Every Morning

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“The problem,” my retired friend said, “Is that now that I don’t have to get up early for work, I can’t sleep.”

“The problem,” his wife, who is still working, said, “Is that he’s awake but he still doesn’t get anything done in the morning because it takes him so long to get moving.”

“The problem,” he said, looking at his wife over the rim of his glasses, “Is that at this age something always hurts. Retirement is not for the inexperienced.”

I have seen people marvelously healed from all manner of painful conditions in response to the prayer of faith. I have also seen beautiful people, full of faith, who live with chronic pain. For some folks pain of some sort every day has been a life-long reality. For others the aches and pains that pop up as they deal with the idiosyncrasies of an aging body is a revelation that they have hitherto lived a life of privilege. A privilege they want back.

I’ve never been a morning person. I wake up slowly. The jokes about not speaking before the second cup of coffee hold no humour for me until early afternoon. My husband is a morning person. I tease him about giving up so soon when he shuffles off to bed before the movie is over. He doesn’t laugh.

Here’s a marriage survival hint. We have lasted 45 years together because we finally agreed that I will not bring up any topics requiring emotional engagement after 10 p.m. and he will not tell me anything I need to remember before 9 a.m.. He just leaves a message on my desk. I email him links. Works for us.

Lately I have slowly woken to the reality my friend spoke of. Something always hurts. Pain mumbles in the background during the day, but in the morning it yells and makes a ruckus like an annoying alarm clock you can’t shut off  because it hurts to stretch that far. The worst part is that my default attitude upon waking is not one I am proud of. My first utterance of the day is often a moan.

I remember the advice a friend gave me. She was a professional rodeo cowgirl and bore the dents and scrapes of her calling with dignity.

“I never get out of bed until I have found the peace I know God has provided for my day,” she said. “Sometimes I stay there for a long time. There are chores to be done and horses to be fed, but I know I will be no good to anyone until I have peace. When it’s there, life runs much more smoothly — not just for me, but for everyone around me as well,” she said.

I’m learning to make adjustments to my attitude by seeking “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow” by thanking God and praising him in all circumstances. (In not necessarily for. I don’t praise God for sin.) Praise changes things. It focuses on the Source that strengthens us instead of the pain that drains us.

This I know — from far too much experience. Negativity, complaining, whining, obsessing, and worrying are like beacons that attract the attention of the enemy of our souls. It’s his worship language. “Oh, you’re worried. I can help you with that.”

When we worship God through praise and thankfulness for past blessings, it attracts the angel armies of heaven – the ones God sends to assist us. “Oh, you’re praising God. We can help you with that!”

Sometimes I think I have discovered something new, when out of the treasury comes something old that confirms a timeless truth. I came across a song by Bach that expresses the necessity of receiving a fresh download of God’s goodness every morning. The English translation:

Most High God, make your goodness
new every morning from now on.
Then to your fatherly love
a thankful spirit in us in turn
through a devout life will show
that we are called your children.

 

It’s probably a lamp, but the white vessel on the floor, the one beside the woman in the painting featured on the video, looks a bit like my coffee thermos. I think I’ll join her. Good old Johann Sebastien wrote a song for that too.

Mysteriously Complex

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The experts disagree. Strongly.

“Your case is complex,” one of them told me this week. “I would definitely not follow the advice the other specialist gave you if it were me. But it’s up to you.”

If people who have spent years studying medicine disagree on how to proceed, how on earth am I supposed to decide which expert to “unfollow?”

I cried out to God on my long drive home from the cancer clinic yesterday. I feel overwhelmed, like I have been falling through cracks named “rare” and “exceptional” for too many years. From the time I was born my body chemistry never completely fit the charts that define “norms.” Too much of this, too little of that, and in spite of a life time of funding the diet and exercise industry, I walk around in a model that is, embarrassingly, entirely the wrong size and shape to buy clothes off the rack in fashionable shops for “normal” people.

I saw an oncology dietician today. “Complex,” she said. “Your case is complex.”

When I told a friend in the medical field about my treatment options she said, “It’s certainly complex.”

“I’ve heard that word a lot this week,” I said with a sigh.

Complex. Why is this so complex, Lord? Why is my body so weird? Making a wrong decision on treatment plans could have dire consequences down the road. I know you didn’t make the cancer cells. There’s no aberrant cell division in heaven, so it’s not your plan to have these invaders in me. I know you have a better plan, but I have no idea what to do now. I’m scared.

I’ve been meditating on Psalm 139 in The Passion Translation for some weeks. This is where I am now:

You formed my innermost being, shaping my delicate inside
and my intricate outside,
and wove them all together in my mother’s womb.

Yeah, yeah, that’s nice. Insert stock photo of pretty baby here.

Then I read this. Verse 14:
I thank you, God, for making me so mysteriously complex!

I read it again. And again. And another time.
I thank you, God, for making me so mysteriously complex.

That’s in there? Complex? Seriously?

Be thankful? How can I do that? How can I be thankful for a complex body that mystifies the experts? How can I be thankful when I feel so angry? (Am I allowed to admit that emotions like anxiety and anger sometimes crawl out of the ditch to dog your steps on the faith walk in real time?) Show me how to be thankful, Lord, because I’m not feeling it.

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I stopped to take photos on my way home, because that’s one way I worship. Worship shifts my point of view and gets the focus off myself. I choose to focus my camera on trees and mountains and fields instead. I take time to appreciate God’s handiwork because he said was pleased with it himself and worship is about appreciating God and paying attention to the things he appreciates.

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The scenery along Highway 22, the Cowboy Trail in Alberta, fascinates me. The road runs through a sparsely populated part of the country where the landscape transitions from prairie to mountains.

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High winds provoke ever-changing cloudscapes and patterns of light and shadow on the rolling hills.

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Winter blizzards often alternate with warm chinook winds here. The season can change within hours. It’s white. It’s brown. It’s barren. It’s lush. It’s hot. It’s cold. It’s smooth. It’s rugged.

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It’s complex.
It’s marvelous.
It’s breathtaking.

 

David wrote in Psalm 139:

Everything you do is marvelously breathtaking.
It simply amazes me to think about it!
How thoroughly you know me, Lord!

As I edit photos today I hear His voice. If you can appreciate My handiwork in this vast countryside, can you appreciate the way I created your body? I know every cell. Can you trust me to show you what to do to heal it?

 

The wind picked up as I drove down Highway 22 yesterday. I mean really picked up. My car rocked from side to side from the buffeting force of the gale. I had to grip the steering wheel tightly, and aim it at about one o’clock, or maybe 1:30, to keep going straight toward the mountains that mark the beginning of the narrow opening in the Rocky Mountains called the Crowsnest Pass.

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A song I had downloaded on my iPod began to play.

Fear not
If I could say it any louder, I would

Remember all I told you, remember all I said
When the questions start arising, keep your eyes fixed straight ahead
Hold on tightly to the promise, hold firmly to the truth
That I love you, oh I love you.

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He’s got his diagnostic finger on that trust issue again. So, in the middle of the buffeting of circumstances I choose to hold on tightly to his promises and trust him and keep my eyes fixed straight ahead. He made me  and he loves me. That’s good enough reason to say thank you.

I played the song on repeat as I kept my eyes on the morphing, moving clouds on the horizon.

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When life piles up and you’re feeling overcome
Stand still and believe, I won’t let you drown
When a cry’s in your throat, watching all the waves below
Lift your eyes to the sky and trust that I won’t pass you by

Fear not
If I could say it any louder, I would

Fear not!
If I could say it any louder, I would!

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Thank you, Lord, for making me mysteriously complex. Your love conquers fear.

Now turn up the bass as Kristene sings.

 

 

 

Speaking the Truth in Love

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But what I would like to say is that the spiritual life is a life in which you gradually learn to listen to a voice that says something else, that says, “You are the beloved and on you my favour rests.”… I want you to hear that voice. It is not a very loud voice because it is an intimate voice. It comes from a very deep place. It is soft and gentle. I want you to gradually hear that voice. We both have to hear that voice and to claim for ourselves that that voice speaks the truth, our truth. It tells us who we are.

~ Henri Nouwen

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.

 

 

 

 

No Regrets

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I can’t remember a trial or a pain
He did not recycle to bring me gain
I can’t remember one single regret
In serving God only, and trusting His hand
All I have need of, His hand will provide
He’s always been faithful to me.
(From He’s Always Been Faithful by Sara Groves)

Sometimes when I run out of words, someone else will sing them for me.
I’m grateful to my daughter-in-law for introducing me to the music of Sara Groves. In my time of wordless worship, in the dark of night, I heard a voice sing the words I was searching for.

Thank you to both Sara and Sarah.