By the Waters of Comfort

Relieve and comfort all the persecuted and afflicted;

speak peace to troubled consciences;

strengthen the weak;

confirm the strong;

instruct the ignorant;

deliver the oppressed from him that spoileth him;

and relieve the needy that hath no helper;

and being by us all, by the waters of comfort,

and in the ways of righteousness,

to the Kingdom of rest and glory,

through Jesus Christ our Lord.

-Jeremy Taylor

I sat in a waiting room this week. I knew before I got there the wait would be long. The day after Christmas and New Years holidays were over had a fun-is-done back-to-business feeling at the medical lab. It may have been business-like, but there were so many feelings swirling about in that room.

Legal measures taken to protect patient privacy are trumped by thin curtains between beds or loud conversations between patients and a masked receptionist behind a plexiglass wall. It reminds me of a scene from the old comedy show “Get Smart” when secret agents are covered by a “cone of silence” which required them to yell because they couldn’t hear each other. When the plexiglass wall of silence is in the middle of a crowded waiting room, all pretense of privacy is gone.

Some people are mortified at having to explain what is in the sample bottle they are dropping off and they avoid eye contact with other humans for the rest of the day. Others don’t seem to care. In fact, some people give their information freely (and repeatedly due to the impediments to communication). Then they take a number, sit down, and look for someone to tell their troubles to. There are a lot of troubles expressed in a crowded waiting room at the hospital lab in the week after the holidays.

I’m not good at blocking the sights and sounds out. I’ve been given advice on how to ignore sad stories whether they are told in winces and groans or given in long detailed descriptions, but I know what it is like to cry and not be heard. So I listen. It’s something I actually like about myself, so I’m not likely to take the advice to block people out. I can’t imagine a caring Jesus blocking out people out. Prioritizing getting away to a quiet place where he could hear his Father’s voice? Yes, but not by pretending he didn’t notice or treating people as if their stories were not important. He always brought encouragement.

It’s the getting away to be heard by our heavenly Father, and to listen to His peace and kindness that heals our own souls and allows us to walk in hope in the middle of hopelessness. The comfort he has given us is shareable. It’s called compassion.

Earlier, while waiting for my husband at his own appointment, I was able to stop by the lake on a cool cloudy January day. There, by the waters of comfort, I found peace in the presence of the Lover of my soul. I could continue a day of tests of various types knowing, no matter what, I am loved and therefore able to extend love. And when I’m running low, I’m learning there’s plenty more where that came from.

The Road Back: Psalms of the Sons of Korah, Why Should I Fear When Evil Days Come?

For thousands of years, people who have had the most possessions have been in positions to buy power. That fact is obvious. We’ve seen evidence that “Money talks,” and, “He who pays the piper calls the tune.” We are all aware of evil around us that is financed by those who trust in themselves more than anyone else.

Before the Messiah showed up, not many people were in on the secret that God’s plan of salvation involved the poor and lowly people in this world. Young pregnant Mary was. One of my favourite pieces of music is her prophetic poem recorded in Luke 1, “The Magnificat,” which J.S. Bach set to music. It includes an aria for contralto with these lyrics: Esurientes implevit bonis et divites dimisit inanes. (The hungry he has filled with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.)

The Sons of Korah understood before Mary did. After returning to the role intended for them, they spent their days worshipping in God’s presence in the temple. They were in a position to hear God’s voice. The introduction to Psalm 49 includes these lyrics:

My mouth will speak words of wisdom;
    the meditation of my heart will give you understanding.
I will turn my ear to a proverb;
    with the harp I will expound my riddle:

The words of wisdom were these:

Why should I fear when evil days come,
    when wicked deceivers surround me—
those who trust in their wealth
    and boast of their great riches?
No one can redeem the life of another
    or give to God a ransom for them—
the ransom for a life is costly,
    no payment is ever enough—
so that they should live on forever
    and not see decay.

(Psalm 49: 4-9 NIV)

No one, even Solomon in all his glory, was rich enough to ransom a soul from Sheol. We all die, and our wealth is useless at the most important moment of all eternity. “This is the fate of those who trust in themselves, and of their followers, who approve their sayings.” (verse 13)

And yet the psalmists knew God had plans to pay the price and that someday they would see the manifestation of this promise: “But God will redeem me from the realm of the dead; he will surely take me to himself.” (verse 15)

I don’t know about you, but I get a bit scared when I see evidence of the days growing darker. Sometimes I feel helpless under the influence of evil people who do what they like and cover it over by buying good P.R.. But this is nothing new. I’m reassured by the Sons of Korah, who invite us to step back and see a bigger picture. In the end, material wealth and self-reliance fails spectacularly. Only God could pay the price for a soul. Only Jesus, who is both the baby crying in a manger, and the King of Kings who conquered death, could afford to give us eternal life.

“Esurientes” has a playful flute duet weaving around the sound of the voice. It feels like a dance of joy popping out in hopeful measures with the humour of an inside joke., “The hungry he has filled with good things and the rich he has sent away empty!”

Do You Love Me?

It’s been about thirty years since I gave up. I gave up trying to please God, or perhaps more accurately, to please God according to the job list people who put themselves in charge of the Pleasing God Committee gave me.

I quit trying, but I quit with a question: So, God, if I don’t do any of this stuff, if I walk away from trying so hard, will you still love me, or is your love conditional?

I’m a slow and stubborn learner and I had erected a lot of self-protective barriers. Wounded people do that. But God has grace and patience beyond — way beyond — anything I could imagine based on what I could drum up myself.

Since that time, his kindness and faithfulness have won my heart. He met me in the desert. He wooed me, or as Hosea wrote about God’s actions toward the unfaithful wife symbolizing a nation that went after every pleasure but God, he “allured” me. Like the woman in the desert, I eventually responded with my own song of love.

Now, all these years later, I hear him asking me the question. “If I don’t give you what you want when you want it, will you still love me, or is your love conditional?”

There are a lot of things I want, and as the beloved of the King of Kings am entitled to. I want good health. I want financial security. I want my children and grandchildren to have easy lives and a great relationship with God. I want my city and my country to prosper. Most of all, I want to be understood.

As I ponder, I remember this is the question posed to many people in the Bible from Abraham with his precious promised son, to Job with his wealth and healthy family, to Solomon with his fine mind and reputation, to Jesus himself who laid down the right to the recognition and worship owed him.

Like Peter, I remember the night of denial. “Jesus is ok,” I said, “But I don’t trust God the Father not to use me, then throw me away.”

Like Peter on the beach with Jesus, with the scent of a charcoal fire in the air to remind him of the night of denial, I hear the question. “Do you love me for who I am and not just for what I give you?”

I know my weaknesses. I know how easily the rug is still pulled out from under me when I feel harshly criticized or misunderstood. I know that in my own strength I can’t say yes.

I also know that his strength is made perfect in weakness. I also know that he gives me his love so I have something to give back to him. Everything comes from him, and in him and through him I live and move and have my being.

Yesterday the words from a song sung by Celine Dion played in my dreams:

You were my strength when I was weak.
You were my voice when I couldn’t speak.
You were my eyes when I couldn’t see.
You saw the best there was in me.
Lifted me up when I couldn’t reach.
You gave me faith ’cause you believed.
I’m everything I am
Because you loved me

This morning I was singing a song in my spirit. The words come from Psalm 73 which, in the New Living Testament, reads:

Whom have I in heaven but you?
    I desire you more than anything on earth.
My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak,
    but God remains the strength of my heart;
    he is mine forever.

Himself

If we are in Christ the whole basis of our goings is God, not conceptions of God, not ideas of God, but God Himself. We do not need any more ideas about God, the world is full of ideas about God. They are all worthless, because the ideas of God in anyone’s head are of no more use than our own ideas. What we need is a real God, not more ideas about Him.

-Oswald Chambers

Surely Good Mrs. Murphy Shall Follow Me

When I was a child I wondered who good Mrs. Murphy was.  My teacher was named Mrs. Murphy and she was good, at least she was good to the kids who knew the right answers to her questions. She was not as kind to the naughty boys at the back of the classroom, but she didn’t follow them around, as far as I knew. Still we sang in Sunday School, “Good Mrs. Murphy shall follow me all the days of my life,” so there had to be a good Mrs. Murphy somewhere.

It wasn’t until I read the words in the Bible for myself that I realized I had misheard. “Goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” I still didn’t understand what it meant, but it let Mrs. Murphy off the hook.

I misheard a lot of things about God when I was young. Sometimes I heard clearly but the speaker “misspoke.” I also skipped over a lot of things I heard and read, but since I had little experience, they remained in a file of “nice sayings” stored on a dusty shelf in the recesses of my brain. Later, when life tests showed up, I needed to dive into that file and learn what they were truly about.

Today I was reminded of my frustration two years ago. I have trouble walking very far, but I have improved a lot. Two years ago, I could hardly walk around my own house. I have always loved walking in the woods and often rambled in the countryside and through the streets of our town looking for beautiful things to photograph. Photography has been a way of intentionally looking for beauty in a world where we are confronted with so many demonstrations of the lack of goodness and mercy between people.

We live in a different city now. Spring arrived about a month sooner than I have been accustomed to. I can’t walk as far as I want to yet, but I can walk. For that I am very thankful. This week, I visited a local garden originally planted by a woman from Scotland over a hundred years ago.  

As I stopped to appreciate every sign of colour and new life, I felt peace. I felt my spirit rest in the goodness of the Creator of beauty and the love of beauty he placed in the heart of a young woman far from everything that was familiar to her.

A song is playing in my head today:

I love You, Lord
Oh Your mercy never fails me
All my days, I’ve been held in Your hands
From the moment that I wake up
Until I lay my head
Oh, I will sing of the goodness of God.

I have looked back over the years of my life and seen “Good Mrs. Murphy” guarding my steps. It turns out Mrs. Murphy is actually my Father, my Friend, and my God.

Hidden Beauty

For the Scriptures tell us:

Whoever wants to embrace true life

and find beauty in each day

must stop speaking evil, hurtful words

and never deceive in what they say.

Always turn from what is wrong

and cultivate what is good;

eagerly pursue peace in every relationship,

making it your prize.

(1 Peter 3:9-11 TPT)

I’m a stomper. When my anger is triggered by injustice toward myself —or especially toward vulnerable children— I go outside for a stomp. I go out whether it’s raining, or snowing, or if I’m in pain and limping heavily as I shove my walker through four inches of gravel. (Really! Who advertises handicap accessible trails then covers them with thousands of little wheel grabbing rocks?)

I don’t take my camera with me on these jaunts because I am busy composing defensive responses to obtuse accusers (absent from my side but repeating insults in my head) or writing imaginary posts to corrupt authorities (who will probably remain totally unaware of my important opinion) I’m too busy to notice anything photo-worthy. I’m snapping, but not in a sensitive creative way. Sometimes I walk away from a tense situation to avoid saying something to someone I will later regret.

I didn’t realize until these past few days of rumination following an excellent seminar on healing traumatized churches led by Ron Wean of Florida, that my habit of stomping out my rage is a way of getting out of the fight mode of the infamous flight/fight/freeze trilogy of survival responses to trauma (or the triggers of unprocessed memories of trauma stored in the body). Movement renews connection with the body and the logical/creative brain God gave us. I know I’m back when I can feel more than my own emotional pain and can see more than dark ugliness.  The expression, “blind rage” was probably created by someone who was familiar with it.

I’m not anti-emotion. Not at all! Anger can be a useful emotion. It lets us know that all is not well like the check engine light on the car dashboard. The discomfort of angry feelings can let us know that something is not right in ourselves. It can motivate self-examination and change. Anger modified by self-control has been behind many reforms from freedom from slavery to the end of entrenched genocide. We are told: “In your anger, do not sin,” (Ephesians 4:26) and “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” (Romans 12:9) I’m not talking about becoming an emotionless doormat. I’m talking about choosing to not return evil for evil (with compounded interest) or seek revenge.

This morning I read this scripture passage in 1 Peter about finding beauty. I had never noticed before that speaking hurtful words in retaliation and neglecting to pursue peace can keep us locked in a world without beauty. Beauty remains hidden in the places where ugliness and darkness demand all the attention. 

I thought that an intentional search for beauty would bring peace, but what if it is the other way around? What if a lack of peace hinders our ability to see beauty? What if peace improves our vision?

What if the pursuit of peace means letting go of wrathful words and unconscious tit-for-tat exaggerations and lopsided partial truths formed whilst in survival mode? What if the pursuit of peace means leaving our own devices and turning to the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, who entered our trauma out of love and compassion to bring us his peace, the peace that passes understanding?

Lord, remind us to turn from what is wrong and cultivate what is good. Open our eyes to see beauty again as we pursue peace in every relationship. Heal our hearts and renew a right spirit within us.

Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.

I was looking for something to watch on TV. I needed a break from the world’s problems, and I just wanted an hour or two of uplifting entertainment, something to make me smile and feel good inside. Years ago, a counsellor told me, “You are entirely too sane. A little fiction-inspired denial might help to lighten things up a bit.”

I have access to multiple streaming services, but I couldn’t find anything that would “lighten things up a bit.” I love a good film, but these didn’t hold out the beauty I was looking for. Instead, I ended up entertaining myself by listing themes from trailers and the blurbs on trending movies.

Have you paid attention to the themes of films lately? When I was depressed, I used to watch a lot of TV. My standards were not high. When things were really bad, I could lose hours to the weather channel. Whether TV-watching was a cause or effect of the depression, I don’t know, but I haven’t paid nearly as much attention to television or popular films since being set free from the pit. 

I looked more closely at the offerings. The same kind of stuff kept coming up. This survey is not remotely scientific. It’s just what I noticed today. Most themes could be reduced to a few broad categories:

Dark secrets: Someone is lying to you.

Someone is trying to steal from you.

Someone wants to use you, or your loved one, for their own power or pleasure purposes.

Off-world or external forces beyond your control are bent on your destruction.

So much for escape from the news cycle.

Responses to disappointment and pain included: the celebration of absurdity; angry humour; creative revenge and one-upmanship pay-back; exploration of the dark side; not-so-noble means to earn public approval; accumulation and protection of wealth and the spending thereof; escape through mood-altering chemistry: and sexual hedonism involving every possible option but a happy marriage.

I’m sure there are films with themes of nobility, altruism, forgiveness, hope, and physical or emotional or spiritual healing, but they weren’t in the first forty on the “trending” list.

As my little granddaughter observed, good stories need problems. Understood — and a well-developed villain is often the character that keeps us coming back. I only looked at the written and visual enticements intended to draw us in like a carnival barker’s call today. I hope many of the issues in the storylines were resolved and brought great relief to the audience before they trundled off to bed. I just didn’t feel like taking the risk that the offered solutions came at the expense of bystanders. I decided not to saturate myself in despair as was once my habit.

As I thought about it, the word saturate reminded me of this advice to new believers meeting together in Philippi long ago:

“Don’t be pulled in different directions or worried about a thing. Be saturated in prayer throughout each day, offering your faith-filled requests before God with overflowing gratitude. Tell him every detail of your life, then God’s wonderful peace that transcends human understanding, will guard your heart and mind through Jesus Christ,” Paul wrote.

“Keep your thoughts continually fixed on all that is authentic and real, honorable and admirable, beautiful and respectful, pure and holy, merciful and kind. And fasten your thoughts on every glorious work of God, praising him always.” 

“Put into practice the example of all that you have heard from me or seen in my life and the God of peace will be with you in all things.” (Philippians 4: 6 -9 TPT)

I’m not looking to escape, Pollyanna style, the reality that evil exists everywhere in the world. I can see that level of reality in my own dishonorable responses to fear that is the result of continually hearing the message, “Be afraid. Be very afraid.”

I choose to fasten my thoughts on every glorious work of God. It might seem boring to thrill-seekers, but my wanderings and simple photos of flowers and mountains and sky are reminders to me of a greater reality, the one in which the Creator and Lover of my soul says, “Trust me. I’ve got this.”

I’m shutting the TV and the computer off and going outside now.

Oh, and in other news, the orchards are starting to bloom.

Cherish Wisdom

Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you;
    love her, and she will watch over you.
 The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom.
    Though it cost all you have, get understanding.
 Cherish her, and she will exalt you;
    embrace her, and she will honor you.
 She will give you a garland to grace your head
    and present you with a glorious crown.

Proverbs 4:6-9 NIV

Running Into the Wind

There is something about the crocus flower that symbolizes eagerness to me. They remind me of my childhood family walking over hills covered with last years dry grass and through thickets of gray branches to reach a trail that was still edged with melting snow. I remember the cold wind rushing down the mountainside making jackets billow and long hair whip around in every direction.

If we had been hiking in the late autumn, after everything with colour had blown away, we would have complained about how nasty that cold Alberta wind could be. But in the spring, the same temperature and the same stiff breeze felt wonderfully warm. We tucked hats and gloves into deep pockets and ran into the wind, our arms raised high as if to catch all the promises of spring in our hands.

A south-facing hillside showing off crocus flowers bobbing their heads in the breeze was our reward and evidence of better times and brighter days ahead. Yes, there would be disappointing blustery snowy icy days before winter fully released it’s grip, but the season of growth and harvest approached.

After this latest season of Lent and a time of allowing myself to be aware of the darkness Christ came to illuminate, the week after Easter feels like receiving the freedom to run toward the gifts He promised. One of those was the presence of the Holy Spirit who walks beside us and never leaves. He tells us through Paul:

Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy.

(1 Corinthians 14:1 NIV)

Crocus flowers are like fuzzy purple floral forerunners who respond to the season change before the other flowers. That’s what New Testament prophecy makes possible –being the first to see what others miss in changing times and responding to it in faith.

Teach me your ways, Lord. Show me your paths. Lead me in the way everlasting. Let me run into the wind with joy.