Hands That Hold

These hands.

These hands hold so much.

So much history. So much potential.

These hands hold worlds, lifetimes. They hold life and love.

These hands hold hope.

These hands hold. Sometimes clenched so tight… sometimes too tight. I like best how they are pictured here, gently surrounding, supporting, carrying, lifting. These hands have ached with the weight, the effort, the beauty of it all.

I recently learned that some of the pain I am experiencing (especially in my hands) is intrarticular osteopenia – bone loss inbetween inflamed joints. A precursor to osteoporosis and a highly indicative feature of rheumatoid arthritis. I’m on a new medication to try to disrupt the autoimmune inflammatory response my body is having and we are using an anti-inflammatory cream to try to decrease the swelling in my hands, to minimize the pain and to try to preserve long term function. My symptoms come and go, but this last week has been especially hard. I’m using my hands for lots of things these days, like typing papers and helping little hands cut snacks or colour pictures. I have trouble opening my pill bottles and when I went to the spring dance concert it hurt too much to clap, so I just cheered instead.

A week ago I had the incredible privilege of guiding women through a worship service. We gathered to honor and serve women who experience grief around Mother’s Day. As a planning team we struggled to name and describe a service that we intentionally wanted to be open and somewhat vague – we wanted to accommodate those in need, those who came. We realized almost immediately that we couldn’t possibly describe the range of experience and the kinds of grief in a blurb that fit in a church newsletter or in a short announcement. After each time I spoke of it, someone mentioned ‘or women who…’, and I said yes, yes. Yes women with that grief, that burden, that story.

We had beautiful music and readings from the Word. We sang together and listened to one another. I overheard afterword someone realizing we hadn’t had a formal prayer, but for me it felt like we prayed the whole time.

We closed the service with what I called a liturgy of light. Every woman at the service was invited to light a candle, or perhaps many, from the Christ Candle. It was an extremely powerful moment for me to look out at the gathered congregation, holding their lights, something they carry inside their hearts everyday, here made visible for this moment, for all to see. They lit lights for children they’ve never held or for ones they aren’t raising. They lit lights for children who died before them or for ones who are still in this world but far from them. They lit lights for mothers they miss and mothers they never had. They lit lights for the mothers they wish they were or are trying to be. They lit lights for themselves, for their children who will live on after they are gone. They lit lights for hopes and dreams and prayers. There was so much light, and it all came from the One Light, which was not diminished.

There came a time for the lights to change. Some carried their candles with them. Others left them burning brightly in that sacred space. When the Christ Candle changed, I offered a benediction, a prayer, that they might know that even though The Light was no longer with us in that time and that place, we would know it is with always and everywhere we go.

My heart and my hands ache from the weight of that service, from the privilege of seeing all that light. It is the privilege of the Church to Mother, to hold that weight, that ache, so tenderly. It is not the responsibility of any one of us – it was simply my turn, in a time and space where I could serve that use. Rather, it is a responsibility we all share, as members of the body, to see and honour the lights we all carry and to hold them, so gently but firmly, cupped to catch and to carry and lift towards heaven.

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Falling in Love with Jesus

Today I was blessed to be able to share my testimony, a small part of my story at the informal college chapel service. Here’s what I shared.

My relationship with Jesus has been long and complicated, with ups and downs and lots of change over 30 years, but today I want to just talk about one piece of it, one moment in time, when I found God in the midst of anarchists. A bit of background: I grew up in a Christian (Presbyterian) home, wrestled as a teenager with my faith, decided I really did want to live for God, while in university thought I was called to be a Roman Catholic nun. With one semester left, planning to head for the convent after graduation, I was praying ‘Lord, if you don’t want me to become a nun, give me a sign.’ I wasn’t expecting one, but I met a man who I thought was the sign. I fell in love and thought he loved me but he decided not to and I was devastated. I was so hurt and so angry, and it was easier to be angry than hurt, and in my anger I made a lot of bad choices. I hurt a lot of people around me and myself, engaging in self-destructive behavior and doing everything I could to push people away. By 2011 I was exhausted, spent, tired of hurting, tired of the things I was using to numb the pain. Rock bottom.

That summer I’d begun to pick up the pieces. I’d moved in with friends who had stood by me through it all and were willing to keep picking me up when I fell down. I made plans to move to Singapore, to work with the missionary organisation my parents were a part of. I knew, intellectually, that I wanted to make different choices. I knew I wanted a different life, and as my anger had burned out, I knew that God had not abandoned me, nor had He betrayed me. The foundation of faith I had was still there, it was just under a lot of ruble, and I didn’t really know what to do about it. Going to church felt weird. I knew that the Scripture readings and words to the hymns were true, but I didn’t really feel it. I was still kind of numb and also so empty.

While I wrestled with my faith and life that year, the world had wrestled too. The Arab spring swept through the Middle East and inspired protests in solidarity and in kind around the world including in Western countries. Occupy Wall Street began and in Toronto, where I lived, the Occupy movement arrived in October.

I had heard about the protests, I was off work and headed home and I decided to go a round about way, past St. James Park, where the three thousand protesters had marched to earlier that day. I was curious, a spectator. I intended to walk past, maybe subtly ogle a little and then be on my way. But I was drawn in by the crowd, by the energy, the diversity of people, signs, opinions. People were starting to set up tents and a food table, and the doors of St. James Cathedral were open. I was one of many who stopped in for a moment to pray. When I went back out, I found myself near the front of the first General Assembly.

The park went dead quiet. And a single voice yelled out ‘Mic Check!’ A dozen voices echoed the call – and it was echoed again and again and suddenly more than a thousand people had gathered together as tightly as they could to be heard and to listen.

That first meeting was astonishing to me. Guidelines of respect, inclusivity and non-discrimination were laid out. Hand signals were taught and relayed. Questions were asked, repeated, answered, repeated. Objections to any point were noted, repeated, discussed, resolved. The facilitators worked together to ensure every voice was heard, every question answered, every concern addressed, every objection resolved. I began to wonder what I could do, where I could volunteer, but even as I wondered, I thought about what I could do that would have minimal impact on my life. What would be the least disruptive?

Well, I ended up staying. For days that turned into weeks I camped out in St. James Park with Occupy Toronto. Remember it was mid-October, in Canada. It was cold. And wet. Snow was constantly threatening. The park was surrounded by police and media and onlookers and counter-protesters. It was not comfortable or easy. Communication and getting things done as a group was hard work. Everyone had a different reason for being there.

So what was mine?

I was there because I met Jesus there. I experienced more grace, peace and love in those few days in a tent city in a cold October rainstorm than I had ever experienced before. Nothing in my experience (and I’m a pretty optimistic person) had prepared me for the incredible generosity of others, in the their finances and material donations and, more importantly, in their gifts of self.

I went at first because of the politics. I believed there were deep, serious flaws in our economic and political systems, and that the root of those flaws lies in how we see and treat one another as human beings. After that first walkthrough I was convinced that something special and important was happening there and I wanted to be a part of it.

But I stayed because I saw the face of Christ in the faces of the people at the park, and in the faces of people everywhere else. I was so inspired by all of these people who cared so deeply about people. In solidarity with the poor, the homeless, the oppressed, we begged for blankets, ate from a camp soup kitchen, and slept on the ground, all while dealing with pressure to shut up and go away from society, police, government. It was an incredible crash course on grace and humanity.

Over those days and weeks I picked up my Bible again and began to read the book of Luke. It’s a great place to start if you want to get to know Jesus. I realized that the man I was reading about was someone I wanted to be like, someone I wanted to follow, someone I wanted to love.

Reading Luke I was reminded that Jesus was homeless, unemployed and lived off the kindness of others. At Occupy Toronto I was reminded that it is in the faces of the poor and the abandoned that we meet Christ. There I found a desire to see the Living God in others and for them to experience the Living God through me, to be in intentional community, with all of its messiness and hard work.

Something clicked for me as I realized that the vast, unknowable, all-powerful God of the universe was Jesus. The being I was so mad at was the Man who had come into the world and spoke with such love. The last of the anger I felt faded and I was overcome by the love that I knew Jesus had for me.

The Occupy protests drew to a close and we left the park. I returned to my friends’ house, I packed my things and prepared to move to Singapore. Suddenly, I wasn’t just going through the motions. Work wasn’t just automatic; it was an opportunity to see Jesus in everyone I served. Church wasn’t an empty shell or ritual and routine. It was full of Jesus. I was no longer empty, I was full of love for Jesus and His love for me.

That experience has carried me through the last six years, which have had plenty of ups and downs. Remembering that time has been a touchstone, a wellspring, filling me up when I start to feel empty. When I become overwhelmed and start to lose track of the great unknowable God of the universe, I am reminded that He is JESUS, and I fall in Love with Him all over again.

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Peace in Tension – Part Three

This is the last in a series of posts on peace and tension originally written for New Christian Woman. This one was the most challenging and perhaps my favourite to write. I had nothing as my deadline approached, I was struggling mightily and I really believe that once I prayed and just asked the Lord to help me get out of the way and let His Word flow through me, that’s where this came from. The response to this post has been humbling and awesome (in the original sense of that word) and I have been truly touched by it. As with the others in this series, please feel welcome to comment here or to join the conversation on the original post.

Continue reading

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Peace in Tension: Part Two

This post is the second in a series I originally wrote for New Christian Woman. It explores the tension in between the truth of God’s goodness and the reality of human suffering. As with the previous in this series, please feel free to comment here or to head over to the original post and join the conversation. Continue reading

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Peace in Tension – Part One

I occasionally write for a blog called New Christian Woman, and this past year I’ve written a number of articles about peace and my journey/struggles to find it, hold onto it in my life. In my desire to get back to more regular blogging, I thought I’d share them here over the next few weeks. Please feel free to read and comment here, or to head over to the original post and join the discussion there.

The first post was about the tension between the truths that every moment matters, and it’s all about the big picture. Without further ado, here it is: Continue reading

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