Alongside to Comfort

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Can I be honest? This has not been an easy year.

I sat down this week to write a simple blog entry meant to comfort and encourage others. Twelve hours later I had pages of notes, a list of bigger questions and the certainty I didn’t know what I was talking about. In my spirit, yes, but deep down in my soul where mind, will, and emotions are squabbling with each other? Not really. I understand what the psalmist meant when he wrote “Unite my heart to fear your name.”

I’m the one who has needed comfort and encouragement lately. If I stop to look at the measurable, quantifiable, reproducible, evidence-based facts as recorded by physical senses I begin to panic. It wouldn’t take much of a straw to bring me to child-like tears today.

But as usual, if I stop catastrophizing long enough to listen and acknowledge the greater reality of Spirit and Truth, I know the Holy Spirit is whispering comfort in my ear.

He sends songs in the night.

For two nights this week two lines from different songs have been playing on repeat in my dreams. The first line is from an old 70’s song, Feel the Love, by Lovesong:

Feel the love the Son of God can bring/ By believing… by receiving Him./ Feel the love.

The second is from It’s Going to Be All Right by Sara Groves:

I did not come here to offer you clichés.

He sends friends who have walked this road before.

Wonderful friends share their failures and victories and questions with me. Some have overcome cancer more than once. Some have been through natural disasters and reconstruction. Some have known the pain of feeling like they don’t fit in anywhere. Some have known the pain of betrayal or promises yet unfulfilled. All have known the sorrow of disappointment with oneself. Some are still in the middle of giant unsettled messes right now, and yet they take time to share the comfort they have known.

He sends family and neighbours.

Some traveled miles on horrid winter roads to bring cheer and a vegetable juicer. Some phone late at night when they know I will still be up to check on me or invite me for coffee. Some set the little grandkids up on the cell phone so I can share in their excitement over new dolls and video games and silly faces. The older grandkids text to talk about music and school projects and hopes and dreams or to share photos. My adopted family help by offering coolers when the fridge quits working, jugs of water when the pipes freeze, tools when the digital piano goes silent, patient expertise when the computer freezes, wood for the fireplace, shovels when the car gets stuck and the sidewalks disappear in the snow, and muscles and engineering skills when the retaining wall crashes on the driveway.

He sends podcasts and random Facebook posts. 

Oh, how I appreciate the banquet of good teaching and music shared by people who make an effort to reach out beyond the four walls of their gatherings or dining rooms or vans. I love encouraging posts by sincere blogging and Facebook and Twitter friends. I love reading their insights, visions, and dreams  — and even jokes. Especially the jokes.

Most of all he sends a more sure word recorded in the Bible.

I read these words given through Paul who was honest about the hardships of his journey. It was not an easy road for him.

All praises belong to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he is the Father of tender mercy and the God of endless comfort. 

He always comes alongside us to comfort us in every suffering so that we can come alongside those who are in any painful trial. We can bring them this same comfort that God has poured out upon us.

And just as we experience the abundance of Christ’s own sufferings, even more of God’s comfort will cascade upon us through our union with Christ.

If troubles weigh us down, that just means that we will receive even more comfort to pass on to you for your deliverance! For the comfort pouring into us empowers us to bring comfort to you. And with this comfort upholding you, you can endure victoriously the same suffering that we experience.

Now our hope for you is unshakable, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings you will also share in God’s comforting strength.

(2 Corinthians 1:3-7 The Passion Translation)

 

If I’m not posting a lot lately it’s because I’m resting and soaking up comfort I need right now.

I’ll share with you later. I will get there.

Talk to you soon.

 

Even the Weakest

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I almost missed it. The rose on the diminutive plant in the foil-wrapped pot sat on a shelf in the corner of the shop. Elaborately decorated artificial Christmas trees lined the aisle, grabbing all the attention.

It couldn’t have been more than an inch across, this tiny delicate rose, but in the midst of manufactured razzle-dazzle tinsel and bauble it humbly declared integrity from its cradle of dirt. The rose was real, living, growing, opening to the winter light streaming through a dusty window.

I almost missed it. But then I didn’t.

Thank you, little rose, for sharing joy just by gathering the light from a single sunbeam as you sing your song on an out-of-the-way shelf. I see you. I hear you.

Lo, how a rose e’er blooming from tender stem has sprung.

 

Human strength and the weapons of man
are false hopes for victory;
they may seem mighty but they will always disappoint.

The eyes of the Lord are upon
even the weakest worshipers who love him—
those who wait in hope and expectation
for the strong, steady love of God…

 

As we trust, we rejoice with an uncontained joy
flowing from Yahweh!

Let your love and steadfast kindness overshadow us
continually, for we trust and we wait upon you!

(Psalm 33: 17, 18, 21, 22 The Passion Translation)

It’s A New Beginning

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This morning, about the time I was being rescued by the man with the shovel and bucket of kitty litter, the earth passed the point of increasing darkness.

Right about that time, my tires gained enough traction with the help of the kitty litter to overcome the frustrating inertia of being high-centered in the middle of our street. Right about that time, when I began to feel freedom from the clutches of ice snow and started instead to move the direction I intended to move, something shifted.

The Earth.

Winter solstice happened today. In the Northern hemisphere that means from this day the hours of daylight (or seconds of daylight, if I don’t want to annoy detailed-oriented readers) increase instead of decrease.

The hardest part of northern winter for me is not the cold or snow. It’s the darkness. Every year, on this day, I celebrate a new beginning. I know New Year’s day is not here yet, but for me, this is the sign of a new year.

Change! The bright day will soon be longer than the dark night.

These lines from a song by Stuart Townend are my holiday carol today.

Your mercy reached into the darkest night to find us,
Your blood has freed us from the curse of sin that bound us,
Your truth delivered us from all the lies that held us down
When we were overwhelmed.

Oh, out of the darkness You rescued us,
You have rescued us.
Oh, into the light of Your love for us,
Lord, You rescued us.

Here we stand, held by grace,
Knowing every day
Is a new beginning.

His light broke through the darkness and he led us out in freedom from death’s dark shadow and snapped every one of our chains.
(Psalm 107:14 The Passion Translation)

It’s dark outside as I write this, in late afternoon, but rejoice! The light is growing brighter and brighter! God promised.

And He never lies.

 

 

 

Temporary

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I don’t think I have ever spent as much time in the waiting room of life as I have this past year. I can’t do this until that is done and that can’t be done until this, that, and those show up, but are they dependent on the receipt of a report, which appears to be lost.

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In the old days I used to wail loud and long about circumstances like this. Now I wail soft and short. I’m not good at waiting in total joyful trust yet, but at least it’s an improvement. The only reason transformation, such as it is, has been able to gradually take place in my life is because I am learning to quit appealing for rescue from people who have no better clue about how to fix things than I do, and because I’m finally figuring out there are better questions to ask than “why.”

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I’m learning to ask “what?” and “how?”
What do you want me to see about who you are, Lord?
How will this circumstance allow me to practise a new skill or a character quality that needs strengthening?
What resources have you already provided that I haven’t picked up yet?
And (please) where are they?

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I’m not sure that this season of camping out in waiting rooms is as much about developing patience or endurance as it about addressing my trust issues. Some of these waiting experiences have been preceded by phone calls like, “This is Dr. McUnknown’s office at the Cancer Center in Calgary. He needs to talk to you right away about your test results. We suggest you bring a family member or close friend with you.”

“Cancer Center? Why do I need to see a doctor at the Cancer Center?” I ask. “What was wrong with my test?”needles bw sq IMG_2059

“I can’t tell you, but we received a referral from Dr. Unreachable this morning. Dr. McUnknown needs to see you as soon as possible and his next available appointment is…oh dear… he doesn’t have anything open for four weeks.”

I hate not knowing. Hate it. But that is where the Lord has been sticking his diagnostic finger. He presses on the spot that shrieks when it’s not in control and asks, “Does that hurt?”
“Are you kidding me? You know it hurts!” I gasp.
“Just pointing out the area of your next healing,” he says.

Then the clean-up starts. “You’re hanging on to some ideas that aren’t working for you. Let’s just toss them, shall we?”

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This has also been a year of living in temporary dwellings like hotels, relatives’ homes, and hospitals because I’ve had to travel for tests and treatment. A flood that rose up in our town in February resulted in movers, hired by the insurance company, invading our house to pack and  stash our belongings in boxes. They hauled them away to a storage facility somewhere while we waited – and waited — for contractors and trades people to have time to repair our house. boxes moving IMG_2294We have lived, temporarily, in half our house while we waited for restoration crews to arrive — along with over a thousand neighbours who also waited for repairs. Some still wait as we head into winter again.

The tradesmen finished their work last week. The movers returned our boxes and furniture on Monday. But I am still recovering from surgery and can’t lift anything. Friends volunteer to help, and they are wonderful, but it’s a massive confused muddle in my house right now. So many things are “just placed here for now.”

I look around and see many people in the same waiting room of life. They are in transition watching plans unravel. We need to be reminded that although it may not feel like it, the waiting room is always a temporary experience.

wicker chair unravelled IMG_5254Some of our friends have given up their own places and independent ways of life to live with and care for a needy family member. They know the situation is temporary, and yet they have mixed feelings: fears about it ending soon and fears about it not ending soon. I hear from former students who have finished highly prized university degrees. They have career aspirations but in the meantime, they have needed to take temporary jobs in temporary cities to start paying back student loans. To them it feels as if life is on hold.

Some friends wait for court dates, for vindications to be published, for settlements to be paid, for zoning bylaws to be changed, for permits to be issued, for grants to be granted. Others face the giant upheaval of divorce or death of a spouse, unable to move on emotionally, or even physically, until a barrage of financial and other legal details have been settled.

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Some long for their soulmate to hurry and show up. Some wait eagerly for babies to arrive and some, just as eagerly, wait for grown kids to leave. Many people are waiting for promises to be fulfilled, looking for hope in the midst of reversals, living in the frustrating now-what zone in the middle of the land of not-yet .

Friends who are also in the process of getting a diagnoses and treatment plan or praying in all faith for healing tell me they also know the waiting room and that feeling of staring out the window muttering, “You’ve got to be kidding,” when hours stretch into months or years. I meet many people who, like myself, are in a season of waiting for recovery – from surgery, from trauma, from accidents, from illness, from burnout, from bankruptcy, from bereavement.

Waiting, waiting, waiting. Who knew we would spend so many hours in the waiting room of life?

I’m beginning to understand that life doesn’t stop in this place. “Temporary” may actually be where most of life is lived. It’s not a nothing time. This is a refining time. We need more training to cope with good times than we do for difficult times.

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In hard times, when it finally dawns on us that we can’t control everything, we turn to a higher power and learn that when we are weak He is strong. In good times the temptation is to think that our own efforts achieved the goal and we tend to forget to rely on God. The waiting room can purge us from a sense of immature entitlement and replace it with a sense of gratitude that connects us to the heart of our heavenly Father, if we let it. This is where deep relationship is formed.

He’s in the waiting.

I Am No Victim

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For many years I followed a disciplined scheduled daily reading of the Bible, but sometimes “discipline” can get in the way of learning. Sometimes you need to pause and stay with a passage or phrase or even just a word in scripture for a while, giving it time to show more facets than those that shine with first light. Sometimes you need more than an intellectual grasp of a concept. Sometimes you need to feel it in your bones, hear it in your ears, taste it on your tongue and stomp it out in frustrated walks in the woods before it moves from your heart up to your decision-maker. Then you can move on. This passage in Psalm 139 in The Passion Translation has been like that for me.

With your hand of love upon my life,
You impart a Father’s blessing to me.
This is just too wonderful,
Deep, and incomprehensible!
Your understanding of me brings me wonder and strength.

Where to start? It looks straight forward enough, but this sword tip has penetrated my soul and spirit more deeply than earlier races to the reading quota finish line permitted.

Christians tend to throw around the word blessing at lot imbuing it with their own definition. I’ve been trying to find a way to describe the word blessing as it is used here. Perhaps one way is to mirror its opposite. Benediction (blessing in Latin) means good speaking. It’s opposite is malediction – bad speaking. Mal at the beginning of a word with Latin roots means bad, sick, dysfunctional, evil: malady, malaise, malnourished, malice, malpractice, malcontent. Malediction means curse.

Bene, on the other hand means good, helpful, enriching, empowering, visionary. Compare words beginning with bene: benefit, benevolent, benefactor, beneficiary. When the  fathers of ancient times gave their children blessings they officially gifted them with the recognition of who they were as individuals and imparted a vision for their future.

One day I witnessed the opposite. An event I would call a soul assault took place in the produce aisle. An adult publicly dishonoured a child by shouting (in much harsher words than these): “You are a huge disappointment. You have no positive qualities and will amount to nothing in life – ever.”

Every parent blows it sometimes. To this day I could cry when I remember one particular incident when I said something in fear and anger, which was entirely untrue, to a child I loved dearly. I have apologized, but my disappointment in myself helped me forgive my own parents for words spoken in frustration, or under stress I was too young to comprehend. But, you know, when it comes to pain, whether someone drives over your foot intentionally or accidentally, it still leaves a mark. Words have power and when you are young they can leave marks — often in the form of signs stuck to our foreheads where everyone can see them.

Have you heard this expression? A sweater is something you wear when your mother feels cold. I laughed when I heard this, but I know a lot of us can relate to this statement. Experience has taught us what it is like to be bound by another person’s priorities and tastes or swaddled in another person’s perceptions, well-meaning though they may be. My own daughter has been known to say wisely, “That’s your fear, Ma, not mine.”

How we long to be understood. How we long for someone who can help us understand ourselves. We yearn to hear good words about our true identities and true destinies. This is particularly true for people who had absent or emotionally distant fathers.

Someone who was an important and intimidating influence in my youth came to visit after I was married and had children. I was excited to see her and wanted her to be impressed with my choices in life. I longed for her approval.

“Well, I see you stopped developing your talent,” she said. “Tell me, what are your aspirations for your son?”

I answered, “That he will be free to replace my aspirations with his own.”

She was not impressed. She thought my answer was rude and flippant. That’s when I realized that seeking the blessing of someone who had an agenda and a plan for how I could continue to fulfill her aspirations would only lead to disappointment for one or both of us.

It did. One of the last things she expressed to me before she died a few years later was her disappointment that I had not lived up to her expectations. I felt like the child in the grocery store with a label slapped on my forehead. FAILURE. At the time it didn’t occur to me that I could seek God’s blessing, his hand of favour that ripped off the labels other people’s maledictions had placed there since I was a child.
VICTIM
WEIRDO
LAZY
UGLY
GULLIBLE
OUTSIDER
EMBARRASSMENT
WEAK
FAILURE

But my heavenly Father’s blessing changes labels.
VICTOR
CREATIVE
INSPIRED
BEAUTIFUL
WISE
CHOSEN
CHERISHED
STRONG
DELIGHT

Our Saviour understands who we are. That’s how he can say his yoke is easy. When we take on a yoke to work beside him we can learn from him how to move with ease. This is like the difference between losing track of time as we work in the creative zone and checking the time as we labour in the pits (unless, of course, you find pit work fulfilling.) He said he has prepared tasks and destinies for us that fit our makeup. He gets us! He understands us and cares like no one else ever can.

It’s not easy for us to get this though. Letting Him replace labels we have worn for years and displayed for the powers around us to read and exploit requires the daring choice of acting on what we do not yet see. Acting on what we do not yet see is called faith. Without faith transformation doesn’t happen.

The way God sees us and His thoughts about us can feel too good to be true. After all the years of allowing ourselves to be defined by people who are often also disappointed in themselves, words of blessing seem “too wonderful” and “incomprehensible.” Dare we actually believe the many ways God communicates and the scripture that confirms his kind intentions? Sometimes we are tempted to question if we are dipping into self-centered, self-actualizing, self-aggrandizement. Yet, as we begin to test out new labels and divest ourselves of the old, we find his good words – the Father’s blessing – bring us strength.

I bought a new album this week. My daughter suggested it when she came to help me when I had surgery for cancer three weeks ago. It would have been easy to smile and say thanks, but musically it’s not my style. She said the lyrics are powerful, and I trust her, so I bought it, downloaded it on my phone, put my earphones on and went for a wobbly walk.

This song has ended up on repeat all week as I physically march to it. In my last blog I wrote about picking the fruit-provision that God cached in advance in places we would find it along the journey. This song is like a luscious plum ready to grab and eat.

I am no victim.
I live with a vision.
I am who He says I am.
I am defined by all His promises.

I’m covered by the force of love.

He is my Father, and with his hand of love upon my life He imparts a Father’s blessing.