Tuesday, December 31, 2013

looking back...reflections on 2013

A year ago today I was lying on the couch -- sick as a dog with the flu-from-hell, physically and emotionally exhausted, unemployed, refusing to attend church, full of anger, bitterness, and grief. 2013 has been a tough year, but I have learned a lot about myself, others, and God. Thankfully, by the grace of God, I am not in the same place I was a year ago. 

Blog highlights/lessons I've been learning this past year:

-Learning to once again live with a heart wide open, despite all the dangers of love is a very scary business. Be careful who you open your heart to. There are a lot of people out there who are not able to safely handle your heart. But when you do open your heart, what a joy it is to have someone to walk alongside! 

-Real friends are the ones who show up and help carry you when things get tough. They stick it out even when you're not fun to be around. Letting go of past friendships is tough, but anyone who can't hang in there with you during the hard times, isn't worth having around to share the good times. 

-As terrible as house renovations are, there is a great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that comes with the completion of a project. (And having now felt that sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, we're totally going to hire someone to complete the final half of the house!)

-Having a home church and being part of a church community is important. Finding a church family where you fit in can be really hard. Finding a church that will care for your heart is even tougher. No church is perfect because we're all sinners. Sometimes, we can get deeply hurt by people who who are part of the church. Although they are sadly few and far between, church leadership that extends grace and love, and who offer a a sense of community and acceptance, really do exist. If you are able to find a pastor who takes seriously the calling of being Jesus' hands and feet, consider yourself blessed. 

-Forgiveness is a process, not an instant cure. You are not a "bad Christian" if you don't instantly forgive someone who caused you tremendous hurt and pain. Reconciliation is not the same as forgiveness, and it is not always possible.

-A lot of my friends have gone through some really tough losses recently. Though I can't relate specifically, my heart hurts for them. 

-Love is powerful. So is the bond of family. Being a big sister and an aunt is a great privilege

-Marriage can be really hard. Especially the "for richer or poorer/in sickness and in health" part. But I love my husband and wouldn't trade him for anything in the world.

-The only way for the grieving heart to heal is to work through it and deal with it. Easier said than done. Don't run when your past comes calling I (and so many others) am living proof that healing can happen. Sometimes your worst childhood enemy really can become your friend.

-Just because God doesn't show up when you want Him to, doesn't mean He's not there, or that He doesn't care. His sense of timing is not the same as ours, and we have to trust Him with the bigger picture. Again, easier said than done.

-Some dreams are worth pursuing, even when they seem impossible. Sometimes, they come true sooner than you think.

Thank you to my faithful mentors, friends and readers for your prayers and your words of encouragement throughout 2013. It is my hope and prayer that each of you experience God's ongoing presence in your life throughout the New Year. May you know without a doubt that whatever 2014 holds, He will hold you firmly in His hands!
Happy New Year! 

Friday, December 27, 2013

christmas 2013 in photos

Oh the weather outside is frightful
But the fire is so delightful,

And since we've no place to go,
Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!

It doesn't show signs of stopping,
And I've bought some corn for popping,

The lights are turned way down low,
Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!

When we finally kiss good night
How I'll hate going out in the storm!

But if you'll really hold me tight,
All the way home I'll be warm.

The fire is slowly dying,

And my dear, we're still goodbying,

But as long as you love me so,
Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!

(And since I was not so diligent with taking family photos this year, here is the link to view last year's Christmas photo post.)

Sunday, December 15, 2013

when you can't find a job - part 4

***This is a follow-up to my previous posts, When You Can't Find a Job - part 1part 2 and part 3 (which I must say, have been some of my most-read posts so far!)***

It's no secret that I have had an odd assortment of jobs this past year. From selling items online, to organizing and cleaning, to making preserves and gift baskets, to tutoring, I've done it all. And now I'm happy to announce that in addition to doing all of the above, I'm now back to part-time teaching as well.

Because local teaching jobs are so hard to come by (and basically non-existent in the local Christian schools), my only option of getting back into the market was to supply teach. Although the money can be great, supply teaching is not for the faint of heart! It's incredibly stressful walking into a room of 25 kids you don't know, and hoping praying that you can maintain control all day--and if you're lucky, actually get them to do some work. It's the stuff that those "week-before-school-starts-teacher-nightmares" are made of! And it's the reason I usually don't teach older grades (although I did teach high school English and Civics once...talk about stepping out of my comfort zone!) I was dreading the prospect of constantly being on-call, never knowing if/when/where I would be working; however, the only way into the public or Catholic school board is to first get on to their supply list. And I had applied for this twice in the past two years, and never received an interview. 

Thus, late in August, armed with my resume and a current police check, I visited several local schools in hopes of getting on some emergency supply teacher lists. This is done on a school-by-school basis, and usually left up to the administrative assistant. I started out with the schools that were within a few minutes' driving distance from home. Thankfully, we are very centrally located--I am within 15 minutes of 3 public schools! One was familiar because I had done a student-teaching placement there. Although my former associate teacher had transferred to another school, the administrative assistant remembered me, and immediately added me to her list. The next school I visited was brand new to me, however it happened to be the school where my former associate teacher now worked. The last school was also brand new to me, but I had a teacher friend who taught there. The administrative assistant was delighted that I had experience in Kindergarten. Having been added to the lists at 3 different schools, all I had to do was wait for a phone call.

My phone was silent for nearly all of September. I assumed that I was not going to have a very busy year, so I continued tutoring and working on my other side businesses. I was also able to help my sister-in-law set up for her first year of homeschooling. Because I wasn't teaching Kindergarten, she was then able to make use of my plans, books, and activities that would have otherwise sat in boxes in our spare room. 

Then I started getting calls. (As the old saying goes, "When it rains, it pours!") And not just for supply teaching, but also for Educational Assistant (EA) supply, and with my background in Kindergarten, Early Childhood Education (ECE) supply. Most recently, I was able to work as an ECE for 8 days in the same classroom! Not only did I have an excellent associate teacher to work with, but also a very well-behaved class! It also gave me the opportunity to get to know the school routines, as well as the other staff.

Some weeks I work full-time, some weeks part-time, and some weeks not at all. Overall, though, I average about one call per week. Even though emergency supply teachers make a lot less than those who are on the board supply list, the money is still good. Combined with my other endeavors, the one-call-a-week is providing nearly the exact amount of extra cash needed for me to stop looking for a permanent job. 

After a frustrating year of searching, applying, and interviewing for non-teaching-related jobs, and still coming up jobless, it appears that God had a plan this whole time. Having this time away from teaching has allowed me to be able to work through some of my pain and past hurts (like the part where I stopped going to church...not so good if you plan on being employed in a Christian school.) So after a year away, it's time to ease back into real life. And right now, I have a strong sense that real life consists of emergency supply teaching.  

Living and working in a small community is not easy for someone with my trust issues who has been burned by one of the churches in that small community. I can't even go to the grocery store without running into someone from my "former life." However, emergency supply work provides the opportunity go into a school and focus on my job for the day; there is no need to form lasting relationships with co-workers or parents, or make small-talk with with someone I'm still trying hard to forgive. It's a relief to go in and do my job, without wondering what everyone is thinking or saying behind my back, and then feeling anxiety over having to face them all again the next day. 

I still hate being on-call, (I have actually lost sleep worrying about if I am going to have to work the next day), but I enjoy the freedom of not being tied down to a specific job. I can decline a call, or quit supplying any time I want. Through this whole process of job-hunting, it's clear that all along, God knew what He was doing. It is not my intention to do emergency supply teaching forever. But it's a good fit for where I'm at right now. And it's another stepping stone on my journey of healing and discovering more of who I am.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

christmas greetings 2013

Dear Family, Friends and Blog Readers,

It’s that time of year again! We are amazed at where the time goes--in a few short weeks we will again be celebrating the birth of our Saviour, and ringing in a New Year. With that in mind, we would like to take some time to reflect on the past 12 months. It has been a rather eventful year for us:

After 2.5 years, we now have a completed master bedroom, spare bedroom, and bathroom/laundry room upstairs! We were so relieved to finally complete the enormous task this past spring. This summer, we had a new front entranceway added, and had the front porch completely re-built. Mr. Gryce continues to work at the downstairs foyer/office area, and the downstairs bathroom. He is becoming quite handy at framing, plumbing, electrical work, and all other necessary tasks involved. If all goes as planned, we will gut the kitchen and living room in early spring, and then hire someone to complete the final stage of our downstairs renovations before next Christmas.

Mr. Gryce is definitely ready for a well-deserved vacation this month! Renovating and chopping our winter’s supply of wood have kept him busy all year—in addition to his work as a software developer. He has been at his current job for just over 3 years, and while the work is challenging and time-consuming, the company is doing well and he hopes to be there for a long time. Their new office space provides a beautiful view of the Bay of Quinte! We were able to get away for a weekend in August to Huntsville, Ontario, where Mr. Gryce was a groomsman in his friend Ivan’s wedding.

Mrs. Gryce has not yet found a permanent job. She started offering private tutoring at our home this past summer, and currently works with 5 students here in the evenings. She also launched her own business, The County Cupboard, selling homemade jams, preserves and gift baskets. She also cleaned and organized several people’s homes/garages, selling numerous items on consignment. Mrs. Gryce continues to put her entrepreneurial skills to good use, selling a variety of items online, including her preserves. From time to time, she also gets called to supply teach in some of the local schools. We are thankful that in the past few weeks, she had received numerous calls. In her spare time, Mrs. Gryce has started this blog, and also continues to enjoy scrapbooking.

After two years, we are starting to feel more at-home in our new church. We have a few close friends and are blessed to be led and loved by a wise and humble pastor. Despite being part of such a large church, he has truly taken the time out of his busy schedule to spend time with us and to really get to know us. We are grateful to be part of a church that cares for not just our hearts, but the hearts of so many other broken and hurting people, both in the church and broader community.

We were excited to become Uncle and Aunt again this year. We welcomed our newest niece Evelena Marie on April 26. We enjoy watching her grow and change—and yes, we even babysit sometimes! Our twin nieces Molly and Lola are growing up fast—they celebrated their first birthday in September, while nephew Silas began home school. He enjoys doing many of their Aunt's former Kindergarten activities in their new school room in the basement. We still have our kitty Charlie, and he continues to delight and amuse us with his antics.  

We are hoping and praying that 2014 will be a year of continued personal growth for us—both spiritually and emotionally. We can’t thank you enough for your friendship, love, prayers, and support. May you and your family have a blessed Christmas and a happy and healthy New Year!

With much love,
Mr & Mrs Gryce

(To read last year's Christmas greeting, go here.)

Sunday, December 1, 2013

when trust is broken

I have trouble trusting people. If you're a regular reader of this blog, or if you've known me for any length of recent time, you'll know why. I'm still working through a lot of it, because as I've said before, forgiveness is a process.

Forgiveness is not, however, the same as reconciliation. 

To be reconciled with someone that has wronged you, means that trust is re-established. As John Visser writes in his book When Dreams Come True, it means that I can "safely put my life back in your hands without fear of being betrayed, taken advantage of or hurt all over again...Trust once broken is very difficult to restore. It almost inevitably involves a period of testing to make sure that you really are who you say that you are."

While I'm the first to admit that I have trouble with the forgiveness aspect, I have even more trouble with the reconciliation part--because it involves involves trust. 

Wounded hearts do not lightly let go of the pain they have experienced or the injuries they have sustained.

John Visser writes, "Many people cannot learn to trust because their hearts are wounded and they are bonded to their pain. When they see other people living in community, loving and being loved in return, they say, 'Yes, I want to be part of that. I want to...belong.' Hesitatingly, they step out and try to find people that are safe, always testing, always secretly feeling they are going to be disappointed. And sure enough, that is exactly what happens. Sooner or later, someone will let them down and reinforce all their fears that people are not to be trusted...

Wounded hearts are like a bottomless pit. No matter how much love you pour into them, it is never enough. 

"You can do it right a thousand times but the first time that you fail, you're in the doghouse. No one can fill a bottomless pit. It needs to be healed. And the only one who can truly do that is Jesus. As we embrace our pain, take personal responsibility and turn it over to Jesus, He will do the work of healing that needs to be done. As we embrace our fears and step out in faith and obedience, we get stronger and are able to do relationships properly.

"For many people that is a very scary business. To expose one's heart and take the risk of rejection when that has been the story of one's life is contrary to every natural principal of self-preservation. Everything inside of us wants to run away from such pain. Bit as we persevere, as we take the risks...we discover that He is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think. The benefits of living in community far outweigh the cost of getting there."

With the help of God, forgiveness is always possible. Because God reconciled the world to himself and did not count our many sins against us (II Cor 5:19), we too, should always strive for reconciliation. But reconciliation can only happen with trust. And just like forgiveness, repairing trust takes time.   

So how do we know if it's safe to trust someone who hurt us? The only way to even begin to repair trust is for the injured party to be assured of three things:

1. The offender truly understands what he/she did wrong.
2. The offender is determined to do something about the wrong he/she did.
3. The offender can demonstrate over a period of time that true change has taken place.

This doesn't always happen. Which is why there are many people with whom I am not yet reconciled. Some do not understand the gravity or the significance of the wrong they did. Some do not wish to make make amends or even acknowledge what they did was wrong. Some have not showed any change at all on their end. In those cases, forgiveness on my part is made all that much more difficult. And reconciliation? Impossible at this point. It is not wise, nor safe, to begin trusting them. 

Living in community does not mean we live with our hearts wide open for just anyone. 

My wounded heart can only take so much. So while Colossians 3:13 instructs us to "forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another...as the Lord forgave you," I like the reminder of Proverbs 4:23: "Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.Just because we forgive someone, doesn't mean we automatically let them back into our lives in the same capacity as before. Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. Reconciliation requires cooperation on the part of both parties, and is not possible without trust.

Right now, because of my wounded heart, it's hard for me to trust. But I'm working on it. Sooner or later, we all hurt each other. Because we're all human. And even though sometimes the wounds have been too deep, and the betrayal too great for reconciliation to take place, a sincere apology and acknowledgement of the hurt goes a long way in the process of healing me

"If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone" (Romans 12:18), and walk in forgiveness. But be careful who you trust.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

forgiveness (part 2)

Mary Byrd is a living example of what true forgiveness looks like. Watch this video clip. 
It says it all.

(And if you haven't read my first post on the process of forgiveness--it's only gotten 53 reads--I forgive you...but please read it here!)

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

why i quit church (and how i found my way back)

This post is a continuation on the topic of several of my previous posts: "They will know we are Christians by our Love,"  "A Heart Ignored,"  "When Hello is not Enough," and "Being the Hands and Feet of Jesus." It also contains a large excerpt of a post by Addie Zierman, entitled "Replacing Sunday Mornings: Where We Went When We Stopped Going to Church...And Why We Came Back." A writer and fellow blogger, Addie recently published her first book, "When We Were on Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love and Starting Over."  
If you have been following my blog, you will know why I resonate with so much of what she has written.


I, like so many others of my generation, stopped going to church. For months and months, I could not bring myself to walk through the doors of a church on a Sunday morning. Believe me, I tried. But at the risk of having a full-out panic attack, I quit and did not look back for a long, long time. 

In his book, Blessings and Curses: The Key to Lasting Change, John Visser talks about the "corporate culture" of a church. He writes, "A person who lives to please will be drawn to 'nice' churches. These are churches where they don't mind taking you in as a worldly person in need of conversion. They will gladly lead you to Christ. Once you have come to Christ, however, you'd better get your life in order. In these churches, there is little or no talk about the nitty-gritty, on-going sin or pain that so often mars the life of even God's people. Everybody puts on a happy face and pretends everything is alright. Services in these churches are upbeat; fellowship is friendly, albeit superficial; and so many people lead double lives because there is no acceptable place to go when you have a problem as a believer."

In hindsight, then, it's no wonder I ended up in the church that I did. I was a people-pleaser. I wanted to belong somewhere. I wanted acceptance. I wanted relationship. But I also wanted authenticity. I wanted someone to acknowledge my pain and help walk me through it, not act like it didn't exist.  

But when church culture is defined more by people's dysfunction than by the gospel, there is a big problem 

Fortunately (though it felt unfortunate at the time), my soon-to-be husband was more of a truth-seeker than a people pleaser--which did not go over well with the church leadership. After a time, we felt it necessary to leave. But the damage was done: just the mention of church conjured up enormous feelings of hurt, betrayal, and anger. Church as I knew it, ended up becoming a place of condemnation, cliques, and gossip, all covered over by smiling, happy faces. My heart had been ignored. Sadly, during this time, I often received more grace from "non-church" friends.

And so I quit church. 

Addie Zierman writes: "I left the church for a lot of reasons – some legitimate, some imagined. Eventually I found the courage to come back... During my self-imposed exile from church, I journeyed with others. The wounded, the cynic, the angry, the doubting.

"First, we joined gyms. We started training for 5ks and 10ks, marathons and triathlons. In the mornings, we ran next to strangers, breathing in tandem, keeping stride, and though they didn't know us, they called out the strength in our tired bodies...
At the finish line, people we didn't know cheered for us madly. They held up their hands to meet our sweaty palms, and for the first time that we can remember, we feel like the victors that the pastors always promised we were.

"We attended book clubs that we found from craigslist postings on the Internet. We sat in some stranger's house with a glass of wine, and we felt strangely free to express our opinions. We said what we thought about the book. We asked questions. We wondered aloud what the author was trying to say about hope. We batted around ideas, feather-light and beautiful.

We thought briefly of all of the Bible studies we attended. Those times when we kept our complex, doubt-filled questions bottled up in our hearts because we couldn't figure out a way to ask them.

"Back then, we were in search of a place where we fit. We were leaving the churches where we grew up. The youth groups where we took our first wobbly steps toward whoever it was that we were going to become. 
We knew it wouldn't be pizza parties and camping retreats and yellow buses heading toward Florida – this new, grown-up church experience. But we expected belonging. We expected grace and support and love.

"For a while we tried, moving from one church to another. We were never looking for perfection. We weren't that naïve.... Some of us searched longer than others, but in the end we faded out. We were looking for Jesus. Instead we found programs, guilt, and awkward small talk. We found fog machines and Five-Simple-Steps-to-Spiritual-Growth and fill-in-the-blank Bible studies.

"So we started sleeping in on Sunday mornings. We went to the farmers market and bought good things straight from the earth. We drank our morning coffee at small café tables outside, and people walked by with their dogs at a slow, Sunday-morning pace. It felt more like rest to us than those chaotic church mornings, when we moved through the loud small talk of the church foyer and felt invisible.

"Some of us went to neighborhood bars...and we were surprised to find that all...we had to do was sit down, and we were part of that place, that crowd, that beautiful mosaic of people, all of them broken in their own ways – few of them pretending otherwise. 
Under a fluorescent Miller Lite sign, nobody told us to "get plugged in" or suggested that nursery duty might be just what the Lord wanted us to do for the next 8,000 Sundays. Instead, we drank a few too many, and we began to ramble, and people we didn't know listened earnestly, layering their memories over ours until we were united by our stories.

"We went on Facebook and played at community. We went out to dinner and to concerts and to the movies. We went dancing and felt the thrum of the music in our bodies, and once, some Church Person told us that dancing was a gateway to sin – but there we were, in a haphazardly formed circle of strangers, singing the same song at the top of our lungs. 
We went on road trips and on airplanes, and we were searching, still, even then. We slung our backpack over our shoulders and went farther out into the world.

Some of us went to therapy and began the hard work of untangling our knotted-up hearts. If we were really brave, we tackled our angst about the years when we were on fire. We tried to find the heart of Christ beating, still, under the sticky, webbed Christian culture that had grown up over it.

"Some of us went under the dark waves of our own depression and pain, never to resurface. Some of us came back. Tentatively. Slowly. We came back because we were beginning to believe that it might be here too. In these churches with all of their brokenness, all of their clunky programs and squeaky-clean sermons. We'd figured out that it still existed, and that it can be found in the most imperfect of people. We saw it, after all, at the end of our first 5k. We found it slumped over at the bar, sobbing out our story to a stranger. We encountered it on the unfamiliar roads that we were driving, felt it course through our body like dancing music. 

"And it turned out to be that unnamable Thing we'd been looking for all long. And in our better moments, we've learned to recognize it for what it is: Grace."


Because my pain eventually got bigger than I could handle alone, I went to therapy. At a church. (Go figure.) The hurt that I experienced from another church's leadership drove me into the arms (literally) of a different pastor. And because of the grace that I found in that office every other Wednesday, I was able to tentatively walk back through the doors of that same church one Sunday morning. 

Acceptance. Belonging. Love. Grace. All the things we are supposed to find at church from fellow believers. But no church is perfect. No church is going to meet each and every single need of each and every single member.  The church body is made up of imperfect sinners, each with their own hurts and brokenness. But because of the grace that we first received through Jesus, we must in turn offer each other that same grace. 

John Visser writes, "Most of our churches, like most of our lives, are a curious mix of good and bad... What God is looking for are churches that increasingly reflect His character and nature, churches that are truly and authentically alive, where each person increasingly grows into the image and likeness of the Lord Jesus and where together they exhibit His love and passion for a lost world. In order for that to happen, God's people must become increasingly whole, and that means dealing...with...the brokenness that lies underneath."

I believe I now have found a church whose leadership promotes a corporate culture of exactly that. And that is one of the reasons why I found my way back. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

being the hands and feet of Jesus

*** This post is a follow-up to my controversial post entitled 
"They Will Know we are Christians by Our Love..." ***

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,  I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."’ (Matthew 25:31-40)

Christian psychologist and trauma expert, Dr. Diane Langberg, describes her experience visiting one of the dungeon chambers at Cape Coast Castle, Ghana, which housed male slaves in the late 1700's. She was shocked to learn that above the dark dungeon was a chapel. Directly above 200 chained men, sat God-worshipers who "sang, read the scripture, prayed, and [who] I supposed took up an offering for the less fortunate. The slaves could hear the service, and the worshipers could hear the slaves [crying, screaming and utterly filthy]...The visual parable was stunning.

She goes on to say, "[The tour guide commented that it was] 'heaven above, hell below'...but I would argue... that heaven was not above...because that is not what heaven does... Heaven leaves heaven... Heaven comes down. If the people of that chapel had truly worshiped the God of the scriptures, they would have been in the dungeon. In the filth, in the darkness and the trauma and they would have entered in so they might bring out.

"...The church goes into the dungeon so the dungeon becomes the church...
God came to this dung-filled dungeon you and I call earth and He sat with us and He touched us and He loved us and He brought us to Himself... He became one of us. We are the slaves in the dungeon...and He did not take us out so we can stand on the necks of the oppressed... He's called us...to go back into the plague infested dung-heap so that other slaves might find freedom... The dungeons of Cape Coast Castle existed below because they were first in the hearts of the worshipers." 

As our pastor said in a past sermon, "We need to be prepared to leave our sanitized world, and invest ourselves deeply in the lives of broken and traumatized people...To truly love God is to express that love in an ongoing, deepening relationship with people around you...especially those who are most wounded, most hurt, and most traumatized... 

"If the church is relevant to life of the world today, it must learn to identify the traumas of our day... [and the] questions that nobody has answers to...We need to be able to take a living Jesus who rose from the dead and who conquered the grave and who can speak into those situations and change lives unspeakably by the power of his resurrection. That's what it is to be a church! " 

A question our pastor left us with was this:

Who has God used to bless you and help meet your needs? Who in your life has been His hands and His feet?  Maybe it was someone who led you to Christ or someone who helped you grow spiritually. Or maybe someone helped you grow emotionally or psychologically by listening to your pain and embracing you with the love of Jesus. Perhaps it was someone who helped you with a physical or financial need. Or someone who brought you a meal or babysat your kids. Either way, I doubt it was the legalistic, holier-than-thou, afraid-to-get-their-hands-dirty Christian. 

As we have been shown the love of God through Jesus (and hopefully too through someone else), we in turn must show that same love to someone else. The final question we were left to ponder, was this:

Who is there in your circle of influence, that the Lord calls you to bless? Regardless of whether it is a dungeon of their own making, who do you know who is struggling in the dungeons of this world? Dr. Langberg argues that trauma is one of the primary mission fields for the church of the 21st century. When we refuse to go there--and instead choose to hide in the chapel--we are not unlike the chapel-goers at Cape Coast Castle. To stay in the chapel is to stay clean, but it is not to follow our Saviour. It was He who said, "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."’

I challenge you to go out and make a difference in the life of someone you know. It might be uncomfortable. It may very well be inconvenient. It will probably be messy. But it's exactly where Jesus would be. 

**** The complete presentation of Dr. Diane Langberg, 
as well as Pastor John's sermon entitled "People Helping People" are available online. ****

Friday, November 1, 2013

on forgiveness

Somewhere along the line, I was taught that once we choose to forgive, it will automatically make everything better. The hurt, the anger, and the bitterness will just stop. But in my experience, this has not proved true. 

I have felt a tremendous amount of guilt and shame over it, because when "good Christians" choose to forgive and pray a little prayer, everything's fine. 

At least that's the message I was taught.

I wish it were that easy. But it's not.  Because as I am learning, forgiveness is a complicated process

One of the chapters in our pastor's latest book, When Dreams Come True: The Story of Joseph, talks about forgiveness. And as seen in the chart illustrated below, it depends on many factors:

In his book, Pastor John explains how two people who experience almost identical situations will respond very differently.  If you are betrayed or wronged by a long-term friend, it hurts much more than if a stranger treats you unkindly. Similarly, the more sensitive you are, the more other people's actions may hurt you. Some people are hardly ever offended. Others become deeply insulted by a seemingly small thing. It all depends on these factors. For someone who has been wronged, forgiveness will likely be much more difficult if the act was severe, intentional, frequent, and not acknowledged by the offender.

When forgiveness is rushed, forced out of obligation, or simply done in the name of Christian duty, (rather than genuine sincerity), the whole process backfires.

As you start information gathering (asking questions, processing events), it triggers the original feelings of hurt and anger. What most people don't understand, is that this is a crucial and necessary part of the healing process. Sometimes it seems to go on forever, but (and I can't stress this enough!) you have to let this process run its course.  How long it takes depends on the degree and nature of the offense.  I have been chastised for not being able to "let things go." But contrary to what those well-meaning people (including a pastor) once told me, some people don't just "get over" something. Depending on all those factors, forgiveness doesn't usually happen overnight. Forgiveness is a process that takes time. 

In her book, Surviving a Shark Attack (on Land), the famous therapist/talk-show host, Dr. Laura Schlessinger writes:

"Time is the smart part of life. Time reveals character. Time permits healing and growth. Time gives perspective. Time is one of life's greatest embraces."

Dr. Laura likens forgiveness to the idea taking a trip. People need to come to that place of forgiveness by travelling though a lot of small towns. "It takes some people a bit of travelling time...[and they] have to run by the the road signs of hurt, grief, and anger [first]... 

Unfortunately, betrayers often tire quickly of efforts at rehabilitation [and]...rebuilding trust.... They usually get impatient and require that the injured party just 'forgive (excuse) and forget.' News flash: that means they haven't changed..."

That realization in itself, can be even more painful than the original betrayal.

I can truly say that there are some cases in which I've walked out the process to completion. It doesn't minimize the hurt or excuse the harm that was done. But when you are able to finally release it for good, you feel so liberated! Especially when there is true reconciliation that happens afterwards. 

But there are some hurts that have cut me so deep and are still so raw. I am highly sensitive. I have been hurt by many people I trusted. I have been abandoned by many close friends when I needed them most. Many of these wrongs were never acknowledged by the one who committed them. And some were indeed very intentional. To simply "let it go" or "forgive and forget" would be for me to live in denial. But that's how so many people in Christian circles are living. In denial. Refusing to acknowledge the hurt and the anger. Pretending to have moved on. But let's face it: pretending to be someone or something that you're not, is exhausting. 

So, I am still working through this whole forgiveness process. Really working on it. I have chosen to forgive those who hurt me. My human nature doesn't want to, but I know it's what God wants requires of me. I know that emotionally and psychologically it's the best thing for me. But there are a few cases where I am not yet able to release all desires to retaliate (though I haven't acted on these desires!) In all honesty, I am not yet in a place where I am prepared to wish some of my offenders well. So, no,  I have not completed my forgiveness process with everyone. Because it takes time. It is a moment by moment, day by day, and sometimes, a year by year process. 

But I know eventually I'll get there. And in the meantime, I will not live in denial. I will not rush the process to appease the legalisticI will not feel like I'm a "bad" Christian because I'm not "there" yet. I refuse to feel guilty for not being able to "just let it go." Because forgiveness is a process.

***To hear more, listen to Pastor John's sermon entitled Forgiveness As a Process.***

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

remembering dad

While sorting through some papers, I stumbled upon a copy of my Uncle Nick's speech from my parent's wedding. Uncle Nick is a gifted writer and storyteller (seems to be a trend in the Dykstra family!), who was responsible for translating and editing my grandfather's autobiography. A cousin of mine then had published a few years ago.While I obviously wasn't around to hear the original speech, as I read it all these years later, it sure brought back memories of my dad. This is a little snapshot of my family history, and I am proud to be able to share it with you all.


"I have known Hessel all his life, ever since he replaced me as the baby in the family. Mind you, being more than two years old I did not think myself a baby anyway. And because I was big, and he was small, it always was my job to look after him. A job I tried to avoid as much as possible--forcing Hessel to learn on his own. That's how Hessel learned to become very stubborn. Nobody ever saw him make any mistakes. (I did not say that he never made any mistakes--nobody ever saw him make any.) Least of all, his big brother. You could not prod nor tease him into doing anything that he had not mastered yet. When Hessel said "no!" he did "no."

As toddlers, we were always tied onto a rope to keep us from wandering off. If I could not untie the knots, I ended up strangling myself. [Younger] brother Bill was fortunate enough that during the war years, rope was made from paper. After keeping it in his mouth long enough to soak it, he could tear it apart and make his getaway. Hessel [in contrast], would bring the rope to Mom to show his desire to go outside without running the risk of making mistakes. 

As a five year old, he broke his arm. A bike fell on him. Nobody ever saw his attempt to learn to ride that thing. Shortly thereafter, he drove the two wheeler all over the village without ever ending up against a fence, in a hedge, a ditch, or the canal--like all the rest of us.

Where we grew up [in Holland], the farmers' fields were separated by ditches, 6-12' wide, 3-6' deep, filled with water and mud. As kids, each spring, we spent our time roaming these fields accompanied with a long pole, whose only purpose was to get us across these ditches. Favourite ditches were used for days on end for practice purposes, showing off, or competitions, till the banks were slimy from all the activities. Competitions ranged not only on jumping the farthest with or without climbing that pole during the process, but also on placing the pole closest (or on) the near bank or the far bank, hanging on the pole as high (or low) as possible, hanging on with one hand only, etc.... The inevitable result was always: a dunking. It's an official spectator sport now, called pole vaulting.

Dad gave Hessel a pole too. A beautiful blue painted pole. Mine had never been painted. [But] Hessel would not use his pole. Sometimes he disappeared, (with his pole, I think.) Weeks later, he showed up at our favourite ditch and jumped over it. On the wrong side of the pole. Thereafter, he jumped over every ditch. Hessel never came home with wet feet like the rest of us.  

One day he showed up at the canal where we were swimming. Hessel dove in, swam right across, and back. I never knew how he learned it.

He got his high school diploma in three years. Never studied like the rest of us, so it seemed. 

I took driver's lessons for three days from the car salesman who sold us our first car. After a so-called driver's test, I got my license, and proudly drove the car home, only to meet Hessel as a hitchhiker. I stopped and opened the passenger door for him. Hessel walked over to the wrong side and told me to move over. 'You have your license, I don't,' he said. 

So I tried to teach him:
#1 This is the wheel, for steering.
#2 That is the gearshift.
#3 There is the gas pedal.
#4 There is the clutch.
#5 That is the brake to stop this thing.
'Now, step on #4, step on #3, put #2 in left hand rear position, let go of #4.'
Hessel drives away, no jerks. First gear. 
'Then, step on #4, move #2 ahead to right and up, step on #3, let go of #4.'
Hessel speeds up in second gear, no gear scratching, no jerks.
'Well, step on #4, move #2 as far back as it will go, let go of #4.'
Hessel speeds up to 45 mph--top speed of the car. No gear scratching, no jerks, stayed on the right side of the white line.
Beginner's luck? Let's try again:
'Ok, step on #5, now on #4."
Hessel stops on the right side of the road, on the shoulder. No jerks, motor still runs, did not stall.
Repeat whole process with same result.
I gave up.

The next week, Hessel gets his license, and drives for 30 years without banging into anything. Like all the rest of us.

Hessel also waterskies. When he gets tired of standing on both legs, he kicks off one ski and continues on one leg like a stork. I never saw him fall. Like the rest of us.

Hessel and Dad started a farm in 1953. Hessel bought 1 cow, and Dad 50 chickens, to populate the 65 acres. Three years later, they buy another farm of 100 acres. Hessel had 5 cows. Dad's chickens are dead. In 1973 dad retired, (no chickens,) but Hessel had a purebred Holstein herd for which he has received the top trophies in the County for several years, along with the trophy for the highest producing cow in the County. He now farms approximately 300 acres, and is fully mechanized to run it all by himself

So friends, that is Hessel.
Never made a mistake.
We all like him for it.
Kids and animals adore him.
The community appreciates him.

He has in the past, (or is now) serving as Director of the Holstein Frisian Association, member of the Christian Farmer's Association, deacon and steward of the Bloomfield CRC, board member of  Quinte Christian High School, and probably other organizations. 

Today we have witnessed the vows Hessel has exchanged with Connie before God, our Maker and Saviour, and we celebrate with them. We wish them a very happy life together. 

As Hessel's choice, we know, he made no mistake. 
He took his time.
His eyes wide open -- we thought he was looking the other way!
Nobody suitable in Canada, for 31 years.
Nobody suitable in Holland, 3 visits in a row.
He found her in New Jersey, USA.

Since then, his life had changed. This summer alone already he has:
Gotten extremely nervous.
Broken the hay baler. 
Chickened out of a swim at the Outlet when the water was too cold.
Dented the door on his pickup truck.
Got an infection in his left arm.
Gotten disorganized doing chores after three days of visiting Connie in New Jersey.
Losing some of this hair.

So Connie, your job's cut out for you already. He needs you now more than ever, to snap him out of this very uncharacteristic trend--so that 15 years from now, he'll say that today he made the only mistake in his life; he should have married you 15 years earlier!

Hints to the bride:
Hessel loves thick green pea soup or brown beans. Especially on Saturdays.
Hessel likes a weekly bubble bath in his own bathtub.
As far as I know, all Hessel knows about women is that they need lots of cupboards and closets. That's why he built hundreds of square feet of closets--and as an afterthought, some rooms around it to make it look like a house. He bet me that there's no woman in the world that can fill them up. Show him, Connie! I'd like to collect."
-by Nick Dykstra, August 21, 1982

Mr. & Mrs. Hessel Dykstra