Why I Write

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I open the file. I re-read the last chapter I wrote. I stare at the empty white screen. I close the file.

Why am I doing this?

I can’t answer. I can’t remember. I doodle excuses.

I ask friends. Why do you write?

They give answers. The responses look familiar. I`ve probably said the same things in the past, but none of them fit the curves and angles of my own puzzle pieces now. Saying right out loud that I have lost sight of joy in the process releases a barrage of comments from the trolls in my head.

Who do you think you are?
Who would want to read your stuff anyway?
Seriously? You’re no expert. You’re not qualified.
What makes you think you will live long enough to finish this?
You are old. You are sick. Why put this pressure on yourself? Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you die.

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The trolls make me cry. They hurl lies wrapped in scraps of truth the way they have done for decades of my life.

I am tired and in pain, but one candle flickers in my darkness. I remember the written words of the lamenting prophet Jeremiah, with whom I have had a love/hate relationship since I first slammed his books shut –then opened them again.

I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.
(Lamentations 3:19-23 NIV)

I go to bed. I dream.

Two doctors behind a counter review my complex case. They seem optimistic and excited. One asks if I have ever worked on a research project. I tell them I helped with a project that examined why a person’s voice changes when they have a cold. (I haven’t actually done this, but I used to teach singing in real life.)

I tell them our findings. Beyond problems with producing a steady sound with inflamed vocal folds that don’t vibrate properly, sinus congestion and swelling of the throat tissues reduces the capacity for resonating space.

(This was something I was careful to teach. Produce the sound in such a way that relaxed natural resonance can do the work of projection for you. That way you will not strain and cause tension or muscle fatigue to fight you. Resonance needs space surrounded by a solid surface to produce a pleasant full sound. Think of the difference between the constipated duck sound of a trumpet mouth piece alone and the resounding fanfare sound when the horn is added. Then I joked to my students that good singers have resonance where ordinary people store parts of their brains they never get around to using anyway.)

In my dream, the older doctor comes around his desk and sits beside me in a fatherly way.

“It appears that your illnesses and challenging circumstances of late have led to apathy – a-pathy, no passion. You’ve experienced a reduction in the space where passions thrive and where your “voice” is produced. The result? A lack of compassion for others,” he said, treating me like an intelligent adult. “You need healing to create larger capacity to contain God’s love so that it can resonate in you before you release the sound.”

He patted my shoulder as he rose to his feet. “In other words, you don’t need to strive. Let resonance work for you.”

He stood up and handed me a file. “We would like you join a research project. When you get home try to team up with Gideon,” he smiled. “He knows something about fear and the stress of trying to work in confined space.”

I wake and write the dream down.

 

I am stunned. He gave me the answer to the question of why writing fails to flow lately. A lack of compassion. I’ve written here about thinking, acting and feeling in alignment with God’s thoughts, actions and emotions. Jesus, who demonstrated what God the Father is actually like, wept with compassion.

The dream doctor suggested a research project? But I am tired, so very, very tired. Mundane, but necessary tasks take twice as much time as they used to. I’m not volunteering for much lately. I don’t have the energy to take up causes when I’m using up my limited supply to try to keep a check on my own symptom and side-effect tainted emotions. More than ever I am aware of the long-term damage of lies I have believed as they surface in unguarded reactions. I need to concentrate on thinking differently but my brain wants to slide into default grooves.

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“I feel weak,” I tell God. “Frazzled.”

I hear his voice urging, “Now, in this place of weakness, it’s time to learn to access the grace I promised to supply. My power is made perfect in weakness.”

I pray and read about Gideon emerging from his wine-press pit of fear (story in Judges chapters 6 to 8). Three sources “just happen” to show up where I can’t miss them – in an email, on a CD on the shelf beside me, and in a friend’s Facebook post. All three talk about finding opportunities in places of confinement like Gideon’s. The key to moving into wider spaces, they say, is using the promises God has given us as weapons.

While Gideon still cowered, the angel of God told him that he was the mighty warrior who would lead his people into freedom.

Promises are found in passages of scripture that have grabbed our attention at various times in our life. Promises can be revealed in insistent phrases in songs; in co-incidences and repeated themes in books, films, sermons, podcasts, and random circumstances; in friends who are sensitive to the prompting of the Holy Spirit; and in that still, almost silent Voice that speaks in our hearts when we are at peace enough to hear it. Promises resonate in our hearts.

Jesus had emotions – strong emotions. “The passion of Christ” refers to his motivation for going to the cross. What made him angry? What triggered his expressions of elation? What broke his heart and made him cry? I am looking again.

Why do I write? I’m starting to remember. It’s not about praise, or recognition or material gain. Not anymore. I write because God loved me enough to bare his heart of compassion and to give what was dearest to himself to demonstrate his love.

When I submit to him by allowing him to cleanse and heal my heart, when I quit insisting, like a toddler, that I can do it myself, I begin to understand his motivation. I come into alignment with his thinking, feeling, and acting. I start to be moved by the things that move him.

Why do I write?

Love. Resonating love.

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Eternal Light

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I haven’t painted anything for nearly a year. Sometimes I take out a canvas, put it on the easel and ask, “What should I paint?” I stare at it for a while. I go through my idea file of photos looking for something that inspires me. Then I pack everything back in the closet and go fold laundry or check Facebook again.

It’s kind of like spending an hour looking for just the right Netflix show to accompany a nap on the couch and then, failing to be enticed by yet another description of the protagonist’s discovery of a “dark secret,” turning the TV off and going back to work without the satisfaction of either a movie or a snooze.

Ususally I am energized by creative endeavours, but I’ve been slacking off writing lately too. I’m trying to discipline myself to make more progress on a big project, but it feels like I’ve been on a long climb for a long time.

It’s a strange place. The air is thinner here. My steps are slower. My stride shuffles rather than bounds. I measure progress on the novel by paragraphs completed instead of chapters. I measure personal progress in terms of surviving another day without letting fear or irritability dominate…too much.

I’m not depressed. I’m well-acquainted with what depression feels like. This is more like the fatigue that comes from working on a restoration project that has no end in sight — or climbing a mountain that is a lot higher than it seemed when the trek started.

Nasty side effects of medication I’m told I need keep me house-bound more than I like, even as an introvert. After four surgeries (one which was only the removal of a big toenail, but hey, that took a disappointingly long time to heal), my body is going to need time to fully recover. I understand that.  But I’m tired of being tired.

This week, friends issued an invitation for artists to come and paint during an evening dedicated to worship. Burn 24-7 calls for no agenda but focus on God and his goodness. People who attend are free to worship in whatever way the Lord leads them. Some sing. Some dance. Some wave banners. Some sit quietly. Some paint.

I’ve heard this type of art experience labeled prophetic art. Others call it worship art. One of my friends calls the finished pictures “painted prayers.” Any of those terms work for me. I decided, despite not feeling well this week, that I needed to go. I need to worship.

As I packed my tubes of paint and checked the condition of brushes I asked the Lord what I should paint. I had no idea. When I have painted at events like this before I often don’t know what’s going to happen until the music plays for a while. Nothing profound came to mind, but when I got there I realized that part of a choral song called Lux Aeterna had been playing in my head all day. The English translation is, “May light eternal shine upon them, O Lord, with Thy saints forever, for Thou art kind.”

I remembered a day almost a year ago when I walked through the tall cathedral of autumn-gold trees by the Elk River in Fernie, B.C.. We stopped for lunch on the way to an appointment with the surgeon who would remove the tumour from my abdomen. Fear almost won that day. I wanted to run in the opposite direction. I was afraid I would never see my favourite season again.

And now as summer becomes autumn, the trees along the path once again turn to gold. I am still here. My Lord still holds my hand and walks with me just as He promised.

I decided to paint my favourite cathedral – the forest. With the words “eternal light” still in my head I painted a prayer for that light to continue to shine in the scary shadowy places in my heart. I painted the celebration of another season of colour, and then I painted myself as a much-loved child holding the hand of the Lover of my soul. He leads me toward glory in the comfort of His friendship and humble majesty.

I can’t explain it, but there is something about an atmosphere of dedicated prayer and worship that makes painting faster and easier. Except for a few touch-ups this painting came together in one session.

I sat back and looked at it. “What are you saying today, Lord?” I asked.

This is the scripture passage that came up when I searched my Bible.

For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:17.18 NASB)

He is kind. He is forever kind. He promised to never leave.

The journey continues.

A Season of Testing

 

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The last of the lilac blossoms fade and scatter outside my window. I love lilacs. Their scent is wonderful, if you are not allergic to them – and I’m not. For some people, lilacs can trigger memories of glorious spring and the approach of summer freedom. For others, lilacs annoy the unconscious brain with recollections of hay fever and the approach of long hot hours picking strawberries, followed by picking rocks, picking tobacco and picking fights with other tired irritated pickers.

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Not everyone loves the smell. My friend was devastated when her neighbour hacked off the branches of a mature lilac bush between their properties just as blooms emerged. To one who loves lilacs and waited the whole winter through for their appearance it felt like witnessing a murder, or at least severe persecution. To some, lilacs are an aroma of hope-filled life and to others, an aroma of foreboding death.

The neighbour must have experienced serious nasal congestion to follow through with such an act, but, if I think about it, I have also been driven to desperation by head colds that went on for weeks and kept me from sleeping like a bad conscience. If I knew being around lilacs provoked my miserable reaction I might make a midnight foray with a hatchet myself. I don’t know. I’m not in her bedroom slippers. It just felt sad.

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Lilacs also remind me of year-ends tests. I remember sitting under the lilac bushes in the back yard while cramming for a high school math exam. That image might define mixed emotion for me. Frustrating formulas and fabulous fragrance at one picnic table.

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The association between lilac season and tests continued for many years. Dates for Royal Conservatory and Trinity College of London singing exams often showed up at the same time as a bower of mauve blossoms over the venue’s door. The fragrance wafted through an open window in the waiting area. I think one of the songs may even have been ‘Lilacs” by Rachmaninoff.

I remember waiting for my grandfather to pick me up after completing an exam that I thought went quite well. I sat on the steps outside the building, cradled clusters of flowers in my hands, and breathed deeply. Lilac blossoms also smell like relief.

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When I became a music teacher, I rushed past the lilacs to fit in an extra lesson or a make a rehearsal with the student and accompanist. I never realized until then that external exams were tests for the teacher as well. Her, or his, professional reputation could hinge on how well somebody else performed. Sometimes smiles and encouraging, cajoling words hid a desire to use stronger modes of motivation on students who didn’t take practice (and my ego) seriously enough. When I finally had time to appreciate my favourite flowers most of the petals flitted on the breeze and showered down on the grass like confetti at a fairy wedding.

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Now I have time to sit in the garden and enjoy, but the scent still carries the undertones of test papers and pencils and nervousness. I used to encourage students by telling them, “Tests can reveal areas that need improvement, but mostly they prove that you have learned what you set out to learn this year. I have just heard you sing this song perfectly. As far as I am concerned you have already passed the exam. All you need to do is show up at the right time and right place and get credit for your hard work. No matter how you do in the examination I will still be here for you. I have faith in you.”

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This past year has been a season of testing for me. I’ve discovered a lot of areas in my reactions to hard questions and frustrating puzzles that need improvement. Sometimes I wished I could hack it all down and make it go away. There is so much more I need to know, but I have also learned that many concepts that seemed sound in theory have proven to be sound in practice.

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It’s like I’ve been sitting at that picnic table in my parents’ garden, feeling the pressures of remembering and applying what I read and heard and studied and even wrote about.

It’s been like walking, with great fear and trembling, into an empty concert hall where an examiner seated at a table waits sharpened pencil and exam form.

It’s required thankfulness and remembering that in the middle of testing, I am surrounded by the beauty and fragrance of Jesus who gave himself for me.

It’s still recalling the encouragement of the Holy Spirit who said, “You can do it. I’m not leaving.”

It’s receiving the approval of my heavenly Father who gives the gift I have always longed for – his unfailing love.

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And continue to walk surrendered to the extravagant love of Christ, for he surrendered his life as a sacrifice for us. His great love for us was pleasing to God, like an aroma of adoration—a sweet healing fragrance. (Ephesians 5:2 TPT)

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Then Bursting Forth In Glorious Day

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I lost a friend today. I was shocked when I heard the news. She was a relatively new friend, someone I was getting to know and appreciate, but we had many mutual friends. Our most important mutual friend was Jesus Christ.

She prayed for me when she learned I had cancer, when I went through surgery, when I started treatment and when I learned the disease was in remission. She was often there beside me praying because that’s what she did.

I was the one who was sick. I never expected her to be the one who went to dance in the glory of paradise first. She left mid-conversation. One moment she was here and the next she was stepping through gates of splendour. I’ll bet God called her by his own name for her since she was not fond of the one she bore here.

I met a man from a part of the world where people in his family of believers were often killed for their faith. He said, “You North American Christians sing about heaven, but nobody seems to want to go there. It is not so with us. We do not fear death. To be with Christ will be a wonderful thing.”

Now my friend is seeing this wonderful thing. I grieve for and with her much-loved family and friends, but I rejoice for her. We have lost her for now, but not forever.

We sang this song together only a few days ago:
Then bursting forth in glorious day
Up from the grave he rose again
And as he stands in victory
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me
For I am his, and he is mine
Bought by the precious blood of Christ

No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From life’s first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny
No power in hell, no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from his hand
Til he returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I stand

(from In Christ Alone by Stuart Townend and Keith Getty)

You are truly shining in the light of his glory, Margo. Dance, girl, dance.

Praise Every Morning

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It was warm enough to take my coffee out on the deck early this morning. I sat quietly and thanked the Lord for his goodness.

This is the first morning I’ve had a chance to sit in my own garden after a trip to the cancer center for a six month check-up.

Good news! No evidence of new tumours.

It’s a new day and I am deeply grateful.

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This I recall to my mind,
Therefore I have hope.

The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease,
For His compassions never fail.

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They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.

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Mine is the sunlight! Mine is the morning
Born of the one light Eden saw play!
Praise with elation, praise every morning;
God’s recreation of the new day!

(from Morning Has Broken by Eleanor Farjeon)

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Looking At the Yesterdays

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For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be a godly person. Yet when I look at the yesterdays of my life, what I see, mostly, is a broken, irregular path littered with mistakes and failure. I have had temporary successes and isolated moments of closeness to God, but I long for the continuing presence of Jesus.

I want a lifetime of holy moments. Every day I want to be in dangerous proximity to Jesus. I long for a life that explodes with meaning and is filled with adventure, wonder, risk, and danger. I long for a faith that is gloriously treacherous. I want to be with Jesus, not knowing whether to cry or laugh.

~Mike Yaconelli

Looking back I can see the path of my spiritual journey. It looks like a haphazard trail created by a person lurching from crisis to crisis interspersed with resting places called “Good Enough.”

It’s a looking back kind of day. My Daddy died on this day three years ago. I call him Daddy today because the space between now and the day he took his last breath is like a vista where time is less sequential and light shines on foreground, midground, and background equally. Today I can look up to my confident Daddy standing in the field at the same time as I look down on my confused father lying in the hospital bed.

My Daddy always told us stories, but he didn’t leave the good enough safety of a job he hated to become a writer and professional story-teller until he was nearly sixty. He said his tales of a Saskatchewan boyhood had just enough truth in them to make them believable but enough fiction to right the wrongs of people broken by hardship. He wrote and published his stories, saw his book become a best seller (by Canadian prairie province standards), then settled in a cottage called Good Enough that looked out on the past. The future caught him by surprise. It’s hard to re-write the future.

Sometimes I envy those who are content to stay as they are, where they are. But I also feel a need to run from those who shrug and say, “It is what it is.” I joke about my addiction to potential and tendency to collect more artistic “raw material” than I will live long enough to use, but I don’t want to look into my grave and ask, “Is that all there is?” I know there is more for us both here and beyond the horizon.

I have taken up residence in places called Good Enough for long stretches in my life, but eventually I catch a glimpse of the future me — the way God sees me outside of the sequence of time – and I long for more. It’s a holy discontent that wants to partner with God. I hear him whisper, “Come away with me and I will show you things you never knew before.”

The advantage of having a diagnosis of cancer is receiving the fulfilment of David’s prayer in Psalm 90: Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. Cancer is not a death sentence that people without cancer do not also have. It’s like a mileage sign post to give you a heads up that you will be approaching an exit ramp sometime in the future — but not yet.

God’s not finished with me yet. When I look at my yesterdays I know that’s who I was but it is not who I am going to be. I am still changing. Like Mike Yaconelli, I feel that holy discontent rising up. The desire to be in dangerous proximity to Jesus and whatever he is doing is growing again. I hear Holy Spirit say, “Get your coat. Let’s go. There is more.”

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.