Dancing Upon Injustice

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Some friends invited me to join them for a week of thanksgiving and worship as they pray for a young dad with an aggressive form of cancer. For two evenings I sat at the back painting. This is just a cell phone shot of a quick painting but I’m posting it here as an invitation to pray for Jarrett, and any others you know of with life-threatening illnesses. It’s a painted prayer I call “Dancing Upon Injustice” because there is nothing just about cancer.

Originally I painted a night sky but the band started singing, “Open the floodgates of heaven…” and I started adding  waterfalls and eddies and sparkles of light. There is a place where cancer does not exist and we pray that God’s will would be done on earth as it is in heaven. I’ve never seen a worship dancer with army boots, but I think they should be standard issue, so I added those too.

Pray for Jarrett and his family.

Move

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I love ideas. I love to think about ideas. I love to read about ideas and discuss ideas.

Someone asked me once, “Why do you have to ask so many questions? Why can’t you just have faith?”

She was not a thinker. She was a doer, the kind that hates sitting still. Sometimes when I saw her running in circles to meet commitments I would be tempted to ask, “What were you thinking?”

So here we were, one of us stuck in theory without experience and the other in practice without aforethought, both lobbing civil little incendiaries over the fence when we perchanced to have tea. We could have been good friends, but we weren’t because we failed to bless each other for our differing strengths and we both became rather defensive. Alas. She passed away before I realized my error.

Lately I am realizing that a lot of the annoyances that crop up in my life are actually sent by the One who is motivating me to work out the things he has been teaching me. An obvious example of this occurs when people pray for patience. We make jokes about it. What follows is often an opportunity to work out the patience He already placed in them.

I love watching kids do this so naturally. My youngest grandsons have watched very few superhero movies. They have only to sit on the couch in front of Netflix long enough to grasp the premise and they are leaping from the furniture putting theory into practice. The next viewing is merely for the purpose of refining identity. Theirs is a world of potential, rapidly becoming reality.

Can I admit I also loathe exercise that goes nowhere? I would a thousand times rather hike in the woods, or turn dirt in a garden than ride a stationary bike that doesn’t progress an inch after 23 minutes of sweaty effort (the length of time it takes to watch a renovation show with the commercials fast-forwarded). I joined a gym and forced myself to go religiously. One day I woke up and realized I didn’t have to go that day because I had double pneumonia. I rejoiced. When having pneumonia seems like a much more pleasant prospect than grinding through a circle of exercise devices you know you really hate it and need to find a better way to work out.

Some of us need more prodding to get off the couch than little kids with towels tied around their necks and this week, although I protested loudly, the prodding made me put some things I have been thinking about into practice. I recognize the necessity of these circumstances and that the exercise is actually taking me somewhere. I may be getting to the point where I can consider it a joy when confronted by various trials. Maybe. There is a time to hear, and a time to do. It’s time to do.

Have done, then, with impurity and every other evil which touches the lives of others, and humbly accept the message that God has sown in your hearts, and which can save your souls. Don’t I beg you, only hear the message, but put it into practice; otherwise you are merely deluding yourselves. The man who simply hears and does nothing about it is like a man catching the reflection of his own face in a mirror. He sees himself, it is true, but he goes on with whatever he was doing without the slightest recollection of what sort of person he saw in the mirror. But the man who looks into the perfect mirror of God’s law, the law of liberty (or freedom), and makes a habit of so doing, is not the man who sees and forgets. He puts that law into practice and he wins true happiness. (James 1:21-25 Phillips)

I Went to a Marvelous Party

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Erupt with thanks to the Eternal, for He is good
and His loyal love lasts forever.
Let all those redeemed by the Eternal—
those rescued from times of deep trouble—join in giving thanks.
(Psalm 107:1,2)

Shortly after our son-in-law was miraculously healed from a disease that seemed would certainly end in death (story told here) another man was in the ICU in our town in a similar state. My daughter asked me to pray for him and I became friends with his wife on Facebook. What a remarkable woman of faith. Her steadfastness and willingness to trust God through set-back after set-back, and to be transparently honest about their journey was deeply inspiring. Their story is amazing. Their answer took longer in arriving than ours and he faced death more than once. At one point the doctors told him he probably had six days at most to live.

But God…!

Last night they threw a party to celebrate his healing. Staff in the hospitals are also calling him the “Miracle Man” — the same nickname the staff at the hospital that treated our son-in-law gave him. Along with many others who prayed for them I was invited to the celebration. It was the first time we met face to face, but I felt such joy for them and such praise for the goodness of God. There was feasting and music and dancing —  clog dancing! Such happiness!

We are told that we overcome the enemy of our souls by the Blood of the Lamb and by the telling of our stories, and these wonderful people were doing just that.

Do you have a story worthy of a party to celebrate God? Do you have reason to be thankful? Tell me about it.

Swamped

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I’m swamped.

I’ve heard this expression a lot lately.

I’d like to help you, but I’m swamped because …

I’m mired down in this project that has had one delay after another.

I want to move on, but I get bogged down in old memories.

I can’t take on anything new. I’m still slogging through the consequences of the last disappointment.

I’m stuck – too far in to turn back, and too tired to move forward.

 

I may have said some of these things myself. We’re finally finishing up a renovation project that was costly and didn’t really make any visual improvements. We had a mild water problem to deal with that had gone on for years (the consequence of living downhill from people who also get rained on). After delays and interruptions the sheet rock is back up, the walls primed and painted and the furniture moved back in, but it’s not like those dramatic reveals on the renovation shows on TV. After all that work it looks very much the same as it did six months ago. But now the foundation is dry and solid and that nagging worry about what nastiness might be growing out of sight is gone. We can now put our efforts toward something more exciting.

Sometimes we need to deal with stuff in our lives that we have been ignoring for a long time. After a while we get bogged down, and whether it’s somebody else’s mess or our own that is swamping us, we need to deal with the soggy secret problems that other people may not see, but keep us from moving forward.

Thank God we are not alone.

A few years back I had to give up the facade of being “just fine thank you” and deal with stagnant emotions that had collected in the low spots in my life. God was faithful and kind, and although it took longer than I wanted it to, it was such a relief to reach solid ground.  I can say, “He reached down and drew me from the deep, dark hole where I was stranded, mired in the muck and clay.” The end result may not look very much different to observers, but I have a greater appreciation for the Holy Spirit, the paraclete, the One who comes along side, and because He is showing me how He sees me, I have a more solid foundation.

If the swamp is where you are, take heart. There is hope. It may take time but the Lord can pull you out if it. You will run on solid ground.

David understood. He wrote about it in  Psalm 40. Some excerpts:

I waited a long time for the Eternal;
He finally knelt down to hear me.

He listened to my weak and whispered cry.

He reached down and drew me
from the deep, dark hole where I was stranded, mired in the muck and clay.

With a gentle hand, He pulled me out
To set me down safely on a warm rock;
He held me until I was steady enough to continue the journey again.

 As if that were not enough,
because of Him my mind is clearing up.

Now I have a new song to sing—
a song of praise to the One who saved me…

 

You have done so many wonderful things,
had so many tender thoughts toward us, Eternal my God,
that go on and on, ever-increasing.
Who can compare with You?…

Please, Eternal One, don’t hold back Your kind ways from me.

I need Your strong love and truth
to stand watch over me and keep me from harm.
Right now I can’t see because I am surrounded by troubles;
my sins and shortcomings have caught up to me,
so I am swimming in darkness.
Like the hairs on my head, there are too many to count,
so my heart deserts me.

O Eternal One, please rescue me.
O Eternal One, hurry; I need Your help…

But may all who look for You discover true joy and happiness in You;

May those who cherish how You save them
always say, “O Eternal One, You are great and are first in our hearts.”

Meanwhile, I am empty and need so much,
but I know the Lord is thinking of me.
You are my help; only You can save me, my True God.
Please hurry.

The Voice (VOICE)

Tea Time: When Meaning Matters More Than Words

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I eagerly responded to the invitation to tea with a new acquaintance I met at a classical music event and the elderly friend she described as a fascinating scholar with many interests. I was new in town and finding it hard to make friends. His home was like I imagined C.S. Lewis’ to be with solid well-used antique furniture surrounded by over-stuffed floor to ceiling book cases and the scent of pipe tobacco. He poured me a proper cup of tea from a proper tea-pot. No dangling bags on a string in a chipped pottery mug for these people.

Both of them asked me many questions about myself. They leaned forward attentively and encouraged me often.

“Yes, yes. Go on,” they urged, smiling.

I had an audience and I was on a roll. I told them some of my best anecdotes and they paid rapt attention.

Then the gentleman and scholar turned to my new friend and said (quite excitedly) “Yes, yes! You are completely right! Northwest Pacific mixed with British public school. I believe I hear some Dublin Irish occasionally as well,” He turned to me for a moment, “Do you have relatives from Ireland?” but without waiting for my response said to the woman, “No matter. There is Dublin influence in there somewhere. But it is quite unusual for this area.”

“I told you,” the woman said.

“I watched an Irish movie last night,” I offered, trying to get back into the conversation. “I pick up accents very easily.”

It’s true. I do pick up accents, often unintentionally. It’s embarrassing sometimes. People think I am mocking them when I respond with the same vowel shifts they are using. When I am in performance mode the years of training as a singer slip in their influence as well. I unconsciously raise my soft palate, elongate the vowels and enunciate consonants. The result is that my accent changes slightly and sounds a bit like theatrical British posh.

Flashback: I’m doing a singing exam with an examiner sent to Calgary all the way from Trinity College of London: She apparently has been misinformed about Canadian weather and is sweltering in the June heat under her multilayered wool suit and hat with the bobbing pheasant feather. Suddenly she stops me in the middle of a song and tells me she can’t bear my atrocious accent a moment longer. “The word is ond, OND! Not aaand! Now sing it properly or I shall dismiss you immediately.”

I’m not aware that I’m changing my accent when I feel I’m being scrutinized, but people tell me I do. I thought I was the only one until I heard another classically trained singer speak. After listening to an interview of a famous woman I wondered where on earth a black girl from Georgia picked up that accent. Then I realized she did it too.

It took only a few minutes of hanging around the edge of the tea time people’s linguistic analysis conversation to realize they had not heard a word I said, only how I said it. I left shortly after, feeling very awkward, as they continued to discuss my phonation, and frankly, I felt lonelier than ever. Not only did they not hear my stories, they did not hear my heart. I longed for connection, for friends, but they were totally oblivious to that expression. It’s like the teacup mattered more than the tea.

This memory surfaced today in the context of a discussion of a blog suggesting that certain popular worship songs ought to be expunged from praise leaders’ repertoire. The complaints about the songs were that they were shallow, repetitive, theologically weak, or had uncomfortable imagery. To be honest, with little effort I could easily condemn them for more reasons than that – don’t get me started – oh what the heck –  the main one being that many corporate worship songs are written for a musically illiterate audience and have to be easy enough for anyone to learn by rote after three repetitions of the words on a screen – in other words they have the lyrical and musical complexity of a commercial or nursery song. For many musicians, asking them to confine themselves to current expressions of contemporary Christian music is like asking a person who has trained all their lives to be an Olympic swimmer to be happy within the confines of a hot tub.  There is nothing wrong with hot tubs, but they are not Olympic pools.

But then I see a crayon drawing my grandson made for me. It’s a bunch of semi-organized scribbles really, but to me it is right up there with the Mona Lisa, because he did the best he could in his efforts to honour me. I don’t see the colouring out of the lines; I see the little lad’s loving heart, and it thrills me. I hug him and plant a kiss on the top of his sweet head.

I believe in excellence and that those who can compose and play skillfully need to offer the Lord their best (Is there room in the Church for the Bachs and Brahms and Jenny Linds of today where they will not be accused of “showing off?”) But I also realize that praise and worship is all about the heart and not performance. When we worship together the Holy Spirit in me connects with the Holy Spirit in you and we unite to express our love to God. If that means extending grace to choose a simple repetitive song we can all join in, so be it. He is listening to more than the way we sing our words. He hears our hearts, our longing for connection, and He draws us in for a big  kiss, sloppy or theologically tidy – He picks.

Shelter

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If anything in this world bugs me it’s people who don’t care. Cold-heartedness.

The problem is I succumb to compassion-fatigue too. It takes a certain amount of denial to be able to function and not to feel overwhelmed by the amount of pain in this world. I find myself fleeing not only from cold-heartedness in others, but cold-heartedness in myself. It’s not only threats against our person that make us run to the Lord for refuge. It’s also when the things we judge others for show up in ourselves.

Here’s the thing: you can’t give what you have never received. Without the shelter and warmth and love Jesus provides when we run to him, we have nothing to share. So many sensitive people who do care find their love growing cold and become bitter and hopeless when they don’t leave the frigid environment out there and spend time regularly soaking up God’s love for them in the shelter he provides. It’s not selfish. It’s essential. It’s where our hope lies.

So God has given us two unchanging things: His promise and His oath. These prove that it is impossible for God to lie. As a result, we who come to God for refuge might be encouraged to seize that hope that is set before us. (Hebrews 6:18)

The Hope of Glory

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Saints of old the promise heard

and clung to the prophetic word.

For so long, by faith perceived,

the hope was given

and by faith received.

And they believed.

They believed.

They believed

in Christ in you,

the hope of glory.

I’ve been thinking of the people who were mentioned in the book of Hebrews as examples of great faith. They were also examples of great imperfections and the Bible doesn’t gloss over that. What strikes me this time is that none of them lived long enough to see the plan of God play out in the time and place they journeyed through. Faith is actually easier for us because so much more has been revealed to us than they had access to at that time.

My grandparents left everything behind seeking a better future for their children in a new land. They struggled to survive and never saw the promises fulfilled in their shortened life-times. How could they, who never had a washing machine or indoor plumbing, ever have imagined that one of their grandchildren would be on the team of engineers that invented the Canada Arm on the space shuttle – a crucial part of the exploration of the skies? But still they sacrificed to bring it about.

I wonder if I have faith to believe for prophecies beyond my life-time. There are bright and beautiful promises I can see from here, but I don’t know the timing or exactly how they will play out. This I know, the saints before me received hope by faith and it was accounted to them as righteousness. They walked in the hope. By faith I walk in the promise of hope that the light will grow brighter and brighter and the glory of Christ in my children’s children’s children will shine with a brilliance beyond my greatest imaginings.

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