Viva la vida

December 30, 2008

Oh man.  I’d forgotten how much I love jamming!!!  *goofy happy grin*

A year in review

December 28, 2008

A couple of days before Christmas, I sat down for coffee with a dear friend and the conversation casually meandered to “debriefing” the year. We talked about the high points, low points, what we learnt etc. It was a really soul-enriching conversation. Somehow, the discipline of reflecting and forcing yourself to give thanks for what you can give thanks for puts a lot of things into perspective. It is too easy to whine about life and not count your blessings. I’ll be damned if I become one of *those* people who has lost the ability to enjoy and be satisfied with the more than abundant life God has given me. So in thanksgiving, here is my year in review:

Mind
There is not much to say here, other than it is all good. I read A LOT (job hazard). I am surrounded by super intelligent people who have no qualms challenging my thinking (also a job hazard). So my brain hasn’t atrophied, I’m learning a lot and I’ve still retained that intellectual curiosity. No complaints.

I need to get better at shutting my brain up though.

Body
Di’s Christmas card said that one of highlights of her year was that I started running (and therefore joined her little energizer bunny club). This is coming from someone who got married this year so I thought that was pretty awesome.

It has been an excellent year for exercise. My new year’s resolution was to run a 10km race. I did it. Then doubled the distance and then some. Completing both races (the 10km in June and the half-marathon in December) were high points in my year. There are all the usual benefits of exercise but more than the fitness, it is the sense of accomplishment. Knowing that I can train to a goal and achieve it and can challenge the assumptions of what I can and cannot do was very powerful.

I’ve talked about how running and my prayer life has become inextricably linked. Looking back on the year, I think I can say without exaggeration that running was one of the core reasons why my spiritual life hasn’t gone completely to pot. I’d like to think that God has used running (and other bizarre methods) to teach me a thing or two this year – the importance of training, encouragement, perseverance, discipline, going long etc.

Heart
I made some really good friends this year. This is definitely a major thanksgiving. God has spoiled me rotten in the friends department. In a year where I have had far lower emotional capacity than I normally do, this has not gone unnoticed. It occurred to me that it is rare to still be making Tier 1 friends as you grow older. That said, I also became a lot more transactional this year. This has manifested in me being a lot more intentional in which relationships I invested in and to use an economic metaphor, I’ve only invested into high-yield relationships. I think overall this has been a good decision.

I’m also learning to differentiate what is an emotion and what is a state of being. I realize that I will always be that little bit emo. It is a side of me that I will always indulge because the tenderness of heart is something that I don’t want to lose. I will listen to melancholic minor-key music when I’m sad. I will cry. I’m sensitive and I’d like to stay that way. I’m starting to think this comes with the passionate, zest-for-life package. Anyway, I would really hate to be the girl who has a pile of stones where her heart once was. (And try doing pastoral ministry, which I believe strongly is a spiritual gift, with a heart of stone. Ha!)

The lyrics from a Bruce Springsteen song go – Fear’s a powerful thing. It can take a God-filled soul and fill it with devils and dust. I realized this year that fear can be an oddly powerful motivator. Fear of getting hurt. Fear of failure. Fear of rejection. Fear of falling. Fear of giving your all and then having nothing to show for it. I’ve made some decisions (rightly or wrongly) based on fear and I wonder what would have been different if I’d made some of those decisions in love instead. (For balanced reporting, I have to say that I made some decisions in love and frankly felt pretty lousy about them too.) Fear is just an emotion I guess. And this too shall pass. Love however is always a choice. I think that was a lesson worth learning.

Soul
I’ve described my spiritual journey this year as a very big shake-up, separating the wheat from the chaff. It was not fun. I’ve felt a lot like Moses – First called to do something you didn’t want to do and were not equipped to do (in a burning bush encounter), then wandering in the desert with an ungrateful and stubborn generation and then for all the bloody effort, not getting to the promised land. Wow. But now that the year is coming to an end, I have to say that it is well with my soul.

The decision to protect my relationship with God above all else turned out to be a really good idea. I have had to defend this decision a lot (although other leaders always understand). Church is just church. To a large extent, Christianity is just Christianity. There was a point in the year that I couldn’t even call myself a Christian. But I decided that I could still call myself a child of God. Maybe that’s good enough because God broke out of the little “church” box that I put him in. Just as well because my church box no longer exists.

Yet, in a weird sort of way, I would diagnose my spiritual life as healthy and growing. One of the big “aha” moments of the year was that God talks to me. It sounds slightly daft and on some level, I’ve always known this. Acknowledging that I hear the voice of God in my life is simultaneously liberating and terrifying. Now there is no excuse. One of my favourite Psalms is Psalm 25, which contains this verse: The LORD confides in those who fear him. He makes his covenant known to them. Always be careful what you pray for.

But I have to say that in the last month or so, God has been on overdrive trying to redeem the experience. Some of the simplest comments in recent weeks have put a lot of the journey into perspective and increasingly, my soul is at peace. My compliment for the year was something a friend said to me a couple of weeks ago: I’d commented that I would be a very different person if I wasn’t Christian (which is undeniably true). My friend replied that my faith/spirituality is so engrained into who I am that there was no separating the two. In the darkest year of my spiritual journey to date that meant a lot to me. In a year when I gave up all the outward signs of spirituality or religiosity (especially the positions of service and status in church), it is good to know that it is not a cross around my neck (which I don’t wear anyway) that tells people that I am Christian.

So what can I say about 2008? For the most part, I’ve felt pretty shit about the year but looking back, I am happy about the way the year has gone. There is a lot to be thankful for. To quote from various translations of Isaiah 61, it has been an “acceptable” “year of the Lord’s favour”. Not because it has been all that great a year but because Emmanuel – God with us. Do I have enough faith to proclaim to 2009 as great? I don’t know. Experience has taught me to be cautious. But I do know that Jesus’ blood has not failed me yet. For now, that is more than enough.

“Then sings my soul
My Saviour Lord to thee
How great Thou art
How great Thou art”

(My soul still sings. I think that’s a good sign.)

Merry Christmas (now belated because I took so long to write this) and a blessed 2009 everyone! 🙂

Baptised

December 28, 2008

You told me that you were getting baptised and I realised that I would have done it all again even if it was only just to reach you.

God’s cost-benefit analysis sucks but there it is.

“3Then Jesus told them this parable: 4″Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”
Luke 15:3-7

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It was the first time I’d been back in a number of months.  I’d forgotten how beautiful it was.  I didn’t really want to remember.

Someone came up to me to update me about the ministry work that was going on in Cambodia.  I listened with interest and I volunteered my near endless stock of photos for fundraising etc.  I’m not sure what I can do since I am no longer here, I said.  But if you need to use the photos, please go ahead. He looked at me and smiled.  But your heart is still here.

Ever get the feeling that you can run but you can’t hide?  I hate it when people are right.

Merry Christmas everyone!

December 25, 2008

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I had ambitious plans to write out my end of the year reflections by Christmas but the Christmas festivities got in the way.  Oops!  So till I get my act together, here’s a photo of a plant (my brother thinks it’s a ginger flower – who knows?!) that is growing next to the drain in my backyard.  A reminder that beauty and grace can be found in unexpected places, hope can arise and God is good all the time.

From one of my favourite Christmas hymns:

“A thrill of hope

The weary world rejoices

For yonder breaks

A new and glorious morn”

May you have a blessed Christmas –  in the company of loved ones, surrounded by love, joy and peace and in the secure knowledge that life is good because “Emmanuel”.  God with us!

Gift exchange

December 23, 2008

I was at a party on Sunday with a gift exchange. I usually hate gift exchanges because you inevitably get something that is generic that you don’t need (read: chocolate). Anyway, I turned up to the party without a gift. I’d completely forgotten about the gift exchange. But of the other girls was sweet enough to go out and get me something to give (and got it nicely wrapped) so I wouldn’t have to sit out the exchange. Completely unnecessary given my lack of enthusiasm for gift exchanges to begin with but still, it was a very kind thing to do. I offered to pay her back but she graciously refused. I think all this says something about the community at the new church and their generosity.

At the gift exchange, we all sat in a circle (how typical of church groups) with the presents in the middle. Before picking one from the pile, we were supposed to share what we were thankful for in 2008. Most people said that they were thankful for family and friends. My thanksgiving was for a job that I love. Someone commented that that was something that people were rarely able to be thankful for, which is probably true.

Writing my Christmas cards to my colleagues and wrapping their presents made my heart swell with gratitude.  The last 2 days have been very “typical” days in the office. A lot of the usual – meetings, discussions, research, emails, reading and then more reading. But it was the littlest things reminded me again why my biggest thanksgiving for 2008 would be for my job.

To the Lord of my salvation.  Sorry for saying that you should have cut me some slack this year (read: been more merciful to me in a tough year).  I realised that you have.  I am an ungrateful brat.  I know.

Today, thankful

December 23, 2008

  1. Debriefing the year with a dear friend over coffee.  Counting our friendship as one of the greatest blessings of the year.  Actually coming out and saying it with sincerity sans the Hallmark card pseudo-sentimentality.  Promising to do it again next year and every year. 
  2. Having yummy pumpkin soup for dinner.
  3. Going into a project team meeting having no clue but coming out with a good sense of how I can add value to the team.
  4. Buying the girls’ Christmas presents!  (Thank God!)
  5. Running into a friend yesterday and noticing that he is the happiest and most relaxed that I’ve seen him in a very long time.  Rejoicing.