Tell It Like It Is

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When I was a teenager my long dark straight hair, parted in the middle Juliet-style, almost reached my waist. I was so proud of it.

My mother hated it. She showed me borrowed magazines full of photos of the cute curly-permed styles she would have loved as a teen, if only her stepmother had allowed her to cut her hair. It seems the fashion pendulum swings its way into the middle of independence struggles in every generation.

My mother did not approve of my skirt length either, but neither did I approve of hers – although I would never dare to say so out loud. We compromised. Rather, I compromised by wearing the skirts she bought and waiting until I reached the bus shelter before rolling them up at the waist.

Miniskirts were not designed for girls living on the prairies in Canadian winter. The January wind in Calgary left more than one of us enduring geometry class amid the distraction of chilblains on our thighs. That factor bore no influence on my need to not look like my mother`s generation, nor did the hazards of wearing fashionable unlined boots with absolutely no traction on ice. I bore frozen toes and ripped stockings with feigned nonchalant flare deserving of an Oscar – at least in front of Mom.

We quarrelled over music as well. I studied classical music and sang in my first opera at 14 (The Dew Fairy in Hansel and Gretel). “Old” music was not the problem. Our problem – ok, my problem – was old church music.

“Listen to this!” I said to her in a voice that was probably too loud for the living room. I played the last two bars of every song in a book called The Church Soloist, High Voice which she bought for me with her own hard-earned money. Banging out insensitive interpretations on the piano I complained, “Except for key changes every single song sounds the same as every single song we have sung in church since the Reformation.”

I don’t remember what she said. I wasn’t listening anymore. Door slamming may have been involved. I could be a horrible, emotional teenager. I knew she loved me, but sometimes I felt like I was fighting for my life. In a way, I was.

Years later I felt the same frustration my mother must have felt when my own kids rejected my taste. I was grateful for parenting classes that explained that the work of adolescents is to discover their own identity and forge their own relationship with God. Sometimes the only thing a young teen knows is that they are not their parent. The separation process begins at birth and accelerates in the years before leaving home.

My grandfather died before I was born. I heard stories about him, but I had no relationship with him. I could see photos and a gravesite, but he was like a mythical figure to me. My Mom had a relationship with him. I didn’t. I could see his influence, but I couldn’t see him.

God has children. God does not have grandchildren. In order to relate to him with a sense of integrity emerging independent young adults need to wrestle with him, interact with him, and enact their own faith by worshipping in a way that engages their own hearts. Parents get to pray a lot, get an opportunity for upgrade in their own faith, and get to try not to take rejection too personally.

The memory of the music battle came up today after I read that Kurt Kaiser died this week. Kurt Kaiser and Ralph Carmichael wrote Christian music that shocked our parents and convinced my grandmother that we were on the road to perdition. Their songs seem so innocuous, even embarrassingly bland now, but back then the adults didn’t like it, which meant we could. I remember practising the choral work for youth called “Tell It Like It Is” with my friends at church and feeling like this was cutting edge, daring stuff.

I found a recording of the musical on Youtube today. It sounds as cutting edge as an ice cream scoop now, but at the time it began to give a sheltered fourteen-year old hippy-wannabe an opportunity to express doubts and claim fledgling faith in my own way.

Anyway, I want to honour Mr. Kaiser and his friend Mr. Carmichael for noticing us. It was a start in making cultural connections. He showed me, before I reached that awkward spot in my parenting journey, that every generation needs to sing their own songs their own way. Bonus points if your parents don’t adopt it.

One song Kurt Kaiser wrote stayed with me. In words as simple as a nursery rhyme set to a tune that still had a range greater than a third, (my old person jab there) it communicates the most important message of all time: Jesus loves you and Jesus loves me.

Oh, how He loves you and me, Oh how He loves you and me.
He gave his life, what more could he give?
Oh, how He loves you; Oh, how he loves me; Oh, how he loves you and me.

Even Mom would have liked this arrangement.

Thank you, Mr. Kaiser.

Silence Calls

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So much to do, but the snow falls softly and the silent forest calls.

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The Fruit of Silence

The fruit of silence is prayer.
The fruit of prayer is faith.
The fruit of faith is love.
The fruit of love is service.
The fruit of service is peace.

~ Mother Theresa

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~ Latvian composer Pēteris Vasks’ setting Of Mother Theresa’s poem

 

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The season of rest lingers.

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Receive.

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Clean

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Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. (Psalm 51:7 NASB)

The word I’m contemplating today is clean. It’s ironic that quoting this phrase from Psalm 51 brings up memories of condemnation because of guilt by association.

When I was a young teenager I went to my friend’s church. The speaker that morning was a missionary with their denomination who worked in Africa. I remember him railing against the missionaries with my family’s denomination. Their crime? They sang a song including the line, “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall become white as snow.” He interpreted this as insensitive, blatant racism.

I felt defensive and ashamed at the same time – as a child does when confronted by an attack on her own tribe and who realizes the attacker could be partially right. I had never considered that metaphors carry different meanings to different people, or that someone could take this literally. Did they really think the song could mean ‘Come to Jesus and he can make your skin just like my vastly superior white skin?” If so, that would be horribly insensitive.

When she found out which church I usually went to, my friend’s sister spat out, “Literalist!” I looked down at my pink skin with its random brown polka dots and wondered where the term ‘white’ came from. I certainly wasn’t white as snow. I guess I wasn’t a very good literalist either.

In dream interpretation, symbols can be very personal. If dogs are mangy, snarling, scavengers in your neighbourhood, a dog showing up in your dream will carry a different connotation than if you grew up in a place where dogs curl up on laps and eat organic puppy food from their human’s hand.

The symbol of snow can carry different meaning as well. I live in a place where dazzling white snow makes you reach for sunglasses. I also tire of snow. I haven’t seen a blade of green grass in months. The snow shovelled onto piles by the sidewalk in front of my house is not exactly pure white right now. Between the sand flung from passing trucks, evidence of healthy digestive systems left by passing animals, and the absorption of dullness from a dismal grey sky, the view from my window is not particularly inspiring. Snow can be dazzling, as it was when I captured the moment in the photo above, but at the moment, snow carries a different connotation for me.

Snow falls in the Middle East far less often than it does here. Perhaps people who live in warm climates regard snow as a strange white wonder. I don’t know. I don’t live there.

The people behind the development of The Passion Translation phrased this passage differently in their attempt to accurately capture David’s feelings when confronted by his own hidden sin.

I know that you delight to set your truth deep in my spirit.
So come into the hidden places of my heart
and teach me wisdom.
Purify my conscience! Make this leper clean again!
Wash me in your love until I am pure in heart.
Satisfy me in your sweetness, and my song of joy will return.
The places within me you have crushed
will rejoice in your healing touch.
Hide my sins from your face;
erase all my guilt by your saving grace.
Create a new, clean heart within me.
Fill me with pure thoughts and holy desires, ready to please you.

 

Sometimes we miss a writer’s or speaker’s point because our minds snag on the way something is expressed in the process of getting to the main point. If we are expecting to hear something offensive, we will hear insults. If we are looking for negative messages, they will be projected like grey sky on a pile of snow. We tend to see what we are looking for.

Deep places of the heart post guards around pain. Defensiveness seeks to disqualify the light from revealing pain or shame. When we have our guard up we can miss the sweetness and joy that comes from knowing we are forgiven and cleansed from all unrighteousness. We miss knowing true tender love from Abba Father when we keep him at a distance.

There is more. There is love, joy, peace and deep healing available when we turn to our maker and ask him to create a clean heart in us.

He is willing.

While I reminisced about my youth, a song from the 70s began to play in my head. Apt, considering today’s theme.

 

*In a case of amusing timing, I just learned from the results of a DNA test one of my adult kids received, that I passed on some Nigerian genes to my progeny. I’m even less white than the missionary assumed.

 

Every Morning

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“The problem,” my retired friend said, “Is that now that I don’t have to get up early for work, I can’t sleep.”

“The problem,” his wife, who is still working, said, “Is that he’s awake but he still doesn’t get anything done in the morning because it takes him so long to get moving.”

“The problem,” he said, looking at his wife over the rim of his glasses, “Is that at this age something always hurts. Retirement is not for the inexperienced.”

I have seen people marvelously healed from all manner of painful conditions in response to the prayer of faith. I have also seen beautiful people, full of faith, who live with chronic pain. For some folks pain of some sort every day has been a life-long reality. For others the aches and pains that pop up as they deal with the idiosyncrasies of an aging body is a revelation that they have hitherto lived a life of privilege. A privilege they want back.

I’ve never been a morning person. I wake up slowly. The jokes about not speaking before the second cup of coffee hold no humour for me until early afternoon. My husband is a morning person. I tease him about giving up so soon when he shuffles off to bed before the movie is over. He doesn’t laugh.

Here’s a marriage survival hint. We have lasted 45 years together because we finally agreed that I will not bring up any topics requiring emotional engagement after 10 p.m. and he will not tell me anything I need to remember before 9 a.m.. He just leaves a message on my desk. I email him links. Works for us.

Lately I have slowly woken to the reality my friend spoke of. Something always hurts. Pain mumbles in the background during the day, but in the morning it yells and makes a ruckus like an annoying alarm clock you can’t shut off  because it hurts to stretch that far. The worst part is that my default attitude upon waking is not one I am proud of. My first utterance of the day is often a moan.

I remember the advice a friend gave me. She was a professional rodeo cowgirl and bore the dents and scrapes of her calling with dignity.

“I never get out of bed until I have found the peace I know God has provided for my day,” she said. “Sometimes I stay there for a long time. There are chores to be done and horses to be fed, but I know I will be no good to anyone until I have peace. When it’s there, life runs much more smoothly — not just for me, but for everyone around me as well,” she said.

I’m learning to make adjustments to my attitude by seeking “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow” by thanking God and praising him in all circumstances. (In not necessarily for. I don’t praise God for sin.) Praise changes things. It focuses on the Source that strengthens us instead of the pain that drains us.

This I know — from far too much experience. Negativity, complaining, whining, obsessing, and worrying are like beacons that attract the attention of the enemy of our souls. It’s his worship language. “Oh, you’re worried. I can help you with that.”

When we worship God through praise and thankfulness for past blessings, it attracts the angel armies of heaven – the ones God sends to assist us. “Oh, you’re praising God. We can help you with that!”

Sometimes I think I have discovered something new, when out of the treasury comes something old that confirms a timeless truth. I came across a song by Bach that expresses the necessity of receiving a fresh download of God’s goodness every morning. The English translation:

Most High God, make your goodness
new every morning from now on.
Then to your fatherly love
a thankful spirit in us in turn
through a devout life will show
that we are called your children.

 

It’s probably a lamp, but the white vessel on the floor, the one beside the woman in the painting featured on the video, looks a bit like my coffee thermos. I think I’ll join her. Good old Johann Sebastien wrote a song for that too.

Alongside to Comfort

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Can I be honest? This has not been an easy year.

I sat down this week to write a simple blog entry meant to comfort and encourage others. Twelve hours later I had pages of notes, a list of bigger questions and the certainty I didn’t know what I was talking about. In my spirit, yes, but deep down in my soul where mind, will, and emotions are squabbling with each other? Not really. I understand what the psalmist meant when he wrote “Unite my heart to fear your name.”

I’m the one who has needed comfort and encouragement lately. If I stop to look at the measurable, quantifiable, reproducible, evidence-based facts as recorded by physical senses I begin to panic. It wouldn’t take much of a straw to bring me to child-like tears today.

But as usual, if I stop catastrophizing long enough to listen and acknowledge the greater reality of Spirit and Truth, I know the Holy Spirit is whispering comfort in my ear.

He sends songs in the night.

For two nights this week two lines from different songs have been playing on repeat in my dreams. The first line is from an old 70’s song, Feel the Love, by Lovesong:

Feel the love the Son of God can bring/ By believing… by receiving Him./ Feel the love.

The second is from It’s Going to Be All Right by Sara Groves:

I have not come here to offer you clichés.

He sends friends who have walked this road before.

Wonderful friends share their failures and victories and questions with me. Some have overcome cancer more than once. Some have been through natural disasters and reconstruction. Some have known the pain of feeling like they don’t fit in anywhere. Some have known the pain of betrayal or promises yet unfulfilled. All have known the sorrow of disappointment with oneself. Some are still in the middle of giant unsettled messes right now, and yet they take time to share the comfort they have known.

He sends family and neighbours.

Some traveled miles on horrid winter roads to bring cheer and a vegetable juicer. Some phone late at night when they know I will still be up to check on me or invite me for coffee. Some set the little grandkids up on the cell phone so I can share in their excitement over new dolls and video games and silly faces. The older grandkids text to talk about music and school projects and hopes and dreams or to share photos. My adopted family help by offering coolers when the fridge quits working, jugs of water when the pipes freeze, tools when the digital piano goes silent, patient expertise when the computer freezes, wood for the fireplace, shovels when the car gets stuck and the sidewalks disappear in the snow, and muscles and engineering skills when the retaining wall crashes on the driveway.

He sends podcasts and random Facebook posts. 

Oh, how I appreciate the banquet of good teaching and music shared by people who make an effort to reach out beyond the four walls of their gatherings or dining rooms or vans. I love encouraging posts by sincere blogging and Facebook and Twitter friends. I love reading their insights, visions, and dreams  — and even jokes. Especially the jokes.

Most of all he sends a more sure word recorded in the Bible.

I read these words given through Paul who was honest about the hardships of his journey. It was not an easy road for him.

All praises belong to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he is the Father of tender mercy and the God of endless comfort. 

He always comes alongside us to comfort us in every suffering so that we can come alongside those who are in any painful trial. We can bring them this same comfort that God has poured out upon us.

And just as we experience the abundance of Christ’s own sufferings, even more of God’s comfort will cascade upon us through our union with Christ.

If troubles weigh us down, that just means that we will receive even more comfort to pass on to you for your deliverance! For the comfort pouring into us empowers us to bring comfort to you. And with this comfort upholding you, you can endure victoriously the same suffering that we experience.

Now our hope for you is unshakable, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings you will also share in God’s comforting strength.

(2 Corinthians 1:3-7 The Passion Translation)

 

If I’m not posting a lot lately it’s because I’m resting and soaking up comfort I need right now.

I’ll share with you later. I will get there.

Talk to you soon.

 

It’s A New Beginning

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This morning, about the time I was being rescued by the man with the shovel and bucket of kitty litter, the earth passed the point of increasing darkness.

Right about that time, my tires gained enough traction with the help of the kitty litter to overcome the frustrating inertia of being high-centered in the middle of our street. Right about that time, when I began to feel freedom from the clutches of ice snow and started instead to move the direction I intended to move, something shifted.

The Earth.

Winter solstice happened today. In the Northern hemisphere that means from this day the hours of daylight (or seconds of daylight, if I don’t want to annoy detailed-oriented readers) increase instead of decrease.

The hardest part of northern winter for me is not the cold or snow. It’s the darkness. Every year, on this day, I celebrate a new beginning. I know New Year’s day is not here yet, but for me, this is the sign of a new year.

Change! The bright day will soon be longer than the dark night.

These lines from a song by Stuart Townend are my holiday carol today.

Your mercy reached into the darkest night to find us,
Your blood has freed us from the curse of sin that bound us,
Your truth delivered us from all the lies that held us down
When we were overwhelmed.

Oh, out of the darkness You rescued us,
You have rescued us.
Oh, into the light of Your love for us,
Lord, You rescued us.

Here we stand, held by grace,
Knowing every day
Is a new beginning.

His light broke through the darkness and he led us out in freedom from death’s dark shadow and snapped every one of our chains.
(Psalm 107:14 The Passion Translation)

It’s dark outside as I write this, in late afternoon, but rejoice! The light is growing brighter and brighter! God promised.

And He never lies.

 

 

 

Glories Stream

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Lord, your name is so great and powerful!
People everywhere see your splendor.
Your glorious majesty streams from the heavens,
filling the earth with the fame of your name!

You have built a stronghold by the songs of babies.
Strength rises up with the chorus of singing children.
This kind of praise has the power to shut Satan’s mouth.
Childlike worship will silence
the madness of those who oppose you.

Look at the splendor of your skies,
your creative genius glowing in the heavens.
When I gaze at your moon and your stars,
mounted like jewels in their settings,
I know you are the fascinating artist who fashioned it all!
But when I look up and see
such wonder and workmanship above,
I have to ask you this question:

Compared to all this cosmic glory,
why would you bother with puny, mortal man
or be infatuated with Adam’s sons?

Yet what honor you have given to men,
created only a little lower than Elohim,
crowned like kings and queens with glory and magnificence.

(Psalm 8:1-5 The Passion Translation)