Briefly: Accumulating Value

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Family members met yesterday to sort and distribute the last of my husband’s mother’s things. This is the third time I’ve shared this responsibility. It doesn’t get easier.

It’s a strange task, this going through other people’s spaces, looking at photos of people you never knew, discovering souvenirs from vacations you never took, and reading notes you were never meant to read. We had boxes and boxes of items to take to charities organizations. So many things a person saves hold little meaning for children and grandchildren who value tidiness, personal taste, and room to move in their own homes over sentimentality. “This was Mom’s favourite spatula” is not a good enough reason to add the collection already jamming a kitchen drawer.

Our parents saw harder times than we have known. My mother-in-law knew what it was like to lose everything to invaders in Rangoon during WWII. My parents knew what it was like to go hungry during the catastrophic climate-change known as The Dirty Thirties on the prairies. I understand why the shortages they experienced led to the habit of saving everything, but they set aside so many things for us that we don’t need. Their hard work actually did build a better life for us.

The problem of not knowing what to do with all the stuff left when an older family member passes away is relatively new in this land. Most of us are the descendants of immigrants and refugees who arrived with little. We don’t recognize the problem as a sign of how wealthy we’ve actually become. Our most treasured inheritance is their trust in God, faithfulness to family, and demonstrations of valiant endurance, not china tea cups or balls of string.

As we cope with boxes and bins of former treasures, I think about all the things we ourselves worked hard to accumulate. I wonder if my children and grandchildren will also send most of our stuff to the thrift shop or recycling center for who knows whom. (I’m working on down-sizing, kids, really I am.)

My mother-in-law lived into her nineties, but I know she still felt her time was too short. I was thinking about how quickly life passes, and how many of the things she once treasured are sitting in boxes by the back door, when I came across Psalm 39 in my scheduled reading today.

What a brief time you’ve given me to live!
Compared to you my lifetime is nothing at all!
Nothing more than a puff of air, I’m gone so swiftly.
So too are the grandest of men;
they are nothing but a fleeting shadow!”
Pause in his presence

We live our lives like those living in shadows.
All our activities and energies are spent for things that pass away.
We gather, we hoard, we cling to our things,
only to leave them all behind for who knows who.

And now, God, I’m left with one conclusion:
my only hope is to hope in you alone!

Psalm 39:5-7 TPT

I don’t want my remaining time to be spent accumulating things that pass away. The treasure I most wish to leave to my progeny is the story of God’s faithfulness, his empowering grace and hope – joyful expectation – that Christ alone is all the provision they need.

Peace in Believing

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The situations you are in are not more powerful than God.

They are not stronger than Him.

There is light.

There is truth.

There is wisdom.

There is revelation.

There is hope.

There is joy.

There is peace in believing.

-Graham Cooke, The Process Series

There is something particularly sweet about connecting with brothers and sisters in the Lord who understand pain and yet, even in dark times, walk in the light. It’s like a knowing wink across the room because they share a secret. They know what it is to be loved by the One more powerful than any situation.

When they leave, the scent of peace lingers.

Surrender Anxiety

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“I can tell when you’re worried,” my friend said. “You repeat yourself. A lot.”

It’s called ruminating. Ruminants are animals like cattle and deer which bring up the substance of their last intake to chew over again. Rumination in humans means obsessive worry about something, going over and over the details in your head.

Have I told you this before? Sorry if I have, but it helped me understand something. I heard a podcast speaker (I think it was Bill Johnson) say, “If you can worry, you can meditate. Meditation is like worry, but with better subject matter.”

The first time I tried to meditate on scripture I chose a verse in Psalm 46. “Be still and know that I am God.” To be honest, I chose it because it was short. I didn’t feel like memorizing anything longer, which might explain initial results.

I heard, “Be still,” in the exasperated whisper of an adult to a child who wouldn’t sit still in church. I viewed “and know that I am God” through the lens of a squirmy child who was bored out of her mind as she sat on a hard pew with nothing to do but wonder what would happen if the dead fox decorating Mrs. McSomebody’s coat collar suddenly came back to life. (In the fifties trauma-induced weirdness in the adult population was as common as, well, accessorizing with dead animals.) I think I was poking it when I was told to “be still!” The consequence was that, yet again, I missed knowing God.

I tried pondering different translations. That helped. One version said, “Cease striving, and know that I am God.” Meditating on those few words took years. Who knew? It turns out that worrying, ruminating, and striving were kind of a package deal with my temperament. Personality tests didn’t give me much hope of unplugging myself from that slot.

Finally, I realized that knowing who God is means unlearning ideas that hold me captive and unable to change. Unlearning requires meekness – the humility to know that I don’t know and the courage to know that by grace I can know. Learning who God is basic to learning how he sees me. Being still and ceasing striving now means letting go of defensiveness and giving up attempts to earn God’s love. On my own, trying harder will never be “good enough.”

And that’s the beauty of it.

God, you’re such a safe and powerful place to find refuge!
You’re a proven help in time of trouble—
more than enough and always available whenever I need you. (verse 1)

Today I read another translation. Apparently, I am not finished meditating on the simple easy-to-memorize verse. The Passion Translation reads, “Surrender your anxiety.” When Jesus said he gives peace that passes understanding, it’s not an invitation to get back on the worry track for a few more laps. Peace that passes understanding comes as a result of surrendering anxiety that rises from not understanding. Here comes paradox again. Loss is gain. Surrender is winning.

Not that I haven’t noticed before, but this time I was struck by the importance of context. “Surrender anxiety” is nestled in a Psalm about the kind of  divisive war-threatening conflict and climate disrupting-level natural disasters we see around us now.

When the nations are in uproar with their tottering kingdoms,
God simply raises his voice
and the earth begins to disintegrate before him.
Here he comes! The Commander! (verses 6 & 7)

He’s messing with my theology again. Disintegrate?

Then I remember Jesus talking about tearing down and building up. He told people, who asked for a sign, if they tore down this temple (he meant his own body, but they didn’t know yet) he would raise it up again in three days.

Everyone look!
Come and see the breathtaking wonders of our God.
For he brings both ruin and revival. (verse 8)

Sometimes learning means unlearning first and sometimes building firmer foundations means tearing down wobbly bases first.

Sometimes we don’t have the means to correct problems ourselves because we have a death-grip on tainted assumptions and tottering institutions. We call it loyalty, but loyalty to whom? What if all this upheaval is about more than setting up another temporary camp that allows us to survive until the next crisis? What if God wants us to come to the end of our do-something-do-anything suggestions and let him reveal more of himself to us? What if he has a better plan? What if he wants to replace striving with thriving or coping with character?

What if  anxiety (which is actually lack of trust) acts as a barbed barrier that keeps us from going where he wants to take us?

He’s the one who makes conflicts end
throughout the earth,
breaking and burning every weapon of war.
Surrender your anxiety!
Be silent and stop your striving and you will see that I am God.
I am the God above all the nations,
and I will be exalted throughout the whole earth.

The Mighty Choir

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Let the rivers and streams clap with applause
as the mountains rise in a standing ovation
to join the mighty choir of exaltation.
 
Look! Here he comes! The Lord and judge of all the earth!
He’s coming to make things right and to do it fair and square.
And everyone will see that he does all things well!

(Psalm 98:8,9 TPT)

Often, when I am driving through a mountain valley, the forest trees remind me of  a mass choir standing on every hillside. The line from the old hymn, plays in my heart, “All nature sings and round me rings the music of the spheres.”

Can you hear it?

 

 

A New Day

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Stop dwelling on the past.
Don’t even remember these former things.

I am doing something brand new, something unheard of.
Even now it sprouts and grows and matures.
Don’t you perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and open up flowing streams in the desert.

Wild beasts, jackals, and owls will glorify me.
For I supply streams of water in the desert
and rivers in the wilderness
to satisfy the thirst of my people, my chosen ones,

so that you, whom I have shaped and formed for myself,
will proclaim my praise.”

(Isaiah 43:18-21 TPT)