Robed

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Everything in the department store that had been such a part of my life growing up was discounted. Changes. The store was closing. I had time between appointments in Calgary so I dropped by the mall for the close-out sale. I left the North Hill neighbourhood long ago and unexpected memories hit me as soon as I passed the bus stop outside the door. As I picked up a few items (in what my mother would have called the foundation department) I had a flashback to when my friends and I spent our emerging freedom hanging out at the mall.

Fashion is about change. The marketing and design managers probably switched the fitting rooms’ location many times over the intervening decades, but suddenly I heard the laughter of teenage friends as we tried on clothes.

“Does this suit me?” the girl who used to be me asked, checking herself out in the three-way mirror.

“No! You look like a missionary!” Ruth blurted.

She tried on a clinging satin dress with a plunging neckline. “How about this?” she asked, trying to keep a straight face.

“Now you look like a tramp!!” Lois answered, feigning shock. “Your mother would hate it! Yes! Get it!”

They giggled and gave the next girl their judgment as she struck a pose in garments decorated with dangling price tags they ignored. It’s like the girls put on a new identity with every new item of clothing.

We came from a culture where the standards of modesty made it difficult to find fashions that fit everyone’s criterion. Our mothers often sewed our clothes themselves. My grandmother called mini skirts “worldly.” When my mother, who learned English from reading Dickens novels, joined me in the fitting room she would say, “It behooves one to dress in a manner more befitting to a girl with higher standards. This is unbecoming.”

Unbecoming. I did not like the word unbecoming. She used it when my summer shorts were too short, or when I didn’t sit like a lady, or when my voice was too loud, or when my silent sulking fits had all the subtlety of a this-week-only salesman with a megaphone. She was right of course, most of the time, which is why she was so annoying. “This is not the direction I have in mind for you.”

I’ve been meditating on the connection between righteousness and peace this week. I looked up antonyms of the word righteousness because sometimes considering the opposite meaning helps me understand – and I’m trying to see beyond the negative parameters of rule-following that make me want to run in the opposite direction. One of the words listed caught my attention. Unbecoming. I can almost hear it in Mom’s voice. Then I read this passage about being clothed with righteousness.

I will rejoice greatly in the LORD,
My soul will exult in my God;
For He has clothed me with garments of salvation,
He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness,
As a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the earth brings forth its sprouts,
And as a garden causes the things sown in it to spring up,
So the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise
To spring up before all the nations.
(Isaiah 61: 10, 11 NAS)

Unrighteousness is a destructive attitude. It does not help us to become. It does the opposite; it unravels the beauty God intended for us to walk in. There is a great deal more to righteousness than obeying rules. In fact, clothing ourselves in manufactured rules of conduct that change behaviour but not the heart may not be befitting at all. When we choose to follow the folly of false distractions we fail to choose life. We un-become.

We can choose instead to let wrap Jesus wrap his robe of righteousness around us. Our own home-made efforts embarrass by comparison. They are also unbecoming because they do not represent grace-empowered transformation that enables us to blossom and be all God intended. Righteousness is right thinking, coming into alignment with the Creator’s plans for us (the one who loves us perfectly, understands the future and our potential perfectly and is much better at this than our moms who had their own agendas mixed up in their motives).

A line from an old song comes to mind, “Dressed in His righteousness alone, faultless to stand before His throne…”

 

 

 

 

As One

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Your mercy and your truth have married each other.
Your righteousness and peace have kissed.

(Psalm 85:10 TPT)

A quick read-through of the social media sites I participate in reminds me that thinking the way God does about truthandmercy and righteousnessandpeace does not come naturally to the unrenewed mind.

Sometimes I am confused when a couple has a combined name on a Facebook account. Who am I talking to? One such couple answered my query with, “Us. We tag team.”

I don’t get it. My man and I will have been married 46 years this autumn, and we have never perfectly agreed on anything for more than a few minutes. How could we speak as one?

I love the classic joke from an old episode of All In the Family. Malory tells her brother, Alex, that it’s like she and her boyfriend “have one mind.” After the perfectly timed pause he asks, “Which one of you is using it tonight?”

The only way my husband and I could tag team and trust each other to give the exact same response would be if one of us was redundant – or taken over by drugs or cyborgs or something. I’m the artsy feeling one. He’s the logical scientific one. We have to discuss everything. For hours.

Maybe that’s the point. Maybe it’s the diversity and the broader perspective of seeing more than one side and still being in unity that creates a bigger definition of a concept.

God is multifaceted and sees many sides at the same time. Being totally One there is no polarity, no gap, no need to choose between his concept of mercy and his understanding of perfect truth or his definition of righteousness and his experience of peace.

There is more.

 

Embrace Peace

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Heavenly wisdom centers on purity, peace, gentleness, deference, mercy, and other good fruits untainted by hypocrisy.

The seed that flowers into righteousness will always be planted in peace by those who embrace peace.

(James 3:17, 18 The Voice)

In the midst of darkness, evil, and turmoil, the wise have learned to embrace peace, to hold on, and not let go. They plant the seeds of change.

Precious, Sacred

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In the stillness of the midnight
Precious sacred scenes unfold.

Grief reminds me of plants in the same pot with tangled roots. We find a single loss is seldom single. To pluck one is to pull up the others.

My husband’s mother passed away this week. Seven times now we have been asked, “How aggressive do you want to be in treating this illness? The prognosis is very poor and anything we do now beyond comfort measures will simply prolong suffering.”

It’s a horrible question to have to answer. No matter what you do, other family members will be hurt by the decision. Where is the hope in uttering the answer that cannot be avoided?

No one told me this. The older you get, the more funerals you go to, and every one of them is attached to the grief for other people for whom you have grieved.

And yet we do not grieve as those without hope. For those whose hope is anchored in Jesus Christ, this is not the end.

 

The night before my mother-in-law passed away was the shortest night of the year. This is the photo I snapped before going to bed. Perhaps it is a reminder that in the great scheme of things, night passes quickly in the light of eternity. There is always, always something to be thankful for. God is still good.

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This is the photo I snapped when I took my coffee out on the deck the next day. Joy comes in the morning.

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A Season of Testing

 

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The last of the lilac blossoms fade and scatter outside my window. I love lilacs. Their scent is wonderful, if you are not allergic to them – and I’m not. For some people, lilacs can trigger memories of glorious spring and the approach of summer freedom. For others, lilacs annoy the unconscious brain with recollections of hay fever and the approach of long hot hours picking strawberries, followed by picking rocks, picking tobacco and picking fights with other tired irritated pickers.

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Not everyone loves the smell. My friend was devastated when her neighbour hacked off the branches of a mature lilac bush between their properties just as blooms emerged. To one who loves lilacs and waited the whole winter through for their appearance it felt like witnessing a murder, or at least severe persecution. To some, lilacs are an aroma of hope-filled life and to others, an aroma of foreboding death.

The neighbour must have experienced serious nasal congestion to follow through with such an act, but, if I think about it, I have also been driven to desperation by head colds that went on for weeks and kept me from sleeping like a bad conscience. If I knew being around lilacs provoked my miserable reaction I might make a midnight foray with a hatchet myself. I don’t know. I’m not in her bedroom slippers. It just felt sad.

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Lilacs also remind me of year-ends tests. I remember sitting under the lilac bushes in the back yard while cramming for a high school math exam. That image might define mixed emotion for me. Frustrating formulas and fabulous fragrance at one picnic table.

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The association between lilac season and tests continued for many years. Dates for Royal Conservatory and Trinity College of London singing exams often showed up at the same time as a bower of mauve blossoms over the venue’s door. The fragrance wafted through an open window in the waiting area. I think one of the songs may even have been ‘Lilacs” by Rachmaninoff.

I remember waiting for my grandfather to pick me up after completing an exam that I thought went quite well. I sat on the steps outside the building, cradled clusters of flowers in my hands, and breathed deeply. Lilac blossoms also smell like relief.

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When I became a music teacher, I rushed past the lilacs to fit in an extra lesson or a make a rehearsal with the student and accompanist. I never realized until then that external exams were tests for the teacher as well. Her, or his, professional reputation could hinge on how well somebody else performed. Sometimes smiles and encouraging, cajoling words hid a desire to use stronger modes of motivation on students who didn’t take practice (and my ego) seriously enough. When I finally had time to appreciate my favourite flowers most of the petals flitted on the breeze and showered down on the grass like confetti at a fairy wedding.

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Now I have time to sit in the garden and enjoy, but the scent still carries the undertones of test papers and pencils and nervousness. I used to encourage students by telling them, “Tests can reveal areas that need improvement, but mostly they prove that you have learned what you set out to learn this year. I have just heard you sing this song perfectly. As far as I am concerned you have already passed the exam. All you need to do is show up at the right time and right place and get credit for your hard work. No matter how you do in the examination I will still be here for you. I have faith in you.”

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This past year has been a season of testing for me. I’ve discovered a lot of areas in my reactions to hard questions and frustrating puzzles that need improvement. Sometimes I wished I could hack it all down and make it go away. There is so much more I need to know, but I have also learned that many concepts that seemed sound in theory have proven to be sound in practice.

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It’s like I’ve been sitting at that picnic table in my parents’ garden, feeling the pressures of remembering and applying what I read and heard and studied and even wrote about.

It’s been like walking, with great fear and trembling, into an empty concert hall where an examiner seated at a table waits sharpened pencil and exam form.

It’s required thankfulness and remembering that in the middle of testing, I am surrounded by the beauty and fragrance of Jesus who gave himself for me.

It’s still recalling the encouragement of the Holy Spirit who said, “You can do it. I’m not leaving.”

It’s receiving the approval of my heavenly Father who gives the gift I have always longed for – his unfailing love.

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And continue to walk surrendered to the extravagant love of Christ, for he surrendered his life as a sacrifice for us. His great love for us was pleasing to God, like an aroma of adoration—a sweet healing fragrance. (Ephesians 5:2 TPT)

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