A hand-painted ceramic plaque hung, at various times, on various walls in our house. I was always surprised when it appeared in the bathroom or kitchen after previously filling a blank space in the hallway or dining room. Maybe Mom was trying to remind us of the message written on it. To be honest, my reaction was usually, “Yeah, I know. I should spend more time in Bible study. I should pray more. I should pay more attention in church. I should try to appreciate family devotions in the morning. I should stop groaning when it’s time to stop having fun and settle down and get serious for ‘the devotional’ at youth group. If I did I might be a nicer, less anxious teen, or at least less moody.”
After Mom died and Dad moved into the senior’s facility I took the plaque off the bedroom wall and brought it home with me. I think it’s in the memorabilia trunk that’s in storage until our house is repaired.
I thought about it when a song started playing in my head the other day. I have been praying for peace. Distractive worries have messed with my ability to concentrate lately. The words in the simple repetitive chorus were:
Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee.
I’m learning to pay attention, and I know the Lord is reminding me of Isaiah 11:26 for a reason. I decided to meditate on it. First I looked it up in several translations. Then I checked the meanings of key words in a Hebrew lexicon. I found a great deal more hidden in the short passage than an annoying wheelbarrow load of ‘should.’
‘Keep’ comes from the word that means to protect, shield from danger, surround with a blockade, watch, or guard with fidelity. Natsar describes a security detail like the secret service agents we often see guarding VIPs in news stories.
‘Perfect peace’ is written in the original language as shalom, shalom. Double shalom. Shalom is more than a greeting or wish for peace without conflict. Shalom calls for everything to align in perfect harmony to bring about physical and spiritual well-being. Nothing missing, nothing broken, nothing in the way. We have no word in English for a concept of peace this big, so most translators just call it ‘perfect.’
The word translated ‘mind’ in the olde King James Version means much more than the organ that analyzes and stores sensory input. Yetser refers to a framework, a construct, a mindset if you will. It’s the control center that addresses why we choose to believe and act the way we do. More than that, it means imagination, like the purpose that exists before a creator’s hand forms an object, or writes a description of a character in a work of fiction, or makes a grand gesture in a dance.
Before I started writing today’s entry I had an idea. I collected information, I mused over illustrations from my life, I found photos, I made notes and formed a loose outline. I wasn’t sure how it would turn out but, in essence, the words you are reading here formed first in my yetser – my imagination.
Imagination can be in vain and lead us in a destructive direction when it is not connected to God’s truth, but the Creator of the universe created us to be creative, not merely to follow directions as if we were assembling furniture from a Swedish big block store. If the most important thing in life is what we think about God, imagination is central to spiritual well-being – shalom.
I learned the word ‘stayed’ represented the concept of being sustained, supported, upheld, propped up, borne, established, rested, braced, set, revived and refreshed. Camak carries so much more meaning than ‘stay’ (which reminds me of the plastic whalebone ‘stays’ in my grandmother’s formidable corset – the device which restrained Grandma’s ample flesh with the message it could go no further than the boundaries they defined.)
Yesterday I planted tomatoes which, up until now, have happily resided at Casey’s Greenhouse. I prepared and enriched the soil, then placed them in holes I dug for them in my garden beds. I put stakes and wire cages around them to prop them up and protect them from the wind and, I hope, stray balls when the grandchildren come to play. These varieties can grow heavy fruit; they need support.
My hands were gently tying the stems when the song containing the verse began to play in my head again. Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee. But now I understood it better. I want my tomatoes to grow. I did all the work. Their job is to receive water and sun and soil nutrients and produce fruit. I thought about my Heavenly Father as my protector, my propper-upper, my provider.
Unlike passive plants, we have the choice to stay or walk away. We can easily fill our imaginations with dismal forebodings, angry reactions or alternative coping strategies. We can choose to give away our authority to other voices with other plans. God has given us the right to reject his embrace.
I remembered a time when I felt supporting arms upholding me and bracing me in a tough time. Our son-in-law was in the intensive care unit. His condition was so dire surgeons decided the risk of moving him across the hall to the operating room was too great. In a last ditch effort to stop the hemorrhaging in his lungs and to remove more infected fascia from his leg they prepared to operate in right there in his room.
A nurse with tears in her eyes called for his wife, parents, and brother. We all knew by the atmosphere this was to give them a chance to say goodbye. I watched my dearly loved daughter walk down the hallway in a daze. My knees buckled and I slid down the wall I had been leaning against. I had been brave all week but now I sobbed.
We had seen miraculous answers as people prayed day and night. We saw blood circulation restored to his feet as children prayed for his toes. We saw thousands of people respond to a call to pray in unity. And now this.
He was bleeding out and in danger of throwing clots at the same time. He was on 100% oxygen. He couldn’t breathe. He was dying.
I felt so abandoned. So helpless. So weak. I was embarrassed by my inability to keep it together. I wanted to be strong for others, but I wasn’t.
Then two of our daughter and son-in-law’s friends came out into the hallway and stood on either side of me. I didn’t want to be touched but they lifted me to my feet. Each one held an elbow and literally held me up, sustained, supported, propped up, bore my weight, and held on until I felt steadied.
I remember telling Debbie that I knew God was doing something, but at that moment it was just too hard. She and John Murdo comforted and encouraged me. They reminded me of God’s faithfulness no matter what happened.
Some months before he was in a coma, our son-in-love told me about meeting an amazingly accurate prophetic guy. Shawn Bolz told Bruce about the plans God had for his life – and those plans did not include dying at a young age. He said he had never said that to anyone before but the Lord impressed on him that he needed to know.
My daughter and I knew we had to take those prophetic promises and go to war with them. Feeling stronger now I marched up and down the hall in the opposite spirit that prevailed in the hospital wing. I sang praises (softly -–this was a hospital). I sang in English and I sang in the Spirit, something I had always kept very private. I know people passing by must have thought I was insane, but I didn’t care what they thought. This was war. I was standing on those prophetic promises. My imagination chose to see them being fulfilled. My trust in God’s goodness grew with every lap.
My eyes were closed a lot of the time and I was so focused I didn’t notice the hospital halls filling with people who had come to pray that Good Friday morning. Many more in the ICU waiting room, including my husband, had already been there for hours. Hundreds more prayed in churches and home groups when they received text messages. Then thousands around the world joined. We declared he would live.
On Easter morning he responded to his name and opened his eyes briefly. On Pentecost Sunday he walked into church a whole man with no loss of limb, or brain damage, and with better kidney and lung function than before he became ill. God had a plan and it included miraculous revival.
I was listening to an album by Selah on my iPod as I finished working in the garden and recalling that day. The song medley, “Standing On the Promises/Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” began to play.
“What are you saying, Lord?” I asked. “Put the pieces together.”
I rewrote the verse on Mom’s plaque in my own words.
You, Abba, my Father, will faithfully guard and surround with shalom, shalom, those whose mindsets and imaginations are planted, sustained, upheld, supported, braced, embraced and borne by You, because they trust You. They stand on your promises. They lean on your mighty arms – and You provide everything they need to produce abundant fruit.
“We must learn to cast off our anxieties because we have so many of them. The world destroys spiritual life by generating constant anxiety. Jesus said that the life of the gospel is choked out by the cares of this world. We know this to be true yet we are more chained and tethered to the world than ever before in the human race.”
I’m still cleaning out corners of the garden. The old dead growth needs to go. I need the space for healthy plants.
I’m still cleaning out corners of my mind. Old ways of thinking need to go. I need the space for healthier thoughts.
“If a man just stops to think what he has to praise God for, he will find there is enough to keep him singing praises for a week.”
-Dwight L. Moody
Two years ago the leaves on our double flowering plum suddenly started shriveling up. Within a week most of them had fallen off. Many of the trees on our street suffered the same fate. Leaf miner bugs staged an invasion while we were out on the porch enjoying our ice tea.
We sprayed and fertilized and watered, but it was too late. It was a sad sight. On her way to her car after a visit, my friend Rhonda stopped and held the tip of a barren low-hanging branch in her gentle hand. I knew she was praying for the tree’s recovery. Rhonda is sensitive to nature. She could feel the tree’s pain and she had compassion.
Last spring the tree sprouted leaves, but there were no blossoms. My husband suggested cutting it down, but I couldn’t bear to let go as long as long as it still lived. I pruned it back and fertilized hoping for revival even as more leaves browned and blew away.
This morning as I look out the window above my desk, branches decked in beautiful pink blossoms wave in the breeze. I can’t see them hiding in there, but I can hear the birds singing. Buzzing bees don’t even trigger my fear of them because they are far too busy with flowers to notice me.
The thirty-five-year-old double flowering plum made a dramatic comeback this spring. We marvel in the show because we feared we had lost her.
This week also marks the fourth anniversary of our son-in-love returning home from the hospital. He was miraculously healed after doctors gave him a 0% chance of survival from flesh-eating disease. We thought we had lost him too. But God had other plans, and we still marvel.
To be honest, this has been a year of set-backs. Half of our house is still uninhabited and awaiting restoration after heavy snow-melt floods destroyed the renovation work barely finished. Just when I thought my nagging health issues had finally been dealt with, the tests say ‘not so fast.’ This will require more treatment and more recovery time.
You may be in a season of hope deferred as well.
One thing I have learned in my life: Complaining attracts spiritual forces who are quite willing to help you with dismal projections and align to undermine hope. Praise attracts the angels who live in the atmosphere of worship of the God of Love. They align to bring about God’s purpose – reconciliation between the Father and humankind and restoration of all creation.
Today the plum tree is vibrant with petal colour and birdsong and the hum of honey-makers. Today I have a reminder right outside my window that God is still in the restoration business and there is always, always something to be thankful for.
Have you ever searched online for a recipe using the ingredients you actually have in the house? Have you clicked on the suggested site and then had to plow through the details of the cook’s day before finding the instructions way down at the bottom under photos of her aunt’s birthday party? Have you ever said to yourself in exasperation, “All I want to know is how many eggs?
Have you ever been trapped by the expectation of polite silence placed on the captured pew audience and listened to a rambling sermon that seemed to include a dozen unrelated illustrations plucked at random from the Good Book. Have you wondered where this was going, if anywhere?
Have you ever said to someone, “How are you?” and they took your question as a literal invitation to recite their medical records? Have you wondered if you should send flowers now or wait for the funeral should they actually succumb to toenail fungus?
Have you ever wanted to say, “I don’t have time for this. Please just get to the point?”
I’m sure people have with me. One of the advantages of writing is the ability to edit out superfluous detail. People don’t have time to travel rabbit trails with me, and frankly, even the most caring among us does not have the capacity to listen to every detail, let alone delight in it.
Have you ever asked your child or grandchild about the classic movie a friend took them to and been delighted to hear every detail, from the story of the kid who spilled his popcorn in the lobby to a description of the hero’s father’s home planet? Our delight is not in the movie. We’ve seen it. Our delight is in the relationship. We rejoice in the child’s joy.
People who have lost spouses or friends, or have been separated from them for long periods of time, tell me the hardest part is not having anyone to share good news with. Someone who cares about the details of your day, someone who doesn’t communicate with watch checking or key jangling that they just want you to get to the point, someone who actually enjoys being in your presence is one of the greatest gifts to our souls’ well-being.
Here’s the most beautiful thing about our relationship with God. He has all the time in the world. He has an infinite capacity to care. He delights in you and every detail of your life.
When I first started on a journey to get to know God better I decided to go on a long walk with Jesus. I didn’t know what to say, so I told him about a movie I had seen. I pretended I was holding his hand like I was a child. I didn’t listen much. I didn’t know I could. After a few days of telling him about the details of my life no one else seemed interested in, he began to tell me about the things he cared about. It began with a flower in the woods, and a bird in the tree.
I began to listen. I wept with him. I rejoiced with him. Because he listens.
The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives.
Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand.
I’ve been helping friends write resumes. I’ve also been talking to friends who are looking for reliable employees. Frequently, friends who are writers (or want to be writers) ask me to read their articles and books-in-process. Others are looking for recommendations for reading material. Busy, busy, busy.
I can lose embarrassingly large huge chunks of time following links on social media. At the moment it takes over an hour to keep up with my Facebook feed in the morning (and you know I don’t limit myself to a morning perusal). Daily, I am notified of the arrival of possibly excellent blogs I probably won’t have time to read if I want time to write anything myself.
I was the kind of kid who read everything – cereal boxes, instruction manuals, and terrifying lists of side-effects tucked inside packages of tablets. I read quickly and constantly, but even I am overwhelmed by the barrage of words coming at my eyeballs lately. Like the employers who spoke to me this week, I sometimes look for reasons to scroll past and go on to the next thing. Disqualifiers. (A note to my young friends: potential employers do look at your social media party pictures and rants about unfair teachers, over-sensitive co-workers, and unreasonable cops. Just sayin’.)
The problem is that hasty judgments can be misleading. Sometimes I need to go back and look again because sometimes I have been very wrong. I know this because I have felt harshly judged and dismissed myself. That may be who I was then, but it is not who I am now.
Lately, I have been listening to the stories of people I admire, people who have developed proven character and live lives that effectively communicate the love of God and his ways. These are people who mentor the young, heal the sick, speak the truth, serve the poor, and encourage the stumbling to pick up their feet. I am amazed at how incredibly unqualified some of them would have appeared to be if I had known them twenty years ago.
This week I have also read critical dismissals of people I have learned carry a depth of understanding the shallow, fearful, and defensively religious don’t recognize. I have heard posters say they have nothing to learn from anyone who is a single parent, too young, not academically-inclined, divorced, physically weak or ill, not endorsed by an institutional church, endorsed by the wrong institutional church, unpolished, too slick, female, unattractive, fashionable, unequally yoked to an unbelieving spouse (or a spouse who voted differently), “obese” (seriously? maybe a little husky) or, in the case of a fine writer, dead.
When I listen to the stories of people I admire, both living and dead, I am impressed by the fact that nearly all of them originally presented with disqualifiers for ministry. She failed the same grade three times, she lived with an alcoholic for forty years, he drank for forty years, his wife divorced him, she failed the physical for missionary service, he was attracted to the same sex, he couldn’t carry a tune, she fainted if she had to speak in public, he lost years to depression, she was seduced by a pastor, he was diagnosed with autism, she had a criminal record, he was drowning in debt.
The Bible records many stories of those who were uniquely unqualified for the roles God gave them. We read about prostitutes, collaborators, murderers, convicts, fraud artists, and cowards rising up to become God’s secret weapons. The abandoned, abducted, emasculated, robbed, wounded, harassed, orphaned, and misunderstood eventually found themselves in positions of power and influence only God could arrange.
God’s tendency to use the weak to confound the mighty is not new, yet it is consistently surprising.
Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God.
God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself. Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin. Therefore, as the Scriptures say, “If you want to boast, boast only about the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1: 26-31 NLT)
When I am tempted to dismiss someone for lack of obvious potential, I have to look at the bitter, depressed person I was twenty years ago and remember how the grace extended to me made change possible. I am grateful for those who saw more than my list of disqualifications and offered encouragement in dark days. They saw potential when I did not. I am thankful that even now God doesn’t define me by my weaknesses.
When I listen to the stories of people I admire I realize the common element is that these are people who experienced the power of transforming grace in their lives. It is difficult to give what you have not received. They extend grace because they have known grace. Weakness was their superpower because the lack of personal qualifications for the job allowed God’s grace to multiply beyond anything they could imagine.
Is the job God is offering you beyond your ability? You’re hired!
Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)
It’s runoff season in the mountains. This time of year pretty little streams can turn into aggressive torrents churning up mud and rock as they rush down to the valley on their way to the sea. If heavy rains coincide with melting snow this season can be messy, and even destructive and dangerous. I am tempted to complain. Loudly.
I went for a walk along the creek that flows near our house. I could actually hear rocks tumbling in two giant culverts that directed rushing water under the bicycle path. The banks of the creek are unstable and some trees no longer grip enough soil with their tangled roots to stay upright. Even in places that looked dry, my feet sank ankle deep in the soft saturated lawn in the park.
We are reading reports of massive flooding all over the southern portion of the province of British Columbia well as many other places in Canada. In some areas, homes, and shops are inundated. Hillsides slip slide away and roads and bridges are washed out. Traffic is chaotic. Our own home is still drying out from the last messy melt and repairs may take months.
Yesterday, as I walked beside the muddy pounding waters flowing from the high mountains, I heard the word “abundance.” I saw the creek overflowing its banks and spill out into the playing field where kids’ soccer lessons should be starting soon. They will be disappointed. How can this be abundance when it feels like loss?
I remembered that the first European settlers who came to this area followed the stories of the discovery of gold in Wildhorse Creek. It was the violent spring run-off currents that washed the precious metal down from the treacherous terrain above. After prospectors and entrepreneurs filled their pockets with gold dust and nuggets they sent for their wives and children. Along with families came the merchants and services that families need. Roads and train rails reached the area. Towns sprang up – then churches and schools and eventually arenas and shopping malls and an airport with a runway big enough to accommodate international flights.
I thought about some of the large successful ranches in the interior of B.C. Arable land is a valuable and relatively sparse in this province of massive rocks reaching to the sky. Many rich valleys which produce abundant harvests and feed sheep and cattle were, at one time, flood plains. Like the people who live along the lower Nile River, we have come to depend on soil nutrients carried by occasional flood water and the rain and melted snow that refills lakes, aquifers, and reservoirs.
The bigger picture I think the Lord is showing me is that we may pray for prosperity, but we don’t always recognize it when it comes because our concept of prosperity is all about current comfort. It seldom includes the well-being of generations we probably won’t meet let alone planning for decades ahead. Perhaps abundance includes more people than we think.
I wonder if the same thing happens when we are tempted to complain loud and long about uncomfortable circumstances in our lives. We don’t always see them as gifts that can benefit our great- great- grandchildren. We tend to be short-sighted and don’t enjoy setting aside our convenience for a greater purpose – especially one that is not obvious. We don’t realize that traits like steadfast courage, resilience, diligence, unashamed hope and trust in God’s goodness developed in times of “just too much” can be the greatest inheritance we can pass on to future generations.
Yes, there are disasters orchestrated by the evil one who intends to harm us, but God can still turn plans meant for our harm into better plans meant for our benefit. It’s his specialty. He’s done it many times. He will do it again. Just watch.
Yet, in the maddening maze of things, And tossed by storm and flood, To one fixed trust my spirit clings; I know that God is good!