Thursday, July 24, 2014

Creek Side Photoshoot

For my 40th birthday, I asked family to contribute funds toward a new DSLR camera instead of gifting me something else. After receiving generous donations to my camera fund (thank you!) and saving for a few extra months, I purchased a brand new Canon EOS Rebel T5 with an additional zoom lens packaged with the price. Yay!

I am definitely not a brilliant photographer. But I am above average, I think. At one point in my life, I aspired to be a professional photographer, where I would capture wedding bliss. But then I realized the steps to be really awesome would require much time and investment (and a lot of summer weekends). That's a commitment and goal I am just not ready for yet. Maybe one day. Or not.

In the meanwhile, I want discover my new camera, and determine what it can and cannot do. I'd like to refine the art and science my skill and build an informal portfolio. Maybe I'll take a class or two to learn something new. For now, I aim to just play and click and practice.

In my blog post Embracing 40, I listed seven goals that I would like to accomplish in the next decade. One of them was, "Paint a picture (or two or three)". I'd like to change that goal to "Explore the arts through photography and painting".

So, here is my first installment of pictures. Like I said, they are not brilliant works of art, but they are beautiful because of the subjects (you, my dear family) and the background (the scenery in my community). Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

On the Inside Looking Out

This Fall, it will be four years since we moved to this small prairie city. And I realize I am not chasing church anymore. Chasing church? Sounds strange, doesn't it? Let me explain. I am expending less energy on trying to fit in at my place of worship. Instead, I am allowing God to bring people along my path that fit with me and our family's passions and interests.

At the Family Camp we were recently at, your Daddy and I had an opportunity to connect with a woman who attends our church with her husband. Because of their ministry, they attend sporadically. As a result, they don't feel like they are building relationships within our church. Your Daddy and I shared with her how we often felt the same, that we didn't fit into the existing groups that comprised our congregation, in spite of our church's overall welcoming spirit. Our collective struggle encouraged us and this woman to pursue relationships with people like us. After all, there are probably more people in our situation than we realize.

So, instead of frantically trying to invite "church people" into our home as an attempt to connect with someone, your Daddy and I have shifted our focus. We are actively trying to build relationships with people that God has placed along our path. In the last three months, we have had three groups of people over (other than extended family). One group was our Care Group from church, a multi-age, multi-stage group of believers in Christ whom we have grown to love. The other two groups were either co-workers or former students of your Daddy. This coming week, we will be hosting a BBQ with a couple and their kids with whom we have connected through swimming and soccer.

I find all of this liberating and encouraging. There is something freeing about accepting your situation as God's providence. There is peace in knowing that maybe things are the way they are for a reason. After all, if we get too chummy-chummy with church insiders, we might not be motivated to seek authentic, loving relationships with those on the outside.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Camp Reflections

My experiences of camp have been mixed. I remember the first time I was at camp. It was with my family. My Dad was the program director and us little kids, along with Mom, tagged along for the experience. I recall the female teen campers gushing over the program director's cute brown kids. And I enjoyed making a blue paper mache doll during craft time.

My next camp experience was as a young pre-teen. I attended a Pentecostal camp with one of my sisters and a cousin. My memories included a slug filled slough-of-a-lake, plain macaroni with ketchup (yuck!) and awesome chapel services. At the end of this camp, I was prayed over to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (i.e. the ability to speak in tongues). I didn't receive it. I was okay with that.

Years later, I participated in Teen Camp at the camp I attended with my Dad. The food was fabulous. Almost everything else was a BIG disappointment. I was an awkward, chubby, not-so-trendy young girl who didn't catch the eye of any cute boy and didn't warrant the attention of the cool, make-up lavished girls in my cabin. The only moment of note was a crazy situation in which some kids were playing with a Ouija Board outside the chapel and some "thing" whooshed out of it and stuck itself on the ceiling of the boys' dorm (no joke). We all did much praying and exorcism that night. Wild. The "thing" shrunk, my counsellor saw a vision of guardian angels, and I realized the spiritual world was real.

I had various other camp experiences more in the context of school trips or retreats. Or I worked as a volunteer. Each experience was kind of bizarre or surreal in some way. Chapel services morning and evening, every day. An over emphasis on crafts and emotion at women's retreats. Boyfriend/girlfriend politics at College & Career events (or amongst volunteers). Over time I learned to squirrel out time for myself and God and escaped the planned activities and people. I'd find a quiet spot where the birds and wind provided the ambience. There, I'd sit and pray and journal and read scripture. Things always seemed better afterwards.

Last weekend, our family experience Family Camp for three nights. You kids had a hoot. You had the opportunity to zip line, ride ponies, splash in the pool, eat great food and play with various kids your age. Your Dad had the chance to visit with a couple of individuals and go to bed early each night. He was content with his experience. I, on the other hand, over-analysed stuff.

Then, I did what I needed to do. The second full day, I skipped chapel. I found a peaceful place overlooking the valley. I listened to the birds and wind. I prayed. Read scripture. Listened. God spoke to me and I was encouraged. And the rest of the day was a gift.

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Art of Neighboring

Yesterday, we had the privilege to attend a nephew's baptism. I love baptisms. It is truly exciting to witness people making a deeper commitment to Jesus Christ.

This particular service also addressed issues I have been thinking about, namely the "Art of Neighboring". The pastors of this church have been speaking about how to love the literal neighbors around you as well as your "neighbors" at work. I applaud the pastors for embracing this topic. It is very relevant. After all, if we are supposed to transform our communities with the love of Christ, we have to start somewhere. It begins with us, as individuals, as families. We cannot expect our church leaders or church programs to do the job all by themselves.

The speaker also suggested 10 ways to connect with others (in bold). I've added my thoughts to expand upon the points.

1. Eat with other people. Invite people in your house for meals. Take people out to restaurants. Attend potlucks.

2. Work/play in public places. If you are out in public, you will have more of a chance to connect with your community.

3. Be a regular. If you are a "member" somewhere, you can engage with others on a regular basis.

4. Join in what's going on. Attend local festivals and community events.

5. Leave the house in the evenings. After all, that is usually when people are not working.

6. Serve your neighbors. Shovel walks. Mow lawns. Take over a meal or a treat. Share.

7. Share your passion. Often our hobbies are excellent ways to connect with people in and outside our church.

8. Hang out with work colleagues. That means in and outside of work.

9. Walk. You never know, you might meet someone and have a conversation.

10. Prayer walk. Pray for your neighborhood.

When I look at this list, it is easy for me to get a bit self-righteous and conclude, "Yup, we are doing pretty good at this. I guess we will keep doing what we are doing." But the pastor's concluding thoughts humbled me with a challenge: Why do we connect with neighbors? Is it for the sake of connecting with others so we look good in our own eyes? Or do we connect with our neighbors because we truly and sincerely love them? I am ashamed to say that I hesitate in answering the question.

Thus, I am convicted to pray that God will fill me with His Divine Love that can't help but love the people around me. That way, when I connect with my neighbors and community using the suggestions above, I do it with the right motivation. After all, it isn't about me and how well I am doing in the art of neighboring. It is about people seeing Christ in me and longing for Him.

Kids, I conclude with a passage of scripture that I have been meditating on:

As we know Jesus better, his divine power gives us everything we need for living a godly life. He has called us to receive his own glory and goodness! And by that same mighty power, he has given us all of his rich and wonderful promises. He has promised that you will escape the decadence all around you caused by evil desires and that you will share in his divine nature.

So make every effort to apply the benefits of these promises to your life. Then your faith will produce a life of moral excellence. A life of moral excellence leads to knowing God better. Knowing God leads to self-control. Self-control leads to patience endurance, and patient endurance leads to godliness. Godliness leads to love for other Christians, and finally you will grow to have genuine love for everyone. The more your grow like this, the more you will become productive and useful in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:3-8, NLT)

Thursday, June 26, 2014

When You Graduate

A while back, I read Shōgun, a novel about sixteenth century Japan. It is written by James Clavell, an author who is brilliant at weaving history into fictional plots. The story captured my imagination. I was eager to read the rich descriptions of culture and ideology.

Lately, I have been mulling over one scene in the book. A devastating earthquake rocks a village. Lives are lost. Property is destroyed. The main characters' lives are threatened. Yet, after the powerful tremors finally ceased, the people threw back their heads and laughed. Laughed! And then they all shrugged off the tragedy as karma, as fate, as the reaping of past deeds.

Now I don't believe in karma in the same sense, as an inanimate force out there that ordains my destiny. But I do believe in the Will of God. I believe some things in my life were destined, like marrying your Daddy. I had a sense that I was to meet, or at least hear of, my husband 25 years after I made a commitment to follow Christ as a young six year old. On my 31st birthday, a friend of mine told me about your Daddy. She thought it would be a good idea if we would meet. Well, we met, started dating, were engaged and now married. So, 6 + 25 = 31, right? Well, that is just too freaky to be a coincidence!

Other things in my life have occurred because of the natural consequences of my actions or the actions of others or the laws of nature. When I was a young girl, I touched a faulty light switch with wet hands while visiting relatives in India. I received an electrical shock. Thankfully, I survived. But, I still experienced current electricity coursing though my body. The world still works in a certain way (unless God's alters the laws in some way to intervene).

Yet, I think there are other things in life that transpire due to, well, "karma". I like to think of it as the lowercase will of God. God allows an element of randomness to our lives. Don't get me wrong. God is completely in control. He knows what will occur (though sometimes I wonder if God sometimes is surprised). And He can use it for good. But I don't think every infinitesimal moment of my life is planned out. Some things just... happen. For instance, was it predestined for me to become a teacher? Maybe. Maybe not. Could I have taken on another profession? Possibly. I think I have the talents to be successful in more than one career. I guess if God had a big issue with my decision, He would have slammed the door of opportunity shut. Or not.

As you can see, it is complicated!

So, why do I write about this? Because I think I have spent too much time in my life wondering if I was making the right decision or if there is some Divine Will out there that I needed to ascertain before moving forward. I spent much time seeking God, which is a good thing to do. But I was seeking God for the wrong reasons. I wanted to know if I was RIGHT. Ambiguity terrified me. It is true that sometimes the confirmations came, like in the case of your Daddy. But other times, life just happened, like in the case of deciding whether or not your Daddy and I should add child number three to the mix. In that instance, too many things seemed to hinder our decision to move forward. And before we knew it, we hit our fourth decade. So, was it God's Will to cause us to hesitate or was it God's will to let us choose "no". Truly, I don't know. Nonetheless, does that mean God will be angry that I made a decision without some clear-cut divine revelation from above? No, I don't think so. We sought God the best we could. We made a decision based on the available data. In the end, there was no right or wrong answer. God let us choose.

This week marked the graduation of Grade 12's at your Daddy's school. And many of these young men and women will need to make numerous decisions independent of their parents. When you get to that stage, kids, I advise you to make your decisions in cooperation with God. Seeking Him for the purpose of loving Him (instead of self-righteousness). Embracing Him as your guide. Sometimes He will be explicitly clear as to what you need to do. Other times, He will trust you, YES, trust you to make the decision for yourself. He has a purpose for your life. Many things will occur because of His Divine Will. And other things will occur because He willed you to think for yourself.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Don't Want to be the Mini-Van Mom

I engage in a bit of freelancing. Nothing Pulitzer Prize worthy. I just volunteer my writing services for a local amateur magazine that features the journeys of newcomers to Canada. And I believe I am the lucky one.

About 3 – 4 times a year I interview a newcomer. I hear and pen my speaker’s story, full of sacrifice. The goal of relocation to Canada? To achieve a better life, a safer life, a life as a complete family instead of being separated over many miles to make ends meet.

One thing I admire about these men and women is that they speak and write and read in multiple languages. Some ignorant Canadians find themselves complaining that they can’t fully understand the often accent laden words of the dark-skinned employee serving them on the other side of the counter. Yes, we should expect a certain level of English proficiency in our country’s employees. However, many immigrants know two, often three, languages. That is to be commended. While here, in prairie suburbia, the majority only knows one – English. We are just fortunate that English is the world’s language of trade.

I toyed with the idea of placing both of you in French Immersion. But your Daddy was against it, for some very good reasons. It was not like your Daddy was opposed to obtaining a second language. Our collective decision to avoid French Immersion had more to do with the expectations and perceptions of the program. However, we are strong advocates of French as a subject and we hope you elect to pursue it all the way to High School.

Yet, I still struggle with the reality that you are predominately English speakers. Truthfully, it has less to do with French, and more to do with my own Hindi skills. I try to speak at home with you. But, I still speak more English than anything else. After all, that is the language that surrounds me. And while you do understand most of what I say, you don’t respond back in Hindi. And many times you reply with frustration, “Mommy, I don’t know what you are saying!”

There is a greater issue behind all of this. It has to do with my ideals for you as a parent, and the real life situation I find myself in. There are so many experiences I would like you to learn from. Yet, there are barriers to acquiring these experiences, such as money, time, geography, opportunity, personality and skill. And even though there are parents out there who practically live in their mini-vans as they taxi their children from one opportunity to the next, trying desperately to provide their kids with all the experiences in the world, there will always be some element of something they will never be able to provide their family. We were never meant to do it all or provide it all. (That is God’s job.)

When I was younger, I wanted to play piano. But, being the eldest in a family of four siblings, where my parents were new citizens in a new country, I had to settle for “less”. The greater financial needs of the family outweighed my desire to learn music. I admit I struggled with resentment for years, especially as I watched my younger siblings experience music lessons (I think I’m over it now, sibs :)). And now, I sometimes find myself being regretful with another area of my life. Why didn’t your Nana & Nani reinforce my Hindi acquisition more? Yet, in conversation with your Daddy, I find some resolution. Is your Daddy upset that he never learned German through his parents? No. Why not? Well, he never had an interest in the language and he understood why his parents elected not to force German on him. They wanted him to be proficient in English (just like your Nana and Nani wanted for me). As for music, while your Daddy did benefit from piano lessons, he detested the experience. Though, it provided him with the foundation to pursue guitar.

In the end, as your parents, we will make mistakes. There are decisions we are making on your behalf which you will probably detest or regret or shake your head and wonder, “What were they thinking?” Please be gracious with us, as I am learning to be gracious with those around me (and myself). Along the same vein, there are some things you will pursue in spite of your lack of opportunity as a child, which gives me an incredible amount of comfort. Maybe one of you will be a language whiz, even though my Hindi is “below expectations” and you are acquiring French as a subject instead of the primary means of communication. Or you will provide your children, God willing, with the opportunity that you missed as a kid and learn alongside them, just as I plan to do with your music lessons in the future.

By the way, your Nana and Nani have elected to do something beautiful for you. They are contributing funds to us monthly to help us save for a piano and enroll you in music lessons in the future. So, while you will not be language experts at this point in time, you will learn the language of music, soon.

P.S. I don't want to be the mini-van Mom.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Questioning Peace

Right now the wind is rustling the leaves of the lush trees in our back yard. The chimes sound out a pleasant note or two. Birds chirp. And yes, some annoying truck is making its presence known. It is an almost perfect moment. You kids are watching a show so I can write.

We live in a region of the world that experiences peace more than turmoil. But scan the news headlines, and violence is near. The eastern part of our country is still reeling in grief over RCMP officers being gunned down. The country south of here is being bombarded with mass shootings in public places, often initiated by "good" citizens. Half way across the world, militants unleash terror on cities and nations while locals wonder if they will be alive to eat breakfast the next day.

And yet here, it is calm. I hear a lawn mover cutting green grass and a central vacuum system whirling in the background. Oh, I know all is not well in people's lives. Domestic violence is a problem no matter where you go. People are desperate for food, as the poor will always be with us. Individuals steal, kill, assault.

Yet, in my world, it seems serene.

Sometimes I wonder what my role is as I experience no threat to person. Truly, at this point in time, I do not consider myself being persecuted for anything, really. I am not really suffering, save for some relatively minor gut issues. While our extended family does struggle with various health issues or the occasional financial crisis, we are doing okay for our ages and stages.

Our small group finished our study of 1 Peter last week. It was a challenging book to apply, especially since none of us are suffering to the same extent as the believers to whom the book was written. But I think it did create in us an empathy to prayer for those who are in dire circumstances for their faith. After all, one day, we might find ourselves in the same situation. And if that day comes, would we be counted as faithful, doing the right thing in spite of suffering? Or would we walk out and reject all the we believed as fairy tale?

Lately, I have been enraptured in the Hungry Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. (I've been reading it every spare moment it get!) The trilogy has a disturbing premise, where the ruling class, the Capitol, subjugates its 12 Districts by forcing one boy and one girl (ages 12 - 18) from each district to fight each other in the annual "Hunger Games" until only one remains alive. The victor's district then receives extra food for a year while the other Districts continue to fight starvation. After a series of dramatic events, (warning: mild spoiler ahead) the Districts revolt and begin fighting against the Capitol. The injustice and cruelty of the Capitol cannot be tolerated any longer. Even moral insiders from the Capitol join the Rebel forces.

This has got me thinking, when does the injustice and cruelty incurred by other Christians or other fellow humans become too much for us to handle, especially for us who are "safe". When is it right to join the "Rebel forces", so to speak. Now, I am not talking about a call to arms or anything violent. I am talking about a mind shift, where we stop being lulled to sleep by our personal peace and become vigilant for those who are suffering. Since we have it so good here, doesn't that mean we have a larger responsibility to ease suffering and pain around the world? I think we do.

When we decided to follow Christ, God didn't snatch us up immediately to reward us with the pleasures of heaven. He left us here in a world wracked with pain. Why? Maybe so we can embrace our suffering as a way to understand Christ's suffering and love for the world. Maybe to remind us to reach out to those in need and be the hope and love and grace Christ freely imparted to us. Maybe to help us forget about the little kingdoms we are trying to build for ourselves and ask ourselves very seriously, "How can I build God's Kingdom here, where I am, today?"

In the end, internal peace is God's promise to us, through Christ's death and resurrection. External peace? Well, it's not a guarantee. External peace at the cost of someone else's suffering?* That's very questionable. May we be Christians who stand up for justice.

*Many Canadian soldiers gave their lives for their country's peace. While war is questionable in terms of its morality, I am honored by the sacrifice that men and women have made for my external peace.