Live with Precision

Melissa beamed as she told me about the children recently sponsored through Compassion Canada. She works for Compassion, an organization that connections people and the church around the world to end poverty in the life of a child, in Jesus’ name.

Although Melissa’s job is to connect sponsors to children living in poverty across the globe, she recognizes the spiritual poverty of anyone who feels they are inferior or insufficient – or who believes what they have is inferior or insufficient. Poverty doesn’t mean to lack money, it means to lack Jesus.

For Melissa, releasing people from poverty, the mission of Compassion, brings freedom to the sponsor and the child receiving sponsorship. It’s not about a money exchange – it’s about the heart transformation that is made possible through relationship. But it’s not the sponsorship relationship that is truly transformative – it’s relationship rooted in God’s love that can truly root out poverty – from both hearts.

Growing in relationship with God is hard to measure. How do we know if we are changing? How do we truly let the love of God change and transform us? With practice.

My piano teacher used to say practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect. My hours at the piano were actually quite futile if I didn’t implement effective techniques. There was no growth and no change.

We can’t be perfect, but we can be precise. Our efforts are maximized when we live with precision. This is true for all of life – but especially our love. What does it mean to practice love with precision? Everyday we are giving away our affections to something. To love with precision means to love God first and to put His love into daily practice.

Before leaving our conversation, Melissa’s eyes glistened with tears as she recounted stories of hopeless mama’s finding purpose for their lives and provision for their little ones through Compassion. In that moment, it was so clear to me that it is people like her, who practice precise love and experience genuine growth transformation – who are wealthiest of all.

A quote by Katie Davis: “I have learned that I will not change the world, Jesus will do that. I can, however, change the world for one person. So I keep stopping and loving one person at a time.” – Katie Davis

Medicated: This I Know

I could hear my sister humming upstairs as I lay with migraine pain in her basement. “Jesus loves me this I know”… She sang the sweet tones to her little girl. My mamma used to sing those words to me before bed. “They are weak, but He is strong.” Boy, was I feeling weak in that basement with unrelenting pain… 

I recently sat with a friend who had received an unwanted diagnosis: clinical depression. She looked at me through glassy eyes and could barely say the words, “You probably think less of me… I know Christians aren’t supposed to struggle with these things…” She hadn’t been able to tell anyone, and she felt she had failed at being an “overcoming Christian” by starting on medication… 

I looked as deep into her eyes as she would allow, and declared the bravery of her choice to seek help and start on medication. I told her I believe there is no shame in having mental health issues – and accessing the supports available to you is wise – God brings help in innumerable ways.  

I don’t have answers about mental health and I am certainly not a mental health professional. But I have seen the difficulty of the fight all around – and have hated the shame associated with it.

This I know: The shame and stigma attached to mental health issues has not been authored by Jesus.

This I know: You are not wrong or bad if you are struggling.

God says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness.”  

… And as I laid in the basement listening to my sister’s gentle hum,  the truth of it washed over me again just as it did decades ago… Jesus loves me this I know …. They are weak, but He is strong. God never asked us to be strong, He said he would share his strength with us, in our weaknesses. And his grace is enough. This I know. This I know. This I know.

For Her Sake

In September of 2017, I was on a prayer team at an event for Indigenous youth called Project Hope, SK aimed to combat teen suicide in Saskatchwan. At the end of one evening, youth were invited to the front of the room for prayer. In a room of four hundred, almost every seat was emptied as teens stood to receive Hope.

Our prayer team was greatly outnumbered so we prayed in groups. One beautiful girl with stunning, deep brown eyes didn’t want to leave after our prayer ended. I began to move to the next group, but the girl stayed by my side. She said she didn’t want to go home and slowly told me about darkness she lives in. My heart broke but I knew the new Gospel Hope in hers could shatter any looming darkness. I will never forget Her.

I want to continue to grow into the woman God has destined me to be, so I have eyes to see Her. Recently, a co-worker questioned me on an issue of character. He went on to assure me that he was not questioning my competency or capacity, (as though that should be assuring). However, I would rather have been questioned on my skills, abilities or competencies than my character. Character is everything.

“If you lose your wealth, you have lost nothing, if you lose your health, you have lost something, But if you lose your character, you have lost everything.” – Woodrow Wilson

The stakes are high when character is in question.

If I lose character – I have nothing real to offer Her.

And She is exquisite.

If my character is stunted, it’s her who pays. Every “Her” – and every person who God has destined for me to influence in positive ways.

Character isn’t grown by big grandiose changes or mighty declarations. Character is grown slow over time in the small and unseen – and through consistent connection with Christ.

“My daughters, what are these drops of oil in our lamps? They are the small things of daily life: faithfulness, punctuality, small words of kindness, a thought for others, our way of being silent, of looking, of speaking, and of acting. These are the true drops of love… Be faithful in small things, because it is in them that your strength lies.” – Mother Teresa

When I’m tempted to disregard God’s voice, even in the small things, lately I find myself asking, What about her? Being joyfully obedient in the small details of each day is what builds a character capable of great love in the world. When life becomes a love-song for God alone – not for the approval or affirmation of any person – character grows and my world is transformed … and I become empowered by God to touch Her world too.

So whether it’s returning a grocery cart, waking early, apologizing sincerely, forgiving quickly, giving financially, or being diligent in the details of my work – character is grown in the small daily choices made in response to God’s leading. I will never arrive at perfection, and that is simply not the goal. I can, however, make it my highest aim to be growing in character and trust God to lead all areas of my life as I keep the first thing, the first thing.

Because building character is for our sake, God’s sake, and Her sake too.

Love Listens

On multicultural day in the high school we listened to a young woman recount the experience of feeling like a misfit all through her teen years. She now advocates for youth across North America through spoken word performances. Overcomer.

One man told his story growing up in a prominent African home. His father was a doctor and mother, a lawyer. In a matter of weeks his family was rejected and ejected from the country and refugee camps became his new reality. He is now a Canadian University student studying to pursue his dreams in Canada. Conqueror.

A university professor told of his journey to freedom and the countless friends he lost along the way. His narrative was heartbreaking and inspiring all at once. Warrior.

The math class sat quiet and thankful the next morning as we recounted how these stories had changed us.

“Life doesn’t do anything to you. It only reveals your spirit.” – John Maxwell

Life experiences don’t shape us. The way we think about life experiences is what changes us. We get to choose our thoughts and the stories we listen to, the stories we value. We are made to love God and love people – and we do it powerfully by listening to those around us … empathy expands and preconceived notions shrink. Every story is a change agent, and love means listening. People are wildly valuable. Easter is coming and the cross proves it.

Marching in Haiti

“You are not merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.” – Woodrow Wilson

It’s funny how quickly an incredible job and unparalleled opportunity can be taken for granted.

How often do I “impoverish myself”?

Impoverished … Poverty.

Many people think of third world countries as “impoverished”.

I remember Haiti after the earthquake… I remember the image that has stayed with me ..

Hundreds of Haitian children wearing bright blue uniforms marching around the school field … Children in the community chosen to be sponsored to go to school. They marched with confidence, they had been chosen. They marched with purpose; they got to “learn”. They marched with pride; they made the cut. Unfortunately, many others were not as fortunate. Those less fortunate knew the value of being in “the group”. They too wanted to walk with confidence, purpose and pride.   As young as they were, they knew the ones with the bright blue uniforms had “the edge”.

Marching off to the side was a little boy in tattered clothes. He did not get sponsored. He was looking from the outside in, at the children with the “slight edge” in life. He was trying to get the right footing, trying to join in. He must have wondered what it would be like to have the edge, however slight.

Poverty is not always about finances.

“True poverty is an acceptance of meager possibility. It is a lack of courage and personal vision – it is being governed by the belief that you don’t have enough.” – Graham Cooke

This week, our math class rolled back to school a little sluggish. Most of us weren’t feeling the wonder of opportunity, the priviledges of Canada, learning opportunities or community. Most of us were feeling tired and disengaged.

Our feelings dictate our actions and behaviors – they matter – and we can change them!

I asked my students whether they would rather be strong physically or mentally. At first, several of them said they would prefer to be physically buff – imagining a ripped physique and intimidating muscles the world would envy. After some discussion, we surmised mental strength will propel a person further in the world and produce happiness that physical strength alone can’t generate.

So we pulled out our gratitude journals and we wrote. And we wrote. And we wrote. And the room changed and the list-toppers were shared and we felt like the high-knee marchers from Haiti. Confident, Purpose and Pride – Aliveness.

Sometimes I have felt like the boy marching on the outside of the fence – I haven’t known where to put my feet, or what decisions to make. It’s not easy to take steps when you don’t know the outcomes. However, Paul says in 1st Corinthians the best life is experienced when we Live by faith and not by sight –and we take the small steps of faith – like practicing gratitude – when we can’t instantly see the benefits or consequences of our decisions.

Life is generally not about taking leaps and bounds, but about the moments you edge forward slightly, because of a series of small decisions that lead to growth.

It’s in the small steps that strength is built, the mind is renewed, and the heart feels full. It’s out of these moments that motivation comes to engage at work, to notice blessings and to be the blessing.

Motivation comes to pick up a small blue sponsor card with a picture of a little boy in tattered clothes from Haiti standing outside a fenced area…

Maybe I needed to see his marching so I could avoid living impoverished.

Maybe His poverty and my poverty can be expelled together.

Maybe his marching tall outside the fence taught me to march tall in my life.

Maybe, just maybe, if we both continue to march tall and take slight edge steps – we really can live with the words of Woodrow Wilson: You are not merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope.

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Christmas Capacity

Who classifies as “high capacity”?

I recently sat with a dynamic group of leaders to ponder this question… and the question has filled my Christmas season.

In the math classroom I scrawl the word “capacity” on the board (in my finest slanted script) with the definition: The amount that something can hold. 

In my workplaces, a high capacity person is effective and efficient. My math definition reminds that capacity is not about what is produced by a life, but what is held.

In a sermon on compassion, Pastor Craig Groeschel discloses the results of one study that says people care 40% less about other people than in the 1980’s. This should be more alarming, but as I listen, I recognize the truth of it. This week, I’ve read articles about global and local poverty and atrocities – and then returned to my life rather untouched. I recognized Craig’s societal diagnosis in my own heart.

Compassion is the ability to understand the emotional state of another person or oneself. Groeschel gives three major reasons for North America’s societal compassion leak.

  1. We are more obsessed with ourselves

Who knew selfie was not a recognized word in 2000.

  1. Overwhelming exposure to pain desensitizes us.

We are bombarded with information, news, articles and stories of suffering. It becomes commonplace.

  1. A lack of personal interaction makes it easier not to care

We read about someone’s job loss on facebook, and the lack of human connection makes it hard for genuine concern to happen.

Every life has capacity. We can hold competencies, skills, titles, characteristics and abilities – But our capacity can only hold so much.

So what are the best things to make sure we are holding?

What you hold depends on what you behold.

Behold Christ and create capacity for compassion.

Behold stress and leave no space for grace.

Behold self and squeeze the joy of generosity to the outer corner of your life.

Christ has limitless capacity for compassion. In the midst of carrying out the ministry that would recreate the world – Jesus, Most High God, was motivated to heal a man from leprosy because he was moved with compassion.

What can we assume about the biology of the baby-born Christ?

In his humanity, Jesus too only had so much capacity, and He chose the best things to hold.

He protected his brain-built ability to understand the feelings of another.

He did not behold self.

He did not become desensitized to suffering around him.

He chose to interact personally.

The original Greek word for compassion is splagchnizomai meaning, to “Have the bowels yearn.” (How is that for a word picture to describe an inner ache?) 

Jesus did not avoid feeling the inner ache of suffering.

His real compassion solicits action.

Anne Voskamp writes,

“There are so many of us sucking down lattes and dying of thirst, dying for something more, for something abundant … The way to slowly die is to believe you live in a space of scarcity and not abundance of generosity.”

Yes, What you hold depends on what you behold.

A Jesus-fixed gaze generates space for grace. It’s hard to experience any abundance if you believe you are lacking something yourself.

Your Christmas capacity is not the amount you can hold, but the extend to which you behold the abundance of Christ, first, for you.

The Christ-fixed gaze grows a Christmas capacity of abundant compassion.

That stable seed sprouts into world-shaking inner wealth – a freedom deep and available to all.

The cross is enough. Behold Christ, and feel your Christmas capacity for joy, generosity and soul satisfaction swell.

What will your Christmas capacity hold?

The Last Word

“A young 12 yr old tried to commit suicide tonight .. en route to hospital right now.” A text message I received November 13th, 2017.

My friend Janice is the Principal at Ahtahkakoop Christian Academy. We became friends last spring when I visited the school she runs on Ahtahkakoop First Nation Reserve.

There was stark contrast between her excited expression as she spoke proudly of her school and students and the difficult aspects of hopelessness she described.

The suicide crisis is ugly and the Christian Academy is facing it head on with mighty big Hope for kids and families feeling lost.

Schools have the power to transform society as they shape the hearts and minds of an entire generation.

“If we want meaningful change, we have to make a connection to the heart before we can make a connection to the mind.” – George Couros

Meaningful change is happening for students at the school. Relationships are being built. Quality education is being taught. The food program is meeting practical needs. The Hope of Jesus is being felt – and is transforming lives.

However, the challenges are real.

“Sorry sis … the ambulance is calling, can’t talk now.” – Janice Nov 2, 2017 4:04pm

I am a high school teacher. I teach in a public high school and I am grateful for the outstanding and unique learning opportunities, tools and supports made available to Canadian students in my classroom. There are many practical needs that would enhance the ways students can be empowered at Ahtahkakoop Christian Academy such as: A school playground, food program supplies, support staff, a new bus, building needs, and educational tools and supplies.

Janice recently wrote to me, “I need prayers today … lots to do … I know Jesus is with me.” – Janice

Yes, she needs prayers. Yes there is much to do. BUT Jesus is with her and this changes everything. Hope is here. Hope gets the last word. The suicide crisis is NOT the end of the story for youth in this province. Hope gets the last word – Always. Because over 2000 years ago He rose from an unlikely Stable … the King of the universe rose up, for us.

Powerful leaders, advocates, athletes and world-changers are rising up from unlikely places at Ahtahakakoop Christian Academy too – and across this province.

I play with a band called Rise. We are a musician/songwriter collective that loves Jesus and aims to instill God’s hope. We recently recorded a Christian song called Hope Will Reign. Songwriter Vanessa Samuel scripted the lyrics, “In that stable, lost are found … Hope is here, here to stay.”

The song, Hope Will Reign can be purchased today at https://riseyxe.bandcamp.com/track/hope-will-reign.

All proceeds will go to Ahtahkakoop Christian Academy so that Hope can continue to reign in bigger ways through the school.

Hope is the belief that things can change.

The crisis is real, but it’s being beaten one heart at a time. Thank you for considering being part of this change!

Sisterhood Soul Roots

She stopped me suddenly and clenched my sweaty hands in her strong ones. I’ve come to appreciate the clasp of aged hands; they mean wisdom is being lavished.

Her crystal eyes penetrated with concern. She said, “You are going to burn yourself out if you don’t slow down. I know how it is—you are new and you want to prove you can do it all. Don’t do it! I’ve been there, I’ve experienced it and I don’t want it to happen to you…”

The day before, I sent a quick text asking a friend for help setting up a party. She graciously and wisely said no, and gave a suggestion for another avenue I could take. She knows the voice of Jesus and her highest aim is to walk in obedience to Him. She listens and moves in rhythms of grace and believes Jesus when He says:

“Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me–watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” – MSG

She lives a grace dance with her soul roots stretched in grace ground.

Too often, I have kept moving because I thought I needed to … but I am learning that my utmost need is to be found at the feet of Jesus. Bowed low in surrender, listening, clearing clutter to get close to His heart.

Later that same day, a coffee shop table held cups of conversation –my friend Genny oozed new passion for wholeness and health. Her eyes dazzled as she explained surprises Jesus keeps leaving on her path, like a little girl on a treasure hunt, she described finding shimmering gifts and the joy of abiding.

Prayer before saying “yes”.
Knowing the wise “no”.
Risk-taking boldness.
Accessing The Holy Spirit for strength.

I want to know when to say no.
I want hands hard at work in response to God’s leading and timing.
There is rest here.
There is space to move and breathe and be sustained by Father God.

On October 29th, Sisterhoodyxe presents Restore My Soul, an event where God’s rest and His commission to care can beat together. After all, the world is transformed one heart at a time.

You are invited to participate as we expand, with many hands, the Kingdom of God in our city. Come with expectancy and tampons. (Yes, you read that correctly!) In fact, bring any of the following: tampons, pads, bars of soap, deodorant, small hand sanitizer, package of plain underwear, make-up remover wipes or a $5 Tim Horton’s or McDonalds card. Before the event, we will prepare individual, woman-to-woman, packages for girls in need in our community. These will be distributed through EGADZ Youth Center as a tangible expression of God’s love.

So come, those who are thirsty, and settle your soul roots in grounded grace and let love grow.

 

Plant Hope

“Justice is what love looks like in public.”

Maggie John is the Senior Executive Producer and host of 100 Huntley Street. She is a respected public figure, a deep God-lover, and a bold groundbreaker! Maggie was recently in Saskatchewan hosting interviews for Huntley’s segments called, Canada’s First People. We talked about God’s heart for all people to have equal opportunity.

Maggie told me when she began working at Huntley, an influx of applications came in of Black Canadian women.

Courage is contagious and many were inspired by Maggie’s presence and position.

God’s heart is the most expansive place of belonging. There is room for all and all are valued. Thank you Maggie, for treading unknown roads, coming to plant hope in Saskatchewan hearts, and leading a nation to truth through your work at Crossroads.

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Pass the Pen

On a Monday I sat at a banquet celebrating literacy in Saskatoon. The festivities included dancing, performances, local artists, and keynote speaker, Bill Waiser. On the cover of Bill’s fascinating historical account, A World We Have Lost: Saskatchewan Before 1905, there is a photo of a Bison looking out at the vast Canadian plain. During his keynote address, Waiser explained that the perspective of the Bison is reflective of his publication. He wanted to tell the story of Saskatchewan’s history from the perspective of Canada’s First People. He wanted to give voice to their stories.

Throughout the evening, stories of Aboriginal people were told in a variety of ways. Lights flickered elegantly while people laughed and experienced captivating dance and music that told stories of the past and of today. The commemoration was spectacular and great progress is being made as stories are told. However, there is still much rebuilding to do.

Literacy is defined as: The ability to read and write.

Voltaire said, “Writing is the painting of the voice.”  

Malala Yousafzai wrote, “So let us wage a glorious struggle against illiteracy, poverty and terrorism, let us pick up our books and our pens, they are the most powerful weapons.”

When someone’s story is silenced – they become disenfranchised. Marginalized. Isolated.

People are empowered when they have a place to tell their story – from their perspective. Dignity is restored. Unearthed pride buds. Future hope is charted.

Earlier, on that same banquet Monday, literacy and Canadian Aboriginal peoples were the subject discussion of our English classroom. The voice of Documentary Producer Hannah James filled the room as we learned together. Like Bill Waiser, James tells the stories of Canadian First Nations people on Global News 16X9. The TV segment explores the reality that many families in First Nations communities face the challenging choice to send their kids away to school or keep them at home without an education.

The storytelling film says, “We see an Ontario district where the literacy rate is as low as 21%. This statistic is among the lowest literacy rates in the world” … Our classroom is shocked. Then, through the screen, we meet Shannen. She was a girl from Attawapiskat First Nation on James Bay. She attended school in portables that were cold and mice-infested. She courageously and boldly gave voice to her education story – reaching out to whoever would listen. She said, “It’s hard to feel pride when your classrooms are cold and mice run around … Those younger students are still thinking that those portables are real schools.” Shannen passed away in a car accident at 16 years old, while travelling a long journey to school. Her legacy and story lives on and continues to influence and sanction other young people to tell their stories.

On a Wednesday, I attended a the film Release at Saskatoon’s Broadway theatre called She Has a Name. The movie, written by Andrew Kooman is about the trafficking of children in sexual slavery and tells the true story of 54 women who were left to die in the back of a broken down semi-trailer on the side of a Ranong road in Thailand. After the film, a justice-fighting-friend Cassie Van Camp, along with other members of Saskatoon’s Hope Restored Canada told the stories of sex trafficking in Canada … in Saskatoon. Through stories, the voices of abused men and women were given room and space … and knowledge became the responsibility of all present.

Yes, literacy is power.

Story-telling is strength.

And knowledge is responsibility.

When we hear someone’s story, we are responsible to act in ways that give honor and dignity where it has been taken.

Bill’s publication. Hannah’s documentary. Shannen’s appeal. Kooman’s flim. These are earth-shaking forces that bring change and healing – and each unique perspective spreads through words. Literacy. May we be people who actively pass the pen so untold stories can be scripted. By doing this, we ascribe worth to all humanity.

“And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly…” – Micah 6:8