Tuesday, 31 January 2012

On Life in the City

Living in Vancouver is, admittedly a bit of a dream for me.  I love being close to all the excitement, shopping, people, art, etc.  I especially love that Vancouver is so pretty – with both oceans and mountains nearby.  If my husband and kids were here with me, it would be perfect.  I live in an apartment right on the ocean, I go for Sunday brunch on Granville Island, I run along the seawall for exercise – and, even though it’s January, it’s never colder than maybe -6 (at absolute worst – usually it’s above 0).

But, as most shiny things have a habit of doing, Vancouver started to get a little less “shiny” for me after about a month of being away from my family, getting soaked by the rain on a nearly daily basis, and walking – walking to the bus stop, back to the bus stop, to my first class at SFU, then miles away from that – to my next SFU class, up the 4 flights of stairs with my groceries, up the four flights of stairs with 3 loads of laundry in my arms, from the parking spot to the restaurant (possibly like 4 blocks away), etc.  I’m all for exercise (I’ve even been described as “neurotic” when it comes to sticking to my exercise regimen) but every night I literally hit the bed snoring like a ton of bricks because all this walking is wearing me out!

On top of that is the whole thing about not knowing anyone here … Coming from a small town I anticipated that this would be a struggle for me, but it wasn’t really in the way I expected.  I kind of enjoy the anonymity that comes with not knowing everyone and everyone not knowing me – it allows for a lot of thinking and time talking with God.  But, it was pointed out to me recently that the people of Vancouver just aren’t friendly.  You get on a bus and no one smiles at you – and everyone is just so quiet for the entire bus ride.  If people talk to each other, they do it in a whispering voice.  At this suggestion, I sort of thought to myself – maybe it’s like that for you, but people are generally kind, and if you would perhaps make an effort, then so will they.  In an attempt to prove this theory that I somehow developed about the kindness of Vancouver, I got on the bus in the morning with the goal of smiling and saying hi to random strangers.  This didn’t really work out – no one even so much as smiled back.  I was actually pretty saddened by this.  I went to class feeling a little dejected – not because I am lonely, but because it makes me sad to think that people aren’t innately friendly.

But then, in His way, God brought to mind Proverbs 3:5 – Trust in the Lord …

Note that it doesn’t say – “trust in your fellow man and everything will be hunky-dory.”  He tells us to trust Him.  Just as this thought finished sinking in, an elderly Italian gentleman sat down beside me on the bus ride home (which is like an hour long) and proceeded to tell me his life’s story (actually incredibly interesting) and ask me about mine.  He seemed genuinely kind.  When I went to change buses, a lady approached me to compliment my scarf and talk about how beautiful the weather was.  What does this mean?  These are first two bus conversations that I have had since I got here at the beginning of January.  I have this sense that what God is doing here is holding me up – I didn’t feel lonely up until this point, and just when I needed Him, He was there.  Not to provide companionship in the form of new friends, but to remind me that people are not all bitter, lonely and unfriendly.
 Well, once again my post is far too long.  I leave you with a shot of the bus stop (it's across the street from where I am taking the picture) - just to give you an idea of  a) how there is literally no snow anywhere and it feels oddly like a warm Spring and b) how I really do live right in the city.


Friday, 27 January 2012

Calorie-Counting ... etc.

Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered ~ Luke 12:7

The other day I read an article by Toni Horton (the P90X guy) on why calorie counting doesn't work - and I think it kind of hits the nail on the head.  What?!? you say - isn't that what Mary's doing - calorie-counting?  Well, yes, it is, but it's a lot more complex than that.  You can't just count your calories and be healthy.  There are entire university courses on this topic and literally aisles of literature on it in bookstores. Many people make prosperous careers out of it.  Why is that?  Could it be perhaps tied to our incredible unique-ness and ever-changing dynamo as human beings created by God to, among other things I am certain, demonstrate how wondrous He is?

I recently had a medical student tell me how after having done her first cadaver lab (yes, I am talking about cutting open a dead body), her teacher told the class that despite having opened hundreds of cadavers he had yet to find even one that did not have an anomaly - and he fully expected that he never would.  His suggestion that each body is internally physically unique is just an incredible insight for me - completely impossible for me to wrap my brain around when I consider the amount of human beings who have lived and are living.  It gets even more phenomenal when you consider that God has not only made us each unique but that He also knows us so well that he knows how many hairs each of us has on our head (Luke 12:7). 

However, there is a significant struggle to be found in this.  If each of us is different, then each of us is basically a puzzle that requires a completely unique skill set - and yet there is no doubt that there are black and white truths to live by in the Bible (it's true - despite multiple post-modern English classes, I still believe in the black-and-white).  So, because each of us is so different, we have to cater our diet and exercise regimen to suit our personal physical needs - which fluctuate considerably over the course of a lifetime, while simultaneously paying attention to what God has to say about everything we do and think.  sigh.  more thinking.  Don't give up - He loves you and wants the best for you (Psalm 37:4) - so there has to be a plausible solution for each of us!   

Just like with diet, there are no catch-all, easy fix-it solutions for the very real issues that go along with church growth.  For me, one problem has been that quite often I run into someone "new" at church only to introduce myself and discover that they have been attending my church for over a year (or maybe even 2) and we have never crossed paths before.  Ouch.  At first my response to this "new" person may be defensive - I may even list all of the church ministries that I and my husband are involved in (this way he or she will know for sure that I am really "someone" in my church - yay for me.  This is a cold comfort considering that no one is handing out gold stars for this).
Now, if I had the answer to this specific issue, I would totally tell you right now.  But I don't.  And not only that, but I feel that the solution right now will probably be different from the solution to this very same problem next year.  Because it will be a different group of people that I don't know and getting to know them will require ... actually getting to know them.  And I think this could probably apply to pretty much every struggle that a church encounters.  No matter what, we are always going to have to make an effort to understand the people that God has melded into our family (yup, more family - you thought you already had your fair share of people to get along with just at Christmas, didn't you?).

Does this sound defeatist and depressing?  I'm sorry.  I actually think that this is possible (despite my failings of late).  My optimism was boosted greatly last night after reading the intro to The Purpose Driven Church (if you haven't started reading it yet, start with me, I'm not that far ahead of you yet).  Warren, in his intro, has already convinced me that church growth is about getting rid of barriers.  He writes "The question we need to ask ... is 'what is keeping our church from growing?' What barriers are blocking the waves that God wants to send our way?  What obstacles and hindrances are preventing growth from happening?"

Personally, I am currently a little side-tracked by the idea of the "Digital Native" (a digital native is someone born in a time and place where high-speed internet is easily accessed).  To me this is one of the barriers that people let get in the way of talking to a particular group of people (children).  They see the technology and get all harumphy by the thought of needing to learn the new technology and, maybe more importantly, pay for it.  I say - who cares how you feel about it?  Seriously, we just have to get over it.  I honestly can relate, I have had moments where I wanted to take out anger on a helpless laptop and throw it through a window - but really, when a missionary goes into the mission field to a place where the unsaved do not speak any English, should this missionary expect those people to learn English or does the missionary learn the native language?  Sure, learning a new language is incredibly time-consuming, often frustrating and generally humbling, but you do it because that is your passion, not to mention your job.  May I suggest that technology could be one of those barriers that Warren is discussing? Hmmm ...

Recently I attended a Kitsilano-area church and was delighted to note some of the ways that they made effort to connect with new-comers.  During the service a member of their missions committee listed a bunch of small (and large) ways that anyone could use to get involved in missions - and none of them were just sending money - they were all pretty hands-on.  Just today I attended yet another church, this one in North Vancouver, (with my new and awesome friend Julia) where they actually gave each person who entered a catalog of "Growth Groups" to flip through.  During the service each of the growth group leaders stood up at the front of the church and gave a brief description of their small group, where & when it was located and why they wanted to have you join it.  I was just so excited that I wanted to join almost every single one.  These attempts to speak the language of the newcomer make such a big difference - I honestly felt like each of those leaders would have appreciated my presence in their group.  They were just so enthusiastic too!  In teaching school they really pushed the idea to us that enthusiasm and demonstrating a desire to learn is contagious.  It's true!  Ultimately, these invitations given from the pulpit create openings in the church where a person can slip in and get connected quickly and easily. 

I have to say though - I was particularly disappointed when I realized that the Sun Run group (they are prepping for the 10k Sun Run together after each Bible study) is on Wednesday evenings and I can't go because I have school on Wednesday evenings :(.  Oh well, I'll just have to continue training on my own (not so bad, considering I "train" along the sea wall which is right across the street from where I live - see the picture at the top of this post).  That being said, feel free to comment on my blog or send me a fb message if you want to join me for the Sun Run - it's only 10k and you have until April 15th to train - you can do it!


My First Post

Hello Blog-World,

Here I am in Vancouver, with only my homework to pattern my days.  Literally.  I am getting in really excellent shape though - why not?  I have nothing else to do.  At least exercise makes me sleepy enough to fall into a nice deep coma every evening.  All you students out there who are so stressed out because you have homework ... I have bad news for you.  Life doesn't get less busy than being a student.  On the up side, you do develop a pretty interesting skill set for dealing with all of life's crazy pressures.  Going back to being "just a student" feels rather vacation-like ...  Wow, that didn't sound quite right.

Don't get me wrong, thinking about High School makes me cringe.  That seriously was not the easiest time in my life.  What is the point of what I'm saying?  I don't know - maybe that life is tough but God gives us this incredible adaptability skill that is likely to surprise you later when you reflect on your life?  Hmmm.  One day, if I ever feel super wise, I will sort that one out for you.  Don't hold your breath.

So for my first blog-posting in a blog that is literally not required of me as a part of some kind of university assignment (not to toot my own horn but - I have done several of those in the past and feel like posting "on my own" signals a kind of blog-maturity level) I have decided to set up a framework for my future blog-posts.  Some kind of pattern to keep me accountable.

Given that I am a voracious reader and also that I am currently a little consumed by thinking of ways to help our own church grow and prosper (seriously, not a criticism of those who are already doing this - you guys are doing such an excellent job and I am so proud of you) I have decided to read the book The Purpose Driven Church by Rick C. Warren - and will be commenting on my discoveries there in this blog.  If you have any other books that you think I should read that are along these same lines, please post them in the comment section of this blog.  I would love that.  Not only would I have more books to read, but it would be so flattering to know that you actually read my blog! 

Also - I am embarking on a bit of a church tour over the next several months and will be using this space to voice all of the excitement that this produces in me ... this way I will be less likely to bore my husband at night when I vent all of this to him (I mean "vent" in the most positive way possible of course).  For the record - this is only a space in which I will be posting things that I see that I think are working well - not an area in which to critique the practices of other churches.  Blah - that would not be helpful at all.  Especially considering that I am literally no expert.

Well, I have to say, the school teacher in me enjoys the structure that I have created in my life by making this plan (obviously I have chosen the right career path because what other kind of person would smile at the thought of "structure"?).

Until my next post,