October 14, 2015

hope

My hope feels broke
It's cloaked
Soaked in fear
but it's clear
You told me you're near
Your promises say: "Dear one,
I haven't forgotten those you love
My love for them is present
In weakness,
My strength looks a lot like meekness
Trust it
It's not rusted
It's tried and true
Gotta let me do the work
It can't be you
So rest, take a break
Recreate,
Reapply the balm of joy
To your spirit, to your smile
let freedom be your marching orders
Only limit is the sky
And when you feel a pang of pain
As you walk out of the dark,
And though your eyes burn
And the light is stark
Remember that I'll be with you
Just as I am with them
Your heart breaks because I taught it to
Your hope I can extend"


June 20, 2015

real [big city, beloved] rest.

Those of you who have been reading Off With Your Sandals since the beginning might remember that these posts used to dissect and dive into one worship song per post. In lonely Montreal moments when I desperately needed my heart to be ministered to, I would listen to a song about 20-30 times and just let it wash over me. Often my responses to these songs were to cry, be thankful for the Truth packed into them, and be inspired to share about my worship experience. Actually, the name of this blog came about in my belief that God wants to meet me and can if only I would take time, come near, and choose to seek Him in moments of triumph and brokenness. (See Jeremiah 29:13)

Since then, I moved to Toronto and have remained perplexed, grateful, and/or overwhelmed by my interactions with the big city. Most of my posts since moving here have been written in response to the pain, beauty, joy and brokenness I see/interact with on a daily basis. Having completed a social work degree in my first four years here, I have been trained to think critically about what is happening around me. There are so many things I bump up against or am immersed in these days that keep my heart racing, my mind thinking, things that make me angry, make me laugh, and so much of what goes 'in' to my mind and heart comes out in the form of exhaustion, pain and sometimes resentment. I have come to recognize that this cannot be my only 'output'. To be effective in the work I want to do in the city, I have to recognize the fights I've been wanting to fight are exactly the ones that have already been won for me. Therefore, my role becomes less to fight, and more to bring Light to what has already been done. 

In the middle of some of my most heavy moments, God have me a wise friend who gave me the picture of picking up and scattering stones -- the picture in Ecclesiastes 3:5. The things we carry are not always ours to carry. And sometimes the burden we carry can be present at the right time to strengthen us. I just spoke to the same friend again, and she said some things are just an eyesore! Get 'em outta there! I think this is a good reminder for many of us. It's important to re-evaluate what you are 'carrying' -- to release and make room for the new, fresh, and sometimes uncomfortable.

Recently, when meeting with my Spiritual Director, I was encouraged to close my eyes as she opened the session in prayer, and see if God brought anything to mind. Other sessions I felt like there was something on my heart to bring and discuss, discern and pray through. This time, I didn't feel like I had anything to talk about. So, I sat with my eyes closed, and thoughts started forming: 'maybe we could talk about...no, rest". My thought had been interrupted. I thought, "well, maybe not that, I guess we could... REST." Funny, I thought, I usually have something to talk about. "Rest". I opened my eyes and explained to my SD that I didn't have anything to talk about because all I kept thinking, in the middle of my thought-sentences, was to rest. Then we talked about being really bad at resting, tools for finding rest, and God's desire for his Beloved to rest. 

Psalm 127:2 "It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep."


Recently, I have come home from a full day at work and spent hours listening to Bethel Music. In a song called A Little Longer, this message rang out as truth to me today...

I hear you say: You don't have to do a thing. Simply be with me and let those things go, they can wait another minute. Wait. This moment is too sweet. Please stay here with me and love on me a little longer.

The most faithful we can be looks like honestly seeking God's heart, doing His will and trusting Him with all the stones and details and worries. 

Philippians 4:19 - "And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus."

Now: rest. 

April 27, 2015

Shame vs Welcome

The topic of shame and isolation came to the surface of my heart in the last little while when a friend shared with me the gentle and honest talk on addictions by Canadian physician, Gabor Mate. I have been ruminating since then on the presence of pain, isolation and loss that exists in the life of someone who struggles with addiction. I was struck by how Gabor shares not only about his addictions and the common experience of addiction, but also how he paints a picture of how addiction can begin and can continue to grow in a persons' life. For example, he states that "the addiction to power is always about the emptiness that you try and fill from the outside". 
Have you known or do you know a form of this emptiness? What have you found to fill it?
Also, I read (and posted previously) this article about The Real Cause of Addiction -- expressing that isolation is the foremost cause of addiction. This was one of my favourite lines: "The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It is human connection."
I think there's a reason that when the restoration of God's people is talked about in Isaiah 49, it talks about it being realized in a picture of prisoners being called out of their cells and the darkness they have been sitting in. They are set free, and then, they are lavishly provided for to the extent that the paths they take away from the 'prison' are lined with food -- to the point where they will 'not hunger or thirst'. God calls people our of the darkness they experience. That's what God is about. God wants not only freedom, but the safety and security of being given what we need. We need human connection. 
I am blessed to know people who suffer from and have suffered from addictions of various kinds. Addictions to prescription medication, alcohol, pornography, attention, cocaine, MDMA, marijuana, money, work, control, and many other vices. Although it's very sad, it is often not surprising that these people don't come running to church with their crippling pain, fear, addictions, and great shame. In church, we are often not characterized by our grace and understanding. And, this, I find sadly ironic. 
Why aren't Christians the best at this? Why aren't we known for welcoming people into the light from the darkness they have been experiencing to be their best among a community? We ourselves know what is it to be welcomed in, don't we? 
Christians have got to begin landing on the compassionate side of scenarios where someone is vulnerable, made to feel alone, and there is mud-slinging taking place. Please hear this: if you believe and have the experience that in Jesus you are found (Philippians 4:13), welcomed to rest securely in the arms of Almighty God (Isaiah 40:11), found without blemish (Ephesians 5:27) and forgiven (Matthew 6:14) -- just go love people. Don't make it complicated. Don't get caught up on the wrong side of the shaming and isolating of people finding their way and those who are hurting. Remember you were much the same once, and maybe, you have forgotten your new identity, the freedom that is rightfully yours and your first love (Revelations 2:4). 
There is a story in the Bible of a man who was summoned to the courts of his king and is asked by the king to pay back money he owed. The man knows he cannot repay his debt even if he sold all he had and if he and his whole family worked towards the debt their whole lives. The king, in an act of great mercy, forgives the debt. The man goes free. Then, the man, perhaps having just accounted for all his money, remembers a poorer man who owes him . He confronts the man and instead of allowing him to take the time to work and pay back the debt, he has him thrown in jail. The king gets word of this, is deeply grieved, and throws the man who owed him but was forgiven his debt into jail. This story is called The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant. Don't we so often do this? We call someone out on failure or shortcomings we notice when we know the grace we've received was lavish and unwarranted. Speck and log, anyone? 
Shame is a damning and dark experience. I heard the distinction between shame and guilt the other day. Guilt is sociologically very healthy while shame can be very damaging to a person's social relationships. Guilt can often mean a person is owning the hurt and having remorse for the pain they have caused by their actions. Guilt can propel you forward to make a change and move towards restored relationship. Shame fosters internal isolation. 
The story of the Prodigal Son is always a favourite. I believe it is a story of lavish and unearthly grace. The moral of the story to me is about letting people go free. The older brother in the story, the one who is the 'good son' and doesn't ask for and spend his inheritance before his father is dead, doesn't understand this grace. He doesn't want his dad to go all-out in the party for his son when he comes back, begging for a spot on his servant roster. I can be like that. I can think: "He's not doing it right! He didn't do the things in the right order and you should punish him for that! He doesn't think like You would!" (I'm really ornery.) But this story shows a different way. The father in the story had every right to bar the door and stand on his protected property and wait for his son to leave again and never come back. He would be shamed, and some would say "rightfully so". Instead, the father sees him coming 'a long way off' and runs to meet him (I always pictured it as more of a WEEHHEEE!! skip all the way down the driveway). He welcomes him back home. 
I don't think we can ever make too much of open arms or a welcoming stance or inclusive speech. I hope I can do a better job of seeking out those who are isolated and need to be set free from the darkness around them.
I love this verse in Isaiah 58:12. I like to think of it as best-case-scenario for a job description (and titles!):
"Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in."