The Climb

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When I was a child we often spent summer vacation in the Okanagan. Warm evenings on the beach, and hot days picking ripe cherries and peaches growing in orchards full of giving trees. Mmmm. You could reach up, pick the fruit, and bite in as the juice ran down your chin! For a girl from the prairies who had seen snow in every month of the year and who had only ever picked crab apples from a tree, it was heaven.

I must not have been the only one to feel that way because members of our family have moved to the area — and I get to visit them. One of them lives on the shores of the lake below the vineyards and wineries on the mountainous hillsides.

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While we stayed there we needed to drive into the city several times. We planned for the extra time it takes to drive on roads that definitely do not pay attention to the route a crow would choose. The lanes wind through orchards and vineyards include steep inclines and hairpin curves. I watched the compass on my dashboard switch between opposite directions several times before I reached the highway on the other side of the hill.

I learned to drive on Alberta country roads laid out in a grid that headed north, south, east, or west without hindrance. Rivers and correction lines were the only diversions. Roads in the mountains straighten out only long enough for prairie drivers to speed up for the half kilometer-long passing lane.

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The hairpin turns in Lake Country caught my attention. It felt like the path in my life lately where I have been making progress moving in one direction, then suddenly circumstances force a sharp turn and I am headed in the opposite direction. Gathering/divesting. Constructing/deconstructing. Extending latitude/enforcing boundaries. Making connections/breaking off connections. Gaining health/losing health. Learning/unlearning. It looks like vacillation, like I can’t make a decision and stick with it.

So what’s going on here, Lord?

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Then I notice that although a hairpin road takes me in the same direction from whence I came,  it now takes me higher. The territory is familiar, but the view is slightly different. I have a better perspective. I can see farther. I wonder if this is a place and time in the journey where God has called me to come up higher, but the direct approach is too steep.

Just before he was led away to be crucified Jesus told his disciples, “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.”

What was about to happen was a reversal of the direction they were expecting. It was illogical. From their perspective, before the Holy Spirit had come in power, it made no sense.

Sometimes the faith life is realizing logic that functions only in our limited perspective is not reasonable. It’s realizing that aligning with greater perspective — God’s perspective — necessitates change. And change again.

In his kindness, the Holy Spirit gives us a vision of the way things could be. We set our hearts on the dream God planted like the orchards in the sun – and then he puts us on a road that appears to be going in the opposite direction. What?

Sometimes following Jesus results in miraculously rapid acceleration. Sometimes learning to follow him means steadfast unwavering marathon-endurance running with eyes fixed on the goal. Sometimes learning to follow means willingness to make sudden  changes in direction that may not make sense to us.

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Not everyone is at the same point on the road, but wherever we are in this journey we remember that Jesus is walking it with us. He promised he would never leave us or forsake us. Even when it doesn’t make sense. Yet.

 

Faith Knows

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The mountain, seen dimly through the haze of summer wildfire smoke, is no less solid than the mountain seen in cool crisp detail on a clear spring morning.

The promise of God, seen faintly through the haze of seasonal untamed pain, is no less solid than the promise seen in the clear still glory of His Presence.

Faith knows.

When Kindness Isn’t Kind

 

“PRAISE GOD! I’M FREE!” he shouted as he leapt onto the grassy bank from the back seat of my car.

poke kids fighting IMG_0047My grandson threw his arms in the air and did an enthusiastic Pentecostal two-step right there. I laughed, but I understood the feeling.

I took my young grandchildren to the splash park this week. We had a marvelous time and I was impressed with how well the children got along and looked after each other.

Then we drove home.

Securing three car seats in a space usually taken by jackets and stuff that won’t fit in the trunk of my car was a challenge, but we did it. It meant my grandson was squished in the middle seat between his sisters though. Opportunity for boundary violations abounded. All three took advantage of those opportunities.

Finally, after a useless lecture on the dangers of escalating a conflict with over-reaction, I put on my stern voice.

“No! You may not poke each other! If you continue this I am stopping the car right now!”

That was a useless threat thirty years ago and its effectiveness has not improved, but you know, tradition.

Finally I commanded, “I want you to do one kind thing for each other, right now!”

That’s when the kissing started. Big sister planted a sloppy wet one on brother’s shoulder. His eww inspired another then another. He leaned away but that put him in range of little sister who covered him with similar passive aggressive affection. The girls giggled. He protested. Loudly.

Ten blocks to go. Nine… eight…

Later, as I was telling his Dad about my amusement at his son’s actions (the joyful exclamation part, not the misbehaving part – that’s between us) I remembered times when I was equally as happy to be freed from the “kind” ministrations of people with a self-serving agenda. False kindness can be like sending truckloads of used junk to disaster areas that have no place to put it as an excuse to clean closets and feel good about ourselves at the same time. Perhaps well-meaning, but not well thought out.

Boundary violating kisses I have known often started with:
~I’m telling you this in love.. (because even I realize the action is not exactly communicating “love”).
~I have a ministry opportunity for you…
~This worked for me so it will obviously work for you…
~I know you have a weight problem, but I made these cupcakes just for you…
~I read this on paranoid tendencies.com and you need to implement the findings immediately…
~Thus saith the Lord, if you do not heed the advice of this, his servant, it will not go well for you…
~This is what you need to do because, in my opinion, this is how a good Christian dresses, or worships, or prays, or votes, or diets, or donates, or handles Hallowe’en…
~I’m just protecting you. These are the teachers/preachers who disagree with me or give me an icky feeling. Shun them.

One day I finally realized I was free to jump out of the confines of that harassment. “Praise God! I’m free!”

Kisses can be loving and kind. Sometimes these were about good things the speaker learned and wanted to pass on. He or she meant well, but, it was still a bit self-serving. It’s difficult to untangle a desire to help from a desire to be in control. I’ve done it too – and suffered the consequences. When you remove people’s power to self-govern they tend to express exasperation in unexpected ways. We with a yearning to teach also need to learn to share knowledge and still honour people’s ability to think and decide for themselves. One size does not fit all.

I have noticed in the scripture that Jesus responded to individuals differently. He didn’t heal the same way every time. He didn’t use the same tone of voice with everyone. Even now he speaks to his beloved according to their needs and temperament and meets them where they are.

Maybe a brother or sister needs a kiss. Maybe they need to be noticed and a friendly poke or a holy kiss, or a culturally appropriate side hug is the perfect response. But maybe they need respect and space to work it out with the Lord on their own. Maybe they need freedom.

You are perfectly free to ignore this if it doesn’t minister to you. Just sayin’.

A Gift

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Sometimes you are out in the backyard taking photos of sweet peas and sheets on the clothesline just because the flowers smell wonderful and the warm sunlight and shifting shadows are interesting.

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And then a hummingbird hovers in front of your lens just long enough to snap a shot.

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Thank you, Lord. What a lovely gift.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

(James 1:17 NIV)

 

Learning How to Fail

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My granddaughter and I were talking about the challenges she faces going to a new school in a new town in September. She’s an excellent student but worries about keeping up her grades. I told her that once when I was her age in a new school, I got 4% on an algebra test.

I felt so devastated when I received my paper back with that incredibly horrible verdict not only including an exclamation mark, but circled in red, that I slipped out the side door at the next break and ran home, tears streaming behind me. I thought I was the biggest idiot on earth. Who gets 4%? Not even the goofy guys at the back of the remedial math class got 4%! I wanted to quit school.

One – or maybe two – “fluish” days later, when I finally dragged myself back into the classroom and had the nerve to ask the teacher why I had done so poorly, he explained I actually only made one mistake, but I made it 24 times. (I did receive credit for the first non-computation question.) He showed me that I needed to invert something in a different place and on my next test I had a much better mark.

I still remember how difficult it was to walk back into that room and ask for help. My report cards always said “conscientious worker.” I had never failed a test before. I didn’t know how to handle failure.

A few years ago I met a brilliant science teacher who inspired many students to go on into even more brilliant careers in science.

“What’s you secret?” I asked.

“I make sure they fail,” he said.

“But you teach the brightest and best students in the district!”

“And that’s why I give them a test early in the year that they are guaranteed to fail.”

“That doesn’t sound fair,” I protested with a little sympathetic whine wheedling into my voice.

“Oh, it’s not fair. I intentionally give them a test on a chapter they haven’t covered. I base questions on misleading or incomplete information. I load it with trick questions and unclear directions and then I arrange for dramatic distractions to invade the classroom and tell them to put down their pens and hand in their work before they have had time to finish. It’s definitely not fair.”

He smiled, looking proud of himself.

“At the end of the day I place folded sheets of plain paper in front of each student,” he said. Their test grade is written inside — a failing grade. I then dismiss the class and rush to an “important meeting” which involves a location where I cannot be reached until after the weekend.”

“Why would you do that?” I asked.

“To give them time to let that failing grade do its work. Because this test is not about the material. This test is about tests. This test is about learning how to fail the way a martial arts student first learns how to fall. This test is about teaching high achieving students who have probably never failed an exam in their lives that resilience is more important than a perfect academic record.”

“How do they react to that?”

“Usually poorly. On Monday morning the helicopter parents are circling the principal’s office, the budding law students are lining up with prepared arguments, and the discouraged students, at least the ones that show up, drag themselves into the classroom to the tempo of a death march.”

“Poor kids.”

“Not at all. I hand out their written tests, and lecture them on failure and recovery as a necessary part of success.”

“You don’t let them re-write for a better grade?”

“No, of course not. It’s a stupid test. I invite them to re-write the test – but not the answers. I tell them to re-write the questions. Learning is about asking better questions. The test I gave them had unanswerable questions. I tell them to ask better questions – then I show them how to look for the answers to the test they designed.”

 

I realized that what this master teacher gave his students was an opportunity to develop perseverance and endurance in a new atmosphere of confidence free from the fear of failure. I also realized he was not the first person to teach this. James wrote about it in the Bible.

Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.

If you don’t know what you’re doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You’ll get his help, and won’t be condescended to when you ask for it. Ask boldly, believingly, without a second thought. People who “worry their prayers” are like wind-whipped waves. Don’t think you’re going to get anything from the Master that way, adrift at sea, keeping all your options open…

Anyone who meets a testing challenge head-on and manages to stick it out is mighty fortunate. For such persons loyally in love with God, the reward is life and more life.

(James 1:2-8, 12 The Message)

Are you facing a test in which there seems to be no perfect solution? Maybe the test is about more than filling in the blank with an approved answer. Maybe it’s about developing enduring faith and the confidence to follow the trail of better questions.

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