Converge http://convergemagazine.com Wed, 19 Aug 2015 06:01:58 +0000 en-CA hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.4 On my way to finding the onehttp://convergemagazine.com/first-year-of-marriage-7708/ http://convergemagazine.com/first-year-of-marriage-7708/#comments Tue, 18 Aug 2015 16:09:27 +0000 http://convergemagazine.com/?p=7708 On my way to finding the one by Vanessa Falsetti

I was the kind of girl who crushed on boys for long periods of time. I remember sitting on the...

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On my way to finding the one by Vanessa Falsetti

I was the kind of girl who crushed on boys for long periods of time. I remember sitting on the steps of our schoolyard during recess with my friends, drawing pictures of wedding dresses in every possible style we could imagine.

My friends and I didn’t think about the wedding day, the marriage, or the potential of having children. Instead, we imagined opening our own wedding dress shops, studying fashion at popular arts schools, and becoming incredibly successful. We didn’t dream of becoming wives, mothers and stay-at-homes; we dreamt of success and artistic freedom. Marriage was the subplot, something we knew would be a part of the story.

But it wasn’t the only story.

Our wedding day

Our wedding day

Scott and I met in my final year of high school. We were an unlikely match: he was a year younger than I was, making it impossible for anyone to take our relationship seriously. (Girls didn’t date younger guys in high school. It was just unheard of.) We met and started dating around Christmas, giving us about six months before I started to think about packing my bags for university.

This was a difficult time for both of us; I was stressed about going to the right school, and he was staying behind to finish his last year of high school. In hindsight, it’s remarkable how he offered such selfless support, encouragement and respect for my choices at such a young age.

While away at school, I had plenty of time to develop into my own person and form my own views. Scott and I did have to endure a long distance relationship during my first and fourth year of school, but looking back, this was the time we needed to become the people we are today. During those few years away at school I always had marriage in the back of my mind. Scott was someone I wanted to be a part of my life. But neither one of us would have guessed we would take such a traditional route.

Those years away at school changed my perspective on so many things, marriage being one of them. The white dress and beautiful reception had always appealed to me, but some of the concepts and ideologies associated with a traditional marriage scared and discouraged me from believing wholeheartedly in the convention.

One of the main deterring factors for me was the battle between reaching career and other life goals and starting a traditional family. During so many stages of my life, especially while I was away at school, I’ve struggled with this idea. While in school, I viewed marriage as the end — a time when pursuit would be over and what lay ahead could only be boring, scary, and who knows what else. I associated marriage with dependency and defeat. It never really occurred to me that you could be in a marriage (which in essence would be an extension of the relationship I had been in for so long) and still live out your dreams.

I felt conflicted about this for years. I knew marriage was something I wanted, especially because I was so sure of the person I wanted to be with. But the negative conventional view of marriage I had developed over the years, where love faded into tolerance quicker than I could recite vows, had clouded my vision of this age old promise.

While my time at university made me wary of what marriage could mean, it also brought about the realization that Scott was “the one.” If he wasn’t the one I would marry, he was someone I knew I couldn’t be without. I don’t think we ever have those light bulb moments where we all of a sudden realize he or she is the one. Instead, I think there are a series of realizations that add up over time, making it utterly impossible for that person not to be “the one.”

That’s our story anyways. The moments began to add up, like when he came to visit me on crutches after an injury, or when he comforted me after a spat with my roommates. I think marriage, like those “he’s-the-one moments,” isn’t, can’t be an end result. It’s not like the final scene in a chick flick, or the perfect ending to a childhood folk tale. It really is a new beginning. It’s a series of events that add up and shape who we are, together and apart.

At this point, we’re still new to this thing. But already I’ve come to understand marriage as a new beginning. Of learning what it means to be you and me. And of learning what it means to be us.

 

 

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Why the “Christian life” isn’t worth livinghttp://convergemagazine.com/christian-life-isnt-worth-living-5708/ http://convergemagazine.com/christian-life-isnt-worth-living-5708/#comments Mon, 17 Aug 2015 12:51:59 +0000 http://convergemagazine.com/?p=5708 Why the “Christian life” isn’t worth living by Kurt Willems

For a good part of my life, I focused my faith on knowing Jesus through morality management. More accurately, Jesus was...

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Why the “Christian life” isn’t worth living by Kurt Willems

For a good part of my life, I focused my faith on knowing Jesus through morality management. More accurately, Jesus was savior and the Spirit was the voice that helped give me the strength to avoid things like cussing, gossip, lust, and pride. Getting through a single day where those sins were avoided meant a major victory as I walked closer to Christ.

In college, a new sort of emphasis emerged in my Christian journey. Instead of seeing discipleship as a system of sin management, I discovered the red letters of Scripture. These words of Jesus (along with his actions) propelled me in a new direction: justice.

Compulsively, I would give a few bucks to homeless people as they asked. In my youth curriculum (while I served as a youth pastor), more of the emphasis moved toward Christian activism. That is not to say that I didn’t care about relational aspects of knowing God, but that justice (and at times superficial forms of it) became primary emphasis. As a result many areas became important in my personal life: signing every progressive petition that would lead to influencing the system for the poor, avoiding stores that are known for their social Darwinism, and purchasing anything I could find that was organic.

It would be safe to say that I went from conservative evangelical focuses to a progressive faith emphasis. Still holding to the essentials of the Christian theology, but believing that true discipleship meant doing certain things. It’s interesting to me looking back: at one end of the pendulum of my faith journey I tried to avoid things, and at the other end of the swing I tried to do things. Both attempts at living the Christian life miss the point of discipleship completely!

Which begs the question: What’s the point?

We aren’t supposed to live as though God is a cop, ready to bust us each time we sin. Neither does God call us to work ourselves so hard that we become void of spiritual vitality. In this sense, the Christian life isn’t worth living.

Christian Philosopher Dallas Willard says this:

“Jesus never expected us simply to turn the other cheek, go the second mile, bless those who persecute us, give unto them that ask, and so forth.  These responses, generally and rightly understood to be characteristic of Christlikeness, were put forth by him as illustrative of what might be expected of a new kind of person – one who intelligently and steadfastly seeks, above all else, to live within the rule of God and be possessed by the kind of righteousness that God himself has, as Matthew 6:33 portrays.  Instead, Jesus did invite people to follow him into that sort of life from which behavior such as loving one’s enemies will seem like the only sensible and happy thing to do.  For a person living that life, the hard thing to do would be to hate the enemy, to turn the supplicant away, or to curse the curser . . . True Christlikeness, true companionship with Christ, comes at the point where it is hard not to respond as he would.”

This “responding like Jesus would” impulse comes to us in many places – like the Sermon on the Mount – but also in 1 Peter 2:

21 You were called to this kind of endurance, because Christ suffered on your behalf. He left you an example so that you might follow in his footsteps. 22 He committed no sin, nor did he ever speak in ways meant to deceive. 23 When he was insulted, he did not reply with insults. When he suffered, he did not threaten revenge. Instead, he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly.

Did you notice the reason that Jesus was able to endure such horrendous violence? Jesus “entrusted himself” to his heavenly Father. Prior to enduring the sufferings of the cross, with beads mixed of sweat and blood dripping down his brow, he humbly accepted the will of God the Father. In that painful, yet intimate moment, Jesus’ relationship to God took the ultimate leap forward, a deep knowing that led to a profound trust.

Jesus had chosen to know the Father’s will so much that it determined the natural impulses of his actions toward his enemies. Peter invites us to model our lives in the same way. How do we live as people of peace? The answer begins with “entrusting” ourselves to God, allowing the life of God to transform our character. When this happens, enduring unjust treatment via nonviolence will become part of our second nature.

The same is true of every other justice issue. God empowers us to become the sort of people whose impulses are bent toward love, and this happens when we create space in our lives to know God intimately. Justice and spirituality go together!

And, what of my former moral management approach to faith? Well, the sort of morality that God desires is a morality formed by the Spirit of Christ. Anything that looks like self-help strategies to administer a sin prevention plan misses the point of holiness all together. Christ wants to make our impulses bent toward holiness, including social justice, not dependent on our own legalistic strategies.

Certainly, we ought to also practice doing justice and living morally, even when we feel spiritually deflated. Those moments also work toward intimacy with God. In fact, in serving is how many people come to know Jesus the most. The risk is that we allow all of our doing to replace moments with God in our own Garden of Gethsemane, when some of the most profound “entrusting” and character formation by the Spirit takes place. No wonder Jesus often got alone for prayer before major Kingdom moments.

The Christian life isn’t worth living as I used to understand it. Instead, what if we all chose to allow the life of God to live in and among us? With such a reframe, holiness coupled with justice might just become more like second nature.

 

Flickr photo (cc) by  Ben Sutherland

 

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Ministry Burnout to Spiritual Renewal: 5 Lessonshttp://convergemagazine.com/ministry-burnout-to-spiritual-renewal-5-lessons-16908/ http://convergemagazine.com/ministry-burnout-to-spiritual-renewal-5-lessons-16908/#comments Thu, 13 Aug 2015 05:19:30 +0000 http://convergemagazine.com/?p=16908 Ministry Burnout to Spiritual Renewal: 5 Lessons by Scott Savage

I never thought it would happen to me. When I was in seminary, I heard about how many pastors left...

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Ministry Burnout to Spiritual Renewal: 5 Lessons by Scott Savage

I never thought it would happen to me.

When I was in seminary, I heard about how many pastors left the profession each month (over 1,000 per month according to one study). Professors used phrases like “burnout” and “moral failure”. I don’t know if the point was to scare me into dropping out, but I left thinking, “that will never happen to me.”

If you fast-forward four years to the summer of 2012 , I hit a wall  pastoring. I began struggled to find words when writing sermons. I went through the motions on a lot of Sundays. Physically, I hadn’t been taking caring of myself, neglecting healthy eating habits and ignoring the discipline of exercise. Spiritually, I was prepping my public spirituality (writing, teaching, leading a ministry) while neglecting my private spirituality (silence, solitude, meditation, prayer). Emotionally, I had been fighting to maintain hope amidst disappointments in building ministry momentum. And it just kept getting harder.

One Thursday evening, I broke down in a planning meeting with some volunteers I led. Failing to care for myself physically, emotionally and spiritually had caught up to me. As we struggled to navigate different opinions on how our ministry should handle a philosophical conflict, the team looked to me to solve the problem and lead us forward. But as my opportunity to lead came, I became as vulnerable as I’d ever been. “I don’t know – I have nothing left to share. I don’t have a new vision to share with you. I don’t know how to solve this. I have no idea where to lead you. I’m empty.”

My friends responded with love, not judgment. I found acceptance instead of rejection. They laid hands on me, prayed, and gave me the permission to be in a dark and difficult place. I will never forget that evening, or the gift they gave me.

But I knew things needed to change. I couldn’t keep going down this path. In spite of my good intentions, I was becoming another statistic. The next day, I left for a personal retreat. I sat in a room overlooking a pool, where I began rediscovering God’s unconditional love. I reconnected with a book  which had changed my life in college — The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning. I began recognizing the unhealthy patterns  which had led me to burnout.

I finished the retreat by contemplating what it would mean to look for a new job. I made some applications and began networking for a new opportunity.

Gratefully, I’m here today in a much healthier place. I’ve improved physically, losing weight, sleeping more and relying less on coffee. I’m excited about my work as a pastor, and I’m thrilled to still be serving at the same church.

Recently, a friend encouraged me by saying that he felt like I was in a season of renewal. I resonated with that word – “renewal”. I still have hard days, though, when I fall into old habits.

However, I’ve learned some hard-fought lessons on the way from burnout to renewal. I hope they will help you or someone you love.

1. What you do and who you are cannot be disconnected. Who you truly are always comes out. When we say, “I don’t know what came over me; I don’t know why I said/did that”, we’re dishonest. We may not know why we said or did that, but temporary demon possession is not a substantive defence! When our actions surprise or disappoint us, the root causes are often found at the deeper level of identity.

 2. It’s about God’s work in us not our work for God. God’s work in us is more important than what God is doing through us. On my way to burnout, I focused more on what I was doing for God, even when that was working against what God wanted to do in me. We often care more about other people’s opinions than God’s view of us.

3. Character is more important than talent. Talent is the part of the iceberg above the water – the part everyone sees. Character is the much larger part, below the water. While people applaud our talents, it is often private moments where our character weaknesses undo all that we’ve worked to achieve. In my story, new responsibilities revealed character flaws I had not addressed. We need to pay more attention to the development of our character than we do our talent.

4. Think long-term, not short-term. Some of my pain came from being bound to immediate circumstances, unable to see the future. I sacrificed my health on all levels, maintaining an unsustainable pace of life. We tend to over-estimate what could change in the short-term and under-estimate what could happen in the long-term. We rush to build our dreams without doing the slow foundational preparation.

5. You are never going to be more loved by God than you are right now. Read that statement again. Those words were the ones I came back to on the retreat and they began my path to renewal. We must stop trying to earn God’s love. Learn to embrace it, marinate in it. Let it produce an overflowing life in you unlike anything you’ve known.

 

 

Photo by (Flickr CC) ann harkness

 

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Lessons for Startupshttp://convergemagazine.com/lessons-for-startups-16037/ http://convergemagazine.com/lessons-for-startups-16037/#comments Tue, 11 Aug 2015 08:47:14 +0000 http://convergemagazine.com/?p=16037 Lessons for Startups by Colleen Little

Just last year, Keith Ippel co-founded Spring, a company that takes ideas and turn them into reality. The company is...

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Lessons for Startups by Colleen Little

Just last year, Keith Ippel co-founded Spring, a company that takes ideas and turn them into reality. The company is an activator for start-ups, providing them with the right skills and knowledge to grow and create an impact on the world around them.

Originally from Ontario, Keith now lives in Vancouver where he has been involved with managing, directing, and leading companies for more than 15 years. I got a chance to sit down and hear what has made Spring possible.

To get an idea of where this all began, when and how did Spring start?

Spring actually started in January 2014, so a little bit over a year ago. The reason that we launched Spring was really because we saw opportunity in the marketplace where there is a growing trend of many people to try and be an impact with their business. Often an impact-based organization can actually maximize its impact by being for-profit. So we really saw opportunity to focus on those organizations.

We thought that the best place to have impact was with early stage companies that are somewhere between the idea stage and a million dollars in revenue. The other key piece is that with a lot of the developments and innovations out there, we really saw opportunity to try and find the way to impact at the intersection between purpose-driven companies and technology companies.

Has your passion always been towards encouraging and helping others make their visions come true?

I would say yes but it was really in 2009 and 2010 that I was really able to start to articulate it. I had taken a sabbatical at that time and I saw opportunity to, in the traditional sense, “give-back.” In doing that, I started to work with some non-profit charities and started to realize that is really where my passion lay. There was a latent desire to help, but also an opportunity to actually articulating that in a career path and in a company.

What was your biggest hurdle starting your own company?

I think often that biggest hurdle for starting your own company is just the belief that you can make it happen. The belief that how you are going about solving the problem in the marketplace is something that people care about and it’s something that they will value. I think that’s often the biggest hurdle for entrepreneurs, and I think I’m no different.

What is your one piece of advice for a start up company?

I think, in all my experience working with start-ups, I find that there are really only two main indicators of success for an entrepreneur: perseverance and hustle. You don’t need to be the smartest and you don’t need to have the most money. The best entrepreneurs know what they believe in, know what they are passionate about. They are able to translate that into both a sense of urgency to take their passions and take their beliefs into the marketplace, and also then have the perseverance to see it happen over time. So often it takes longer than people think. The average successful company is a seven to 12 year overnight success, and that’s where the perseverance piece comes in.

But if you want to change the world, which I think any entrepreneur — if they want to be an entrepreneur, they are doing it because they want to change the world. Either in the context of they want to change their world, which could be as small as their neighbourhood or as small as their city, or they want to change the world in the global context. When you have a belief system and you have a passion to go do it, that should be your sense of urgency to go make it happen. Get out there as quickly as possible, and find out if the marketplace cares. If you solve their problems and all that lines up, then you will be successful.

 

Photo by (Flickr CC) Heisenberg Media

 

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Dealing with the uninspired selfhttp://convergemagazine.com/dealing-uninspired-4638/ http://convergemagazine.com/dealing-uninspired-4638/#comments Mon, 10 Aug 2015 10:15:55 +0000 http://convergemagazine.com/?p=4638 Dealing with the uninspired self by Kurt Willems

Do you ever have those days when you just feel “blah?”  Nothing motivates you and to do the things that...

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Dealing with the uninspired self by Kurt Willems

Do you ever have those days when you just feel “blah?”  Nothing motivates you and to do the things that you love, seem laborious.  To do the things that you hate, feels worse than it usually would.

For me, the things I love include reading, studying, and writing.  The things I hate, well . . . the “honey do’s” of life such as house chores.  As I write this (which is taking discipline, I might add), both love and hate lead to a path of angst.  I know that on days like I will look back upon all of my wasted time and wonder, “What’s my problem?!  Come on Kurt Willems, you have too much to do to squander time and be unproductive!”

My guess is that you have these kinds of days too.  Maybe it’s the old “case of the Mondays” that affects us all. Whatever the case may be for you, I have learned that I am not the only one with days like this.

What does this uninspired self mean for our spiritual lives?  I find that on days where this is particularly a problem that I probably have not been intentional about connecting with Jesus.  Very little devotionals if any.  Superficial prayer.  Anxiety instead of peace. And then the great leap from uninspired to guilt comes in.

The logic goes like this: I feel unproductive . . . so I ask myself, “why am I feeling like this” . . .  which leads to anxiously trying to ‘snap out of it’ . . . which leads to wondering — “if I were more spiritual, if I prayed more or meditated over the Scriptures more, maybe I wouldn’t feel like this” . . . which leaves me in the land of guilt because clearly I am not doing enough . . .

At the base of this process is a question: What is enough?  What can appease my anxious guilt when my productivity is lacking?  Then the gentle reminder of God comes in — Nothing is ever enough!  I will never write enough articles, I will never pray enough prayers, I will never preach enough sermons, I will never read and meditate enough on the Scriptures (with the mere intent to interact with the Holy Spirit and not driven by studies), I will never do enough . . . because in God’s economy, there is no accomplishment quota.

God’s interest isn’t in our productivity.  He longs for us to know him, as we are: human.  And as human beings sometimes we may simply need to be.  Not do, but be.  After all, we are not human doings but beings who are invited to be with God with all of our human limitations which include days where we may feel uninspired.  On days like this, we are invited to recognize that the anxiety and guilt are of our own doing and are not generated by God.  So today, I am going to cling to the words of Jesus that invite us to lay down our over-productive uninspired selves: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11.28).

 

Photo by (cc) Flickr Seabamirum

 

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The ups and downs of long distance datinghttp://convergemagazine.com/ups-downs-long-distance-dating-5939/ http://convergemagazine.com/ups-downs-long-distance-dating-5939/#comments Thu, 06 Aug 2015 16:00:55 +0000 http://convergemagazine.com/?p=5939 The ups and downs of long distance dating by Olive Chan

Long-distance dating is hard. And given a choice, most people would probably avoid it.  But it’s also quite common. In...

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The ups and downs of long distance dating by Olive Chan

Long-distance dating is hard. And given a choice, most people would probably avoid it.  But it’s also quite common. In this jet-setting age where people frequently travel for school or work, there’s a pretty good chance that at some point of the relationship, a couple will find themselves in separate cities. For some couples, the physical distance affects their relationship negatively and they eventually break up. For these people, their relationship can be described as, “out of sight, out of mind.” But for others, “distance makes the heart grow fonder,” and their relationship is strengthened during the time they are apart.

When Tim and I started dating, I was in Toronto and he was in Vancouver. He asked me out over Skype and we didn’t see each other in person until a month into our dating relationship. In the year and a half between the time we started dating and when we got engaged, we spent about two-thirds of our relationship living in separate places around the world. It took a lot of work, but we made the distance between us work for us rather than against us. Along the way, here are some of the pros and cons we discovered about long-distance relationships.

The ups of long distance dating:

It forces you to be intentional.

One of the best things about being in two different places was that we had to make the most of the time we did spend together. Because there were time zone differences to factor in, our conversations would often have to be scheduled and could only last a maximum of two hours long. Knowing that we only had those precious little windows of time to connect forced us to think about what we wanted to talk about in advance. Since both of us are list-makers, we would often have a list of stories we wanted to tell the other person or questions we wanted to discuss so that we wouldn’t waste any “air time” when we got to talk. If we had dated in the same city, it would have been much easier for us to shift our focus onto doing activities together and neglect the deeper conversations that ultimately helped set a good foundation for our relationship. Dating long-distance required us to get to know each other from the inside out.

It works well for initially getting to know an introvert.

Being an introvert, I needed time and space to process my thoughts before trying to explain myself. When we started dating long-distance, we initially relied a lot on email to communicate. This was a great way for me to tell Tim about myself because it gave me a no-pressure environment to answer his questions. As our relationship grew and I became more comfortable with Tim, I didn’t need to email as much.

It removes the stress of needing physical boundaries.

Since both of us desired to honour God and our future spouses by saving sex until marriage, not being in the same city worked to our advantage in this area of our relationship. Our friendship could grow without being coloured by the temptation to get physically involved. Of course, we still had to have conversations about physical boundaries for the times we were together in person.

It’s good training for relationship building in less-than-ideal circumstances.

Let’s face it, most of life is lived in less-than-ideal circumstances. But when you are dating, it’s easy to slip into an alternate reality where everything is spectacular and you can escape the stresses of life because you’re with this great person. Dating long-distance gave us the opportunity to practice building our relationship in the face of challenges such as limited time and energy – circumstances which inevitably happen in the course of marriage. If our relationship could survive the test of being long-distance, we felt more confident that it could survive the rigours of marriage.

The downs of long distance dating:

 You don’t get to be with the other person.

This is the obvious one. The reason you’re dating is because you like each other and like spending time together. When you’re long-distance, you obviously don’t get to see each other in person very often. It sucks. What Tim and I discovered while dating long-distance was that it was more difficult for me than for him. I think the reason is because a woman’s mind is like spaghetti, all parts of her life are interconnected. When she thinks of one thing, it reminds her of everything else. So no matter if I was working, resting, or playing, I would be reminded of Tim and would miss him. As for men, their brains are more like waffles – compartmentalized. When he is working, all he thinks about is work. When he plays, his mind switches to thinking about only that. So it wasn’t as difficult for him because he didn’t think about me that often. It wasn’t that he didn’t miss me, it’s just that his brain wasn’t built to think of multiple things at the same time (at this point, one could insert a joke about the simplicity of a male’s mind, but I won’t do that).

You don’t get to see each other in real-life contexts with a variety of situations.

One of the biggest disadvantages to long-distance dating is that you only get to observe the other person in a one-on-one setting. But in order to really know the other person, it’s necessary to see him/her in action in a range of settings and situations. This was why shortly after Tim and I started dating, I decided to get transferred at work for a project that allowed me to be in the Vancouver area for five months.

You pretty much function as a single, non-dating person when you’re apart.

Some may see this as a positive thing, but when you’re dating long-distance, aside from the times when you’re interacting online or over the phone, you can basically live your own life just like it was pre-dating. It’s like you’re part-time dating. In the long run though, this can hinder your relationship because you don’t get to experience the intermingling of your lives. You don’t get to practice taking the other person into consideration when you make your daily decisions about where to go, who to see, what to do, etc.

You might not get a realistic experience of the other person when you’re together.

Another drawback of dating long-distance is that the times you do get to spend together in person become somewhat like miniature honeymoons. When you disagree on something, you tend to think, “Oh, we’re only together for such a short time!” and want to gloss over it instead of bringing it to the table. This can easily set you up for unrealistic expectations for who the other person really is, or what the relationship might look like down the road.

The adjustment can be a shock when you do end up in the same city for the long haul.

Three months before our wedding, I moved to Vancouver. In those initial days after I landed, Tim and I found the adjustment to being in the same city and seeing each other on a daily basis somewhat shocking. “What do we do now?” was often the question. It took us a while to get used to having each other around without feeling like we had to engage the other person in conversation or involve them in what we were doing.


Dating long-distance is probably suited better to certain people, but despite the challenges, I’m glad it was part of our story.

 Flickr photo (cc) by AMELIA SPEED

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Turning Memories into Treasureshttp://convergemagazine.com/turning-memories-into-treasures-16884/ http://convergemagazine.com/turning-memories-into-treasures-16884/#comments Tue, 04 Aug 2015 04:09:44 +0000 http://convergemagazine.com/?p=16884 Turning Memories into Treasures by Megan Cécile Radford

“Dear Lord, don’t let Billy’s memories remain anchors that he has to drag along. Turn them to treasures he can...

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Turning Memories into Treasures by Megan Cécile Radford

“Dear Lord, don’t let Billy’s memories remain anchors that he has to drag along. Turn them to treasures he can carry with him.”

This prayer by a friend of musician Billy Sprague is one of the most profound things I’ve read in my 28 years. It first resonated with me when I came across it as a teenager in the book Ragamuffin Prayers. I remembered moving back to Canada from Senegal at age 12, giving up my friends and my dreams of growing up on the edge of the Sahara, and I realized that I needed those memories to be treasures, not anchors that made me bitter.

And recently I’ve moved back to Canada again, from the other edge of the Sahara — Cairo, Egypt. Moving overseas and then back again was my choice this time, but that doesn’t make it easier. Right now, my memories of my time in Cairo feel like stones on my heart, weighing me down; they remind me of the holes in my life where all the things and people I lost used to be. That quote is becoming something of a mantra, and I pray it every single day. “God let my memories become treasures I can carry with me.”

Not many people talk about moving as a loss, but it very much is one. When a person dies, you take the time and space to mourn them. It’s expected. But what about when what has died is your way of life, your connection to a community, and your relationships in the ways that you have known them? To me that is a different kind of loss than losing someone to death, but it goes just as deep. Life will never be the same, and that is something to mourn and heal from.

And those people I couldn’t keep my distance from? I miss their smiles, their warmth and their presence so much that it is a constant ache. In the part of the Greater Toronto Area where I live, there is a large community of Egyptians. Every time I hear Arabic, I feel it pulling me like a magnet. The other day I finally got up the courage to ask a mother in Tim Hortons, “Are you from Egypt?” Of course, she was, and we spent a few moments talking about the areas of Cairo where we both had spent most of our time. She was utterly gracious and kind, and called me “dear”, just like so many other Egyptian moms I’ve known. After she left, I felt like the veneer I had built up between myself and Egypt had shattered, and it left me feeling broken. My heart remembered, and I cried, right there in Canada’s favourite coffee shop.

Someday, I know that I will be able to feel all the ways that the people and culture of North Africa enriched my being without breaking down. I’ll be able to talk to the ones I love there without tears. There will always be that ache, but it will be the beautiful kind. I picture the treasure of my past life like a pearl — layers of wisdom, strength and grace built over the pain until it truly is a thing of beauty that I can take with me everywhere, because it is a part of me.

There was a day when I was 13, almost a year after we had moved back to Canada the first time. I was behind our rented house when I spotted a patch of delicate blue forget-me-nots. They seemed like a reminder to me to keep those I had left behind in my heart, but to make room for new relationships, no matter what the future held. Just like those tiny fleeting blooms, I couldn’t drag all the people I loved around with me — but I could remember, and I could look around me for the beauty that is present right now.

 

Photo by Flickr (CC): Sue Loft

 

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Three reasons not to marry younghttp://convergemagazine.com/reasons-wait-marriage-8253/ http://convergemagazine.com/reasons-wait-marriage-8253/#comments Sat, 01 Aug 2015 16:47:27 +0000 http://convergemagazine.com/?p=8253 Three reasons not to marry young by Dave Sohnchen

November 5, 2005 was one of the greatest days of my life. It was the beginning of a brand new,...

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Three reasons not to marry young by Dave Sohnchen

November 5, 2005 was one of the greatest days of my life. It was the beginning of a brand new, lifelong adventure filled with immense joy, incredible pain and frustration along with undeserved grace and redemption. But most of all, it was the beginning of an adventure held steadfast by an undying love. Nothing would ever be the same, and not just because I moved out of my parents house. On that cold November day, I got married.

I just wish it would have happened later …

Let me preface that last statement with this: I absolutely love my wife and do not want to spend the rest of my days running towards the geriatric ward with anyone else but her by my side. She is the love of my life and I would not have what I currently do, without her. What ensues are three things, that in hindsight, I believe would have helped prepare me to be the partner that I know my wife deserves: a man who knows how to protect love at all costs, a man who truly knows who he is, and a man filled with passions who will stop at nothing to bring them to fruition. These are the three things I wish had happened before I got married:

1. Get dumped

That’s right. I said it. I’ve always been the dumper, never the dumpee. Sounds good right? Always breaking hearts and never having mine truly broken. Never being blindsided by the “let’s just be friends” or “it’s not you it’s me” conversation, phone call or text.

Here’s the one major drawback about never experiencing deep loss in a relationship: You have a tendency take the love of your life for granted and don’t know what is required to protect the love you have.

When you get married young and have never truly lost someone you’ve loved, you have no idea just how precious and fragile love really is. Nor do you know how to protect it. In many ways, I’ve become complacent. I expect things and take them for granted.

But trust me, your spouse deserves to honoured and protected at all costs.

2. Figure out who I was

To this day, I still don’t fully know who this greying haired, thirty year old man is that awkwardly stares back from the bathroom mirror. I am trying my absolute best to understand him, to find out what makes him tick. Where do his greatest strengths lie? What are his blind spots? What is it that adds the extra sparkle in his blue eyes some days but snuffs it out on others?

Growing up in our materialistic North American culture where voices constantly tell us to be smarter, get paid more and be who everyone wants you to be, it’s little wonder that so many in our generation don’t know who they really are. We’ve been trained to only worry what others think. Are we wearing the right clothes?  Are we taking the right classes to get right job? Are we making enough money to prove that we are valuable?

Most of my twenties were spent treading water in a dead end job in a dying industry that did more to crush my “american dreams” than it did to line my pockets with cash. What that place did for me, however, was allowed me to read like crazy and start discovering who I really am. It gave me the freedom to explore diverse ways of thinking and find my love and passion for ideas and storytelling.

I was 28 when year five hit in my marriage, just had my second daughter and had only begun to discover who I really was.

3. Focus on my passion

Once you’ve found your passion, work like hell to master it. Whatever it is. Focus on yourself, your dreams, and your vision for the future then chase it. This means embracing selfishness. Not to be confused with the egocentric nature of being self-centered. Rather, focus your energy on the things that drive you. The things that make you come alive the most and inspire your creative aspirations. This will require many late nights alone, steering conversations in a direction so you benefit more than anyone else in the room, and putting your dreams above those of your friends’ and family.

Spend time working and developing yourself into the person you want to be. For the rest of your life. Not only will you thank yourself but so will your spouse and kids. It’s difficult to give all of who you are to your partner and support their passions fully when you are not confident in who you are or what you’re passionate about, let alone trying to foster and develop passions and creativity within your kids when they come along.

The best thing you can do for your future family is to start being selfish.

Despite the fact that 53 per cent of divorced women and 61.1 per cent of divorced men in the US were married between the ages of 20 and 29, this is not a manifesto to discourage getting married in your twenties. Believe me, there are a lot of great things about getting married young that I absolutely would not trade, like having a spouse to grow and discover with whom also inspires and supports your creative passions. However, there are some key elements in your own development which will allow you to better nurture, protect and cherish your spouse that can only come with time and life experience.

 

 Flickr photo (cc) by kylesteed

 

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From Buddha to Christhttp://convergemagazine.com/from-buddha-to-christ-16863/ http://convergemagazine.com/from-buddha-to-christ-16863/#comments Thu, 30 Jul 2015 03:42:58 +0000 http://convergemagazine.com/?p=16863 From Buddha to Christ by Touray Kungkagam

I am the son of a Buddhist father of Chinese and Thai heritage, and a Pentecostal African American mother from...

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From Buddha to Christ by Touray Kungkagam

I am the son of a Buddhist father of Chinese and Thai heritage, and a Pentecostal African American mother from New York City. My home growing up was multicultural, to say the least.

At a young age my father briefly served as a monk in Thailand. As an adult he would occasionally go to the temple, and he had a little Buddha statue, but that was the extent of his devotion. Very rarely did my father talk about what it meant to be a Buddhist; like many, Buddhism was more cultural than personal.

My father was a very proud man. He emigrated from Thailand, pursued a masters degree in engineering, eventually working for the Boeing Corporation nearly 25 years. He achieved the ideal American dream. He loved to work out, watch football, and eat healthy foods.

He always assumed he would live a long healthy life, until the day he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Suddenly a man who had much confidence in himself became frail and weak. For the first time in my father’s life he wanted to go to church with my mother. He started saying and doing things that he had never done before.  He began to wake up early and get ready for church on Sundays, before my mother. Instead of her telling him he needed to get ready, he was telling her she needed to get ready. The imminence of death changed him.

In the final year of my father’s life he prayed to receive Christ. In the last few months I remember still being worried for my father’s spiritual state. The night before he died my mother decided to stay up with him — she prayed with him one last time to receive Christ in his heart. He repeated those words with her and went to sleep with a reassured peace.

The next morning my father lay in the bed, weak and feeble. I remember grasping his hands one last time. He held onto me tightly, as though he knew this was the last time we would be together. As he lay in his bed, he appeared at peace. Slowly falling into a deep sleep, he passed away surrounded by family and close friends.

My father was not a perfect man, but I watched him transform through the years. God used the tragic circumstances of terminal cancer to cause him to open his heart. He showed my father the reality of eternity, and he responded. I believe that my father knew in his heart there was no comfort or hope in Buddhism.

Christianity shares many commonalities with Buddhism. Both teach good values and compassion for others. Buddhism teaches that suffering is caused by desire, and freedom from our reality of suffering is attainable only by following the path. The “eightfold path” is not a list of commandments; it is simply a guideline, summarized by right actions, wisdom, and the right mentality. The culmination of this roadmap is the end of suffering; by eliminating desire, we ultimately eliminate suffering.

The Buddha himself epitomized this self-detachment by leaving his life of luxury, his wife, and his family to pursue enlightenment. By contrast, Jesus Christ willingly embraced suffering because he loves humanity.

There is no God in Buddhism, no heavenly father — simply a series of steps to escape this existence. Ultimately you have to save yourself.

My father turned to Christianity because Christ offered hope in knowing a personal God who offered grace over works. My father found that there was “someone out there”, a person that transcended all cultures, traditions, and religion.

Jesus knocks at the door of our heart. He wants us to know him and live in communion with him. He brings hope, peace, and rest to those who ask. That is the power of the Gospel.

 

Photo by (Flickr CC): Roberto Trombetta

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Being Earthly Minded for Justice’s Sakehttp://convergemagazine.com/being-earthly-minded-for-heavenly-good-15819/ http://convergemagazine.com/being-earthly-minded-for-heavenly-good-15819/#comments Wed, 29 Jul 2015 03:20:44 +0000 http://convergemagazine.com/?p=15819 Being Earthly Minded for Justice’s Sake by Michelle Sudduth

Someone asks you to help at a charity function or to support a local or overseas organization. You recognize that...

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Being Earthly Minded for Justice’s Sake by Michelle Sudduth

Someone asks you to help at a charity function or to support a local or overseas organization. You recognize that an invitation to help someone in need has just been handed to you. You think about it, and while you know it would be a good thing to do, you let the opportunity pass by. “What could I do anyway? My small effort isn’t going to change much of anything. And how relevant is social justice to my faith in the first place?”

Many of us have a deep-seated misunderstanding that being “fishers of men” means doing whatever you can to get people out of an eternity in hell — which is only accomplished by saying the sinner’s prayer. Hell happens later, after death; in the here and now, the duty of the Christian is to sell heavenly insurance for the ultimate retirement in the sky.

Following this thinking leads a person to respond apathetically to injustice. If being a believer is about getting people out of an eternity in hell, there really is no urgency or vision for getting people out of the hell of their present. If today is merely a waiting game until souls get to be carefree in heaven, the present hell of an impoverished individual comes second to ensuring their eternal home.

Furthermore, our current era holds separate the physical and the spiritual, making us wonder what our faith has to do with dirty drinking water, lack of nutrition, or sexual safety. A lingering mistrust and even hatred of materiality — the “flesh” — has caused us to neglect the sacredness of being embodied in a beautifully created world. Because our Christian culture has overly-focused on “personal” relationship with Christ, we don’t often see ourselves as a worldwide community with a deep attachment to our most vulnerable family members.

Throughout the Old Testament, God mourns the injustice taking place in the kingdoms of the world. Isaiah 58 captures how God’s love pours forth liberation and healing from all forms of oppression and brokenness. In the New Testament, Jesus proves God’s care for the created, material world by coming in a human body, to a place here on earth, and miraculously healing physical diseases.

Jesus’ death broke the power of darkness and injustice in every realm: physical, emotional, spiritual, cultural, political. All of these injustices are marks of oppressive kingdoms that oppose God’s righteous love. Jesus brought with him the reign of a new kingdom, one of liberation for all those in every kind of bondage. Indeed, God is interested in saving people from every kind of present hell.

It’s probably safe for all of us to accept the possibility that we haven’t been equipped to engage the darkest places in our world. We can feel overwhelmed because we don’t know if and where social justice fits in our “personal relationship” with God, if getting involved really matters in the end, and how to handle the difficulties and discouragements that arise.

“Justice is what love looks like in public,” Cornel West brilliantly writes. God isn’t sending you off to heal the world; instead, God is inviting you to places where the Spirit is already at work, places that require human hands and feet to unfold restorative purposes. When you accept only your part, trusting that God is at work, there is no need to be overwhelmed, even when injustice seems to be winning.

Link arms with others, and ask God to give you the power and courage to follow where the Spirit is inviting you. God is faithful to give you the ability to extend yourself to those who are in need if you are open to being led. And let us all pray, the way Jesus taught us to pray: that God’s kingdom would come to earth, as it is in heaven.

 

Originally published in Issue 20 of Converge Magazine.

 

Photo (Flickr CC) by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

 

 

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