Saturday, 20 August 2011

Adjusting the Sails

“The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.” –William Arthur Ward

Luke found and shared the above quote, and it made me think about flexibility.  The idea of "adjusting the sails" seems simple and yet profound.  The realist in the quote is not dictated by the wind any more than he has to be--he is not relying on it to determine whether or not he will stay on course.  He will do all that he can that is in his power and take it from there.  He makes a determined and wise action based on the current circumstances and that is all.  He is not making a move based on what he think is to come or making up for what was in the past; he remains in the current situation and acts accordingly.

He must be flexible...willing to let go of the things he cannot control, accepting the way the wind moves and then pulling the sail in or letting it out without moaning and without waiting to be acted upon.

It has been a reminder to me to take what comes our way in stride, adjusting our sails and remaining focused on what needs to be done in the present moment.  Stay the course: doing what you can and giving to God what you cannot control.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Peapod Surprise

I am not a gardener. I generally feel quite a heavy dose of pity for the plants that are brought into my care as I know their chances for survival are low.  So when our neighbors brought over a couple of extra vegetable plants that they couldn't fit into their garden I felt sorry for the naive leafy babies.

It's not that I try to kill the plants, I just haven't mastered the art of remembering to water them when it is sunny and dry and not overwatering them when it's been rainy.  They haven't managed to fit in to my daily rhythm (although the fact that the rhythm changes frequently could also be part of the problem...).

But these vegetable plants (a cucumber, tomato, chives and peapods) are fighters.  They have overcome the odds and survived several weeks now.  And get this: they are growing.  It's an incredible feeling watching them sprout up to new heights and now expose a few blossoms.  I see where people can get hooked on this.

Today as Tyler and I were going around to the plants, about to give them some water (we're starting to be better about remembering--it's only taken us several rounds of sacrificial marigolds to get to this point) I noticed something spectacular--the peapod plant had PEAPODS!  I was so excited I may have startled the neighbor's dog, but regardless, Tyler joined in and we started looking for more.  There were lots!  And we ate them, right then, right there.  We managed to save a few for Luke too, who was off doing some inspiration work. 

I am still riding a bit of a high from the experience.  Though the credit is largely due to the determined and courageous spirit of the plants themselves (and the consistent rain we've had lately), I loved the thought that we had our very own vegetables in our very own mini-garden, fresh as fresh can be. 

I started planning for next year and all the plants we could grow along the fence.  Then, Luke came home and we started plotting for a potential farm many years down the road from now.  We could be farmers, grow organic produce, write, teach and raise kids.  It sounded beautiful, it felt possible.

I kissed them goodbye and road off to work on the bike, visualizing the rows of zucchini, carrots, lettuce, onions, strawberries and such--at which point I remembered, in our fervor, we forgot to water the plants...whoops!

Perhaps the farm will need to wait, but in any case, today's 9 peapods were an unexpected tasty treat!

Thursday, 18 August 2011

The Global Rich List

I was reading from a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) report called Unfinished Business by Joel Quirk, and one particular quote struck me powerfully:

"When it comes to global inequality, the poorest 20% of the world's people are said to account for 1.5% of the world income, with the poorest 40% (the $2 a day poverty threshold), accounting for 5% of world income."

The next time I complain about not having something of material worth, I need to remember this.  And I need to remember I have it really, really good.  Sometimes it is easy to see what we don't have rather than be grateful for what we do have.  In addition, we might even have things that we don't need that we could give away to someone who does need them or sell them in a yard sale or something similar and donate the money to a charity we believe in.

We can easily get caught up in how much everything costs all around us and forget how rich many of us are.  If you are curious go to this website:, which calculates (gives you a percentage) where you place in the world's population according to wealth based on your income.  It is sobering.

What can we do?  Decisions can start small and make a big difference.  Maybe there is a local organization you could start donating to by cutting out a coffee, meal out, new shirt you don't really need, or similar items.  Maybe you could consider sponsoring a child through Compassion International ( or a woman ending the cycle of poverty by gaining skills to run her own business through Women for Women International (  Maybe you could host a Survivor Party and sell products from The Emancipation Network/Made by Survivors (check out:, an organization dedicated to fighting and eradicating sex trafficking around the world (for more on the organization see:  Other little steps we can make is to buy Fair Trade products when there is an option, make environmentally friendly choices by walking/riding a bike when possible, use reusable/cloth bags for shopping, invest in green energy, use natural cleaning products and toiletry items, use reusable containers rather than throwaway and so on.

There are so many ways to get involved and make responsible choices.  Most of us already are doing that to one degree or another.  But there are always more steps to take and we should challenge ourselves to do so. 

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Writing to my 12-year old self

I was sent an email by a woman I know who is doing an incredible project focusing on (pre)adolescents, and asked for women to respond by giving thoughts to their 12-year old self.  It could be in any form, any length--completely open to where the project took you.  So I put it off, and put it off, and so on.  It sounded like a wonderful opportunity to reflect and, not wanting to breeze through it, I kept waiting for the "right" moment, which can be synonomous with procrastination.  Finally, tonight I sat down and typed out a letter.  I'm sure I have many more in me, but this is what came to mind first and I thought I'd share.  And if anyone else feels inspired by this project please let me know--she is looking for anyone to contribute and it is completely anonymous (except if you decide to post it to your blog).

To my 12-year old self:
I’ve actually had a difficult time trying to figure out what to say to you because I know the mindset you are in right now, and it’s one that makes you think the world as you know it is the only one out there…which is so untrue it actually makes me smirk just writing it.  The world is a big place with so much room to explore and discover.  This time in this school with these people is merely preparation for what is to come.  There will be joyful times, sad times, frustrating times, silly times and hurt times but you make it through.  Each of those moments makes you stronger—you will make it through.

What I wish above all else for you right now is to remember that your voice matters.  Your opinions, your thoughts, your ideas: matter.  People will disagree, some will even try to make you feel small and make you believe that you have nothing to offer, but that is a lie.  You have something that no one else can contribute:  your voice.  Everyone has a unique purpose, and that includes you.  Your gut is telling you something…follow it.  The deep sense that won’t go away, that won’t shake no matter how hard you try—this is a very sacred part of you.  Don’t push it away, listen to it.  It knows you better than you think.  It will tell you to do what you love, to do what makes your heart beat fast and your mind center in a content state of peace.  It will tell you what you alone and no one else can do in this world, that is, to be you.  Your voice matters because without it the work you are doing and will do would be lost, the ideas you contribute to making the world a better place would be lost, the love that you give to your friends, family, neighbors and the strangers who you share a smile with on the street would be lost.  And that would be tragic.

Stand up for what you believe in, those who may laugh, mock or try to put you down are the loudest but they are also the minority (it’s true, they really are).  Hold onto hope.  Always.  And remember the old proverb, “Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over it turned into a butterfly.”

So get ready to transform, Butterfly.  At times the process will feel like it’s dragging on and will never end, but then, the change happens.  You will find you have wings, you have freedom, and you will see that life truly is a beautiful journey.

Let your voice be heard.  The world is longing to see, to receive, to witness the beauty that your voice can contribute.  Believe that your voice will make a difference.  Just by being you, it already has.

I do love you, and I’m sorry for not acting like it sometimes. 

Friday, 12 August 2011

Playing in the Mud

Yesterday morning Tyler and I were playing outside for a bit before I went in to campus.  It has been raining the last day and a half or so (ironically it's been raining since the text went out from the woman I know to pray for rain to end the riots...hmmm).  So everything was quite wet. 

Our little sand/dirt pit was a mud pie makers paradise, and I thought it would be fun to introduce the idea of "cooking" in the mud to Tyler (he's played in the mud lots just not necessarily making pies and other fun treats).  So we started making cookies and pies and I threw in an avocado just so our arteries didn't clog up and our sugar levels didn't get drastically out of control (or maybe it was to alleviate the guilt?).  In any case, Tyler moved on from any sort of food groups and asked if we could make what only a toddler with a father who has a similar fascination would want to make: mud poopies.  Right.

I responded, "Mud poopies?  The thing is I don't really know how to make those."
Tyler, as if anticipating my hesitation, said, "Maybe you could give it your best try."
I couldn't really come back with anything that wouldn't sound hypocritical--how could we ask him to give it a try, to do the best he could when he didn't think he knew how if I wasn't willing to do the same?

So I caved.  "You're right Tyler, I can give it my best try."
Tyler responded with a nudge of reassurance, "That's all you can do." (Not kidding, he really said that word for word)
To which, I nodded, and repeated for emphasis letting the words soak in, "That's right.  That's all I can do."

And then, we made mud poopies. I was out of my element molding these things in my hand, and it was a bit of a stretch for my gag reflex...but chalk it up to another way I'm willing to bend my own comfort zone in order to drive home life lessons I want to stick with our little man.

We had a quality moment that morning in the mud.  Feeling it squish in our fingers and making all sorts of lovely and not-so-lovely things.  We were creating.  And after the initial fun of the mud poopies we moved on to castles and used weeds to build a forest around our castle.  When creativity is flowing, it's best to let it flow.  And I'm glad I didn't let my unease stop it.  We had loads of fun, and when I had to head off I actually felt a bit like a kid again.  Allowing the fun and play to lead where it wanted to lead: it was amazingly freeing.

On top of the fun, creativity and freedom in play, my 2 and a half year old son reminded me that trying my best, even when I am convinced I don't know how to do something, is worth a shot.  And it really is all we're asked to do.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Leap Before You Look

To follow up on my blog on commitment, here is a poem by W.H. Auden that has been a favorite of Luke's and mine.  Though Auden may be talking about something completely different, we love the idea of needing to overcome danger, fear, approval and leaping towards what you need to leap towards.  Looking first (rather than producing further strength or strategy) at times only serves to create hesitation and hesitation prevents the beauty of the moment, the dream you are pursuing, or the love you share with others from blossoming.  It will feel scary at times, but you must leap.   You must risk giving up safety, which is often only a false sense of security.  Go in the direction that you know you must go--the place where God is calling you to be brave and trust Him to work things out.  It is always worth it, no matter the outcome.

Today's blog is inspired and dedicated to two special people we know and love dear as they prepare to take a big leap--you can do it!

Leap Before You Look by W. H. Auden

The sense of danger must not disappear:
The way is certainly both short and steep,
However gradual it looks from here;
Look if you like, but you will have to leap.

Tough-minded men get mushy in their sleep
And break the by-laws any fool can keep;
It is not the convention but the fear
That has a tendency to disappear.

The worried efforts of the busy heap,
The dirt, the imprecision, and the beer
Produce a few smart wisecracks every year;
Laugh if you can, but you will have to leap.

The clothes that are considered right to wear
Will not be either sensible or cheap,
So long as we consent to live like sheep
And never mention those who disappear.

Much can be said for social savoir-faire,
But to rejoice when no one else is there
Is even harder than it is to weep;
No one is watching, but you have to leap.

A solitude ten thousand fathoms deep
Sustains the bed on which we lie, my dear;
Although I love you, you will have to leap;
Our dream of safety has to disappear.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Riots around the UK

It is amazing that in the last few days London, and then elsewhere in the UK including Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool and elsewhere, have been rampaged by rioters and looters.  I received a text last night from a friend that called for the Christians to pray for rain--terrential rain--that God might prevent anymore senseless destruction and brutality from occurring.  And rain it has been for the last day and a half (in York at least).  Still, more tragedy occurred: three men were killed Tuesday night and many others hospitalized from the violence.

Read here for a timeline on what happened and potential reasons:

What strikes me is that I feel like I'm having flashbacks to the Rodney King incident in the States back in the 90s and the chaos that followed in LA.  The difference now is the ability for rioters to rally together through facebook, Twitter and other technologically advanced means.  But inspiring stories are also being reported: ones of those using the same technology to come together as a community and help clean up the mess left behind.  (See:  Reading about people like this--coming out and making change by doing something constructive gives me hope in the majority of people out there.

Let this be an example to us of why it is important not to remain silent.  A terrible tragedy occurred (the shooting of Mark Duggan by a police officer is what seems to have sparked the violence), but when the tragedy seems to spark something that leads  to more of the same, the power of a community can make a difference: in healing, in preventing more hatred and discrimination, in supporting those who have been hurt.

They didn't let fear win the day, rather they are saying enough is enough and doing something about it.

Monday, 8 August 2011

A Commitment Move

The idea of commitment seems to be everywhere lately, which is one way I start to pay attention.  You hear something once: it sounds good, you try to remember (but probably forget) and you continue as normal.  You hear something twice: your ears perk a bit, you remember the last time you heard it and know it is something that is making an impression, but you may still forget it again soon after you hear it.  But when you start to hear, read, and see the same general message consistently over and over and find it everywhere you start to wonder if God is trying to tell you something.

And so that is the case for commitment with me lately.  I find it in most reading I am doing (even random academic reading which is quite interesting), hear it in lectures or talks, see it in various aspects of life and have, consequently, talked a lot about it with Luke.  The idea is that often we want a guarantee that something will happen before we commit to it.

For me, this has surfaced within my academic writing.  I want to know where I am going before I write, and yet, often this prevents me from being fully able to write what I would like to.  Instead, I am finding I need to fully commit to the writing, to the project, to the degree before it starts to pour out.  A man named Patrick Dunleavy writes about this concept:

"You will very rarely work out what you think first, and then just write it down.  Normally the act of committing words to screen (or pen to paper) will make an important contribution to your working out what it is that you do think.  In other words, the act of writing may often be constitutive of your thinking.  Left to ourselves we can all of us keep conflicting ideas in play almost indefinitely, selectively paying attention to what fits our needs of the moment and ignoring the tensions with what we said or thought yesterday, or the day before that.  Writing things down in a systematic way is an act of commitment, a decision to firm up and crystallize what we think, to prevent this constant reprocessing and reconfiguring."

This idea that Dunleavy talks about can also be applied to most everything beyond writing.  Commitment, in many ways, offers freedom to a scenario.  If you have committed to something or someone then you know if any hard times pass your way the question is not if you will make it through it, it is how you will make it through.  So if there is a dream or a calling that has been bumbling around, the surest way to find freedom in pursuing it is to commit to it.  The questions start to change from whether or not you will be able to do something but how you will do it and how long it will take. 

I am discovering how tempting it can be to give up on something when it starts to take awhile to complete or it didn't work out the way you thought it would, but how this giving up (and often it can be a chronic problem) is something that prevents us from experiencing freedom and joy.  Committing to something is hard (ask anyone who considers themselves to be in a committed marriage!), but the fulfillment and joy that comes from knowing you will find a way to make it through the tough times is worth every aspect of that hardness when push comes to shove.  And in many ways, when the commitment is applied to a dream or a calling it frees us to grow into what God desires us to become: mature, loving followers who obey what He desires of us.

So here are some fun quotes to hammer the point home:

 "The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand." ~Vince Lombardi

"When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it - but all that had gone before." ~Jacob Riis

"Bear in mind, if you are going to amount to anything, that your success does not depend upon the brilliancy and the impetuosity with which you take hold, but upon the ever lasting and sanctified buldoggedness with which you hang on after you have taken hold." ~Dr. A. B. Meldrum

And now, if you are eager to have a dose of inspiration about how your voice matters so very much then I recommend you watch the following and listen to the words.  It is a song by Matthew West called "Something to Say". 

Blessings and many wishes for you to commit to what God has called you to say, do and be.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Wisdom from Mama T

I have a fascination with the life and work of Mother Teresa.  The more I read about her the more I realize that she understood what it means to be a Christian.  Without seeking attention, people from all around the world traveled to meet her, to see and experience the work she was doing in Calcutta.  That amazes me.  Can you imagine someone from across the globe calling you on the phone or showing up at your door because they had heard of the work you were doing and were so intrigued by it they felt compelled to see it firsthand?  Incredible.

And more so, I think all followers of Christ are called to this type of living.  The type that makes people wonder what your life is all about and feel compelled to experience it themselves.  Mother Teresa lived authentically for Christ and obediently followed what He called her to do: work with the poorest of the poor in the slums of Calcutta, and cover them with His love.

Not all of us will be called to the slums of Calcutta--God has a unique piece of the picture for each of us to fill--but there is a very important similarity.  We are all called to cover those we come across and the work that we do with the love of Christ.  We are called to embody his love by receiving it into our lives and then channeling it to all we come across.  This can be fulfilling in so many ways, and it will also be one of the most magnificent challenges in other ways. 

In his book, Something Beautiful for God, Malcolm Muggeridge records some thought-provoking words from Mother Teresa as she gives insight into the heart of her work:

From pages 112-113:

"Faith is a gift from God.  Without it there would be no life.  And our work, to be fruitful and to be all for God, and beautiful, has to be built on faith.  Faith in Christ who has said, 'I was hungry, I was naked, I was sick, and I was homeless and you did that to me.'  On these words of his all our work is based."

"Because we cannot see Christ we cannot express our love to him; but our neighbours we can always see, and we can do to them what if we saw him we would like to do to Christ."

"Our works are only an expression of our love for Christ.  Our hearts need to be full of love for him and since we have to express that love in action, naturally then the poorest of the poor are the means of expressing our love for God."

From page 118:

"Malcolm: Would you agree that one of the troubles is always thinks there must be some collective solution.  He would say, there is Mother Teresa, she saves so many people, she helps so many people, she saves so many children.  But this is just a fleabite; this is nothing; there must be some other way of doing it.  And his feeling about this makes him less inclined to throw himself in the way that you want into the sort of work that you're doing.

"Mother Teresa: I do not agree with the big way of doing things.  To us what matters is an individual.  To get to love the person we must come in close contact with him.  If we wait till we get the numbers, then we will be lost in the numbers.  And we will never be able to show that love and respect for the person.  I believe in person to person; every person is Christ for me, and since there is only one Jesus, that person is only one person in the world for me at that moment."

What would it look like if we treated everyone the way we would treat Jesus if we saw him face to face?  How would that change our underlying attitudes and reactions towards those that are challenging to love?  What does it look like to learn to love the people that have hurt you, have wronged you, have annoyed you and so on?

How can you see Jesus in this type of person's eyes?  I think it is one of the most difficult challenges, but one that is not only life transforming--it could be world changing.  This type of love--one that does not keep a record of wrongs and is unconditional--is only possible through loads and loads of continuous prayer.  It is only possible after God's love has been received into our lives.

So many of us know the children's song, "Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so."  But in order for God's love to be life changing I think it needs to go deeper.  We must know it in our heads and believe it because it is in scripture: this is an important step.  However, in order for deep change to occur we must know it inside and out--we must experience God's love, feel the power of it.  If you are wondering if you've ever actually experienced His love, then you have not because it is a moment that is and will always be impressed on your heart and mind.  It is unforgettable and unmistakable. 

I had my moment not so long ago when I was praying.  My prayer was to feel His love, to know that I didn't have to earn it and that He truly did love me no matter what mistakes I make.  I waited and waited, and then, seemingly out of nowhere, it rushed over me.  I felt it.  I knew it more than I have ever known anything before--He loves me.  And I could not hold back a long, body-heaving and gut-cleansing series of sobs.  And I suddenly understood: I will do anything for this love.  I never want to be without it.  Ever.  This has to be my motivation in everything I do--it is the only thing that will sustain and deeply fulfill.  It is worth living and dying for.  It is all-consuming.

Prayer is what keeps this love close by and front and center.  It isn't something that can be learned once and then checked off--it needs to be consistently reaffirmed, remembered and actively pursued, but it is worth it.  It is a process to learn how to receive God's love and give it to others, and one that I aspire to learn better and better.

Mother Teresa's words have been a wonderful reminder and visual for me to keep my thoughts and actions in check: everyone I come across is made in the image of God.  They are his masterpiece, and therefore a piece of him.  How can I interact in such a way that I am showing my love to the Creator by bestowing loving words, actions and attitudes towards those he also loves so deeply?

Mama T tells us the answer is to give love and respect to each person we interact with: one at a time. 

Imagine the change we could make if we did.