Trying Really, Really Hard to Be Thankful…

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This weekend in Canada, we celebrate Thanksgiving. I love thanksgiving. Every year, my heart feels full of thankfulness. 

I feel thankful as we dig into turkey and some delicious dessert my friend has baked from scratch. 

I feel thankful on top of the ferris wheel at the Rockton Fair as I think “What joy there is in this life!” 

I feel thankful as I serve communion to my congregation, saying over and over: “The body of Christ broken for you,” touching their hands, looking in their eyes as we remember together.

This Thanksgiving, I am finding it harder to feel thankful.

Truth be told, my feelings waffle more between bitterness and existential dread. I feel bitter that our “bubble” has burst and that we won’t eat a meal with people dear to our hearts. I feel sad that many of our traditions are on hold this year. I feel angry with random strangers who I perceive have messed up this holiday for me – those nameless, faceless people who are to blame because THEY didn’t take the restrictions seriously enough.

And I feel the dread a lot of us feel – that the days are getting shorter and the numbers are rising and “What if we have to do Christmas like this too?” 

Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful, but  I admit that thankfulness is not coming easy this year. Bitter is easier. Anger is easier. Outrage is easier. Disappointment is easier. 

Which is why I remind myself: being thankful this year is even more important usual.

Why? 

Because true gratitude is more than thankfulness that comes because life is the way we want it. True gratitude is not contingent on life going our way. True gratitude is when we can look around and outside and beyond the #blessings we find easy to appreciate and recognize the gifts that we could easily overlook. 

This year, I believe we have a chance to really celebrate thanksgiving because we have the chance to practice true gratitude. We have the chance to be thankful in spite of our circumstances. This can be its own kind of gift, if we let it.  

My thankful list looks different this year. This year, like no other, I am thankful for things I usually take for granted. 

I am thankful that my children can attend school. 

I am thankful for our healthcare system. 

I am thankful for grocery stores and those who work there. 

I am thankful for our government. 

I am thankful for hand sanitizer and face masks. 

I am thankful for technology. 

I am thankful for scientists. 

I am thankful for people who love me, even if we can’t eat together.

I am thankful for the future. 

I admit that it feels really, really hard, but I am reminding myself that I can choose to be angry or I can choose to be thankful. And I can choose thankfulness not because things feel “good” – but because there IS good. Because God is good. Because even hard seasons in life are full of goodness.

And, so, as I look to this very-unusual thanksgiving, I pray: “Lord, for what we are about to receive, make us truly thankful.”    

“Winter’s Coming, and It Freaks Me Out!” How Will We Cope With the Time to Come?

The last six months have not been easy. I could do a recap of all the things, but let’s be honest: we know it all already. We’ve lived it. 2020 has been brutal.

And what is really hard? 

We’re not done. 

This reality seemed to hit people hard the last couple weeks. As the cool fall weather has settled in, we have realized that we are on our way back indoors a lot more, and that there is a long winter ahead of us. 

With heavy hearts a lot of us are asking: How are we going to cope with the months, maybe even years, of this to come? 

It’s an important question, one we’ve all been trying to answer for the last six months. How do we LIVE during covid? How do we live when our lives completely change? What do we do with this covid-time?

As I look at the last few months, I’ve noticed a few patterns:

Wait Out the Time

This is a common response when time can’t be used the way we want. We wait out the plane ride, the hospital visit, the cancer treatments. And, logically, a lot of us have been waiting out covid.

“When it’s done,” we say, “THEN we can get back to living! THEN life will happen!  AFTER covid is over we’ll get back to our normal!

We hear it in the common covid mantra: “After a vaccine!” 

“I’ll connect with people again – after there’s a vaccine!”

“Life will be normal – after there’s a vaccine!”

“I’ll feel like myself again – after there’s a vaccine!”

The issue with this response to covid-time is that your life isn’t on hold “until there’s a vaccine.” Yes, there are many things you should not and cannot do until a tide has turned, but your life has not stopped.  Your life is happening right now. Life won’t return after covid – life is still going, even though it looks different than it used to. And when we simply press the “pause” button on living the life in front of us, there’s a lot of life we are going to miss. 

Replace the Time

A second way to respond is to replace our old activities with new ones. We can’t do one thing, so we’ll do another. Can’t do some of our favourite hobbies? We’ll paint the house! Can’t sign up for sports? We’ll renovate the kitchen! We can’t do things we usually do, but we can still get stuff done!!!

There’s nothing wrong with using changed routines to explore new opportunities, but the issue with striving to “replace” our pre-covid activities with new “covid friendly” tasks is that our life still comes down to a to-do list. We simply shift from one kind of busyness to another, one pressure to achieve to another, one kind of guilt to another. We are still finding our life value in what we accomplish. In these last few months, I’ve seen this a lot. We judge ourselves for not having “accomplished” much in covid. We become weighed down with a pressure to achieve, and time becomes a burden to carry instead of a gift to receive.

Curse the Time

Because this time is so hard, we simply curse it. “Nothing good can come of this!” we declare. “This time sucks!” we all agree. “It’s ruined everything!” we proclaim. So – curse it! Forget it! Throw it aside!

There are lots of days I am stuck in this response, because I really hate what covid has done to my life, and it feels good to just say “Forget it all! I’m watching Netflix until a vaccine comes.” 

I get these responses. I’ve had every one of them. But as we go into this next season, knowing covid is lingering on, I ask myself: Is there another, better option to how we receive the covid-time to come?  One that doesn’t involve waiting the time away, or exhausting ourselves to fill it, or bitterly raging against it? I think there is. 

I invite us to seek to redeem the time.

This idea is found in the Bible (Ephesians 5:16), in a direction written 2000 years ago to God’s people trying to live as light in dark times. A more modern translation says to “make the most of every opportunity.” 

Redeeming the time looks different than waiting time out, replacing our activities or cursing the time before us. Redeeming the time looks like saying “How can this time be made GOOD in our lives?” That’s different than getting more done. It’s when we say: “What can I learn in this time? How can this time shape me? How can I let God work in this time so that it will have value?” 

It’s when we accept that this time may not look the way we want, but it can be a meaningful and valuable part of our story. That different time isn’t wasted time. That difficult time isn’t time without importance. 

The word used for redeem in that verse I mentioned is one that was used at the time to refer to buying something up when the opportunity came. It might be used when one went to the market and found just the thing they were looking for and quickly “bought it” – they redeemed it. You could use it when someone saw a great price on an item and quickly “redeemed it” – they took the opportunity to buy it. 

What does that mean for us if we want to “redeem the time” we are in right now? 

I think it means that we “buy it up.” We take the opportunities this time gives us. We don’t just wait – we live. We don’t just replace – we receive. We don’t just curse – we look for reasons to be grateful. 

Listen, I’m not looking forward to the fall and winter anymore than any of you are. The thought of school shutting down again could literally make me break out in hives. I’ve already been pricing out backyard heaters with the hopes that maybe I can still do porch visits if there’s a way we can stay warm. I pray, daily, for a vaccine.  

AND I am asking God for redemption. I ask that God would not let this hard, didn’t-want-it, wish-it-was-over time be wasted in my life. I ask for grace to make the most of every opportunity, trusting that the great Redeemer can even redeem the time of covid. 

May this be our prayer, for covid, and all the time God gives us. 

Church Without Singing? We Can Do That!

I admit that I am often baffled at the reactions I see online to things we have been asked to do to help prevent the spread of covid. I am baffled by the outrage at wearing masks. I am baffled at the anger people express over being asked to keep a safe distance from people. And I am especially baffled by some of the reactions I have seen Christians express to being asked to avoid singing in worship gatherings. 

Singing, as it sends those pesky droplets flying out in the air, is considered a “high risk” activity for the spread of covid. We have a number of examples of “super spreading” events sparked by people singing with others. To that end, when churches were told they could start gathering again earlier this summer, they were also told to avoid singing as a group.

And that was a real bummer. 

I LOVE singing, and I love singing loudly. I love our worship team. I love learning new songs. I loved the lengthy time we spent singing as a congregation every Sunday. Worshipping without singing would be an adjustment, to say the least. 

But does that mean we would cease to worship? 

Does that mean there would be no value in gathering? 

Should we just not bother if we can’t sing?

I have been completely stunned to discover so many people answer “yes” to those questions. “We cannot worship unless we sing,” I’ve heard. “There’s no point in gathering if we can’t sing,” I’ve read. 

It …confuses me.

After all, do we not believe that prayer is worship – which does not require singing? 

Do we not believe that learning together is worship – though it does not involve singing? 

Do we not believe that reading Scripture, sharing stories, lifting our hands in praise, giving testimonies, saying creeds, giving, silence before God, is worship? 

Furthermore, do we believe that people who cannot sing (such as someone who cannot speak) or who does not sing (such as someone who doesn’t like to sing) cannot worship? 

To be sad about not being able to sing does not baffle me. 

To say we cannot or should not worship without singing DOES baffle me. 

I do get how hard it is. When I was 24, I was diagnosed with vocal nodules. These are dangerous growths on your vocal chords caused by overuse, common among professional singers. (This is where some of you might think “Wow, Leanne, I didn’t know you were a singer!”  I’m not. Just talked too much and damaged my vocal chords). ANYWAY, for six months I was on full singing vocal rest. For those six months I would stand in church and not be able to sing. I could hum. I could listen. I could hold out my hands. But I could not sing. 

And it was hard. 

And I learned some things. 

I learned that we can come before God in a lot of ways. I learned to listen. I learned to make space for new ways to experience God. I learned that I could still worship. 

I lament the lack of singing in our gatherings, deeply, and I hope we can find a way for it to be possible to sing safely again soon. But until then, I believe those of us who lead in the church have an opportunity to teach the full breadth of the ways we come before God. And those of us who attend churches have the chance to experience those. And I believe this can be a gift, not a burden. It’s a gift I hope we accept. 

I also acknowledge that while we may agree that we CAN worship without singing that some of us who plan worship gatherings aren’t sure HOW to worship without singing. Fair enough. We have filled a lot of our worship space with singing for a long time. For that reason, I now share some ideas for ways to worship that don’t involve congregational singing. Some will fit in certain congregations better than others. You may try some that are a total bust. You may try something and discover it was more meaningful than you imagined. You may try them all and still say “I like singing best.” That’s fine. But we won’t know until we’ve tried, n’est pas? 

Here are some things we have tried or might try at our church: 

  • Sign Language

One person leading singing is allowed. We have had someone lead and I have taught simple sign language for a chorus (thank you YouTube!). We do sign together as we worship, and it has been beautiful. 

  • Humming

We have paused at the end of a song to simply all hum together. Truly, one of the most beautiful worship experiences I have had in my life. 

  • Dancing or Actions

We can learn a simple dance or action step to do to music as a way to be part of it.

  • Drumming and Clapping

Do claps or drum beats together along with music or with a reading or spoken word.

  • Listening

A song can be played (live or video) as people listen. Give people a word to reflect on. Invite them to open their hands as they listen and take in the lyrics. Insert a reading from Scripture for people to hear in between verses. We used to call this “special music.” “Special music” has a great place during covid. 

I do suggest that you have LESS music than you might have had before. We used to do five or six songs in a service; now we do one or two. That means we also need ways to worship that are not singing, and this is a chance to really get creative, using practices old and new. 

  • Guided Scripture Readings

With or without music in the background, reflectively read a passage of Scripture with pauses for different prayers as you go along. There are many great resources online for these, and I can pass along some I have written. 

  • Prayers

Use prayers that engage the body. One of our favourites is “palms down/palms up.” People begin by placing their hands facing down; during this time they tell God things they need to leave with God. Then, they turn their palms facing up – at that time they pause to RECEIVE from God. There are a number of types of embodied prayers that allow us to use our body so people can join with you. 

You can also have prayers in which people participate. One of my favourite types of group prayers is the “alphabet prayer.” For each letter of the alphabet you name an attribute of God, working through the alphabet together. Example. “God you are Awesome,” followed by “God, you are Beautiful.” 

  • “Lectio Divina”

This is an ancient practice that involves reading Scripture prayerfully. 

  • Videos

There are great videos of guided worship online. You can record your own of people praying, sharing a story or doing special music. 

  • Story Telling/Testimonies

Have someone share how God is working in their life or a story of a time that God has worked in the past. 

  • Responsive Readings

People can engage in songs or Scripture through speaking. These can be responsive readings or something people read all together. 

  • Games

This may sound a bit silly for worship, but it’s a way to help people engage. Before our sermons this summer I would do something interactive so people had a way to take part. I would do a “have you ever” based on the sermon and people would stand or sit based on whether or not they had done certain things. For example, one week was “Have you ever taken this test?” (hearing, driving, etc.). It let people move and got them thinking of the sermon topic (about examining ourselves and our faith) before the sermon began.

  • Silence

Do not negate the power of simply sitting in silence before God. This is how the Quakers have worshipped for centuries – no planned music, simply sitting and listening and seeing if God has something to say to anyone. In a loud and busy world, silence can be one of the most powerful ways we come to God. 

  • Art/Creating

Use the space for worship. Hang pieces that invite people to come before God. Do a slideshow with different pieces that allow people to pause and reflect as they worship. This can also be done playing different sounds. One Sunday we read a verse that referred to birds. After I played a tract of birds tweeting for a minute as we paused and listened to the sounds of God’s creation. 

We Can Do This!…

Please note what this post isn’t. This isn’t a post saying that people can ONLY worship in person. I think online worship is and will continue to be important. This isn’t a post pressuring churches to re-open or people to come to an in person service who do not feel ready to do so. This is a post for those of you who may be trying to figure out if you can gather without singing to say: Yes! We can do this!

Scripture reminds us that we should not “give up meeting together.” It also tells us that “where two or three are gathered” that God is with them. It is 100% fine to miss and long for singing. It’s okay to be sad about it. But let us remember all the ways God can be worshipped, all the ways that we can seek to experience God’s presence and all the ways God can speak to us. And let us remember that God will be with us – whether we sing, dance, hum, or say nothing at all.

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“Because We’re Grieving:” How Lessons Learned From Grieving Can Help During Covid

Seven years ago I experienced the greatest grief of my life when I lost my sister to cancer. In the months and years that followed her death, I learned a lot about grief, as I stumbled my way through it.

Because I am a pastor and had some training in grief counselling, I thought I knew a lot about grief already, but grieving surprised me. I was surprised at how sneaky grief is. I was surprised at how inconsistent it is. I was surprised at how all-pervasive grief feels.

Seven years later, my grief is still surprising me. The big surprise in this season has been how grieving would help me process my life during covid. Because even though we may not have thought about it that way, we are all grieving right right now.   

Remember, grief is the feeling we feel after any loss. And because of covid, we are all grieving many things. We are grieving the loss of connections, jobs, finances, friendships, health, security, our lives as they once were. We are grieving everything from the loss of our favourite activities to not being able to travel to not being able to see people smile in the grocery store. Let me assure you that the feelings you feel right now are not unwarranted or out of place: they are normal. Because we’re grieving. 

That is why I have found it helpful to remember the things it took me a while to learn when I grieved before. Here are a few of them: 

We grieve all kinds of things

As I said, grief is the feeling we feel as we process any loss. When I lost my sister, I soon realized that I was grieving more than just her. In the weeks after her death, I grieved many things connected to that loss. I grieved the 50th anniversary party we didn’t have for my parents the summer after she died. I grieved the trips to Florida we wouldn’t take when we were old ladies together. I grieved the phone calls I couldn’t make to talk about my kids and ask her questions. Even this summer, I have grieved not being able to process this pandemic with her. 

For you, the grief may come in many ways. For parents, for example, right now many of us are worried about school. But in the midst of this worry don’t discount the reality that you are GRIEVING. You are grieving what school won’t look like for you kids. You are grieving for the childhood that looks different than you imagined for your children. You are grieving the loss of things we took for granted like gym class and school fun fairs and being able to go to school with your face uncovered. 

As you read this, you may be grieving any number of things – the loss of your weekly yoga class, not being able to hug your grandchildren, your favourite restaurant that shut down, not being able to sing in church. Of course I know these things aren’t on the same level as losing a loved one – I am not saying that – but I am naming that that heaviness you feel is its own form of grief and the waves of emotions that come because of these things are normal. Because we’re grieving.

Grief is draining

What I didn’t anticipate with grieving was how freakin’ tired I was all the time. I would work half a day and find I needed a nap over lunch. I would visit a friend and then crash as soon as I got home. I felt overwhelmed by simple tasks and requests of others. 

Sound familiar? 

Perhaps you are wondering why everything just feels like a little extra work in this season. It is because you are grieving. Please, cut yourself some grief slack. Cut others slack. Sometimes we just can’t handle as much – and that’s okay. Because we’re grieving.

There is no logic to the good days and bad days

I often say to people that when I started grieving, I thought grief would work like a slow upward curve….starting really low, and each day going up a little bit until I felt “better.” But it’s not like that. It’s a roller coaster. I remember about a week after my sister died saying out loud to my husband “I feel normal today. Do you think I’m over it already?”   

Oh, honey! 

I was just having a bit of a surge on the roller coaster, but that grief ride dipped very low again, and again, and again. And I never knew when a dip would come.

We may feel like we should be “doing better” because life is much more open now than back in the spring, but the truth is with grief it can still hit us out of nowhere and we can plunge back into the heaviness. The triggers can be anything – a news story, seeing a mask, or thinking about Christmas. It hits us. It overwhelms us. You are going to still have what our house calls “covid-crap-ular” days, and there may be no logic whatsoever to when they come. And that’s normal. Because we’re grieving.

The feelings of grief last long after you should be “over it” 

The early days of grieving are full of support, but grief lasts a long time. I have heard many grieving people share that the worst of their grief hit several months later, when many people think they have “moved on” or they are “over it.” 

We may think that we should be over our covid grief by now, but it doesn’t work like that. Many of us are just beginning to process all the losses we have experienced, and that’s okay. Because we’re grieving. 

We need to talk about it

I figured I had grief in the bag. I knew how things worked because I had studied it. But when I went through the darkest season of grief, I was frustrated at how poorly I was able to process my feelings, annoyed that I couldn’t always make sense of my own emotions. 

I needed to talk to someone. 

Eventually I found a good grief counsellor. The first time I went, I talked for two hours. She gently said “I’m going to schedule you for an hour and half next time….” Bless. 

I learned that it is normal and okay to need a safe spot to process what you’re feeling, and that lesson is important for me right now.

We all need our covid-counsellors. They don’t have to be professional therapists. They can be your friend. Your colleague. Your partner. Your pastor.

The important thing is that you remember – it’s okay to need to talk about this stuff. Why? Because we’re grieving.

As I write this, I am not without hope. I do think that we will find a new normal as the days go on, just as I learned to do seven years ago. But I also remember that my new normal came on the other side of grief. Grieving is important for moving forward. It is the process of healing. And it is a process we all need right now.

Make space for your covid-grief. Acknowledge your very real and important feelings. Talk to someone. Take some rest. Remind yourself that these things are needed and they are okay – because we are not selfish, difficult, unreasonable, or weird. We are doing what we need to: Because we’re grieving.

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grief

You are Loved. You are Loved. You are Loved.

I admit that what often holds me back from writing these days is the feeling that there is not much left to say. I mean, if you see me in person, I have lots to say (insert winky face), but when it comes to social media, it seems like there is always SO MUCH being said that I often think to myself: What do I have to say that is really worth adding to all this noise? Often, I’m not sure. I stop and ask myself: 

What do people want to hear? 

What do people need to hear? 

And sometimes when I sit down to write I think: What do I have to add to what others have already said? 

Then I remember something that once happened to me. 

I was 24 years old and working as a youth pastor. I did that job for two and half years in my young twenties, and I truly poured my body and soul into it. I loved it, but it was also exhausting and lonely. I had so much to learn about letting others help me, setting boundaries, and letting myself rest. I felt such a weight, all the time. I was desperate to get everything right, to do just the perfect thing to help my youth, and to please God. I often felt like I was letting God down. 

The heaviness of those feelings came over me particularly strongly one Sunday morning during a special youth event. We had a big altar across the front of the church where people could go to pray, and I felt I had to go the altar. I went forward, knelt and prayed.

“God,” I begged. “Please talk to me.  Tell me what to do.  Tell me my next steps.  I want to get this right.” Over and over I asked God to reveal what I should do next in my ministry, promising to do whatever God asked.  I wept over that altar. I was the quintessential image of “pouring my heart out.” I so desperately wanted to know what to do.

After a while, I was prayed out and cried out. I wiped my nose and my eyes and went back to my seat. That was when a pastor I knew came over to me. 

“Leanne,” he said, “Would it be okay if I prayed for you?” 

“Sure,” I sniffled.  (I mean, I’m not one to miss out on  a chance for prayer…)

He put a gentle hand on my shoulder, and he prayed something like this: 

“God, I bring Leanne to you. And I believe you want to say something to her.  I believe you want to say to her that you are well pleased with her.” 

There was a bit more, but to be honest I don’t remember it. I was completely undone by that simple statement: “You want to tell her that you are well pleased with her.” 

I had been begging and begging and begging God to speak to me. “Tell me what to do!”  I had asked. “Tell me how to live!”  

And what God wanted to say was: “I’m pleased with you.” 

“You’re already enough.” 

“You don’t have to do anything.” 

I love you. 

Turns out I didn’t need any more words or messages – the greatest thing God had to say to me was that I was loved. 

I was reminded of this story a while ago when I was with a small group I had been leading. Someone shared how much they wanted to hear from God, that they wanted to know what to do next in their life.  I asked if we could pray for them, and they said yes.  We gathered around and asked God to speak to this person through us, as we laid hands on their back and listened to see if we felt God saying something for us to pass on.  And you know what happened?  It shouldn’t surprise me. 

Person after person said: “The only thing I feel is God telling me to tell you is that he loves you.” 

You are loved. You are loved. You are loved. 

Here is why I write today.  There’s a lot out there that may need to be said. But maybe we most need to remember what perhaps doesn’t get said enough. 

You are loved.  

Maybe you feel desperate for God to tell you what to do. Maybe you have been pleading for God to give you a message, a sign, a road map. Maybe you are anxious about making the right decisions for sending your kids to school or wondering how to lead your church into the next season or trying to figure out how to make ends meet after losing your job. 

You are loved. 

Maybe you feel lonely, isolated, forgotten. Maybe you don’t have a bubble. Maybe you are disconnected, and, today, it hurts.

You are loved. 

Maybe you are exhausted. You are tired of our new normal. You are longing for life as it was and fearful of the future. 

You are loved. 

There are a lot of places where we may want a word from God. But could it be that God’s greatest desire for you today is not to tell you what to do but for you to remember who you are, and whose you are, and that you are, above all, loved?  

I think it could be, so just in case let me remind you: 

You are loved. You are loved. You are loved.

you are loved

 

Holes in the Duct Work and Other Things We Found in Quarantine

When our building closed back in March, the wonderful folks who maintain it decided to do much needed maintenance. We have a child care centre that rents from us five days a week, so getting to work in those spaces is difficult. With the centre closed indefinitely, our property team went to work on a long overdue task: replacing our duct work.

We had a sense for a while that the ducts needed some TLC. Some rooms were constantly freezing and others were constantly hot. But with the day to day busyness in the building, there simply wasn’t the opportunity to dig underneath the floors. We kept going, day after day and year after year. When someone finally crawled under those floor boards, however, it was still a bit of a shock to find how bad things had gotten:

ducts

Some of the ducts were totally rusted through. One piece had a hole in it the size of my head. It turned out to be a really good thing that we finally had a chance to look at those ducts. Because there were holes. Big, huge, gaping holes. And it took a quarantine to get them fixed.

Now here is where I move to a very pastor-y moral of the story.

For a lot of us, this quarantine exposed holes in our duct work.

I’m not talking about the physical ducts you have in your home. I’m talking metaphorically about the things running underneath in our lives. A lot of us discovered that we needed some real maintenance.

I have heard the same theme again and again as I talk to people: “This has been hard but I also like things about it too.”

“I like getting to eat dinner with my family each night instead of rushing to the stadium.”

“I like the downtime we have in our routine now.”

“I don’t miss all the running around we used to do!”

It turns out that, like our church building, a lot of us have been running pretty inefficiently, doing more than we can maintain. We lived lives that were exhausting and constantly busy. And it made us tired. We were expending a LOT of extra energy, because there were holes in the duct work of our lives. We were doing too much, too often, with no time to look underneath at what we really needed.

Today I write to all of us with an invitation. If this quarantine helped you see some “holes” in your own duct work, let this time be a gift to you to do some upgrading. If life as it was had more exhaustion than energy, do a service check. And throw out the stuff that was rusting through and leaving holes in your life.

I know we live in a culture that tells us being busy means we are important. I know that for parents we feel we are letting our children down if we don’t give them every opportunity in life. We don’t know if it is really okay to say “no” to extra activities. We don’t want to miss out on things.

But sometimes those things are just rusting us through. And this quarantine gives us a chance to reevaluate. Let me say this clearly. Even when all restrictions lift, you don’t have to go back to life the way it was.

You can choose family dinners over the competitive sports league.

You can choose downtime over more nights out.

You can choose time to walk, rest, read, or have leisurely visits with your neighbours over marking things off your “to do” list.

You can choose boundaries in relationships that aren’t life giving.

You don’t have to walk around doing all the things you feel you have to do until your energy sources are rusted out. You can choose relationships, board games nights, Saturday breakfasts, Friday night movies, dinners in, daily walks, going to church.

You can change the duct work.

If you find yourself looking to life returning to a new normal and you find yourself thinking of all the things you wish could stay the same, hear this: Perhaps a lot of them can.

This quarantine has given us a chance to look under the floorboards of our lives. Let’s let go of what was rusting us out – and start fresh with something new, and better for us.

My 15 Year Pastor-Versary

On June 1, I celebrate fifteen years since I started in the role as Lead Pastor at Mount Hamilton Baptist Church. (Yes, for those of you wondering, I started when I was 15…Insert polite laughter here for CLASSIC PASTOR JOKE!!!).

But seriously, I started in this job when I was 27 and most days I still shake my head when I think about the leap of faith that this church took hiring such a young, inexperienced and opinionated pastor. I also shake my head when I think that I have been here for fifteen years. I never planned for this. I didn’t want to stay at a church a long time. I didn’t want to pastor a traditional church. I didn’t even want to live in Hamilton!

induction
A photo from our induction (welcome service) in 2005.

Yet, here I am, so thankful that God gave me all the things I thought I didn’t want.

This week I can’t help but think of the things that have changed since I started at MHBC. Our church is different than it was when I started 15 years ago. Three quarters of our 300 person church joined in the last ten years. We have gone from having almost no kids to trying to figure out where to put our slew of toddlers and preschoolers. We did a big renovation project. We went from pews to chairs, we removed the pulpit, my office moved three times. We changed our worship service. I stopped wearing suits (yes, there was a time I did this). We began an online service.

We went from staff taking unpaid vacation to make the budget balance to asking how much more we could give to others from generous givings. We went from phone trees and an 8-page bulletin to facebook and instagram. We went from two pastors to three. We incorporated. We re-wrote by-laws. We started new ministries, we got rid of old ones. We went through changes that were often painful, and that made me wonder if things would work out.

And while all of these changes happened, ministry went on. People died. Babies were born. People left. People joined. Those children in the nursery grew up. I officiated the weddings of kids who started in our youth group. I buried people that I loved. I performed 56 baptisms, 32 weddings, 42 baby dedications and 45 funerals (including one for our day care’s skinny pig with a congregation of 20 four year olds). I preached hundreds of sermons.

And my life kept going. I got ordained. I had two children. We bought two houses. My sister died. My hair started going grey. All while I served at Mount Hamilton.

A lot happens in fifteen years.

And now here I am fifteen years after my first day at MHBC, working from home and missing my people and thinking back to so many beautiful memories made with a church family that I love and that I have been honoured to lead. I didn’t anticipate anything about this time fifteen years ago. I didn’t anticipate still serving here. I didn’t anticipate how a lot of those hard things would turn out. I didn’t anticipate what God could do with us. I didn’t anticipate loving it.

If I have learned anything about ministry in the last fifteen years at the same church, I think what seems most fitting to remember today is that lesson: we rarely can anticipate what God will do.

I need to remember that.

As I look at the days to come, I wish I had all the answers. I would like to know when we can be together in a big group again. I would like to know when we can do more baptisms, weddings, proper funerals. I would like to know how ministry will look, and if it will work with all the changes still in front of us. I would like to know what God has in store – but I don’t.

What I know is that God had a more beautiful plan for my life fifteen years ago than I could have imagined for myself. That it started in a situation where I didn’t entirely want to be, and didn’t entirely plan to stay too long. I know that I can look back and say “Well done God. You were doing something really great there. Thanks for letting me be a part of it.”

As I step into year sixteen, we are in a season unlike any other and I have no idea what is ahead. Ministry looks like nothing I signed up for. It pushes my skills and limits every day. It’s not what I anticipated. But I am certain of this: One day I will once again say: “Well done God. You were doing something really great there. Thanks for letting me be part of it.”

Here is a random gathering of some favourite MHBC photos and memories (*that I had on Facebook and didn’t require me to find our hard drive with old photos…)

 

 

The Extroverts Are Not Okay (*But We’ll Get There…)

When I started my Masters program, one of the first tasks we did as part of one of our courses was completing the Myers-Briggs personality inventory. One of the markers on this inventory is “Extroversion” or “Introversion.” When I did the test and met with the facilitator afterwards, I found out that I had scored ALL extrovert and NO introvert. 40 points on one scale, 0 on the other. “I’ve never seen this before,” the instructor commented…

hello-my-name-is-extrovert

But I wasn’t surprised. I love being with people, and that’s what being an extrovert means, right? Extroverts like being with people and introverts like being by themselves? But then she explained to me that it was a little more nuanced than that. She explained that it was about where people get their energy. Extroverts are energized by being with people and the introverts are energized by time on their own. It has nothing to do with liking people or preferring your own company – it’s about what the presence of others does for you. Does it drain or renew you to be with others? I was VERY VERY high on the renew side of things.

Without getting into the pros and cons of personality tests or the Myers-Briggs itself, I can say that this understanding of myself and others was like a light bulb went on for me. This explained why I came back from large gatherings revved up, ready to take on anything. This was why a day all by myself could leave me feeling malaised instead of refreshed.This was why my introverted husband asked for a break after we had seen friends three nights in a row while I was saying: “Wouldn’t it be cool if we lived in a triplex with ALL OUR FRIENDS?”

And this is why I super duper duper duper HATE social isolation.

Even though I have known this about myself for a long time, it still took me a while to put my finger on what has been pushing back at me for the last 10 weeks. My need for social engagement is high and without it, I simply don’t feel like myself. For 10 weeks, I have been without the thing that energizes me and gets my juices flowing. Working alone at home, seeing people only through screens, losing the engagement of big gatherings is not only lonely for an extrovert – it is downright draining. It’s like walking and walking in hot weather without being able to pause for a drink to get filled up. 10 weeks of isolation for an extrovert is like 10 weeks straight of birthday parties for an introvert without ever having a night off. Without our people, we are running on empty.

Now to be clear, I know that I have things really good. I have a great house and good health and a beautiful family to sustain me. I am grateful to be able to work in a way that is safe in this season, thankful for the gift of working from home.

Which is why for the last ten weeks, I have so frequently been frustrated with myself. “Why can’t I just focus on the good things?” I think to myself. “Why do I have so little energy?” I wonder. “Why can’t I seem to manage to do and accomplish more?…” “Why am I so often despairing when I have so much for which to be thankful?”

And then I realized something. Besides the obvious fact that, you know, we’re in the middle of a worldwide pandemic and life is chaos (home schooling sucks, yo), I am an extrovert. FORTY OUT OF FORTY ON THE SCALE! I don’t do so well without people.

And that meant I had to accept something else: this is not a season of strength for me. This is a season where I will feel the pull of my weaknesses, where it will often feel like an uphill battle, where I will need to accept that my energy is lower and my sense of self is challenged all the time (this also is MY LEAST FAVOURITE THING – accepting limitations is high on my list of things I hate).

To my chagrin, I admit: This is hard. I can’t do as much these days. It’s weird for me to acknowledge. I have said “no” to more things than I have in years. No to things I would normally love to do – like gathering people to support each other, or meeting with someone who needs ideas or taking that extra course I thought I could manage. I have low energy you guys – I’m on the introvert-equivalent of day 71 of a birthday party, and it is a lot.

But here is the good thing – it is teaching me! I am learning:

  • Not being able to do all the things is okay
  • How introverts have felt for the last forever in an often extrovert-friendly world (I AM SO SORRY!!!)
  • To let others operate in their strength in a season when I feel weaker (shout out to my husband and co-workers totally shining at this time!)
  • To lean on God’s strength (God actually has a lot to say about being strong when we are weak…so there is that).

The reason I write this today is not to ask for your sympathy. I write this because I’ve talked to a lot of you feeling just like me, fellow extroverts on uncertain footing. You have also struggled in this time, and you have struggled with the fact that you are struggling. You are frustrated and baffled, weary and worried. And I want to say – it makes sense that you are out of sorts. We have lost what energizes us – we are not ourselves.

So let’s be easy on us. We don’t have to do all the things. We don’t have to make this time successful. We don’t have to be strong. We’ll be us. And we’ll get through. We’ll let go of some things and learn some things.

(And later, we will throw some serious parties. We will chat to people in stores and in lines again. We’ll visit on the school yards. We’ll have face to face meetings and get off task all the time talking to people. We’ll be the last to leave church as we hang around the lobby and our kids ask us to hurry up already. We will love being with the people!!!).

In the meantime, like so many others finding this time hard for their own reasons, we will struggle a bit. But we’ll keep at what we are doing because it is what we are called to do in this season and doing our part is important.

Keep going extroverts. We’ll get there!

Burning a Bridge and Burning Ourselves: Reflections for My Fellow Challengers

diary
Me and my grade 8 diary. And, yes, that is an “I Survived the 30 Hour Famine” sticker from the VERY FIRST World Vision 30 Hour Famine.

I have the great blessing/horror of having kept very detailed diaries throughout my teen years. They are quite entertaining, but the truth is that when I read them, I spend as much time cringing as I do laughing.

I have always been what you might call a “challenger.” I am the person who asks the waiter what’s going on when the food is taking a long time. I am the one who will speak up in a meeting to address an issue that seems to be overlooked. I say things that I feel need to be said. This has gone all the way back to the days of my teenage diaries, and I assure you: it wasn’t always pretty.

So many entries in those diaries share about a conflict I was in with a friend. Someone was not talking to me. A friend was mad at me. And always the entry went something like this: “I don’t know why they are so upset. I only said what was true.” I challenged – a lot. And I hurt people – a lot. And I did damage – a lot.

And so often as I read those notes I want to scream at younger Leanne: “Don’t you see the damage you were doing??”

And the truth was – I didn’t.

Being a challenger isn’t innately a bad thing. If you love a challenger, you are probably glad when they are willing to step up to fight for justice, or when they say the thing you weren’t sure you could say. Challengers will fight for you as much as they’ll push against you, and that can be a beautiful thing in a relationship.

But our need to challenge can also lead us to places we don’t want to go, something my grade eight self did not always understand, and my 42 year old self also needs to remember.

I was reminded of that this past week as I was studying for my sermon, preaching from a book called 2 Corinthians (specifically, for you Bible readers out there 2 Corinthians 1:23-2:11). Let me give you a short summary of this situation. There is a little church in a place called Corinth, formed a few years before by a man named Paul. Paul started the church and then, as he usually did, he continued to travel to help start churches elsewhere. To support them, he sent letters, which is what the book of 2 Corinthians is – a letter from Paul to the church he started in Corinth.

As we read this letter, though, we realize something: Paul and the Corinthians are going through some tension. He had promised to visit them and instead of visiting, he had sent them a letter. This has not gone down well. They are now accusing him of being fickle and unreliable. The start of this letter addresses this. He explains why he hadn’t come to visit, and the reason he feels was that God led him not to. But why would God do that?

We see as we read that there was an issue in Corinth that needed to be addressed. We don’t know what the situation was, but we know Paul felt it needed to be dealt with. BUT Paul felt that if he came and addressed it in person it would make the situation worse. That’s why he didn’t visit and sent a letter instead. This, he felt, would be better for all of them, and it’s what he explains in this little section of the Bible.

Now, this may not seem like a very profound story. But it really knocked my socks off this week, and here’s why. I recognize in Paul a person like me: a fellow challenger. Paul had no issues stepping in to confront something that needed confronting. However…he also paused and asked himself “How can I do this well?” And he chose, in wisdom, to do what would protect the relationship.

Even as I type this, I am convicted again.

Did you hear it? As a challenger, Paul realized that being right wasn’t all that mattered. It also mattered that he cared for the people he loved.

Something else Paul says here really got to me:

“For if I grieve you, who is left to make me glad but you whom I have grieved? I wrote as I did so that when I came I would not be distressed by those who should have made me rejoice.

He basically says: “Here’s the thing guys. If I came and confronted you in person, it would have made things worse between us and then I wouldn’t have your friendship and I need you guys.”

He says: “I need to protect this relationship, because I need you.”

You know what it is easy to happen when you’re a challenger? It’s easy to burn a bridge. It’s easy to get fixated on being right, on just HAVING to make that comment, “needing” to point out a flaw.

But sometimes, in our need for rightness, we burn bridges. We push hard and we hurt people. We say things without thinking through how it will impact someone. And we will justify it!

“I was right!” we’ll say.

“I only said what needed to be said!” we’ll say.

“Why are they mad? What I said was TRUE!” we’ll say.

We justify that burnt bridge in all the ways we can, but deep down – we grieve. We grieve because we actually really needed that bridge. We needed that relationship. And in hurting someone else, we ended up hurting ourselves.

That’s what Paul gets here. This story isn’t saying not to confront someone. It’s not even saying that we shouldn’t confront someone in person – that’s just what was right in this situation. What it is saying is that we need to be wise when we have something hard to address. And that this is for our own sake just as much as it is for the sake of others.

Let me be clear, challengers: we aren’t called to stop being exactly how God made us to be. Keep challenging injustice, untruth, and unfairness. Keep being honest and direct and forthcoming. Be you.

AND.

Let God lead you so that you can be all those things without doing damage you never meant to do.

I think this story gives us some practical ways to do that:

Wait

Paul doesn’t RUSH to speak to the Corinthians. He takes time to figure out what is best. We can also wait. I know when we get riled up we can barely stop ourselves from jumping in, sending that email, making that comment. But when we learn to wait a little, we can find that our responses will not only come with more wisdom, but often with more kindness as well.

Seek Wisdom

Pray about it. Seek the advice of others. Discern what needs to be said and doesn’t and let more than your own passion guide that.

Ask: “How Can I Protect the Relationship?”

We can make this question part of our repertoire. Instead of just asking “How can they hear ME?” ask: “What would be effective to say what I think needs to be said AND keep the bridges strong and healthy?”

 

You know what was most painful about those grade eight diaries? How sad I often was. I would lament that people were mad at me. I was baffled and I was lonely. I didn’t want to burn my bridges and I didn’t see the damage I was doing.

I can’t go back and help grade eight Leanne. Like all of us, she had a lot to figure out. But I can let God help 42 year old Leanne, and keep praying that my challenges can build bridges, instead of burn them.

When You’re Feeling “Non-Essential”

When the tide turned a few weeks back and we started to see the rounds of cancellations beginning, our church, like many others, had to ask the hard questions: Should we cancel our in person worship service? How big a deal would that be? Could people manage without them?

Soon, we paused our in person gatherings. As hard as it was to admit, we were “non-essential.”

What about me? Did I need to “go” into work? I didn’t. My city didn’t “need” me to run my weekly Bible study, or visit people in hospital, or plan a big Easter celebration. The world could survive if I didn’t show up.

I was “non-essential.”

Soon, my kids didn’t need swimming lessons. We didn’t need to sit down in restaurants to eat. We didn’t need haircuts. We didn’t need to go to the dentist.

All of the above = “non-essential.”

It’s been weird, hasn’t it?

I get the distinction between “essential” and “non-essential,”and why it is important at this time. Our essential workers really need all of us that can to stay at home so that we can get through this time of crisis. I’m happy to do it and thankful that I can do it.

But there’s also that little niggling feeling that comes with that “non-essential” distinction, that little voice that says: “See? You’re not so important after all.”

After all, if we are non-essential, what does that say about us?

Does it mean that the things we do don’t matter?

Does it mean that we don’t actually make much of a difference?

Does it mean that it never really mattered in the first place?

These are hard questions and I think it makes sense that we might find ourselves wrestling with them at this time. In fact, I think that some of the anxiety and stress we are feeling may actually come down to one really big question: Does it matter that I am here?

I admit I have wrestled with this question in the last few weeks. It’s been interesting to process that pastors fall in the non-essential category, especially since there was a time that wouldn’t have been the case. There was a time pastors would have been deemed as critical to the cause as any frontline worker, but the world has changed. And that can give us some well-warranted pause.

But in those moments of pause I think there is something we all need to remember:

NONE of us is “non-essential.”

You never have been non-essential. You matter. You matter because you are you. You are more than your job. More than your hobbies. More than the things you do to fill your time. More than the titles you put on your profile pictures.

And while your job may fall in the non-essential category, your role at this time is not non-essential. Our skills may feel insignificant in light of the doctors saving lives, but we can do the things we can.

The Bible has an image of the church that says we are like a body. It says some of us are like hands. Others are the feet. Some are the eyes. It says “Don’t think that because you are not a certain body part that you are not important!” It points out that we each have a part to play. We can each use the gifts we have, even if there are seasons when they feel more non-essential than others.

For me, I can’t cure covid. I can’t work a respirator. I can’t even drive a semi-truck (of this, I am certain).

But I can write a blog that may encourage a few people who need a lift. I can phone someone and ask how they’re doing. I can lead a service online to help people in my church remember God is with them. These things may not be essential by many definitions, but they are how I am made and they are what I can give. So I will.

You can do things too. For some, it can be as simple as the gift you give to those on the frontlines by staying home. You’re not just “doing nothing.” You’re helping protect a whole lot of people.

You can call and reach out to people who need it. You can care for your family. You can check on people that others might forget.

You can do what you can.

Not being an essential worker doesn’t mean you’re not an essential person. (We only have to think of all the things we miss so deeply to realize that those restaurant workers and hairstylists may have been more important to our well being than we thought). There will be a time we are back to normal again and we will be so grateful to have ALL of our essentials back.

In the meantime, we all have a part to play. Let go of the comparison game and be your own essential self. That will be enough.

non-essential
Here I am doing my little essential things in my now-very-essential spare room.

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