Overwhelmed

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Have you ever noticed that crises don’t have the decency to line up and come single file, waiting patiently until the previous demand has been met?

It’s snowing – again. During the unusually big dump, three weeks ago, I met this guy digging out not only the access to his carport, but a neighbour’s place as well. Then he went on to help clear the way for a midwife who lives down the lane before she returned from night shift at the hospital.

“The important thing,” he told me between shovelfuls of snow, “is to not let it pile up on you.”

“But it’s still snowing!” I said, as my blue toque turned white with accumulated fluffy stuff.

“I know. But if I waited until it stopped the task would seem overwhelming. So I work, take a break, and work some more.”

He tossed another shovelful on a snow bank taller than he was.

“Just keep at it,” he grunted.

I admit he demonstrated a better work ethic than I often do. Sometimes I look at the task ahead of me and feel so overwhelmed I quit, hoping a miraculous event will clear the path like a sudden thawing chinook wind (which we don’t get on this side of the Rockies.) At the moment I feel buried under inertia.

But the man with the shovel reminds me to persevere.

So first I respond to obligations and crises, then clear my desk, file my notes, answer my emails, take a break, clear my emails, edit my photos, take break, and write my stories – one sentence a time. I toss words on the page like tossing shovels full of snow on the spot I hope will transform into a garden someday.

It feels overwhelming but maybe, someday, there will be a book where once nothing existed but blank whiteness.

Just keep at it.

All the Time

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“Every life has dark tracks and long stretches of somber tint, and no representation is true to fact which dips its pencil only in light, and flings no shadows on the canvas.”

– Alexander MacLaren

Winter days are short in the north, but when the sun reflects off the snow they can be gloriously bright. The contrast between extreme brightness and dark shadow is sometimes difficult to capture with a camera. Photographers have to figure out how to adjust for areas of an image appearing either blown-out white or indiscernible black.

As I drove in the countryside my eyes could not adjust quickly enough to the deep blue shadow across the road in a forested section after open white fields. For a moment I couldn’t see. I felt disoriented. Nothing had changed. The sky, the earth, the road were still all there and as solid and real as they had been seconds before driving into the shadow. It takes a while to be able to discern shapes and terrain in a canyon cutting between tall fir trees.

Sometimes when we enter dark times in our life we are tempted to question what we knew only a short time before. Does God still love me if I can’t feel him or see him? Did I mess up so badly this time he has given up on me? There are lots of voices offering condemnation in this place. Where do they come from?

It takes a while to be able to discern truth in dark places, but it is still truth. When we refuse to panic and instead choose to slow down by resting in trust, gradually we can again see and hear that the love of God has been there all the time.

So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose?

If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us?

And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger?

The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way!

Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture: They kill us in cold blood because they hate you. We’re sitting ducks; they pick us off one by one.

None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us.

I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.

(Romans 8:31-39 MSG)

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Yes, She Knew

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I love the song, Mary Did You Know? I was thinking about how much Mary knew as I wondered and wandered out in the valley with it’s traffic-muting hush of new fallen snow.

I also love The Magnificat, Mary’s prophetic response of praise after her cousin, Elizabeth gave her prophetic confirmation:

You are blessed, Mary, blessed among all women, and the child you bear is blessed!  And blessed I am as well, that the mother of my Lord has come to me!  As soon as I heard your voice greet me, my baby leaped for joy within me.  How fortunate you are, Mary, for you believed that what the Lord told you would be fulfilled.

Mary responded with her own prophetic declaration:

My soul lifts up the Lord!

My spirit celebrates God, my Liberator!

For though I’m God’s humble servant,
God has noticed me.
Now and forever,
I will be considered blessed by all generations.

For the Mighty One has done great things for me;
holy is God’s name!

From generation to generation,
God’s lovingkindness endures
for those who revere Him.

God’s arm has accomplished mighty deeds.
The proud in mind and heart,
God has sent away in disarray.

The rulers from their high positions of power,
God has brought down low.
And those who were humble and lowly,
God has elevated with dignity.

The hungry—God has filled with fine food.
The rich—God has dismissed with nothing in their hands.

To Israel, God’s servant,
God has given help,

As promised to our ancestors,
remembering Abraham and his descendants in mercy forever.
(from Luke 1 The Voice)

Did Mary know?
She knew.

Elizabeth knew too. These two women had a greater understanding of God’s magnificent plan than the religious specialists around them. In the Christmas story God spoke through women as well as men and angels.

He still does.

A song of joy, great joy:

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Look

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But let all who take refuge in you rejoice;
let them sing joyful praises forever.
Spread your protection over them,
that all who love your name may be filled with joy.

For you bless the godly, O Lord;
you surround them with your shield of love.

(Psalm 5:11,12 NLT)

When I looked out my window I saw a dull gloomy day. Landscape photographers are dependent on the weather. Fog and rain can make interesting lighting conditions but in the autumn when the trees are in colour I wanted bright light. I didn’t feel like it, I decided to go anyway. Once I was on the road I saw a small patch of blue in the sky to the north.

I simply followed the light and  came to the end of the road at a small lake at the foot of a mountain. I parked and waited, enjoying God’s presence and soaked in the warm breeze and the song of the birds.

Then the sun broke through.

Sometimes it takes some effort to follow the light and look for the positive and beautiful around us. I’m not ignoring alarming stories of fear and evil. I care very much. But when I stay in the gloom too long my eyes become dim. I stop looking to the horizon for hope and begin to add my own sad you-think-that’s-bad stories.

It’s not so much a matter of avoiding negativity as actively pursuing the positive – things for which we are thankful.

John, who recorded his experiences in the book of Revelation, began by saying he was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day when he looked. And then he looked, and then he looked some more. Seeing things from God’s perspective requires active participation on our part.

For me on that day, hope started by getting out of the driveway, looking to the sky, and heading toward the light.

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What Am I Doing Here?

It is in the valleys that we are given provision for what lies ahead.
Blogging at Ishshah’s Story this week.

Ishshah's Story

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“I was the worship leader of a large church. What am I doing behind the bar of a coffee shop? I don’t even like coffee,” he said.

“I know I am called to be a missionary to the third world. I’ve studied pediatric nutrition, I’ve been to seminary, I’ve learned the language, I’ve jumped through red tape hoops, but instead I’m teaching privileged college students who are semi-comatose under the spell of entitlement. What am I doing here?” she said.

This is becoming a familiar conversation as I listen to friends and family whose lives have taken a detour. I know a lot of people who are asking the question, “What am I doing here? This was not in my five-year plan.”

I’ve seen some interesting career shifts: a former chaplain working as a tinsmith, a refugee physician pushing a broom, a former pastor working as a carpenter, a former…

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