And In Kindness You Follow Behind Me

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I ordered a grilled chicken salad with dressing on the side.

“I don’t eat chicken,” she said firmly.

I knew my new acquaintance was not a vegetarian. She had just ordered a steak before passing the menu back to the waitress.

“Is it the taste or the texture?” I asked.

“Neither,” she said. “When I was a child I was chased by a psycho chicken and I have never liked it since then. I can still see that mad hen with those crazy googly eyes, flapping and squawking and nipping at my little bare legs. I couldn’t have been more than three. Scarred me for life.” She snapped a bread stick with vehemence.

Now I happen to think roasting a googly-eyed bird in a pan ringed with some nice farm fresh vegetables could have been a way to exercise suitable revenge toward a chicken that ruled the roost fifty (I looked at her again as she guzzled her drink), make that sixty years ago, but here a long-dead crazy fowl affected my dining partner’s menu choices all these years later.

I shouldn’t have laughed at her, even silently. A few days later I caught myself crossing the street to avoid a German Shepherd dog behind a wire fence. He wasn’t barking or showing any aggressive tendencies. I just don’t like them since I felt the teeth of one sink into my leg and drag me across the back lane when I was a young child. Eventually I overcame my fear of dogs and enjoyed faithful pets who curled up behind my knees on the couch when I needed the comfort of a companion, but I never considered owning a big dog, especially a German Shepherd.

This week, a number of friends and acquaintances wrote “Me too” on their public social media posts. Female celebrities have admitted to feeling powerless, or scared, or deeply offended when they were treated dishonourably by sexually aggressive men in positions of power. This seems to have triggered a tipping point and given permission to thousands of women (and some men) to admit publicly, some for the first time, that they also carry scars for life as the result of events in the past. Thus the “Me Too” campaign.

I’ve written about my own “me too” before. But since I have a decidedly stubborn anti-trendy streak and I also know what it is like to not be heard, this time I chose to simply listen. Sometimes it feels like girls who escaped being treated as sexual objects, even at a young age, are in the minority in this culture. Some women who posted may have had experiences that might seem to pale in comparison to those who have been seriously abused, but they need to be heard too. I’ve also heard the stories of betrayed boys and victims of female perpetrators.

I know people who have walked away from head-on collisions at highway speed. I also know of a person who became a quadriplegic as a result of falling out of bed. Damage is not always related to intent. The justice system, which tends to measure consequences on the basis of physical trauma, has difficultly understanding that psychological wounding is more commensurate with types of relationships and the level of betrayal involved than photographable bruises. It’s a complex issue.

Some people can walk away from incessant sexual harassment and outright assault relatively unscathed and others have known deep life-long trauma from an incident that seems no more serious to the rest of us than being chased by an annoying chicken. On the other hand, some “perpetrators” who unintentionally caused great pain are not so much wicked as clumsy and ignorant. It’s complex.

My point is that we see a lot of lonely walking wounded struggling on a challenging path everyday. Some hide the scars better than others. Some are brave enough to seek healing. Some need hope that healing is possible.

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I was thinking about this as I meditated on Psalm 139 in the Passion Translation this week. When I read this verse I couldn’t breathe for a moment.

You’ve gone into my future to prepare the way,
And in kindness you follow behind me,
To spare me from the harm of my past.

I’ve written before about Christ preparing a way before us. I enjoy the imagery of being surrounded with loving protection. To “abide in Christ” is one of the greatest privileges of relationship with him. I can see him walking before, behind and beside, but I see it as a place, a spot on the road of this journey. I hadn’t really considered that not only does he move in space to protect me, but he moves in time to plant provisions like clues in a treasure hunt in my future. But this! He goes into my past to guard me from its negative influence as well.

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The Bible tells the stories of many people whose pasts could have defined them, setting limits on their futures: a youngest forgotten son, a rejected woman, a bereaved mother, a slave-labourer, an abducted child, a sex-slave, an emasculated spoil of war, a boy from a town with a poor reputation…

A therapist once asked me, “Why are you doing so well?” It seemed an odd question considering where I was sitting at the time – in the office of someone professionally trained to help people who were not doing well. I must have looked puzzled.

“No, seriously,” she said. “People who have stories like yours usually exhibit more serious permanent psychological damage. I want to know why you are not worse.”

I thought for a moment.

“Because from the time I was very young I have known that Someone walks with me, Someone who has suffered everything I have, and still loves, Someone who values me and sees me for who I really am and will help me walk away from my past,” I told her.

And in that moment I heard my Lord speak through my own voice. Jesus has already been in my future. He walks beside me in my present and he goes back into my past to break the curse of negative expectations and keep them from sinking their teeth into me and dragging me back there.

He heals and surrounds me in both space and time – and he is willing to do the same for you.

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The journey continues.

The song “You Surround Me” has been playing in my head.

You Surround Me (live from Dublin)
Karen Padgett, Daphne Rademaker and Brian Doerksen

Gaelic lyrics and translation included

Tá tú thart orm (You’re all around me)
Tá tú i gceartlár mo chroí (In the centre of my heart)
You surround me Tá tú thart orm (You’re all around me)
You indwell me Tá tú i gceartlár mo chroí (In the centre of my heart)
You surround me

You surround me Tá tú thart orm (You’re all around me)
You indwell me
You’re beside me Tá tú ag mo thaobh (You’re at my side)
Ever present always near

You’re the whisper Is tú ag cogar (You whisper)
Calling my name gently Ag glaoch m’ainm (Calling my name)
Love eternal Grá go síoraí (Love eternal)
Reaching to me jealous for me Ag faire orm (Watching over me )
Go héadmhar dom (Jealous for me)

I will stay with You forever
Arm in arm we’ll walk together
You will never let me go

I can’t live my life without You
My whole will to live is for You
You’ve awakened me to know

You surround me You indwell me
You’re beside me ever present always near

You’re the whisper calling my name gently
Love eternal reaching to me jealous for me
Is tú ag cogar (You whisper)
Go sámh m’ainm (My name gently )
Grá go síoraí (Love eternal)
I can’t live my life without You
I can’t live my life without You
I can’t live my life without You

A Dhia fanfaidh mé leat choíche (God I will stay with you forever)
Lámh ar lámh le chéile (Arm in arm together)
Ní scaoilfidh tú mé riamh (You will never let me go)
Ní fiú ní fiú mo bheatha gan tú (My life is not worth it not worth it
without You)
Thug tú cúis ‘s ciall dom’ shaoil-se (You gave meaning and sense to my life)
Mhúscail tú mo chroí (You awakened my heart)

 

First Things First

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“The prayer that begins with trustfulness, and passes on into waiting, will always end in thankfulness, triumph, and praise.”

~Alexander MacLaren

There was a time in my life when it seemed I had far more wedding and bridal and baby shower invitations than available babysitters. We all knew that such events included obligatory traditions as well as some pressure to meet expectations for originality. Do it this way, but differently. I began to wish my friends, and then my friends’ children, would just announce elopements and spawning events with photos on Facebook. I preferred emailing a gift card and skipping the whole toilet paper and clothes pin games and the dressing up for awkward speeches and plastic cup toasts thing.

Now I’m older. Funeral announcements have gradually outnumbered wedding and baby shower invitations. I realize I undervalued the opportunity to celebrate beginnings. I wish I had connected with joy more.

There can be joy in the midst of sorrow when we know someone is now in the presence of the Lord, but we can’t deny the existence of sorrow. Call it a “Celebration of Life Party” if you like, but funerals are sad events. Some funerals are sadder than others. Loss is loss, even if it’s the loss of someone who didn’t stir feelings of fondness. Sometimes the saddest loss of all is the loss of opportunity to build a better relationship.

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The undeniable fact about death rituals is that they can permit and perpetuate really bad theology – what we think about God. And since what we think about God is the most important foundation in our lives, funerals and “comforting words” in the reception line have a way of forcing us to realize this is where the rubber meets the road, philosophically.

Group mourning rituals can be very similar to weddings. We still have the do-it-this-way-but-differently pressures when arranging a funeral, but with much less time to prepare, an undefined budget and no RSVP list of attendees. Maybe that’s why many people still feel the need to hire an ordained hatch, match and despatch specialist, even when church attendance occurred less frequently than visits to Santa in the life of the honoree. Some clerics are very good at nurturing and comforting in times of need. Some others? Well, not so much.

One of the saddest remarks I heard at a funeral was from a person officiating who said, “Our hope is that our friend made a good enough impression on God that someday he will be allowed to come back and help clean up the earth.”

My heart ached. But I could not judge. For many years I said I believed in God’s grace, but in practice my actions showed I believed in the necessity of making a good impression on God, so he would have mercy on me and not toss me into the trash heap of discardables on judgement day.

God has given me long time-outs on this journey. I’ve had chances to scrape off performance-based religious burrs collected along the way. I still do keep running into residual ideas still clinging to my own previously unexamined places, but I realize for many people thinking about talking to God is like preparing for a make or break interview. Prayer feels like having to make a good impression on God, so he will act in one’s favour. Sacrificial acts of piety and charity carry what we hope is a suitably subtle label: God, please note. (And a sigh: I hope I’m doing this right!)

~~~~~~~

I find myself again idling at a rest stop along the road as I recuperate from surgery this season. I find stuck to myself the remnants of an uncomfortable feeling that I’m not doing enough. I should be writing something deeply profound, or at least organizing my sock drawer. Is rest self-indulgent? What if I fail to impress? Will I will be forgotten?

My heavenly Father heard my questions (before I voiced them) and that’s when Holy Spirit showed up in a new translation of Psalm 139 that attempts to include emotional communication. It’s so rich, a gift of gold light showering down like the autumn leaves.

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I plan to feel and rest my way through meditation on this psalm. How profound is the concept that our Creator knows us down to the cellular level and still loves us? How can we possibly think we can impress (or fool) someone who knows our thoughts before we do, someone who is not bound by our chronological sense of time, and who still persists in trying to communicate his love?

At first, immersing myself in Psalm 139 felt like giving into a tendency to be self-indulgent and self-centered. I was taught that being a Christian means putting Jesus first, others second and yourself last. (We even had an acronym for this approach – “J,O,Y”) The work ethic is strong in my culture; a sense of accomplishment is a highly polished trophy passed reluctantly from one hard worker to another.

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Here, in this psalm, the Holy Spirit tells us that before we did anything, thought anything, or were aware of anything worthy of approval, we were the object of his unceasing kind thoughts and the source of his joy. We see ourselves as having value because he first loved us. We love him because he first loved us. We love others because he first loved us. First things first.

Since we can’t give what we have not filled up on, there are seasons when we need to take time to soak in his love like a baby floating in amniotic fluid. Times of rest are like celebrations of joyful new beginnings without the budget restrictions and societal expectations.

I’m learning to celebrate this time of re-alignment by soaking in these words.

Lord, you know everything there is to know about me.
You’ve examined my innermost being
With your loving gaze.
You perceive every movement of my heart and soul,
And understand my every thought
Before it even enters my mind.
You are so intimately aware of me, Lord,
You read my heart like an open book
And you know all the words I’m about to speak
Before I even start a sentence!

-from Psalm 139, The Passion Translation

There is more of God’s love, always more love, than we dare to think or imagine.

 

 

 

 

Drench My Soul With Life

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Give me revelation about the meaning of your ways,
So I can enjoy the reward of following them fully!
Give me an understanding heart so that I can
Passionately know and obey your truth.
Guide me into the paths that please you,
For I take delight in all you say…

Drench my soul with life as I walk in your paths.

(Psalm 119:33-35, 37b TPT)

The Lord is in This Place

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The sun was back yesterday. I left my work sitting on the desk and headed for the hills,  continuing my Kootenay back roads exploration. Half the leaves on the plum tree blew away during the night, reminding me we have no idea what tomorrow will bring.

I am thankful for this day, these moments.

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As I stood on a road lined with colourful trees and listened to the birds and felt the refreshing breeze a song began to play in my head – This is My Father`s World. But not the first verse. A later verse. I still knew it!

This is my Father’s world. O let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world: the battle is not done:
Jesus Who died shall be satisfied,
And earth and Heav’n be one.

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I guess the events of this past week with violence in Las Vegas and in my husband`s hometown of Edmonton, and the sadness of seeing people in positions of power who refuse to listen to each other were still heavy on my heart.

I looked up the lyrics to make sure I remembered them accurately and I was surprised to learn good old Maltbie Babcock wrote more verses than the ones I knew – the verses I sang in elementary school choir when such things were still allowed.

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This is my Father’s world, dreaming, I see His face.
I ope my eyes, and in glad surprise cry, “The Lord is in this place.”
This is my Father’s world, from the shining courts above,
The Beloved One, His Only Son,
Came—a pledge of deathless love.

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This is my Father’s world, should my heart be ever sad?
The Lord is King—let the heavens ring. God reigns—let the earth be glad.
This is my Father’s world. Now closer to Heaven bound,
For dear to God is the earth Christ trod.
No place but is holy ground.

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Today I walked on holy ground in His Presence.

In His Presence. That`s where I belong.

Beauty and Time

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We’ve been overwhelmed with grief;
Come now and overwhelm us with gladness!
Replace our years of trouble with decades of delight!
Let us see your miracles again, and let the rising generation
See the glorious wonders you’re famous for.
Oh Lord our God, let your sweet beauty rest upon us, and give us favor.
Come work with us, and then our works will endure,
And give us success in all we do!
(Psalm 90:15-17 TPT)

Can I be honest? This has been a tough year for a lot of us. The details are not necessary. I find that listing them often leads to a you-think-that’s-bad kind of discussion, and your challenges are much more real to you than mine are. Let’s just say that for months I have not been able to get outside as much as I like to.  This week, in a lull between storms, I am making an effort to go to the places around our valley that refresh my soul.

Autumn is my favourite season in the mountains. I feel a bittersweet urgency to soak up as much colour as I can before the snow arrives. Yesterday beside the quiet turquoise water of a local lake I wanted to cry for the overwhelming beauty and the overwhelming sense that this time will soon pass — sooner for me since I face another surgery and hospitalization in two weeks and will be inside again.

The circumstances of my life this past year have made me aware of entropy and mortality and that most precious of entities – time. This week two events in which we were blessed with the gift of more time caught my attention.

One, which you may not be aware of (which is just as well) was another prediction of the end of time, supposedly on September 23rd.  It failed to materialize – or dematerialize depending on your eschatology. It would appear we have more time.

The other began with a phone call from my brother. His son was in an accident. My nephew’s neck was broken. Badly broken. Please pray. We prayed. Many people prayed.

I don’t know how my nephew managed to pull himself out of the wreckage with a shattered C7 vertebra without damaging his spinal cord and becoming a quadriplegic. I think that was the first miracle. I do know that I am deeply grateful to skilled surgeons and medical engineers, and the God who placed talent and drive in them to find solutions. They replaced his broken vertebra with an artificial titanium model, stabilized his neck with a plate, and twelve hours later he was walking. To me, that was the next miracle. He was given more time. He has grown up hearing the stories of what God can do, supernaturally and through people with skills. Now this young man of the next generation has seen them for himself.

Years ago, my uncle was teaching his fiancée to drive when they ended up in a similar roll-over. His neck was also broken. He died. My mother was a young teen at the time. Since she had no mother and her father was an alcoholic, her brother was one who cared for her. Her grief at his loss lasted a life-time. Knowing what could have been makes the gift of time for my nephew all the more wonderful.

I’ve seen miracles and I’ve seen tragedies. I’ve seen amazing fulfillment of promises and I’ve seen heart-breaking disappointment. I’ve seen the big C Church rise up in unity to be what she was called to be, and I’ve seen it drop down in petty conflicts and compromise with the world’s way of doing things to lose its influence for good. But I have seen enough to know there is more.

When I see miracles like my nephew walking or my friend’s marriage restored or lives changed when people realize how much God loves them, I know there is more. The church is not yet the glorious spotless bride of Christ ready for the wedding feast. I sense time passing and feel an urgency to be more than we have been.

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My prayer today is the same as the psalmist’s.

Let us see your miracles again, and let the rising generation
See the glorious wonders you’re famous for.
Oh Lord our God, let your sweet beauty rest upon us, and give us favor.

 

 

 

 

No Platitudes, Please

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“Hope means hoping when things are hopeless, or it is no virtue at all… As long as matters are really hopeful, hope is mere flattery or platitude; it is only when everything is hopeless that hope begins to be a strength.”

~Gilbert K. Chesterton

It’s hard to know what to say sometimes, when things go horribly wrong. And yet we feel the need to fill in the silence by saying something, anything. I wonder if more pain is inflicted when, in the absence of hearing any wisdom from above, we fill the blank with our own words. It’s not that bad. Look on the bright side.

Sometimes it is that bad. Sometimes darkness threatens to smother us. Sometimes evil appears to triumph.

You can’t forgive pain you haven’t acknowledged. You can’t heal what you won’t diagnose. You can’t rebuild until you assess the damage.

Hope, real hope, doesn’t mean averting your eyes. Hope, real hope, means looking right at that pain, that threat, that diagnosis, that shattered home, that failed dream, that loss, and sitting in the silence of the shocking aftermath.

Hope means choosing, in time, to rise in the place of hopelessness, to set your face like a flint, and come, just as you are, into the Presence of the Holy. Hope means you can say, ‘Nevertheless.’

‘I am tired. I am hurting. I am frail. Nevertheless, I will not let my faith be shaken to the point where I refuse hope. Nevertheless, I will call upon my You, Lord, for You are my light and my salvation. You are my strength. You are my God. I trust You. I believe Your promises. I believe in You.’

The Lord is my help

I will not be confounded,

So I have focussed my face like a flint.

I’ll not be ashamed.

Lord, I come  — just as I am.

~ Fernando Ortega

 

All of Life Is a Pure Gift

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Gratitude goes beyond the ‘mine’ and ‘thine’ and claims the truth that all of life is a pure gift. In the past I always thought of gratitude as a spontaneous response to the awareness of gifts received, but now I realize that gratitude can also be lived as a discipline. The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy.

~Henri Nouwen