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.

 

River Walk, Canmore, Alberta

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Our hearts bubble over as we celebrate the fame
Of your marvelous beauty; bringing bliss to our hearts.
We shout with ecstatic joy over your breakthrough for us.
You’re so kind and tenderhearted to those who don’t deserve it;
And so very patient with people who fail you.
Your love is like a flooding river overflowing its banks with kindness.
God, everyone sees your goodness,
For your tender love is blended into everything you do.

Psalm 145:7-9 TPT)

Too Good To Not Be True

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With my whole heart, with my whole life
And with my innermost being,
I bow in wonder and love before you, the Holy God!
Yahweh, you are my soul’s celebration;
How could I ever forget the miracles of kindness you’ve done for me?
You kissed my heart with forgiveness, in spite of all I’ve done.
You healed me inside and out from every disease.
You’ve rescued me from hell and saved my life.
You’ve crowned me with love and mercy and made me a king.
You satisfy my every desire with good things.
You supercharged my life so that I soar again
Like a flying eagle in the sky.
You’re a God who makes things right,
Giving justice to the defenseless…

(Psalm 103:1-6 The Passion Translation)

There are passages of scripture some of us have learned are part of our inheritance. We keep running into them  at crucial moments in our lives. They show up when we most need them. Psalm 103 is one of those passages for me.

The irony is that the Lord brings it to my attention when I feel least likely to be able to declare it without engaging a considerable amount of faith. Circumstances would seem to point in another direction.

But we live by faith and not by sight.

So today I stand and declare: You supercharged my life so that I soar again like an eagle flying in the sky!

It’s about His faithfulness. Therefore I have hope, the evidence of things not seen.

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Thinking of Everything

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“Why am I the one who has to think of everything?” a young mother asked. “My husband’s idea of preparing for a trip is carrying the suitcases out to the car.”

I smiled. I remembered this. One day my father-in-law announced he was taking us to the fair. We would be gone all day. His intent was for us to stay late and watch the fireworks. After telling us to hurry up he put on his baseball cap, grabbed his keys and went out to the car.

Eventually he came back in to see what was taking so long. I happened to be feeding and dressing three little kids (two still in diapers), gathering supplies for the day and putting them in backpacks and diaper bags. My mind was whirling as I made preparations that necessitated asking myself the question, “What could go wrong?” so I would know what to bring.

Dad was going out of his way to do something kind for us. He was a natural optimist and couldn’t understand why I was fretting. This was supposed to be fun.

There is something about being responsible for others that turns many of us into worriers. Perhaps it is because we feel like we have to think of everything or we could find ourselves caught in a blizzard in a swim suit and flip flops and fresh out of diaper rash cream for the baby. Maybe that’s how I got in the habit of starting my day with thinking about what could go horribly wrong. Thinking about what could go amazingly right is postponed for a later hour after lists are made and items checked off. Sometimes I never get around to that thought until I tumble, exhausted, into bed at night.

I’m trying to change.

Now, before I  get out of bed, I intentionally direct my thoughts to thanking God for answered prayer and the potential of the next day. I intend to not allow negativity to squash my joy before the day even begins. Then I lay my plans before him and let him know they are subject to change as he leads.

It’s often a mental wrestling match on the level of those grunting men of massive girth who throw chairs and put headlocks on referees. Change, real change, deep down heart change, doesn’t come easily for someone like me.

Early yesterday morning, I drove home from a doctor’s appointment in another city. It’s an eleven hour trip there and back. Instead of “trying to think of everything” in preparation for surgery next week I decided to focus on the goodness of God and how he has brought me safe thus far. I put on some good music and sang along.

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One of the things I am thankful for is that my commute is through some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. The glowing sun rose over my shoulder to the east, lit a winter field at rest to the north and touched the mountain peaks to the west with gentle pink light. The air was frigid, but inside my little subcompact cocoon the heater hummed away and kept me warm. I put iPod music on shuffle and watched the day come to life.

Then a song from a new album I bought before I left home began to play. “You’re going to be okay,” the singer assured me. I heard God’s voice in the music.

I have no idea how this is going to go. But I am going to be okay. The Lover of my soul thinks of everything.

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At each and every sunrise you will hear my voice
As I prepare my sacrifice of prayer to you.
Every morning I lay out the pieces of my life on the altar
And wait for your fire to fall upon my heart.

(Psalm 5:3 TPT)

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Winds of Change

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My grandson was showing me photos he had done for school when I saw the light change outside on the snowy lawn in my peripheral vision. I checked the sky.

“Grab your camera!” I said. “And your boots and jacket. Let’s go.”
A strong wind resisted our efforts to open the front door.

“Where is the closest open field?” I asked him when he got in the car.
He took me there. This is the result.

Chinook arch at sunset in Alberta.

I grew up in Calgary. I knew what an arch of clouds in the sky coming from the mountains in the west meant. It meant a break in the weather. It meant sudden unseasonably warm days right in the middle of winter.

To some weather-sensitive people chinook winds bring changes in barometric pressure that provoke migraines and achy knees, to some they create a mess of melting show and piles of slush on the road, but as a child I knew they brought streams in the gutter to sail our clothespin boats, the ability to run around outside without a hat or scarf or sometimes even a jacket and a sense of profound unexpected positive change.

I was able to visit Calgary this week. The purpose of the trip was not a thrilling one; I had to see a team of medical specialists at the hospital who debated the best next course of action in treating a resistant condition. That part wasn’t fun, although I was amazed and impressed by the efficiency of the system. My doctor referred me on Thursday, I was given an appointment on Friday and by Tuesday I was shlepping around from the exam room to the labs to the consultation room. I am so appreciative of good medical treatment. I thought of my grandmother and how much things have changed since she died at 42 because the family didn’t have money for an operation, and of my son who is still waiting for OR time for his surgery.

But the other part of the story is that the tests were not pleasant, every treatment offered comes with risks and side-effects and the prospect of more pain and recovery time on the couch, and there is no clear advantage of one over the other so the decision is up to me.

When my husband and I walked out to the parking lot I realized I didn’t need my hat, or mittens or my jacket. It was one of those southern Alberta miracle days after a chinook blew in and raised the temperature to sunny spring day levels. It was a break from the expectations of January weather in Canada.

I think the Lord breaks up the heaviness of praying for situations that weigh on our hearts with moments of unexpected fulfillment of promises ahead of time. It’s like the finger of God poking through. Moments of the manifestation of the Kingdom of heaven on earth. Yes. It exists. Here. Now. In this moment. But someday this warm sunlight will not be an occasional thing. It will be the norm.

We have hope, therefore we can sing, “To God be the glory for the things he has done.”

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A Beautiful Broad Place

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Again friends and neighbours face crises as homes burn, jobs disappear, false accusations pop up, loved ones make foolish choices, doctors predict dire outcomes, marriage promises evaporate, supervisors exhibit incompetence, and leaders cloak corruption in meaningless words. Sometimes it seems like the trolls and curmudgeons on social media have created an alliance to keep folks living in a place of fear and disappointment.

And the fear of disappointment is perhaps our greatest fear.

What if all this effort is in vain? What if the things that have always defined success for us disappear, or fail to meet our expectations?  What if the good job isn’t there to go to in the morning, or the city burns, or our marriage fails, or our kid becomes an addict, or the judge believes the liar?

How do we keep the faith when we want to put up thick walls to protect ourselves from disappointment?

I wonder if the point where people position themselves on the gullibility/cynicism spectrum has to do with how they handle disappointment. I wonder if trolls and curmudgeons are using negativity as a shield against the expectation of disappointment. Romans 5 talks about the hope that does not disappoint. The question is, what is that hope and how does it stand up in the face of the very real possibility of loss or deception?

Times of loss can become times of gain when they cause us to pause, assess, and change our way of thinking.

When our hope is in perishable things – or even perishable people – we will inevitably suffer disappointment. When our hope is in the Eternal One we have a handhold in the future. David, the warrior poet, understood this.

Oh Lord, the God of faithfulness,
you have rescued and redeemed me.
I despise these deceptive illusions,
all this pretense and nonsense;
for I worship only you.

In mercy you have seen my troubles,
and you have cared for me;
even during this crisis in my soul I will be radiant with joy,
filled with praise for your love and mercy.

You have kept me from being conquered by my enemy;
you broke open the way to bring me to freedom,
into a beautiful broad place.

(Psalm 30:5-8 The Passion Translation)

May the radiant joy of freedom in Jesus Christ be your shield today. May your heart settle in a beautiful broad place.