When We Never Wanted to Escape.


I tried one of those short colored background posts on Facebook. It was a marriage post and it went like this:

FBPETE“It started when beauty captured you 😚 You married 😍 You saw flaws 🤨 Slowly you forgot what made you fall in love😢”

It didn’t take long for the first comments to arrive, “Peter, are you okay?” My wife jumped in quickly to explain all was well with us and that I was simply preparing to speak at a marriage. The thread gave me and others a good laugh. Not as hilarious, though, is that I can attest also to the truth of my 86 character/ post including the emojis.

“It started when beauty captured you 😚

I fell hard for Patricia, she was so clever, had a great sense of humour, was athletic and her build reflected it. Not to mention her black shiny hair on her white freckled face, it all captured me. I joke with her about the time we decided to go to the indoor pool and I saw her in a bathing suit for the first time. My mouth dropped to the floor, hubba hubba, this was my girl!  And we had so much fun finding ways to be together in a school where holding hands was considered too much contact!

You married 😍

We did. We were passionate. We couldn’t wait for the day to hear the bells ring. I graduated from college. We married a week later. We were twenty.

You saw flaws 🤨

Too many couples call it quits because they begin to focus on the negatives. Patricia and I eventually lived out this scenario for a long stretch of time. I began to notice it, slowly, during our years in Thailand. (They are not years that we look back on fondly.) Patricia wasn’t happy being there. I told her that we would stay no matter what. It was the stubborn dutch blood in me speaking! And besides God told us to go there! We were obeying the call! That strong-arming approach did not help and I wasn’t listening to her heart. Her respect for me, as I went globetrotting around Southeast Asia to ‘serve the Lord’ and others, plummeted. I began to see her simmering anger in the forms of complaints and quick mood changes. At times it exploded all over me with shorter and fewer peaceful times in between.

You may have heard the axiom that says you will always see what you are looking for. For my part I  become adept to seeing the unlikable in my chosen partner. “Why is she so angry all the time? Why did she look at me like that? Can’t she ever be happy?” I got good at seeing what I was looking for and saw it all the time. Perhaps she did the same for me. I’ll let her tell her side of the story another time. Yes, our eyesight focused on the negatives, the flaws, and it became a deeply imbedded mindset that slanted towards the negative.

Slowly you forgot what made you fall in love😢”

The good Lord has seen it fit to keep the both of us on this planet into our fifties.  You can guess already by context that we are still together! I attribute that to two things; 1. my stubborn Dutch roots that went down deep enough to hang on to my wedding day commitment, and 2. fear. I thought I would lose everything I loved; my work and reputation. Ugh!!!

But we said those words, “Till death do us part…” That required an ungodly amount of stubbornness! And it called for hours and hours of long hard talks. Neither one of us really thought that killing each other was a good option, though we joked that it was the only way we would leave each other!  So what other options were there? Option One was the hard one: stick it out. There were days – long ones where our emotions ran amuck and  this option was stifling, at best, and completely joyless. We lost the beauty of Pete and Pat! We lost sight of each other. The raising of five kids in a polluted Bangkok crammed with cars, motorbikes and taxis didn’t help. The daily grind was grinding our love to smithereens. We forgot what made us fall in love. And we started not caring. “Oh God is this my life?”
Our tiny daughter Amanda mouthed this phrase (mimicking what she had heard her mother say over and over) “Oh God is this my life” one day while play acting with her two dolls.  Our life. Patricia longed for a better life. Years of resentment were eating her soul and identity. The lack of perspective, positivity and joy darkened the majority of her days with a blasé going-through-the-motions. Often I heard the words,”Oh God is this my life?” I felt it keenly.

PetepatinvadeThe kids felt it too. Amanda could repeat her words perfectly with the same tone. And I resented the joylessness of my option, stick it out. I would do it. I didn’t like where we were headed. But I would be a martyr if called for.

My facebook post didn’t allow me to add more characters. But there is an Option Two: Change the way you see. 

When you have tried digging yourself out of a hole that only got deeper with each shovel full change seems, well, pretty darn impossible. I know that feeling! We tried some digging with counselling. It helped some. But we found ourselves back in the hole again. Bouts of anger still flared, yes, less and less, but still some scary moments. Distance between us, like a phlegmatic sea and its uneven rhythms, increased and decreased and increased again. It’s hard to change.

But not impossible.

You may be reading this and asking for the key to, “How did you change?” Yes, the key. More like hours of honestly looking at ourselves and then hours looking for the good in each other.  Hours of being miserable and not wanting to repeat that.  And one of the turning points,  a key, was to go way back, try and graciously remember the initial attraction, those things that captured us in love’s grasp in the first place. When we never wanted to escape.

Those attractive things hadn’t disappeared completely. Our skin, of course, wasn’t as vibrantly taut and our hair began to thin and grey, but we were still essentially the same inside. We were different versions of the same. It was hidden for a long time from our eyes under expectation, resentment and indifference, but it could be resurrected! Our keen eyesight for the negative caused us blindness for too long. We dealt with the resentment and the anger and the indifference and stubborn selfishness. Slowly we rediscovered the beauty of each other. It rekindled a joy. This sounds simple. It is. But it’s not easy. And it took us a lot of time.
So my short little Facebook post was not so much prompted by preparing to officiate at a marriage as my wife suggested. I was thinking about some couples I know going through  staggering storms.  I stand with you and the many couples who wonder if it is possible for two people in our day and age to stay together until ‘death do us part.‘ I’d like to shout to you and them, “We made it through many storms, you can too!” Hope you can find some honesty and hope for you in this blog.

Recent PEter eand Pat in ParisSome of you cannot turn the page. “It is finished” is written on your marital story. There are probably good reasons for that. For Patricia and I, we are glad that we are still writing chapters as a couple. We had to learn to move past the flaw seeking and look again at what made us fall in love in the first place.  We had to forgive and then bury the awful, and learn from the lean years so we could again be that couple that laughs, talks about everything and nothing, and loves into the sunset.

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Kiev


A midnight arrival to Kiev and my tired eyes were happy to see two smiling Canadian faces waiting for me. It would be my first time to be in Ukraine and I wanted to learn and be a blessing if I could. Driving through Kiev felt oddly familiar, like I was going through some downtown neighborhood in Toronto. It felt homey. I wondered if the many Ukrainians who had moved to Canada had similar feelings to the ones I was having, only in reverse.

The conversation in the car moved quickly to the main language spoken in Kiev, was it more Russian or Ukrainian? I tried to go over my knowledge of history about the Russians who made Ukraine part of the Soviet Union in the 1920’s. They changed everything, the signs, added nondescript buildings, but could not destroy the people’s hunger to be independent and Ukrainian. Now the Ukrainian language was coming back strong, signs and all. Some regions hung on to the old ways and of course old ways die hard. Cory, who spoke Russian, was convinced that Russian was spoken more but Ryan disagreed. They argued good naturally; I saw in them an example of today’s Ukraine being played out before my eyes.

Off to bed way past my bedtime but my mind was not able to shut down. I wondered again how I got to live in this history-filled Europe. Not just ‘my france’ but most of Europe brutalized by all its wars to extend or protect borders. So much bloodshed, bombs and bayonets. Religion played a  part at the heart of some of those battles. In a couple of days I would walk to a high point in the city overlooking the river a viewpoint well chosen by Russia’s elect to erect the Motherland Monument, proud and high. But Ukraine was independent, 26 years now, and actually my own country of Canada was the first to recognize their independence. (We Love Ukraine 🇺🇦 !)

Besides my ministry obligations, I had three full days to explore. The orthodox churches awed me with their artworks, architecture, and  history. We walked into a wedding like I’ve never seen, replete with symbolism that I didn’t fully understand. I will remember the walks through the old city and see where the Dignity revolution took place, about 100 innocents shot down by snipers at the order of the ex-president. Then there was that 62′ meter high Motherland Monument built by the Soviets and called by some of the locals MotherlandMonumentas ‘Brezhnev’s daughter.’ Some people wish it were torn down. Just below was an outdoor war museum consisting of statues and tanks and warplanes.

I remember Ryan pondering out loud about why we actually needed such monuments. We had talked about the USA wanting to tear down historic statues of men who impacted their world. Even Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. MacDonald, was under attack in Canada. “We need to be reminded of where we came from and how we got to here and now,” both of us agreed.

That led further to a conversation wishing that ethnic groups everywhere in the world could finally settle their past and move on with hope and respect. “Wouldn’t it be cool if every Canadian,” I added, “would join a movement to heal the wounds of our First Nations?” I listened carefully to hear Ryan’s response to my statement. “Yeah, but too many people are still misguided that our natives have been coddled, they would never jump on a healing train!” Maybe. I thought of the words of Christ, “You are in the right place when you are truly a peacemaker.” I want so much to be that.

Truer words - a fresh coat of paint won't make it go awayI had come to Ukraine to share something with young people. My topic dealt with walls. Walls do more than demarcate, they divide and isolate. They scream hateful words. The dreamer in me would say to those young souls “imagine all these people living in a world unwalled!” I wanted to point out the invisible walls between the Russian and Ukrainian but chose to go further than two nations.

Invisible walls don’t need blocks, bricks and mortar; all they need is for someone to bump your books all over the floor and then call you an idiot for their mistake… and inside of you an invisible brick is laid. It’s that easy! A harsh word is spoken by someone, another brick. Someone laughs at us, one more brick. Walls are made of a few bad experiences, a betrayal, a few foiled expectations,  biases passed down from parents, politicians and peers and the wall grows. There’s no shortage of material for us to build invisible walls.

If only we could be bridge-builders and not wall-makers. Thank God there are those doing that in our world. Ryan and Ashley from Canada are doing that in Kiev, so is Cory. I shared a small moment in their lives. Thank God that in a walled world that is increasingly biased, separated and isolated there is a growing group of people that can imagine another way to be in this world. We are the revolutionaries of love that understand that true worship is not simply raising our hands, eyes closed, to good music, but by walking hand in hand eyes wide open with love and respect for all other creatures on this planet. It’s that simple!

UkraineGWs

My Troubled Earth


Today in some areas of America there will be a total solar eclipse. Most of Europe doesn’t know that. We won’t see it as it will be night, we’ll be safely tucked in our beds. In many North America cities they talk about it a lot.  It will beautiful to pull up a chair and experience it I am sure. Looking up will be akin to being reminded that we live in a big universe that has rhyme and reason.

IMG_3376Down below, however, underneath the solar eclipse we continue our violent trajectory with each other. My earth is troubled. We don’t have to look far to see the divide between whites and blacks, Jews and Arabs, North Koreans and their neighbours down South, ISIS and the rest of us, on and on it goes. We think if we build bigger and higher walls, invisible ones too, we can separate and isolate and protect ourselves. But with every inch extended the frustration and violence increases. Where’s the beauty in that? Why are we so afraid of humanity’s diversity? There seems to be no rhyme and reason to our blindness.

So maybe the first step to seeing beauty in people of other ethnicities begins by seeing it in the breathtaking  design of our planet earth. The reason we can predict a solar eclipse is that there is a predictable design. The rare total eclipse over land, as the Pope’s astronomer tells, “reminds us of the immense beauty in the universe that occurs outside our own petty concerns.” I can think of countless times over a year spent in Germany’s Black Forest stopping in my tracks at night in awe. I couldn’t stop looking up at the immense number of stars!!! They made Van Gogh’s famed Starry Night painting look like a star-famine! Nature does speak! Volumes of beauty are written in every nook and cranny of this creation.  It is our introduction to God’s creative genius.

I’ve grown up hearing Bible stories since I can remember. Mom read them, like a good Dutch Refomed woman, every evening after supper. I didn’t know then that Moses authored the creation account called Genesis. Science says earth began as a Big-Bang. I am pretty sure Moses didn’t have much background understanding of such an event as creation. Telescopes weren’t readily available and no google to break it down. He had just what God decided to reveal. Besides I doubt if there would have been enough papyrus anyway to write an indepth explanation.  Moses gave what his generation and ours needed to know, the main  storyline. And it goes like this, “God spoke: “Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature…” Human beings, it appears, have both the likeness and DNA of God; essentially we image His glory in our humanness.

Reading the Bible I understand that we were created by love and for love. This nature of ‘love’ was and is still evidenced in the faces of all the peoples of the world. Yes, black and white and variations of those skin colours. Why do we have such difficulty in seeing this?

Pride and fear. Together they produce racism, the belief that one’s own race is superior. Some of my black friends, smart people, tell me they had to work twice as hard to gain the respect they were due. Many of them heard words growing up that made them wish they could have pink or white skin so they could be more accepted. Eventually they learned to be proud of their skin colour. It didn’t come easily for many.

Doesn’t it seem ridiculous that we humans discriminate others for something that they cannot change. If only the scales of pride and fear could just fall from our eyes. You know, the pride of superiority, or the fear of losing control of our petty concerns. If only we could have a spiritual solar eclipse that passes our soul and after the beauty of God’s DNA could outshine the darkness of our superior attititudes. It makes us uncomfortable talking about race, but it doesn’t have to be a barrier. It could be a gateway into a new way of seeing experiencing beauty.

In the end it comes down to this, our common humanity is what makes the world ‘go round’ or better said, makes it ‘glorious.’ I saw a poster recently of two babies, one white and one black. The caption read, “Humanity is our race, Love is our religion.” Sounds biblical to me!

Nope, not everyone sees the world in that way. Scales. Blinders and bluffs.

We all need some experience or maybe some beautiful soul to take off our bluffs, to have the scales drop from our eyes in order to see of the mystery of God in each other.

My travels have allowed me to meet, know, break bread with many in Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Liberia, Kenya, Italy, Spain, Germany, Iraq, Turkey, Laos, Vietnam, France and a thousand other hills or cities. I’ve seen glimpses of God’s face not only in my fellow Christians, but also in my Muslim and Buddhist friend’s face. IMG_3331

I think the great Saviour of the world wanted us to be surprised to see his beauty and DNA even in the ones we’ve dismissed as dark, lost, least, and probably doomed. When we begin to see the image of God where we don’t want, we begin to see. We begin to see.

“He tore down the wall we used to keep each other at a distance … Then he started over. Instead of continuing with two groups of people separated by centuries of animosity and suspicion, he created a new kind of human being, a fresh start for everybody.” (Ephesians 2:13-16)

War no More!


I spent a couple of hours recently in France’s War Museum, Les Invalides. Two world wars, Napoleon’s wars, and seemingly every war between France and Germany since time began is immortalized in some way! Those two countries perfected the absurdity of war!IMG_2797

Room after room I was able to caress various cannons, machine guns, bayonets, and even missiles of every size. Of course many french painted what they thought to be the glory of defending the Republic. But it all became overwhelming for me. “What have we done to our world? Are we not our brother’s keeper?”

Of course the slaughter houses for the Jews affected me the most. What were the Germans thinking? Where was the church? I could not resist pondering the counterintuitive message of Christ and it’s implications, mainly, the love for all and for our enemy. How could the helpless ever be treated like the scum of the earth, or worse than!

War is dehumanizing. War is a destroyer. War breeds more war. War changes everything and never for the better. There are no wars to end all wars. Violence produces violence that produces more violence. C.S. Lewis once described our world of war as ‘winter without Christmas.’ The bleakness of war freezes our hearts in fear and loathing for our fellow man. They are our brothers!

It’s time to have a new vision for humanity and an alternative narrative for our future as peoples of the earth. Yes, it’s high time to live out the radical kind of life and social order described in the Beatitudes. Peacemakers arise! Lovers of justice dance upon the tragedies of the inhumaine and show us a new move. Persecuted ones don’t give up, keep alive in hope and help us make all things new.

Jesus was not offering another religion for the purpose of controlling or manipulating people. He was giving us a transformative way of seeing and being in this world, He called it a blessed way or the way of true happiness. He actually lived it out before us. He incarnated love. He went about forgiving people. That didn’t go over well for the temple managers who made a killing selling livestock for sacrifices. Oh well. He even prayed for those who smashed the hammer into the nails that pierced his flesh. We could never imagine such love without it being modeled before us, could we?

His teaching on loving those different from us, on blessing those who misuse us, on leaving judgment to the Father makes little sense to most. The inclusive message he taught was revolutionary and so sacred. The words about the last and the least being the first and worthy of honour, simply amazing! Can the poor be blessed? Jesus says the possibility is there. Can mourning lead us to laughter? Jesus says it’s a step to the sons of freedom laughing for joy.

It takes time to catch the heart of the one who spoke these unmatchable words of life. That’s why we need to repent, meaning rethink the way we see others and do life on earth. It is the only way for our planet to survive really. It is.

Marriage is Hard


I was at the gym yesterday and a couple of the guys, one older and one younger than me, were chatting about marriage. The younger guy was complaining about not getting to the gym more often because of being married now. The older fellow, divorced, said he didn’t have that problem anymore. The younger guy said he realized love is like caffein, at first it is strong and then the effects dissipates. The older guy just said life is so much easier for him to have a girlfriend. You know, friends with benefits. As I am listening I felt like it was time to give my take on this subject. I said in french, “Guys, my story is completely different, mind if if I share it?” They said, “Bien sûr.”

So I began surprising myself with how much passion was coming from my lips. I spoke these words a little louder than I hoped, “I was married at twenty years and still am, and with the same woman. Has it been hard at times? You bet! In fact, excruciatingly difficult at times.” I think I repeated the word ‘difficile’ a couple of times! “But now we are in our 35th year and I can tell you we are glad we withstood the storms. I am not wanting to make either of you feel anything negative or guilty about your story, but I just needed to tell you that there are alternative stories to the all too common one of marital breakup. It is possible to work out the most difficult of relationships when both sides are willing.”

It got a little quiet. And I’m not sure if my story accomplished anything positive. I just wish there were more stories like mine. Maybe more of us would persevere through those times that are ‘difficile’.IMG_2419

I Lost Something…


He had no idea, its just what everyone did, and he decided to do it better. The people around him encouraged him too. The applause was gratifying. Day by day, week by week his following grew. It seemed that he could do no wrong. When I talked to him, though, it felt like I was talking to a caricature on a film set, like he was playing a role and he had to follow script. The success script. The I-have-it-all-covered script. But something seemed a little off. This man was like a fortress, built piece by piece, and it was formidable. But when I went to go through the door to take a look inside there was precious little to be impressed by. Just a lonely little boy running around with his toy soldiers and no one to play with.

I asked him who were his heroes. He looked at me as if that was a strange question. He had none. Well, maybe the president of America, but he wasn’t going to admit that. “You know,” he said, “My home here is one of the most desirable properties in all of Los Angeles and yesterday it was full of journalists asking me about my wine cellar, my taste in cigars, my cherry wood floor and my cars. Not one asked about me!”

“Did that bother you?”

“God, man, I dunno. Not until now.”

“Well, I am sure you worked hard to get it all, it’s nice, but what if you had to….let’s say ‘let go of it all,’ would you be a different person afterwards?”

“Man!” He shot back, “You ask the hardest questions!”

“Well here is another one, who would you be without the castle and its gardens and it’s cars and it’s hefty value price?”

“Now you are going for blood, man!” He laughed. “I guess I’d be one miserable ass.”

“Ah, I love the honesty! Can I be honest too?” I looked for the nod before I continued,  “It seems to me that instead of you owning all this great stuff, the great stuff owns you. You’ve become a caretaker of the stuff, they help pay you compliments, tell you how great it is to have them in your life and then, that’s all. In the meantime you forgot you and who you are!”

“Bullshit!” He yelled, loud enough to bring forth the butler from the kitchen. “You called me sir?”

“No, no, well, maybe, bring us a couple glasses of Chardonnay, chilled.”

“Yes sir, right away!”

Turning back to me he looked a little less certain, “You know, I think you touched on something that I need to look at a little more closer. I think I have become what I thought I was told to become by everyone else and I did it and now I don’t even know anyone intimately. I don’t even know myself, really. Oh, I know I am good at performing, at making heads turn and it solicits praise. I get journalists asking to write a story about my success all the time. But I lost something in the process.” He paused and blurted a quiet, “Me. ”

The conversation was going deep faster than I had anticipated. I didn’t know what to say next. I heard myself just say, “It all starts by letting go. Let go of your security, let go of your fear of being less than, let go of your need to be better than, and you might find your true self and find out that he’s actually a great guy worth loving.”

“I don’t know”, he replied, “Letting go sounds a lot like dying. Is there going to be life after this slow death?”

I shook my head in a yes movement. “You’ll find yourself, I think, to be more alive than you ever have. Maybe you’ll even find God somewhere in there too.”

He slumped into a massive brown leather chair, “Now, this is getting my attention!”

 

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Healing


Honestly, I am confounded by those who approach the way of God’s blessing with narrow formulaic thinking. We love simple formulas and in the process reduce God to a magic dispenser who responds to the right confession of our needs and wants ‘in His name’. But a very simple study on the different methods of Christ’s healing will show you that he didn’t like doing the same thing over and over. He didn’t want to be franchised.

So, let’s get to it, a quick survey from my sunday school days tells me of a mysterious-full-of-surprises Jesus. He really is a ‘winking’ Savior! To one, blind, he says, “Go wash in such and such pool.” It washes the blindness away. To a group of lepers he meets on the road, he tells, “Go to the temple and chat with the priest there.” Out of the ten healed only one returns to say thanks! He actually spits on one blind guys eyes! Glad we don’t use that messy method today. Imagine you doing that while sick with a cold! Another woman doesn’t even really pray, she just simply squeezes behind Jesus as He is teaching and yanks the bottom of His robe and is healed. Then there is the deaf man that was brought to Jesus. They begged him to touch him. Jesus pulls him away and sticks his finger in the ear and grabs his tongue and screams ‘Be opened!’ Of course it worked, this is Jesus, right! Finally, there is the case where Jesus actually uses spittle in the dirt to make some mucky substance and puts the goo in the blind man’s eyes. Once more there is a miracle.IMG_2322

We could go on and on talking about the variety of God’s blessing hand. What are we to learn from this? Yes, he heals by a word, sometimes by laying of hands, and even from strange methods to show us to never limit God to one sure-fire way to move in our lives. Faith is important, but it may not be the only factor, after all Jesus did raise some dead people who didn’t ask for a thing! So when it comes to receiving a blessing I think we don’t need to use formulas or special words. Surprisingly, the only prayer we actually have recorded was from someone asking for a miracle for his son was, “I believe, help me in my unbelief!” Not quite the faith-confessing-undoubting response you would expect. His son was healed!

My usual method for my needs looks a little like this: I thank God for life, all of it. When I am sick I asked for a quick recovery. If it is bad I ask friends to join me in praying. If I am not healed, I don’t complain or beg. I don’t try to conjure up more faith. God heard me the first time. My biggest need is to let go of my thoughts on how something should be done. God’s ways are not necessarily my ways. That’s an understatement! And physical healing isn’t the only issue I face. I have financial needs, relational challenges, needs of others that come across my path… and in all these things I ask for peace. Faith sometimes isn’t a way to avoid, escape or walk away from the problems of life, but the power to walk through with graciousness, confidence and love.

Hope this balanced perspective is helpful.