Sharing stories – On Sunday, we had Pastor Charlie
and his wife over for dinner for the first time. He was the reason we kept returning to the church when we first visited. His friendliness and down to earth nature was so evident even in our first encounter with him. Dinner lasted three hours and it would have gone on longer if not for the fact that the next day was Monday. It is always refreshing to interact with the pastors outside their main “domain”, the church, and see the humanity that lies beneath.
Ministry at work – On Monday, I took a staff out for coffee when I sensed she wasn’t herself that morning. For an hour, in between sobs she shared her anger and pain from a relationship. I just held her hand and listened. I wished I was brave enough to pray with her there and then so she knew there is a God who cares…
Dinner with the boys – That night, we invited two young adults over for a roasted dinner. Good meals are always a great start! We chatted and caught up with one another. One is getting married in a year’s time; the other is still in uni. We shared about how we were travelling in life and some God-stuff. And I hoped the boys also got to know us better.
Church Connect group – On Wednesday, we had our fortnightly meeting again. The topic that night was the grace of God. And everyone shared about how their faith journey began. There were ten of us. I looked around the room and saw the most diverse bunch of people before me. Just in terms of age, we were ranging from 18 to 41 years old. Unsurprisingly, everyone was at different life stage – married couple, mother-to-be, students, working adults. Yet most of us have been meeting fortnightly for two years now since CS and I started the group. I felt blessed to be part of a group that God had brought together – a bunch of people who under normal circumstances, wouldn’t be hanging out together; yet here we are, fellow travel companions on a faith journey.
Heart-to-heart – On Thursday, I received an email from a young adult who shared openly about her disappointment and hurt from a friendship. I deliberated over what to write, stayed back after work and replied to her email. The same night, I chatted with another young adult about his struggle on how to handle a situation he was in. We disagreed at some point but there was no love lost. And I ended our hour-long chat by praying with him. In both instances, I made it a point to share from my own personal experiences. It is so easy to talk in cliches but what if it is me who is in the situation? Would I do likewise? I am learning to be authentic.
Is it any ‘coincidence’ that all these encounters happened at the time I’ve been thinking about relationships and community in our 21st century from one of the books I’ve been reading ‘Above the Line’ ? And attending Edmund Chan’s discipleship conference two weeks ago was a reiteration of what has been on my heart lately. Discipleship – the philosophy and its practical outworking in my life; I think I am slowly getting a glimpse of that…
“biblical Christianity assumes disciples of Jesus are being transformed by life changing encounters with God, a transformation that results in qualities such as gentleness, meekness, and humility being expressed deeply and regularly in the way Christians relate to one another.” Peter McHugh
page 152: (on finding yourself or someone you know in a ‘bad’ situation) “Sometimes we let them resist finding any meaning or solace in anything that had to do with their daughter’s diagnosis…to stop trying to make things come out better than they were. We let them spew when they needed to; we offered the gift of no comfort when there being no comfort was where they had landed.”
page 163: “I believe that when all is said and done, all you can do is to show up for someone in crisis, which seems so inadequate. But then when you do, it can radically change everything. Your there-ness, your stepping into a sacred parent’s line of vision, can be life-giving, because often everyone else is hiding…so you keep them company when it feels like the whole world is falling apart, and your being there says that just for this moment, this one tiny piece of the world is OK, or is at least better.”
page 167: (on finding God in the ordinary) “…sometimes when you need to feel the all-embracing nature of God, paradoxically you need to hang out in ordinariness, in daily ritual and comfort.”
page 197: (on her battle with bulimia) “Over the years my body has not gotten firmer. Just the opposite in fact. But when I feel fattest and flabbiest and most repulsive, I try to remember that gravity speaks…I do not live in my thighs or in my droopy butt. I live in joy and motion and cover-ups. I live in the nourishment of food and the sun and the warmth of the people who love me.”
page 213: (on forgiveness) “Who was it who said that forgiveness is giving up all hope of having had a different past?”
page 219: (on family) “…my family is like this old sweater – it keeps unraveling, but then someone figures out how to sew it up one more time; it has lumps and then it unravels again, but you can still wear it; and it still keeps away the chill.”
page 219 (on forgiveness and family) “…families are definitely the training ground for forgiveness. At some point you pardon the people in your family for being stuck together in all their weirdness.”
page 255 (on God’s love) “The mystery of God’s love as I understand it is that God loves the man who was being mean to his dog as much as he loves babies. So of course he loves old ordinary me, even or especially at my most scared and petty and mean and obsessive. Loves me; chooses me.”
I have to say discovering Anne Lamott and her works was one of my literary highlights of the year. I know, I am a nerd. One reason why I’d really enjoyed ‘Traveling Mercies’ was her raw honesty with herself and her readers. Here’s someone who:
- was an alcoholic and drug addict
- was bulimic
- had a child out of wedlock and didn’t seem to get married after all
- wears dreadlocks in her 40s cos she has had enough of her unruly mess of hair
- frets about finding the ‘right’ man
- struggles to love and accept her ageing mother sometimes (gasp, did she really confess to that?!)
- uses swear words in her book (really, should a Christian even do that!)
You know, Anne probably wouldn’t be ranking very high in the typical Christian circle. Yet how many of us can identify with her struggles and wish we were as honest as she was about it? No pretenses; not trying to appear all-put-together; just speaking from one’s heart to the other.
I woke up yesterday morning in the midst of the howling winds and decided to do a bit of Bible reading before church afterwards. Not my usual practice for a Sunday to be honest.
Our church is doing ‘Reading through the Bible in one year’ and so everyone has a booklet to help with the daily Bible reading. One of yesterday’s passages was Proverbs 23: 19-21:
“Oh listen, dear child—become wise; point your life in the right direction. Don’t drink too much wine and get drunk; don’t eat too much food and get fat. Drunks and gluttons will end up on skid row, in a stupor and dressed in rags.”
At first glance, those verses didn’t seem to have anything to do with me.
Then a thought: Am I thinking about food more than I think about God? Do I spend more time baking and reading cook books more than I do on the things of God? Yes, on both counts. I hung my head in shame. Suddenly, the word ‘glutton’ doesn’t seem as irrelevant as before.
It’s interesting how I am perhaps more on my guard against the ‘blatant’ sins but happily oblivious to the ‘subtle’ ones in my life – ‘respectable’ sins, as Jerry Bridges titles it in one of his books.
A girlfriend sent the above video to a few of us this week: “TED talks is one of those apps I have on my iPhone. It is a series of talks given by people sharing their ideas in less than 10 mins. So here’s one that makes me think about Ervina’s eclectic sense of dressing! Enjoy!”
For those who don’t have time to watch the video in full, below are some highlights and comments in parenthesis are mine:
“Secondhand shopping has allowed me to reduce my impact of my wardrobe has on the environment and on my wallet.” (Yes, another advocate of thrift-shopping!)
“It is almost physiologically impossible to be in a bad mood when you are wearing bright red pants.” (I am not so brave to own a pair of red pants although I do have red leggings…Does that count?)
“Fitting in is way overrated. Just be who you are. If you surround yourself with the right people, they will not only get it, they will appreciate it.” (Honestly, this is something I’ve only really learned entering into my thirties – choose a few people you will listen to and the rest is just ‘good advice’.)
“Embrace your inner child.” (Something I am good at, I think! In fact, perhaps too well, much to the aghast of Ben sometimes…)
“If you believe you’re a beautiful person inside and out, there is no look you can’t pull off. We should be able to rock anything we want to rock.” (So, what are you waiting for?!)
“Gold sequins go with anything.” (Time to look for gold sequins in my next opshop trip!)
“Developing your own unique personal style is a really great way to tell the world something about you without having to say a word.” (Bravo!)
“…it’s okay to let go. I don’t need to get emotionally attached to these things, because around the corner, there is always going to be another crazy, colourful, shiny outfit just waiting for me…” (De-cluttering is my fashion motto ‘cos I’ve realized by now that anything I haven’t worn in the last one year is never going to be worn EVER so it might as well go to someone!)
Since this post is fashion-related, this is what I wore for a casual dinner date with the Mr. last night.
Details: sunglasses – $2 brand-new opshop find; cardigan – Singapore; heart-prints blouse – Dorothy Perkins, Singapore; shorts – Rivers, Australia; shoes – Far East Plaza, Singapore; Esprit tote bag – $5 opshop find
I am currently reading my second Anne Lamott book, ‘Traveling Mercies‘ and enjoying it. Be warned though, this is not your usual read about how a hippie/intellectual-turned Christian-and-so-she-lived-happily-after. In fact, her faith journey is fraught with accounts of drugs, alcohol, numerous relationships, unwanted pregnancies. But her honest, brutal accounts of how God meets her in some of her most vulnerable moments leave me in awe of God’s amazing grace. In fact, when I shared parts of her story with CS, his candid response was ‘if I am God, I’d have walked away.’ Am I glad that God is God and none of us will ever be!
For fear of doing a dismal job in paraphrasing her, here are snippets from her book:
pg 43: (on what it means to be ‘saved’ in the Christian jargon) “I guess it’s like discovering you’re on the shelf of a pawnshop, dusty and forgotten and maybe not worth very much. But Jesus comes in and tells the pawnbroker, ‘I’ll take her place on the shelf. Let her go outside again.'”
pg 68: (on grief when she lost her best friend to cancer) “…what I’ve discovered since is that the lifelong fear of grief keeps us in a barren, isolated place and that only grieving can heal grief; the passage of time will lessen the acuteness, but time alone, without the direct experience of grief, will not heal it.”
“…the bad news is that whatever you use to keep the pain at bay robs you of the flecks and nuggets of gold that feeling grief will give you. A fixation can keep you nicely defined and give you the illusion that your life has not fallen apart.”
pg 75: (on life) “Life does not seem to present itself to me for my convenience, to box itself up nicely so I can write about it with wisdom and a point to make before putting it on a shelf somewhere.”
pg 89: (chapter on church, people, steeple)
Late Fragment – Raymond Carver
And did you get what
you wanted from this life even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.
pg 97: (about an old lady from church who was going blind in her eighties) “..that was heroic of her, that it spoke of such integrity to refuse to pretend that you’re doing well just so to help other people deal with the fact that sometimes we face an impossible loss.”
pg 100: (on church) “The church became my home in the old meaning of home – that it’s where, when you show up, they have to let you in.”
pg 103: (on community) “I always imagined when I was a kid that adults had some kind of inner toolbox, full of shiny tools: the saw of discernment, the hammer of wisdom, the sandpaper of patience. But then when I grew up I found that life handed you these rusty bent old tools – friendships, prayer, conscience, honesty – and said Do the best you can with these, they will have to do. And mostly, against all odds, they’re enough.”
pg 106: (how the book’s title was derived) “This is what they (the old people at church) always say when one of us goes off for a while. Traveling mercies: love the journey, God is with you, come home safe and sound.”
pg 138 & 139: (on grace) “I know nothing, except what everyone knows – if there when Grace dances, I should dance.” (W.H. Auden)
“I do not at all understand the mystery of grace – only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.”
And my favourite quote from the book thus far:
pg 145: (by her son Sam aged seven) “I think I already understand about life: pretty good, some problems.”
I am in the midst of reading ‘Blue like Jazz’ which is kind of like a quasi-autobiography of Donald Miller and a New York Times Bestseller. The book’s now been adapted into a movie and had inspired him to write another book – ‘A million miles in a thousand years’ (a highly recommended read for those who wish to live their lives more intentionally).
I hope to see it on the big screen here soon although I am not hopeful since this is not your usual Hollywood blockbuster material but who knows?!
“I never like jazz music because jazz music doesn’t resolve. But sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself…I used to not like God because God didn’t resolve. But that was before any of this happened.” – Donald Miller
At the church camp debrief this week, the pastor passed me this book and wanted me to see if we could do a book club about it with the young adults. I’d meant to just quickly flipped through it since I am reading ‘Blue like Jazz’ by Donald Miller and really want to get right into it. However, I was hooked from the start reading his ‘first words’. And I am surprised at how ‘read-able’ the book is considering that he is a college professor with PhD in religious studies but writes crisply and concisely without fanciful words of triple or quadruple syllabuses.
I found myself challenged by the questions thrown at me so far: ‘What is a Christian?’ ‘What do I think of whenever I read Jesus’ mention of the kingdom of God?’ ‘Did Jesus come just to die for my sins and get me to heaven?’ ‘Why did Jesus come?’
On a lighter note, I couldn’t help but laugh at his ‘subtle’ product endorsements about Apple (and I can hear all die-hard Apple fans go ‘YES!’). Here’s a funny one:
“…I’m hardly an objective reporter, but I have to say there’s nothing like a Mac. Everything all the other writing machines wanted to be when they were little boys and girls is what this adult machine is. (Ok, maybe you’re not biased in my direction as a writer. So, take phones – and skip from those phones that hung on a walls to the early Motorola boxy things and on to those Nokias until you get to…yes…an iPhone. Same company. Same dream come true. Just sayin’.).”
This has been a ‘thought-ful’ week from the various regular blog posts I follow:
1) What gets me out of bed every morning – Chris Guillebeau whose goal is to visit EVERY country in the world by April 7, 2013 (that’s when he turned 35) and he’s done 151 countries so far – “what if you didn’t have the obligation; what would you get out of bed in the mornings for if it was completely up to you?”
2) Savouring the moment – beautifully worded by Andrea from Portland. Almost poetry. Wish I could write like that – “one moment folds into the next and then it’s over. and I am left hoping maybe this one will stick.”
3) Life Happens while you are doing something else – another well-written article by Donald Miller – “What gets built with God’s help, then, is less tangible. The Kingdom of God, at least on earth in our time, is perhaps a relational construct.”
4) Gotta share Improv Musical – a musical parody on social media in our daily life. Hilarious but oh-so-true!
5) Back to Silence – A local Freo blogger that I follow to know what’s going on in my community. I couldn’t agree more with him on this – “Why do people need all that constant music. Are they afraid silence will force them to think and connect with the inner self?” Which is why I love to drive in silence unless I am on a roadtrip. I had never found that weird until friends who had sat in my car were surprised that I don’t have any radio or music on while driving. But that’s how I like it. It is my quiet time when I can be still before God and even myself. When is the last time you did that?