And Then…

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Sometimes it takes me a while to figure out where my emotions are coming from. I agree with people who say we ought not to be led by emotions, but I don’t discount them. God created us with emotion for a reason. Jesus demonstrated a full range of emotional experience, and demonstrated their rightful place. Like the Psalmist I have been asking my soul, “Why are you downcast? Why are you disquieted?”

Grief has roots that tangle under the surface. You can’t tug on one without unsettling memories of other losses and separations. This time of pandemic-led physical separation, although not permanent (we hope), is also stirring up feelings of old losses. I miss my loved ones. I miss my friends. I miss my freedom. I know we shall soon meet again, but these nebulous emotions all end up in the same pot like some strange concoction of lament that ignores reason. It feels like grief.

I’ve been feeling a bit down and unusually nostalgic the last few days. Old movies, old songs, old photos, old recipes, and even old cars make me laugh, but also shed tears. This morning, it being Mother’s Day, I thought about my mother, who passed away eleven years ago. I wish I could sit in her kitchen and tell her about my day. I read many posts from motherless children and childless mothers on Facebook, so I know I am not the only one who is aware of the ambivalent feelings this day evokes.

Then I remembered this week also marks the anniversary of separation from my Dad as well.

Time shrinks and stretches with age, moreso without the usual daily landmarks that keep us oriented. What day is it? Has it been three or four years since I received the call that Dad died in his sleep? The fence needs painting again. Didn’t I just do that? Was it really almost sixty years since Daddy took the photo of Mom serving Kool-aid to the pretty little girls in their birthday party dresses? The house I grew up in shows up on Google maps. It is dwarfed by the trees my brother and I planted as seedlings we received at school. When did that happen?

Part of prayer is paying attention to the stirrings in our hearts as we lean in to hear our heavenly Father. God often speaks to me through music. As I asked him to bring clarity to this messy emotion a song started to play in my mind. It is Brahms’ setting of John 16:22. In English it reads:

“So will you also pass through a time of intense sorrow when I am taken from you, but you will see me again! And then your hearts will burst with joy, with no one being able to take it from you!” (from The Passion Translation that seeks to include emotional content)

These were Jesus’ words to his friends before he was taken from them. We know the next part of the story – that he conquered death and appeared to them again before ascending to his place with the Father. He told them, on that same evening he gave the warning, that something better was coming. He was sending the Holy Spirit to advocate, teach, comfort, and empower in his place.

We have the advantage of living on the other side of the cross. We know loss here and now, but we also know that Holy Spirit will never leave. He reminds us of the promise that is for both here and now and even more in the future: “Then your hearts will burst with joy with no one being able to take it from you!”

 

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.

(Psalm 42:11 NIV)

When We Have Exhausted Our Store of Endurance

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In northern climates, spring is just beginning. Oh, how I welcome the signs of season change this year. Sitting in the warm sun without a coat, even if I am sitting alone on my deck, feels like the world is starting to open again. This has been a tough season – for nearly all of us.

As a student, I noticed a pattern in my educational history (because I notice patterns). I seemed to have seasons when learning new things came easily and seasons when study felt like slogging through hip-deep snow. The slogging season ended with new shoes and clothes, because in those seasons I grew physically. Another common season, the one my mother thought was my perpetual dwelling place, was the season of not much happening, not visibly, at least. Those times became the opportunity to enjoy relationships and put into practice and some of the good habits Mom tried to drill into us.

Years later, I read an article by someone else who noted the same pattern – and took time to research it properly. Children tend to alternate physical and mental growth spirts.

As an adult, I noticed that spiritual growth also came in spirts. Just as there are rhythms in nature, there are rhythms in the spiritual realm. I’m learning to ask the Lord what he wants to show me in whatever season I find myself in. I don’t believe we are all in the same place at the same time, nor do we all progress at the same rate. Sometimes change occurs suddenly. Some seasons do drag on. This has been a drag-on one for me.

A verse from an old hymn showed up in answer to my prayer about what this season is about and what provision the Lord has set aside for me now.

When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.

His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,
His power no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.

(From He Giveth More Grace by Annie J. Flint)

It’s about endurance. Patient endurance. It’s about provision of physical, emotional, and spiritual strength fueled by hope and learning to run with it.

Our cross-country running coach back in high school trained us for endurance races by pushing us to go farther each time we ran. His was not my favourite class. Not even close. Undiagnosed exercise-induced asthma made gym class a miserable experience for me. I didn’t wheeze. I went directly to heart-pounding dizzy and sick. I just about puked on his shoes in an oxygen deprived moment one day, but even that failed to win sympathy. He tolerated no whining. If I dawdled, I got an extra lap. I didn’t die, and even though I often came in with the last stragglers, my endurance improved significantly that year. After I forgave him, I could acknowledge some gratefulness.

The writer of Hebrews talked about the necessary quality of endurance in running the race set before us. I want to whine that I’m hurting, that I’m tired, that this is too much. It’s as if the coach is indicating that another lap is required before this season of uncertainty is over. Really? I don’t think I can do it, but he thinks I can. And he is right. I can go a little farther in trust than I did before.

Seasons when I learned about God’s goodness and discovered his love and abundant grace and favour were more fun than this one has been, but learning that God is faithful, steadfast, and will provide what I need, when I need it (and not a moment sooner) builds endurance. Learning that pain is bearable siphons off some of the fear the enemy used to manipulate me in the past.

The discipline of running the race set before me, and not another person’s race, has helped me to stop comparing. I may take longer than others, but I make better time than I used to. That feels good.

There’s also something about patient endurance with focus on a goal that makes us willing to pare down and drop things that don’t matter as much as they once did. I’m travelling lighter.

The unexpected prize in this season of patient endurance is joy. Jesus’ endurance was a result of seeing the joy set before him. I’ve been praying for more joy. This joy doesn’t feel like giddy happiness, but it does feel like something inexplicably wonderful lies ahead. The joy I see reminds me of something as wonderful as new life awaking on  branches that appeared dead for so long. It smells like the scent of hope blooming in the spring sun. It feels like the certainty of sweet fruit.

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Jesus encourages, “Look at me! Eyes here! Come on. You can do it…”

One more lap. One more…

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1,2 NKJV)

New Life, New Hope

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Beware of harking back to what you once were when God wants you to be something you have never been.

Oswald Chambers

The sun shone brightly. A warm gentle breeze stirred the topmost branches to tap a joyful rhythm against the window.

My friend came by while I was in the house and released Mason bees into the forsythia bush, now laden with new blossoms. She told me with delight that she watched a female immediately find a mate.

Last week, our spirits fell along with the temperature and bare branches (save one leaning against the warmth of the window) collected more snow. Last week was winter.

This week, the first bright colour in the garden arrived suddenly. This week is spring.

Transformation is like that. We wait and wait and wait, then suddenly life changes — and nothing will ever look the same again. We are not who we used to be.

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Love Does Not Traffic

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Love does not traffic in shame and disrespect, nor selfishly seek its own honor.

(1 Corinthians 13:5 TPT)

The way of love is so different than the way of self-promotion it’s almost shocking. The current way of self-promotion when seeking positions of power is to dig up as much dirt as possible, massage the truth a bit, and publicly disrespect rivals by rubbing shame in their faces via the media.

What would leadership that places the needs of others above one’s own (or one’s own tribe) even look like?

What if a political campaign was fought with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control?

What if honour was honoured?

I wonder. Could we handle true truth?

Grace/Disgrace

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I was known, as a child, as the kid who asked too many questions. I remember one exasperated church lady saying, “Questions! Questions! Why do you have to ask so many questions? Why can’t you just have faith?”

I felt reprimanded and like I was about to be assigned to the lower decks of the good ship Faith. I thought about it for a while, then realized that if I didn’t have faith that God is good and has an answer waiting discovery, I wouldn’t be brave enough to ask questions.

I still ask impertinent questions, but now I have a somewhat better sense of where and when it’s safe to ask them. Maturity or pragmatism? I’m not sure.

I ask God a lot of questions. Sometimes I get a direct answer in sundry ways. Sometimes all I get is a nudge to rephrase or ask a better question. Sometimes God asks me a question in response to my question. That happened this week.

I woke up to the clear question, “What’s the opposite of grace?” (I was too focussed on how wonderful my pillow still felt to come up with it myself.) Two mugs of coffee later I contemplated the opposite of grace. The question, “What does grace feel like?” (here) took months to answer. I’ve learned not to rush when my heavenly Father asks something he already knows. Something important this way lies. This time it didn’t take as long.

What is the opposite of grace? Disgrace, I guess.

And what is disgrace?

Help me out here, dictionary. The pre-fix dis means to do the opposite, to deprive, to exclude, expel, annul. If we put the prefix dis on a word it changes the meaning to the opposite. To empower is to give power to someone. To dis-empower is to remove power. Dis-ease is a medical condition that negates ease. When a lawyer is dis-barred, he is not called to the bar, he is sent away from the bar. It’s like a “not” added to the word. Dis-agreeable means not agreeable. When we say something is a disgrace it is without grace. It is loathsome, unhelpful, shameful. When we say someone has been disgraced, they have been dis-honoured, shamed.

I think that’s it. When someone has been disgraced, when there is no grace for them, they have been shamed. When someone is a disgrace, they are an embarrassment, a source of shame, an object to be rejected. (Guilt comes from something we have done wrong. Shame is the feeling that we are something wrong.)

There you have it. The opposite of grace is shame.

Why are you asking me this, Lord?”

So then, what is grace?

Your grace is the empowerment to become the person You see when You look at us.*

Grace is not an excuse to be content with dis-obedience or dis-function. Grace empowers transformation. Ah! I get it. Dis-grace wraps a wounded soul in a trash bag, hides it in the trunk, and hauls it to the dump when no one is looking.

I realized how many times I have seen dis-grace masquerading as grace: unrequested judgmental prayer or “prophetic words” that mislabel, unfaithful “wounds of a friend” that leave marks, demands to maintain “standards” that are really about maintaining power, discipleship training that instills dependence on a leader, sermons emphasizing sin-focussed “shoulds” that dis-courage, or traditions that make putting on a façade of respectability more important than enjoying the freedom found in a loving, honest relationship with God.

I realized that although I write about grace, I still have areas of my life in which I have believed the lie that I didn’t just do something wrong, I am something wrong. Every time the enemy of my soul wants to make me less effective, he tugs on the lie like yanking on a rug and I topple over. Sometimes I even hide under the rug. I have not always soaked in the grace God lavishes on us, but rather have self-applied dis-grace, mistakenly thinking that shame could motivate anything other than temporary change.

My prayer in the days before I heard the Lord’s question was like David’s in Psalm 139:
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way. (verses 23, 24 NASB)

After I asked to be shown any place where a lie had taken residence in my heart I saw an area of my life in which I felt like I was still a failure, even after years of effort to measure up. For the next few days, I was sucked into a vortex of shame and anger. (But God! It’s not fair!! I have tried so hard!) I wanted to hide. I realized later, that in his kindness God was not showing me the hurtful way at the root of so much frustration; he was showing me the shame that kept me bound to the lie that I expected him to reject me like so many others have.

He hasn’t rejected me. Instead, in his kindness, he is showing me a little more of who he is, and a little more of how he sees me. Shame is what he intends to remove by his grace. He says I am a person he enjoys walking with. He continues to lead in the everlasting way.

*via Graham Cooke.

Planting

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I planted daffodil bulbs today. They’re not very pretty. It’s hard to imagine what they will become.

In fact, the entire garden is not very pretty in November. We’ve had snow already, and some nose-under-the-covers cold nights. The snow melted, but today is my brother’s birthday, and as far back as I can remember the kind of snow that stayed always arrived on or shortly after his birthday.

I’m in mourning for the season of colour. A hard freeze turned the willow tree brown overnight. The plum tree leaves heaved a sigh and waved goodbye without the annual flash of red before departing. The snapdragons lay strewn about like the last soldiers to fall in a battle the other side will record in their history books. Saying goodbye is never easy.

Today may be the last day the soil can be worked before it freezes. So I worked it, digging holes and dropping humble brown bulbs into them. Then I buried them. Now they rest.

The Lord is speaking to me about both hope and letting go these days. I decided to plant some hope in the form of daffodil bulbs. The deer ate all my tulips last year, but I noticed the daffodils failed to impress them. They did impress me though. I love the early spring flowers that find their way through the detritus of winter. I planted more.

Sometimes, in the spring, seeds will germinate within a few days. These bulbs will wait for six months. Sometimes the things we plant spring to life right away. Sometimes they take so long, we forgot we even planted them. I am learning to let go of my desire for immediate reward. I recognize now that some of the truths planted in my life in past cold blustery seasons are only now starting to bloom in my heart — in His time.

For there will be peace for the seed: the vine will yield its fruit, the land will yield its produce and the heavens will give their dew; and I will cause the remnant of these people to inherit all these things.

(Zechariah 8:13 NASB)

Words That Both Pierce and Heal

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No one speaks words so anointed as this one—
words that both pierce and heal,
words like lilies dripping with myrrh.

(Song of Songs 5:13 TPT)

A woman told me how excited a doctor was when he diagnosed her mother with an extremely rare disease. He was quite proud of himself.

“The problem,” she said, wiping tears from her eyes, “was that he could offer no cure. She died soon after.”

Living under religious laws is like that. Performance-based religious systems are quite good at telling you what you are doing wrong and why, but without empowering grace to change the heart, well, nothing changes. The law is like a doctor who can tell you what you’re dying of, but can’t fix it.

I have learned that truth hurts, especially when I’ve been avoiding it for too long. But I’ve also learned that unlike people who have knowledge without power, the Lover of my soul never puts his finger on a pain in my heart that he doesn’t intend to heal. Like a surgical laser, His words both pierce and heal and the result is always greater freedom.

For if you embrace the truth, it will release more freedom into your lives. – Jesus

 

Bloom Anyway

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Looking back, I am unimpressed with the amount of time I spent trying to impress people who didn’t impress me. Sometimes you just need to bloom where you are planted while the storm rages.

It always blows over eventually.

People who manipulate with fear and intimidation are often fearful and intimidated themselves.

Confident peace is a weapon they don’t understand. It frustrates them.

Bloom anyway.

Fear and intimidation is a trap that holds you back.
But when you place your confidence in the Lord,
you will be seated in the high place.

(Proverbs 29:25 TPT)

Majestic Sweetness

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Once, in the middle of a dark and dreary winter, I pointed out the wonderful gift of cut flowers in a vase on my table. I may have gushed over them more than usual. My friend, not being in the same frame of mind said, “You realize you are making a big deal over dying plant sex organs.”

I thought about it. Yes. Yes I am. You see thwarted function. I see extravagant beauty.

I didn’t plant the mock orange in the corner of my garden but I appreciate its bountiful flowers. I’ve taken more photos of its yearly blossoms than I can count.

I thought about the extravagant beauty of God’s creation this morning as I prayed and smelled the sweet scent of abundance. I think God smiles when we notice his handiwork and thank him for it.

To God, the Father, my abode,
He brings my weary feet;
Shows me the glories of my God,
And makes my joys complete.

Since from His bounty I receive
Such proofs of love divine,
Had I a thousand hearts to give,
Lord, they should all be Thine.

-from Majestic Sweetness Sits Enthroned by Samuel Stennet