Thanks for the Memories

 

Bar U Ranch

“...The Lord showed me the reason I didn’t think he answered my prayers. It was simply that I was not thankful when He did. Without an attitude of thanksgiving those memories were lost to me.” -Lara Merz

The new book While He Lay Dying is touching some sore spots for some people. I understand. The story hit a lot of mine as well -sore spots that God was putting pressure on, like a kind doctor who looked into my eyes while asking, “Does that hurt?”

The intent of the doctor is not to torment you, but to heal you, but first he needs to identify the source of the pain by having you acknowledge it.

I do believe that prayer is more about learning to listen to God than handing him my Christmas wish list, or a job description of my design with expectations I think he needs to meet. Still he invites us to come to him with all our cares and needs and with prayers and petitions – with thanksgiving – and present our requests. The thanksgiving is actually for our sakes, because being grateful for the things he has done for us already helps us remember and come in faith.

I met a woman a few years ago who, like I had been, was mired in chronic depression. Healing from depression can involve more than one avenue since this wretched condition affects every part of our lives – mental, physical, spiritual, emotional, relational. But one of the glimmers of light in that cave of darkness begins to shine when we are willing to be thankful for one thing. Thanking God for just one thing is like picking up the first crumb that leads to a trail of crumbs -more things to be thankful for. The trail leads to the exit of the dark cave. I asked her to tell God one thing she was thankful for. She refused. She could think of nothing -as she sat in a large warm house, in a free country, with a good meal, and all her expenses cared for by a generous family member, comforted by friends who constantly tried to reach out to her. “My life is too bitter,” she said.

Another person said, “Sure. God healed your son-in-law. How nice for you. But why be thankful? There is no guarantee he’ll be here next Christmas. He could be hit by a bus, or another tragedy could strike your family. It happens all the time. Where was God when this happened and that happened? Look at the news this week and what about the time I prayed and he didn’t give me the answer I wanted?”

Do you see how quickly we can lose the memory of a miraculous response to prayer and forget God’s goodness when we refuse to be grateful and choose to focus on disappointment? It was like turning away from the spot of light in a dark cave and saying, “So you saw something that might point to a light, or maybe even an exit of some sort. How nice for you. But my experience is that it is dark in this cave. Look at all the places where there is no light. Don’t remind me of my pain. There is no hope.”

Of course we all die. Miracles are not about having perfect circumstances and a care-free life. Signs point to something -or Someone. Signs are not the destination. Don’t park there. Keep moving.

A friend reminded me yesterday that those of us born in the 50’s have lived in two centuries and two millennium -and people we knew in our youth had been born in the 1800’s. He made me think. One of the most influential people in my life, my grandmother, was born in 1909. My granddaughter was born in 2009 -100 years later, and yet these two people are central in my memories. I am so thankful for them. I am especially thankful that my grandmother told me the stories of God’s provision, even through the most horrible experiences -from the death of her kitten as a wee girl to the death of her two children as a young mother. Yes, she found herself in dark places sometimes, but she always came out singing, because she remembered her answered prayers, and thankfulness pinned those memories down for her. She knew the God she appealed to, and the longer she knew him, the more she loved him. A few weeks before she died she told me, “Death holds no fear for me. It is a wide-open door to the light. And my dear Jesus is standing there, arms open, waiting to wipe away all my tears.”

 

Into the Gaps

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There is always an enormous temptation in all of life to diddle around making itsy-bitsy friends and meals and journeys for itsy-bitsy years on end. It is so self-conscious, so apparently moral, simply to step aside from the gaps where the creeks and winds pour down, saying, I never merited this grace, quite rightly, and then to sulk along the rest of your days on the edge of rage.

I won’t have it. The world is wilder than that in all directions, more dangerous and bitter, more extravagant and bright. We are making hay when we should be making whoopee; we are raising tomatoes when we should be raising Cain, or Lazarus.

Go up into the gaps. If you can find them; they shift and vanish too. Stalk the gaps. Squeak into a gap in the soil, turn, and unlock-more than a maple- a universe. This is how you spend this afternoon, and tomorrow morning, and tomorrow afternoon. Spend the afternoon. You can’t take it with you.”

― Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Happy Monday Morning!

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I love the way little kids can’t wait for the day to begin. We had a family gathering last week and my little five year old grandson was amazed that I could still be asleep at 6:45 a.m. He and his buddy, Harvey the bull dog, jumped on me with an affectionate early morning enthusiasm I haven’t experienced for a few years. Harvey even gave my ears a good licking. It wasn’t long before the other kids were wrestling on my air mattress and in my sleeping bag because that’s what they were designed for, right?

The next morning I was helping two of the kids get ready for school when one of them noticed the brilliant rosy dawn out the window. I grabbed my phone and snapped a photo as a school bus went by, driving into the sunrise.

I’ve decided to adopt their attitude. It’s Monday! It’s morning! We can get up and sing Raffi’s brush-your-teeth song ch ch chch ch chchch ch!  Or for my taste, Stuart Townend’s “Christ Be in My Waking.”

Thank you, Lord. It’s good to be alive!

 

I Want My Daddy!

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What do you do when God gives you a real live miracle?

First, you respond with thankfulness. Then you look toward the One the sign points to. Asking Him why we received a miracle brings as silent a response as asking why there have been times when we did not see a loved one healed. A better question is “What?”

“What would you have us do with this experience?”

“What does this mean?”

“What are you showing us about yourself?”

Or “How would you have us respond?” ”

My job during the crisis was mainly to care for the children. We knew people were praying and most of the time felt a cocoon of love around us, but to be honest there were times when this little boy in the photo felt the agony of not having his Daddy there with him, of not knowing why somber adults spoke in hushed voices or stopped talking when they noticed him playing at their feet or hiding behind the door. There were times when he cried inconsolably, “I want my Daddy! Where is my Daddy? I need my Daddy!” and no one, not uncles or grandmothers or even Mommy could comfort him. There were times when he refused to eat or sleep and trashed his room late at night when grown-ups insisted he go to bed.

Then there were times when he was the one with the strongest faith, when he sat on Mommy’s lap and looked into her eyes and said, “We don’t hass to be afraid, Mommy. We don’t hass to be afraid cuz Jesus is wiss us.” When doctors privately gave his Daddy a 0% chance of recovery from necrotizing fasciitis (flesh-eating disease) he and his sister set aside drawings and pine cones and other precious things to show Daddy when he came home. They sang songs about nothing being impossible for Jesus.

What do you do when God gives you a real live miracle? What you do with a miracle is tell the story truthfully, including the times of outrageous faith, and the times of soul-crushing disappointment. I appreciate our son-in-love Bruce and daughter Lara Merz’ efforts to be accurate when they tell the story of their miracle in the book While He Lay Dying. They are honest about their struggles, their fears. their set-backs. They are honest about surges of faith that came from beyond themselves. They are honest about the difficulty of pursuing being a community of love and being transparently vulnerable in times of crisis. They are honest about the way God accomplished the very tasks Bruce had once strived to accomplish, by bringing them about while he lay in bed doing absolutely nothing. At all. He couldn’t even breathe for himself.

One of the contributors to the book is a fine physician who witnessed the roller-coaster ride that this event entailed. He volunteered to verify the chronology and medical information and write a chapter from his perspective. Their pastor gives his story of how the event led to greater revelation for him and its significance for the larger church, and Bruce and Lara’s little daughter also expresses her point of view.

What do you do when God gives you a real live miracle? You stand up, relinquish your rights to life as you have known it and say, “This is what we saw. This is what God did. This is Who He is to us.” You become a witness to His goodness. You give him all the glory for the things He has done.

Last week I heard this little guy giggling as his Daddy tucked him into bed. God heard his cry. Daddy came home without any loss of limbs and with organs functioning better than before he becme ill.

This week the book telling this amazing story of how the Lord gathered an army of believers to pray for the life of one man and support one little family has been released. I think you’ll find it inspiring.

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The website:
http://whilehelaydying.com/#

Book available from:

Amazon in both print and eBook form. (A free Kindle download is available for reading eBooks on computers and other devices.) Click on one of these:

In the USA

In Canada

In the UK

Kobo (eBook)
Indigo/Chapters with free shipping until Dec. 15

Essence Publishers (print)

Your local bookstore by request

Profits beyond expenses related to book to go to charity.

Bowls

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The gift shop sparkled with luxury table settings -fine china, crystal goblets, bright jeweled napkin rings and silver cutlery in perfect formation. Totally impressive, and totally out of my price range. More utilitarian items for food preparations artistically occupied the shelves at the back, much like the way the mess of a kitchen is kept out of sight from a formal dining room. That’s where the simple bowls caught my eye.

My mother was a marvelous cook. It’s how she expressed her love for her family and friends. She loved being in the kitchen and throwing Martha Stewart-style dinner parties with her best china. I appreciate people with the gift of hospitality, but it feels like an awful lot of work. For me, time in the kitchen is an act of sacrifice. There are other areas of the house I enjoy more, but I extend myself to cook for those I love.

Those bowls stacked on a shelf reminded me of mixing pancake batter or homemade granola bars for my kids and grandchildren. I have a few nice pieces of china and silver and crystal and serving platters I inherited, but I seldom use them.  I keep them on a high shelf so they won’t be knocked about, but they are a pain to get down, so they sit there looking pretty. My mixing bowls are chipped and the colour is practically worn off in places -and the finish is crazed where it is not. They are not as impressive as the pretty bowls in the shop, but they are the faithful servants in my kitchen.

I am often amazed by the “people vessels” God chooses to express his love through. Most of them are not “high shelf” people. They have chips and cracks. Their finish can be a bit crazed, but what comes out of them nurtures my soul. God loves ordinary people. What comes out is all about what he puts into them anyway.

Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don’t see many of “the brightest and the best” among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these “nobodies” to expose the hollow pretensions of the “somebodies”? That makes it quite clear that none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God. Everything that we have—right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start—comes from God by way of Jesus Christ. That’s why we have the saying, “If you’re going to blow a horn, blow a trumpet for God.” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31 The Message)

Constantly

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I pray for you constantly, asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God.

I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance.

I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him.

This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 1:16-20 NLT)

Something Beautiful

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I love this view of the Steeples Range. I often stop here. I took this about a month ago when the grass was still rich and green.

But there’s a reason it’s so green -and why there is a place to pull off the highway. There’s a pump house near this spot. It pumps effluent from the nearby town onto the field as a way of dealing with sewage.

In others words it makes something beautiful out of something, well, considerably less than beautiful.

My parents used to love the Gaither show on TV. At least I think that’s what it’s called. The Gaithers created a bit of a revolution in the style of music we were used to in church back in the 70’s. There was a level of honesty and joy in the reality of grace and the goodness of God we hadn’t seen for a while. The music gave Mom and Dad a lot of comfort. Dad still plays it. I remember the words of one song:

Something beautiful, something good
All my confusion He understood
All I had to offer Him was brokenness and strife
But he made something beautiful of my life

If there ever were dreams
That were lofty and noble
They were my dreams at the start
And hope for life’s best were the hopes
That I harbor down deep in my heart
But my dreams turned to ashes
And my castles all crumbled, my fortune turned to loss
So I wrapped it all in the rags of life
And laid it at the cross.

Something beautiful, something good
All my confusion He understood
All I had to offer Him was brokenness and strife
But he made something beautiful of my life.

 

Many of us have been stopped in our tracks by disappointment in ourselves. The stuff that comes out of me sometimes is truly embarrassing.

Lord if you can use my mistakes somehow, you can have them. You said to give you everything, because you paid for it, and I don’t want to even admit some of this to myself, let alone have it flung out where everybody can see it, but here you go. I’ve done and said some pretty unpleasant things in my life, and I feel ugly sometimes, OK a lot of the time. But you can use anything, even my shame. So here. I lay it all down. The accomplishments, the failures. They’re yours. I know you can make something beautiful out of them.