fruit of the spirit – not just child’s play

“I guess you could say that I’m like a tree, growing up from the ground. I pray that the Lord would water me so everyone around could look and see the fruit I bear and then enjoy the fruit I share. All my life I want to be like Galatians 5:22 and 23!” ~ The Fruit of the Spirit, Upward

Dancing bananas, apples, oranges, grapes and pineapple labeled with name tags use their jazz hands – a colourful mix-up of fruit that never go off and will always stay happy forever. It is hard to read Galatians 5 without imagining cartoon fruit skipping around the pages in their own little musical performance. When analyzed a little closer, their story is much more happily-ever-after than Noah’s Ark or Jonah and the Whale. We hang laminated fruit by pieces of yarn around children’s necks as they display the spiritual fruit named on it that day. “Well done for being so patient,” we might say. “If I want to win the prize, I need to try harder,” they might conclude.

A game of Upset the Fruit Basket begins as different fruit of the Spirit compete for space in our lives. Only one ever seems to end up “it” while the others remain seated. The only thing supernatural about this fruit is relegated to animations that came to life with songs that make a young child request them over, and over, and over … and over again. They become child’s play – nothing but an unrealistic expectation we enjoyed as entertainment when we were young.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. ~ Galatians 5:22-23

Not our efforts or hard work. Not our self-discipline or yearly goals. Not our natural ability. By God’s Spirit living in us. A mystery that is a little too complicated for me. So, I remember the song we taught children (while I was dressed up as a singing, dancing tree) … “I guess you could say that I’m like a tree, growing up from the ground. I pray that the Lord would water me so everyone around could look and see the fruit I bear and then enjoy the fruit I share. All my life I want to be like Galatians 5:22-23.”

I am growing. I am praying. The Lord is watering. I am bearing. People are enjoying. Simple truths. So simple we can teach a child and so simple we think it is dumbing down something that is actually quite complicated. But that is how God works. We pray. He changes things. There is fruit. It’s his fruit – all of it, none are sitting down. And against these, things there is no law! Imagine …

fruit of the spirit

Before Christmas many people generously sponsored sewing machines for the courses I am teaching. Each one is now named after a fruit of the Spirit,  in Irish … I had to ask a friend to help with that! I am praying that as the Lord “waters me” each person will experience the fruit their machine is named after and know that there is a God. (There are only 8 machines so I used the first 8 included in the fruit of the Spirit)

the influence of the five

reflectionTamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, Mary – the five.

These five women included in the long list of men in Jesus’ lineage are a source of curiosity and wonder. Curiosity, because somehow their lives were worth mentioning. Wonder, because their stories are far from sanitized. Francine Rivers named her collective interpretation of their stories so well when she titled it A Lineage of Grace. For women who live under coverings of shame, their stories are freeing.

One took justice (unconventionally) into her own hands, one was a sex worker, one left her family and turned her back on her religion, one married her husband’s murderer, one mysteriously conceived, two were foreigners, three got pregnant outside of marriage, three were married more than once … and a whole load of other things!

I love that Francine Rivers doesn’t make their stories sound pretty. They are raw. They aren’t the things of pink and frilly dresses with rainbows and ponies. Their stories challenge women who have hidden under calluses of preservation to peal back the layers, giving God permission to really see them. It is in that moment that God lets his love fall and buys back every part of their story and makes them his. There is a sense of awe and a bit of fear.

The stories speak for themselves – God doesn’t care where you came from, what you look like, what trauma you have faced or what choices you have made. At the same time, he does care. He cares a lot! Because his grace doesn’t erase everything that led to this exact moment. His grace infuses our past, present and future with purpose.

For women that I have the incredible honour of walking beside, I deliver the stories of the five as gifts of hope and courage for greater things. One response was:

“If God can do so much through them, what does he expect me to be able to do?”

That is the influence of the five.

qualities of a great church board member

2014-11-11 10.33.48-2Nope. This is not a joke. Call it a board, elders, vestry … whatever you will – they all sound just as formal and terrifying. We call ours Nehemiah even though it is technically called “the vestry”, which just makes me want to shy away because of the sound of it. Basically, these are people who are designated as decision makers for some pretty big things around the church. Each group has a unique function depending on the church it is for. Nehemiah is all about the building, furnishings and finance. We have a nice holy number of us – 12 members. Yikes! But the great thing is that they are pretty incredible people so I want to take a moment to give credit where credit is due and let the world know what makes them so great.

1. They don’t take themselves too seriously. When you are dealing with heavy topics and differences of opinion in the group this is beyond helpful! Somehow we manage to keep our eyes on the real issues without digging into pits of personal misery. There is even a bit of laughter now and again.

2. They know what they are there for. There is nothing like a group of people trying to discuss things that are really not theirs to discuss. Vision – that doesn’t belong to us. HR – that doesn’t belong to us. But we are responsible to make decisions about the building and finances in such a way that will enable a 5 year vision to become reality.

3. They get things done. From painting a new balcony railing to calling up the bank to getting quotes. This group gets things done rather than thinking they should just sit around making decisions while other people do the grunt work. They tackle issues that require creative problem-solving and then find the best resources to make it happen.

4. They love God and they love the church. Arguably, more than their own agendas. The people who come to church matter. The people in the community around the church matter. God matters. They don’t play theologians or philosophers with split identities between the ideal Christian church and the one that they are standing in. Faith is real to them and they are committed to letting God do what he likes in them, including break their hearts for the city.

Let’s leave it at four great qualities. I think they are pretty sound. Why am I writing all of this? It’s because they nominated me as their Chairperson and I was shaking in my boots. But it’s not so bad when you have a great team.

learning to breathe

Check your ABCs – they are the most important functions of life. That’s what we are taught in first aid anyway. Check the airway and open it up. Check for breathing. Then check for circulation. Everything else comes under these things. Breathing is the first sign of life.

Several years ago my cousin and I went to Egypt to visit her brother (also my cousin). He was working on a live aboard dive boat in the Red Sea. The only way that we could see him was to also go on the boat for a week. I am not a scuba diver. I have to get my head in gear before jumping in a lake because of all that lives down there! For the sake of family I agreed to get PADI certified and for the sake of family pride I decided I’d have to get over my fears fast and learn in record speed. What I wasn’t expecting was to walk away from the boat after 7 days and feel the most relaxed I have ever felt in my life. We dove 3-4 times a day. Most of the time I felt like a little toy scuba diver that had been dropped into the most stunning of fish tanks. What had really changed things for me though was learning to breathe. My cousin was an amazing instructor (certified)! When I was learning he watched my breathing and would use his own breathing regulation and hand gestures to help me get mine under control. His calm was incredible. By the third day I found that my air tank lasted far longer than the first day. By the final day it had just become a paced, natural rhythm. I began to breathe like that when I wasn’t underwater too. It felt like I was full of life.

There is a song that we used to sing, written by Michael W. Smith:

This is the air I breathe
This is the air I breathe
Your holy presence living in me

I hear of how people in different countries where face masks in public every day because the air quality is so poor. I think of anxious times when breathing becomes short and shallow. Our bodies weren’t made for that. They were made to breathe deeply of life-giving air.

Stop. Pay attention. Breathe in slowly – chest expanding, shoulder raising. And let it out just as slowly – shoulders lowering, lungs emptying. Repeat.

Stop. Pay attention. Breathe in slowly – invite in the truths of God (peace, love, joy, order, wisdom). And let it out just as slowly – release the blockages (hurt, anger, frustration, inadequacy). Repeat.

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my first sewing course as teacher

2014-10-04 18.10.56-1Experience sounds like: “the only reason I know what is wrong right now and how to fix it is because I have had it happen to me many times before!” Last week I really put my sewing experience to the test in our second beginner’s sewing class at my church. The main skills we were focusing on were interfacing and zippers.

There were six sewing machines set up with seven people working away. On occasion one machine would stop and there would be silence or a set of frustrated exclamations expressed from the participant using it. The Pfaff machines with top loading bobbins never had a problem (and I had to deal with slight sewing machine envy). I would go over and help troubleshoot the problem and within a minute the motor would start whirring again with the sound of a box pouch taking shape.

Every machine and every participant in the sewing class had obstacles to overcome that are common to the craft – needles breaking, thread catching, sewing wrong edges together. Each participant had unique personal obstacles as well. My job was to teach people to sew regardless of the challenges that would be presented. My weakness is that I often think I can cut corners because I have been doing this so long. When it comes to putting in zippers, cutting corners for me is not a good idea, ever! I am good friends with my stitch ripper (a.k.a. seam ripper).  Others had challenges that I will likely never have to face – ones that would stop many people from even trying.

I’ve started going to the gym … for Zumba mostly. When I stay around for a bit of time in the jacuzzi I look up and think about the words written on the wall: Excellence is not doing one thing really well. It is doing everything superbly. We don’t reach excellence because challenges don’t exist. We reach it because we are determined that challenges will not defeat or define us.

As teacher it was my job to help people overcome the obstacles they faced. It meant problem solving with them so that they wouldn’t get discouraged and give up. It meant encouraging them, letting them own their mistakes and successes, giving evidence that they could trust my instructions and creating an emotional environment that inspired risk.

When the bags were being turned right side out at the very end there were spontaneous (and loud!) squeals of genuine delight accompanied with little dances of joy. You would never know that most people had never put in a zipper before or had just begun sewing a short while ago. It wasn’t just about the sewing though. It was about the sense of community we developed while doing something we love … or are learning to love. Success.

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clear away the dead

Where we expect things to grow we must also expect to clear away the dead, the things that used to thrive but are passed their prime.

Cherry red geranium blossoms, pale green vines and small blue flowers welcomed the coming of summer on my small balcony. It was a surprise that they survived the winter with very little care. Satisfied with their inner strength to provide me with colour with very little effort on my part, I left them to get on with their blooming and their growing. Several weeks ago I stopped long enough to notice that all the colour was gone. Browning, lifeless foliage was all that was left. They had enough water so what was the problem?

I had not cleared away the dead. The blooms of spring and first leaves were rotting in the pot. Mourning the loss of my colourful flowers I had images of all the things that must have sucked the life out of them: green fly, spiders, too much rain. Finally I text my mom a picture of my pot and asked what I should do. I wasn’t expecting the suggestion I was given: clear away the dead and cut it back. The pot looked pretty bare after and I hadn’t enjoyed sticking my hands into the rot and sticky spider webs. Nothing was left but scraggly remnants of the stems that used to thrive with flowers.

Spring growth is not enough. It dies as the plant tries to live out it’s purpose – to produce new flowers.

My September plans have been growing since the spring of this new season in my life and I have found myself having to cut away last season’s growth. The roots of new hopes and dreams have begun to dig deeper but the first fruits have had their season and it’s time to clear away the dead so that dreams and plans can thrive. Thoughts are tucked away in the pages of a journal. Computer files are sorted and deleted or preserved. My schedule is re-evaluated so as to make sure time is allocated to what is most important. Even my small living/dining/spare bedroom has been adjusted to suits the needs of today rather than yesterday. Living in the successes and failures of yesterday is like mourning the flowers of spring and willing them back to life again.

This week I noticed that colour has returned to my balcony again. There is new growth coming from the healthy stalks and roots. Clear away the dead. Cut it back. Make room for new growth.

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how the sewing machine made its home in the closet

Sewing machines are for sale in Lidl this week! Just one look at them and there are dreams of making home items to rival Cath Kidston’s, fashion items worthy of the runway or cozy quilts to proudly display. No one thinks: buttons, hems, alterations. In the contemplative stage of sewing it is a novel idea – the projects that will make the purchase all worth while. The shiny new toy is unwrapped at home. It’s smooth surfaces and pristine metal pieces admired. A conclusion is made:

I have a sewing machine; therefore, I am a great sewer.

Sewing is an amateur hobby that creates professional results … until the first project is underway and all the pieces hanging off the machine just stop functioning the way they do in the imagination. The thread catches and the needle repeatedly breaks. That seam needs to be taken out the FOURTH TIME! Everyone keeps asking if they can get their clothes fixed. Forget it, the machine is going back in the box! A love, hate relationship with sewing springs forth – the love of the possibilities and the hate of what the reality is. The machine gathers dust in the closet.

There is usually one reason that people give when telling others about why they gave up sewing: lack of patience.

Sewing classes have been the topic of many of my conversations over the last few days. For the first time ever, I will be teaching a class.

My parents have pictorial evidence of me sitting at the machine and stitching a couple of pieces of fabric together when I was about 7. Over the following few years I tried making simple Barbie skirts for my dolls. When I was 11 I finally took a 4H sewing course with others. During that year a couple of things happened: 1) I learned a lot of technical sewing skills. 2) I decided sewing wasn’t for me. I don’t think that I touched the machine again or even thought about using one for about 5-6 years. In grade 10 I signed up for a fashion arts class in school. There was some technical knowledge to learn about fabric and trends but mostly we just turned on the radio and worked on whatever pattern and fabric we decided on.. Soon I began to adapt patterns to become my own designs. My mom taught me more about actual patterns, fabric and sewing technique that year. I switched to a foods class for grade 11-12 but didn’t stop sewing. In grade 12 I took on the role of costume designer for our school play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. That was the year I fell in love with sewing.

Sewing became a hobby and when I was attending my second year of college I began to work at a large fabric store. Every type of person worked there: someone from a high stress business environment who came to “just cut fabric” for a year; someone who had worked at Cowboys for seven years before quitting one night after someone asked if she would … I’ll leave that story; (East) Indian women from really happy arranged marriages; a Romanian with amazing embroidery skills; students needing a part time job; and our boss who had made and sold swimsuits on the beach in Puerto Rico for almost 10 years.  We all had one thing in common that superseded all our differences: A love of sewing!

I still have dear and close friends from my years working there (and some are probably reading this!). We shared our skills and often worked in the departments where we would best serve customers well. I learned about making swimsuits, quilts and window coverings. I learned about matching fabrics and fabric care. I learned about fabric quality. I discovered every sewing notion under the sun. I learned why people really give up on sewing:

Unrealistic expectations – Um, I think the first paragraph describes those expectations well. Yes, patience is needed because we are not born as super sewers. Being willing to start with projects at your skill level and knowing that you have to start slow before you can go fast really helps. I still need to remember this – when I have unrealistic expectations my seam ripper becomes my best friend and most hated enemy.

Not enough knowledge about how the machine works – It is a gadget with lots of pieces that need to be in the right place at the right time to work properly. Having the thread tension off by several millimeters or threading the machine incorrectly might be all it takes to pack away the sewing machine.

No one to ask questions to – Let’s face it, there aren’t a lot of sewing clubs around and sewing courses can often be expensive. Having other people around is one of the best ways to get that one thing that’s not working to work again.

Not learning the basics – As I began to put together a sewing course focusing on the basics I realised how many things I just know because I had people looking over my shoulder correcting me: where to put my hands, how to pivot a corner, how to adjust the bobbin tension, keeping the needle up when taking the fabric out, having the right needle, make sure to have the pattern where it is supposed to be on the grain of the fabric.

A really boring sewing lesson!!! – Sewing should be fun! It is a creative outlet with technical skill. If the technical learning outweighs the creative expression it will become incredibly dull. No sewing course should ever be designed for “around the house sewing and mending” nor should it be for creating clone projects.

All of these will help people to lose patience, creating shattered dreams of textile genius. Consider the sewing machine in the closet again. Perhaps it doesn’t deserve its dust. At the very least, share it with someone who is just beginning to dream.

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