Wednesday, May 29, 2024

A Real Escape - Journal Early 2020's

The Escape

The Horse and His Boy from C. S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia was one of my favourite books to read as a child.  With a book and my imagination I could lose my life and find a different one for a while.  What an escape!  I'd finish the book and feel sad and wistful.  Back to reality, schoolwork, chores and music practice at home.  I wanted a life like Shasta, the protagonist in The Horse and His Boy - non-stop adventure, travel, heroism, a girlfriend...

A couple years later I went to see Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back as a double feature.  I had never been to a movie theater before.  I was blown away.  As we drove the 90 minutes back home, the stars in the sky seemed to beckon me,  but I couldn't fly away.  A melancholy ache washed over me as I compared my life with Luke Skywalker... 

Over the years, more books and movies temporarily offered escape followed up by a subsequent rude awaking to real life.  Then came Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and SnapChat.  I could get an escape in minutes instead of hours.  Unfortunately, that escape almost always came with a comparison - my life versus the main character.  My life always seemed to come up short.

A Snapshot Vs. The Truth

Stories and tales are one thing.  True stories and biographies are next level.  Even then, I need to be careful what I absorb, and what I embrace as truth. Is what I see in a moment, a snapshot, a SnapChat, a YouTube video, a movie, a book, the whole truth about someone’s life or the way a life is lived? Can a 30 second video, or a 2 minute movie, a chapter in the Bible, or a book really speak to the entire existence of a life?  

I must realize that all of these mediums only show me snapshots  If I don't remember that, I can fall into a terrible trap.  Comparison is nasty. It turns out one of two ways, and they are both wrong - it’s either I’m better, or I don’t measure up.  More often than not, I don't measure up - whether its someone else's vacation, their car, their fish story, their job, or their adventure.  Its a recipe for depression.

Photo by Mason Kimbarovsky on Unsplash

Escape from 'The Escape'

Jesus offers me an escape from all of this.  He says:

"Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly."  Matthew 11:28-30

I need to put down my phone, my iPad, walk away from my computer desk, and seek first God's kingdom and His will.

When I start reading about the amazing things other people have done, or watching clips or movies of inspirational stories, my ambition gets fired up.  I think I need to DO something impactful!  The Apostle Paul reminds me to: "...make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands".  1 Thessalonians 4:11

A final reminder from the prophet Micah as paraphrased by Eugene Peterson in The Message:

"It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbour,
    be compassionate and loyal in your love,
And don’t take yourself too seriously—
    take God seriously."   Micah 6:8

Sunday, May 19, 2024

Healing Love and Coffee - A Parable of Marriage

Start with Beans - A Cord of Three Strands

The Bible says in Galatians: 'A man reaps what he sows'.   Making good coffee is no different.  A man needs to start with good beans and a good roast.  Similar with marriage.  Begin rooted in God, and always turn to Him for help.

When Ewa and I got married, we chose a popular 'marriage verse' from proverbs as our promise from God, that He would help us in our union:  "A cord of three strands is not easily broken." Eccl. 12:3.  The meaning we took from this verse was Ewa and I each were a strand, God being the third strand.  As long as we remained close to God, He would help us stay together.

Photo by The Ian on Unsplash

The Grind - Life isn't Easy

You've got to grind those beans so the flavour comes out.  That's not really a peaceful, relaxing process.

The first five years of marriage for me were no cake-walk.  Ewa and I got married when I was 23 and she was 29 - so there was an age difference to content with.  Additionally, we grew up in different countries on different continents and had different mother tongues.  Ensuring our communication is effective and we genuinely understand each other in conversations is an ongoing challenge.  Vocal inflections, the use of imperative verbs, and how we tell stories can stimulate static in our relationship.

And then of course, life happens.  We lived in Poland together for a year after we got married, and then felt God telling us to move to Alberta (more details about that here).  We were geographically separated for 9 months while I worked in Canada and sponsored Ewa's immigration.  Our 'honeymoon vacation' didn't happen until she became a landed immigrant in Canada, nearly 2 years after we got married.  Soon afterwards we had to navigate employment issues and a career change, all the while trying to walk with God and believing he was with us.  I'd say the career change definitely 'nicked' that cord of three stands, even though we believed God was leading us that direction.

The Brew - Learn How to Truly Love

The 'love' that is espoused by this generation's media is like a coffee beverage made fast with syrup (I'm thinking of a Tim Horton's iced capp for you Canadians).  A good coffee brew however, takes time and hot water.  I think true love in a marriage grows over time and with trials, persistence, and patience.  

Around 2016-2018 I think both Ewa and myself found ourselves letting the busyness, worries, comparisons, anxieties, and frustrations of this life cause us to 'fall out of love' with each other.  While its easy to 'look for options', or escapes, or even use threatening ultimatums in those trying times, those aren't healthy paths to consider.

Getting to the 'end of my rope' (sorry, I know I'm mixing metaphors in the post - I hope you can follow along), I asked God for help with our marriage.  I needed:

  1. A new perspective of who Ewa was - God's perspective.  
  2. To learn how to truly love her again.

God answered the my first request by helping me see Ewa as a little girl - something I had never seen or experienced, because I met Ewa when she was 29.  But she was still His little girl, so He knew how to make that happen. How did God help me see/experience that?

  • He told me to watch her when she slept/napped.  People let down their guard - all pretences fall away - when they sleep!  Its actually not hard to 'rewind time' and visualize a younger person when they are asleep.
  • He suggested I listen closer to her stories when she was a child and then helped me draw parallels to some of her current behaviours.  That helped my understand why she was afraid of some things, why her shopping habits were totally different than mine, and even why her personal communication and story-telling followed different patterns than I would expect (BTW, I still struggle with waiting for her to 'get to the point')
With the second request, I felt God was prompting me to 'do' something, to somehow show Ewa that I loved her in a meaningful and persistent way.  This came with two ideas:
  • Making her coffee every morning.  I don't drink coffee myself, but I am up earlier than Ewa for work every day.  So I learned how she makes her coffee and I made that my morning 'labour of love'. 
    The results of this actually surprised me.  I don't know what I was expecting, but clearly Ewa appreciates her morning coffee being brewed for her a lot more than I realized.  It went miles further than I expected it would in helping her feel I was loving and caring for her.  I still make her morning coffee to this day.
  • Calling her by her Polish diminutive name and other loving nicknames instead of her 'plain, legal' name.  She much prefers I call her 'Ewunia' or 'Baby-doll' or some other fun nick-names.  I honestly don't know how I missed this in our first 15-20 years of marriage, because it also made a huge difference for us.
This is THE coffee machine mentioned above.

Savour the Flavour

For all these steps and suggestions above to work, I had to persist in them, and I had to be patient to wait for the result.  I'd also say that I'm definitely not perfect, and there are times where Ewa has extended grace, mercy, and forgiveness to me when I was not so lovable.  It takes three cords to make that strong rope, and this post mostly focuses on two of those cords.  I'm sure Ewa has her own perspective on this marriage journey of ours and her own bean 'blend' and 'flavour' she savours.

I'm thankful to say that now the majority of our time together we can be silly, have fun with each other, and enjoy each other's company.  My wife and I are celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary this year!  

A Benediction

When I started writing this post, I made some notes on generic things that I thought helped put our relationship back together.  Those quick notes looked like this below:
  • Persist in:
    • an intentional relationship with God
    • being real and honest with God
    • loving mercy and walking in forgiveness
    • hope and faith in God - that He is a good Father and your safety is found in Him
What I thought was cool later when I reviewed them is they actually align with parts of 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (the love chapter):

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.

Sunday, May 12, 2024

Vacations and Volvos

God Cares

God cares about the little things.  More than once on a family vacation, He gave me a mini-parable of His tender mercy in providing safe, comfortable transportation for us to use.  This is important to me as a Dad and husband, and really means a lot to me.  As often as we rent cars on vacation (not very often), I couldn't help but notice that we ended up with a Volvo SUV on more than one occasion.  Volvos are a brand I never thought I'd drive because I considered them a luxury vehicle.  Here's those stories.

Volvo 1 

Up until 2012, I had never rented a vehicle.  That year we decided to do a 2 week trip to California and 'splurge' a bit on vacation.  We got a vacation rental in a nice coastal town and rented a Ford Explorer with all the bells and whistles, including a moon roof.  

We flew into L.A., and when we got the car rental agency, they said the Ford Explorer wasn't available.  I don't recall exactly why, but it was because of something out of their control.  I was quite disappointed, as I really wanted to experience (and have the kids experience) a moon roof.  Fortunately, before I got my knickers in knot about this, the agency offered to upgrade us to a Volvo XC90.  I wasn't expecting an upgrade, and it was a great surprise.  It felt like God was saying, 'Its ok, Perry - I got this.'  I definitely enjoyed driving that vehicle around southern California for the next two weeks.

Our Volvo XC90 in a hotel parking lot by Disneyland.

Volvo 2

Seven years later, we did another significant family trip - this time to see family in Poland.  We decided to rent a vehicle for the 2nd half of the trip as we'd be driving around southern Poland a fair bit, taking the kids to see where my wife grew up, doing some exploring into the Czech Republic, and visiting relatives.  When we booked this vehicle online, we didn't know exactly what make and model we'd get.  It was just a 'mid-size 5 seat SUV'

Lo and behold, when we got the rental agency at the airport, the only SUV they had left was a Volvo XC 40.  What a great vehicle for 'zipping around' on a European vacation - small enough to park anywhere easily and manoeuvre on some those skinny European roads, and it had all the features we needed, including GPS which was super helpful on the unfamiliar drives.

Again, it felt like God was saying 'Let me help you enjoy your family vacation.  Don't worry about the SUV, I've got that covered.'  

The XC40 parked in Ewa's brother's driveway in Poland

"And the very hairs on your head are all numbered.
So don't be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.
"
Luke 12:7

Click here for more true stories of God working in my life

A Real Escape - Journal Early 2020's

The Escape The Horse and His Boy from C. S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia was one of my favourite books to read as a child.  With a book a...