Oh Thou In Whose Presence My Soul Takes Delight

Only a few weeks ago, this patch of lavatera flowers springing forth like a delightful fountain of pink joyfulness was a barren patch of dirt.

I didn’t plant them, nor did I water them. I saw them growing in the community garden next to our building. A gardener who rents the plot planted them in amongst practical and edible kale and beans and tomatoes. These flowers don’t have 300 uses like the peanut or end up in a myriad of product like corn. Their only role is to simply be beautiful and to lift the spirits of those who pass by.

I am learning to stop and appreciate beauty when I see it. I also appreciate those who develop varieties of plants suitable for local environments and resistant to pests and disease. I appreciate the tillers and planters and waterers. I love the ingenuity and creativity of inventors and developers.

I most appreciate a God who created beauty to inspire us to create beauty. I appreciate soaking in the beauty of his presence when it serves no other purpose than show me I am loved and that a good Father loves to give good gifts.

When affliction comes (and he said it would) a patch of pink flowers, rising up from the soil that lay dormant for so many months, can remind us that God is good. Beauty says hope restored is a tree of life.

The song in my head today:

Even When Bad Things Happen

I am thankful for Facebook. There. I said it. (I’ll skip the ubiquitous qualifying note here because this is about what I am thankful for.) Today I am simply thankful for the “Memories” feature. I keep a journal, but not like my dear aunt who kept daily records of weather, newsworthy events, and activities that included extended family members. Someone needed to keep track of my adventurous Grandmother’s whereabouts.

I write in my journal about ideas, dreams and visions, observations, questions, word studies, encouraging sayings, potential projects, scripture passages that catch my attention, prayers, and concerns (aka obsessive worries). Some days I write nothing. The blank page may be the consequence of busyness or idleness – or worries on repeat. It may be because I am avoiding processing something that messes with my theology or reveals lies I have told myself. Consistent with my meandering ways, my journal is like a disorganized collection of sticky notes inside a cover. Sometimes I post these thoughts somewhere in a gesture meant to ask readers, “Do you know what I mean? Am I the only one?”

Facebook Memories organizes my random posts by date. I can see where I was on the journey in mid-July from year to year. It allows me to check progress and notice patterns. I am surprised by how often the same topics appear around the same time of year. What truly surprised me this week was how often I have faced serious challenges (aka utterly terrifying Oh God Oh God Oh God days) in mid-July. It’s like my personal Tish B’av, the traditional time of disastrous occurrences in Jewish history.

Stories from the past fourteen years that showed up in Memories this week:

  • My friend’s child was killed when a tire blew on their vehicle while the family was on vacation.
  • In the midst of helping my father downsize for his reluctant move to an assisted living suite, I received word that my husband was extremely ill with a pancreas that was digesting itself and he would need to be flown to another city for emergency surgery.
  • A friend of a friend lay dying in hospital from sepsis. He wasn’t expected to make it through the night.
  • My daughter-in-law posted a photo of muddy belongings removed from their flood-ravaged house and piled in the street for removal by dump truck.
  • I was making the rounds between radioactive claustrophobia-inducing scans and specialist surgeons and anesthetists in different cities finding out that the “little tumour in my tummy” was going to be much more complicated to remove than I was first told.
  • I was recovering from surgery on my toe which, bizarrely, was more handicapping and painful than the cancer symptoms at that moment.
  • My friend’s child’s heart stopped on the operating table while undergoing surgery for severe lung infection in a country on the other side of the world. Doctors revived him, but his prognosis was very poor.
  • My two precious grandchildren and their equally precious parents parted for their new home on other side of the continent. I did not know how long it would be before I would see them again.
  • We spent a traumatic day in yet another hospital watching my husband’s younger brother suffocate to death from lung cancer.
  • My friend was in constant agony after an accident five years earlier. After begging him for help, a surgeon was willing to try one more thing.
  • I was in the fourth month of a five-month long “atypical” headache. It left me unable to travel or do much of anything but learn to moan quietly.
  • Injury to my knees and arthritis in multiple joints made it difficult to live in our house with stairs or tend the garden or go for hikes in the mountain forests I loved. We knew we needed to move, but I couldn’t work longer than ten minutes at a time to downsize and prepare the house for sale. The task felt overwhelming.

As I looked back, this part of Psalm 34 came to mind: “The Lord is close to all whose hearts are crushed by pain, and he is always ready to restore the repentant one. Even when bad things happen to the good and godly ones, the Lord will save them and not let them be defeated by what they face.

July may be my traditional disaster month, but it is also the month of learning dependence on God and watching him come through for me — and the people I love. Remembering how God came to our rescue after the event is so much easier than feeling the shock and pain of the moment when bad news plops itself on the doorstep.

Sometimes answers to prayer come quickly. Sometimes it takes so long it feels like God’s whereabouts are unknown and I can’t call my aunt to tell me where he is now. Sometimes the challenge itself is an answer to prayer because we’ve gained skills and the ability to endure through perseverance and deeper faith in God’s faithfulness. Sometimes the situation is the means to open our eyes to how God sees us and his confidence in us. Sometimes challenges result in better definitions of success than we assumed before.

  • The friend of a friend with sepsis, the child on life-support, and the woman with severe back pain were all healed within days. My husband’s dire condition suddenly improved and he didn’t need surgery after all. The problem never came back.
  • With a lot of work and help from people who demonstrated practical love, our son’s family’s house was restored to better than new condition within two years.
  • The tumour in my gut (and other places the cancer had spread to) were removed without complication and there has been no progression for five years. The toe is still attached and doing its job. The doctor prescribed a medication that successfully prevents the headaches from starting.
  • Our grandchildren and their mother visited us this week after 941 days of separation.
  • Many wonderful friends stepped in to help us move. We sold our house before it was even listed to a couple who will continue to fill it with songs of praise to a good, good Father.
  • A man I met from a country where Christians faith death from persecutors daily said, “You Christians in North America sing about the joy of being with Jesus and meeting him in Paradise, but none of you seem to be willing to go there. We rejoice for those who now know what eternal life looks like from a higher place. My father, my friend’s son, and my brother-in-law were trusting Christ to be their saviour. I believe they are all happy and healed in the presence of the Lord. I’ve learned that God heals the broken-hearted and grants peace.

The life of a Jesus-follower is not always easy. He said we could expect the same kind of reception he had. We can also expect the teaching and discipline of a good Father who knows the difference between love and indulgence. If we want Jesus’ peace that passes understanding, there will be times we have to relinquish the right to understand.

I’m facing challenges again in this month of July, 2022. For the sake of privacy of others involved I will just say this much: I agree with Paul’s prayer for myself, for my loved ones, and for you: “… I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:5 – 6 NIV)

Yet when holy lovers of God cry out from all their troubles

The Lord is close to all whose hearts are crushed by pain,

and he is always ready to restore the repentant one.

Even when bad things happen to the good and godly ones,

the Lord will save them and not let them be defeated

by what they face.

(Psalm 34:17-19 TPT)

Honeysuckle

I passed by this honeysuckle bush growing over the limits a dilapidated unpainted fence tried to set around a sad-looking house. I snapped a photo with my phone and thought about the contrast.

Sometimes the flowers that bloom in overgrown, untended yards surrounded by broken fences and derelict vehicles are all the more beautiful for their powers of endurance.

It amazes me that some of the sweetest, most beautiful, most caring people I know have grown up in foul, ugly, uncaring environments.

The grace they exude defies all predictions of perpetual victimhood. Like the garden flowers in the back alley, they are givers because they know how to receive from God when others have let them down.

The Problem With That Is…

What has happened to create this doubt is that a problem (such as a deep conflict or a bad experience) has been allowed to usurp God’s place and become the controlling principle of life. Instead of viewing the problem from the vantage point of faith, the doubter views faith from the vantage point of the problem. Instead of faith sizing up the problem, the situation ends with the problem scaling down faith. The world of faith is upside down, and in the topsy-turvy reality of doubt, a problem has become god and God has become a problem.

-Os Guinness

Against Such Things There Is No Law

“I hear it all day, Grandma,” my grandson said with the same tone of exasperation I’ve heard in my own voice. “Tommy*, don’t run. Don’t run. Don’t run!” He rolled his eyes. “I hear it at school. I hear it at daycare. I hear it at the pool. I hear it at the mall. I hear it everywhere. Tommy, don’t run!” He put his hand on my arm and looked deeply into my eyes. “It haunts my dreams, Grandma.”

He was so cute, I wanted to smile, but I chose instead to treat him with the same respect all people deserve and listen.

Oh, honey, I hear you. I know God created you to be a runner. You just have to move. It’s hard for you, I know.

I’m on the other end of the age scale, but my dreams are haunted by admonishment and reminders of restrictions other people want to put on me too. Don’t sing. Don’t dance. Don’t laugh loudly. Don’t think for yourself. Do as you’re told. Don’t associate with the wrong people. Be aware of every possible thing that could offend or disturb anyone, anywhere and don’t offend them. Oh, and remember that those who have no problem giving offense are often the most easily offended. Keep your opinions –and especially your odd sense of humour– to yourself. Be quiet, be quiet, be quiet!

I hear you, my boy, because there is never an end to people who want to place restrictions on your desire to run, to dance, to sing, to laugh, to talk and to just be free. But here’s the thing: Their rules and regulations and protocols have holes. Big holes. They can’t keep out the light. They are defenseless against goodness and peace. Kindness leaks across property lines. Gentleness dismantles barbed wire. Joy makes them jealous. Peace irritates them no end, and love, well love elevates restrictions to a higher court where the judge is the one who made you. All of this equipment is available to you if you follow Jesus. He’s gone ahead of you and will show you where he stashed them, if you ask.

So you shine, boy. Run the race that is set before you and eventually the critics and accusers will either have to join you or be left behind.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22, 23 NIV)

*Not his real name

Surely Good Mrs. Murphy Shall Follow Me

When I was a child I wondered who good Mrs. Murphy was.  My teacher was named Mrs. Murphy and she was good, at least she was good to the kids who knew the right answers to her questions. She was not as kind to the naughty boys at the back of the classroom, but she didn’t follow them around, as far as I knew. Still we sang in Sunday School, “Good Mrs. Murphy shall follow me all the days of my life,” so there had to be a good Mrs. Murphy somewhere.

It wasn’t until I read the words in the Bible for myself that I realized I had misheard. “Goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” I still didn’t understand what it meant, but it let Mrs. Murphy off the hook.

I misheard a lot of things about God when I was young. Sometimes I heard clearly but the speaker “misspoke.” I also skipped over a lot of things I heard and read, but since I had little experience, they remained in a file of “nice sayings” stored on a dusty shelf in the recesses of my brain. Later, when life tests showed up, I needed to dive into that file and learn what they were truly about.

Today I was reminded of my frustration two years ago. I have trouble walking very far, but I have improved a lot. Two years ago, I could hardly walk around my own house. I have always loved walking in the woods and often rambled in the countryside and through the streets of our town looking for beautiful things to photograph. Photography has been a way of intentionally looking for beauty in a world where we are confronted with so many demonstrations of the lack of goodness and mercy between people.

We live in a different city now. Spring arrived about a month sooner than I have been accustomed to. I can’t walk as far as I want to yet, but I can walk. For that I am very thankful. This week, I visited a local garden originally planted by a woman from Scotland over a hundred years ago.  

As I stopped to appreciate every sign of colour and new life, I felt peace. I felt my spirit rest in the goodness of the Creator of beauty and the love of beauty he placed in the heart of a young woman far from everything that was familiar to her.

A song is playing in my head today:

I love You, Lord
Oh Your mercy never fails me
All my days, I’ve been held in Your hands
From the moment that I wake up
Until I lay my head
Oh, I will sing of the goodness of God.

I have looked back over the years of my life and seen “Good Mrs. Murphy” guarding my steps. It turns out Mrs. Murphy is actually my Father, my Friend, and my God.

The Humble Flower

If a little flower could speak, it seems to me that it would tell us quite simply all that God has done for it, without hiding any of its gifts. It would not, under the pretext of humility, say that it was not pretty, or that it had not a sweet scent, that the sun had withered its petals, or the storm bruised its stem, if it knew that such were not the case.

-Therese of Lisieux

Humility is seeing ourselves as God sees us. No more. No less.