Friday, February 5, 2016

Tippy Canoe and the Lifesaver

The mild spring breeze kissed our cheeks as we sat on the beach, feet slightly submerged in the still chilly lake. Laughter erupted occasionally, but sometimes we just lay back on the warm rocks in contented silence, enjoying the peace and calm and sunshine of a perfect Sabbath afternoon. We were on a weekend campout at a nearby lake, Seton, with a whole group from the high-school that I work at. We had just canoed about 4 kilometres (2.5 miles) from our remote campsite called “Long Beach” across part of the lake to an outcropping we called “Sandy Point.” Now we were relaxing and appreciating the company and the sunshine.

As the sun slowly sank westward, we all figured it was time to head back. Climbing into our canoe, and laying our life jackets on our seats for comfort, my friend Alexandra and I attempted to paddle in a direct line across the little “bay” to the campsite. But as we paddled, the sky darkened as clouds began to cover the sun that had once shone so brightly. And the air that had been so warm quickly cooled as wind began to pick up. The glassy lake surface was now choppy as gusts of wind whipped up the waves. We were about a third of the way back when one of the school’s speedboats headed towards our group of canoers, “Start paddling towards the edge of the lake,” the driver yelled. “Looks like a big storm is blowing in and it’s not safe to be canoeing out here in the open water with all these waves.” He sped off leaving us a wake of waves to bounce over. The lake edge was parallel to us across the inlet and not exactly in the direction we were paddling.
“But if we head straight towards the shore, that will put our canoe parallel to the waves,” I pointed out. And anyone who knows anything about canoeing knows that’s a sure way to flip. Well we’d just have to slowly angle our way towards shore instead. The wind and competency of the canoers had separated our group and Alexandra and I were not near any others. As we gradually worked on angling towards shore, our canoe was no longer plowing directly into the waves. Unexpectedly a rogue wave caught our canoe, driving it parallel to the waves. And in an instant, without even a second to react, I was plunged into the frigid waters. Gasping as the glacial waters closed around me, their cold fingers crushing the air out of my chest, I struggled in the waves. But where were my expensive Chaco flip-flops? And where was my favourite Nalgene water bottle? I fought the waves to reach them. “You should grab your flip-flops too,” I shouted over to Alexandra. But as I clutched my treasured possessions, Alex’s chattering voice reached my ears “w-w-w-e sh-sh-ould probably put on our l-l-l-ife-jackets.” Why hadn’t I thought of that? I guess I’d been too busy recovering my things. But it did seem like a very smart thing to do as our body temperatures rapidly dropped. I swam towards my lifejacket that was quickly floating away. It also seemed like a smart thing to call for help. And now with my lifejacket securely in place, I screamed “HELP” as loudly as I could towards the distant canoes of our friends. Could they hear me? I hoped so. But yes, one of the canoes was turning and coming our way. Relieved, I watched as they paddled closer. But every time they tried to approach and help grab our flipped and sinking canoe, the waves tore us apart. And they had to be careful not to tip themselves. Helplessly I watched as the wind pushed them farther and farther away. But hope was not lost; a speedboat was rapidly making its way towards us. Warm hands pulled our shaking bodies into the boat and blankets were wrapped around us. Soon we were back at Long Beach and after changing into dry clothes I sat and warmed myself by a crackling campfire. It sure had been an unexpectedly adventurous afternoon. But I realized there was something to be learned from my experience.

As I struggled in the water, my first reaction was to grasp my possessions. And while I was attempting to reach them, I was rapidly floating away from the most important thing, my lifejacket. And I think we do that in our day-to-day lives as well. We become so focused on our treasured possessions, on wealth, on positions, on fleeting happiness, on entertainment, on adventure, on the next best thing, while we drift away from the Lifesaver. We forget that these things we find so important are only temporary, that we are sinking in a world that will not last, that there is greater purpose and reason for living, that there is a God who loves us infinitely and wants to save us. While we are attracted to other things and drifting away, He is right there waiting in the hope that we will “seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from any one of us.” (Acts 17:27)

Will you reach out for the Lifesaver today? Will you let him change your priorities and your life and bring you peace and joy in a way you never thought possible? He’s right there waiting!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Adventures in Europe: The Frid Apartment

We'd arrived in Vienna, Austria earlier that day to attend (the most welcoming ever) church, but before we headed out sightseeing we needed to find our airbnb apartment; the owner was waiting for us there. However when we went to punch in the address on our GPS, we realized we didn’t have a house number, only the street name. Although we had the apartment owner’s phone number, we had no way to contact her. Navigating our way to the correct street, we found it long and filled with large apartment buildings. What to do? Alex(andra) and I noticed that at the main door of each building there was a list of apartment numbers and last names of all the occupants. This of course led to the brilliant idea of Alex and I looking for our apartment owner’s last name (Frid) on all the building tenant lists. I headed down one side of the street and Alex the other, beginning the laborious process of scanning each occupant roster and then traversing down to the next tall building. “I found a Frid, I found a Frid!” Alex soon elatedly exclaimed. 
I rushed over and up we traipsed the five flights of circular stairs. And there in front of us was the Frid apartment. But what if it wasn’t our Frid apartment? Surely there was more than one Frid on an entire Vienna street right? But although I was a little embarrassed, we rang the bell. And we rang it again...and then again. No answer. “Guess this isn’t it,” I dejectedly announced as we sadly trekked back down the five flights of stairs. As we began making our way down the street again, Alex approached a kind-looking middle-aged woman and asked if she’d heard of the place we were looking for. It was hard to even ask for help since we only had a street name and last name. The nice lady offered to call for us, but she’d left her cell phone at home. No problem, her house was just several blocks away; we could accompany her there. Chatting as we walked, we arrived at her apartment complex, rode up the elevator five floors and entered her Ikea-looking apartment where she retrieved her iPhone. She quickly phoned our apartment owner who told her the residence was in building #28 and she was still there waiting for us. Back down the elevator five stories, and our friend walked us to apartment building #28. Imagine our surprise and somewhat embarrassed amusement when we realized it was the exact same building where we’d just been! Of course we didn’t let on to the helpful lady, but instead thanked her profusely and on her merry way she went. Back up the five flights of stairs we trudged to the Frid apartment. This time we knocked on the door and almost instantly there was Ms. Frid welcoming us in. After she left we tested out the doorbell, yeah it totally didn’t work.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

It's Not About the Beauty

Lying on the fluffy hotel bed, it almost enveloped me with its softness, encouraging me to drift off into dreamland. But no, I had work emails in my inbox waiting for responses. As I typed up an email, I glanced over at my friend lying on her own bed only a few feet away. "I'm leaving in about half an hour to go out with some friends," I reminded her. She smiled and nodded in response, her sleek blonde pony tail lay smoothly against her back. And all of sudden all the old feelings came flooding back with a sickening rush.

A friend I didn't know very well had invited me to go eat and hang out with a group of them that evening. I only somewhat knew a few people from the group and now these old feelings had resurfaced.

What if they don't like me?
What if I can't think of anything to say?
What if they think I'm boring?
What if I say something dumb?
What if I'm not pretty?
What if I'm not fun?
What if I can't keep the conversation going?
What if I'm not interesting, or cool or smart or a hundred other things I don't measure up to?
Why would they even want to hang out with me anyways? There are a million other people more awesome than I am.

And of course now I was really feeling in the dumps. In some past social situations where I wasn't in my comfort zone, I'd really let these feelings effect me and I'd become self-conscious, which would cause me to be more reclusive and shy, so then I wouldn't talk as much, leading me to feel boring. Do you see the vicious cycle?

I could imagine this self-induced social awkwardness ruining my evening out and leaving me feeling unfulfilled and unhappy.

As these negative feeling assailed me, I felt close to tears, but instead of continuing to wallow in my own self-pity, I pulled out my Bible and began to pray.

I ended up at Isaiah 53.
"He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him."

I want people to like me, to desire me, to think I'm beautiful and interesting. But look at Jesus. His person was not such that others would be attracted to him. He had no beauty to desire. He wasn't thought of, regarded, or valued. Yet I crave these things that the humble Jesus had no part in. And if anything he should be the one to be esteemed!

Lesson One
Who do I think I am to expect more esteem, beauty, etc. than did my Creator, my Saviour, my Example?

Jesus was a "Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief." Sure his griefs were on a completely different level than mine, but he can still relate to my heartache. The verses continue on to say, "Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted."

Lesson Two
Even if my sorrow and grief is unfounded and selfish, Jesus still understands and cares, and he has promised to bear them for me.

"But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all." The only reason Jesus was here on our dirty, sinful planet was to minister to and save us ungrateful humans, (including selfish me). This was his whole purpose.

Lesson Three
If I follow in Jesus' footsteps, by living to serve others, I will completely forget self and be a partaker of divine fulfillment and happiness.

How could I even think of my own horrid self, my own wants and petty desires, in the face of such eternal love, sacrifice, and service? He poured out all for me, even though I have consistently turned to my own way and gone astray. Silent tears slipped down my face and I buried my head in my pillow pouring my heart out to my Jesus.

Self was completely forgotten and with a heart made light by the love of Jesus, and a new purpose to bless and to serve others, I left to meet up with my friends.  When I got back to my room that night, after a very successful and fun evening out, I realized that the old feelings of self-consciousness and deficiency had not once plagued me. 

So sure, maybe I'm not the most beautiful or the most interesting. But who cares! Is it my purpose in life to be fun and pretty? No! It's to follow in the footsteps of my Saviour and to live for others, not myself. It seems like there is a lot of media hype going around right now about beauty, wanting women to feel confident and comfortable in their own skin. There are videos of women "freeing" themselves by taking off their makeup and talking about trying to break down some negative "socially-acceptable" walls. And sure, that's great. But even watching these videos can cause me to have silly thoughts like, "well she's still more beautiful than I am even with no makeup not fair." Some say, "Everyone is beautiful." Well it depends on your definition of beautiful, but no, not everyone is beautiful in the sense of good-looking. But I think this is all missing an important element, one not supplied by the world. It's missing the "let's just stop looking at ourselves altogether and look to Jesus and the people he's placed in our lives that we can touch" aspect.

Less than a week after my Isaiah 53 reading and evening out, I was sitting on the bus with a group of students after a trip, heading back up to the academy where I work. We had just picked up a student from the airport who had missed the trip. As she climbed on she was not welcomed with shouts of how the other students had missed her on the trip, no one asked her how her time at home was, there were no yells of "come sit with me." In fact, she was not really greeted at all. Sure, she was a bit of a loner, somewhat socially awkward, needed lots of attention, but still I felt sorry for her and disappointed in the other students. "Hi, " I said and smiled at her. She slumped down in the seat next to me and proceeded to sulk. I waited a few minutes and then scooting down so my head was at her level, I asked what was wrong. "I just don't belong here!" she moaned. She continued on with how she just didn't fit in with her class, how she couldn't wait to graduate and just be out of here, maybe she shouldn't have come back at all. What could I say? And then it hit me. Sending up a silent prayer, I quietly shared with her how sometimes I too don't feel like I fit in, sometimes I feel deficient, unliked, uncool. But the best way to deal with those feelings is to not think about them. Don't focus on self, because that's not going to make you happy. I encouraged her to spend her last months of school looking to see what little things she could do to help and bless others instead of feeling bad about herself. I don't know what kind of an impact my words made, she seemed to take it all in, but I know the Holy Spirit was speaking through me as I shared what he had revealed to me, and I knew he would continue working where I could not.

Now I just need to remember to remember these lessons myself.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Case of the Lost Austrian Passport

Several of the student custodial workers rushed into my office this morning. “Look!” they shouted, holding out a dark red passport from Republik Osterreich, “Do you know this guy?” I opened it. A 29 year old male with long “fluffy” hair stared back at me – Vladimir C. – no one I knew. But how did we have his passport? How was it here on the Fountainview Academy campus? How long had we had the passport? Where had it come from?

Apparently the custodial girls had been getting ready to send our leftover lost and found items to ADRA and started looking through a black messenger bag before getting rid of it. Inside were packs of gum, shampoo, dirty socks, an empty cigarette carton – and the passport. 

I paged through the passport, no contact information. Time for some detective work! The fellow was born in Russia but his passport was Austrian. There were several visas, one for Russia and one for the USA (with a much better picture – in fact he was actually kind of cute in this one).
The USA visa had the name of a college on it and the visa dates were for the 2010-2011 school year. Maybe the school had some of his contact info. I googled the college which was in California and called about 5 or 6 numbers before I finally was able to speak to an actual person (not an automated system). “If he was a student here, and if we have his contact information, we’ll forward your message and contact details on to him,” I was told. How very helpful! 

Next I tried looking him up on Facebook, but all I found was a guy by the same name who had an unusual aversion to all clothing except for "whitey-tighty" underwear.

Meanwhile Joiya had been searching for more clues in his bag and had found a small metal “medallion” with an engraving on the back – Vlad C., August 24, 2013, Serenity Ranch, Recovery First.
I quickly googled Serenity Ranch, it’s an addiction treatment center in Alberta. Now everything started to make sense. I pieced together what I imagined had happened. Vladimir must be a patient at Serenity Ranch and had come to one of Fountainview’s Christmas concerts on our Alberta tour about 3 weeks before. His bag must have gotten mixed up with our things and accidentally brought back to Fountainview and had of course ended up in our lost and found.
Quickly I called the Ranch number and after several tries was able to speak with a somewhat abrupt woman. She seemed a little surprised at first. Yes, he was still there and would be for a while. Yes, it would be great if I could send the bag. She gave me their address and said she would let him know that I was mailing everything. There were no answers however to my unasked questions – did he know his passport was missing? Which concert he had gone to in Alberta? Had the addictions center brought patients to the concert? How had his things ended up with ours? Why was an Austrian at a Canadian addictions ranch? (not that I would ask him that of course!)

So I’m sorry Vladimir that we “stole” your passport. I hope you haven’t reported a missing passport to the Austrian government yet. I hope you recover from your addictions. I hope you have a good life. At least now you can get out of Canada and back into Austria. I don't think I ever would have found you if it hadn't been for that little medallion. I hope that it’s not a legal offense to not report finding a missing passport. I hope it’s not illegal to post these pictures from your passport on my blog. You'd probably be offended if you knew...

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Jesus and the iPhone Zombie

I was with a friend the other day when I began telling her a really important update in my life. I'd finished the "punch-line" and was moving on to the this-is-going-to-change-all-my-future-plans stage when I noticed her eyes had turned to her iPhone. Was she just checking the time? Was she looking at the latest and greatest on Facebook? Had she just gotten an email? How much of her attention did I still hold? 90%? Should I keep talking? Was it worth it for how much she might be hearing? Maybe she was only at 70%. I let my train-of-thought trail off. 

I love fireworks - the rush of the crowd, the excitement of the moment, the splendor of fire exploding in the sky! The last time I was at fireworks with friends, my friend was beside me busily snapping pictures. "These are fantastic!" She'd exclaim. I glanced over at her staring up into the sky through her tiny viewfinder that made the sky 1/50th of the live show I was viewing. All for what? Having hundreds of fireworks pictures that would get archived onto a hard-drive and never viewed again? For getting that fantastic, clear shot that she probably wouldn't even upload on facebook for her 800+ friends to enjoy? Okay so maybe I'm being a bit harsh. There's nothing wrong with taking a few shots! And it's nice to be able to look back on the memories by reminiscing over photos right? But are we spending so much time documenting the memories that we are missing out on the full experience of life in the now - the big, brilliant, terrifying, amazing, thrilling, and sometimes slow (and that should be okay too) now? Or are we looking at it through a viewfinder? Through a tiny iphone screen? Through the statuses of our online friends? Through the latest tweet of a celebrity? Do we even know what we are missing out on? Maybe there isn't a conversation going on between your friends at the moment, so what's the harm in sending a few texts? you think, but do you realize that you are destroying opportunities? If there wasn't a conversation beforehand, there really isn't going to be one now! Oh and I'm not to be excluded. I love technology too. It's awesome that I can communicate easily with friends around the globe. And I don't think there is anything wrong with that. But has it become more quantity and so much less quality? Are we missing out on significant relationships with those right around us because we are only distractedly listening?

So why do we do it? Is it so much easier to escape into the virtual world of communication then do it in real time? I think so. Less expectations perhaps? No fear of running out of things to say or questions to ask in the middle of a conversation and feeling awkward or uncomfortable?

But what are the consequences? A generation of young parents too busy texting or phone web-surfing to see their kid master the monkey bars at the playground? A bus full of high-school kids silently texting their friends who are traveling right next to them? A world where it's easier to share your story or point of view on your facebook status than at the dinner table? Just this week I stumbled across this video on facebook. It's about smartphone overuse and as the video self-titles itself "depressing" - that word totally came to mind! It scares me what this world is coming to.

And yes, real-life conversations - they take effort, especially at first. And they're not going to have as positive an outcome unless you put in your 100% attention. 

So think about this. If we are so caught up in technology and the online world that maybe conversations and friendships with people right around us might be suffering, people that we can see and touch, then what about Jesus? Is He not getting my 100% attention span because I got a text during my prayer and proceeded to totally forget I was praying, or any hundred other distractions? So I challenge you, and myself, take a step back and honestly evaluate: is technology distracting you from the One who wants a close relationship with you more than anything? He says "Behold I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me." Can you hear Him knocking over the din and clamor of your life?