Sunday, September 8, 2013

New Year's Day

Because my last post was about it feeling like Boxing Day when summer in Ontario and camp were over, I’m happy to say that coming back to Redding has felt like the start of a new year, with plenty of figurative ball-dropping, confetti and joy to go with it.

This post is going to be a bit newsy rather than thoughtful to give you a sense of what it’s been like since we returned.

It was wonderful to return to an actual home, with beds and sheets and towels and dishes, rather than staying in a hotel like last year. The first week back in Redding, Andrew and I did errands, re-stocked our fridge, worked on our first reading assignment for school — a book about the life and sermons of John G. Lake — and worked on our respective writing projects. 

Our new and  improved back patio
It’s hot here, but not humid, so we had fun setting up our back porch with discount furniture and a barbeque so we can fully enjoy Cali’s seemingly endless summer. We hosted a barbeque with our friends from Bethel and got caught up on how God blessed and worked through them over the summer.

(Since then a snake-eating black widow spider has invaded our lovely backyard conversation area, and if you haven’t seen the pic on Instagram or Facebook, you don’t want to. It’s nasty. Soon we’ll muster up the courage to kill the thing.)

The first week of school has been challenging already. This year focuses on leadership. It’s all about learning to sustain intimacy with God and passion for Jesus over the long term. It’s about learning to be hungry for more of God and filled with Him at the same time. It’s about recognizing and developing personal core values that translate into personal mission, then become vision that we can cast to others, so we can partner with the Holy Spirit to build projects and communities that transform the world.

In addition to our regular school hours, we get to choose a specialization, or track. The track I’ve chosen is “Leadership Coaching.” By the end of the year, I’ll be a certified life/leadership coach. I’m ├╝ber excited about that.

We also get to go on ministry trips with the many Bethel leaders who travel all over the world doing conferences and church visits spreading some of the unique teaching and anointing that Bethel has. So far I’ve applied to do a local one-day trip with Bill Johnson, just two hours from Redding.

There are also electives we sign up for in Bible and ministry. I’m hoping to do a course on Galatians and a prophetic art class. So fun.

We’re also in the midst of signing up for city service projects.  There are over 70 options we can choose to serve people in this region! I’ve applied to healing rooms, women’s drug rehab, street ministry in San Francisco, and a few others, but we won’t know which option we get for another few weeks.

It seems that second year at BSSM is about realizing the uniqueness of who you are as a leader and learning to pull on the resources you need in order to lead with excellence. 

And as a side note, I joined a gym and I’m doing a ton of Zumba and weights classes. Really enjoying shaking my booty and getting jacked. 

Cam’s on the Redding Christian High School soccer team, Emma’s on the Bethel Christian School volleyball team and Cassie’s on the BCS worship team. Andrew’s taking motorcycle lessons (more on this in a future post).

The one area that feels uncertain and a bit lacking is community. After leaving tight communities back home with family, Guelph and camp, and coming back here where only a few of our people from last year are still around, it’s daunting to think about forming entirely new community once again. I find myself asking, “Who are the friends we’ll have lifetime relationships with? Are any of them here?” We’ve been so transient the last year, it’s hard to know.

We still don’t know what the future holds after this. But we do know that God has spectacular plans awaiting us and the experiences that this year holds are crucial keys to opening the door to those plans.

Happyyyy New Yearrrr!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

It feels like Boxing Day

Written on August 23, the end of summer, on our way from Ontario to California

Photos by Tori Bennett

For our American friends, let me explain that Boxing Day is a Canadian holiday; it’s the day after Christmas. I assume it got its name because it’s the day you box up all the Christmas decorations. For me, Boxing Day has always been a little melancholy.

For weeks, as a child, I anticipated Christmas with daydreams about what would be under the tree — the gifts would be piled high, relatives would visit and we’d eat like kings. But then Christmas would come and go and it would be Boxing Day, signaling the end of the delicious anticipation. We’d have to pack up the decorations, eat stale shortbread and wait almost a whole year for next Christmas.

That’s how I feel right now.

The first few days after we left camp for the summer, I was still on an adrenaline high from the stress of packing for our 40-hour road trip to Cali and the memories of wonderful and transcendent things God did this summer. Also I was exhausted and really looking forward to the five of us being together as a family again.

But yesterday the realization set in: It’s over. For a whole year. The summer is done. 

I think of the months of anticipating the summer. I couldn’t wait to visit family in Bracebridge and Ottawa and friends in Guelph. And as for camp, I imagined dreamy worship, sweet sisterhood, giddy program moments and breathtaking beauty in people and creation.

There’s just something about that place. People get healed, inside and out. The Holy Spirit loves to come and play. I always imagine Jesus in torn jeans, an old T-shirt and Birkenstocks, traipsing about Girls’ Camp smiling at the beater-boarders, laughing during campfires and Late Shows, sitting beside the crafters, chuckling at the zaniness of wide games, holding hurting girls in his arms.

This summer, I saw bodies healed, souls restored and spirits awakened through the power and presence of God in community. I saw eyes light up as people heard the still, small voice of God for the first time. I saw girls from broken families find hope as they fell in love with Jesus. I saw young women who had experienced sad and terrible things discover joy in the presence of the Holy Spirit. I saw girls who had loved and served Jesus for years grow in identity and anointing and passion for Christ. 

I felt the Father rejoice over deepening intimacy with Him and each other.

Then there were the funny moments, the times I doubled over because of the wackiness of the jokes and the antics and the made-up songs. So much joy. 

I wish I wrote down more of those moments in my journal. I wish I had taken more pictures. Even now, the memories are fading.

There’s nothing like it. It is like Heaven on earth. And it’s grueling, exhausting and surreal at times.

Although the summer being over feels like Boxing Day, soon it will be New Year’s. Soon we’ll be in Redding for the start of a new year of school. There’s much more of God’s presence and power to look forward to, as well as fun family times and parties with friends from all over the world. God's mercies and blessings are new every morning. He has more than I can ask or imagine in store. He always fills my hands with more blessings than I can hold. 

But for now, I will mourn the passing of another wondrous summer.

The long road home (to Canada)

This post was written in June 2013, driving from California back to Ontario. Apologies to those of you who've heard some of these stories. 

We’ve been to the mountaintop. We’ve seen the glory of God. We’ve been transformed. We’re on our way home.

Somehow even the landscape we passed by last August looks different now. The mountains are a little less desolate now. Even the sky seems to hold more promise. It's the start of summer. A new beginning. 

On the way home, we decided to have some family adventures with the love of Jesus. We decided to ask God what he’s saying to people we meet in coffee shops and fast food outlets. Here are some of the people we met who touched us the most.

The first morning, we stopped for coffee in a small mountain town in California. The young woman serving us was named Jessica. She was very gaunt and her eyes looked a little forlorn. I whispered to the kids, “Are you hearing anything from God for Jessica?” Cassie said, “I’m getting the number 19.”

Andrew was chatting with Jessica about her plans, her schooling and her interests. I interrupted and asked, “Does the number 19 mean anything to you?”

“No,” she shook her head. “Well, actually, it’s my boyfriend’s favourite number. And I just turned 19 yesterday.”

Okay, so yes.

Emma went on to give her an amazing word from God about how she was made for love and He wants her to know she’s loved by Him and others, even though she maybe hasn’t always felt loved in her relationships.

Jessica went really still and nodded. “Yes, I don’t really speak to my parents.”

Cassie told her she thinks God has great plans for her this year. Andrew and I had some words of encouragement too. We blessed her and left. Hope to the hopeless. 

Later, on the drive, Cam said he felt we were going to meet an older woman who really loves her kids. So when we stopped for dinner at Burger King, we had our eyes peeled.

Sure enough, we saw her across the restaurant. She was with a man and two children.

Andrew went over with the kids and made introductions. Cam said, “I feel like God was telling me that you’re a great mother and you really love your kids. You have a mother’s spirit. Not just your own kids, but there are other people in your life that feel like you’re a mother figure to them.”

The woman, Billie-Jean, began to cry. Emma shared that she felt Billie-Jean is in a season of change. Cassie saw their family as a tree with lots of branches bearing fruit, spreading fruit to other trees.

Turns out they were all exactly right. Billie-Jean and her husband, Bill, have five children and 28 grandchildren. Plus they’ve fostered over 50 other children. As for the season of change? She has just taken a new position in ministry leadership.

After we prayed for them, Billie-Jean wanted to exchange information and take a picture with us.

Another amazing stop was in Kalamazoo, Michigan. We stopped to see our friend Becca. Andrew and I took her out for dinner at an Italian restaurant. We ended up chatting with our server, Brad. Andrew, Becca and I each took turns giving him words of encouragement that we felt God may be saying to him. After that, we continued the conversation every time he came to our table.

At one point he said, “My relationships aren’t doing that great.” His shoulders sagged a bit and he looked sheepish.

Andrew said, “Brother, no shame! You don’t have to live with shame.”

Then Andrew went on to share how much God loves him. When we were ready to leave, Brad and Andrew exchanged numbers.

When we got back to the hotel room, Brad texted Andrew and asked to meet him for coffee the next day. They met at the MacDonalds next to our hotel, and Brad decided to follow Jesus. He’s an amazing young man and we’ll stay in touch to hear about the various ways God is filling his life with good and perfect gifts.

It turns out, when we’re willing to share God’s love with people, we get tremendously blessed, too.