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 fist I read passages about God being good and never leaving and 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 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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Fix Your Heart

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Don’t follow after the wicked ones or be jealous of their wealth.
Don’t think for a moment they’re better off than you.

They and their short-lived success
will soon shrivel up and quickly fade away
like grass clippings in the hot sun.
 
Keep trusting in the Lord and do what is right in his eyes.
Fix your heart on the promises of God and you will be secure,
feasting on his faithfulness.

(Psalm 37:1-3 TPT)

This is a put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is morning. I’m off to pay a bill. A very large bill – more than I get in pension for a month. It’s the result of failing to read the well-hidden small print that negated previous promises.

I’ve wrestled with feeling betrayed and wanted to respond in like manner by refusing to pay.

I asked the Lord what I should do. Psalm 37 was my scheduled reading for today.

I feel the Lord is telling me that the problem is not the size of the bill. It’s my fear of lack. Forgiveness gets us back on the road where trust for God’s provision is concerned. Succumbing to the temptation to do business “the way business is done” doesn’t increase a sense of security in the long run. It’s doing what is right in his eyes that brings freedom.

I have learned that God’s faithfulness is greater than any maneuverings I might come up with. Instead I choose to do what is right and place my trust in the One who has always cared for me. His provision graces us with a security much greater than a pension check.

Laughter in the rain, walking hand in hand under stormy skies. Here we go.

I just hope I don’t cry.

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Finding Peace in the Middle of a Contentious Atmosphere

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I fell for it. I didn’t really notice until I asked myself why I felt so agitated. I heard myself snap at my husband over some trivial matter. Later he (and a few others) had to listen to my rant about the way corrupt people with money and power are lying to the vulnerable and gullible. I picked up the nastiness in the atmosphere and, forgetting to get cleaned up after reading about systemic corruption in my country, I ran with it and added to the division.

I lost my peace.

One of the most important things I have learned in the past few years is that when I pray I need to remember who I am, to rest from striving and have confidence in the One to whom I pray — and to tune into His peace. In His presence I am content to trust. Covered by His righteousness, surrounded by His love, and secure in His goodness I can join in the way Jesus prays for a situation.

On my own I become angry. I rant about injustice, cover-ups, the abuse of power, the manipulation of people through fears and half-truths. On my own my best efforts contribute to the kind of division that delights the enemy of our souls. My own emotional reaction doesn’t work.

I thought about attitudes that counter anger and contention. I thought about peace and contentment as neutralizing weapons. But first I had to get cleaned up.

The essence of confession is this: Oh God, I was wrong. I’m sorry.

I was wrong to pick up the weapons of the author of contention. (I once heard in a dream, “You can contend without being contentious, you know.”) I was wrong for applying outrage instead of stepping into the place of confident security in The Truth and The Way.

My scheduled reading yesterday in Psalm 94 made me stop and think. So much of the upheaval we are experiencing comes down to the question, “Who is in control?”

You will be relieved to know it’s not me, nor can I tell God what to do. I can confess, get cleaned up, and step back into alignment with him though. Thank you, Lord, for forgiveness.

The scripture says the purposes of God are not achieved by the anger of man. My dearest brothers and sisters, take this to heart: Be quick to listen,[o] but slow to speak. And be slow to become angry, for human anger is never a legitimate tool to promote God’s righteous purpose. (James 1:19, 20)

Prayer is more powerful than any demonstration of anger. God’s plan of revenge is first a heart transformed by love, but he will not tolerate forever those who hurt his children.

The Lord has fully examined every thought of man
and found them all to be empty and futile.

Lord Yah, there’s such a blessing that comes
when you teach us your word and your ways.
Even the sting of your correction can be sweet.

It rescues us from our days of trouble
until you are ready to punish the wicked.

For the Lord will never walk away from his cherished ones,
nor would he forsake his chosen ones who belong to him.

Whenever you pronounce judgments, they reveal righteousness.
All your lovers will be pleased.

Lord, who will protect me from these wicked ones?
If you don’t stand to defend me, who will? I have no one but you!

I would have been killed so many times
if you had not been there for me.

When I screamed out, “Lord, I’m doomed!”
your fiery love was stirred and you raced to my rescue.

Whenever my busy thoughts were out of control,
the soothing comfort of your presence
calmed me down and overwhelmed me with delight.

It’s obvious to all; you will have nothing to do
with corrupt rulers who pass laws that empower evil
and defeat what is right.

For they gang up against the lovers of righteousness
and condemn the innocent to death.

But I know that all their evil plans will boomerang back onto them.
Every plot they hatch will simply seal their own doom.
For you, my God, you will destroy them,
giving them what they deserve.
For you are my true tower of strength,
my safe place, my hideout, and my true shelter.

(Psalm 94:11-23 TPT)

 

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Peace in Believing

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The situations you are in are not more powerful than God.

They are not stronger than Him.

There is light.

There is truth.

There is wisdom.

There is revelation.

There is hope.

There is joy.

There is peace in believing.

-Graham Cooke, The Process Series

There is something particularly sweet about connecting with brothers and sisters in the Lord who understand pain and yet, even in dark times, walk in the light. It’s like a knowing wink across the room because they share a secret. They know what it is to be loved by the One more powerful than any situation.

When they leave, the scent of peace lingers.

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.

When the Right Time Arrived

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It was a mess. A world of division, compromise, corruption, and religiously followed traditions and rituals detached from roots of love and relationship. A hodge-podge of imperfect plans by imperfect people.

Tyrants, sycophants, miscreants, occupants,

masters, slaves, overlords, conscripts,

builders, destroyers, collaborators, rebels,

haves, have-nots, hopeful, hopeless.

This was the society Jesus was born into, because the time was right.

As they had many times before, the people not in control cried out for a saviour. They wanted freedom from the will of Roman conquerors. God sent them a saviour, but not to free them from man-made power ploys gone astray. He sent them Someone who could save them from something much more enslaving – their own sin.

As he had done before, he sent his answer in a form few recognized. He sent his son who set aside his godhood to live as a human. He sent a baby.

I often wonder why he chooses the weak of the world to confound the wise. Why does God frequently skip the well-bred, the educated, the credentialed, and those endowed with position and privilege when he wants to turn the tides of history? More than once people have said, “This can’t possibly be from God!” More than once they have been wrong.

“I see your plight,” he said. “This is my response.”

Then he sent a wanderer and his half-sister wife,

a wheeler dealer opportunist,

an insensitive spoiled brat turned slave turned foreign government official,

a stammering old man with a stick,

a stern mother,

a slave bride with a hammer and tent peg,

a scared unimportant farmer from a long line of scared unimportant farmers,

a lewd, crude, rule-breaking strongman,

a boy raised in a temple with a weak mentor and drunken, corrupt priests as companions,

a shepherd with a slingshot,

a runner given to depression,

a reckless prince with a bad driving record,

a left-handed messenger with a knife up his skirt,

a bizarre performance artist,

a beauty pageant queen who slept her way to influence,

a ploughman,

a child king with clueless teachers,

a eunuch in service to a despot,

a choir director,

a poet.

For the greatest mission of all time he introduced the bearer of his heart as a helpless baby. A baby.  A baby who so terrified the principalities and powers who knew their time would soon be up, that Herod killed every child close to fitting the toddler’s description.

Not even the ancient prophets who each told bits and pieces of the truth they held could see the entirety of God’s plan. Jesus gradually explained it, to those who could listen, over three years. Many heard and believed. Many did not. Before his death and resurrection the book of John tells us the Messiah spoke plainly to the credentialed experts whose education put limits on their understanding.

I tell you the truth; I AM before Abraham was born. (John 8:58 The Voice)

We are subject to change. He is not.

Trust him. He created the plan. Keep your eyes on Abba. Expect the unexpected.

When the right time arrived, God sent His Son into this world (born of a woman, subject to the law) to free those who, just like Him, were subject to the law. Ultimately He wanted us all to be adopted as sons and daughters. Because you are now part of God’s family, He sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts; and the Spirit calls out, “Abba, Father.” You no longer have to live as a slave because you are a child of God. And since you are His child, God guarantees an inheritance is waiting for you.

(Galatians 4:4-6)

Seeing the Gold

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When I awoke this morning, I watched gently falling snow transform my garden into a winter wonderland. By the time I showered, dressed, tied back hair desperately in need of a good cut, and made a thermos of hot coffee, snowflakes had morphed into rain. A giant serving of mushy porridgy slush replaced fresh deer tracks on a blanket of white on the street. Wet blobs of snow dropping from branches reminded me more of the glistening on the face of a toddler in need of a tissue than an invitation to a sleigh ride in the lane. Clouds seemed to slouch lower in the valley.

A day that started with Christmas card-worthy potential, photographically speaking, turned into a dull lull on this the shortest, darkest day of the year.

I decided to stay home. I put my camera away and instead plunked myself down to check out social media feed. Socializing there appeared to be as messy as the streets outside. Messier. The minions whose job it is to set up miscommunication, offense and division  apparently have been busy.

Troubles. Conflicts. Obfuscations. Insults. More dismal predictions. Hope sliding into the ditch.

Sadness wrapped itself around my heart. I stared out the window and remembered  another soggy winter day like this one. I know I took photos. I looked for them.

On that day I trudged through the woods looking for something out of the ordinary when I saw something out of the ordinary. Off the main path I caught the glint of a golden Christmas bobble hanging on a little tree.

People sometimes chop down little trees to take home for Christmas, but who decorates a tree and leaves it in the woods? When I asked around later, I learned some local people do this in memory of loved ones who no longer join them at the festive table. The forest provides a quiet place of remembrance for them to go. It felt like finding unexpected gold in the tearful territory of grief.

I’ve been meditating on Psalm 50 lately. I somehow feel it is important for the times we live in. In this psalm God tells his children he is about to deal with their lax attitudes toward sin. Perhaps the time has come to “have a little talk with Papa” and for an adjustment in attitude. The psalm begins with images of the beauty of his creative expression in nature and desire to communicate with us, but soon becomes somber.

“Do I need your young bull or goats from your fields as if I were hungry?
Every animal of field and forest belongs to me, the Creator.
I know every movement of the birds in the sky,
and every animal of the field is in my thoughts.
The entire world and everything it contains is mine.
If I were hungry, do you think I would tell you?
For all that I have created, the fullness of the earth, is mine.
Am I fed by your sacrifices? Of course not!
Why don’t you bring me the sacrifices I desire?
Bring me your true and sincere thanks,
and show your gratitude by keeping your promises to me, the Most High.” (verses 9 to 14 in The Passion Translation)

Then this golden invitation and promise (I hear it in a loving, gentle, yet firm Father’s tone):
“Honor me by trusting in me in your day of trouble.
Cry aloud to me, and I will be there to rescue you.” (verse 15)

He also speaks to the downright wicked, those who disregard his words and think they can continue to get away with crimes against humanity. It includes serious warnings not to mess with him or take him for granted.

“The sins of your mouth multiply evil.
You have a lifestyle of lies,
devoted to deceit as you speak against others,
even slandering those of your own household!
All this you have done and I kept silent,
so you thought that I was just like you, sanctioning evil.
But now I will bring you to my courtroom
and spell out clearly my charges before you.
This is your last chance, my final warning. Your time is up!” (verses 20 -22)

It ends with another appeal and a promise.

“The life that pleases me is a life lived in the gratitude of grace,
always choosing to walk with me in what is right.
This is the sacrifice I desire from you.
If you do this, more of my salvation will unfold for you.”

There it is, like an unexpected beautiful tree of remembrance of a loving relationship hidden deep in the woods on rainy day. This is what his heart desires.

“A life lived in the gratitude of grace.”

This is not about behaviour, or rules, or sacrifices. The way out of the mess we find ourselves in is to renew our relationship by turning to our Maker with gratitude, by receiving his empowering grace to be all he sees when he looks at us, and trust in him in the day of trouble.

He is our hope. He has a plan for our good, because he is good and because he loves us more than we can ever imagine.

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The old carol says: “Long lay the world in sin and error pining, ’til He appeared, and the soul felt its worth.”

Come, Lord Jesus. Be born in us today.