Thursday, 27 February 2014

Journalling, Special Tea, and Sacred Spaces

There has been an idea growing in my mind lately that threads in and out of my normal thoughts. Last night it surfaced again and I couldn't file it away, so I decided that it was time that I make it happen.

Before university I was a coffee lover. I still am a coffee lover. Strong, full tastes appeal to me and the robust flavour of coffee tops the list. I was convinced that I would be the ultimate candidate for full blown coffee addiction in university but, in a surprising twist of fate, I have switched my allegiance to chai tea. Coffee has slipped to a (very) close second. I will still drink coffee at any hour of any day, and I still love the taste, but chai tea has become my drink of choice here.

There is a chai tea blend at Teavana that I love. I ask for it unsweetened, without sugar, and it is the most amazing drink ever. It is my Special Tea, a tea that I will only ever reserve for special occasions because I do not ever want to get tired of it.

The idea that dropped into my mind was to strike out to the mall, get my Special Tea, grab a booth and do some writing, and that is exactly what happened. Maybe it is abnormal for someone my age to say that they absolutely loved going to the mall to drink tea alone, but I'll admit to it.

One of the best parts of the whole excursion was writing on paper again. I've written in a pen-and-paper journal since I was nine and, in recent years, I've journalled almost every day. However, university changed more than my preferences in hot drinks: I stopped journalling on paper. It blindsided me a little. I didn't expect that over a decade of writing in pen and paper would dissolve in a matter of a few months, but it did. 

Maybe this is part of why I feel this silence so acutely. Journalling has been my form of prayer, of connecting to God, of debriefing the day, of holding myself in check, and tracing back to see how I've grown. I didn't anticipate this discipline changing as drastically as it has. I tried to keep it alive at the beginning, but it felt forced and unnatural. 

I made an executive decision and declared a paper journal hiatus. All my personal writing had deferred to a Word document on my laptop, so I decided to allow that to become my stand-in journal. It is still good, but it is not the same, and I was reminded of that when I sat down in the booth today with my tea. 

When I sat down to write this morning, it felt like old times again. My writing is the most authentic and raw when it is written on paper and I could feel a release of pressure with every line filled.

Pages and pages later, I had to force myself to stop.

That hour in the mall this morning, just drinking tea and writing and praying, stayed with me the whole day. I've been thinking over it, wondering why my journalling (and when I say journalling, that is synonymous with prayer) only worked when I completely removed myself from my normal location.

A change of space. A meeting ground. An intentional connecting of heart and spirit. Maybe this is where I need to be more often. When I lived at home, I would journal at the end of the day in my room. Here at school, my room is where a large part of my life unfolds. I study and work in my room. It is my home base. At home I never did anything in my room except sleep and read and journal. It was, in a way, a sacred space.

Carving out sacred spaces is a theme that I have noticed subtly unfolding in my life over the past few months. I've met God in coffee shops, on bridges, and in an empty atrium. Maybe the shape of this season includes intentional pauses and finding a location to do nothing but meet with God. 

I'm going to try to do this on a weekly basis: to very intentionally carve out portion of my day to meet with God somehow. It doesn't have to be Special Tea every time, but a new rhythm needs to form. A rhythm of meeting. A rhythm of expectation. 

A rhythm of sacred spaces.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Hollow {Or: Silence. Part 2}

My life is a constant rhythm of one step foreword, three steps back.

Or so it feels.

I'm usually spinning in ten different directions in my mind, dissecting thoughts, analyzing everything, noticing details. It's normally a pretty crazy place in there and I'm juggling all the ideas and words in a valiant attempt to shuffle them into some kind of linear sense.

Lately, however, I've become a mellow line rolling steadily onward.

It has been really, really quiet around here.

My last post was all about silence and growing through it, but I feel as though I'm growing out of it at this point. I desperately want to shake things up. I don't recognize this place and I miss the random bursts of colour, the unpredictable, the anticipation of possibility.

: :

Smells are very important to me for some reason. I go rogue in soap and lotion stores. I'm not into anything too fruity or too perfume-y. The smell has to be distinct, yet subtle. Smells are directly connected to location and memory (and I didn't make that up, either. That is an actual fact). I found a lotion today that I used for all of first semester, and one whiff took me back to the days of early fall and econ class and the different shades and nuances that season held for me.

Now I am here and in some ways I feel as if I have digressed. I like to think that I'm always pushing foreword and growing, constantly building up and gaining new ground. These days, though, I'm either stalling or rolling backwards. I get moments of air and clarity sprinkled throughout my days and, in those spaces, I convince myself that I'm totally fine. What was I worrying about again? There's nothing wrong. It'll work itself out. Life is dandy.

Then I notice how quiet everything is.

What I'm really doing here is kicking around the inside of my shell, trying to punch a hole in it. I really hope I'm making sense, but if I'm not, I'm ok with that too. I don't have all the answers. This is a journey and I'm standing at a point in the road where I can't see where I'm going. It's a little foggy.

: :

In attempt to gain some direction, I've been running over these frayed ends, trying to pull them together in some kind of connection. Scattered ideas are all I have.

  • I could be on the verge of something. I feel as though I'm walking around with a blindfold on and earplugs in, stumbling around with my arms waving out in front of me, but when this blindfold comes off, I could find myself further ahead and standing in a place of more brilliant freedom and maturity. I can let this silence create distance between myself and God, or I can press in and allow it to draw me closer toward him. 

  • I might need to do something. There is a thought bouncing around in the back of my mind that I need to stop thinking sometimes and start doing things. I don't think this means ignoring underlying issues or pretending away what I feel, but I might be overthinking all of this just a bit. It might be time to pull out of all the theorizing, stop connecting the dots and start taking action.

  • I am not defeated. Honestly, all of this quiet kind of trailed me into autopilot after a while (hence the plodding mellow line). All of last year I lived with a sense of total and complete awareness of God. I was still a confused and wandering mess of a child, but I'd seek hard and pray hard and watch intently as God kept showing up in my life. It floored me every time. Somewhere, somehow, the bottom cracked a bit. I felt it, but at the beginning I had no idea how the hollowness would reverberate through every part of me. I still pray all the time, but I'm not as expectant as I used to be. My prayers wilted a little. I'm walking around with an attitude of defeat when I should be standing in a posture of victory and freedom. 

This is me shuffling through, scraping back, and trying to regain my footing. This is a messy part, choppy water, but when is life ever a free ticket to serendipity? Usually the most joyful moments are found in pockets scattered over the hard road. I've lived this. I know this. 

Sometimes it takes a while for my heart to catch up with my head. 

*Note: I am not blaming God or suggesting that I need to do something to "gain his favour" again. What I am getting at is this: I am prone to wander. I have so much more to learn. God is always faithful. I may not understand, but maybe I don't have to, and maybe I never will. The word "trust" comes to mind....

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Silence and a Hymn

Sometimes you just need a quiet space and a way to worship.

To be honest, I've been walking through one of those periods of spiritual quiet for some time, now. I've been straining to hear, craning my neck to see, but nothing comes.

I've kept my eyes and ears open, waiting for a glimpse or a whisper, but all I receive is a reverberating silence and my own words dissolving into thin air.

I would say that it has been a source of tension for me, and it has, but it has also been a calming type of quiet. Yes, I've tossed a few harshly worded prayers to heaven in moments of frustration, but I have also come to know the silence well and sometimes, if I look or listen hard enough, I can see a shadow or echo of presence, a ripple of something more real that I know moving beneath the surface.

I am not alone, and when I press into the silence, I understand that. I know that a friendship has reached a deeper level when I can simply sit in comfortable silence with the other person. Perhaps this kind of silence from God is similar.

When the silence comes, I become more alert. My senses are sharpened because I'm desperate to hear, to see, to feel. When this period of silence is over, I know I will appreciate my relationship with God in a fresh way. I'm not taking Him for granted.

I am simultaneously waiting in peaceful quiet and actively searching for God. I know I am not abandoned, yet I can't wait to come to the place of meeting again.


Those frustrating moments I mentioned? They agitate, like sandpaper against the soul. My heart is a stone and the silence is scraping, smoothing my rough edges, wearing me down....

Breaking point.

I went downstairs tonight and sat in front of a piano and played hymns. I played hymns and paid attention to their words and one hymn struck me. It is called "Lord, You Sometimes Speak in Wonders," written my Christopher M. Idle, and these are the words:

Lord, you sometimes speak in wonders
unmistakable and clear;
mighty signs prove your presence
overcoming doubt and fear.

Lord, you sometimes speak in whispers,
still and small and scarcely heard;
only those who want to listen
catch the all-important word.

Lord, sometimes you speak in silence
through our loud and noisy day:
we can know and trust you better
when we quietly wait and pray.

Lord, you often speak in Scripture,
words that summon from the page,
shown and taught us by your Spirit
with fresh light for every age.

Lord, you always speak in Jesus,
always new yet still the same;
teach us now more of our Saviour:
make our lives display his name.

Silence is what remains when all the noise is chiseled and fallen away. We're swimming in noise and silence is the ocean floor. It is the bottom, the solid, the canvas before it is painted. A seed doesn't need sound to grow.

I'm learning to see silence as space. It is space to grow and think and be still. it is a space to ask questions and prepare for answers. It is a baseline, it is the foundation, and, like it or not, I am here.

Lord, sometimes you speak in silence...... 

Monday, 3 February 2014

Now and Then

Life is, as always, a collage of pieces that make up the whole. Right now the fragments of my life that make up this collage include studying, watching movies way too late at night, eating really good Asian food, going to church, laughing, drinking tea, so much singing and even more studying.

Once in a while, though, stress creeps in and there might be a temporary digression in my resolve and maturity. Last night may have looked like me laying on the floor and eating chocolate while listening to the Ultimate Playlist of Angst.

We all have our low moments.

However, a good night's sleep can cure a multitude of anxiety and the sun did rise again this morning. Today is a day called "You Must Crush Every Scrap of Work in Your Path," and my motivation has been restored.

That is my external situation. Internally, I've been batting around some new questions and allowing myself to consider some new answers. Something fresh is taking root and growing and that is both healthy and hard. I realized that there are a couple of things in my life that I could be gripping too tightly. One of these things is an ideal and the other is a kind of "chapter" I've been living in for a while. If I lost them both tomorrow I don't think I would react well. At all. I am hovering dangerously close to placing too much of my identity and hope into these things and I do not want that. I've also been getting the feeling that I will have to let go of them sooner than later, and I want to do that with grace and integrity when the time comes.

The realization that letting go is on the horizon is sometimes hard to reconcile. It starts with an idea that leads to a consideration, and suddenly little signs and signals begin to arise and line up and point to a truth. I've come to a place where I see where all of this is going and I have to decide whether to accept this reality or live in a rosy glow of denial, prolonging the issue.

The problem is that denial and attempts at justification and resisting change takes up so much effort that is, essentially, wasted. I've done it all before and it is exhausting. This time I want to try something different. Instead of resisting, I want to relinquish with gratitude. I want to enjoy what I am given while I have it and, when the time comes to let go, release and embrace what may come. These are not life or death issues, and life will go on beyond them.

These decisions are, like I said, still a dust cloud on the horizon. I'm not trying to be melodramatic. These are just questions nagging in the back of my mind and I want to be honest about them.

In the meantime, in the now, my collage is coming together nicely. I'm so thankful for what it has become.

Saturday, 1 February 2014


So I say that I am going to work on my candour and it turns out that it isn't very hard so far because life is, well, not too exciting, to say the least. We're knee deep in our second semester of first year, which means that (most) of the all nighters and crazy antics have run their course. We got it out of our system early and now we're in a whole new rhythm that is more healthy, but slightly less eventful.

I love it, in a way. I liked the crazy spontaneous nature of first semester, but I think it ended while it was still good, and it needed to. Someone (genius) once told me not to mourn too long over the old seasons that pass, but appreciate what was and look full into the face of what is. I used to chronically look over my shoulder, wishing for a wisp of the past to return, but I missed so much of the good that was happening in the moment. Now I'm trying to be more intentional about noticing the seasons passing and appreciating them for what they are.

If there was a word to describe this season, it would be "grounded." I don't normally label the seasons I go through, but this time "grounded" seems to fit. I'm less hurried these days, less anxious and less analytical. I'm very present, and my stress level is significantly lower, thank goodness. It is suspiciously calm around here. Normally I could pinpoint something that I did to get me to this place of peace and security, but there aren't any obvious tricks or magical answers this time. I do have some theories, though:

1. I made a promise to myself not to procrastinate this semester. I've been a procrastinator for as long as I can remember and exam time last semester was absolutely not enjoyable as a result. I am not ready to repeat that this semester, so this time around I have not procrastinated much at all. It is definitely a better way to live.

2. The reason why not procrastinating is easier this time is because I enjoy what I am studying. This is a sign to me that I am in the right place in school. I switched my program twice, but I've found my niche. Looking back, I wouldn't have wanted to find this place any other way. The exploration was the part of the journey that confirmed the destination. I know for sure I'm in the place I should be because I know for sure where I shouldn't be, and that is valuable knowledge.

3. There is something to be said for giving yourself permission to be who you are and to embrace failure along the way. Recently I stumbled across the realization that I so often glance over into other's lives and wish for things I don't have. I started looking at my own life and found that I actually appreciate who I am and where I am right now. It turns out that I wouldn't want anyone else's life and that is very freeing. It allows more room for possibility and, strangely enough, permission to fail. Failure doesn't pinch the same way when you love where you are and who you are becoming. It adds some colour to your story and can be very good and needed if you allow it to be.

So I'm standing now in a place of middle ground. I said before that I felt as though I was running up a vertical learning curve, but I think it plateaued more quickly than I expected. Thank goodness for grounded spaces.