Am I Hearing You Right?

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While there are birds, birds to fly…

I heard that Mother Teresa said “I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish that He didn’t trust me so much.”

I’m no Mother Teresa, and I already know that God will give me things I can’t handle. I also know that he gives me things that He can handle if I learn to do only what He asks and let Him do the heavy lifting. (“Will You Be My Alligator” link here.) But sometimes I wonder…

I didn’t feel like driving to Alberta again yesterday when I have so much to do at home. But the Lover of my soul knew I needed a break, so I ended up going. I spent the time in the car talking to God, pouring out my feelings to Jesus, and sitting quietly with Holy Spirit. I have evidence of transformation in my life because I have much more peace than I used to when my list of concerns to pray about gets longer and longer. But still I wonder if I could have done things differently (or sooner), if I said something I ought not to have said (or failed to say), if I am following the right path or if I have missed some crucial heavenly download somewhere. Am I doing this right?

Change is messy, I know, but it looks like I may have to exchange my rubber boots for hip waders soon. I cried out, “Lord! I really need to hear your voice about now! Just talk to me! What should I do?!” (I may have raised my voice.)

I was listening to music on my phone as I drove. (Gotta love a car with a USB port.) Road conditions demanded my attention so I left it on shuffle. The songs played in random order. Most of the music on my phone is a peaceful worshipful style aimed at reducing stress in city traffic. My other more eclectic collections are on a road trip sticks or CDs.

A song came on just as I asked my question. I tell you the truth. I do not recall ever hearing this song before or downloading on my phone. It was in a large, but inexpensive collection of classic jazz tunes I bought a few months ago, but I had only listened to a few familiar favourite  songs.

This is what I heard: Trust in Me.

Who says the Lord can’t speak through the voice of a woman of color?

I think I have a new favourite.

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“While there’s a moon, a moon up high…”

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After the Rain, After the Flood

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Can I be honest? I am disappointed. Not devastated, but disappointed.

Only four months ago we finally finished a big renovation project. My Dad, who perfected the art of frugality, left me a little money after he passed away. We used it to do long needed repairs to our house and to completely re-finish the lower level. It’s taken nearly three years, but by Christmas it was finally done and I loved it. Our son spent many long hours away from his own wife and children to use his creative carpentry skills and give me the home I always wanted.

And now? Now, like many people in our town, I stand in my own house in rubber boots and wade through water that ought not to be inside our beautiful warm home with its new flooring and freshly painted walls and white trim. Water swirls around the new freezer and washer and dryer.

I’ve not been writing much this week because I have, with friends, been pumping water out the back door for seven days. When the huge dump of snow we had this winter began to melt, it had no escape route. Many of the houses in our town are filling with icy cold water flowing into low places and bubbling up from sewers. It seems the only place the water has not ventured is into the room with the drain installed in the floor to deal with such things.

Wonderful friends jumped in to help last Saturday. Then one by one our friends jumped out to bail out their own homes when the water reached them. Some of them are now in  deeper water than we have been. One brave guy came over and emptied an 1100 square foot pool with two shop vacuums all by himself – two days in a row! I am so grateful. But it filled up again within a couple of hours.

My husband’s mother is ill and needs help, so he flew up to her place in Alberta on Sunday. I am here. I’m still supposed to take it easy after surgery last month but there is really not much choice but to bend and lift and bail and do the best I can.

It’s not enough. There is really nothing I, or anyone else, can do. I have to let it go.

My Facebook friend has been posting pictures of the horrendous flood in Peru, where he lives in Lima – without access to water, ironically enough. Another friend posts photos from a famine in Africa and another pictures of the destruction in the Middle East. My problem is pitifully insignificant in comparison. No one has died here. It’s just property damage.

Yet as I heard a young woman say, “If you have no right to be sad because someone has it worse, you have no right to be happy when someone has it better.” Feelings are feelings. Like the feeling of thirst the feeling of disappointment carries no shame. It’s what I do with that disappointment that matters. If I fail to hold these things in an open hand and give my right to own nice stuff back to God it could congeal into bitterness. I’ve known that heavy entrapment before. I lost years to it.

The night before my husband first stepped on an unexpectedly cold soggy rug in the middle of the family room I had a dream. In this dream I was driving on the top of a snow-covered dike that ended near the river. I needed to turn around, but the trail was very narrow and a deep pool of water surrounded the dike like a flood plain. I almost made the turn, but then my car began to slide into the water. I knew there was nothing I could do. I felt annoyed and resigned, but not particularly upset or panicky.

As my vehicle began to sink I knew I had to give it up. (I love my little Honda Insight). I exited through the window and swam toward the snowy dike. By the time I touched the shore it had become a solid rock beach. People who hadn’t been there before waited with warm blankets to cover me. I saw men attaching cables to my car and salvaging it before it was completely submerged. Someone behind me, wrapping a warm hand-made quilt around my shivering body, whispered in my ear, “This looks very dramatic and like it’s a big deal, but it’s not. You’re going to be okay.”

~~~~~~~~~~~

My feet are wet and cold. I watch the water lap up against the new library shelves. They are already warping. It’s only stuff, I know that. But it’s a loss, and I’m sad. And that’s okay.

In January I asked the Lord to give me a word about what aspect of himself he wanted to show me in this season. In a vision in the night I saw the word “berit” written in the sky. I wrote it down and looked it up in the morning. The first article I found said it was a form of the Hebrew word for covenant promise – a one way promise from God that is not conditional on his people conforming to a code of behaviour to bring about fulfillment. It’s simply part of his faithfulness to keep it.

rainbow square mountain pass IMG_9852 chSomeone asked me if I’ve seen any rainbows lately, considering all the rain that was melting mounds of snow. I remembered seeing this word written in the sky. In Genesis a rainbow is a berit. I saw a literal word of promise taking the place of a rainbow in the sky.

You know, it shouldn’t surprise me that as I write this I am remembering that today is the anniversary of the day our daughter was told she couldn’t have children. It’s also her daughter’s birthday, the first of three miracle babies.

Today is also the anniversary of a terrible day when our son-in-law crashed after surgery for flesh-eating disease. The doctors didn’t think he would live. On this date a year after that he and our daughter celebrated his miraculous better-than-before recovery by going on a mountain bike adventure.

Shortly after that our son and family experienced a flood far worse than this one. Their house sat in a lake of water and they were displaced for months. This week marks the completion of the restoration of their house to better-than-new condition, it’s sale, and the beginning of a new project.

I guess if you want to see miracles you’re going to find yourself in situations that call for them. I am disappointed, yes, but not beaten down, not without hope, not without other treasures. We have wealth in caring friends, in family, in the laughter of grandchildren. We also know that God never allows something to be removed without replacing it with something better. I am anticipating that he will do it again.

A song has been going through my head this week. One line in particular seems to be on repeat:

After the rain
After the flood
You set your promise in the sky…

God is good. Still good. Always good.

Though the fig tree should not blossom
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls,
Yet I will exult in the Lord,

I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
The Lord God is my strength,
And He has made my feet like hinds’ feet,
And makes me walk on my high places.

(Habakkuk 3:17-20 NASB)

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Ungrace

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C. S. Lewis observed that almost all crimes of Christian history have come about when religion is confused with politics. Politics, which always runs by the rules of ungrace, allures us to trade away grace for power, a temptation the church has often been unable to resist.

– Philip Yancey

Thinking of Everything

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“Why am I the one who has to think of everything?” a young mother asked. “My husband’s idea of preparing for a trip is carrying the suitcases out to the car.”

I smiled. I remembered this. One day my father-in-law announced he was taking us to the fair. We would be gone all day. His intent was for us to stay late and watch the fireworks. After telling us to hurry up he put on his baseball cap, grabbed his keys and went out to the car.

Eventually he came back in to see what was taking so long. I happened to be feeding and dressing three little kids (two still in diapers), gathering supplies for the day and putting them in backpacks and diaper bags. My mind was whirling as I made preparations that necessitated asking myself the question, “What could go wrong?” so I would know what to bring.

Dad was going out of his way to do something kind for us. He was a natural optimist and couldn’t understand why I was fretting. This was supposed to be fun.

There is something about being responsible for others that turns many of us into worriers. Perhaps it is because we feel like we have to think of everything or we could find ourselves caught in a blizzard in a swim suit and flip flops and fresh out of diaper rash cream for the baby. Maybe that’s how I got in the habit of starting my day with thinking about what could go horribly wrong. Thinking about what could go amazingly right is postponed for a later hour after lists are made and items checked off. Sometimes I never get around to that thought until I tumble, exhausted, into bed at night.

I’m trying to change.

Now, before I  get out of bed, I intentionally direct my thoughts to thanking God for answered prayer and the potential of the next day. I intend to not allow negativity to squash my joy before the day even begins. Then I lay my plans before him and let him know they are subject to change as he leads.

It’s often a mental wrestling match on the level of those grunting men of massive girth who throw chairs and put headlocks on referees. Change, real change, deep down heart change, doesn’t come easily for someone like me.

Early yesterday morning, I drove home from a doctor’s appointment in another city. It’s an eleven hour trip there and back. Instead of “trying to think of everything” in preparation for surgery next week I decided to focus on the goodness of God and how he has brought me safe thus far. I put on some good music and sang along.

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One of the things I am thankful for is that my commute is through some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. The glowing sun rose over my shoulder to the east, lit a winter field at rest to the north and touched the mountain peaks to the west with gentle pink light. The air was frigid, but inside my little subcompact cocoon the heater hummed away and kept me warm. I put iPod music on shuffle and watched the day come to life.

Then a song from a new album I bought before I left home began to play. “You’re going to be okay,” the singer assured me. I heard God’s voice in the music.

I have no idea how this is going to go. But I am going to be okay. The Lover of my soul thinks of everything.

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At each and every sunrise you will hear my voice
As I prepare my sacrifice of prayer to you.
Every morning I lay out the pieces of my life on the altar
And wait for your fire to fall upon my heart.

(Psalm 5:3 TPT)

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Winds of Change

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My grandson was showing me photos he had done for school when I saw the light change outside on the snowy lawn in my peripheral vision. I checked the sky.

“Grab your camera!” I said. “And your boots and jacket. Let’s go.”
A strong wind resisted our efforts to open the front door.

“Where is the closest open field?” I asked him when he got in the car.
He took me there. This is the result.

Chinook arch at sunset in Alberta.

I grew up in Calgary. I knew what an arch of clouds in the sky coming from the mountains in the west meant. It meant a break in the weather. It meant sudden unseasonably warm days right in the middle of winter.

To some weather-sensitive people chinook winds bring changes in barometric pressure that provoke migraines and achy knees, to some they create a mess of melting show and piles of slush on the road, but as a child I knew they brought streams in the gutter to sail our clothespin boats, the ability to run around outside without a hat or scarf or sometimes even a jacket and a sense of profound unexpected positive change.

I was able to visit Calgary this week. The purpose of the trip was not a thrilling one; I had to see a team of medical specialists at the hospital who debated the best next course of action in treating a resistant condition. That part wasn’t fun, although I was amazed and impressed by the efficiency of the system. My doctor referred me on Thursday, I was given an appointment on Friday and by Tuesday I was shlepping around from the exam room to the labs to the consultation room. I am so appreciative of good medical treatment. I thought of my grandmother and how much things have changed since she died at 42 because the family didn’t have money for an operation, and of my son who is still waiting for OR time for his surgery.

But the other part of the story is that the tests were not pleasant, every treatment offered comes with risks and side-effects and the prospect of more pain and recovery time on the couch, and there is no clear advantage of one over the other so the decision is up to me.

When my husband and I walked out to the parking lot I realized I didn’t need my hat, or mittens or my jacket. It was one of those southern Alberta miracle days after a chinook blew in and raised the temperature to sunny spring day levels. It was a break from the expectations of January weather in Canada.

I think the Lord breaks up the heaviness of praying for situations that weigh on our hearts with moments of unexpected fulfillment of promises ahead of time. It’s like the finger of God poking through. Moments of the manifestation of the Kingdom of heaven on earth. Yes. It exists. Here. Now. In this moment. But someday this warm sunlight will not be an occasional thing. It will be the norm.

We have hope, therefore we can sing, “To God be the glory for the things he has done.”

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The Sun is Coming Back!

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I picked up a nasty case of the flu this week. My health has improved so much in the last few years that I am rather impatient with illness now. I’m reminded of what life used to be like when I just accepted sickness as “God’s will for my life,” never considering that maybe it wasn’t.

I used to take pride in myself as an overcomer, pushing through pain to accomplish something greater than expected – under the circumstances. Then one day, after someone asked what it would cost me to be well, I realized an overcomer needs things to overcome to preserve their reputation. I was subconsciously creating a place for chronic sickness as part of my identity. Quite frankly, I enjoyed a lifestyle that drafted caretakers and gave me an excuse to remain uncommitted to future projects. I was insulted by the question, but oh, it was a good one. That was a humbling moment.

Am I a healthy person now? Healthier, yes, but I still wait on the Lord for a number of things that are still disordered. But I’ve passed the postulated sell-by dates more than once and have seen some chronic conditions go away. In November hearing loss in my left ear was restored after kind people prayed for me. (Thank you, Lord!) Now it’s wonky again because of a block of mucous that feels like it takes up more space in my head than my brain, but this too shall pass.

I was thinking about set-backs and the number of dear people I know who have felt the disappointment of set-backs in all sorts of areas in this past year, or even this past month. Then I decided to come against the woe-is-me stuff in a different spirit. I started thinking about gains for which to be thankful.

Here’s one. I just checked. Since December 21st the valley has gained 9.13 more minutes of sunlight a day. For me that’s like the Dow Jones surging upwards for ten days straight.

I’m recycling a photo today because I haven’t been outside for a while. But hey, the sun is coming back, and I rejoice in hope.

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