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December 30, 2012

living grace in asia

Almost one month ago, I arrived in Asia to start my new job. To mark that one-month anniversary, I want to share a bit about the sensory overload that is this incredible (and incredibly different) Asian country. I don't want to forget it, and I want to share it with you.

A few days ago, I looked at my surroundings, shot a few photos, and literally thought: this is a National Geographic shoot. This place is exotic. To me, and to most of you, it truly is.

The irony is that to most of the residents of this city, I am the exotic one. I stand out in every way here: I'm tall, blonde, fair-skinned, blue-eyed and I don't speak the local language. That is to say, I'm a misfit.
    In the particular community we were visiting (seen in these photos), people stood at the doorways of their homes and watched us. I don't know what thoughts go through people's minds when they see me. A well-dressed man at the market followed us for 15 minutes; why? And what did he think of us? I wonder what the servers at our restaurant said about us to each other, as we tried to communicate but couldn't make them understand. I hope that somehow they catch a glimpse of grace.

    In my first month here I've had the privilege of meeting both the wealthy and the poor. Our friends and neighbours are often of the middle or upper class, but any venture to the streets has us rubbing shoulders with every class.

    Upper class friends live in spacious apartments, speak good English, play Avril Lavigne, wear jeans and use Blackberries. They eat imported goods and talk about Hollywood films. Some have traveled abroad. Cooks, drivers, and cleaners are at their beck and call. They are kind hosts and fun to be with.

    But this is a land of extreme contrasts. Just meters away from some of our city's polished malls, Nike stores and walled communities are tent cities. Early morning finds the inhabitants rustling, preparing small fires to heat tea and ward off the chill. A tattooed camel lazily chews its cud, waiting for its boss to finish breakfast and get to work. Modern highrises form the backdrop to this impoverished scene.

    The community pictured in these photos exists to create pottery. Clay water pots line the pathways of their community and a small mosque marks the end of the enclosure. We visited a family there, and they welcomed us into their home, a cloth tent. The mother busied herself making tea, which we drank from saucers (not cups), and she found some scraps of toast to serve us. No IKEA kitchen here: she worked on the ground to prepare our snack. We rocked their fussing baby's hammock and took pictures. As we headed out the tent door, the mother told us it was a shame we could not stay longer, for her to make flatbread for us. The people of this state, whether rich or poor, are known for their hospitality.

    During a game of ping pong, a new, well-to-do friend described a Western cafe where the clients "pay it forward" and donate coffees to poorer clients. It was a novel idea to her.

    "You should start something like that here," she said. "If foreigners start new ventures, it has more draw." I understand the whole "draw" thing; staring eyes are everywhere here. But I told her, "If a foreigner does something, local people will see it as something outsiders do. If you start something, they can look at you and say, 'If she did that, I can too.'" Grassroots grace. 

    Much of the world is used to foreigners coming to needy areas and showing grace. It's hip. But what of grace in everyday life, to the people on your doorstep?

    In Canada, I thought I knew what grace looked like. But now I wonder how grace embodies itself in a culture so foreign from my own. Does grace smile at the person who so brazenly cut in line? Does grace say "thank you" even when the culture doesn't expect it? Does grace help clear the table or allow itself to be waited on? How does grace treat the cook, the cleaner, or the driver? Does grace bite its tongue when it wants to make a joke about cultural differences? How does grace express itself when spoken language isn't yet present? These are a few of my questions.

    What grace looks like in a so-different culture is still a bit sketchy to me. But I think it starts by being filled by Him who fills all things. Then He pours out of you, and grace spills over. I can't look at the picture below without remembering that famous petition, "Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” That same spring of water "wells up" in us. Overflowing grace.

    The Sunday market next to the river swells with nearly every object imaginable. Wealthy locals would likely avoid such gatherings, but for us it is an adventure. The vendors' wares are an incredible mix of rusty tools, used clothing, pans, carts and animals. I snagged some booklets that teach the local language's alphabet. We saw baby chicks whose feathers had been dyed hot pink. Fake Ray-Bans and Dell backpacks. Cuddly baby goats. Old cameras. A padlock in the shape of a turtle.

    But most of all, the market swells with people. Tall or short, black-haired or blonde, rich or poor...we're right near the river and we all need grace.

    December 28, 2012

    my city

    As we wrap up 2012, quality of life statistics for cities worldwide are being reported. My city in Canada scored well in one such survey; and cities like Zurich or Geneva often top the lists. When I saw Switzerland this year, I understood why it is a desirable destination.

    These surveys look at a variety of factors, such as: number of ducks quacking in local lakes at any given time, Starbucks availability and the Justin Bieber fan index. (I was just checking if you were paying attention.) Actually, they look at factors that most people consider important for daily life: ease of transportation, air quality, education and entertainment options and, of course, cost of living compared to average wage.

    When I look at such lists, I don't look for my home city here in Asia. I know it won't make the cut. It doesn't have what it takes to be a top move-here city, with its smoggy skies, dusty streets, noise pollution, and the occasional riot thrown in for good measure. In fact, at Christmastime when I googled local weather, it came up as "smoke." I am glad to be here, but I didn't move here pursuing quality of life, by its common definition.

    The first coming of Jesus and ideas of so-called "quality of life" were reverberating in me this Christmas. When I thought about God's choice in terms of a quality of life survey, it gave me pause. We cannot comprehend the quality of life that the Son had in His glorious home in Heaven. He knew perfection in every way: relationally, environmentally, circumstantially. We're so accustomed to the story of Him coming to us that we don't realize the enormity of His change in lifestyle.

    But something mattered to him much more than personal comfort or earthly definitions of "quality of life." So He did something crazy. I went looking for the words again; Paul wrote about His move down in Philippians 2.

    He came down:
    "being in the form of God...
    made Himself of no reputation,
    taking the form of a bondservant, and 

    coming in the likeness of men."

    And down again:
    "He humbled Himself and
    became obedient to the point of death..."

    And down once more:
    "even death of the cross."

    Before He came to earth, God didn't do a quality of life survey about Bethlehem. In fact, of all people, He knew best what He was getting Himself into. He submitted Himself to pests, to dust, to sweat; to living in a sin-cursed world. More importantly, He submitted Himself to living under the Father's decree. He submitted to the point of death, even death of the cross.

    Hebrews 12 says: "For the joy set before him he endured the cross." Jesus' pursuit was of a greater joy than anything that could be quantified on a city score.

    Too often the joy we set before ourselves is not the same joy Christ set before Himself. We're not motivated by what motivated Him: things that last forever. Quality of life surveys show us what the world values, but we must assess our value systems for consistency with our Example's values. 

    Paul said: "What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away." (1 Corinthians 7:29-31)

    Whether believers reside in a move-there city or a leave-there city, our focus is to be on the eternal city. Abraham gave up earthly quality of life, because he was "looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God" (Heb. 11:10). 

    Someday soon, like Abraham, our pockets will be emptied. Our bodies will be stripped. Our homes will be leveled. True faith shall become sight. What a city we'll enter! What quality of life we'll know! We'll see firsthand what He left to redeem us. And we will worship...forever.

    December 14, 2012

    plainclothes priesthood

    Pigeons flutter and fuss outside my bedroom each morning. Engines rev. A sea of red-roofed buildings stretches below and around me, as far as the eye can see. By the time I wake up, the morning bustle has already started in our dusty, dry corner of Asia. I'm here; my new job has begun.

    Much of the work of recent weeks has been preparatory for the hiring of new local staff. Interviewing and setting up interviews took a lot of time. Finding appropriate computers, furniture, lighting, window coverings, and more for our expanding office has been the focus of much energy. I'm learning software and procedures so that I can be of help in the weeks and months to come. As I write, a team member is patching English together with the local language, trying to communicate with a carpenter. Our team is busy with the work that lies before us.

    I often think about the fact that a few years ago, I might have deemed this job as lesser than other kinds of Work. You know, more spiritual Work. But then Tozer challenged me:
    "It is not what a man does that determines whether his work is sacred or secular, but why he does it. The motive is everything. Let a man sanctify the Lord God in his heart and he can thereafter do no common act."
    I kept this statement on my wall for years as I pushed a mouse, implemented colour schemes and interacted with coworkers at my previous job in North America. It was part of a long, maybe life-long, process for me: learning what it means to do even common work in an uncommon way.

    As I was preparing to move over to Asia, a fellow believer referred to my upcoming move for "secular employment." A friend and I laughed about it later—the comment sounded so cold. It sounded lesser than moving overseas for, you know, more spiritual Work. Like perhaps my highest goals were simply money and pleasure (an empty attitude for which any believer should be rebuked). But perhaps it showed how general Christian thinking sees a chasm between so-called "sacred" and "secular" vocations.

    In the classic film Chariots of Fire, Eric Scott,
    a gifted Scottish runner, speaks with his sister on a green Scottish hillside. She is frustrated with his fascination with making the Olympic team. She wants him to think of God's work in China and to stop pursuing his worldly goals of running. Foot racing to her is common, not spiritual.

    I could relate to her concern, so Eric's reply challenged me. "God made me fast…. I feel the pleasure of God when I run. To give it up would be to hold Him in contempt." He knew there were pressing needs in China. But he also knew that not everyone could race in the Olympics, and that God had gifted him in that way. He had found his place for that time: using his physical ability to the glory of God. Today, Eric is more remembered for his Olympic participation than for his later work overseas. He showed that running, too, could be sacred: "the motive is everything."

    Martin Luther instructed, "Believe in Christ and do whatever needs to be done in your profession." This simple sentence boils down one's life to its bare essentials: what you believe, and what you do. These would be two good questions for any believer to keep in mind each day:
    (1) Am I believing in Christ today? and
    (2) What needs to be done in my profession today?
    I think Luther would agree that the answer to the first indelibly colours the second.

    We often tote this idea that we can separate our inner life and our outer life. This is a false dichotomy. The two are intimately connected: with your inner man you believe, and with your outer man you act upon what you believe. You will work in a way that shows forth the reality of what you believe. If the way you carry out your profession is not affected by Christ, then I wonder if you believe in Him. Faith in Him will, it must, affect how you go about daily life and work, be you preacher or peddler.

    Our world knows a lot about priests, capital "P"
    . Just pick your culture and continent. Gurus who sit cross-legged in front of attentive audiences. Preachers in crisp shirts and ties with smiling, freshly-washed families. Monks trudging long paths in their orange robes. Priests in velvety gowns that ripple around their ankles. Shaman with their drums and ceremonies. Imams gathering followers in the parched Sahara. Humans look for spiritual leadership and are often attracted to the pomp and ceremony such leaders may provide.

    But our Book speaks of the priesthood of all believers.
    It seems to discourage even the use of formal titles for true spiritual leaders in our midst; we are all one in Christ Jesus. I know many priests, lowercase "p". They look like graphic designers, engineers, drywallers, photographers, firefighters, housewives, mothers, sales managers, pastor-teachers, medical personnel and cross-cultural workers. In God's sight, one is no more priestly than another. They are the plainclothes priesthood. Lowercase "p".

    They are people who do whatever they do in a way that reflects a growing understanding of ultimate Reality. Everyday humans who realize that their everyday work—as ordinary or extraordinary as it may seem—locks into God's ultimate purpose. David said it best; only by embedding our lives in the life of the everlasting God can the work of our hands take on an everlasting quality. 

    And that, my friends, is uncommon. That is sacred.

    December 08, 2012

    some things take time

    It is 2:30am in my strip of the globe, and I am having trouble sleeping again. Perhaps my body clock is entirely confused or my mind is too busy processing new information. Whatever the case, today will be my sixth day in Asia; there's so much to take in.

    Between business meetings, interviews and cultural introductions, I have been itching to write again. Aching for quiet stretches of time when I can use written words to think about life and God. Writing seems to help me make sense of living with Him, and I've lived so much life over the last month or two that I feel I have a lot to write about. Right now.

    But most blog posts pass through a process. They've known previous lives as fragments of documents on my computer, Post-It notes on my desk or journal entries on my bedside stand. Raw ideas which I fear to leave unattended lest other eyes see them before the refining process takes place. Many drafted posts never make it into the real world or at least not in their originally-intended shape. I cannot "just post something" in this space. It takes time. 

    We don't like things that take time, do we? We are accustomed to instant access to anything and everything. We want to know how quickly we can get through school, which company offers faster internet or which radio station can direct us to the quickest route home. Our phones respond to voice commands—because unlocking your smartphone and typing in a question (which would have been considered high-speed technology only a few years ago) is so passé. Instant coffee, Devotions for Women on the Go, pre-peeled get the idea.

    We're forgetting the joy of quiet and of waiting.
    This greatly affects our ability to grow as beings made in the image of God. Life-changing ideas are often steeped by time, by the Word, by prayer, through circumstances and through relationships. There is a enormous difference between having access to facts and learning to compare and contrast ideas, to push the boundaries of our thinking, to come up with new-to-us connections and associations. A vast expanse lies between a simple Facebook friend and a true friend who has history with you, challenges you and reaches places in your life that few have reached. And the big Book's ideas illumine us but sometimes it takes years. Powerful ideas need time to disseminate.

    One of life's simple pleasures is watching tea steep in a glass mug full of hot water. It's a quiet moment that contains such beauty. Have you watched it happen? The water goes from being clear to being completely coloured by the tea leaves in a matter of moments. But not instantly. Those few moments as the colour transfers are my favourite moments of the process. Ideas, too, need time to steep.

    When I browse my own blog, it is a journey through what God has taught me over recent years. As I read it, I realize that God has been teaching me the same lessons for a long time. A few themes echo over, and over, and over. Because there's so much to take in. And some things take time. 

    October 29, 2012

    life, uncropped

    I hardly remember life before Instagram. That may be a slight exaggeration, but in the last twelve months or so, Instagram took over my newsfeed. It's not so bad. Most Instagram photos I see are sweet, capturing smiling children, kissing lovers, enjoyable outings...and what people are eating for lunch. I "like" a photo here and there, and move on with my day.

    Instagram is lovely for sharing bite-size moments of life. It gives you hope, you know? Because you could be in the ugliest environment in the world, but if you place a few cute things into the small frame shot by your cell phone camera, and crop out all the ugly stuff, your not-so-cute life can look really cute online. Just try it.

    There's nothing wrong with cropping photos. But recently I've been thinking about how we often try to crop the pictures others see of our lives, to make them look better.  We think we're doing ourselves (and others) a favour. But are we?

    Sometimes we want to crop our past. Who we were in the past doesn't fit the picture we want to present now. Maybe we're embarrassed of our upbringing, our background, our home life. So we get silent. We won't go there. Cropped.

    It's easy to crop our present. We play the "I'm fine, how are you?" game every day, or every Sunday, without ever delving into the less-beautiful details of life. I wonder how many heads would jerk and eyes would flutter in prayer meeting if (after praying for Uncle Joe's safety and Brother Bob's cold) we prayed about the sin we're entangled in. If we talked about real life on a deeper plane.

    When I'm with people of other faiths, sometimes I avoid spiritual matters. But to crop out any spiritual talk is crop myself. I am who I am only because of Christ, and He permeates my very being. When I take pains to remove Him from conversations, I'm doing a major crop job.
    For those in some form of spiritual leadership, pride often leads us to idolize a squeaky-clean appearance. In a sense, that might attract people at first, because you seem like you have a life that's really put together. But while that person might admire you from afar, when hurt or struggle hits their lives, they're unlikely to think you can relate. They'll either suppress their problems or take them elsewhere. 

    Some of my most treasured memories of teaching God's Word are those where I gave "my" kids the uncropped version of the lessons God was teaching me. One summer we talked about Proverbs' advice about words and communication. Sharing on a weekly basis about my failures and victories in communicating with my housemate made the lessons more real. Messier. More cluttered. But more true-to-life.

    We crop because we're full of the fear of man instead of the fear of God. We're afraid of what others will do or think when we leave crop mode and let them see the bigger picture of our lives. Proverbs teaches that, "Fear of man will prove to be a snare..." but "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom...." (29:25, 9:10). Life-cropping due to fear of man is sin.

    During the past few months, I've been a bit of a gypsy, staying in about 15 homes in 3 months. It has been enriching and beautiful. But I've also seen photos before they are cropped and edited. I've heard stories before they are edited for online consumption. I've eaten meals that weren't cute enough for Instagram. I've watched real life in many homes. 

    And I know why we like cropping. Life is cuter that way. Zoom in on the beautiful centrepiece on the table; leave out the Cheerios gathering dust by the baseboards. Crop out marital strain and show only date nights. Fill the frame with feel-good content, click and upload.

    We crop because we're not willing to live with or share reality. Sometimes reality stings, even savagely. But only when we talk with God (and often others) about real problems, can we find real solutions. Through the grace of God, ministered by His Spirit and our spiritual family, we can grow in living life uncropped. Staring fallen-world reality in the face with redeemed-world reality in mind.

    I will finish with a relevant clipping from A. W. Tozer:
    "If realism is the recognition of things as they actually are, the Christian is of all persons the most realistic. He of all intelligent thinkers is the one more concerned with reality…He demands to know the whole truth about God, sin life, death, moral accountability and the world to come…He takes into account the undeniable fact that he has sinned. He recognizes the shortness of time and the certainty of death. These he does not try to avoid or alter to his own liking. They are facts and he faces them full on."
    Maybe here I should put in a disclaimer about how we should exercise discernment as to when and where to share life, uncropped. But you already know that, right?

    Hey, you! Stop cropping.

    October 19, 2012

    cold stomach, meet your God

    It hit me today and the pit of my stomach got cold: two weeks from tomorrow, I'll be leaving North America. To use the terminology of my earlier post, I bought an ox and I'm moving to Asia because of it.

    The feeling in my stomach wasn't an "I don't want to go" kind of cold, just the "Wow, this is going to be a big change" kind of cold. The kind of cold you feel when your safety net is being pulled out from under you.

    Although I feel like an international person, when I did live and travel overseas, my parents took care of most of the details of packing, cleaning, getting money in different currencies, paying for flights and finding housing. Now when I travel or move, those responsibilities are mine. It has been a journey to even get to this point.

    My adult years have been spent in North America 99% of the time. Canada treated me well. I found edifying and helpful community. I found a job I enjoyed and that paid the bills. I've had a good life here. But the fear in my stomach brings me to realize that I trust in things like familiar surroundings, financial stability, friends and family to make me feel secure.

    It's taking leaving my regular surroundings to expose that once again, I'm trusting in myself and things I can see instead of the unseen God.

    The true God is not concerned that my geographical location might make it difficult for Him to provide for me. In fact, the idea never crossed His mind. I know, because today I read Psalm 66, which says, "By awesome deeds in righteousness You will answer us, O God of our salvation, You who are the confidence of all the ends of the earth, and of the far-off seas." 

    It goes on to say that He established the mountains by His strength, is clothed with power, stills the noise of the seas and the tumult of the peoples. Doesn't sound like He'll be struggling with culture shock, financial stress or fatigue overseas. I continued on to Psalm 66, and it speaks of the whole earth worshiping Him, too, "Make a joyful shout to God, all the earth!" and "all the earth shall worship You and sing praises to You....”

    Cold stomach, meet the God of the universe. The God of North America is the the God of Asia. Let Him be your confidence. He's got earth (and you) covered.

    October 15, 2012

    take a risk. buy an ox.

    One of my favourite Proverbs of late is 14:4,"Where no oxen are, the manger is clean, But much revenue comes by the strength of the ox."

    This proverb speaks to me of basic life principles of choice and risking to gain. Life is a series of choices. Even when we think we are not making a choice, we are. We're choosing to stay where we are. The challenge of this proverb is that a well-calculated risk is worthwhile to take. It doesn't say you have to risk. Have a clean manger if you want to; it's your choice. But consider the alternative: the power of extra revenue. Three of the big areas of risk in life are changing jobs, getting (and staying) married, and having children.

    Changing jobs involves risk. I find it interesting seeing how some people stay at the same job for decades, and others change often. There are benefits to both. But the lesson of this proverb is that what looks complicated or like extra work, might in the end be worth the extra effort. As Barnes' Notes on the Bible says, "Labor has its rough, unpleasant side, yet it ends in profit." Are you too worried about mussing the manger? Are you complaining about or suffering from lack of revenue, but unwilling to risk dirtying the oxen's stall?

    Marriage involves risk. It, too, is a choice. God does not force us into marriage. But the ox parable holds true there, too. Yes, marriage comes with extra duties and responsibilities. But it comes with extra joys, too. There are singles that I meet who are full of fears about marriage or require extraordinary accomplishments of any eligible suitor. We want a perfectly compatible, well-groomed, well-established partner. Perhaps we just need a bit more of a taste of the "revenue" of a godly marriage, to be reminded of the good it brings. Marriage is a risk worth taking, in the will of God.

    Having children involves risk. In North American culture, more and more couples are choosing childlessness. What used to be a couple's worst nightmare (consider how Biblical couples struggled with barrenness) is now considered a viable option. They're afraid of getting the manger dirty or having to pay for shots for baby oxen. In a sense, couples do have a choice as to whether or not to have children. But much joy comes from the arrival of a child.

    On Wednesday and Thursday morning, my sister might have told you that she, too, would never have any more children. (Labour is called labour for a reason, I learned.) But you should see my sister's home now, four days later. You should watch the way the love and joy has multiplied in their home by the arrival of the little person below last week. Yes, she was a lot of work. Yes, she will be a lot of work. Yes, it's quite possible that she's screaming right now. But the unique joy of parenthood is the "much revenue" of the addition of their sweet daughter.

    The direct application of Proverbs is 14:4, of course, is to work, but I believe that many other secondary principles can be drawn from this verse as well. It is a good challenge to those of us who are reticent to make changes, to expand, or to try new things: Where are we trading revenue for a tidy manger? Yes, it's your choice whether you want oxen, but a little hay never hurt anyone.

    October 09, 2012

    a friend indeed

    This summer I took a trek to various parts of North America to see friends and family. I crisscrossed the continent, chatting on picnic blankets, rolling homemade sushi, spooning clam chowder out of my sourdough bread in the fog and polishing off my first lobster tail at Anthony's Fish Grotto. I rode buses, planes, trains and boats. I walked until my legs hurt, held sweet babies and read dramatic autobiographies. It was a great way to spend two months. Because I was with good friends.
    Rolling sushi with friends in Michigan

    The majority of the friends I visited are transplants; when I originally met them, they lived somewhere other than where they live now. We said goodbyes at one time or another, and moving trucks or  overstuffed vans took them somewhere new. As they have settled into new spaces, they have filled their homes with a mix of memorabilia and new acquisitions. Their lives have been stretched to include new situations and new relationships.

    As we talked life—on boardwalks, in their homes, at their churches, at Chinese restaurants—I noticed that there has been one thing that many of them have had a hard time finding, and that is good friends. Wouldn't it be nice if one could walk into a furniture store, and along with the new sofa, purchase some close friends to sit on it? "I'll take two close female friends, to go!" Or if IKEA carried a build-a-friend kit? But good friends can be hard to acquire!

    A friend is not bought. There is something about free will that makes relationships deep and satisfying, or nothing at all. When a person chooses you, and then chooses you again and again, they are making you an offer of friendship. Because a true friend cannot be forced or paid, we truly rest on the grace of God to give us godly friends.

    Free will also allows us to make the choice to be a good friend. What kinds of friends should we seek to be? This is an informal list with a few suggestions of choices we can make in our current and future friendships.

    A visit with friends to the Hidden Lake Gardens in Michigan

    Choose Jesus as your Best Friend.
    Healthy human relationships flourish only in hearts that keep everyone in their proper categories—God is the only One we should worship, and it is finally His opinion of us that matters. Human friends are just that: human (read: fallible, flawed). It's easy to be petty and selfish about friendships, such as when a good friend finds a new close friend, when a friend moves into a different stage of life and you don't, or any multitude of other difficulties arise. Find your identity in Christ, not in others' reactions to you or interactions with you. In focusing on your relationship with your Best Friend, you'll become the best human friend possible. (I preach this to myself). 

    Be a friend that encourages people to choose your Best Friend. This should be a natural outpouring of a healthy relationship with Christ. Whether your friends know Jesus or not, a true friendship will point them to Him as the best and most enduring relationship. Sometimes even in what looks like a good relationship, because we discuss spiritual things or pursue godly activities, we can be encouraging our friends to depend on us instead of Christ. A friendship that encourages a greater love for Jesus is the best kind of friendship.

    Choose your friends with wisdom. This is basic to godly living: friends hold a place of great influence, so choose them carefully (Prov. 12:26). Proverbs warns against being friends with an angry person (22:24). When a person has a huge, prevailing sin, it is important that that person not be a main source of advice or counsel. A common mistake is that we think we can surround ourselves with unbelieving friends and still flourish spiritually. Friends influence us more than we realize. While it is important to build relationships with those who believe in other gods, and to love them, they should not allow them to be our counsellors—because we become like the people with whom we spend time.

    Check your motives for choosing certain friends. It is so easy to desire friendships with people who are well-liked, influential, attractive, at a similar stage of life, or popular. It can be tempting to refuse developing friendships with people who don't meet our qualifications. But as a wise man once pointed out to me, often the people who don't have a lot of friends are the ones who will be the most loyal friends. The popular kids can always move on to another friendship. Maybe that's why Proverbs speaks extensively about how the wealthy make friends, but the poor struggle to—because human nature is essentially selfish and thinks, "What's in this friendship for me?" (14:20, 19:4,6,7). Ask God to open your eyes to the friendships that He wants you to have—not just the friendships that are the most comfortable.
    Choose your words with wisdom. The way we use words has a lot to do with the kinds of friends we attract, keep and lose. Gossip kills friendships (Prov. 16:28, 17:9). Gracious words, on the other hand, win friends (Prov. 22:11). Part of true friendship is confronting or challenging friends about sin, but "faithful are the wounds of a friend" (Prov. 27:6). Give heartfelt advice (Prov 27:9). Use your words to sharpen and challenge your friend in the things of God (Prov. 27:17).

    Choose to use technology with wisdom. Further detracting from good relationships is the internet's "Facebook friend" culture, where people think that by being online "friends", they truly know another person. Coworkers we hardly know on a personal level want to add us as their "friends." Though mobile devices, we expect instant and personal access to our friends. We sit across the table from warm, breathing bodies and stare at Twitter updates on our phones, rather than having a real conversation with the person right in front of us. Maybe because in the digital world its easier to hide our faults and accentuate our strengths. As one of my friends so astutely stated, Facebook gives us all the perks of friendship without any of the sacrifice or struggle. It also gives us the illusion that we can closely maintain many friendships, when really a person cannot really have deep, regular interactions with so many people. Though our sinful natures have always struggled to have godly friendships, our culture of instant gratification and information overload sometimes weakens interpersonal relationships to a new degree. We need God's wisdom to know how to wisely use the technology He has given us to cultivate godly relationships, not detract from them.

    A Mexican sunset - enjoyed with friends

    Do you ever wonder at the goodness of God in creating relationships? Do you thank Him for your friends? There is a certain chemistry in the most enjoyable of friendships that is not reproducible on command. There is nearly nothing sweeter than the company of good friends. As I travelled I was amazed anew at the kindness of God as shown to me through my friends. They are friends indeed. May I be as well.

    August 16, 2012

    lessons from management

    Whenever my supervisor tells me he wants to speak to me privately, I get somewhat concerned. "Is he going to fire me?" is usually the thought that runs through my mind. (He does that sometimes: calls someone in, fires them, and then sends them out, red-faced, to pack up their belongings and head home.) As I sat across his desk from him last June, I was understandably nervous.

    The reason for the summons was an unexpected request. It wasn't something I had asked for, or even wanted, but God gave it to me anyway. Boss-man was asking if I'd do his job for one year, so he could take one year off to travel with his family.

    My response involved some reticence and lots of questions. But in talking the idea over with family and friends, I could think of more good reasons to take the position than to not. So I did.

    One exhausting year later, my assignment is up, and I've decided to accept a position with a company in Asia, after some rest. But before I move on, I wanted to record some of the lessons I believe God has been the process of teaching me in this season. 

    1. Be a leader, not a boss.
    People with power struggle with pride. Managerial positions, no matter how small, seem to come with a smattering of pride. Never mind that you're the director of a small group of people, in a small company, in a lesser city... and that your life is "but a breath." You still feel some sinful pride.

    I noticed how, when I told people outside of work that I was a supervisor, it seemed that their value judgment of me increased, no questions asked. People didn't ask me if I was a good boss, a kind boss, or a diligent boss. They just assumed that I was more valuable as a human because I had transitioned from underling to boss. I struggled with keeping a proper perspective on my position and role at work, when hearing insinuations like these and believing them. We like to think more of ourselves than we ought. Think of King Solomon, in all his God-given glory...taking for himself some 1,000 wives and concubines. If we get the attention, we want to play the part.

    Accordingly, one of the of the biggest lessons I learned was this: God calls us to be servant leaders, not simply "bosses."

    The world uses the term "boss," bringing to mind images of power trips, arguments and giving orders. It's all flesh and self-dependance. A boss can push people around without following any of his own advice. He demands deference based on his position, not his character. King David was the epitome of this during his decline into sin, sending his warriors to battle while he stayed home and slept with his soldier's wife. He was being a boss, not a leader.

    God showed me that a godly leader sets the tone with humility. Even the word "leader" connotes that the one in charge does what the others followers are expected to do. This is what sets him apart from a boss. For example, if I want my staff to work hard and use their time diligently, I need to set the example of that. When I spend 20 minutes joking and laughing with my fellow managers, but won't allow my staff the same flexibility, I'm not being consistent. A godly leader must truly lead in the same manner in which he or she expects to be followed. This is much harder than simply telling others what to do.

    Servant leadership is modeled best by Christ. His leadership style is unexpected. The very idea of the Creator washing our dusty feet and carrying our despicable sin should draw from us unending worship. It should curve our hearts' desire to reflect His model of leadership.

    2. Human nature is essentially sinful and must be called to account.  
    One of the strangest things about my position this past year, was how little accountability was expected of me. I soon realized that my new supervisor has a laid-back approach to overseeing the work of his staff. To be quite honest, it didn't take much work some days to keep him happy.

    I realized more than ever that I am not a very faithful worker when I'm not being watched. I easily found myself spending half an hour surfing the internet...taking an occasional extra-long lunch break...leaving early once in a while...and never being called to question. My conscience was often pricked by Ephesians 6's call to "obey [your employers] not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart." While the fault is my own for my sin of unfaithfulness, I realized that as humans, other than the desire to please your master, the knowledge of judgment and accounting is a premier motivation for good behaviour. Even though my human leadership was easy to appease, the Word that burned in my chest was that of Jesus. The knowledge that I am accountable to Him was what ultimately called me to account for how I spent my employer's time.

    Similarly, as leaders we ultimately do the staff below us a favour by holding them accountable for what is expected of them. Left to our own devices, without deadlines, performance reviews or penalties for out-of-line behaviour, we never have the motivation to excel. My own leadership style was a bit too relaxed because I don't like to create conflict, but I realized that in the end this isn't good for me or for my staff. They need accountability, I need accountability. Human nature is essentially sinful and must be called to account.

    3. Clear and positive communication is key.  
    This point is rather a mish-mash of thoughts on leader-follower communication and relationships. First of all, bring joy. Let your God-given joy shine through to the people you are called to lead. We live in a world that, quite frankly, is full of terrible events, sadness and illness. People live with a fear of death. Employees will razz you, hassle you and complain about and to you. But your joy might be what makes the difference in someone's day, or in their eternity.

    When communicating, make sure you communicate more praise and thanks than you do critiques and criticisms. At the same time, be honest about your expectations of your followers. Don't play things down too much in order to maintain a chummy atmosphere. You can't be bffs with everyone. And gossip...don't even go there. It kills.

    Deal with problems as they come up. Be gracious, but say what needs to be said, and say it soon. Not only is it much harder to bring up a topic hours or weeks later than you should have dealt with it, but it causes a lot of unnecessary stress. My tendency is to allow myself to boil for hours or weeks over some altercation that has taken place instead of just addressing the topic and clearing the air. Not good.

    4. You represent Christ.  
    I represent Christ. People are watching. This is so daunting to me. My heart's desire is to be like King David, who repented quickly when God confronted him with his sin of failing to represent Christ in his role as king. David didn't allow his earthly position as king to keep him from humbling himself. And indeed, by humbling himself he tapped into that which is at the very heart of Christlikeness: humility. Don't let anything keep you from it. It will set you apart from the regular management crowd, and point people to Jesus.

    I'm thankful for the people who told me to take on the challenge of management. I hope the lessons He taught me through this year will grow His likeness in me in the months and years to come.

    July 17, 2012

    craving the simple life

    I am craving the simple life.

    All this moving stuff, selling stuff, giving away stuff, packing stuff and sorting stuff...has reawakened a desire that already lived in me: the desire to simplify.

    Some people would say that I already live a simple life. I've still never owned a cell phone, paid by myself for a hotel room or bought a house. I like homemade and handmade things. I'm fairly thrifty. But stuff still has a strong a hold on me, too. When I travel, I realize how much equipment I require just for one or two nights away from home, let alone six months or one year abroad. I'm tired of "needing" so much and want to take less on my upcoming travels. 

    We are taught that stuff gives our lives substance and meaning. That we need it and that it will complete us. And we know that's not true,'s hard to live life in North America without accumulating stuff. Free stuff, thrifted stuff, purchased stuff, gifted stuff. It actually is rather shocking to me that after four months of purging, and semi-regular mini-purges before that, I still have way too much stuff.

    What follows are some thoughts I've had as I've considered these ideas: How can I simplify? Why do I crave simplicity? How does this serve God?

    Simplifying as an opportunity to identify and abandon your idols.
    Are there objects that are too important to you? Simplifying can be an opportunity to identify this. As I have packed and purged, idols have come to the fore. I realized that I've had a closet full of clothes. I have sought to purchase an identity for myself with clothes. In connection with this, I've appraised myself and others based on appearances. As I packed, this became more was (and is) hard for me to get rid of clothes. While this could be the subject of an entire post, suffice it to say that I am thankful that simplifying my life was part of what God used to show me that clothing had become a god to me.

    Simplifying as a fruit of contentment.
    Our culture is anything but a culture of contentment. For me, trips to the mall don't help me cultivate a simple attitude of contentment. Nor does too much social media. In some senses, Pinterest is a place for us to post what we crave. It's easy to think you need new things all the time, in order to keep up with what's trending. You don't really. If shopping, social media or other activities feed our desire to live over-complicated lives, we need to feed on them less, and on the Word more. Godly simplicity is ultimately an attitude of the heart: a fixation on things of lasting importance. "So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal" (2 Cor. 4:18).

    Simplifying as an opportunity for generosity.
    In my case, the accumulation of a lot of stuff was partially the result of a not-too-careful budget. Frankly, I bought a lot of things I didn't need. Simplifying is an opportunity to find joy in giving away things that will help others or meet a need. I heard of local church leaders encouraging their congregations to give not 10%, not 20%, but 40% to the Lord. To live simpler lives and use their superfluous income to change eternity. I know that a lot of believers would say that they can't do that. With their current income and current lifestyle, maybe they can't. But I wonder what God would surprise us with, if simple faith and simple living met. Quiet simplicity can be a catalyst for spreading joy.

    When simplifying is selfish.
    For many of us, our cluttered, complicated lives keep us from best serving others. But it is also possible to selfishly simplify. Ministry has a very earth-bound component; as Charmichael once wrote, "Souls are more or less attached to bodies." I have to remind myself of this sometimes, that some "stuff" is extremely helpful for serving others.

    For example, one of the things that "clutters" my life is supplies for teaching kids. I have books, worksheets, curriculum, visual aids. If didn't have so many Sunday school supplies, my closets would be emptier, but my kids might not learn as well as they can when I am well-equipped with teaching tools. Hospitality as we usually define it requires a level of complexity, like extra dishes, spare bedding or even a bigger home. Friends of mine collect furniture to help needy students; to my friends it might look like a shed full of clutter, but to immigrants, those are Heaven-sent goods! Homemaking is on one level an earthly task that requires earthly objects. I believe that we can create lives that are so basic that we cannot minister to earthly needs. Unlike the above point, where excess keeps us from serving others, here frugality or over-simplifying keeps us from serving others.

    Sometimes the idea of living simply is an idol to me, when the life God has given to me on this earth does require a certain level of "stock." Sometimes I have to remind myself of the reason behind the extra bedding, the candles in the pantry or the pile of Sunday school papers, when I'm tempted to bemoan having, packing or sorting extra stuff.

    When simplifying is contrary to enjoying beauty.
    God created us with earthly bodies that enjoy sights, sounds and colours. As a designer and a creative, I appreciate beauty and colour, and the little details that make life more beautiful. I like textured papers and interesting books. These things take up room and can cause clutter. I'm trying to learn a balance between enjoying these beautiful aspects of life without accumulating such stacks of stuff. (For someone who is organizationally challenged, like myself, this is a steep learning curve).

    The Amish or old-order Mennonite sects have shown us a "plain" life that they consider to be more holy. But why a life without colour, pattern or design? Isn't God Himself creative? I agree with the likes of Edith Schaeffer, whose The Art of Homemaking is a treatise on using creativity and beauty in the service of God, especially in your own home. My goal is to learn how to enjoy beauty without making life too complicated.

    Simple faith.
    I think a lot about simplifying in relation to stuff, but I want to crave that simple faith, too. When my life is more organized and less complicated, I have more time to invest in the eternal. The simple life should not be an end in itself (idolatry), but a means of making ourselves more useful in the hand of the Master (true worship).

    June 17, 2012

    singleness redeemed

    "You must be recently single." The remark came from across the table, taking me off guard. A coworker's spouse, making small talk at our staff party, put me on the spot with his comment.

    His questions assumed that if I were single, I wouldn't be that way for long. Perhaps it was meant as a compliment, or as a polite aside for me, so that I wouldn't have to explain why I had no date. I still think of his remark from time to time.  

    To the unbeliever, I suppose that singleness is something to be avoided, especially at my age. The singles you do meet are often a bitter, hurt or cocky lot who make disdainful comments about the opposite sex.

    Another day, I mentioned to a coworker that I wasn't taking a date to the Christmas party, and that I never had. His "Really?!" was then followed up by a polite nod and no further inquires as to whythough I think he was curious.

    After noticing that I always go to the party alone, one of my coworkers mentioned to me that I could take my brother along"no one would know he's your brother." He probably thought I'd feel better taking someone along. Maybe I would.

    My singleness is not something I discuss with my coworkers. This is probably for a few reasons, such as out of a sense of privacy or out of embarrassment that I have no one to bring. But the overarching reason why is this: unbelievers don't understand singleness as believers do. In secular circles, how often do you meet a young adult who seems normal in most other ways, but who has voluntarily chosen celibacy?  They have no "slot" for someone who is indefinitely single. Someone who isn't on the prowl. Someone whose appetites are filled with things that sex and human relationships were never meant to provide anyway.

    That's what's so unique about Jesus, friends. He redeems. He satisfies.

    Christ's work is to redeem all those things that sin has made awry, bringing the Father glory in the process. Creation groans under its current bondage to sin, until it is fully redeemed. I think there is some dissent among Christians as to whether singleness is a result of the fall of man, or whether, in a perfect world, singles would have existed. To be honest, I am not quite sure where I stand on that. But this I know: to the believer, singleness is a season that can be a joyful one. Christ has redeemed singleness and makes it something purposeful and beautiful.


    As the years creep by and I am still single, I have a few things on my mind in regard to life in this season. Here they are, in no particular order.

    Marriage is not the goal.  
    While it is wonderful to see godly marriage celebrated, I wish we saw godly singleness celebrated more, too. Some well-meaning Christians imply that the single's greatest goal in life is to be married off. They don't ask "How are you with Jesus?" They ask "Have you found a man?" This makes it difficult for us to focus on that which Scripture presents as our ultimate goal. We all (married or single) should be of one mind: our goal is to live this earthly life in a way that brings glory to our Redeemer. Christ has redeemed singleness to bear bring glory to Himself. In this season, we can do that in a way that married people cannot. Indeed, some people choose singleness out of devotion to Christ. So we must fix our eyes on the ultimate goal God has for His creatures.

    Singleness no intimacy. 
    When David mourned for Jonathan, he said: "I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me. Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women" (2 Sam. 1:26). They knew a deeper relationship than David knew with his wives. I've learned that God can give us deep, intimate friendships with human beings other than a spouse. Of course, it is not sexual intimacy, but it is intimacy nonetheless. Psalm 68:6 "God sets the lonely in families...."

    Singles suffer. 
    (We need a period after that subheading to establish it as a fact. But don't miss the next subtitle!) A few years ago I read a series called "Singleness Suffering" by a lovely blogger named Fabs. She identified some of the suffering that singles often face: loneliness, the pain of freedom, losing control, the pain of rejection, lack of physical intimacy, misplaced shame and losing dreams. Not a happy list, right? Fabs' exhortation was to acknowledge the pain, but not waste it. Press into Jesus in times of suffering. If you're single, I highly recommend reading or listening to Fabs' insights. Her challenge remains with me: "Don't let your suffering be wasted." Use it to develop intimacy with Christ.

    Singles suffer, but so does everyone else on earth. 
    I've learned, too, that every season of life on a fallen earth has suffering. To wish away the suffering of fallen singleness is to ask for the suffering of fallen marriage or fallen parenting. As a single, I will never know the pain of an unfaithful spouse or a prodigal son. That suffering is reserved for people in a different season. So, I will let God determine when or if it is time for a new season for me.

    I am sure that some of you, if you have gotten to this point in this post, are thinking: "Julie doesn't know what she's missing out on. Marriage is better than singleness." In many cases, you are right. Marriage was God's idea, after all, and a good one at that! But for many singles, marriage is not really an option. If I have learned anything, I have learned that it cannot be forced. Therefore, the Bible must be searched for truth to frame this season of life. The knowledge that Christ has redeemed singleness has enormous ramifications on everyday life as a Christian single. As we look around at a world scarred by sin, may we see (above the debris and pain) the redemptive work of God.

    June 04, 2012

    from recent readings

    My bookshelves (and now, my storage boxes) are heavy with books that I wish to read. My journals are lined with notes from the few books I have read.  Here are a few tidbits, in no particular order, from books I've read lately.

    Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis

    Showing maturity beyond her years, Katie Davis runs a far-reaching ministry to needy children in Uganda. This is her first book. Her life choices have challenged me and many others to give up on mediocre Christianity and act on what the Word says. She has given up much to show Christ's love to the hurting children of Uganda. See the book here or read Katie's blog:

    "People often ask if I think my life is dangerous, if I am afraid. I am much more afraid of remaining comfortable. Matthew 10:28 tells us not to fear things that can destroy the body, but things that can destroy the soul. I am surrounded by things that can destroy the body...but I am living in the midst of the uncertainty and risk, amid things that can and do bring physical destruction, because I am running from things that can destroy my soul: complacency, comfort and ignorance. I am much more terrified of living a comfortable life in a self-serving society and failing to follow Jesus than I am of any illness or tragedy. Jesus called His followers to a lot of things, but I have yet to find where He warned us to be safe. We are not called to be safe, we are simply promised that when we are in danger, God is right there with us, and there is no better place to be than in His hands." —Katie Davis

    "I've noticed something about people who make a difference in the world: they hold the unshakable conviction that individuals are extremely important, that every life matters.... They aren't determined to revolutionize the world all at once; they're satisfied with small changes. Over time, though, the small changes add up. Sometimes they even transform...the world." —Beth Clark (in the forward to Kisses from Katie)

    Walking from East to West: God in the Shadows by Ravi Zacharias

    Beautifully written, Ravi's memoir captured my imagination nearly instantly. Ravi ambles through his life story, beginning with his growing-up years in India and following that with his move to the West as a young man. I could almost taste the Indian sweets as they melted in his mouth, feel the jolting of his bicycle through throbbing Indian crowds, and hear his bat cracking his cricket ball across the playing field. As is his style, Ravi engages not only the reader's imagination, but his mind. Ravi highlights the goodness of God in bringing together all the necessary elements to bring him to Christ. This master of Christian Apologetics builds a case for trusting the Lord even through the telling of his life story. His book can be purchased here.

    "Apologetics is not just giving answers to questions—it is questioning people's answers and even questioning their questions. When you question someone's question, you compel him or her to open up about his or her own assumptions. Our assumptions must be examined." —Ravi Zacharias

    Hearts of Iron, Feet of Clay by Gary Inrig

    This is Inrig's readable and interesting commentary on the Biblical book of Judges. I used this to supplement my reading of Judges as I taught through the book in Sunday school this year. Inrig uses lots of interesting illustrations and makes the message of Judges hit home in our North American context. Get the book here.

    "There is an enormous difference between a direct and an indirect relationship to Scripture. An issue comes up in conversation, and two people give exactly the same answer. But on the lips of one, the answer is hollow. He is peddling secondhand convictions, something he has heard from [others]. The other person says the same thing, but his answer rings with the authority of personal conviction. He has been in the Word himself.... That Christian knows the fresh dynamic experience of walking with Jesus Christ. Beware of secondhand convictions.... Don't neglect the Word of God!" —Gary Inrig

    "Ours is a cut-flower civilization. While a sign of life remains, we have cut ourselves off from our biblical roots, and the petals are beginning to droop and fall." —Gary Inrig

    May 27, 2012

    "Thus far the Lord has helped us."

    This morning I sat in a bright, sunny kitchen nook eating a haphazard breakfast. Museli, retrieved from a moving box and eaten by the handful. My meals lately have been the random ones of a person who is moving. But, inspired by various friends who are doing "read through the Bible in one year" plans, my spiritual food has been more regular and healthy than it has been in a while.

    I've started into 1 Samuel this week, and this morning had me reading some verses that I want to record as reminders to myself:

    "Then Samuel spoke to all the house of Israel, saying, 
    "If you return to the Lord with all your hearts,  
    then put away the foreign gods...from among you, 
    and prepare your hearts for the Lord
    and serve Him only; and He will deliver you from the hand of the Philistines.” 
    {1 Sam. 7:3-4}

    "I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who will do according to what is in my heart and mind."{I Sam. 2:35}

    This week's move was the most convoluted move I have ever made. So much to think about, so much to do. I am feeling drained. Not just by the move, but by the business of an over-committed life. The years 2011 and 2012 have been rushing by. Feels like I'm on a hurtling train that's moving too fast to enjoy some of the slow joys of life. I hope that will change soon, as I wrap up my responsibilities here and move on to new things. I'm needing time to process all God has been teaching me, to regroup, to rest. To bask in His beauty.

    But I Samuel reminds me that no matter my season, I need to return to Him. To pour my exhaustion out and be filled with His strength. To put away my addictions and idolatries and truly prepare my heart for service to Him. What kind of person does He seek after? One who does according to what is in His heart and mind. To live that way is to delight the Father, and therefore to live in the joy of His blessing. He is truly the God of real refreshment and help for this tired soul.

    "Then Samuel took a stone and set it up.... He named it Ebenezer, saying, 'Thus far the Lord has helped us.'” {1 Sam. 7:12}

    As I've been packing and moving, I've been taking photos or making mental note of how God has blessed me through His people. These memories are Ebenezers of sorts, so that someday, when I'm facing another giant, God will remind me of how He has always helped me. A few months ago I was asking God for storage and for temporary housing, and He beautifully provided for both of those needs. When I was getting stressed, He gave me rest in a friend's home in the country. God sent a thoughtful e-mail, a bowl of Thai fish curry or a friend to scrub out my stove... at just the right time. So, as I pull up the covers on Moving Day, this I "say with confidence, 'The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?'" {Heb. 13:6}

    May 13, 2012

    counting the cost of change

    It is a bright and beautiful day. Summers always take a long time to arrive in Alberta, but when they come, they come. By that I mean, they come with glory. I am on my porch, soaking in rays here. Maybe for one of the last times.
    There are a lot of "last times" right now. I shoveled the walk at 10540 for the last time (not as long ago as you may think!). I mowed my lawn, for the last time. Weeded at 10540, for the last time. Some of the finality makes me happy; yard work is not my cup of tea. But some of the finality makes me sad. I don't look forward to the last Bible class with my sweet children who've brightened my Sundays for four years. Or the last walk by the river with a close friend, or the last camping trip to the Rockies before The Move.

    Maybe I'm melodramatic. There are a lot of "last times" because right now there are a lot of changes. There are the biggest changes, which I instigated by deciding to move. But there are the little changes too: the unexpected moving date, an extra expense, an awkward relationship that causes emotional stress, or a cancelled opportunity. I approach these changes with mixed feelings. 

    I'm changing jobs. On Friday, I told the boss that I'm leaving the job I've had for almost five years. Things felt different, even coming home from work, walking through the gate, up the porch steps...after I told the boss I'm leaving. This job has been a framework of my life for a long time. It has been the force that decided my schedule, my holiday time, my wage. Soon, it will be gone.

    I'm changing housing situations. If things go according to plan, I'm going to be living in diverse places for the next six months or so, and out of a duffel bag for part or much of that time. I'm excited to travel, to see people I love, to move to a new continent... but I also like to have my own space and do my own thing, so this could be challenging.

    I'm changing physical locations. This move is the biggest I've ever made, geographically. I'm going literally to the other side of the world. That, in itself, is an enormous change. Am I excited? Yes. Am I nervous? Yes. Sometimes when I bask in the silence around me, even in the middle of the city, I'm reminded that that is something that will soon be gone. There will be lots of adjustments.

    I'm changing host cultures.
    I'm changing languages. 
    I'm changing churches.

    Because I am single, I sinfully use this as an excuse to dwell on feelings of loneliness in all the changes. I tell myself that having a human to walk through this season of change by my side could be helpful. But that is when I remember, that there's one major thing I'm not changing:

    I'm not changing Gods. 

    "For this God is our God for ever and ever; he will be our guide even to the end." (Psalm 48:14) "He knows the way that I take..." (Job 23:10).

    I stopped writing this blog post to head to church for a special meeting. The most striking sentence in the sermon was this one: the element that is most missing in the North American church is sacrifice. We give, but out of our abundance. We serve, but with our spare time. And this is why we don't see the church taking huge leaps and bounds into victory—because we aren't willing to pay what it costs. He spoke of some of the personal sacrifices that God had called him and his wife to make, and reminded us that reimbursement from God was more than worth it all.

    I thought of this in relation to me, to the things I'm struggling with. I thought of a quotation I saw a few years ago, "Are you content to offer Jesus that which cost you nothing?"

    As excited as I am about this opportunity, these changes are costing something. So I carry this truth with me: He is (completely and utterly) worthy.

    cardboard boxes and dreams

    If you're like me, you sometimes wonder what God is doing. You question His ways, His timing, His thoughts. He gives you dreams, but He doesn't seem to provide the wherewithal to pursue them. Your vision of your life and the way life is going seem so disparate. You're tempted to ask Him to get on your schedule. If you need a reminder of His benevolent sovereignty, this story is for you.

    For the first few years I lived in this city, the only bedside "table" I had was a cardboard box. It served its purpose, and I was perfectly content with it. But a few years ago, when my parents came to visit, they came across an affordable bedside table and bought it for me. I came home from work one day only to find my box replaced by its more durable wooden counterpart.

    I almost cried.

    To me, my cardboard box was much more than poor man's table. It was a symbol. A reminder that to me that this city (or earth!) was a temporary dwelling place. My dream wasn't to live here forever and the box was an everyday reminder of that.

    As I have spent nearly the past five years living and working in an ordinary North American environment, I have learned countless things. This is just one: I have learned about finding joy everyday life. I've watched people groan about the daily grind, and I've (mostly) refused to participate. While they post photos of exotic vacations, I enjoy uploading photos of green onions on my cutting board or the flowers I found on my walk—because everyday life is beautiful.

    But at the same time as I sought to learn contentment, I thought this season wasn't necessarily leading me toward my life goals. My dream wasn't, and isn't, the American dream. I often wondered why God had me living the American dream of a good job and progress in my career, when that wasn't what I set out for. The next normal step for someone my age would be to "settle down" and buy a house, but nothing in me wants to own a house here. (Please refer to cardboard box story). So I wondered, "What am I doing here, God?"

    He hasn't been wasting His time.
    He doesn't do stuff like that.

    Around the same time I was introduced to working in graphic design, when I lived in rural southern Alberta, I was also introduced to chai lattes. Graphic design became my career pursuit. Chai began my introduction to southeast Asia, a part of the world I knew little about. When I moved to the city, I had opportunities to grow and expand my horizons in art, photography and design. When my life intersected with that of a gathering of believers made up of 50% immigrants from southeast Asia, my vocabulary (and girth) expanded to include foods like "samosas," "tandoori" and "naan". The kids in my Bible classes were (and are) mostly of Asian descent. I began to learn about their culture.

    The first time a friend mentioned the idea of me getting a job in Asia, I resisted the idea. The culture seemed overwhelming. But as the conversation continued, off and on, over the past few years, the idea grew on me. The picture of what I might do there became clearer as my friend's company flew me to the other side of the world in February for a brief visit and lots of conversation over chai or fresh pineapple.

    While I thought I was just living the North American life, I now realize that I was actually in professional, cultural and life training.
    I should not have second-guessed God's sovereignty.

    After consulting family, friends and leaders, I've accepted a one-year contract to work with my  American friends' company in Asia.  I am excited about this opportunity to use my professional skills to work alongside others who share my vision. If the year goes well, I may stay longer. We have many ideas how we'd love to use our presence in Asia to spread joy to individuals and communities there. 

    I'm leaving the country to which most southeast Asians would love to immigrate...and I'm looking forward to it in so many ways! But when I leave Canada I will be leaving some of my dearest friends and family. I will also be limiting my ability to communicate with you as personally as I might like. But I can send some stories and news. And when we get together for chai, I can fill in some blanks...until that great day when everything God is doing is "fully known" (I Cor. 13:12).

    I may also get rid of my wooden bedside table. Maybe you'd like it?