Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Fresh Start

Tonight was a cleaning party. Instead of having our usual Wednesday night study, we took on a little love in action. One lady in the Bible Study recently shared the gospel (the Biblical message of forgiveness of sin, a relationship with Jesus and eternal life) with an old friend whose life was in shambles. She phoned me after to tell me the good news and with a great idea. She said, "We need to give this woman a fresh start. I think we should go over there and clean her house." She explained how this single mother of three worked full time and felt overwhelmed by the growing task of keeping her house in order and how it was in dire need of a big clean up.

Eight of us ladies headed over there tonight fully prepared to get elbow deep in whatever we had to. We entered the house armed with cleaning supplies and stock for the cupboards. I felt tremendous joy as this woman wept and said, "I can't even believe that you're here doing this." I was thinking to myself, "We're just doing to your house what Christ has already done to your heart and ours."

I felt slightly overhwhelmed at the task that lay before us when I saw it. We decided to divide and conquer. Two tackled the bathroom, two tackled the kitchen, two tackled the bedrooms and my partner and I took on the laundry room which was conveniently also the place where the cats had taken over. Our new friend came in and frantically started to tidy with us saying, "No, I have to help you girls. I'm the one who made this mess." I assured her that we had it under control and ushered her back into the living room to spend some quality time with her precious children.

I thought to myself, isn't this what we try to do? We think we somehow need to be responsible and "help God" with the clean up because we feel so responsible and guilty about the mess we have made instead of just handing over the reigns. I think he says something similar, "Just give me permission to get rid of what needs to go and I'll take care of the rest."

It was an amazing sense of joy that we felt to know we were doing something physical that represented something that had taken place on the inside. I overheard her in the hallway telling a story I couldn't help but smile at. She said, "One of my friends said to me a couple days ago, 'I can't believe how much you've changed in only a week!' I told her that I gave my heart to God and she said, 'That's all I have to do?'" Isn't that what giving your heart to Jesus all about? Total transformation that makes people go, "What happened to you?" and "How did I get what you have?"

As we finished one room after another, she peered in and stood in amazement at the observable difference in the appearance. I wish we had taken before and after pictures. There are things that we all struggle with. The battle for holiness in this world rages on. I hope that I can look at areas of my own life with the same amazement and say, "I'm different because I let Jesus do a big cleaning job in my heart."

We left after a couple of hours feeling a bit like the crew of Extreme Makeover, Cleaning Edition. The precious kids were so thrilled to have clean rooms and tidy toy boxes. I know that they'll remember this night because of what happened but more importantly, I hope they'll remember who happened to their mom and the difference that He has made.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Birthday Memories

Tomorrow I will be 24! How time flies...! I was sure I just turned 23- sometime last week? I've always loved birthdays and I came from a family that always made them very special day. I'm having kind of a sad moment- it just hit me that this is my first birthday without my dad. A few memories from past years came to mind.

One is my 18th birthday, in 2003. Bear in mind the year- before Apple had taken over the world and CD's hadn't been replaced by iTunes. It was my first year at college and consequently my first year playing basketall which meant many away games, road trips and long and potentially boring bus trips.

That year my dad was particularly excited about the gift he got me. I had no idea what it was and was quite surprised because normally he left gift-purchasing to my mom. The shape of the package was undetectable. He wanted me to guess but I had none. I opened it up and it was ... wait for it...a brand new.... Sony...discman! That's right-a discman. Remember those things that play CD's? It was cool at the time but very quickly became a product of the 90's.

He told me that I needed to have the best for all of our bus trips with basketball and that it was the top of the line! He never ceased to surprise me. Not only was it out of his usual price range, but it was incredibly thoughtful and practical!

My next birthday memory is a special phone call from last year. At this time last year, my dad was quickly losing his ability to speak. I have two messages still saved on my voicemail. The first is my dad, speaking very slowly giving me car advice and then ending with, ""

The second is the Happy Birthday song from later that day. Mom sang the first line, Emily sang then second, back to Mom for the third, "Happy Birthday to..." and then the big finale- dad with "Ste.....pha......nie". I've probably listened to those messages 3 dozen times and will continue to save them for as long as my Shaw voicemail box will allow.

There are many more material things my dad gave me- cars, basketball shoes, gas money- that I am thankful for. But I am most thankful for the things that didn't come gift wrapped and will never go out of style.

I was just sitting here ready to temporarily crumble into tears thinking about all this when Mike handed me the phone. It was my wonderful father-in-law, singing Happy Birthday to me a day early. God is so faithful. He knows just what we need in the moment!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Finishing Well

After successfully completing an 8km run earlier this year, my wonderful ambitious running partner had a brilliant idea of us signing up for a half marathon- 21.1km. It was a bit of a stretch but we had been diligently and faithfully training on a daily basis for the 8km and felt as though we had ample time to prepare. At the end of June, we signed ourselves up for the Canmore Rocky Mountain Half Marathon with every intention of being prepared. It wasn't long before the good intention quickly became classified as "seemed like a good idea at the time."

Good intentions didn't get me too far. Disciplined training didn't end up being the priority I hoped it would be as the summer came to a close. As September 13th approached we questioned each other- why did we think this was a good idea? What were we thinking? Were we even thinking? The faint bit of anticipation I felt was solely for the moment I hoped to cross the finish line and be done with it. We determined that no matter what happened, we would finish together, even if it meant a mutual dragging of our bodies across the finish line!

On the morning of we scouted out the much more prepared looking competition and determined that our untrained goal was to finish in 2 hours and 10 minutes. We waited with anticipation with the hundreds of other runners for the starting gun. We started off nice and slow. There were 1km markers throughout the race so we knew how we were doing and what was still ahead. The first 10km felt great. I was thinking to myself, "This isn't so bad. I can do this." Then I realized I was only halfway done.

The back half of the race was conveniently the hilly half. My legs seemed to get heavier and slower with each step. All I could think about was when it was going to be over. Around the 13km mark, I began to notice the familiar surroundings on the path we were on. Ironically enough, I realized that I was running on the very same path that my family had walked together right after my dad's diagnosis the previous year.

The memories of that day played through my mind like a film reel. I remembered he had said his legs felt great that day. The disease hadn't yet taken over his lower body and he walked over 10km without experiencing any weakness. At the time, we felt optimistic about combating the disease and the time we hoped to have left.

I started to think just about him. I thought about his last three weeks here. I pondered what it would feel like to be so fatigued all the time that you cannot even keep your eyes open for more than a few minutes and too weak to be able to hold yourself up. I thought about what it would be like to be in a race and not know how close you are to finishing. First he thought the last leg of his race was 2-3 years. Then it was 3-6 months. Then it was at most "a few days" for several days. There was no way of really knowing.

Cement legs all of a sudden didn't seem so bad.

My friend kept encouraging me to push for the last little bit but my legs refused to move any faster than the painfully slow pace I was barely maintaining. She kept saying, "Let your adrenaline kick in!" to which I responded, "I really don't have any!" I actually had nothing left in the tank. When we rounded the final corner I felt relief when I saw the good news..."FINISH LINE." We crossed and finished at 2:09, one minute under our goal!

Aside from never doing another half marathon without being ready, there were a few things I was reminded of that day as I pondered my dad and was made extremely aware of my many physical limitations!

Finishing well isn't easy. It's no wonder that the person who crosses the starting line first doesn't get anything. Everyone starts fairly well. That's not the hard part. It's not until you've endured the distance that you are rewarded.

Finishing well requires being ready. Results are not produced by well-intending osmosis. 1 Timothy 4:7 says, “Train yourself to be godly." The training from months earlier expired. The only way I could have been prepared for that race was by continuing to train daily. The only was I can be prepared for what life brings is by daily training myself in godliness. How do you train spiritually? Same was as physically: eat right and exercise! I need a steady and meaty diet of God’s word, a continual filling of the Spirit and regular exercise my faith by putting it to practice.

Finishing well requires people. If I'm being honest, I probably would been a no-show at the race if I weren't running it with someone. No one else would have missed me. And if I had shown up, it wouldn't have really mattered how I did. Because I had someone to go the distance with, I still went.

If you saw the slideshow from the funeral, you may remember this picture of my dad. He did a 10km run in Vancouver in the late 70's with his brother and niece. The way he told the story was something like this: "I finished second...[very long pause]... to last!" The guy who finished behind him was in a wheelchair. All of a sudden my results aren't seeming so bad! However, he did finish his race of life much stronger than his 10k!

I am so thankful for the great example I have of finishing life well. I know that it was hard for him- hard doesn't quite do the situation justice. He was trained and ready. I saw him feed his soul regularly and put his faith to work time and time again. I watched so many faithful friends surround and encourage him not only in the last leg of the race but during other legs where I'm sure he felt tired and discouraged.

He wasn't able to cheer me on at the finish line of this race but as I think about finishing this life well, I think of Hebrews 12:1: "Since we are surrounded my such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us." When I get to the end, I hope he's standing there in the great cloud of those who have already finished cheering me in the same way he did at our first Betty's Run saying, "Go Steph, go!" I hope to be able to say, like I'm sure he did, "I have fought the fight. I have kept the faith. I have finished the race."

It's Been TOO Long...

It's been far too long since I last blogged- almost a month! My formerly faithful readers have probably given up on checking for updates. This morning over a coffee conversation with my mom, she informed me that some people told her that they figured that the blog was now "finished" due to the new record I set of longest time between entries! Hopefully my neglected blog will forgive me and we can be like old friends- the kind where no matter how long it's been, you can just pick up wherever you left off!

I'm sad to say this is our first overnight visit back to Calgary since the funeral last month. I have dearly missed my family. I was very much looking forward to this visit and at the same time, wasn't sure what to expect. We all had to go our separate ways immediately after the funeral and all had to find our "new normal's." It's been almost two months since my dad passed away. This would be our first time to witness the new normal around the old homestead.

Last night we arrived at my parent's house to drop off our stuff before heading over to visit my in-laws. Emily was out at a friend's and my mom was quietly and contently watching a movie by herself. No dad seemed so strange. On weekend visits home, I'm used to opening the door and seeing dad from the front hallway at the kitchen table with his tea towel bib handing from his shirt. His face would light up as we would enter. We'd greet him and try to make him laugh. Sometimes I'd give his little bicep a squeeze and ask if he'd been working out. He's shake his head no and of course, smile.

It'll take some time to get used to. I couldn't help the few tears as we headed back out. Mike asked me what was wrong and all I could process was, "It's just seems so different without him."

This afternoon, Mike and Ethan were playing Guitar Hero. Ethan piped up and randomly said, "I'm playing this one for Papa. He can listen to me now because he has a new body." It was one of those should-we-laugh-or-cry moments. Maybe he assumed since the rest of Papa's body wasn't working, he had also become hearing impaired? (It's ironic and funny because he kind of was even before ALS!) Our hearts were so blessed that in his little mind is still filled with thoughts of Papa at times. It is apparent that even in his little 3-year-old heart, Papa left an imprint.