Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Top Ten Blessings of 2015

Although 2015 has been a tough year, I think as the year draws to close, it would be good to focus on the blessings and joys. So here are the top ten highlights of the year.

1. My two jobs as a home care nurse and foot care nurse gave me meaningful work and satisfaction. Although I haven't been working full-time since April and I decided not to continue with the foot care position in November, it was a blessing to have work, and I grew in confidence through these positions. I am hoping to get back in to the swing of things this winter and work my way back up to full-time work.
2. The church I attend has been a source of encouragement and love. The people there have prayed for me and showed caring in countless ways.
3. Immanuel prayer has been a major blessing, especially during these last months of illness and recovery. My pastor met with me many times this spring, summer, and fall and helped me heal and grow. There have been others who have coached and mentored me as well.
4. My family has given me such support and love throughout this time. My parents have prayed for me and been there for me. My siblings have shown caring and shared fun times together.
5. My friends have been so supportive, loving and encouraging. I have enjoyed hanging out with them and they have understood when I haven't been myself. They are truly a blessing in my life.
6. The Bible study I attended starting this past August at People's church has been a source of encouragement, support and edification. The ladies there have been beautiful examples of Christ's love in action and sharing times of worship together has been wonderful. The study on Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World has also challenged me and helped me grow. Winning the door prize the first night was pretty sweet.
7. The clinic I attend has been amazingly supportive and beneficial to my recovery. My doctor is one of the best and my nurse is also very good. The social worker and others at the clinic have also helped me immensely.
8. This summer and fall there were many trips and fun times. Spending time with Aunt Marnie on a road trip, celebrating my brother's birthday with him, enjoying time at a cottage near Peterborough, visiting family in Montreal and Ottawa, and visiting my older sister and her family at Cochrane, Alberta have all been delightful. I also enjoyed volunteering for a few weeks for a local candidate this election.
9. The blessing that my future brother-in-law has been to me, my sister and our whole family is an answer to prayer. He has helped her make tough choices and supported her through them. His love for her is very evident and I look forward to celebrating their wedding with them on January 2nd. It has been wonderful to have the whole family together this Christmas.
10. The faithfulness of God and his unconditional love have been very present in the past year. He has given me hope and strength to face tough stuff. He has protected and guided me, and brought me healing and restoration.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas Joy

"Behold I bring you tidings of great joy, which will be for all the people. For today in the city of David is born to you a Saviour who is Christ the Lord." So the angels spoke to the shepherds at the birth of Jesus. As I celebrate Christmas, with all its trappings of gifts, large quantities of food, and family togetherness, I want to pause and reflect on the birth of my Saviour and Lord, the Word who was made flesh and came to dwell among us. This birth of the Son of God was a humble one, but it brought to our world peace and joy. Jesus was truly was love come down to live among us, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.

That the God of the universe would humble Himself to take human form, that the Christ would become a servant of those who would later reject and scorn him, that He would empty himself so that we might be filled, that he would come to earth with the purpose of offering Himself as our perfect Passover Lamb, that is the wonder of Christmas. Let His love be born in our hearts today and let His peace saturate our spirits.

May we never forget that the babe who was born and announced by the angels to the shepherds is the same King now seated at the right hand of God. He is our Great High Priest, interceding for us. He is the Good Shepherd who lay down his life for the sheep. He is the Firstborn of all Creation and the Bright and Morning Star. He brings us light and life, salvation and deliverance, freedom and the Father's love.

This Christmas may we be filled with inexpressible joy and experience the wonder and amazement that Mary and Joseph and the shepherds felt so many years ago. May we marvel at this extraordinary gift that came in such an ordinary form.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Ideal Match

I don't know if I believe there is just one soul-mate for every one, but some people just seem ideally suited for each other. I know relationships are a lot of work, but some couples make it look more like a delightful task than an onerous duty.

If I look at my parents, who have been married almost forty years, they just seem right for each other. They complement each other and treat one another with both respect and a deep love. My older sister and her husband, who got married fifteen years ago when they were in their early twenties, are a model of devotion and consideration four kids later. While they have gone through difficult seasons, they have weathered them and emerged stronger and more united. My second youngest sister has been married a year and a half to her husband and their marriage is an equal partnership where each one considers the needs of the other and respects the other's differences.

As for my sister who is getting married this January, I can see signs of mutual respect and love between her and her fiancee. They seem to click and complement each other in a beautiful way. They have built their relationship solidly on a foundation of love for God and caring for each other. 

I guess couples can grow together or grow apart. And when it is about how to serve the other person, rather than how the person can serve you, that's when relationships work.

As a single person, I don't think marriage is the answer to my life's fulfilment, but I aspire to a relationship such as my parents have. I want that partnership where we can work together for a common goal and vision. I desire that closeness and that deep affection. I want to believe that at the right time, it will happen. I have had to learn the hard way that just because you desperately want a relationship to work, doesn't mean it will. In the end, marriage is a gift, but singleness is also a gift and a season of freedom where you are not tied down by the needs of a partner or of children. It is a choice to enjoy the season you are in, and trust that God knows what is best for your life.

My parents at a Blue Jay game this past July 1st.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Devotional Junkie

Somehow things have gotten out of balance with my devotional life. It started with signing up for daily meditations to be emailed each day to my inbox. I now have five to eight each day plus three to five chapters of Bible readings sent to my email. Then I also signed up for a daily Bible reading plan from one of the apps on my phone. I already read Jesus Calling, My Utmost For His Highest every day and sometimes Jesus Lives and Jesus Today. Every week I read from Devotional Classics and another devotional called Ancient Christian Devotional. Depending on the day or week there might be more devotionals I dip into. Basically I am deluged with devotional readings.

With so many readings each day and week, my prayer life is somewhat limited and I can't internalize so many truths at once. I am left feeling spiritually dry and dissatisfied at the end of the day, as I realize despite everything I have read I haven't really connected to God or spent any time thinking about applying the truths I have read about. 

This week I was reading an excerpt from St John of the Cross and realized some of the seven capital sins he discusses may in actuality be part of my life. They are secret pride, spiritual greed, spiritual luxury, spiritual wrath, spiritual gluttony, spiritual envy, and spiritual sloth. It was quite eye-opening to see how things you may view as virtues, like diligence in devotional readings, when out of balance or done for the wrong reasons, can actually become a vice, or that you can actually be too spiritual, prideful in your own pious acts, or overly greedy for spiritual consolation, addicted to the feelings that more and more reading and religious activities give you. Maybe in all this activity, I am actually pleasing my own self and not walking in true obedience to God. Perhaps he wants me to humble myself, exercise simplicity and moderation, be content, at peace with him and where he has placed me, filled with joy instead of envy, strong in the power of his might rather than relying on my own strength.

I know something has to change so that I spend less time reading and more time praying, less time seeking consolation and more time seeking and enjoying God, less energy keeping up with what I think I have to do and more energy seeking God's will for my life. There is something to be said for moderation in all things and although Christ has already spoken to me about this lack of balance, I have not acted on it and decided how to scale back and simplify my routine. I think I seriously need to consider how best to spend time with God in a way that I hear from him, actually apply what I have heard, and simply soak up his love and grace and peace. I need to be devoted to God without being a devotional junkie.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Addicted to the Written Word

One of my favourite movies which I have seen countless times is "Ever After" in which there is a library scene in which Danielle, the Cinderella character, pronounces herself "addicted to the written word." One of the reasons I chose to be an English major is my love for reading and writing, although I have never read dense philosophical works such as "Utopia," which is Danielle's favourite book. There is something about holding a book in your hand or looking with proprietary pride at the collection of books in their own particular order on your shelf. I have loved books from a young age when my Mom would read to us books such as Dr. Seuss or Henry's Awful Mistake. My older sister belonged to a book club that would send her books in the mail. My Mom read us E.B. White and CS Lewis, Madeleine L'Engle, and JRR Tolkien. To this day, I can't read Lord of the Rings without hearing every song in her less than melodious voice.

I don't think I could get used to a world without books. I hoard paper and have almost all my papers from university still and some from college. I even have a couple of projects from high school I have kept all these years. Lately I have more books to read than I have the concentration and focus to delve into.

I am a long time fan of fiction, especially historical fiction or classics both English and translations from world literature. But now I also enjoy non-fiction such as memoirs and inspirational stories, histories, and devotional works. 

I have kept many books I had in university although in the interest of space I have had to let go of some of them. This fall I was able to pass along some of my nursing texts to someone who was taking the same program, freeing up room on my shelf. This summer I got an Ikea shelf at a garage sale which attaches to the wall and holds my journal and cookbook collection as well as reference books and miscellaneous other books I have acquired over the years. As an English major I would spend Christmas break and summer breaks reading my book list. One of my professors counselled us to read every book twice, because there were things that only became clear in the second reading. I admit I never managed to follow this advice.

Saying goodbye to a book, even if I know I will never desire to read it again is a traumatic event. Books are like old friends. I still remember with fondness my maternal grandparents' book collection and how they would take us to the used book store every spring. My grandpa would allow each grandchild to select five books and that's where I got my copy of Gone With the Wind and Little Women. When my grandparents passed away I didn't take as many of their books as I would have liked to have in my possession. My Mom continues the family tradition by getting us discount books each Christmas. 

My favourite book in the world is the Bible which I have loved ever since I excelled at answering questions in the back of our Bible story book at age five. I still remember my kindergarten teacher telling us Bible stories in her own words while we sat together on the carpet. As I child I used to correct Sunday school and Bible teachers when they got a fact slightly wrong.  I have a number of study Bibles and several different versions. I even have a Greek New Testament. I love the stories, tracing the history of redemption, and the cadences of the language particularly in the New International Version. There is something about reading the Psalms, or a chapter from Job or Ecclesiastes, or a particularly beautiful passage in the prophets that is a special experience that you can't find in any other book. The New Testament is full of both stories about Jesus and the early church and the teachings of Jesus and the apostles that contain truths I want to internalise. Also the fact that the Bible is God's word by human authorship adds value beyond good literature. From my years of hearing the Bible read there are quite a few passages I know by heart. It is one thing to know the Scriptures though and quite another to live them. It is sometimes a long distance from the head to the heart, and then there is putting into practice what you have learnt.

I have a dream of writing a book myself some day. I would want it to be a wise book and something that could help other people. I have read and now own a book on the healing power of writing your story which also has writing exercises in it, so maybe I will start to do a little bit at a time. Even if I never got it published I think it would be a worthwhile project that would help me on my healing journey.

Fair Weather Report

I have been enjoying a couple of days with a friend who came to visit from Toronto. While she was here I got the call that I will have three training shifts this week, so I am pretty excited about that and a little nervous as well. Today I will drive my friend to her parent's place in Brantford where she will be visiting for the holidays and then Wednesday it is back to work!

After so many months being off work, it will be a good feeling to be a nurse again and help my clients with their health concerns and daily routines. I hope I will get into a healthy rhythm of work, rest, leisure, study, exercise, and devotional time. I have had the luxury of so much time to myself which I could fill with long walks, Bible studies, times of prayer, and lots of blogging. Now I will have to budget my time a little more and prioritize the things I want to do.

This has been a very strange December weather-wise. Instead of snow we have got rain and fairly unseasonable temperatures. I don't think we will have any snow this Christmas, but I am really looking forward to the whole family being together. Tomorrow we are decorating the tree we cut last week and my sister from Montreal will be here. 

I am feeling very blessed and have a lot to look forward to in the next few weeks. I better get going though as my friend had been napping and now is awake. It doesn't do to ignore your company!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Winding Road

When this year began, I didn't envision I'd be where I am now. I didn't think I'd have such a struggle to return to a sense of normalcy or that I'd be away from nursing for so long. This month I will be scheduled for some training shifts to ease back into the working world. 

The more distance I have from the events of this spring and summer, the more I realize how very ill I was, and how removed from reality my thoughts really were. Every once in awhile a memory of that time returns for me, and I wince to recall something I said or did or believed. 

It has been a long road back and I am still in recovery even now that my medication fiasco is mostly straightened out. I am feeling like I am back to a Suzanne I recognize, even though these experiences have altered me in so many ways.

Accepting I have lost some things in the process and grieving those losses is important. Knowing that I have a God who heals me and is with me through it all, comforts me and assures me that I am safe in his hands. Such brokenness and pain is something my Saviour understands and he died to heal those wounds.

I am thankful for all those who have lifted me up in prayer, or just been a friend through these months of illness and incremental recovery. I have been blessed with many true friends and mentors. The time my pastor took to counsel me through Immanuel prayer has been instrumental to my emotional and spiritual healing. I have worked through anger, bitterness, and grief and let go of fear, perfectionism, and striving. While sometimes I still ask why or consider what ifs about my future, I have been given a sense of peace and hope and expectancy. I don't know what the future holds for me, but I do know God will work everything for my good, even the hard stuff I never wanted to face.

While I don't understand this winding road I have travelled, I do know I have had a faithful friend who has journeyed with me every step of the way. He is someone I can trust and rely upon.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

The Red Letters

Sometimes I want to take offense at Jesus' words when I read them in the gospels. They seem to demand all, and maybe I only want to give some. His words shake me out of spiritual complacency and the comfortable status quo of my life.

"Take up your cross and follow me... Lose your life for my sake, to find life." It is there in Matthew 16 in red letters and the words present a challenge. I shrink back from what it will mean in the practicalities of my day to day life. What will I have to give up; what will I be required to do that will mean denying myself and my own desires?

Jesus doesn't just want a piece of my heart, and the part of my life I am willing to surrender. He doesn't just want a part of my mind, a section of my soul, and a portion of my strength given to his service. He wants all and not just at the times that are convenient for me to offer it. 

In his comprehensive demands, Jesus wants me to count the cost of being his disciple. I sometimes wonder how I would hold up under persecution or whether I would have followed Jesus, if I lived in his day, or would I have taken offense at one or another of his sayings. In this country, I am free to be as devoted to Christ as I want, but so many around the world are persecuted for their faith.

The rewards of discipleship actually far outweigh the cost: salvation, deliverance from past futile patterns of thinking, peace, joy, rest, forgiveness, unconditional love, and eternal life. But making Jesus Lord of your life means yielding to him in your daily decisions and renewing your mind on an ongoing basis. The process can get a little messy and decidedly uncomfortable. 

I want to be the master of my own destiny, the captain of my own soul. Jesus offers an alternative way where I make him the Master and then have him gradually remodel my life to make it according to his design. Since he is an expert craftsman, his work will make something beautiful out of what seemed marred and ugly. I need to trust him with all the broken pieces and believe that he holds the keys to a life that may not be comfortable, but will be rewarding and ultimately life-giving.

Mike and Linda canoeing out on the lake near our rental cottage this summer.

This canoe was barely sea-worthy, but the view out to the lake was lovely. 

I don't recall what was so funny.

Friday, December 04, 2015

The Glad Game

In the past I have claimed to be a realist, but really that was a code name for a deep-seated pessimism. Of late, I have been growing in the area of seeing my circumstances in a positive light. In the hospital this past spring, they taught us mindfulness and that practice of thought focuses on the five senses and involves observing a thought that comes to you, and if it is negative simply letting it go. There are various principles to this meditation practice, but in essence you are paying attention to the simple joys in life and letting go of some of your uglier judgements about yourself and other people. Mindfulness practice is excellent for those struggling with depression or anxiety, and I found in it a way to calm my racing thoughts and focus on the now.

There is a conflict between my desire for a realistic appraisal of my situation and my search for true joy. The kind of joy that is always bubbling under the surface of life and spilling over into words and acts of gratitude. Joy that is not based on circumstances or the prevailing mood of the day or the fickleness of emotions. Joy that runs so deep it is not swayed by hormonal fluctuations or bad news or disappointments and daily struggles.

So many occasions in the Bible we are commanded to rejoice, even in the face of persecutions and suffering. Paul found contentment and true joy, even when in prison or undergoing persecution and hardships. In one of my favourite passages on the vine and the branches in John 15, Jesus says as we remain in his love and keep his commands to love each other, we will experience abiding joy. He states "I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete" (John 15:11, NIV). Peter writes about rejoicing in the believers' "new birth into a living hope" and into the inheritance kept in heaven for us, even in the midst of trials that prove the genuineness of our faith. He speaks of "an inexpressible and glorious joy" in salvation (1 Peter 1:3-9). This joy in being redeemed and delivered is clearly a fulfilment of a prophecy in Isaiah about a time coming when, "With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation" (Isaiah 12:3, NIV).

One of my mother's favourite movies is Pollyanna, and she often exhibits a similar sunny optimism. At times I find that so aggravating, I retreat to a gloomy Eeyore-like state that is probably of much greater annoyance to everyone around me. I focus on what I cannot do, instead of the world of possibilities of what I could accomplish if I simply tried. Playing "the Glad Game" may not be a such bad idea, when dissatisfaction builds, discouragement sets in, and the violins start playing for my pity party for one.

How do I rejoice in my current situation? One of the keys must be found in love and service for others. The others might be unearthed by abiding in Christ and praising God for who He is and what he has already accomplished in my life, namely salvation, redemption, deep healing, and forgiveness. There have been so many answers to prayer, so many instances of his faithfulness. The thing about his many promises, is that they never fail, and his love doesn't either.
My parents in Montreal this fall.

My parents and myself

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Of Magnets and Mysteries

This morning I spent time with a lovely group of ladies from Flamborough Christian Fellowship in a Bible study. We are learning all about ourselves as new creatures in Christ and as people who are called to be saints. I haven't yet returned to work, and the slowness of the process was discouraging and frustrating me. However the email I sent this morning received a reply and there was a request for information on my availability and skill set, so things are finally getting moving!

Yesterday when I was extremely upset with my current situation of still not being back at work, I went for a walk and talked to God about this frustration and my impatience. He reminded me of how long the people of God waited for a Saviour. Advent is a season of waiting. We remember how the people of the old covenant waited for a Messiah for thousands of years, and we ourselves wait for the Lord's second coming.

Our timing is not God's timing. It is said that the Lord is rarely early, but he is always on time! When I think of the gift of a Saviour and the gift of salvation and eternal life that resulted from him becoming flesh and dwelling among us, I am in awe of such grace and favour. As we learnt today from the teachings of Graham Cooke, through Christ we have died to our old natures, and our identities have completely changed. I am now a daughter of God and a joint-heir with Christ. Everything he had and walked in while he was on this earth, is available to me as a gift. He himself lives in me, and I also have the gift of the Holy Spirit whom he sent. I have been given the gift of righteousness and God's commands are an invitation to walk in newness of life, not an avenue of condemnation.

If I allow that truth to really sink in, my thinking, my behaviour, and my motivations will be totally transformed. We are all God's brilliant creations, and we are called to display the goodness of God in our lives. Graham Cooke states all heaven is attracted to Christ's life in us. We are like magnets of his love and grace, drawing others to the Lord to receive what we have received from God. We are called to be givers and in giving we receive. There is so much in this teaching to grow up into!

The way of salvation and redemption is the type of mystery that draws you in deeper and deeper into the mind and ways of God, which are beyond human comprehension. It is amazing how everything fits together and comes together in Christ!

Rachel and Joel checking out the menu at the restaurant they took us to this fall.
If this is my self-indulgent drink, you should have seen my dessert crape!

Biking in Ottawa this fall with John (not in this photo) and Camille.

Rachel and Joel in charming Montreal.