Restoration: High River

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I was back in High River a couple of weeks ago. It’s been a year and a half since the flood. A lot of improvements have been made since I wrote High River’s Higher Calling, the post with the most hits on this blog.  I still believe this is an exceptional town, full of the kind of people who adversity trains to become leaders in the country. I still believe they have a high calling.

A lot of improvements have occurred in the last year.

Some homes are actually in better shape than before. Real estate sales are surprisingly good. The restoration period has allowed some businesses to make the improvements they had never gotten around to. The temporary shops down by the railway museum have been dismantled and there is no longer a need for the refugee town of Saddlebrook.

These people have become champions at waiting and patient endurance.

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Restoration can take a long time.

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Some parts of High River are still under construction.

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A large school is still fenced off to students, the playground equipment set off to the side of the playing field now chewed up by heavy machinery.

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Some folks still wait their turn for reconstruction and some houses are boarded up, their owners overwhelmed by the situation.

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And wait…

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And wait…

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There are as many orange construction vests and helmets as leather jackets and cowboy hats to be seen on the streets – maybe more. Utility trailers still park in every neighbourhood and the beep-beep of heavy machinery working on flood mitigation projects is so common it’s become the new background music in this score.

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Life goes on.

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The town endures and rebuilds, one nail, one paint brush stroke, one shovelful, one stone at a time.

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The weary sigh and wait and wonder – how long?

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For some, life is becoming more difficult now that the worst is over. I was thinking about this when I remembered a time of mourning in my life.

As a musician I was often called on to sing or play the organ or piano at a funeral. I learned how to emotionally detach myself so I could bring this moment of comfort to people. I performed songs that were meaningful to survivors, sometimes hunting for music or learning songs in unfamiliar languages on very short notice, but many people told me it meant a great deal to them. It was hard to perform if I was close to the people who were in pain, and harder still if the person we were mourning was someone I knew well. (Eventually I learned to let the tears flow. It was trying to stop them that causes the choked up feeling.) I decided not to take on this role when I was the one sitting in the front row at a funeral. I knew that I was there to mourn and I needed to be comforted.

When my beloved grandmother died I had a chest cold which gave me a good excuse not to sing, even though some people turned the guilt screws and said, “But she was your biggest supporter. It would have meant so much to her.” Fortunately laryngitis gave me an out and another family member stepped in. I warned him to take care of himself after the funeral. I told him that being the strong one who kept control of feelings had its downside. Sometimes when you have to ‘be the strong one’ and keep your emotions in check because people are depending on you, you will find yourself alone when they do rise up, and by then everyone else has moved on.

He is a marvelous musician and “did her proud” as some of Grandma’s friends said. He had to leave right after the funeral due to pressing business in another city. I called him later to check on him and he told me I was right. He was feeling fine, when hours later, he broke down weeping uncontrollably and had to find a place to get off the freeway because he couldn’t drive. He found himself on a lonely back road in the middle of nowhere without the comfort of friends and family.

In a crisis there are strong people we know we can rely on. Sometimes we are amazed at the fortitude of giving people. Sometimes they give and give and give tirelessly for days… months… years…

Then one day, when everyone else has been cared for and gone back to their normal lives, they find themselves alone on a back road, overcome by the emotions that have been piling up in their hearts.

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I’ll be honest. Our family has been through some tough battles in the last couple of years. We have come out victorious, seeing God step in and do miracles and provide in ways we never imagined. He is SO good and we are SO thankful! I am grateful that He gave me the strength to support other people when somebody had to do it. I am even more grateful for the ones who stood by me and held me up when I felt I didn’t have the strength to go on. There are still challenges, of course, but it’s comparatively smooth sailing right now, and the timing seems strange, but I’ve been realizing there is a backlog of emotion spilling out of my own closet that won’t stay shut anymore.

That’s what I saw in High River this time. Put it in the takes-one-to-know-one category. Life is back to normal for most people, and many of the friends and comforters and charity services have gone home. But now some of the toughest folk, the ones with the broadest shoulders, the ones everyone relied on, are having to pull off the freeway and do their own mourning. It’s a lonely business.

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Mourning and restoration can take a very long time. But when restoration comes, the newly blossoming trees will provide shade as townsfolk sit in their re-planted gardens and tell their children and grandchildren that although they were beaten down, perplexed, exhausted, emotional, and pushed beyond what they thought they could endure, that God never failed, and endurance has developed character, and that strength of character allows them to have the kind of hope that does not disappoint.

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When the healing’s done High River will be a city of refuge, of peace, of caring –and of love.

Angels Help Us to Adore Him

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I’ve never seen an actual angel, not that I know of, at least not while I was awake. I know people who have – and some of them are the scientifically-oriented type not given to flights of fancy. I gather it’s a rather startling experience.

I’ve sung about them quite often.

Angels, help us to adore Him,

Ye behold Him face to face;

Sun and moon, bow down before Him;

Dwellers all in time and space,

Praise Him, praise Him, alleluia!

Praise with us the God of grace.

(from Praise My Soul the King of Heaven by Henry Lyte)

I’ve read about them too, but like most folk the pictures of angels I’ve been acquainted with came from Christmas decorations, Baroque paintings, corner gift shops and carved stones in cemeteries.

I’ve seen them in dreams though. One leaned down low and told me a secret that explained a lot of previously unexplained events in my childhood. Another time, after I had been praying about what action to take I saw an angel pointing to the trail I often walk on when I go to pray. He was leaning on the please-clean-up-after-your-dog sign and smiling.

I have seen angels in uniform in my dreams, in battle fatigues, in air force uniforms, and one dressed as a cable guy. He was in my house repairing something in the wall where my husband and the boys had once threaded a wire that connected their computers so they could play games together. Shortly after that I noticed a definite improvement in communication in their relationships.

When I hear people’s stories of real live encounters I become envious. I have sincerely prayed for my eyes to be opened like Elisha’s servant so I could see too, but every time I have done that someone close to me sees something, and I don’t.

When our son-in-law lay dying several people told me about seeing angels around him. One praying friend in another part of the world sent a message telling me about the angel she saw in a vision. Within a few hours I heard two other people who were there at the hospital describe seeing exactly the same thing. Some people saw two very tall angels on guard duty on either side of the door to his room. Some saw angels crowded in the room and hallways. Some saw angels holding his head.

He didn’t die. He was miraculously healed.

Just before that season when the doctor thought I had cancer, then my mother-in-law was in ICU for heart problems and surgery, our son-in-law had flesh-eating disease, and our son’s family’s home and community was nearly destroyed in a flood, etc. etc. etc. I prayed to see angels. I didn’t. My husband did though. He’s really a down-to-earth guy, a scientist, but he old me excitedly the next morning that he dreamed (or he thought it was a dream) that he answered a knock on the door and a bunch of very big angels walked past him into the living room. He said they all dressed and acted like rugby players. Big tough rowdy guys.

“What did they look like?” I demanded. “Did you see their faces? Did they have names?”

“There was a whole team of giant nine-foot tall rugby player angels crammed into our little eight foot high living room! It was really hard to see anything. All I know is that they were slapping each other on the back enthusiastically like they were really looking forward to playing a big important game. They were like ‘Bring it on! We are so ready for this!’”

Maybe I haven’t seen angels because I might be so distracted I would forget to do my part in the battle, which seems a lot like pulling out little Lucy’s tiny dagger in the presence of a whole huge army of threats and ugly hatred like she did in a battle in Narnia.

The Bible talks freely about angels, and how they are servants of God. They are not made of stone or paper or cookie dough and they aren’t chubby babies with aerodynamically impossible tiny wings. We don’t worship them, but it’s good to know the angels who worship the Creator of the Universe and see him face to face help us fight the good fight. I trust the Lord sends them where he needs them – and where I need them when I pull out my little dagger.

There are more accounts of angel sightings in the book, While He Lay Dying.

Faith Looks Up

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“The most powerful mentors in my life all had one thing in common, and it has released a hunger in my own heart. They gazed at the Lord with a child-like simplicity and wonder. They had an innocence about them — a simple purity, humility, grace, and a deep abiding love for Jesus that was naked to the eye, a visible passion that ruled each day. I cried out for that…”

– Graham Cooke

Timing

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Timing is so important! If you are going to be successful in dance, you must be able to respond to rhythm and timing. It’s the same in the Spirit. People who don’t understand God’s timing can become spiritually spastic, trying to make the right things happen at the wrong time. They don’t get His rhythm – and everyone can tell they are out of step. They birth things prematurely, threatening the very lives of their God-given dreams.
– T. D. Jakes

Ascent

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I managed a visit to my father before the snow fell. This is a couple of blocks from his place.

 

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Dad was a prairie boy, but he was always in love with the mountains.

 

 

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Our house in Calgary was built on a hill facing the Rockies on the horizon and every clear morning he would stand by the window checking out the view.

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Every Saturday or holiday we could get away we drove the hour or so to Canmore, or Kananaskis, or Banff, not to ski or climb or golf or canoe, but to walk along the trails or sit under the trees and breathe.

Dad’s memories are fading, but now he lives beside the river he loved. He doesn’t work anymore or write anymore, and it’s hard for him to tell even one of his thousands of stories. He’s not even sure of who the people are who come to visit him. Life has been distilled to its essence. He looks to the mountains and breathes and he is thankful.

 

“The moment we become grateful, we actually begin to ascend spiritually into the presence of God. The psalmist wrote,
Serve the Lord with gladness; come before Him with joyful singing. . . . Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name. For the Lord is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting and His faithfulness to all generations.’ (Psalm 100:2, 4-5).”
-Francis Frangipane