Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Christmas in a closet and 18 hours of sleep over 4 days.

This past week was a big exciting lead up to this past May 24 weekend, but before I get into the intensity of the details let me share with you a little known fact about Anne of Green Gables Chocolates.

On our list of regular chocolates to make there are butter creams, sea salt caramels, toffee, oysters (which are just another name for turtles, but you didn’t hear that from me), truffles, chocolate covered potato chips, fudge, almond toffee crunch, etc. But this past week I had the pleasure of making mint truffles. Mint truffles are taken very seriously at Anne’s Chocolates. Because their intoxicating nostalgic aroma is so potent we keep all of the ingredients and equipment in special wooden cabinet that is locked and tucked away at the back of the kitchen. I followed Larry to the back of the kitchen and when he opened the cabinet a wave of Christmas cheer and warmth burst from the open doors and enveloped me in a big hug. I felt dizzy and my eye lids fluttered as my nose and mouth inhaled deep gulps of the cherished scent of mint and the old wood of the cabinet. I became lost in the smell and Larry’s voice became distant as he talked me through the process of mint truffles. Instead of his peppery giddy voice I heard the faint calling of jingle bells, the shushing of sleigh of snow, and I could almost feel the prickles of the Christmas tree. But with a sudden click of the doors shutting and locking Christmas was sucked back into hiding and what little festive fragrance that remained it hung in the air like garland on a door frame. As it turns out making mint truffles isn’t that much different than regular truffles, the only difference is the mint flavouring, obviously. However before you let them set over night you have to cover them so the smell doesn’t bleed into the other chocolates.

When we came to work the next day the chocolate shop smelled like Christmas Eve, all tingly and ebony with snow and candles. Turns out you can cover the truffles all you want but that pungent smell will still escape. Thankfully the aromatic air was just strong enough to inspire Christmas carols but weak enough to leave the other chocolates in their own smells and tastes. As I was skinning the truffles (also known as taking them off the table and putting them on trolleys to be enrobed in chocolate) I “accidently” dropped one on the floor. I quickly brushed the dirt off and popped it into my mouth. I know what the shepherds must have felt like when the angel announced Jesus birth because my tongue was rejoicing over the succulent stimulating taste of that mint truffle! It bathed my mouth in cool refreshing mint yet melted into a pool of warm hopeful bliss and descended into my belly like a sleigh ride through the woods. I was tempted to drop another on the floor but I didn’t want to rob any one else of this magical delight.

Now on to my weekend. This portion of the post comes with a warning: The following reading may cause you laughter, deep spiritual pondering, and maybe even some tears. Read with caution and pace yourself.

Every year for the past 9 years on the May 24 weekend I have attended All Ontario Youth Convention. It is a gathering of all the Christian Reformed Church youth groups within the southern half of Ontario, everywhere from Ottawa to Sarnia, Toronto to Goderich, and everything in between. However, to say that it is restricted just to the CRC isn’t as true as it once was, more and more community churches are welcomed into the weekend and the CRC domination name has become a shadow rather than a spot light on the weekend. The true love of communal worshiping of Jesus and acceptance of all denominations, levels of spirituality and Christians glows warmly and invitingly. But as the CRC is a congregation of crazy Dutchman there is still a hefty ribbon of comical pride surrounding the weekend. It takes a brave soul to speak against the Dutch in fun when 90% of the attendants are Dutch or from Dutch background. Thankfully it is a Christian conference so forgiveness and redemption is achieved quickly. That leaves only 10% non-Dutch attendants and there was exactly 1000 people attending Convention, including youth, leaders, speakers, and worship band.

This past weekend I celebrated my 10th AOYC in a row! I was super pumped for the weekend and ready for long days, barley any sleep, epic amounts of singing, soaking up the divine blessing of being with friends who have walked with me through my faith journey and I was even looking forward to having a good spiritual cry. My anticipation for this weekend was elated. I knew God had something special up His sleeve and I had visions all week of angels coming to rest on the buildings of Wilfred Laurier University Campus where the convention would be held. As I sat in the plane on the way to Ontario I couldn’t help but feel that I should be coming to Convention with more weight and trouble on my heart. Convention always holds new healing and inspiration and I felt that I was coming in too happy, perhaps I should dig up some sorrow to set my heart in a little funk so I could appreciate the healing more. But at 30,000 ft God whispered, “I’m glad you are happy to see me. You don’t have to feel sad to enjoy the blessings of Convention. I will double your happiness.” But God lied, He didn’t double my happiness, he quadrupled my joy.

During registration when all of the excited and terrified teens arrived I helped my dear friend Fraser with the t-shirt table, handing out t-shirts to those who had ordered one and assuring those who didn’t it wasn’t too late to grab a sweet Convention T. Being on the Island for 9 months and away from the thick Dutch culture I had in Ontario I found it hard to pronounce all the funny Dutch last names like Van Roostelaar, Groetje, and Hoeksma had me tongue tied. When I stumbled upon a McLennan I rejoiced over the familiar Island family name. I asked the lad that was picking up his t-shirt if he had family on the Island and he said all but his immediate family lived there.  How refreshing it was to share an Island moment with this happy stranger. I was even happier when a young Italian youth graced the T-shirt table and his family name Cantipallo rolled off my tongue like rosemary season sun dried tomatoes and fresh green peppers.

For the past 5 years I have juggled the responsibility of being a Small Group Leader, on the Prayer Team, and Hospitality Team. This year I was solely designated to the Events team and was given the task of Art Den Coordinator. First of all being on the Events Team automatically puts you in the cool leadership boat. I get to where a pink t-shirt all weekend with the AOYC logo on the front and “EVENTS” written on the back. I get a key to the Art Den and I had a Walkie Talkie clipped to my hip for the first day. The feeling of authority and empowerment was not wasted on me, I strutted around campus radioing the other teams asking for help in setting up the Art Den, the use of a car to run to Wal-Mart for a few errands ( by the way walking around Wal-Mart with a walkie on my hip and the chatter of the other team members passing over the speaker for all of Wal-Mart to hear really puffed up my chest), and I even used it to slide in the occasional funny comment. I may have abused that responsibility just a little too much and used it to cut in line during meals. For that I feel bad and I was setting a bad example for the youth conveying the message that being on the leadership team meant the rules don’t apply to you. But the best thing about being on the leadership team is that you don’t have to sleep in the other gender orientated dorms. All of the members on the leadership team, the speakers and praise band all sleep in one dorm, a co-ed powerhouse of love, energy, and commitment.  

I was excited to run the Art Den this year and in a nut shell it is a creative space where you can come and talk to God and have God talk to you through drawing, painting, writing, sculpting, or just doodling. It is a safe space to allow yourself to be open to the Holy Spirit through art and creative meditation. Anyone can come to the Art Den during free time and let their creativity over flow into something beautiful. This is the second year the Art Den has been apart of Convention and this year we decided to have the Art Den opened during Small Group time as well. Small Groups are groups of 4-6 teens and usually 1 or 2 leaders. They usually gather in the leader’s room or other designated quiet place where they will talk about the worship service, what the speakers talked about, what they liked and what they didn’t like, and the weekend as a whole. It is a safe space for teens to talk about God, their struggles with their faith, their lack of faith, and anything else. I wanted to have the Art Den opened during small groups because sometimes it is hard for someone to open up verbally. Having the freedom of drawing their thoughts or being in a space that is creative and comfortable to them allows them to feel less vulnerable and more open to sharing. The Art Den was booked solid during small group time all weekend, and I even found it hard to turn groups away. At one point I had seven groups signed up where the Art Den could only host 4 comfortably, it didn’t bother the groups any and they sprawled out on the floor in the hallway or found seats in the classroom next door.

With the Art Den being open twice as much as usual I soon found myself running between responsibilities and getting easily distracted by them. It’s hard to maintain a level of Convention responsibility and duties while trying to remain spiritual available to God and others. By Saturday night I was already dead tired and desperate to escape the Art Den. I locked up early and b-lined it for the Prayer Sanctuary for God and I to have some face time. The Prayer Sanctuary is a peaceful space with about 12 different stations where you are prompted to focus on different aspects of Gods love for you, the anguish of your spiritual journey and a place to just sit at His feet and breathe. There are stations that focus on the desert and thirst in your life and the spiritual dryness and doubt we all face, the simple desire of God to have you throw your anger and restlessness on Him, the joy of sitting in His presence and smiling with Him, and the opportunity to hold your loved ones up in prayer to Him. They added a couple new stations this year and my favourite was the clay station. I was invited to sit at a table with pieces of broken and dried clay. I was encouraged to name my fears, unrest, burdens, stress, and road blocks to Jesus and place them on the clay pieces. Then when I was ready I dropped them into a bowl of water and sat and watched and waited. At first nothing happened and then I saw tiny lines of air bubbles escape the clay, they whistled up to the surface robbing the clay of the oxygen and then the edges began to erode. The foundation of the clay was rendered useless by the water and I saw the metaphor of my fear dissolve. It no longer held foundation in my heart. Throughout the rest of the Convention I was energetic and at peace, I enjoyed going to the Art Den early and used that time to have some God time while cleaning and organizing it for the next group. I cranked up the music and sang and danced with volume and vigor.

The speakers for the weekend were Tony Campolo and Shane Claibourne. Both unveiled the tragic mess we have made of our world. Some people think that coming to Convention is a place where youth go to forget their problems, sing songs, hold hands, make friends, and sing kumbaya all day long. But Convention has always been a place where we confront our hurts, we acknowledge the injustices done to the world and to ourselves, we are reminded of the pain that we have caused and that has been done to us, we are challenged to forgive and ask forgiveness, to scream, cry, get angry with God and be honest with ourselves, to break out of he cycle of abuse and to live a simply radical life for Jesus. Convention pushes us out of our harmful comfort zones to the safety of Jesus and the forgiveness we need to ask for and give. Convention reminds us that we are human, but God loves us still.

As Shane Claibourne talked about his mission work all over the world he told us how at times he felt angry with God and shouted, “God! Why don’t you do something about all the pain and suffering of this world? Why aren’t you doing anything to fix it?” God told Shane, “I did do something, I made you.” Shane made it clear that God doesn’t want to end the suffering of this world without us. He wants us to be a part of the miracle. I know that it can be daunting looking at the world we live in and hearing our break again and again for the things we can’t control. I have wished I could scoop up an entire orphanage in Africa and fold them under my Mama Jo wings to eliminate their tears. I have looked at the homeless people in my own neighbourhood and thought, “Who caused you so much pain that you ended up living here?” I want to make a difference and support all of the organizations, charities, and missions at the same time but then I start to feel my body begin to crumple under compassion and I know it’s too much for me to handle. I feel useless.

We were giving a reverse offering at Convention. The Prayer Team laid five dollar bills at the front of the stage with the word “Love” stamped on them. We were encouraged to make poverty personal and take five dollars and use it to bless someone in need. We were encouraged not to drop it in a collection for a big mission work organization, even though that is helpful and if that is where God is calling you do go then be blessed, but Shane pushed us to be brave. To spend that five dollars on someone tangible, someone you can see with your own eyes rather than someone who is on the other side of the world. It is easier to love someone in Africa than to love people you see everyday. We were encouraged to buy a lunch for someone who is hungry, maybe give a single mom some laundry money, or spend it on some flowers and give them to someone who needs a smile. As Mother Theresa said, “It is fashionable to talk about the poor, but unfashionable to talk to the poor.” Let’s be unfashionable.  

But the biggest blessing of all came at the Sunday night worship service. The worship band lead us into a Holy moment and encouraged us to speak to God and tell Him what was on hearts. I will admit that I entered in with my own ideas of what Jesus wanted to hear about my heart, I tried to use regular understandable words but He prompted me again and again to speak to Him. I exhaled and suddenly my lips and tongue were moving on their own accord and I was speaking in tongues! I couldn’t believe it, me, little old Mama Jo, was gibbering back and forth with God in a heavenly language that only Him and I could understand. To anyone else it must have sounded like I was having a verbal seizure dribbling out syllables and incoherent vowels. But to me it sounded like whispers of love and laughter and Jesus eternal promise in my life. I could hear Him listening and honouring my spiritual thirsts and laughing with me as I stood there in disbelief that this was happening to me. Amongst the gibberish I understood one phrase: You are Special! When it was over I couldn’t stop smiling and I burst into a flood of happy tears. What a special experience on my 10th Convention!

When Monday morning came I was of course sad to be leaving Convention but eager to go home to the Island. Eager to share my story to carry the love and all the new things I learned. As I stepped off the plane I was greeted with the warm fragrance of the ocean, oh how I have missed it. The blessings don’t stop at Convention though. After I plunked my bags in my room, I sprawled on the couch and ordered a pizza. The delivery man came jovial and genuine calling me darling or dear every other word. What I thought was going to be a $30 pizza turned out to be $17! What a blessing!! I curled up with a sappy movie, ate pizza, and cried. It is safe to say Convention left me emotionally, physically, and spiritually exhausted, it feels amazing! 

The Art Den

One of the worship sessions

My sister-in-law Danielle and I. She was at Convention as a counselor. It was so much fun to share the weekend with her and hang out wither her. 

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