Where Can I Hide?

 

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Have you heard the expression, “I was so embarrassed I could have crawled into a hole?”

I learned to hide when I was a child. I didn’t play hide-and-go-seek. My game was just called hide. Some kids hide to avoid punishment. I hid to avoid the look of disappointment on adults’ faces. Whether it was true or not, I felt I could never measure up, that I was not good enough, or pretty enough, or smart enough, or talented enough, or hard-working enough.

I hid so well that a science teacher once insisted I was not in his class when my parents went to a meeting to check on my progress. I was in his class. Second row from the window. Fourth seat. I’d been there all year. I was hiding in plain sight. I just knew how not to attract attention. I felt weak in the subjects of math and science. I didn’t want him pointing that out.

Those feelings chased me into adulthood. Periodically, I strived to find recognition, then, accosted by my weaknesses and fearing the look of disappointment again, I vanished into busyness, or study, or books containing stories of other people’s more interesting lives. I stood behind a window where I could see out but no one could see in, because I knew how to stay in the shadows.

One day a little boy arrived on our doorstep. He clutched a plastic garbage bag containing everything he owned. The exhausted social worker who nudged him into the house had “packed” for him. This little boy (I’ll call him Davey) showed me what attempts to hide must look like to God.

After a few weeks of living with us, Davey began to relax and play like the other children. Eventually, like all children do, he pushed the rules. Something broke, something spilled, someone cried – the usual stuff that happens in a house full of kids. When the mini-crisis settled we realized Davey was gone.

We searched, we called. We called loudly, gently, insistently and desperately. We searched places everyone in the house and in the neighbourhood had already searched. The sun was setting and the wind was turning cold. I checked the basement one more time before calling the police and the social worker to report a missing child. In the corner of the utility room, behind the furnace, a corner of plaid shirt moving ever so slightly caught my eye.

“Davey?”

Silence.

“Davey, I know you are there. Come out now.”

The space was so small I couldn’t get close to him.

“Davey, I need you to come out now so I can make sure you are okay.”

Silence. Then a faint whimper.

“Don’t hurt me.”

My heart broke. He didn’t know us well enough to trust that we would not beat him. He stood motionless all day in a hot, dusty, spider-infested corner because he feared our reaction. That’s what experience taught him before he came to our family. Only kindness demonstrated consistently by someone who genuinely cared about him could change his ideas about his value and the existence of a safe place.

I watched another wee young lad learn that shame didn’t need to keep him from his daddy. He loved being outside and he played with the intensity of an athlete developing strengths and pushing the limitations of his body. The problem was that he frequently pushed the limits of how long it would take him to take a break from play and run to the bathroom. One day, as his daddy and I chatted we realized he had also disappeared. I started to panic.

“Don’t worry,” his father said. “ I know where he is.”

I followed him down the hallway to the bedroom.

“Come on out, son,” he said, sticking his head in the closet. “Let’s get you cleaned up.”

When the little boy messed up (and from the smell we knew he had messed up badly this time) he slipped away and hid from the one person who loved him most and the person who was prepared to clean him up, give him new clothes, and send him out for a fresh start. His daddy was dedicated to preparing him to become all he was meant to be. He wasn’t going to give up on him. The child didn’t need to hide.

I realized that fear of disappointing my heavenly father had also marred my relationship to him. I was afraid of him. I was afraid of harsh punishment. I was afraid of abandonment. I hid. I hid from him rather than face possible rejection. I didn’t think he would have grace for me.

How that must have hurt him. I didn’t understand who he really was.

David, the singer/song-writer and soon-to-be king, wrote about realizing that hiding from God was not only useless, it was impossible.

Where could I go from your Spirit?
    Where could I run and hide from your face?

God is not repulsed by our smelly messes. That’s a lie that those who have rejected God out of fear that he will reject them have been feeding us since the first time we understood that we did something wrong. The truth is God comes looking for us.

There is no place we can go to hide from his Spirit. This is absolutely not in a God-is-going-to-get-you-you-miserable-sinner way. This is in a way that understands our weaknesses and offers to clean us up and give us direction and a fresh start. He’s a good, good father.

If you fear responding to God’s call for a closer relationship because you are afraid of disappointing him, or that there is harsh punishment awaiting you, someone has been lying to you. That is not who he is. Jesus came to show us what he is like. He is relentlessly kind and has always planned to adopt you. Your relationship doesn’t depend on creating an illusion of sinless acceptability. He already knows everything about you and your stinky messes and he still loves you! He wants to be close to you.

Take the risk of rejecting the lie. Come out of hiding and let yourself be loved. You are the one he hopes for. He longs to be your good daddy — the perfect father who will never hurt you — because he loves you.

 

Unpicked

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I came home from my walk yesterday with apples in my pockets and a rant in my mouth.

“I can’t believe these people!” I told my husband. “There are half a dozen fruit trees in this neighbourhood that haven’t been picked! I tell you, if your apples are hanging over the fence and if you haven’t picked them by the day the first winter storm is predicted, I’m taking some.”

I tossed him a cold crisp MacIntosh. “Here. It’s delicious!”

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He looked at me with the suspicion of a man who remembers what happened the last time a woman offered him stolen fruit.

“And plums!” I added. “There’s a tree down the alley that is still loaded with Damsons. They could at least let some homeless people or single moms or some folks from the food bank with ladders come onto their property and fill up their boxes. It drives me nuts when perfectly good food goes to waste!

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And this happens every year. And then the bears follow the scent into town in the fall and the deer are gorging on mushy fallen fruit and pooping everywhere and then the cougars show up and get shot because they scare parents and dog owners. Aaargh!”

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I grew up on the Canadian prairies where the weather was too harsh for most fruit trees. Heaven, in my child’s mind, was filled with luxurious fruit you could simply reach up and take. Maybe it still is. But having fruit trees is like having pets. You’ve got to look after them. “Steward them” in Christianese.

I went over to the window to arrange my over-the-fence apples and take photos of them, because that’s what I do when the light is good, and I heard my Lord’s voice.

“I know how you feel.”
“What?”
“I have made provision for you that you have failed to grab.”
“I don’t get it.”
“Exactly. You need to extend your faith a little to get it, but it’s there.”

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Well. That shut me up.

I’ve been feeling inadequate for a task I believe the Lord has been asking me to do for ages. I’ve let opportunity after opportunity pass by like the seasons as I wait to be endowed from on high with inspiration, creativity, and resources.

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What does extending faith look like?

It looks like getting out a ladder and reaching for provision unnoticed in the everyday. It’s refusing to let another season pass ignoring what you already have access to. Don’t take it for granted. Don’t be distracted. Don’t be lazy. Go for it! Then share.

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I hear You.

 

In Expectation

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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.

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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.

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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.

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I really didn’t want to leave.

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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?

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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.

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I kicked a pile of gold leaves and heard my Lord speak in a voice softer than a whisper.

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“What if it’s not?”
“Not what?”
“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?”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

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But He did. He’s good that way.

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The journey continues.

First Things First

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“The prayer that begins with trustfulness, and passes on into waiting, will always end in thankfulness, triumph, and praise.”

~Alexander MacLaren

There was a time in my life when it seemed I had far more wedding and bridal and baby shower invitations than available babysitters. We all knew that such events included obligatory traditions as well as some pressure to meet expectations for originality. Do it this way, but differently. I began to wish my friends, and then my friends’ children, would just announce elopements and spawning events with photos on Facebook. I preferred emailing a gift card and skipping the whole toilet paper and clothes pin games and the dressing up for awkward speeches and plastic cup toasts thing.

Now I’m older. Funeral announcements have gradually outnumbered wedding and baby shower invitations. I realize I undervalued the opportunity to celebrate beginnings. I wish I had connected with joy more.

There can be joy in the midst of sorrow when we know someone is now in the presence of the Lord, but we can’t deny the existence of sorrow. Call it a “Celebration of Life Party” if you like, but funerals are sad events. Some funerals are sadder than others. Loss is loss, even if it’s the loss of someone who didn’t stir feelings of fondness. Sometimes the saddest loss of all is the loss of opportunity to build a better relationship.

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The undeniable fact about death rituals is that they can permit and perpetuate really bad theology – what we think about God. And since what we think about God is the most important foundation in our lives, funerals and “comforting words” in the reception line have a way of forcing us to realize this is where the rubber meets the road, philosophically.

Group mourning rituals can be very similar to weddings. We still have the do-it-this-way-but-differently pressures when arranging a funeral, but with much less time to prepare, an undefined budget and no RSVP list of attendees. Maybe that’s why many people still feel the need to hire an ordained hatch, match and despatch specialist, even when church attendance occurred less frequently than visits to Santa in the life of the honoree. Some clerics are very good at nurturing and comforting in times of need. Some others? Well, not so much.

One of the saddest remarks I heard at a funeral was from a person officiating who said, “Our hope is that our friend made a good enough impression on God that someday he will be allowed to come back and help clean up the earth.”

My heart ached. But I could not judge. For many years I said I believed in God’s grace, but in practice my actions showed I believed in the necessity of making a good impression on God, so he would have mercy on me and not toss me into the trash heap of discardables on judgement day.

God has given me long time-outs on this journey. I’ve had chances to scrape off performance-based religious burrs collected along the way. I still do keep running into residual ideas still clinging to my own previously unexamined places, but I realize for many people thinking about talking to God is like preparing for a make or break interview. Prayer feels like having to make a good impression on God, so he will act in one’s favour. Sacrificial acts of piety and charity carry what we hope is a suitably subtle label: God, please note. (And a sigh: I hope I’m doing this right!)

~~~~~~~

I find myself again idling at a rest stop along the road as I recuperate from surgery this season. I find stuck to myself the remnants of an uncomfortable feeling that I’m not doing enough. I should be writing something deeply profound, or at least organizing my sock drawer. Is rest self-indulgent? What if I fail to impress? Will I will be forgotten?

My heavenly Father heard my questions (before I voiced them) and that’s when Holy Spirit showed up in a new translation of Psalm 139 that attempts to include emotional communication. It’s so rich, a gift of gold light showering down like the autumn leaves.

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I plan to feel and rest my way through meditation on this psalm. How profound is the concept that our Creator knows us down to the cellular level and still loves us? How can we possibly think we can impress (or fool) someone who knows our thoughts before we do, someone who is not bound by our chronological sense of time, and who still persists in trying to communicate his love?

At first, immersing myself in Psalm 139 felt like giving into a tendency to be self-indulgent and self-centered. I was taught that being a Christian means putting Jesus first, others second and yourself last. (We even had an acronym for this approach – “J,O,Y”) The work ethic is strong in my culture; a sense of accomplishment is a highly polished trophy passed reluctantly from one hard worker to another.

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Here, in this psalm, the Holy Spirit tells us that before we did anything, thought anything, or were aware of anything worthy of approval, we were the object of his unceasing kind thoughts and the source of his joy. We see ourselves as having value because he first loved us. We love him because he first loved us. We love others because he first loved us. First things first.

Since we can’t give what we have not filled up on, there are seasons when we need to take time to soak in his love like a baby floating in amniotic fluid. Times of rest are like celebrations of joyful new beginnings without the budget restrictions and societal expectations.

I’m learning to celebrate this time of re-alignment by soaking in these words.

Lord, you know everything there is to know about me.
You’ve examined my innermost being
With your loving gaze.
You perceive every movement of my heart and soul,
And understand my every thought
Before it even enters my mind.
You are so intimately aware of me, Lord,
You read my heart like an open book
And you know all the words I’m about to speak
Before I even start a sentence!

-from Psalm 139, The Passion Translation

There is more of God’s love, always more love, than we dare to think or imagine.