Tightrope

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Can’t pretend that I am blind
Can’t go back and erase the mind
Naivety and wide-eyed wonder are far from me
But at least now I see
It’s like I’m walking on a tightrope
Stretched across the universe
Way too high to go back from where I came
Overwhelmed at the miles I’ve yet to tame

-from Tightrope by Misty Edwards

When I started writing this blog I thought it was about having an outlet for creative expression and sharing, in a grandmotherly way, how the Lord has enabled me to grow and change. I didn’t know it would be about the faith walk in real time. I’m not done yet. I’ve got a long way to go.

I was happy to share insights and personal victories – after I could see the outcome when the mess was tidied up and the embarrassing trip through doubt and emotional upheaval faded in the rear-view mirror.

Then, in the spring of 2013, it looked like our healthy, athletic son-in-law was going to die. I was going to wait before saying anything. I said I was worried that it might look like I was using a crisis to gain attention. The truth is I allowed doubt to creep in. I wanted to make sure everything turned out well before I posted. But I felt the Lord saying that faith is acting as though it is well with my soul before facts anyone can check are evident. I took the risk of increased transparency. (Love is Louder)

When I participated in helping my daughter and son-in-law write a book about the miracle God did, it meant letting go of precious privacy for all of us. Were we willing to tell the story to strangers and let them into dark rooms where we cried and begged in moments of doubt? They decided the story was not theirs alone and invited the world into the bigger story of God’s goodness and intent to bless many more people. Yes, it was worth it. (While He Lay Dying)

A few weeks later we faced another crisis. Our eldest son and his family faced challenges when floods hit, destroying much of their town and turning their property into a new lake. I learned from the experience earlier that year that God trusts us with his blessings, so long before we saw restoration, while the family was still in the Canadian version of a refugee camp, I wrote a blog post about the future of High River. (High River’s Higher Calling) The post had several thousand Facebook shares, was picked up by news services and spread much more widely than I anticipated. This word of hope is still the post with the highest number of hits.

Gradually I am learning to let concern for what impresses readers about me take second place to what impresses God about me. Trust. Trust (or faith) and talking about his goodness as if it were a real thing – because it is. Even when we can’t see it yet.

As an ice-breaker, I ask people this question: What’s the worst movie you have seen and why did you hate it? We often ask about favourite books or songs or movies and sharing those things helps us to understand each other better. But sharing the things that provoke us to righteous indignation and creative rants sometimes reveals hearts’ passions on a deeper level.

When someone asked me this question I knew the answer immediately. I could think of three films that thoroughly irked me and made me want my time and ticket money back. With little effort, two more came to mind. All were nominated for Academy Awards. All of them featured talented actors, brilliant cinematography, amazing costume and set design and all the production skills of top-notch artists. All of them carried the message: ABANDON HOPE. What a waste of resources!

The secret shame became public. The fall-out of a crime lingered for generations and attempts at atonement failed. Grief was insurmountable. Terminal loneliness and disconnection returned. The hero’s pointless death led to the memory of the faint chorus of a jaded ancient king: Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.

I want to scream! Quit trying to drag me into your hopelessness that offers a cruel kindness in place of love, where worry dons the thin costume of fragile, short-lived happiness, and despair suggests resignation to death is the only solution to the problem of pain!

I want stories of hope. Real hope in real life circumstances. Real hope that doesn’t hide under a veneer of re-written fictional happy endings. Real hope that doesn’t rely on fallible humans or systems. Real hope that looks physical reality in the face and says, ‘My God is bigger.’ Real hope that says, ‘Because he lives, I can face tomorrow. Because he lives the child I carry can have a future. Because he lives this marriage can be saved. Because he lives depression will lift. Because he lives goodness is still a weapon against evil. Because he lives I’m no longer a slave to fear.’

I want stories of hope that can say, with authentic candour, ‘This sucks, but Jesus has come to show us what his Father is really like by destroying the works of the devil.’

Then I hear my Heavenly Father say, “So write them yourself. Tell people I’m good. But be authentic, not nostalgic.”

Misty Edwards writes songs that touch my heart in the middle of ‘this sucks.’ One that means a lot to me right now is called “Tightrope.” In the song, she talks about ‘the mystical in-between,’ that place where we know God is doing something in our lives, but we don’t know what. It’s that place where putting one foot in front of the other is the only choice because we’ve come too far to go back, we have too far to go to sit down and we have to keep moving if we don’t want to fall.

Hanging there in space, my toes gripping the rope
The only hope
That golden thread that got me here
Will be the same
That brings me to the end

I know, I know You’re with me
You surround me, You surround me
Your invisible hand is around, around
In this uncomfortable in-between
Where I’m too far in to turn around now
Too far to go to sit down now…

So at the risk of looking like I am attention- or sympathy-seeking, or trying to get as many numbers as I can muster on a prayer petition to influence God (when I truly believe the faith-filled prayers of a little child have as much influence as an entire denomination’s membership) let me be authentic about this uncomfortable place on the tightrope.

A few weeks ago I had a CT scan to rule out any lasting problems with surgery I had in February. Everything was fine in that regard, but the scan revealed a mass in my abdomen that was not fine. After tests, the surgeon told me I have cancer.

At this point I don’t know how serious it is, if it has spread, or what kind of treatment I’ll need, although there is evidence it has been there for a long time. Today I start a series of invasive scans and scopes looking for other sites which, quite frankly, I don’t look forward to.

Like Misty (who is a cancer survivor) I know God surrounds me. He gives me dreams, songs in the night, and encouragement through friends, books, podcasts and most of all his love letters. He’s not surprised and I know he’s got this. But it’s still scary.

I feel like there is an attack on hope in this world, and cancer is a symbol of that attack. The word itself carries dismal forebodings.

I have seen marvelous things with my own eyes, things I never thought I would see – the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. I also long to be in Paradise with the Lord. For those who love the Lord and are called according to his purpose every ending is a good ending, but I think I still have things to do here.

I welcome prayer, but if you pray for me can I ask that you attach it to a prayer for hope for yourself, your community, your country, our world?

When I run out of words I paint my feelings. In the interest of keeping it real, I painted a woman on a tightrope who is just an average-type woman with an unimpressive average shape because this battle is about hope for everyone. She’s coming from a place of darkness and moving toward the light of hope.

And this is the walk of faith in real time.

Praise Him Still

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When the morning falls on the farthest hill,
I will sing His name, I will praise Him still.
When dark trials come and my heart is filled
With the weight of doubt, I will praise Him still.

For the Lord our God, He is strong to save
From the arms of death, from the deepest grave.
And He gave us life in His perfect will,
And by His good grace, I will praise Him still.

-Fernando Ortega

 

Infuse

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I pray that God, the source of all hope, will infuse your lives with an abundance of joy and peace in the midst of your faith so that your hope will overflow through the power of the Holy Spirit.

(Romans 15:13 The Voice)

When I see different thought streams start to converge and ideas come together I feel excited. I want to talk about them – a lot. I’m a verbal processor and for some reason I can I hear my thoughts better when I bounce them off people.

This can be wearing on friends, I know. To spare them from a barrage of words and ideas which I may discard the next day, I intentionally spend most of my time alone. Sometimes I journal. Sometimes I ruminate. But nothing works as well as a listening ear. Fortunately my husband understands. He’s a verbal processor too.

I’ve learned not to take him seriously until he comes to some sort of conclusion and he does the same for me – most of the time. Both of us have to keep apologizing because when we’re on a roll it’s hard for people who think hard before they speak to find a gap in the conversation large enough to stick a sentence in.

I’m learning to be a better listener and to ask better questions and honour long silent gaps in a conversation. I’m also learning to bracket interesting tangents my friends may inspire and come back to them later. But it’s not a consistent habit yet. It still takes conscious effort.

There are other areas of my life the Lord is working on. It’s like an episode of a TV show about hoarders. He has moved into the central living room of my life and the hearth of my heart, but the outer rooms are still being cleared.  Some of them are still piled with superfluous stuff like habits and unexamined ideas I’ve collected from garage sales. My intent was to re-purpose them into something, if not beautiful, then at least useful. Yeah. I know. That never really happened. Clutter. Toss it.

Changing annoying habits based on stupid ideas is a lot easier in theory than in practice. As long as I am concentrating on eating only healthy vegetables, for example, all is well. If I’m watching an exciting movie and an open bag of potato chips just happens to perch itself on the coffee table, I can crunch through a couple of handfuls before I even notice. And I don’t even like potato chips.

Change starts with an idea, but remains merely theoretical without practice.

Lately the Lord has been bringing opportunities to put into practice the things he has been teaching me, like listening more, and responding with a positive, trusting attitude when he sends prompts to engage his promises. It’s a chance to live in an abundance of peace and joy and overflowing hope. Alas, my response is not yet automatic when I am reading the instructions for preparations for another scope or scan, like I was doing this morning. I tend to catastrophize.

I need a better thought.

Sometimes I need to let new ideas infuse themselves into my life before the actions they inspire show up in all my words and actions. Like the process for making a proper cup of tea the process for heart-change cannot be rushed. I need to let it steep for a while. I need to listen and re-listen and meditate and study God’s words before they start to infuse every part of my life.

How to meditate? Someone told me once that if you can worry, you can meditate. Instead of mulling over the eternal ramifications of what can go wrong, try looking at what can go right, at what God has promised you, the dreams he placed in your heart, the way he has, by his grace, brought you this far. Rest in his presence and enjoy his company.

I just looked up and saw a post-it note I plastered to the edge of the shelf above my computer a few weeks ago. It says: Your God is present among you. Happy to have you back, he’ll calm you with his love and delight you with his songs. (Zephaniah 3:17)

Time to listen to his choice in music.

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A Song in the Night: Hearing God’s Voice Through Music

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You shall have a song as in the night when a holy feast is kept. (Isaiah 30:29 Amp)

Years ago my Mom gave me a plaque with the meaning of my name and this verse printed underneath. I think names are important and I’m grateful that my parents chose “Song of Grace” as mine. I think the verse was also prophetic as I have learned to pay attention to songs in the night.

The first time I realized God could use this way of communicating was after I prayed asking for wisdom. Someone wanted me to support them by taking up their cause. To be honest, taking up a cause without knowing all sides of the story has landed me in more troublesome murky water than just about any other action. I cared about this person and her desperation, but something didn’t feel right. For two days I asked, “Lord, what should I do?” For two days I had no further information and nothing to indicate a direction. I just had an annoying song stuck in my head. Specifically one line of a song.

This song was from a list of approved selections for early grades Royal Conservatory voice exams. I’m pretty sure you would never hear it pumped through the speakers in the mall or playing on a top ten radio station anywhere. I taught it to young singers as an exercise in musical story-telling, but I hadn’t thought of it in ages. It told the sad tale of a boy named Gilbert who mistook a strange lump in the bog for a rock. The very strange green lump was actually an alligator. The story did not end well for Gilbert.

While my husband and I were driving in the country I starting singing the line out loud in the car. “If you should spot an alligator sleeping, let it be.”

“I don’t know why this silly song is stuck in my head. I keep hearing it,” I said to him. At that moment I heard, “So pay attention,” in my spirit.

Then it struck me. I had been repeatedly asking a question and repeatedly getting an answer, but I didn’t hear it because I wasn’t paying attention. I wasn’t paying attention because I wasn’t expecting to hear. I took the risk of saying no to involvement in the situation – which turned out to be dramatically more complicated than I had been led to believe. What I had received via that song was a word of wisdom.

music books ch IMG_8288I have music in my head all the time. My life has been about music and even after retirement, I can’t bear to part with music books that fill shelves and bins in my house. At this very moment, I can “hear” the background music of a humorous Youtube video I just watched. Obviously, this carries no profound meaning. Singers can tell you how music they are trying to memorize disrupts sleep when it plays over and over as they toss and turn. That’s not what I’m talking about, nor are the kids’ songs you play in the car so often you don’t have to hit any button to start them up.

The songs I’m talking about often come out of nowhere, songs I haven’t heard since the seventies, songs my mother used to sing, songs from hymnbooks now boxed and stored in the shed behind the church building. Sometimes I hear songs I swear I’ve never heard before and sometimes I know I have heard these insistent songs before, perhaps even recently, but they are in a language I am not familiar with and I have to do an internet search for a translation. Sometimes one line from a song I am familiar with will repeat in my dreams like the ground bass in Pachelbel’s Canon. It underscores an entire night’s sleep.

God speaks in many creative ways. Because he is the creator of creativity he awakens creativity he placed in us. When our eyes and ears are opened we perceive his communication via his people in art, music, poetry, calligraphy, photography, dance, gardening, decorating, clothing design, food preparation, architecture and many other ways. Not all people hear the same way. Concrete practical thinkers need direct black and white communication with pre-connected dots. Artsy types float in metaphor. God smiles at your unique make-up.

Sometimes artists don’t even realize they are conduits. They don’t know why they used that word, or painted that colour, or added that variation. It just felt right.

For some time now I’ve had a song playing in that insistent way that I can’t shut off. I don’t recall hearing it anywhere recently. Certain lines kept playing on repeat, especially at night.

Love. Love will keep us together.
When those guys start hanging around talking me down
Hear with your heart and you won’t hear a sound.

Just stop! Stop!
‘Cause I really love you. Better stop! Stop!
I’ll be thinking of you
Look in my heart and let love keep us together – whatever.

I wondered why this song. Then I found out. I thought I was finished with a year of treatments and surgery dealing with health issues, but I’ve just received more discouraging news. More to investigate. More treatment modalities to explore.

I began to let my imagination be distracted by the voices of dismal forebodings clamouring in the back of my brain, those carriers of worry, shame and despair that taunt with, “Did God really say…? Where is he now? Does he really love you or has he abandoned you in the dark with pain that will only get worse? Where are your ‘God is good’ stories now?”

I don’t think Neil Sedaka had this interpretation in mind when he wrote the song, nor did the Captain and Tenille (or the guy with five ukeleles) intend it to carry a message of hope, but God used it.

ive got thisHe says, “Stop! Stop letting your thoughts run away with you. Take those thoughts captive and counter them with who I really am. I want to show you an aspect of myself you can only see in the middle of these circumstances. Stop it, because I really do love you. Look in my heart and let my love for you keep us together, whatever happens, wherever this part of the journey leads. I’ve got this.”

The next day lines from another song started playing in my head. A Stevie Wonder song:

For once, unafraid, I can go where life leads me
Somehow I know I’ll be strong.
For once I can say, ‘This is mine! You can’t take it!
As long as I know I have love I can make it!’”

He’s got this. Therefore, I’ve got this.

Sunday night I heard another song in an orchestral arrangement. I knew it was a Stuart Townend composition but I couldn’t recall a single word. It took me all morning to find it because all I had was the tune and how do you google a tune? But I did find it. It’s about hope. And for some reason one of the first photos in the Youtube version I clicked on was one of mine! I don’t mind my work being used this way (although it is polite to ask). When I saw it I exclaimed, “What? Are you kidding me? This is mine!”

 

 

And in my heart, where I was listening and paying attention, God said, “Yes. Hope. This is yours.”

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