Immense

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This is a big country. I stopped by a field on the Cowboy Trail in Alberta on my way home this weekend. I am overwhelmed by the immensity of the sky and land I can see from one spot in one place on one road. I cannot comprehend the size of this province or this world, let alone the universe.

I’ve met some extremely intelligent people in my life. I love scientists. Many of them have spent a lifetime learning all they can in a field the size of a clump of clay. Even astrophysicists who look at the big picture and gaze into the sky beyond the sky admit that all their accumulated knowledge is humbling. Questions multiply like the expanding universe. The more we know the more we have to admit we just don’t know.

The same difficulty is seen in developing wisdom on how to rule a nation or get along with other countries. If two people, who care deeply about each other, cannot agree on the best way to earn a living, clean the house, raise a child, or even the best route to drive to the grocery store how can we trust a few people in positions of power and who despise each other to make wise decisions for all of us?

When I read the news and sense the current atmosphere I feel frightened. Sometimes I know too little; sometimes I know too much. The problems are too complex to figure out all by my little self.

Someone reminded me of a story the author of ‘The Hiding Place’, Corrie ten Boom, wrote. She lived in difficult times and sometimes felt overwhelmed. Her father reminded her that when she was a child and excited about going on a train trip with her Papa he didn’t put her ticket in her hand until it was time to actually get on the train. In the same way, God often doesn’t give us the grace to handle a problem until we need it.

I was overwhelmed with anxiety as I faced another medical scan on Friday. I wrote about it here in Real Time. I clung to Corrie’s story, trusting God to hand me a ticket when I needed it even though I was shaking so badly when I arrived at the hospital I could barely hold a pen to sign the permission paper. I wanted to cry. While the nurse started an I.V. for the contrast I wished for a power failure or something — anything– to give me an excuse to escape the place.

Panic attacks attack reason. It magnifies annoyances and projects them on the screen in the mind as terrifying monsters. The night before I convinced myself I could endure ten minutes in the tube. I had serious doubts about lasting twenty minutes. Then I was told the test would take sixty minutes.

The doctor had given me pills to take to calm anxiety, but, like last time, they weren’t helping much. When my name was called I felt like I was marching to my doom, or at least an embarrassing display of illogical immaturity.

And then it happened.

My heavenly Father handed me my grace ticket. The technician told me this MRI machine was significantly larger than the one I was crammed into last time. I felt peace flow over me.

I got on the less narrow bed, closed my eyes, and entered the place where God promised to meet my every need. I thanked him for his goodness. I chose to find delight in him by picturing his beautiful creation. I sang a song of praise. Soon I was in an orchard grove feeling the soft grass bed and warm dappled sun on my skin like I did when I was a child. Then I was in a cool pool of blue water like a mountain lake feeling Holy Spirit’s hands underneath me like he was teaching a child to float. My part was to be still and trust. I felt his smile.

It didn’t feel like sixty minutes. It felt like I was in that place where time didn’t matter. I felt immense peace as wide as the Alberta sky. When the technician told me they were finished, slid me out and helped me to my feet I knew I had experienced the strength that comes from resting in the Lord in more than a theoretical way. If you have never suffered from anxiety attacks this won’t make sense to you, but to me it felt like a miracle.

We all face uncertainty and fear, some of us more than others because of personal history, or loss of physical or mental strength, or seemingly overwhelming circumstances. I know I’m not the only one who is sensing an atmosphere of increased anxiety in the world. Many people, especially children and young people, are experiencing high levels of anxiety like never before. I do believe we need to turn to God in humility admitting that we need help.

I am learning that if God says he’s got this, he’s got this. Even when the atmosphere fills with threatening clouds the warmth of his love can shine through. We have the freedom to ask, then quietly trust like a contented child at rest on a mother’s lap.

Lord, my heart is meek before you.
I don’t consider myself better than others.
I’m content to not pursue matters that are over my head—
such as your complex mysteries and wonders—
that I’m not yet ready to understand.

I am humbled and quieted in your presence.
Like a contented child who rests on its mother’s lap,
I’m your resting child and my soul is content in you.

O people of God, your time has come to quietly trust,
waiting upon the Lord now and forever.

(Psalm 131 The Passion Translation)

Thank you, Lord. You are so good.

In Days of Preparation

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We, and thousands of others, have changed our travel plans this week. Our intent was to drive to Edmonton, Alberta today to help an elderly relative. The flashing red weather advisory on the site I checked suggested we reconsider. Another winter storm is coming.

But it’s supposed to be spring, right?

Edmonton has apparently set a new record for the most number of consecutive days when the temperature has gone below freezing — a dubious achievement. The Cowboy Trail in southern Alberta (between here and there) could see more than 20 cm. of snow with high winds and white-out conditions. I’ve been caught in those blizzards before. We’re staying home.

I have developed a tradition in years when I’m longing for spring and it feels more like January 106th than April 16th. I go to the place where people are busy making preparation for warm sunny days in the garden, a place where it is already spring. I go to the greenhouses at our local nursery.

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Yes, it’s too soon to buy plants, but the place is full of activity. Shipments of luscious greenery arrive from the coast, workers in the perennial house sort pots of tender shoots, and new staff clean shelves and learn where the fertilizer, whirl-a-gigs, and watering cans go.

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As I walked between the aisles of charming English daisies, eager purple pansies, and beguiling begonias, it struck me that all of this preparation was being made in faith that spring and summer will arrive eventually — and the staff had better be ready for the rush.

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Living by faith means making preparation for promises fulfilled. It is easier to complain about freezing temperatures than it is to clean the garden shed or sharpen the hoe or start seedlings inside, but if we really believe something is coming, change is about to happen, and hope deferred will grow into the flowering tree of desire fulfilled, we will make preparations.

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Faith without works, if not dead, is at least dormant. Frozen. Under 20 cm. of snow.

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Beth Moore said it:

How often we expect big things from God without preparing for big things from him.”

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Hopeful people see the flowers in the greenhouse and admire them before their time, knowing that soon the promise of spring will become visible reality in our neighbourhoods.

People of faith also make preparations for change. They walk in the place where it has already happened in their hearts. Get ready. This may involve shoveling fertilizer and kneeling in the dirt first, but it’s going to be good.

Mysteriously Complex

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The experts disagree. Strongly.

“Your case is complex,” one of them told me this week. “I would definitely not follow the advice the other specialist gave you if it were me. But it’s up to you.”

If people who have spent years studying medicine disagree on how to proceed, how on earth am I supposed to decide which expert to “unfollow?”

I cried out to God on my long drive home from the cancer clinic yesterday. I feel overwhelmed, like I have been falling through cracks named “rare” and “exceptional” for too many years. From the time I was born my body chemistry never completely fit the charts that define “norms.” Too much of this, too little of that, and in spite of a life time of funding the diet and exercise industry, I walk around in a model that is, embarrassingly, entirely the wrong size and shape to buy clothes off the rack in fashionable shops for “normal” people.

I saw an oncology dietician today. “Complex,” she said. “Your case is complex.”

When I told a friend in the medical field about my treatment options she said, “It’s certainly complex.”

“I’ve heard that word a lot this week,” I said with a sigh.

Complex. Why is this so complex, Lord? Why is my body so weird? Making a wrong decision on treatment plans could have dire consequences down the road. I know you didn’t make the cancer cells. There’s no aberrant cell division in heaven, so it’s not your plan to have these invaders in me. I know you have a better plan, but I have no idea what to do now. I’m scared.

I’ve been meditating on Psalm 139 in The Passion Translation for some weeks. This is where I am now:

You formed my innermost being, shaping my delicate inside
and my intricate outside,
and wove them all together in my mother’s womb.

Yeah, yeah, that’s nice. Insert stock photo of pretty baby here.

Then I read this. Verse 14:
I thank you, God, for making me so mysteriously complex!

I read it again. And again. And another time.
I thank you, God, for making me so mysteriously complex.

That’s in there? Complex? Seriously?

Be thankful? How can I do that? How can I be thankful for a complex body that mystifies the experts? How can I be thankful when I feel so angry? (Am I allowed to admit that emotions like anxiety and anger sometimes crawl out of the ditch to dog your steps on the faith walk in real time?) Show me how to be thankful, Lord, because I’m not feeling it.

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I stopped to take photos on my way home, because that’s one way I worship. Worship shifts my point of view and gets the focus off myself. I choose to focus my camera on trees and mountains and fields instead. I take time to appreciate God’s handiwork because he said was pleased with it himself and worship is about appreciating God and paying attention to the things he appreciates.

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The scenery along Highway 22, the Cowboy Trail in Alberta, fascinates me. The road runs through a sparsely populated part of the country where the landscape transitions from prairie to mountains.

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High winds provoke ever-changing cloudscapes and patterns of light and shadow on the rolling hills.

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Winter blizzards often alternate with warm chinook winds here. The season can change within hours. It’s white. It’s brown. It’s barren. It’s lush. It’s hot. It’s cold. It’s smooth. It’s rugged.

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It’s complex.
It’s marvelous.
It’s breathtaking.

 

David wrote in Psalm 139:

Everything you do is marvelously breathtaking.
It simply amazes me to think about it!
How thoroughly you know me, Lord!

As I edit photos today I hear His voice. If you can appreciate My handiwork in this vast countryside, can you appreciate the way I created your body? I know every cell. Can you trust me to show you what to do to heal it?

 

The wind picked up as I drove down Highway 22 yesterday. I mean really picked up. My car rocked from side to side from the buffeting force of the gale. I had to grip the steering wheel tightly, and aim it at about one o’clock, or maybe 1:30, to keep going straight toward the mountains that mark the beginning of the narrow opening in the Rocky Mountains called the Crowsnest Pass.

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A song I had downloaded on my iPod began to play.

Fear not
If I could say it any louder, I would

Remember all I told you, remember all I said
When the questions start arising, keep your eyes fixed straight ahead
Hold on tightly to the promise, hold firmly to the truth
That I love you, oh I love you.

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He’s got his diagnostic finger on that trust issue again. So, in the middle of the buffeting of circumstances I choose to hold on tightly to his promises and trust him and keep my eyes fixed straight ahead. He made me  and he loves me. That’s good enough reason to say thank you.

I played the song on repeat as I kept my eyes on the morphing, moving clouds on the horizon.

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When life piles up and you’re feeling overcome
Stand still and believe, I won’t let you drown
When a cry’s in your throat, watching all the waves below
Lift your eyes to the sky and trust that I won’t pass you by

Fear not
If I could say it any louder, I would

Fear not!
If I could say it any louder, I would!

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Thank you, Lord, for making me mysteriously complex. Your love conquers fear.

Now turn up the bass as Kristene sings.

 

 

 

Speaking the Truth in Love

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But what I would like to say is that the spiritual life is a life in which you gradually learn to listen to a voice that says something else, that says, “You are the beloved and on you my favour rests.”… I want you to hear that voice. It is not a very loud voice because it is an intimate voice. It comes from a very deep place. It is soft and gentle. I want you to gradually hear that voice. We both have to hear that voice and to claim for ourselves that that voice speaks the truth, our truth. It tells us who we are.

~ Henri Nouwen

Irrelevant

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To be a Christian who is willing to travel with Christ on his downward road requires being willing to detach oneself constantly from any need to be relevant, and to trust ever more deeply the Word of God.

– Henri Nouwen

The scent of autumn leaves reminds me of growing up in the foothills of southern Alberta. Unlike other areas of the country where the fall is a gradual transition from the heat of summer to the cold of winter, the season change on the edge of the Rockies comes with sudden expected, yet unexpected changes. It’s like the weather is playing tennis and constantly challenging the other player to guess which way it’s going to go.

Autumn in the foothills tends to arrive with a thud. On a Tuesday – or a Friday just before a long weekend when the first sleet blows around your head as you are filling up the gas tank for a trip to Grandma’s house. An hour later the world shifts from gold and orange to white and grey as the snow takes aim at your windshield.

There is something about the anticipated suddenness that makes sweet days full of rich colour and warm breezes that smell like tea leaves all the more precious. I always feel a sense of urgency to get outside and breathe in the vibrancy of change in the autumn. Come away. Remember this moment. It may have to hold you for a while.

A common theme in my dreams is a knock on the door and an invitation to come away. Sometimes I’m told to pack my bags and get to the airport. One time I dreamed I was in a cabin near the mountains when I heard the knock on the door. When I opened it I saw a man on horseback. He held the reins to another horse, saddled and waiting for me.

“Come away with me,” he said. “I have something I want to show you.”

It always takes me a while to figure out that the person who beckons me is Jesus. He looks different, but he always feels kind and safe. In this particular dream we rode all day to a high place on the edge of a cliff where we could see for miles and miles. In real life, I was becoming bogged down in the details of dailiness. I needed to come away to see the bigger picture – a grander vista that included a sense of time beyond my own house.

Sometimes, no — usually, in the come-away dreams the timing is sudden and inconvenient. I’m not ready. I don’t want change right now, thank you very much. I’ve settled in. My things are scattered around in places I can’t remember and packing my bags is stressful. I don’t know where I’m going or what I will need.

I’m learning to pack lightly. Last time I was told to leave my books behind. Another time I was told to leave my all-season clothes behind because new clothes would be provided when I arrived at the destination.

“Where is the destination?” I asked.

“You’ll see.”

I had another get-ready-for-a-trip dream recently. I don’t want to go. I’m comfortable here in this place in my life. I’m gathering ideas to write about in my journal. I think they’re relevant. People seem to like them and I receive encouraging feedback.

Today I am packing for a real trip and I don’t know what to take and what to leave behind. The flowers are still blooming in my garden in B.C. but the forecast is for snow in southern Alberta and the mountain passes tomorrow so we are leaving early. The season is changing sooner than I anticipated. I’m scheduled to have surgery for cancer at Foothills hospital on Friday. That means parting with bits of my body that up until now have been quite relevant to me. This trip is more challenging than some. I would much rather ride beside Jesus on a white horse than on a white gurney.

“Come away with me, ” he says. “I have something I want to show you.”

This much I know. He has always been kind. I have always been safe with Jesus, even in some very scary circumstances. I have always (eventually) been grateful for the things I have learned on this life journey. There is still so much to learn about who God is and about who I am and why I am here.

I hear a knock on the door. I don’t know how long I’ll be gone. Maybe a few hours, maybe a few years. I don’t know. All I know is that the voice I love is calling and I must go.