Thursday, March 29, 2012

Three Things Thursday [Vol.8]

Three pictures that make me laugh.
I took them all in real life.
You may call me immature, but that doesn't make them any less hilarious.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Next Step

I thought getting rid of a worn out purse was a big step because it was a concrete step in overcoming the affection I attach to things. At least it was worn out though.

Last night I faced my next big hurdle in decluttering: letting go of items that are not yet worn out.

When Matt and I got married, a number of beautiful bathroom towels sets were given to us, and we also held on to our own towels from university life. These towels filled up a huge shelf in the closet of our guest room/office ("How grown up," I thought, "to have a closet filled with towels"), and then they were crammed into the cupboard under our bathroom sink ("maybe we'll use more towels if they're closer at hand," I thought).

A few weeks ago, our chronically slow-draining bathroom sink became completely clogged, and we piled all the towels in a laundry basket so Matt could be husbandly and take the pipes apart. He removed the clog, but then there seemed to be a leak, so we left a bucket under the pipe, and the mountain of towels stayed in our room, balanced against the bed.

The bucket has been dry for many days, but it took me time to get my head around cramming all those towels back under the sink. And then we decided to make more space.

So last night I laid our towels out on the bed in piles: two matching towels for Josh, and two for Esther; the two towels my Portuguese teacher embroidered for Matt and me in Brazil; and then I got stuck. The thing is, we hardly even use the really nice towels we got for our wedding because I want to "wear out" the towels we both brought to our marriage. Two and a half years later, it turns out towels don't just wear out because you use them to dry your hair. Maybe if my hair was made of razor blades! Of course, then I'd have a million other problems. Like bleeding out on windy days. But I digress.


In addition to the towels I had laid out, we decided to keep four matching towels that were wedding gifts. One oversized towel we are keeping (in addition to actual beach towels) for beach trips this summer, and the rest (pictured above) we are giving to the local community services association for their shower program. It definitely wasn't hard-core decluttering, but it was eye-opening to reflect on why it was so hard to let go of excess things. At least this is a starting point, and I really think that as we reduce the amount of stuff in our apartment, the things that just take up space will become more obvious and easier to let go.

Wow, I must also add HOW HAPPY the woman at the community centre was to receive these towels. Her enthusiasm totally made up for any doubts I had lingering about these towels being gone forever. And honestly, it feels great to know that instead of filling up a shelf in a closet, these towels will be used by people who need them.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Making Prostitution Safer?

Brothels have been legalized in Ontario in the hopes of making prostitution safer for sex workers. There are arguments on both sides, with some celebrating this decision and others warning it will increase demand and therefore danger for sex workers in addition to not helping the majority of prostitutes who work on the street. This ruling won't take effect for a year in order to give lawmakers time to prepare the legislation brothels will be held to, and it may be appealed in the Supreme Court, but in the meantime arguments are yet again flying back and forth in the papers and online whether these decisions make any sense.

One of the last papers I wrote for my BA was on this topic, just after a number of laws against prostitution were first struck down (on appeal, the law forbidding publicly communicating for the purpose of prostitution was upheld). I was surprised to see women on both sides of the debate arguing passionately, and I wanted my own opinion to be based on more than a knee-jerk reflex. I wasn't sure what to expect: I was confident that lower-class prostitution would be demonstrably harmful and exploitative, but I also looked for evidence to support exceptions when prostitution is not a last resort fuelled by poverty or drug addiction.

This is the paper. After spending days reading articles and studies and stories, I was emotionally exhausted and convinced that no matter how prostitution is packaged, it's always dangerous. Physically and emotionally, women get wrecked when they sell their bodies, and the reality of the trade is that most do not choose. The downfall of the laws being struck down in Ontario is that they will only grant protection to a minority of sex workers, while the majority will continue to be oppressed and abused with even less hope of ever getting out. Worse, it normalizes a dysfunctional and harmful view of women and sexuality.

It is important most of all to recognize that legalizing brothels does not empower prostitutes; it empowers madams, pimps and johns.

Something that struck me while researching that paper was that legal prostitution increases the demand for bodies, and these will be obtained by any means. Already, women are trafficked to meet the demand for prostitution in Canada, and it happens right under the surface of our daily lives - this month, a prostitution ring was busted operating out of an apartment building I pass on my way to church. This article talks about the reality of human trafficking in our province.

If women are to be protected, laws must come down on pimps and johns. Until that happens, "empowering" or "protecting" prostitutes by letting them work indoors only puts the problem of abuse and exploitation out of sight.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Decluttering

It all started with the somewhat-crazy plan to host my sister and her boyfriend in our 2-bedroom apartment this summer. I thought it was crazy, but when no other housing options looked likely to work out before they arrived, I realized it could actually be pretty great. In order to happen, though, we definitely need to make better use of our space, and this was the motivation behind what shall be known as our apartment purge of 2012.

After a few days of talking with Matt about how great this could be and reading some blog posts on minimalism, we finally got down to it and actually got rid of stuff we never wear/use instead of just organizing it.

This is some of the stuff we got rid of:All of these items have been in our drawers/closets for years but never used.

The greatest proof of my personal growth and determination in this process is parting with this purse.This purse was a find at Winners around Christmas 2007, and it has served me well for the last few years. In days gone by, I would have hoarded this purse for a few more years, maybe using it once or twice to validate keeping it, but never loving it like I used to.

The immediate payoff, which we are so happy about, is being able to create a prayer space in our storage closet. This is one thing we hope will help this summer with our house being full - having a room where someone can sit and think and be alone, all without hogging the bathroom!! Matt and I have talked about doing this for ages but just couldn't figure out how to make the space. The answer turned out to be throwing out all those boxes we were hoarding for our next move. We may move as soon as this Fall, but whether we do or not, we'll find boxes when we need them. In the meantime, we'll continue sifting through our things so that when we do need to pack it all up, we'll only be bringing things we use and/or love.

Here's the closet before:In progress of being cleaned out:And after:There is a folding chair against the wall opposite the shelves and pictures to remind us of people/places to pray for. We'll put more up as we go and might write the Prayer of St Francis on the left wall as well.

Do you have clutter lurking? Take an hour to get rid of the obvious stuff - it feels great!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Three Things Thursday [Vol.7]

Three ways running relates to life in Christ:

1. You can always go further than you think.
This is the biggest hurdle that kept (keeps) me from running - I get tired after about 20 seconds and want to go back home. BUT if I cut myself the slack to start slow and take breaks when I need to, eventually my heart and lungs catch up, and it's not so bad! Then it becomes a case of pushing my limits, trying to make it running to the next driveway or bus stop before my next breather because...

2. The hard parts can be the best parts.
Not to push a cliche, because sometimes the hard parts plain suck - you're wheezing and dizzy and red in the face and possibly crying a little bit. Sucky.

But there is something magical about the best part of a hard run, when your legs are burning and your heart is pounding, and it feels like your lungs could breathe in whole mountains, they are filling up down to your hip bones, and the running is hard, but all you have to do is keep going; you are unstoppable. Everything you need is working already, and you are doing what to cold muscles and calm heart seems impossible. It is thrilling and satisfying and great.

3. There is only one prize. Paul compares life in Christ to a race and exhorts his readers to "Run in such a way to get the prize." Unfortunately, I think this verse is often read as if there is only one winner.* Christianity becomes a competition, and if you're not the best you're a loser. But Paul isn't saying we should size each other up, throw elbows and try to beat each other out whatever it takes - he is telling his readers to keep their focus. This life is all we get, and if we are not running our best (which won't look the same every day, but the best that we have at each moment), we are wasting time. We must not be distracted by the races other people are running, becoming envious or going off track to try and copy them. In the parable of the talents, the first two servants receive the same prize from their master although they accomplished different things. The prize is to hear, "Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!" Those are the words I hope to hear on judgment day, not, "Nice work, Davis, your Christmas play totally out-classed those Pentecostals. In fact, I'm not even gonna let them in!"

Yes, God still calls me by my maiden name.

Bonus thoughts on running (by the way, I had a great run yesterday):

  • Running is not like life in Christ because we don't know the length or terrain of our life's course. We have to follow Jesus step by step and season by season, and recognize that we may have 50 years or two weeks left to live. The best way to pace ourselves is to trust and follow him, since he knows the course inside and out.
  • His banner over us is Love. Love is why and how we run this life with Jesus. It is how we know we're on the right track and what we look forward to at the finish line. (God loves you and I love you and that's the way it should be... That song is about banqueting not running, I know, but don't you think we'll all be down for a huge banquet when the life-race is over? I do.)

*Turns out 1 Corinthians 9:24 says only one winner. Awkward. I guess that's where the analogy breaks down.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Hope


I was struck by Job 1:21, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord."

I know that I have read this verse before, and I must have sung the song 100 times at least. But as it often goes with Scripture, I was challenged by it in a new way. See, I have long had this anxious streak that feared God would totally wreck my life and see me through it all so I would have this incredible testimony. It's the irrational fears that are hardest to weed out sometimes, and God has been so gracious and merciful to ease shards of distrust out of my soul while I continue to function as a Christian and be seen as mostly sane. And then this passage reminded me: while I get hung up worrying whether God will take away any of the good things he has given, ultimately I will leave this earth naked, leaving even my body behind.

For me, this is liberating, not depressing - it changes my focus, like artsy photography where the background is all blurred, except for me it's the foreground with all my concerns and complaints and fears and failures that has become blurry, and the background has exploded with crystal clarity: eternity.

As humans, we are born in a state of utter dependence, without any awareness beyond immediate needs. As we grow up, I guess we go on a quest to be independent, to learn who we are, who God is, and to love others who are in our life. We try to become something.

And along this way (with the help of the marketers, I think. Shiny lips will help you find yourself!), we buy into the illusion that we can really get somewhere! But I don't think most of us are trying to get to where we actually need to be. Because it seems to me that Jesus' relationship with the Father shows total dependence. He not only told his disciples to pray for their daily bread, but he did the same. With the ability to turn stones into bread, he went hungry. He deeply loved people but died alone.

Job 14:7-8 says, "For there is hope for a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that its shoots will not cease. Though its root grow old in the earth, and its stump die in the soil..."

I wonder if this passage comforted Jesus as he poured his life out in ministry. I was thinking about him as I walked Nimoy the dog along a path near our place. This path is not scenic. The trees are showing no signs of Spring, and although there is water, it is too cloudy and fetid to call a stream. The brightest colours come from graffiti on the concrete wall surrounding the townhouse complex behind it. Across the thin band of water is a golf course with green trees, benches and perfect grass, but this path boasts only discarded cigarette boxes and faded spray paint. It wanders between these two symbols of "the life" - homes fenced off from strangers, a manicured lawn to spend afternoons playing golf - but it occurred to me that Jesus had more than enough life to give without all those trappings we chase after so often. It occurred to me that Jesus came to walk the ugly path.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Three Things Thursday [Vol.6]

This week I would like to share 3 awkward moments I have experienced on the TTC:
  1. Wondering if the person across from you is INSANE or just speaking a foreign language with a covert bluetooth. Especially when they are staring you in the face and speaking so intensely!

  2. Hoping you fit in the empty seat between two big people and failing to actually hit the seat. THEN needing to squeeze loose and find another seat. Sigh. Fortunately, this just happened for the first time last week; usually I'm a pretty good judge of hip-width.

  3. People who fight/break up over the phone on the bus. I remember one time an entire bus fell silent as a guy broke down into tears and yelled at his girlfriend for cheating on him even more than she had already admitted. Less embarrassing but still ridiculous was a woman who was fighting with her boyfriend and kept hanging up on him only to immediately call back and continue the fight.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Time Change

Daylight savings is curb stomping my brain
I ride through my days on a headache that morphs from my skull to my eyes to my scalp down my neck.
My stomach churns like I haven't slept, wants to eat my emotions like razor blades and popcorn.
9pm comes like a train screeching into the station, and the carpet calls me, rough and sturdy, to rest my face on it. It's closer than my bed, after all.
5am bluffs me awake, then smirks a red gleam through the dark: too early to get up, less than an hour left to sleep, dawn will come after that. Sucker.
But the early air smells like Spring, and the soft ground presses gently on my feet to promise grass will grow soon.
The night sky stretches over my mornings again, but the wind doesn't scrape like it used to.
Finally daylight slips over the horizon, reflected by office windows 20 floors up, bought at a price of bleary eyes and that hovering, dull ache. No refunds, just hope that Spring stays.
And I can always sleep on the train.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Wax On, Wax Off

I was praying about prayer earlier this week. I want to pray, and I love to pray, but days keep going by with just a few God-ward thoughts and maybe a "hey God, help me not to suck today please. I'd like to be kind, and um, to have a good day. Thanks."

Prayer is a helluva lot more than that, and I have been frustrated by how my soul pretends it is satisfied. Not that on-the-go prayers don't have a place, but I am in a season of early afternoons off work with very little responsibility, and I am not satisfied for all of those hours to be spent walking the dog and washing dishes. So I had a chat with God about it at small group on Monday, about why I don't just do what I want to want! And I realized that I don't know how to just be with God, so I avoid it for fear of feeling like a failure, or I over complicate it. It is SO EASY for me to fall into the trap of choosing a strategy: picking a posture, setting a time, keeping silence to listen, and all of those things are good and helpful, but they are not what bring me to God. When I spend time with my friends, generally we plan a time and place to get together, and we may have an idea of what we want to do, but once we connect, we go with the flow! If I change seats because the sun is in my eyes, nobody thinks we need to start over; if I get distracted I apologize, but I don't think we should just give up talking.

On Monday, God reminded me how music settles me and opens my spirit, and he suggested I could start my time with him by singing. "And," he mentioned while I gazed at the prayer candle we had lit for small group, "the candle is a nice focal point." So true - and so much less risky when I'm tired than closing my eyes to pray.
So Tuesday I lit our prayer candle, and I did some singing. Then I tried to pray but was too scattered, so I sang some more. And then I tried again. And I realized that I wasn't so much distracted as overwhelmed: where to start? So I said to God, "There is too much for me to even say, and you know it all anyways. I know you want me to pray, but it's too much, so I can't."

And God said, "That candle is filled with so much wax, which is way too much for that tiny flame, but over time it will all get burned up. Let my Spirit soften your burdens and draw them away into myself. It just takes time."

And I thought that was very beautiful.

Monday night I wrote that I was struggling with prayer because I didn't know what to expect. If I didn't have some breakthrough or emotional confirmation of encountering God, then I felt like it was wasted time. I know that's not necessarily true, but it very often feels that way. Remembering that candle helps me get my head around having criteria and expectations and psyching myself out about prayer before I even begin. Indistinguishable amounts of progress are okay; feeling hard and waxy and stuck is okay; feeling like a drippy mess is okay too; the most important thing is to draw near to the flame of God's Spirit and let Him work on me.

*Linked to 31Days2Happy through elizabethesther.com

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Taking New Land

I have been so blessed by the girls' small group that meets here on Mondays. This week we had a brief Bible study and then spent some time thinking/praying about some questions to apply the story to our lives. It was great! And it is the back story to some more thinking and praying I want to post about, so here it goes:

We read Joshua 17:14-18
In which the people of Joseph want more land because they are numerous. Joshua says they can have more land, but they have to work for it, to clear forests and to fight armies.
It made me think that if you think you deserve/are ready for more, you might have to dig in and work harder for it.

We reflected on these four questions:
  • What areas of your life can you see room for more growth?
  • What are the obstacles in those areas?
  • Do you have any fears/hesitations toward those obstacles?
  • What is a concrete step you can take to "expand your inheritance"?

Monday, March 5, 2012

God Says

God says: Pranking blind people ain't funny, yo.

Reading the Bible for Lent has been so good for me. For the most part it hasn't even been a huge burden, it just eliminates any questions of what to read on the subway. It has also been so interesting reading so much Bible all at once, because things stand out to me more - repetition or allusions that I might miss if they were spread out over a month or five jump out because I am reading Deuteronomy only a few days after reading Leviticus. Allow me to share an example:
  • Leviticus 19:14 - You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind.
  • Deuteronomy 27:18 - Cursed be anyone who misleads a blind man on the road.
I think it is so awesome that in all of these chapters of laws, dietary restrictions, how to treat outsiders, miracles to remember, and lists of people not to get busy with, that God emphasizes dignity for the vulnerable. It also makes me so curious about why God needed to say it twice - how bored were these ancient Semitic people wandering around in the desert? Bored enough to pick on their blind brothers? Jaded enough to curse a sister who would never know it? If you're going to lash out, God says, take it up with me. Or if that doesn't appeal to you, suck it up. But definitely don't send some blind guy wandering off into the desert.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

A Really Interesting Story

I am still without the itch to blog, just enjoying life as it happens and trying to focus more on the good than the not-great. I'm enjoying a lazy Sunday afternoon, listening to music, cooking for tonight/later this week, and I decided to see what is new online. I came across such a cool story that I decided to post it here, but be warned it's a pretty long read. The story is about two families from Ontario who adopted daughters from China who turned out to be identical twins! I found it so fascinating to read about twins in general, and to read about how these two families are working together to support their daughters as sisters :)

If you have the time, I think this is a great story, and I'm so happy it made it into the newspaper!