How enriched are they who find their strength in the Lord; within their hearts are the highways of holiness! Even when their paths wind through the dark valley of tears, they dig deep to find a pleasant pool where others find only pain. He gives to them a brook of blessing filled from the rain of an outpouring. They grow stronger and stronger with every step forward, and the God of all gods will appear before them in Zion.
Psalm 84:5-7 TPT
Valley experiences are common to all of us who draw breath in this world. Some valleys are deeper than others. I’ve watched people who impress me walk through tough times as if they have a secret resource that allows them to remain at peace in spite of everything. When I ask them how they do it they tell me, “It’s in the dark places and stressful times that God’s grace is most plentiful. It’s not as easy as it was before. You have to dig. But that’s where profound silence invites you to come closer. That’s when you can feel his heart of love for you.”
Sometimes the gap between a promise given and a promise fulfilled is excruciatingly long.
I grew up in a part of Canada where signs of spring could suddenly be buried under snowstorms riding on cold winds harsh enough to take your breath away. I see yearly disappointment has struck the prairie provinces again this week.
Last week we were told that churches could open at limited capacity for Easter. Many of my friends and our brave spiritual leaders, and worship team members eagerly made plans for a special time together after months of isolation. Today new announcements squashed that hope. Due to another increase in cases of the virus no indoor religious services will be permitted at all anywhere in this province larger than a lot of countries.
For several months I have had severe pain in my legs and have had trouble walking or sleeping. One day, my doctor phoned to say the latest scans revealed the cause and although I would need surgery, there was hope the problem could be fixed. He called back three weeks later to relay that the consulting surgeon recommended against surgery, for several reasons. There are some things I can try to lessen the pain, but it looks like I need to learn to adapt to disability.
Today I was aware that hope has been deferred for many of us for all sorts of reasons. I wonder if the way we process disappointment says a lot about the way we grow or fail to grow in faith.
Like a lot of people, I’ve felt like I’ve been stuck in a perpetual spring/not spring, forward/backward cha cha dance of hope almost fulfilled/hope definitely not fulfilled lately. Sometimes the dance is exhausting. I have been guilty of sitting down, not always to rest in the Lord, but to put myself into some sort of trance-like endurance plod that looks less like producing potential springtime buds of manifesting promise and instead settling apathetically under the snow for another stretch of dull dormancy.
David, the harassed young psalm writer, often composed verse about seeing the fulfillment of God’s promises snatched away. From the perspective of hundreds of years later it would be easy to skip the agonizing equivalent of some guy singing the blues and go directly to the ecstatic King dancing with such joy that his underwear showed. But the bit in between is important.
The bit in between is called process and that’s where God likes to meet us. It’s that liminal space neither here nor there where we don’t know if we should try something else to force the promise into fulfillment, or if we should just find a way to protect our hearts from the thing we most want to avoid – disappointment. It’s that place where we realize that change in us is more important than change in our circumstances.
This morning, I remembered today is the anniversary of the day our son-in-love was supposed to die. One of the doctors treating him said, “If that guy lives it will be the biggest miracle I have ever seen.” After a week of seeing amazing answers to prayer it looked like it was all over, but God stepped in and reversed the natural order of things. Bruce lived. The creator breathed new life into his ravaged body. The miracle wasn’t instantaneous, but his extremely critical condition from sepsis and multiple organ failure changed direction and proceeded toward full healing much more rapidly than any professional medical expert could have predicted. The doctor had to admit it was a miracle. All this occurred as thousands praying for him dared to trust God in the face of disappointment and in defiance of the odds.
That, I believe, was the real miracle. People across the country and around the world dared to trust again and look for God’s intervention. They chose hope.
I’m hurting, Lord—will you forget me forever? How much longer, Lord? Will you look the other way when I’m in need? How much longer must I cling to this constant grief? I’ve endured this shaking of my soul. So how much longer will my enemy have the upper hand?
Take a good look at me, Yahweh, my God, and answer me! Breathe your life into my spirit. Bring light to my eyes in this pitch-black darkness or I will sleep the sleep of death. Don’t let my enemy proclaim, “I’ve prevailed over him.” For all my adversaries will celebrate when I fall. I have always trusted in your kindness, so answer me. I will spin in a circle of joy when your salvation lifts me up. I will sing my song of joy to you, Yahweh, for in all of this you have strengthened my soul. My enemies say that I have no Savior, but I know that I have one in you!
We are hurting, but our dancing day is coming. In the meantime, we are learning to lean on the One who loves us so much He gave everything to see us stand on wobbly legs and hear us sing in a wobbly voice, “I trust You, Lord. I know You are strengthening my soul. I trust Your timing. You are and always have been good. Breathe Your life into us.”
I love the mystery of foggy days. Since we see neither what lies ahead nor what lies behind, fog provides a space for just being. Fog can feel like a misty wall that turns acres of woods into a room of one’s own where time slows down and thoughts and feelings can be as imprecise and yet as real as an expressionist painting.
I hate the impediment of fog when I am in a hurry with places to go and things to do. A familiar road morphs into something strange and an unfamiliar highway provokes the kind of apprehension a horror movie director communicates with an over-the-shoulder shot. Is there a jack-knifed logging truck around the next bend? Cue the ominous music.
This time of uncertainty we live in reminds me of fog. The solitude we introverts usually enjoy is losing its romantic edge. I am ready for it to lift and leave a world of invigorating sunshine and sparkling frost on the trees instead. I long to get out on the highway to visit people dear to me in places beyond restricted borders.
How long will it be? When will the lockdowns and impediments of virus mitigation be over? With all the political chaos and hate-filled mixed messages we hear all around us, what kind of world will we see when the fog of propaganda war lifts?
I read a quote by Corrie ten Boom yesterday. She and her father and sister were sent to concentration camps for sheltering Jews during the second world war. Corrie was the only one to survive. She wrote: Faith is like radar that sees through the fog — the reality of things at a distance that the human eye cannot see.
Perhaps God is giving us this time to consider who he is and who we are and who or what we place our faith in. Perhaps we are not as in charge as we like to think. Perhaps he has a plan that relies on his goodness and his desire to kiss a guilty world in love. Maybe it’s about finding faith in his faithfulness and learning to see through his all-seeing eyes.
As I sit here, frustrated that my plans have been stymied by circumstances beyond my control, I am left with this conclusion. God is God and I am not. He has always been faithful to me. His love is unconditional. I hear him ask me to stay a little longer for a state of the relationship type chat. He asks if I trust him even when I cannot see though the fog. In other words, do I love him?
In this place, in the present in his presence, I let go of my need to figure everything out and sing:
I love you, Lord And I lift my voice To worship You Oh, my soul, rejoice!
Take joy my King In what You hear Let it be a sweet, sweet sound In Your ear.
“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.
So we will never fear even if every structure of support were to crumble away.
We will not fear even when the earth quakes and shakes, moving mountains and casting them into the sea.
For the raging roar of stormy winds and crashing waves cannot erode our faith in you. “
(Psalm 46: 1-3 TPT)
Recently while I was on a Zoom call with friends who were checking on each others welfare, one said, “I’ve come to realize that I am responsible for my own flabby faith. I need to exercise it.” I knew she was right.
Faith is taking the risk of trust. When we sow seeds of fear, we reap a harvest of distrust. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a constant barrage of fear-inducing reports like the ones that saturate the atmosphere right now. So many of us raised with the fear of a punishing God are triggered by this negativity. We need to get to know in an experiential way who God really is and take steps toward trust.
I watched a lad sit perfectly still for hours as he reached his hand out to a wounded. I didn’t see any progress so I left to do something I hoped would be more productive. When I came back later in the day, the little creature was settled in the palm of the boy’s hand. God is like that. He has enormous patience. He is also a great trainer and gives us increasingly greater challenges to grow and strengthen our faith.
I sense we are heading into a time when we will need more than flabby faith. When foundations crumble, we need to be familiar with the Holy Spirit’s still small voice and the safety of the hand of our Creator. It starts with one step and grows in strength through exercise until deeper experience of His love conquers all fear.
My child, never drift off course from these two goals for your life: to walk in wisdom and to discover discernment. Don’t ever forget how they empower you. For they strengthen you inside and out and inspire you to do what’s right; you will be energized and refreshed by the healing they bring. They give you living hope to guide you, and not one of life’s tests will cause you to stumble.
My friend, Linda, introduced me to videos by an art restoration master named Julian Baumgartner. There is something deeply satisfying about watching beauty being restored and revealed.
Grime and pollutants can add up so slowly we don’t realize that we have lost sight of the intent of the artist, that what we pay to see in museums is not what it looked like originally. Many old works are actually so much better than we thought when restoration reveals the true beauty underneath.
Some of the works Mr. Baumgartner restores look like they have been through a war. They are torn, gouged, chipped, patched, warped, filthy and seriously distressed. I often wonder how he can ever make them look presentable again. And yet he does.
As I was watching another episode today, words from middle stanzas of an old hymn I heard when I was a squirmy, unappreciative, bored kid in the pew came to mind:
Though with a scornful wonder men see her sore oppressed, by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed, yet saints their watch are keeping, their cry goes up, “How long?” And soon the night of weeping shall be the morn of song.
The church shall never perish! Her dear Lord to defend, to guide, sustain, and cherish, is with her to the end; though there be those that hate her, and false sons in her pale, against both foe and traitor she ever shall prevail.
‘Mid toil and tribulation, and tumult of her war, she waits the consummation of peace forevermore; till with the vision glorious her longing eyes are blest, and the great church victorious shall be the church at rest.
(from The Churches One Foundation by Samuel John Stone)
Considering how enormously valuable many of the old paintings restorers work on are, I wonder why owners have not taken better care of them. Perhaps familiarity with family heirlooms has bred a type of contempt. Perhaps owners have left them in storage and lost sight of what lies underneath layers of discoloured varnish and dirt.
I wonder if, under the grime of corruption and the distorting effects of neglect, what many people think the Church of Christ, the Body, the Ekklesia looks like is not what they think it is. I wonder if we, the living stones that make up the Church Jesus talked about, are in need of restoration to what the Creator intended us to be — those who can be identified by love as the Holy Spirit flows through them.
Repentance is change. Submission to Christ is a willingness to allow him to clean us up and restore us to be the visibly beautiful work of art he intended us to be.
Anyway, those are the words that catch my attention today. Restore. Reveal.
God has so much more for us. So much more.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation And sustain me with a willing spirit.
“We stand, when we are young, on the sunny slope among the pines, and look across an unknown country to the mountains. There are clouds, but they are edged with light. We do not fear as we dip into the valley; we do not fear the clouds. Thank God for the splendid fearlessness of youth.
And as for older travelers whom the Lord has led over the hill and the dale, they have not been given the spirit of fear. They think of the way they have come since they stood on that bright hillside, and their word is always this: There are reasons and reasons for hope and for happiness, and never one for fear.”