When I was a young bride far from my family in the days before easy communication, four elderly women who lived together in a heritage house extended themselves to become family. Rhea and Kathleen, the sisters who inherited the house, showed me how to can fruit, and frame artwork. They invited us to important events and introduced us to influential people. Dorothy, a retired college principal, recommended excellent books and engaged us in thought-provoking conversations. Mavis, a retired English nanny, became my much-appreciated resource when our first baby was born. I loved these women.
Something made me wonder though. They were outstanding women of character, intelligence, and grace. Old photos showed them as once attractive, fashion-conscious girls and young women. Why were they all single?
Finally, I asked Kathleen, “Did you ever think about getting married?”
“Of course,” she said. “But my young man died in the war.”
“Oh Kathleen! I’m so sorry. I never knew. What was his name?”
“I don’t know,” she shrugged. “He died before I met him.”
She told me this with the mischievousness of someone who had lighted upon an answer that served her well for many years. There was also a sting of truth to it I had not considered before.
Her sister explained, “When we reached the age to consider marriage, we realized many of the young men we had known never came home after the first world war. There was a severe shortage of men. Frankly, neither of us met anyone who shared our interests and passions and we didn’t care to compromise. Between our careers and caring for our parents as they grew older, we filled our time well enough and were content. We learned how to create family in other ways.”
Each Remembrance Day we honour those who fought for freedom from oppression. We sing songs, recite poems, lay wreaths, and invite school children to submit artwork and essays to express thanks to those who served in the military. This year, as I remember the old house and the ladies who showed us how to celebrate each day as a gift, I would like to honour those who bore the heavy burden of war as bereaved parents, widows, fatherless children, and young women whose lovers died before they had a chance to meet. They were the ones who picked up the torch and held it high.
I had good news this week! More of that later. Other people also told me their good news today.
I had breakfast with friends at a restaurant this morning. It is the first time we met over coffee and variations on an egg theme since our worlds shrunk eight months ago. I sat near the middle of the table (with distance between settings of cutlery and cups, of course.) That meant I was part of two, and sometimes three conversations taking place on either side.
We are friends. We know each other’s histories and struggles. I joked that when we were younger, conversations in this kind of setting tended to be about comparing childbirth experiences, balancing work and home responsibilities, and diet and exercise plans. Now we compare surgery stories, and talk about adult children’s work, grandchildren’s and nieces’ and nephews’ adorableness, and which vitamins or herbal supplements “they” say will keep us going.
We did cover all those things, but we are all women who have lived through difficult circumstances we never foresaw when we first enjoyed getting away on a Saturday morning. Among us there have been some devastating life events such as the death of children and spouses, betrayals, divorces, financial losses, long hospitalizations and recoveries from accidents and illness, and many hopes deferred. But there were also stories of God’s provision in our lives. This was not a churchy testimony meeting. This gathering was just a group of friends talking about real life and the goodness of God.
I took advantage of my seat in the middle and listened to stories of what has happened since we last met. One beautiful woman spoke excitedly about doctors agreeing they had no explanation for her husband’s remarkable recovery from an illness that brought him entirely too close to death’s door. She knew it was Jesus’ doing. Another friend spoke about a wonderful encounter with Jesus that healed deep wounds – in the very place the original trauma occurred. Another, who had lost functional eyesight, is now able to see. One who was unable to leave her house for months because of severe pain now walks without a limp. Some who feared not being able to survive the crisis financially reported with joy and relief that God has taken care of them.
My good news? I was able to share that I finally had the tests and scans that were postponed last spring due to the hospital’s preparation for the onslaught of crowds of covid-19 patients that, thank God, never happened here. I felt that in this season the Lord wanted to show me he is my keeper and that his provision of peace and patient endurance were available if I wanted to pick it up. (A little background. I was told after surgery for stage 3b cancer three years ago, that although the primary tumour looked like it was low-grade, it was acting aggressively and these kind “always return with a vengeance.” Due to mix-ups and pandemic protocol, postponement meant 18 months between “keeping an eye on it” procedures that are part of my palliative care plan.)
Worry and a tendency to catastrophize have dragged my faith into the ditch since I was a child. This time holding on to hope while waiting was not as difficult as it used to be. I am learning that the Lover of my soul may take me through valleys on this journey, but he is trustworthy in his methods and his timing (and that the valley is where the feast is kept.)
This week I finally received the overdue medical report: No demonstration of metastatic disease. Thank you, Lord!
Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble, but don’t be afraid. I have overcome the world.” In other words, “I’ve got this.”
We can ask God to show us his true nature and tell him that we want him to help us become more like him, but we can’t tell him how to do it. When he asks permission to work in our lives, he doesn’t say how he’s going to show us aspects of himself we haven’t understood before or how he’s going to transform us into the people he knows us to truly be. When we say yes to God, we surrender the right to write the script. After a while we can begin to recognize challenging circumstances to be the opportunities for change (some of us sooner than others. I have been a slow learner.)
All the mature women I met with today can tell you the journey with God took them in directions they never would have chosen. Every one received answers to prayer in different ways and in different lengths of waiting time, from seconds to decades. Every one of us can tell you we are still mid-crisis in some area with problems that, on our own, we don’t know how to fix, but every one of us will also tell you that God is good, and that the good news, the really good news, is that he loves us so much that he sent his son to show us how much.
This is the best news ever. Hang on to it. You are going to need it.
O God in Zion, to you even silence is praise! You are the God who answers prayer; all of humanity comes before you with their requests.
Though we are overcome by our many sins, your sacrifice covers over them all. And your priestly lovers, those you’ve chosen, will be greatly favored to be brought close to you. What inexpressible joys are theirs! What feasts of mercy fill them in your heavenly sanctuary! How satisfied we will be just to be near you!
You answer our prayers with amazing wonders and with awe-inspiring displays of power. You are the righteous God who helps us like a father.
Everyone everywhere looks to you, for you are the confidence of all the earth, even to the farthest islands of the sea.
What jaw-dropping, astounding power is yours! You are the mountain maker who sets them all in place.
Psalm 65: 1-7 TPT
I am learning that prayer is not a work we do to impress God. Prayer is not duty. Prayer is not telling God what to do as if he is our servant. Prayer is definitely not manipulating God with fine flattering speeches or dramatic displays of emotional super-religiosity. These things may impress the people around us, but they do not impress God.
What impresses God is faith — believing he is who he says he is and trusting in his love.
Prayer is daring to come close to God in faith and humility and naked honesty. Sometimes, when we pour out our hearts, words flow. Sometimes we sit in silence not knowing what to say. In these moments, the Holy Spirit speaks our hearts when we can’t. In these moments the Holy Spirit speaksto our hearts in the sounds of stillness.
Prayer is just being near him and knowing that no matter what, he loves us like no one else ever can.
I don’t know why pain, worry, and loneliness seem worse at night, but many people tell me this is when they too feel most vulnerable. Perhaps the absence of busy-ness and entertainment leave us with fewer ways to avoid what sometimes lies behind the façade of having it all together.
I have found the best way back to confidant security is to admit my need and to remember that all the Father’s love is poured out on his son Jesus Christ. Since, as a believer, I am in Christ and he is in me, I am also a recipient of all that love. Do you have any idea how much love that is?
The Lover of our souls never sleeps, is never distracted, and never rejects those are his. In the midst of any circumstance we are never alone.
A hundred-year old record was broken here this week. A record for cold. The leaves, many of which are still green, froze solid on the trees. A bird, seeking warmth, flew into the house via the chimney. My husband’s search for warm gloves turned up eight meant for the left hand and one for the right. It looked like the right failed match any of the lefts.
We weren’t ready for this.
Many miles away this same cold front is dropping snow on massive wildfires that surround a city. A friend posted photos today of steaming earth where threatening flames roared the day before. She joyfully expressed thankfulness.
Sometimes it’s hard to understand what on earth is going on. While I mourn the death of the last of my pretty little flowers, I rejoice with my friend for answered prayer and preservation of something much bigger.
Today this passage in Genesis showed up where I was not expecting to see it. I appreciate the reminder. While we need to change our exploitive ways and take responsibility for tending the earth and its resources well, ultimately God is the one who created its intricate workings. He is the one who holds it all together. He’s got this.
“When I trust deeply that today God is truly with me and holds me safe in a divine embrace, guiding every one of my steps I can let go of my anxious need to know how tomorrow will look, or what will happen next month or next year. I can be fully where I am and pay attention to the many signs of God’s love within me and around me.”
– Henri Nouwen
The smoke has cleared and I was feeling well enough to get out of the house and drive to one of my favourite quiet places, little Munroe Lake. This area suffered the ravages of wildfire a few years ago. I enjoy the contrast between old growth on one side of the lake and new growth on the other.
Circumstances in my life require letting go of things I used to be able to do without much planning or thought. Mourning is involved any time we let go of the old to make room for the new, but we can’t get a grasp on the future when our hands are desperately hanging on to strands of the past.
This new terrain is giving me a greater appreciation for stillness. It is reinforcing the importance of something the Lord has been teaching me for many years: trust.
How will things look in the next few months or years? I don’t know, but the words of an old song by Ira Stanphill play in my heart:
Many things about tomorrow I don’t seem to understand But I know who holds tomorrow And I know who holds my hand.
I made many attempts to read the Bible through consecutively from beginning to end. I had many failures. I realized I always stopped around the same place. I couldn’t get past the story of the young prophet Jeremiah, who some call “the weeping prophet.”
A line from a sci-fi 2009 TV show, Flash Forward, arrested my attention while we were binge watching the series. A supervisor tells the investigator, “I can’t think of a prophet that didn’t suffer… and I can’t think of a prophet that God didn’t love.”
A prophet who doesn’t know he or she is loved is a dangerous person. His or her own neediness or bitterness will taint how they view what they have seen or heard. Some prophets used their gift for self-aggrandizement. Faithful prophets in the Old Testament were routinely misunderstood and rejected. They often carried the burden of knowing what others refused to acknowledge. They lived in at least two places and different time zones, The Way We Are Going Now, and The Ways God Is Planning to Take Us In The Future — depending on our willingness to work with Him. Whether they were told to speak boldly in the palace and in the streets like Jeremiah or quietly ponder and keep the information to themselves like Mary, prophets carried both the burden of the ugliness of sin and its consequences and the beauty of hope of restoration. It’s not a vocation many people aspired to and some, like Jonah, even tried to escape.
Jeremiah knew he was loved from his first God encounter. Jeremiah was also misunderstood, rejected, and thrown into a pit for saying what no one in a position of privilege or power wanted to hear. Jeremiah’s worst suffering came from understanding the suffering that awaited those who rejected the help God offered. He knew the blessings awaiting those who chose to trust God, but he also knew the sorrow awaiting those who honoured their own wisdom above the Creator of the universe. He wrote:
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord And whose trust is the Lord. For he will be like a tree planted by the water, That extends its roots by a stream And will not fear when the heat comes; But its leaves will be green, And it will not be anxious in a year of drought Nor cease to yield fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:7-8 NASB)
But he also wrote:
Thus says the Lord, “Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind And makes flesh his strength, And whose heart turns away from the Lord. For he will be like a bush in the desert And will not see when prosperity comes, But will live in stony wastes in the wilderness, A land of salt without inhabitant.” (verses 5 and 6)
In the midst of his lament for the people who treated him as a crazy, depressed, annoying, embarrassing conspiracy theory promoter, he also wrote in Jeremiah 29:
“For thus says the Lord, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place.
For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope.
Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will restore your fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile.’”
I hated reading Jeremiah and Lamentations because I hated the notion that God would allow someone he supposedly loved to suffer. I see now that God took Jeremiah into His confidence about His plans — His conspiracy for good. Jeremiah was loved by God, and it doesn’t get any better than that.