Slow Down

This has been a difficult time in British Columbia. A massive storm caused floods that destroyed roads and bridges and triggered landslides. The photos are heartbreaking. We are okay in our new home In Kelowna, but since the highways between here and the major west coast port and main agricultural areas of the province were closed we are very aware of the devastating consequences of the storm. People who had been travelling were stranded and trucks and trains carrying goods couldn’t connect with the interior of the province (although I believe one round-about route is open for essential travel now.)

Panic buying started a week ago and many shelves were empty by the next day. The grocery store near us had no fresh produce (other than cilantro and a few potatoes), no meat other than expensive steaks, no eggs, no dairy products, no bread, no rice, no canned or frozen vegetables or fruit, and no toilet paper. For those of us accustomed to abundance, it was a shock.

When disaster occurs I go into survival mode. My mind races ahead to prepare for all the possibilities we could face. Perhaps it comes from being a mother who had to anticipate dangerous situations children could get into or inconveniences I could face if I neglected to pack everything I could possibly need in the diaper bag. I like to be prepared, but after years of trying to be ahead of the game, I realized I had taught myself to expect a worst-case scenario. This time I decided not to rush out and buy more than we usually bought for the week.

In the midst of the panic I heard a song by Jonathan Ogden that was new to me. It was called “Slow Down.” I still have so much to do with settling in to this new place that the thought of slowing down was, frankly, a little annoying. Then I realized that God was using the song to speak to my heart about the need to slow my racing thoughts and listen for his voice.

The oft-quoted scripture verse, “Be still and know that I am God,” is in Psalm 46 which describes situations that are anything but tranquil. The first three verses in The Passion Translation read:

God, you’re such a safe and powerful place to find refuge!
    You’re a proven help in time of trouble—
more than enough and always available whenever I need you.
 So we will never fear
    even if every structure of support were to crumble away.
    We will not fear even when the earth quakes and shakes,
    moving mountains and casting them into the sea.
 For the raging roar of stormy winds and crashing waves
    cannot erode our faith in you.
(Pause in his presence
)

Lately I’ve been having dreams about the importance of staying close to God in these perilous times. I know it’s absolutely necessary to lean on him and trust his ways. Sometimes his ways are counter-intuitive, but the impossible becomes possible when let God be God.

This is not about passivity or laziness. We still work to help feed and house evacuees or doing whatever we can to help those affected by the storm. This about learning to quiet our souls and becoming more effective because we come from a place of rest and trust where fear doesn’t call the shots.

Surrender your anxiety.
    Be still and realize that I am God.
    I am God above all the nations,
    and I am exalted throughout the whole
earth.

Simplifying Can Be Complicated

Autumn Path

I suppose that since I write a blog about change, I can expect to encounter more opportunities to learn about change. My answer to kind readers who are wondering where I have been and have been checking up on my welfare is this: I am ok, thank you very much for taking the time to ask. I am weary and sometimes exhausted. I am emotional –sometimes embarrassingly so– but it is well with my soul.

We are now living in our new place. The last boxes have been unpacked. We’ve taken a carload of stuff we didn’t need to haul out here down to the thrift store in our new city. We’ve replaced some of the things we should have brought that we donated to the thrift store in our old city.

Things have changed since the last time we moved over three decades ago. We’ve discovered that some items we need to make this new place more functional are out of stock and will not be available for several months. There is a shortage of labour all across the country. Arguments over who to believe about Covid responses are as heated here as they were where we came from.

Health and safety protocols have changed attitudes and the process of meeting new people in more ways than we expected. I have to remind myself that what once would have been interpreted as a snub is just people who have spent months in isolation in our 55+ building being cautious. We’re adjusting to living in a much smaller space with strata council rules needing to be considered at every turn as well. We’ve been re-introduced to traffic jams and the sound of sirens.

We’ve also discovered that orchards and vineyards are beautiful in the autumn and living close to the center of a city saves a lot of time in transport and money for gas (petrol) because many shops and services are within walking distance. I can now see sunrises from the kitchen window. We’ve met beautiful, welcoming people in the faith community. The joy of living near family is something we have not known for many years. Family connection is a major reason for all this bother – and well worth it.

I’ve been back in a learning season. This has been more of a practicum than a classroom environment, but I’ve learned that God usually follows up revelation of a concept with rubber-meets-the-road experience to increase understanding.

This course could be called “Upgrading Through Downsizing.” It has been both harder and easier than I thought it would be. I found myself in frustrating situations more than once. Faith grows when circumstances are so ridiculously impossible that you can do nothing but trust God. When he shows up with a creative solution (which sometimes arrives as an amazing miracle and sometimes reveals false assumptions and the need to redefine success) it gets easier to trust him next time.

Previous life-lessons taught me how to let go of baggage. This venture has been about letting go of freight. I miss my friends, my music books, my garden, my familiar spaces, and the cherished items that carried memories. But there is no room for them anymore. This is a new day, a new assignment, and a time for getting used to different.

There is excitement in moving toward something new. There is also a type of mourning in letting go of the familiar. As I took time to rest and recover physically, I realized I also needed time to recover emotionally. While discovering new possibilities is exciting, letting go of the familiar involves all the stages of grief. Skipping those stages is like stuffing the feelings in another box marked “this side up” and tripping over it like the last plastic tub of miscellaneous stuff I don’t know what to do with that still sits beside my desk.

Perhaps this has been the greatest lesson of this season: I will not have grace to extend to others if I fail to extend grace to myself. Time is a precious gift that I have chosen to open and enjoy. I’ll be back to writing soon.

Right now, my little granddaughter is waiting for me to come pick her up. She wants me to teach her how to sew.

Kelowna Sunrise

Just to Be Near You

O God in Zion, to you even silence is praise!
You are the God who answers prayer;
all of humanity comes before you with their requests.

Though we are overcome by our many sins,
your sacrifice covers over them all.
And your priestly lovers, those you’ve chosen,
will be greatly favored to be brought close to you.
What inexpressible joys are theirs!
What feasts of mercy fill them in your heavenly sanctuary!
How satisfied we will be just to be near you!

You answer our prayers with amazing wonders
and with awe-inspiring displays of power.
You are the righteous God who helps us like a father.

Everyone everywhere looks to you,
for you are the confidence of all the earth,
even to the farthest islands of the sea.

What jaw-dropping, astounding power is yours!
You are the mountain maker who sets them all in place.

Psalm 65: 1-7 TPT

I am learning that prayer is not a work we do to impress God. Prayer is not duty. Prayer is not telling God what to do as if he is our servant. Prayer is definitely not manipulating God with fine flattering speeches or dramatic displays of emotional super-religiosity. These things may impress the people around us, but they do not impress God.

What impresses God is faith — believing he is who he says he is and trusting in his love.

Prayer is daring to come close to God in faith and humility and naked honesty. Sometimes, when we pour out our hearts, words flow. Sometimes we sit in silence not knowing what to say. In these moments, the Holy Spirit speaks our hearts when we can’t. In these moments the Holy Spirit speaks to our hearts in the sounds of stillness.

Prayer is just being near him and knowing that no matter what, he loves us like no one else ever can.

Why Have Children?

newborn

I have been reading articles and listening to young friends talk about reasons they choose not to have children. They have given thought to this and their lists of reasons are logical. Children do make demands on time, finances, and emotional and physical resources. Some people would rather spend their efforts on pursuits they consider to be potentially more rewarding. Some don’t think they would be good parents. Frankly, I would rather people recognized that factor before neglecting or abusing a child. Sadly, some don’t want to risk a repetition of the home they grew up in. Intentionally childless people’s decisions are not illogical; the choice is evidence-based and values-based, but it is a unique choice historically.

In times past, when food was plentiful, and wars weren’t tearing couples apart, the population grew. Today, in many of the wealthiest countries of the world, the birthrate is shrinking below replacement levels.

All of this has made me wonder why people do choose to have children. Why, in the decades after WWII, when shortages were still a reality, and even in the years when birth control became less complicated, did people have children? I don’t think couples intentionally filled the station wagon with kids as some sort of patriotic duty to re-populate, at least not consciously. I asked some friends from my parents’ generation. One person’s response surprised me.

“It was a celebration of life, in defiance of death,” she said. “After so much loss in our homeland, we longed to share what we still had: life. We survived. We had little to give materially, but we could give the most precious thing that was given to us – the beauty and joy of being alive.”

As I thought about this, I realized that each of us owe our existence to at least two other interdependent human beings living in interdependent relationship with others. None of us got here by our own efforts. There is no such thing as a self-made man or woman. We all needed mothers who shared their bodies, and fathers who, at the very minimum, contributed part of the life force given to them. Most of us also had communities that helped raise us.

boy playing monkey bars bwI thought about beauty and joy. I remembered the beauty of a field of beaming sunflowers and the first warmth of an April sun on my face. I remembered seeing the Ice Capades with stunning athletes in sparkling costumes glide through colourful spotlights chasing them around the rink. I was five years old and wondered if my eyes could take in anything more beautiful. I remember the joy of playing with my funny kitten, Mittsy, and of discovering the delicious cold thrill of strawberry ice cream on my tongue. I remembered how I gloried in the confidant vigour of my young body as I swung on the monkey bars. These were not only gifts from my parents, but gifts passed on from a good God.

I thought about joy and my search for it through difficult times in the valley of depression when I nearly lost hope of finding it again. Last night, as I entered rest, I had a simple, but profound revelation. I have learned, through experiences that have not always been easy, that joy is discovering that God is who he says he is. He is the one Jesus came to show us.

We often think a successful life is one in which a person has an admirable career,  money to spend on pleasure, and many decades without suffering. What if there is more? Today I felt overwhelmed with shared joy as I listened to my giggling, happy grandchildren making new discoveries. At this stage of my life, when I live with the reality of a life-threatening disease, and the greater reality of death-defying hope of  life both here and in eternity, I can say this is my distilled list of reasons to have children:

  • Beauty.
  • Joy.
  • Love.
  • Hope.
  • Life. Life here and now and life forever in Christ.

I love life!

There is more provision set aside for us than we could ever possibly imagine. I thank my parents for giving of themselves. I bless them.

I thank God for creating beauty, for loving us, and sharing his joy.

painting girl leaves crop_ charis 1142

For the beauty of the earth,
For the beauty of the skies,
For the love which from our birth
Over and around us lies,
Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our grateful hymn of praise.

For the beauty of each hour
Of the day and of the night,
Hill and vale, and tree and flower,
Sun and moon and stars of light,
Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our grateful hymn of praise.

For the joy of human love,
Brother, sister, parent, child,
Friends on earth, and friends above,
Pleasures pure and undefiled,
Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our grateful hymn of praise.

(From For the Beauty of the Earth by Folliet S. Pierpont, whose parents gave their baby a distinctive, original name)

 

I Long to Drink of You

st marys falls leaves on rock

I long to drink of you, O God,
drinking deeply from the streams of pleasure
flowing from your presence.
My longings overwhelm me for more of you!

St Marys Falls Oct ch IMG_6889

My deep need calls out to the deep kindness of your love.
Your waterfall of weeping sent waves of sorrow
over my soul, carrying me away,
cascading over me like a thundering cataract.

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Yet all day long God’s promises of love pour over me.
Through the night I sing his songs,
for my prayer to God has become my life.

(Psalm 42:1, 7, 8 The Passion Translation)

Planting

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I planted daffodil bulbs today. They’re not very pretty. It’s hard to imagine what they will become.

In fact, the entire garden is not very pretty in November. We’ve had snow already, and some nose-under-the-covers cold nights. The snow melted, but today is my brother’s birthday, and as far back as I can remember the kind of snow that stayed always arrived on or shortly after his birthday.

I’m in mourning for the season of colour. A hard freeze turned the willow tree brown overnight. The plum tree leaves heaved a sigh and waved goodbye without the annual flash of red before departing. The snapdragons lay strewn about like the last soldiers to fall in a battle the other side will record in their history books. Saying goodbye is never easy.

Today may be the last day the soil can be worked before it freezes. So I worked it, digging holes and dropping humble brown bulbs into them. Then I buried them. Now they rest.

The Lord is speaking to me about both hope and letting go these days. I decided to plant some hope in the form of daffodil bulbs. The deer ate all my tulips last year, but I noticed the daffodils failed to impress them. They did impress me though. I love the early spring flowers that find their way through the detritus of winter. I planted more.

Sometimes, in the spring, seeds will germinate within a few days. These bulbs will wait for six months. Sometimes the things we plant spring to life right away. Sometimes they take so long, we forgot we even planted them. I am learning to let go of my desire for immediate reward. I recognize now that some of the truths planted in my life in past cold blustery seasons are only now starting to bloom in my heart — in His time.

For there will be peace for the seed: the vine will yield its fruit, the land will yield its produce and the heavens will give their dew; and I will cause the remnant of these people to inherit all these things.

(Zechariah 8:13 NASB)

Your Justice is Like Majestic Mountains

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One evening, as a group of us sat around talking about films we enjoyed, films we hated, and films that influenced us (categories which are not mutually exclusive), we noticed the theme of revenge kept popping up. Of course, somebody did an internet search.

The results shocked us.

We didn’t find 72 films with revenge themes. We found a 72 page-long list of movies based on revenge.

We looked up films with forgiveness themes. We found far fewer. Far, far fewer. A handful of pages. Maybe.

I admit to finding vicarious satisfaction in seeing a well-developed antagonist shot down in flames, hoisted on his own petard, humiliated in front of her ladies’ club, or hung on gallows built for the protagonist. Payback is sweet. I read calls for it every day on social media.

But God’s justice is not satisfied with unhappy endings like that. God takes a thief like Zacchaeus and transforms him into a benefactor. He turns a murderer like Moses into a deliverer, a world dominator like Nebuchadnezzar into a humble worshipper, and a persecutor like Saul into an apostle.

Perhaps that’s why he told us not to take vengeance into our own hands. Our self-righteous, untransformed concept of revenge-based justice would influence us to end the story too soon. We would spoil his fun.

And part of that fun is transforming me. And you.

Your justice is like the majestic mountains. Your judgments are as deep as the oceans, and yet in Your greatness, You, O Eternal, offer life for every person and animal.
(Psalm 36:6 The Voice)

 

Hope: Child-like Expectation

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Some people love routine. If asked what they are doing at 2:15 p.m., Wednesday, February 19, 2021, they can tell you. Because it’s a Thursday. At 2:15 p.m.. Assuming no unforeseen circumstances interrupt the schedule, they will be doing what they always do on Thursdays at 2:15.

I hate routine. It feels like prison to me. I don’t even like taking the same route to the grocery store twice in a row.  Loss of efficiency is not so much a factor as lack of expansion.

Lately I fell into a routine. It’s not a good sign. My routine involved a prolonged daily stop at Procrastination Station. I’ve been neither exploring nor creating. Worse, I realized I’ve hunkered down, “waiting for the other shoe to drop” as my pessimistic former self would say. Other people can accomplish more when routines make sure they remember to remember, but when I choose routine, it’s because I lack energy for growth and I am protecting myself from disappointment.

I prayed about this as I stared at another blank page, bereft of creative energy. I realized that loss of wonder is connected to loss of hope. Loss of hope, for me, darkens and curls the pages of my story when I allow cares of this world to overshadow the goodness of God. Recently I’ve I allowed myself to become burdened by cares for my divided country, cares for my friends’ predicaments, and especially cares for my family’s pains, feeling a responsibility to do something about situations outside my purview. It hasn’t been working.

This past weekend, I agreed to paint at a gathering of believers as they played and sang worship songs. I had a few ideas for a subject, but none really moved me. Then, a couple of hours before gathering up my art paraphernalia to toss in the trunk of the car, a photo of my little granddaughter showed up on Facebook Memories. She was beside the street in bare feet, waiting excitedly for guests to arrive for a birthday party.

She waited in expectation of something good about to happen. I thought, Wait a minute…hope is expectation of the goodness of God. I need to paint this. I started it on Friday evening. What I didn’t know then was that the speaker’s theme on Saturday evening would be “Child-like Expectation.”

I had asked the Lord where I went off track. This weekend, I felt him saying it was when I lost the perspective of a child. When I forgot that I am a child of God I gave up wonder. When I neglected to cling to the hope –the expectation– of seeing the goodness of God in the land of the living, I took my eyes off Jesus and began to shut down creatively.

My hope is not in what I can do. My hope is in who God is. I am not a person left alone to figure it all out all by myself. I am a child of the King and I have the best Dad in the whole wide world.

“Learn this well: Unless you dramatically change your way of thinking and become teachable, and learn about heaven’s kingdom realm with the wide-eyed wonder of a child, you will never be able to enter in.” – Jesus

(Matthew 18:3 TPT)

 

 

 

Neither Fears for Today Nor Worries About Tomorrow

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I am convinced

— convinced —

that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love.

Neither death nor life,

neither angels nor demons,

neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—

not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.

No power in the sky above or in the earth below—

indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able

to separate us from the love of God

that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

— Romans 8:38 NLT

Ah, Freedom!

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Today I am thankful for freedom.

I’m thankful that I can grab my camera, jump in my little car, and follow the light.

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I am thankful, since genealogy studies revealed many of my ancestors were not persons under the law, that I am recognized as a person, with a right to express my opinion with a ballot.

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I’m thankful that I can disagree with friends on the best way to get to where we want to go, and still be friends.

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I am thankful that (at the time of writing, at least) I have the freedom to express what is important to me in music, written and spoken word, art, photography and most of all in worship.

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Freedom! I love it!