Love, Beauty, Faith, Life

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The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.

~Elie Wiesel

I prayed this week about creeping indifference in my own heart. I asked God what he wants to replace it with. Then I heard:

Love

Beauty

Faith

Life

 

Everything Photographic: Adjusting to Change

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I stayed in bed longer than I should have. I felt tired before I even started the day. Everyone has pet peeves – those particularly irritating circumstances custom-designed to decimate your personal peace. For me the most vexing problem, the one that magnifies the list of weaknesses personality tests use to identify my type, is when something I rely on doesn’t work. I hate it when a device breaks, or when someone fails to deliver on a promise.

Breakages seem to come in clusters in our house. My travel camera died in the middle of catching perfect light on a patch of pink yarrow. My computer sluggishly obeys requests then stubbornly freezes several times in an hour. The dishwasher merely rearranges detritus on cups and plates, and the rocking ceiling fan (in the middle of the hottest smokiest August I can remember) threatens to fly off its moorings and decapitate someone, probably me, since I’m the only one sitting under it.

It seems like every morning my body develops a new idiosyncrasy that will now require special attention to keep it moving. Come to think of it, this old flesh is acting like my old car that needs me to hold the steering wheel at a precise angle before the ignition key will work. Note to self: Remember to stretch the kink out before putting weight on that leg.

I stayed in bed longer than I should have because I lost my peace and I know I need to find it before I get up and rain gloom and misery on everyone. As Lena sang, “Stormy Weather, just can’t get my poor self together. Keeps rainin’ all the time.” Except it’s not raining in B.C.. That would be an improvement.

Part of the problem was that I read too many negative, blame-casting, fake/not fake/what-is-truth? uncovering and catastrophizing posts, tweets and blogs before I fell asleep the night before. It’s not just my stuff that doesn’t work. Many of the institutes I have relied on most of my life are broken. (I told you I feel out-of-sorts when things I rely on don’t work – and there’s a lot of stuff out there that is not working.) It doesn’t take a prophet to see that no matter what happens in the future it will require a major adjustment to change.

When I am flopped on the bed like a beached whale held fast by the inertia of my own weighty negativity I don’t have the energy to face more adjustments, whether it’s replacing old technology, or changing mindsets about how all levels of government should operate, or how churches should organize — or how both can function with accountability and integrity.

I’m tired.

Like millions of others I see so much that is broken, but I don’t know how to fix it. It’s easier to moan, roll over, and pull the covers over my head than it is to get my focus back on God through thankfulness and praise. I know I need to let him reassure me with his shalom kind of peace (nothing broken, nothing missing, everything I need.) I can’t do that with my head wrapped in a pillow of fear.

Help, Lord.

That’s when this photo came to mind. I found it earlier this week while sorting through the unsorted. I saved the pictures I thought I should take if the fires come any closer and we are put on evacuation notice like the town down the road. The photo of the old abandoned building in Edmonton spoke to me.

Ernest Brown must have been proud of his building on dedication day in 1912. Its windows overlooked the river valley in the brand-new city of Edmonton. He was the photographer in town. He offered “Everything Photographic.” In those days photographic equipment was something few people possessed. Even fewer possessed the the skill to use it. Ernest understood the technology and the artistry that went into creating a prized photo. His business took off. He was a success.

Then the first world war happened. When it was over people who were reeling from loss and disillusionment no longer had money for luxuries like photographs. Ernest went bankrupt. The only thing he could take with him when the bank foreclosed were his negatives. Later those negatives became historical foundation pieces in several museums. He was the man who documented an unprecedented era of growth while his own world shrank.

I took this photo of the old Brown building with my digital camera. I did not need to buy film, or paper, or developer from a photography shop. I don’t think Mr. Ernest Brown could have imagined the advancement in amateur and professional photography we see today. Would I want to go back to the days when I spent my entire allowance on developing one roll of snapshots? No. I probably delete that many duds without remorse every time I download my camera. Imagine trying to describe to Ernest a phone that not only takes photographs but sends them instantly around the world? Unbelievable!

Here’s the thing, times have changed, and times are changing. When the “Everything Photographic” sign went up people depended on one expert and his employees to provide photographs. Now, 106 years later I can do everything he did and more, all by myself. Change means letting go of something – and it’s not always by choice. Sometimes the gap, the in-between time, the liminal space before we see something better, is bigger than we anticipate. We can choose to respond to disappointment with bitterness or cynicism if we want, but that is not the way of peace.

God is not worried. I do believe he hears his people’s cries and he is exposing all this dysfunction because he has something better ahead.

This is why the Scriptures say:
Things never discovered or heard of before,
things beyond our ability to imagine —
these are the many things God has in store
for all his lovers.
(1 Corinthians 2:9)

The Lord answered my prayer for peace. He gave me a lens change. A line from a Kristene DeMarco song began to play in my head.

Let me show you what I see
You can’t dream too big for Me
So get up, get on your way
We’ve got things to do today

Fear not
If I could say it any louder, I would.

I got up. I did things. Writing this blog was one of them.

Broken: All I Had to Offer Him…

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Have you heard this one? How many counsellors does it take to change a lightbulb?

Only one.

But the lightbulb must really want to be changed.

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One of the words suggested for a photographic meditation in the season of Lent is “broken.” Contrary to my usual practice of looking for beauty in the midst of the ordinary, I looked for the less-than-lovely. For the sake of this exercise I gave myself one hour to photograph only the broken.

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I love photography because it has trained me to pay attention to the goodness of God, particularly his creativity and generosity in nature. I have changed. I used to be overly aware of disorder. Seeing only the broken took no effort, and the loss and heartache it symbolized began to feel overwhelming.

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This is not the way it was meant to be.

Yesterday we gathered with friends to study the book of Matthew. The more time I spend reading about Jesus’ words and actions the more ideas and practices I realize I need to unlearn in the quest to know him. I’m trying to imagine what it was like for him to live in a broken world among broken people when he was the only one who understood the way it was meant to be. He knew what was in people’s hearts, and yet he loved them. He did what he did for the joy set before him – for the hope of establishing a new normal.

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This passage touched my heart:
Jesus walked throughout the region with the joyful message of God’s kingdom realm. He taught in their meeting houses, and wherever he went he demonstrated God’s power by healing every kind of disease and illness.
When he saw the vast crowds of people, Jesus’ heart was deeply moved with compassion, because they seemed weary and helpless, like wandering sheep without a shepherd. (Matthew 9:35, 36 TPT)

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I thought about the type of compassionate responses offered to broken, weary, helpless, people falling through the cracks in my own country. We offer borrowed money to feed, drugs to numb, unrestrained sexual pleasure to distract, adversarial court procedures that throw gas on broken relationships to pacify, and physician-assisted death for those who have lost hope for themselves or their offspring still in the womb.

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Compassion without hope can be a cruel kindness.

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Many religious folk have lost hope as well. They may raise funds to offer material relief, or pray that a person will be comforted in their incurable condition, but they seldom act with the type of merciful power Jesus demonstrated. They would never admit it, but their responses to broken people are not much more effective than the Pharisees who saw doubling down on the rules as the way to prevent hopeless suffering. They take a stance at the other pole on the cruel kindness playing field. They see the world in terms of “us and them.”

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Later, Jesus went to Matthew’s home to share a meal with him. Many other tax collectors and outcasts of society were invited to eat with Jesus and his disciples.
When those known as the Pharisees saw what was happening, they were indignant, and they kept asking Jesus’ disciples, “Why would your Master dine with such lowlifes?” (Matthew 9: 10, 11)

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Jesus told them, essentially, that if they thought they held the copyright on normal, they wouldn’t value what he had to offer.

“…Healthy people don’t need to see a doctor, but the sick will go for treatment.” Then he added, “Now you should go and study the meaning of the verse:
I want you to show mercy, not just offer me a sacrifice.
For I have come to invite the outcasts of society and sinners, not those who think they are already on the right path.” (verses 12 and 13)

Earlier in Matthew we read about the narrow road to knowing who Jesus is and the significance of what he has done for us. It starts with step one, “Blessed are the poor in Spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

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Being poor in spirit means admitting that our methods of coping with brokenness are not working. It means we recognize our powerlessness. It means looking at the mess we think “is what it is” and recognizing our inability to conceive of how effective God intended us to be. My own heart is convicted.

It means admitting, like the old Gaither song says, “All I had to offer Him was brokenness and strife.”

It means turning to The Great Physician and asking him to heal us, body, soul, and spirit.

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It means that we who make excuses about living in a way that does not demonstrate the way Jesus said the Holy Spirit would empower us to act, also need to admit our poverty,  and turn to follow him more closely. Sharing his heart means not only feeling the deep compassion he feels for the broken, but also aligning with him to do something about it.

If we really want to be changed The Great Counsellor is willing.

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Temporary

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I don’t think I have ever spent as much time in the waiting room of life as I have this past year. I can’t do this until that is done and that can’t be done until this, that, and those show up, but are they dependent on the receipt of a report, which appears to be lost.

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In the old days I used to wail loud and long about circumstances like this. Now I wail soft and short. I’m not good at waiting in total joyful trust yet, but at least it’s an improvement. The only reason transformation, such as it is, has been able to gradually take place in my life is because I am learning to quit appealing for rescue from people who have no better clue about how to fix things than I do, and because I’m finally figuring out there are better questions to ask than “why.”

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I’m learning to ask “what?” and “how?”
What do you want me to see about who you are, Lord?
How will this circumstance allow me to practise a new skill or a character quality that needs strengthening?
What resources have you already provided that I haven’t picked up yet?
And (please) where are they?

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I’m not sure that this season of camping out in waiting rooms is as much about developing patience or endurance as it about addressing my trust issues. Some of these waiting experiences have been preceded by phone calls like, “This is Dr. McUnknown’s office at the Cancer Center in Calgary. He needs to talk to you right away about your test results. We suggest you bring a family member or close friend with you.”

“Cancer Center? Why do I need to see a doctor at the Cancer Center?” I ask. “What was wrong with my test?”needles bw sq IMG_2059

“I can’t tell you, but we received a referral from Dr. Unreachable this morning. Dr. McUnknown needs to see you as soon as possible and his next available appointment is…oh dear… he doesn’t have anything open for four weeks.”

I hate not knowing. Hate it. But that is where the Lord has been sticking his diagnostic finger. He presses on the spot that shrieks when it’s not in control and asks, “Does that hurt?”
“Are you kidding me? You know it hurts!” I gasp.
“Just pointing out the area of your next healing,” he says.

Then the clean-up starts. “You’re hanging on to some ideas that aren’t working for you. Let’s just toss them, shall we?”

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This has also been a year of living in temporary dwellings like hotels, relatives’ homes, and hospitals because I’ve had to travel for tests and treatment. A flood that rose up in our town in February resulted in movers, hired by the insurance company, invading our house to pack and  stash our belongings in boxes. They hauled them away to a storage facility somewhere while we waited – and waited — for contractors and trades people to have time to repair our house. boxes moving IMG_2294We have lived, temporarily, in half our house while we waited for restoration crews to arrive — along with over a thousand neighbours who also waited for repairs. Some still wait as we head into winter again.

The tradesmen finished their work last week. The movers returned our boxes and furniture on Monday. But I am still recovering from surgery and can’t lift anything. Friends volunteer to help, and they are wonderful, but it’s a massive confused muddle in my house right now. So many things are “just placed here for now.”

I look around and see many people in the same waiting room of life. They are in transition watching plans unravel. We need to be reminded that although it may not feel like it, the waiting room is always a temporary experience.

wicker chair unravelled IMG_5254Some of our friends have given up their own places and independent ways of life to live with and care for a needy family member. They know the situation is temporary, and yet they have mixed feelings: fears about it ending soon and fears about it not ending soon. I hear from former students who have finished highly prized university degrees. They have career aspirations but in the meantime, they have needed to take temporary jobs in temporary cities to start paying back student loans. To them it feels as if life is on hold.

Some friends wait for court dates, for vindications to be published, for settlements to be paid, for zoning bylaws to be changed, for permits to be issued, for grants to be granted. Others face the giant upheaval of divorce or death of a spouse, unable to move on emotionally, or even physically, until a barrage of financial and other legal details have been settled.

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Some long for their soulmate to hurry and show up. Some wait eagerly for babies to arrive and some, just as eagerly, wait for grown kids to leave. Many people are waiting for promises to be fulfilled, looking for hope in the midst of reversals, living in the frustrating now-what zone in the middle of the land of not-yet .

Friends who are also in the process of getting a diagnoses and treatment plan or praying in all faith for healing tell me they also know the waiting room and that feeling of staring out the window muttering, “You’ve got to be kidding,” when hours stretch into months or years. I meet many people who, like myself, are in a season of waiting for recovery – from surgery, from trauma, from accidents, from illness, from burnout, from bankruptcy, from bereavement.

Waiting, waiting, waiting. Who knew we would spend so many hours in the waiting room of life?

I’m beginning to understand that life doesn’t stop in this place. “Temporary” may actually be where most of life is lived. It’s not a nothing time. This is a refining time. We need more training to cope with good times than we do for difficult times.

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In hard times, when it finally dawns on us that we can’t control everything, we turn to a higher power and learn that when we are weak He is strong. In good times the temptation is to think that our own efforts achieved the goal and we tend to forget to rely on God. The waiting room can purge us from a sense of immature entitlement and replace it with a sense of gratitude that connects us to the heart of our heavenly Father, if we let it. This is where deep relationship is formed.

He’s in the waiting.