Wisdom Plays

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Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play.”  ~Heraclitus

I nestle into a warm form-fitting spot on a colourful beach towel and watch the children. This boy has a plan. He has a vision. He digs. He moves the earth, forming mounds and channels with shovels and pails and his own bare hands. Towers grow on foundations he creates. Monuments to industriousness spring up where only impressions of bare feet dented the wet sand before he arrived. He pats towers into temporary permanence.

No one tells him what to do. When he finished throwing stones into the water, a ritual  all boys must follow, he picked up his tools and got to work, as oblivious to the calls of his siblings as he is to the seagulls.

They both steal his potato chips. It doesn’t matter. He is creating. He creates because he was made to create. It’s who he is. He builds because he must build. It’s who he is becoming.

The Creator made him in His image. He carries the Creator’s purpose somewhere deep inside. He is a child of God and must be about his Father’s business. His play is his work.

I watch and remember the Spirit of Wisdom saying:

I was there, close to the Creator’s side as his master artist.
Daily he was filled with delight in me
as I playfully rejoiced before him.

I laughed and played,
so happy with what he had made,
while finding my delight in the children of men.

(Proverbs 8:30,31 TPT)

It is the nature of the Godhead to laugh, to play, to find delight in each other, to find delight in their creation.

I can see the source of their joy in this boy, on this beach, on this day.

I watch the children play on the beach under the warm summer sun. Cool water laps against the division of water and land. The afternoon breeze skims over the lake and rises to play with trembling aspen leaves and sing through fir tree branches. Ospreys soar in a blue sky too full of light to see with unshaded eyes.

The boy straightens up and stands like Colossus with sand-covered legs astride the harbour. His hands, like mighty David’s hands, still hold pail and shovel like weapons of praise at rest.

“Look what I made!”

He smiles. He is proud. He knows.

I feel God’s pleasure.

Joy.

 

Love in the Deep

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Choose love not in the shallows but in the deep.

~ Christina Rossetti

Falling in love, as wonderful as it feels, is mostly about the way someone makes us feel. Love is not limited to romance. An uplifting sense of approval prompts us to carry our heads higher when a person we admire offers praise – or better yet, asks our advice. Feeling loved allows us to see ourselves through the eyes of another and enjoy the view. Awakening to love returns us to the place of early childhood. Babies receive love but they don’t extend love very well. There is more.

My neighbour taught me a new word this week. Firgun. In contemporary Hebrew it means the opposite of Schadenfreude – that perfect word describing the guilty pleasure we experience when seeing someone we dislike humiliated. Schadenfreude may occur when the… ah… um… person who just sped past us on a dangerous curve is now parked on the side of the road in front of a vehicle with flashing lights. That shamefully satisfying feeling is Schadenfreude,  not firgun.

Firgun is simple unselfish pleasure that comes from seeing another person receive something especially good, even though we ourselves may have been overlooked for a similar honour or windfall. Firgun is rejoicing with those who rejoice. Firgun is jealousy-free genuine joy. Firgun is mature love.

Years ago, on a hot summer day I joined my sweet friend in a cool private swimming pool. We had it all to ourselves and happily wallowed in the shallow end to cool off. I didn’t know she couldn’t swim. She didn’t know the pool had a deep end.

She took a step over the line that marked the beginning of the plunging floor. When she couldn’t touch bottom she panicked and flailed about so dramatically I thought she was joking. She wasn’t. I could still touch bottom so I reached out to grab her.

My kind, sweet, caring, gentle friend nearly drowned me.

She pulled me into the deep end with her and tried to push herself up with hands on my shoulder and head. That pushed me under. The problem was that she wouldn’t let go of my hair as she strove for air.

Finally I broke free, swam to the edge, got out of the pool, and, when I was on solid ground, extended the pole that hung on the fence.

We both lived, but she avoided me for a while. I knew she couldn’t help it. Desperation drove her, but the feeling of being held under the water until I feared blacking out stuck with me for a long time, too. She had not been in a position to be considerate of my needs and without anything to stand on I became just as vulnerable.

A verse in the Old King James translation of the Bible talks about provoking each other to excel in doing good. A more contemporary translation says this:

Discover creative ways to encourage others and to motivate them toward acts of compassion, doing beautiful works as expressions of love. (Hebrews 10:24 TPT)

Healthy competition inspires by demonstrating what is possible. I’ve seen too many people, including couples who have sworn to love each other and friends who have known each other for years, engaged in unhealthy competition that looks more like a desperate attempt to keep heads above water by pushing the other one under.

Sometimes we can depend on another person to carry us in a way that makes us turn them into an idol who will eventually disappoint. Sometimes our desperation turns them into someone we treat as expendable in the face of our overwhelming need. In desperate times we can cling with such ferocity to a human source of support that we nearly drown them. Sometimes we are the ones who need to disentangle and leave before we can help.

I’ve been thinking about why love is so hard. I wonder if reaching out to love other people when we don’t feel loved ourselves is like being pulled into the deep end against our will. Love has to be a choice or it is not love.

Love in the shallows (and I’m not just talking about couple love here) becomes love in the deep only when we no longer cling to another mere person for approval or for our sense of identity. Love in the deep is love that gives, because it has learned how to receive from the source of love and has something to give.

Mature lovers know that even in the deep they can be grounded in rest and on the firm foundation of  Jesus Christ’s love. They also refuse to let themselves become a god to anyone else and instead help them to connect to God themselves. They can stand firm and extend His love like I extended the pole to my struggling friend.

How do we know the difference between mature love and self-serving love? Firgun. Can I be genuinely happy for another person’s healing, or financial gain, or  recognition without triggering my own sense of lack? Does their success give me pleasure and release a flood of praise to the Giver of all good things? For close family and friends perhaps, but for most people, on my own,  no.

I can’t give what I have not received. But when I am in Christ and he is in me? Then I can remember that the love the Father has for the Son includes me. When I center my life in Him, and focus on who He is, His grace empowers me to do the creative good works he designed for me. He will show me how to become a mature lover of others without drowning in old pain. He makes me into a giver with firgun.

Who’s Fault Is It?

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It’s four o’clock in the morning and I am trying to console two terrified children. They want their mother. I am a stranger, and this is not their home. They came to the door in the middle of the night with a sleepy-looking social worker accompanied by a very big policeman in a squad car that looked just like the one that took their mommy away.

I know nothing about these children. Their ages, their health needs, their favourite foods, and their familiar comfort items are a mystery. I don’t even know the youngest boy’s name. He is either too young, too delayed, or too frightened to speak.

His pants are wet. Is he toilet-trained or do I need to find a toddler diaper? His sister screams and hits me when I try to take his soiled clothes off to clean him and put on a borrowed pair of dry pyjamas. She is sobbing so hard her entire body shakes.

I try to be kind and gentle. I speak softly and move slowly, but no matter what I do it is wrong, because I am the wrong person. I am not Mommy. They shouldn’t be here. They are traumatized.

By five a.m. they are exhausted enough to fall asleep. Their bodies jerk with sobs even in their sleep. I put them in the same bed for mutual reassurance and give them a piece of bread to hold because I have learned that in the absence of their own blankie or teddy bear, food is the next best comfort item. This whole thing is a game of “the next best.”

The other children in our foster home will start to wake soon. No use trying to go to bed now. I start to play the senseless game I have played before – the game of who’s fault is it?

I know if the media told this story they would cast me in the role of horrible foster-mother who only does this for money, treats the children with indifference, imposes my values, and makes two kids sleep in one small bed. They would use the situation to back which ever political faction they were supporting or philosophical ideal they were trying to fly in the continuing saga of Us and Them.

I am angry with their mother for making choices that foists her pain onto little kids, but I also wonder what injustices might have led to her desperate actions and put her in prison.

Where is their father? Is he also incarcerated? Does he have a substance abuse problem as well? Shouldn’t he be caring for his own kids in an emergency? What kind of father abandons his little ones?

Some people would blame the social worker for bringing them here or the government for not providing a receiving home with paid staff and enough private bedrooms for all the kids who need placement within an hour in an isolated northern town.

Was it the fault of the police officers who took the mother away and separated the children from her?

Was it the fault of the judge for imposing the law? How many times had she been in his courtroom before she used up all her chances? Was it the fault of the lawmakers who placed no responsibility on the men who treated her as a commodity or the pimp who terrorized her or the drug dealers whose wares kept her placated or the local gangs with their warlord-wanna-be leaders who ran more than we cared to know about?

Could I blame a bullying school system with teachers like the one who prophesied failure for one of my foster kids because of his race? Did they fail to teach the children’s mother how to succeed?

Were her parents there for her when she was a terrified three-year old or were they victims of someone who was raised in a residential school back in the old country himself? Were their parents and grandparents victims of aggressors and fraudulent schemes to grab their resources and break up families?

I want to know where on the chain to pin the blame because there are two helpless little victims here in my home and somebody besides them needs to pay. I want justice!

Eventually, as usual, I realize that we are all victims of someone else’s pain. Without hope, without someone who can break the chain of sin (and yes, let’s call it what it is) consequences of living out of the order God intended us to live in, a life of caring for each other based on love, not selfish gain, play on. The best we can do is assign blame and choose the victim who will carry the weight of all of this.

We are all victims of a victim of a victim going back to the first people who chose to believe the father of lies when he asked, “Did God really say…?” The whole thing plays out like a Rube Goldberg device with one thing knocking over another and doesn’t stop until it lands on the lowest, least powerful members of society.

Those children entered my life years ago. I can’t forget them. Not everyone can make room in their homes for needy children. I burned out, physically and emotionally. I couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t keep pushing my bio kids’ needs aside to try to clean up another mess. I was becoming alternately callous and shrill. The need is endless and I had a responsibility to my own first.

I felt like a failure, but it was exhausting. I didn’t like what I was becoming. I was in danger of turning into the stereotypical foster-mother who avoids attachment. I quit because empathizing with the children’s pain began to trigger my own pain. I quit to go get healing.

Jesus was there for me. He still heals hearts. He has the power to break every chain. He can break the cycle.

Yes, I see the reports of children separated from their parents on the border between Mexico and the USA. Yes, I hear the children’s cries and yes, I hear condemnation of Christians who supposedly don’t care. I have been reluctant to jump into the discussion because I have been on both sides of the line.

I have worked to re-unite families and I have defended the law and hidden victims of crime from their parents. I have shared my space and given everything I could and I’ve had to set boundaries to protect my family’s needs as well.

I believe that except for Jesus’ life-transforming power, there is no solution that does not make another human the consequence-bearer at the end of this chain, because this entire mess (and it is an unendurable mess) is the consequence of the sins of many people for a long time.

Who is to blame? We all are.

There are no white hats in this scenario – only varying degrees of grey hats. We have all sinned and fall short of receiving everything God provided for us to be who he created us to be. We can try to alleviate suffering, but we can’t go back and deal with the root causes. Without divine intervention we can only offer the next best thing, and, when we fail to transform hearts with well-meaning charity and political power, lower our standards and offer the next best thing… and the next… and the next…

Our best hope, our only hope, is to let go of each other’s throats, raise our empty hands to God, and cry, “Help!”

 

Looking At the Yesterdays

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For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be a godly person. Yet when I look at the yesterdays of my life, what I see, mostly, is a broken, irregular path littered with mistakes and failure. I have had temporary successes and isolated moments of closeness to God, but I long for the continuing presence of Jesus.

I want a lifetime of holy moments. Every day I want to be in dangerous proximity to Jesus. I long for a life that explodes with meaning and is filled with adventure, wonder, risk, and danger. I long for a faith that is gloriously treacherous. I want to be with Jesus, not knowing whether to cry or laugh.

~Mike Yaconelli

Looking back I can see the path of my spiritual journey. It looks like a haphazard trail created by a person lurching from crisis to crisis interspersed with resting places called “Good Enough.”

It’s a looking back kind of day. My Daddy died on this day three years ago. I call him Daddy today because the space between now and the day he took his last breath is like a vista where time is less sequential and light shines on foreground, midground, and background equally. Today I can look up to my confident Daddy standing in the field at the same time as I look down on my confused father lying in the hospital bed.

My Daddy always told us stories, but he didn’t leave the good enough safety of a job he hated to become a writer and professional story-teller until he was nearly sixty. He said his tales of a Saskatchewan boyhood had just enough truth in them to make them believable but enough fiction to right the wrongs of people broken by hardship. He wrote and published his stories, saw his book become a best seller (by Canadian prairie province standards), then settled in a cottage called Good Enough that looked out on the past. The future caught him by surprise. It’s hard to re-write the future.

Sometimes I envy those who are content to stay as they are, where they are. But I also feel a need to run from those who shrug and say, “It is what it is.” I joke about my addiction to potential and tendency to collect more artistic “raw material” than I will live long enough to use, but I don’t want to look into my grave and ask, “Is that all there is?” I know there is more for us both here and beyond the horizon.

I have taken up residence in places called Good Enough for long stretches in my life, but eventually I catch a glimpse of the future me — the way God sees me outside of the sequence of time – and I long for more. It’s a holy discontent that wants to partner with God. I hear him whisper, “Come away with me and I will show you things you never knew before.”

The advantage of having a diagnosis of cancer is receiving the fulfilment of David’s prayer in Psalm 90: Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. Cancer is not a death sentence that people without cancer do not also have. It’s like a mileage sign post to give you a heads up that you will be approaching an exit ramp sometime in the future — but not yet.

God’s not finished with me yet. When I look at my yesterdays I know that’s who I was but it is not who I am going to be. I am still changing. Like Mike Yaconelli, I feel that holy discontent rising up. The desire to be in dangerous proximity to Jesus and whatever he is doing is growing again. I hear Holy Spirit say, “Get your coat. Let’s go. There is more.”

Immense

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This is a big country. I stopped by a field on the Cowboy Trail in Alberta on my way home this weekend. I am overwhelmed by the immensity of the sky and land I can see from one spot in one place on one road. I cannot comprehend the size of this province or this world, let alone the universe.

I’ve met some extremely intelligent people in my life. I love scientists. Many of them have spent a lifetime learning all they can in a field the size of a clump of clay. Even astrophysicists who look at the big picture and gaze into the sky beyond the sky admit that all their accumulated knowledge is humbling. Questions multiply like the expanding universe. The more we know the more we have to admit we just don’t know.

The same difficulty is seen in developing wisdom on how to rule a nation or get along with other countries. If two people, who care deeply about each other, cannot agree on the best way to earn a living, clean the house, raise a child, or even the best route to drive to the grocery store how can we trust a few people in positions of power and who despise each other to make wise decisions for all of us?

When I read the news and sense the current atmosphere I feel frightened. Sometimes I know too little; sometimes I know too much. The problems are too complex to figure out all by my little self.

Someone reminded me of a story the author of ‘The Hiding Place’, Corrie ten Boom, wrote. She lived in difficult times and sometimes felt overwhelmed. Her father reminded her that when she was a child and excited about going on a train trip with her Papa he didn’t put her ticket in her hand until it was time to actually get on the train. In the same way, God often doesn’t give us the grace to handle a problem until we need it.

I was overwhelmed with anxiety as I faced another medical scan on Friday. I wrote about it here in Real Time. I clung to Corrie’s story, trusting God to hand me a ticket when I needed it even though I was shaking so badly when I arrived at the hospital I could barely hold a pen to sign the permission paper. I wanted to cry. While the nurse started an I.V. for the contrast I wished for a power failure or something — anything– to give me an excuse to escape the place.

Panic attacks attack reason. It magnifies annoyances and projects them on the screen in the mind as terrifying monsters. The night before I convinced myself I could endure ten minutes in the tube. I had serious doubts about lasting twenty minutes. Then I was told the test would take sixty minutes.

The doctor had given me pills to take to calm anxiety, but, like last time, they weren’t helping much. When my name was called I felt like I was marching to my doom, or at least an embarrassing display of illogical immaturity.

And then it happened.

My heavenly Father handed me my grace ticket. The technician told me this MRI machine was significantly larger than the one I was crammed into last time. I felt peace flow over me.

I got on the less narrow bed, closed my eyes, and entered the place where God promised to meet my every need. I thanked him for his goodness. I chose to find delight in him by picturing his beautiful creation. I sang a song of praise. Soon I was in an orchard grove feeling the soft grass bed and warm dappled sun on my skin like I did when I was a child. Then I was in a cool pool of blue water like a mountain lake feeling Holy Spirit’s hands underneath me like he was teaching a child to float. My part was to be still and trust. I felt his smile.

It didn’t feel like sixty minutes. It felt like I was in that place where time didn’t matter. I felt immense peace as wide as the Alberta sky. When the technician told me they were finished, slid me out and helped me to my feet I knew I had experienced the strength that comes from resting in the Lord in more than a theoretical way. If you have never suffered from anxiety attacks this won’t make sense to you, but to me it felt like a miracle.

We all face uncertainty and fear, some of us more than others because of personal history, or loss of physical or mental strength, or seemingly overwhelming circumstances. I know I’m not the only one who is sensing an atmosphere of increased anxiety in the world. Many people, especially children and young people, are experiencing high levels of anxiety like never before. I do believe we need to turn to God in humility admitting that we need help.

I am learning that if God says he’s got this, he’s got this. Even when the atmosphere fills with threatening clouds the warmth of his love can shine through. We have the freedom to ask, then quietly trust like a contented child at rest on a mother’s lap.

Lord, my heart is meek before you.
I don’t consider myself better than others.
I’m content to not pursue matters that are over my head—
such as your complex mysteries and wonders—
that I’m not yet ready to understand.

I am humbled and quieted in your presence.
Like a contented child who rests on its mother’s lap,
I’m your resting child and my soul is content in you.

O people of God, your time has come to quietly trust,
waiting upon the Lord now and forever.

(Psalm 131 The Passion Translation)

Thank you, Lord. You are so good.