Let the Past Sleep

Our yesterdays present irreparable things to us; it is true that we have lost opportunities which will never return, but God can transform this destructive anxiety into a constructive thoughtfulness for the future. Let the past sleep, but let it sleep on the bosom of Christ. Leave the Irreparable Past in His hands, and step out into the Irresistible Future with Him.

Oswald Chambers

I could tell she was frustrated. The young woman standing beside my piano stopped singing and turned her face away. It’s hard to sing with a lump in your throat. I know. I did the same thing more than once when I was studying voice. I told her that discouragement after taking singing lessons for a few months was not unusual. A few months was enough time to learn about changes she needed to make, but not long enough to remember all of them at the same time and definitely not long enough to let go of familiar ways of singing that could eventually hinder her progress.

“For a while it will feel like trying to hold several beach balls under water when you only have two hands. Something always pops back up,” I told her. “Don’t be too hard on yourself. Relax. It will come.”

I don’t teach anymore, but I needed to be reminded of my own advice after these past few months. My creative process feels like it was wrapped in newspaper and packed away in a forgotten box. I sit down to write or sketch and realize my brain is as blank as the page.

We’re mostly settled into our new place. I should be ready to get back to some of the projects I was working on before we decided to move but something has been stopping me. As I prayed about the blockage, three similar articles came to my attention in the same week. The message they carried?  You need to say goodbye to the past and grieve for the loss of the familiar, both good and bad, before you are ready to move on.

I know this move was the right one at the right time. We had so many answers to prayer including selling our house before it was listed and finding a new place (without stairs) in the new city on the first day we started looking. In spite of my anxiety that I would forget something essential, everything fell into place and we realized, on the day of the first snow, that our prayer to be finished with the moving process before winter was answered.

But I have realized that even though everything looks like it is in place, I still have unfinished business.

I asked the Lord if there was anything I still needed to let go of. I remembered walking in the snowy silence of the forest near our old house. Around the snow-covered tree trunks that fell in that big windstorm a few years back and down a deer path, there was a stump where I used to sit and pray. Suddenly tears welled up. I miss my stump! I miss my trees and my mountains! I miss not being able to walk very far (one of the reasons behind downsizing) and I especially miss my time with the Lord out in nature where I most easily feel his presence.

“What do I do with these memories and feelings, Lord?” I asked.

“Give them to me,” I heard.

I wrote memories on a sticky note and put them in a little paper box. More memories came, not just of beautiful people and places I loved, but also sad memories of goals unattained, of relationships that remain unreconciled, of disappointments with myself. I wrote down my worries for people I wanted to help (okay, fix) but I left them behind still suffering pain and mess. Finally, I realized that I left behind a young, energetic woman who could accomplish much more in a day than the one who sits writing this now.

There is always grief involved in saying goodbye, I guess. I added to the pile of sticky notes in the little box and tied it up with a piece of string.

“Lord, I give this to you. It’s not as impressive as I wish it could have been. There’s some disappointing and embarrassing stuff in it, but I know you’re not surprised because nothing surprises you. You know all about it. There’s some good stuff in there too, really good stuff — and it’s hard to let go. But I trust you. I know you have more to show me and a purpose for the time remaining in my life no matter the circumstances. Here you go.”

Transformation comes with the willingness to cooperate with God’s process. (I think I wrote that somewhere.) When our hands and hearts are clinging to the old there’s not much room for the new. Letting go of the past is the only way to move forward. The little box is a symbol of my intention to do that.

This is not the end.

O Come, Thou Dayspring

It’s strange the way darkness displaces a little more light every day in the north. I’ve been so busy I didn’t notice the dawn slowly shift from behind the eastern mountains to rise, lazily, beside the ridge of hills much further to the south. Yesterday I needed to turn on my headlights at 3:30 in the afternoon. How did it get so dark so fast?

I have a light on my desk that imitates sunlight. It produces “lux” sufficient to cheer my writing space, but little more. If I were to aim it out my window into the blackness it would scarcely draw the attention of anyone stumbling in the dark street. It’s enough to change my room but not enough to make an impact beyond it.

One of the best opening sentences of any novel (prove me wrong) is Dickens’ “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” Today I feel if I wrote, “It was the darkest of times; it was the brightest of times.” many of you would understand.

I don’t want to be accosted by the news anymore. It’s not just a matter of avoiding the pain of another disaster, another riot, another variant, another death count, another public breach of trust, another grab for power in the guise of “public service.” (“No one jostles for the position of servant,” Gayle Erwin reminds us). I don’t want to pay so much attention to the news on any media because it involves so many people promoting problems by yelling higher and louder than they did the last time their attempts at playing God didn’t work. Very few are listening. Animosity escalates. Our best efforts are not enough. And it’s getting dangerous to say so. How did it get so dark so fast?

I had a vision the other evening. (Take it or leave it. I’ve stopped apologizing.) I saw crowds of people coming from all directions toward a small circle with light emanating from the center. Tired bodies were dressed in dark clothes. Everyone had slumped shoulders and moved without swinging their arms. Some shuffled along as if in pain, but they were all drawn by curiosity to see this strange light. Some pushed their way to the front. I was one of them.

The light emanated from a baby in a manger. I watched him turn into a boy discussing matters of importance with religious leaders baffled by his enlightened insight. He grew into a man creating with carpenter’s tools in his hands. I saw him touching, healing, teaching, caring, and leading as crowds of followers grew. With every action the light around and within him shone brighter. The whole story was told in light I can’t explain. Then I saw him being taken away and murdered on a cross. His body was left in a sealed tomb. The light in the circle suddenly died.

A moan went up from the crowd. It was as though their greatest fear, the fear of disappointment, had been realized.

Then the light walked out of the grave and expanded as he rose until it was too bright for the onlookers to see. The light rose to fill the whole earth. It spread in ripples, and as it did tens, then hundreds, then thousands spontaneously fell to the ground and bowed in worship. I looked and saw costumes and masks drop. I saw ceremonial and honorary robes of all kinds fall to the ground as people bowed in humble adoration.

I realized that Jesus Christ was at the center of all of this. I watched as a chalice appeared where he stood and became a fountain. Out of him flowed light, hope, healing, forgiveness and love, pure love in the form of blood. It was as if many people were overwhelmed by his presence and, really seeing him for the first time, knew he was the answer to the darkness within themselves.

I saw selfish ambition, mockery, slander and mischief slink away as if they found the light too painful to bear.

Later that night, as I walked home under dark clouds, I thought of all the Christmas songs that talked about waiting in darkness and about the baby who came to bring light into the world. On the first day of advent an obscure verse from the ancient hymn “Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel” played in my heart.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Emmanuel means “God with us.” Before this happened I had been praying about how to pray in these dark days. I believe God was showing me the importance of keeping Christ at the center of everything I do. I pray for new life to spring up as his light shines in the darkness and makes an impact beyond my own little corner.

After Paul the apostle came down from his intellectual discussions with philosophers on Mars Hill (which impressed only a few people) he ended up in Corinth. He wrote this about the experience with the people there: My brothers and sisters, when I first came to proclaim to you the secrets of God, I refused to come as an expert, trying to impress you with my eloquent speech and lofty wisdom. For while I was with you I was determined to be consumed with one topic—Jesus, the crucified Messiah. I stood before you feeling inadequate, filled with reverence for God, and trembling under the sense of the importance of my words. The message I preached and how I preached it was not an attempt to sway you with persuasive arguments but to prove to you the almighty power of God’s Holy Spirit. For God intended that your faith not be established on man’s wisdom but by trusting in his almighty power. (1 Corinthians 2:1-4)

My eloquent speech and lofty wisdom plus ten dollars will get you on any subway in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. But the Holy Spirit? His signs point to the Light. As circumstances become darker, the light shines brighter and brighter. This time we’re in? It may be the darkest of times, but it is also the brightest of times. Consider the Light.

Slow Down

This has been a difficult time in British Columbia. A massive storm caused floods that destroyed roads and bridges and triggered landslides. The photos are heartbreaking. We are okay in our new home In Kelowna, but since the highways between here and the major west coast port and main agricultural areas of the province were closed we are very aware of the devastating consequences of the storm. People who had been travelling were stranded and trucks and trains carrying goods couldn’t connect with the interior of the province (although I believe one round-about route is open for essential travel now.)

Panic buying started a week ago and many shelves were empty by the next day. The grocery store near us had no fresh produce (other than cilantro and a few potatoes), no meat other than expensive steaks, no eggs, no dairy products, no bread, no rice, no canned or frozen vegetables or fruit, and no toilet paper. For those of us accustomed to abundance, it was a shock.

When disaster occurs I go into survival mode. My mind races ahead to prepare for all the possibilities we could face. Perhaps it comes from being a mother who had to anticipate dangerous situations children could get into or inconveniences I could face if I neglected to pack everything I could possibly need in the diaper bag. I like to be prepared, but after years of trying to be ahead of the game, I realized I had taught myself to expect a worst-case scenario. This time I decided not to rush out and buy more than we usually bought for the week.

In the midst of the panic I heard a song by Jonathan Ogden that was new to me. It was called “Slow Down.” I still have so much to do with settling in to this new place that the thought of slowing down was, frankly, a little annoying. Then I realized that God was using the song to speak to my heart about the need to slow my racing thoughts and listen for his voice.

The oft-quoted scripture verse, “Be still and know that I am God,” is in Psalm 46 which describes situations that are anything but tranquil. The first three verses in The Passion Translation read:

God, you’re such a safe and powerful place to find refuge!
    You’re a proven help in time of trouble—
more than enough and always available whenever I need you.
 So we will never fear
    even if every structure of support were to crumble away.
    We will not fear even when the earth quakes and shakes,
    moving mountains and casting them into the sea.
 For the raging roar of stormy winds and crashing waves
    cannot erode our faith in you.
(Pause in his presence
)

Lately I’ve been having dreams about the importance of staying close to God in these perilous times. I know it’s absolutely necessary to lean on him and trust his ways. Sometimes his ways are counter-intuitive, but the impossible becomes possible when let God be God.

This is not about passivity or laziness. We still work to help feed and house evacuees or doing whatever we can to help those affected by the storm. This about learning to quiet our souls and becoming more effective because we come from a place of rest and trust where fear doesn’t call the shots.

Surrender your anxiety.
    Be still and realize that I am God.
    I am God above all the nations,
    and I am exalted throughout the whole
earth.

That My Heart May Sing

Moving to a new city in a time of pandemic adds complications to an already complicated endeavour. It’s hard to get to know people in our building of residents who are all over 55 years old. Most of us have experienced nearly two years of abnormal social interaction. Posters on doors, windows, bulletin boards, and in elevators reminding us constantly of pandemic protocol orders, and daily doses of fear-inducing you-could-be-next public announcements in every kind of media do not exactly encourage people to welcome strangers with open arms.

It’s hard to read expressions behind masks. It’s easy to interpret closed doors, steps back, averted eyes, and offers to send the elevator back for you as snubs when frightened people are just practising contamination avoidance. It’s understandable, but it still feels like living in a world gone mad.

I feel like the new kid at school trying to find a friend, but this time I’m wondering why the other kids treat me like I have cooties. Oh right. It’s not just me. It’s the madness.

Someone told me once that their job often left them feeling socially isolated. He had one of those trusted positions where he saw people in moments of weakness and knew embarrassing details about their personal lives. His best friend and his own confidante had just moved to another country, and he felt the isolation deeply. He spoke to God about it, lamenting that he had no close friend he could rely on. Then something changed. It was one of those times when he heard the voice of the Comforter strongly in his spirit. “I can be your friend.”

Sometimes I wonder if these times of not having people to turn to for comfort, are to push us toward closer fellowship with God.

I’ve written before about how God speaks to me in music. This week I woke up singing an old pop old song – or at least the line from an old pop song. It was: “I can take all the madness the world has to give, but I won’t last a day without you.”

I realized that my heart was singing. My spirit was rising up when my head was stuck in logic mode. Even in my sleep there is something inside me that needs to praise God and refocus my attention on the true foundation of my life: The Three in One who is my Creator, my Saviour Hero, and my Friend.

It’s funny how a pop song can turn into a worship song when it comes from the heart and is directed to the One worthy of all praise. I looked up the rest of the lyrics.

Day after day I must face a world of strangers
Where I don’t belong, I’m not that strong
It’s nice to know that there’s someone I can turn to
Who will always care, you’re always there

When there’s no getting over that rainbow
When my smallest of dreams won’t come true
I can take all the madness the world has to give
But I won’t last a day without you

So many times when the city seems to be without a friendly face
A lonely place

It’s nice to know that you’ll be there if I need you

And you’ll always smile, it’s all worthwhile

When there’s no getting over that rainbow
When my smallest of dreams won’t come true
I can take all the madness the world has to give
But I won’t last a day without you


Touch me and I end up singing
Troubles seem to up and disappear
You touch me with the love you’re bringing
I can’t really lose when you’re near

If all my friends have forgotten half their promises
They’re not unkind, just hard to find
One look at you and I know that I could learn to live


Without the rest, I found the best

When there’s no getting over that rainbow
When my smallest of dreams won’t come true
I can take all the madness the world has to give
But I won’t last a day without you.

(“But I Won’t Last a Day” by Roger Nichols and Paul Williams)


Like the Psalmist I can also sing:

You turned my wailing into dancing;
you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.
Lord my God, I will praise you forever.

Psalm 30:11,12

Simplifying Can Be Complicated

Autumn Path

I suppose that since I write a blog about change, I can expect to encounter more opportunities to learn about change. My answer to kind readers who are wondering where I have been and have been checking up on my welfare is this: I am ok, thank you very much for taking the time to ask. I am weary and sometimes exhausted. I am emotional –sometimes embarrassingly so– but it is well with my soul.

We are now living in our new place. The last boxes have been unpacked. We’ve taken a carload of stuff we didn’t need to haul out here down to the thrift store in our new city. We’ve replaced some of the things we should have brought that we donated to the thrift store in our old city.

Things have changed since the last time we moved over three decades ago. We’ve discovered that some items we need to make this new place more functional are out of stock and will not be available for several months. There is a shortage of labour all across the country. Arguments over who to believe about Covid responses are as heated here as they were where we came from.

Health and safety protocols have changed attitudes and the process of meeting new people in more ways than we expected. I have to remind myself that what once would have been interpreted as a snub is just people who have spent months in isolation in our 55+ building being cautious. We’re adjusting to living in a much smaller space with strata council rules needing to be considered at every turn as well. We’ve been re-introduced to traffic jams and the sound of sirens.

We’ve also discovered that orchards and vineyards are beautiful in the autumn and living close to the center of a city saves a lot of time in transport and money for gas (petrol) because many shops and services are within walking distance. I can now see sunrises from the kitchen window. We’ve met beautiful, welcoming people in the faith community. The joy of living near family is something we have not known for many years. Family connection is a major reason for all this bother – and well worth it.

I’ve been back in a learning season. This has been more of a practicum than a classroom environment, but I’ve learned that God usually follows up revelation of a concept with rubber-meets-the-road experience to increase understanding.

This course could be called “Upgrading Through Downsizing.” It has been both harder and easier than I thought it would be. I found myself in frustrating situations more than once. Faith grows when circumstances are so ridiculously impossible that you can do nothing but trust God. When he shows up with a creative solution (which sometimes arrives as an amazing miracle and sometimes reveals false assumptions and the need to redefine success) it gets easier to trust him next time.

Previous life-lessons taught me how to let go of baggage. This venture has been about letting go of freight. I miss my friends, my music books, my garden, my familiar spaces, and the cherished items that carried memories. But there is no room for them anymore. This is a new day, a new assignment, and a time for getting used to different.

There is excitement in moving toward something new. There is also a type of mourning in letting go of the familiar. As I took time to rest and recover physically, I realized I also needed time to recover emotionally. While discovering new possibilities is exciting, letting go of the familiar involves all the stages of grief. Skipping those stages is like stuffing the feelings in another box marked “this side up” and tripping over it like the last plastic tub of miscellaneous stuff I don’t know what to do with that still sits beside my desk.

Perhaps this has been the greatest lesson of this season: I will not have grace to extend to others if I fail to extend grace to myself. Time is a precious gift that I have chosen to open and enjoy. I’ll be back to writing soon.

Right now, my little granddaughter is waiting for me to come pick her up. She wants me to teach her how to sew.

Kelowna Sunrise

Green Pasture

After 35 years in the same house and 36 years in the same town, we are preparing to move to another city. It’s a time of simplifying, downsizing, and saying goodbye to hobbies and activities we no longer have time or energy for. For someone who has been addicted to potential for so long, letting go of unfinished projects feels like a loss.

There is the furniture I meant to refinish. Over there the bins of fabric I meant to turn into something useful take up more space than I will have in the new apartment. I have canvasses and frames I bought from an estate sale still sitting in the basement. And books! Books I meant to re-read, books I meant to loan to someone who doesn’t realize they need to read it, books with useful information I meant to write about, books that my mother gave me from her childhood when she was learning English. I no longer have room in my life for all this stuff.

Grieving is involved. So is gratefulness.

The piles of stuff to sell, give away, and trash are evidence that God has provided well for us. We have more than we need. I am learning to trust in Him for the future instead of my boxes of “potential.”

I keep coming back to Psalm 23. I love Rutter’s setting. The Lord is my shepherd, therefore can I lack nothing. He shall feed me in a green pasture…

One day, when I was a very young child who refused to eat her peas, my frustrated young father said, “I can’t even afford to feed you!” As an adult I understand now that his angry tone had much more to do with a sale that fell through than my burdensome existence, but it became a defining moment in my life. I never wanted to cost anybody anything. I learned to make do, to recycle before recycling was trendy, to pinch a penny so hard you could hear it scream for mercy. Worrying about swings in the market became the habit of the child of a man whose income depended upon sales commission. Resting in the Lord, financially speaking, has been a challenge.

This week I discovered, among the boxes full of paintings that I stashed away, a little 8 x 10 canvas with my first attempt in oil. It’s labeled simply “Green Pasture.” There was something about its simplicity on a stack of too much stuff that caught my attention.

God is letting me rest in a green, growing, nourishing place. He provides, because goodness is his nature. He is the good shepherd, therefore I lack nothing. I am not a burden to him. He is not on a budget or worried about the economy. He says “Trust me. I’ve got this.”

Sometimes you need to let go of your grip on the past before your hands are free to reach for the future.

Rutter: The Lord Is My Shepherd – YouTube

You’re Gonna Be Ok

So I’ve learned from my experience
    that God protects the vulnerable.
    For I was broken and brought low,
    but he answered me and came to my rescue!
 Now I can say to myself and to all,
    “Relax and rest, be confident and serene,
    for the Lord rewards fully those who simply trust in him.”

Psalm 116:6,7 TPT

On the way back from an appointment with a medical specialist, (an eleven hour return trip for me) I stopped by this reservoir on the Cowboy Trail in southern Alberta. On that day two years ago, I received more information about another complication in my already complex health condition. It didn’t help that I forgot the backpack with my wallet in it at the place I was staying. I needed it for my health insurance card for the hospital and my credit card to leave my car in the underground parking maze. I went back for it, praying the whole time I wouldn’t miss my appointment and arrived, frazzled, with seconds to spare. (Have you noticed God is right on time but never early?)

On the trip home, I stopped in this beautiful place and had a chat with God. I felt anxious and very vulnerable. I reflected upon the reflection and realized the water could never produce the beauty it bore. Like the water I didn’t have to manufacture my own peace. I simply needed to keep my eyes on the giver of peace, whose nature is peace. I don’t know how to relax and rest when I know I can forget important things like my wallet. Serenity is not a natural trait. One of the fruits of the Holy Spirit is peace because he IS peace.

Back in the car, a song played these words, “It’s not the end. It’s not the end. You’re gonna be ok.”*

If I am in him and he is in me, then his peace is my peace. This is more than reflection. This is absorption. Learning that I am loved and accepted allows me to become what I am not without him – and I m not without him because he promised to never leave. I am changing.

This season brings more challenges. We have decided to move to another part of the province to be closer to adult children. They have pointed out that we are aging and need more help. They are urging us to let them do that for us. I am tempted to be overwhelmed by the daunting task of fixing up our property to sell, de-cluttering, and looking at finding a new place to live in a city where real estate prices are double what they are here. The process of parting with a houseful of stuff with so many memories attached is emotionally daunting. The prospect of parting with good friends made over 36 years in this place I love is even more daunting.

For the past few months I have felt the Lord telling us to prepare for a change. What that change was I didn’t know. The thought of moving into a place without stairs, where it would be easier for me to get around, felt like preparing for the end, like seeing a sign my exit ramp loomed up ahead. Then a little while ago, a prophetic artist had a painting for me. It was of a woman joyfully walking beside a lake. She said, “God wants you to know it’s not over yet. He has more for you.”

Today I choose to walk in God’s peace. I may be surrounded by half-sorted boxes of art supplies, music books, sewing fabric, and writing materials potential, but like the woman walking beside still water that day at the reservoir, and the woman dancing beside a sun-dappled lake in the painting, I will simply trust, leave the past behind, and take one step at a time toward the next thing.

Care to join me?

*”It’s Gonna Be Okay” by Jenn Johnson, Jeremy Riddle, and Seth Mosley

Dig Deep

How enriched are they who find their strength in the Lord;
    within their hearts are the highways of holiness!
Even when their paths wind through the dark valley of tears,
    they dig deep to find a pleasant pool where others find only pain.
    He gives to them a brook of blessing
    filled from the rain of an outpouring.
They grow stronger and stronger with every step forward,
    and the God of all gods will appear before them in Zion.

Psalm 84:5-7 TPT

Valley experiences are common to all of us who draw breath in this world. Some valleys are deeper than others. I’ve watched people who impress me walk through tough times as if they have a secret resource that allows them to remain at peace in spite of everything. When I ask them how they do it they tell me, “It’s in the dark places and stressful times that God’s grace is most plentiful. It’s not as easy as it was before. You have to dig. But that’s where profound silence invites you to come closer. That’s when you can feel his heart of love for you.”