go on the way you mean to continue

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When it’s me vs. jet-lag, jet-lag seams to win. I don’t just mean the confusion about whether I should be asleep or awake at any given moment of the day either. It has to do with catching up with where in the world I am and what in the world I am supposed to be doing. Landing back in Dublin after travelling, speaking and catching up with people around BC and Alberta (Canada) for a couple of months left me feeling like I had just been on one of those spinning rides at the amusements that tosses you around just a little too much … Which way is up? Am I standing or am I falling? How do my legs work? What’s my name again?

My losing streak with jet-lag began in December 2013 when I boomeranged around the globe in a month, first to New Zealand for a wedding and then to Canada for Christmas. Gone are the days of perfect sleep patterns as soon as I land and an obscure ability to adjust back into normal life within 24 hours. In its place is this tilting feeling of being totally off balance.

One thing was different this time though. From the moment I stepped into my home I had one line on repeat in my mind:

“Go on the way you mean to continue.”

It’s hard to believe that one line can make so much difference but it has. It is a breath and a pause – How do I want to continue? What patterns do I want to develop? It is motivation and opportunity to change directions. A two month interruption, even if it is a very welcome one, is enough time to mess with all the normal rhythms of life: sleeping and eating, exercise and work, creativity and connection.

“Go on the way you mean to continue.”

It offers a moment of acknowledging the current reality and making a decision of which direction to head. It allows for problem-solving the mundane situations with the resources available right here and now.

Go on the way you mean to continue … in how you think, in what you say to people, in how you connect with friends, in how you plan your meals, in the space you give creativity, in how you interact with God, in how you do your work, in how you live in your home … go on the way you mean to continue.

Mosaics of Rome

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“Oh crap!” I held in further obscenities as I realized where the door at the top of St. Peter’s Basilica had led us. The laughter was stolen from my mouth when I stepped through it onto the narrow ledge that circled the inner-dome of the tallest Christian church in the world. One hundred meters below us people moved about like a small ant colony on vacation. Perhaps it was the slight dehydration the beautiful Italian weather induced in my sun-deprived, Irish-acclimatized body that made me somehow forget, again, that what goes up must look down … 

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I plastered myself to the mosaic wall and took a few steading breaths, reasoning through my fear. The ledge was not likely to crumble anytime soon because of the care that they give the building. The tall wall of heavy metal mesh was sturdy as it separated us from sudden death 1.5 meters away from the solid form I tried to insert myself into. Avoiding looking down, I began to inspect the small fragments of stone my hands were stuck to. Centimetre by centimetre they filled the entire wall. Looking up I realized they filled the entire dome creating stunning pictures that, from below, passed for detailed paintings. On its own, each piece wouldn’t have caught anyone’s attention on the street but together they told a story. I was finally able to go to the edge and take a look before walking as far as I could around the circumference of the dome. A quarter of the way around was another door leading us to the exterior platform with a sweeping view of St. Peter’s Square and all of Rome.

Rome. There it was, spread out in front of us, steeped in history and social change. A city representing a nation built for glory that fell to a level of very ordinary existence. Lines of greenery wove between the varying shades of beige buildings forming a very different sort of mosaic from that which we saw inside. Although beautiful, this view from a distance couldn’t compare to the vibrancy of detail that mortared its shape into place – the vibrancy of the people who fill the streets and buildings.

We descended from our birds eye view to spend the following day and half exploring the extraordinary view from below. Old streets and even older buildings filled our cameras while living works of art moved through traffic, walked in and out of shops, stood in small elevators and greeted us over the counter. Tucked behind eyes peering out into the world, just like mine, were dreams and hopes for the future mingled with histories of both joy and heartache. In that close up moment of eye-to-eye, strangers softened into momentary friends with pockets full of kindness without having to say a single word. We are not so different. We are made of the same things. Unlike the mosaic at the top of the Basilica, we were made to be seen and appreciated up close, instead of from a distance. If you find this terrifying, take a few steadying breaths and reason through the fear. The experience is worth it.

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Consider The Lenten Way

40 days expand out from here. Everything that is known stands behind and waves an enthusiastic “Bon Voyage!” In front is a canyon worn down into the barren earth from pilgrim feet following in the footsteps of the first one who walked this wilderness path. Prayer was his food. Repentance would become his message … heaven his promise. But first, hunger, thirst, temptation.

Only fools take up this journey imitating him, remembering him. We strap on our boots and bring plasters for the inevitable blisters it will cost us, all for the promise of a spirit that is full. The only sustenance we can carry on our backs are truthful words, silence and a personalized invitation addressed to the Holy Spirit. He is the original guide through this desert and only costs us our pride. The road doesn’t need to be walked alone. The valleys are littered with bones of people who got lost in their prideful wanderings. Don’t go near them, they are full of disease.

But, if you are tired of the stomach aches gluttony has given you. If you need to slow down and learn how to breathe again, taking in the world around you and seeing it as if for the first time. If you need an outlet for your grief and new vision for the future. Consider the Lenten Way. If you can’t get out of bed, can’t leave your job for a month, can’t pass the kids off to someone else while you travel over over the path of a real mountain pilgrimage – consider the Lenten Way. It is a pilgrimage of the heart that will take you through suffering to joy. Not all who wander this road are lost.

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God ~ Psalm 42:2

There is always a reason to go on a 40 day journey. Tell God what you want to get out of it. Take half a minute and be silent when you are done.

Sign up for daily conversation starters with God for The Lenten Way.

make your home in the wetlands

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Getting off the bus this morning I was greeted by fierce wind and pelting rain. Huddling under the hood of my down jacket I tried to find some measure of warmth while rushing down the hill and across the river in the city. Soon my earlier effort of drying my hair before leaving the house was completely undone and it whipped in drenched cords across my face. I am sure the bogs were delighted with a new thick layer of moisture soaking into their spongy layers but I was not. Ireland can really be a wet land. In the city all the moisture just follows gravity down the streets and into the drains or canals but outside of it, the wetlands flourish.

When I was growing up the wetlands never seemed like exotic ecosystems. Who would want to visit to a marsh, a bog or a swamp when there were oceans, forests and mountains to explore? This was probably the reason a friend and I chose them as one of our high school biology projects one year – they were the unexpected place, the useless ground, the visually abhorrent in our part of the world. As I learned about how wetlands purify our water, ward off flooding and provide habitat for so much life, my opinion began to change. I began to explore areas saturated in water as if they were the hosts of some of the most intricate and delicate forms of life, vital to our world.

Over Christmas while visiting my family in Canada, I was able to travel through parts of Oregon and Washington. On our way home we stopped at the Mount St. Helen’s Visitor Centre. The top is blown off the volcanic mountain from its eruption in 1980. My parents remember the moment their tent walls sucked in and an the explosion filled the air from where they were staying near Vancouver, 400km away. This winter it sat as a silent white novelty to the landscape, framed by the trees and the glassy ice surfaces of the wetlands. My attention was drawn to the plants softly floating beneath the layers of intricately designed ice. This was the area where people thrived before modern conveniences allowed us to choose a home with the best view. Life came from these waters. Safety came from these waters. Sustainability came from these waters. The mountain peak wasn’t the place to go if you wanted to thrive.

I don’t know about you, but I find it really easy to see the very few people who fit on top of the mountain peek of success and hear the message we’ve convinced ourselves of: this could be you if only you … (worked hard enough, didn’t eat, didn’t sleep, prayed to all gods at once, prayed to no god at all). But then I look around me at the real heroes I admire. They move about their days with a passionate focus of giving someone a lift who doesn’t have a car, making lunch for people who others don’t think are important, cultivating the plot of land that belongs to them and making preserves from the fruit of their labour. They live in the wetlands, the places teaming with life, seemingly a little less adventurous and yet sustainable for far more people than the mountain top.

For as much as we all long for the beach, the forest and the mountain top, if only for just a holiday, perhaps it is time to intentionally make our home in the wetlands.

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walk around like the good work of art you are

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Imagine a world where art took in a breath and came to life. Imagine it walking through the streets stirring up questions about existence, about purpose, about possibilities. It would congregate where shadows gather, lighting up dark allies that strike fear.

Fear begins to pitch its tent in the streets around me. It sells its fortune-telling trinkets from stalls glittering in dark omens on every street corner, computer and smart phone. Fight, flight or freeze – natural responses, normal responses, survival responses.

But I want to respond differently. I don’t want to be afraid. It muddies the waters and stifles out life. It steals away joy and cauterizes contentment. I want to be beauty. I want to be art. I want to speak to these streets and shout, “It doesn’t have to be this way!”

In the beginning God created a sculpture from the earth, a work of art intended to live. I don’t particularly care about the techniques he used or how long it took him. The result was beautiful. And then he breathed into it. And it lived, perfectly, for a while until diluting the breath of God with toxic pride.

Fear came. Death came. Hatred came.

That is what we were made to be. Living works of art with the breath of God in us. We still can be, but it’s a little harder than before. We have to seek out his life in us. We have to pull down the bricks we’ve built around our hearts to keep us safe and let love in. Love will change us. It will pull back our shoulders and set our spines straight. It will clear our muddied thoughts and replace them with wisdom. It will seek and destroy lesions of bitterness that are slowly killing us.

We have a choice, this choice: stand at the stalls of fear, hide in self-preservation or light up the darkness. We cannot do more than one. Want to go on a walk with me?

I want to add to the beauty to tell a better story. I want to shine with the light that’s burning up inside. And this is grace, an invitation to be beautiful. ~ Sara Groves

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why the ferris wheel might not be such a bad idea after all

IMG_5580Pastel coloured gazebos decorated the spokes of the giant wheel, as if it was a prize for making it through the sensory overload of games at the fair. “Let’s go on the Ferris Wheel,” I suggested to my adventure companions. “But Liesel,” they started, “you’re afraid of heights.” Mmmm, but I won’t remember I’m afraid of heights until I am on my way up. When we finally stepped onto it, the first symptoms came: increased heart rate, dizziness, short breaths. It wasn’t until we stopped a quarter of the way up that I clutched the post with my eyes shut, “this … was a very … bad … idea.”

Ten years ago today I was boarding a plane with a life’s worth of belongings and a plan to live in Ireland for a minimum of a four year term. As the plane took off from Vancouver airport I had the same gut reaction as I did two weeks ago on the Ferris Wheel. This … was a very … bad … idea. A commitment of four years to anything at that time seemed like a life sentence, never mind to be living it by faith. By faith, that God would work miracles in impossible situations. By faith, that he would provide for all my needs. By faith, that I wouldn’t turn into a permanent prune because of the cold and damp. With every hour that brought me closer to Dublin I fluctuated between feeling the thrill of freewheeling through the air in an indescribable leap towards whispered promises, and opening my eyes to see just how far from the ground I really was as the adventure appeared more of a teetering excuse for a safe pod up in the sky, nothing but a flimsy chain separating me from a gigantic fall to earth.

That feeling has never seemed to be terribly far away on any given day. I often find myself closing my eyes and grabbing onto the only thing that seems to be truly stable and explaining all the reasons why living life by faith is a very bad idea. In some magical and mysterious way, God just stays there while I rant at him, sometimes morning, noon and night, about how I just don’t have it in me to live hope where the only thing visible is hopelessness. When I am done reminding him (fairly loudly and firmly) about who he is and the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness …. that he has on offer to not just me but to everyone around me, he calms my soul and gives me courage to see the world from a different perspective. Up there, from a bird’s eye view, I peel open my eyes and breathe in measured breaths. The world looks different when we see it from above. He is safe. His view is more than I could have imagined. Hope stirs every time, without fail – 100% track record. It fills my words and directs my actions.

With feet back on the ground again there is an overwhelming feeling of “I did it! I survived it!” Every single year when I look back I can’t believe that “I did it! I survived it!” … by faith.

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pull down gently to release the flow of oxygen

airplaneA yellow mask springs down from the clear tube attached to the hand of a flight attendant. “Pull down gently to release the flow of oxygen. Place the mask firmly around your nose and mouth before pulling on the elastics to tighten. Be sure to put on your mask before assisting others.” He exaggerates a tugging motion like a Broadway cat pawing his whiskers.

If you have spent any amount of time flying you will have it drilled into you that you won’t be any good to anyone else if you run out of oxygen while helping the person who has less strength and ability than you. Thinking slows down and motor functions become sloppy until there is just not enough strength to help others, or survive.

I had barely landed back in Dublin before I was being told off by friends about the schedule I was jumping into this week. “What can God do with a dead Christian? What good is a dead Christian to him?” I was asked. My sleep deprived self couldn’t quite vocalize the response that immediately came to mind, “What good is an alive one?” It’s rare that someone who doesn’t 100% (80% minimum) believe in God would ask that question as if it really matters. Apparently, it did to him and I was curious to know why. Unfortunately, you can’t get answers to questions that you don’t ask out loud. I’m pretty sure that I smiled and laughed anyway. Who really says things so straight like that?

In this life, love is our oxygen. Food and shelter, we can exist on only those but we cannot fully live. Not this love – that cloudy word that has been reserved for parents and their children, or two people with hearts in their eyes. Not this love – that all-inclusive abstract thought, so slippery and fleeting just as you reach for it. But this love – that tangible expression of kindness when we haven’t deserved kindness, patience when we haven’t deserved patience, acceptance when we haven’t deserved acceptance. It’s that wholehearted embrace that comes after a truth filled explosion of all that is good and bad. No, we cannot live without this love.

Do you feel the love being sucked out of you as the pressure in your life changes? Are you the strong one and yet think that you can help others without putting on your mask first? What good is a corpse? Find love. If left alone in nothing but your thoughts and silence, cry out, “Love! Love me!” Search for that perfect love that takes fear and destroys it. Pull down gently from the heartbeat of heaven, cover your nose and mouth, tighten and breathe deeply. Then, assist the person next to you.