People, People, People

One day, when we were in Jerusalem, the crowds in the narrow streets got to me. It was hot, smelly, and noisy. Many people shouted in many languages. People kept trying to sell me stuff, and people pushing to see edifices that were more likely memorials to quarrelling religious traditions than actual historic locations were just too much. People, people, people!  I just wanted to get out of there.

 I don’t like crowds much. In fact, one of the major factors in planning my day is figuring out how to avoid crowds. It’s not merely that I am inpatient and dislike accommodating everyone’s need to turn left on the same corner, or reach for the same sale item on the same shelf, (although I admit the attitude needs some work), it’s that I am not good at blocking out the humanity of humanity.

I feel anxiety, frustration, fatigue, disappointment, excitement, and aggressiveness that is not just mine. Lately I sense more anger and outright hatred than usual. When I do treat individuals in a crowd like noisy unpredictable impediments in a video game and resort to self-serving assertiveness, I don’t like what I have become. Yet to act otherwise means not getting business done so I can escape.

Jesus avoided crowds when he could, but at the same time, these were the people he came to save. Perhaps his exhaustion came from feeling so much in the people who pulled at him and shouted to him. He never shut off his compassion.

“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Matthew 9:36

Today we remember Jesus’ triumphal entry to Jerusalem. We remember that even though he sensed the thoughts and feelings of everyone in those crowded streets, including the ones who wanted to kill him and would soon manipulate a mob to call for his execution, he still loved them.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” Matthew 23:37

He still longs to gather the harassed and helpless into his arms. There is no greater love.


When an interviewer has a new rising star in the studio, they will often ask, “Who are your influences?”

I often ask this question of people who are not on the rising platform that is fame, at least not yet. I ask people who are potentially both on the way up or down, people who are ordinary, people who are interesting, people who are growing, and people who are passionate about issues that are life-changing. It’s a good way to get to know people.

Let me take a moment to answer my own question. First some honesty.

On Why-Do-The-Wicked-Prosper and Why-Do-Bad-Things-Happen-To-Good-People questioning days, my influencers are like the grieving sisters, Mary and Martha: “Lord, if you had been here this horrible thing would not have happened!”

On less attentive days, I am influenced negatively by doom and gloomers who cheer the descent of the world as it races toward the handbasket destined for hell thinking it signifies the time of rescue of the elect off this planet.

On I-Want-To-Look-Good days, I am influenced by the media mavens who equate compassionate love with short-sighted indulgence.

On days when I follow You-Think-That’s-Bad soap boxers on social media, I am influenced by those whose goal is to see them punished and us rewarded.

On better days, I am influenced positively by those who can wait to see the bigger picture.

On better days, I am influenced by those who choose good over evil, even when it seems to be to their detriment. I am influenced by the athlete who sacrifices a sure win to come to the aid of another athlete in distress, for example.

I am influenced by people who have spoken or written words of profound wisdom that bring greater understanding of the character of God, even if their own reputations, were later destroyed by failure to rely on God and leave a harmful God-avoiding coping mechanism behind.

I am influenced by artists and scientists who pursue excellence in both knowledge and wisdom and communicate insights with honesty and transparency.

I am influenced by children and guileless folks on the autism spectrum who have the clarity to shout, “Hey! The emperor has no clothes,” when I have accepted traditions that say it is wrong to think that out loud.

I am influenced by the parent who puts more effort into raising an inconvenient child than gaining accolades or material goods for themselves.

I am influenced by the introvert who leaves the comfort of their favourite chair to venture onto far-away stages in obedience to a calling on their life.

I am influenced by the experienced extrovert who listens first, second, and third before responding with better questions.

I am influenced by those who demonstrate self-control while giving others the freedom to control themselves.

I am influenced by those who talk about other people behind their backs in kind, appreciative ways.

I am influenced by the strong but gentle, the encouragers, the visionaries, the builders, the apologizers, the forgivers, the comforters, the humble, the confidant, the serene.

I am influenced by people who provoke me, annoy me, and exasperate me because they genuinely love me.

I am influenced by people who see ugliness, but rest their eyes on beauty.

I’m surrounded by a lot of influencers, some great, some not so great. I could name these people, but you probably wouldn’t recognize most of them. The one I will name, hoping you know him, is Jesus the Christ.

The root of the word influence means “to flow into.” More than anyone else I want Jesus to flow into and through me. I can only hope that someday it will show in my work.


Sometimes I just want to sit on a bench, gaze up into the clouds, watch the birds fly overhead, and feel the contentment of a comfortable place in the sun. I don’t feel like moving.

Then again, sometimes a holy discontent stirs in my soul. I’ve had a taste of God’s glory. I want more.

I want more wisdom, more understanding, more ability to extend grace and love the people who disturb my comfort. Mostly I want a closer relationship with the Lover of my soul. I want to see the hearts of this next generation healed of disappointment and anxiety and deeply stirred by the profound reality of the power of the goodness of God.

But then I stop. I consider the cost. The act of saying yes to God in the past has led to exciting starts, wonderful endings, and utterly terrifying middles. It’s easier to pray that I might rise up and soar on the wind of the Holy Spirit before I remember my fear of heights.

It’s been ten years since our son-in-love was miraculously healed of flesh-eating disease and sepsis that caused the team of doctors treating him to privately admit he had a 0% chance of survival. One of them (the whiz guy, the Dr. House of the hospital) said “If that guy lives, it will be the biggest f____ing miracle I’ve ever seen.” As we learned later, that doctor shared, in his vernacular, his poor prognosis for our daughter’s beloved young husband with his colleagues. He got to see that miracle.

Our son-in-love lived. Last night we had dinner and celebrated the birthdays of our granddaughter, his mother, and my husband. It was the tenth anniversary of the party that was ruined when an ambulance raced him to the hospital.

We are all so grateful for the miracle that spared his limbs, organs, mind, and well, his life, really. Three little kids, one of them a new baby at the time, have known a good daddy. He’s been so precious to all of us and we’ve enjoyed every day of the past ten years with him in our lives. We learned so much about God’s faithfulness and the power of unified prayer and positioning ourselves in thankfulness. But there is a tinge of pain that lingers. We remember the tears and sleepless nights and exhaustion when everything looked so bad.

Last night we all joked and laughed together in the living room. Surrounded by birthday wrap and decorations I said, “If only we could have seen this day ten years ago! We would have sailed through those weeks much more easily.”

Before the events of those days, I heard a voice in a dream saying: “Those who are afraid to pray, ‘Thy will be done,’ do not comprehend my love.”

I also remember our son-in-law praying, “Whatever it takes,” and his willingness to lay his life down in the days before friends surrounding his comatose body prayed day and night. They inspired thousands of others on every continent (yes, including Antarctica) to pray for a man they didn’t even know to be healed and rise up. I remember God showing us this was how we are to pray for a critically ill body of believers in this country to be healed and rise up to be everything they are called to be.

You may have noticed, if you look around, we are not there yet. Moving forward means saying together, as one, “whatever it takes.” Moving forward means giving God our courageous yes.

Yes, Lord. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.


I was thinking about images for this word on the list for creative Lenten meditations when I ran into a prime example in front of my own apartment building. Two large construction projects a block on either side of our building mean the road is frequently closed, but not usually at the same time. Today they were. One building going up is for commercial purposes. The other is a dense housing development. That’s not going to improve traffic around here. Another even bigger development a block to the northeast is expected to start within the year. Oh boy. I may never be able to turn left on Springfield. I had a moment of panic when I thought about more cars and more people blocking the roads and beeping construction vehicles in reverse interrupting our peaceful life. (Well, relatively peaceful. Noise is a constant when you live on one of the three blocks between two major arteries.) Then I got to thinking.

We moved to this location because we were planning ahead for the day when neither of us may be able to drive. At the time we purchased our condo, we hadn’t heard of “the fifteen minute city” but essentially, that is what we were looking for – a neighbourhood where all our most commonly needed services were accessible on foot. I can’t really complain about more people moving into an area called “City Central” when we moved in ourselves only eighteen months ago.

I was talking to a friend who was part of a rapidly growing – explosively growing—church after God started doing amazing things in their midst. Parking became hard to find, the bathrooms were overworked, cleaning staff was exhausted, and tithe-paying members of the congregation couldn’t find a seat even when they arrived an hour early. She said they noticed that people on the volunteer ministry teams had reserved parking, and that’s how they got into ministry. Step up or miss out. They stepped up and have been blessed by opportunities for growth ever since. They are still active in ministry.

Sometimes interruptions mess with our plans. Sometimes our plans need to be messed with. Anger is often the result of something being demanded or taken from us without our consent. People interrupted Jesus when he was on his way to do something important. He stopped and healed them on the way. The story of the woman with the issue of blood and the story of blind Bartimaeus and the story of mothers upsetting the disciples’ agenda by bringing their children to Jesus for blessing are examples of this. We know because their stories were important enough to be included in a record of Jesus’ life and times.

What if the reasons for these interruptions in the neighbourhood are signs, not of the place going downhill, but of the place rising up? What if, like the crowds following Jesus, we stopped and made a time and place for other people like us who arrived only 75 weeks ago? What if my response to “road closed” and “detour” was to happily make room for more locals instead of complaining about delays in my plans? What if blessing these construction projects is a better, less selfish response to sharing love in a community that sees beyond my own priorities and makes room for others?

Lord, teach me to see the big picture. Teach me to love the way you love.


The lesson in our painting class was on portraits. Portraits are hard! One slightly wrong proportion can change an identity. One difference in angle can create an unintended expression. After an embarrassing failure some years ago, I thought I was ready to try again.

I can assure you that this painting does not look like the model. I didn’t throw it out though, because there was something about the expression that did look like the model’s. I changed details like hair, face shape, colouring, and clothing so she couldn’t be identified, but I kept the expression. The side glance and slight sneer reminded me of the look of jealousy. The painting sits on my dresser as a reminder that jealousy is not becoming to anyone, no matter how attractive they are physically.

I’ve often wondered why Jesus told people not to tell anyone about what he had done for them when he healed them. It would seem like a good P.R. move to advertise by featuring the familiar lame man’s new dance moves or the mute woman’s singing. In the early days of his ministry, Jesus emphatically did not want the kind of attention fame brings.

Fame can bring attention and revenue and influence, but just as often fame creates toxic atmospheres and attracts hatred. As Proverbs 27:4 says, “Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy?”

A few moments spent reading the comments section of almost any popular publication will reveal that. I am convinced that a great deal of nasty criticism and slander aimed at popular Christian speakers and writers is not motivated by the belief that they are irredeemable charlatans, rather it is propelled by jealousy toward the target that success and attention has painted on their backs.

People may insist that they are merely “rightly dividing the word of truth” or “just being Bereans” or “declaring the whole counsel of God” when they walk away from the bullet-point ridden body left bleeding in the dirt, but jealousy, envy, or covetousness lingers in the eyes and on the lip. It tells you there was no love in this exchange, no desire to create a relationship that encourages change or growth or rewards indications of acts of greater goodness. The jealous want the object of their envy to be hauled away and never heard from again.

We’ve seen it before amongst people who want to maintain control. When Paul and Barnabas spoke in Pisidian Antioch, the religious people in charge there “were filled with jealousy. They began to contradict what Paul was saying and heaped abuse on him.” (Acts 13:45)

Acts 7:9 tells us the patriarchs were jealous of Joseph and sold him as a slave to rid themselves of their young brother whose favour with their father annoyed them to the point of violence.

The story of Jesus’ crucifixion contains this important piece of information about Pilate’s politically-motivated choice to release Barabbas, the career criminal, instead of Jesus: “For he [Pilate] knew that it was out of envy that they [the religious leaders] had delivered him up.” (Matthew 27:18)

God’s jealousy for us is a passionate loving zeal that we would not be seduced and pulled away by the evil one. Human jealousy is uncontrolled passionate hate that would harm and destroy. It is the result of already being under the influence of the evil one who said, “Oh, you’re worried that there is not enough love to go around. I can help you with that.”

The moment we become aware of that voice we have a choice to make. We can turn and run to God and ask him to heal our wounded hearts with his abundant grace and fill our empty places with his relentless love, or we can submit to a power that destroys not only the object of jealousy but our own souls.

I guess that’s why I keep this painting. It’s a reminder that every day I have the choice to bless or curse and how easy it is to make the wrong choice. I can bless because I am blessed. I don’t have to curse. I don’t work for that boss anymore. I am not authorized to listen to his voice. Jesus freed me. He is enough.


The fear of lack has always been with me. I was born in the days before Canada made healthcare available to everyone. My parents’ health insurance disappeared with my father’s former job just before I was born. My mother had many complications from my birth that left many bills. Both my parents worked hard to pay those bills, as well as bills from a failed business venture, but at ten years old I overheard a conversation I wasn’t meant to hear. It was about how much my birth had cost and how debt payments were still setting the family back compared to other people. Like kids tend to do, I thought the tension on bill paying day was my fault for being born in a way that caused my mom and dad way more suffering than it should have.

I developed a fear of lack as well as anxiety around asking for what I needed. That kind of fear can lead to an obsession with earning money and displaying what it can buy. It can also lead to not wanting to spend money and bragging about money-saving DIY skills and finding things at lower price than anyone else in the room. And sometimes both expressions manifest simultaneously in ways that thoroughly annoy others. Most of my life, I have tended to take the penny-pinching, make-do means of coping with fear of poverty.

Don’t get me wrong. We always had enough for necessities when I was a kid. Compared to most of the people in the world, we had a lot. Compared to neighbours in our community, “Things,” as the expressions goes, “were tight.”

The sense of being poor or rich often comes only in comparison to others.

Compared to my grandparents when they were living through the Great Depression, we were rich. We had indoor plumbing, more than two changes of clothes, nutritious food, a vehicle, and heat for the house that didn’t require scooping dirty coal or hours of chopping wood when you could find it. Come to think of it, we had a house, which was more than my grandparents, who spent some tough years living in two uninsulated granaries pulled together, could boast of. It seems tiny house living is most attractive to people who have options.

Families in our circle had ski hill memberships in Banff, two cars, lots of toys and sports equipment, college funds for all the kids (girls included), a mom who didn’t have to go to work, and cash in hand at the end of the month. Since I didn’t actually know anyone who still lived in a granary, this was my concept of the average family. Compared to other kids at school or at church in my affluent city in Canada, I was from a poor family.

My husband is a naturally generous person. I’ve had to work at it. I’ve had to learn to trust God with my needs by giving things away as an act of faith and obedience. I’ve often spoken Psalm 37:25 out loud as a reminder of God’s keeping power: “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread.”

Discussions of run-away inflation and shortages in the news lately make me want to buy more things than we need before the price goes up or they are not available. I fight the urge to hit the bargain shops and buy things to stuff into bins in the closet in case we will need them someday.

(A note to clarify: I’m not talking about either unwise spending or lack of planning. Ask the Lord for wisdom and for his leading in your own life, then obey and go for it -as long as you do it in faith. For me, at the moment, the temptation to hoard is a left-over manifestation of fear that there will not be enough, that God will not be there to provide for our needs. I understand he’s giving me an exercise in trust.)

Realizing that sometimes fear is often the root of negative self-fulfilling prophecy, I asked God for wisdom. Then I had a dream. In this dream a heroic warrior looking person gave me a marvelous pair of skates just before I went into a grocery store. People in the store were fighting over items on partially empty shelves. They blocked the aisles as they argued. Somehow (I don’t know how because I haven’t been skating since I was a teen and my skills never progressed beyond moving across the rink without falling down, not to mention that skates only work on ice), I put them on and skated around all these people with issues. With these special skates on my feet I was like an Olympic figure skater accomplishing amazing leaps over freezers and spins in the produce section. I picked up the few things I needed without upsetting anyone, paid, and left. When I saw the hero outside, he gave me a hero’s welcome.

I believe the dream is telling me I can trust that my Hero will provide what I need when I need it. (Hosea records in chapter two that on the day the unfaithful woman responds to God instead of going after material symbols of insincere forms of attention, she will call him Ishi –Hero/husband and no longer Baali –Master.)

Today I read Hebrews 13:5 in the Passion Translation: “Don’t be obsessed with money but live content with what you have, for you always have God’s presence. For hasn’t he promised you, ‘I will never leave you, never! And I will not loosen my grip on your life.’”

That’s a promise that’s safe without a safety deposit box in the bank.

The Opposite

It is in the dark that God is passing by. The bridge and our lives shake not because God has abandoned, but the exact opposite: God is passing by. God is in the tremors. Dark is in the holiest ground, the glory passing by. In the blackest, God is the closest, at work, forging his perfect and right will. Though it is black and we can’t see and our world seems to be free-falling and we feel utterly alone, Christ is most present to us.

Ann Voscamp

Unlock My Heart

Lord God, unlock my heart, unlock my lips,

and I will overcome with my joyous praise!

For the source of your pleasure is not in my performance

or the sacrifices I might offer to you.

The fountain of your pleasure is found

in the sacrifice of my shattered heart before you.

You will not despise my tenderness

as I bow down humbly at your feet.

Psalm 51:15-17 TPT

There’s a setting on the photo editing software I use that lets me make a kaleidoscope-style image using bits and pieces from my own photos. The photo I used here was of a barren tree in a snow-covered field at sunset. It feels like spiritual transformation to me.

Have you noticed that God gave many people their assignments in his Kingdom when they were at their lowest? God is more impressed by our willingness to offer him the broken pieces of our failures than the efforts that made us successful in other people’s eyes. A shattered heart? Now that he can use. He takes our locked hearts and disappointments in ourselves, tosses them around, and lets us see through a lens that transforms and multiplies our offering into something beautiful.

He takes our limitations and opens our eyes to limitless possibilities. He’s good that way.