I Am No Victim

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For many years I followed a disciplined scheduled daily reading of the Bible, but sometimes “discipline” can get in the way of learning. Sometimes you need to pause and stay with a passage or phrase or even just a word in scripture for a while, giving it time to show more facets than those that shine with first light. Sometimes you need more than an intellectual grasp of a concept. Sometimes you need to feel it in your bones, hear it in your ears, taste it on your tongue and stomp it out in frustrated walks in the woods before it moves from your heart up to your decision-maker. Then you can move on. This passage in Psalm 139 in The Passion Translation has been like that for me.

With your hand of love upon my life,
You impart a Father’s blessing to me.
This is just too wonderful,
Deep, and incomprehensible!
Your understanding of me brings me wonder and strength.

Where to start? It looks straight forward enough, but this sword tip has penetrated my soul and spirit more deeply than earlier races to the reading quota finish line permitted.

Christians tend to throw around the word blessing at lot imbuing it with their own definition. I’ve been trying to find a way to describe the word blessing as it is used here. Perhaps one way is to mirror its opposite. Benediction (blessing in Latin) means good speaking. It’s opposite is malediction – bad speaking. Mal at the beginning of a word with Latin roots means bad, sick, dysfunctional, evil: malady, malaise, malnourished, malice, malpractice, malcontent. Malediction means curse.

Bene, on the other hand means good, helpful, enriching, empowering, visionary. Compare words beginning with bene: benefit, benevolent, benefactor, beneficiary. When the  fathers of ancient times gave their children blessings they officially gifted them with the recognition of who they were as individuals and imparted a vision for their future.

One day I witnessed the opposite. An event I would call a soul assault took place in the produce aisle. An adult publicly dishonoured a child by shouting (in much harsher words than these): “You are a huge disappointment. You have no positive qualities and will amount to nothing in life – ever.”

Every parent blows it sometimes. To this day I could cry when I remember one particular incident when I said something in fear and anger, which was entirely untrue, to a child I loved dearly. I have apologized, but my disappointment in myself helped me forgive my own parents for words spoken in frustration, or under stress I was too young to comprehend. But, you know, when it comes to pain, whether someone drives over your foot intentionally or accidentally, it still leaves a mark. Words have power and when you are young they can leave marks — often in the form of signs stuck to our foreheads where everyone can see them.

Have you heard this expression? A sweater is something you wear when your mother feels cold. I laughed when I heard this, but I know a lot of us can relate to this statement. Experience has taught us what it is like to be bound by another person’s priorities and tastes or swaddled in another person’s perceptions, well-meaning though they may be. My own daughter has been known to say wisely, “That’s your fear, Ma, not mine.”

How we long to be understood. How we long for someone who can help us understand ourselves. We yearn to hear good words about our true identities and true destinies. This is particularly true for people who had absent or emotionally distant fathers.

Someone who was an important and intimidating influence in my youth came to visit after I was married and had children. I was excited to see her and wanted her to be impressed with my choices in life. I longed for her approval.

“Well, I see you stopped developing your talent,” she said. “Tell me, what are your aspirations for your son?”

I answered, “That he will be free to replace my aspirations with his own.”

She was not impressed. She thought my answer was rude and flippant. That’s when I realized that seeking the blessing of someone who had an agenda and a plan for how I could continue to fulfill her aspirations would only lead to disappointment for one or both of us.

It did. One of the last things she expressed to me before she died a few years later was her disappointment that I had not lived up to her expectations. I felt like the child in the grocery store with a label slapped on my forehead. FAILURE. At the time it didn’t occur to me that I could seek God’s blessing, his hand of favour that ripped off the labels other people’s maledictions had placed there since I was a child.
VICTIM
WEIRDO
LAZY
UGLY
GULLIBLE
OUTSIDER
EMBARRASSMENT
WEAK
FAILURE

But my heavenly Father’s blessing changes labels.
VICTOR
CREATIVE
INSPIRED
BEAUTIFUL
WISE
CHOSEN
CHERISHED
STRONG
DELIGHT

Our Saviour understands who we are. That’s how he can say his yoke is easy. When we take on a yoke to work beside him we can learn from him how to move with ease. This is like the difference between losing track of time as we work in the creative zone and checking the time as we labour in the pits (unless, of course, you find pit work fulfilling.) He said he has prepared tasks and destinies for us that fit our makeup. He gets us! He understands us and cares like no one else ever can.

It’s not easy for us to get this though. Letting Him replace labels we have worn for years and displayed for the powers around us to read and exploit requires the daring choice of acting on what we do not yet see. Acting on what we do not yet see is called faith. Without faith transformation doesn’t happen.

The way God sees us and His thoughts about us can feel too good to be true. After all the years of allowing ourselves to be defined by people who are often also disappointed in themselves, words of blessing seem “too wonderful” and “incomprehensible.” Dare we actually believe the many ways God communicates and the scripture that confirms his kind intentions? Sometimes we are tempted to question if we are dipping into self-centered, self-actualizing, self-aggrandizement. Yet, as we begin to test out new labels and divest ourselves of the old, we find his good words – the Father’s blessing – bring us strength.

I bought a new album this week. My daughter suggested it when she came to help me when I had surgery for cancer three weeks ago. It would have been easy to smile and say thanks, but musically it’s not my style. She said the lyrics are powerful, and I trust her, so I bought it, downloaded it on my phone, put my earphones on and went for a wobbly walk.

This song has ended up on repeat all week as I physically march to it. In my last blog I wrote about picking the fruit-provision that God cached in advance in places we would find it along the journey. This song is like a luscious plum ready to grab and eat.

I am no victim.
I live with a vision.
I am who He says I am.
I am defined by all His promises.

I’m covered by the force of love.

He is my Father, and with his hand of love upon my life He imparts a Father’s blessing.

Unpicked

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I came home from my walk yesterday with apples in my pockets and a rant in my mouth.

“I can’t believe these people!” I told my husband. “There are half a dozen fruit trees in this neighbourhood that haven’t been picked! I tell you, if your apples are hanging over the fence and if you haven’t picked them by the day the first winter storm is predicted, I’m taking some.”

I tossed him a cold crisp MacIntosh. “Here. It’s delicious!”

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He looked at me with the suspicion of a man who remembers what happened the last time a woman offered him stolen fruit.

“And plums!” I added. “There’s a tree down the alley that is still loaded with Damsons. They could at least let some homeless people or single moms or some folks from the food bank with ladders come onto their property and fill up their boxes. It drives me nuts when perfectly good food goes to waste!

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And this happens every year. And then the bears follow the scent into town in the fall and the deer are gorging on mushy fallen fruit and pooping everywhere and then the cougars show up and get shot because they scare parents and dog owners. Aaargh!”

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I grew up on the Canadian prairies where the weather was too harsh for most fruit trees. Heaven, in my child’s mind, was filled with luxurious fruit you could simply reach up and take. Maybe it still is. But having fruit trees is like having pets. You’ve got to look after them. “Steward them” in Christianese.

I went over to the window to arrange my over-the-fence apples and take photos of them, because that’s what I do when the light is good, and I heard my Lord’s voice.

“I know how you feel.”
“What?”
“I have made provision for you that you have failed to grab.”
“I don’t get it.”
“Exactly. You need to extend your faith a little to get it, but it’s there.”

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Well. That shut me up.

I’ve been feeling inadequate for a task I believe the Lord has been asking me to do for ages. I’ve let opportunity after opportunity pass by like the seasons as I wait to be endowed from on high with inspiration, creativity, and resources.

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What does extending faith look like?

It looks like getting out a ladder and reaching for provision unnoticed in the everyday. It’s refusing to let another season pass ignoring what you already have access to. Don’t take it for granted. Don’t be distracted. Don’t be lazy. Go for it! Then share.

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I hear You.

 

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)

 

In Expectation

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You know every step I will take,
Before my journey even begins!

(from Psalm 139, The Passion Translation)

I don’t like nasty surprises. I like to be prepared for every possible contingency. That’s probably why I pack too much when we travel. Preparation for potential disaster requires imagining oneself in a place of desperate need and thinking about the provisions one might lack.

The problem is that for some of us it is easy to go there first and remain in the potential gloom of life in Mudville Flats. We expect multiple failures that require multiple back-ups.

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I am realizing I need to prepare for hope fulfilled as well. When my friend was healed of stage four cancer she was suddenly faced with the need to find employment. She was well. She didn’t need to be on assistance anymore. She could work. Hope fulfilled caught her a bit unprepared. A happy problem, but a problem nevertheless.

When I heard that surgery to remove the malignant mass in my abdomen was scheduled for mid-October I started mourning. When I had major surgery in February I couldn’t walk very far for weeks afterward. About twenty years ago I spent six weeks in a hospital and missed the autumn season entirely. I accepted the patient’s paper I.D. bracelet on a warm summer day and when I was released I walked out into a harsh winter blizzard. I lost a season. I didn’t want that to happen again.

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I love autumn in the Rockies. I love the gold and bronze and scarlet colours and the crisp cool lavender skies. I am enthralled by shimmering trembling aspen leaves responding to the breeze with a nervous rustling paper-sounding twitter. The first whiter than white snowfall on the mountain peaks always surprises me with its brilliance even though I’ve seen that glimpse of glory many times.

As we drove toward the big city hospital in Alberta I feared I was going to lose autumn again.

We stopped to eat lunch in the park by the Elk River in Fernie, British Columbia. I went for a walk with my camera while my husband rested in the car. After a while he became concerned. I had still not returned. I didn’t want to leave. I walked and walked – in the opposite direction of the parking lot.

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I really didn’t want to leave.

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The river walk was painfully beautiful. I was honestly afraid I would never see such beauty again. What if this day was my last glimpse of the season I love so much? What if I never kissed my precious grandchildren again or spent another evening around the table with my adult kids and their spouses, laughing until we couldn’t breathe? What if the dear man who is the love of my life had to return to an empty house alone? What if this was the beginning of the end?

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I didn’t want to get in the car and go check into the impersonal hospital with its equipment-cluttered halls and other people’s lives’ all-night noises. I wanted to turn around and go back and walk the road I’ve been on all these years, only this time fix all the blunders and stupidity and hurtful ways with the hard-earned wisdom I lacked the first time.

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I kicked a pile of gold leaves and heard my Lord speak in a voice softer than a whisper.

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“What if it’s not?”
“Not what?”
“What if this is not the end? What if this is a new beginning? What if I am awakening in you the dreams you abandoned by the side of the road when life became heavy? You’ve prepared for hope deferred. What preparations will you need to make to prepare for hope fulfilled?”

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Fear of disappointment is our greatest fear. Here, surrounded by beauty, I felt overwhelmed by the fear of lack of provision of beauty in my life. I was confronted by the lover of my soul and urged to look at a lurking belief that God could cut off the flow of his goodness.

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The showering leaves created a path that looked like street of gold at my feet. Even if I die His goodness will not end. Jesus said he was going to prepare a place for us, a place where we could be with him, always and forever. If I stay, there is more beauty to behold. If I pass on to the next stage of eternity, he, the Creator of the Universe, is preparing even greater beauty to surround my heart.

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I’m home now. It’s been twelve days since I donated those nasty tumours to the pathology lab. I walked out (unassisted) into the warm sun only three days later. We drove home to B.C. through a howling gale the next day. A week later I took a short walk around my neighbourhood.

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Ten days later I walked around my favourite little lake at the foot of the towering snow topped mountains. I absorbed the wonderful autumn colours reflected in the lake, the warm scented breeze, the sunlight playing with the trembling aspens and I thanked God for his goodness.

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Yesterday I met a friend walking his dog in the green belt by the creek. I was on my way home from an hour and a half walk and taking photos, following the light like I love to do. I had just gone down a steep hill taking a route I hadn’t planned to take because I didn’t know I could.

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We spoke about our pain and disappointment at the loss of a mutual young friend who died of cancer on Monday. In response to prayer we had seen him defy all the predictions. He walked away from the suggestion of hospice care to recover and go back to work over a year and a half ago. We saw a miracle! We believed he was being healed. Then suddenly he became very ill again. We don’t understand.

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We spoke about my surprisingly rapid progress in getting back on my feet. He seemed surprised to learn that I had part of the small bowel, mesentery, and half a colon removed less than two weeks ago. When he asked about my prognosis, I told him the surgeon warned me the cancer can return, in an even more dangerous form next time, and that chemo doesn’t usually work for this kind.

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I also told him that an internal medicine specialist said, “I think you’ve had this for a very long time. It is so difficult to diagnose. You are accustomed to adjusting to poor health. Neuroendocrine tumours put off hormones and chemicals that mess with every system in your body. I think there is a chance, that when you have recovered from surgery, you will feel better than you have in years. You may have to adjust to having good health.”

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He prayed for me as we walked together. In the midst of our sorrow for the loss of our friend (who we realize is truly reaping the reward Christ earned by living fully in God’s presence) John declared, “We expect God’s goodness. We choose hope.”

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And that, right there, was an example of God caching a provision in advance that I would need on a path I hadn’t known I was going to take.

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But He did. He’s good that way.

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The journey continues.

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.

 

 

 

 

He Wraps Himself in Light

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He wraps himself in Light, and darkness tries to hide
And trembles at His voice…

How great is our God, sing with me
How great is our God, and all will see
How great, how great is our God.

(-from How Great is our God by Chris Tomlin)

I have come as a light to shine in this dark world so that all who trust in me will no longer wander in darkness. ~Jesus

(John 12:46 The Passion Translation)

 

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)