Pomegranates by Chanan Mazal

Pomegranates by Chanan Mazal

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Double The Wonder

" I would maintain that thanks
 are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude
 is happiness doubled by wonder."
G.K. Chesterton

In my quest to live intentionally awake in Christ I have discovered a key piece to the puzzle.  As I continue to explore these ancient spiritual disciplines in my daily rule of life, I find myself returning to the habit of capturing wonder.  

Writer, G.K. Chesterton affirmed some of my own findings on this subject matter.  When he spoke to the connection between gratitude and wonder, I believe he was on to something.

I remember listening to a sermon a couple of years ago from my friend Mr. Morris - who insists that I call him Bob.  Bob's message struck a cord with me when he spoke about the sin of ingratitude.

When we refuse to acknowledge God and live with a grateful heart we grieve our Father.  To fail to notice His beauty and wonder may be one of the most subtle, overlooked sins of our generation.

Thanksgiving looks differently from that perspective, doesn't it?

Offering thanks is not just a polite sentiment to appease God  - it is an issue of obedience and reflects the true condition of the heart.  It is a moment by moment conscious choice to obey His word.

When we give thanks an incredible exchange takes place.  The thanks we offer up to God ends up being a beautiful gift that returns back to us.

Not only does it delight and honour our Father, but when we give God thanks, He in turn uses it to shape us in His image.

  Gratitude is the catalyst for true
spiritual transformation.

The discipline of thanksgiving enables us to shift the center of our lives off of ourselves (our wants, our fears, our wounds, our problems) and on to God.  Think about it...it is next to impossible to be anxious or angry and full of gratitude in the exact same moment.

It is in this place that we are truly free.  It is in this place of gratitude that we begin to live attentive to the wonder of Christ in and all around us. 

We spend so much time trying to figure out God's will for our lives when He actually makes our calling quite clear and simple.

It is our Father's will for us to give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18).  Thanks should not be dependent on if we "feel" grateful or if things are going our way.  

Thanksgiving is the only response to the audacious love that comes from abiding in the sweet fellowship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.


Forgive us for the times we have lived with a deserving attitude rather than with a humble appreciation for the undeserved blessings in our life.  We confess that we are too often consumed with ourselves and fail to acknowledge Your beauty all around us.  Forgive us when we have neglected to return to give you credit and thanks for answered prayers.  Lord, have mercy on us for elevating the gifts and blessings above You, our true Gift.  Help us to choose to live awake in gratitude and wonder.

In the name of Jesus,


May our gratitude for wonders great and small cover the whole earth with thanksgiving. 

Here are some excerpts from my own gratitude journal today...

Thank you Father for...

Your loving kindness, tenderness and patience

Your resurrected life in me

Forgiving the times I have failed to give you thanks

For Kenneth & our 4th wedding anniversary

For The Castle Clan ~ Love, laughter and health! 

For glorious golden fields of corn & my happy boots!

The brilliant colours and fresh scent of Fall

The gift of reading on a warm autumn day

For Your provision and harvest
 (& my very 1st red pepper - at last!)

For delicious, tart, custard-filled, homemade apple schnitz pie and for Belinda who is a pie maker extraordinaire!
  Seriously, don't you just want to grab a fork and dive in!

Let's follow Chesterton's lead and ... 

double our wonder
cultivating a life of gratitude!

Sunday, 2 October 2016

The Earth's Table

"I can't imagine life without a table between us.  The table is the life raft, the center point, the home base of who we are together." 
~Shauna Niequist  - Bread & Wine: A Love Letter To Life Around The Table

I write this post from our dining-room/kitchen table.   

I have always been intrigued by tables.  I love their unique designs and of course the anticipated delectables that you get to sample while sitting at the table.  I delight in carefully selecting the right d├ęcor and menu with special guests in mind.

My favourite part though is to linger around the table after a meal sharing laughter, stories and our lives together with family and friends.

So it was no surprise how excited I was when we discovered a particular place called The Tablelands when we were planning our trip to Newfoundland a couple of summers ago.

The Sunday morning of our family trip we set out to explore the Tablelands, which is one of the popular hiking trails located in Gros Morne National Park.  This trail showcases the stunning beauty and history of the ancient rocks from our Earth’s mantle.  

As I walked along the breezy trail I felt as though I was on hallowed ground.  With each step the mystery of the ancient earth’s secrets unfolded from our Divine Creator and Host.

The Tablelands at first glance appear barren, yet if you look carefully you will discover rare species of plant life hidden along the trail.

God’s presence was all around us.   We were surrounded by the rusty-coloured panoramic views as we walked with the Earth’s terracotta soil under our feet.  One site for Parks Canada referred to the Tablelands as "the Earth's inner soul." 

I thought it was fitting that we would end up on our itinerary in a place ironically named the Tablelands on a Sunday morning. 

Although we were not in a physical church building to partake in communion, as I hiked along I could not help but ponder the significance of the Table of the Lord from a fresh vantage point.

As the guide explained how the Tablelands reveal what is below the surface of the Earth I climbed up some rocks away from the rest of the group.

I bent down and took the coloured soil in my hand.

Holding back tears I gave thanks for this Earth that I now saw for the first time as our collective communion table, where the deeper things of God are made known to us.  

In my church, we celebrate the Table of the Lord, where God's love is revealed to us in Jesus Christ.  But I was thinking too small - too local.  All of creation reveals God! The whole earth is God's Table prepared for us to see his glory.  

The Earth’s table is created and prepared by our most gracious Host, our Father.

We use the terminology Host & Hostess to describe the responsibility of a person to receive and take care of others as their guests.  Yet, the description of our Heavenly Host is one who receives us not just as guests, but as His very own. Now that is hospitality.

He is a Host who extends true belonging to you and to me! 

The Earth is a table prepared with intention by our Father as a place to gather together in community to taste and see His glory.

It is a place to catch a glimpse of his indescribable beauty.

It is a place of undeserved belonging and honour where we are invited to rest in sweet communion with Him.  

I share this story as the first weekend of October happens to be World Communion Sunday.  This is where Christian denominations gather for Eucharist together in unity.  It gives me chills thinking of all the Christians around the globe seated at the Earth's table...God's tablelands.

Let us together give thanks as we celebrate and remember the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ as we partake in this divine meal.   Hear His voice inviting you to come to the table to dine with Him.

“ Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; 
the whole earth is full of His glory”
~ Isaiah 6:3 NIV

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Exercising Joy

Exercise and Joy are not two words I typically put together in the same sentence.  

In fact, since returning from vacation, the only participation in physical activity that I seem to engage in has been from the comfort of my own couch - watching others sweat during American Ninja Warrior.  I know - so sad, but true. 

As I thought a little further about the subject, I realized that perhaps I actually do have an exercise routine.  And it just may be the best kept joy-filled secret health regime ever.

You will not likely hear about this from any trendy health programs, books or blogs.  This is something that any age or ability (non-athletic person like myself) can do and it is seriously a blast...

Wait for it... 

Sing!  More specifically - join a choir!

Yes -- I fully acknowledge that I am biased...but hear me out!
Author and choral member, Stacy Horn, uses the term, "exercising joy" to describe her weekly routine of getting out of the house to sing with her local amateur choir.  She claims "you can't reach heights like this singing alone in the shower."  Stacy shares the story of how her own happiness increased once she joined her local church choir.

Like Stacy, if you are looking to improve your health or desire to increase your joy - may I suggest you warm up your vocal chords and join a choir.

The Fountain of Youth
Those who are said to age well are people who continue to grow, learn and create.  Choral singing provides a creative environment to develop new skills as people learn harmonies, technique and memorization.  So if you want the secret to staying young, I say - skip the expensive wrinkle cream and join a choir!

Boost Your Brain
There is now scientific evidence to prove that singing has a positive impact on the brain.  The hormones that are released through the physical activity of singing actually help to lower anxiety, depression and reduce stress.  Who doesn't want that?

Here are some of the other benefits of singing in a choir that I came across in a Chorus Impact study.

Civic Leadership
According to the study, choral members scored high on participation in civic leadership.  Choir members were more likely than other groups to volunteer or contribute to philanthropic or political causes. They were found to be strong supporters of performing arts in their own local communities.  As I researched further I even found one article that linked choral singing to higher emotional intelligence scores - how cool is that!

The chorus impact study also revealed high scores in being willing to explore areas outside of musical expertise.  This suggests that choral members experience increased confidence, flexibility and adaptability to change and trying new things.  

Fostering Unity
Choral work teaches people to work together as a team. Singing in groups helps to cultivate a listening ear and heart.  To sing as one voice you first have to learn to listen to all the other parts around you.  What a powerful life lesson!

Restore Your Soul
I admit there have been rehearsals where I begrudgingly dragged myself out to choir after a long day at work. However, after I started singing a strange thing happened.   I forgot about myself and my problems.   My disposition changed and my mood lifted.  I became attentive to God instead of consumed with things I couldn't change about the state of my own circumstances. 

I have seen this physical transformation first hand as I watch those I lead during rehearsal.  Some come to choir drained, quiet and with an unspoken weight on their shoulders.  As we begin to sing I notice their energy increase, they sit up a little taller, start to smile and end up leaving practice happier than when they first arrived.

As we learn to empty and surrender ourselves together in worship this enables God to fill the recesses of our hearts with the joy of His fullness. 

I see why Saul called David to play the harp for him when He was suffering in spirit.  Music is a powerful healing force.  Music reaches into the depths of our hearts to restore and allow truth to be heard.  Music quiets the soul placing us in the position to hear and respond to God.

Building Community
There are many people who suffer from depression, loneliness or are simply seeking a place to belong.  We learn to love each other as we grieve, rejoice, intercede, extend hospitality, patience and grace through the fellowship in this unique musical community.  God has certainly used my own church choir family to reveal the gift and beauty of living out the gospel in community - for which I am deeply grateful.  

Created In His Image!
I love the verse from Zephaniah 3:17 that reminds us that God rejoices over us with singing!  If God delights to sing over us and we are created in His image - then I believe we are also designed to sing!  We are wired to minister to Him in song and to also sing over His beloved.  Singing is built into our DNA.

We may not all be skilled and talented musicians.  In fact, the musical ability and performance is not the central priority.  God calls us to praise, to sing and testify to who He is, what He has done and who we are in Him.  We are to edify and encourage one another in song.  In the Bible, it is the choir (not the soloist) that leads the people into victory (2 Chronicles 20:21).  There appears to be strength in numbers.  

Carol Cymbala, author and conductor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, beautifully articulates the ministry of a choir, 

"to lead others into an encounter with Jesus
...and when our lives match the lyrics
 then we are truly singing."

Above all the other benefits ... singing makes God happy.  I believe when we delight God by learning to minister and worship Him together in song, we in turn discover true joy.  It is not a fleeting happiness, but an authentic lasting joy.

So get your comfy yoga pants on, grab your unsalted almonds and green juice and join your local choir to exercise your way to joy! 

My sister sent this to me, it cracked me up and I thought it might help you get started on your musical way...so here you go!  Hope to see you at choir!

Explaining Sheet Music  - Julian Cianciolo


Friday, 9 September 2016

Radical Leadership - A Shepherd's Heart

As I alluded to in the last post ... when it comes to leadership, the topics of healing and brokenness are not exactly trending let alone even part of the conversation.

Yet, I wonder... what if we dared to be vulnerable, speak out and expose our fear and inadequacy in this area?  Maybe we could together stop the rampant burn out rate of incredibly talented leaders. 

And in the process, help some wounded, yet overlooked, gifted sheep along the way?

The Good Shepherd ..."strengthen and heal the sick, care and bring healing to the broken."
Ezekiel 34

Most leaders support those who have a physical illness or who have experienced loss through practical acts of kindness - sending a card, flowers or perhaps arranging a meal.  

However, there is a different type of challenge that leaders face regardless of their title or position.  Whether you work at home, church or in the marketplace... you will inevitably run into the emotionally wounded sheep.  

 Warning Signs
  • The person may withdraw, exhibit passive-aggressive or confrontational behaviour, snap at others out of the blue, be defensive, overly sensitive, needy, critical or divisive.
  • You begin to notice that others on your team are complaining or avoiding activities that require interaction with that member. 
  • There may be poor attendance on your team or in your group.
  • As the leader, you start to experience signs of burn out, exhibit a loss of passion & entertain thoughts to retire early.
  • You catch yourself secretly praying that this person moves on to greener pastures elsewhere! 

If any of the above sounds familiar then it could be that there is an emotionally injured sheep in your midst.

I think it is time to be honest and acknowledge that leaders are prone to injury from wounded sheep.

We pour our time, resources and heart to invest in others, which places us in a vulnerable position to also get hurt.  I have sadly seen many great leaders over the years not only burn out, but end up resenting the very people they once loved to serve. 

So, how do leaders avoid becoming the next sheep in need of mending


at the same time follow Ezekiel's call to bring healing to the emotionally wounded?

Here are some things I have been learning along the way...  

The transforming power of prayer
Prayer helps to avoid falling into the trap of presuming people will never change. We forget the powerful truth that God delights to heal our innermost hurts and wounds.  In my experience, prayer does not impact the person’s behaviour overnight, but it certainly has transformed my own heart and attitude toward the person who is acting out of their hurt.

Ask the Shepherd 

We are not on our own to figure this out.  God desires to lead His shepherds.

Ask to see the person from God's perspective.
Sounds obvious, doesn’t it?  Yet, I can’t tell you the number of times I failed to put this into practice.

Ask God for healing words of life to speak into this situation.

Ask God to reveal the areas where we ourselves require healing.  

What are our own triggers when we are interacting with the wounded sheep?

There are many articles today that speak to the benefit of leaders who have a high emotional intelligence.  One of the attributes of this type of leader is self awareness.  This is a huge asset when leading others, but the trouble with self awareness is... it still relies on ourselves!  Only God can search our hearts and minds to uncover our conscious and unconscious triggers when we engage with others.
I remember a number of years ago where I was struggling to lead a person who was quite critical.  Despite the stress, I felt like I was handing the situation quite well by providing context for the things that this person would complain about. 

God, however, had quite a different perspective on the matter.

By the end of our conversation together God had revealed that my goal had been self protection at all cost.  I would respond to the criticism with self-defense and my personal favourite... classic avoidance!

I had been adding to the dysfunction through subtle forms of exclusion through avoidance.  God then began to nudge me to sit next to this person in meetings and listen to the criticism without defending myself or saying a word.

I needed God to uncover what my "self" awareness was not consciously prepared to acknowledge - it was certainly a humbling moment!

Is this something I need to address or an offense I should overlook? Where and when should I have the conversation? Taking time to respond to the injured helps to avoid reacting out of our own emotional triggers - something I continue to struggle with!

Surround yourself with a network outside of the situation who will be there to support you as you seek to care for others.

Jesus was never too busy to listen to the needs of others.  Listening may well be one of the most under-utilized attributes of a leader.  Yet, when the art of listening is put into practice it can be the most valuable and healing resource at your disposal.

Lead With Truth and Grace
Grace certainly does not mean there will not be difficult conversations or outcomes.  When we speak the truth in love we respond for the benefit of the other.  The more we learn to receive and live in the fullness of God's truth and grace the more we will be able to extend it to others. 

Seek and Search
Jesus accepts us in our brokenness, knowing all of our unresolved emotional hang-ups!  He invites us to belong in our brokenness - not when we are perfect.

I believe this is why Ezekiel calls the good shepherd to seek and search for sheep.  Ezekiel 34:16

Those with raw exposed emotional wounds are often the ones who struggle to belong.  

I cringe when I think of the embarrassing displays of behaviour from the brokenness in my own life.  Despite my outward behaviour, God remained relentless in seeking after me.  He never gave up on me.  He unconditionally embraced and welcomed me into His fold.

I never had to earn my place back into belonging or contributing.

Should we not extend the same inclusion to those we lead?

I believe when we lead with a shepherd heart...

there will be a tremendous healing power that takes place
 as people are accepted,
 included and belong!

Take courage if you are leading a wounded sheep or if perhaps you are the broken sheep in need of healing. 

After Jesus broke the bread, He gave thanks and not only used the bread for His glory, but He multiplied it in order to nourish His sheep!  

Radical leadership is seeing brokenness as a beautiful opportunity for God to display His glory, to feed and restore His beloved sheep and shepherds.

Stuart Townend The Lord's My Shepherd

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Radical Leadership

When you think of the essential characteristics of a leader, what words come to mind? 

Integrity, visionary, inspirational or perhaps courageous?  All these traits are certainly important, but I'd like to suggest another attribute we don't often hear about ... a shepherd's heart. 

The day I heard God's call to lead others, I thoughtfully informed God (like He didn't already know) that I had no clue what to do.

As I prayed, I anticipated that God might direct me to a verse that referred to leading with excellence, the importance of unity or how to utilize the diverse gifts of those on the team.

Instead this was the passage He placed on my heart...

Irish Sheep!
“Woe shepherds of Israel who have been feeding themselves!

 ...strengthen and heal the sick, care and bring healing to the broken”
~Ezekiel 34

Not only was I was not working with people who were sick, but with a warning like "woe shepherds," it was not exactly the encouragement I was hoping for.

However, God began to use these woolly, pastoral creatures and their caregivers to form and shape me as a leader after His own heart.

What I have since come to know about leadership is this...

Every leader must first learn who and how to follow

God is deeply invested in sheep and shepherds

Strategies, vision and charisma are great, but if you have not a genuine love for God's people then your work will be nothing more than a clanging cymbal!   (1 Corinthians 13)


Regardless of your title or position you will inevitably encounter and have to lead people (sheep) who are broken.

Dutch Sheep!
Through this passage in Ezekiel I began to see the depth of God's love toward His people.  It was clear that God took the care of His sheep personally - which to be honest, scared the living daylights out of me!

As I looked at Christ's leadership through the lens of Ezekiel, I also saw the heart of a shepherd - strengthening, caring, and healing the broken.

I also discovered something else very interesting.  It was often the religious leaders and Jesus own followers who struggled to understand His true calling.

They had a very different idea of how Jesus should carry out His mission.  They often saw the broken and outcasts as unnecessary distractions from accomplishing their vision.

This hits home when I think about the times I have viewed others as unwelcome interruptions to my own work.

Christ, in His compassion, would stop what He was doing or where he was going to listen to the needs of those around Him.  In his tenderness, He would reach out to those who were hurting and they left healed and transformed.
Jesus was not distracted by tasks, position or power to remember His true purpose to care for God's sheep.

Jesus knew how to lead, but He also knew who to follow.  He did not operate on His own, but followed His Father's voice and will.

This kind of radical leadership mystified, baffled and even angered those around him.

If we lead like Jesus, I venture to say that those around us will also not always understand or agree with where we place our priorities.

This kind of leadership seems next to impossible with the constant barrage of expectations, demands or multi-tasking that we face each day.

We too will encounter pressures that deter us from our true call to care for God's wounded sheep.  There will be times where we will be tempted to focus on ourselves and our own ambitions instead of healing the broken.

The good news is that we are not alone.  Our Shepherd delights to show us the way.  

The more we know Jesus and learn to follow His voice, the more we will lead like Him.

Reflection Moments:

Ezekiel 34

Lord, you are our Good Shepherd,

Give us your divine love for your people.  Forgive us for the times we have been so consumed with tasks, performance and "good works" that we have have not stopped to listen and care for the broken in our midst.  Reveal the people we need to reach out and tend to this week.  Teach us Lord how to care, strengthen and heal those who are wounded.  We recognize that it is not possible without you working in and through us.  Help us to know your voice and follow after you.  Mold us into the leaders you desire us to be.

In the powerful, healing and saving name,

Allow the Shepherd to lead you, listen for His voice...

Think back to when you heard God's voice calling you to the role you are currently in now.  What was that moment like?  What did you hear Him say?  How did you feel?  How did you respond?

Use a journal and prayerfully consider some of the following...

Where do I see myself right now in this passage from Ezekiel ... as the good or the bad shepherd?

In what ways have I been feeding myself instead of others?

What are the things that deceive and distract from my true calling?
(This may include pressure from people, tasks, performance, reputation, desires or ambitions)

Is there someone right now who needs some care or extra support? 

Who have I been following? 
Write down one or two actions you can take this week.

Let us follow and lead like Jesus
 Strengthen, care and heal the broken along our way
 Now that is radical leadership!

Jesus, Lamb of God

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Live like your on vacation!

Many of you have been asking to see some photos from our recent travels to Ireland and Amsterdam...so here are a few captured moments!

Ever notice when you travel that the soul seems to wake up?

Cliffs of Moher
"The voice of the Lord is over the waters " Psalm 29:3

As I traipsed through Ireland and Amsterdam I noticed my mind and heart slowly come back to life.  My adventurous side kicked in feeling sheer joy with each new experience.  I began to see things with greater clarity and vision.  

Escaping from the everyday routines of life not only restores my soul, but I also noticed something else about "vacation Nicole."  When I am on holiday I actively seek to encounter God.

I walk slower and breathe deeper as my soul fills with gratitude with each new wonder.  I listen and watch with anticipation for God.  I eagerly take in everything all around me in hope of catching a glimpse of Him.  I don't want to miss a thing.

"The voice of the Lord is full of majesty"  Psalm 29
Pastoral walk taking in the mystery of Christ en route to Wicklow Mountains
"The voice of the Lord ...strips the forest bare...in His temple all say Glory." Psalm 29

What would happen if I woke up each day expecting to encounter God?

What if I didn't wait for time off work before I allowed Him to restore my soul?

We may not always be able to afford or get away for a holiday, but what if we lived each day with a vacation mindset instead of on autopilot?

Ken kissing the blarney stone!

What if we were to wake up eager to learn or try something new?

What if we remained flexible to accept the un-expected, un-planned twists and turns that come our way?

What would happen if we stepped out of our comfort zone or

My niece Emmy embracing Dutch fashion

took the time to get to know others to hear their unique stories?

What if we were to slow down and listen for His voice?

What if for a moment we stop the tasks and the performing to simply be with Christ?

Soak in His majesty, creativity and beauty in the ordinary... 

 and the extraordinary all around us. 

My nephew Caleb sitting near the top -  taking in the grandeur of the Giant's Causeway!

Wicklow Mountains
Kylemore Abbey - truly magical

Blarney Castle - with a blog name like arils and castles I would be remiss to not highlight at least one Irish castle!
The vibrant colours of Amsterdam
Powerscourt Estate, Enniskerry, Ireland
Glendalough Abbey
Enjoying Amsterdam via canal

What if we didn't wait for vacation, yet instead made the choice to live life each day attentive and alive in Christ?

My little nephew Xander capturing the sights and memories!

 Let's start today - awake our souls to taste and see His goodness all around us.

Why wait for vacation!
Sharing Poffertjes (yummy Dutch pancake treats) with Ken in the park!

Caleb, Emmy, Ken, Janis and Xan

May you be restored, hear His voice, see His wonders in the ordinary and extraordinary as you walk with Him today.