“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.”
– Amy Carmichael
For the kingdom of God is not a matter of rules about food and drink,
but is in the realm of the Holy Spirit,
filled with righteousness,
(Romans 14:17 TPT)
Faith is the strength by which a shattered world shall emerge into the light.
You know every step I will take,
Before my journey even begins!
(from Psalm 139, The Passion Translation)
I don’t like nasty surprises. I like to be prepared for every possible contingency. That’s probably why I pack too much when we travel. Preparation for potential disaster requires imagining oneself in a place of desperate need and thinking about the provisions one might lack.
The problem is that for some of us it is easy to go there first and remain in the potential gloom of life in Mudville Flats. We expect multiple failures that require multiple back-ups.
I am realizing I need to prepare for hope fulfilled as well. When my friend was healed of stage four cancer she was suddenly faced with the need to find employment. She was well. She didn’t need to be on assistance anymore. She could work. Hope fulfilled caught her a bit unprepared. A happy problem, but a problem nevertheless.
When I heard that surgery to remove the malignant mass in my abdomen was scheduled for mid-October I started mourning. When I had major surgery in February I couldn’t walk very far for weeks afterward. About twenty years ago I spent six weeks in a hospital and missed the autumn season entirely. I accepted the patient’s paper I.D. bracelet on a warm summer day and when I was released I walked out into a harsh winter blizzard. I lost a season. I didn’t want that to happen again.
I love autumn in the Rockies. I love the gold and bronze and scarlet colours and the crisp cool lavender skies. I am enthralled by shimmering trembling aspen leaves responding to the breeze with a nervous rustling paper-sounding twitter. The first whiter than white snowfall on the mountain peaks always surprises me with its brilliance even though I’ve seen that glimpse of glory many times.
As we drove toward the big city hospital in Alberta I feared I was going to lose autumn again.
We stopped to eat lunch in the park by the Elk River in Fernie, British Columbia. I went for a walk with my camera while my husband rested in the car. After a while he became concerned. I had still not returned. I didn’t want to leave. I walked and walked – in the opposite direction of the parking lot.
I really didn’t want to leave.
The river walk was painfully beautiful. I was honestly afraid I would never see such beauty again. What if this day was my last glimpse of the season I love so much? What if I never kissed my precious grandchildren again or spent another evening around the table with my adult kids and their spouses, laughing until we couldn’t breathe? What if the dear man who is the love of my life had to return to an empty house alone? What if this was the beginning of the end?
I didn’t want to get in the car and go check into the impersonal hospital with its equipment-cluttered halls and other people’s lives’ all-night noises. I wanted to turn around and go back and walk the road I’ve been on all these years, only this time fix all the blunders and stupidity and hurtful ways with the hard-earned wisdom I lacked the first time.
I kicked a pile of gold leaves and heard my Lord speak in a voice softer than a whisper.
“What if it’s not?”
“What if this is not the end? What if this is a new beginning? What if I am awakening in you the dreams you abandoned by the side of the road when life became heavy? You’ve prepared for hope deferred. What preparations will you need to make to prepare for hope fulfilled?”
Fear of disappointment is our greatest fear. Here, surrounded by beauty, I felt overwhelmed by the fear of lack of provision of beauty in my life. I was confronted by the lover of my soul and urged to look at a lurking belief that God could cut off the flow of his goodness.
The showering leaves created a path that looked like street of gold at my feet. Even if I die His goodness will not end. Jesus said he was going to prepare a place for us, a place where we could be with him, always and forever. If I stay, there is more beauty to behold. If I pass on to the next stage of eternity, he, the Creator of the Universe, is preparing even greater beauty to surround my heart.
I’m home now. It’s been twelve days since I donated those nasty tumours to the pathology lab. I walked out (unassisted) into the warm sun only three days later. We drove home to B.C. through a howling gale the next day. A week later I took a short walk around my neighbourhood.
Ten days later I walked around my favourite little lake at the foot of the towering snow topped mountains. I absorbed the wonderful autumn colours reflected in the lake, the warm scented breeze, the sunlight playing with the trembling aspens and I thanked God for his goodness.
Yesterday I met a friend walking his dog in the green belt by the creek. I was on my way home from an hour and a half walk and taking photos, following the light like I love to do. I had just gone down a steep hill taking a route I hadn’t planned to take because I didn’t know I could.
We spoke about our pain and disappointment at the loss of a mutual young friend who died of cancer on Monday. In response to prayer we had seen him defy all the predictions. He walked away from the suggestion of hospice care to recover and go back to work over a year and a half ago. We saw a miracle! We believed he was being healed. Then suddenly he became very ill again. We don’t understand.
We spoke about my surprisingly rapid progress in getting back on my feet. He seemed surprised to learn that I had part of the small bowel, mesentery, and half a colon removed less than two weeks ago. When he asked about my prognosis, I told him the surgeon warned me the cancer can return, in an even more dangerous form next time, and that chemo doesn’t usually work for this kind.
I also told him that an internal medicine specialist said, “I think you’ve had this for a very long time. It is so difficult to diagnose. You are accustomed to adjusting to poor health. Neuroendocrine tumours put off hormones and chemicals that mess with every system in your body. I think there is a chance, that when you have recovered from surgery, you will feel better than you have in years. You may have to adjust to having good health.”
He prayed for me as we walked together. In the midst of our sorrow for the loss of our friend (who we realize is truly reaping the reward Christ earned by living fully in God’s presence) John declared, “We expect God’s goodness. We choose hope.”
And that, right there, was an example of God caching a provision in advance that I would need on a path I hadn’t known I was going to take.
But He did. He’s good that way.
The journey continues.
“To rest in God’s power when your own weaknesses seem to be screaming at you – that’s grace!
To be confident in who God is for you when you feel overwhelmed by odds against you – that’s peace!
To stand alone against massive intimidation – that’s trust!”
– Graham Cooke
I hate feeling incompetent. I enjoy being asked questions when I know the answer. Memories of first day on the job stress when I knew less than the customers or the students still get shoved back in the closet as soon as they make a peep.
As much as I enjoy new things and find routine stifling there are times when I enjoy feeling like I know what I’m doing and that I can handle this. I can coast. I can offer free advice. Dare I say it? Sometimes, in my Walter Mitty-type imagination I picture the Networks calling to ask me to come into the studio as their talking head expert of the day.
Mid dream sequence the music screeches to a stop. God asks me to follow him.
“Where?” I ask.
“But I finally know what I’m doing here. I have a system.”
“I know. Let’s do something else now.”
I wish I was faster at saying yes. I’m learning that growth only comes as I depend on God and quit relying on what worked before. I have a bad habit of not noticing that change lies ahead until I run into a dead-end or get kicked out of the nest. Sometimes asking God for guidance and yet not moving until the yank of a bridle twists my neck or a stick pokes my butt and the guidance is no longer subtle is not the most comfortable way.
Part of the problem is still my fear of making a mistake, of being wrong, of having to backtrack, or worse, make an apology. But grace gives us latitude to learn. Somewhere deep down I am still fighting the notion that I have to earn this grace with a perfect performance. That’s when failure becomes freedom. His love is not conditional. I never knew how much God loved me until I offered him my incompetence as an ego-sacrificing form of praise.
He says his eyes will be our guide. We can respond more quickly when our eyes are focused on his face. If we are more focused on our work and personal improvement projects than on where he is looking we will miss it.
Stay close. Listen. Watch. Trust.
This is going to be good.
I hear the Lord saying, “I will stay close to you,
Instructing and guiding you
Along the pathway for your life.
I will advise you along the way,
And lead you forth with my eyes as your guide.
So don’t make it difficult, don’t be stubborn
When I take you where you’ve not been before.
Don’t make me tug you and pull you along.
Just come with me!”
(Psalm 32:8 – 9 TPT)
Worship is our response to the overtures of love from the heart of the Father. Its central reality is found ‘in spirit and truth.’ It is kindled within us only when the Spirit of God touches our human spirit.
-Richard J. Foster