The important things I learned from my youth band kids

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“The soul is healed by being with children.”
Fyodor Dostoyevsky

There is this amazing group of kids at my church back home that has taught me some incredible lessons and left a lasting impression on my life. Since moving away from them, I realized just how much they’ve inspired me. They came to our group wanting to know more about music, worship, and leadership. And just as the cliché would have it, I learned more from them than I could have ever hoped to teach. These are a few things I’ve learned from those awesome kids:

-Age isn’t an excuse to stop learning. I had far less motivation to really learn music when I was their age and they truly impressed me during every practice. Whenever I would say something about wishing I could play my guitar better, these kids would come back to me saying, “So, why don’t you just practice?” …Yup.

-They surprised me with their persistence and desire to serve God every time we took that stage. Simply learning to play their instruments was a demanding task on it’s own. But learning to play and worship in front of a crowd was a challenge they met with an incredible combination of uncertainty, vulnerability, and gumption.

-When there are problems, politics, and gossip in the church; kids notice. This group cared when people weren’t singing along with them. They cared about the words of the songs and the meaning behind them. They desperately wanted to be used by God and that left me feeling amazed and absolutely blessed.

-The gaps in our generations are a great reminder of the fact that although we are always changing; God is unchanging. I firmly believe this is where we find opportunities to see God’s humor at work, and ultimately to see Jesus more clearly. People of all generations in our church supported these kids, watched them grow, encouraged them to lead, and laughed at our silliness. And in turn, God used these kids to lead and to teach all ages. To all the naysayers out there, there is always hope for the next generation. They just need a little investment from us.

-Kids aren’t going to be leaders simply by listening to what we say. They are watching, they are noticing, and they are waiting for someone to invest in them. The couple hours a week we spent with these kids wasn’t the only investment. It was about being intentional and knowing that the time I spent with them was valuable; not because of what song we were learning that night but because of who those kids are and who I am because of them.

-They get this “God stuff” too. Some of my most spiritually exhilarating moments of the past two years have been while watching a group of kids realize that there is more to life than what is in front of them and that they truly matter in the eyes of God. These kids face a terrifying world in which their faith will be questioned even to the point of mocking and yet; they stick with it.

When I left my home and moved 5000 kilometers away from my family and my church, these words from a 14 year old comforted me in ways I cannot express. “It’s different without you here but it’s okay… God has something else planned” That little piece of wisdom encouraged me in my uncertainty and allowed me to catch a glimpse into God’s plan for my life. Amazing.

 

“The seasons remind me that I must keep changing.”

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Although I can’t see the leaves changing or feel the crisp air like where I grew up; autumn is still my favorite time of the year. I’ve recently packed up my life, said some hard goodbyes, and moved almost 5000 kilometers away from the place I will always call home. And on this, a beautiful Canadian thanksgiving weekend in Arizona, I’m reminded of all I have to be thankful for back home and on my new adventure.

Our thanksgiving traditions combine my love for my family and a deep thankfulness for how I was raised. I’ve always loved that we celebrate both Canadian and American thanksgiving every year. With a chuckle every time, my Dad says it’s because we are doubly thankful and he’s right. We have so much to be thankful for.  Part of our tradition that will always stay with me only takes up a few minutes before diving into the feast my mother is an expert at preparing. This tradition points us to where we find hope, love, and guidance on how to live our lives; God’s word.

Every year my Dad reads from Psalm 136 and our family gathered around the table responds to each line of the psalm saying, “His love endures forever”. I always get a profound sense of joy when I look around at the faces I love and say those words.

His love endures forever.

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And now, as a Canadian living in the US for the first time away from any family, I appreciate the reminder to be thankful. I’m thankful that I have this great adventure before me and that I was crazy enough to say yes to the opportunity! I’ve met some great people, experienced a bit of a culture shock, and most of all I’ve had to depend on God to quiet my loneliness and open my eyes to the beauty around me. There is always beauty.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone :)

A vintage ring, a old mixer, and a legacy that lasts beyond any season

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As we head into the summer months and the sun finally peaks out and we start to forget about the intense Canadian winter we had, I remember the gifts I received at Christmas. No, I’m not reminiscing about my amazing Boy Meets World Complete Series (although that is a highlight for sure). Some gifts have no real significance attached to them and some have all the significance in the world.

My parents were about my age in the 70s. This is something I don’t often forget as I am ever so thankful for the exceptional music education I received from them. Yes, I sometimes think I was born in the wrong decade when I utter things like, “They just don’t make music like that anymore!” An eclectic musical taste was about the extent of anything they’d passed on to us kids from the 70s. They hadn’t passed along any pieces of furniture or weird clothes and from the glimpses of old suit bags in their closet, I was fine with that. :) But as I rifled through my mother’s jewellery box I spotted the most beautiful sterling silver ring with a turquoise stone in the middle. I put it on, admiring how well it fit, and my mother said, “You really like that?” She made me chuckle at how surprised she was that I liked something of hers from so many years ago and that I liked it enough to want to wear it all the time. It’s still on my finger.

Another gift my parents gave to me over the holidays was their stand up mixer they got when they were first married. This mixer had made many a grand batch of chocolate chip cookies and the most delicious brown bread you will ever taste. My mother recently had to purchase a new mixer as one of her attachments that was surely made decades ago didn’t survive an unexpected trip through the dishwasher. So she had this perfectly good, well-used mixer with only two attachments left and decided to give it to me. I was thrilled. (My first attempt at baking bread without a mixer proved to be a rather dense experiment.) As part of the present, my mother also wrote out a few of my favorites recipes which included instructions on making the bread “doughy” in the middle since she knows that’s the way I like it. She’s awesome.

My parents not only know me as a lover of vintage jewellery and making delicious baked goods; but they also knew that I would appreciate the sentiment of their gifts. I think I can give kudos to good parenting for that one. My family is hilarious and we love spending time with each other. We’re not perfect and my parents didn’t use some special formula to get us to love them even into our adulthood. They just loved us. Whether it was through hugs, gifts, words, lending us the car, or by being selfless examples; they loved through it all. There are a few things I want to pass along to my own eventual children; the love and grace I see in my parents and maybe one day, my own old, scratched up mixer.

An example of my parents' gift of music education - we all wanted to see Chicago live! :)

At the Chicago concert together!

Boston Shenanigans – Remember that time when?

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So I have this friend that just came out with a new album this year that is signawesome. Ok, so we’re not really friends, but we’ve been with him from the beginning. There was even a time that I and two friends traveled 8 hours across the border to see him as an opening act. And this my friends, is that tale.

You know that moment when you hear a song and you can picture events of your life playing out to this song/artist in a cinematic masterpiece? This is how I felt when I discovered Ben Rector’s music.

It all started with an email my friend Bethany received from Ben Rector himself….ok so it was to his whole email distribution list and not to her directly. For those of you who don’t know who Ben Rector is, I encourage you to look him up – incredible talent, moving lyrics, and he wears bowties. What’s not to love? In this email he announced his tour with the band Needtobreathe. This marked the beginning of an amazing journey for 3 Atlantic Canadians to the exotic city of Boston, Massachusetts.

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Our group was made up of myself; the driver and probably loudest music enthusiast of the group, Bethany; the navigator and ultimate discoverer of the music that inspired the trip, and Kate; the overnight shifter and therefore backseat sleeper. We were a gallant group.

First stop: the border. The border people didn’t know who Ben Rector or Needtobreathe were and therefore gave us interesting looks. We passed through with flying colors, and were on our way.

The rest of the trip down was relatively uneventful – as sleeping beauty slept in the back, Bethany and I listened to some pre-concert Ben Rector and Needtobreathe, naturally. We also talked about religion, politics, and other light road trip conversations.

We stopped off at our hotel for two nights which was outside of Boston, in a town called Dedham. It was a lovely hotel, with a great bellman named George. He taught us everything we needed to know about the shopping center and most importantly, how to get around a giant city. We were handed loads of pamphlets.house of blues

The documentary making had begun and we were off. Boston wasn’t ready for us but we were ready for Boston. Shopping was good. Food was good. Company was better. And then the main event of trip – the Needtobreathe/Ben Rector concert.

We made our way to the Boston House of Blues far too early to be sure we would be first in line. It was there that we saw a tour van. And it was from there that we proceeded to stalk the van, all the while my video camera was recording. I’m pretty sure we caught a glimpse of one of the drummers. What a thrill!

We were finally let into the venue, stood for what seemed like years and then began one of the best concerts I had ever been to. “There’s no pain when your feet start movin’!” Ben was fabulous. And we had severely underestimated Needtobreathe.

benA highlight of the day was getting to meet Ben after the show. We gathered around the merchandise table, bought t-shirts intended for Ben to sign. When we finally met him, his bowtie wooed us and we told him how we traveled from Canada to see him. I think he was moved.

So many memories were made in that delightful city, and I’ll post a few more in video form in due time! The main thing I took away from that trip was that wonderful friends and captivating music is a winning combination. And in closing, we put our trust in Mildred, our affectionately named GPS to get us out of the city and on our way home. Someday we will return and it will be just as magnificent.

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The best day of 2013

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I figured I’d better post this before 2013 is over…so here goes!

So, there was that one time when I, along with a friend, were interviewed on our favorite podcast that reached something like 100,000 people. So yeah. I’m tooting my own horn here. And I’m fine with it.

You dream. You hope. You aspire. You head into the new year hoping a few of your dreams will come true, your hopes will be accomplished, and your aspirations will be realized. I didn’t think so much awesome could happen for me in the first week of 2013. But then I got this tweet:

So here’s the back story – my friend Betty and I spent far too much time and thought creating what we thought were hilarious audio/video podcasts for our friend who was in Brazil doing mission work. This was around Christmas time, and we knew that she would be missing the festivities…so we wanted to send her Christmas greetings. Betty, the brilliant lyricist that she is, wrote new lyrics to the tune of “The Holly and the Ivy” and naturally we used our favorite instruments to create “The Ukulele and the Slide Whistle”. It was so fun creating the video and we really just thought it would be a nice quirky way to say Merry Christmas to our friend.

Well, here’ the back back story. Relevant Magazine is my favorite magazine in the entire world. What they do is amazing. They put out a podcast every week that is absolutely hilarious and one of their podcasters makes lots of dry jokes and even puns from time to time. He started bringing his slide whistle to the recording of the podcast, making the whistle sound at the end of a bad joke. So, in honor of this awesome resurgence of the slide whistle into our lives, Betty bought us a few to use, you know, in every day life.

So we tweeted our video at the Relevant podcast since they were a bit of an inspiration. They tweeted back, and wanted to interview us. And they did.

But of course, since I’ve taken so long to write this silly post, much has happened. I received a tweet from a guy who liked our song so much, that he actually made it his ringtone. I’ve also had a number of people from work find this little gem which obviously makes for some sweet “water cooler” talk. All in all, ’twas a great song written for a great friend; turning into a great day in early 2013.

The podcast link is below!

http://www.relevantmagazine.com/podcast/sugar-hi-lows-performs-live

Living an intentional life

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I am blessed.

When I returned from India last summer, I easily went back to my routine and found comfort in my usual activities. Family. Friends. Church. TV. Twitter. It felt strange for the first few days, then my life pulled me right back in. I can’t say whether I’m comfortable stepping back into my life…even almost a year later. I find there is a constant tug of war in my heart in which the side of living for myself often wins.

IndiaMy eyes saw. And my heart remembers. But my intentions are sometimes forgotten.

I experienced a few new things while my best friend was doing mission work in Brazil this past fall. I felt the kind of pride I would imagine a parent to feel for a child who is being awesome. I found myself longing to live beyond my scheduled 9-5 days.

Then I would skype with my roomie/best friend and I felt a combination of fulfillment and yearning. She did an amazing job of communicating the work that was being done there and I felt like I was a part of those stories. But I wondered if that was enough for me.

You know what I worry about right now? It comes down to my weird thinking. Does the world really need another writer? Another worship leader? Another 20-something who keeps a blog and says she wants to get out of the city she’s been in and save the world but also feels like she could be in the right place, doing meaningful work, right now? Another journalism major who doesn’t want to be a reporter but holds onto the feeling that getting a journalism degree was still a good idea?

I love missions and I love loving people. And I know that I can do that here. I just don’t want to waste the now. So for now, I fill my life with activities, plans, happenings that bring me joy and make me feel inspired. This is being intentional. This is how I want to live out love in my life; not through regret of not doing more, but rather through courage to do as much as I can.

2012: The sun’s going to rise over you and me

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Looking back on a year can leave me feeling like I missed something, like there are too many things that passed me by. I’m at the point in my life when I’m constantly thinking of the mark I’m leaving on this world. Have I given enough? Did I love enough? Did I make a difference? Sometimes I just want to say, WAIT. STOP.

“I hope this old train breaks down
Then I could take a walk around
And, see what there is to see
And time is just a melody…”

Last year was a blur of adventure, new things, and great experiences that seemed to flash by me. It marked the reinvention of my blog, and what I felt was the beginning of the “real grown-up job” phase of my life. I had lots of ups and downs, but most notably some great “ups”, she said with a smile.

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Smartest decision: To take my vacation time to go to India.

Regret: I didn’t finish writing my book.

Commitment: Deciding to lead the youth band at my church. They are an amazing and hilarious group and I’ve learned so much!

Blessing: Seeing my best friend commit to doing mission work in Brazil, and reading/watching/weeping at the stories that changed her life and the lives of the people she encountered.

Accomplishment: Asking some great questions, saying yes to crazy opportunities, and taking on the challenge of being a journalist on another continent.

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Highlight: Experiencing some amazing live music. I traveled to see Ben Rector and Needtobreathe with a few friends and it was definitely the best concert I have ever been to. We also got to meet Ben, and got a picture. He was wearing a bow tie. Best day ever.

Risk:  Deciding to stay in my current city despite knowing that the contract at my job was ending.

Defining Moments:

-The moment an article I wrote was published on a fantastic publishing company’s website.

-The moment I stepped off a plane in India, was immersed in a bright culture for two weeks, and realized that for the first time in my life, my writing had a purpose on a global scale.

-The moment I helped pick out an engagement ring for my beautiful sister, and four months later, saw her marry a wonderful man.

I’ve taken hold of opportunities I never thought would happen, and I’ve felt more deeply about issues I never thought could affect my world. The mindset of this generation is so focused on the individual, on making sure you’re doing what’s right for you. When you graduate from university, you need to choose a career that will make you money, make you happy. When you start making that money, you have to invest it, spend it, love it. The more I’m in the business world and this culture, the more I realize how much of my day-to-day life is completely about me. And I think to myself, why doesn’t that bother me more? I haven’t written this as a guilt trip; not for you, and not for myself. I just want to take a moment to rewind, refocus, and re-inspire.

I hope my 2013 will be less about accomplishments and more about living. I hope to:

Read more. Laugh more. Write more. Adventure more. Sing more. Give more. Love more.

Here’s to you, my Jesus

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It was the international day of prayer for the persecuted church (IDOP). The musical instruments lay dormant on the stage in quiet solidarity, as the worship team led the congregation in singing.

Bless the Lord oh my soul. Oh my soul.

Worship His holy name.
We prayed for the persecuted church. A giant bible stood on stage, wrapped in chains. We prayed some more.

Statistics. Feelings. Stories. More prayer.

It was a moving service; deeply routed in prayer. I think however, that we forget these convictions within months, days, hours, and even minutes. Perhaps we think that since we spent more than 10 minutes in prayer, the ball is in God’s court now. We’ve done our part; given some money, prayed heartfelt prayers, and talked about how we should, could, and will do more. But this isn’t one of those kinds of posts…The fact is, there are always people hurting. And we can always do more.

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” -Mother Teresa

I want this post to focus on how we interact with each other here at home despite our freedom of religion.

It was time for communion. As I was about to feel blessed and convicted for such a gift as to be able to celebrate the Lord’s supper in public, with my family of believers, I overheard something that halted my thoughts. We walked over to the communion table at the back of the church and I heard a faint melody.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound.

That saved a wretch like me.

It was His church; a beautiful, bruised, and joyful church. I’m not trying to compare the life threatening circumstances of underground churches to any social persecution suffered in North America. I would however, like to isolate the word “persecuted” and think about what that meant Biblically and what that can mean in our circumstances. I immediately think of Paul and Silas, and those who were chained, stoned, and beaten for their faith. They were considered outcasts, they were minorities, and they were human.

Churches often say they would welcome anyone who came through their doors. But how often is that a reality? How many times have you actually welcomed someone “different” into your congregation; without hesitation, without judgement, without persecution however silent it may be?

The beautiful melody I was hearing was coming from a group of people who have probably felt a silent social persecution at some point in their lives. They sit at the back of the church and are sometimes noisy. They sometimes sleep during the sermon. They are noticed but often overlooked. They live in a group home for adults with special needs. And they are precious to Him.

As the music floated to me, I searched out where it was coming from. A semi circle had formed with a few people from the group home, and one other member of the church. They were asking her to sing the song again.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound.

I watched in quiet fascination as I waited to receive communion; tears lingering in my eyes. In this moment I did not feel sorry for them, I did not want a different life for them; for they don’t need such things. In this moment I appreciated their ability to be completely open and surrendered to God. They had already received communion and when they finished another verse, one woman raised her tiny cup and said something that will not soon leave my mind.

“Here’s to you, my Jesus”

Here’s to you, my Jesus. Here’s to your church around the world and here at home. I hope our inclination turns away from pity and into an abundant and genuine love. Just love; with open eyes and humble hearts.