And Then…

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Sometimes it takes me a while to figure out where my emotions are coming from. I agree with people who say we ought not to be led by emotions, but I don’t discount them. God created us with emotion for a reason. Jesus demonstrated a full range of emotional experience, and demonstrated their rightful place. Like the Psalmist I have been asking my soul, “Why are you downcast? Why are you disquieted?”

Grief has roots that tangle under the surface. You can’t tug on one without unsettling memories of other losses and separations. This time of pandemic-led physical separation, although not permanent (we hope), is also stirring up feelings of old losses. I miss my loved ones. I miss my friends. I miss my freedom. I know we shall soon meet again, but these nebulous emotions all end up in the same pot like some strange concoction of lament that ignores reason. It feels like grief.

I’ve been feeling a bit down and unusually nostalgic the last few days. Old movies, old songs, old photos, old recipes, and even old cars make me laugh, but also shed tears. This morning, it being Mother’s Day, I thought about my mother, who passed away eleven years ago. I wish I could sit in her kitchen and tell her about my day. I read many posts from motherless children and childless mothers on Facebook, so I know I am not the only one who is aware of the ambivalent feelings this day evokes.

Then I remembered this week also marks the anniversary of separation from my Dad as well.

Time shrinks and stretches with age, moreso without the usual daily landmarks that keep us oriented. What day is it? Has it been three or four years since I received the call that Dad died in his sleep? The fence needs painting again. Didn’t I just do that? Was it really almost sixty years since Daddy took the photo of Mom serving Kool-aid to the pretty little girls in their birthday party dresses? The house I grew up in shows up on Google maps. It is dwarfed by the trees my brother and I planted as seedlings we received at school. When did that happen?

Part of prayer is paying attention to the stirrings in our hearts as we lean in to hear our heavenly Father. God often speaks to me through music. As I asked him to bring clarity to this messy emotion a song started to play in my mind. It is Brahms’ setting of John 16:22. In English it reads:

“So will you also pass through a time of intense sorrow when I am taken from you, but you will see me again! And then your hearts will burst with joy, with no one being able to take it from you!” (from The Passion Translation that seeks to include emotional content)

These were Jesus’ words to his friends before he was taken from them. We know the next part of the story – that he conquered death and appeared to them again before ascending to his place with the Father. He told them, on that same evening he gave the warning, that something better was coming. He was sending the Holy Spirit to advocate, teach, comfort, and empower in his place.

We have the advantage of living on the other side of the cross. We know loss here and now, but we also know that Holy Spirit will never leave. He reminds us of the promise that is for both here and now and even more in the future: “Then your hearts will burst with joy with no one being able to take it from you!”

 

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.

(Psalm 42:11 NIV)

When We Have Exhausted Our Store of Endurance

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In northern climates, spring is just beginning. Oh, how I welcome the signs of season change this year. Sitting in the warm sun without a coat, even if I am sitting alone on my deck, feels like the world is starting to open again. This has been a tough season – for nearly all of us.

As a student, I noticed a pattern in my educational history (because I notice patterns). I seemed to have seasons when learning new things came easily and seasons when study felt like slogging through hip-deep snow. The slogging season ended with new shoes and clothes, because in those seasons I grew physically. Another common season, the one my mother thought was my perpetual dwelling place, was the season of not much happening, not visibly, at least. Those times became the opportunity to enjoy relationships and put into practice and some of the good habits Mom tried to drill into us.

Years later, I read an article by someone else who noted the same pattern – and took time to research it properly. Children tend to alternate physical and mental growth spirts.

As an adult, I noticed that spiritual growth also came in spirts. Just as there are rhythms in nature, there are rhythms in the spiritual realm. I’m learning to ask the Lord what he wants to show me in whatever season I find myself in. I don’t believe we are all in the same place at the same time, nor do we all progress at the same rate. Sometimes change occurs suddenly. Some seasons do drag on. This has been a drag-on one for me.

A verse from an old hymn showed up in answer to my prayer about what this season is about and what provision the Lord has set aside for me now.

When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.

His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,
His power no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.

(From He Giveth More Grace by Annie J. Flint)

It’s about endurance. Patient endurance. It’s about provision of physical, emotional, and spiritual strength fueled by hope and learning to run with it.

Our cross-country running coach back in high school trained us for endurance races by pushing us to go farther each time we ran. His was not my favourite class. Not even close. Undiagnosed exercise-induced asthma made gym class a miserable experience for me. I didn’t wheeze. I went directly to heart-pounding dizzy and sick. I just about puked on his shoes in an oxygen deprived moment one day, but even that failed to win sympathy. He tolerated no whining. If I dawdled, I got an extra lap. I didn’t die, and even though I often came in with the last stragglers, my endurance improved significantly that year. After I forgave him, I could acknowledge some gratefulness.

The writer of Hebrews talked about the necessary quality of endurance in running the race set before us. I want to whine that I’m hurting, that I’m tired, that this is too much. It’s as if the coach is indicating that another lap is required before this season of uncertainty is over. Really? I don’t think I can do it, but he thinks I can. And he is right. I can go a little farther in trust than I did before.

Seasons when I learned about God’s goodness and discovered his love and abundant grace and favour were more fun than this one has been, but learning that God is faithful, steadfast, and will provide what I need, when I need it (and not a moment sooner) builds endurance. Learning that pain is bearable siphons off some of the fear the enemy used to manipulate me in the past.

The discipline of running the race set before me, and not another person’s race, has helped me to stop comparing. I may take longer than others, but I make better time than I used to. That feels good.

There’s also something about patient endurance with focus on a goal that makes us willing to pare down and drop things that don’t matter as much as they once did. I’m travelling lighter.

The unexpected prize in this season of patient endurance is joy. Jesus’ endurance was a result of seeing the joy set before him. I’ve been praying for more joy. This joy doesn’t feel like giddy happiness, but it does feel like something inexplicably wonderful lies ahead. The joy I see reminds me of something as wonderful as new life awaking on  branches that appeared dead for so long. It smells like the scent of hope blooming in the spring sun. It feels like the certainty of sweet fruit.

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Jesus encourages, “Look at me! Eyes here! Come on. You can do it…”

One more lap. One more…

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1,2 NKJV)

New Life, New Hope

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Beware of harking back to what you once were when God wants you to be something you have never been.

Oswald Chambers

The sun shone brightly. A warm gentle breeze stirred the topmost branches to tap a joyful rhythm against the window.

My friend came by while I was in the house and released Mason bees into the forsythia bush, now laden with new blossoms. She told me with delight that she watched a female immediately find a mate.

Last week, our spirits fell along with the temperature and bare branches (save one leaning against the warmth of the window) collected more snow. Last week was winter.

This week, the first bright colour in the garden arrived suddenly. This week is spring.

Transformation is like that. We wait and wait and wait, then suddenly life changes — and nothing will ever look the same again. We are not who we used to be.

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Grace and That Time God Hit Restart

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My kids must have seen me coming. They managed to catch the chairlift for one more run down the mountain seconds before I arrived to pick them up from a school activity at the ski hill. At least I got a wave from them as they rose higher. That’s how I ended up sitting in the car with nothing to do for at least another half hour.

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I could have taken refuge in the coffee shop, but I didn’t feel like making small talk with anyone I might bump into. My life was falling apart. It was getting harder to fake it.

My identity was built on becoming a successful singer. I mainlined standing ovations. But those tiny membranes that created the sound were not working reliably. I kept getting laryngitis. A rival (with frustratingly robust health) told me that a singer is only as good as her last performance. My last performance was cancelled due to bronchitis. And the one before that. And the one before that. Calls stopped coming.

I tried to be a good mom, but I didn’t know how to do that either. My kids didn’t respond to techniques I read about in books on child rearing. I began to invent privileges just so I had something more to take away as a consequence for poor behaviour. Well, I was going to take you to the circus, but you just blew that.

I tried hard to be a good Christian, but I was tired of never feeling good enough. When I went to church my ears screened out everything but the shoulds. I don’t remember anybody saying it, but somehow, I picked up the idea that I was only as good as my last performance there as well. When my voice gave out while singing a song about love and I realized I had no idea what love was, I left the platform. A few weeks later I quit going to church at all. So much for happiness all the time and wonderful peace of mind. I possessed neither. Life felt like a bleak landscape.

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Sitting in the car that snowy day, I saw my Bible rolled up in the back seat where I tossed it a few weeks before. Loose pages fell out of alignment and it had a forlorn sat-upon look. I picked it up and dared God to speak to me. This was a showdown. He was real or he was not.

I opened the book at random. At first I read passages about God being good and never leaving. I shrugged them off. Then I flipped again, like another roll of the dice. This time it fell open to the book of Hosea, the story of a prophet whose life became a picture of God’s feeling toward faithless Israel. Hosea had married a prostitute.

Suddenly, I felt something different than I had felt before. It was a strong sense that what I was about to read would mark a moment when my life would begin to change. I can’t explain the feeling except to say that I knew God was there and he was tender and terrifying. I wanted to cling and run at the same time.

This is what I read:
“Therefore, behold, I will hedge up her way with thorns,
And I will build a wall against her so that she cannot find her paths.”

And further down the page:
“Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
Bring her into the wilderness
And speak kindly to her.”

I thought God only spoke when he was about to smite something.

“Then I will give her her vineyards from there,
And the valley of Achor as a door of hope.”

I needed hope.

“And she will sing there as in the days of her youth,
As in the day when she came up from the land of Egypt.”

Sing again?

“It will come about in that day,” declares the LORD,
“That you will call Me Ishi
And will no longer call Me Baali…
I will betroth you to Me forever;
Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice,
In lovingkindness and in compassion,
And I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness.
Then you will know the LORD.”

I admitted I didn’t know him, not like this. Later, at home, I looked up Achor. It means trouble. The valley of trouble as a door of hope? That didn’t sound good, but I knew God was somehow in this.

The valley of Achor for me was depression. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t concentrate. I lost confidence. Memories of my unexamined history surfaced and shook my world.

It’s hard to see things we don’t want to see. My escape routes were “hedged up.” I wandered in a bewildering wilderness resisting God’s help, trying to fix things myself.

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I had believed lies that led to self-loathing and insecurity. I had turned to forms of comfort that would have destroyed me eventually. I was headed in a direction that could have caused great pain for more people than myself. Even though striving and busyness look good and are admired in our culture, they separated me from God.

Trouble forced me to let go of my image of God as an impossible to please old grump. I gradually let go of my image of myself as a stressed-out performer trying to placate God and everyone else to earn a place in this world.

Grace took the form of trouble. Without it, the door of hope would have remained closed. I had to let go of the old ideas before I could hold on to new revelation and walk through that door into a life of faith.

In the place of isolation, in my wilderness season, cut off from my usual escapes of busyness and performance, I began to hear the Voice of love. Words bringing condemnation, anger and disapproval didn’t come from him. I began to understand that even if I never did another thing to try to win his favour, nothing would change his for love me. I experienced his kindness in this drastic intervention.

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He allured me. He became my Ishi — hero husband, instead of my Baali –- master overlord. I sang to him in response to his singing to me. It was like he hit the restart button and my life began anew.

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I’m writing about this experience now, because I see so many people who find themselves in a fear-filled wilderness of isolation due to restrictions around covid-19. I know what it is like to be unable to turn to the usual distraction of constant occupation or watch things I worked so hard to accomplish fall apart. I recognize the silent questions. This sudden massive interruption of the world shakes our assumptions about how life works.

This atmosphere feels familiar. I recognize the finger of God about to hit the restart button. Some people are in a place to examine the previously unexamined and meet God for who he really is for the first time. Others will hear the faint sound of an invitation to return to what they knew from the start. Others will encounter opportunities to step into greater adventures with the Creator.

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These are troubled times, but these are also times of enormous hope for a deeper relationship with the Lover of our soul. He cares enough to use something the enemy of our souls meant for evil for good. He intervenes to say stop. He has so much more empowering grace for us to receive.

When God gave a promise through the prophet Jeremiah to people taken captive by trouble, he wasn’t offering a feel-good quick fix. He was talking about starting a process and a journey that would thoroughly change them and their values. Trouble would be an agent to give them a future and a hope.

Are you in that place? Stop. Wait. Listen. Be still until you have a better sense of who God is. Let his voice allure you. This could be your opportunity to start again.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV)

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Perennial

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I haven’t even tidied this corner of the garden yet. With other projects demanding attention, I’m late with weeding and clean-up. And yet here they are, my faithful, happy harbingers of joy, unpainted fence and plastic detritus notwithstanding.

Leopard’s bane are called perennials because they come back again and again, year after year, without me having to do anything. They are also called “bane” because they were thought to be a threat to threats. Joy as a threat. I like that.

As I downloaded photos today I thought about faithfulness. Faithfulness is one of the attributes of God that he has been emphasizing to me when I ask the question, “Who do you want to show yourself to be for me in these current circumstances?”

It is easier to go through a crisis on your own than to see your children and grandchildren face challenges. We can read about God’s faithfulness, but when we experience God’s ways of bringing us to experiential knowledge of that faithfulness, our relationship with God deepens and becomes our own. My mother’s years of experiencing God’s keeping power through pain meant nothing to me until I heard him sing over me during long dark sleepless nights.

She had her relationship and I have mine. Now I am watching my children and grandchildren discover for themselves that he reveals who he wants to be for them. As I pray for them, I’m learning to stand in the gap without standing in the way.

God is good. Perennially. And not just for me.

Your faithfulness flows from one generation to the next;
all that you created sits firmly in place to testify of you.

Psalm 119:90 TPT

Hope Springs

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The May tree is finally in bloom. It’s very late this year, almost a month later than last year, I think. I stopped checking it for signs of blossoms a while ago. I didn’t want to be disappointed again.

I think that the fear of disappointment is one of our greatest fears. I have talked to many people who are afraid to hope in God, lest he turn out to be as disappointing as many important people in our lives that we once relied upon have been.

When we fear abandonment or rejection, or worse, betrayal, we either give up, resigned to the inevitability of more disappointment, or muffle our own heart’s cry in distractions or work.

This has been both a challenging miserably rotten week of feeling helpless and a delightful inspiring week of spiritual growth. You don’t need the details. Weeks like this are custom-made to reveal what is lacking in our experience of who God wants to be for us. Your definition of rotten is probably different than mine, as is your experience of delight, but you know what I mean.

If my hope levels over the past few days were on a graph it would look like a major seismic disturbance. I’m much better than I used to be, but I’m not where I want to be. I wish all the weights on the worry side of my emotional scale would move permanently to the trust side without jumping back when I go to answer the phone.

The Lord has been reminding me to remember — and I would — and then, with more bad news, I would forget. I purposely wrote down promises I have seen fulfilled and miracles I have seen manifest before my own eyes. I have seen this stuff time and time again! Why do I struggle to hold those memories in my heart when faced with another crisis?  Why do I still oscillate between joyful trust and sick-to-the-stomach worry?

I spent time sitting in the warm sun under the May tree this evening and quieted my heart to wait on God. (My stomach still did its own thing.) This is what he reminded me to remember. I share it with you.

The God of all hope is the God of all love first because there is no hope without love.

Love is voluntary or it is not love. He chooses you. He likes you.

Lacking hope? Go back to love.

Quit acting like an orphan and trying so hard to figure it all out yourself. You’re adopted now. Let him look after you. Let him walk with you and show you how to do life with all its craziness.

Remember the many ways he has shown his love before, even when you messed up. And give thanks for as many things as you can think of. (This is important for your sake.)

You have never done anything that disqualifies you from being loved by your Papa God.

He is the God of all comfort and the God of limitless possibilities, so don’t ignore or limit him.

The greatest title you could ever hold is beloved son or daughter of the Creator of the universe. He’s got you.

He won’t stop loving you. He loves you because he loves you because he loves you — even on days when you can’t imagine how.

Look up, child. Spring will come. It always does.

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Twilight Pear Blossoms

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When I first looked out the kitchen window as the sun set behind the mountains, I thought I saw snow on the tree. We’ve seen a lot of snow these past months.

But no. It’s not snow. This time the pear tree is covered with blossoms.

Flowers of your faithfulness are blooming on the earth.
Righteousness shines down from the sky.
Yes, the Lord keeps raining down blessing after blessing,
and prosperity will drench the land with a bountiful harvest.
For deliverance and peace are his forerunners,
preparing a path for his steps.

Psalm 85: 11-13 TPT

Revival

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Even though you’ve let us sink down with trials and troubles,
I know you will revive us again,
lifting us up from the dust of death.

Give us even more greatness than before.
Turn and comfort us once again.

My loving God, the harp in my heart will praise you.
Your faithful heart toward us will be the theme of my song.
Melodies and music will rise to you, the Holy One of Israel.

I will shout and sing your praises for all you are to me—
Savior, lover of my soul!

Psalm 71:10 TPT

A New Day of Destiny

 

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Can you not discern this new day of destiny breaking forth around you?

The early signs of my purposes and plans are bursting forth. The budding vines of new life are now blooming everywhere. The fragrance of their flowers whispers, “There is change in the air.”

Arise, my love, my beautiful companion, and run with me to the higher place. For now is the time to arise and come away with me.

Song of Songs 2:13 TPT

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New. It Has Begun.

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Made for spirituality, we wallow in introspection.
Made for joy, we settle for pleasure.
Made for justice, we clamor for vengeance.
Made for relationship, we insist on our own way.
Made for beauty, we are satisfied with sentiment.

But new creation has already begun. The sun has begun to rise.
Christians are called to leave behind, in the tomb of Jesus Christ, all that belongs to the brokenness and incompleteness of the present world …

That, quite simply, is what it means to be Christian: to follow Jesus Christ into the new world, God’s new world, which he has thrown open before us.

– N. T. Wright