step, take part in writing a real-li…

An Unexpected Wedding Blitz

Weddings.

Wedding wedding wedding weddings.

Weddings are on my mind.

Can I tell you why?

At the start of October, I was the "unofficiant" at my cousin's wedding. I had the immense honour of performing the ceremony (but not signing the paperwork) for a delightful relative and her equally fantastic groom. The whole weekend was wonderful. I loved celebrating with family. I even made my parents dance! (an unprecendented event.)

Then I turned Thanksgiving into a five-day Vancouver getaway, thanks to the wedding of a dear, decade-long friend. I was her attendant, and I had many tears of joy and remembering as I spent time with her, ventured around the city by myself, caught up with friends I haven't seen in years, and reflected on the last decade of my life.

Come February, my roommate will be getting married. She will have a classy, gorgeous affair with a dance party that will likely be one of the highlights of my year. She has a brilliant eye for design, and is full of ide…

So Long, September

When September started, I found myself singing along with Green Day:
Summer has come and passed.
The innocent can never last
wake me up when September ends...
Not exactly a cheery song.

But here we are! September has ended! I have survived!

And not only that, but I had some fantastic moments. I'm learning exciting things at school, taking all kinds of scary personal steps, and re-establishing a rhythm to my life.

There are things to look forward to in my immanent future: I'm the unofficial officiant at my cousin's wedding this weekend, then making an extra-long weekend around Thanksgiving to visit Vancouver for another wedding (and, of course, to see many of my delightful friends from back in the day). Then it's Reading Week.

Then November arrives, and I'll be part of a panel on sexuality at this conference for ladies in Christian ministry (or those thinking about being a lady in Christian ministry).

I did not anticipate such an outcome when I started that wee blog…

Anxiety and Jesus and Love and Fear (and Monica)

It was April 2012, and I was having trouble breathing.
I sat at my desk, staring blankly at the computer screen, reminding myself to breathe in and then out again, and slowly.
And then I was okay for a day or two, because some little thing would buoy my spirits or make me think this panic was gone for good, and then it would wash over me again, and I would breath again and push down this anxiety so I could keep living and trying to walk forward.
I told one of my friends how I was feeling,  and she commented that anxiety and fear often come into our lives when we are not believing the gospel, and maybe was there something off in my relationship with Jesus?
I thought about this. Then I wondered,  "How would I even know? I don't remember what he sounds like." It occurred to me that if Jesus was trying to tell me something, I wouldn't have been able to hear it anyway.
And the author of a memoir I was reading at the time mentioned her spiritual director,  and I though…

She Does Seminary: One Year In

Let's talk about how much life can change in a year. And yet, how little changes at the same time.

Yesterday, I celebrated a friend's 35th birthday. It's the fourth year that I've been a part of her life, and I have fond memories of eating cake and dancing with two other friends in her basement apartment in 2010, shortly after she moved to the city.

In some ways, my life hasn't changed much since then. I'm still here in Toronto. Still struggling to make ends meet. Still unsure of where my life is headed. But appearances can be deceiving, and I feel certain that these years have been important ones.

I started a nannying job that fall. Took care of two rambunctious boys for a year. Then spent a year and a half working for their mom's business. The whole time, I asked myself, What am I doing? Where am I headed? 

It felt like nothing was happening.

And then a conversation I hardly remember, except for the sound of my own voice saying, "I'd love to go t…

Life is Like a Bear Hunt (and We're Gonna Catch a Big One)

Sometimes life is like a bear hunt.

Particularly the bear hunt immortalized in the children's action story/song. For those of you unfamiliar with the song, here is the first verse: 

We're goin' on a bear hunt,
We're gonna catch a big one,
I'm not scared!
What a beautiful day!
Oh look! It's some long, wavy grass!
Can't go over it,
Can't go under it,
Can't go around it,
Gotta go through it!

The rest of the song follows the same formula - we've got a mission, we have high hopes, we're excited and not scared, we encounter an obstacle that cannot be avoided...we overcome, and then we repeat.

Such is life.

The past week has been a bit of an emotional roller-coaster for me (and, from what I gather via social media, thousands of other people in the world, each for their own reasons, though sometimes events and tragedies unite us in grief).

This morning I articulated some massive life-fears to a friend, and our conversation went like this:
"I think i…

Email Excerpt: On Dating, Breaking Up, and Having Hope

One of my lovely friends recently went through a break-up, and asked me about the things I've learned from dating, breaking-up, etc... I don't feel like an expert, by any means, but it was encouraging to process and articulate a thought or two in this realm. And now I want to share those thoughts with you!


Some thoughts on dating and breaking up and hearing hard things and learning and contentment and loving myself:

Thought A: the one most non-negotiable for me in a relationship is that the other person WANTS to be in it with me. I refuse to try and convince someone into it. And I won't waste my emotions on someone who has chosen not to be with me - I am allowed to feel sad/disappointed, but the "pining" for intimacy, love, etc is directed forward, to a future-unknown person, rather than back to what was. I've become convinced that I deserve to be loved as I am, who I am.

Thought B: you can't MAKE things work without two people. For me, previously…

A Few Film Photos: Tanzania Edition

I've been home for two weeks!

I took a good old-fashioned film camera with me to Tanzania (who does that!? me.) and now that the film has been developed, I would like to share some of my favourites with you.





I need to figure out what I'm going to do to compile all the best ones. Maybe I'll make a photo book. And carry it around with me everywhere I go, and show it off like a proud parent.

Home Sweet, Confusing, Home

I have been back for four days. Toronto is hotter than Tarime, muggier, noisier, and more confusing.

It is also home.

In many ways, the past month feels like a surreal dream. It is separate, unrelated to this big city and my busy days of work, coffee dates, TV watching, sports-playing, and music-listening.

I know that isn't entirely true. I don't want that to be true.

But I also don't know how to make it so.

I remembered this morning that three weeks ago, I wandered into a river just outside the village of Kyoruba, my skirt held above my knees, but still skimming the water, and stood in the sun. My hand on the shoulder of a young woman, I listened and prayed as the priest baptized her after baptizing her husband and another young man.

I don't know how I had already forgotten this, the honour of being a witness to her baptism, the fear I felt about entering potentially-parasitic waters, the unity of being with brothers and sisters despite barriers of language and cultu…

Three Weeks In Tanzania

Sometimes, in the evenings when I'm relaxing, or when I first wake up in the morning, I forget that I'm in Tanzania, at an agricultural centre, a half hour drive from the Kenyan border. It startles me to remember. And then it startles me that I've managed to forget, again.

Each time I walk past a mud hut and call "Mangana!" to the children staring at me, I am struck by how much of the world is deeply different from Canada.

Explaining snow to local pastors has become a bit of a hobby. What is an apartment building? And what do I mean, unmarried "bintis" live with neither their mother nor their father's families? No, pastors in Canada do not farm to supplement their meager church income. And people never bring eggs or vegetables to church as their offering. Yes, I am 29 and unmarried.

We are coming into our last week of learning, and I am still not sure why I'm here. I've walked through fields, up hills and through valleys, preached in clay b…

Arusha, Tanzania

It is raining this morning as I wait in the hotel lobby for our class' stragglers. I hear Swahili all around me. Smooth flying this far, and we are headed back to the airport for flight #3. Then a three hour drive, then we are HOME. 

Departure Day To-Do List

Today's to-do list:

- take my anti-malarial pill (with a hearty breakfast)
- fold & put away laundry (done)
- pay credit card bill
- pay phone bill
- set up email auto-responder
- put packing pile into hiking backpack & carry ons (aka PACK.)
- write a goodbye (for now) note
- shower
- drink a beer on the deck (weather permitting)
- go to the airport
- get on a plane to Tanzania, via Amsterdam.

No big deal, right?


I won't have internet while I'm away, so this little space will be silent for a month (big surprise, after a nearly-silent spring). This has been a very full season for me. A good one, with lots going on internally & externally. I have been feeling private and protective of my solitude, but when I'm back, I am sure that there will be plenty to process and share. Can't wait to reconnect with all of you!

And if you're the praying sort, my two main goals are to make it back without any parasites, and to avoid cancer-causing sunburns... Also, t…

Six Days to Take-off

FRIENDS! Friends! Friends!

One week from now, I will be IN TANZANIA.

This reality is finally sinking in.

I am getting a little bit excited. I'm also nervous. Scare-cited, if you will.


There are a few more errands to run - money from the bank, and something else I can't remember right now. But all the things I need to pack (minus a few pieces of dirty laundry) are currently on my bed. I have a floppy sun hat that makes me happy, and some light cotton pants that might be the comfiest thing I've ever owned.

I think I'm almost ready. It's been a crazy spring, and despite my resistance to the idea, my friends may be right - this trip will be good for me. I don't know what to expect, but I'm quite sure it will change me.

Mechthild & Me

Earlier this semester, one of my profs gave me a book called Enduring Grace: Living Portraits of Seven Women Mystics by Carol Flinders. It was a perfect gift out of the leftovers of her overflowing bookshelves... Although I'm only two portraits in, I am floored and amazed and encouraged.

(I know, I am a weird, weird woman.)

It's likely that I'll have many excerpts to share over the summer...here is the first round!




My favourite 13th century German mystic, Mechthild of Magdeburg wrote this:
"If I am truly to show forth the goodness of God, then I am obliged to speak of myself." A woman who loved God and knew her own self/voice. Boom.

---


This poem excerpt runs along the same lines:
Fish cannot drown in water,
Birds cannot sink in air,
Gold cannot perish
In the refiner's fire.
This has God given to all creatures,
To foster and seek their own nature,
How then can I withstand mine? ---

And here's a statement from the author about gender and ethics. Do you …

Halfway Through May!?

I don't really know where the time goes these days - oh, wait. Yes, I do. Work and school and relationships and family and reading and sleeping and playing ultimate frisbee. I'm sorry-not-sorry that blogging has been at the bottom of that list.

This week is the busiest of the year, work-wise. With a small dose of school thrown in. I'm about 5/8 of the way through it, and am relieved that it's actually here and actually happening, because the inevitable increase in stress is weighing on me. And once it is all done, I'm getting out of Dodge (Ford - ha!) City for a few days.

Nothing like a springtime roadtrip to clear the head!

Also? Playing in a friendly euchre tournament on Saturday night. That will be a thing. That I will hopefully win (alongside an equally awesome partner, I'm sure).

Bep

At 14 months, my genius-baby-nephew has named me Bep.

I'm in love with this name. Because it comes in a growly little voice full of spunk and love.

Toddler-love is one of the best therapies out there. Nothing sets my heart at rest like attention and affection from a small child. Even from afar, it makes me so. very. happy.

(Thanks, Sarah, for sharing a whole series of these videos with me. They're all on repeat.)


Email Excerpt: Late Have I Loved You

I just wrote this email to a friend:

There is a song by Gungor called "Late Have I Loved You" - do you know it/them? I've been a fan for several years. I recently discovered (via Dan's Lenten guide), that the lyrics of this song were originally written by St. Augustine. As I listened to this song, and thought about Augustine's words, I was struck by the opening line. What does it mean to "love late?" I sat with this question for awhile, and then wrote a poem:
“Late have I loved you.”

Late have I come to see
and know what love is.
I have tried to control,
tried to use
tried to prove
and tried to know. 

It is only after failing
at each of these
that I have loved you.


When I think about our conversation this afternoon, the question I think we both need to ask ourselves is, "What does it look like to love this person?" Not to control them or use them or know them intellectually, but to love them, as they are, as we are.

I don't want to come to …

Feeling, Accomplished.

The last few years of my life have been full of feelings.
ALL THE FEELINGS.

Scratch that - my whole life has been full of feelings. All of them. Deep feelings. But the last few years have been full of accepting and acknowledging my feelings, which is a fairly significant shift from my previous framework. 

I have long been uncomfortable with strong emotions. I didn't know what to do with them, or what purpose they serve. In my mind, feelings were an annoying interference with the rational and far more valued rational processes of the brain (this is a slight generalization, but not much).

While I could usually identify how I felt, I didn't always understand why it was important to figure that out, or what good could come of telling another person the emotions I was experiencing, especially if they were "negative" or difficult feelings.

It is not that I believed my feelings were irrelevant, but that they were subservient to my logic and my will.

If I felt disappointed …

The Trip to Tanzania (don't read this post)

I think a bunch (most) of you know that I am going to Tanzania for a month this summer. If this is a new fact to you, or if this is a fact you don't particularly care about, or if you have any other reason at all, please feel free to skip this post. Because this is a post in which I ask for help. And I don't really like asking for help. I'm happier to have you skip this post and feel free of any sense of obligation or guilt than to read this post and then wonder if I'm secretly judging you for not helping me (I won't be).

The only reason I'm writing this post is because multiple people asked me if I would be writing a support letter, and could they support my trip to Tanzania. The answer, in the typical sense, is no - I cannot get you charitable receipts in exchange for money given to a "sending organization," and I have no plans to send glowing prayer reports of the great "ministry work" I do while I'm gone. But the actual answer is y…

Slow Down, Spring (But Hurry Up, Spring Weather)

For the majority of March, this was the refrain in my head:

"After April 8th, I'll have time for _____/I'll sort out my thoughts on _________/I can get together with _________."

Then April 6th arrived, and I realized that the next 48 hours were about to be insane. And the other side of April 8th was not a serene and barren landscape. It was a surprisingly full and active calendar of deadlines, more school, and socializing.

Ack.

So I've spent the past week doing things, and as the long weekend approaches, I'm (fittingly) thinking about how to reset and slow down.

On Thursday, my amazing roommate and friend-for-life and I are going out of town for a day of relaxation. And, I expect, much thinking. It's been a few months now since I started out with my "Recipe for a Well-Ordered Life," and I'm looking forward to checking in on how it's going and what tweaks I can make to move out of the old habits I'm sure I've fallen back into...ye…

Monday Morning Music: Hold On, We're Going Home

Last month, I saw Bear's Den play at the Horseshoe (you all should buy their album promptly), and they played an acoustic cover of this "small local artist" as part of their encore. I loved it.





Turns out, I also like the original song, despite a general dislike for Drake's ego...as seen in this video. I recommend you jump ahead to the 2:30 mark. Or don't bother watching. Just take a listen.


She Does Seminary: Almost Done Year One

I am one exam and zero classes from the end of my first year at seminary. One little teeny tiny totally cumulative Greek exam.

No big deal.
(ha)

But seriously. The last eight eight months have flown by. The last year has been just as fast. To think that this time last year, I was training my replacement at my job, counting down the days to unemployment, travel, summer freedom, and SCHOOL.

And now here I am. A whole year smarter, and a whole year more aware of how little I know.

Many people have asked how I feel at the end of this year, whether it's been a good one and whether I like being in school... my answer to all of it is YES.

Yes. I like school.
Yes. It's been a good year.
Yes. I feel like it has been a year of Yeses.

Last weekend, I went to a retreat/workshop led by my spiritual director. It was called "Pray Through Play" and talked about the principles of improvisation and how they relate to our daily lives and relationships with Jesus. One of the foundationa…

from Bonhoeffer

Last week I wrote a paper about Dietrich Bonhoeffer's views on church mission and leadership. I didn't have (take) as much time to read as I would've liked, and kept my focus on related content, rather than the whole of his life and writings. But I came across these two quotes that didn't fit anywhere in my paper, and need to record them for posterity:

on being separated from loved ones: "It is nonsense to say that God fills the gap; he doesn't fill it, but on the contrary, he keeps it empty and so helps us to keep alive our former communion with each other, even at the cost of pain."
and on suffering:

"The idea that we could have avoided many of life's difficulties if we had taken things more cautiously is too foolish to be entertained for a moment...To renounce a full life and its real joys in order to avoid pain is neither Christian nor human."

Let's Talk About Sex and Shame: The End(ish)

Okay, friends. I think we're just about through with this series. Are we all ready for a break? :)

Once again, I want to say that I have been so encouraged by the stories, the number of you who've said thank you for hosting, and the conversations that I know are happening offline as a result. I didn't have any measures for success in my mind when I started, but we've definitely surpassed any I could have imagined.

Here are a handful of last thoughts from some readers:

It was sad for me to see how many people feel shame over their sexuality.... In every aspect of your relationship here are three things that I feel are very important. CRC Commitment, Respect, Communication. (it use to be only two but I added commitment a few years ago) Not just about sex, but any other subject you talks about. As our bloggers attest to when a couple communicate about sex it can be a beautiful, fulfilling, and binding time together. 

Identifying myself as a Christian means that I try to…

Let's Talk About Sex and Shame. What Now?

Well. Here we are. Two weeks and more than two dozen stories later.

I don't know about you, but I've found this series a bit overwhelming – I have too many thoughts and feelings to have processed them all fully, but I want to share a few of the big ones, and ask you to do the same.

Behind the scenes, beyond the stories you've read, many of you have emailed or said in person that you're reading along, that it's been encouraging/interesting/thought-provoking. I can honestly say that I didn't expect the traction this has gotten (I thought I would be begging two or three of my friends to share their stories), but it has confirmed to me that this was (is) an important dialogue to have. Many of us, churched or not, have stories and thoughts and feelings around our sexuality that we haven't had a safe place to reflect on. I am grateful that for a few weeks, this could be that space.

Now what? Where do we go from here? How do we take this out into our lives at la…

Let's Talk About Sex & Shame. Part XIII.

As much as I'm willing to talk about almost any topic or idea or concept, sharing my personal stories always feels terrifying. All evidence to the contrary, I am a fairly private person. In telling my story as it relates to sexuality and shame, I feel like I am inviting you into a closer friendship than we've previously had. So, welcome, friend.

Here's my story:*
If I were to summarize the reasons I am critical of the purity movement, it is not because it teaches a conservative/Christian perspective on sexual abstinence. It is because, as a young person, it painted unrealistic dreams for my future and made promises it couldn't keep. It gave me rules to follow that would get me to marriage as a virgin, but it didn't teach me how to have healthy and mature relationships with men apart from (or before) marriage. And rather than dismantling and bringing healing to my sexual brokenness, it reinforced fear-based thinking that taught me lies about both myself and the men I…

Let's Talk About Sex & Shame. Part XII.

Two stories today from some non-church friends. Tomorrow is my story, and on the weekend I'll post some final thoughts/questions for all of us as we wrap up:

The topic of sex didn’t come up much in conversation in my family. We don’t really discuss feelings or show physical affection very often. I think I remember actually discussing sex with my mother (never my father) maybe three times. The main message I got was “Sex is fun, and it’s worth saving for someone you love.” My family isn't religious, but I guess our household was still pretty conservative. The other message was “if you’re ready to have sex, you also need to be ready to raise a baby.”With that practical advice, the suggestion that it was a good idea to wait until I found the person I would marry, and a very shy personality, I was well into my twenties before I even had my first kiss. That was when I finally decided to just deal with the anxiety and stress of figuring out a relationship (something I’d avoided sinc…