Friday, September 21, 2012

Family life

Anne is braiding Emma’s hair. Cam figured out a new worship song on his guitar. Now he’s playing with his iPod. Cassie’s sleepy. Story’s curled up at my feet.

It’s quiet.

We hang out a lot these days, the six of us.

“Didn’t you say you saw Papa’s double, his doppelganger?” says Cam.

His what?

We laugh.

But seriously. Pause. I need to look this word up on Google.


“Man you’re smart,” I tell Cam.

These last few weeks have been like none other we’ve had as a family. We’re in a small house with only one common living space. There’s no TV. No phone ringing. Not much to do in the evenings. Just miles and miles of us.

Our friend Jim Klaas told us this would happen. He told us he couldn’t guarantee that moving to California would be the best thing for Anne and me but that for our kids and our family, it would be transformative. We’d have to figure things out together. We’d have to lean on each other. It’s happening.

I watched Emma and Cassie playing in our local playground this afternoon after school while I tossed the frisbee for Story. Then they each took one roller blade boot, balancing on one foot, and awkwardly rolled home. I followed, squawking about staying on the sidewalk. It was beautiful.

Cam and I listen to NPR together in the mornings while driving to school. We figure out the world together while squinting into these dazzling sunrises over the mountains.

We had a good family life in Guelph. But now, when there’s only us, and we’re all learning so much about God, it’s extra special.

We miss you back home. But for now, right here, this is good.

Thanks Jim, you were right.

             -- Andrew

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Why Bethel?

For those of you wondering what the heck we're doing here and why, a promo video.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Checks and plates

I like America. I’ve traveled enough in the US to know that this isn’t a passing fancy or infatuation. America is good. We’re happy here.

But America and I still misunderstand each other.

The cheques... sorry, I mean, “checks”... we ordered from the local bank have this fantastic image of an American flag ghosted behind the Statue of Liberty. They scream Amurika. I love them.

I pointed to this particular check out of a page’s worth of more subtle ones decorated with typical images of mountains and lakes and birds. Anne thought my choice was hilarious. We had a good laugh.The bank manager looked at us with a blank face. She didn’t get it. I guess even over-the-top patriotism isn’t funny.

I’m really just a visitor here. My visa says I’m a student with limited rights. Canada is cutting ties. The bureaucracy in Ottawa is barely willing to acknowledge me. I’m feeling stateless.

I want to have an identity, to be patriotic. I live in California but I listen to CBC’s The World at Six while making dinner. The Arab world is blowing up again. I want a Canadian perspective, not trusting the crazy polarized opinions you get from ridiculous East Coast NPR liberals on the one hand and the hopeless, angry conspiracy theories from right-wing AM talk radio on the other. Last night I watched the CTV National News online while rubbing my sore thighs still recovering from a long run... that I measured in kilometers.

Who am I? Where do I belong?

Back home, I left some very close friends at work. Even some clients became more than just customers. I offered up heartfelt prayers for the people I was around every day. I still pray for them. But they must shake their heads when they hear this new story that I’m writing since we left for Redding. No longer am I Andrew Douglas, senior public relations specialist. Suddenly I’m this raw, unchecked crazy man, pouring out his heart, crying out to God.

Where did this all come from? How could it be happening so quickly?

God is moving fast. Deep down, I am a man becoming more and more convinced that the rest of my life will be lived in radical obedience to Jesus at every moment of the day, with every thought that passes through my head. He is too good and life is too short. This is what we’re called to. It’s the normal Christian life. And living life this way is the door to love beyond measure. 

But it’s hard.

I still want to control things. There isn’t a road map for radicals. I trust Him... I think.

The other day we picked up California license plates for our car. Our old Ontario plates wouldn't come off. The bolts were rusted on. A mechanic put a wrench to them and they broke right off, forcing him to drill them out.

The new plates are on now. I tightened the bolts myself, although I didn’t put too much weight into the final torque of the wrench. After all, who knows where God will lead us in nine months and what license plates we’ll need. We’d better keep these ones loose. My identity change isn’t over yet.

            - Andrew

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Little children

I was shaken from my thoughts by the scratch of colored pencils and the pitter-patter of little feet, girls floating about the room waving flags and dancing on tippy toes.

It’s not what I’d come for. But it was good.

I’d come to the worship room at Bethel with Anne. I was looking for peace. It felt like the next step in my journey -- learning to sit at Jesus’ feet and worship and pray in spirit and in truth, as the bible says.

The worship was simple... but transcendent. It was just a a guy with a guitar and a woman singing. They let God lead, signing continuously over the 30 or 40 people in the room for an hour or more.

I closed my eyes and let God move. Deeper. Search me.
And then they arrived. A whole mess of kids from Bethel Christian School upstairs. I was in quiet contemplation. They approached God more... vigorously. The young girls flitted about the room. The boys whispered to each other as they drew pictures.

The musicians changed. A young man took to the piano and sang familiar Bethel worship songs. The room filled with the voices of the children, singing along unashamedly while hands dug through pencil cases for the right shade of red or a sharper pencil.

It wasn’t distracting. It didn’t offend me. God didn’t run away. The Holy Spirit didn’t leave.

It was heaven.

Soon, a familiar face appeared beside me. “I’ve been praying for you, standing behind you,” whispered Cassie, her class having arrived earlier.

My heart moved.

I spent a day not long ago alone in our new home, devoting the whole time to God. I listened to worship music while running. I read my bible. I lay down for a long time, praying and listening to worship music. I'd worked hard but by the end of the day I felt more empty than ever. “Lord, come fast, please!” was the final line of my journal entry.

It’s been a month since we left Ontario. A lot has happened. My old self seems a thousand miles away. I’ve forgiven, repented, opened up to God, and sought Him with more abandon than ever before.

The morning in the worship room I wrote, “Lord
, I know you love me. Come against anything in me that blocks your love.” 
The Holy Spirit led me to Song of Songs 2:7, God’s passionate love letter to us. “Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.”

He came that day. Maybe He knew that I needed to sort some stuff out before He took me to the next level of fascination and devotion. I’m ready for more, Lord. I need your love. I won’t confuse it with anything else or let it get mixed up with religion or work or my ego. I'm ready. I just want your love.

                       -- Andrew

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Windows in Heaven

Last Friday I was sitting in the garden outside the prayer chapel at Bethel. The garden has a fountain and a statue of a lion and it overlooks the west side of Redding. You can see the mountains on the horizon. Right now, it’s hazy because of the forest fires but normally the snow-capped mount Shasta is breathtaking.

I was reading about Elisha. Actually, I was reading about his friend the Shunammite woman. These two had an interesting friendship. She decorated a room in her home for him, which means she must have felt very drawn to him, enough to want him around as much as possible. After that, he prophesied that she would give birth, and she did. When her son died, Elisha resurrected him from the dead. That makes for a close bond.

Anyway, Syria besieged and plundered Israel, so that the famine in Israel was horrific. Before this, Elisha warned the Shunammite that famine was coming and suggested that she gather her family and go on a trip to a prosperous countryside. She took his advice and sojourned in the land of the Philistines.  

After seven long years, Elisha prophesied that God would turn things around in a day. And God did. Within 24 hours, the Israelites were virtually swimming in provisions. Not only that, but when the Shunammite came back, the king recognized her as Elisha’s friend and completely restored everything she owned before she left.

I liked this story because of the details about Elisha’s friend but also because of this line that an army official asked, “If the Lord himself could make windows in heaven, could such a thing happen?”

That’s how I felt about our house hunt. Five applications, five rejections. Dozens of phone calls, ads and showings. Could even God find us a house to rent? We had no prospects. Nothing. Since the long weekend was ahead of us, we were resigning ourselves to another four days to a week crammed in one hotel room. Another $800 down the drain.

But what I wrote in my journal that morning to summarize the story of 2 Kings 7 and 8 was this: God turned the tide of favor and provision in an instant.

And that’s exactly what He did for us a few hours later. That evening, Andrew got a phone call from one landlord who had previously said they wouldn’t allow dogs and anyway, we were fifth in line for the house. Within 24 hours of that phone call, we were in our new house. And it’s furnished. And it’s a good location. And it’s across from a nature reserve with walking trails.

I feel like the Shunammite woman, bathed in the favor of God because of my friendship with the Man of God. At times during those seven years she must have felt like the sojourn would never end.

But it did. And everything she lost was given back.

If you’re in a time of famine or on a sojourn that feels endless, remember the Shunammite. God can change everything in a heartbeat. Sometimes, windows in heaven open up. 

- Anne

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Coffee culture shock

“I’m sorry, sir, I just really don’t understand what you want.”

By this time, both the Starbucks barista and I were talking to each other like we were five-year-olds.

“I want a LARGE. Coffee. With double. C-R-E-A-M… TWO cream.”

Long pause, then the drive-thru squawk box came to life. “So… just lots and lots of cream?”

This wasn’t the worst California coffee culture shock I’ve experienced. That occurred one mid afternoon when I pulled up to the Human Bean coffee shop in Redding and asked for a black coffee. The person seemed flummoxed and explained that she had brewed her last pot much earlier in the day and wasn’t about to make a cup of coffee just for me.

“So… why are you open?”

Long pause. “Well, I can make you an iced coffee.”

I told the Starbucks gal about double-doubles (two cream, two sugar). She filled me in on “free pouring” cream.  I explained to the Human Bean woman that “brewed” coffee was surely just as good at 1 in the afternoon as 7 in the morning. She tempted me with cold coffee – to no avail, I might add.

There have been other moments of culture shock. Take water use. As good Canadian eco-friendly granola eaters, we let our lawn back in Guelph die in the hot summer sun. But here in the quasi-desert, every single lawn in town gets a daily soaking from automatic sprinklers. Our local nature preserve is yellow and dead. The lawn in front of our new rental home a block away is lush and green.

Then, sitting on the grass in front of a trendy coffee shop serving fresh organic salads, I was asked to move so the landscaper could apply an insecticide. And our car was rigorously smog checked before we could obtain our California plates, presumably so I could join everyone else endlessly idling their cars in front of schools and shops.

But this is beginning to feel like home. I have come to fully expect long, lovely conversations with the Walmart cashier. I’m getting used to seeing the mountains every morning. I’m completely sold on the hot, dry weather. I’ll never get tired of seeing the real California Highway Patrol, imagining Eric Estrada of the 80s TV show “CHIPs” radioing me to help in a high-speed chase.

This is a cool place. I’m glad I’m here.

Tomorrow’s blog entry? I try to order poutine at In-N-Out Burger.

         -- Andrew