Hidden Beauty

For the Scriptures tell us:

Whoever wants to embrace true life

and find beauty in each day

must stop speaking evil, hurtful words

and never deceive in what they say.

Always turn from what is wrong

and cultivate what is good;

eagerly pursue peace in every relationship,

making it your prize.

(1 Peter 3:9-11 TPT)

I’m a stomper. When my anger is triggered by injustice toward myself —or especially toward vulnerable children— I go outside for a stomp. I go out whether it’s raining, or snowing, or if I’m in pain and limping heavily as I shove my walker through four inches of gravel. (Really! Who advertises handicap accessible trails then covers them with thousands of little wheel grabbing rocks?)

I don’t take my camera with me on these jaunts because I am busy composing defensive responses to obtuse accusers (absent from my side but repeating insults in my head) or writing imaginary posts to corrupt authorities (who will probably remain totally unaware of my important opinion) I’m too busy to notice anything photo-worthy. I’m snapping, but not in a sensitive creative way. Sometimes I walk away from a tense situation to avoid saying something to someone I will later regret.

I didn’t realize until these past few days of rumination following an excellent seminar on healing traumatized churches led by Ron Wean of Florida, that my habit of stomping out my rage is a way of getting out of the fight mode of the infamous flight/fight/freeze trilogy of survival responses to trauma (or the triggers of unprocessed memories of trauma stored in the body). Movement renews connection with the body and the logical/creative brain God gave us. I know I’m back when I can feel more than my own emotional pain and can see more than dark ugliness.  The expression, “blind rage” was probably created by someone who was familiar with it.

I’m not anti-emotion. Not at all! Anger can be a useful emotion. It lets us know that all is not well like the check engine light on the car dashboard. The discomfort of angry feelings can let us know that something is not right in ourselves. It can motivate self-examination and change. Anger modified by self-control has been behind many reforms from freedom from slavery to the end of entrenched genocide. We are told: “In your anger, do not sin,” (Ephesians 4:26) and “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” (Romans 12:9) I’m not talking about becoming an emotionless doormat. I’m talking about choosing to not return evil for evil (with compounded interest) or seek revenge.

This morning I read this scripture passage in 1 Peter about finding beauty. I had never noticed before that speaking hurtful words in retaliation and neglecting to pursue peace can keep us locked in a world without beauty. Beauty remains hidden in the places where ugliness and darkness demand all the attention. 

I thought that an intentional search for beauty would bring peace, but what if it is the other way around? What if a lack of peace hinders our ability to see beauty? What if peace improves our vision?

What if the pursuit of peace means letting go of wrathful words and unconscious tit-for-tat exaggerations and lopsided partial truths formed whilst in survival mode? What if the pursuit of peace means leaving our own devices and turning to the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, who entered our trauma out of love and compassion to bring us his peace, the peace that passes understanding?

Lord, remind us to turn from what is wrong and cultivate what is good. Open our eyes to see beauty again as we pursue peace in every relationship. Heal our hearts and renew a right spirit within us.

Let the Healing Streams Abound

Plenteous grace with Thee is found,
Grace to cover all my sin;
Let the healing streams abound;
Make and keep me pure within.
Thou of life the fountain art,
Freely let me take of Thee;
Spring Thou up within my heart,
Rise to all eternity.

-From “Jesus, Lover of My Soul” by Charles Wesley

One of the most painful moments in my life was when a person I admired announced they had no more grace for me. An annoying trait, that no doubt needed correction, inspired them to dump a load of dis-grace on me instead. I was devastated.

Trauma has roots like weeds that crop up in a garden bed far from the original invasive plant. I felt shame and ran when the flight option in the flight/fight/freeze trio of survival actions seemed most attractive. It took a while to realize that the original painful weed of rejection had spread to this corner of my life, its subconscious presence undetected for many years. I heard it sing a minor key lament from long ago, “Jesus is disappointed with you.”

Growing up in a competitive world where only the best smiled for the camera while the rest slunk out the door for the eliminated, harsh words felt like familiar shameful judgments of disgrace. I wept bitterly. The “NOT GOOD ENOUGH” stamp of disapproval showed up again on the bottom of my application for acceptance.

It was a horrible time and a good time. God can use anything and this time he used a person who also struggled with shame to point out that I was knocking on the wrong door. You can’t give what you have not received or received only in measured installments. I wanted another struggling sojourner to give me what only God could supply. That wasn’t going to work. I needed to find the source.

“Ask me,” he said.

“Ask you for what?” I mumbled, head hanging low.

“Ask me about my grace.”

“I don’t deserve your grace.”

“True. No one does. That’s the beauty. You can’t earn it. Failures only need apply.”

I did ask, and since then I’ve learned that my response to God’s empowering grace can be greater than a grudging, “Thanks for not hitting me when I deserved a good smiting.” It’s now “Thanks for showing me the way you see me and giving me the resources to become that person.”

Thank you, Lord, for grace that is plenteous and greater than barely sufficient grace, or scratch and dent grace for the less deserving, or grace that offers anonymity as a cover for permanent stains on the soul. Thanks for accepting me just as I am. Thanks for grace that heals and purifies and rises up to all eternity.

Here

Get up, my dear friend, fair and beautiful lover—come to me! Look around you: Winter is over; the winter rains are over, gone! Spring flowers are in blossom all over. The whole world’s a choir—and singing! 

(Song of Solomon 2:11,12 MSG)

Sometimes, when shrill voices tell us to look at what’s happening there, and there, or over there, we overlook the still, quiet voice of the Lover of our souls inviting us to look here. I was looking for photo-worthy balsam root blossoms that thrive in the Okanagan. I wanted to photograph a patch, but they all seemed to grow in places where I couldn’t stop the car, or places too hard for me to walk to.

When I told my daughter my frustration she said, “Oh, we have some here in the forest beside our house where the children play.”

I found them! What a wonderful place to be a child! I’m so happy for them!

When I was a young child, our little house was in a eastside neighbourhood squeezed between a meat packing plant, an oil refinery, and a railway yard. No matter which way the wind blew it never smelled like a forest of flowers and evergreen trees.

When I was a child, I carried worries that were too heavy for a little kid. I thought God was mad at me all the time like everyone else seemed to be. I didn’t know that he actually liked me and wanted to be with me. It was many years before I could hear him calling me to come away with him, not to do a job for him, but because he loved me and wanted to be with me.

It’s so easy to say, “I’ll be happy when this is over, or when this is done.” We can have joy now, in this moment. I hear the loving invitation of my Lord inviting me to leave stress and worry behind, to come away with him, and appreciate the song that beauty sings here in the secret place he created for the two of us, here where he made it accessible. Here –in my heart.

Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.

I was looking for something to watch on TV. I needed a break from the world’s problems, and I just wanted an hour or two of uplifting entertainment, something to make me smile and feel good inside. Years ago, a counsellor told me, “You are entirely too sane. A little fiction-inspired denial might help to lighten things up a bit.”

I have access to multiple streaming services, but I couldn’t find anything that would “lighten things up a bit.” I love a good film, but these didn’t hold out the beauty I was looking for. Instead, I ended up entertaining myself by listing themes from trailers and the blurbs on trending movies.

Have you paid attention to the themes of films lately? When I was depressed, I used to watch a lot of TV. My standards were not high. When things were really bad, I could lose hours to the weather channel. Whether TV-watching was a cause or effect of the depression, I don’t know, but I haven’t paid nearly as much attention to television or popular films since being set free from the pit. 

I looked more closely at the offerings. The same kind of stuff kept coming up. This survey is not remotely scientific. It’s just what I noticed today. Most themes could be reduced to a few broad categories:

Dark secrets: Someone is lying to you.

Someone is trying to steal from you.

Someone wants to use you, or your loved one, for their own power or pleasure purposes.

Off-world or external forces beyond your control are bent on your destruction.

So much for escape from the news cycle.

Responses to disappointment and pain included: the celebration of absurdity; angry humour; creative revenge and one-upmanship pay-back; exploration of the dark side; not-so-noble means to earn public approval; accumulation and protection of wealth and the spending thereof; escape through mood-altering chemistry: and sexual hedonism involving every possible option but a happy marriage.

I’m sure there are films with themes of nobility, altruism, forgiveness, hope, and physical or emotional or spiritual healing, but they weren’t in the first forty on the “trending” list.

As my little granddaughter observed, good stories need problems. Understood — and a well-developed villain is often the character that keeps us coming back. I only looked at the written and visual enticements intended to draw us in like a carnival barker’s call today. I hope many of the issues in the storylines were resolved and brought great relief to the audience before they trundled off to bed. I just didn’t feel like taking the risk that the offered solutions came at the expense of bystanders. I decided not to saturate myself in despair as was once my habit.

As I thought about it, the word saturate reminded me of this advice to new believers meeting together in Philippi long ago:

“Don’t be pulled in different directions or worried about a thing. Be saturated in prayer throughout each day, offering your faith-filled requests before God with overflowing gratitude. Tell him every detail of your life, then God’s wonderful peace that transcends human understanding, will guard your heart and mind through Jesus Christ,” Paul wrote.

“Keep your thoughts continually fixed on all that is authentic and real, honorable and admirable, beautiful and respectful, pure and holy, merciful and kind. And fasten your thoughts on every glorious work of God, praising him always.” 

“Put into practice the example of all that you have heard from me or seen in my life and the God of peace will be with you in all things.” (Philippians 4: 6 -9 TPT)

I’m not looking to escape, Pollyanna style, the reality that evil exists everywhere in the world. I can see that level of reality in my own dishonorable responses to fear that is the result of continually hearing the message, “Be afraid. Be very afraid.”

I choose to fasten my thoughts on every glorious work of God. It might seem boring to thrill-seekers, but my wanderings and simple photos of flowers and mountains and sky are reminders to me of a greater reality, the one in which the Creator and Lover of my soul says, “Trust me. I’ve got this.”

I’m shutting the TV and the computer off and going outside now.

Oh, and in other news, the orchards are starting to bloom.

I Can’t Stop Thinking About Your Goodness

This morning I am going through photos I took in the garden next to our condo this week. I procrastinated again and the warm sunlight disappeared behind rain clouds before I ventured outside. I didn’t have high expectations for results. The contrast between bright colour and muted dark tones surprises me.

I was listening to Lauren Daigle’s “Remember” as this photo of a two-toned tulip popped up. This line from the song stood out to me: “Even when my eyes could not see, you were there, always there with me.”

I was reminded yesterday that this week marks fourteen years since I was healed of cycles of depression I thought would never end. The bouts in hellish darkness had become more frequent and were lasting longer. Medication helped, but I needed a lot to keep functioning in public and to keep hiding the condition of my soul from people who stigmatized and rejected those of us who walked a path they couldn’t understand, but they needed constant adjustment. I was taking drugs to counteract the side effects of the side effects of other drugs I needed to counteract side effects. Sometimes they threw me into the other ditch with short bouts of hypomania, inevitably followed by the need to make apologies for overconfident promises made that I couldn’t keep later when a crash returned — just as inevitably.

I am enormously grateful for doctors and medicines that kept me going, but I was told my condition was chronic. I would always be dependent on chemical means to chase despair and suicidal thoughts away.

I didn’t want more treatments! I wanted to be healed!

I prayed for years to be released from the prison of depression. Like the Psalmist I could say, “How long?”

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?

 Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
 and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

 But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.
 I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me.

Then one day, when I least expected it, I met the Healer. He set this captive free. I am no longer on antidepressants or mood stabilizers and have had no recurrence in fourteen years! Like this flower God gave me a garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. How can I help but praise him?

Today I am singing, “I can’t stop thinking about your goodness!”

For those of you asking, “How long, Lord?” keep trusting. Keep seeking the Lord. Someday he will tell us why it took so long. If you have lost sight of hope, ask the Lord to send burden-bearers who will carry faith and hope for you until you can hold it in your own hands again. In the darkest hours He still loves you, even when you can’t see it or feel it.

Cherish Wisdom

Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you;
    love her, and she will watch over you.
 The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom.
    Though it cost all you have, get understanding.
 Cherish her, and she will exalt you;
    embrace her, and she will honor you.
 She will give you a garland to grace your head
    and present you with a glorious crown.

Proverbs 4:6-9 NIV

Running Into the Wind

There is something about the crocus flower that symbolizes eagerness to me. They remind me of my childhood family walking over hills covered with last years dry grass and through thickets of gray branches to reach a trail that was still edged with melting snow. I remember the cold wind rushing down the mountainside making jackets billow and long hair whip around in every direction.

If we had been hiking in the late autumn, after everything with colour had blown away, we would have complained about how nasty that cold Alberta wind could be. But in the spring, the same temperature and the same stiff breeze felt wonderfully warm. We tucked hats and gloves into deep pockets and ran into the wind, our arms raised high as if to catch all the promises of spring in our hands.

A south-facing hillside showing off crocus flowers bobbing their heads in the breeze was our reward and evidence of better times and brighter days ahead. Yes, there would be disappointing blustery snowy icy days before winter fully released it’s grip, but the season of growth and harvest approached.

After this latest season of Lent and a time of allowing myself to be aware of the darkness Christ came to illuminate, the week after Easter feels like receiving the freedom to run toward the gifts He promised. One of those was the presence of the Holy Spirit who walks beside us and never leaves. He tells us through Paul:

Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy.

(1 Corinthians 14:1 NIV)

Crocus flowers are like fuzzy purple floral forerunners who respond to the season change before the other flowers. That’s what New Testament prophecy makes possible –being the first to see what others miss in changing times and responding to it in faith.

Teach me your ways, Lord. Show me your paths. Lead me in the way everlasting. Let me run into the wind with joy.