Oranges!

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It’s winter.

We have oranges.

“So?” you may ask.

I asked the same question when the Lord kept drawing my attention to the bowl on the kitchen counter.

I realized, as I peeled a huge navel orange, that my grandmother, living with her malnourished family in two thin-walled granaries pulled together on the frozen prairie in the 30s, would have seen these colourful globes on her table as a miracle.

I realized, as I pulled the juicy segments apart, that unlike my friend, who is now on tube feedings, I can eat oranges.

I realized, as I bit off a piece and the wonderful scent filled my sniffer, that unlike another friend, whose sense of taste has been distorted by chemo, I can taste oranges.

I realized, as I cleaned sticky orange juice off my fingers, that unlike a new Facebook contact, I can afford to buy a bowl of oranges grown in some semi-tropical climate and flown (in the sky!) to my grocery store in Canada. My medication costs under $2500 per dose and is covered by our healthcare. The same drug, at the same dosage, costs over ten times as much in her country and is only partially covered by medical insurance with extremely high premiums.

“So?”

So, there is always, always, something to be thankful for. I see it now.

Thank you, Lord!

 

 

Alongside to Comfort

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Can I be honest? This has not been an easy year.

I sat down this week to write a simple blog entry meant to comfort and encourage others. Twelve hours later I had pages of notes, a list of bigger questions and the certainty I didn’t know what I was talking about. In my spirit, yes, but deep down in my soul where mind, will, and emotions are squabbling with each other? Not really. I understand what the psalmist meant when he wrote “Unite my heart to fear your name.”

I’m the one who has needed comfort and encouragement lately. If I stop to look at the measurable, quantifiable, reproducible, evidence-based facts as recorded by physical senses I begin to panic. It wouldn’t take much of a straw to bring me to child-like tears today.

But as usual, if I stop catastrophizing long enough to listen and acknowledge the greater reality of Spirit and Truth, I know the Holy Spirit is whispering comfort in my ear.

He sends songs in the night.

For two nights this week two lines from different songs have been playing on repeat in my dreams. The first line is from an old 70’s song, Feel the Love, by Lovesong:

Feel the love the Son of God can bring/ By believing… by receiving Him./ Feel the love.

The second is from It’s Going to Be All Right by Sara Groves:

I did not come here to offer you clichés.

He sends friends who have walked this road before.

Wonderful friends share their failures and victories and questions with me. Some have overcome cancer more than once. Some have been through natural disasters and reconstruction. Some have known the pain of feeling like they don’t fit in anywhere. Some have known the pain of betrayal or promises yet unfulfilled. All have known the sorrow of disappointment with oneself. Some are still in the middle of giant unsettled messes right now, and yet they take time to share the comfort they have known.

He sends family and neighbours.

Some traveled miles on horrid winter roads to bring cheer and a vegetable juicer. Some phone late at night when they know I will still be up to check on me or invite me for coffee. Some set the little grandkids up on the cell phone so I can share in their excitement over new dolls and video games and silly faces. The older grandkids text to talk about music and school projects and hopes and dreams or to share photos. My adopted family help by offering coolers when the fridge quits working, jugs of water when the pipes freeze, tools when the digital piano goes silent, patient expertise when the computer freezes, wood for the fireplace, shovels when the car gets stuck and the sidewalks disappear in the snow, and muscles and engineering skills when the retaining wall crashes on the driveway.

He sends podcasts and random Facebook posts. 

Oh, how I appreciate the banquet of good teaching and music shared by people who make an effort to reach out beyond the four walls of their gatherings or dining rooms or vans. I love encouraging posts by sincere blogging and Facebook and Twitter friends. I love reading their insights, visions, and dreams  — and even jokes. Especially the jokes.

Most of all he sends a more sure word recorded in the Bible.

I read these words given through Paul who was honest about the hardships of his journey. It was not an easy road for him.

All praises belong to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he is the Father of tender mercy and the God of endless comfort. 

He always comes alongside us to comfort us in every suffering so that we can come alongside those who are in any painful trial. We can bring them this same comfort that God has poured out upon us.

And just as we experience the abundance of Christ’s own sufferings, even more of God’s comfort will cascade upon us through our union with Christ.

If troubles weigh us down, that just means that we will receive even more comfort to pass on to you for your deliverance! For the comfort pouring into us empowers us to bring comfort to you. And with this comfort upholding you, you can endure victoriously the same suffering that we experience.

Now our hope for you is unshakable, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings you will also share in God’s comforting strength.

(2 Corinthians 1:3-7 The Passion Translation)

 

If I’m not posting a lot lately it’s because I’m resting and soaking up comfort I need right now.

I’ll share with you later. I will get there.

Talk to you soon.

 

Essential Travel

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Conditions are not ideal for travel this time of year, yet many people make the journey back “home” or the to the people who represent home. Sometimes a joyful reunion lies at the end of the trip; sometimes a duty-motivated sojourn stirs up painful memories. We still go.

Joseph and Mary made the journey back to the place of their roots. Conditions and timing were not ideal, yet this essential travel was part of God’s plans, not only for them, but for the world’s sake. Many people find themselves on paths they had not anticipated this time last year. I am one.

Sometimes I have been a reluctant traveller, but it is on this path that I am discovering the faithfulness of God and his majesty in the unexpected. I can honestly say he has never left me. When I offer him child-like trust he takes me by the hand and teaches me things that I could not have seen on my previous route.

It’s not an easy road, but it is a beautiful one.

Lord, direct me throughout my journey
so I can experience your plans for my life.
Reveal the life-paths that are pleasing to you.

Escort me along the way; take me by the hand and teach me.
For you are the God of my increasing salvation;
I have wrapped my heart into yours!

(Psalm 25: 4, 5 The Passion Translation)

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.

 

 

 

Temporary

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I don’t think I have ever spent as much time in the waiting room of life as I have this past year. I can’t do this until that is done and that can’t be done until this, that, and those show up, but are they dependent on the receipt of a report, which appears to be lost.

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In the old days I used to wail loud and long about circumstances like this. Now I wail soft and short. I’m not good at waiting in total joyful trust yet, but at least it’s an improvement. The only reason transformation, such as it is, has been able to gradually take place in my life is because I am learning to quit appealing for rescue from people who have no better clue about how to fix things than I do, and because I’m finally figuring out there are better questions to ask than “why.”

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I’m learning to ask “what?” and “how?”
What do you want me to see about who you are, Lord?
How will this circumstance allow me to practise a new skill or a character quality that needs strengthening?
What resources have you already provided that I haven’t picked up yet?
And (please) where are they?

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I’m not sure that this season of camping out in waiting rooms is as much about developing patience or endurance as it about addressing my trust issues. Some of these waiting experiences have been preceded by phone calls like, “This is Dr. McUnknown’s office at the Cancer Center in Calgary. He needs to talk to you right away about your test results. We suggest you bring a family member or close friend with you.”

“Cancer Center? Why do I need to see a doctor at the Cancer Center?” I ask. “What was wrong with my test?”needles bw sq IMG_2059

“I can’t tell you, but we received a referral from Dr. Unreachable this morning. Dr. McUnknown needs to see you as soon as possible and his next available appointment is…oh dear… he doesn’t have anything open for four weeks.”

I hate not knowing. Hate it. But that is where the Lord has been sticking his diagnostic finger. He presses on the spot that shrieks when it’s not in control and asks, “Does that hurt?”
“Are you kidding me? You know it hurts!” I gasp.
“Just pointing out the area of your next healing,” he says.

Then the clean-up starts. “You’re hanging on to some ideas that aren’t working for you. Let’s just toss them, shall we?”

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This has also been a year of living in temporary dwellings like hotels, relatives’ homes, and hospitals because I’ve had to travel for tests and treatment. A flood that rose up in our town in February resulted in movers, hired by the insurance company, invading our house to pack and  stash our belongings in boxes. They hauled them away to a storage facility somewhere while we waited – and waited — for contractors and trades people to have time to repair our house. boxes moving IMG_2294We have lived, temporarily, in half our house while we waited for restoration crews to arrive — along with over a thousand neighbours who also waited for repairs. Some still wait as we head into winter again.

The tradesmen finished their work last week. The movers returned our boxes and furniture on Monday. But I am still recovering from surgery and can’t lift anything. Friends volunteer to help, and they are wonderful, but it’s a massive confused muddle in my house right now. So many things are “just placed here for now.”

I look around and see many people in the same waiting room of life. They are in transition watching plans unravel. We need to be reminded that although it may not feel like it, the waiting room is always a temporary experience.

wicker chair unravelled IMG_5254Some of our friends have given up their own places and independent ways of life to live with and care for a needy family member. They know the situation is temporary, and yet they have mixed feelings: fears about it ending soon and fears about it not ending soon. I hear from former students who have finished highly prized university degrees. They have career aspirations but in the meantime, they have needed to take temporary jobs in temporary cities to start paying back student loans. To them it feels as if life is on hold.

Some friends wait for court dates, for vindications to be published, for settlements to be paid, for zoning bylaws to be changed, for permits to be issued, for grants to be granted. Others face the giant upheaval of divorce or death of a spouse, unable to move on emotionally, or even physically, until a barrage of financial and other legal details have been settled.

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Some long for their soulmate to hurry and show up. Some wait eagerly for babies to arrive and some, just as eagerly, wait for grown kids to leave. Many people are waiting for promises to be fulfilled, looking for hope in the midst of reversals, living in the frustrating now-what zone in the middle of the land of not-yet .

Friends who are also in the process of getting a diagnoses and treatment plan or praying in all faith for healing tell me they also know the waiting room and that feeling of staring out the window muttering, “You’ve got to be kidding,” when hours stretch into months or years. I meet many people who, like myself, are in a season of waiting for recovery – from surgery, from trauma, from accidents, from illness, from burnout, from bankruptcy, from bereavement.

Waiting, waiting, waiting. Who knew we would spend so many hours in the waiting room of life?

I’m beginning to understand that life doesn’t stop in this place. “Temporary” may actually be where most of life is lived. It’s not a nothing time. This is a refining time. We need more training to cope with good times than we do for difficult times.

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In hard times, when it finally dawns on us that we can’t control everything, we turn to a higher power and learn that when we are weak He is strong. In good times the temptation is to think that our own efforts achieved the goal and we tend to forget to rely on God. The waiting room can purge us from a sense of immature entitlement and replace it with a sense of gratitude that connects us to the heart of our heavenly Father, if we let it. This is where deep relationship is formed.

He’s in the waiting.

I Am No Victim

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For many years I followed a disciplined scheduled daily reading of the Bible, but sometimes “discipline” can get in the way of learning. Sometimes you need to pause and stay with a passage or phrase or even just a word in scripture for a while, giving it time to show more facets than those that shine with first light. Sometimes you need more than an intellectual grasp of a concept. Sometimes you need to feel it in your bones, hear it in your ears, taste it on your tongue and stomp it out in frustrated walks in the woods before it moves from your heart up to your decision-maker. Then you can move on. This passage in Psalm 139 in The Passion Translation has been like that for me.

With your hand of love upon my life,
You impart a Father’s blessing to me.
This is just too wonderful,
Deep, and incomprehensible!
Your understanding of me brings me wonder and strength.

Where to start? It looks straight forward enough, but this sword tip has penetrated my soul and spirit more deeply than earlier races to the reading quota finish line permitted.

Christians tend to throw around the word blessing at lot imbuing it with their own definition. I’ve been trying to find a way to describe the word blessing as it is used here. Perhaps one way is to mirror its opposite. Benediction (blessing in Latin) means good speaking. It’s opposite is malediction – bad speaking. Mal at the beginning of a word with Latin roots means bad, sick, dysfunctional, evil: malady, malaise, malnourished, malice, malpractice, malcontent. Malediction means curse.

Bene, on the other hand means good, helpful, enriching, empowering, visionary. Compare words beginning with bene: benefit, benevolent, benefactor, beneficiary. When the  fathers of ancient times gave their children blessings they officially gifted them with the recognition of who they were as individuals and imparted a vision for their future.

One day I witnessed the opposite. An event I would call a soul assault took place in the produce aisle. An adult publicly dishonoured a child by shouting (in much harsher words than these): “You are a huge disappointment. You have no positive qualities and will amount to nothing in life – ever.”

Every parent blows it sometimes. To this day I could cry when I remember one particular incident when I said something in fear and anger, which was entirely untrue, to a child I loved dearly. I have apologized, but my disappointment in myself helped me forgive my own parents for words spoken in frustration, or under stress I was too young to comprehend. But, you know, when it comes to pain, whether someone drives over your foot intentionally or accidentally, it still leaves a mark. Words have power and when you are young they can leave marks — often in the form of signs stuck to our foreheads where everyone can see them.

Have you heard this expression? A sweater is something you wear when your mother feels cold. I laughed when I heard this, but I know a lot of us can relate to this statement. Experience has taught us what it is like to be bound by another person’s priorities and tastes or swaddled in another person’s perceptions, well-meaning though they may be. My own daughter has been known to say wisely, “That’s your fear, Ma, not mine.”

How we long to be understood. How we long for someone who can help us understand ourselves. We yearn to hear good words about our true identities and true destinies. This is particularly true for people who had absent or emotionally distant fathers.

Someone who was an important and intimidating influence in my youth came to visit after I was married and had children. I was excited to see her and wanted her to be impressed with my choices in life. I longed for her approval.

“Well, I see you stopped developing your talent,” she said. “Tell me, what are your aspirations for your son?”

I answered, “That he will be free to replace my aspirations with his own.”

She was not impressed. She thought my answer was rude and flippant. That’s when I realized that seeking the blessing of someone who had an agenda and a plan for how I could continue to fulfill her aspirations would only lead to disappointment for one or both of us.

It did. One of the last things she expressed to me before she died a few years later was her disappointment that I had not lived up to her expectations. I felt like the child in the grocery store with a label slapped on my forehead. FAILURE. At the time it didn’t occur to me that I could seek God’s blessing, his hand of favour that ripped off the labels other people’s maledictions had placed there since I was a child.
VICTIM
WEIRDO
LAZY
UGLY
GULLIBLE
OUTSIDER
EMBARRASSMENT
WEAK
FAILURE

But my heavenly Father’s blessing changes labels.
VICTOR
CREATIVE
INSPIRED
BEAUTIFUL
WISE
CHOSEN
CHERISHED
STRONG
DELIGHT

Our Saviour understands who we are. That’s how he can say his yoke is easy. When we take on a yoke to work beside him we can learn from him how to move with ease. This is like the difference between losing track of time as we work in the creative zone and checking the time as we labour in the pits (unless, of course, you find pit work fulfilling.) He said he has prepared tasks and destinies for us that fit our makeup. He gets us! He understands us and cares like no one else ever can.

It’s not easy for us to get this though. Letting Him replace labels we have worn for years and displayed for the powers around us to read and exploit requires the daring choice of acting on what we do not yet see. Acting on what we do not yet see is called faith. Without faith transformation doesn’t happen.

The way God sees us and His thoughts about us can feel too good to be true. After all the years of allowing ourselves to be defined by people who are often also disappointed in themselves, words of blessing seem “too wonderful” and “incomprehensible.” Dare we actually believe the many ways God communicates and the scripture that confirms his kind intentions? Sometimes we are tempted to question if we are dipping into self-centered, self-actualizing, self-aggrandizement. Yet, as we begin to test out new labels and divest ourselves of the old, we find his good words – the Father’s blessing – bring us strength.

I bought a new album this week. My daughter suggested it when she came to help me when I had surgery for cancer three weeks ago. It would have been easy to smile and say thanks, but musically it’s not my style. She said the lyrics are powerful, and I trust her, so I bought it, downloaded it on my phone, put my earphones on and went for a wobbly walk.

This song has ended up on repeat all week as I physically march to it. In my last blog I wrote about picking the fruit-provision that God cached in advance in places we would find it along the journey. This song is like a luscious plum ready to grab and eat.

I am no victim.
I live with a vision.
I am who He says I am.
I am defined by all His promises.

I’m covered by the force of love.

He is my Father, and with his hand of love upon my life He imparts a Father’s blessing.