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:,, and, 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, 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!

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.