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Sunday, July 6, 2014

Are You Burned Out On Religion?

Are you tired? Worn outBurned out on religion? 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.”
Matthew 11:28-30

I think a lot of people are burned out on religion.  I know I am.  The word itself makes me cringe.  Jesus didn't like religion either.

The word religion comes from the latin word religare  which means 'to bind'.

I don't know about you but the word bind doesn't sound like what Jesus is talking about in the passage above, nor does it sound like anything He said in the Bible. Ever.

'Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly…'

Hm.  Living freely and lightly?  That sounds pretty attractive doesn't it?

Last night we held the first youth Alpha.  One of our youth, Max, took Alpha last year and gave his testimony.  He said that he learned through Alpha that a relationship with Jesus, is different from religion, it's something without pressure.

Most people here are very familiar with religion-but the idea that it's possible to have a relationship with Jesus-that's new.

Alpha offers a safe and open forum for people to ask and wrestle with the questions they don't have answers for, without judgment.  We want to introduce them to the Jesus that walked the earth 2,000 years ago, the one who wants to walk alongside them in their lives today.  Alpha is an effective way to do this. It strips away the religion that can bind us and gets back to the basics of what Jesus was about.

And it wasn't about binding us up, quite the opposite.

'Get away with me and you'll recover your life'

That sounds a little more like someone who has been set free doesn't it?

There are many things that bind our neighbours, family problems, abuse, addictions, the list goes on and on.  

They carry very heavy burdens.

Thirty-two of our young people came last night.  The tables were set with purple satin cloth, the food was colourful fresh, enticing and nutritious.  The groups ate, laughed and chatted before watching the video.

Afterwards we gathered in small groups to introduce ourselves and chat about what they thought about the video.

I have been a part of the Alpha course many, many times now and I have never experienced a time where God did not move, change and transform lives.

I'm so excited to see how He will touch the hearts of our youth who need so badly to be rid of their burdens, unbound and set free.

"I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.
Matthew 11:28-30 (MSG)

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Choose To Believe Anyway

Grief is a funny thing.  If you've ever lost someone close to you you'll know this.  Some days you feel just fine, others grief tumbles over you like heavy waterfall, the force of the waters threatening to pull you under.

Today in Canada it's Father's Day.  Although I think of my Dad every day, days like this are harder than others.

My brother Kevin-died June 2012
Before what I affectionately call the 'tsunami' of deaths in my life, I wondered how my faith would hold up if really put to the test.  Would I hold onto the truths I have learned or would I shake an angry fist at God and run for the hills? Questioning all I had come to believe?

I think this past year was a pretty good test of that.

Nephew Craig died Oct 2012
Best friend Rob died Dec 2012
Dad, died Nov 2013

I have seen grief ruin people.  The crushing weight of the pain of loss is something they just can't seem to get out from under.  I have also seen people bury it so deep in their hearts that the pain comes out in different ways, against other people, or needs to be quieted with numbing effects of drugs and alcohol.  Some turn off all feelings towards others to protect themselves from being hurt again.

The truth is we will all face loss in our lives, it's how we face it that can change our lives.

I've seen Christians turn away from God when suffering comes, feeling betrayed and hurt 'Why would a God who loves me allow this to happen?' They ask.

I can't profess to have it figured out, not even close.  I only know what I've learned through the storm in my own life.

Your faith is, was and will continue to be a choice.

This means that when you don't understand why things are happening the way they do, you choose to believe anyway.
When the gripping pain of loss comes, as it inevitably will in this life, you choose to believe anyway.
When financial strain seems to crush you, you choose to believe anyway.
When nothing makes sense and you feel alone…..choose to believe anyway.

This has been my experience.  In my darkest of days, when grief threatened to drown me, I chose to believe anyway.

What happens after you choose is where the incredible gift lies.  When grief sits on my chest pushing the tears out of my eyes, there is someone there to give that pain to, to pour it out to….and incredibly, each and every time I do this, the pain lifts, I feel light and free and full of an inexplicable peace and hope.

I know the pain of grief without faith and it's a dark place, a long road, a deep hole.  I don't want to stay there.

There is a faithful God who loves you more than you can imagine.  In your pain, He is there, with you.  He will redeem what is lost, restore what is broken, and help you to stand again.

But first you must choose to believe anyway.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Independence Day-VW Kombi Purchased!

Moving to a new country has many challenges.  Especially, when you don't know the language.  Just shopping for groceries becomes a whole new experience, never mind having a meaningful conversation with anyone.

You feel as though you've regressed to being a small child, you need someone to help you do most things, speak for you and take you where you need to go.

This process is both humbling and frustrating. I have developed a whole new appreciation for those thousands of immigrants new to Canada, struggling with all the same things.

About an hour before we had to take the only other english speaking people here at the mission to the airport for their three month furlough, something happened that would change our lives here in Brazil.

As you may remember a number of months ago I wrote about the very generous donation we received after speaking at our church.  With it, along with others we were able to purchase a 2012, gently used VW Kombi here in Marabá from a friend of the church.

We've already used it for a number of things, including picking up some very excited kids on their way home from school, moving a stove for one of our neighbours from one house to another, carrying building materials and taking a tiny baby just a few days old for a hearing test.

This past Sunday we took two loads of youth to the streets to sell car flags and T-shirts as a fundraiser for the church.  It was loud and fun and we're going to do it again next week!

This vehicle changes our lives, helps the mission and will allow us to begin to spread out and explore, help our neighbours and eventually move in to the community or to another base.

We are incredibly grateful!

Survey Trip to Sao Luis

Sao Luis (Saint Louis) is on the North East coast of Brasil. It's a large city of about one million inhabitants.

I had the opportunity to travel along with our pastor Ivanildo and a member of our church Jackiline to this city last weekend.  We travelled by train for sixteen hours on the way there and thirteen on the way back through small towns where for some, the passing train is a source of income as they sell the passengers food and cold drinks through the windows of the hot dusty train.  Some of the local dogs find it quite lucrative as well.

One of the main focuses of the mission is to spread out to new areas, to plant new churches and see more lives transformed.  Sao Luis is on our horizon as a possible new place to do this.

One of the small villages we passed through

Jackiline is from Sao Luis and as we walked the sunny and hilly streets of Sao Luis it was clear that she is well connected.  It's important to start somewhere that you already have relationships.  

Ivanildo & Jackiline
World Cup Fever
Sao Luis seems to have three faces.  The face where Jackiline and her friends and family live looks a bit like Marabá.  The other side is has tall apartment buildings, restaurants and office buildings.  As they say here in Brazil it's 'chici chici' or what we would call 'ritzy' looking. The central part of the city is the historical part with old tiled buildings and a colonial feel to it.

We stayed with a young family and their three boys, Joao Lucas, Joao Philipe and Joao Pedro, who wanted to sneak into my suitcase and come back to Marabá with us.  I would have gladly taken him, he was adorable! 
Joao Philipe, Joao Pedro & Joao Lucas

We visited with one of Jackiline's friends in her apartment above a store.  Her husband and adorable little girl were resting from the days intense heat in a hammock or rede (pronounced hedgie) swinging above the bed.  Jackiline explained to her why we were visiting Sao Luis and it was clear by her reaction, although I couldn't understand her words, that she had some strong opinions about the church.  The part of the conversation I did understand was that in the past she has felt very judged, for her clothing or her life, when at church.  She was visibly agitated.

Ivanildo & I 
Ivanildo (who thankfully speaks clearly and slowly) explained that our church, the Vineyard, isn't about religion.  It's about relationship with Jesus, and that the Bible clearly says it's not our job to judge.  He also explained the second most important commandment in the Bible aside from loving our God with everything we have, is to love others and that God doesn't care about your clothes he cares about your heart.  We believe that it's important not to get your life in order and then give your heart to the Lord, but to give Him your heart and then let him transform you.

We've been fortunate enough to see this happen many time in our own lives and in the lives of others.

There are lots of churches in Brazil, people here are no stranger to religion.  What we want to introduce to people is the very personal, very real, relationship with a living God.  A God who loves us far beyond our clothes, has the power to heal wounds so deep they physically hurt, and who has a plan for our lives bigger and better than we could imagine.

The plan is to visit Sao Luis with a team monthly, developing a small group there and possibly using Alpha has the spring board.  These are early days and first steps towards something new.  It's exciting to be a part of it!
A View of The 'chici' part of Sao Luis and the Ocean

Futebol (a.k.a soccer)

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Back in the Brazilian Saddle

After thirteen months, the loss of my Dad, surgery to remove my gallbladder, a health scare for myself and my kids we are finally back in Brazil.  It feels really, really good to be here.

Our travel down was long, as it always is, and full of emotions-like a tossed salad.  One minute our kids were so excited they looked as though they might burst and the next there were tears of grief at the thought of leaving Canada.  They are two years older than they were when we came here in 2012, and they've been through a lot, we all have.

When we landed in Maraba, I looked at Faith and she had tears in her eyes.
"Are you ok? Are those sad tears or happy tears?" I asked.
"Happy tears Mommy, we're finally back in Brazil!"

Later that evening as we were starting to unpack there was a knock at the door, four girls stood with beaming smiles at our door to welcome us back.  One had tears in her eyes as she hugged us.  She was our first friend here, she bravely came to our house for dinner when we could speak barely a word of Portuguese.

'I missed you guys so much!' she said.

Another knock at the door and this time a gaggle of boys, all a little taller and a little more like men than they were a year ago.  We chatted briefly and I listened hard, trying to reactivate the Portuguese part of my brain.

It was a wonderful welcome, considering we had been gone almost twice as long as we were here it was good to know we hadn't been forgotten, because we certainly hadn't forgotten them.

While we were in Canada, two things weighed heavily on my mind.  One, my portuguese.  I had made some great progress learning the language and I prayed that the Lord would preserve it.  I am an extrovert, so not being able to connect with people is very difficult for me. My prayers have not only been answered but it seems that somehow I can understand better than I could before and I can say more, have more confidence.  What a blessing!

The other prayer was for my daughter, Faith.  Like her mother she is a social butterfly and without people to play with she wilts.    Since we've been back she has already made a great connection with a few of the girls, lots of them remember her and have been asking for her.  She has also been able to share her gift of art with the kids and started face painting.  One of the Mom's has already asked her if she would do some face painting at her daughters birthday party in October.  Faith is so excited!

Sometimes being away from somewhere can make it difficult to settle back in, but we are grateful that is not the case here. It feels almost as though we never left, just pressed the pause button.  We are grateful for so many things, our safe return, the kids joy at being back here and excited to see what God has next for us in this new chapter.

Stay tuned!

To see a collection of photos click here

Thursday, March 6, 2014

A Very Bad Day

Yesterday was categorically bad.  A very bad day.  The walls of my house of faith shook with my shouting and my body trembled with the thoughts of what might be.

Two things caused this volcanic eruption.

1) We were told by the Brazilian Consulate that it could be 'months' before we receive our visas.  World Cup 2014 seems to be causing a backlog.  This left me stunned.  Back to life in limbo.

2) I received results from genetic testing that indicate I am positive for the genetic mutation that causes something called Left Ventricular Non-compaction Cardiomyopathy.  It's the reason my niece had a stroke when she was 21 and it's the reason we lost her brother in October of 2012. The short explanation is that the muscle of the left ventricle doesn't compact in the womb causing there to be a 'spongey' texture and the wall of the heart, where blood clots can form and/or the heart becomes dilated because the muscle cannot function at full capacity.  So far I show no signs of this.

My walls shook not because of my own health, I can handle that-and so far I have no signs of actually manifesting the disease, I just carry the gene.  The part that rattles me to the core is that it is autosomal dominant, which means there's a 50% chance of my children having the gene as well. Their little hearts, formed in my womb, may have a problem.

That's where the shouting comes from.  That's when my body trembles.

'Not my kids God, please, not my kids', is my cry.

So, Monday I will take both of them to a hospital to have blood drawn which will then be sent off for genetic testing.  The results take 8-10 weeks to come in.  More waiting.

Did I mention I'm not a very patient person?

The night before this very bad day my kids and I were reading the bible before they went to bed.  My daughter read the first passage in Genesis and then Luke brought up the story of Job.  We talked about how he was a faithful servant of God, but that God allowed Satan to test him.  He was stripped of all his family,and then his own body was ravaged with boils.  Everyone turned away from him.

Job had many, many, very bad days.

In the end, God restores all that Job had lost and then some.  He ends up living 140 years, having seen his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Throughout the bible are stories of loss and redemption, death and resurrection.

I don't know what the rest of our story is going to look like.  I only know that we have to take this one day, one minute at a time.   I am holding my babies a little closer, a little longer, and praying that they will live long and healthy lives, that this 'mutation' ends with me and doesn't carry on any further in my family line, that none of my other family members will be affected.

As for the first problem, our visas, we will wait until Friday March 7, if we haven't had an approval come through by then, we will have to cancel our flights until we have the necessary documents in hand.

This may give us time for the kids to have some preliminary testing done.

Before we knew about my results Phil and I discussed the 'what ifs'.  We decided that regardless of the outcome of the tests we feel we are supposed to carry on with our calling in Brazil.  There are cardiologists (very good ones) there and if our kids carry the gene, the protocol is that they are to be monitored once yearly.

One day, one minute at a time, we breathe and we believe that God is in control.

 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Without Him

Three weeks ago, I lay in my bed, feeling like a heavy weight was sitting on my chest.  I had only been home from the hospice a few hours and tried, unsuccessfully, to get some sleep.  But the events of the few days before kept flashing through my brain like a fast forward movie reel and I would wake with a start like I’d missed an appointment or should be somewhere else.  But the somewhere else I was feeling I should be was now an empty room being cleaned out and prepared for it’s next resident.

My Dad was gone.

Four days earlier, I had slept in much later than I normally did and had a fleeting thought that God was preparing me for something, giving me rest.  I hurried to get ready to leave to see my Dad in hospice, my kids had made a video for him and I wanted to get there before they gave him meds that would make him too groggy to watch it.

I walked into the hospice room to find my Dad awake, for which I was grateful.

‘Hi Dad!’ I said smiling.  And he turned his head to meet my gaze but in slow motion.  ‘Dad, are you ok?’ I asked.  His eyes met mine he tried to speak but it was as though his mouth had been taped shut.  His hands shook and I knew in my gut that something had changed.

I pressed the button to call the nurse and shortly after my step-mom came in the room.

‘I don’t know what’s wrong, he can’t speak’ I said.
She walked over to his bedside, and leaned in close her hand on his arm.

“Hi hunny are you ok?” she asked gently.
He looked in her eyes and tried to speak but again, nothing came out.  My eyes began to fill with tears as the realization of what was happening filled my heart.

We were losing him.

The nurse came in and we explained what had happened.  She said she would get him something for pain and to relax him.  I knew that would mean he would be asleep soon. 

The tears spilled onto my cheek and I knew that this was the day we knew was coming and had dreaded.  It doesn’t seem to matter how long you know something is going to happen, the moment it happens still hits you like it transport truck.

I went into the bathroom to get something to blow my nose and the nurse came in to get something as well.
“How long are we looking at now?” I managed to choke out.
“Hours…maybe days.  He can hear you, tell him you love him say what needs to be said and be with him.” She said.

I contacted my siblings and in laws and we began what would be a three night bedside vigil. We held his hand, we stroked his hair, we spoke to him.  We ate, we told stories and shared memories, we cried and we laughed.  I don’t remember a time in my life since I was a small child that I spent that much time with my sister and brothers.  It was a cherished and bittersweet time.

That first night the nurse and care worker on duty felt it might be that night.  One of them was one of my Dad’s favourite and her voice began to break as she told us how much our Dad had come to mean to her.  She said that whenever she came to see him, no matter what he was going through he always had a smile or a joke for her.  My Dad brightened her day enough to shine through the darkness that she had to face in the other rooms.  He would be missed by everyone at the hospice.

On Wednesday evening our brother who lives on the east coast was arriving.  For three days my Dad had been pretty much the same, mostly asleep and breathing comfortably and steadily.  So much so that the slightest change in his breathing caused all of us to hold our breath and stare at his chest.

He had two hours one evening of wakefulness, he became very alert and wanted water and soup and to kiss his wife.  Between sips of soup he puckered his lips for more kisses, like he knew they’d be their last.

On the third night my brother who lives on the east coast was flying in.  No sooner did we finish discussing his arrival than my Dad’s breathing pattern changed noticeably.  The nurse came to check his pulse and said it had weakened.  The time was drawing near.  We all drew closer to my Dad.

None of us wanted to miss a thing.  We all wanted to be there until the end and for the end..
My brother arrived and we all huddled near my Dad’s bedside.  I held his hand, kissed his cheek and whispered how much I loved him, how much I would miss him but that he could let go now.

At around 1:30am the nurse came to check him again and told us we should try to get some rest, that he could go on like this for hours.  We all hunkered down, eight bodies in various positions around the dimly lit room and tried to get some rest as the sound of my Dad’s breathing filled my ears. 

I woke several times over the next few hours pausing to differentiate my Dad’s steady breathing from everyone else’s.  At about 5:44am I woke and couldn’t hear him. My pulse quickened and I sat up trying to clear my eyes.  My brother was sitting next to the bed and saw the panic on my face and nodded, he was still breathing just very quiet and shallow.  I got up from my makeshift bed on the floor and sat in a chair next to the bed.  Putting my hand on his leg I watched his chest rise and fall.  I felt as though the time was very near but then also wondered if he would rally for a another day or so.  He had been so strong throughout his illness, not wanting to ‘leave the party’, knowing how much it would hurt us to say good-bye. 

As four of us sat touching part of him, he took one big breath and then exhaled for the last time.  We sat staring at his chest for a little while longer, waiting for it to rise again but knowing that it would not, I could see that my Dad was gone.  It was as peaceful as I could have asked for, a quiet gift after a long year of suffering.

In hushed voices we woke the others and my oldest brother placed his hand on my Dad’s chest as he recited the 23rd Psalm and I tried to join him through the tears and soft sobs that threatened to escape my throat.

His pain and suffering had finally come to an end, he was free of this bed, this room and the body that failed him.  We were now the ones that had to live with pain, a pain of losing a great man, a wonderful father.

But, if death can at all be beautiful, his most certainly was.

Shortly after my sister and I drove to get our step mom, to tell her that he was gone.  On the way back we saw the most incredible sunrise I have probably ever seen and later I wrote this:

A warm orange glow spread over the crisp morning frost and wisps of clouds spiraled up from the rising sun reaching higher towards the heavens like tendrils of steam on a hot cup of coffee.  A peace filled my inner parts where sorrow threatened to take up residence and I knew you were there with Him, the great I AM.  The glow of the celestial city illuminated your face, no longer hollowed from the illness that took you but full, soft and youthful.  A smile spread across your face as you embraced the joy and love that filled you and you spread your arms wide as you ran into your eternity.

My earthly father is now with my heavenly one, and despite the grief I will need to endure, there is a peace deep inside me that comes from knowing where he is and that one day, I will see him again.

Until we meet again Dad….

My friend Kris MacQueen, a talented musician wrote this song, the lyrics and the music both remind me of that morning, as sad as we are to lose our loved ones it is indeed a glorious moment when they are united with the King of Kings.

Here is the video my kids made for their beloved Papa, unfortunately he didn't get to see it.  In the month of November and in memorials my Dad raised $3500 for Hospice Wellington.  My brothers have decided to to this fundraiser yearly.