Today

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It was a difficult time. There was nothing more the doctors could do for my friend. She surprised everyone by living a happy, healthy life ten years longer than the sell-by date first suggested by her most optimistic specialists. In fact, she outlived two oncologists. Now the third told her the cancer was back and he had nothing left to offer her that they had not already tried.

She holed up in her lovely house in the forest for a while, reviewing her life and faith and relationships. Then one day she phoned and told me she was coming over.

“Today I am not dead. Let’s enjoy it.”

She was my accompanist, a misleading term, really. She didn’t accompany me like the paid companion in Victorian novels. We were a duo. We gave most of our concerts for an audience of three – ourselves and God. We chose music we wanted to do. We challenged each other. We allowed the music to say what we could not.

For six months we made music, dropping the more evocative songs when they caused one or both of us to choke up. You can’t sing with a lump in your throat. She stopped me and said the reason she liked coming to my house was that it was one place where she didn’t have the burden of comforting other people. I saved my tears for later.

She wanted to go to be with Jesus. She was ready to go. She longed to go. She felt no shame in not wanting to fight anymore.

But she determined to not make a career of dying. “One day I will die,” she said, “But on the rest I will live. Let’s sing.”

Most of the trees in my neighbourhood are barren now, but up at the top of the street a weeping willow glows in the sunlight. I stood under its swaying branches enjoying every moment of golden beauty that surrounded me. It carried a familiar message.

Today I am not dead. Today I am alive. Let’s sing.

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Gathering

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The thing I like about rest is it gives me a breathing space where I can gather myself. I can step back. You don’t have to react to externals; you have to respond to an internal.

-Graham Cook

I feel sorry for the person in a crisis or otherwise dramatic moment who has a microphone thrust in her face as a reporter is asking for reactions. If that happened to me I could probably supply him or her with a choice remark off the top of my head. But that’s the problem. My first reaction is just that -my reaction.

It is, as often as not, a shallow, self-centered reaction motivated by whatever has caused inconvenience or pain. For small things, like a stubbed toe, the memory of a short loud complaint fades faster than it takes to hop across the room on one foot. For big things that involve profound disappointment in people and may even change the course of my life, I need to get away and submit my reaction to the Holy Spirit’s response before I say or do something I’ll regret later

I need to gather in angry scowls, perturbed sighs, peaceless mutterings and woe-is-me moans. I need to take catastrophizing thoughts and calls for revenge captive. Then I can present them to Jesus. After all he paid to take this stuff away. Then I need to listen and respond with his love, his joy, his peace. I need to see the way he does.

Sometimes it’s a bigger struggle than I think it should be. Sometimes I sit in his presence wishing I could take back words that flew out of my mouth before self-control showed up to edit them. Sometimes I feel as stubborn as three-year old who would rather sit at the dinner table until bedtime than eat my broccoli. I don’t want to eat my words. And sometimes I eventually hear the futility of my repetitive argument as the finer points dull in comparison to his wisdom.

I’ve changed my mind about a lot of situations and people lately. When my first reaction might be to reject them he whispers, “Look again. Do you see what I see?”

Freedom means that when a situation sticks a metaphorical microphone in front of my face demanding an immediate reaction, I don’t have to give one. I can step back, wait, listen and respond with Christ in me, the hope of glory.

It definitely beats counting to ten.

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Love Never Dies

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Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
Love never dies.

(1 Corinthians 13 The Message)

For the whole law can be summed up in this one command:

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

(Galatians 5:14 NLT)

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You Are With Me in Those Dark Moments

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“The silence that makes it possible to hear God speak also makes it possible for us to hear the world’s words for what they really are – tinny and unconvincing lies.”

-Eugene H. Peterson

In the past few weeks I’ve needed time and space to listen. Then I needed more time and more space to sort out the voices.

The Bible says not to believe every spirit, but to test the spirits to discern if they are from God. The enemy of our souls is also called the father of lies. A lot of the work of inner healing is about identifying and letting go of lies we have believed about ourselves. When Adam and Eve covered their shame and hid from God after they believed the tempter’s lie God said to them, “Who told you you were naked?”

Hint: If he was asking, it wasn’t him.

I’ve had a lot of emotional healing in my life. Each time I think I’ve addressed everything by forgiving, taking my hands off the throat of the person I felt hurt me, blessing them and turning to Jesus Christ to meet my needs. And he does.

Then after a while Holy Spirit decides it’s time to take me deeper.

The process of healing the soul and renewing the mind sometimes makes me feel like I am going in circles. I thought I dealt with this memory or this resentment already, but here it is back again. I am realizing that the circle is actually a spiral and each time we go around we go deeper. Each time I am more willing to let him touch the more painful places because I am learning to trust his love and faithfulness to complete what he started.

Recently two kind women were helping me recognize barriers that were keeping me from staying close to God. I needed to forgive again and bless again. Then one asked me, “How did you envision God when you were a child?”

I told her about the recurring nightmare I had for years as a child. In the dream I’m sitting on a dock and dangling my feet in the water. Others are enjoying putting their bare feet in the lake and laughing and splashing each other, but there is no room for me so I sit on the left side of the warm wooden pier. Suddenly the sky turns dark and wind blows sleet in our faces. The adults are angry with me for starting this. They tell me it is forbidden to put my feet in the water on that side. I am taken to a pit that is the bottom of an elevator shaft to be punished for my crime.

My family is sad that I am about to be crushed but they try to cheer me up with gum and comfort me by covering me with an army blanket. Nevertheless they do nothing to rescue me because this is what God requires. People who commit sin, even if they didn’t know it is a sin, must be punished for the good of the community. I watch the square floor come down and I know that this is God Himself coming down to crush me. I wake up just before the cold metal touches my face.

Of course I don’t believe there is any truth in that dream. I think it was sent by an agent of the father of lies to keep me from being able to love God freely. I didn’t think there was any reason to talk further about it. It was a long time ago. I have moved on.

“I’m going to do something different,” said the counselor. “I do this to help people who have been in traumatic situations. I have never prayed through a dream before, but because this nightmare was traumatic for you, let’s ask Jesus what he wants to do instead.”

We prayed, then I closed my eyes and walked through the dream again. I pictured Jesus with me.

“Where is he?” she asked.

“In the pit. He’s under the blanket with me.”

“And what does he want to show you?”

I waited. Then I saw Jesus take my hand as he welcomed the elevator.

“What does he want to show you about God?”

I cried.

“He’s showing me that God is my elevator, not my annihilator. He is introducing me to the God who has come to lift me out of the pit.”

Oh, my God! (I mean that in most most literal respectful way.) In all the years that dream has been lingering in the backroom of my memory I never noticed the significance of the word elevator. It is God who elevates me, lifts me up to sit with him in heavenly places.

That which the enemy of my soul sent as a message to fill a child with fear and discouragement the Lord of Life, in his goodness and mercy, could turn around in a few minutes into a symbol of hope and deliverance. The fearful image has been transformed in my mind into an image of hope.

The Eternal is my shepherd, He cares for me always.

He provides me rest in rich, green fields
    beside streams of refreshing water.

He soothes my fears;

He makes me whole again,
    steering me off worn, hard paths
    to roads where truth and righteousness echo His name.

 
Even in the unending shadows of death’s darkness,

    I am not overcome by fear.

Because You are with me in those dark moments,

    near with Your protection and guidance,
    I am comforted.


You spread out a table before me,

    provisions in the midst of attack from my enemies;

You care for all my needs, anointing my head with soothing, fragrant oil,

    filling my cup again and again with Your grace.
 
Certainly Your faithful protection and loving provision will pursue me

    where I go, always, everywhere.
I will always be with the Eternal,
    in Your house forever.

(Psalm 23 The Voice)

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Thank you, Lord.

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Expect

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Don’t be worried with evil workers
or envy the gains of people with all-wrong-upside-down ways.

Soon enough they will wither like grass,
like green herbs fading in summer’s heat.

Believe in the Eternal, and do what is good—
live in the land He provides; roam, and rest in God’s faithfulness.

Take great joy in the Eternal!
His gifts are coming, and they are all your heart desires!

Commit your path to the Eternal; let Him direct you.
Put your confidence in Him, and He will follow through with you.

He will spread out righteousness for you
as a sunrise spreads radiance over the land;
He will deliver justice for you into the light of the high sun.

Be still. Be patient. Expect the Eternal to arrive and set things right.
Don’t get upset when you see the worldly ones rising up the ladder.
Don’t be bothered by those who are anchored in wicked ways.

So turn from anger. Don’t rage,
and don’t worry—these ways frame the doorway to evil.

Besides, those who act from evil motives will be cut off from the land;
but those who wait, hoping in the Eternal, will enjoy its riches.

(Psalm 37:1-9 The Voice)

U-turn

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For several hours after we arrived at home I felt like I was still moving. A fine trembling in my bones replaced the vibration of tires on asphalt and I half-expected the items in my peripheral vision to pass more quickly than they did as I rolled my suitcase down the hall to the bedroom.

I was kind of proud that I just drove from eastern British Columbia to California and back again. We enjoyed different scenery than we are used to. Then I remembered my Dad’s friend who drove that route twice a week, hauling back truckloads of fruit or vegetables. He said fresh raspberries were the worst.

“They have no patience or endurance, them things. They’ll turn themselves into a thousand pounds of red mush if the load shifts or you get held up somewheres,” he said. “Give me crates of oranges or carrots.”

Twice a week. Wow. Now that man had both patience and endurance.

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I suppose he knew the road so well he wouldn’t get lost like I did when I missed an important exit ramp. My instincts about which lane to be in are terrible. The last time I drove this route I nearly went around the bend in Bend when I was caught up in a surge of traffic that herded me off toward Portland when I didn’t want to go to Portland. Later that day I found myself half-way to Yakima before I could find a place to turn around after missing the sign that pointed to Kennewick. It was probably behind the onion truck.

We have a talking guidance system in our car which is marvelously wonderful compared to reading huge floppy paper maps by a wimpy light in the ceiling like in the old days, but it can’t be entirely trusted. I talk back to the in-800-meters-make-a—–left-turn lady a lot, and not always in the most respectful tone. Most of the time she is brilliant, but she can be incredibly obtuse when it comes to one-way streets, construction zones, and especially new overpasses.

“What left turn? There is no road on the left anywhere around…. aaargh… that was the exit ramp on the right, wasn’t it. Seriously? ‘Make a u-turn, if possible,’ is not going to cut it here on a divided highway with an 18 wheeler breathing down my neck, GPS lady! I trusted you and you misled me!”

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On the other hand I could have been trying to cross Oregon in an oxcart. I’ve heard that wrong turns had more serious consequences than a half hour delay when the pioneers first attempted the journey. I should be more thankful.

Yes, I am grateful for a heated, air-conditioned, low-emissions, adjustable-seated vehicle with air bags, surround sound, USB port and a lady in the dashboard who tells me that my destination is ahead on the left. Very grateful indeed. Bridges and paved roads with shoulders are great and signs that give you enough notice to be in the proper lane are a God-send. Thank you.

But I still hate getting lost or off-track with nowhere to turn around for miles. I am almost ready to park and walk on dark rainy nights in a strange city with signs that say one-way, no left turn. and no u-turn. Do people living there just keep going in ever-widening circles to the right, hoping eventually to make contact with their hotel? Is there no mercy for those of us who are in the wrong lane or who make a wrong turn?

I saw a different sign on the outskirts of Sandpoint in Idaho in a neighbourhood where all the big box stores decided to settle. On the highway running past parking lots and colourful buildings with familiar logos I saw a lane that was designated for u-turns. In fact there was more than one lane on this stretch of the road for people who didn’t want to go that direction anymore. The sign had a curved arrow and said: U-TURN. Drivers could actually, legally “make a u-turn if possible.” How thoughtful!

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The sign caught my attention. I’ve been thinking about it and wondering why it stood out to me. Then the Lord reminded me of the conversation we had been having about seeking direction for my life. I have been asking, “Who do you want to be for me now?”

I believe he is saying, “I am the way. I am your u-turn lane. I am your motive, means and opportunity for change. I give you permission to do things differently.”

When Jesus began his preaching ministry on earth this is what he said: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

The meaning of the word “repent” has been shifted and squashed like an unrecognizable mass of raspberries in a truck that has hit too many speed bumps. We associate it with sign-carrying doomsday prophets, Bible thumpers, and religious police on the lookout for anyone exceeding the limits of propriety by having fun. To many of us “repentance” brings up images of airing dirty laundry in traveling tent meetings, or of reciting prayers and doing penance as punishment or even joining Monty Pythonesque flagellation marches. Mea culpa, whack, mea culpa...

Repent, as most of us understand it nowadays, is not an inviting word.

But repent (metanoeo in Greek) actually means to turn, to change, to think differently, to admit to ourselves, and those we have offended, that we know we are going in the wrong direction, that this is not working, and we want to make a u-turn. It’s an invitation to the kingdom.

Sometimes we are on the wrong road because we were misled. Sometimes we were caught up in a crowd, or missed the signs or were not paying attention. Sometimes, like I did in Klamath Falls, we turn off to eat a quick lunch in a pretty park down by the lake and realize getting back on track is not as easy as getting off. Sometimes we outright rebel and run angrily in the opposite direction, finding ourselves on a dirt track that goes over a dubious bridge and dead-ends at the dump. (I may have learned that lesson the hard way too.)

Jesus doesn’t wait on the high road for us to figure out how to get out of the mess ourselves before he’ll meet with us. He, himself, provides the way to change. The Bible tells us that it is the kindness of God that leads us to change direction, so we can follow him and his kingdom ways.

One of the things I love about my husband is his ability to make a diagnosis and take math students back to the point where they got lost. Then he helps them find their way again. A lot of professors can teach brilliant, enthused A students, but it takes someone who genuinely cares to take the time to help a D or F student turn around, get back on track and gain the confidence they need to pursue dreams of higher education. When they begin to let go of the label of “stupid” they lose the fear of trying. They wear a new sign that says “capable.” I watch him do this all the time. He’s amazing.

This is what God does with his children. When we come to him wearing a sign around our neck that says “hopeless sinner” he takes it off, helps us find the place where we got off track and provides our u-turn lane in Christ. He tells us who we really are, “saint,” and gives us a vision of hope. He points toward the dreams he placed in us. Then he goes with us.

He’s just that good. He really is.

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