Friday, December 16, 2011

What's In a Name?


I’ve been thinking a lot about names lately.

For one, Joel and I have been periodically brainstorming names for the upcoming arrival of our new baby. We aren’t going to find out the baby’s sex, so we need to come up with a boy’s name and a girl’s name. Naming a baby, a baby we will have just met, is very challenging.



The first issue is that there are two people picking a name—two people with different opinions. Many of the names I have loved for years have been vetoed. Many of the names Joel likes have been scorned. I suppose, however, that as frustrating as this is, you have to eventually narrow down a list of names to one or two anyway.

There are a lot of politics involved with baby names. For example, one question all parents-to-be ask themselves is, “Should we tell people what we are going to name our baby?” Some think this is a good idea—that telling others about their baby name is placing “dibs” on that name so no one else takes it. Others prefer to keep the name quiet, for that same reason—so that no one accidentally repeats the name and then somewhere along the line, someone else uses the name. Some figure, “Well, we’ve picked our name, so why not tell people? That won’t change anything” while others reason, “I want to surprise people with our baby’s name!”

Following the above issue is the question of how far removed should someone be from you for you to justify using the same name, if you really like the name? Acquaintance? Someone you’ve never met?

Parents-to-be need to ask themselves a lot of questions, such as:

·         Do I want a popular or an unpopular name?
·         Do I want a standard or unique spelling of the name?
·         How does the first name sound with the last name?
·         How could kids potentially use the name to pick on my son/daughter?
·         How does the name sound with my other kid’s name?
·         Do I like the meaning of the name?

Moreover, it’s always a good idea to have some names in mind months or perhaps years in advance so that you can find out whether the name stands the test of time. If you like the name 9 months after you pick the name, chances are it’s a suitable name.

As stressful as all of this sounds, these daunting challenges have started to look somewhat trivial to me over the past week. Why? Well, as a lover of medieval fantasy, I have had my nose in a fantastic book called Inheritance by Christopher Paolini. This author has created a fantasy world, in some ways comparable to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth (but with many differences)—you know, elves, dwarves, humans, etc. Anyway, one of the concepts Paolini has incorporated into his world is that everyone has both a given name and a true name. Their given names are just that—names given to them at birth.


Their true names carry a different meaning altogether: each character has a true name, but many don’t know their own true name, let alone anyone else's. If anyone discovers their own true name, they have no choice but to guard that information with their lives, for if anyone else discovers someone’s true name, they could use it against them, controlling them or manipulating them because someone's true name represents the very essence of that person.

The protagonists, in Inheritance, need to figure out what their true names are. Naturally, as I was reading, I started wondering what my true name is.

Now, you are probably wondering, what comprises one’s true name?

Well, it’s not just one or two words, like given names. True names could be a sentence or two long, and must explain someone’s essence—that person’s strengths and flaws, inner character, and perhaps might describe where that person came from or where that person is going.

Of course, we aren’t living in Christopher Paolini’s fantasy world, but I still wondered if discerning our true names might be a helpful exercise in understanding who we truly are.

I have also been reminded of the many names that God has: Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (among others). I wonder what names God has for us?

What about you? What are your strengths and your flaws? Where have you come from? What have you endured? How has this changed you? How have you grown and developed through life? Where are you going? What is your destiny? What is your character and personality? What has God planned for you? What are the gifts God has given to you?

As you can see, all of a sudden the profound nature of selecting a given name for my baby means much less to me than what God has already named, predestined and purposed for my baby. Our true names are of much greater significance.

Given names are still fun to sift through and deliberate, but I suppose Shakespeare said it best in Romeo and Juliet:

“What’s in a name? A rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet.”



“Rose” is the sweet-smelling flower’s given name in English; however, the essence of the rose (what it looks like, how it grows and blooms, what is smells like, what it means to us) supersedes the arbitrary four-letter word that we use to refer to it.

You are much more than your given name, or even its meaning; you have a name created by God that describes your very essence.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Just Do It

For about a year, I had felt like I should be getting to know one of my neighbours. The thought, "You should make an effort to befriend her" and "You should do something nice for her" kept coming to my mind. No matter what excuses my mind came up with, I still felt, deep down, like I should be making an effort to get to know this particular neighbour.

Well, a year went by. A year. I put it off and delayed it and kept making those "logical" excuses for why I shouldn't bother. Here are some of them:

  • I'm sure I'll randomly run into her some time in the near future. (This didn't happen.) 
  • It's too late now. 
  • I missed my chance. 
  • If I was going to do something, I should have done it months ago. Now it doesn't matter.
  • (Both last winter and this fall): It's cold now, and people aren't outside much anymore - I won't run into her.
  • (When it was warmer): She's busy talking with someone, so I can't wait around to talk to her...that would be awkward.
  • (She had a baby): I could bring her a meal, but what if they are vegetarian? What if they have food allergies that I don't know about? I don't know what they like!



Once I figured I had missed my chance and it was too late, it became easier and easier to put it out of my mind and think about it less often. 

Then, last week, I realized that since we will be moving in the near future, I may never ever make that connection. The finality of that thought finally drove me to action.

I went to her house and talked with her, and made that connection. We had a great chat, and have purposed to get together again in the near future.


I felt lighter, as though a little burden that had been pressing upon my shoulders was finally lifted. I did what had been impressed upon me to do for a year. 

I'm telling you this because if you ever feel that same feeling - like you should make an effort to get to know someone, or that you should do [this] or [that]- don't wait as long as I did. Procrastinating and trying to justify not doing something (because it would pull you out of your comfort zone) won't benefit you one bit. The longer you put it off for, the harder it is to eventually motivate yourself to action.

Sometimes opportunities (that, who knows, could change our lives in one way or another) pass us by, and we don't have the luxury of taking the opportunity up at a later date. Often, however, those opportunities are still there, and while the longer we wait, the more difficult it is to take action, it's not impossible to take action. Often, it's not too late. Often, we haven't actually missed our chance. 

Don't sit there and formulate excuses for not doing what you know you should be doing. Just do it. After all, who knows how you could impact the lives of others by taking the action you know you should take? Who knows what kinds of doors could be opened, what kinds of opportunities await, or what kinds of changes or effects certain connections, relationships or actions could create?

Just do it. 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Personal Gift


Have you ever read, or heard of, the book Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman’s Soul by John and Stasi Eldredge?




Captivating was recommended to me as a helpful book to read when I was going through a difficult time in my life. I read the book four years ago, and I want to share with you a consequent experience I had relating to the book.

For those of you who haven’t read it, or if you have and need a refresher, Captivating stresses the value of a woman’s heart, the things that a woman needs and thus, the type of relationship she has with God.

I’m going to take you straight to pages 116-118, where Stasi writes about an experience she had:

At this point in the book, the authors are describing a woman’s desire to be romanced. Accordingly, our relationships with God often take that sort of position—God desires to show His love to those He loves, just as a woman would be romanced by her lover.

One day, Stasi’s husband John had experienced God’s personal, intimate love for him while he was on a beach. He had the privilege of watching the rare sight of a beautiful whale blowing water out of its blowhole, and to John, this was a special experience of God’s love for him personally.

After John had told Stasi about what he saw, Stasi asked God for the same thing. She said, “God, I want you to show me a whale, too.” She ended up walking the beach herself, but instead of seeing a whale, she saw a huge expanse of beach covered with starfish—she had never seen anything in nature like it before. She knew that was God’s personal gift to her.

The book goes on to explain that as God loves each of us so much, on a very personal level, we can open our hearts to “hear His whispers and receive His kisses.”

Well, what do you think I did after reading that section? At that time in my life, I desperately needed reassurance from God that He did in fact love me enough to take the time to give me my own gift, and I desperately needed to feel as important to God as these two well-known authors clearly were. I figured, it doesn’t hurt to ask, and if the authors are right, then I should be able to get my own gift from God. Perhaps this was a little selfish and testy of me, but given my state of mind at the time, I am not surprised that I asked God for my own gift.

I don’t remember how many days later, but shortly after reading that section of the book, on a dark, cold Saturday night, I spent my evening grocery shopping (probably the best way to spend a Saturday night, right? Please note my sarcasm here).

When I was driving home and pulled onto my street, my headlights caught some movement. At first, I thought it was a dog, but when I looked again, I realized this animal was way bigger than a dog—it was a buck—a full-grown male deer, complete with a huge set of antlers. I had never seen anything like it before.

I slowly followed it down my street. He was casually galloping along the side of the road until he got to an adjoining cul-de-sac, which he turned down. He didn’t really seem scared; I think he could have run much faster than he did. I kept following him until I watched him make his way up someone’s driveway and past the garage into the backyard. The buck’s antlers reached up to the roof of the garage he ran past.

To see something so majestic, so wonderful and so rare in the middle of a street, running into someone’s backyard was very, very awesome. I couldn’t believe my eyes.


Yes, I do live across the street from a ravine; the houses across the street from me, and on that cul-de-sac, back onto a nice ravine where perhaps many deer live. I have not, however, ever seen a deer on my street (apart from this incident) in the five years I’ve lived here. Also, I have never seen a buck before in my life. 

When I have seen deer out in the wild, I’ve only ever seen a group of does (or at least, young deer without antlers). Even hunters who are specifically in a deer-riddled area, watching and waiting for that prize buck with majestic antlers adorning its head may wait for days and never see one, let alone hunt one down. This deer I saw was rare enough of a gem to me that it really impacted me, and I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was my gift from the One Who loves me so dearly. Now, whenever I see a deer out in the wild, I’m reminded of that fantastic buck and of God’s love for me on a very personal level. That gift was, as Stasi calls it, “an intimate gift from an intimate God.”

Stasi finishes that section with, “He has many for you as well.”

I would never, ever share this story about what God did for me if I wasn’t certain that He would do the same for you. Maybe He already has, many times.

Of course I know that God loves me. I would have believed that even if I had never encountered that buck. I believed it before, and I still believe it. God didn’t need to prove His love for me by providing that gift from nature any more than my friends or family would ever need to prove their love for me by giving me presents—I know love without physical gifts.

Even though we don't need gifts to know love, aren't gifts still fun to receive? Aren't gifts fun to give to the ones we love? Don't actions like the giving/receiving of gifts make relationships sweeter? God feels the same way!

What's more, I believe is that sometimes in life, our hearts may be fragile, our emotions may be unstable or our situations may have placed us in a precarious position. For whatever reason, we may just need to be shown, in our own personal, intimate way, just how much God loves us. We may just need something tangible, in our world, to give us that boost we need to grow strong again—to heal our hearts. Sometimes we need something to hold onto. Please be comforted that God knows what you need and He is willing to give.

If you’ve never done so, I encourage you open your own heart and see what kinds of ways that God can show His own intimate, personal love for you in a beautiful and impactful way. He knows when you will need them and why. As Stasi wrote in Captivating, He has many gifts especially crafted for you, ready and waiting to bestow on you, too. Just ask and be open to receiving them.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Impact of Remembering


When I was at the grocery store last night, and a very sweet elderly man very carefully pinned a poppy on my coat lapel, I started to think about Remembrance Day. Very quickly, I started reciting “In Flanders Fields” in my mind. I still remember an elementary school teacher very painstakingly (and patiently) teaching us the poem so that we could recite it for a Remembrance Day assembly. I’ve never forgotten the poem, thanks to that teacher.

The whole poem is beautiful and moving, but the lines that jumped out at me last night were:

Take up our quarrel with the foe
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high
If ye break faith with us who die,
We shall not sleep…

[We shall not sleep]

How impactful is that? As a kid, I never truly understood the significance of those lines. I just remember our teacher coaching us to say, "The torch; be yours to hold it high" loudly and with gusto. Now, those somewhat haunting lines to me serve as a commission, a decree or a perhaps even desperate demand to not only remember but also act.

Of course we all know the purpose of Remembrance Day: to remember that many, many, many people have fought for the freedom many of us were born into today. We must remember, lest we forget, and forget at what cost?

The more I pondered Remembrance Day and the above excerpt from John McRae’s poem, however, the more that commission to act impressed itself on me:

All the people who fought for our freedom have done their part; now, the torch is ours to hold high.


In terms of war and freedom, we must remember the past so that we can perpetuate our victories now and into the future, until we are ready to pass the torch to the next generation. We are the now generation; we are the ones responsible now for carrying forward our ancestors’ dreams and successes and fights; we are the ones responsible now for preparing the way for the next generation’s life on this earth. This commission is much broader than just war and freedom, though: this does not just have to apply to politics. What about society, culture, philanthropy, technology and the environment?

What can we do—what are we doing right now—for future generations?

“In Flanders Fields” is certainly a strong and passionate decree for the people of today to remember the past in order to impact the future.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Change





How do you feel about change? Do you welcome it, or do you resist it?

Do you rearrange your living room every few months, or has it stayed the same for years? How many different hairstyles or hair colours have you had in the last five years? Would you be happy working for the same company until you retire, or do you feel the itch to do something new every so often?

The more I think about “change,” the more I realize how complex a word “change” really is. There is, after all, positive and negative change, major and minor change, permanent and temporary change, and several other types and variations in between.

There are two aspects of change that intrigue me the most, and the first is the way it makes me feel. When something changes, it feels foreign, different and far from ordinary. It causes me to feel different from my usual self—like I’ve distanced my mind from my actions, or my perspective from my body, or something like that. When things change, sometimes I don’t feel like “me”; psychological gravity has a lesser effect on me; I don’t feel quite as grounded as usual.

Here’s an example: Joel and I have put our house up for sale. That simple action will produce so many changes that to comprehend them all at once is overwhelming. Some of these changes have already made me feel a little “different” just being at home. Other changes I know are imminent, and I’m a little nervous about how they will make me feel when they happen.

Our house feels different because I’ve staged it to sell by removing all personal effects such as knick knacks and framed photos. Clutter now lives in cupboards, and our dog now temporarily lives at my in-laws.

At some point in the near future, we will be living in a different house.

At first, I probably won’t feel at “home” there. The layout will be different, and our things will be in different places.

I will be sleeping in a different room, and showering in a different bathroom.

The house will have its own different smell and will produce different “house sounds” like certain creaks when you walk across certain sections of floor.

I will be driving a new route to all the places I go; some places will be closer, and others will be further away.

All the nuances of living in a certain house will be completely changed; all the little details that I don’t ever notice will become extremely noticeable because of their difference from my norm.

So much of myself is entwined in my home, for “home is where the heart is.” I will be uprooting my heart to plant it elsewhere. Of course I will be taking the memories of the years I spent in our house with me wherever I go, but they will always play themselves out in my mind in this house. Moreover, I will be entrusting my home of five years to another family, hoping and praying that they are able to make this a real home for themselves, enjoying and appreciating and loving it like I have.

I like the idea of change, especially if I know it’s ultimately for the better. Change can be refreshing, but adjusting can be clumsy and challenging. The initial period of “newness” can be awkward, making you feel as though you’re in a different country instead of safe in your familiar homeland.

Change feels strange.

When something changes, everything feels strange, but thankfully, that feeling only exists for a little while. Familiarity slowly overcomes foreignness, and eventually, to move away from that newly-found familiarity would denote another change.

This brings me to the second aspect of change that baffles me: Sometimes I wonder at the capacity of human beings to adjust and adapt to the countless changes of a lifetime. As our bodies grow and eventually start to age, we are continuously met with changes and are faced with decisions. Our relationships grow and develop, and life happens, and we are met with more changes that feel strange at first. We live in different houses, experience different financial situations, work at different jobs, become part of different communities of people, are blessed with life and suffer death. Isn’t it amazing that for the most part, we are able to take change and transform it into familiarity? Sure, some adjustments take more time and effort than others, and some we may never get used to, but generally speaking, we are resilient creations that can eventually get used to situations that have changed—and maybe even get used to “change” itself.

Do we grow accustomed to difference because it’s the only way to survive (and humans were created with a will to survive)? In other words, do we adjust to change because we have a survival instinct? What about positive change? We still have to go through an adjustment period even when we experience a change for the good, right? So regardless of the type of change, generally speaking, we adapt, adjust, endure a period of awkwardness and then carry on—move on—continue on through life, eventually getting used to the new state we’re in? Take all of those questions and throw in the fact that as our environment and circumstances change around us, we ourselves also change, compounding the effects of difference in our lives! With all of this change, how do we remain stable and balanced? It's a wonder, isn't it?

I wonder if humans are able to adapt so well because of the fact that there is something in this dynamic universe that always promises to remain the same: God, His promises and His infinite love for His adaptable creations. The more I change and adapt to changes, the more I realize how solid and unchanging He is; no matter how much life changes around me, I have a constant and unchanging God at the center, Who is familiarity, Who is home and Who is light, even when nothing else is.


Friday, October 21, 2011

Friday

I'm sitting here, and it's Friday at 2:30, and by now I usually have my weekly blog post written and sometimes even posted, but for some reason I just haven't come up with a noteworthy idea or topic this week.

This week, however, I feel like maybe instead of delving into something philosophical or psychological or motivational or inspirational, I am just going to tell you a bit about what has made me happy over the past couple days.

  • Watching Boardwalk Empire with Joel. He got really into this show about a month ago, and was halfway through the first season when he finally thought that there actually was a possibility that I might like the show. I started watching, and I loved it, and he caught me up on what I missed, and it truly is an interesting show (of course it is; Martin Scorsese is one of the show's executive producers). Somehow, though, whenever Steve Buscemi's character walks into a room and opens his mouth, I can't help but think about the homeless guy he plays in Mr. Deeds who loves pizza with Oreo cookies and gummy worms on it. I am still trying to work on getting past that.
  • Watching Emmett constantly grow. Last night, I went to a Norwex party at my aunt's house with Emmett, and he kept walking up to my cousin's daughters (he really liked them), putting his head down shyly and awkwardly looping his arms around, and I wondered at how someone so young (he's a year and a half) seems to inherently know when to be bashful and how to show it. Sometimes I wonder how much he learns from observing others and how much he just does instinctively (yes, that ongoing nature/nurture questions is a doozy).
  • Cleaning my house (finally) today. All week I had either no time or no motivation to clean my house, and I guess I was in a kind of disconnected "I-don't-care" mood, so I just cast resentful glares at the dust collecting on my fridge and water spots spreading across my bathroom counter and the dog hair on the floor, and then pretended they didn't exist. I don't know if it was the Norwex party (even though I don't have any Norwex stuff yet), or if I just started to get in a cleaning mood today, or if it's because my sister and brother are coming over tonight, but I went off on a cleaning rampage today--you know, not the typical, standard weekly cleaning, but the super-charged, intensive cleaning. My house is now making me feel happy. There are few things I love more than existing in a clean and tidy house. It is a thing of beauty.
  • Chatting with friends and family. You know you have amazing friends and family when your friends start to feel like family and your family starts to feel like friends. When does that happen? How does that happen? It takes some extremely wonderful people and considerable quality time to build such strong and rewarding relationships; that is what makes them so amazing. When I feel tired or a little melancholy, nothing cheers me up and makes me feel really happy than a great conversation with someone--particularly a friend or family member.
  • Eating. I'm not kidding when I say that for the past week or two, I have been having food dreams every single night. I'm always eating or making food or watching someone else make food or talking about food. I love to even just think about food. After weeks and weeks of hating the sight of food and dreading opening the fridge, I am finally relishing the thought of eating. I'm glad that when I feel this way, my family can benefit because I start to put more thought into what we eat, and so I've been making some really delicious meals now. (But what am I going to make tonight???)
  • The anticipation of Christmas. I love Christmas. Now that the weather is getting colder, I'm starting to sense those little Christmasy, wintery nuances here and there that make me feel at home: the smell of the furnace coming on, the feeling of wearing a thick sweater, breaking out the boots, burning fall- and winter-scented candles, making applesauce (I often do just because it makes my kitchen smell so good), baking (or eating what other people have baked for me) and waking up very warm but for my nose, which is usually cold. 

Friday, October 14, 2011

I Never Knew That!

As my adult years continue, I am continually amazed at how many things I keep learning.

In one respect, "the more you know, the more you realize you don't know" becomes more and more true and relevant. You learn as you live. You grow as you experience. Giant values and concepts become more understandable. I write about those kinds of things a lot.

Today, however, I'm thinking more about little things like useless facts, the pronunciation or definition of certain words, and the reason why something is the way it is.

Every couple of weeks or so, I find myself exclaiming, "I never knew that!" Every couple of weeks or so, I learn something that I never knew.

For example, less than ten years ago, I found out that Rabbit from Winnie the Pooh is actually male. For my whole life, I had thought Rabbit was a girl. He was always cooking and cleaning, and he kind of had a high-ish voice. Then one day I saw a picture of Rabbit wearing a bow tie, and my whole world came undone. I couldn't believe that for over 20 years, I was wrong about Rabbit's gender. Life-altering? Well, not really, but this realization was still pretty shocking to me.



Here's another example: I've always been a reader: if you've been reading my blog, you can probably tell. Just look at my Books, Books, Books post. Anyway, there are many words that you read in books that you may never hear anyone say, or at least, never pay attention to anyone saying it, or even, always think that everyone else was wrong pronouncing it differently. Consequently, I have thought that many words were pronounced a certain way, when it was me that actually turned out to be wrong. I had always thought that "basil" had a short "a," that "cantaloupe" was pronounced "cantaloop" (I still say it that way because it's more fun, and I also partially have my mother to blame for this one), and that "barrage" was pronounced "bear-idj." Then one day, the adult "bookworm" says a word completely wrong and becomes the laughingstock of the group (that's OK; I'm over it).

I started learning to drive when I was 16, but a few months ago when I went for an oil change, one of the guys asked me to pop the hood and I had to really think about it and look around before I could find the latch! How could I not automatically know that? I sure felt like a doofus, but seriously, I don't remember popping my hood before, or maybe I've only done it once and didn't remember where it was. This situation seems impossible, but guess what? It apparently is possible to have been driving for almost 15 years and still be uncertain about how to pop the hood of your car.

Isn't it amazing that we can go through so many years of our lives without knowing certain little things? Isn't it ironic that we can spend 4+ years of our lives completing post-secondary education and still somehow never hear anyone say the word "lapel" during that time (thus assuming the "a" is long)? Isn't it incredible that we know why deciduous trees' leaves change colour and then fall off every autumn, but we may not know if ornamental pepper plants' peppers are edible? We can write essays on the objectification of women in today's magazines, or we may write policies and procedures for the companies we work for, but maybe we can't quite remember for certain, now that we think of it, how exactly frogs fertilize the female's eggs and how long before they become full-grown frogs. I can bake some pretty amazing oatmeal chocolate chip cookies and make a mean chili, but I sometimes still have to think about and perhaps even look it up to know for sure which nuts or fruits or vegetables or legumes grow from vines, little plants, shrubs or trees.

Not only am I constantly discovering little facts all the time but also there are things I still don't know or haven't experienced. I have only seen a small part of one of the Star Wars movies. I have never seen The Godfather. I have ridden a camel, but never a horse. I've never been to Florida. You might be thinking incredulously, "Seriously? You've NEVER seen Star Wars?"

Maybe all the things I never knew until recently, or still have never experienced, are things you feel like you've always known, or have done a million times (like gone to Florida every year during March break). Or, maybe there are things you've never known that are "old news" to me. Maybe "useless facts" are actually "useless" to you, so you don't really care to know why the wind allows you to see the bottoms of trees' leaves just before it rains.

Why is that?

I always assumed that in our learning lives, we start with certain basics and move on to more complex knowledge...in other words, certain information and facts are like prerequisites to other information and facts. Like if you've been driving for 15 years, you know how to pop the hood of your car. Or if you've had a childhood, you've probably been to Florida. Or if you're alive, you've seen Star Wars. Apparently, that assumption is incorrect.

Do our experiences and personalities and passions lead us to certain information, and perhaps shy us away from knowing other things?

Or is some of what we know, or don't know, completely random? How much of what we know do we unintentionally stumble upon? How much of what we don't know is just based on the type of family we were born into?

How big a role does inquisitiveness play? Do those with the most questions learn the most, or do people who don't really question things still learn just as much, just indirectly?

I am really inquisitive, but there are still so many facts that I don't know, and am looking forward to finding out! I love the fact that no matter how much I know, there are still so many little bits of information and facts that I have yet to discover! Learning, to me, never gets old.

So, thank goodness for Google. And the Discovery channel. What did people do without these wonderful information outlets years ago???








Friday, October 7, 2011

Thankful for "The Whole Love" of Music




Over the past few years, I have developed quite the affinity and respect for Wilco. Jeff Tweedy and the rest of Wilco together create extremely interesting, varied, sometimes energetic, sometimes just plain emotional music that sometimes carries on for a long time (they have some tracks in excess of ten minutes)—different than anything else I’ve ever heard before. Some of Wilco’s songs are perfect for fuelling the energy of a party (“Heavy Metal Drummer,” “I Might”), and others are the kind you need to listen to by yourself in your car, so the lyrics can be tucked around you and all of the interesting sounds can serenade you alone (“Country Disappeared,” “Ashes of American Flags”).

Emmett in his Wilco concert merch from Joel: "Wilco Loves Your Baby"

Wilco just released their new album called The Whole Love on September 27. I love it. I was thoroughly impressed and have thoroughly enjoyed listening to the album. I thought that I would write a post about Wilco and their new album this week.

I started with going to their website, and the first thing my eyes locked on was a large link that read, “Please Read Henry’s Story.” I thought, How nice; probably a story about some fan. I complied to the site’s request and read Henry’s story.

Well, Henry’s story ended up being an emotional one about a boy named Henry. He was a musician at heart, inherently, from birth, and he also happened to love Wilco.

He died when he was 18. His mother wrote this beautiful story about him, and her story ended with a very moving description of the way that Wilco and The Whole Love impacted her, in light of Henry and his way-too-soon death.

Having read that story, I have decided to turn down another side trail (which leads to a huge general expanse of meaning instead of something smaller and specific), instead of just reviewing Wilco’s new album. Yes, it’s awesome. Yes, you should listen to it. Yes, you should listen to all of Wilco’s albums because they are all awesome.

There’s more. Down the side trail I’ve decided to take, I see the bigger picture. I see how many of us, in many different ways, respond to music that our fellow human brothers and sisters have created—it impacts us.

We were created to react to music, to feel rejuvenated by music and to be inspired by music.
I have always known that people connect with some music, but perhaps not others, and that’s maybe because of the way we were wired “musically.” In some way or another, we were created to connect with music. 

What Henry’s story reminded me of is that music also brings us together (just like Henry and his mother connected with each other in a certain way through Wilco’s music). Music creates community. Music can facilitate connections between people that would have never existed without it. Lyrics can “hit home” and make the listener feel like he or she is not alone but instead connected with others who feel the same way.

Because of Henry’s story and its connection with music, many people have connected with Henry’s mother. Many people have been inspired by the story; in fact, Wilco also has a link on their site to donate to Henry’s fund, a non-profit organization that provides help for youth age 12-20 who have drug addictions.

The impact of music doesn't stop there. Not only are we wired to connect with certain music, and consequentially, with other people through that music, music lives on past those connections to play a significant role in perpetuating itself:

Music facilitates a passionate cycle of creativity.

Songs impact and inspire souls to create something—like more music—that impacts other souls into reacting another way, and the cycle continues. Songs can dig down to your guts, strum your heart strings, make your head tingle and your eyes water and your soul feel more alive than it has in many months, or perhaps many years. Emotions and inspiration and passion can be transformed into music. Music breeds feeling. Feeling grows into love. Love keeps us alive.

Wilco in particular is doing exceptionally well in connecting stories, experiences and people by creating music and lyrics that envelop the soul, excite the mind and inspire others to action.

This Thanksgiving, I’m very thankful for music – I’m thankful that God added music into the mix when He created us and this world.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Three Cheers for Thirty



This week, I thought I'd share a few reflections on turning thirty because as of yesterday, I am thirty years old.

My first thought about turning thirty has always been, "That's so OLD!" I guess to enter a new decade can be quite a shock. For ten years, I've been a twenty-something-year-old, and now I'm a thirty-something-year-old.

When I dug a little deeper into my thoughts on thirty, however, I started thinking back to everything that happened in my twenties, in my last decade of life, which is the first decade of adult life, in which a lot of important, life-changing events happen and important, life-changing decisions must be made. Have you ever realized how much happens in our twenties? For many people, at least one, or maybe all, of the following experiences are generally standard:

  • Going to college or university (which means deciding what career path you want to follow - although many of us end up changing our minds on which program we want to take)
  • Getting your first "real" job or starting your "career" (and we all hope that the program we took in college or university ends up being applicable to this first job) 
  • Moving out of your parents' house into either a place you rent or have bought (either way, paying for your living space)
  • Falling in love, dating seriously, and/or getting married (which means thinking about and deciding who you want to spend the rest of your life with)
  • Having children (which, if you are the mother of said children, often means taking time away from the job you invested schooling and experience into to do something completely different - taking care of a baby, which is more important than your job, but ironically, you likely didn't take college courses or gain work experience in child-rearing)
There's five major, life-changing, significant circumstances that are the result of major, life-changing, significant decisions we are often prompted and prodded to make in our twenties.

Sure, being twenty-something is fun in a lot of ways: you're young and in your prime (so you look great), you have lots of energy, you are constantly facing a new opportunity, life is constantly changing, even as an adult, you are constantly growing up and maturing and gathering new responsibilities, and you are experiencing some pretty amazing life events. 

When I looked back at all the firsts and all the new experiences and all of the changes I experienced in my twenties, though, I kind of felt tired afterward (maybe it's because I'm thirty and I'm getting "old," so I tire easily). Either way, I felt tired. I felt the trauma of all of the thoughts and emotions and experiences and change, I felt the stress of the many decisions and transitions (wondering and hoping beyond hope that I made the right decision each time), and I felt the dizziness of the ups and downs: the continuous rising of emotional reaction to a major life event, and the subsequent dip of emotion when things went back down to normal, only to rise up again to meet a new opportunity or change. Yes, I sure felt tired to think back on all of those things.

I learned a lot in my twenties. I experienced a lot in my twenties. Thankfully, though, I feel quite refreshed to be in a brand new decade of my life. I hope that my thirties hold many new opportunities and excitement in my life's journey through the decades, but I am looking forward to a sense of stability and balance that only comes from having established a lot of things in my life prior to turning thirty.

Thus I must say, "Three cheers for thirty!" I'm really looking forward to what God has in store for me next.

Friday, September 23, 2011

He Never Leaves



Last Sunday at church, we had a guest speaker who talked about coming back to your First Love.

Not until I was digesting the sermon afterward did I realize how much I needed to hear those words. I was then further inspired to write this piece about the striking difference between living life when God is at our centre versus living life having drifted away. I am and will be eternally grateful for having a God Who never actually leaves.

                                          **********************************************************

I was sitting on a couch in a huge, white room. It was bright and light. It was really nice. I could always hear soft music playing, and no matter what it was, it restored my soul.

As I reclined on big red couch, my feet resting on an ottoman, circumstances walked into the large, roomy room and played themselves out. They usually did some kind of dance. Sometimes I felt a little elbow nudge from my spirit, and then I knew that a certain circumstance should not be permitted—so I would ask him or her to leave. Other circumstances I allowed to waltz in, and if my spirit poured a pitcher of peace over me, I knew the circumstance was all right, and that there was no need for me to worry. I therefore let the circumstances do their dances: some wore caps with feathers, some wore beautiful flouncy dresses and waved silk wraps around as they waltzed, and some that may have seemed a little dark or unwelcome at first ended up brightening up by the end. In fact, sometimes one circumstance (often a pretty lady) would pair up with another (a handsome gentleman) and they would end up in the most striking, unexpected dance routine—one I could never have imagined in the most perfect world—and the ending blessed me in some way: I was given by the circumstance a gift of peace, joy, provision, life, abundance, mercy, joy or opportunity.

Artist: Sera Knight
Sometimes my spirit would prod me to also give something to the circumstance. Sometimes I would give them a gift of my own. Sometimes I would suggest that he or she dance a little differently. I would then get up and dance along with them in complete alignment with their choreography. I was always happy to do so; happy to be living and happy to be giving my spirit so much control.

This was my life for some time. I accepted certain circumstances as God’s almighty intention for me, and I acted on nudgings by the Spirit to influence and change other circumstances, however God had purposed or planned, and God absolutely permeated that white room—which was why it was so incredibly white—a warm, glowing white. It couldn’t be anything else; white was the only colour pure enough.

For some reason, one day, a circumstance that I didn’t like at all came in. I resisted it. I didn’t want it to dance for me. I may have felt a still, small voice telling me that it was OK, but I was so unhappy with the attitude--the colour--of the circumstance that I let my emotions run rampant. I grabbed a cord hanging from the ceiling and pulled a dark screen down to block out that circumstance. The circumstance continued to dance, and its wild arms and legs often knocked against the screen. This frustrated me even further, and so I spent the rest of the day with my arms crossed and a cross expression on my face.

A similar situation happened the next day—another circumstance came waltzing in. This time, it was a beautiful, talented dancer who seemed to have the perfect combination of moves. However, I felt deep inside that something was not right with the dance—something needed to be adjusted. I did not feel any peace run over my head and down my back. I should have done something, but I didn’t. I should have acted, but I didn’t. I instead ignored that feeling because I wanted to be mesmerized by the dancer. I let the dancer continue, and as she did, as I remained entranced by the dance, I didn’t notice that my hand had found its way to the pull cord hanging from the ceiling, and I began to pull, which brought down another screen. Now I had two screens, blocking two of four sides, and the spacious white room was starting to feel a little small.

I woke up the next morning feeling unhappy. I couldn’t really blame any circumstance, for life is always full of its ups and downs. I was still in that glorious white room, but it felt a little colder where I was. I was still in that glorious white room, but I didn’t feel as fulfilled as I should have felt just by being there.

Did I ask God about it? Did I tell Him about how I was feeling?

No. I just moped and wallowed in this feeling of dissatisfaction. To be honest, as soon as those screens appeared, I seemed to think a little less about God.

Two more circumstances came in that day, and both warranted a pull of the cord—my decision of course, not influenced by Anyone else. Now I was fully surrounded by screens. I was screened in. Although the screens were extremely thin, they still did the job of blocking out any advice or insight from God. Moreover, I thought less and less about God anyway, because I just couldn’t feel His presence the same way.

The only things the screens couldn’t block out were the actual circumstances themselves. They kept barraging the screens so that day after day, hour after hour, I would hear the circumstances, I would feel the circumstances, and I would see the circumstances’ arms and legs making arm- and leg-shaped indentations in the screens. The circumstances, even the beautiful ones, all seemed terrible to me from my perspective.

Before I had time to realize just what had happened, or just how much time had passed, I was thoroughly discontented. Nothing was happening the way it should. Circumstances that should have been denied at the door were let in anyway. My spirit lost control. It was rudely pushed to the back of my existence by my soul, who just didn’t have the patience or the self-control or the insight to make the right decisions. I was stuck in my screened-in, darkened little space, within the expanse of the white room and all of God’s presence, and I had no one to blame but myself. I continued to wallow and feel terrible. Even when good circumstances came in, and even when my friends came to visit me, I still felt depressed.

When I reached the point of quiet desperation, I thought that God must be miles away. Yes, I know that God has said, “I will never leave your nor forsake you,” but a little flicker of doubt flashed in my mind, and I wondered if He had actually gone away this time. I sure felt alone, and nothing was going right, and as much as I tried to do things my way, in my own timing, I was only getting more and more frustrated.

So I broke down. Down on my knees I went. The tears started to flow and I said, “God, I want you here.” I felt terrible for having tried to do things on my own when I knew by experience that God’s advice was always stellar. He always knew what the right decision was, given the fact that He always knew exactly what was going to happen next.

Before I knew it, there it was: that sharp tingling behind my ears, the quickened beat of my heart, the warmth of emotion pairing up with the re-emergence of my spirit to the forefront, the feeling that I’ve finally come home. The feeling of home.

In worship and surrender, I gave it all up to God, for the seemingly hundredth time in my life, and with that release, the screens were lifted, and I felt the light presence of God dripping down all the walls, running across the floor and thickening the air with an invigorating, misty, minty vapour. 

I was shocked to see the walls disappear. I had felt miles and miles away from any notion of God, yet there He had always loyally remained, a giant presence, just on the other side of a paper-thin set of screens that I had put into place myself. I imagined looking into the room from above, peering down and seeing a pathetic girl hovering within four screens, feeling away and alone, while she was actually still in the huge, glowing warm-white room with the same presence of God and the same love permeating the atmosphere in the room.

To me, at that moment, I wondered how I could have ever thought I was far away from God, when He was right there the whole time, waiting for me.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Two Definitions of Success


Every so often, I wrestle with the concept of “success.”

I start to wonder, “Am I successful?”

Today I looked up the dictionary definition of success on four different online dictionaries: Dictionary.com, TheFreeDictionary.com, Merriam-Webster.com and Oxforddictionaries.com, and guess what?

They all provide two different definitions of success:

1.       Accomplishing an aim or purpose
2.       Gaining fame and fortune (or popularity and wealth)

Because there are two quite different ways to view success, the concept of success can be a difficult one to wrestle with.

What’s more, guess which definition of success is the prevalent one in society? If someone asked you what success was, which definition would you automatically respond with? Which definition of success do the media bombard us with? Which definition of success are we faced with, no matter which way we turn?

Definition #2.

On one hand, success means having a dream or a goal or a passion and then seeing it develop unto its full potential. Well, that’s easy enough: with a dream to make life exciting and keep hope alive, and with a passion to drive the dream into reality, anyone can be successful. Everyone ought to be successful.

However, the other definition of success appears to be much more selective. Definition #2 is much harder to attain, and for many, may seem impossible. For example, there are thousands upon thousands of musicians out there, but only a handful are chart-toppers and only a few more gain enough of a fan base to make a good living out of it. Millions of people start their own business, but not everyone gains substantial wealth from it. In fact, don’t half of small businesses fail within the first few years? I don’t know how many little girls dream of being movie stars or celebrities, dressing up in old gowns and putting on lipstick and mom’s high heels, singing into a brush (I sure did), but how many of them actually went on to become celebrities? Not me! Not many.


To be successful via fame and fortune is unrealistic and difficult. We can be made to feel like failures because the product idea we had didn’t end up making money, or the business we started only provided us with an average income, or we didn’t end up using the costly education we invested in to start a financially rewarding career.

It would also seem that “things” are an indicator, or measure, of success in the wealth/popularity sense. There are always new cars, new phones, new clothes, new TVs, new furniture, new vacation hot-spots, new hairstyles…it never ends!

For me, this creates a lot of pressure. Although that lovely Definition #1 of success still exists, the pressures of gaining Definition #2 of success and having all the products and things associated with it seems to always make their way to the forefront.

I am often made to question myself: If I’m not making x amount of money, have I made a mistake somewhere in my career or life choices? Since I don’t have a flat screen TV (gasp!) an iPhone, a Blackberry, or any other “smartphone,” and I don’t have an iPad either (OK, pick yourself off the floor), does that mean I’m not keeping up with the times like a “successful” person would? If I haven’t gone on a fantastic, overseas vacation in the past year, does that mean I’m not as “successful” as the people who have because that’s what “successful” people do?

All of these questions pertain to Definition #2 of success. I feel like I constantly need to click “Send to back” to put those fame and fortune ideals behind more important things in my mind.


I thought about success some more, and realized that based on logic alone—that not every single person in the world can be a famous person because how could everyone actually be able to know over six billion other people by name, and because there are enough competitive, greedy capitalist giants that there’s no way the entire world could be wealthy by first-world standards—I don’t like Definition #2 because it’s just not realistic. It’s not a fair definition because shouldn’t everyone have an equal opportunity to gain success? As much as I would love our next Zusters album to go platinum, or for Joel’s band to open for Wilco or Sam Roberts Band, or to be randomly discovered by some agent while I’m out grocery shopping, or to win $10 million in the next Lotto Max, although not impossible, these things are not quite as likely as pursuing a personal passion and positively impacting people with it.

There is often a struggle between trying to stay focused on doing what God put us on this earth to do (Definition #1) while being constantly distracted by the magnetism of fame and fortune (Definition #2).

Here’s what I remind myself of: When you are doing what God intended for you to do, you will be the happiest and feel the most fulfilled.  

We should be asking ourselves questions like this instead: What am I really good at? What do I love doing? Am I doing that—whether it’s part of my career or something I do in my free time? Do I feel passion for a cause? What do I feel like I should be doing with my life? What kind of mandate can I live by? Am I acting on my dreams, passions and the calling that I believe God has on my life?

Don’t let yourself get distracted by Definition #2. Become focused on learning and living out what God has lovingly selected for you to do—and don’t look to the right or left. God will entrust us with what we have proven we can handle, so personal growth and development in both a practical and spiritual sense are important to success. In the creative sense, awaken your passions, and in the practical sense, grow wise. That said, if you become famous and gain fortune by doing what you were purposed to do, there’s nothing at all wrong with that—God knows what He’s doing—just steward those gifts wisely. There’s nothing wrong with being successful in the Definition #2 sense. I think the problem occurs when that becomes the main goal because reason tells us that it’s just not possible for everyone, so you may be setting yourself up for disappointment.

Don’t compare (or I should say, contrast) yourself with someone else who has more than you do, or is more “successful” than you are—you have no idea what that person has gone through, is struggling with, or how hard that person has worked, and you have no right to question what God has intended for that person versus yourself.

I believe that God wants us all to be successful in terms of Definition #1, and whether that means changing society through politics, changing the way people think about something through a book, handing people change as a server or changing your children’s diapers, when you are doing what God created you to do, when you are following your passions, when you are acting upon opportunities and when you exercise patience and can wait for the timing to be right, you can legitimately refer to yourself as successful—even if you aren’t well-known and don’t have a fat bank account. (Click “Bring to front” to bring that image of success to the forefront of your mind.)

Just because Definition #2 has found its way to the forefront of society doesn’t mean it deserves a place in the forefront of your mind. Make room for Definition #1: it’s realistic, it’s the way God sees success and it will bring the most happiness and fulfillment to your life. 

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Song in Your Head




Do you have a song in your head right now? I do: “Gold Lion” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Since this morning, I think I’ve had about four or five different songs in my head.


When you get a song in your head, are you usually annoyed by it? Does it get on your nerves because your brain keeps replaying the same few phrases? Does it make you start to strongly dislike a song that you originally loved?

On the other hand, perhaps you love having different songs playing in your head. Does your mind give you enough song variety that it’s kind of like a personal radio station that serves to entertain?

Personally, I usually don’t mind having songs in my head. They are usually pretty good songs (since I only listen to good music!), and they seem to trade off with a new song often enough.

For me, the most interesting part of having a song in my head is how the song got there. Sure, sometimes I hear a song somewhere, and then it sticks with me long after the song stops playing. Sometimes, however, a song seems to just appear out of nowhere in my mind, which usually happens in the morning when I wake up.

When I wake up with a song in my head, I often wonder how it got there. Did I dream about something that pertained to the song? Did someone in my dream say something that sounded a lot like a lyric I know? Did I fall asleep with that song in my head but just don’t remember?

Seriously, it seems strange to get a song in my head when I know that I didn’t listen to it recently. It seems like a little surprise that my mind presents me with several times a day; however, I am reasonable enough to figure that there must be some sort of explanation for it. I just don’t know what it is.


I’ve looked at a few sites about getting songs in your head, and it’s kind of interesting. Here’s what I’ve found:

·         When someone has a song in his/her head and cannot get it out, this phenomenon is called “earworms,” or “ohrwurms” in German. Basically, getting a song in your head might start with a mere phrase, musical stanza or lyric, and then your brain develops the itch to fill in the gaps with more of the song, creating a repetitive cycle of music.

·         Catchy pop songs are usually the culprits that overstay their welcome in our heads and become just plain annoying. They are the simplest in structure, so they are easiest for our brain to replay over and over again.

·         Musicians (oh, seriously? I never would have guessed), women and people under stress tend to complain of songs being stuck in their heads longer and more often than others (according to research conducted by marketing professor James Kellaris).

·         Dr. Kellaris has also said that the songs we get in our head are typically repetitive, simple, or incongruent (i.e. having interesting rhythmic variations). His research has further led him to believe that people will get songs that their brains somehow find extraordinary or interesting or unusual stuck in their heads. Thus the need for the brain to repeat the song over and over—in an attempt to make better sense of it.

·         According to Cecil Adams’ article on earworms, one theory that could explain earworms is that they are a side effect of our brains consolidating our memories, which is similar to what happens when we sleep and dream.

·         According to Oliver Sacks in his book Musicophilia, we get songs in our head simply because we constantly hear music, here and there, at home, at the mall, on TV, in movies, at concerts, in the car, and so on, and so forth. We can’t really get away from it.

I also found a web site called unhearit.com, which helps people get the song that`s stuck in their head out of their head, using different music. However, the site has a disclaimer that reads,

Using the latest in reverse-auditory-melodic-unstickification technology, we've been able to allow our users to “unhear” songs by hearing equally catchy songs. So really all we're doing is making 
you forget your old song by replacing it with another one... sorry.”

Only use this site if you are in desperate need to change the song! I had a bar of an annoying techno song in my head for a few hours after just being on the site for less than 30 seconds! Maybe it should be called hearit.com!

There isn`t much credible information online about the science of music in our minds, so my wonderings have kind of gone unanswered. If you can shed any light on my questions, please do tell! In the meantime, I will just continue wondering at our human brains, which keep proving themselves more and more complex, the more and more I think and learn about what they are capable of doing.

The way our brains work is amazing, constantly drawing from information stored in our memories to play certain songs at often seemingly random times, sometimes to annoy, sometimes to surprise, and every once in a while, to unexpectedly inspire and move the soul.


Friday, September 2, 2011

The Significance of Seasons

Last week, we were on vacation in Tobermory. As I am every year, I was again stunned speechless by Tobermory’s absolute beauty: the perfect trifecta of rock, coniferous trees and water; the magnificence of the high places overlooking Georgian Bay; the mesmerizing sound of waves invading the stony shore of Lake Huron.

On one particular hike out to see the Fathom Five islands, as I was surrounded by effortless nature, soft beams of sunlight and tangible peace, and as I began to realize that summer was coming to a close, I started wondering about the significance of seasons.



Tobermory is far enough north that it’s one of those touristy places that essentially closes down in the winter. People come to Tobermory to work there all summer and then leave for the winter months. Not much happens in Tobermory during the winter—nothing except for harsh weather and layers of snow.

As we hiked through the forest that particular day, I felt honoured to be in the middle of so much natural beauty. By natural I mean that things have been largely left alone to grow and die as they would. Bright green moss thrives on dead, fallen pine trunks. Promising saplings arise from the decaying wood chips of their elders. Life and death mingles to create countless natural wonders.


Up north, where the growing season is short, the beauty of summer and the blessing of life is valued and appreciated as a fleeting state-of-being, soon to be destroyed by a ruthless winter. Would Tobermory be as striking and as calming as it is, if it thrived 12 months of the year? Would any place that has four seasons be as beautiful in its transformations as a place that stays the same? Or do the seasons create the opportunity for a more fulfilling experience of wonder?

Let me quickly say that I wouldn’t be completely opposed to living somewhere that is warm all year long. Places like California definitely have their perks. However, the “just as I am” natural occurrences that build the visual splendor of northern Ontario (and Ontario in general) are a product of seasons.

As much as most of us dislike winter (or maybe even hate winter?)—months indoors without sun; driving in the snow or sleet or slush or freezing rain; being perpetually cold—we would not get to experience the miracles of spring if we didn’t first endure the winter. We wouldn’t appreciate the warm summer breeze on our faces or the exhilaration of jumping in a cold pool for the first time or soaking up the sun as much as possible or shopping for new light, airy summer clothes and shoes if we didn’t first experience the exact opposite.

I wonder if the same logic applies to life’s seasons. Would the summers of our lives be as bright and light as they are if they hadn’t been predicated by difficult winters?

Perhaps if nothing ever went wrong—if we had the choice and could live in a California or New Zealand climate without ever knowing that winter or hardship exists (because we’d probably all choose that, right?)—we would thrive in and love the constant sunshine and happiness.

Alas, however, that’s not the world we live in. It seems that a prerequisite to being human is to endure hardship and experience suffering at some points in our short lives. We can’t seem to escape it all, but here’s the silver lining of enduring the winters of our lives:

Spring always comes after winter. (Has it ever not?) Summer always comes after spring. Autumn always comes after summer. We can rest assured that three beautiful, rich seasons are the imminent rewards of enduring the winter. What’s more, we appreciate our seasons of blessing and life so much more after having experienced the human-being hardships of life's winters.

Just as the night is darkest just before the dawn, winter seems to be the most unfair and unforgiving just before the glory of a new beginning. If it were not that way, spring would lose her miraculous glory, summer, her happy shine, and autumn, her striking colour.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Skipping a Post

Hi, everyone!

I just got back from a really great week away in Tobermory, which is why I didn't post something, as I usually do, on Friday. Instead of rushing and trying to come up with something in a hurry today, I'm going to wait until this Friday, September 2 to post something new.

Don't forget to check back on Friday!