My Tower of Rescue

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I thought, briefly, about bopping her on the nose. Had I not been aware that doing so would have proven her right about my lack of holiness, I may have thought about it more seriously.

A woman, who will remain nameless, dropped by my house to comfort me after I broke my leg. Opening night for the opera, in which I had a lead role, was in a few days. There I sat with my leg propped on pillows and encased in a cast of a different sort.

“Do you know why God did this?” she asked.

“God broke my leg?”

“He broke your leg to teach you to praise him.”

I don’t remember if I smiled politely or returned blank-faced stunned silence.

“You are not using your gift for his glory,” she added. “You are using it for your own praise. That is why he broke your leg – to teach you to praise him.”

“Well, thank you for stopping by…”

Even before she drove away, I started shaking. A part of me didn’t believe her, but a part of me did. I was afraid God was disappointed and angry with me because I did something wrong again. What if I was being punished? Spending the next painful weeks and months praising God was not an appealing plan in those days. Heartfelt praise didn’t exactly pour from my lips at the thought of God going around breaking legs to make us acknowledge his supremacy. That sounded more like the modus operandi of mobsters.

The problem was that I didn’t know what praise was, and worse, I didn’t know who God was, although at the time I thought I did. I’d been going to church all my life and even aced some seminary courses. Frankly, my faith was less faith than duty.

I thought visible praise (that would satisfy my visitor) meant repeating, “Praise the Lord,” and “Hallelujah,” interspersed with the occasional “Glory!” from some deep-voiced extrovert in the back row in one of those churches where people didn’t gasp at irreverence of such things. In other words, an introvert’s nightmare.

When I confided in some churchy friends that I was struggling with a lack of sleep and the stresses of caring for sick, squabbling children, they responded with, “Praise the Lord, Charis!” as if it was a magic formula that would make everything all better. I wondered if God even cared. I was pretty sure they didn’t.

I finally reached a breaking point. If God was love, I wasn’t seeing it. If Jesus’ burden was light, I wasn’t feeling it. If the gospel was good news, I wasn’t hearing it. I walked away.

Over the next few years I let go of the image of God as an impossible-to-please task master who needed me to be the kind of salesman whose life depended on talking up a disappointing product.

Amazingly, God never walked away from me. Instead, as I unlearned, he showed me what was missing in my experience of him. Since then, he continues to teach me one step at a time about who he is. Many of the circumstances I’ve found myself in are not about punishment or condemnation; they are a holy set-up to see something about him I could not see before. Each crisis is an invitation to come one step closer.

Last week I heard a line in a song: “Way-maker, miracle worker, promise keeper, light in the darkness. My God! That is who you are.”

In my spirit I heard him ask, “Who am I to you?” I began to write.

You are my saviour hero
my confident security
my righteousness
my healer
my keeper
my hope
my peace
my comforter
my encourager
my source of creativity
my source of identity
Lover of my soul…

The list, easily two pages long, flowed while the song played. Each one of these aspects of God I had read or heard about, but it wasn’t until he showed up in a real-life situations that I understood them. They are part of who he is and he wanted to show me through relationship. I realized my list was worship. Each word on the page was praise. It was spontaneous. It was unforced and sincere. It was heart-felt. It was about him and not another “supposed to.”

I love David’s psalms because he doesn’t put himself in charge of God’s public relations. His emotions are honest. He had a promise that he would be king, then he faced situations that made him despair of even surviving the next night. Psalm 18 is his victory song in which he writes about who God was to him after all he had been through.

Lord, I passionately love you and I’m bonded to you,
for now you’ve become my power!
You’re as real to me as bedrock beneath my feet,
like a castle on a cliff, my forever firm fortress,
my mountain of hiding, my pathway of escape,
my tower of rescue where none can reach me.

My secret strength and shield around me,
you are salvation’s ray of brightness shining on the hillside,
always the champion of my cause.

All I need to do is to call to you,
singing to you, the praiseworthy God.
(Psalm 18:1-3 TPT)

Did God break my leg to teach me to praise him? No. My leg broke because I was wearing high heeled dress boots on sheer ice. But he was patiently waiting right there, with me in the circumstance, which was actually more about the pain the visitor stirred up in me than a shattered tibia. Looking back, I can see God encouraging me to let go of the false image I carried around. I needed to see him in Jesus, the one who came to show us what the Father is truly like.

The journey continues.

My question for you. What aspect of himself does God want to show you now, in your current circumstances?

Grace’s Baby

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It was the same sermon we heard this preacher deliver many times in the five or so years we sat in rows of hastily assembled chairs as he expounded from the pulpit. The illustrations varied from week to week, but the theme seldom did.

“Okay. Got it. Can we move on now?” my friend mumbled over her coffee later. “I think the man has issues.”

The man had issues. But here’s the thing: we all have issues. If you read or follow the same person for any length of time you will probably sense a theme. If the theme is one that prompts you to say, “Good grief. What’s your problem?” you either move on or, if a sense of duty keeps you entering the same doors week after week, volunteer in the nursery, or spend sermon time counting the offering, or  make coffee or something.

If the theme aligns with your own familiar issues, and if you hear God’s voice in another person’s words or actions, you listen, ponder, and engage. And ask more questions. I appreciate people who share what they have learned, but I know the really helpful concepts come out of their weakness, not their expertise, because the struggle is real.

If you read through the stories of people who have wrestled with God, you will notice he chooses people with issues. Answers floating around in the air only gain value when they attach themselves to questions.

The answer my questions have latched onto is grace. The twin enemies that have dogged my steps since childhood are fear and despair — fear of rejection and despair because I’ll never be good enough. They tell me I’m only as good as my last performance, which was, again, disappointing.

I have learned and I am learning. I have learned to apply the grace freely poured on me by the Giver of grace. I am still learning, because fear and despair still poke their ugly noses into my life when challenging circumstances show up. The Lord reminds me there is yet more empowering grace to experience.

For a long time, I mistook mercy for grace. I thought grace was a free get-out-of-jail card – unmerited favour. That’s mercy — and mercy is absolutely great. But grace goes beyond mercy to empower us to become the person God sees when he looks at us in Christ. He sees our true identity.

Sometimes I forget who he says I am. I see something else. I asked him to show me again.

I had a dream. A man who reminded me of Jesus was driving me around a neighbourhood similar to my childhood street. He stopped in front of a house and told me to knock on the door because someone in there was anxious to meet me. I did so reluctantly, because, well, I was afraid. The person who met me was excited. Apparently this was the home of my birth mother. Now I heard my own mother complain about my birth enough times to know I was not adopted in real life, but in the dream it seemed plausible.

A small older woman entered the room supported by several friends. Her name was Grace. Just like in the TV shows about reunions, she held me and wept with relief and affection. Then she and her friends brought me gifts. These were gifts she collected for me since birth. Since I have reached retirement age in real life, the number of wrapped presents was overwhelming.

I noticed a name tag on all of them. It said “Ashira.” I had never heard this name before. Grace said it was the name she gave me at birth. My “driver” stood in the doorway, smiling. I woke.

I searched the name Ashira. I found it on one of those baby name sites. It means “she who sings.” Then I realized the dream was telling me I was a child of grace and now a recipient of the gifts of grace. Nice.

A few minutes after I told my husband I felt curious about the dream, people arrived for the Bible study he leads, we read a passage in Galatians 4. This chapter is about freedom from performance-based religiosity. Paul includes an allegory (I love allegories.)

Abraham and Sarah were promised a child. When no child was conceived they tried to make it happen their own way using Sarah’s slave. That didn’t turn out so well for any of them. Eventually, miraculously, supernaturally, a child was born to Sarah. He was the child of promise, not slavery, not self-effort that thinks the end justifies the means.

This is the passage in The Passion Translation that stood out to me:

These two women and their sons express an allegory and become symbols of two covenants. The first covenant was born on Mt. Sinai, birthing children into slavery—children born to Hagar. For “Hagar” represents the law given at Mt. Sinai in Arabia. The “Hagar” metaphor corresponds to the earthly Jerusalem of today who are currently in bondage.
In contrast, there is a heavenly Jerusalem above us, which is our true “mother.” She is the freewoman, birthing children into freedom!” 

My dream! I met my “true mother.” She had gifts for me. Verse 28:

“Dear friends, just like Isaac, we’re now the true children who inherit the kingdom promises.”

I asked, “Lord, who am I?” He answered. I am a child of the free woman, the child of grace.

Verse 31: “It’s now so obvious! We’re not the children of the slave woman; we’re the supernatural sons of the freewoman—sons of grace!”

Oh, and Ashira? She who sings? I’ve learn that for me, the best way to defeat fear and despair is by singing about the goodness of God. He’s reminding me my weapon is a melody. My chosen pen name means Grace Song. I was a singer most of my life and now I use my “voice” here and other places to communicate this theme: God’s grace is sufficient. He loves people with issues, because His power is perfected in weakness.

Who do you think you are? Who does God know you are? Do the identities match? Ask him.

 

 

Why Have Children?

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I have been reading articles and listening to young friends talk about reasons they choose not to have children. They have given thought to this and their lists of reasons are logical. Children do make demands on time, finances, and emotional and physical resources. Some people would rather spend their efforts on pursuits they consider to be potentially more rewarding. Some don’t think they would be good parents. Frankly, I would rather people recognized that factor before neglecting or abusing a child. Sadly, some don’t want to risk a repetition of the home they grew up in. Intentionally childless people’s decisions are not illogical; the choice is evidence-based and values-based, but it is a unique choice historically.

In times past, when food was plentiful, and wars weren’t tearing couples apart, the population grew. Today, in many of the wealthiest countries of the world, the birthrate is shrinking below replacement levels.

All of this has made me wonder why people do choose to have children. Why, in the decades after WWII, when shortages were still a reality, and even in the years when birth control became less complicated, did people have children? I don’t think couples intentionally filled the station wagon with kids as some sort of patriotic duty to re-populate, at least not consciously. I asked some friends from my parents’ generation. One person’s response surprised me.

“It was a celebration of life, in defiance of death,” she said. “After so much loss in our homeland, we longed to share what we still had: life. We survived. We had little to give materially, but we could give the most precious thing that was given to us – the beauty and joy of being alive.”

As I thought about this, I realized that each of us owe our existence to at least two other interdependent human beings living in interdependent relationship with others. None of us got here by our own efforts. There is no such thing as a self-made man or woman. We all needed mothers who shared their bodies, and fathers who, at the very minimum, contributed part of the life force given to them. Most of us also had communities that helped raise us.

boy playing monkey bars bwI thought about beauty and joy. I remembered the beauty of a field of beaming sunflowers and the first warmth of an April sun on my face. I remembered seeing the Ice Capades with stunning athletes in sparkling costumes glide through colourful spotlights chasing them around the rink. I was five years old and wondered if my eyes could take in anything more beautiful. I remember the joy of playing with my funny kitten, Mittsy, and of discovering the delicious cold thrill of strawberry ice cream on my tongue. I remembered how I gloried in the confidant vigour of my young body as I swung on the monkey bars. These were not only gifts from my parents, but gifts passed on from a good God.

I thought about joy and my search for it through difficult times in the valley of depression when I nearly lost hope of finding it again. Last night, as I entered rest, I had a simple, but profound revelation. I have learned, through experiences that have not always been easy, that joy is discovering that God is who he says he is. He is the one Jesus came to show us.

We often think a successful life is one in which a person has an admirable career,  money to spend on pleasure, and many decades without suffering. What if there is more? Today I felt overwhelmed with shared joy as I listened to my giggling, happy grandchildren making new discoveries. At this stage of my life, when I live with the reality of a life-threatening disease, and the greater reality of death-defying hope of  life both here and in eternity, I can say this is my distilled list of reasons to have children:

  • Beauty.
  • Joy.
  • Love.
  • Hope.
  • Life. Life here and now and life forever in Christ.

I love life!

There is more provision set aside for us than we could ever possibly imagine. I thank my parents for giving of themselves. I bless them.

I thank God for creating beauty, for loving us, and sharing his joy.

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For the beauty of the earth,
For the beauty of the skies,
For the love which from our birth
Over and around us lies,
Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our grateful hymn of praise.

For the beauty of each hour
Of the day and of the night,
Hill and vale, and tree and flower,
Sun and moon and stars of light,
Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our grateful hymn of praise.

For the joy of human love,
Brother, sister, parent, child,
Friends on earth, and friends above,
Pleasures pure and undefiled,
Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our grateful hymn of praise.

(From For the Beauty of the Earth by Folliet S. Pierpont, whose parents gave their baby a distinctive, original name)

 

I Long to Drink of You

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I long to drink of you, O God,
drinking deeply from the streams of pleasure
flowing from your presence.
My longings overwhelm me for more of you!

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My deep need calls out to the deep kindness of your love.
Your waterfall of weeping sent waves of sorrow
over my soul, carrying me away,
cascading over me like a thundering cataract.

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Yet all day long God’s promises of love pour over me.
Through the night I sing his songs,
for my prayer to God has become my life.

(Psalm 42:1, 7, 8 The Passion Translation)

Planting

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I planted daffodil bulbs today. They’re not very pretty. It’s hard to imagine what they will become.

In fact, the entire garden is not very pretty in November. We’ve had snow already, and some nose-under-the-covers cold nights. The snow melted, but today is my brother’s birthday, and as far back as I can remember the kind of snow that stayed always arrived on or shortly after his birthday.

I’m in mourning for the season of colour. A hard freeze turned the willow tree brown overnight. The plum tree leaves heaved a sigh and waved goodbye without the annual flash of red before departing. The snapdragons lay strewn about like the last soldiers to fall in a battle the other side will record in their history books. Saying goodbye is never easy.

Today may be the last day the soil can be worked before it freezes. So I worked it, digging holes and dropping humble brown bulbs into them. Then I buried them. Now they rest.

The Lord is speaking to me about both hope and letting go these days. I decided to plant some hope in the form of daffodil bulbs. The deer ate all my tulips last year, but I noticed the daffodils failed to impress them. They did impress me though. I love the early spring flowers that find their way through the detritus of winter. I planted more.

Sometimes, in the spring, seeds will germinate within a few days. These bulbs will wait for six months. Sometimes the things we plant spring to life right away. Sometimes they take so long, we forgot we even planted them. I am learning to let go of my desire for immediate reward. I recognize now that some of the truths planted in my life in past cold blustery seasons are only now starting to bloom in my heart — in His time.

For there will be peace for the seed: the vine will yield its fruit, the land will yield its produce and the heavens will give their dew; and I will cause the remnant of these people to inherit all these things.

(Zechariah 8:13 NASB)

Your Justice is Like Majestic Mountains

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One evening, as a group of us sat around talking about films we enjoyed, films we hated, and films that influenced us (categories which are not mutually exclusive), we noticed the theme of revenge kept popping up. Of course, somebody did an internet search.

The results shocked us.

We didn’t find 72 films with revenge themes. We found a 72 page-long list of movies based on revenge.

We looked up films with forgiveness themes. We found far fewer. Far, far fewer. A handful of pages. Maybe.

I admit to finding vicarious satisfaction in seeing a well-developed antagonist shot down in flames, hoisted on his own petard, humiliated in front of her ladies’ club, or hung on gallows built for the protagonist. Payback is sweet. I read calls for it every day on social media.

But God’s justice is not satisfied with unhappy endings like that. God takes a thief like Zacchaeus and transforms him into a benefactor. He turns a murderer like Moses into a deliverer, a world dominator like Nebuchadnezzar into a humble worshipper, and a persecutor like Saul into an apostle.

Perhaps that’s why he told us not to take vengeance into our own hands. Our self-righteous, untransformed concept of revenge-based justice would influence us to end the story too soon. We would spoil his fun.

And part of that fun is transforming me. And you.

Your justice is like the majestic mountains. Your judgments are as deep as the oceans, and yet in Your greatness, You, O Eternal, offer life for every person and animal.
(Psalm 36:6 The Voice)

 

Hope: Child-like Expectation

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Some people love routine. If asked what they are doing at 2:15 p.m., Wednesday, February 19, 2021, they can tell you. Because it’s a Thursday. At 2:15 p.m.. Assuming no unforeseen circumstances interrupt the schedule, they will be doing what they always do on Thursdays at 2:15.

I hate routine. It feels like prison to me. I don’t even like taking the same route to the grocery store twice in a row.  Loss of efficiency is not so much a factor as lack of expansion.

Lately I fell into a routine. It’s not a good sign. My routine involved a prolonged daily stop at Procrastination Station. I’ve been neither exploring nor creating. Worse, I realized I’ve hunkered down, “waiting for the other shoe to drop” as my pessimistic former self would say. Other people can accomplish more when routines make sure they remember to remember, but when I choose routine, it’s because I lack energy for growth and I am protecting myself from disappointment.

I prayed about this as I stared at another blank page, bereft of creative energy. I realized that loss of wonder is connected to loss of hope. Loss of hope, for me, darkens and curls the pages of my story when I allow cares of this world to overshadow the goodness of God. Recently I’ve I allowed myself to become burdened by cares for my divided country, cares for my friends’ predicaments, and especially cares for my family’s pains, feeling a responsibility to do something about situations outside my purview. It hasn’t been working.

This past weekend, I agreed to paint at a gathering of believers as they played and sang worship songs. I had a few ideas for a subject, but none really moved me. Then, a couple of hours before gathering up my art paraphernalia to toss in the trunk of the car, a photo of my little granddaughter showed up on Facebook Memories. She was beside the street in bare feet, waiting excitedly for guests to arrive for a birthday party.

She waited in expectation of something good about to happen. I thought, Wait a minute…hope is expectation of the goodness of God. I need to paint this. I started it on Friday evening. What I didn’t know then was that the speaker’s theme on Saturday evening would be “Child-like Expectation.”

I had asked the Lord where I went off track. This weekend, I felt him saying it was when I lost the perspective of a child. When I forgot that I am a child of God I gave up wonder. When I neglected to cling to the hope –the expectation– of seeing the goodness of God in the land of the living, I took my eyes off Jesus and began to shut down creatively.

My hope is not in what I can do. My hope is in who God is. I am not a person left alone to figure it all out all by myself. I am a child of the King and I have the best Dad in the whole wide world.

“Learn this well: Unless you dramatically change your way of thinking and become teachable, and learn about heaven’s kingdom realm with the wide-eyed wonder of a child, you will never be able to enter in.” – Jesus

(Matthew 18:3 TPT)