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Saturday, January 31, 2015

Time's Gentle Whisper

I called every other reference before I dialed his number. There was a click and then that unmistakable British-Mauritian accent came through clearly as he spoke his name. I swallowed then lightly said, "Hi! This is Maria. Your cousin." A moment's pause, then we were both laughing as he realized who it was and I slipped into a time of belonging. He hadn't forgotten and for that I was so thankful.

We had a late arrival to the program and I needed to process the application as quickly as possible. I scanned the list of references I would be calling, mentally calculating the time difference between California and the East Coast. It was nearly 10 am; they would be at lunch so it was a good time to call. Then I looked more closely at the last name. I knew that name. It was my cousin. One of many whom I hadn't spoken to, hadn't laughed with, since, oh, about 6 years. It was my own choice of course. That I had always known, had always owned.

It wasn't that I didn't want to connect. I couldn't. At least not then. But now, things were changing. The journey I'd been on for the past two years had been taking me slowly back to an understanding of who I was before the California years. I saw God bringing me full circle, healing, comforting, pulling a curtain of grace over the difficult years, and gently teaching me how to forgive. Starting with myself and then extending the gift to others.

The conversation was hesitant at first, even as it was comfortable. He had been my best friend when I came to visit on those few and far-between furloughs when we lived at my granny's house and ate frosted flakes for breakfast every day for two months. I cried and refused to say goodbye the day he left after visiting us in Egypt. I was only 10 but I learned there was no point in crying; painfully, I learned to say goodbye without a tear as the goodbyes multiplied over the years.

We talked about work, family, my studies. He had a deepening burden for ministry and sounded wistful as he spoke of what he did, hoping it would improve the quality of life for others. He cheered up as he mentioned a church plant he was helping to start, said we should chat sometime on Skype so we could meet his wife. Mercifully, he did not speak of the painful past.

I took the reference, we chatted some more, he said I still had a British accent. I laughed, it came out when I spoke to someone else with one but if I was speaking to an American then it disappeared once again. Another part of my hidden identity. I wondered briefly if that was a significant part of me then the thought vanished. I would explore it more later.

It was time to say goodbye so we did, promising to keep in touch better this time. Reluctantly, I hung up, then sat for a few moments staring at my computer screen. I was at work; I could not cry. The emotions were close, though. It had been 6 years, in reality it had been 16 years. 16 years since the split shattered my belonging. Perhaps now my Father was beginning to smooth the jagged edges as He gently led, drawing us closer together to Him and in doing so providing healing.

A few hours later I sent him a text from my cell so he'd have my number. His quick reply began with "Brilliant!" I smiled. People teased me about my frequent use of the word, particularly my boss. It didn't matter now; I knew where it came from. And in a single word. . .I knew I belonged. . .

Monday, January 26, 2015

No, it's not okay

The phone rang, I rolled over and blearily checked my phone. 6:52 am. I heard my brother rushing to answer it, aware that its insistent tone would force its way into my consciousness all too soon. He answered, I waited, and he hung up. Still sleepy, I went into the kitchen to pour a glass of water. "Who was it?" I asked. He told me. "Was it an emergency?" It wasn't, he said. The person had lost their phone and called our house number since they no longer had my brother's cell number.

I returned to my bedroom, typed and retyped a text until I was satisfied it conveyed my sentiment without being too emotional or too kind. It said, "Please call to our house number between 9 am and 9 pm, unless it's an emergency of life and death. Thank you." I hit send as my hands shook and my breathing rate slowed back to normal.

It took a good hour walk/jog for me to shake it off. Still musing, I checked my messages, the reply, "I am so sorry, please accept my apologies" evoked no emotion of sympathy. I was tired of people disrespecting the system; thinking that just because they had a thought right then and there that they should take care of it, regardless of the time or the situation.

It was another morning, several years ago. My mother answered the phone, there was hushed tones, then she was crying. My mother doesn't cry. The grief came from a deep deep place inside as the tears mixed with helplessness evoked an image of a little girl lost. Her father had just died.

It was not as if we didn't know. He had been ill for several years, cancer, and he'd fought it but it returned. Then it was his final days and then. . .his last breath. Only my Oma was with him when he left; jealous of her life-mate's final moments she refused to allow anyone else to enter the sacred space they shared. They understood each other in life and now, as death came, he no longer needed to speak for she understood his heart. 

Today, when the phone rings in the early morning or late at night, I lie in bed counting my breaths and waiting. Who will it be this time? Invariably it is some well-meaning yet thoughtless person who was not taught polite calling hours are between 9 am and 9 pm. Then I exhale and I try not to shake so hard. Today we've been granted another day of life.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Biggest Cognitive Distortion

Thoughts always seem much clearer when thought at odd times, such as 5 am when I'm normally sleeping, but because I inadvertently set my alarm an hour early, I spent that hour between 5 and 6 in a semi-dream state, desperately trying to return to REM sleep. Here are my thoughts, not as lucid as then but still somewhat coherent. I think I'm still trying to work out The Record Keeper in my psyche.

God does not control. Satan's lie (after the pride one, yes, I know, I've read the texts and heard the sermons) was that God controlled His created beings. Satan promised "freedom" from God's perceived control and a third of the angels believed him. Once cast to earth, Satan managed to convince Eve that God was trying to control her too by setting boundaries around her. Eve didn't realize those boundaries (don't eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil) were there to protect her and because God chose not to control her, she was free to make the decision to eat from that tree. Satan's lie, "you will be as gods," or in other words, you would have the freedom to do whatever you wanted, sounded sweet to her ears and so she listened.

When Jesus hung on the cross, He did so of His own accord. God the Father did not force Him to; Jesus chose to. He exercised His freedom so that we could be free. Satan had spent thousands of years trying to convince humans and beings from other worlds that God was controlling and freedom was found only outside of God's domain. It was only when Jesus died that the universe understood the depths that Satan would stoop to in order to control the world.

This is a lesson humans must still learn. We fight against what we perceive as control, Christians have tossed out the Sabbath because it's just "another rule," and they don't want to honour God by obeying His law. God's law is a safeguard; set in place to protect us so we can extend freedom to others. If I don't kill, someone lives. If I don't steal, someone has their belongings. If I don't lie, someone's reputation is intact. If I keep the Sabbath, someone is free to worship with me rather than work so I can have what I want.

The choice is still ours. Some of us kick and scream, insisting that we want to create our own freedom, follow our own rules, or throw out rules all together. Others cite verses to create an atmosphere of "Biblical control" such as wives submitting to their husbands. Neither speak accurately to God's character. God extends to us the riches of His grace (Ephesians 1:6), draws us to Him with immeasurable love, and offers us true freedom that cannot be defined by the world's terms. Do we choose Him? Or do we believe a deadly cognitive distortion told us by a being that once lived in the light of God's presence and chose to look the other way?

I choose freedom in Christ (Galatians 5:13).

Friday, January 16, 2015

Chocolate Chips and Self Control

Went to vespers. Heard about self control (for the 173rd time). Came home. Made chocolate souffle in the microwave. With lots of chocolate chips. Ate souffle.

That seems to be the story of my life. I filter every spiritual exhortation I hear through the first years of our lives here. Extended prayer time for academy kids from 6:30 pm to midnight? Why is there a need to pray til midnight? It's neither healthy nor necessary. Praising someone because they didn't eat supper at a restaurant that didn't serve vegan food and then became vegan because of it? Being vegan won't bring you into heaven any faster. And what kind of restaurant doesn't have at least one dish that is vegan? Directing everyone to share in groups of two their experiences with self control and to ask for prayer for needed self control? Those kinds of prayer sessions tend to encourage people to share things that should be shared only with a counselor or to elaborate on their sins so their struggles sound more impressive.

I work with a health education program. I have lost count of the number of times I think in my head, "I bet they're looking at me and wondering how come she works with this program when she's overweight. They probably think I have no self control." I guess the beginning paragraph would justify their reasoning. On the other hand, I'm not alone. The difference lies in how we approach it.

Some of our graduates leave and continue on their personal healthy journey. Others find themselves back where they first started and struggle to recapture the excitement of building endurance and losing pounds. The story returns, however, to "I stopped eating this food" and "I started doing that exercise" and the Originator of self control is forgotten. It becomes a contest to see who can produce the best results while the heart change goes unnoticed.

This is where I am encouraged. Twelve years ago I attended a Stephen Arterburn seminar on emotional healing. I came home and inscribed on a rock a symbolic "I choose to heal." As I reflect back on where I was then and who I am today, I believe that I have been true to the process. I am not perfect. I feel that I may be more aware of my flaws now at 34 than I was then at 22. Perhaps that is how it goes. Regardless, I am thankful to God for His persistent love and determination to show me Grace.

I haven't got a handle of self control yet. I'm learning how to surrender and allow the Holy Spirit to fight my battles (a very difficult thing to learn). I am not disheartened though. To struggle is a sign of life. I take courage in the promise in 2 Timothy 1:7 that "God has. .given us a spirit. . .of power, love, and self-discipline." Self control is not within me; God gives it to me. The spirit of self-discipline comes with power; it is effective. The spirit of self-discipline also comes with love; God is reflected in its action.

I wonder if Jesus would have shared that souffle with me, like my mom did tonight, savouring every bite while treasuring the connection in time as I worked through my confusion and she patiently listened. Or would He have stood there, finger pointing, telling me that it was too late to eat, I'd already had supper, chocolate has caffeine in it, and white sugar/oil/white flour are bad for my arteries. I don't know. I don't want to presume upon His presence or disrespect Him in anyway. I do want to know, though, that He is a God of unfathomable understanding, deep compassion, and expansive love. Somehow it seems that I would sense that most if He was sitting across from me, spoon in hand, slowly eating souffle stuffed with melting chocolate chips while I reached out. And my heart melted. 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Temporary Home

Heart burdened with the world's fears
Longing to hold the babies close and say
"You're safe now"
My reality is so much bigger than
the acre on which I reside
Revival and Reformation buzz
while I wonder where
is the love in black and white Jesus' hands