Grace and That Time God Hit Restart

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My kids must have seen me coming. They managed to catch the chairlift for one more run down the mountain seconds before I arrived to pick them up from a school activity at the ski hill. At least I got a wave from them as they rose higher. That’s how I ended up sitting in the car with nothing to do for at least another half hour.

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I could have taken refuge in the coffee shop, but I didn’t feel like making small talk with anyone I might bump into. My life was falling apart. It was getting harder to fake it.

My identity was built on becoming a successful singer. I mainlined standing ovations. But those tiny membranes that created the sound were not working reliably. I kept getting laryngitis. A rival (with frustratingly robust health) told me that a singer is only as good as her last performance. My last performance was cancelled due to bronchitis. And the one before that. And the one before that. Calls stopped coming.

I tried to be a good mom, but I didn’t know how to do that either. My kids didn’t respond to techniques I read about in books on child rearing. I began to invent privileges just so I had something more to take away as a consequence for poor behaviour. Well, I was going to take you to the circus, but you just blew that.

I tried hard to be a good Christian, but I was tired of never feeling good enough. When I went to church my ears screened out everything but the shoulds. I don’t remember anybody saying it, but somehow, I picked up the idea that I was only as good as my last performance there as well. When my voice gave out while singing a song about love and I realized I had no idea what love was, I left the platform. A few weeks later I quit going to church at all. So much for happiness all the time and wonderful peace of mind. I possessed neither. Life felt like a bleak landscape.

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Sitting in the car that snowy day, I saw my Bible rolled up in the back seat where I tossed it a few weeks before. Loose pages fell out of alignment and it had a forlorn sat-upon look. I picked it up and dared God to speak to me. This was a showdown. He was real or he was not.

I opened the book at random. At fist I read passages about God being good and never leaving and shrugged them off. Then I flipped again, like another roll of the dice. This time it fell open to the book of Hosea, the story of a prophet whose life became a picture of God’s feeling toward faithless Israel. Hosea had married a prostitute.

Suddenly, I felt something different than I had felt before. It was a strong sense that what I was about to read would mark a moment when my life would begin to change. I can’t explain the feeling except to say that I knew God was there and he was tender and terrifying. I wanted to cling and run at the same time.

This is what I read:
“Therefore, behold, I will hedge up her way with thorns,
And I will build a wall against her so that she cannot find her paths.”

And further down the page:
“Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
Bring her into the wilderness
And speak kindly to her.”

I thought God only spoke when he was about to smite something.

“Then I will give her her vineyards from there,
And the valley of Achor as a door of hope.”

I needed hope.

“And she will sing there as in the days of her youth,
As in the day when she came up from the land of Egypt.”

Sing again?

“It will come about in that day,” declares the LORD,
“That you will call Me Ishi
And will no longer call Me Baali…
I will betroth you to Me forever;
Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice,
In lovingkindness and in compassion,
And I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness.
Then you will know the LORD.”

I admitted I didn’t know him, not like this. Later, at home, I looked up Achor. It means trouble. The valley of trouble as a door of hope? That didn’t sound good, but I knew God was somehow in this.

 

The valley of Achor for me was depression. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t concentrate. I lost confidence. Memories of my unexamined history surfaced and shook my world.

It’s hard to see things we don’t want to see. My escape routes were “hedged up.” I wandered in a bewildering wilderness resisting God’s help, trying to fix things myself.

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I had believed lies that led to self-loathing and insecurity. I had turned to forms of comfort that would have destroyed me eventually. I was headed in a direction that could have caused great pain for more people than myself. Even though striving and busyness look good and are admired in our culture, they separated me from God.

Trouble forced me to let go of my image of God as an impossible to please old grump. I gradually let go of my image of myself as a stressed-out performer trying to placate God and everyone else to earn a place in this world.

Grace took the form of trouble. Without it, the door of hope would have remained closed. I had to let go of the old ideas before I could hold on to new revelation and walk through that door into a life of faith.

In the place of isolation, in my wilderness season, cut off from my usual escapes of busyness and performance, I began to hear the Voice of love. Words bringing condemnation, anger and disapproval didn’t come from him. I began to understand that even if I never did another thing to try to win his favour, nothing would change his love me. I experienced his kindness in this drastic intervention.

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He allured me. He became my Ishi — hero husband, instead of my Baali –- master overlord. I sang to him in response to his singing to me. It was like he hit the restart button and my life began anew.

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I’m writing about this experience now, because I see so many people who find themselves in a fear-filled wilderness of isolation due to restrictions around covid-19. I know what it is like to be unable to turn to the usual distraction of constant occupation or watch things I worked so hard to accomplish fall apart. I recognize the silent questions. This sudden massive interruption of the world shakes our assumptions about how life works.

This atmosphere feels familiar. I recognize the finger of God about to hit the restart button. Some people are in a place to examine the previously unexamined and meet God for who he really is for the first time. Others will hear the faint sound of an invitation to return to what they knew from the start. Others will encounter opportunities to step into greater adventures with the Creator.

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These are troubled times, but these are also times of enormous hope for a deeper relationship with the Lover of our soul. He cares enough to use something the enemy of our souls meant for evil for good. He intervenes to say stop. He has so much more empowering grace for us to receive.

When God gave a promise through the prophet Jeremiah to people taken captive by trouble, he wasn’t offering a feel-good quick fix. He was talking about starting a process and a journey that would thoroughly change them and their values. Trouble would be an agent to give them a future and a hope.

 

Are you in that place? Stop. Wait. Listen. Be still until you have a better sense of who God is. Let his voice allure you. This could be your opportunity to start again.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV)

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Can You Hear Me Now?

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Yesterday I wrote about my struggle to choose to do what is right and place my trust in the One who has always cared for me. Only yesterday. (Here.)

Less than an hour after I got home I took a phone message for my husband from a shop in town where we take our car for servicing. When he came home he returned the call.

“We won something,” he said. “Bluetooth earphones.”

“Wow! I don’t remember entering a contest. Did you?” I asked.

“No. Apparently we were entered automatically the last time we took the car in.”

When I was finished with my meeting he presented me with two sets of Bose earphones – one for each of us. A couple of years ago I tried out a similar pair. I loved them, but there was no way I could buy such an extravagant thing for myself.

Eagerly I hooked them up to my phone (My kind husband gave me a new one when his crashed. He took my old one since I’m the one who fills up the memory space with music and photos.) I recently I compiled a list of songs of praise. They were in no particular order. When the ear phones came alive I heard Selah singing “Standing on the Promises.”

Standing on the promises, I cannot fail when the howling storms of doubt and fear assail.

This was followed by Lauren Daigle singing “Everything.”

Even the sparrow has a place to lay its heads so why would I let worries steal my breath?

When “Total Praise” by Richard Smallwood starting playing I cried happy tears.

Lord, I lift up my eyes unto the hills knowing my help is coming from you.

In less than an hour after I chose to obey and go pay what I felt was an unfair bill, I received not just one unexpected gift, but two! If God can provide something that I desired but thought was out of reach, he will surely meet all our needs.

Yes, Lord, I can hear you. I lift my hands in total praise to You!

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This morning my husband is catching up on emails surrounded by a symphony playing Beethoven (at a volume perfect for him.) He told me he felt like the Lord was saying, “I’m giving you back the gift of music, which you have forgotten.”

Laughter in the Rain

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The Lord alone is our radiant hope
and we trust in him with all our hearts.
His wrap-around presence will strengthen us.
 
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 33:20-22 TPT

I’ve woken to the same song playing in my head for about three weeks. The Lord speaks to me through songs and I’ve learned to pay attention. (I wrote about hearing God’s voice through music here.) This phrase in particular, from a song from the seventies by Neil Sedaka, keeps repeating:  I hear laughter in the rain.

This morning I read my Facebook and Twitter feed and felt the despair of so many people in my home province of Alberta as well as across the nation. The questions arise. Who can you trust? Who is telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth? What is the motive behind actions that seem to intentionally divide and disempower? For that matter, what is the motive behind the motive behind that motive?

Ideas have consequences and what is in a person’s heart will eventually play out in actions. In the meantime we pray for the truth to be exposed and guard our hearts against loss of hope.

I do believe we are headed into a storm. It seems strange to be singing about joy in perilous times, yet the One who sees from a higher perspective is not in despair. In Him there is joy. Can I admit my own first reaction to that statement was, “Are you kidding me?”

Upon reflection, I realized that He is not kidding me. God is not in despair. He is full of joy.

The Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi demonstrates what it means to respond to God’s heart instead of reacting to frustration. This is coming in the opposite spirit of whatever the enemy of our souls is trying to convince us to absorb.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy;

O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

I hear the Voice of the Source of love and kindness invite me to enjoy the rainy day and walk hand in hand with the One I love.

He’s got this.

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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!

Shepherd on Horseback: Guarding Against Fear and Hopelessness

 

horseback shepherd shee cowboy trail crop DSC_0122When I was a child we received official government pamphlets in the mail that frightened me. They showed red circles, like ripples, over a map of a city. The closer you lived to the center of the circles the more likely you would die from the inevitable nuclear holocaust about to be dropped on our northern Canadian city.

“It’s because of the oil and pipelines,” I heard the adults say. “They make us a target.”

I remember what it was like to be raised in an atmosphere of fear by a generation scarred by memories of WWII and The Depression. I was a powerless child who felt responsible for stopping the bomb. I was part of the generation who could not trust authority because, after all, it was “the good guys” who dropped the bomb the first time. There was no hope for the world. As young adults we sought escape in self-indulgent sexual activity and recreational drugs. We questioned the wisdom of bringing children into such a world.

The great world-ending event never happened in my parent’s lifetime — not that it couldn’t have happened, but it didn’t. Thus far it has not happened in mine, nor in my adult children’s. In fact, we enjoy a higher standard of living than my parents or grandparents did.

When I read about the history of various faith movements that went off the rails after a generation or two, the same factors keep showing up: the exploitation of power, and fear of the end of the world — situations where people cast aside discernment and agreed to rash actions because of the “extenuating circumstances.”

This morning I read a poll asking for people’s reactions to the impending end of the world due to climate change and the carbon mess my admittedly self-focussed generation brought down upon our heads. The poll gave these options. Essentially they were:

1) We will soon be doomed.  2) We’re doomed now.  3) Maybe the people who created the problem could be trusted to fix it? 4) Never mind. We’re doomed.

I listen to my grandchildren who tell me, with desperation in their voices, that their teachers say the world will end in twelve years because of carbon emissions and plastic pollution. A young friend talked about the “immorality” of giving birth to another generation born to certain death.

I recognize the same net that held me captive for so many years: fear.

The reasons for concern could be true. The reasons for hopelessness are not.

If we fail to consult the Creator, who understands his creation much better than we do, we are left feeling like the helpless children of the sixties reading the red circle pamphlets. They were burdened with responsibility without authority. When we try to solve the problem all by ourselves, we are like shepherd-less sheep each wandering off right into the danger we fear most. Our debriefing sessions, if we live long enough to schedule them, include the phrase, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

Fear and hopelessness were the weapons the enemy of my soul used to manipulate my actions and willingness to surrender power for most of my life. I see him tripping up this generation in the same way. Fear manipulates their thinking to the point where many see no future for themselves or the children they will not allow to be born – even if those children, like many generations before them, carry solutions their parents could not envision.

The Good Shepherd has resources the sheep do not have. He is willing to put himself between them and the predator. He is willing to venture into the wilderness to save the one who foolishly got him/herself into a terrible mess of brambles. Like the shepherd on horseback I saw on the Cowboy Trail last week, he is near — and he is good.

Psalm 23 was written by a King, and former shepherd, who found himself in a terrible mess of his own making. He recognizes another option to the trajectory his foolishness started: 5) Turn to God and trust in his ways.

The Lord is my best friend and my shepherd.
I always have more than enough.
 
He offers a resting place for me in his luxurious love.
His tracks take me to an oasis of peace, the quiet brook of bliss.
 
That’s where he restores and revives my life.
He opens before me pathways to God’s pleasure
and leads me along in his footsteps of righteousness
so that I can bring honor to his name….

…So why would I fear the future?
For your goodness and love pursue me all the days of my life…

(Psalm 23:1-3, 6a The Passion Translation)

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You Can’t Make a Story Without a Problem

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I checked the weather report before I left to drive to Calgary. Mixed cloud and sun with occasional showers. Perfect.

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I like driving the Cowboy Trail when the weather is unsettled. The road runs north on the east side of the Rocky Mountains from the Crowsnest Pass. Light constantly changes in these conditions. Vistas are never quite the same. Cloudscapes and sunbeams arrange patterns of shadow and sun on the hills, telling a different story with every shift of wind. The photographer waits, anticipating drama – a story told in darkness and light.

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As part of my continuing story, this trip involved another trek to see specialists in a larger center about my complex health challenges. It’s one of those battles raging between good days and bad days, like plot shifts set in an ever changing landscape of unexpected symptoms.

DSC_0281 (5)I thought about the elements of story (a long road with few services leaves ample time for thought.) Even my little granddaughter had it figured out by the age of four.

“Every story has to have a good guy and a problem,” she said, drawing an exceptionally long-limbed princess on the first page of a storybook we decided to create one rainy afternoon. “Sometimes it has a bad guy, but it doesn’t have to. You can make a story without a bad guy, but you can’t make a story without a problem. Now what is our problem going to be? Maybe the princess has nobody to play with?”

A fellow writer had this to say about a memoire she was asked to review: “I’m happy for the writer. She’s had such a lovely life, but I feared falling into a never-ending sleep of the mostly dead before reaching the final chapter. Nothing out of the ordinary ever happened to her – no disasters, no life-or-death crisis, no betrayal, no wayward children, not even a single regret worthy of a flight to a priest in another town for a trembling ten minute confession. I’ve had a hellish life myself. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but at least it wasn’t boring. I can’t relate to this book. What should I say? Reviewer dies from toxic dose of niceness?”

Jesus understood the power of story. “It’s like this,” he said, communicating a complicated concept people by referencing something familiar.

“It’s like a Father who had two sons, but the youngest one…”

“It’s like a rich man who went on a journey and trusted a manager to look after his business while he was gone, but…”

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I watched the clouds along the highway and hoped for a place to stop where the views were best. A couple of times the clouds dropped their loads and the rain was so heavy I had to pull over to the side and wait them out. My windshield wipers couldn’t keep up. I could see nothing. But stories are like that too, especially our own, especially in the middle of a you’ve-got-to-be-kidding downpour.

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It’s hard, on the underside of a deluge, to remember that God is in the story with us. In fact, he has gone to some lengths to arrange circumstances that will give us stories.

Everything we think we know about him is merely theory until we experience him in the storm. Everything is dull until we see the light flooding the plain with hope. Every seed is dormant until awakened by the rain.

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I could pray for a nice life without stress, without doubt, without the need for divine intervention.

I could, and I have, but one night, in a dream, the Lover of my soul came to my door and called my name. When I opened to it, I saw him astride a beautiful white horse. He held the reins of a saddled bay and said, ”Come on! I want to show you something.”

We’re still writing our story together. It’s been an adventure, even when the skies have been cloudy all day, because, well, when that sun breaks through, it’s glorious.

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“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”– Jesus
(John 16:33 NIV)

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Wordless

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“There are ideas in our hearts, there are wishes, there are aspirations, there are groanings, there are sighings that the world knows nothing about; but God knows them. So words are not always necessary. When we cannot express our feelings except in wordless groanings, God knows exactly what is happening.”

-Martyn Lloyd-Jones

 

Correction Lines: When Staying the Course Will Get You Off Course

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When we were kids, Mom and Dad took us on trips back to Saskatchewan, where they grew up. People dropped in on each other in those days, and there were plenty of folks to visit. I counted cousins one day. Including close second cousins and those almost a generation older, we had over fifty — and many of them still lived near our grandparents’ homesteads. That meant a lot of visiting and a lot of driving on prairie roads.

Our house on a hill in Calgary faced the mountains to the west. My heart was drawn in that direction. My parents’ hearts were drawn in two directions, to the rugged blue mountains we could see every morning from the living room window, and to the immense sky of the flat prairies to the east that was still home in their memories. Maybe that’s why they chose to live in a place of geographical transition where they could see both.

I liked it when we left after school on Friday before a long weekend because it meant Dad drove late into the night and I could sleep through the boring parts — which was pretty much every thing after the Flintstonesque Badlands in Drumheller. By the time we reached the Saskatchewan border I was bored with the sight of fields and fences. My parents’ admiration of the big open sky failed to impress me.

After we turned off the main highways onto the gravel roads Dad knew well, I felt like there was nothing to do but count telephone poles sailing by. I tried to sleep in the backseat — when my brothers stopped teasing me. I know we asked, “Are we there yet?” A lot.

We drove on straight roads that never turned. Until they did. For some reason I didn’t understand, every once in a while Dad had to stop, make a turn, go down the road a little way, make another turn and keep going. This action annoyed me because it woke me up. No slough or gully that I could see blocked the way. A stop sign marked the road’s end at a T intersection and we stopped.

When I asked him why, Dad said, “Sometimes staying the course will get you off course.” Then he explained correction lines to me. “The earth is smaller at the top because it’s round,” he said. “These jogs in the road are correction lines to keep us heading north toward the north pole. If roads went all the way up to the top of the earth you would see all the north-heading roads in the world converging on one spot, right?”

I pictured a globe. “I suppose.”

“Engineers built in changes to the square grid of these back country farm roads to keep us heading true north. ”

“…strong and free!” my brothers and I both sang from the backseat.

I’ve been reminiscing about family trips and the efforts it takes to get together now that my own children and their children are spread across the continent. That’s when I remembered my dad talking about correction lines and the wisdom of his observation, “Sometimes staying the course will get you off course.”

Even institutions that are careful to make meticulous plans for the future will find themselves off course eventually if they do not focus on Jesus Christ who said he was the way, the truth and the light. They need to stop and change. Circumstances in our lives can appear as inconvenient stop signs at T intersections. They can force us to pay attention and make adjustments to the direction we are heading. Determination to keep going the way we have been going may not take us where we assumed it would.

We like to hear stories of dramatic shifts in other people’s lives (and not so much our own), but sometimes drama is the result of not making smaller adjustments along the way. Judgment doesn’t always mean condemnation. Sometimes it means listening to the adjudicator’s assessment and accepting advice on how to improve. That’s submitting to discipline, exchanging our naivety (or arrogance) for wisdom that leads to change. A loving Father brings loving correction.

Becoming a disciple means following Jesus and transforming our thinking as he leads. Big dramatic turn-arounds may not be necessary when we slow down and pay attention to correction lines on the journey. It’s when we ignore signs and fences and ram our way through  muddy fields that we get stuck. Jesus said his commands are not burdensome. They don’t weigh us down like thirty pounds of prairie clay in a wheel well.

Jesus’ commands to base our choices on the law of love have a way of bringing us closer to him and closer to each other.

Everyone who trusts Jesus as the long-awaited Anointed One is a child of God, and everyone who loves the Father cannot help but love the child fathered by Him.

Then how do we know if we truly love God’s children? We love them if we love God and keep His commands.

You see, to love God means that we keep His commands, and His commands don’t weigh us down.

(1 John 5:1-3 The Voice)

May the light of his love draw us all closer to his heart as you celebrate the long-awaited arrival of the Anointed One this season. Blessings to you and your family.