Eternal Light

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I haven’t painted anything for nearly a year. Sometimes I take out a canvas, put it on the easel and ask, “What should I paint?” I stare at it for a while. I go through my idea file of photos looking for something that inspires me. Then I pack everything back in the closet and go fold laundry or check Facebook again.

It’s kind of like spending an hour looking for just the right Netflix show to accompany a nap on the couch and then, failing to be enticed by yet another description of the protagonist’s discovery of a “dark secret,” turning the TV off and going back to work without the satisfaction of either a movie or a snooze.

Ususally I am energized by creative endeavours, but I’ve been slacking off writing lately too. I’m trying to discipline myself to make more progress on a big project, but it feels like I’ve been on a long climb for a long time.

It’s a strange place. The air is thinner here. My steps are slower. My stride shuffles rather than bounds. I measure progress on the novel by paragraphs completed instead of chapters. I measure personal progress in terms of surviving another day without letting fear or irritability dominate…too much.

I’m not depressed. I’m well-acquainted with what depression feels like. This is more like the fatigue that comes from working on a restoration project that has no end in sight — or climbing a mountain that is a lot higher than it seemed when the trek started.

Nasty side effects of medication I’m told I need keep me house-bound more than I like, even as an introvert. After four surgeries (one which was only the removal of a big toenail, but hey, that took a disappointingly long time to heal), my body is going to need time to fully recover. I understand that.  But I’m tired of being tired.

This week, friends issued an invitation for artists to come and paint during an evening dedicated to worship. Burn 24-7 calls for no agenda but focus on God and his goodness. People who attend are free to worship in whatever way the Lord leads them. Some sing. Some dance. Some wave banners. Some sit quietly. Some paint.

I’ve heard this type of art experience labeled prophetic art. Others call it worship art. One of my friends calls the finished pictures “painted prayers.” Any of those terms work for me. I decided, despite not feeling well this week, that I needed to go. I need to worship.

As I packed my tubes of paint and checked the condition of brushes I asked the Lord what I should paint. I had no idea. When I have painted at events like this before I often don’t know what’s going to happen until the music plays for a while. Nothing profound came to mind, but when I got there I realized that part of a choral song called Lux Aeterna had been playing in my head all day. The English translation is, “May light eternal shine upon them, O Lord, with Thy saints forever, for Thou art kind.”

I remembered a day almost a year ago when I walked through the tall cathedral of autumn-gold trees by the Elk River in Fernie, B.C.. We stopped for lunch on the way to an appointment with the surgeon who would remove the tumour from my abdomen. Fear almost won that day. I wanted to run in the opposite direction. I was afraid I would never see my favourite season again.

And now as summer becomes autumn, the trees along the path once again turn to gold. I am still here. My Lord still holds my hand and walks with me just as He promised.

I decided to paint my favourite cathedral – the forest. With the words “eternal light” still in my head I painted a prayer for that light to continue to shine in the scary shadowy places in my heart. I painted the celebration of another season of colour, and then I painted myself as a much-loved child holding the hand of the Lover of my soul. He leads me toward glory in the comfort of His friendship and humble majesty.

I can’t explain it, but there is something about an atmosphere of dedicated prayer and worship that makes painting faster and easier. Except for a few touch-ups this painting came together in one session.

I sat back and looked at it. “What are you saying today, Lord?” I asked.

This is the scripture passage that came up when I searched my Bible.

For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:17.18 NASB)

He is kind. He is forever kind. He promised to never leave.

The journey continues.

Bold

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I become bolder as I grow older — about things that matter.

“You could have a greater following if you didn’t talk about the, like, God stuff, you know,” people have told me.

I know. I know people regularly follow then unfollow me. But I also know some people read what I write because honesty and the faith journey in real time matters to them as well.

As I grow older some things become less important. I let them go. Most couple’s squabbles are not about destinations; they are about the fastest, most economical, or most enjoyable methods of getting there. Does it really matter? I’m letting go of discussions of methods and looking more toward the drive to understand where and to whom I am being drawn.

I read, with some amusement, an impassioned plea from a young woman with a keen sense of fashion right and wrong. She begged older women with less-than-pretty feet not to wear sandals that exposed thickened cracked heals or obvious veins. Our feet offended her sense of aesthetic at the sidewalk café.

She also advised against the donning of bold colours that drew attention to crepe-skinned necks or sagging upper arms or aged-spotted hands.

There was a time when I would have surrendered to her sensitivities and clad myself in sombre tones and closed-toed sensible footwear. Then there was a time when I would have worn scarlet and tangerine and royal purple accessorized by jeweled flip-flops just to annoy her. Either way it doesn’t matter anymore. Both were reactions to someone who has not yet had the time to develop deeper values.

She may care. I don’t.

Am I mellowing or just realizing that the time left to me is more precious than ever? As the attributes that once gave me identity and place in a competitive society fade I realize how flimsy that identity was. And the place moved like shifting sand.

There were times when I walked boldly across a stage with my head held up and my tummy sucked in. I mainlined applause. I felt confident. For a while. But it was always a race to keep up to changing standards I never understood. “Do this and you will be good enough for us to love,” turned out to be a lie, because as soon as I did it another requirement popped up.

When I was a teenager I joked that our family motto was, “What will people think?” The joke was on me because the question voiced itself continually throughout my life as I tried to guess what was required to be accepted by people whose values, I finally realized, I did not admire.

A kind of freedom envelopes those who find their confidence in a firmer foundation. I have messed up too many times in my life to believe that I am always right or that this is the final resting place of most of my opinions. But this I know: the One who began to transform my life is still editing the poem, the masterpiece He already sees. That’s where my confidence lies. In the Master Creator.

Like the brilliant flowers in the garden, I can wear whatever bold or subtle colour God has created — and he thinks it’s lovely. I can be quiet. I can be loud. The only rule is the rule of love – for God, for others, and for myself. And it all originates with Him.

We have full confidence in Jesus Christ. Our confidence rises as the character of God becomes greater and more trustworthy to our spiritual comprehension. The One with whom we deal is the One who embodies faithfulness and truth — the One who cannot lie.

~A. W. Tozer

 

Wide-eyed

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When I painted this portrait of our son at about seven years old I never imagined sitting with him beside a pool watching his own son who is now about the same age. Children are wonderful gifts and grandchildren doubly so. They teach us so much about the eagerness to learn and discover.

Jesus called a little one to his side and said to them, “Learn this well: Unless you dramatically change your way of thinking and become teachable, and learn about heaven’s kingdom realm with the wide-eyed wonder of a child, you will never be able to enter in.”

(Matthew 18:2,3 TPT)

May we never lose our wonder.

Beautiful Mystery

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“The sense of mystery must always be, for mystery means being guided by obedience to Someone who knows more than I do.”

~Oswald Chambers.

This is a digital manipulation of a photo I took of barren trees beside a winter road (see the little branches?).

Many times it is difficult to see how God can use things that appear dead in the cold dark season we are in, but He has a plan to make something beautiful of our lives.

How does he do it? It’s a mystery.

Doubt and That Time Jesus Got a Gun

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“I don’t see him that way,” my friend said. “He’s more like a desert rose.”

“That’s what I always thought,” I told him, “But in the dream I was talking on the phone when I heard a gun go off. In my ear! It was so shocking and so loud everyone else in the banquet room heard it too. They dropped their desserts and scattered in every direction.”

“I don’t think Jesus would do that,” my friend insisted. “He has certainly never been like that for me. Perhaps you should pray some more about it.”

“Well,” I continued, not wanting to argue about how much prayer was sufficient, “the next thing I did in the dream was to run to the place where the phone call originated to make sure everyone was alright. I saw a gun leaning up against the cupboards in the kitchen. “

I could tell my friend had already lost interest, but I kept going.

“You did it!” I said to the man who I knew represented one aspect of Jesus in my dream symbolism. “You shot the gun! Why would you do that?”

“Got your attention!” he said. “And you quit talking and came looking for me.”

My friend shrugged, “I still don’t think Jesus would use a gun.”

This is part of a much longer dream that came to mind this week, not because of all the discussion about guns in the media (although that may be a backdrop), but because God is again grabbing my attention in unexpected ways.

Earlier this week another friend mused about what Jesus was doing on the days he didn’t use to go see Lazarus, after being told his beloved friend was deathly ill.

Jesus was acting unpredictably, that’s what he was doing. He may have been doing something we don’t know about in his private conversations with his Father and his compassionate heart may have been in deep pain (we know he wept in public later) but whatever he was doing he was not bowing to the will and expectations of people around him, as much as he loved them. He listened only to his Father and his Father said, “Wait.”

When I was a kid we sang a song with the line, “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, look upon this little child.” I have experienced Jesus’ gentleness. I have seen demonstrations of his meekness, but desiring to follow him on a trail that just gets steeper has taught me he is anything but mild. He will kick the sides out of any box we design to define him. He will grab our attention by shocking or offending us if he has to.

The roots of word define mean to determine the ends or limits of something. You can’t define God. His majesty has no limits.

Jesus loved Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha. I can imagine the women running outside to see if Jesus was coming yet. I imagine Lazarus asking where Jesus was as he gasped for breath. I can feel hope dying like a sputtering candle as they realized it was too late and disappointment growing like a monstrous dark shadow that filled the room. Where was he? Why wasn’t he coming?

When Jesus did finally show up Martha’s first words were an accusation. “If you had been here, my brother would not have died!” Mary stayed behind in the house. Was she too devastated to move? When she did speak to him, her first words were the same as her sister’s. “If you had been here, my brother would not have died!”

When I have found myself in situations where the Lord didn’t grant me what I asked when I asked for it, I heard my own voice cry out, “If you had been here, things would have been different.” Then the truth at the root of my pain: “You are not who I thought you were!”

Can I admit that moments in which I have discovered people were not who I thought they were, have been by far the most painful events in my life? Of all the stories in the Bible, this is the moment in which I sympathize with Bible characters’ dismay the most: Mary and Martha deep in grief and baffled that their friend and master did not come until it was too late. Intentionally.

In such moments doubt forces me to ask, “What if he is not who I think he is? What do I do with the profound sense of insecurity and fear that disappointment triggers in me?”

I throw myself at his feet and weep.

Where were you? Why did you let this happen?

He doesn’t answer. These are not the questions he is waiting for.

Who are you? What am I supposed to do now?

Yes. These are the questions he will answer.

In order to see the majesty of God, Mary and Martha had to let what they thought they knew about him die. Dying to self means acknowledging that God is God and I am not. I get to let go of my right to define him by my own limited understanding, or to use him to fulfill my own agenda.

The women only said what everyone was thinking. In John 11 we read, “Yet others said, ‘Isn’t this the One who opens blind eyes? Why didn’t he do something to keep Lazarus from dying?’”

Jesus let his disciples in on his purpose before they started the journey the Bethany. He made it plain to them, “Lazarus is dead. And for your sake, I’m glad I wasn’t there, because now you have another opportunity to see who I am so that you will learn to trust in me. Come, let’s go and see him.”

They didn’t understand.

Jesus told Martha her brother would live, but she didn’t believe him. She thought he was talking about the afterlife. When he asked for the tomb to be opened she protested that his corpse was unapproachable because he had been dead four days. She didn’t have a grid for what he was about to do.

Jesus looked at her and said, “Didn’t I tell you that if you will believe in me, you will see God unveil his power?”

Their concept of who Jesus was, even though the women believed he was the Anointed One, was too limited. He was about to show them something about himself they could see in no other way. He offended them to reveal more powerful love than they had ever imagined.

The period of time between losing the surety of what we think we know about God and the revelation of something greater can disorient us to the point of wailing. In the beginning of my dream everyone was partying, enjoying the abundant life. Then the gun went off. When I returned to the banquet hall, the dessert table was empty and the crowds were gone. Basic nutritious food was on a high shelf. I had to stretch to reach it.

The gun has not only gone off for me lately, it’s blasted for a number of people I care about as well. Life changes due to car accidents, divorce, loss of careers, loss of reputation, loss of property, loss of health, loss of loved ones or betrayal of all kinds can all cause us to cry out, “Where were you? If you had been here…

Sometimes we can be in this disorienting pain for a long time. Battles with doubt occur daily. We don’t always win.

But Jesus said we have the choice to stop doubt in its tracks. We can remember. What did Jesus say after the biggest most confusing disappointment of all when he lay dead in a tomb himself only a short time later, when he entered the room full of stunned, disoriented, grieving disciples?

Be at peace. I am the living God. Don’t be afraid. Why would you be so frightened? Don’t let doubt or fear enter your hearts, for I AM! Come and gaze upon my pierced hands and feet. See for yourselves, it is I, standing here alive. Touch me and know that my wounds are real. See that I have a body of flesh and bone.”

Did Jesus just kick the sides out of the box you had him in? Did a gun just go off in your ear? Doubt need not win. You can have faith because the Faithful One has no limits.

What aspect of Himself is He about to show you next? Annie J Flint, the hymn writer penned:

His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,
His power no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.
~Annie J. Flint

Limitless.