Blessed Assurance, Because He Ascended

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Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

I’m at the end of my day and am just setting aside a moment to blog. I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to write about so I thought I’d take a look at the daily prompt and respond quickly to whatever it is. The word for today is ascend.

The first thing – or person – that comes to mind after reading that word is Jesus, who ascended into heaven (and is seated at the right hand of the Father… the rest of the Nicene creed has now jumped into my mind too). I am so thankful for my Saviour and king, who is the reason I live and move and have my being. Without him I would have nothing, and because I have him I lack nothing; in fact, I have every good thing.

I memorised Psalm 16 earlier this year because it’s become one of my favourites. The second verse says: ‘I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.”‘ I am so often tempted to think that once better things come to me in the future my life will also become better; I am tempted to feel that I am waiting and working for those good things. Verse two reminds me that I have all the good I could ever need or want because I call Jesus Lord. No earthly wealth or relationships can compare to knowing God and finding my joy in him. As much as I might find happiness with my family and friends, and from the comfort that money can buy, as much as they might make me feel secure, they really just point to the ultimate satisfaction and security I have in God.

That is really an incredible concept, and one – as I said – I am still learning. But I do have so much joy and peace because of God. I see his creativity and brilliance in nature; his love in the countless ways he is gracious to me; his generosity in the humbling, inspiring things about humanity, like art and music; and I am thrilled whenever I learn something new about him and his attributes. He is awesome! A good, good father, and so much more. At the end of the day, I can rest knowing that my value comes from being loved by God. I have no reason to worry, or to fear, or to feel inadequate. I should think less about myself and more about others because my future is secure, and God’s goodness is overflowing in me. I am eternally, immeasurably loved.

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Fighting Fear, Being Generous

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Roseau, Dominica – AP Photo/Carlisle Jno Baptiste

Just after Hurricane Irma bullied its way through, Hurricane Maria ravaged Dominica, our neighbour to the south. The death toll is 27, with many more missing. Most of the buildings are destroyed, and the natural landscape is brown and broken, nothing like the lush green paradise that inspired the nickname Nature Isle. At the beginning of the summer I made a friend from Dominica who lives in Jamaica. He took an arduous 3 day journey to get back to his island – the last leg by boat from St. Lucia – and told me about the “total devastation” he found there. Busy with affairs on the ground, and working around spotty communication services, I didn’t get much more than that and an “it’s terrible”. I can hardly imagine how he must feel.

Dominica is very much in the thoughts and prayers of many Bahamians, not least because when we were struggling after Hurricane Matthew they gave us US$100,000. We have offered assistance from our Defence Force, and our Prime Minister has also pledged that we will accommodate Dominican students in our public and private schools.

On this point, too many Bahamians are struggling. They are crying poor mouth and criticising the government for wanting to assist foreigners when we don’t have our own house in order. They ask: What about our students, in overcrowded, under-resourced classrooms? What about our Family Island residents who need jobs and whose islands are recovering from Hurricanes Irma, Matthew and Joaquin? What about ‘choose another problem’?

On the surface, these are valid concerns, and I understand the practicality behind them. People would like to know the details of how we will accommodate the students and possibly their parents. At their root though, these questions are based in fear. Fear that we don’t have enough for ourselves to commit to sharing, fear of being uncomfortable as we extend our hands to others. We want to be certain the timing is right, but if we waited for timing before we helped anybody we would be sitting on our hands for eternity.

The Bahamas is more than four times the size of Dominica, population-wise. Economists use GDP to discuss the financial health of different nations, and if you compare our two, The Bahamas’ USD9 billion is 18 times Dominica’s USD500 million. Scaling figures to the per capita level paints a more helpful picture, and here we see our per capita GDP is $23,124 vs Dominica’s $7,144. Yet Dominicans managed to reach into their pockets and give us $100,000 – that I’m sure wasn’t just lying around on the table – and at the same time donate the same amount to Haiti. If we were to give them the same percentage of our GDP we would be sending them a cheque for $180 million.

So what happen to my people? I’m not saying anything that hasn’t already been said, but we love to talk about being a Christian nation and this response is anything but. Who hasn’t heard some message about how God spared us from this or blessed us with that? That same good God commands us to give, expects us to give and blesses us when we give. The Macedonians famously gave out of their poverty (2 Corinthians 8:1-5). But you don’t need to be a Christian to see generosity as a virtue, or to believe in reaping rewards for loving behaviour. What kind of reputation do we want to have, regionally and beyond? Do we want to earn another mark in the column labelled stuck-up and unCaribbean?

These are the moments that allow us to determine the kind of nation we want to be, where we can do more than make pretty speeches and have earnest conversations. The choices we make set precedents, will be recorded in history books for our great-grandchildren to study. I am thankful for the compassion of our Prime Minister, and support the decision that he made on my behalf. I want our Bahamas to be known for kindness, helpfulness and openhandedness, and this is a step in the right direction.

On Hurricanes

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Bahamians spent most of the last week talking about and preparing for Hurricane Irma. We were getting ready for an apocalyptic-level storm, and (most) everyone was taking it very seriously. Our government evacuated people in the southern islands, who were forecast to be the worst hit. Schools and businesses on New Providence, in the northwest and home to the capital, closed as early as Wednesday evening, though they weren’t meant to start feeling the hurricane until Friday. Hurricane prep takes time, and no one had an excuse not to be ready.

Thankfully, the events over the weekend have felt more like a hiccup, and we were spared the devastation experienced by islands like St. Martin and Barbuda. This was the first time I was home for a hurricane in a few years, and it got me thinking about my more dramatic storm experiences.

Floyd
My earliest (storm) memory is of Hurricane Floyd. I was 9, and my family still lived in a condo complex, next door to my best friend. My youngest brother wasn’t born yet. I remember our condo was very dark because of all the shutters up, and that for hours all we could do was imagine what was going on outside, with the wind whistling, rain falling and mysterious things crashing. After the storm passed, my siblings and I walked through our complex with our dad, in awe of the flooding, the sand, the downed trees. I can still see my sister (or brother)’s red rain boots, splashing through the dirty water.

Michelle
Michelle came not too long after Floyd, and she was a doozy as well. By this time though we lived in a house and had much more space to play during the hurricane. Again, most of our house was in darkness because of shutters, but upstairs our two bedrooms were a little brighter since their windows, at the front of the house, were uncovered. My siblings and I ran back and forth between our bedrooms, watching the wind batter the trees from the second-storey windows. The family before us left behind a yellow box in the front yard, covering some small machine or appliance. The wind picked it up and tossed it all across the lawn; it ended up in pieces. Some trees blew over too, and there was generally debris everywhere, much like Floyd. I remember being thankful that we had a generator because of how long the power was off, and playing plenty of board games.

Frances and Jeanne
I don’t remember going through these storms, but I do know they were bad for The Bahamas. I think they both pummeled Grand Bahama, an island in the north, and possibly did major damage elsewhere too. They must have been kinder, if you can say that, to my island though, which is why I don’t remember them.

On top of these four, there was a hurricane somewhere around the end of high school, or in college, where all my cousins and siblings spent the weekend together at one of our homes (or maybe it was Frances or Jeanne?). We kept one another entertained, and afterward my uncle put us all to work cleaning up the many downed trees, tons of leaves and other debris from the yard. We filled wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow, dove to retrieve foreign objects from the bottom of the pool, swept water and wiped windows. It was a lot of work, even though there were at least 10 of us.

After this was what I believe was Hurricane Sandy, since I spent this one almost alone at my parents’ house, and am assuming my cousins and siblings were back at school. I whiled away much of the time on the phone with the guy I was dating. I stayed in my darkened room, reading and texting him, reading and calling him. Every now and again I’d head down to the kitchen for a snack. The storm itself wasn’t very exciting, but I did enjoy having that guy to talk to and to keep me company.

This weekend, for Irma, I spent the time marking essays, getting ahead with other work and tidying my room. Yesterday my family and I watched the US Open women’s final. The weather was windy and grey, but Irma ended up passing us by and we were spared her terrible force. To every reader in a hurricane zone, I pray that we can all get through the rest of this season in an equally quiet fashion. I pray too that everyone whose lives have been dramatically altered by Harvey and Irma can return to a semblance of normalcy soon.

A Little Dance Music Before Bed

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Photo by Patrick Hendry on Unsplash

The best kind of bedtime is the one I’m able to ease into. I’m not a fan of those frantic days when I work right up until the nth hour, then force myself to stop and get to sleep as quickly as possible. Neither do I like those nights when I get home late and only have time to brush my teeth, wash my feet, face and hands, and schlafen – the way my dad used to instruct me and my siblings when we’d get into similar situations as children. I don’t even really like watching a tv show or movie as the last thing before bed. No, the best bedtimes are the ones where I get an early start: shower, listen to my ‘sleep’ playlist as I put on pj’s, read, and maybe listen to one more song before I really close down.

I developed my sleep playlist in college, when I started having trouble falling asleep and someone suggested to my mum that I create a wind-down routine. The top two songs on there are ‘Solitude’ by Billie Holiday, and Chopin’s Mazurka Op. 17 no. 4. I love them both, but I’d like to wax a little poetic about the perfection that is Chopin’s mazurka.

Mazurkas are Polish dances, though this piece doesn’t exactly conjure visions of people partying in my mind. In fact, I don’t really think of anything while it’s playing; it’s the kind of music that clears my head. I am captivated by its lilting melody, its almost saccharine sweetness. Arthur Rubinstein’s interpretation is perfection: most of the time gentle and light, but with enough vigour and passion to keep the experience interesting. I’ve listened to it hundreds of times, and still marvel at the way he makes the piano sing. I grew up playing the instrument, and even at my most coaxing, delicate moments I felt like the sounds I produced were plonking and clumsy.

As Rubinstein performs it, the mazurka is 4.5 minutes long. It starts with a basic, four bar, four note melody, a little melancholy. There’s a brief pause and then we get into the body of the piece, which takes that same melody and uses it as the basis for a number of rhythmic and melodic variations. It lifts and twirls, with trills, grace notes and little runs, always with steady chords underneath the movements, grounding them. There’s a portion kind of like a bridge in the middle that introduces new material, and then we return to the familiar melody and some more variations. The music ends at the beginning, tidily, with the same first four bars, but with so much more emotion; it’s like we’ve become intimate partners because of the way we’ve seen the melody move.

When the mazurka comes to rest, I feel completely at peace. Rarely am I able to play it just once – maybe I never have? And I am always overcome with gratitude for such incredible gifts in this world – composing and performing – and with amazement at the skill of Chopin and  Rubinstein. The mazurka makes bedtime magical, and reminds me too of the awesome God who made it, and all music, possible.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

James 1:17

 

 

 

 

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The Name My Mama Gave Me

linh-pham-221033Photo by Linh Pham on Unsplash

I was getting ready to write about how people love to shorten my name, and how I actually prefer my whole name and don’t like when they do that…. when I realised that I’ve never introduced myself here. So hi! I’m Gabrielle. 🙂

I didn’t like my name when I was a girl, and used to pester my mum about the other names she planned to give me – Stephanie or Joy (Matthew for a boy) – and why she hadn’t used one of those. Apparently when I was born she was supernaturally inspired to name me Gabrielle instead. I thought it would have been great to be a Joy. I still really like that name.

My family and people who have known me longest call me Gabrielle or Gigi (which I love). In kindergarten and primary school everyone called me Gabrielle. For whatever reason that shifted when I got to high school, and people started calling me Gabby. There are, of course, a few exceptions to this timeline – some of my oldest, dearest friends call me Gabby – but for the most part that was a name that became more common in high school.

Even then, most of my primary school classmates – my school was k-12 – moved on with me, influencing new students to call me by my full name as they did. ‘Gabrielle’ was still in the majority. That changed when I went to college.

Though I always introduced myself using my full name, everyone called me Gabby. I didn’t mind, until my senior year, when I realised that most of the people I interacted with called me Gabby, and now Gabrielle was in the minority. What if for the rest of my life most people called me Gabby? And I died and that’s what everyone but family and old friends knew me as? By then I loved my name and wanted everyone to use it, but people were calling me Gabby left right and centre! I remember one moment in particular when someone told me they didn’t realise my full name wasn’t Gabby, which no doubt affected my name-for-life crisis.

Now I’m asserting myself as Gabrielle. Gone are the days when I didn’t have a name preference. When I meet new people, if they try and call me ‘Gabby’, I correct them. So many automatically shorten my name without my permission, which is especially irritating when I hardly know them. If we’ve just met, or have a more professional relationship, how are you already comfortable enough to use a nickname?

So yes, I’m Gabrielle, not Gabby.

Can you relate? Do you find people often shorten your name?

Flexin While His Hands Up

christopher-campbell-33411Photo by Christopher Campbell on Unsplash

My youngest brother was in a bodybuilding competition last night, his first ever. Well, technically he was in the physique category, which is for less muscled people, but you get the idea. He signed up months ago, then yesterday morning my mum sent pictures to me and my siblings of him on stage for the pre-judging. None of us knew it was happening so we responded with surprise, but we were all excited for him.

I went to the main show with my mum that evening. The place was “cram jam”, as we say here, with cars spilling out of two parking lots onto the grassy strips beside the main road. We had no idea the event was so popular. Unfortunately we missed seeing Jeremy on stage, but we did get to see his friend who signed up with him. Today I got to hear about the behind-the-scenes, and he demonstrated some of the poses he had to hold for the judges. My littlest brother! Flexing his back and spreading out his chest to show his lats!

Bodybuilding has never been something he’s talked about doing; some guys at the gym that he frequents encouraged him and his friend to enter the competition. He is buff though – took home 3rd place! – and open to trying new things. I’ve been thinking about that – picking up new things – a bit lately, because of learning photography. I’ve always been kind of interested, but it’s never been too high on my To Do list. This foray is a by-product of a new project I’m taking on (that I’ll talk about soon!), a thing I need to learn and want to be good at in order to complement the venture.

I feel a little like those people who pick up a hobby later in life, except it’s not “later in life”. When I first started thinking about it, it felt a little weird, like I was jumping the gun on things, but now I realise, there is no gun! Just like my still-in-his-teens brother who is exploring the world of bodybuilding and physique competitions. I doubt it’s going to become a major part of his life, but it’s a very-new thing he put effort into all the same. Before photography, when was the last time I picked up something new to try and keep my mind sharp? I collect skills based on work that I want to do, and now I see that I can – ought to – open the net wider than that and be ready to jump into more of the things I’m curious about. I don’t need to wait until I’m retired or an empty-nester – life’s too uncertain – or have more time – I won’t. Of course there’s the responsibilities that crowd out every day, but a little intentionality goes a long way.

So thanks to my brother! For showing me what this kind of thing can look like, and generally being a wonderful human. If you met him I know you’d love him (basically because everyone does).

Have you picked up any new hobbies lately? Do they say “cram jam” where you’re from?

It Feels Good to Feel Good!

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I’ve been feeling gradually more light and happy the last few weeks. Nothing has changed in my routine, I haven’t gotten any news in my work or personal life, but there’s joy humming in the background of every day. It feels like I’m getting my old self back, from this new personality where things were all so heavy. In the last couple of years I’ve been dealing with job stresses, multiple moves and relationship transitions. Together they were bogging me down and I had to fight to feel happy, to have peace. There has been a lot of learning – about outside barometers of success I didn’t realise I so thoroughly imbibed, about trusting God, about perseverance – and I knew that I was changing, I hoped for the better. In the process though the sillier parts of me slipped further away, which I don’t fault myself for, but I did remember the way I used to be and wonder if I would ever be able to access those parts of me as easily.

So what’s brought me here? And where is here? I’m wondering now as I write this. I realise this post is really introspective, but it seems like it’s only going to get more so.
What’s brought me here:
1. Time – to learn how to handle life’s difficulties, to wash over wounds.
2. Watching my mother and my uncle – I inherited my silliness from them, and they retain that part of themselves even though they’re middle aged.
3. Spiritual maturity – resting more fully in Jesus, exulting in all of his blessings and goodness toward me.

Where is here:
1. Spontaneous outbursts of joy, manifesting itself physically and verbally.
2. Laughing and smiling all the way to my toes; generally being in a good mood.
3. Not being afraid that my expressions of happiness diminish or disrespect the difficulties I am otherwise experiencing.

On Friday afternoon I visited my friend’s mum in the hospital. She’s very ill, yet in our conversation did not complain about her condition or worry about the future. She was easygoing and we talked about all kinds of things; in fact, she’s like this whenever I see her. I marvel each time at her equanimity and feel comforted and encouraged after our conversations (although I always want to be the one encouraging and giving some comfort to her). Seeing her manage her illness is influencing the way I want to handle my own struggles.

After my visit I spent the night laughing, often to tears, at the storytelling of Evelyn from the Internets. I felt so refreshed afterward, and grateful for her and the work that she’s doing. As with my mum and uncle, she reminded me that I don’t have to take myself so seriously all the time.

I am so thankful to be in this place! I want to continue down this vibrant road, becoming even stronger, and not slip back onto the now-familiar, comfortable, pale-coloured one. This is it, my life, and there’s no reason not to twirl and whoop as often as I’d like, as often as I can. I hope you’ll do the same. 🙂