Friday, December 28, 2007

Through the Dark

Note: This blog entry happened chronologically before I actually started blogging. Prior to regular blogging, I would occasionally post musings and stories in the form of a Facebook Note. While I have, several years later, converted my Facebook notes into blog entries, I've decided to keep the chronology true to the original posting, regardless of platform.

So, the following is a story I started shortly after the July long weekend. With work, school, and life, I haven't been able to really sit down to it, but was finally able to finish it up today.
*  *  *

I don’t care if it’s 9:30, Lord, I want to start this camping trip tonight, and I will do everything in my power to see that we do not sleep in this city!

You know I don’t work according to your schedule.

Yes, I know that—otherwise we would have been on the road over two hours ago. I can go with Your flow. As long as Your flow gets us to the mountains.

Dusk was turning into night as I left the city with three friends I hardly knew, my car crammed to the gills with gear. In the backseat, there wasn’t an inch of my friends’ bodies that was not touching a sleeping bag, pillow, or foamy. Up front, my new friend in shotgun sat with several bags at his feet. This was not the original plan. Things got mixed up, and what should have been a two-car convoy turned into a one-car mission. But when had things followed the original plan lately?

As daylight disappeared, clouds began to build. It wasn’t long before the rain came. I had been moving swiftly at nearly 120km/h, but soon after setting the windshield wipers, I found myself slowing and moving only as fast as weather would permit. Occasionally I could speed up, only to slow down just as quickly in heavy spots of rain.

Our music was soon drowned out by the rhythmic beat of the wipers and pelting raindrops that had long since washed the dust off my windshield. We had decided to take secondary highways for the first half of the journey, which, although quieter, did not provide as much security as the well-lit primary highway just kilometers south of us.

Every now and then I caught my muscles tense as I maintained vigilant focus on the road ahead of me. I had to force my shoulders to relax and drop. I turned on my brights, but it was still so hard to see my surroundings. Maybe we should have just stuck to the main highway.

In the back, the two girls slept. My virtual stranger of a front-seat passenger remained awake; this came in helpful as he tried to gauge how far until the next turn, what highway we were looking for, and just where on earth we were. Every now and then, lightning would briefly illuminate everything around us. In the darkness, I couldn’t really tell what direction we were headed. The brief flash of light was the only reassurance that we were really going anywhere. It was the virtual stranger who had the source of information we needed. He held the map, and studied it intensely.

A T-intersection approached quicker than expected; as I heavily applied the brakes, I jolted everyone out of their sleepy state. The car stopped smoothly and flawlessly where it was supposed to.

“Where did that come from?” one friend asked.

“Good thing you’re paying attention!” said my front-seat passenger, “You sure know your car!”

I patted the dash and cooed, “good car; yes, you’re a good car.” We all laughed; well-needed relief as we sat, in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere. It was good not to be alone. We took the opportunity on the deserted road to scrutinize the map. We’d been forced to evaluate our position, and trust that the map could and would still get us where we wanted to go… as long as we interpreted it correctly.

We made our turn, and continued on. The rhythm of the wipers and rain became white noise once more, and the two in the back resumed sleep. They trusted that I could get us there safely. They trusted that I knew my car and that I would follow the directions I was being given. But what about the fact that I could barely see what was ahead of me? What if this wasn’t the best route in the first place? How was I supposed to help them if I couldn’t even be sure of where I was going?

After what seemed like forever, there was a very soft glow on the horizon. A small town. A place to refuel, stretch, and refresh. We took advantage of the opportunity, knowing that the chances of stopping again before our final destination were slim to none.

Returning to a primary highway, my backseat passengers found sleep once more, and although my front-seat passenger remained awake, it was quiet as we continued on, each lost in our own thoughts. It’s like this with life sometimes, isn’t it, Lord? We start off driving into a beautiful sunset, and then out of no where, it rains. And the rain comes pounding down around us so loud that it’s all we can do to not let it consume us. Surrounded by darkness, we are forced to slow down and trust that Your map will get us where we want to go, whether we can see the details or not. And trust that even if we veer off, You will still get us back to the main road. But Lord, will You keep it dark for so long???

Eventually, the two girls in the back roused from what had to be the cushiest yet most uncomfortable sleep they’d probably ever had. “Sunrise!” claimed one cheerfully; the other spoke what I was thinking: “are you kidding me?” I hadn’t really been paying attention, but sure enough, it was getting lighter outside. I double-checked my rearview mirror, which confirmed that there was indeed sunlight on the eastern horizon. We had driven right through the darkness, and had started entering into daylight without even noticing. It had also stopped raining. When had I turned the wipers off?

I turned off the main highway onto the last stretch before reaching our destination. The remainder of the drive was quite pretty, with the sun rising and the highway dipping down into mountain valleys and winding around hills.

We pulled into our campsite and everyone was eager to exit the car. It was five in the morning. We picked our way through the gear to find essentials: tents, foamies, sleeping bags, and pillows. Food could wait, fresh clothes could wait. We had driven all night. We had made it through the dark and the rain. I knew now that it would now be daylight for a long time. It was time to rest.

Sunday, July 15, 2007


So, I'm in this Facebook group for cat-lovers, and one of the members there said to buy the FURminator, which is this fancy grooming brush for cats and dogs. I went to the website, watched the videos, and then went out on a [very expensive] limb and bought the brush at PetSmart.

Here is what Akira and my deck looked like after about a ten-minute brush--and keep in mind that I brushed her thoroughly with my shedding blade the day before:

I'm pretty sure she lost five pounds... of fur...

Needless to say, I am VERY satisfied with the results; quite comparable to the photos/videos on the website. I highly recommend this brush if you have pets. Down side--very expensive. But, I'd way rather have this fur on my deck and vacuum it up once from there than have it in daily bits and pieces on my couch and clothing.

My shedding blade is now 2nd place...

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Sticking Close to God When Life Derails

This post was originally written in February, 2007, shared as a testimony as part of a women's Bible study group in which I participated. It has undergone minor edits since that time.

Let me start with a bit of background. I grew up in Calgary in a loving nuclear family: Mom, Dad, a younger brother, cats... Initially, I was brought up believing that there was a God who created the world, and that was about it. My dad was a non-practicing Jew, and my mom didn’t practice the Christian faith she’d been brought up in. So I believed in God in the simplest sense of the term. And just for the record, I believed for the longest time that He lived inside a lamp post I passed daily on my walk to school.

I started going to and enjoying Sunday school with my best friend when I was ten. After a bit of this, my mom decided she should take responsibility for her children’s spiritual well-being, and started taking my brother and me to the Anglican church near our house. I liked this thing called being Christian; the rules were very easy to follow, and His premise was logical: love others, go to Heaven. I liked that idea. When I was eleven, I chose to be baptized, and I enjoyed going to youth group every Sunday starting that fall.

At about thirteen, I started to realize that a relationship with God was more than just following His rules; it involved communicating with Him daily, and believing that His way was the only Truth, and that it was a good Truth. It was believing that He loved me no matter what. I liked this idea even better than just obeying His commandments, and made a renewed commitment that I still have on paper!

Things sailed pretty smoothly for me as a teenager and young adult. I wasn’t very popular in school, but I had my own close group of friends, and I was smart; I knew I had value and worth, and never really gave into peer pressure. At sixteen, I dove deeper in my faith when I was part of a volunteer youth staff at Sorrento Centre in British Columbia. Most of the other youth there had more worldly experience than I had, and yet, living the Christian life around them was surprisingly easy. Listening to the goals, experiences, and attitudes of these peers reinforced to me how important it was to live according to God’s standards. As a student, I knew that I could probably get by fine without studying, but I could get do much better if I did study. The same was true for my Christian faith. I could probably get by fine without God, but life would be so much better if I followed Him.

That fall, I attended a youth weekend called Teens Encounter Christ (TEC), which was like adding nitrous to my relationship with God. I started keeping a prayer journal, discovered contemporary Christian music, embraced the value of fellowship, and saw that there could be variety in how I worshipped. Even though I graduated from high school that year, I worked two or three TECs in my university years.

Fast forward to 2000-ish. I am in my third year of university. I have great friends; about half are Christian. I am living out my faith daily at school in the midst of a mini-revival as many of my peers come to know Christ for the first time, or re-connect with God in a new way. It was an amazing year. This was the year I also entered my first serious relationship. He and I started dating in early 2001. In 2003, we moved to Edmonton together, settled into the workforce, and in 2004, we were married. Life was good. I had a good job, I had a good husband, and I was making new friends and experiences through both of these.

Fast forward again to 2006. It’s the August long weekend. After on-and-off marital counselling, many one-on-one conversations, and after watching my husband fall away from God over the previous several months, he tells me he can no longer commit to our relationship. His exact words are, "I need to be selfish", and I know that selfishness does not a marriage make, so I watch him leave. And I sit there wondering what happened to the man I had dated and married, who struggled sometimes in his faith, but nevertheless always wanted to be an honourable man of God.

Six days after he leaves, and on the exact day of my parents’ 31st wedding anniversary, my father passes away from a massive heart attack; part in parcel due to being a Type 1 diabetic from the age of seven.

I have just lost the two most important men in my life in the same week. What do I do now?

Well, first I remembered that my dad used to always say, "things happen in 3s", so I looked around and said to no one in particular, "you’ve gotta be kidding me." Second, I dove into my Bible and any other Christian-based texts I could find for advice. I’ve always been a reader, and I find solace in the words of experts. After my father’s death and my separation, I came to find solace in The Expert in and outside of books. Y’know how you can know God’s Truth and believe it, but often you see it more in other people’s lives than your own? And then you experience it in your life, and you think to yourself, "so that’s what that looks like!” Well, such was most of the first year after that August long weekend.

As I learned to navigate this new normal, I learned several Truths in new ways.

1. God is in control. Because goodness knows I’m not. When you have a lot of stability in your life, it’s easy to say, "yeah, yeah, God’s in control; I know." But when things go completely contrary to their "normal order", you have no choice but to say, "okay, Lord, You must be in control, because this sure isn’t how I’d play out my life."

2. God is good (all the time). I can say without a doubt that that first week in August was the worst week of my entire life at that point. I was numb at work. I took sleeping pills to maintain as regular a sleep schedule as possible. And I lost ten pounds in just as many days (and I don't really have ten pounds to lose). Regardless, in the immediate aftermath of my separation and father’s death, and many times since, God has shown me over and over (and over) that I am still blessed. For example, I have a friend in Arizona who, at seven months into a draining pregnancy, nevertheless immediately offered to have me come down for the week if I needed to get away. You can bet I went down there, and even though she and her family probably didn’t treat me any differently than they had in previous visits, it felt infinitely more loving and peaceful.

Because of the separation, my ex and I had to sell the house we had just moved in to. The real estate market was booming at that time, and it allowed me to have a large enough down payment to purchase a condo without really increasing my living costs.

In my father’s will, he left everything to my mom. However, my mom, being the generous person she is, gave both my brother and I a chunk of his life insurance. I was able to buy new furniture for my new place and add a bit to my bank account for the super-tight budget I knew I was going to be living with for at least the next several months.

Most importantly, God blessed me with the most amazing support system. Those I am closest to helped me get back on my feet, while acquaintances, co-workers, and others provided prayer, a listening ear, and reassurance. When I told my realtor why we were selling the house, she closed the door to her office and prayed for me right then and there! 

3. God’s timing is perfect. This one is hard to wrap my head around sometimes, as I have been impatient since I was born (which, ironically, was three weeks early). And so this is a truth I still have to remind myself of some days. I do not believe that divorce is part of God's will for the lives of His children. But God has graced us with free will, so just because I am trying to live out God’s will for my life, it doesn't mean I'm perfect, and I am still impacted by others' decisions not to want to live that way.

My father died believing that my ex and I were happily married. And the only regret I had in his passing was not telling him, because he might have been able to say something. Even though my dad was only baptized in his 40's, many people agreed that he’d been a Christian long before that, simply because of the life he led. My father was full of wisdom. What I needed that week was my father to sit down and talk to my husband about married life and about being an honourable man, but I didn’t have that. And at the same time I needed my husband to support me through the loss of my father. And I didn’t have that, either. So how God’s timing is perfect in that was not, and may never be, fully clear to me.

Nevertheless, God has shown me perfect timing so many times since then that I know His timing is perfect, regardless of whether I understand how. For example, at the beginning of that summer, I noticed that I had a week off at the end of August between my summer job and my year-round job. And I remember thinking, "what am I going to do with that week when everyone else is working?" ...That was when I went to Arizona.

I also have a friend who separated from her husband about three weeks after I did, and we were able to take a well-needed vacation to Mexico because we share the same Christmas holiday schedule. And although I never wish separation or divorce on anyone, had we not shared the same life experiences, I wouldn’t have had anyone to travel with, and the vacation never would have happened.

Third, as mentioned previously, I live on a rather tight budget. And most of the time, I am able to say to myself, I have way more than so many other people, and I have everything I need with a tiny bit left over at the end of each month; I am so blessed. But every now and then, I check my bank account and worry--did I overspend again? What about that extra cost this month from such-and-such? Why can’t I just have a comfortable budget like I had when I was married? And every single time this has happened, God has provided me with a little extra cash. Every. Single. Time. And I still have those worry moments, but when I see the blessing, I recognize it earlier now and I say thank You.

Several months after that devastating summer, I also connected with the (TEC) community in Edmonton. I had never worked a TEC weekend in Edmonton, and was a little apprehensive about throwing myself into a group full of strangers, even if they were all Christians. But at the first TEC meeting I attended, it was explained to me that the theme for the weekend was "A New Hope", based on Jeremiah 29:11.* In that moment, I knew I was meant to be on that weekend. I had been searching for new hope every day for months. The weekend was really uplifting and inspiring, and I was able to create new friendships I never would have imagined possible only one year before.

Aside from the TEC theme verse, two verses came to stand out for me that year. I have heard them spoken often in church and worship activities. Romans 8:28--"God works for the good of those who love Him"--has been shown to me repeatedly through all His blessings and even in my daily activities. It reaffirms that I am okay simply because I have a heart for God. And then Joel 2:25--"I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten..." gives me a sense of peace as I try to trust and live towards the future God has in store for me.

* "For I know the plans I have for you," says the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."