Sunday, 1 December 2013

This one time I met a Nigerian Prince... Seriously


Kyle and I slipped out last Friday evening to attend a Robin Mark concert at Lakeside Church in Guelph. The lovely wee man is from Belfast, Northern Ireland and has precisely the same accent as one half of my extended family. Although it was nearly a sold-out show in a room with a 1000 person capacity, I felt like I was in my Aunt May's living room with the McChesney/McShane connection. Hearing that accent makes me feel there's someone in the room who understands me. There are few feelings of comfort like it... I needed only a wee cuppa Earl Grey and a Rich Tea biscuit, and I would have been in my version of heaven.

The concert was lovely; an evening with my man, enjoying that familiar voice leading 1000 people in beautiful songs of praise. The highlight of the evening, however, was when I met a Nigerian Prince. Ok. I almost met him. Well, I was in the same room as him as he played a drum set. Stay with me.

While introducing his band, Robin Mark arrived at his drummer and with a smile this Irishman told us he would keep the story short; ha. Keeping stories brief is not the strong suit of any of my relatives. I knew we were in for a good one. This is how he introduced his drummer...

(Side note - if any incorrect details are apparent, please post a comment with the correction. I only heard this tale once, but some stories simply must be repeated at the risk of some minor occurances of misinformation.)

In the 1960's, a young man came from Nigeria to study in Belfast. While there, he fell in love with an Irish woman. After a while the young woman became pregnant, and when word of this soon-to-be grandchild found it's way to Nigeria, the young man's father collected his son, bringing him home in shame.

Letter after letter was sent from the young man to the mama-to-be, who ripped up each one without examination. As such, the young woman remained ignorant of the truth about the child's father, why he left and of the blood ran in the veins of the child she was carrying.

32 years later, no longer a child, Nicky decided it was high time he spoke to his father. After a few security hoops, the phone was finally connected to the right office in London,

"Hello? Who is this?"
"This is Nicky McWilliams."
"..." ... "I've been waiting on this call for 32 years."

Unbeknownst to him, a young man born and raised in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Nicky was the son of a Nigerian Tribal King. His father now occupied the throne. Nicky was by rights, a Nigerian Prince.

Soon after, Nicky was flown to Nigeria to meet his family and to be a part of an adoption ceremony (in which he had to dance - Mr. Mark says he saw a video of this and has to testify that his drumming abilities come from the African connection, but his dancing legs have Belfast written all over them).

At a banquet held for the extended royal family while Nicky was visiting, his father, the King, stood up. "For the past 32 years, at every banquet held for this family, a portion of meat has been set aside, for the long-lost prince. Today, we do not need to set a piece aside. My son, finally, is here."

Mr. Mark then motioned to his drummer and requested of the audience, "Would you now all join me in welcoming to the stage, PRINCE Nicky McWilliams!"

I love this. The man didn't become a prince at the moment of realization at the age of 32. Although he had not been aware, he had been a prince his whole life. His surroundings, his paycheck, his up-bringing, his circumstances, his fame, or lack-thereof, did not take away from the truth of who he really was.

What an illustration!

Hearing the tale of the Belfast-raised Nigerian Prince reminded me of another I heard years ago called "You Are Special" by Max Lucado. 

Punchinello, a wooden 'Wemmick' lives in a town where all day people go about covering each other with stars or dots. The most admired and celebrated Wemmicks had the most stars to display. Those who were teased, and insulted sported the most dots. Punchinello, was one of the latter. One day he meets someone unlike anyone he had seen before: a Wemmick with no stars or dots. When asked why she doesn't have any, she says they simply don't stick because every day she spends time with Eli the carpenter. After Punchinello works up the courage to visit Eli too, he starts to lose some dots when he dares to believe Eli when he is told, "you are special because I made you...". 

And, what a great reminder. If I was to strip away others' perceptions of who I am, my 'success' at my work, the size of my bank account, the measure of prestige I may enjoy placed on me by various positions, titles or degrees, I would still be a person of worth because I belong to and am loved by the Someone made me. Just like Prince Nicky McWilliams, the truth of who I am and my worth as a person remains regardless of my life's circumstances of who acknowledges it. 

Ephesians 2:10 says that we are God's handiwork, his masterpiece, created with a purpose in mind.  

Whether or not we feel like masterpieces, (honestly, many days I feel far from it), or worthy of being called "God's handiwork", that doesn't take away from it being true. 

You. Me. Masterpieces. Uniquely and lovingly created by God himself.

Incredible.







 



Saturday, 16 November 2013

Beautiful Things

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust.
                                                                                 - Gungor

A few weeks ago, my friend Jordan Raycroft, a Canadian singer songwriter with mad talent, asked if I would be willing to fill in at a performance for his usual violinist. I felt incredibly honored to have been asked and quickly agreed. After a few marathon practice sessions, I found myself in a tiny back room of a church having a pre-show band meeting with a bass player and jazz drummer I had only just met wearing make-up (a rarity) and new clothes I hoped would fool the audience into thinking I belonged there.

Opening for Jordan’s band was a 17-year old girl, playing her guitar and pouring out her heart to a room full of youth. She was kind of country, and I smiled to myself as I heard her sing of summer camp romances, broken hearts, hope and expectation for what lies ahead. I felt I was listening to the slightly more confident younger version of myself - less jaded, more hopeful, laughing easier.

I started wondering at faded hopefulness wondering in my own life; what caused it and how to wake myself up to it hope again.

When I first started this blog, I was determined to recapture the Joy in my life, and honestly felt like I had begun to succeed. My motivation began slipping when I heard story after story of friends dealing with their own heaviness:

A dear friend, cancer free for two years, in and out of the hospital battling complications and medication side-affects

Friends of my in-laws, sharing with me their fresh grief over the sudden, unexplained death of their son, in his early 20’s

A woman I love as my own sister, and have known for nearly a decade, breaking the silence on horrible abuse in her own life

A friend’s child lost to cancer

My own experience has softened my own heart to others’ pain and I began to feel like there were just too many reasons to bleed. The Joy Project was temporarily abandoned.

Since then, I’ve begun not to just know but rather to know and internalize, that experiencing Joy isn’t the result of a one time battle, but the fruit of a continuous struggle to notice all that’s good in your life already. Ann Voskamp describes them as ‘gifts’.

You can read about her journey HERE.

Something happened earlier this week that inspired me to pick up my sword again – to find things to be thankful for and to continue this battle for Joy. On Saturday morning I sat in a room full of women while a friend of mine courageously picked up a microphone and publicly broke the silence on a history of abuse in her own life. She shared what she had experienced, how it continued to affect her as an adult and the coping mechanisms she has used to emotionally and mentally deal with her pain. She is one of my closest friends. I love her dearly. I had no idea. I could feel my heart breaking.

Then she did something that amazed me and gave me hope for my own journey.

She put her cue cards down, moved to the keyboard and sang a solo version of Gungor’s You Make Beautiful Things”

All this pain
I wonder if I’ll ever find my way
I wonder if my life could really change at all.

All this earth
Could all that is lost ever be found?
Could a garden come up from this ground at all?

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust.

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us.

All around
Hope is springing up from this old ground
Out of chaos life is being found in You

What Truth. What courage. What hopefulness.

This woman amazes me.

I’ve been thinking lately about the story of Joseph, one of the 12 brothers from which Jewish lineage stems. This is the ultimate tale of beautiful things coming out of the dust. As a youth, Joseph was beaten and bound by his own brothers, thrown into a pit and later sold to some Egyptians. For years afterward, he suffered slavery, false accusations, and imprisonment until much later he was brought before Pharaoh to interpret a dream. As a result became Pharaoh’s 2nd in command, in charge of planning and implementing a food rationing/storage system that would later save the lives of his brothers, preserving his family line.

Here’s the part I’ve been hanging onto.

When Joseph is faced with his brothers again, who are at his feet and terrified of his planned course of action to repay them for their cruelty, this is how he responds,

“You meant evil against me,” (the Hebrew word used here means ‘weave’), “But God rewove it together for good.” Genesis 50:20

For Joseph, for his brothers and for all of Egypt, God made something beautiful out of the dust.

And He can do it for us too.

He gives good gifts. His timing is perfect. His ways are not my ways, but He has the whole picture and I don’t. Until things become clearer, I’m going to trust and know that hope is not the stuff of fairy tales. It is for me too, and although I may not yet see it, something beautiful will come out of this dust.   


Friday, 1 February 2013

Gratitude

After losing John and becoming a Mumma, I find diving into others' pain much easier. Tears come easily and I'm able to feel other people's stuff in a way I couldn't before. I am both thankful for this and wary of it, as it has made crying in public kind of the norm for me now. At first it was awkward, but I've learned to become ok with this.  I struggled in the early years with Kyle to be ok with crying in front of him; just two days ago I met a couple who had recently and suddenly lost a son and within five minutes of meeting them we were getting all teary together. I've come a long way.

In earlier days, Kyle would tease me calling me "Stone-Cold Steph" because my temperament was usually pretty even with few notable downs and fewer notable ups. Before the fall of 2011, I would rarely feel emotion worthy of being labeled as 'excitement'. On the other end of the spectrum, unless I hadn't had enough alone time (I'm a closet  introvert - growing up in a house with six kids made 'alone' time hard to come by), was completely exhausted or it was my time of the month, tears were also rare. Perhaps it was the flood of hormones after Sophie was born or lack of sleep that unleashed this new Steph, or maybe it was just being thrown into the painful experience of losing someone you love. Whatever it was, it seems that letting myself experience grief has also opened some doors to tasting some extra Joy as well. For this I am thankful.

I had not been my intention to leave this blog untouched for two months. Really, it hadn't.  I've been struggling with what to write about in the last while. The Joy Project took a bit of a blow two minutes after I finished typing my last post. I was about to hit the 'Publish' button when Kyle called to let me know that the 10 year old daughter of a friend of a friend who had been struggling with cancer had passed away that morning. As I found myself diving into the pain of Sarah's family I found the Joy Project getting side-tracked as I began wrestling with the question, Is it possible to experience Joy through the rough stuff?

I recently worked my way through a book by Brené Brown, "The Gifts of Imperfection", her "Guide to a Wholehearted Life". She tackles the concept of Joy as it relates to Happiness. She says Happiness is an emotion, whereas Joy is "a spiritual way of engaging with the world that's connected to practicing Gratitude." (77). Aka: no Gratitude = no Joy. Much like my discovery that the newly experienced emotional dips clear the way for some wonderful upswings of Happy, you can't chase Joy without practicing Gratitude. Maybe I'm alone in this, but this was a new idea for me.

So yes, I think it is possible to experience Joy despite crappy circumstances. Sadness displaces happiness, it doesn't have to displace Joy. I think Paul knew what he was talking about in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 - In the midst of all the muddy waters of this life we can't always be thankful FOR every circumstance, but we can be thankful IN every circumstance.

So here's where I'm at... after pondering this for a week, I've decided that Gratitude is definitely a 'growing area' for me. I'm not talking about thank-you notes (although I really need to get better at that too), but setting aside my mental to-do list, my worst-case-scenario thinking, and my busyness and just taking some time to run over a few things in my mind each day I am thankful for.


I'm going to be honest - this is a bit of a tricky week to start. In the last week, our car was done in, Kyle's grandma died and Sophie got over a nasty cold in time to pick up a fever and vomiting bug from an unknown source. However, I think I can still find some reasons to be grateful.

So here's the goal for this month. I'm going to try to come up with five unique items for my Gratitude List every day this month. Today is the first of February so I'll be working on this for the next 28 days. Here goes Take One...

Today I am Grateful for:

1) Extra cuddles from my clingy baby today - Sophie is definitely not herself, but some baby Tylenol, apple juice and some extra lovin' from her parents will take care of that. I'm going to ignore the gross bathroom and enjoy this snoozing baby on my shoulder. 

2) The generosity of my mum and dad in law - Kyle is using their second vehicle while our little Echo is at the garage recovering from a run-in with a Dodge Ram and its trailer hitch.

3) We have a grocery store within walking distance. We could definitely use a visit to said store, but our need of food has a whole lot  more to do with schedule coordinating than distance or funds.

4) My Mum and her 'Fridays with Sophie' - Almost every Friday my mum drives 3 hours to spend time with Sophie, help me out around the house and free me up to teach music lessons. Especially in the early months, knowing I would have extra help on Fridays helped to keep me going during days I was particularly sleep-deprived. Thank you Mumma, Thank you!

5) Kyle's unexpected drop-in today "Because I missed Sophie" - I'm so thankful that Sophie is going to grow up with a dad who communicates with his words, his snuggles as well as with his time that he loves her. This is just so important. This is going to play a huge role in her self-esteem and sense of self-worth as she grows older. I am thankful for how much Kyle loves Sophie.

So welcome February! I'm glad you're here. Attitude, get ready for a face-lift.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Joy Project Update: Goodbye November!

Grandma says to the boy
"Everything has its time
And everything's time must end"
I thanked her for the checker games
And all the coffee talk
And said "I'm glad we had a chance to be friends"
                                                                                              - Craig Cardiff
 
Three months in. Three months. I can hardly believe it. When I started this project at the end of the summer, November seemed unreachable. Now I'm hearing Christmas carols on the radio, preparing music with friends for a Christmas banquet in a few days, and seeing snowflakes every once in a while. Where has the fall gone? 
 
To be honest, I'm actually quite relieved that November is almost behind me. November last year was terrible. Getting out of bed and managing to eat was an accomplishment. And really, I only was able to do that because I knew that I had a wee bairn in my belly to care for. This past month as the anniversary of John's passing loomed, I was preparing myself for the worst, probably creating more difficult days than necessary in anticipation of a possible crash on the 15th. Because of this, the 14th was the hardest day of all. In an effort to sideline my mental 'what if' games and to avoid possible collapse into an emotional puddle, I spent all my free time that day repeating an online quiz that tests your  ability to name the countries of the world. I didn't keep track of my attempts, but just to give you an idea of my obsessive behaviour that day, I was first able to name 86, now I can name 194 of 196 fairly consistently. Ahhh... it's over. Goodbye November.
 
I've been thinking of Craig Cardiff's song, 'Grandma' this morning. I love those opening lines. I love the idea that "Everything has its time". If that's true, and I believe it is, that makes it ok to have days when I feel like I'm going to cave in on myself. Feeling that is a part of being human and it really is OK. BUT there's also a time for hauling myself up, or for letting others haul me up, or to process things enough that I arrive at a place of peace. I hesitate to say it, but I think I'm there. I think climbing out of the pit has been a combined operation of clawing, climbing, and being pulled up and out with help; but really, what matters is I'm out. 

Looking back on the last few months, I can say with certainty that today I feel lighter, cleaned out, and more at peace. This process has been different than I had envisioned. I tried at first to make this project about DOING things to force Joy, but I've been after some failed attempts that Joy is something much deeper than that. Joy in my life has a whole lot to do with the condition of my heart. This past season has felt to be one of self examination where I stirred up some painful stuff for the sake of getting rid of it for good. Instead of trying to drown my brokenness with happy distractions, I have had to first face myself, recruit some help and undergo some mending. 
 
I'm not saying I'm forever finished with dealing with difficult hurts, just that in this moment, in this season, I have arrived at a place where instead of dealing with a back-log of messy heart issues, I feel I'm in more of a 'maintenance mode'. Ahhh... I don't think I could explain how great that feels if I tried. As the Irish say, "It's better felt than telt".
 
Yesterday was a particularly tricky day, Sophie wasn't feeling well, was having trouble sleeping and breathing and just wanted to be held. All. The. Time. There was literally a disaster in every room, poopy cloth diapers to deal with, stinky garbage silently making its presence known and I couldn't get to any of it. AND to top it off, two ladies were to be arriving in the evening to work on some music with me. Three months ago, all of this would have been cause for a tearful mess. Yesterday however, I mostly just felt disappointed that the day had gone the way it had.  Not upset, not angry, not even frustrated, just slightly disappointed. Progress? I think so.
 
Today, it's almost noon and I'm sitting in a messy house with dirty dishes, a scummy bathroom and still in my pyjamas. However, Sophie is sleeping, has had three diaper changes today, has been fed twice, has enjoyed lots of cuddles and a load of laundry has been washed. I'm marking this a successful morning. Done and Done.

Ecclesiastes 3:18, Craig Cardiff and Pete Seeger say, "For everything there is a season", so as November is on its way out (the month my sister Rachel declared should just be banned from here on in), I'm saying goodbye to the time for weeping and mourning. Laughter and dancing, here I come!

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Kid, You'll Move Mountains!

It's just an ordinary day And it's all your state of mind
At the end of the day, you've just got to say it's alright.
                                                                                                   - Great Big Sea

My sister Jess, who is the queen of fun mail, sent a package this week with a "Green Eggs and Ham" onesie for Sophie. It is by far the most fun onesie that fits her at the moment, the fun factor being upped by the "Dr Seuss" across the bum. 'Fun' trumps 'cute' and 'pretty' just about every day for me. Let's be serious, in a couple years, she's going to have something to say about the clothes we put her in, so I need to get my fun in now.

I've been thinking about Dr. Seuss lately, and how perhaps I need to re-read some of his not-only-for-kids books. On Friday evenings, Sophie comes with me to hang out with the Youth at The Element. Last week, she lasted until nine, but when her happy shouting and 'finding shoes to eat' activities were seriously disrupting the movie, she was scooted out to the nursery. After I managed to get her to drift off and I had read all the books in the room, my eyes drifted to a big Dr. Seuss poster on the wall that declares, "Kid! You'll Move Mountains!". I remember hearing this book and loving this thought as a child and young teenager, but I think somewhere along the way I think I stopped believing it could be true. At some point, I started doubting my gifts, my intelligence, my abilities and making more of my introverted personality than necessary.

The truth is, I often struggle with feeling inadequate. At this point in my life, because I am at home much of the time with Sophie, this translates into feeling crumby about what I haven't managed to get done over the course of the day. Any day, I could give a "To Do" list of about 20 things I want to accomplish, and a "Ta Da" list of maybe three of those items. I have a Self-Improvement goal list with goals at least eight years old. I have a pile of books I feel like I should read, messes to be cleaned up, food to organize and a yard that needs some serious attention. Because I have an unrealistic idea of what I 'should' be able to do with my life, I'm not able to enjoy the feeling of accomplishment that comes with checking some things off my list.

I need to remind myself that feeling defeated and BEING defeated are two different things. The battle, almost always, is in my mind. So today I chose to fight. Today I need to speak some truth into my life. So here we go...

Stephanie. You can still move mountains. Later on, that mountain may look like a new career to explore, a stage to perform on, or a marathon to run. Today, your mountain may be a pile of laundry, and that's ok. When you get to the bottom of it, or half-way through, or use it for a fun smooshy pile to play with Sophie on, you don't have to feel crumby about not getting to the bathroom floor yet.

The house DOES NOT NEED to sparkle daily. So stop feeling guilty about it.

At this season in my life, my focus needs to be on loving Kyle and loving Sophie. She needs to be  fed and changed and dressed, cuddled and sung to and danced with. I need to eat properly, sleep, exercise and hang out with Jesus. I need to love Kyle. If I can honestly say at the end of a day that these things have been done, then I am a success.

The way life is right now is just that - the way it is RIGHT NOW. This season is not permanent. The things I'm worrying about today just need to be prayed about and left alone. My worrying about it doesn't do anything but keep me too occupied to actually do anything productive.

The things on my to-do list are often unimportant and not urgent. The sheer number of items makes finishing the list impossible for any normal human, so why do I routinely allow myself to feel defeated at the end of the day when it turns out I'm not a super-human? It's really ok that I'm just Stephanie. 

I am not a mess, although sometimes I may look like one. I am not a failure, although I sometimes feel like one. The truth is, I am God's masterpiece (Ephesians 2:10). I can attack today joyfully. I can be singing today whether or not the counters get cleaned. This evening I can throw the unfinished 'to do' list to the wind and hang out with my family in my messy living room. Whether or not we enjoy being together does not depend on the cleanliness of the floor.

So I don't need to be upset that my mountain isn't the same one I'll be moving in a few years. I'll get to that one later. In this season of my life, with the gifts and talents and tasks given to me for this moment, as Stephanie, even though they may look different than before, I can still move mountains.



Friday, 19 October 2012

10 000 Reasons

The sun comes up
It's a new day dawning
It's time to sing your song again.
No matter what may pass 
and whatever lies before me
Let me be singing when the evening comes.
                                                                         - Matt Redman, '10 000 Reasons'

Over the last month, many Facebook statuses marked "The Thankfulness Project" have been popping up on my news feed. Friends of mine have writing about something they are thankful for each day. I think this has mostly been for their benefit, but reading their posts has been a source of encouragement to me. As I too quickly approach the one year mark of saying goodbye to John, I have been finding the hard days are coming closer together once again. I have been thinking lately about what my sister Rachel shared during John's funeral. She cautioned that on that day in our sadness, it is so easy to focus on the way John was taken from us instead of the life he lived and the memories we share as siblings, family and friends of his. These are the memories we need to hang on to. As I've begun to struggle again, I think I had better add my voice to "The Thankfulness Project" to help me on November 15th to be singing when the evening comes.

So today, just one month shy of the year anniversary of the fire that took my brother's life, in my heart I echo my sister Jessica's mantra from that terrible week, we were so lucky to have loved him.

Today I am thankful for John's birth mother, a woman I'll never meet. She carried and bore my brother, passing him, and then Colin into strangers' arms when she was unable to care for them herself. I cannot imagine having give up my own daughter, I cannot imagine the depth of her heartbreak. For her incredible sacrifice, I am so very grateful. 

I am so thankful to have shared my childhood with John; for the ticklish giggly four year old that came into our lives full of stories about super-puppies, super heroes and policemen to the rescue. I am thankful for all the games of hide-and-seek, Monster (a game my siblings and I made up for lazy days at the cottage. It involves a Monster (my dad), a jail, a home base, and a whole lot of tearing through the woods, jumping in the lake and hiding in outhouses.) and make-believe we all shared as siblings that enriched all of our childhoods.

I am thankful that his entire-body-consuming laughter is still in my head. I think of the day 10 year old John was laughing so hard that tears were almost running down his face in the back seat of our Suburban as he tried to explain to us how the Paul Simon song we were listening to sounded like someone squeaking his bare bum on a window.  

When I go home to Blyth next week, I will be reminded of the time when in the beginning stages of building the house, shortly after we realized we didn't know of John and Colin's whereabouts, we heard mooing, and running, and looked out to the back orchard to see a frantic herd of cattle stampeding towards the fence followed closely by the boys. They were stumbling out of the trees, bent almost in half,  with their fingers sticking off the sides of their heads like horns, mooing and yelling, and chasing the cows across the field. I am thankful for memories of his goofiness.

I am thankful that there were a few years in-between the hard years and the time we said goodbye. There were far too few visits, hugs, the opportunities I had to affirm John's new plans and ideas, but I'm so thankful for the ones I had.

For the family adventures, the childhood shenanigans, and for the shared memories with my other siblings, I am thankful.

I am thankful for my beautiful brother with the huge smile and contagious laugh. I miss him. I love him. I am so thankful to have shared such an important part of my life with him.

So on November 15th, I will try to remind myself of how lucky I was to have loved John. I will cry for the brother I lost, I will pray for me and my family for hope, for peace, for strength and courage to face the hard days ahead. I will pull out my guitar, listen to John Denver to honor my country-loving brother and eat hot fudge pudding (an incredibly messy favourite childhood dessert of ours). I will share my hurt, my questions, my anger and my grief with the One who is big enough to handle all the messiness of my heart. I will roll with the waves and I will make it through the day. And because I have a Savior who is rich in love, slow to anger, who's name is great and who's heart is kind, despite all the reasons to be overcome with sadness, my heart can find many reasons to still be singing when the evening comes.

Bless the Lord oh my soul, oh my soul
Worship His holy name!
Sing like never before, oh my soul, 
Worship his Holy Name





Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Shedding Old Baggage

Glory I give Glory to the One who saved my soul
You found me and You freed me from a shame that was my own
I cannot begin to say how merciful You've been
Although my ears have heard of you, now my eyes have seen
                                                                                                        - Matt Redman

I love the crisp morning air of autumn. I love the crackling of the leaves, the paint-splattered look of the maple trees and the mountains of fresh vegetables at the farmers' market. I love pulling out scarves and sweaters and bundling Sophie into her northern Newfoundland fur-hooded jacket and felted booties to visit the swing in the park. The fall always fills me with a feeling of newness, like I've been given a fresh start, a blank page full of possibilities for this season. 

The past couple weeks I have been reminded of the fall of 2004, where for the first time, I was having trouble experiencing the usual joyful anticipation that usually comes with the beginning of September. Up until this year, 2004 had been the biggest personal growth year of my life. January through June had been spent just outside of Johannesburg, South Africa, in an orphanage being a part of an international volunteer team caring for abandoned babies. Soon after arriving home, still reeling from culture shock, I was thrown into the unique culture of summer camp Christian ministry in Chatham Ontario while making failing efforts to rescue my first serious dating relationship. On Labour Day weekend, the night before I was headed off for Orientation Week, marking the beginning of my studies at the University of Guelph, I sat on the limestone rock overlooking the shores of Lake Huron by my parents' cottage near Tobermory, watching the sunset and sobbing, feeling overwhelmed by the huge changes in my life that year, and nursing fresh wounds from the abrupt end to a slowly souring relationship. I had been loaded down with serious amounts of emotional baggage that year and was feeling tired, bruised and lost, and honestly, a bit of a wreck.

That was just a little more than eight years ago, and I'm kind of ashamed to admit that I recently realized that instead of long ago leaving all that baggage at the Altar, somehow the well-worn handles had slipped back into my hands. So I acted on my first instinct: I tried to deal with it on my own and sweep the rest under the carpet. And as usual, somehow the presence of my junk freshly hidden, was much more noticeable than before. Soon it was clear I needed some help, I needed to confess my issues to someone who would hear me out and who loved me enough to rebuke me if necessary.

This summer I have been thinking about the great importance of healing alongside forgiveness. James 5:16 says, "Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed." It makes sense that talking our stuff out with a friend will ultimately help us to shed our burdens, but really, it is much easier to talk about the benefits of it than to actually do it. Clearly I needed to share my baggage with Kyle, but, and I'm ashamed of this as well, although I didn't act on this, I considered talking to a girlfriend of mine instead to avoid the vulnerability of revealing my messy heart to the man who loves me.

When I finally gathered enough courage to tell Kyle what I had been struggling with, instead of being met with anger and rebuke, I was met with what I needed, undeserved grace, gentleness and love. We were able to slowly talk things out and even in the moment I could feel the burden lifting. In the minutes that followed, my heart felt lighter, my thoughts healthier, and I was washed over with gratitude for the heart of our Father so clearly displayed in the response of my husband. I was reminded again of the incredible forgiveness and grace He has waiting for each one of us when we turn to Him in our brokenness. I was reminded of "how great is the love the Father has lavished upon us" (1 John 3:1). I do not deserve this kind of grace, love or forgiveness; but oh, how I need it.   

Sometimes, my junk is going to end up in my lap again, I'm going to find myself carrying around baggage I thought I had dropped off ages ago. I think that's ok. Finding the courage to admit this to a friend who loves me and enlisting help to pry it out of my hands once more is the real struggle. Battling my pride is the issue.

But for today, I feel lighter. Today I feel loved. Today I feel thankful. This lyric is my anthem for the day, "I cannot begin to say how merciful You've been, although my ears have heard of you, now my eyes have seen..."

 Perhaps my first taste of true Joy?