When Kindness Isn’t Kind

 

“PRAISE GOD! I’M FREE!” he shouted as he leapt onto the grassy bank from the back seat of my car.

poke kids fighting IMG_0047My grandson threw his arms in the air and did an enthusiastic Pentecostal two-step right there. I laughed, but I understood the feeling.

I took my young grandchildren to the splash park this week. We had a marvelous time and I was impressed with how well the children got along and looked after each other.

Then we drove home.

Securing three car seats in a space usually taken by jackets and stuff that won’t fit in the trunk of my car was a challenge, but we did it. It meant my grandson was squished in the middle seat between his sisters though. Opportunity for boundary violations abounded. All three took advantage of those opportunities.

Finally, after a useless lecture on the dangers of escalating a conflict with over-reaction, I put on my stern voice.

“No! You may not poke each other! If you continue this I am stopping the car right now!”

That was a useless threat thirty years ago and its effectiveness has not improved, but you know, tradition.

Finally I commanded, “I want you to do one kind thing for each other, right now!”

That’s when the kissing started. Big sister planted a sloppy wet one on brother’s shoulder. His eww inspired another then another. He leaned away but that put him in range of little sister who covered him with similar passive aggressive affection. The girls giggled. He protested. Loudly.

Ten blocks to go. Nine… eight…

Later, as I was telling his Dad about my amusement at his son’s actions (the joyful exclamation part, not the misbehaving part – that’s between us) I remembered times when I was equally as happy to be freed from the “kind” ministrations of people with a self-serving agenda. False kindness can be like sending truckloads of used junk to disaster areas that have no place to put it as an excuse to clean closets and feel good about ourselves at the same time. Perhaps well-meaning, but not well thought out.

Boundary violating kisses I have known often started with:
~I’m telling you this in love.. (because even I realize the action is not exactly communicating “love”).
~I have a ministry opportunity for you…
~This worked for me so it will obviously work for you…
~I know you have a weight problem, but I made these cupcakes just for you…
~I read this on paranoid tendencies.com and you need to implement the findings immediately…
~Thus saith the Lord, if you do not heed the advice of this, his servant, it will not go well for you…
~This is what you need to do because, in my opinion, this is how a good Christian dresses, or worships, or prays, or votes, or diets, or donates, or handles Hallowe’en…
~I’m just protecting you. These are the teachers/preachers who disagree with me or give me an icky feeling. Shun them.

One day I finally realized I was free to jump out of the confines of that harassment. “Praise God! I’m free!”

Kisses can be loving and kind. Sometimes these were about good things the speaker learned and wanted to pass on. He or she meant well, but, it was still a bit self-serving. It’s difficult to untangle a desire to help from a desire to be in control. I’ve done it too – and suffered the consequences. When you remove people’s power to self-govern they tend to express exasperation in unexpected ways. We with a yearning to teach also need to learn to share knowledge and still honour people’s ability to think and decide for themselves. One size does not fit all.

I have noticed in the scripture that Jesus responded to individuals differently. He didn’t heal the same way every time. He didn’t use the same tone of voice with everyone. Even now he speaks to his beloved according to their needs and temperament and meets them where they are.

Maybe a brother or sister needs a kiss. Maybe they need to be noticed and a friendly poke or a holy kiss, or a culturally appropriate side hug is the perfect response. But maybe they need respect and space to work it out with the Lord on their own. Maybe they need freedom.

You are perfectly free to ignore this if it doesn’t minister to you. Just sayin’.

Tightrope

painting on desk ch IMG_8390

Can’t pretend that I am blind
Can’t go back and erase the mind
Naivety and wide-eyed wonder are far from me
But at least now I see
It’s like I’m walking on a tightrope
Stretched across the universe
Way too high to go back from where I came
Overwhelmed at the miles I’ve yet to tame

-from Tightrope by Misty Edwards

When I started writing this blog I thought it was about having an outlet for creative expression and sharing, in a grandmotherly way, how the Lord has enabled me to grow and change. I didn’t know it would be about the faith walk in real time. I’m not done yet. I’ve got a long way to go.

I was happy to share insights and personal victories – after I could see the outcome when the mess was tidied up and the embarrassing trip through doubt and emotional upheaval faded in the rear-view mirror.

Then, in the spring of 2013, it looked like our healthy, athletic son-in-law was going to die. I was going to wait before saying anything. I said I was worried that it might look like I was using a crisis to gain attention. The truth is I allowed doubt to creep in. I wanted to make sure everything turned out well before I posted. But I felt the Lord saying that faith is acting as though it is well with my soul before facts anyone can check are evident. I took the risk of increased transparency. (Love is Louder)

When I participated in helping my daughter and son-in-law write a book about the miracle God did, it meant letting go of precious privacy for all of us. Were we willing to tell the story to strangers and let them into dark rooms where we cried and begged in moments of doubt? They decided the story was not theirs alone and invited the world into the bigger story of God’s goodness and intent to bless many more people. Yes, it was worth it. (While He Lay Dying)

A few weeks later we faced another crisis. Our eldest son and his family faced challenges when floods hit, destroying much of their town and turning their property into a new lake. I learned from the experience earlier that year that God trusts us with his blessings, so long before we saw restoration, while the family was still in the Canadian version of a refugee camp, I wrote a blog post about the future of High River. (High River’s Higher Calling) The post had several thousand Facebook shares, was picked up by news services and spread much more widely than I anticipated. This word of hope is still the post with the highest number of hits.

Gradually I am learning to let concern for what impresses readers about me take second place to what impresses God about me. Trust. Trust (or faith) and talking about his goodness as if it were a real thing – because it is. Even when we can’t see it yet.

As an ice-breaker, I ask people this question: What’s the worst movie you have seen and why did you hate it? We often ask about favourite books or songs or movies and sharing those things helps us to understand each other better. But sharing the things that provoke us to righteous indignation and creative rants sometimes reveals hearts’ passions on a deeper level.

When someone asked me this question I knew the answer immediately. I could think of three films that thoroughly irked me and made me want my time and ticket money back. With little effort, two more came to mind. All were nominated for Academy Awards. All of them featured talented actors, brilliant cinematography, amazing costume and set design and all the production skills of top-notch artists. All of them carried the message: ABANDON HOPE. What a waste of resources!

The secret shame became public. The fall-out of a crime lingered for generations and attempts at atonement failed. Grief was insurmountable. Terminal loneliness and disconnection returned. The hero’s pointless death led to the memory of the faint chorus of a jaded ancient king: Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.

I want to scream! Quit trying to drag me into your hopelessness that offers a cruel kindness in place of love, where worry dons the thin costume of fragile, short-lived happiness, and despair suggests resignation to death is the only solution to the problem of pain!

I want stories of hope. Real hope in real life circumstances. Real hope that doesn’t hide under a veneer of re-written fictional happy endings. Real hope that doesn’t rely on fallible humans or systems. Real hope that looks physical reality in the face and says, ‘My God is bigger.’ Real hope that says, ‘Because he lives, I can face tomorrow. Because he lives the child I carry can have a future. Because he lives this marriage can be saved. Because he lives depression will lift. Because he lives goodness is still a weapon against evil. Because he lives I’m no longer a slave to fear.’

I want stories of hope that can say, with authentic candour, ‘This sucks, but Jesus has come to show us what his Father is really like by destroying the works of the devil.’

Then I hear my Heavenly Father say, “So write them yourself. Tell people I’m good. But be authentic, not nostalgic.”

Misty Edwards writes songs that touch my heart in the middle of ‘this sucks.’ One that means a lot to me right now is called “Tightrope.” In the song, she talks about ‘the mystical in-between,’ that place where we know God is doing something in our lives, but we don’t know what. It’s that place where putting one foot in front of the other is the only choice because we’ve come too far to go back, we have too far to go to sit down and we have to keep moving if we don’t want to fall.

Hanging there in space, my toes gripping the rope
The only hope
That golden thread that got me here
Will be the same
That brings me to the end

I know, I know You’re with me
You surround me, You surround me
Your invisible hand is around, around
In this uncomfortable in-between
Where I’m too far in to turn around now
Too far to go to sit down now…

So at the risk of looking like I am attention- or sympathy-seeking, or trying to get as many numbers as I can muster on a prayer petition to influence God (when I truly believe the faith-filled prayers of a little child have as much influence as an entire denomination’s membership) let me be authentic about this uncomfortable place on the tightrope.

A few weeks ago I had a CT scan to rule out any lasting problems with surgery I had in February. Everything was fine in that regard, but the scan revealed a mass in my abdomen that was not fine. After tests, the surgeon told me I have cancer.

At this point I don’t know how serious it is, if it has spread, or what kind of treatment I’ll need, although there is evidence it has been there for a long time. Today I start a series of invasive scans and scopes looking for other sites which, quite frankly, I don’t look forward to.

Like Misty (who is a cancer survivor) I know God surrounds me. He gives me dreams, songs in the night, and encouragement through friends, books, podcasts and most of all his love letters. He’s not surprised and I know he’s got this. But it’s still scary.

I feel like there is an attack on hope in this world, and cancer is a symbol of that attack. The word itself carries dismal forebodings.

I have seen marvelous things with my own eyes, things I never thought I would see – the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. I also long to be in Paradise with the Lord. For those who love the Lord and are called according to his purpose every ending is a good ending, but I think I still have things to do here.

I welcome prayer, but if you pray for me can I ask that you attach it to a prayer for hope for yourself, your community, your country, our world?

When I run out of words I paint my feelings. In the interest of keeping it real, I painted a woman on a tightrope who is just an average-type woman with an unimpressive average shape because this battle is about hope for everyone. She’s coming from a place of darkness and moving toward the light of hope.

And this is the walk of faith in real time.

Just by Standing

eager hill ch trail path climb view fisher

Some days you win by standing, not by advancing. Some days your endurance is your victory because to overcome through endurance means that you get to make the enemy weary. You get to give him a heavy heart. You get to make him tired. You get to make him depressed. You get to overcome him just by standing and just by looking into the face of Jesus. That’s a priceless victory right there!

-Graham Cooke(from The Way Of The Warrior [Studio Version])

 

Promises, Promises, My Kind of Promises

My beautiful picture

“Well,” she said, standing in the middle of a pile of what we might call reduced circumstances, “I guess this is my new normal.”

My friend was too tired to fight the injustice that brought her to this place. In a way she accepted it as her lot in life, as a fulfillment of predictions spoken over her in the past. Teachers, social workers, and bosses didn’t always wait to be out of ear shot before they said things like, “She’ll never amount to much,” or “What do you expect from someone with her background?”

I tried to encourage her, but My words slipped past her ears as if she assumed they were meant for someone else, someone more worthy of love and respect. She shrugged and went back to unpacking her baggage.

I was thinking about the word “normal” yesterday. Her normal. My normal. God’s normal. How does our acceptance of limited expectations become normal? What if we have glimpses of possibilities that are beyond past experiences? Does seeing potential wreck our concept of normal?

Yesterday I was lying in bed exchanging text messages with my eight-year old granddaughter who is currently with her family in Africa. I wondered what my grandmother would have thought if she had seen this possibility when I was an eight-year old. A phone with no wires, that could send and receive voices, text, photos, and even video of a new house on the other side of the world in a few seconds? Impossible!

In an old trunk I’ve stored a letter my grandmother received from her mother in Ontario. Grandma’s child had died tragically in Saskatchewan. Her mother’s written words arrived weeks after the funeral. In comparison, my granddaughter was telling me about her new surroundings and their arduous two day trip from western Canada to South Africa. On the same day. As she ate breakfast. I love listening to her.

Then my wifi cut out.IMG_7057 cell phone

We have been having problems with it lately because of the floods. I felt angry and frustrated with such unreliable service – a service that has only been available to me since I acquired a cell phone. It’s not that I feel entitled to a method of communication we never dreamed of when I was a child, it’s that I feel disappointed by the loss of a means of communication I now know exists. My sense of normal has been changed by knowledge of a device that only existed in the future of the girl I was when I talked to my grandmother as I wrapped myself in the cord attached to the telephone in the hallway. She never even dreamed of such a thing as she told me about how she used to send letters to her mother in a cabin in the bush thirty miles from the nearest road. “Normal” changes with visions of possibilities.

I was thinking about this when a line from a song began playing in my head. The song, as is often the case with songs God uses to communicate with me, came out of the blue and was one I haven’t heard in years. The line that kept repeating was, “Promises, promises, My kind of promises…”

I did an internet search and found the lyrics by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, which are, in part:
Oh, promises, their kind of promises, can just destroy a life
Oh, promises, those kind of promises, take all the joy from life
Oh, promises, promises, My kind of promises
Can lead to joy and hope and love – and love!

I asked the Lord why he was bringing this to my attention. I always thought promises were good things, but he began to remind me of bad promises that had been spoken over me the way curses had been spoken over my discouraged friend.

I promise you there will be punishment when we get home.
I promise you that no one will ever love a fat girl.
I promise you that you will never have friends because you don’t know how to be a friend.
I promise you that no one remembers who came in second.
I promise you that you are only as good as your last performance.
I promise you that when those people learn you are just a poor girl from a poor family they will drop you so fast…
I promise you that no one cares what you have to say. You’re just a woman. Shut up and follow the rules.
I promise you God has no time for people like you who still sin and don’t earn his favour.

I wasn’t expecting a rush of these memories. Some of these “promises” I walked out on years ago. Some still sting.

I had to ask, “What are Your promises, Lord? What do you see instead? What possibilities do you want to show me that change my sense of ‘normal?’”

He is changing me. He is replacing old expectations of limits with new possibilities. He is saying, “Believe this and not this.”

So much of this journey is about learning to let go, to unlearn, to press on in the absence of the familiar, to absorb and be infused with the “insteads” that Jesus announced when he read his mandate aloud to a people living in resigned disappointment. From Isaiah 63:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.

Who does Jesus say you are? What are the promises he has spoken over you? What  possibilities is he showing you that you never dreamed of before?

Ask him about your new normal. He loves that question.

dancing fushia garment of praise

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As Different as Chalk and Cheese

painting boys pails crop ch IMG_1144

I grew up in a family where teasing was a form of affection. Wrestling, practical jokes, funny stories that revealed weaknesses in each other? All normal (to us). To those not accustomed to this way of relating, such play appeared intimidating and offensive. Most of the time we knew where the line was, but in the background, we often heard someone warning, “You had better stop now before someone gets hurt!”

And then someone got hurt. A line was crossed. For one of the participants the action wasn’t fun anymore. Teasing became bullying (to them). Fights ensued.

Like many parents, we discovered our children’s individuality early. One liked to cuddle; the one who had to move-it move-it move-it resented the restraint of adult arms. One cried easily, one bounced back like an inflatable clown punching bag, one treasured solitude, and one was happiest when surrounded by 27 of her closest friends.

Not only did their teasing/offense lines not line up, they all responded differently to discipline. A raised eyebrow could send one child into paroxysms of guilt, while the arrival of the correction Cavalry, with swords drawn, would prompt another kid to say, “What? I didn’t do nothin’.”

Another parent, describing her boys, said, “They’re as different as chalk and cheese.”

I understand her. Add the dynamic of parents who married their opposites and it’s a wonder we ever agreed on a restaurant.

This week my social media is flooded with differing opinions -strong opinions- from people who claim to be part of the same family of God. I admit, I also have opinions and preferences. Try as I might there are some folks I just can’t seem to get along with. Why don’t other people see things the way I do? Is there something wrong with me or something wrong with them?

I went to bed talking to the Lord about this. By morning he brought to mind the crazy mix of personality types and viewpoints of the disciples Jesus chose to walk closely with him. The Lord reminded me he went on the road with both Simon the Zealot and Matthew the tax collector in his crew.

I followed this rabbit trail and learned some fascinating details about what it meant to be a Zealot or a tax collector. In short, it meant they were ideological enemies.

Zealot is our English word. Simon belonged to a political group called the Kanna’im which comes from the second commandment term for God, El Kanna – jealous God. They fashioned themselves after the zeal of the priests Phinehas and Levi who resorted to the sword in efforts to maintain the purity of the law. In their opinion, the other major parties, the Sadducees and the Pharisees, were not doing enough to uphold Jewish standards in the midst of a barrage of corrupt foreign propaganda.

The infiltration of foreign ideas, and especially idolatry, into Jewish culture incensed them. They despised the Romans for imposing their ways on the populace. When the great census was taken under Quirinus (the reason Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem when Jesus was born) their anger boiled over. The census was about taxes. Taxation represented everything despicable about the occupation; now the people felt forced to support idolatry financially. The Kanna’im considered King Herod the Great to be a sycophantic pawn of the Romans and a fake Jewish convert.

The Kanna’im traveled to troubled areas and stirred up riots while they destroyed property and anything they considered to be a graven image. Some began to carry concealed daggers in case the opportunity to take out an infidel arose. Zeal consumed them and many died, either in the skirmishes or by execution later. Their plan was to replace Herod (and his descendants) with a real king, and for this they needed a Messiah – or at least a Messiah-like figure. Jesus fit the bill. (When he refused to play the game, saying his kingdom was not of this world, they found others, the “false Messiahs” Jesus warned his followers would arise after he left.)

Depending on which side is issuing a label they could be called either terrorists or resistance fighters. Herod called them “robbers.” Simon (sometimes called Levi) was part of the Kanna’im. Jesus chose a violence-advocating activist to be one of his closest companions.

Matthew, on the other hand was a publican. A publicanus collected duties, excise, and taxes for the Roman occupiers (The use of the word “publican” as the proprietor of a drinking establishment came later in England). He was a Jew who was detested by the Zealots for being a collaborator. Most of the Jewish population simply hated him for taking their money or goods in kind.

Zacchaeus, who demonstrated remarkable transformation after meeting Jesus, was part of the publicani, chief tax collectors, who were like district managers for the government revenue ministry. As such he was truly hated. Not only did he take money and give it to the Romans, he had the authority to set fees for collection and confiscation “services.” The fees, of course went into his own account. Matthew and his colleagues were lesser officials, but their methods involved blocking roads, bridges and gates until people needing to pass paid up – adding of course, their own “fees.”

Capernaum, a town near the point where the Jordan flows into Lake Galilee, was a border town on the edge of Decapolis territory which had become a district of Roman settlements. Perhaps this is why the Roman Centurion who asked Jesus to heal his beloved servant told him he need not bother coming back with him. Crossing the border was a hassle because it meant running the gauntlet of publicans.

Jesus understood the burden of reputation Matthew brought with him. He knew he was subjecting himself to guilt by association and that he would be called “the friend of publicans and sinners.” Nevertheless, he approached Matthew the Tax Collector at his installation at the gate and gave him the opportunity to become a follower. We know Jesus was not naive about the relationship challenges involved. He illustrated his story about humble prayer by using the example of a Pharisee with excellent public status and a Publican with a poor social rating.

When I think about Jesus’ deliberate inclusion of these two men holding extremely different ideas about politics and methods of surviving tense times, my reaction is, “Are you kidding, Lord? How could there be any unity in this “band of brothers?”

I remembered the band also included Nathanael the prejudiced (“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”), Judas the embezzler, Thomas the cynic (“Unless I touch the wounds…”), Peter the filter-less impulsive (“I’ll never forsake…”), and James and John the holier-than-thou social climbers (“Do you want us to call down fire on them?”). They all argued about who would be greatest in the kingdom.

Add to the outer group of followers some stage mothers, embarrassed siblings, spies, and what’s-in-it-for-me merchant opportunists and he had a congregation no sane pastor would envy no matter how much pressure he is under to improve his stats. Perhaps one of the greatest miracles Jesus performed was to keep them from killing each other.

How did you do it, Lord? Just this week I witnessed people who have unfriended each other over arguments about which businesses or movies or evangelists to boycott. When it comes down to questions about the best way to run the country the opinions are even more sharply divided, even among Christians who have been in formal fellowship for years.

The gospels mention squabbles between disciples. They also tell us that Jesus spent time with his heavenly Father praying about who to choose to be one of the twelve disciples. Here’s the thing: The Father didn’t judge them by their current resume and curriculum vitae. He saw who they would become.

When the instruments of an orchestra tune to the same pitch they are in harmony, even when their sections play very different instruments and follow music in the score that doesn’t resemble anyone else’s part. The one thing early followers of Jesus had in common was the response to his question if they wanted to leave: “Where else can we go? You have the words of life.”

Not everyone is going to feel they have the same exact instructions to follow. For example, a person with a Holy Spirit granted motivational gift of prophecy tends to see a big picture with few gray areas. They move boldly and purposefully toward a goal. A person motivated by a mercy gift will tend to see the people falling through the cracks and respond with gentle compassion. Many gifts. Many perspectives.

After Christ died and rose and ascended to heaven the Holy Spirit came in power upon the disciples. That’s when they began to remember what Jesus told them and put it all together. It’s interesting that Matthew’s written account is the one that emphasizes that Jesus was the Messiah and therefore qualified to rule as King of Kings forever, something the Zealots were hoping to fulfill by political means. It’s also interesting that the Kanna’im who didn’t follow Jesus stayed part of a movement that provoked the violent fall of Jerusalem, while Simon went on to declare the saving love and grace of Christ for a world beyond the confines of Mosaic law.

How do we live in harmony with people as different as chalk and cheese? We tune to Jesus. We keep our eyes on the author and finisher of our faith who saw the joy that lies ahead. He who was willing to lay down his life and conquer death for us, He has the words of life. We can do no better than extend the same grace to others that he has extended to us.

I may not agree with all your opinions or methods, and I might yell ouch and need time to calm myself if you cross the friendly line and hurt me, but if you and I are both centered on Christ and know that he loves us, we are family. It’s his kindness that makes us want to change. I’m willing to listen to what God shows you and adjust and hope you are too. It’s called love.

(Note: This is not intended to be an in-depth academic study. Scholars differ on details. If you are interested I challenge you to explore the topic further.)

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Overwhelmed

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Have you ever noticed that crises don’t have the decency to line up and come single file, waiting patiently until the previous demand has been met?

It’s snowing – again. During the unusually big dump, three weeks ago, I met this guy digging out not only the access to his carport, but a neighbour’s place as well. Then he went on to help clear the way for a midwife who lives down the lane before she returned from night shift at the hospital.

“The important thing,” he told me between shovelfuls of snow, “is to not let it pile up on you.”

“But it’s still snowing!” I said, as my blue toque turned white with accumulated fluffy stuff.

“I know. But if I waited until it stopped the task would seem overwhelming. So I work, take a break, and work some more.”

He tossed another shovelful on a snow bank taller than he was.

“Just keep at it,” he grunted.

I admit he demonstrated a better work ethic than I often do. Sometimes I look at the task ahead of me and feel so overwhelmed I quit, hoping a miraculous event will clear the path like a sudden thawing chinook wind (which we don’t get on this side of the Rockies.) At the moment I feel buried under inertia.

But the man with the shovel reminds me to persevere.

So first I respond to obligations and crises, then clear my desk, file my notes, answer my emails, take a break, clear my emails, edit my photos, take break, and write my stories – one sentence a time. I toss words on the page like tossing shovels full of snow on the spot I hope will transform into a garden someday.

It feels overwhelming but maybe, someday, there will be a book where once nothing existed but blank whiteness.

Just keep at it.