Sunday, December 02, 2007

The end of an era

I do believe the end of this era arrived long ago. A look at the scarcity of blog posts over the past months is sufficient to prove this. I guess I’m just accepting it. Yes, I’m finally accepting that it is time for me to close down this blog.

I’ve been reluctant to just do it, and close it off, because it has been through this blog over the past 2 years that I have rediscovered my love of writing. I haven’t been posting- I haven’t been writing much at all, actually- but the desire to write remains a fire in my belly. I will keep writing, but not here. It’s time to start on some other writing projects, which have been percolating for too long.

I’m a bit sad about this, because this blog has been such a neat experience for me. There is a lot of me on here, and big pieces of my journey have been traced. It’s kind of like looking through a photo album and reliving important events, experiences, seasons and relationships; it’s a neat personal record of two years of my life. I suspect that even years from now, I will look back on it with sentimentality, gratitude, and a bit of a patronizing smile, remembering the person I was in my twenties.

I may blog again at some point in the future, it’s actually quite likely. But this is the end of Up From Here. Before I close it down though, it’s important for me to thank those who have read the rambling thoughts of Jennifer MacDonald over these few years. I can’t thank you enough: first of all, simply for reading my thoughts, secondly, for your gratefully received comments, emails, and words. I’ve been humbled by those of you who have faithfully returned, even after my months of delinquent posting. Thank you!

And I guess, that about wraps it up.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Meticulous planning

I've been reviewing my "List of Things To Do Before I Die", and I don't seem to be getting very far ahead with it. The rate at which I check items off is no match for the rate at which I add them. The more I experience, the more I want to experience. The world is so interesting; there are so many things to do and learn. I can't get enough of it.

The major change in my life, moving from Pioneers to this new company, has me thinking more about the big picture of my life. I want to be pro-active with the decisions and directions that my life takes, thinking about things and making choices, and not just letting it all happen to me. I have this fear, of reaching my twilight years and having big regrets of a life not experienced, and risks not taken.

Of course, meticulous planning will never pay off the way I expect. This past weekend I found myself in New Brunswick, sharing at a Ladies' Breakfast at the church I grew up in, and again in the Sunday evening service. Four years earlier, I had stood in front of them and shared about my desire to serve with Pioneers. This time I stood in front of them, formally closing that chapter.

What have I learned? A whole lot of things, but for the purpose of this blog post, I'll focus on one: life is a continuous series of unexpected turns. My thoughts of the future always have some sense of stability attached to them, but I'm beginning to wonder.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Time to end the blogging sabbatical

As you can see, I've taken a long break from blogging. I took the whole summer off really. I think it's time to start writing again.

There have been some big changes in my life in this time... ok, just one really. I've left Pioneers, and started a new job. This has been one of the reasons that I have been silent on here. Usually I process a lot of my thoughts on this blog, but I didn't feel like it was appropriate for me to share while there was uncertainty and decisions yet unmade.

It's all done now; I started a few days ago at my new company. It's a big adjustment going from "non-profit" to "for-profit", to name just one of many changes.

This whole thing about "leaving the ministry" has been interesting to me as well. I have some thoughts about that which I may process on here one of these days. I really worried a lot about what people would think, but knew I couldn't make my decisions based on a perceived need for the approval of others.

Anyway, I'm back (in the blogging world) and am officially announcing the end of my sabbatical.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The luxury of silence

One of the comments from my "Saturday night services" post really surprised me. Mark said, "keep blogging Jennifer, we need your voice." The reason this comment stuck out to me was that this issue of using my voice, was exactly what I was wrestling with God about. Two of my mentors have also spoken specifically into my life in the last few weeks about this, affirming the need for me to use my voice.
At another point in my life, with that kind of encouragement, I wouldn't have hesitated to inflict my voice on others. At this point though, I am a bit more realistic about what I have to offer. Sometimes there is wisdom in what I have to say, and sometimes people do benefit. At other times, I make a fool of myself, and say exactly the wrong thing. Choosing to use my voice means simply to use it, releasing control of when or if it is valuable. When I hold tightly to control how I speak and present myself, what I say loses its value. It becomes a sermon, rather than a sharing of a broken life with which others can identify.
It is a little less than reassuring to move forward with this knowing that the calling to use my voice, like life in general, is messy. Sometimes I would rather stay silent. In silence, I can avoid the kind of self-disclosure that exposes my weaknesses. My calling is not to be wiser or smarter than anyone else; it is to live an authentic and transparent life. I'd much prefer the luxury of the facade. I'd love to speak only when words of profound wisdom well up inside and roll off my tongue (or fingers, as I type). Such luxury however, is not mine, and so here I am. Messy, complicated, ironic, hopeful, and occasionally wise.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Self-indulgence and disillusionment

I bought a Keith Urban cd today. I bought it for the same reason that I rented my favourite romantic comedy last week: I'm avoiding the indulgence of bitterness and disillusionment. I've shared with some recently that I don't believe in romance. Of course I know what I am supposed to believe; I'm talking about what I actually believe, or in this case, don't.
I'm not so self-absorbed as to believe that it doesn't exist at all. My parents aren't faking. After nearly thirty years of marriage, and having faced a number of challenges together, they've built a relationship that is beautiful to see. Many of my friends are also in relationships that are a joy to behold. For my single friends, I have endless hope that love is around the corner for them. For myself though, I just don't believe it.
Of course I hope I'm wrong. That's why I'm listening to Keith Urban today, and refusing to indulge in a bitterness that will build impenetrable walls. Maybe someday I'll find out that I'm wrong. In the mean-time, there's a lot to enjoy in life.

The Uncensored Version

I woke this morning with the certainty that someone was praying for me. It's a nice way to start the day. I had gone to sleep amidst angry prayers, and woke to the warmth of being enveloped in the love of Jesus. I wish words could do justice to the experience of God in life, but they can paint only the smallest picture with which to identify.
I'm glad to be honest with you all about my life, and my faith. My life is an open book to my close friends, and that's how it is with God as well. Obviously He knows me better than I know myself, but I still tell Him everything. It means a lot to me to be able to be honest with God in my prayers. I share a lot with my closest friends, but God gets the uncensored version. (My friends are shuddering right now... there is an uncensored version??) It occurred to me this morning what a brat I am with God sometimes. I let loose on Him a lot more than with anyone else. That's the reality. Should I feel ashamed of that, or try to clean it up?
I think it is kind of like how we are with family. The closest people in my life are those who have fought with me. They've seen the worst sides of me, and still accept me. I often say that I can't be really close with someone if we have never fought.
This is not to excuse my being bratty with the Creator of the Universe. I'm wrong of course, every time. I won't contest that. I am thankful though, that He gives me the freedom to be myself around Him. I can be honest, and be my bratty self with Him, and He accepts me unconditionally. Until I am faced with contrast, I didn't realize how hard I try to please people. Until being totally free in one relationship, I didn't realize how much I work at being likeable, and unoffensive to the people around me. It's freeing really, to have a place where I don't have to worry about being "too much" for the other party in the relationship. With God, I never need to fear that I will ask too much. I will never be too needy. He will never be disgusted with my weakness. He'll never stop to re-evaluate whether I am worth the effort of relationship. He will never be shocked and horrified by what He sees in me. He knows me. He loves me. He is at work in me, refining me, teaching me what it means to live my life in Him, letting Him love people through me. I'm a brat, but I don't have Him wrapped around my finger. He lays clear boundaries that give me security. He always chooses what is best for me, though I don't always understand it. I rail at Him, cry to Him, and lean on Him, and in the end I know I am safe with Him. The weight of the world that I carry on my shoulders is lifted by Him.
I know some people call religion a crutch. I don't know about "religion", but I know that I find life in my relationship with God. Pass me the crutches- my legs are broken anyway!

Pioneers blog

Ok, we've taken the plunge.

The organizational blog I talked about before is launched. I now have my personal blog here, and my Pioneers blog. If you're interested, you can see it here.

It's going to take me a bit to get into the flow of it. I'm nervous, and excited about it at the same time.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Saturday night services

I used to go to North Park by myself for Saturday night church services. Occasionally I'd go with a friend, but most often by myself. It was often a very lonely experience, as I never seemed able to connect with people my age. I'd go in by myself, sit among strangers and enjoy the service, then go home.

Now I know a lot more people, and I get plenty of good heart-to-heart fellowship with other believers... but the church service is not where that happens. The service for me is often a place where the heaviest things on my heart reveal themselves, urged to silence no longer. I sit or stand there during the extended worship time after the message, and just talk to God, wrestle with Him, and cry out to Him, all the while being reminded of truth through the worship songs.

Tonight I went to church with a friend, and as I sat there, blinking back tears, and trying to keep my lip from quivering noticeably, I remembered why it was convenient to go alone. :)

I don't want people to see me crying, but I don't want to pretend I'm stronger than I am. I wasn't crying noble tears tonight because I was moved and inspired by the worship. I was crying because amidst all the songs about surrender, I most certainly did not want to surrender. How's that for an admission? :) I have a sense of what He is asking of me, and I don't want it. I want Him to see that it costs too much, to see that I am too weary, and He should ask someone else.

He'll win of course. Not because He'll force me, but because I can't imagine living another way. I feel like Moses right now, at the burning bush, telling God that He's got it wrong. The youthful enthusiasm that once drove me has faded and dried up: I'm only 26, how can this be? Now I'd be content to live in the wilderness, with the simplicity of a life looking after some goats or sheep.

I'll choose Him... because in my heart I want Him. For tonight though, I couldn't just sing words that my heart wasn't in. For tonight, I'm still wrestling it through with Him. I know I'm being bratty, but really it's trust in Him that frees me to ask Him any question, confident that He'll have an answer. The process is just a bit painful sometimes.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Blogging pressure

I've been trying to figure out why I am so terrible at blogging these past 6 months or so. I know it's pretty normal for bloggers to fizzle out after a while, losing interest and enthusiasm... but that's not quite it. I still have a lot to say, and a strong desire to write. My life, as usual, provides plenty of fodder for reflections and stories. But something has been holding me back.

I love to write, and like most writers, I enjoy knowing that what I write is being read. I have a bit of an eclectic blog, sharing a variety of things that are interesting to me. It's been pleasantly surprising over the past nearly two years to find that people are actually reading this blog. It's been nice, but as the readership widened, it got harder to write. I've often reminded myself that this is a public blog, but knowing people CAN read it, and that they ARE reading it are two very different things.

I feel it like a calling on my life to be an open person. Authenticity and transparency are high values in my life and friendships. I've chosen many times to be open here, because in the end, I know a lot of people can relate to the things that I wrestle with: especially life and faith issues. My aim has been to share my journey: as complicated and messy as it all is sometimes. If you can't relate to the situations I write about, you can probably relate to the messiness of it all. I don't even get extremely personal on here; the deep stuff I save for my closest friends and God. There's a lot that doesn't end up on this blog. :)

Looking at nearly two years worth of blogging however, I see the accumulation of a lot of me on here. Sometimes, I just honestly feel like hiding from the world. The desire to be known is overshadowed by the fear that to be known is to be rejected. It would be nice to be transparent, and to have it all together. The obvious reality though, is that to be transparent is to reveal weakness.

So, overwhelmed by the accumulation of what I have revealed thus far, and intimidated by the growing pressure to keep writing, I made a choice to withdraw. I chose not to use my voice. I chose safety (in many areas, not just this) instead of risks. It seemed better than continuing on, revealing more weakness at a fragile time in my life, and inevitably letting everyone down.

I guess I'm writing this as a bit of a catharsis. The admission frees me to let go of the expectations and pressure I feel. I love to write. I even think that sometimes I write pretty well. But sometimes, like today, I'm just getting thoughts out and that's my purpose: communication, not stellar writing.

And now, having written so infrequently for these months, I think I've shaken off a lot of readers. I can start afresh with a blank slate of sorts. :)

Friday, April 13, 2007

Reading about blogging (as opposed to actually doing it)... things have to change

I just finished a book on blogging (The Corporate Blogging Book). It was interesting, and a worthwhile read for some of the things we are thinking of doing for work. We're thinking of launching a blog for our organization.

It's funny though because I've been reading about blogging, but not actally blogging. Shameful. :)

It makes realize though that it is time for an overhaul of this blog. After doing this for what is approaching 2 years, I'm in a bit of a rut, as you can see from the scarcity of my posts this winter. So I am going to experiment with some things, changing the look of things... we'll see how it goes.

A lot on my mind

I have a lot on my mind this week. It seems I always do. Those times that I constantly look forward to- when everything will slow down, and things will be simpler- just never seem to happen. I'm in the middle of real life at every moment, so what do I do with that? The challenge is to live a life at rest, and at peace in God, in the midst of all the busy-ness, craziness, and emotional upheavals that life throws at us.

I'm often unsuccessful. Worries and fears sometimes are overwhelming. Sometimes it seems that anxiety is a constant companion. But I'm learning to trust in uncertainty, and there are days, like today, where my mind is full of as many questions as ever, but there is peace and rest in my heart.

Friday, March 30, 2007

I feel like I've lost 30 lbs- why I love spring

There is something so satisfying about putting away my winter coat. This past week has had days when a long sleeved shirt felt too warm, let alone my long heavy jacket. It's so freeing not to be bound by the restricting confines of winter clothes. Just walking around in my regular clothes, minus the coat, makes me feel like I've instantly lost 30 lbs. :)

I have never liked winter. I don't mind watching pretty snowflakes cover the ground, creating idyllic landscapes, and there is something particularly enjoyable about "white" Christmases. But once the New Year hits, I'm ready for the white stuff, and the cold weather to be gone.

I'm reminded though, that if it wasn't for the extremes of a cold winter, I wouldn't have the same appreciation for the coming of spring. It's hard to find words to express the joy of seeing winter's long siege ending, and the promise of new life all around.

Without winter, the rain, mud, and slightly warm temperatures just wouldn't have the same effect. :)

**for the record, I'm not looking to lose 30 lbs ;)

Thursday, February 15, 2007

I like long walks on the beach

No, the above is not the beginning of a personal ad. I'm referring to one of the activities that I enjoyed in Mexico last week.

Yes, I went to Puerto Vallarta for 5 days this past week. It was planned and executed at the very last minute, and even when I got there I still couldn't believe it was happening.

It was the most unproductive trip I have ever taken, which was absolutely perfect. I sat on the beach and by the pool, and swam a lot in both. I attempted to tan, and if you see me in the near future I'll show you my slight change in colour. (I'm still paler than most, but there is a proud achievement in going from white to off-white. You're more likely to notice my darker freckles, but I'll take what I can get.) I went boogie boarding, body-surfing, whale-watching, snorkeling, and just generally had a lot of fun. I enjoyed lots of time spent with a family that has become very dear to me. I'm not sure how I lucked out to be treated as one of them, but I'm thankful!

You may join the masses in hating me when I tell you that the trip was also free. I'm still in shock and gratitude for the goodness of God as demonstrated in the unexpected generosity of friends.

I've been feeling down this winter, and during what happened to be a bitter cold snap, I had to make some big decisions that were very difficult. This opportunity happened at the exact right time for me, and I was able to get away and start healing. I'd been wrestling lately with believing that God has good plans for me, and then last week, on the 5 year anniversary of Ashley's death, I found myself in Puerto Vallarta laying on a massage table getting a back massage. I was confronted with the absurdity of my doubts. His love isn't always displayed through a free trip down south, but I can only thank Him for every unique blessing, and enjoy each in its time.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Why I'm a bad public speaker- POINT 1

Being the performance-driven overachiever that I was in high school, I added participation in public speaking competitions to my already full extracurricular schedule in the 11th grade. I worked hard on my speech; I researched the subject, crafted it carefully, and practiced it repeatedly. I practiced the timing, putting in appropriate pauses for emphasis, facial expressions, and vocal inflections.

The time came for the competition and I was ready. I tackled the challenge with gusto, and it was beautiful. I wowed them with my presentation. I know this sounds a little too self-assured, but I hope you’ll allow me this, especially given the circumstances I must relate below.

The other competitors gave their speeches, and I knew I was a top contender. The other keeners at the top knew it too. As the extemporaneous round started and I took my place at the podium, I could see them squirming uncomfortably in their seats. They knew I had them. I was presented a basket with little slips of folded paper, and I carefully reached in and made a blind selection. My challenge was to take the phrase written on the slip I had chosen, and immediately craft and present a two minute speech.

I cleared my voice, made brief but pointed eye contact with my intimidated competitors, and then unfolded and read the piece of paper in my hand. “Suffering makes you stronger.” I blinked.

Then proceeded the longest 120 seconds of my life.

“Suffering makes you stronger.” I started with authority.

“When you suffer, you get… stronger.” I continued a bit more thoughtfully, looking off to the distance. Pausing for effect.

“To be stronger… you must suffer.” I inflected my voice with a bit of incredulousness, to show that I related to the audience and yet had a deeper understanding of the stated truth.

What followed was some creative re-wording and rearranging of the initial statement, without an ounce of meaning, or substance.

I could tell I was losing them, but I had absolutely nothing to say about this subject. My only recourse was to stall, and try to fool them with my clever re-wordings. It didn’t work. The tension in the front-row keeners visibly eased, until smugly relieved smiles plastered their faces. And there I was, with a stunning conclusion: “Suffering, makes you stronger.” Authoritative once again.

I took my seat knowing that my hopes for a win were lost.

It seems strange to remember a point in my life where I really had nothing to say about the fact that suffering makes you stronger. It’s the one subject about which I can’t stop talking, now.

Just a funny memory that I hope makes you smile, as it does me.

Why I'm a bad public speaker- INTRO

I've decided that it's time for me to post a 3 part series, starting today.

The topic is, "Why I'm a terrible a public speaker"

I have three amusing stories to share about some of my public speaking disasters. I've had some good ones as well, and some mediocre ones, but these three are by far my funniest ones.

I'm definitely a writer, not a speaker. My thoughts run in so many abstract directions, and then I try to put it all together sequentially. When I can think it through a bit and craft my sentences in writing, I express myself better. Speaking, I often get tangled up in abstract thought directions, and lose the listeners.

I'm well aware however, that some of my writing could substitute for sedatives for people who are having trouble sleeping.

That said, if you're reading this, you're here of your own volition. I hope my stories make you smile, or at least put an end to your latest phase of insomnia.

Succession of discoveries

I read a good quote today:

"Life is meant to bring a succession of discoveries of our need of Christ, and the way is opened for a new inflow of the supply... and as our need is met, as we prove the sufficiency of Christ to meet our inward need, so there can be a new sharing forth of His glory through us."
-Miles J. Stanford, The Green Letters

Monday, January 29, 2007

Flat tire no more

In my emotional state on Friday night I told my friends Wayne & Irene about my flat tire, and feelings of helplessness. On Saturday morning, I borrowed Amy's car to go to work for a few hours and when I came back Wayne had: taken off my flat tire, taken it to a tire shop, purchased a new-used tire, brought it back, installed it, and driven around the block to test it out.

I felt helpless and alone on Friday, but I think, in the end, the experience was good for me. It helped me realize how hard I find it to ask for help in certain situations. There are a lot of people who are willing to help me, if they can, and if I just ask.

It also reminded me that God doesn't neglect me. Sometimes, in situations like that, I feel like He's ripped me off, and that He's not actually coming through for me.

I had to teach a lesson to the Asian Fellowship kids that was based on part of the Sermon on the Mount (in Matthew 5 & 6). I talked to the kids about trusting God to take care of them, and got them to make skits to act out examples of how what we talked about could look in their lives. It wasn't until they were doing their skits that I thought of how it applied to my situation.

To be honest though, I dismissed it; that is until I came home the next day and saw a new tire on my car. Me of little faith. God hasn't failed me yet, why do I act like I expect Him too? He showed me, again, this weekend that even though my dad is far away, and I can't do everything on my own, He is still looking after me. He often takes care of me through the people around me.

It's humbling. I often feel like what I am given by my friends is so much more significant than what I am able to give back. It's humbling and difficult to be in the place of receiving: without earning and without compulsively repaying out of obligation. I think it's important to be able to sometimes be weak, and needing help of others, and also accepting it. It's hard for me, but if I don't learn this point, I'll never fully understand gospel of grace.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Flat tire

It's been quite a day. As I pulled out of my driveway this morning I noticed that my car was sounding kind of funny, but it was camouflaged a bit by the crunch of packed snow. It wasn't until I pulled off the snowy side-street onto the cleared, busy one that it became really obvious. I drove slowly to the nearest place to pull over, and confirmed that I did, in fact, have a completely flat tire. I sat for a few moments in my car and then turned around and drove very slowly and cautiously back home.

Once home, I didn't know what to do. I called my dad in New Brunswick, but he was on his way out. I didn't want him to hear me really upset and make him feel bad about not being able to help me from such a distance, so I didn't say much.

I sat for a while on the love-seat in our living room, just looking out the window at my flat tire. I didn't know what to do. Should I try to get it to a gas station to put air in the tire? It was sitting on the rim, and I was afraid of damaging it, so I sat there, frozen. Most people I knew to call for help were either at work or away.

I thought of one friend nearby who could at least give me some advice, and I was afraid of being an annoyance, but I sucked it up and called anyway. He wisely advised me not to drive on the rim, but to put on my spare tire until I could bring the flat one into a tire shop. He told me that changing a tire is simple, and walked me through step-by-step instructions on how to do it. As I listened, I took deep gulps of air to keep from bursting into tears, and tried to keep my voice from getting too high-pitched. He was busy with work, but said he would check on me later on to see how it went. He sounded much more confident than I was, but I faked it, reluctant to show just how upset and needy I was.

So out I went, faithfully. I found my spare tire, jack, etc in the trunk and my spirits raised a little. "Maybe I can do this thing," I thought. I popped off the centre thing and started working on the bolts. And that's as far I got. I couldn't budge them.

At 1:30am as I write this, my car is still out there, with one flat tire. I've been moody and grumpy all evening (my poor roommates). I cried quite a bit. I usually avoid publicly admitting to crying, but I'm too tired to care.

I know it's just a flat tire, but I wish there was a way to explain how frustrating it is to feel so helpless and needy. I hate feeling like a burden, and wish that I could just do some of these things on my own, but when I try, I find myself making decisions that are inexplicably stupid, or else I am frozen into inaction. I am not a prissy girly-girl. I don't want to be a dumb, helpless girl... but sometimes that's what I am and I hate it. I just wish my dad was here because he'd take care of me.