You’re kind and tenderhearted to those who don’t deserve it
and very patient with people who fail you.
Your love is like a flooding river overflowing its banks with kindness.
God, everyone sees your goodness,
for your tender love is blended into everything you do.
(Psalm 145:8,9 TPT)
When Martha complained to Jesus that her sister was not helping with the serving and doing what women were expected to do, he confronted her with this: “Martha! Your anxieties are distracting you from what is really important!”
Sometimes we are so anxious about what might happen we forget that when we invite him in, the Saviour is right here in our hearts. Even though we are anxious about tomorrow his goodness surrounds us today. When we set down our worries we can see beauty again.
Sometimes the gap between a promise given and a promise fulfilled is excruciatingly long.
I grew up in a part of Canada where signs of spring could suddenly be buried under snowstorms riding on cold winds harsh enough to take your breath away. I see yearly disappointment has struck the prairie provinces again this week.
Last week we were told that churches could open at limited capacity for Easter. Many of my friends and our brave spiritual leaders, and worship team members eagerly made plans for a special time together after months of isolation. Today new announcements squashed that hope. Due to another increase in cases of the virus no indoor religious services will be permitted at all anywhere in this province larger than a lot of countries.
For several months I have had severe pain in my legs and have had trouble walking or sleeping. One day, my doctor phoned to say the latest scans revealed the cause and although I would need surgery, there was hope the problem could be fixed. He called back three weeks later to relay that the consulting surgeon recommended against surgery, for several reasons. There are some things I can try to lessen the pain, but it looks like I need to learn to adapt to disability.
Today I was aware that hope has been deferred for many of us for all sorts of reasons. I wonder if the way we process disappointment says a lot about the way we grow or fail to grow in faith.
Like a lot of people, I’ve felt like I’ve been stuck in a perpetual spring/not spring, forward/backward cha cha dance of hope almost fulfilled/hope definitely not fulfilled lately. Sometimes the dance is exhausting. I have been guilty of sitting down, not always to rest in the Lord, but to put myself into some sort of trance-like endurance plod that looks less like producing potential springtime buds of manifesting promise and instead settling apathetically under the snow for another stretch of dull dormancy.
David, the harassed young psalm writer, often composed verse about seeing the fulfillment of God’s promises snatched away. From the perspective of hundreds of years later it would be easy to skip the agonizing equivalent of some guy singing the blues and go directly to the ecstatic King dancing with such joy that his underwear showed. But the bit in between is important.
The bit in between is called process and that’s where God likes to meet us. It’s that liminal space neither here nor there where we don’t know if we should try something else to force the promise into fulfillment, or if we should just find a way to protect our hearts from the thing we most want to avoid – disappointment. It’s that place where we realize that change in us is more important than change in our circumstances.
This morning, I remembered today is the anniversary of the day our son-in-love was supposed to die. One of the doctors treating him said, “If that guy lives it will be the biggest miracle I have ever seen.” After a week of seeing amazing answers to prayer it looked like it was all over, but God stepped in and reversed the natural order of things. Bruce lived. The creator breathed new life into his ravaged body. The miracle wasn’t instantaneous, but his extremely critical condition from sepsis and multiple organ failure changed direction and proceeded toward full healing much more rapidly than any professional medical expert could have predicted. The doctor had to admit it was a miracle. All this occurred as thousands praying for him dared to trust God in the face of disappointment and in defiance of the odds.
That, I believe, was the real miracle. People across the country and around the world dared to trust again and look for God’s intervention. They chose hope.
I’m hurting, Lord—will you forget me forever? How much longer, Lord? Will you look the other way when I’m in need? How much longer must I cling to this constant grief? I’ve endured this shaking of my soul. So how much longer will my enemy have the upper hand?
Take a good look at me, Yahweh, my God, and answer me! Breathe your life into my spirit. Bring light to my eyes in this pitch-black darkness or I will sleep the sleep of death. Don’t let my enemy proclaim, “I’ve prevailed over him.” For all my adversaries will celebrate when I fall. I have always trusted in your kindness, so answer me. I will spin in a circle of joy when your salvation lifts me up. I will sing my song of joy to you, Yahweh, for in all of this you have strengthened my soul. My enemies say that I have no Savior, but I know that I have one in you!
We are hurting, but our dancing day is coming. In the meantime, we are learning to lean on the One who loves us so much He gave everything to see us stand on wobbly legs and hear us sing in a wobbly voice, “I trust You, Lord. I know You are strengthening my soul. I trust Your timing. You are and always have been good. Breathe Your life into us.”
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.
“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 did something stupid last night. I was so hungry I ate something that I knew might be risky for someone with my health challenges.
In the middle of the night I woke up feeling short of breath. Of course, with all the warnings going around, I immediately feared I had suddenly come down with covid19. Then I remembered eating a bowl of gluten-free cereal. My body protested. It doesn’t like any grains. So much for sleep.
“I can’t breathe,” I panicked.
As I sat on the edge of the bed and consciously practised the deep breathing methods I taught my singing students for so many years, I remembered how often I have heard this phrase recently. I can’t breathe. “I can’t breathe” is the cry of people critically ill with the virus that has filled so many with fear. It’s the cry at many demonstrations protesting racism. I’ve seen it on shirts, heard it in chants, and listened to people who tell me they feel so stifled, restricted, constricted, and encroached upon by current circumstances it feels like they can’t breathe.
Then there were memories of that traumatic Good Friday our son-in-law was not expected to live. He had sepsis and was on a respirator. He was hemorrhaging into his lungs.
“He can’t breathe on his own,” the doctor said. “We want to send him to a bigger hospital but he’s on 100% oxygen now and they won’t take him on a medivac flight.”
I don’t think a person can be in a more dependent position than to need a machine operated by a respiratory technician to breathe for them. Thousands joined to pray for him and God responded with a miracle. On Pentecost Sunday he walked into a gathering of some of those praying people with perfectly healthy lungs — and all his limbs intact.
In Hebrew, the Holy Spirit is called Ruach HaKodesh. Ruach means breath or wind. Kodesh means holy. It’s the breath of God that made humans come alive. Jesus breathed on his disciples when he imparted the Holy Spirit to them and when the Holy Spirit came in power to the 120 people gathered in an upper room, he entered as a mighty wind.
“I can’t breathe,” I prayed in the dark. “I’ve lost my breath. I need you, Lord. Breathe on me.”
Eventually peace entered the room and I began to breathe normally.
This morning, a song by Marty Goetz played in my head. It’s a prayer for the holy Breath and Spirit Wind of God to come in power and fan the flame that once burned more brightly.
I don’t think I am the only one in the strange circumstances facing us these days to feel that now is a time to acknowledge our need for help and to humbly acknowledge our dependence on Ruach HaKodesh to be our breath. This is also my prayer.
“Blow, Spirit, blow. Come and fill this weary soul. In your mercy send a holy wind. Until you do, I’ll wait for you to breathe on me.”
Lord Yahweh, you are my glorious God! I will exalt you and praise your name forever, for you have done so many wonderful things. Well-thought-out plans you formed in ages past; you’ve been faithful and true to fulfill them all!
(Isaiah 25:1 TPT)
When I’m tempted to agree with the fear broadcasts in the atmosphere all around me, I take time to remember how God got me through the last crisis, and the one before that, and the one before that, and the one before that…
Lord, you’ve been so good to me. Thank you. I will praise you and never forget your goodness in times of trouble. I trust you.