After a Hard Winter

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If believers decay in their first love, or in some other grace, yet another grace may grow and increase, such as humility, their brokenheartedness; they sometimes seem not to grow in the branches when they may grow at the root; upon a check grace breaks out more; as we say, after a hard winter there usually follows a glorious spring.

– Richard Sibbes

God is the God of restoration. If he raised Jesus from the dead he can surely raise hope from the dead.

It’s never too late.

Breakthrough

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In this portion of the journey, when steps forward and steps backward start to resemble a cha-cha more than a foot race, I sometimes wonder what is going on. As I write this people the insurance company sent are in my house packing up stuff that, only four months ago, finally had a place. Now, after the flood, it doesn’t. Again. After all that is salvageable leaves in a truck headed to a storage facility, the deconstruction people come to tear out walls I just painted and flooring we just laid. This week I rushed about trying to figure out what I might need in the next few months that I should store in bins in corners of the house that is still habitable. I was going a little nuts.

It felt like I was wallowing in hope deferred.

Then a friend (Godsend that she is) asked me if I would join her and paint during the worship portion of a conference. I was apprehensive about doing what I do in front of real live people (as opposed to anonymous readers). I am so done with performance and stage Christianity, but I decided that hiding is not much better. Besides, I needed to get out of the house – and they let me sit in a corner of the auditorium.

The first night I painted light streaming through the woods as the Lord spoke to me about shifting atmospheres in a way that brings light to dark places, but the idea for this painting, started the second day, formed before the first was even finished. I saw the red umbrella as a symbolic covering like the covering given by the blood over the doors at Passover and the covering given by Christ’s blood.  I saw a break in the clouds. I saw a pass in the mountains with a rainbow of promise over it.

I was also aware of the unseen shadowy valleys between happy greening hills covered with the yellow sunflowers of spring and the places where winter is reluctant to let go of its hold.

As I finished details that indicated a shifting atmosphere the phrase came to me: Promise IS breakthrough.

The answers God has provided to problems friends and family and people I am praying for around the world already exist. God, in his great mercy, takes us through hills and valleys and seasons of sun and storm to prepare us for the rigors of abundance, influence, and authority, but he promises breakthrough.

This weekend I heard, “Know who you are. Know whose you are. That’s your protection, your covering. Lift your eyes and see God’s plan. Quit hiding and move. This is going to be good.”

Too Good To Not Be True

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With my whole heart, with my whole life
And with my innermost being,
I bow in wonder and love before you, the Holy God!
Yahweh, you are my soul’s celebration;
How could I ever forget the miracles of kindness you’ve done for me?
You kissed my heart with forgiveness, in spite of all I’ve done.
You healed me inside and out from every disease.
You’ve rescued me from hell and saved my life.
You’ve crowned me with love and mercy and made me a king.
You satisfy my every desire with good things.
You supercharged my life so that I soar again
Like a flying eagle in the sky.
You’re a God who makes things right,
Giving justice to the defenseless…

(Psalm 103:1-6 The Passion Translation)

There are passages of scripture some of us have learned are part of our inheritance. We keep running into them  at crucial moments in our lives. They show up when we most need them. Psalm 103 is one of those passages for me.

The irony is that the Lord brings it to my attention when I feel least likely to be able to declare it without engaging a considerable amount of faith. Circumstances would seem to point in another direction.

But we live by faith and not by sight.

So today I stand and declare: You supercharged my life so that I soar again like an eagle flying in the sky!

It’s about His faithfulness. Therefore I have hope, the evidence of things not seen.

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Thinking of Everything

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“Why am I the one who has to think of everything?” a young mother asked. “My husband’s idea of preparing for a trip is carrying the suitcases out to the car.”

I smiled. I remembered this. One day my father-in-law announced he was taking us to the fair. We would be gone all day. His intent was for us to stay late and watch the fireworks. After telling us to hurry up he put on his baseball cap, grabbed his keys and went out to the car.

Eventually he came back in to see what was taking so long. I happened to be feeding and dressing three little kids (two still in diapers), gathering supplies for the day and putting them in backpacks and diaper bags. My mind was whirling as I made preparations that necessitated asking myself the question, “What could go wrong?” so I would know what to bring.

Dad was going out of his way to do something kind for us. He was a natural optimist and couldn’t understand why I was fretting. This was supposed to be fun.

There is something about being responsible for others that turns many of us into worriers. Perhaps it is because we feel like we have to think of everything or we could find ourselves caught in a blizzard in a swim suit and flip flops and fresh out of diaper rash cream for the baby. Maybe that’s how I got in the habit of starting my day with thinking about what could go horribly wrong. Thinking about what could go amazingly right is postponed for a later hour after lists are made and items checked off. Sometimes I never get around to that thought until I tumble, exhausted, into bed at night.

I’m trying to change.

Now, before I  get out of bed, I intentionally direct my thoughts to thanking God for answered prayer and the potential of the next day. I intend to not allow negativity to squash my joy before the day even begins. Then I lay my plans before him and let him know they are subject to change as he leads.

It’s often a mental wrestling match on the level of those grunting men of massive girth who throw chairs and put headlocks on referees. Change, real change, deep down heart change, doesn’t come easily for someone like me.

Early yesterday morning, I drove home from a doctor’s appointment in another city. It’s an eleven hour trip there and back. Instead of “trying to think of everything” in preparation for surgery next week I decided to focus on the goodness of God and how he has brought me safe thus far. I put on some good music and sang along.

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One of the things I am thankful for is that my commute is through some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. The glowing sun rose over my shoulder to the east, lit a winter field at rest to the north and touched the mountain peaks to the west with gentle pink light. The air was frigid, but inside my little subcompact cocoon the heater hummed away and kept me warm. I put iPod music on shuffle and watched the day come to life.

Then a song from a new album I bought before I left home began to play. “You’re going to be okay,” the singer assured me. I heard God’s voice in the music.

I have no idea how this is going to go. But I am going to be okay. The Lover of my soul thinks of everything.

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At each and every sunrise you will hear my voice
As I prepare my sacrifice of prayer to you.
Every morning I lay out the pieces of my life on the altar
And wait for your fire to fall upon my heart.

(Psalm 5:3 TPT)

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Reaping in Joy

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I heard an old man tell the story of when he was a young man. He remembers coming back to his village in Eastern Europe after an army of invaders destroyed property and took sacks of wheat for themselves. They had a few precious hidden sacks left, but not enough to feed themselves and plant a crop for the next year without great hardship.

“We cried over every seed we sowed,” he said. “What if the crop failed? What if the soldiers came back? Would the sacrifice be worth it?”

When this same ethnic group came to Canada they were in the habit of sacrificing their own comfort to invest in the future of their children. They had learned to sow in faith. Sometimes they sowed financially and gave money to care for others when it hurt to do so. Sometimes they stood up for honesty and doing the right thing when it was not to their immediate advantage. Sometimes they chose to plant kindness when they were misunderstood and thrown into the category of enemy by new neighbours who assumed if they spoke the same language as Hitler they must be Nazis. (Meanwhile, in the Old Country Hitler’s troops were killing their former friends and neighbours.)

I don’t know that I could have continued to be kind under such circumstances. Certainly not everyone in that community did, but some pressed on. When elderly friends told me about being harassed as children during the second world war they recalled the advice, “Turn and walk away. They do not yet know who you are. Don’t let them push you into becoming who they think you are.”

This week I have been thinking about the scripture, “They who sow in tears will reap in joy.” I have a new understanding of the verse. The tears are not about weeping over the pain a situation causes. The tears are about the personal struggle to take that tiny bit of love and kindness I have and be willing to bury it in the dirt where it will not be seen or appreciated and may not grow the way I plan. The tears are about denying my “rights,” choosing to not take the easy short-sighted way but rather to have faith that in the long-term God will raise up something greater. A harvest of love. A storehouse filled by righteousness and kindness.

Can I admit that I find it much easier to defend myself with a sharp defensive retort than a  determination to go about quietly doing what I believe God has shown me is right? When I’m judged, and condemned, and tarred with the same brush as “them” on the “them and us” scale I long to be understood by people who have no intention of listening. That’s when I want to harden my heart, give them a name (usually ending with “ist”), and write them out of my life.

Today I hear the wisdom of those who have suffered much worse than a few insults, and who developed character that demonstrated the ability to forgive and to show love. If I know who I am in Christ I will not need the approval of loud people with microphones or Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Don’t let anyone push you into becoming what they accuse you of being. Sow with a view to righteousness. Reap with kindness.

I said, ‘Plant the good seeds of righteousness,
and you will harvest a crop of love.
Plow up the hard ground of your hearts,
for now is the time to seek the LORD,
that he may come
and shower righteousness upon you.’

(Hosea 10:12 NLT)