Prov 17:22

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine... - Proverbs 17:22

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Truth is Stranger

I’m quite capable of making stuff up, but I have a tale to tell that I wouldn’t and couldn’t have invented. But it’s true, and it gives me goosebumps. And it shows me that God cares for my heart. And that he also has a sharp sense of humor.

Before I delve into it, you need to know that for at least a decade now, my church (Prairie Alliance) has used as its motto, “UPSIDEDOWN.” If you check its website, you’ll see that the phrase is based on a story from Acts 17, where the followers of Jesus were accused of “turning the world upside down.” In the first century, the church was a disruptive force in society. Paul and his companions, (including Luke, who recorded the events) ushered in a new normal: the presence of the Kingdom of God on earth. In it, positions of power were flipped, extravagant generosity met the needs of the neglected, gender roles were being rewritten. That’s exactly what Christians today are called to, and it is the desire of my church to be that same force in our community: turning it UPSIDEDOWN with the good news of Jesus Christ.

This “upside down” accusation happened while Paul and his colleagues were in Macedonia, which was then a province in Greece. (You need to remember that bit: Macedonia.) For reasons the Bible doesn’t clearly explain, Paul’s attempts to enter various other places were thwarted. Then, Luke writes, That night Paul had a dream: A Macedonian stood on the far shore and called across the sea, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us!’ The dream gave Paul his map. We went to work at once getting things ready to cross over to Macedonia. All the pieces had come together. We knew now for sure that God had called us to preach the good news to the Europeans.” (from Acts 16)

The story has become known as Paul’s “Macedonian Call,” and is referred to in an old hymn I grew up with called Send the Light.

That’s the back story. Now for mine.

For a long time, I’ve asked God how the things I’m doing with my life could possibly fit into my church’s UPSIDEDOWN dream. I see others doing “real” ministry, like going on mission trips, teaching, working with kids, serving the poor. Really making a difference. Sending the light. Meanwhile, I mostly stay home, hammering away on my laptop. Although I strive to write books and columns that will draw readers closer to their Creator, my stories seem disconnected from my church’s mission. I feel isolated, the words at times superficial. “Lord, I’d love it if you could grant me some small picture of what my part of this puzzle looks like,” I prayed. “How and where do I fit?”

Then I received an email from my publisher informing me that my first novel is going to be translated into a foreign language. I’d always wondered if this might happen one day. Which language would it be? What would they title it? What might the cover look like? Would it be French or Spanish? Possibly Dutch or German?

No. It’s none of those. It’s being translated into a language I didn’t even know existed, in a country I didn’t know still existed.

It’s called the Republic of Macedonia. Macedonians will be reading a story in their own language (Macedonian), set in Manitoba, dreamed up by a somewhat bewildered woman in little ol’ Portage la Prairie, who identifies with a motley group of Jesus-followers longing to turn the world upside down like Paul did. In Macedonia.

And I kind of lost it. Because you can’t make this stuff up.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Networking 101

A few weeks ago, I was privileged to attend a Women in Business event sponsored by our Chamber of Commerce and led by the Women’s Enterprise Centre. They promised to feed us lunch and teach us how to network, all in ninety minutes. 

Like many of us, “working a room” will never be my favorite thing. It’s hard to initiate a connection with a stranger, even when you share commonalities. I know I’m not alone in this, because when my six co-workers and I arrived, we all sat at the same table.

To break the ice, the leaders had us form two lines, facing each other. Like “speed-dating,” we had thirty seconds to shake the hand of the person across from us and tell them about ourselves. Then the other person took thirty seconds to do the same before moving down one spot and starting all over with a new partner. I introduced myself to nine or ten women, learned their names and what they do.

Then, while we ate a scrumptious lunch, we received some excellent pointers in networking. I’d like to share two that were most significant to me.

First, the most important skill you can learn is listening. You know that thing where you’re asked to go around the circle and say something about yourself? Have you ever been so absorbed in what you would say when your turn came that you missed what everyone else said? The trick is to prepare your standard introduction and memorize it so you can rattle it off without thinking. Then, you are free to really listen to what others say.

Secondly, if you don’t want to become stuck in a dead-end conversation, don’t ask yes or no questions. Like a good news reporter, use the five W’s and the bonus H (Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How) to engage the other person. 

A scene from the 2018 Word Awards Gala
Determined to put my new skills to work at the recent Word Awards gala in Toronto, I approached a woman in the lobby. We shook hands and exchanged names. Ten minutes later when the same woman sat next to me, I turned to her, put out my hand, and said, “Have we met? You look familiar.”

Good grief. 

I spent the rest of the evening observing my daughter, a people-person since birth, brilliantly demonstrate the art of networking. I think I’ll always need to draw on my acting skills to be friendly and engaging for short bursts. Like rubber bands, we can all be stretched, but only for a while and only so far.

If you’re looking for a master networker, you’ll find no better role model than Jesus. Study his life. You never see him blathering on about himself, but always engaging others and asking good questions about their lives. He talked to lots of people and never pre-judged them. He saw “prospects” everywhere, told stories, and painted word pictures. He was brief and didn’t plead with people. And when they weren’t interested, he moved on. Most of all, he genuinely cared about others and they felt it.

When it comes to networking, maybe “What would Jesus do?” is the best question you can ask.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Fear of Fireworks?

Gayle Loewen captured this at last summer's International Fireworks Competition.

With Canada Day around the corner, I did a little digging into an interesting phobia shared by a surprising number of people. It’s called Pyrotechnophobia, the fear of fireworks. Related fears go by other names: Misophonia, Phonophobia, Ligyrophobia. All are varying types of irrational fear of sounds or loud noises. 

Reading some of the testimonies of the sufferers, I was astonished by the degree to which these fears can debilitate people. It robs them, not only of enjoying an annual fireworks display, but in some cases of daily peace. Sufferers dodge social events because balloons may be present. The mere sound of a balloon being inflated can trigger a panic attack resulting in vomiting or an inability to breathe. They might avoid stage plays in case of gunshot sound effects. Noisy equipment can make the workplace terrifying. 

One American woman said, “Every Independence Day for the past decade, I've escaped the holiday by checking into a secluded hotel beyond the suburban booms of the night.” So powerful was her fear, she rarely left her dorm room her first year of college—even with her industrial strength noise-blocking earmuffs, the kind used by construction crews with jackhammers. ["It Happened to Me"]

Talk about a paralyzing fear! And judging by the comments left on her online article, she clearly isn’t alone. In some cases, people can trace their fear to an early-childhood incident. For others, the cause is nebulous at best and for others, a complete mystery. For a few, it came on suddenly after a lifetime of no such fear. Yet as desperate as these folks feel to shed the phobia, many resist treatment. Fear holds such a grip on them, it’s become part of who they are. They don’t want to lose a part of themselves, even if it’s a part they loathe. It’s called Eleutherophobia, the fear of freedom.

Can you relate to any of this? Maybe fireworks or loud noises are not your fear. Maybe it’s elevators or public speaking or dogs. Beards. Pregnancy. Mirrors. Bananas. (I’m not making this up!) Even the “fear of fear” has a name: Phobophobia (of course!) Some of these can sound ridiculous if they’re not your issue. But when you’re inflicted, it doesn’t feel irrational at all—even when your brain tells you it is.

Anxiety disorders abound, with various forms of treatment available and varying results. They can’t necessarily be divided into emotional, spiritual, and physical because we are whole, complex beings and all these elements work together. Dr. Rob Reimer, author of the book Soul Care, comes at it from a spiritual framework. Our fears, he says, are one of seven fundamentals that keep us from soul health—principles Jesus taught. The suitcase of our soul often contains so much anger, bitterness, fear, and deception that no room remains for the good stuff. 

I’m no expert, but I do know this. Jesus paid a mighty high price for our freedom. Sure seems a shame not to live in it, doesn’t it? If you suffer from irrational, debilitating fears, I truly hope you will seek help. You don’t have to live that way. “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7)

Freedom can be found, and freedom is one of the things we celebrate this Canada Day. May you thoroughly enjoy the holiday, this great country, and the beautiful fireworks this July first—free from all fear!

 “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36)