That Question…

“So where do you see yourself in 5 years?” is actually one of my least favourite first date questions ever. I can see why a person would ask that and props to him for wanting to know about what is going on in my head in regards to my future but I always find myself squirming and trying to decide how honestly I should answer such a question. I have a bit of a reckless impulse to say “married to you, carrying our third child, living in a giant house on a large body of water, and finally being able to pursue a full time writing career.” But that kind of answer would pretty much erase any hope of a second date and would probably end the date right then and there. So I tend to hold my cards close and yammer out some words about not knowing the future and hopefully being married and published and …. vague stuff.

I feel like as a single woman in my mid thirties, I am at a standstill when it comes to a 5 year plan. There is something I very much hope and pray happens in the next 5 years but I am also quite aware that my search for a “lifetime emergency contact” might not come to anything and I could very much be in the same position then as I am now. And so I’m left trying to figure out what kind of a 5 year plan do I need to have. I don’t want to be paralyzed in waiting for something that might not happen and I also don’t want to be so busy that I don’t recognize it if it does but it’s important for me to set some goals and have some sort of plan, whether that involves another person or not.

And so I think about my 5 year plan, I think about my goals and what the picture perfect ideal scenario would look like and I think about what the opposite of that might be and I grapple with setting a plan that works regardless of my relationship status. And then it gets quite simple. Of course there are some financial goals, fitness goals, writing goals, etc but at the end of the day I want to be serving God in the right place and the right way. I want to be part of a caring community and I want to be growing in my faith and love for his people. It’s not about the checklist or stocks portfolio, it’s about being willing and available to be used by God this year, next year, 5 years, 10 years from now and so on.

So next time I get asked about my 5 year plan, I won’t shirk away from the question but boldly give a new answer that really does embody my goals and desires for the next 5 years…

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Be Still and Know

Be still and know that I am God – Psalm 46:10

One of the most beautiful phrases ever written. The simplicity of the words yet the immense power of the meaning makes it something that I can have running through my mind all day long. Lately, it seems that I do better with small phrases and concepts than anything else.
Sometimes, most times, when we face things that unsettle us, things that we can’t fix because they are locked in the past or hidden in the future, things that have no ready solution, things that we are dealing with because that is where God has us today, that is all we can do. Very seldom is life about grand heroics and brave and complex proclamations. Sometimes the greatest wisdom, the greatest advice is found in the simplest of statements.
***
When thoughts of the past creep up and haunt me, bringing with them past guilt and anxiety and the wonderings based on wishing that we could in fact repeat the past:
Be still and know.
When the busyness of the present causes me to spiral into a ball of stress and unhealthy distraction, making me appallingly self-centred, self-focused, confused and tired:
Be still and know.
When the idea of the future has the power to cause me fear and trembling, when it frightens me and destroys any feelings of hope and peace:
Be still and know.
It’s simple. It’s perfect. It’s a command.
Be still and know.

I run because he can’t.

Hanging in my parent’s basement is a calendar. My dad put it there. He uses it to keep track of the many miles he runs each month. The calendar has been blank since April. You see he, the man who has been a healthy runner for as long as I can remember, has become very sick. About 18 months ago he had a non-cancerous brain tumour removed. He miraculously recovered from that and we spent Christmas running together, for the first time. We ran lots of miles, he and I, talked about many significant and insignificant things and I loved (almost) every minute of it.  I planned to return to Canada for a bit this summer and continue to run with him as he added miles to the calendar.. but that was not to be.

You see, at the end of April he was diagnosed with a very serious kind of cancer. The word “terminal” has been used by health care professionals. This Thursday he started radiation and chemotherapy. I came home as soon as I could and will spend the summer taking care of him and being with him and just loving him. It’s all kinds of horrible. To see a person you have loved for your entire life, in pain, sick, weak… is really quite earth shattering. We are believing, hoping and praying for a miracle but at the same time, trying to accept the reality that he is indeed a very sick man.
And so the calendar continues to hang in the basement. He told me that if he can’t add miles to it, I should definitely do that. And so, with all sorts of heavy emotion, I lace up my shoes, head out the door and run along the roads we ran along together, not so long ago. In a time when I feel so helpless and unable to do that which really needs to be done… unable to cure horrible diseases and fix scary medical conditions– I look for simple solutions and coping techniques and so, I run for him because he can’t.

The Power of Love

And no, this is not about a Celine Dion song…

As I’ve mentioned before, my family is going through a pretty trying set of circumstances. I would have to say that this is probably the first really big thing we’ve had to deal with. Due to the fact that my father is a pastor, I’ve seen a lot of people go through painful circumstances but they have not directly touched me in the way that this situation has.

I have written about how I have people around me and how God has been good to me through all of it so far. I have talked about how I have good people here and at home and that has been such a blessing.

Being so far away (but not for long), adds a certain amount of extra stress. It’s quite easy to feel rather removed from the whole thing but that’s just the bad part about living overseas. I’m not complaining and honestly, with Skype and email and Viber and Whatsapp and iMessage and Facebook, I really don’t feel THAT far away but truthfully there are times that I feel alone and just want to be home.

What has been amazing is the amount of love I’ve received. Lots and lots of thoughtful emails and kind words and different people expressing genuine concern, I know that I’m not alone.

What I have learned is how helpful it is for me to know that people do love me. People can’t fix this situation, they can’t make it better but they can tell me that they are praying for me or thinking about me and that they do love me. And knowing that, helps me feel a little less alone.

Love is a powerful thing. I didn’t really realize that until just recently. To know you’re loved is its own sort of cure. I read over and over again about God’s steadfast love for us. I think it’s mentioned in nearly every Psalm. If I had a concordance I’d let you know for sure. What I do know though is that it’s important to know that such love exists.

And so, I think about all the things I have been learning through this trying time and I try to write it down so I’ll remember it in the future, whether that be on this blog or elsewhere. The next time one of my friends is going through something difficult, I’ll remember to tell them how much I love them. It is so meaningful to know that I am surrounded by love and that despite the dark times, love is present and love wins.

You don’t have to fix the big problems.

You don’t need to say the perfect words.

You don’t need to remove all the pain and sadness.

You just need to let the person know they are loved.

It often takes very little to convey that feeling but it means the world to the people receiving it. And so, all through these sad times, I know that there is still love.

On Not Being an Island

I would consider myself to be a pretty open person. My general policy seems to be, if you wanna know, I’m gonna tell you… and I might even tell you if you don’t! I prefer to share things going on in my life rather than keep them bottled up. Which maybe is partly why I do like to blog and journal and write in notebooks and go for long coffee chats.. I JUST GOTTA GET IT ALL OUT!

Anyway, recently I received some bad news and not of the my-favourite-mascara-is-about-to-be-discontinued-variety but really earth shattering, life shaking stuff. It’s interesting to me because suddenly I became a lot less open about it. I didn’t want to share with people the hurt I was experiencing and I didn’t want to talk out my emotions and feelings and thoughts.

I just wanted to be quiet.

And you know, I don’t regret my decision to keep things more silent than ever before. I think for me, I needed a couple of quiet weeks to get my head and heart and mind around what was going on. I needed to get to a place of peace with God on my own. That needed to happen and it did.

However, once those two weeks were over, the news got worse and I found myself reaching out to a few people. I must admit I was completely blown away by their responses. Words, actions, kindness, loving support, warm hugs.. all of it. I don’t know what I was expecting but it was amazing to be able to be loved by my friends and the people closest to me.

I think sometimes we need to let our friends be our friends. We need to let people love us and reach out to us and we need to get the support we need. I think we need to let our friends be good to us. To keep them in the dark about our struggles and pain robs them of the chance to love us and that is a key part of relationships. Yes, Paul Simon might be content to remain as a rock, an island and have no need for friendship cos friendship causes pain but I know that I was built for relationships, friendships and community and that it’s important for me to express things and get help when I need it.

So despite the rough days, I truly believe that God cares for me and uses the people around me to comfort me.

And so, I do feel truly blessed to have such kind and loving people in my life.

Just Another (Valentine’s) Day

vdayWhen I’m single I tend to like making disparaging yet somewhat comical comments about Valentine’s Day. Yes, while calling it the semi-bitter name of Singles Awareness Day or referring to it as just another Hallmark holiday.. I can joke about dying alone and the cobwebs on my womb and I can talk about life solo with the best of em but honestly, deep down, I really wish I had a date. And I’m going to go out on a limb here to say that I’m not alone in this.

So what does one do on February 14th while the whole world is sitting at tables for two? Besides shoveling handfuls of cinnamon hearts into our mouths and buying valentine’s chocolates for ourselves.. drinking a little too much wine and complaining to our single girlfriends about how all the guys we know are losers or too short.. how do we honestly handle this day?

I think we put on our brave faces. I think we strive to fight bitterness, disparaging comments and self-deprecating ideas about why we are dateless on V day.

It’s one day. 

I think this day is one where the strong single girl mindset is very important. Yes, we are single. No, we don’t have a date and maybe there are no immediate prospects. Yes, it’s sad and yes it’s a bit scary. Yes, it’s easy to be jealous of people in other situations BUT.. why waste energy thinking like that? The fact is, we serve a good God. If we’re meant to be with someone, He will bring him to us when we’re ready or when he’s ready. He’s the author of time and so His timing is perfect. We MUST remember this. And so if we’re to go through another Valentine’s Day alone.. so be it.

I am particularly trying to be mindful of my attitude about Valentine’s Day because I work at an all girl’s school. It is very easy to start murmuring depressing things about how there are no good men in Japan, I’m going to be the weird crazy aunt, how many cats is too many cats (the correct answer is 1) and so on. But my students have ears and they are watching me. Most of them know that I’m single too and I must show them that it’s really not that bad. They need to see what contentment in circumstances looks like and that finding a man is not the key to happiness.

But how do I actually do this? How do I adopt some form of happiness in this situation? Well, it’s quite simple: I look at the love I have in my life now. I do believe that God is so good when it comes to giving us what we need when we need it. True, I may not have a guy paying for dinner but I have an incredible family, some amazing friends, I have some great colleagues, I teach some awesome girls and my life is pretty full. I must not waste time thinking about what I don’t have when I have so much to be thankful for. I may not have a man-friend but I do have a lot of love around me.

Another thing that I’ve been thinking about is how I think about myself way too much. How am I going to feel on Valentine’s Day? Why am I alone? Why don’t I have a boyfriend? Why am I sad? Blah blah blah STOP IT! I remember going to my youth group at church as a high school student and having a particularly bad attitude and voicing some of my insecurities to my mom. She told me to stop thinking about myself so much and to approach the night with the idea of “how can I make sure s0-and-so has a good evening”? Those words have stuck with me. Of course, if I hang around thinking about how alone I am, I’m going to have reasons to indulge in an entire box of chocolates but if I shift my focus onto those around me, making sure others are feeling loved and esteemed and happy.. well.. we know how that goes!

Lastly, I will think about how I serve a God who is the definition of Love. The Bible endlessly speaks about His steadfast love, His undying love, His perfect love. Spend some time thinking about that.

We single ladies really have no reason to dread or feel sad on Valentine’s Day. So instead of wasting the day trying not to think about ex-boyfriends or missed opportunities or wondering what is wrong with us… let’s use it to celebrate the all the kinds of love we do have in our lives!