Surrender Anxiety

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“I can tell when you’re worried,” my friend said. “You repeat yourself. A lot.”

It’s called ruminating. Ruminants are animals like cattle and deer which bring up the substance of their last intake to chew over again. Rumination in humans means obsessive worry about something, going over and over the details in your head.

Have I told you this before? Sorry if I have, but it helped me understand something. I heard a podcast speaker (I think it was Bill Johnson) say, “If you can worry, you can meditate. Meditation is like worry, but with better subject matter.”

The first time I tried to meditate on scripture I chose a verse in Psalm 46. “Be still and know that I am God.” To be honest, I chose it because it was short. I didn’t feel like memorizing anything longer, which might explain initial results.

I heard, “Be still,” in the exasperated whisper of an adult to a child who wouldn’t sit still in church. I viewed “and know that I am God” through the lens of a squirmy child who was bored out of her mind as she sat on a hard pew with nothing to do but wonder what would happen if the dead fox decorating Mrs. McSomebody’s coat collar suddenly came back to life. (In the fifties trauma-induced weirdness in the adult population was as common as, well, accessorizing with dead animals.) I think I was poking it when I was told to “be still!” The consequence was that, yet again, I missed knowing God.

I tried pondering different translations. That helped. One version said, “Cease striving, and know that I am God.” Meditating on those few words took years. Who knew? It turns out that worrying, ruminating, and striving were kind of a package deal with my temperament. Personality tests didn’t give me much hope of unplugging myself from that slot.

Finally, I realized that knowing who God is means unlearning ideas that hold me captive and unable to change. Unlearning requires meekness – the humility to know that I don’t know and the courage to know that by grace I can know. Learning who God is basic to learning how he sees me. Being still and ceasing striving now means letting go of defensiveness and giving up attempts to earn God’s love. On my own, trying harder will never be “good enough.”

And that’s the beauty of it.

God, you’re such a safe and powerful place to find refuge!
You’re a proven help in time of trouble—
more than enough and always available whenever I need you. (verse 1)

Today I read another translation. Apparently, I am not finished meditating on the simple easy-to-memorize verse. The Passion Translation reads, “Surrender your anxiety.” When Jesus said he gives peace that passes understanding, it’s not an invitation to get back on the worry track for a few more laps. Peace that passes understanding comes as a result of surrendering anxiety that rises from not understanding. Here comes paradox again. Loss is gain. Surrender is winning.

Not that I haven’t noticed before, but this time I was struck by the importance of context. “Surrender anxiety” is nestled in a Psalm about the kind of  divisive war-threatening conflict and climate disrupting-level natural disasters we see around us now.

When the nations are in uproar with their tottering kingdoms,
God simply raises his voice
and the earth begins to disintegrate before him.
Here he comes! The Commander! (verses 6 & 7)

He’s messing with my theology again. Disintegrate?

Then I remember Jesus talking about tearing down and building up. He told people, who asked for a sign, if they tore down this temple (he meant his own body, but they didn’t know yet) he would raise it up again in three days.

Everyone look!
Come and see the breathtaking wonders of our God.
For he brings both ruin and revival. (verse 8)

Sometimes learning means unlearning first and sometimes building firmer foundations means tearing down wobbly bases first.

Sometimes we don’t have the means to correct problems ourselves because we have a death-grip on tainted assumptions and tottering institutions. We call it loyalty, but loyalty to whom? What if all this upheaval is about more than setting up another temporary camp that allows us to survive until the next crisis? What if God wants us to come to the end of our do-something-do-anything suggestions and let him reveal more of himself to us? What if he has a better plan? What if he wants to replace striving with thriving or coping with character?

What if  anxiety (which is actually lack of trust) acts as a barbed barrier that keeps us from going where he wants to take us?

He’s the one who makes conflicts end
throughout the earth,
breaking and burning every weapon of war.
Surrender your anxiety!
Be silent and stop your striving and you will see that I am God.
I am the God above all the nations,
and I will be exalted throughout the whole earth.

A New Day

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Stop dwelling on the past.
Don’t even remember these former things.

I am doing something brand new, something unheard of.
Even now it sprouts and grows and matures.
Don’t you perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and open up flowing streams in the desert.

Wild beasts, jackals, and owls will glorify me.
For I supply streams of water in the desert
and rivers in the wilderness
to satisfy the thirst of my people, my chosen ones,

so that you, whom I have shaped and formed for myself,
will proclaim my praise.”

(Isaiah 43:18-21 TPT)

My Tower of Rescue

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I thought, briefly, about bopping her on the nose. Had I not been aware that doing so would have proven her right about my lack of holiness, I may have thought about it more seriously.

A woman, who will remain nameless, dropped by my house to comfort me after I broke my leg. Opening night for the opera, in which I had a lead role, was in a few days. There I sat with my leg propped on pillows and encased in a cast of a different sort.

“Do you know why God did this?” she asked.

“God broke my leg?”

“He broke your leg to teach you to praise him.”

I don’t remember if I smiled politely or returned blank-faced stunned silence.

“You are not using your gift for his glory,” she added. “You are using it for your own praise. That is why he broke your leg – to teach you to praise him.”

“Well, thank you for stopping by…”

Even before she drove away, I started shaking. A part of me didn’t believe her, but a part of me did. I was afraid God was disappointed and angry with me because I did something wrong again. What if I was being punished? Spending the next painful weeks and months praising God was not an appealing plan in those days. Heartfelt praise didn’t exactly pour from my lips at the thought of God going around breaking legs to make us acknowledge his supremacy. That sounded more like the modus operandi of mobsters.

The problem was that I didn’t know what praise was, and worse, I didn’t know who God was, although at the time I thought I did. I’d been going to church all my life and even aced some seminary courses. Frankly, my faith was less faith than duty.

I thought visible praise (that would satisfy my visitor) meant repeating, “Praise the Lord,” and “Hallelujah,” interspersed with the occasional “Glory!” from some deep-voiced extrovert in the back row in one of those churches where people didn’t gasp at irreverence of such things. In other words, an introvert’s nightmare.

When I confided in some churchy friends that I was struggling with a lack of sleep and the stresses of caring for sick, squabbling children, they responded with, “Praise the Lord, Charis!” as if it was a magic formula that would make everything all better. I wondered if God even cared. I was pretty sure they didn’t.

I finally reached a breaking point. If God was love, I wasn’t seeing it. If Jesus’ burden was light, I wasn’t feeling it. If the gospel was good news, I wasn’t hearing it. I walked away.

Over the next few years I let go of the image of God as an impossible-to-please task master who needed me to be the kind of salesman whose life depended on talking up a disappointing product.

Amazingly, God never walked away from me. Instead, as I unlearned, he showed me what was missing in my experience of him. Since then, he continues to teach me one step at a time about who he is. Many of the circumstances I’ve found myself in are not about punishment or condemnation; they are a holy set-up to see something about him I could not see before. Each crisis is an invitation to come one step closer.

Last week I heard a line in a song: “Way-maker, miracle worker, promise keeper, light in the darkness. My God! That is who you are.”

In my spirit I heard him ask, “Who am I to you?” I began to write.

You are my saviour hero
my confident security
my righteousness
my healer
my keeper
my hope
my peace
my comforter
my encourager
my source of creativity
my source of identity
Lover of my soul…

The list, easily two pages long, flowed while the song played. Each one of these aspects of God I had read or heard about, but it wasn’t until he showed up in a real-life situations that I understood them. They are part of who he is and he wanted to show me through relationship. I realized my list was worship. Each word on the page was praise. It was spontaneous. It was unforced and sincere. It was heart-felt. It was about him and not another “supposed to.”

I love David’s psalms because he doesn’t put himself in charge of God’s public relations. His emotions are honest. He had a promise that he would be king, then he faced situations that made him despair of even surviving the next night. Psalm 18 is his victory song in which he writes about who God was to him after all he had been through.

Lord, I passionately love you and I’m bonded to you,
for now you’ve become my power!
You’re as real to me as bedrock beneath my feet,
like a castle on a cliff, my forever firm fortress,
my mountain of hiding, my pathway of escape,
my tower of rescue where none can reach me.

My secret strength and shield around me,
you are salvation’s ray of brightness shining on the hillside,
always the champion of my cause.

All I need to do is to call to you,
singing to you, the praiseworthy God.
(Psalm 18:1-3 TPT)

Did God break my leg to teach me to praise him? No. My leg broke because I was wearing high heeled dress boots on sheer ice. But he was patiently waiting right there, with me in the circumstance, which was actually more about the pain the visitor stirred up in me than a shattered tibia. Looking back, I can see God encouraging me to let go of the false image I carried around. I needed to see him in Jesus, the one who came to show us what the Father is truly like.

The journey continues.

My question for you. What aspect of himself does God want to show you now, in your current circumstances?

Ah, Freedom!

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Today I am thankful for freedom.

I’m thankful that I can grab my camera, jump in my little car, and follow the light.

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I am thankful, since genealogy studies revealed many of my ancestors were not persons under the law, that I am recognized as a person, with a right to express my opinion with a ballot.

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I’m thankful that I can disagree with friends on the best way to get to where we want to go, and still be friends.

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I am thankful that (at the time of writing, at least) I have the freedom to express what is important to me in music, written and spoken word, art, photography and most of all in worship.

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Freedom! I love it!

You Can’t Make a Story Without a Problem

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I checked the weather report before I left to drive to Calgary. Mixed cloud and sun with occasional showers. Perfect.

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I like driving the Cowboy Trail when the weather is unsettled. The road runs north on the east side of the Rocky Mountains from the Crowsnest Pass. Light constantly changes in these conditions. Vistas are never quite the same. Cloudscapes and sunbeams arrange patterns of shadow and sun on the hills, telling a different story with every shift of wind. The photographer waits, anticipating drama – a story told in darkness and light.

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As part of my continuing story, this trip involved another trek to see specialists in a larger center about my complex health challenges. It’s one of those battles raging between good days and bad days, like plot shifts set in an ever changing landscape of unexpected symptoms.

DSC_0281 (5)I thought about the elements of story (a long road with few services leaves ample time for thought.) Even my little granddaughter had it figured out by the age of four.

“Every story has to have a good guy and a problem,” she said, drawing an exceptionally long-limbed princess on the first page of a storybook we decided to create one rainy afternoon. “Sometimes it has a bad guy, but it doesn’t have to. You can make a story without a bad guy, but you can’t make a story without a problem. Now what is our problem going to be? Maybe the princess has nobody to play with?”

A fellow writer had this to say about a memoire she was asked to review: “I’m happy for the writer. She’s had such a lovely life, but I feared falling into a never-ending sleep of the mostly dead before reaching the final chapter. Nothing out of the ordinary ever happened to her – no disasters, no life-or-death crisis, no betrayal, no wayward children, not even a single regret worthy of a flight to a priest in another town for a trembling ten minute confession. I’ve had a hellish life myself. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but at least it wasn’t boring. I can’t relate to this book. What should I say? Reviewer dies from toxic dose of niceness?”

Jesus understood the power of story. “It’s like this,” he said, communicating a complicated concept people could not relate to by referencing something familiar.

“It’s like a Father who had two sons, but the youngest one…”

“It’s like a rich man who went on a journey and trusted a manager to look after his business while he was gone, but…”

 

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I watched the clouds along the highway and hoped for a place to stop where the views were best. A couple of times the clouds dropped their loads and the rain was so heavy I had to pull over to the side and wait them out. My windshield wipers couldn’t keep up. I could see nothing. But stories are like that too, especially our own, especially in the middle of a you’ve-got-to-be-kidding downpour.

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It’s hard, on the underside of a deluge, to remember that God is in the story with us. In fact, he has gone to some lengths to arrange circumstances that will give us stories.

Everything we think we know about him is merely theory until we experience him in the storm. Everything is dull until we see the light flooding the plain with hope. Every seed is dormant until awakened by the rain.

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I could pray for a nice life without stress, without doubt, without the need for divine intervention.

I could, and I have, but one night, in a dream, the Lover of my soul came to my door and called my name. When I opened to it, I saw him astride a beautiful white horse. He held the reins of a saddled bay and said, ”Come on! I want to show you something.”

We’re still writing our story together. It’s been an adventure, even when the skies have been cloudy all day, because, well, when that sun breaks through, it’s glorious.

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“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”– Jesus
(John 16:33 NIV)

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Keep Pouring Out Your Unfailing Love

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But you, O Lord, your mercy-seat love is limitless,
reaching higher than the highest heavens.
Your great faithfulness is infinite,
stretching over the whole earth.
 
Your righteousness is unmovable,
just like the mighty mountains.
Your judgments are as full of wisdom
as the oceans are full of water.
Your tender care and kindness leave no one forgotten,
not a man nor even a mouse.
 
O God, how extravagant is your cherishing love!
All mankind can find a hiding place
under the shadow of your wings.
 
All may drink of the anointing from the abundance of your house.
All may drink their fill from the delightful springs of Eden.
 
To know you is to experience a flowing fountain,
drinking in your life, springing up to satisfy.
In your light we receive the light of revelation.
 
Lord, keep pouring out your unfailing love
on those who are near you.

(Psalm 36:5-10 TPT)

All the Way

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I held the hand of an elderly friend after she learned her disease was in the final stages. She asked me to sing for her.

“What would you like me to sing?” I asked.

All the Way My Saviour Leads Me,” she answered, without hesitation. I sang.

All the way my Savior leads me,
What have I to ask beside?
Can I doubt His tender mercy,
Who through life has been my Guide?
Heav’nly peace, divinest comfort,
Here by faith in Him to dwell!
For I know, whate’er befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well;
For I know, whate’er befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well.

After the second verse she said, “It’s true, you know.”
She smiled. “Sing that verse again.”
I did.

All the way my Savior leads me,
Cheers each winding path I tread,
Gives me grace for every trial,
Feeds me with the living Bread.
Though my weary steps may falter
And my soul athirst may be,
Gushing from the Rock before me,
Lo! A spring of joy I see;
Gushing from the Rock before me,
Lo! A spring of joy I see.

As I looked through a cache of photos I took of a winding country road near Turner Valley, Alberta a little while ago, I thought of her. It wasn’t until her home-going celebration that I included the last verse. With tears rolling down my cheeks I sang:

All the way my Savior leads me,
Oh, the fullness of His love!
Perfect rest to me is promised
In my Father’s house above.
When my spirit, clothed immortal,
Wings its flight to realms of day
This my song through endless ages:
Jesus led me all the way;
This my song through endless ages:
Jesus led me all the way.

It was as if all nature was proclaiming with her, “It’s true, you know.”

 

All the Way My Saviour Leads Me, lyrics by Fanny Crosby