The Last Christmas in Nowhere

On Monday, December 25th I will be celebrating my last Christmas in my childhood home.

I knew this day was coming, and for my ageing parents, I was looking forward for them to be free of the responsibility of maintaining an entire house.  With it just being the two of them now, it made sense for them to sell.  But now that the inevitable is a reality, I am doing a bit of reflecting and discovering that This. Is. Big.

CattoHouse (2)

We moved to Nowhere when I was six years old.  I remember the first morning, looking out my bedroom window and crying.  Instead of seeing people strolling down a sidewalk as I had just a day earlier, I saw a field of bull-grass, and I thought, “Where the heck am I?  What were mom and dad thinking?!”

I was convinced that our parents were punishing us for some unknown offense.  As a youngster being taken miles (it was a 10 minute drive, or an hour on your bike if you pedalled fast) away from civilization as I knew it,  could only be seen as cruel and unusual punishment.  My young and selfish mind could not conceive of home ownership, affordability, or the fact that 5 children–7 on weekends- required space to run and play.

When I realized that begging to go home  was not going to work, I started to make peace with my new home as did my six siblings, and that’s when the adventures began.

This is going to make me sound really old.  But looking back on those days in Nowhere, I can truly say that in my day, we knew how to create our own fun; we knew how to use our imagination, and we had a unique sense of what it meant to be a good neighbour, something I have not seen since and doubt I will again .

Among my list of friends in Nowhere, was Sadie.  I first spotted her by an apple tree.  This in itself is unremarkable, but Sadie was in her eighties, and she was actually IN the tree. I decided that this made her some sort of Wonder Woman and we became fast friends, not just me, but all of us kids.  We learned that Saturday morning was her baking day and we took turns offering quality control of her baked goods- pies, crinkle cookies and fresh bread. We marvelled at her house; it was like a museum. A wood stove, a genuine feather bed, water that you had to pump to get a glass, and of course an out-house completed the Little House on the Prairie theme.

Sadie’s property spanned acres and all of it was our playground.  Building forts in the back fields, chasing the heifers back into their pasture when they got loose, and tobogganing off the mink barn roof in the winter (and knocking the wind out of your lungs in the process) was all part of our childhood.

“I’m bored!” were two words only the bravest of children would use in Nowhere.  You were quickly told to “go outside and find something to do!”  And we always did find something to do, even if the end result found us in hot water.  Attempts at relieving our perceived boredom included chasing mom around the yard with a dead mouse ( it wasn’t me–you couldn’t pay me to pick up a dead rodent), placing the skull of a dead cow on the shed roof to see how long it would take a grown-up to notice, and raiding the neighbouring apple orchard at night when the countryside should be asleep.  (Turns out that a lot of country kids got the same idea at the same time).  In the summertime, we learned that if you started hounding dad in the early morning for a trip to the beach in the afternoon, he would eventually succumb to our incessant pleading and we would pile victoriously into the car for a trip to the beach.  If his resolve was particularly strong and he couldn’t be persuaded, we still had a nearby lake that we could bike to.  As long as you weren’t squeamish around water snakes and blood suckers, a jump off the dock offered sweet refreshment after pedalling over gravel roads, dodging tractors and combines to get there.

While much of our entertainment happened in the great outdoors, the home itself was, and remains the heart beat of our family.  The little brick house was a labor of love. Originally purchased almost fifty years ago, it was definitely your fixer-upper.  Discovering the hard way that the kitchen plumbing was nothing more than garden hose, dad got an honorary diploma as a plumber.  Later he earned the titles of  painter, brick layer, carpenter, and dry waller. His determination (and stubbornness) to learn and do things himself literally saw him with broken bones, burns, and blood,  but he wouldn’t change a thing.  He could rest satisfied at the end of a hard day.

Mom was pretty talented too.  If home renos didn’t happen quickly enough, she revealed her talent as a demolition expert.  But along with her ability to de-construct, was her ability to create.  The garden that once spanned one third of the back yard, was her medium of  choice.  Out of the earth and from her hands came entire meals-as long as you were wise enough to stay out of her… cattoKitchen (2)

Summer dinners elicit the most mouth-watering memories for me .  Multipliers dipped in salt (multipliers are onions, for those who don’t know their varieties) cucumbers soaked in vinegar, radishes, potato salad, steamed asparagus, and tomatoes that actually tasted the way a tomato is supposed to taste.  A visit home wasn’t complete without leaving with a jar of homemade pickles, peaches, pears or salsa.  I confess I hid the dill pickles at the back of my own fridge so I wouldn’t have to share.  Confession is good for the soul.

As an adult, some trips home to Nowhere have often left me sad, glad to be heading back to the city, and others still, longing for the chance to play one more game of up-the-ladder with mom and dad at the kitchen table, sipping on a rum and coke, and then finally falling asleep in my old bedroom with only the stars in the sky to offer any ambient light.

If I have learned anything about growing up in this obscure little hamlet, it’s about remembering my roots, remembering where I came from.

Who dares despise the day of small beginnings…..? (Zechariah 4:10)

Over the last forty-four years, children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren have travelled through Nowhere on their journey through life.  Some have passed through without looking back, while others return to be refreshed, to be grounded, and to just take a break from the world.  Dad has permitted some up on the roof to repair shingles, and mom lets the odd one of us into her kitchen. We’re all learning.

As I reflect on this last Christmas in my childhood home, I’ve come to this  conclusion.  You weren’t Nowhere.  You were Everywhere and Everything, and Christmas will never be the same.

Thanks for the memories.





Needed: A Few Good Men

I, along with a colleague, recently spoke in a  high school in the Toronto area about violence against women and the issue of human trafficking. We were surprised to learn that much of what we were sharing was falling on virgin ears; they had no idea just how rampant the epidemic ran throughout their city, including the school system.  In Canada, 90% of victims of human trafficking were born in Canada; the age range being between 12 and 21, with the average age being 17. While aboriginal women make up one out of every two victims, there is no discrimination between rich, poor, academically advanced, nor intellectually average.  Any young woman (or man, although the prevalence is predominantly female) can be a target. These things ought not be so, people.

Part of our objective in speaking to the youth of this school was to raise awareness–and to raise the bar.  Raise the bar on responsibility for our actions/in-actions and accountability for the type of society in which we wish to live.

A round-table discussion amongst the students gave us the opportunity to eavesdrop on their conversations and really hear what was front and centre on their hearts and minds.  There was some concern as to why there was a “girls only” time allotted in the schools gym.

“Are you kidding me?” a young man said.  “Do you hear the way some of the guys talk about the girls in the gym?  The rude comments they make?  It even makes me uncomfortable.”

I couldn’t resist the opportunity to interject.

“How difficult would it be for you to speak up in a situation like that?” I asked.  “To say that those kinds of comments are inappropriate- just plain wrong?”

His face flushed as he searched for an answer.

“You men have an opportunity to be change-agents,”  I gently encouraged the group.  “While it may seem difficult at the time to speak up and be a strong voice for women now, you could very well be someone’s hero twenty years from now.  We will be remembered for the things we say and do throughout our entire lifetime.  Wouldn’t you like to be remembered for taking a stand, for being the one who said NO to violence and objectification of women?”

Three Monkeys(Portrait man)

In my recent post, Trafficked I received a comment from a passionate/compassionate blogger  who was touched by the story, but as a man, felt at a loss as to what impact he could make in the life of one of these young women.

Plenty.  Human trafficking and violence against women is not a woman’s problem.  It’s a man’s problem. As long as men believe it’s okay to  view women as a commodity to be purchased,  the focus of objectification, and the brunt of sexist jokes, human trafficking will flourish.  Prostitution has only remained “the oldest profession in the world”, because society still views it as acceptable.  Consider cigarette smoking.  Where it used to be okay to smoke inside buildings, public transit, and just about anywhere a smoker chose to light up, it is now no longer allowed.  Why?  Because society said that it wasn’t acceptable.  Laws were changed because people spoke up.

Speak up.

“You’re here to defend the defenseless, to make sure that underdogs get a fair break.  Your job is to stand up for the powerless and prosecute all those who exploit them ” 

Psalm 82:3-4 (The Message)



Men can take a lead role in seeing an end to violence and modern-day slavery. You would be the first to jump up to defend your daughter, your sister, your friend.  I know you would. Challenge the status quo. Don’t let gender-based slurs go unchallenged.  Intercede in prayer for women who go into the places where women are exploited to support these women. Mentor an at-risk male youth in your community.  Show your own sons how to respect and value women. One of the biggest indicators for young women falling prey to a trafficker is the lack of a father figure in their lives.  I would suggest that the same is true for young men who have yet to learn what it is to respect and honour women. MenSupportWomen Be a role model.

Be Jesus.

Yes and amen.




I first met Katrina on one of our monthly outreaches.  In a drunken stupor, she railed at me, “Why won’t God just let me die?” She’s tried to overdose, walked in front of cars; all to no avail.  She’s still very much alive, although her real name is not Katrina.

With courage no doubt brought on by the alcohol, she recounted a story that shattered any naiveté I may have had about the human trafficking epidemic that plagues Toronto and all of Canada.

While driving with her boyfriend (I learned that part of the victim mind set is to refer to your pimp as your boyfriend) she dared to challenge him on the new girl he’d been seeing.   Angered by her audacity to question him, he threw her out of the car in the middle of the city, leaving her with nothing.  No money, no ID, and no water, on one of the hottest days of the summer.  Afraid and tired, she stumbled wearily into a park rife with the city’s lost and broken.

“You know who actually helped me?” she asked.  “A homeless crackhead.  He gave me water, food, and bus fare to go back to my boyfriend.  Only someone who knows what it is to be looked down upon would help someone like me.”  Bitterness etched on her face, she weaved side to side in her stilettoes.

“You do know that I’m being trafficked?” she asked matter-of-factly.  HumanTraffcking

This information, is seldom, if ever offered.  It is an unspoken truth among many of these working girls.

Feeling inadequate at this point, I dared to ask, “Have you ever tried to get away from him?  Have you gone to the police?”

“I have a nine year old brother.  He’s already told me that he’ll hurt him if I ever try to leave,” she said trying to hold back her tears.  “Besides, he has my passport, my driver’s licence, everything.”

And then the moment is over.  The club’s manager barged into the change room and bellowed, “Katrina, you’re up,” signalling her turn on the dance floor.

So, how do you tell someone whose experience seems hopeless, that there IS hope?  That their life does, in fact, have purpose when their identity and every tangible piece of evidence that says that they even exist, has been stripped from them?

By showing up.  Remembering her name—not her club name, but the one her parents gave her at birth. Being persistent in your pursuit of connection.  Texting until one finally get answered and lead to a dinner together at the Keg.  One that requires training on how to safely meet up with a trafficked woman in the sex trade.  This is eye opening in and of itself.  You are given a cultural lesson on the difference between a common street pimp, and the more dangerous variety, one involved in organized crime.  Should the pimp be present when Katrina arrives at the restaurant, you’re not to be afraid to make eye contact.  He will be more afraid of you than you are of him, you’re assured.  After all, for him to show his face to a square person, he is exposing himself.  Aside from attempting some intimidation tactics such as a menacing stare-down, there shouldn’t be any issues.20160514_220038

With some semblance of confidence, you proceed.  You discover over steak and merlot that she’s just a girl- a girl with a family, a girl with a painful past.  You offer to drive her to work, as sad as it is that you’re actually driving her to a strip club, but then you laugh as she refers to you as the church lady, even more so when she learns that you, too, have a story.  Maybe not as racy as hers, but certainly one that didn’t begin in a church.  Then she stops calling you the church lady.  We become Katrina and Monica.

I am not as strong as Katrina, but then again, I don’t have to be.  I am blessed to know her, to walk alongside her, and to learn what it truly is to be strong, when it’s the only choice you have.





The Objector


You could have put a potato peeler in his hand for the duration of the war, but you could never have convinced him to pick up a gun. 

While not as well-known as Desmond Doss, the American medic whose heroic efforts were memorialized in the movie, Hacksaw Ridge, Laurence Morton, too, was a conscientious objector who served in the Great War. 

“There’s no glory in war,” he would tell me during the many visits I shared with him, sitting in his window sill in the nursing home where he lived, listening to his stories.  “The medals are worth nothing.  The war was worth nothing.” 

This particular conversation took place during the planning stages of a pilgrimage back to the place where it all began-Vimy Ridge.   

Morty (as his friends referred to him) had been invited by Veterans Affairs Canada, to return to France to observe the eightieth anniversary of the Armistice, where he would also receive the Legion of Honour Award, France’s highest decoration for his contribution in the Great War. 

While he was excited at the prospect of seeing France during a time of peace, there were some obvious concerns, too, both physical as well as emotional. 

“I’m too old to travel,” he argued. 

“That’s kind of an eligibility requirement for this trip, Morty.  You have to be old.” 

He gave me “the look” that said I was pushing my luck with this centenarian. I gnawed on my bottom lip to keep from laughing.  I knew he would go and he knew he would as well; it was too good an opportunity to pass up.  

Without prying too much, I asked how he would feel about visiting his brother’s grave.  While Laurence had been vocal in his refusal to take another man’s life, his brother Louis, ironically, had been a sniper. He had been killed by the enemy three weeks prior to the signing of the Armistice Agreement. 

Nodding, he whispered, “I need to see him one last time. Yes, it’s the right thing to do.” 

Laurence Morton had been born in 1896 in Rat Portage, in northern Ontario.  When war broke out, he said he “prayed with heart and hand” that he could serve his country. In 1917 he headed for France. 

“We thought it would be the time of our lives,” he had told me wistfully many times.  

Unlike Doss, it didn’t appear that Morty took too much flack for being a conscientious objector.  In fact, he was revered among his comrades.  

“I remember one night in the bunk house,” he recounted.   “I was just kneeling beside my bed, praying the way I always did.  It got real quiet all of a sudden.  I looked up from my bunk, and I saw all these fellas just staring at me.” 

While definitely different than his fellow soldiers, his integrity and compassion appeared to make him stand a head taller than the rest.  They knew that he was the one to come to for support, advice, and just about anything, when in need. Apparently this included cash, when their army pay was denied.  This would happen when the soldiers would go into a brothel for a night’s entertainment and leave with a case of syphilis. 

“I always got my money back.  I was good at keeping things quiet and I didn’t judge them boys.” 

Refusing to fire a gun did not preclude Morty from hauling its ammunition for the 16th Canadian Infantry Battalion. 

Referring to gun cotton, he laughed, “I hauled that blooming stuff all over the country.  We never thought of it exploding.  If it ever blew up, they wouldn’t have had to dig a grave for me!” 


So, that particular Remembrance Day, I played hooky from work.  Determined to catch a glimpse of my friend, I set up on my sofa, tissues in hand, to watch the event coverage from France.  I was not disappointed.  The camera scanned the veterans, and, as if just for me alone, the camera zoomed right in on Morty, looking older than his 101 years, if that were even possible.  He suddenly appeared fragile, something I had rarely seen in this man.   

I learned later that Morty had become somewhat of a celebrity in this, his second trip to France. Being relentlessly sought out by reporters to tell his story, he learned to dodge probing questions and to answer the mundane ones with his quick wit.   

When asked by Sunday Star reporter, Laura Bobak, what his secret to long life was, he responded, “I like to breathe, as it satisfies the necessity for living.” 

Morty satisfied the necessity for living for another three years after returning home from France, but he just wasn’t the same. Wounds believed to be long-healed had resurfaced with his visit to Louis’ grave.  I couldn’t begin to surmise what thoughts were going through his mind in his last years, but I’m sure there is no glory in war was one of them. 




Getting your Praise On

Worship.  Most people see it as singing hymns or spiritual music in church but it goes much deeper than this.  Singing in and of itself is not worship, it’s just music.  I remember hearing a story of a choir master who dies before his choir’s biggest concert.  In heaven, he asks God if He would permit him to see the performance, to watch his church choir worship.  God grants him his wish, and from his heavenly view the choir master is astonished to see only four singers on the stage. He turns to God and says,

“I don’t understand, there’s over fifty people in that choir.  Why do I only see four?”

God replied, “You said you wanted to watch those worshipping Me. There they are.”

God is not looking for singers who create perfect harmony, guitar players who can play a sweet  riff, or songwriters who can come up with the most biblical lyrics. He’s looking for worshippers, not performers.  This goes for the congregation as well.   Belting out a Bethel tune with eyes closed and arms raised, all the while wondering if you remembered to turn on the crock pot before leaving the house that morning. So not worship.

I’m not saying any of this to bust anyone’s chops, otherwise mine would be first on the chopping block.

I have gone through seasons where I looked like I was just going through the motions.  Living out the first half of Proverbs 13:12, I would force myself to the front of the church during worship.  Hands jammed in my pockets, eyes staring into space, I’d be thinking, ‘I’m here, and that’s all You’re getting out of me today.’   And in those rare times of my own personal worship-boycotting, I got back exactly what I put in.  Nothing.  Nada. Zilch.

True worship doesn’t come out of duty, but of desire. WorshipToOne

God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in Him.” (Writer, John Piper)

What I’ve learned through these dry spells is to push past that sense of God’s silence, beyond the void of unanswered questions and unfulfilled promises.  The enemy of our souls would love nothing better than for us to give up and stop doing that one thing that he knows is one of the greatest weapons we have in our arsenal-worship.  It may feel awkward, stiff, and fake. But that’s not how God sees it.  When you choose to praise when you’re going through a storm, God doesn’t see your worship as fake–He calls it faith. ThanksgivingPraise

Bill Johnson, in his sermon entitled, The War of Peace, said that ” A sacrifice of praise makes it easier to get access to His Presence.  Sometimes it’s going beyond what is comfortable–it’s violating the suggestions of the enemy….”  

When your life is in turmoil you have to force yourself beyond what’s happening in the natural to get into His Presence.  In order to enter His gates,  sometimes you have to push.


The Lord inhabits the praises of His people (Psalm 22:3)   Think of this for a moment.  When you and I truly worship, focusing our affections and devotion on Him alone, we create a platform for God to land on.  Essentially, we’re like a landing pad for heaven to come to earth.  He wants hang out with those who know how to worship in spirit and in truth –He makes it a party (at least at my church!)

Worship isn’t only packaged in music.  Author Rick Warren says that “anything we do that brings God pleasure is worship.”   This gives me hope.  That means that when I’m out for a run in the forest and I say, “Wow God.  You sure knew what you were doing when You put this river here.  It’s beautiful!” it’s worship.  When I take the time to speak a word of kindness to a stranger, it’s worship.  Talking to God while I clean my home (which may or may not sound more like, “Oh, Gawd!!!”) technically, is worship.  Be happy in what you’re doing, and God will meet you there.

He loves to hear us gush  over Him.  He doesn’t have an ego that needs to be stroked, but when we say, “I love you, Lord. I think You’re awesome,” it gives Him something to respond to. Our praise moves things.  It moves Him.  It’s like we’re showing Him a mirror.  Whatever we show Him, He reflects back to us. We tell him how wonderful He is and he reflects that “wonderfulness” back to us. This kind of  worship opens the door to revelation and prophesy; when you are in His Presence, you become more intimately aware of what He’s saying to and about you.

This is what I want.  More of Him, less of me.  Worship not performance.

Yes and amen.




A Lamb in Wolf’s Clothing

Mr. Unruh was a bully.  Having perfected the eye roll generally reserved for petulant teenagers and wearing a permanent sneer, he had succeeded in planting fear in just about every child who had attended our rural elementary school. Quite frankly, it was hard to believe he had landed a job teaching children in the first place.


He particularly enjoyed picking on the shyer and the slower kids, the latter of the two, I believe, because he saw them as simply lazy.  I could never figure out what possessed him to become a teacher in the first place—had he drawn the short straw, or was he living out his parent’s dream? Regardless, I had made it my mission to avoid being on the receiving end of the sarcastic barbs that he doled out like cheap Halloween candy- the hard- to- swallow kind.

I learned early on in my elementary school career to fire back when he came at me with his insults. I was the youngest of four tomboys. Mr. Unruh had taught all of us and I was judged based on the behaviour of my predecessors. I was just another Catto girl.  I had honed my skills with the come-backs, a comedienne with razor-like wit.  For the most part, it worked too.  Much like the vicious dog who backs off when it realizes that you’re not afraid of it, Mr. Unruh was developing an unusual respect for me. Dare I say, he may have actually begun to like me?

There was a game that the boys liked to play on the school yard in the winter. Pouncing on unsuspecting girls, they would toss them face-first into the snow and proceed to wash their face in the frigid white stuff.  I hated this rite of passage with a passion, so when Brian McDermid chose me as his victim, I saw red—of course after I saw white. Once I had wrestled myself free and caught my breath, I instantly began plotting my revenge. Brian assumed I was off nursing my wounds, but this is where assuming made an “ass” out of him, but not of “me”.  Catching him off guard, I lunged at him. I sailing through the air and landed on his back, forcing him face first into the snow.  But this wasn’t the fluffy stuff.  No, I purposefully chose the hard packed snow that had been trampled by hundreds of adolescent’s boots.  Deliriously drunk with the promise of blood, I straddled his back, and grabbing him by the back of the head, drove his face repeatedly into the hard snow.  I imagine I sounded like the father in the seasonal favorite, “A Christmas Story” whose unintelligible cussing erupted when the neighbouring blood hound ate their Christmas turkey.  girlwrestler (1)


Pummeling his face as he begged me for mercy, I looked up to notice Mr. Unruh watching on with rapt amusement.  I was sure I was in trouble.  Instead, he let me get in a few more blows.

“Ok, Monica.  That should do,” he finally said, stifling a laugh, as he pulled me off by the back of my red quilted parka.

Expecting to be disciplined, I was surprised when I heard him say to my victim, “Stop your damn whimpering,” and motioned with a head nudge and a wink for me to high-tail it out to the far reaches of the playground.

Exhilarated, I found a hiding spot behind the snow hill where I caught my breath and considered my two victories.  While I don’t advocate violence against anyone, I have to admit that it had felt pretty good-and now I had an ally.

Mr. Unruh, or “Freddy”, as we referred to him behind his back, was starting to grow on me.  I still had a healthy fear of him, but I was beginning to see him in a new light.

My own father was very quiet and didn’t really know how to stand up for his kids.  I suppose this was largely in part because his own father, my Grandpa Jack, had returned from the Second World War, a shell of his former self, emotionally unable to resume an effective role as a parent.  I didn’t blame dad, but it was a relief to have someone who would call forth my excellence—and call me out on my crap.

I had never been great at public speaking, so when speeches surfaced in the yearly curriculum I turned into an anxious, doubt-filled mess.  Most years, I struggled just to find a topic for my speech.  But grade eight, my final year in elementary school, was different.  It was 1981 and Terry Fox was my hero. I was glued to the evening news to catch a glimpse of him and the Marathon of Hope, and even my parents knew enough to not yell at me to get in the kitchen to do my after-supper chores of clearing the table.  It was clear that I had found the topic for my speech.

Mr. Unruh unbeknownst to him, was to become my editor.  He wasn’t even my teacher that year, in fact he had been demoted the position of school librarian (go figure).  I would spend my lunches and recesses sitting at a table closest to the window overlooking the playground to create the illusion of playing, while taking in the musty yet comforting smell of the library. Writing and re-writing my speech, I would repeatedly hand it over for his perusal after completing a draft. He was not a kind editor, but he was at the very least, honest.  I could have been easily offended by his blunt criticisms, but somehow it felt like he cared enough to correct me, so I would follow his instruction and go back to re-wording, cutting out redundant information, and correcting my spelling. He still wasn’t soft-spoken nor necessarily kind, but I wasn’t seeing that eye-roll anymore, and the sarcastic comments were slowing down to a trickle.

After weeks of missed recesses and lunches, spent with my unlikely friend, my speech was finally complete.  And, for the first time ever, I had made it to the public speaking finals.  I was nervous—actually terrified. Writing the speech was one thing, but giving it was quite another. In the audience were my fellow speakers, teachers from other schools acting as judges, my mom, and of course, Freddy Unruh. I glanced at him now and then for support as I tried to project my voice to fill the expanse of the school gymnasium.  He feigned a look of indifference, but I knew he was secretly cheering me on.

While I did not win the public speaking competition, I did have one victory under my belt.  I had won over Mr. Unruh.  I’m sure he would deny it to his dying day, but he really did like me-I’m sure of it.

Footnote:   Ruth Ann Gordon took home the prize for her speech on her family vacation to northern Ontario.  I saw Mr. Unruh’s eye roll that time; he couldn’t stand that girl.




Who do You Say I Am?

My sense of identity has taken a bit of a kicking lately.

After some lengthy reflection I realized that I had allowed my dominant characteristics as an encourager and responder to sit in the driver’s seat of my life and we almost crashed.

I am a natural encourager. I think I may have even born with pom-poms in each hand. Although it is biblically described as a gift, I’m pretty sure it’s not meant to leave you feeling empty.

I had one of those “ah ha” moments while talking to a dear friend.  I heard myself saying, “When you allow another person to decide what role you play in their life, you’re also giving them permission to decide when you no longer fill that role.  If your identity is wrapped up in it, you’re screwed.”

Here’s a painful example. My first pregnancy ended in miscarriage, but before I lost the baby, I had taken on the role of mother.  I began to see myself as a mom, a nurturer, a protector, a teacher and everything that goes with motherhood.  When the baby died in my womb, so did the identity, and that loss took the longest to get over.

In such painful seasons, we need to know who God says we are as the main part of our identity, so when roles are removed for one reason or another, we are not shaken.  Yes, it can be painful, but our firm foundation built on Christ remains.

I have had to take a step back to re-evaluate my true identity.  In my  role as an encourager, I should have felt refreshed in pouring out and allowing the Holy Spirit to replenish my supply.  Instead, I felt much like an apple tree that had been stripped bare of all of its fruit without receiving anything to generate new growth.  God asked me, “Did I ask you to do this?”  emptyappletree


I had to answer honestly, that in entering performance mode, seeking approval from man, rather than Him, I had allowed myself to be depleted.  It wasn’t God’s fault or anyone else’s; it was my own doing.

God’s timing and orchestrating is perfect, however.  A trip gave me time to disengage and allowed God to hit the reset button.  In an unfamiliar environment where I had no agenda nor grasp of a foreign language, I was given plenty of quiet time, even among people. Because I didn’t speak the language, I could zone out and just commune with God while conversations went on around me. This time in the secret place had my dream life and receiving of revelatory words going through the roof.  One morning I woke up with the words, “Let the dead bury their dead.”  ringing in my ears.  I knew the bible passage where Jesus  referred to what was required of those who wanted to follow Him, but I wasn’t sure what He was specifically saying to me with those words.  I did a little research on the passage; Jesus was obviously not being literal.  If I’m understanding the commentator correctly, He was suggesting that those who were spiritually dead and had no real burning desire to pick up their cross and truly follow, should just stay behind with their excuses.  I saw this as a personal invitation to stop trying to coax and encourage others to be who God called them to be, but to get on with the Luke 4:29 mandate in my own life.  My job is to be about my Father’s business,  it’s not  to play Holy Spirit.  Praying for others is fine, but the obligation stops there. We are called to pray and intercede as the Spirit leads, but not to keep looking back to make sure others are following and slowing our own pace so they can catch up.

During this season, I asked God, “Who do You say I am?”   His response was so much kinder than my disparaging self-talk.  I knew the answer came from Him because it lifted me up and every kind word could be traced back to scripture.  That’s God for you- the Affirmer, the Proud Papa, the Protector, and Lover of our soul.

Through this revelation, I learned more about my identity than I ever knew before.  He has given me laser-like focus on where my gifts are to be used.  Yes, the encourager  still plays a lead role in my character, but He assigned me that role and He determines when and where it’s deployed.  When I go into the strip clubs as part of a women’s ministry team that supports and loves on women caught in the sex industry, the encourager and healer show up manifesting God’s power and mercy in abundance.  This is where I feel His presence and know that I am in His perfect will, doing what He has called me to do.  I see His approving nod and sense His grace and compassion partnering with me when I take time to share the gospel with a homeless man.

When we steward the gifts He’s given us and use them for His designed purposes, we are not left feeling empty or like a tree picked of all of its fruit.  The river of living water bubbles up inside us and the flow is not interrupted by our emotions and our feelings because it’s Christ at work in us, not our flesh.

I’ve decided to hang up my pom-poms.  I’m still the consummate encourager and I suspect I always will be; I’m just going into stealth mode.

Yes and amen.