Converge Wed, 17 Dec 2014 15:01:15 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Why Advent gives meaning to our waiting Wed, 17 Dec 2014 12:00:06 +0000 Why Advent gives meaning to our waiting by Natalie Floyd

When I was a kid, each Christmas Eve at my house replayed the same scenario. After the candlelight service at...

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Why Advent gives meaning to our waiting by Natalie Floyd

When I was a kid, each Christmas Eve at my house replayed the same scenario. After the candlelight service at church and the annual viewing of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, my older brother and I would pitch camp on his bunk bed and stay awake as long as our sleepy eyes would let us.

Our enduring goal in life was to catch our parents in the act of setting out our Christmas gifts and steal the first available glance at that new bike or pair of rollerblades. (We only caught them once — the result was highly anti-climactic as they immediately ushered us back to bed. At least we tried.) But regardless of our track record for failure, each year we would stay up nearly all night long, eyes glued to the ticking clock, whispering about the gifts that we knew we would find awaiting us in the morning.

That night felt like the longest of the entire year, counting down the seconds until our Christmas hopes would be fulfilled. The moment the sun came streaming through the window, we would tear through the house, waking everyone with our shouts of victory.

Christmas had finally arrived.

As an adult, Christmas doesn’t quite possess the same magical quality that it did during childhood. We still wait with anticipation, but typically for things that we know won’t magically appear under the tree. We enter into the Christmas season carrying with us an unrealized dream or a hope deferred for now. We hold in our hands the loss or disenchantment or yearning for more that another year on earth has gifted us.

I know so very few people who aren’t earnestly waiting or desperately longing for something. We’ve been praying for the dawn for what feels like an eternity, and we’re weary from looking at the clock, passing the time, wondering when our hopes will finally become reality.

So what does celebrating Christmas look like for the heart that is tired? For the one who has been tested and pushed to his limits this year? The one with an eager eye trained on the horizon, watching for the arrival of something oh so precious to her soul? For the weary, the waiting, and for each one of us, an invitation is being offered in the form of Advent.

Advent, meaning the arrival or coming of Christ, reminds the longing heart that to wait with anxious expectancy isn’t just human, it’s holy. Since the moment Eve took a bite of that toxic fruit, every person after her has been waiting, watching, and yearning for the day when every wrong will finally be made right. Our imperfect soul is begging the One who designed it to lean down low and do some re-tuning.

But the fixing doesn’t come instantly. Each day we watch things in our world break, and we lift them up to our Maker with open palms. And we wait for restoration.

In the four weeks leading up to Christmas, Advent gives meaning to our waiting. It gives us permission to acknowledge the tender places and incompletion in our lives. It sits with us in the silence as the weight of grief sinks in. It recognizes the reality of unfinished chapters in our stories and the long suffering nature of waiting. Just waiting.

And then, Advent whispers a promise in our ear. It gently nudges us to lift our head and look up from our clenched fists. It tells us to get ready. Slowly, hope begins to take root in our heart, broken though it may be.

Advent tells us a story of Someone who is coming to mend, to restore, to put our waiting to an end. When God decided to put on human skin and visit us in the form of a baby, He gave us a glimpse of the complete, uninhibited relationship with Him that’s still to come. So as we learn to wait with anticipation in the days leading up to Christ’s birth, we learn the meaning of waiting for Him to come again, for a complete and total union that will never be undone.

So this Advent season, let’s wait with meaning. Like a people who, though bruised from a world in crisis, have known the closeness of our Saviour. Even more, let’s wait with hope. The hope that comes from knowing that our every need may not arrive today, but that our waiting isn’t in vain. This story isn’t over, the day hasn’t dawned. But her first rays are appearing on the horizon, and the celebration that comes in the morning is just around the corner.

Photo (Flickr CC) by Methos04.

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Why worship involves our bodies Tue, 16 Dec 2014 12:00:58 +0000 Why worship involves our bodies by Alastair Sterne

And not just our minds I have a friend who prays quite differently than I do. I’m not talking about...

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Why worship involves our bodies by Alastair Sterne

And not just our minds

I have a friend who prays quite differently than I do. I’m not talking about her words, although they too are different than my own. It’s actually her posture I have in mind. We were in a small group together, and when it came time to pray she got off the couch and found a space on the floor. There she kneeled, with her face pressed against the ground, and began to pray.

I had a tough time with the posture she took. It actually offended my senses. It seemed all too pious, and smacked of religiosity. I actually felt superior for a moment, and quite judgmental. “Clearly she doesn’t understand the Father’s heart,” I muttered in my cynicism.

When I prayed that day, I remained sitting. I sometimes closed my eyes, but sometimes kept them open. I clasped and unclasped my hands. But generally, I took a more relaxed posture. I felt the freedom to just be myself, and to approach God as I was.

Both of our bodies assumed two radically different poses, and both signified something greater than the positions alone.

I took this more casual position because I felt like I could enter into the presence of God at any time with boldness and confidence because Jesus has made a way. I wasn’t wrong. But I was arrogantly mistaken in my presumptuous attitude towards my friend. It turns out she felt her posture anchored her in a place of humility. Curling up on the floor with her face pressed against the floorboards helped her remember that she needed to reverently come into the presence of a Holy God. She was hardly wrong in her approach.

We were both highlighting different aspects of God’s character.

This got me thinking about what we do with our bodies in worship. Because what we do with our bodies matters. We do not worship God as disembodied souls, but as whole people — mind, souls, bodies combined. We need our bodies to worship God, to speak, to sing, to engage. It seems an obvious point, but I think it’s easily overlooked. We take it so much for granted I’m afraid we aren’t always intentional about how we engage our bodies in worship.

Think about some of the actions of a typical contemporary worship service. You will shuffle your feet into the sanctuary. You make notes with your vocal chords as you sing songs, using your tongue, passing air through your throat, mouth and lips. If you’re feeling particularly “led by the Spirit” you will lift your arms, raise your hands, open your chest and lift your face to God as you worship. Sometimes tears may even appear, or a smile may crack. At some point you welcome others, shaking hands, making physical contact as well as eye-contact. You will sit on your rear, and listen with your ears to announcements. Your brain engages, your emotions stir, and your intellect clues in as you hear a sermon.

What do many of these actions tell us? What meaning is found in our standing and our sitting, our singing and our listening? Can the actions of our bodies help incline us towards God?

I come from an Anglican perspective, so let me share about how my tradition involves the body. In addition to standing, sitting, listening, and singing, we throw a few other actions into the mix. We put the weight of our bodies on our knees when we confess our sins. We lower ourselves to remember, like my friend does, that we must contritely come before our Holy Father.

After hearing comforting words from Christ about our forgiveness, we stand knowing that it is God who lifts us up. When Scripture is read, as an act of reverence, and as way to focus, we keep our bodies still and engage our ears. After the Scripture reading we rise to our feet as one to say together the Apostles’ Creed, one of my favourite parts of the service. It’s like reciting a national anthem.

We even attempt to move our mouths together in unison, many bodies as one Body. And most of all, think of communion! We feel the texture of the bread in our hands, we taste it as we chew, smell the aroma of the wine as we sip, and feel its warmth down our throats and into our stomachs. Our bodies receive his body in a very tangible way.

The more I am intentional with how I involve my body in worship, the more I find my soul following suit.

When I saw my friend deliberately changing her posture to approach God, something eventually clicked for me. Sometimes we just need to get our bodies in the right place, or even the right posture. We are people not merely contained in bodies, but who experience all of life through our bodies. More often than not, I still remain sitting when I pray. But I’ve come to see that there are many postures I can take in worship. And there are many physical actions I can take in order to connect with God.

I have even found my face pressed against my dusty floor on occasion.

We should intentionally engage our bodies in worship. God wants us to use our bodies! Our senses, our bodies, and our movements help us to engage tangibly with spiritual realities. We should make sure the way we worship with our bodies is not just passive and mindless. We should strive to be active participants in God’s great story. God has given us many ways to engage him with every single fibre and molecule of our being. Worship involves our bodies. I don’t know how to worship God without my body.

I think this is why Paul says: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1)

Photo (FlickrCC) by Loren Kerns

Originally published in Issue 12 of Converge Magazine.

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The fear of being a Basic Girl Mon, 15 Dec 2014 12:00:49 +0000 The fear of being a Basic Girl by Julia Feeser

The other day I walked into Target and was confronted with a very disturbing reality. As my roommates and I...

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The fear of being a Basic Girl by Julia Feeser

The other day I walked into Target and was confronted with a very disturbing reality.

As my roommates and I giggled (yes, giggled) over the new arrival of fuzzy Christmas socks, excitedly plucked the newest Taylor Swift CD off the shelf, and finally ooh-ed and ahh-ed over the brand new Starbucks being built near the entrance, it hit me: I was acting like a Basic Girl. And this is a very, very bad thing.

Basic Girl is someone who enjoys and partakes in activities all other women of a certain age enjoy. She wears general-looking riding boots and/or Uggs. She probably owns an article of North Face. She loves Taylor Swift, Colbie Caillat, Sara Bareilles, One Republic, and Maroon 5. She loves pumpkin-related coffee beverages. She is probably guilty of wearing leggings to class at least once a week. And she holds an undying loyalty to all things Target brand.

The phrase has been floating around the culture sphere, haunting all the young women who truly believed they were they only ones to really, truly pull off the perfect autumn combination of Ugg boots, thick scarves, and the legendary Pumpkin Spice Latte.

A Basic Girl is predictable. She does not necessarily have any intriguing qualities, quirks or interests. She is one dimensional in her tastes and habits. Basically, being called a Basic Girl is a huge, crushing insult.

I have long been fighting this identity before I even knew about the Internet definition. When I was in high school I wanted to set myself a part from the other girls so boys would notice and find me to be not just another American Eagle-wearing freshman (although I of course did wear American Eagle). So I stuck Green Day pins to my shoelaces. I didn’t pierce my ears simply because every other girl had her ears pierced. I drove a minivan (this one wasn’t by choice). More than anything I didn’t want to be “just another girl.”

What is it about this idea of being just like everybody else that evokes such a deep fear? And what does it mean to “be like everybody else” anyway?

If I’m being very honest, a lot of decisions I make in my life are based on my desire to be interesting, set apart from cookie-cutter stereotypes.

I choose my clothing because I want to stand out. I often use humor to set myself a part as a funny person. I try to read obscure books or watch obscure movies so others will find me interesting. I choose travelling adventures not only because I’m interested in them, but I believe they’ll make me unique.

We all want this, right? We all want to be Zooey Deschanel with her quirky personality and glasses and take on life, which men clearly find intriguing (and thus attractive). And really, isn’t this kind of individuality-at-all-costs part of the motivation behind the hipster movement? We’ve become obsessed with being different from everybody else.

Last year I was telling a woman I had only known a few days about my then (and, honestly, still) uncertain future. I was describing jobs I could possibly take or places I could live, confessing how very “normal” they sounded. Who would I be if I settled into this normalcy at 22?

I said, “You know, I don’t want to be that girl.”

With a knowing look on her face, she asked, “Julia, who exactly is that girl?”

I muttered something about how oh you know, that girl is someone who chooses to do distinctly “normal” things or a lead a relatively “normal” and unglamorous life, someone who doesn’t necessarily stand out from the crowd.

My friend shook her head and said, “It isn’t about doing or pursuing things that you or others could consider ‘normal.’ It’s about experiencing these things with your own unique approach and your own personal sense of adventure. Everybody, at some point or another, does things that are just like everybody else. It’s up to you to know how to make those things your own.” 

The truth is, I really do enjoy things a lot of other people enjoy. I do like pumpkin-flavoured beverages. I do like thick scarves and how they make me look in the fall. And I do have an undying loyalty to Target.

I don’t want to just be like everybody else. I want to pursue adventures and jobs and live, act, and love in a way that makes me distinctly me. But I don’t want to be so terrified of being just like everyone else, being basic, that I avoid things I truly enjoy or want to do.

Do I occasionally act like a Basic Girl? Absolutely. But that doesn’t make me any less the person I am, which is anything but basic.

Photo from Flickr CC.

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Things My Ex Taught Me Thu, 11 Dec 2014 12:00:51 +0000 Things My Ex Taught Me by Stephanie Ip

We broke up via text message. No matter how many times I tell the story, people still look at me...

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Things My Ex Taught Me by Stephanie Ip

We broke up via text message.

No matter how many times I tell the story, people still look at me incredulously, as if they couldn’t believe breaking up via text messages actually happened in real life. Others react with anger, feeling the same rage I first felt when I read his text.

I always say I’m over it, that I’ve recovered. People always shake their heads when I tell them The Ex and I still talk, that we’re just friends, that he’s got a new girlfriend, and I’m OK with it. Well, sometimes.

But it wasn’t without a lot of work that happened both before and after our relationship took place.

About four months before I met him, I began studying Song of Songs.

As I explored line after line, describing exactly the way a marriage should be, I felt hope:

My beloved is mine and I am his; he browses among the lilies.
Until the day breaks and the shadows flee. (Song of Songs 1:16)

It was a promise of what God had designed, something intended to be lasting, encouraging, all-encompassing.

I started exploring Song of Songs because I was lonely. It had been a while since I’d dated, and as I neared the end of university, I felt this push to jump into the next phase of life. Being surrounded by friends getting married, engaged, or who were in long-term relationships didn’t help curb that pressure either.

As I became familiar with Song of Songs, I felt like I had a better handle on what I should be looking for and what my role was in a relationship. I undoubtedly had a more grounded and biblically based approach to what God intended as a marriage.

It also repaired a lot of the broken thoughts and skewed perspectives I had due to previous relationships. While I can’t say I don’t still hurt occasionally, a lot of what I learned helps me grapple with those feelings of abandonment that still resurface.

But as I was learning these things, I met The Ex.

He hadn’t been to a church in a while, but we met through my community group. It seemed obvious to everyone that we were somehow on another playing field, constantly one-upping the other with quips, jokes, and teasing. We made plans to hang out, really just any excuse to spend time together. It was like we were in our own little world and it finally clicked: This must be what love is like.

While I thought my study had brought me to a new place of understanding and self-love, it didn’t quite compare to when I was with The Ex. I felt validated when I was with him. Finally, there was someone who proved that I could be loved.

There are still days where I wonder if those feelings were misguided. How could I have a wonderful, loving, almighty Father in Heaven who had designed and created me, and yet I only understood my own value when I heard it from another earthly, flawed individual? Someone who later broke up with me and left me hurting, no less?

The end crept up quietly. It was a process I saw early on and yet, didn’t want to acknowledge; we had chemistry but weren’t in the same stage of life. We weren’t building the same relationship. I fought to hold on, but in doing so, pushed him even further away. I still wonder if I had been a little more aloof, a little less demanding, maybe things would have worked out.

But what I realize now is that things did work out. God was trying to get my attention in a big way. He had promised and created marriage to be an adventure, embodied by two people becoming one, and so much more fulfilling than any relationship I could ever fashion on my own. As I was learning biblically how to handle an emotional and intimate connection, God was trying to tell me I would only understand what my role in a biblical marriage could be if I believed I was worthy of filling that role. Having been single for so long, I’d lost sight of my own allure. Strangely enough, the only way I began to rediscover my value was through the eyes of my then boyfriend. It was like God was saying, “If this is how good things are now, imagine how good they could be.”

There are still days where I remember little details about his apartment or his jokes, and I’m suddenly left with a sinking feeling in my chest. But instead of wondering why I wasn’t good enough, I realize that I’m now in a better place. Not only am I good enough, I am worth infinitely more than what I had allowed myself to receive.

Photo (Flickr CC) by Leo Hidalgo.

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Your parents’ broken marriage isn’t a death sentence for your own Wed, 10 Dec 2014 15:28:45 +0000 Your parents’ broken marriage isn’t a death sentence for your own by Lisa Pike

It’s 1992. I’m 19, home from university for Christmas holidays, and the crowded restaurant where I’m having dinner with my...

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Your parents’ broken marriage isn’t a death sentence for your own by Lisa Pike

It’s 1992. I’m 19, home from university for Christmas holidays, and the crowded restaurant where I’m having dinner with my family is buzzing with activity. We are engaged in a heated discussion and my mother and I are dominating the conversation. Snippets of scalding sentences float back to my memory with raw honesty and slight regret. Words I wish I’d left unsaid; some pronounced with a fiery arrogance that will never be forgotten.

“My generation will be smarter than yours, we know more, we have more effective and helpful resources, and more importantly, we will be better parents.”

Not surprisingly that sentence was not well received. Somehow in one short semester away from home, amid the heady experience of higher learning in my chosen field of psychology, I had developed an ego the size of Texas and an attitude to go along with it.

My self-discovery and personal opinions were vividly taking shape; I truly believed what I was saying to be rock solid. Forget delivery, tact, and respect. I had checked those at the front door and ignored the knot of caution in the pit of my stomach while my brazen inner punk kid challenged my parents.

Twenty years later I still cringe when I hear that sentence replayed in my mind. It was so easy then to point fingers and predict that my generation would be better at raising children than our parents were. Now I have three children of my own and there are days I can honestly say I’m not doing things much differently than they did, let alone better. Many of my parenting skills are instinctive echoes of my mother’s and father’s — the good, the bad, and the ugly. There are days I catch myself channeling my mother’s go-to disciplinary catch phrases. One part of my brain realizes they’re borderline ridiculous — but nonetheless, they roll off my tongue and pass through my teeth as if I’m caught in some generational tractor beam.

But out-of-date copycat parenting skills and crazy idiosyncrasies are the least of my worries. I have bigger problems. When I was 22 my parents separated and then divorced. According to a wealth of research this puts me at risk in my own marriage. Not surprisingly, children of divorced parents are statistically more hesitant to get married, and of those who do, only 60 per cent stay married — talk about discouraging — as opposed to the 91 per cent from intact marriages. Even worse, research also indicates the issues and fundamental behaviours responsible for the demise of a marriage are passed on to our children. In essence, we inherit brokenness and then pass it on to the next generation.

You see, us kids of divorced parents have difficulty in the marriage department for more reasons than one, and it can be easily justified why our relationships sometimes crumble under the weight of the hurt and pain we carry around. Not to mention that our own conflict resolution skills may be underdeveloped because we’ve rarely seen a good model. But I refuse to become a dreary statistic. Instead, I would like to make sure my own kids are among the more optimistic 91 per cent.

Twenty years ago I may have been a naïve punk kid who made a statement that rocked the boat. Today I still believe it to be true. We are getting smarter, we do have more resources and the capabilities to become better parents — or at the very least more educated ones. But “smarts” will only get us so far. It’s what we do that counts. If we don’t know how to do something, it’s our responsibility to find out, get help, and support one another.

My husband and I have been married for 13 years and we realize we will always be on a quest to build, maintain, and occasionally repair our relationship. That’s just how life is: forever changing, often uncertain, and with no guarantees. But thankfully we don’t have to go it alone.

I believe in a God who loves me more than I could ever imagine and who promises to accompany us in the union He designed for our benefit. He never said it would be easy (quite the contrary actually), and the bulk of the work does rest on our shoulders. But it is possible to change our fate. Our story is still being written. Just because we come from broken families doesn’t mean we can’t have happy, whole relationships.

If anything, we owe it to ourselves, and to our children, to give it the best we’ve got. And every now and then we can still allow our inner punk kid speak up and give us some advice.


Photo (Flickr CC) by TimothyJ

Originally published in Issue 10 of Converge Magazine.


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Will the real Esther please rise? Tue, 09 Dec 2014 12:00:58 +0000 Will the real Esther please rise? by Maureen Farrell Garcia

So many of our biblical heroes are outstanding sinners. This makes us uncomfortable, to say the least. We want to...

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Will the real Esther please rise? by Maureen Farrell Garcia

So many of our biblical heroes are outstanding sinners. This makes us uncomfortable, to say the least. We want to justify their conduct somehow, so we read the Old Testament through a moralistic lens. In the process, we whitewash behaviours like Abraham’s deception of Pharaoh, or Samson’s sexual promiscuity.

This is true. And it’s about the only point I agreed with in Preston Sprinkle’s recent piece on Patheos, “The Esther You Never Knew.”

There are two books in the Bible named after females: Ruth and Esther.

Both these characters are foreigners: one is an Israelite foreigner in Persia, and the other is a Moabite foreigner in Israel. Esther is an orphan, while Ruth is a widow.

Widows, orphans, and foreigners are of a special class of the vulnerable who God repeatedly commands the Israelites to treat with compassion. This common theme runs through the Mosaic law. It also appears within the New Testament, like James’ description of true religion as caring for orphans and widows in their suffering.

Even more so, God asserts that when others fail to treat them with compassion, He is their defender. Both Ruth and Esther illustrate God’s compassionate provision and protection for the faithful vulnerable.

When Esther was orphaned, Mordechai chose to raise her. He, like God, cares for orphans. And this pious man has raised Esther, meaning she too is likely pious, considering she is so obedient to him.

Providing a deeper understanding of God’s disdain for those who harm the vulnerable is the information provided about Haman. He is a descendant of Amalek, and the Amalekites, who offended God when they — you guessed it — attacked and harmed the vulnerable Israelites. God interpreted their actions as utter and unforgivable rebellion against Him.

Esther does not enter a beauty pageant. She is the victim of the systematic abduction and rape of a kingdom of young women. How anyone can miss the horror and suffering of this scenario is stunning.

If the King and Esther were sexual that night, which Sprinkle suggests with a nudge-nudge wink-wink, it is clearly rape. There is no other definition for it. No other way to spin it. Abduction and imprisonment for a year by a powerful, foolish, reactionary ruler are not a recipe for consent.

To imply Esther had any control of this is to blame not just her, but all victims, male and female, of sexual assault and abuse.

What does this communicate to our churches filled with sexual abuse victims and survivors? What does this say to all who have suffered rape? What does this say to sex trafficking victims? What does this say to the 200 girls abducted in Nigeria? It says you’re a sinner and not a real victim because you’re still alive. But ladies don’t fret, because Sprinkle assures us God can use us anyway, despite our cowardly impurity.

So should Esther have risked her life, as Sprinkle asserts, to stay pure? Did she lack courage and faith because she stayed alive?

The thing is, Esther does risk her life to save Mordechai and her people. She responds to Mordechai’s implication that God has raised her to the position of Queen with, “If I perish, I perish.”

Sprinkle assumes that the book’s message is only for the ladies, and that it is primarily about God’s grace juxtaposed with Esther’s and our sinful sexuality. This is radically reductionist, suggesting females are primarily their sexuality, not complex, holistic, wondrous human beings created in the awesome likeness and image of God. It also communicates that men have nothing relevant or valuable to learn from female biblical characters.

The entire Bible is for women, not just Ruth, Esther, and Proverbs 31. But this is the unfortunate message women and girls, as well as men and boys, receive in many churches. The entire Bible is for males as well, including books, narratives, and parables featuring females.

Esther is wise, discerning, courageous, obedient, resilient, charming, and lovable; she’s not “morally bankrupt” or impure. In fact, Esther is one of the easiest biblical books to discern which characters are good (Mordechai and Esther), bad (Haman the descendent of God’s enemies), and foolish (The King).

There are plenty of books in the Bible that communicate God’s mercy and use of sinful individuals. But the book of Esther is not one of them. Mordechai and Esther both care about Mosaic law. They just never explicitly say so. It is up to the reader to recognize the ways in which they fulfill the law.

Just like it is up to the reader to understand that God’s hidden hand, moving behind the scenes, is due to God’s compassion for the suffering, and not His mercy for impure, sinful, land-and-Torah hating Jews. Sprinkle’s interpretation slanders Esther and mischaracterizes God. Esther deserves better, and so do we.

Photo (FlickrCC) by martinak15

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Why sharing your story is so profound Mon, 08 Dec 2014 12:00:00 +0000 Why sharing your story is so profound by Julia Feeser

I was sitting by a bonfire in California when I first really heard someone else’s story. It was the summer...

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Why sharing your story is so profound by Julia Feeser

I was sitting by a bonfire in California when I first really heard someone else’s story.

It was the summer of 2008 and I was attending a 10-day leadership program in Southern California. I was one of 20 high school seniors who had spent the last several days getting to know each other through service and activities.

It was our final night. We were gathered around the enormous bonfire, sitting close. Our leader stood before us and invited us all to do something that was simultaneously thrilling and uncomfortable: he invited us to stand up and share an experience that had a deep impact on our life.

My stomach instantly filled with butterflies as I thought about standing before this group of people. Would I talk about my first encounter with God? My fears of being unpopular at school? My recent break up from my first boyfriend?

As I sat there anxiously trying to figure out what I would say, one by one the others described moments and experiences with such vulnerability I had never heard before. There were stories of failing to live up to expectations, rape, eating disorders, deep hopes and fears, heartache, joy, and estranged parents. There were tears, stammered words, and sighs of relief as though a great weight was being released.

When it was finally my turn, I was surprised to find the words coming out of my mouth were filled with deep appreciation. To stand before a group of people who were willing to let me see them, truly see them, and who wanted to truly see me too was a gift I hadn’t really encountered before. I thanked them and loved them for giving me the opportunity. And I wanted more of it.

Over the last few years I have now had countless opportunities to share my life story in different settings. And each time I am overwhelmed by the goodness that takes place as a result.

Stories remind us we are not alone. 

So often painful experiences are made worse by the belief that everyone else is living a carefree life. When we have the courage to share our struggles and experiences, we allow others a space of peace, and a place where they can breathe. Talking about our deepest pains and most glorious joys allows both the story teller and listener to know that we are not alone in this world.

Stories give encouragement, whether we realize it or not. 

Something I continue to be surprised about is how people respond to my writing. One of the most common things I get from people is, “You have no idea how much I needed to hear this.” They’re right, I didn’t! When I write about my personal experiences and perspectives, I never know if anyone will actually resonate with it. But putting those stories into the world gives others a chance to, and it’s always a rush of joy when they do.

Stories help us gain perspective on our own experiences.

Last fall I had the opportunity to share my life story during my internship with Krochet Kids intl. We were encouraged to process what we would say beforehand and create a timeline of our life. As I was remembering influential moments and relationships, I realized there was a common theme among my timeline: community. I did not realize my life thus far has been characterized by an importance of community and how I have grown in such a setting. Preparing to share my story helped me understand this, and gave me insight into how to best experience life.

Stories allow us to be known. 

When I stood up in front of that bonfire in California and shared my story, I felt, even briefly, that I was truly known by others. And I have to say, being known and loved because of my experiences (both good and bad) and not in spite of them may be the best feeling in the world. It’s freeing, safe, and intimate. It instantly forms a genuine connection between you and others that somehow beautifully remains precious over time.

Sharing your story is not always an easy thing. But the gift you give others and yourself in doing so is one that has a profound impact.

Photo (Flickr CC) by Very Quiet.

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5 tips for living abroad Fri, 05 Dec 2014 12:00:11 +0000 5 tips for living abroad by Allyson Portee

To live, to truly live, we must be willing to risk. To be nothing in order to find everything. To...

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5 tips for living abroad by Allyson Portee

To live, to truly live, we must be willing to risk. To be nothing in order to find everything. To leap before we look. (Mandy Hale)

There I was, telling my father I was moving an ocean away. Again. He’d gotten used to hearing me say this; at 26, I had already lived abroad twice.

“Enjoy it, God be with you my child,” he said. “But I wish you’d just stay in America!”

Living in another country is one of the most enriching experiences I can think of. You’re able to meet awesome people, try new foods, learn a few foreign words, and travel to surrounding countries and cities. One of the most profound aspects about transplanting yourself is a certain amount of self-realization that happens: you’re not only able to look at your own country with different eyes, you’re also able to learn a few things about who you are, and why you do the things you do.

With many benefits of living abroad, there are an equal number of challenges. You’ve got to learn to take care of yourself in a foreign environment, think on your feet, and learn to find ways to navigate around the language barrier (if there is one).

And, like moving to a new place, making friends takes time, as does finding a church you can call home.

So, for anyone else who is thinking of living internationally for a while, here are a few things that I’ve learned.

1. Do your homework

Find out everything about the country you want to move to. Educate yourself on visa regulations, the cost of living, and cultural expectations. It’s better to be prepared and financially smart about emergencies that may arise. And, if you can, wait a few weeks after you get there before you sign a lease. This way, you’ll be able to see for yourself how a neighbourhood looks and feels. You will also get the chance to talk with other people and understand how moving into a city works: if you have to pay council tax for your city or neighnourhood, pay a TV license fee, where’s the best place to buy groceries, and what areas you should stay away from. This is the kind of research you won’t be able to do from your computer at home.

2. Take a risk

Yes, it’s scary walking into the unknown. But it’s also an adventure that will lead you closer to God. He’ll show you how to rely on Him when you’re faced with the inevitable obstacles that will come your way; He’ll allow some disappointments to teach you about people, strengthen your faith, and most importantly, allow His glory to shine through.

3. Take advantage of your free time

When I first arrived in Germany, I had a lot of free time on my hands. I didn’t know that many people. So, I often went for long walks and made time for a relationship with God. During this time I was also able to join various clubs and groups to meet new people. Through immersing myself in the culture and surroundings, I’ve been able to fully appreciate where I am, and have been blessed with people who have become like family to me.

4. Ask God what He’s trying to teach you

Travelling alone to a foreign country can be one of the most lonely experiences ever. When I got to Berlin there was a major emergency with my visa; the workers at the foreigners office were quite unfriendly and would not initially assist me with the information that I needed. My first few months were the most difficult. I constantly was praying, “Lord, what are you trying to teach me here? What is it you want me to see?” Despite (or maybe because of) the fact that my start here in Berlin was not the greatest, it has been one of the most life-changing and formative experiences of my life.

5. Be respectful of the culture you’re in

No two cultures are the same. Societal norms, customs, and expectations are going to be different than what you’re used to. (For example, British-polite is different from American-polite.) So try not to judge a culture based on your own. Learning the language and making friends with locals can also help with understanding why things are the way they are. This is the enriching part of the international journey: truly getting to know and understand the people of the culture you’re in.

Of course there are many other things to learn and gain from living in another country. If you have the opportunity to live in another country, take it, learn from it, and add something to it. You will be surprised how much you will learn and how much God will teach you.

Photo (Flickr CC) by Jon Rawlinson.


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Why your food matters Thu, 04 Dec 2014 12:00:14 +0000 Why your food matters by Justin Karl

Christians are prone to talk endlessly about predestination and mission, but when it comes to the concrete everyday mores of...

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Why your food matters by Justin Karl

Christians are prone to talk endlessly about predestination and mission, but when it comes to the concrete everyday mores of life, we are oddly silent. So what does God intend for the most ordinary of things like food?

Quite literally, the Bible tells us whether we eat or drink, we should do so for the glory of God. So here are some practical ways we can give glory to Him through how and what we eat.

1. Everything is a gift from God. So be thankful.

This is God’s world, and He provides every morsel of food. A worshipful heart is needed to realize that God created and provided that food. 

2. Celebrate. Like really throw down.

Every time we honour God through celebration, we are remembering and anticipating the greatest party of all time, the banquet of all banquets. It was even on Jesus’ mind during the Last Supper, while He was preparing for the cross: “I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (Matthew 26:29.)

3. You have to eat everyday, so eat well.

Jesus ate so well that people called Him a glutton and a drunk. The goal of eating shouldn’t be “how can I get the most for my dollar.” That’s a utilitarian view of life, where food isn’t a gift to give thanks for, but only a means to an end. There’s tension here, as frivolous spending and constant overindulgence are vices. But would a non-Christian — who watched how you eat, how you order at a restaurant, and how you generally conduct your meals — conclude you have a beautiful and creative God who provides for His children? Food doesn’t have to be expensive to be fun, so be adventurous when you can be.

4.   Eat local.

Build relationships through farmers’ markets, local restaurants, local chefs, and local grocers. Caring for those who serve you by learning their names, tipping well, and valuing their vocation is a great way to show your love and respect for them. Plus, eating locally allows you to invest in the local economy and gives you greater appreciation and connection to the food you eat.

5. Eat with other people.

This isn’t biblical mandate, but eating with people frequently is a fantastic way to mimic the ministry of Jesus. Sharing a meal is a time to be present with one another other, to listen, and ask questions. It’s a time when you’re able to practice hospitality, generosity, and vulnerability.

How we interact with our food is so interconnected with living in right relationship with ourselves, others, and God. It’s essential to living a good, loving, and beautiful life filled with gratitude.

So go ahead, give glory to God, and bon appétit!

Photo (Flickr CC) by Alagich Katya.

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It’s that time of year: a playlist Wed, 03 Dec 2014 17:00:22 +0000 It’s that time of year: a playlist by Wes Jakacki

Christmas music. It’s everywhere. Pop and Christian radio stations dedicate an entire month to playing nothing but festive tunes, and...

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It’s that time of year: a playlist by Wes Jakacki

Christmas music. It’s everywhere. Pop and Christian radio stations dedicate an entire month to playing nothing but festive tunes, and stores are filled with the sound. It’s not exactly my favourite thing, since the ratio of good-to-bad Christmas songs is wildly tipped to the ugly side, but there are some gems to be mined out of the mess, both new and ancient.

The best Christmas songs bring hope, reflection, and a little fun to the season, and colour in the details of what makes Christmas so worth celebrating.

Here are 10 songs to help you celebrate and reflect in this busy season.

1. “The Christmas Waltz”

She & Him

2. “Little Saint Nick”

The Beach Boys

3. “Christmas at the Airport”

Nick Lowe

4. “Christmas Must Be Tonight”

My Morning Jacket

5. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”

Cat Power

6. “O Come O Come Emmanuel”

Sufjan Stevens

7. “Christmas Time Is Here”

Vince Guaraldi Trio

8. “O Holy Night”

Sara Groves

9. “Justice Delivers Its Death”

Sufjan Stevens

10. “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”

Darlene Love

Photo (Flickr CC) by Christopher Paquette.



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