May 19, 2011

This time last year...

For the past two weekends I have been in Toronto again, reminiscing as I visit the friends, community, and places of a season ago with the same thought to open my memories... "This time last year..."

This time last year I was living with one of my dearest friends and her generous-hearted family. Sitting around their dinner table again it is easy to remember when I was just like family, but this time from the new vantage point of guest.

This time last year I could walk into church and ask "how was your week?" Now the question must broaden to cover the months that I haven't been a physical part of their lives.

This time last year I was busy getting ready to leave for Guatemala to do short-term missions work, having opened my heart up more to the idea that it doesn't matter where we serve, but that we serve. I thought that God may use my time there as a stepping stone for bringing a music program there in the future. Now I'm on tour again because of my time in Guatemala. Sometimes our prayers of "God how do you want to use me after this?" have the most unexpected answers.

But the biggest difference between now and last year is the place my heart is in. Last year, through all my time in Pickering I was restless. Restless to be working differently. Unsure of how to live with purpose, and what my purpose was. Longing to be overseas. Afraid of settling. Now I have better learned that missions is a state of the heart, not your state of living. There is great value in community that shouldn't be taken for granted once you've found that you are surrounded by relationships that have taken time to form, and taken time to care for you while you are gone. Serving is made easy when it is the nature of our daily jobs. A servant's heart though is what truly makes us servants no matter where we live or what we do.

As I learn, as my heart is redirected, I can better see all the opportunities with great purpose that are inbedded in being settled in a community. I think of being back to "where I was last year" when I think of "this time next year" and I am newly and perfectly content.

April 12, 2011

Humbling the "I" factor

God always gives us what we need- a place to encourage others and a place where we are rested and encouraged. I don't always need what I think I do. Have you ever thought that someone else might need that more? I hadn't really thought of it that way. I have expectations like anyone else when I am a guest- I am here so that I am taken care of, I am fed, I am made comfortable, and all my needs are met.
...And there begins the self-entitled attitude. It always starts with "I".
For example, I want a real bed not an airbed when I am travelling. I want wireless so I can communicate. I want to seek solace in a quiet evening to give thought and rest to a hard day. I want cleanliness. I am in a difficult place and I am tired., therefore I want to be met in a place where I am encouraged and someone takes the time to pour into me- scratching far beneath the surface of introductions to where I am tired, empty, or lonely for more personal connection.
And then you know what often happens next in those times? I get just the opposite of what I think I need. I stay somewhere in my travels with the choir where I have little privacy and my host is eager to talk when I am ready for my alone time. But then I learn from being squished into the living room where I am right in the middle of household community that my host has not had anyone to carry on a meaningful conversation with for months. Or maybe she is divorced. Maybe lonely. Down, even depressed from the relationship he or she wishes they had with her sons and daughters but doesn't...
And then humility hits me and I learn to see that I am staying with normal people with their own sets of needs, and that sometimes they need the care more than I do. God always provides me with what I need, and when I don't receive the kind of place I think I wanted I get what I really need- a place to encourage someone else.

February 21, 2011

It's that simple.

I love the picture a dinner with a host family makes on tour. Different backgrounds. Different cultures, colours, design. Different viewpoints. And through fellowship more similarities, more connection, and less differences as a family knitted together around one table.
Last weekend the snapshot of our families looked like this: One little Chineese girl, one boy from Guatemala, two girls from Uganda, two natives from Oklahoma, and myself from Canada. Around the table space is left waiting for several Etheopian siblings. My host was in the process of adopting a sibling set- "anywhere from 2 to six siblings orphaned in Etheopia" is what she told me she was praying for. They didn't care how many would one day join them around the table and extend their family, just that one day these siblings would. Both parents feel the burden of orphaned siblings and faithfully wait on God's timing in receiving them as their own.
I asked them later if adoption is something that has always been on their hearts. This was their reply:
"God tells us in the Bible to be a father to the fatherless. This is our way of doing that."
No paragraph of reasoning needed.
No more verses quoted.
No processing of the heart that needed explanation.
This is their way of doing what Jesus asks of us.It will not be everyone's way of comapssion, but everyone is called to act.

It was that simple.
...It IS that simple.

January 20, 2011

The need to articulate.

Joshua always asks me the same question: "Auntie, who is your best friend in all the children?" With the fair heart of a parent I tell him that I don't have favourites, but unsatisfied he begs me to pick just one. I tell him that I love each child the same even though I love them all for different reasons. Reasons that make them each unique. He looked thoughtful over that explanation for a long time and then with the upmost sincerity looked up at me and asks "Then Auntie Laura, what is it about me that makes you love me?"

..."Why do you love me?"...

I let the question hang in the space between us for only a moment- we must be quick to answer such a question because if we are quick to respond it affirms that we know why we love. How often do we point that out to people? Let me answer that- Not as often as I think we ought to. It makes my mind wander...does my friend know why they are one of my best friends? Does my family know why I love them as people, or do we take that love too easily for granted since we have the easy bond of mother to daughter...sister to sister? I ask myself as Joshua asks me, have I really made it evident to him why I love him- his character, his talents, his growing heart? I answer quickly because I don't want him to think that I just love him because he is in the choir and I am his Auntie. I don't want him to believe that love is simply created by circumstance.

And so over dinner I talk to him about how I love the way he values people, and I want to give him an example so that he knows what I see in him is real. I remind him of all the times he has greeted me and never missed saying hello to people in a church, or his Aunties and Uncles when they come in from a day off. I tell him I believe he has a God-given talent for drumming, and that teaching him in music I have seen him improve in not just playing but playing musically. He has a way of making people feel loved, and the list of things that make him special go on...

When I am done he turns to me without missing a beat and says "Auntie Laura, let me tell you why I love you okay? I love you because you are beautiful. I love you because you have a beautiful voice when you sing." The flattery is sweet and I smile, but then the real reasons come: "I love you because you make time to play with me and you play with me properly. You are not mean and we can just have fun. And I love you because you correct me when I do something wrong, even when I am frustrated and don't want to hear it you don't let me carry on doing the wrong thing."

How often I have underestimated a child's ability to verbalize what they feel. Often the hours spent on drawing their best picture for you speaks greater volumes of love than the note they write you on the back of the picture. I can tell they love me by the way they hug me, greet me, look at me captivated by my teaching, or ask me to stay up and talk with them at night. But it touched my heart especially to hear the reasons articulated, and it reminds me to articulate the reasons we love someone much more often than we do so that they never ask "why?".