Voiceless No More

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In the way that texting while driving is a bad idea, blogging while wrestling with anger is also a bad idea. Both are dangerous distractions with the potential to put serious dents into bystanders.

I’ve not been posting as frequently lately because anger has been flashing like a check engine light on my car’s dashboard. Something needs tending to. I submitted to self-imposed silence and listened instead (well, mostly.) With the Lord’s help, I’ve needed, again, to examine what was going on under the hood before going any further.

I think it started with reading an innocent hashtag on Twitter: #ThingsOnlyChristianWomenHear. What followed was an unexpected mass chorus of voices expressing the pain of living in a religious system that kept -or still keeps- women voiceless. I may have added a few tweets myself. A lot of dashboard lights flashed on the internet last week. Not everyone was comfortable with the spontaneous outpouring that exposed more misogyny than they realized was a normal part of many women’s lives. Exposure is embarrassing and uncomfortable for everyone. Push-back from onlookers called for cover-up or, sadly, invalidation.

Here’s the thing, you can’t forgive what you don’t acknowledge and you can’t clean up corruption when it remains covered up. (We learned that lesson when our son-in-law almost died from undiagnosed flesh-eating disease.) Sometimes healing involves mess or pain first.

I discovered I still had more forgiving to do because listening to other women’s (and men’s) painful memories triggered some of my own. There were still some lingering lies I accepted about God liking men more than women. They were planted in my soul as a result of observing the way women of my mother’s generation were treated, and their resignation to silence and subservience to men as the norm. The seeds grew as I was taught to interpret scripture in a way which ignored the character and practice of both Jesus and Paul. (Paul wrote the words to Timothy I was told imposed a gag order on all females for all time in all places, but he also praised women like Phoebe, Junia, and Priscilla who were obviously not silent.) There was still some toxic residue in the unseen corners of my heart that kept me from saying with all honesty, “I thank God he made me a woman!”

The Lord and I have been working on that together. He is the one who establishes my identity. And he likes me.

Then Christianity Today published an article which asked the question, “Who is in charge of the Christian blogosphere?” The author suggested that female bloggers who write about spiritual matters should be under the supervision of denominational or institutional authorities who are credentialed and better educated in matters of proper doctrine. (Which proper doctrine the author doesn’t say.) The article, and responses to it, triggered another memory.

One of the most difficult times in my life was when a physician who specialized in voice problems prescribed a season of silence. I was less talkative then, but people who know me will understand the enormity of the challenge.

I had finished studying, rehearsing and performing the role of Amina in Bellini’s opera, La Sonnambula, a few weeks before. I caught the flu before ensemble rehearsals began. It morphed into a long-lasting nasty cough monster that barked in a register much lower than my usual coloratura soprano range.

The role of Amina is a kind of vocal high-wire act involving agility, stamina and a lot of very high notes. I was onstage most of the opera singing not only solos but duets, trios and other ensembles. A run-through of my music took nearly 90 minutes. You can imagine how much time was involved in practice to learn the role.

My voice was not recovering fast enough. It sounded okay in short sessions, but it didn’t feel right, and I was worried about stamina. Reluctantly, I spoke to the producer and director about my doubts in my ability to perform. The response was not what I expected. The director said, “I believed in you. You disappoint me! If you don’t sing I stand to lose $10,000 of my own money I invested in this production.” I felt the pressure and forged on.

Nerves were a bigger problem than usual on opening night. I knew I was forcing at times. Except for one embarrassing note on the final night, I made it through the performances though. The standing ovation and bravas from the audience almost made up for the burning pain in my throat.

Two weeks later I sang with another orchestra and choir. I had only two solos in a Bach cantata which should have been easy, but I struggled. My voice was not responding as it should. I made an appointment with the laryngologist.

He said I had the beginning of nodules. That statement feels like a death sentence to a classical singer. I was scared. He told me to rest it completely for several weeks – no talking and definitely no singing. I followed his advice and my vocal folds did heal. I didn’t need surgery, but I learned some things in that time. 1) I yelled at my kids more than I thought I did. 2) People don’t talk to you if you don’t talk to them. 3) I didn’t appreciate submitting to authorities who were more concerned about their own project than my long-term well-being. 4) Being voiceless made me feel powerless.

You may express yourself in other ways, but perhaps you can still relate. My voice was my strength because it made me relatively unique. I could sing over a full orchestra and eighty voice choir without a microphone. My voice allowed me to comfort others and bring the joy of music into their lives. My voice was my vehicle for creativity and emotional expression. I was wrong, but at the time I felt like my voice justified my existence. People listened. They asked advice. Musicians I admired included me, gave me a place among them on the stage, and treated me as though I had value. Without a voice, I had no place in that world.

About ten years later chronic health problems meant I had to give up singing almost completely. I grieved deeply. I hated being voiceless. But my heavenly Father can use all circumstances and I grew because I learned instead to lean on the Lord as my source of justification for existence. Eventually, he led me to fill the void with other creative expressions. One of them is writing and blogging. I had a voice again, but this time it served a larger purpose.

When I read the CT article it felt like the people who were willing to sacrifice my voice to serve their own agenda had shown up again. I believe in the wisdom of an abundance of counselors. I believe in mutual submission, and yes, my husband does read and approve of my blog, not because he is my master, but because I respect his perspective. I have deleted and revised and parked articles in the draft file indefinitely on the advice of people I trust. But that’s the operative word – trust.

I wonder if the strong backlash to the article could be coming from people who have also lost their innocence when it comes to the lack of transparency of “experts” in positions of power. Yes, we need to forgive, but forgiveness does not mean trust is automatically restored. The type of servant leadership Jesus demonstrated is something we still need to strive to attain when it appears the response to error is more silencing control instead of more healing grace and better communication of love. We need more of the kind of discipleship training that encourages believers to have their own senses trained to discern right from wrong through practice.

The point of leadership is to produce competent graduates, not more dependent children in pews.

The point of the exposure of corruption in the body and submission to the kind of correction the One who loves us perfectly brings is to purify and build up this Church of living stones.

I almost posted two previous versions of this blog article. In them, I gave more evidence for the reasons for my distrust of some ecclesiastical hierarchical authorities (not all!) and defended my educational qualifications. Twice I felt the Lord saying to let it go, deal with my own heart issues, and start again. Learning to hear God for ourselves means responding in obedience. Sometimes submission to his advice means speaking up and sometimes it means hitting delete. Holy Spirit provides the fruit of self-governance in his gift basket for a reason.

The internet is like the printing press that triggered the Reformation. Blogs provide more people with the freedom to speak up. I believe we are on the brink of another Reformation in which greater numbers of the priesthood of believers will rise and raise their voices in praise to the God of our salvation who sets all the captives free.

I am not voiceless anymore. I don’t need the approval of people I don’t trust. I do need the approval of my Lord.

May the words that come out of my mouth and the musings of my heart
meet with Your gracious approval,
O Eternal, my Rock,
O Eternal, my Redeemer.

(Psalm 19:14 The Voice)

To my fellow Christ-centered female bloggers, and to all my brothers and sisters in Christ no matter the form your expression takes, I urge you to use your voices! May your sound go out into all lands and your words unto the ends of the world.

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Promises, Promises, My Kind of Promises

My beautiful picture

“Well,” she said, standing in the middle of a pile of what we might call reduced circumstances, “I guess this is my new normal.”

My friend was too tired to fight the injustice that brought her to this place. In a way she accepted it as her lot in life, as a fulfillment of predictions spoken over her in the past. Teachers, social workers, and bosses didn’t always wait to be out of ear shot before they said things like, “She’ll never amount to much,” or “What do you expect from someone with her background?”

I tried to encourage her, but My words slipped past her ears as if she assumed they were meant for someone else, someone more worthy of love and respect. She shrugged and went back to unpacking her baggage.

I was thinking about the word “normal” yesterday. Her normal. My normal. God’s normal. How does our acceptance of limited expectations become normal? What if we have glimpses of possibilities that are beyond past experiences? Does seeing potential wreck our concept of normal?

Yesterday I was lying in bed exchanging text messages with my eight-year old granddaughter who is currently with her family in Africa. I wondered what my grandmother would have thought if she had seen this possibility when I was an eight-year old. A phone with no wires, that could send and receive voices, text, photos, and even video of a new house on the other side of the world in a few seconds? Impossible!

In an old trunk I’ve stored a letter my grandmother received from her mother in Ontario. Grandma’s child had died tragically in Saskatchewan. Her mother’s written words arrived weeks after the funeral. In comparison, my granddaughter was telling me about her new surroundings and their arduous two day trip from western Canada to South Africa. On the same day. As she ate breakfast. I love listening to her.

Then my wifi cut out.IMG_7057 cell phone

We have been having problems with it lately because of the floods. I felt angry and frustrated with such unreliable service – a service that has only been available to me since I acquired a cell phone. It’s not that I feel entitled to a method of communication we never dreamed of when I was a child, it’s that I feel disappointed by the loss of a means of communication I now know exists. My sense of normal has been changed by knowledge of a device that only existed in the future of the girl I was when I talked to my grandmother as I wrapped myself in the cord attached to the telephone in the hallway. She never even dreamed of such a thing as she told me about how she used to send letters to her mother in a cabin in the bush thirty miles from the nearest road. “Normal” changes with visions of possibilities.

I was thinking about this when a line from a song began playing in my head. The song, as is often the case with songs God uses to communicate with me, came out of the blue and was one I haven’t heard in years. The line that kept repeating was, “Promises, promises, My kind of promises…”

I did an internet search and found the lyrics by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, which are, in part:
Oh, promises, their kind of promises, can just destroy a life
Oh, promises, those kind of promises, take all the joy from life
Oh, promises, promises, My kind of promises
Can lead to joy and hope and love – and love!

I asked the Lord why he was bringing this to my attention. I always thought promises were good things, but he began to remind me of bad promises that had been spoken over me the way curses had been spoken over my discouraged friend.

I promise you there will be punishment when we get home.
I promise you that no one will ever love a fat girl.
I promise you that you will never have friends because you don’t know how to be a friend.
I promise you that no one remembers who came in second.
I promise you that you are only as good as your last performance.
I promise you that when those people learn you are just a poor girl from a poor family they will drop you so fast…
I promise you that no one cares what you have to say. You’re just a woman. Shut up and follow the rules.
I promise you God has no time for people like you who still sin and don’t earn his favour.

I wasn’t expecting a rush of these memories. Some of these “promises” I walked out on years ago. Some still sting.

I had to ask, “What are Your promises, Lord? What do you see instead? What possibilities do you want to show me that change my sense of ‘normal?’”

He is changing me. He is replacing old expectations of limits with new possibilities. He is saying, “Believe this and not this.”

So much of this journey is about learning to let go, to unlearn, to press on in the absence of the familiar, to absorb and be infused with the “insteads” that Jesus announced when he read his mandate aloud to a people living in resigned disappointment. From Isaiah 63:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.

Who does Jesus say you are? What are the promises he has spoken over you? What  possibilities is he showing you that you never dreamed of before?

Ask him about your new normal. He loves that question.

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Am I Hearing You Right?

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While there are birds, birds to fly…

I heard that Mother Teresa said “I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish that He didn’t trust me so much.”

I’m no Mother Teresa, and I already know that God will give me things I can’t handle. I also know that he gives me things that He can handle if I learn to do only what He asks and let Him do the heavy lifting. (“Will You Be My Alligator” link here.) But sometimes I wonder…

I didn’t feel like driving to Alberta again yesterday when I have so much to do at home. But the Lover of my soul knew I needed a break, so I ended up going. I spent the time in the car talking to God, pouring out my feelings to Jesus, and sitting quietly with Holy Spirit. I have evidence of transformation in my life because I have much more peace than I used to when my list of concerns to pray about gets longer and longer. But still I wonder if I could have done things differently (or sooner), if I said something I ought not to have said (or failed to say), if I am following the right path or if I have missed some crucial heavenly download somewhere. Am I doing this right?

Change is messy, I know, but it looks like I may have to exchange my rubber boots for hip waders soon. I cried out, “Lord! I really need to hear your voice about now! Just talk to me! What should I do?!” (I may have raised my voice.)

I was listening to music on my phone as I drove. (Gotta love a car with a USB port.) Road conditions demanded my attention so I left it on shuffle. The songs played in random order. Most of the music on my phone is a peaceful worshipful style aimed at reducing stress in city traffic. My other more eclectic collections are on a road trip sticks or CDs.

A song came on just as I asked my question. I tell you the truth. I do not recall ever hearing this song before or downloading on my phone. It was in a large, but inexpensive collection of classic jazz tunes I bought a few months ago, but I had only listened to a few familiar favourite songs on it.

This is what I heard: Trust in Me.

I think I have a new favourite.

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“While there’s a moon, a moon up high…”

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Strength

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I hear the Saviour say, “Your strength, indeed, is small. Child of weakness, watch. Pray. Find in me your all in all.”

 

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 

For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.

For when I am weak, then I am strong.

(2 Corinthians 12:9,10 ESV)

Jesus Paid It All. (lyrics by Elvina M. Hall, 1865)

 

 

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When You Walk Through a Storm

 

 

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I was terrified of the pain of childbirth. I suppose, in the way people in the medical field are aware of everything that could possibly go wrong with a “simple procedure” I also knew. I overheard the rehearsal of a horror story of labour and delivery since I was a young child. My mother did have a complicated birth experience and besides permanent physical consequences I think it left her with some PTSD. But listening to the story of my traumatic birth being told over and over also left me with a lot of fear of having children.

Fear magnifies pain. Fear teaches us to watch for the first signs of pain, like we are keeping an eye on the street for an expected, but unwelcome guest to arrive. Fear motivates us to prepare defensive tactics in our heads for attacks that may never occur. Fear teaches us to see pain as a monster that cannot be contained by any device at our disposal. The only thing we can do is evade it or outrun it – or try to.

Here’s the thing. I had never asked myself, “If the pain of childbirth is so overwhelming, why do women intentionally have a second or third or even more children?

What I didn’t know about pain was that I could have a kind of peace in the middle of it. I was working. I was accomplishing something magnificent. When I had my second son there was no time for epidurals or any form of medication like the first time. All of a sudden it hit me that pain was not my master. I hated it, but I could defy it. I growled and pushed right into the center of it it knowing that joy was about to burst forth. Joy was set before me.

When I held my son in my arms I was filled with a golden euphoria of joy on the other side like I had never known before.

I hate to see anyone suffer. I am a sensitive mercy-motivated person. I feel other people’s pain. If someone near to me injures a leg I limp. I would rather trade places than to see one of my children or grandchildren in pain, and yet I will fail them if I don’t tell them that they are stronger than both physical and mental pain. Learning to push through opens a pathway to more richness of experience than we have known before.

One of the passages of scripture that continues to free me from the fear of unpleasant circumstances, from the dentist’s needles to opening my heart to grieve with those who grieve deeply, is this one:

The Lord is ever present with us. Don’t be anxious about things; instead, pray. Pray about everything. He longs to hear your requests, so talk to God about your needs and be thankful for what has come. And know that the peace of God (a peace that is beyond any and all of our human understanding) will stand watch over your hearts and minds in Jesus, the Anointed One. (Philippians 4:5b-7 The Voice)

The peace of God is, like God, wholy other, supernatural, beyond expected human experience. His peace is not dependent on living a life free of discomfort. His peace is beyond human understanding – which means we can give up the need to try to understand it.

When you realize that you live in his love as his much-adored child you don’t need to cry out and demand that every negative situation be immediately relieved. When you hear the voice of your Lord say, “I will never leave you,” you can choose to walk deliberately into the storm before you.

Jesus says, “I’ve got this. Trust me,” and somehow, even though it is not logical, you do.

Whether the storm is a chance for him to demonstrate divine healing or deliverance through a miracle or to first prove to you that you are more capable of relying on his strength than you thought, remembering and thanking him for grace that has brought you safe thus far will continue to bring you through to the gold on the other side.

Even my mother chose to have another baby.

My fourth grade teacher, who taught me the beauty of songs of lament, sang this one for me. I have never forgotten how it touched my heart.

Walk on with hope in your heart and you’ll never walk alone.

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