December 2, 2010

Church, Faith and Coffee beans

One of the ways I believe I have grown as a parent is learning that relationship is the foundation to discipling, discipline, and mentoring. Feel the strength in the hug of child the morning after you took the time to get to know their heart and hear their stories the night before. See how eager they are to spend time with you after you have spent a simple half hour of your day reading them stories and asking about their family. Always care to know how they are and see how quickly they soon care to ask "how are you?" in return. With relationship they will want to listen to you because you have taken the time to listen to them. You know them. They will then desire your wisdom and advice and even your correcting.
This tour I have been more intentional about being relational. I have started writing down everything I am learning about each child in a little notebook much sooner than the idea came to me last time. I feel like getting to know them has just been accelerated. That is the best part of being here, and in my opinion the very heart of parenthood. A wise friend, Vic, came back to church one morning to tell me about the great male bonding time he'd had that night with the boys. I asked him what he meant, and he told me that on some of our early nights to bed he stays up an extra half hour with the children and gives them the time to just talk with him- to be candid, ask all the questions that wonder themselves away in their mind, the silly ideas that make their dimples show when they laugh, the chance at the end of a busy school day to just be silly together, or sometimes allow the conversation to turn into a deeper theological discussion.
Learning our children's hearts... I want to do that more too. Those kinds of things don't just simply fit into this schedule, I need to allow myself to be available for that to happen.
So for the past two nights when the hosts have said their goodnights and we have prayed together, I have stayed behind the extra half hour to talk to the girls. I have learned about their journey to faith, what their families believe, the siblings they have lost, their thoughts on worship music in churches...and tonight I was asked to tell them stories about my Grandmother. Tomorrow we have another half hour or so date on the bus to look at the pictures that illustrate my favourtie memories of her that I shared. We laughed as I told them of the time when I was little and stuffed coffee beans up my nose and then had to be dragged to the hospital to have them removed- only to laugh harder when Deborah said she did the same thing as a child, and so did Victo's sister. I don't know what it is that prompts children from no matter where in the world to do such a thing as shove beans up their noses! But we laughed together, and in just two nights we are closer.
"Auntie Laura you are like Jesus! You come in, spend time with us, care about us, talk with us, and then pray with us and bless us! It is like Jesus is lying in my bed beside me!" (Deborah)
That is the highest compliment I could ever be paid I think.
Tonight two little girls grabbed my hands and quickly shut the door behind them and begged for the chance to talk again.
Tomorrow they will hang off me and tell me they love me, tomorrow I will feel the love in their hug, tomorrow we will share more stores and pictures. Tomorrow will bear the fruit of today's strengthened relationships.

November 20, 2010

The "how could I not?" attitude

Before hosting us my last host had never met anyone from Uganda, let alone been to Uganda. But her heart was broken for babies of that country. After hearing that the greatest killer of infants in a hopsital outside Kampala was hypothermia, her garage was packed full of blankets and her husband was working overtime to make enough money to ship off all the blankets to North Carolina where they would be taken with another passionate hearted woman to Uganda. The whole community of Gilette WY knew about the simple, basic need for blankets, the family that was willing and driven, and the garage that was kicking out its space for cars and tools in effort for these newborns. I told my host that it was great that she saw the need and let it burden her so she acted on it. "Well of course" she announced matter of factly. "I felt so badly for those little babies, that they were dying from something that could so easily be prevented. Once I knew that how could I not?"

What a great attitude. Those things that burden us (and I do believe they are different for everyone) - what if dared to let ourselves act on them? What if you, me, the world just looked past all the excuses and worries that stop us? Let go of all the excuses of money, time, wories of our own image, and the fear that we will fail and just focused on the burden that wants to fuel our heart?

Look at what breaks you. I remember coming home from a weekend retreat in grade 9 having seen a video on child soldiers. It was the first time I had heard of children being forced to murder their own parents, and I came home and wept. Not just cried at the thought of it, but I remember being so disturbed that I threw myself on my bed and wept. Just months ago I had to write a paper on child soldiers in Uganda- writing it, I cried over chapters at the thought that the children in the books could have been the child that I hugged today. The first time I was in the Ukraine at the end of highschool was the first time I saw 2000 people share one watering tap, and people who were so rejected from society that they had no hope and would break the limbs of their own babies to earn a cent because it was the only thing that would make people see them. Hearing that there are as many orphans in India as there are people in the entire United States makes me want to be sick.

You and me- we cannot save the world. We cannot help every child that makes up one of those statistics. But somewhere outside Kampala there are hundreds of babies who are not dying before they even get the chance to live because they are too cold, and all becuase of one person. Sometimes, I think it is the attitude of our hearts that needs saving before the world needs saving or can be saved.

What burderns you... could you not?

October 19, 2010

Blessing: The act of...

Today is a Panera and pandora day, with nothing else open except for my journal. I have hit one of those points where I need to sit down and be with my thoughts, relive the last week, and gather up all the experiences the week has held, look at them on paper and conciously seek out how it is that I am being challenged, what it is that I am learning, and more than anything how all the love I see and the love I am shown should change me.
I look back on several hosts and pray hard that at the end of my stay with them that I may never become complacent towards generosity. Two weeks ago my host took Chelsea and I to Bloomington Indiana to see all the landmark places of one of our favourite book series by Karen Kingsbury. Giving up her day to drive the hour and a half to Bloomington, she called up her son who lived there to tour us around. He met us with a list of places he thought we'd want to see with directions on getting everywhere we would want to go that day. Neither of them had heard of the series before, but just because we were giddishly happy over exploring the town they were eagerly excited to share in all of it with us. They went out of their way for us that day, not because they had to, but because they desired to. "I know we just met" they said "but we already don't want you to go. You're already a friend." Meet people where they're at, get in on what excites them, enjoy whatever that may be- sightseeing Bloomington, doing coffee, hiking, dancing...and you'll connect quickly, even though travels always move you onward.

Yes, blessing is proactive. It is seeking out how you can meet someone where they're at, and beyond that learn what is special to them. Bill, a member of a church near Hershey PA lived like that. From the moment he called us on tour to firm up details he asked how he could especially bless the chapersones and children. He arranged for us to take the children for their first swim, and then the next day to Chocolate world in Hershey, PA. Swimming with the children is the best- it is hysterically fun.

Chocolate world was truly something else- driving around in a chocolate car ride we toured the factory and looked at how chocolate was made while driving through vats and molds. When Bill found out that it was Thanksgiving in Canada that weekend he sought out the nearest grocery store to buy us pumpkin pie, and then excitedly thought a pumpkin latte would be perfect for Thanksgiving too- and in the same trip for the pie returned with pumpkin lattes.

I want to learn more to meet people where they're at and be excited and involved with what excites them. I look at how these people receive me and hope that I am as warm hearted in being a guest in their home as they are in hosting me.

October 7, 2010

Why I love being an Auntie...

1. Beacuse I get the kind of hugs every day where you need to pull the child out of the embrace in order for them to ever let go. It shows love binds.
2. The way the children cling to me when they are scared of dogs. It shows me they trust me.
3. For how they clap for me when I have prayed for them individually at bedtime. I can see they are so thankful.
4. Because when I pray for them at bedtime I get a deeper glimpse into what is inside their hearts- what they desire, and the ways they want to gain wisdom. That vulnerability and honesty deepens our relationship.
5. Watching their eyes light up in rehearsal because they are so eager to do well. It reminds me again how lucky I am to work with such a dedicated and talented group.
6. Seeing how captivated they are when I read them a book. I love being apart of watching how they learn excitedly.
7. Coming back from a day off and hearing they were disappointed I wasn't there and that they missed me after only a day apart. It makes me feel loved.
8. Getting to play with them everyday. I have learned that it is so important to enter into their world of play, and it is so fun.

9. Watching how a huge smile quickly lights up their face when they realize we get to go together back to a host family. That makes my heart skip.
10. I get to be one of the children's constants. I have had many hosts point that out lately- how important that role is for creating an environment that through the transition and travel makes the children feel safe and assured. I just love that- and I think it with every big smile that comes, the laughter that suprises me, the hugs that squeeze me, the questions that keep me on my toes, and every time they say "I love you" right back and I know they mean it.

September 22, 2010

"Home" again.

I now call three different places home in a week. Going back to my host's house is "going home". Returning to the bus brings that same feeling of comfort that you get from sitting with an old frind who you never have to explain a thing to, or coming back to a place where you can just sit down, sigh, and be real. Many people who are meeting me for the first time here in the week ask where my home is and I tell them Ontario. 'Home' I believe isn't really a place persay, but a feeling of coming to a point of return to what you love, giving love, and feeling loved. If that is indeed the case, and I believe it is, then out on the long stretch of country raods in Kentucky I am home.

I am home, and I am also refreshed. It was my prayer that if God really wanted me to come back to tour that I would be refreshed about what is routine, excited for teaching and concerts, and mostly that my heart would really be open to loving a totally new and different group of children and team. My prayer has certainly been answered. I guess it is the same grace God gives teachers year after year to love the class they have for the year, and then let go, let them learn, and find their heart still just as open to the next group coming under their wing the next fall. I often think back to the children I met in Guatemala, and thank God for that experience, and for showing me that we have greater room within in us to simply love than we may have thought. I haven't once looked into the eyes of this new group of thirteen children I am an Auntie to and compared them to the other choir I toured with. There is nothing to compare. They are beatiful on their own, and each have their own unique personality and talents. And it is exciting to think in time to come I can look back on the years, and look back and be warmed by the thought of having two groups of African children who can extend my circle of family.

I will admit it felt strange at first to meet this new group of children at our base house in North Carolina where I spent the last month of tour with choir 32. It gave me an auwful heartache for the first week to be in a place of introductions in the same house I shared my final memories with children I knew so closely. But it is a reminder to the fact that relationships, close ones with deep roots, take our time. But the start of that doesn't take much- Deborah reminded me of that last week in our first host home. As she kept forgetting things to do before bedtime I would help her put away her headband, hand her the lotion, and remind her to get under the sheets. As I helped her she looked up to me and said
"Ah Auntie! THank you! You really love me...."
She then seemed to ponder that for awhile.
I've pondered that for awhile too since then.
All our little actions amount to showing love. And so here's to the months ahead, of learning which ways each of these children feel love the most, and then pouring affirmation, affection, and the compassion on them that will makes them realize they are uniquely loved.

August 18, 2010

Truths from Guatemala: Part 2

3. True community rejoices with one another.
If you drive a couple hours away from Antigua you'll find the most real sense of the word 'community' you have ever seen. Our team stood on the new foundation for a home being built for a widow left with her orpahned grandchildren to care for. Wood and sheet metal began to be unloaded from the truck,and the eager footsteps of children drew close to see what we were doing. An oler woman hurried up to us and pulled me into a fast and strong embrace- the kind that holds you tight with love and reminds your heart of the srength there is to love. She hugged each one of us. Cried to each one of us in deepest gratitude. Pointed up to the skies, thanking God, claiming faith, and thanks for newfound hope in a new home.
When the house was finished, we asked the family to gather so we could welcome them home and bless them. I looked around at the family that stood inside the house with us- their gratitude rendering them speechless. But the woman who had hugged each one of us and wept in dear thanks for the home wasn't there, it was another woman who was the widowed grandmother of the orphans.

The lady we had all met earlier was her neighbour.

I am taken aback by that. To me that neighbour is the perfect illustration of what it really means, and furthermore what it really looks like, to rejoice in the joys of others. How often do we look down the street and look upon the neighbour that got the new porch, the retirment with secure pension, and the nicer car with envy?
I am guilty of the attitude of a skeptic. I was skeptical of how the neighbours of this village widow would feel as they watched their neighbour receive a new home while they still live in walls made of dried out cornhusks and mud? It's like comparing the poor, to the very poor, to the extremely poor- how can you cast such a comparison on abject poverty?

This was probably one of the stories that touched me the most- I thank the neighbour who so genuinely rejoiced with the happiness of her neighbours- and not because her act would be written about, let alone even seen by anyone else. But because she knew what it meant to love as a neighbour should, and to live in community as we are created for.

August 16, 2010

Truths from Guatemala: Part 1

Friends, the best part about a story is that it gets to be shared. More than that, often I believe our stories need to be shared. For if we feel them in our heart but do not let our hearts share the burden of the stories that challenge us, then only one heart is broken. If there is a story of hope that stays only written in our journals then we keep the hope and light of the world within us, and leave the crowd's pereceptions of poverty as far away and dark. And when the story comes from far away and is indeed dark, then there is all the more reason to share. For if we share of the darkness, then awareness, perspective, and passion can meet and then into the darkness hope can be born. And so tonight, after a week serving those greatly devestated by the latest hurricane in Guatemala, I must write. For if only one other person reads these entries of stories, it will be one more person to know along with me and what I know in my heart. And so now the first lesson learned from the life stores I became apart of a couple weeks ago...
1. True love helps.
While in Guatemala we worked with a team of locals from the mission to build three homes for families who had been robbed of every earthly posession by the hurricane. A widowed grandmother lived with her 5 orphaned grandchildren in a shelter made of cornhusks. In their drinking water outside swam about a dozen little shiny orange fish the children laughed innocently over trying to catch in a pail. At another home parents had survived the hurricane and their family of about 6 lived sheltered under a roof thatched again of dried cornhusks. But the reason I titled this story as "True love helps" is not to be misunderstood as what we as a team did in building for them, but what the families of these homes did for us. If a man lived at the home he let not one opportunity to help us carry sheet metal for roofing, or hammer in nails pass him by. In the picture I have he is smiling, and the picture is candid. Real, full, smiles can't be practiced, his simply couldn't help but come out from within him when he was helping.

2. True Generostiy has no limits
As we finished the last touches of paint to the home, the eldest child came to me, patted me on the shoulder, and offered me a basket of chips and freshly bottled water to choose from. As I thanked her and reached for a bag, she says "not one, but two. You must take two." This girl and her family had nothing. Nothing that would furnish their home, not the money to send their children to school, no money for their toys or shoes...but as I took the chips I realized that real generosity doesn't hold anything back from its giving.

And then I ask myself how generous am I? What are my limits to giving? How much in the way of personal security and comfort do I need before I feel free enough to just give? What stops me from giving more? If I had more, and the key here is only after I had more, then could I give to others? The pastor of the church we attended in Guatemala said Sunday morning " Being rich is having enough for yourself and then some." We all have enough for ourselves. And now we all need to realize the "and then some part" Take less for ourselves, and give more without counting.

An e-mail I received tonight signed off with "I hope your heart continues to be softened. We all need softer hearts." I have come back to that e-mail over and over tonight- I leave you with these first stories, and will share more this week. May more hearts be softened.

July 14, 2010

Being intentional.

Yesterday a friend of mine brought in the obituary of her grandfather for me to read at work. It is strange to think that the journey of a whole life's worth of living can be summed up in 4 pointed and perfectly typed times new roman sentences. Looking at the newspaper what his summarized life didn't come down to was the adventures taken. Places the person went. What occupation they held. How much money they made. From reading I don't know what their home looked like, what they liked to do, or what their status was, all I know them by was who they loved and who loved them. After our last breath all we have left are our relationships. Isn't that all that really matters, all we've ever really had all along anyways?

The same friend at work asks me over to her place almost every week since meeting me. She is one of the many people that I think of as a great friend to me. It gets me thinking...what is it exactly that makes someone a great friend? In my thinking I believe it all comes down to being intentional about making time for each other. We need to be intentional in our relationships if they are to be the kind that grow us closer and deeper to someone.

I am a firm believer that we are blessed by the presence of certain people in our lives to support us, see us through, laugh with until it hurts, or cry with because life hurts so much for each season of our lives. At the end of each season there is always the bittersweet feeling of being ready to move forward but sad to leave the group you are with behind. I remember waking up the morning after my grade 8 goodbye party with fresh tears that blurred together pages of yearbook memories ome the slow, dawning realiztion that sharing life everyday with those friends was gone. I remember something similar happening at the goodbye party after highschool- a wave of nostalgia coming over me at times when I thought about the goodbyes I had said to people leaving to different Universities. And so the cycle continues to University, and then to tour, and then after tour...In hindsight most of the people I cried over leaving in grade school and highschool are no longer apart of my life. The same can be said for recent experiences too. So what makes a good friend? And what makes the kind of friend that spans the years of many seasons?

I don't believe it has to do with how close you live to someone. Tour taught me that the depth of a friendship is unchanged by distance. I don't believe it is shared circumstances that keep you close. Sometimes being in the same experience together is the only thing that gives you reason to appreciate someone you normally wouldn't even make the effort to come to know. When the season you have shared with someone has passed it is only being intentional about making time to talk, share, and continue to get to know someone that keeps you together.

Sometimes it comes easily, sometimes life just makes the effort a more concious one. But in the end I am reminded this week to make the effort. Make the phone call. More time to talk over coffee. Take time for your friends over your work. Relationships sustain life. Relationships are life. Pick up a paper and read over any obituary and imagine have you made the time to love?

June 28, 2010

Purpose redefined.

I cannot go anywhere in life without music. A walk needs the beat of music. Music wakes me up in the morning (although it is a slow process I might add). I love writing in coffee shops because there is something soothing about the acoustic sound of the likes of Jack Johnson singing about making banana pancakes as background to conversation, a good book, or weaving thoughts together. Music makes a road trip more fun. Singing out loud makes you feel free. Singing at the top of your lungs is exhilarating. Music makes us remember. Come the most sorrowful moments in life- the death of a loved one, friend, the loss of soldier- we come together only by a song. Music is the only thing in common between a funeral and a wedding. It spans every emotion, and no matter how hard I try I cannot pin down that feeling I get through music to the space of this page. I wish I could adequately and eloquently express what music does to me- my soul- I try with words like “rivet” and “passion” and “stirring” and “soaring” and “love”...but none of them work. Sometimes the English language is so limiting. How can I use “love” to describe golden pineapple verses regular pineapple and describe music? It is rare I don’t have the words- after all I was the sole reason my family needed to call one of those awfully dry “family meetings” where we usually talked about chore schedules, to discuss getting a second phone line. I tried to express what music makes me feel in a reflection paper in grade 10, but my attempts ended up filling 3 pages of lined paper- only to read over it, and come the final page find my efforts to be futile. I thought tonight as I rediscover my passion for music that the ambiance of a coffee shop with everyone else working away to inspire me to work away, and the chai latte at hand, would be the perfect backdrop for another attempt at putting passion into words, into the computer, on the paper...but it’s not. So instead I share with you a story- in hopes that this will be one of those times where the story best illustrates why I love music. Why it is so valuable to dear life.
My youngest voice student at the moment is 10. I use the first lesson with my students to get to know them, and learn about what they like to listen to, why they’re taking lessons (hoping they don’t say because Mom made them), what they know about music, and what they want to accomplish by taking lessons. At our first lesson, my student came to me and told me that he couldn’t read music, and when I told him how helpful it would be to learn songs he hadn’t heard before, he said it was too hard. He said his mom wanted him to sing a solo in church after taking lessons, but he wasn’t sure that he could. For the first month he was too shy to sing out for fear that anyone else in the house would hear him. When I brought a piece for him to learn by reading notes he said it was too hard and he would never be able to do it. He would never sing in front of his family, and he would walk around always slightly hunched over and nervous.
This past week was his first recital. The day of I asked him how he was feeling, and he turned to me and says “Fine! We’ve been working on this piece for awhile and now that I know how to sing I know that I can do things. Tonight’s no big deal, it’s only for 100 people, and next week I sing for the talent show at school for 1000 people. I’ve never done that before, but now I know I can.”
That is why I love music. Not because studies show “it makes you smarter”, or better at math (I am living proof it does not), not because people like to listen to it, not because my student’s parents are happy, and not because I can be proud of him even though I am. It is because that child has a glowing confidence that believes in himself that wasn’t there before. Now “nothing is too hard” (a direct quote from him), and he can sing in front of people “no problem”.
Making music, sharing music, doesn’t need to be done so at the end of many pieces you can “become” something or hold a degree. In fact, I only ever decided to study music because then I would have dedicated four years of my life to something I love. Through my own experiences, my choir children, and my students now I can look back to see how it empowers people ...and I believe I have discovered that in itself is purposeful enough.

May 21, 2010

Life is not in the WHERE but in the WHAT.

"Sometimes we don't always need to take the time to carefully pray over something for months. We don't need to pour ourselves into making every decision in life. If there is a place you can serve with a need you know needs to be met- just do it. Be there."

Our young adults leader carried on, I sat nodding in agreement from my seat. "Oh yeah" I thought "of course", "very true"...but I didn't always think this way. It has taken me months to get my head to catch up with my heart and affirm these words. Let me explain...

The first week I moved to Pickering I sent the Pastor of the church I have attended an e-mail to introduce myself and see if he was interested and able to partner with me in going to volunteer overseas, and in turn and in the meantime how I could partner with him and his church and be involved. When I stepped into his office he said "Laura when I first got your e-mail and read about your background in music my first thought was that I wanted to send you to Guatemala right away. We have lots of music need in Guatemala. But then I read on in your e-mail and saw that you were interested in going to Africa again."

"That's right." I can hear myself saying again. I remember thinking to myself "Guatemala? That's far fetched."

What were the real thoughts behind those words were this: I have just broken down the walls of comfort to be open to going back to serve in Africa. But Africa in a sense is what I already know, am already more familiar with. And so God had yes broken down my comfort zone to going back, but then I had created my own comfort zone for being overseas- Africa.

And I never thought about Guatemala again. Until last month it was announced in church that the young adults missions team needed just a couple more members to join them to work in Guatemala. All I could think of was the pastor's initial words to me "I wanted to send you to Guatemala, there is so much music need in Guatemala." Now I was ready to see that need again and realize that it is not about where I go to serve, but that I serve.

And so it is with great excitement and expectancy that I leave with a team of 9 others to Guatemala in the end of July. For the first time I feel excitment and peace over what is next and I am eager to be there, and most eager to just meet the children our team will be working with, running music with them, and meeting with the leadership staff at the school to catch their vision for music with these kids. Who knows what that vision looks like or if I will be called back again. But for now I have been broken again and am determined to be more open; because I can't help but wonder if the walls I put up, my comfort zone and my own ideas draw out the process of God working through me how He desires.

March 17, 2010

What's it gonna take to slow us let the silence spin us around..? -Switchfoot

Last week I was in beautiful, cherry blossoms blooming, crayon colour vibrant green, mountainous Oregon. Having found a really great ticket sale I went to visit Angela, one of my dearest friends from tour. I told her that what I really wanted to do together was hike a mountain. So much of our time was spent outside at the top of a mountain, overlooking a lake, atop green hills, beside waterfalls, looking out on the world. Most days we shared sitting together on the outskirts of life, looking down from a mountaintop view on the business of life in miniature scale. I love the same view from the plane- where the cars looks like only toys on a play mat, the houses small dollhouses that could be picked up between your fingers, and all the stresses, arguements, noise, and business of people completely quieted and hidden in simpleness.

"I love to be on what seems to be the outside of the world looking in. I imagine that's how God sees us, from a place where everything is quiet and peaceful and He can control life or stop a car crash with the flick of a finger." (Ang)

It must be how God sees the world. The author of 'The Shack' drew a simply lovely illustration of how God sees the people of the world. He imagined that God sees each person as a soul of glowing white. Each personality and unique make up of that person's character is a glow of a different hue. I imagine green being kindness, red pure of heart, yellow as strength and so on... It is so easy to get caught up in the noise of life, and make noise to mask the problems we don't want to face and the insecurities we don't want to work through in ourselves. I hope the words don't sound cliche or overdone, but how much more beautiful the world we live in would be if we could see the people around us in the colours of their positive character. Maybe then would the streetlights dim, the sound of our anger and pride die down, and so much of the tension from our selfishness and sleepwalking through the fast pace of life slow down to a point of mountaintop peace.

8. Always live in community

As I engage and re-engage with solitude I rediscover my essential connection and desire to be in community with others. Walking into church a couple Sundays ago a sense of warmth rushed over me from entering the door into a community of people. Less and less I try to unveil the mystery of God's will for my future with worry.There is a story to live by an author where by my His radiance my own imagination pales in comparison. I am allowing my heart to be stirred with the excitement that comes in confirmation that He wants me to be serving at the church I am trying to make home. "Make thoughtful decisions" I once read, "but don't consume so much time thinking over a choice over how to help and where to do so when you could just be out there serving." Serving is for a lifetime, the process of discerning just where and how isn't. On Sunday confirmation to being here came in the Pastor's words, "God sent Laura to our church", when introducing me to the children I am running a children's choir for now. The workings of God seem to become more real when someone else sees you as divinely sent to them. The experience is so different from that of my time rehearsing the choir, the children I have now cannot really stay on key or match a pitch or tune- but more importantly than that is what these children need...and that is to be needed. It is more important that they gain the confidence and see for themselves that they can lead a church in worship, and that bridges of song connect these younger ones to the church body.

I love children and their child-like faith...with that thought come two stories, the first being a prayer by one of the little boys in the choir.

"Dear God help us learn this music for Easter. We do not have a lot of time to know the songs and we have never sung a song for the church. And so God can I be honest with you? I'm scared God because it is new. But in the Bible you say that you will always be with us and you will never leave us. So I know that we are going to be good. Amen"

The second one comes from one of the most energetic girls in the group. She comes to me today saying that her family volunteered to clean the church on Friday and she snuck off to the practice room to where all the words for our songs are posted on the board to practice. "I'm so ready for Sunday. But don't worry, I practiced lots so I am better and I didn't sing for my parents yet...I want it to be a suprise on Easter!" She glowed with confidence and then cocked her head at me, smiled, and gave my a huge hug.

Today I added "always live in community with people" on my list of lifetime goals. I don't know the future from here, but God has showed me where to be for the now- and may that be all I need.

February 14, 2010

What I learned while drinking coffee...

What I learned while sharing over coffee in visiting my supporters from London this past weekend:

1. Everyone can be lonely.
I was once told that writing down all your fears would help you see all the things that you put up as obstacles to fully living your life. I'm afraid of tornados, but that doesn't count. It takes you awhile to get started on what fears are very real, but once you start thinking, getting past even the initial fear of seeing yourself so vulnerable and get writing, then the page fills up easily. At the top of my list is being lonely and alone in life. I fully acknowledge that it is one of my greatest fears of doing long term missions work- moving into a different culture where nothing is familiar and there is not even one close friend, right there, to share the transition, beautiful and bad, with. I asked my friend Beth who has served in Thailand for almost 4 years if she was ever lonely. "Of course!" she said. The first year of her work there she described as the hardest year of her life. But then she said that when she came home after living there for 2 years she talked to some of her closest friends still living in the same city who surrounded by the familiar and more company were lonely. Loneliness isn't a phenomenon that can only be experienced when you live far away. Everyone is lonely when there is a lack of doing good and a lack of relationship with God. But here at home it is less evident when it is easily satisfied with food, phone calls, friends, media, entertainment, careers, or just noise.

2. Transition is easier than you think.
I asked a long standing friend and supporter, Diane, what the hardest part about living in Africa for a year was for her time there. "Coming home" she answers. I kind of just sat there for awhile looking at my coffee trying to understand it. I didn't think her answer really answered my wasn't actually about living in Africa at all, but that was the hardest part? She interrupts my thoughts..."You transition easier than you think Laura. If you don't highly value North American comforts like having running water at your finger tips and a hot shower- if you are the kind of person who living with the easy access to everything isn't what you live for." Well then, you take maybe 3 months to get comfortable with this new lifestyle, and you've grown away from the things you "needed". But then the hardest thing is coming back home and realizing it only takes one day to go back to your luxury life in Canada as it were.

3. People will support you for a good cause.
I don't know where the idea came from that people wouldn't want to support me and make the commitment to help me prayerfully and financially once again with where God places me next. From guilt in asking for support? From not believing in myself to be able to fulfill God's purpose? A dear family friend told his daughter when she asked her Dad why he didn't want to spend money on celebrities, supporting their records, buying magazines on their lives, that he would rather support "Miss Laura" (as I have always been known to their little girl as) because with his support and money I can make a difference for other people.

4. God has big plans for all our lives.
As I said goodbye to my Mom's bible study ladies group after sharing over a night of desserts and tea one of the ladies turns to me, studies me for a moment, and then says "Laura- God has big plans for your life. I just know it." I've been thinking about that...I think God has mighty plans for how he wants to use each of us for His glory and in His service. It gives me an anxious and excited feeling...

5. I can easily become overwhelmed.
Sometimes my missions pastor tells me "that sounds scattered Laura." Often since moving to Pickering I feel overwhelmed. I feel like I'm going down a track and running towards a vision and with a passion and then suddenly I feel overwhelmed the next day with life. I've come to see in myself that this is only when my thoughts become scattered. I hear about one amazing opportunity, five different ways people are serving in Africa, a handful of amazing organizations giving a voice and hope to children, think of all the wonderful places there are to travel, and all the different things I could do and want to pour myself into all of them. Then my vision gets stretched in too many different directions and I feel overwhelmed because I can't do it all. Although I wish I could. I wish life was 5 times as long and I could volunteer for everything and everywhere. Instead, I need to make the most of the one chance I get at life, and not let all the opportunities overwhelm and scatter my thinking from the course I'm on.

6. I am overwhelmingly loved and blessed by it.
There is a support network who have been faithful to me throughout tour and are ready and willing to support me again when the time comes. I have a handful of people who take me out, care for me, and take pride in what I do as if I was their own daughter. I don't know what I have ever done to deserve it. I only know I haven't done anything, but rather it is the grace of God that has.

February 1, 2010

God illustrations in the dark

I have never liked highway driving at night.

Driving back from going to see a Rascal Flatts concert with my sister late last Thursday night I began to feel that same sense of nervousness make me tense as Heather slept and I started down the highway. Late at night with only my thoughts to keep me awake I began to wonder why the highway in the dark, on the clearest of evenings always makes me uneasy. I've had my license since I was 16, my mind reasons...unlike driving on tour I know where I'm going... I've never been in an isn't even snowing, I have insurance...Logically, I know I am safe. I know that, but my heart is always still a flutter. Passing through well lit cities along the highway and then going back to the long stretches of darkness, driving through a couple patches of flurries trying to stay in the cars headlights infront of me to see more clearly and then speeding up again as the snow clears I pray for safety and it dawns on me. I like to see the stretch of road ahead of me. I like to be able to see the next bend in the road over the horizon instead of trusting that my headlights will guide me through the small illuminated area four white stripes long on the road right before me.

That's the way it is between me and God lately living in the mystery of his will. Do you know the old song "thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path"? The song doesn't say "a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my life" if it did there would be no reason for faith, trust and suffering with him. Most of the world woke up today and didn't even know if they would be able to eat today. I woke up and worried over if I will find a job in the next month and how long I would stay in it. If I could always see my life like I do the stretch of highway in the day then I would never have to rely on Him and have Him central to my decision making in life. God gives us enough light for our feet- the step ahead, the move we make day by day. But I find myself always wanting to be able to see past that- just like wanting to see past the little light my headlights shine in the dark. But both light is sufficient. In both I am safe and I have enough. What I do need is to turn worry into prayer, and more and more trust, again and again.

January 22, 2010

The biggest truths in the smallest stories

Last Sunday I met female disciple Tabitha at Safe Haven Church that I've started going to, in Acts, chapter 9, in a sermon on compassion. Pastor Martin talked about the difference between pity and compassion. He said that pity is a heavy burdened heart for someone in a hard/sad situation...but that is where is stops. But compassion extends a hand to reach out to someone past the point of pity. At this point the Pastor turns to people and just shouts: "SLOW DOWN AND HELP PEOPLE!"

How often have I heard this sermon? What does it take for one to reach out after being moved? We can sit in church and be moved by his words, but yet we come back to the same seat next week and don't even know the names of the people that sit beside us. I call myself a Christian, I claim to love my neighbours, and yet I don't even know my neighbors names. How much does the Pastor have to raise his voice, and shout because he so badly wants us on this Sunday to "get it" and live it?

This past Tuesday I took the subway into downtown Toronto to meet with a friend I haven't seen in months. For the first time since moving here I was in a rush as I tried to get from the OHIP office to Starbucks. I ran with the crowd at the crossover to the Bloor line and stopped for all of a heartbeat to watch a staggering hungover woman, I shouldn't make this sound nice...flailing around, smash her head into the wall, spilling her coffee everywhere. I looked- and just as quickly turned away and caught the subway.

As soon as I sat down on the train I had this sinking feeling as I realized just what I'd done- exactly what Pastor Martin told us not to do.

If I was in Africa, Asia, the Ukraine...I would have stopped to help her- in fact, it probably would have been shared as a heart touching story, or snapped as a brochure cover for some great humanitarian organization. But in my own neighborhood? I was too busy again.

I arrived at Starbucks 5 minutes early. That's all it would have taken for me to help her stand up and walk to somewhere out of a dirty stairwell where she could have sat down and had something to eat and a simple glass of water. I had time. In fact, in the stories that immediately come to mind in the bible that illustrate compassion- Jesus, the good samaritan, they were both headed somewhere. They didn't just aimlessly wander around looking for random acts of kindness- they had their own day and schedule ahead of them, people following them, and people to meet. But they had time. And so either way you look at it, I had time too... 5 minutes early, or even if it meant being 15 minutes late- I had time.

And so I thought I could check off the "not busy" part of the sermon as I look at my life and try to plant my feet here serving, being in relationships and community. But in a mere few days I lost it and became a failure once again to the Christian love Pastor Martin shouted about. I wouldn't even call it pity that came across me, but only pitiful.

...And so I wonder, what does it take to hear but then act?

January 15, 2010

Time In Between...

I've been walking the streets of Pickering this week, getting this girl with no sense of direction oriented to my new city to the tune of Francesca Battistelli. Her lyrics seem to always have this uncanny ability, on any given day, to capture where I find myself. Today it is in the "Time in between... That I fall down to my knees...Waiting on what You'll bring...And the things that I can't see...I know my song’s incomplete...Still I'll sing in the time in between."

Oh, I'm singin' alright...loud and clear down the streets of Pickering, much to the humour of others on the sidewalk of that I'm sure...trusting God to this time of transition- being in the middle of a tour that has finished and what is next in life. I have come very accustomed to, and often avoid the question "What is next?" Not because I don't have an idea of what I want to do now that tour is over, but because the question doesn't ask for what is before then- this time of preparation.

And it's for that reason that I still want to keep blogging. Last night talking to a dear friend she asks "was it you that said you wanted to blog every week?" Admittedly, and if you could see me right now with a sheepish look on my face, I know that I haven't done that faithfully. But writing here once or twice a week is part of my list of goals for this time in between. Since being home, processing, and going to Urbana (the largest missions conference in N. America) I have a better idea of what I want to live for, and now want to keep writing the vision of getting there.

Part of my inspiration for getting there comes from author Donald Miller, who says to think in narrative rather than goals, for goals will get met in the journey of the story. A story involves wanting something. I want to go back to work long term in Uganda- living for a mission that brings hope to children by developing their potential and confidence through both education and the arts. Another want...
I want to design a music education/music therapy program to work with Ugandan children, specifically children that were former child soldiers and are child mothers.

The second part of God giving us the pen and writing out our story says Miller is to envision a climatic scene- see it, imagine what it looks like, smells like and sounds like to keep it real. And so I start to work towards being surrounded once again by the most genuine joy I have ever felt of living with, forming relationships, and teaching children in their context- a culture that is beautifully relational.

Lastly, Miller says that we need inciting incidents in life- we need to solve new problems, work towards that vision and get moving! And so for those of you wondering..."So, what are you doing now?" This is what I'm working on to get me there...
1. I'm going to start by taking a course called perspectives- a 15 week discipleship course. I've lived many different experiences, but also want to get the education now on missions, different cultures, and examining missions throughout the context of the bible.
2. I'm working on gaining a support network here in Pickering, and planting myself in a home church that I can partner with, and most importantly right now that I can jump in and serve with! More to come after Sunday in my I PROMISE weekly updates this time!
3. Improving my own music skills- I'd like to volunteer at a Toronto hospital with a music therapist and take a course in Kodaly. (For those of you wondering what is this? Imagine yourself in clothes made out of old drapes in a horse drawn carriage singing along "do re me..." with Maria in the Sound of Music and Kodaly is that system of teaching music!)

I'm so glad for you reading this and following with me- life blesses you with wonderful friends and then with each new chapter scatters them near and far. Thank goodness for places like this where with the click of a button we can be together in thought.