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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A strange year…

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My unimpressed face after my latest ER visit…

It’s been a strange year. A strange 18 months, really. October 18 was 18 months since we sat down in a doctor’s office in South Africa and read the words metastatic, malignant neuroendocrine carcinoid tumours on the pathology report. 18 months since our doctor looked at us with tears in his eyes, and other than his sorrow I didn’t hear much else. It was like a roaring in my ears and a laser focus at the same time. Malignant. Metastatic. I said to him “This is cancer.” He just nodded, unable to speak.

There are moments that still feel that big. That momentous, that important, that dramatic.

But for the most part, after a year and a half of living with a metastatic, incurable cancer diagnosis, life is kind of… normal.

It’s not the old normal, that’s for sure. Scars, pains, scans, twice weekly home nursing visits, monthly hormone injections and blood draws, regular doctor’s visits, semi-regular fainting episodes, somewhat frequent ER visits are all part of this new normal (but if you knew me really well, you’d know that somewhat frequent ER visits were kind of par for the course pre-diagnosis…).

I’ve been living with this cancer for over a decade and a half, but I’ve only known about it for 18 months. That still weirds me out sometimes. My entire adult life I’ve had cancer. Pretty much my entire adolescent life I had cancer (the doctors estimate my age of onset as 13). I have a therapist I see once a week (who is fantastic, btw) and it’s pretty strange to talk about my past and view it through the cancer lens.

But for all of the weirdness and upheaval, we’re finding a new normal.

I don’t always like it.

I don’t like the pain and the ongoing struggle to find a drug/therapy/treatment regimen to manage it.

I don’t like the fatigue and weakness. No matter how much I lower my expectations of myself, I can’t seem to meet my goals. I can’t do as much as I want to do in a day or week or hour.

I don’t like the fainting. I’m getting really sick of it, actually. I miss being able to drive, being safe to leave alone with the kids, my independence. A few days ago, I said to my in-laws and husband, in all seriousness, “It’s been a while since I fainted! I think I’m making progress!” They looked at me like I had grown a second head, and reminded me when I’d last passed out. It had been 15 days. Just two weeks! I fainted 3 days later, for a grand total of 18 days between full syncope episodes. I had a few near syncope episodes in between. Oh well.

I don’t like the variability. I have a four week cycle which includes (usually) one good week. One really good week! And when it comes to and end I am always caught off guard. Which is pretty silly, since it’s been this four-week cycle for about 10 months now. But it still surprises me and dismays me, every time.

For all of the things that I don’t like, there is hope.

A few weeks ago Coleman and I started walking together, every day. We started with a minute a day for a week. Then the next week we did two. The next three. And so on. Last Friday I walked in the Charter Day procession from the college to the Cathedral. No fainting, no falling. (It was a pretty slow procession, so that was good.) Tomorrow we will start a week of seven minutes. Seven minutes of walking, no walker, no sticks, just me (I might hold Coleman’s hand).

About two months ago I started seeing a therapist and wow, did that ever kick the growing depression I’d been struggling with to the curb. Naming and facing some of my mental health struggles has been huge. Some of them are relatively recent, some are things I’ve battled untreated for a long time. Realising that some of the mess in my head isn’t good, and doesn’t have to stay awful has been amazing. It’s a kind of weird that its both normal and not at the same time, but I find that hugely reassuring. It’s not normal (read: healthy) to have this mess in my head and it’s totally normal (read: expected) as a reaction to all the mess in other areas of my life. I’ll write more about this in the coming weeks.

I started working on my Masters degree two years ago but my sharp decline in health and my diagnosis interrupted that. Now that we live nearby, I’m on campus several days a week, catching up on course work, mapping out my degree path, planning an independent study course and pulling together a bibliography for my thesis research. This shift has been amazing for my mental and spiritual health as well as my physical health, despite the challenges. I can’t load the dishwasher, but I can sit with my feet up and my back supported, with my computer on my lap while my IV fluids run through my port, and I can study, read, research and write. I’ll write more about this too, and my struggles between my Mary and Martha selves and the beauty of sitting at Jesus’ feet.

All this to say, it’s been a while since I wrote here, but I’m starting to feel like I have something to say again and that I can find the mental space and the time to think and process and share. Thanks for sticking with me.

 

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