If Compassion Outweighed Comfort

Recently, my sister and I enjoyed dinner at a local Thai restaurant. While waiting for her to arrive, a woman, quite advanced in years, entered the restaurant. We smiled and exchanged a polite hello as she found her way to a table behind me. My sister arrived and soon we were caught up in conversation while consuming our curry. After some time, I noticed the woman saying her goodbyes to the staff. 

She passed by the restaurant window just below us, a frail form bend over her cane. Minutes later, she was back again, and the staff spoke kindly with her. This coming and going happened three or four times in the course of our dinner. From what I deduced; the dear lady had forgotten she had come just moments before.

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I was struck by the kindness and patience the owner and staff repeatedly extended toward this woman. I’m not sure if she remembered to pay for her drink, or how often they receive her throughout each day, but the dignity they offered to this woman warmed my heart.

I thought about all the unseen acts of kindness people, like this restaurant owner exhibit, who—in great and small ways—make a choice or a habit to care for others, freely and unselfishly honouring them and offering a safe, welcoming place to land. Their kindness may never be seen or repaid, but they do it, nonetheless. In this moment, I was blessed to glimpse the beauty of humanity helping another along in her journey. 

What about the many ways this has played out in the past? Those who risked their lives during war to hide sacred souls within their own homes to save their lives. The soldiers, battle-weary and broken, who set one boot in front of the other and their gaze upon the horizon to secure the future we presently enjoy. Those voices of one who spoke into injustice declaring a better way than the status quo of greed, power, and control for which society has so often settled. Countless courageous and kind actions multiplied over centuries—over individual lives.

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I think of the billions of people around the world, and how many beautiful, glorious, random, and unseen acts of kindness occur every day never to be seen or celebrated. What would happen if each of us took hidden or found invitations and chose to help, took time to hear, or to lighten a burden? What if we stepped out of our comfort zones and mindsets to answer a need? 

What would it look like if compassion outweighed our comfort?

It could be as simple as a smile to a passing stranger, a coffee prepaid for the next person in line, finances offered to a cause, hands to serve the needy, or a proffered seat in our restaurant for a lonely or forgotten soul. It could be looking out for—or creating—opportunities to serve out of the little or abundance we’ve been given. Whether seen or unseen, our actions may soften a stranger’s journey or even save someone’s life. 

“God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.” Hebrews 6:10

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  1. Look for an opportunity this week to show kindness outside of your comfort zone.

Finding Thankfulness

72099801_1240224716149606_8410987073124696064_nThis Thanksgiving—

I don’t want to eat the turkey until full but fail to be filled.

I don’t want to gather with family and friends and fail to connect.

I don’t want to utter a thanksgiving prayer and neglect to be thankful.

I don’t want to count my blessings and not count myself blessed.

What I really need is to develop a thorough kind of thankful—one that spans each day and each year. One that outlasts hardship and withstands the fluctuation of mood and circumstance. A kind of thankfulness that is equally grateful for all that has been given and all that has been taken away. A deep and holy kind of gratitude that acknowledges I have been carried through much and recognizes it is well with my soul.

I understand this type of thankfulness doesn’t come without thought or determined effort. It requires putting away grumbling and complaining, developing a kind of thought fortitude which denies fruitless, habitual patterns of negative thinking. This kind of thankfulness is best developed by a fierce refusal to dwell in the past, releasing all expected outcomes and entitlement, and most of all, trusting God in everything.

72486084_1531083160367940_1117825707628560384_nWhen I am wishing things to be what they aren’t—wishing for situations or people to change—I am unable to focus on the good God has allowed into my life. When I complain about my circumstances I doubt the wisdom and goodness of God who tells me, “…all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) When I worry about my future, ungrateful for today, I deny God’s ability to take care of me. It is nearly impossible to be thankful under these conditions.

When I lift my eyes to the heavens, my perspective alters. When I soak in God’s love and absorb his goodness, my attitude shifts. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” The keyword is all.

72665665_1138435393031985_1173636376688590848_nI can’t just be thankful when things are going well, when I’m on vacation, when I’m healthy, or when I get a raise. I need to fortify gratefulness by thanking God even when I’m working, unwell, or don’t know how I’ll pay my rent. When I can learn to be thankful in everything, I know I’ll have learned the key to thankfulness. Instead of a grumbling attitude, I’ll live out of a heart of gratitude. 

In this posture of thankfulness, I connect more fully in my relationships and am grateful for the people God has tucked into my life. My prayer life is richer when I appreciate all I’ve been given and that all God’s purposes are for good. I can count my blessings and truly appreciate that I am blessed independent of circumstances. I can even eat turkey this Thanksgiving, thankful for a full tummy, a full table, and the fullness that comes from the generous and never-ending portion of God’s love.

 

The Perfection Antidote

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In last week’s blog post, I glanced back on my modeling career and, in doing so, recognized how many things have changed. I modeled during the pre-digital, pre-Photoshop era. I recall arriving on location for a particular photo shoot and the make-up artist and photographer were in a dither because I had a broken blood vessel on my cheek. 

Of course, they had reason to be ruffled since this made their job exponentially more difficult. To provide the client with the best possible image, glaring imperfections would have to be expertly covered up by the make-up artist, and the photo itself would require retouching by hand.

There wasn’t any fixing an out-of-place strand of hair after the fact, slimming a few extra pounds around the middle, or the addition of a filter for a wow-factor. Whatever was captured on film was what you got. So they took a lot of pictures and selected the best one from printed proof sheets. 

Even back in the 80s’, perfection permeated the business. Of course, we models weren’t perfect, but it helped to be as close as possible: no pimples, no scars, no visible cellulite. Young girls looking at magazines back then may have seen slightly retouched photographs but weren’t digesting expertly manipulated images. Perfection is so sought after that, these days, we don’t even know how much of what we’re seeing is real. 

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But we don’t need photoshop to serve up perfection. We regularly present a perfect facade in multiple forms. 

We exhibit Photoshop-like qualities whenever we choose to relate to others by presenting polished, untouchable forms of ourselves seemingly void of cares or troubles. Our Facebook and Instagram posts display the highlight reels of our lives, all imperfections blotted out. We present perfect when we strive to be flawless, Photoshopping away our limitations and imperfections and disregarding our human need to rest and refuel. We deny imperfection by refusing to peer honestly at our weaknesses and extending kindness or forgiveness to ourselves. 

We may even deliberately or subconsciously grasp for the retouching tool by expecting perfection from those around us. By placing unspoken or unattainable expectations on others, we withhold grace and forgiveness for others’ pimples and instead substitute distant, unloving shadows of our true selves in such relationships. 

What is the antidote for this perfection crisis? A reality tool that enables a reversal allowing us to see what is real and true.

Here are a few truths that can act to reverse our perfection problem:

  1. You are loved as you are this very moment. (Romans 5:8)
  2. You are so precious to God that he gave his Son for you. (John 3:16)
  3. You are imperfect but have been made perfect through Jesus. (Hebrews 10:14)
  4. You are forgiven. (Ephesians 1:7) 
  5. You are free. (John 8:36)
  6. You have all you need to live a Godly life. (2 Peter 1:3)

Jesus is our reality tool. In Christ, we can release our notion of perfection and receive his grace and love, extending the same to others. We can exchange our striving—and just surviving —for his gentle leading and perfect peace. We can draw on God’s power and strength to be transformed and to live the Godly life he purchased through his death and resurrection. Using cover-up to mask our imperfections loses its allure as we settle into God’s love.

I’ll leave you with The Message version of Romans 3:21-26 as a truth summary:

“The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him. For there is no difference between us and them in this. Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ. God sacrificed Jesus on the altar of the world to clear that world of sin. Having faith in him sets us in the clear. God decided on this course of action in full view of the public—to set the world in the clear with himself through the sacrifice of Jesus, finally taking care of the sins he had so patiently endured. This is not only clear, but it’s now—this is current history! God sets things right. He also makes it possible for us to live in his rightness.”

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  1. In what ways are you masking your true self in an attempt to present perfect?
  2. Do you think letting go of the cover-up would enhance your relationships?

 

Coming Nov 12th, 2019: SOUL FOCUS – Trials

New Release: One More Tomorrow

ISBN: 978-1-4866-1537-7

Print Availability: Chapters/Indigo, Amazon, Word Alive Press, and wherever fine Christian books are sold. eBook Availability: Amazon’s Kindle Store, Apple iBooks, Kobo, Google Play, Scribd, and in Adobe PDF format for additional vendors.

Why Are We Still Starving Ourselves?

modeling picIn the mid-’80s, when I was fifteen years old, I decided I wanted to become a model. A Toronto agent agreed to represent me but explained that I needed to lose weight. I had been a cross-country runner for five years and never in my life had I given a second thought to the scale. This particular year, I had discontinued running and had stopped growing. I was 5’7” tall and weighed 127 pounds. Now, for the first time in my life, someone was telling me I needed to consider what I ate.

I hadn’t a clue how to diet so I went to my family doctor for advice. He gave me a pamphlet that explained how to count calories, and so I began to figure out how to limit my food intake. Each Friday, I had to call into the agency to let them know how much weight I had lost. They wanted me to lose a pound per week. It was no small thing to change my eating habits since spending time with friends usually included things like ice-cream, candy, chips, pop, and McDonald’s visits. 

After managing to drop fifteen pounds, I was booked for a fashion show at Harbourfront in Toronto. I had been hard at work figuring out how much food I could eat and still lose weight. My agent had come to watch and afterward commended me on how well I had done in the show but told me I still needed to lose more weight. So I ate even less and landed at 108 pounds. For me, that meant virtually starving myself. 

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Penny Noble Model Management – the agency I modeled under for 8 years.

I’m not sure how, but my sixteen-year-old brain realized that this wasn’t going to work. That not only did I dislike such a restrictive eating behavior, but that this lifestyle wasn’t realistic for me. I met with my agent and told her that I didn’t want to diet anymore or be a part of her agency. She told me that was a shame, but that if I could ever keep the weight off she’d be happy to have me back. After months of sometimes eating as little as 200-400 calories per day, it took nearly two years for my metabolism to return to normal. I’m thankful I chose to put a stop to the strict dieting before developing anorexia.

Two years later, and twelve pounds heavier, I decided to give modeling another try. I met with two agents who both extended invitations to join their agencies. Neither one mentioned my weight. I continued to model for several years after that in Toronto, Montreal, and on contract overseas. I realized that the problem with the first agent was that she was trying to make me something I wasn’t. She wanted me to be a thin, high-fashion model when I had a more girl-next-door commercial look. 

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Don’t misunderstand me, I endorse exercise, healthy eating, and self-care, but just like my initial modeling experience, when we attempt to become something we aren’t—when we go to extreme lengths to be accepted but deny our true selves—we run into trouble. We become trapped on a treadmill of never-enough’s, people-pleasing while attempting to fill a soul-hole that can never be satisfied with the things of this world. 

Because here’s the thing, there will never be enough weight to lose, enough money to gain, enough compliments to receive to make us feel full. We’re starving and seeking to fill the emptiness with junk food. The lack of nutrients leaves us feeling even more depleted, but thankfully there is a remedy.

The Bible says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matthew 5:6) When we seek God, we are satisfied. When we desire God, the other fixes fade in importance. Our taste buds change, and we see the former things for the empty calories they were. No longer trying to be something we were never made to be, our identity grows secure in Christ and his love, and we partake of his rich blessings.  

The apostle Paul put it this way, “Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:8)

We find that all we ever needed and wanted—all that satisfies—is found at the feet of Christ. There we discover security, acceptance, healing, love, forgiveness, hope, peace, and joy—all the things we searched for but couldn’t find. In Christ, our true identity surfaces and an internal work of growth and transformation begins that no amount of earthly accoutrements could foster. From here on in, we are fueled by faith and nourished by the word of God secure in his promises.

I’ll leave you with this verse to ponder:

“And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?” (Matthew 16:26)
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  1. In what ways are you starving yourself trying to fill the soul-hole that only Jesus can fill?
  2. You can gain the whole world and lose your soul, or you can find Jesus, save your soul, and gain eternity.

A Roomful of Love

71051079_388729618467623_1034085484717932544_nThis past Tuesday, a life-long dream of mine came to fruition. My debut novel was released. The very same evening a supportive crowd of approximately eighty family and friends gathered to celebrate my book launch. 

The scene was surreal. The room was full of people from all different facets of my life all gathered in one place. I was flitting around the room working hard to bury my nervousness.

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It’s one thing to write a book, but quite another to release it to the world. All the while I was tapping out words on my laptop, editing streams of sentences, and pouring over various details, I was secure in my creative bubble. Now the book was launching and would be in the hands of readers, I felt a little exposed. 

The evening flowed beautifully and the enthusiasm of the gathered crowd encouraged me. I explained the book’s inception, my writing process, and offered details about the characters and themes. I enjoyed reading excerpts and left time for questions. 

My publicist had encouraged me to take a moment at the launch to look around the room, soak it all in, and ponder the gravity of what I had accomplished. I was attempting to do that between conversations, photo ops, and a trip to the bathroom to pray! I finally managed to take that moment just before I began to speak. I scanned the room, seeing the faces of the seated guests, and smiled. How is it that they all came here for me?

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What struck me the most wasn’t so much my accomplishment, but how blessed I am to have these dear souls in my life. When you really think about it, what would anything big in our lives be without others to celebrate with? To laugh with, cry with, to be silly with, or to accompany us through the hard bits of life? The people in the room represented love to me. A packed roomful of love. 

And there was something else. When I finished speaking, I exited the room to make my way to the signing table. Seated just outside the room was our pastor. Having had another engagement that night, he had come late to the launch and sat outside so as not to disturb the presentation. I can barely explain how much comfort and support his presence offered at that moment, but seeing him seated there was so beautiful. 

It struck me as a picture of Jesus. I envision him sitting nearby, his steady, comforting presence celebrating in our midsts and cheering me on. And truth be told, he was there. His presence among my friends, weaving through our conversation, amid my whispered bathroom prayers, and on the empty stool as I read from the book he helped me write. And like my gathered guests and their show of affection, my book would be nothing to celebrate without my Saviour. 

We can do a great many things in this life. We may write a book, receive a special award, earn multiple degrees, reach all our goals, but for me, it would be empty and futile if I didn’t know Jesus. His sacrificed life saved me. His offered love changed me. His spirit helps me. His presence comforts me. 

He gave everything and in doing so gave me life.

I’m thankful for God’s grace, and all the dear people he has seen fit to tuck into my life. Those I’m honoured to journey with and celebrate life’s events alongside, and with whom I’m privileged to help bear a burden or who help carry mine. As hard as this life can be, there’s much beauty in our midst. Sometimes we just need to take a moment, look around us, soak it all in, and ponder its gravity.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

 

Unknowns, Courage, and Creativity

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A photo of my author copy the day it arrived in the mail.

Tomorrow, my debut novel launches. 

I’ll be honest, a cocktail of emotions are brewing at the moment. A hearty mixture of excitement, nervousness, and outright fear of failure. It feels rather like I’m about to fling my heart out into the world hopeful it won’t get flattened. It’s always that way when trying something new, don’t you think? Maybe even more so with creative pursuits because a part of you is sewn right in with it.

Yet, where would we be without the kind of courage creating requires? Without those brave first strokes of ink or paint, our bookshelves would be barren and our walls unadorned of colourful masterpieces. There would be no music to make us merry. No architecture to take our breath away. No sculpture to stop us in our tracks. No gardens to still our souls. No chocolate—I go too far! Our beings would be bereft of nourishment without people answering the creative call.

I admire the courage of creators, those who bring life to their ideas despite the naysayers and critics. I applaud those who keep creating, keep trying, and keep overcoming obstacles to do both what they love and what gives them life. I’m inspired by the ones who continue to show up and don’t give up even when their inner critic won’t shut up. I’m grateful to those who pursue their gift as a gift to others.

But it’s not easy. 

As a recovering control freak, unknowns make me uneasy. The blank page—that sacred inhalation of breath before beginning—is crowded with both possibility and nightmarish uncertainty. And right now, I’m on a new precipice of uncertainty and in desperate need of exhaling.

But there’s hope. I’m considering reframing my concept of unknowns. Instead of attaching fear to them, I’m thinking of renaming these unknowns “new firsts” and viewing them as dynamic opportunities to explore something new. 

So let’s say it together: An unknown is a dynamic opportunity to explore something new.

Feel better? I do… for now. Ask me tomorrow when I’m standing at the book launch trying to wax eloquent about my book! I’m slowly easing into my “new first” by only inviting family and friends to the launch. I’m going to take that nervousness I feel toward introducing my book to the world, and all that goes with it, and view it as a dynamic opportunity to explore something new. 

I wonder, do extroverts require this much reflective self-talk? And at what age did I begin to be unsure of creative pursuits? But that’s another blog.

What it always comes down to is a conscious effort to hand over control. It’s not a one time fix. It’s a trust thing, and for me, there’s only one who can be entrusted with it—God. The unknowns, ahem, I mean the dynamic opportunities to explore something new are also an exciting chance to grow closer in my trust journey with my Creator.

So let me expand my definition: An unknown is a dynamic opportunity to explore something new and trust God more fully. 

Boom. There it is!

I hope you’ll join me on this trust journey. Let’s do this!

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  1. Do you have a fear of the unknown?
  2. What creative pursuit have you been putting off for fear of failure?
  3. Breath in, breath out, and begin that sacred journey trusting God every step.

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Available September 17th, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4866-1537-7

Print Availability: Chapters/Indigo, Amazon, Word Alive Press, and wherever fine Christian books are sold. 

eBook Availability: Amazon’s Kindle Store, Apple iBooks, Kobo, Google Play, Scribd, and in Adobe PDF format for additional vendors.

 

Don’t Give Up

shutterstock_459655336You may be tired. Tired of timing. Tired of transition. Tired of today. Tired just thinking about tomorrow.

Maybe the situation you’re experiencing is wearing and it’s getting harder to place one foot in front of the other.

You’re tired of putting on your game face. Tired of facing the next conversation in a mile of unpleasant ones. Tired of going to bed at night feeling lousy and waking up feeling the same. Tired of wondering when hope hiked off and left you alone.

Let me share a story. In my mid-twenties I joined a running group. The first night I showed up they were heading out for a 10K run. I had never run that far before. These people had. In fact, they were hardcore runners and trained almost every day. Somehow I made it through that first night. I may or may not have also made several visits to the toilet later that evening!

Months later, one of the runners suggested I come out on Saturday morning for a long run. That Saturday I dragged myself out of bed at some inhumane hour. It was mid-January and terrifyingly cold—minus 22 degrees Celsius cold—and still dark. I had neglected to ask exactly how far the “long run” would be. I learned too late that it was 22KM long. Again, somehow I made it through. I may or may not have experienced mobility issues the next day.

From there I decided to begin training for a marathon. I figured I’d managed to deliver three babies—also rather painful and lengthy—so how hard could running 42KM be? I started with Around the Bay, a race in Hamilton, Ontario. It was the furthest I’d ever run… 30KM. There are rolling hills near the end of the race that culminate in a rather large and long incline—think escarpment—before the flat to the finish.

I remember the feel of my wobbly legs after that final hill and how they began to lose the purpose for which they were made. I was nearly delirious, my brain willing my body to keep going, and saying things aloud such as, “Not far now. You can do this! You’re almost there!” Once again I made it through to the finish line, this time to be enfolded in a thermal blanket and the arms of my husband and kids. Five months later, I was able to reach my goal of completing a marathon.

So here’s how this ties together. Sometimes our hardship seems endless. We’re tired. Our legs are unsteady and we desperately want to stop, to give up the race. But we know we can’t reach the finish line by standing still. We need to keep going, to move through this place—however painful—to reach the other side.

In trials, I need to remind myself that this struggle won’t last forever. This isn’t my permanent location. I’m just passing through. I’m climbing the hill, I’m taking the next step and the one after that. I will myself not to stop, I ask God to help me not to give up. And even if I feel tired and weak, I trust I’m getting stronger with each step. I’m building spiritual fortitude.

I may have questions. I may feel discouraged, but I need to show up for the long run. No matter how dark, how long, or how far. I must keep going even when my legs aren’t cooperating. Whatever I do, I can’t quit. Every hardship I face, every escarpment I scale, makes me stronger to face the next hard thing. The same applies to you.

You are more resilient than you think. There’s more grit inside you than you know. Sometimes it means talking yourself up the hill when your body is screaming for you to stop. Sometimes it’s simply taking the next step, the next breath. But don’t give up now. Neither be content to just get by. Dig in. You still have things to do.

Your voice, your influence is valuable. You make a difference every time you show up. Don’t be lulled into lethargy. Don’t be tempted to quit this hard thing you’re facing. Your character, your growth, depends on it. Train through the tiredness—or the wilderness— knowing that it’s making you stronger and more beautiful. Afterward, you can run alongside another or cheer a fellow runner along.

You will make it through this long run to the finish line to be enfolded in the blanketing love and comforting arms of your Saviour. And you’ll be a light to others struggling on their journey to do the same. Don’t give up!

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“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. Make level paths for your feet, so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.” (Hebrews 12:11-13)

Coming Sept 17th, 2019

OneMoreTomorrow_Cover_042919

ISBN: 978-1-4866-1537-7

Print Availability: Chapters/Indigo, Amazon, Word Alive Press, and wherever fine Christian books are sold. 

eBook Availability: Amazon’s Kindle Store, Apple iBooks, Kobo, Google Play, Scribd, and in Adobe PDF format for additional vendors.