Wisdom Plays

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Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play.”  ~Heraclitus

I nestle into a warm form-fitting spot on a colourful beach towel and watch the children. This boy has a plan. He has a vision. He digs. He moves the earth, forming mounds and channels with shovels and pails and his own bare hands. Towers grow on foundations he creates. Monuments to industriousness spring up where only impressions of bare feet dented the wet sand before he arrived. He pats towers into temporary permanence.

No one tells him what to do. When he finished throwing stones into the water, a ritual  all boys must follow, he picked up his tools and got to work, as oblivious to the calls of his siblings as he is to the seagulls.

They both steal his potato chips. It doesn’t matter. He is creating. He creates because he was made to create. It’s who he is. He builds because he must build. It’s who he is becoming.

The Creator made him in His image. He carries the Creator’s purpose somewhere deep inside. He is a child of God and must be about his Father’s business. His play is his work.

I watch and remember the Spirit of Wisdom saying:

I was there, close to the Creator’s side as his master artist.
Daily he was filled with delight in me
as I playfully rejoiced before him.

I laughed and played,
so happy with what he had made,
while finding my delight in the children of men.

(Proverbs 8:30,31 TPT)

It is the nature of the Godhead to laugh, to play, to find delight in each other, to find delight in their creation.

I can see the source of their joy in this boy, on this beach, on this day.

I watch the children play on the beach under the warm summer sun. Cool water laps against the division of water and land. The afternoon breeze skims over the lake and rises to play with trembling aspen leaves and sing through fir tree branches. Ospreys soar in a blue sky too full of light to see with unshaded eyes.

The boy straightens up and stands like Colossus with sand-covered legs astride the harbour. His hands, like mighty David’s hands, still hold pail and shovel, his weapons of praise at rest.

“Look what I made!”

He smiles. He is proud. He knows.

I feel God’s pleasure.

Joy.

 

Putting God to a Test

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We adults pulled our chairs into a circle in the back yard near the barbecue. The kids talked loudly and simultaneously at a table nearby. We decided the cousins needed the flat surface more than the adults -preferably some distance away. I watched our tribe balance coleslaw and hamburgers on paper plates that tilted at precarious angles on bare knees.

This clan of brothers, sisters, parents, and in-laws soon engaged each other in an enthusiastic exchange of ideas. Shop talk. Honestly, I would choose them as friends even if we weren’t related. I’m very fond of them.

Our family events are never quiet. If you hesitate to jump in when someone takes a breath there may not be another chance for several minutes. It’s like a double Dutch skip rope conversation with unwritten, but understood rules of rhythmical verbal exchange for entering and exiting a discussion. No one is shy. All of them are accustomed to speaking in public. They do it for a living.

Looking around, I realized we have a lot of teachers in our extended family. Some of our kin studied medicine or the arts, but most found their place in education in one form or another.

I admire all of them, whether they’ve guided at-risk children in preschool, juggled the needs of gifted and learning-challenged kids in the same elementary school classroom, instructed their own kids around the dining table, taught adults in a university lecture hall, tutored overseas pupils online, demonstrated songs to adolescent musicians in the studio, or communicated important concepts from a pulpit. We share a common drive to impart knowledge — and maybe just a bit of common need to be the expert.

The conversation this time centered on performance evaluations for both teachers and students. The bane of all classroom and online teachers – marking assignments and tests– arose as more than theory. Two of the on-line summer school teachers needed to leave the party to grade tests. A physics teacher offered to help the math teacher work his way down the pile sitting in his computer inbox. The volunteer asked if there was a marking key. There was.

My divergent mind started to wander off in another direction.

A marking key has all the answers. Both teachers put on their reading glasses, opened their laptops and got down to the business of comparing the students’ answers to the key. No arguments. Correct. Incorrect. Total grade. Pass. Fail. Next.

The art teacher didn’t have as simple a task. Each submission required consideration of abstract symbolic statements and knowledge of the student’s personality and skill level. Her job was to evaluate how they expressed a concept, but not to tell them what to say. She tried to stay unbiased but still gave a grade based on predetermined criteria she herself established for this assignment.

This is where my rabbit trail veered sharply toward the woods. I remember someone preaching about the dangers of using a marking key with God when we put him to a test. God invites us to try him to see whether or not His promises are true. Some translations of the Bible use the expression “test Me.” This kind of test Me is different from putting God to a test. Putting God to a test is like comparing his responses to a marking key which we have made up ourselves. We decide what the correct response should be before he answers.

Then the accuser transported Jesus to the holy city of Jerusalem and perched him at the highest point of the temple and said to him, “If you’re really God’s Son, jump, and the angels will catch you. For it is written in the Scriptures:
He will command his angels to protect you and they will lift you up so that you won’t even bruise your foot on a rock.”

Once again Jesus said to him, “The Scriptures say: You must never put the Lord your God to a test.”
(Matthew 4: 5-7 TPT)

The accuser determined the acceptable answer which would decide whether Jesus passed the test for proving he was God’s son. Angels caught him, he passed. Angels didn’t catch him, he failed.

Could angels have caught him? Of course, but when the accuser made himself the judge of what God’s behaviour should look like he put himself in the position to judge of the King of the universe with an authority he definitely did not have.

We often hear people say, “If you really love me you will _________.” Children and narcissists love this game.

If you really love me you’ll buy me a pony.

If you really love me you’ll let me go to the party.

If you really love me you’ll let me spend our savings on a boat or a vacation — or anything else I want.

If you really love me you will never challenge me or cause me to feel stressed.

Way back in the years of my youth, Janis Joplin performed a satirical song (at least I hope it was satirical) about what she expected God to do to prove himself.

Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a night on the town.
I’m counting on you, Lord. Please don’t let me down.
Prove that you love me and buy the next round.
Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a night on the town.

If you recall, she also expected a Mercedes Benz and a colour TV.

We laugh, but the truth is we sometimes set up a key for marking assignments we give God. Instead of praying in alignment with his purposes we sometimes hand him a list of requirements that look like the instructions an entitled rock star’s agent might submit to a concert manager. Bottled water from Fiji and a dish of red M & M’s only or he walks. We want personal peace, a perfect partner, and a palace on Paradise Boulevard.

Sometimes He answers with the stuff we want because he’s a good Dad and enjoys giving good gifts to his kids. Sometimes he answers with a character-building test of his own – an inescapable obligation, an impossible co-worker, an incomplete map.

We pray, “If you are really a good God prove it by buying the next round.” And he does – in the form of a flood, or a forest fire, or a false accusation, or a failed career, and includes a free blank sheet of foolscap and a pencil.

We compare his response with our marking key. None of these circumstances qualify as correct answers. In fact, they don’t even make the A, B, or D multiple choice list of close but wrong options.

We are confused. We cry, “God would not do that, therefore he is not God.” We walk away because God failed the test. We continue to consider ourselves the ultimate authority who prepares the correct answer on our own marking key.

Sometimes we project that grading ideal onto someone or something else – scientists, philosophers, politicians, self-help authors, organic foods, husbands, meditation -– anything really. When  answers fail to match our marking key, we move to the next thing until our bitter options dwindle down to A) absence B) anger C) apathy D) all of the above.

God is a good father and cares more about our character than our comfort. He could easily make things easy, but he doesn’t always. He loves us too much.

I’ve lived long enough to be disappointed with God many times. There were years when I only spoke to him in times of desperation because, well, the other options were worse. He loved me anyway. He is devoted to my eternal well-being. One day he invited me to take a chance on him. I did. He showed me aspects of himself I could not have seen if he had responded the way I wanted and expected him to.

Here’s the thing: God is God and I am not. He is smarter and wiser and more compassionate than I am. His perspective is from a place beyond eternity. His thoughts are higher than my thoughts and his ways greater than my ways. He wants relationship, which means he wants to connect and be understood. Tests are about learning what we have learned and what we have yet to learn. We need them. God doesn’t.

“How can these trying circumstances help me understand you, Lord?” I ask.

“Sit down. Pick up that pencil and the sheet of foolscap. Take notes,” he says. “I’ll show you.”

There is more.

Wide-eyed

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When I painted this portrait of our son at about seven years old I never imagined sitting with him beside a pool watching his own son who is now about the same age. Children are wonderful gifts and grandchildren doubly so. They teach us so much about the eagerness to learn and discover.

Jesus called a little one to his side and said to them, “Learn this well: Unless you dramatically change your way of thinking and become teachable, and learn about heaven’s kingdom realm with the wide-eyed wonder of a child, you will never be able to enter in.”

(Matthew 18:2,3 TPT)

May we never lose our wonder.

Who’s Fault Is It?

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It’s four o’clock in the morning and I am trying to console two terrified children. They want their mother. I am a stranger, and this is not their home. They came to the door in the middle of the night with a sleepy-looking social worker accompanied by a very big policeman in a squad car that looked just like the one that took their mommy away.

I know nothing about these children. Their ages, their health needs, their favourite foods, and their familiar comfort items are a mystery. I don’t even know the youngest boy’s name. He is either too young, too delayed, or too frightened to speak.

His pants are wet. Is he toilet-trained or do I need to find a toddler diaper? His sister screams and hits me when I try to take his soiled clothes off to clean him and put on a borrowed pair of dry pyjamas. She is sobbing so hard her entire body shakes.

I try to be kind and gentle. I speak softly and move slowly, but no matter what I do it is wrong, because I am the wrong person. I am not Mommy. They shouldn’t be here. They are traumatized.

By five a.m. they are exhausted enough to fall asleep. Their bodies jerk with sobs even in their sleep. I put them in the same bed for mutual reassurance and give them a piece of bread to hold because I have learned that in the absence of their own blankie or teddy bear, food is the next best comfort item. This whole thing is a game of “the next best.”

The other children in our foster home will start to wake soon. No use trying to go to bed now. I start to play the senseless game I have played before – the game of who’s fault is it?

I know if the media told this story they would cast me in the role of horrible foster-mother who only does this for money, treats the children with indifference, imposes my values, and makes two kids sleep in one small bed. They would use the situation to back which ever political faction they were supporting or philosophical ideal they were trying to fly in the continuing saga of Us and Them.

I am angry with their mother for making choices that foists her pain onto little kids, but I also wonder what injustices might have led to her desperate actions and put her in prison.

Where is their father? Is he also incarcerated? Does he have a substance abuse problem as well? Shouldn’t he be caring for his own kids in an emergency? What kind of father abandons his little ones?

Some people would blame the social worker for bringing them here or the government for not providing a receiving home with paid staff and enough private bedrooms for all the kids who need placement within an hour in an isolated northern town.

Was it the fault of the police officers who took the mother away and separated the children from her?

Was it the fault of the judge for imposing the law? How many times had she been in his courtroom before she used up all her chances? Was it the fault of the lawmakers who placed no responsibility on the men who treated her as a commodity or the pimp who terrorized her or the drug dealers whose wares kept her placated or the local gangs with their warlord-wanna-be leaders who ran more than we cared to know about?

Could I blame a bullying school system with teachers like the one who prophesied failure for one of my foster kids because of his race? Did they fail to teach the children’s mother how to succeed?

Were her parents there for her when she was a terrified three-year old or were they victims of someone who was raised in a residential school back in the old country himself? Were their parents and grandparents victims of aggressors and fraudulent schemes to grab their resources and break up families?

I want to know where on the chain to pin the blame because there are two helpless little victims here in my home and somebody besides them needs to pay. I want justice!

Eventually, as usual, I realize that we are all victims of someone else’s pain. Without hope, without someone who can break the chain of sin (and yes, let’s call it what it is) consequences of living out of the order God intended us to live in, a life of caring for each other based on love, not selfish gain, play on. The best we can do is assign blame and choose the victim who will carry the weight of all of this.

We are all victims of a victim of a victim going back to the first people who chose to believe the father of lies when he asked, “Did God really say…?” The whole thing plays out like a Rube Goldberg device with one thing knocking over another and doesn’t stop until it lands on the lowest, least powerful members of society.

Those children entered my life years ago. I can’t forget them. Not everyone can make room in their homes for needy children. I burned out, physically and emotionally. I couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t keep pushing my bio kids’ needs aside to try to clean up another mess. I was becoming alternately callous and shrill. The need is endless and I had a responsibility to my own first.

I felt like a failure, but it was exhausting. I didn’t like what I was becoming. I was in danger of turning into the stereotypical foster-mother who avoids attachment. I quit because empathizing with the children’s pain began to trigger my own pain. I quit to go get healing.

Jesus was there for me. He still heals hearts. He has the power to break every chain. He can break the cycle.

Yes, I see the reports of children separated from their parents on the border between Mexico and the USA. Yes, I hear the children’s cries and yes, I hear condemnation of Christians who supposedly don’t care. I have been reluctant to jump into the discussion because I have been on both sides of the line.

I have worked to re-unite families and I have defended the law and hidden victims of crime from their parents. I have shared my space and given everything I could and I’ve had to set boundaries to protect my family’s needs as well.

I believe that except for Jesus’ life-transforming power, there is no solution that does not make another human the consequence-bearer at the end of this chain, because this entire mess (and it is an unendurable mess) is the consequence of the sins of many people for a long time.

Who is to blame? We all are.

There are no white hats in this scenario – only varying degrees of grey hats. We have all sinned and fall short of receiving everything God provided for us to be who he created us to be. We can try to alleviate suffering, but we can’t go back and deal with the root causes. Without divine intervention we can only offer the next best thing, and, when we fail to transform hearts with well-meaning charity and political power, lower our standards and offer the next best thing… and the next… and the next…

Our best hope, our only hope, is to let go of each other’s throats, raise our empty hands to God, and cry, “Help!”

 

Like a Baby

Baby Solomon

But in the depths of my heart I truly know
that you, Yahweh, have become my Shield;
You take me and surround me with yourself.
Your glory covers me continually.
You lift high my head when I bow low in shame.

I have cried out to you, Yahweh, from your holy presence.
You send me a Father’s help.

Pause in his presence.

So now I’ll lie down and sleep like a baby—
then I’ll awake in safety, for you surround me with your glory.
 
Even though dark powers prowl around me,
I won’t be afraid.

(Psalm 3:3-6 The Passion Translation)

Alongside to Comfort

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Can I be honest? This has not been an easy year.

I sat down this week to write a simple blog entry meant to comfort and encourage others. Twelve hours later I had pages of notes, a list of bigger questions and the certainty I didn’t know what I was talking about. In my spirit, yes, but deep down in my soul where mind, will, and emotions are squabbling with each other? Not really. I understand what the psalmist meant when he wrote “Unite my heart to fear your name.”

I’m the one who has needed comfort and encouragement lately. If I stop to look at the measurable, quantifiable, reproducible, evidence-based facts as recorded by physical senses I begin to panic. It wouldn’t take much of a straw to bring me to child-like tears today.

But as usual, if I stop catastrophizing long enough to listen and acknowledge the greater reality of Spirit and Truth, I know the Holy Spirit is whispering comfort in my ear.

He sends songs in the night.

For two nights this week two lines from different songs have been playing on repeat in my dreams. The first line is from an old 70’s song, Feel the Love, by Lovesong:

Feel the love the Son of God can bring/ By believing… by receiving Him./ Feel the love.

The second is from It’s Going to Be All Right by Sara Groves:

I have not come here to offer you clichés.

He sends friends who have walked this road before.

Wonderful friends share their failures and victories and questions with me. Some have overcome cancer more than once. Some have been through natural disasters and reconstruction. Some have known the pain of feeling like they don’t fit in anywhere. Some have known the pain of betrayal or promises yet unfulfilled. All have known the sorrow of disappointment with oneself. Some are still in the middle of giant unsettled messes right now, and yet they take time to share the comfort they have known.

He sends family and neighbours.

Some traveled miles on horrid winter roads to bring cheer and a vegetable juicer. Some phone late at night when they know I will still be up to check on me or invite me for coffee. Some set the little grandkids up on the cell phone so I can share in their excitement over new dolls and video games and silly faces. The older grandkids text to talk about music and school projects and hopes and dreams or to share photos. My adopted family help by offering coolers when the fridge quits working, jugs of water when the pipes freeze, tools when the digital piano goes silent, patient expertise when the computer freezes, wood for the fireplace, shovels when the car gets stuck and the sidewalks disappear in the snow, and muscles and engineering skills when the retaining wall crashes on the driveway.

He sends podcasts and random Facebook posts. 

Oh, how I appreciate the banquet of good teaching and music shared by people who make an effort to reach out beyond the four walls of their gatherings or dining rooms or vans. I love encouraging posts by sincere blogging and Facebook and Twitter friends. I love reading their insights, visions, and dreams  — and even jokes. Especially the jokes.

Most of all he sends a more sure word recorded in the Bible.

I read these words given through Paul who was honest about the hardships of his journey. It was not an easy road for him.

All praises belong to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he is the Father of tender mercy and the God of endless comfort. 

He always comes alongside us to comfort us in every suffering so that we can come alongside those who are in any painful trial. We can bring them this same comfort that God has poured out upon us.

And just as we experience the abundance of Christ’s own sufferings, even more of God’s comfort will cascade upon us through our union with Christ.

If troubles weigh us down, that just means that we will receive even more comfort to pass on to you for your deliverance! For the comfort pouring into us empowers us to bring comfort to you. And with this comfort upholding you, you can endure victoriously the same suffering that we experience.

Now our hope for you is unshakable, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings you will also share in God’s comforting strength.

(2 Corinthians 1:3-7 The Passion Translation)

 

If I’m not posting a lot lately it’s because I’m resting and soaking up comfort I need right now.

I’ll share with you later. I will get there.

Talk to you soon.