He restores my soul

Beside the creek in the cool of the evening

I have joy.

For many years I could not say that. The best I could do was say, “I’ll be happy when…

when this course is over,

when I have a driver’s license,

when I am married,

when this baby is born,

when tax season is over,

when the swelling goes down,

when I get my Dad settled in his new home,

when the bills are paid,

when the house is clean and organized,

when my kids are doing well,

when their bills are paid…”

There was always a reason to postpone enjoying the moment, something that still needed improvement, some potential disappointment that needed guarding against.

I used to think that when I managed to finish everything on the job list I could reward myself with feeling a little joy.

I rarely finished the to-do list -and never finished the worry list. That list I took to bed with me.

Jesus said his burden was light.

Mine wasn’t.

I lumbered from burn-out to burn-out and laboured under thick layers of guilt.

In a dream, the Lord showed me a heavy suitcase. It was full of things that needed prayer. He said sometimes I needed to set it down. It would wear me out if I carried it all the time. Sometimes I needed to leave it with him, walk away and enjoy the scenery.

In a way, that is why I took up photography and painting. They make me pay attention and become more aware of beauty. The evening  light does not wait until the paperwork is done and the hedge is clipped and all the hungry people in the world are fed and all the sick are healed.

Sometimes on this journey we need to leave the heavy stuff and the “whys” in his care and sit by the stream in the cool of the evening and allow our souls to be restored. Right here, mid-crisis, in the hidden grottos of the valley, with all of the threats and fears and opposition looking on like jealous, ravenous beasts, God prepares a place of rest and safety and refreshing for us.

I am learning (slowly) to set the suitcase down, step into the joyful freshness of God’s presence and allow him to restore my soul -in that infinitely tiny and infinitely spacious moment called “now.” That’s where the battle is won.

Thank you, Lord. You are good.

Through the river

Photo: River rock in the flood

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;

I have called you by name, you are mine.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;

and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;

when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,

and the flame shall not consume you.

For I am the Lord your God.

(Isaiah 43)

I took my little granddaughter swimming this week. The new pool has a “river” with a strong current that is so much fun — to me, anyway. Daisy spent a lot of the time standing on the edge of the pool throwing balls and floating toys at me in an aquatic game of  “fetch”, in which I was supposed to respond to her bidding. I tried to convince her to jump into my arms, but she whined that she didn’t want to. It was too scary. I knew I would never let her go under and that learning to swim is a very useful skill that starts with getting in the water. She didn’t know that.

So often my prayers are more about worrying at God and trying to convince him to take my discomfort more seriously, so he will stop it, than they are about listening to him. Instead of asking,  “God? What are You trying to show me and how can I honour Your plans?” I am often more likely to holler, “Ouch! I don’t like this lesson! Fix the problem, don’t fix me. I’ll be just fine when the world changes, thank you very much. I don’t really trust you to keep me safe.”

Instead He answers, “Trust me. Listen to Me. Do it my way and you will not be overwhelmed. It looks scary, I know, but you are capable of much more than you think. Let me show you.”

Trust vs. fear. The lesson always comes back to trust.

First I have to jump into his arms.

Joy in the dance

Photo: fushias

Fushias look like joyful dancers to me as they spin and sway in the summer breeze.

The culture I grew up in forbid dancing as a potentially lustful activity. I had to bring a note to be excused when our all-girl gym class learned Hokey Pokey or Oh Johnny Oh.  Now I watch my grandchildren move so naturally to the music that inspires them and I miss the years I spent with my feet nailed to the floor. I definitely do not have a dancer’s body, and just because my feet stop dancing doesn’t mean other parts don’t keep swaying. I feel rather foolish, but I long to dance with the freedom of a child.

Someday.

Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance,

and the young men and the old shall be merry.

I will turn their mourning into joy;

I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.

I will feast the soul of the priests with abundance,

and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness,

declares the Lord.

(Jeremiah 31:13-14)

Outside the fence

Poppies in the Back Alley
Poppies in the Back Alley

photo: Poppies growing behind the fence

Sometimes the organizations we form to celebrate connections end up separating us.

I realized this in the first grade, the day our friend Diana showed up at school after lunch with her short pixie cut hair full of bobby pins trying desperately to hold tiny braids together. It looked ridiculous. Earlier that day four or five of us were walking arm in arm in arm as little girls do, in a kind of six year-old chorus line. We were members of the French braid club. We had all worn braids that day and formed a band of sisters on that basis. I hadn’t noticed until Diana returned from lunch, that our basis for commonality excluded a sweet girl we all loved.

I think denominations are like that. At first we are excited about finding we share common beliefs with others and form First Church of  the Tidy Braids. Do we have stories! Sometimes we are so busy rejoicing in finding each other we don’t realize our denomination has excluded some lovely people with short hair.

That which was meant to bring people together ends up keeping people apart. A denomination formed around a common experience or emphasis may at first be a sheltering, warm, encouraging place, but within a generation or two it  attempts to redefine what it means to be “in” or “out” of the kingdom of God.

I took a photo of these poppies growing behind the fence as the last light of a slow summer day highlighted their beauty. I don’t have any poppies inside my garden. I wish I did.

Punching through

Photo: the tunnel

(click for larger version)

Punching through

I’ve done a lot of things I am not qualified to do –at least not on paper. People who live in isolated parts of this vast country are less concerned with how many hoops you have jumped through to obtain a stamp of approval from institutions with stamps of approval from other institutions, than they are with whether you are available, willing to step into a gap, and know something they don’t, or are at least willing to learn.

I heard a story of some highly-paid expert consultant-types, some of them engineers, who were trapped in a burning building. While they waited for outside response to frantic cell-phone calls it was the cleaning guy with an intimate knowledge of the building and his collection of mop and broom handles who punched through the wall and led them to safety. He was instantly promoted to leader.

An expert is anyone with access to pertinent knowledge and the right tools –and in an emergency the “proper” gender, educational accomplishments, political affiliations, physical fitness and impressive resumes can be like cell phones in an area without service.

Someone from another part of the world was trying to convince me to drive to meetings on a weekly basis in Vancouver. She had looked at a map and assumed we were close. Well, by freeway-traversed flatland standards, yes, perhaps, but darling, there are a few mountains in the way here. It takes a while to go around them (like twelve hours if there is no snow or avalanches or construction delays). I sometimes wonder how long it took First Nations peoples to discover the passes on foot.

I was driving home from Alberta recently, hurtling down the highway at a 100 clicks, toward what looked like a solid wall of rock. Logic said there’s a road here, so it’s got to go through somewhere, but I wonder if I had been alone on foot before the road was built if I would have succumbed to fear and despair. It would have looked overwhelming.

Trust doesn’t come easily to me. Fear is always hiding behind a bush or a rock ready to sneak up and tell me I am not competent to handle this situation, that there are too many unknowns, too many factors I can’t control, that I’ve failed before and will probably fail again, that I am not qualified. Fear is such a nag. Sometimes I want to give in just so it will shut up.

I read something interesting lately. God agrees. I am not qualified.

I am not qualified to listen to that voice. I no longer work for that boss. He’s a liar and a cheat and a thief set on destroying the people my heavenly Fathers loves (and then blaming Him for it) and definitely not trustworthy.

This is what God says, “I, I am he who comforts you; who are you that you are afraid of man who dies, of the son of man who is made like grass, and have forgotten the Lord, our Maker, who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth, and you fear continually all the day because of the wrath of the oppressor, when he sets himself to destroy?” (Isaiah 51:12)

It’s like he is saying to me, “Who do you think you are that you can ignore what I just told you, to go off and listen to the guy who has publicly stated it is his goal to pull down everything I created? Do you not think I will back you up with all my resources if I have asked you to do something? No, you are not qualified to do this without my help, don’t even try, but if I didn’t think you were the person for the job I would have asked somebody else. Now quit taking your instructions from the wrong side.”

I am not an expert, but I have access to the source of all knowledge and wisdom and He has given me tools, simple though they may appear. As I go about my humble chores I gain experience that allows me to be available and step into the gap and get the job done when necessary.

I’ve been through this valley before. I know where there is a hole in the massive stone wall. I can say with confidence to you, than when his beloved children face impossible opposition, that God provides a way where it looks like there is no way.

Behold, I am doing a new thing;

    now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

I will make a way in the wilderness

     and rivers in the desert.

(Isaiah 43:19)

God is good.