Green Pasture

After 35 years in the same house and 36 years in the same town, we are preparing to move to another city. It’s a time of simplifying, downsizing, and saying goodbye to hobbies and activities we no longer have time or energy for. For someone who has been addicted to potential for so long, letting go of unfinished projects feels like a loss.

There is the furniture I meant to refinish. Over there the bins of fabric I meant to turn into something useful take up more space than I will have in the new apartment. I have canvasses and frames I bought from an estate sale still sitting in the basement. And books! Books I meant to re-read, books I meant to loan to someone who doesn’t realize they need to read it, books with useful information I meant to write about, books that my mother gave me from her childhood when she was learning English. I no longer have room in my life for all this stuff.

Grieving is involved. So is gratefulness.

The piles of stuff to sell, give away, and trash are evidence that God has provided well for us. We have more than we need. I am learning to trust in Him for the future instead of my boxes of “potential.”

I keep coming back to Psalm 23. I love Rutter’s setting. The Lord is my shepherd, therefore can I lack nothing. He shall feed me in a green pasture…

One day, when I was a very young child who refused to eat her peas, my frustrated young father said, “I can’t even afford to feed you!” As an adult I understand now that his angry tone had much more to do with a sale that fell through than my burdensome existence, but it became a defining moment in my life. I never wanted to cost anybody anything. I learned to make do, to recycle before recycling was trendy, to pinch a penny so hard you could hear it scream for mercy. Worrying about swings in the market became the habit of the child of a man whose income depended upon sales commission. Resting in the Lord, financially speaking, has been a challenge.

This week I discovered, among the boxes full of paintings that I stashed away, a little 8 x 10 canvas with my first attempt in oil. It’s labeled simply “Green Pasture.” There was something about its simplicity on a stack of too much stuff that caught my attention.

God is letting me rest in a green, growing, nourishing place. He provides, because goodness is his nature. He is the good shepherd, therefore I lack nothing. I am not a burden to him. He is not on a budget or worried about the economy. He says “Trust me. I’ve got this.”

Sometimes you need to let go of your grip on the past before your hands are free to reach for the future.

Rutter: The Lord Is My Shepherd – YouTube

You’re Gonna Be Ok

So I’ve learned from my experience
    that God protects the vulnerable.
    For I was broken and brought low,
    but he answered me and came to my rescue!
 Now I can say to myself and to all,
    “Relax and rest, be confident and serene,
    for the Lord rewards fully those who simply trust in him.”

Psalm 116:6,7 TPT

On the way back from an appointment with a medical specialist, (an eleven hour return trip for me) I stopped by this reservoir on the Cowboy Trail in southern Alberta. On that day two years ago, I received more information about another complication in my already complex health condition. It didn’t help that I forgot the backpack with my wallet in it at the place I was staying. I needed it for my health insurance card for the hospital and my credit card to leave my car in the underground parking maze. I went back for it, praying the whole time I wouldn’t miss my appointment and arrived, frazzled, with seconds to spare. (Have you noticed God is right on time but never early?)

On the trip home, I stopped in this beautiful place and had a chat with God. I felt anxious and very vulnerable. I reflected upon the reflection and realized the water could never produce the beauty it bore. Like the water I didn’t have to manufacture my own peace. I simply needed to keep my eyes on the giver of peace, whose nature is peace. I don’t know how to relax and rest when I know I can forget important things like my wallet. Serenity is not a natural trait. One of the fruits of the Holy Spirit is peace because he IS peace.

Back in the car, a song played these words, “It’s not the end. It’s not the end. You’re gonna be ok.”*

If I am in him and he is in me, then his peace is my peace. This is more than reflection. This is absorption. Learning that I am loved and accepted allows me to become what I am not without him – and I m not without him because he promised to never leave. I am changing.

This season brings more challenges. We have decided to move to another part of the province to be closer to adult children. They have pointed out that we are aging and need more help. They are urging us to let them do that for us. I am tempted to be overwhelmed by the daunting task of fixing up our property to sell, de-cluttering, and looking at finding a new place to live in a city where real estate prices are double what they are here. The process of parting with a houseful of stuff with so many memories attached is emotionally daunting. The prospect of parting with good friends made over 36 years in this place I love is even more daunting.

For the past few months I have felt the Lord telling us to prepare for a change. What that change was I didn’t know. The thought of moving into a place without stairs, where it would be easier for me to get around, felt like preparing for the end, like seeing a sign my exit ramp loomed up ahead. Then a little while ago, a prophetic artist had a painting for me. It was of a woman joyfully walking beside a lake. She said, “God wants you to know it’s not over yet. He has more for you.”

Today I choose to walk in God’s peace. I may be surrounded by half-sorted boxes of art supplies, music books, sewing fabric, and writing materials potential, but like the woman walking beside still water that day at the reservoir, and the woman dancing beside a sun-dappled lake in the painting, I will simply trust, leave the past behind, and take one step at a time toward the next thing.

Care to join me?

*”It’s Gonna Be Okay” by Jenn Johnson, Jeremy Riddle, and Seth Mosley

New Life

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 3:5 TPT

The tree in our front yard that failed to bloom for the past two years is loaded with abundant blossoms this morning. I was afraid it was dying and would never bloom again, but its glory has been restored.

Sometimes I am disappointed with people. More often I am disappointed with myself. Patience and perseverance are character qualities that don’t come easily. This morning the plum tree, thick with flowers and glowing in the morning light speaks to me of a new day, a new season, a fresh vision.

Lord, I lay out the pieces of my heart, the successes, the failures, the disappointments and the dreams. I wait again for your fire to fall on my heart and renew a right spirit within me.

Let All Creation Rejoice

Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;

    let the sea resound, and all that is in it.

Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;

    let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.

Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for he comes,

    he comes to judge the earth.

He will judge the world in righteousness

    and the peoples in his faithfulness.

Psalm 96:11-13 NIV

Rejoicing seems counterintuitive in a world where nothing seems certain, where everything is changing, where good is called evil and evil good. The darker things become, the more people fear the unfamiliarity of light.

John the Beloved wrote in the introduction of his book about the life of Jesus Christ on earth, that Jesus was the Light. He also wrote that, faced with the light, many people preferred darkness, because they clung to their false comforts, self-serving actions, and mindsets that didn’t include God.

Rejoicing, giving thanks, and worshipping the Creator turns our eyes on the One who loves perfectly, the One who is faithful and gives grace extravagantly.

We often think judgment means only condemnation. Of evil, yes, but judgment also means assessment, reward and/or redirection. Christ came to bring life, abundant life, and to re-set our fear-filled mindsets to peace and joy in restored relationship with our heavenly Father.

I saw the sun shining through a flowering bush in my garden that has suddenly woken to life in this new season. My soul rejoices in the God of creation who makes all things new. He comes to show us a better way, a brighter way, a beautiful way.

It’s a new day. It’s a new era. Can you see it?

And though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.” ( from This is My Father’s World by M.D. Babcock)

Overflowing With Kindness

You’re kind and tenderhearted to those who don’t deserve it

    and 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 145:8,9 TPT)

When Martha complained to Jesus that her sister was not helping with the serving and doing what women were expected to do, he confronted her with this: “Martha! Your anxieties are distracting you from what is really important!”

Sometimes we are so anxious about what might happen we forget that when we invite him in, the Saviour is right here in our hearts. Even though we are anxious about tomorrow his goodness surrounds us today. When we set down our worries we can see beauty again.

Soul Movement

But as for me, I will call upon the Lord to save me, and I know he will!

 Every evening I will explain my need to him.

    Every morning I will move my soul toward him.

    Every waking hour I will worship only him,

    and he will hear and respond to my cry.

(Psalm 55:16-17 TPT)

Sometimes it is easier to worship faith than to worship the faithful One who gives us faith. The faith walk in real time means keeping our eyes upon Jesus and not whatever method we think prompted God to give us the desired responses to our requests last time.

By his life Jesus demonstrated that character matters more than comfort. Following Christ includes valley experiences where the fog obscures the view and disorients us, making us aware of our weakness. But here’s the thing: The Holy Spirit now walks through this before us, beside us, and behind us, and he is not worried. The path is familiar to him and he knows what lies on the other side.

My cry? That I might know Him.

Breathe Your Life Into Us: Strength to Trust After Disappointment

Sometimes the gap between a promise given and a promise fulfilled is excruciatingly long.

I grew up in a part of Canada where signs of spring could suddenly be buried under snowstorms riding on cold winds harsh enough to take your breath away. I see yearly disappointment has struck the prairie provinces again this week.

Last week we were told that churches could open at limited capacity for Easter. Many of my friends and our brave spiritual leaders, and worship team members eagerly made plans for a special time together after months of isolation. Today new announcements squashed that hope. Due to another increase in cases of the virus no indoor religious services will be permitted at all anywhere in this province larger than a lot of countries.

For several months I have had severe pain in my legs and have had trouble walking or sleeping. One day, my doctor phoned to say the latest scans revealed the cause and although I would need surgery, there was hope the problem could be fixed. He called back three weeks later to relay that the consulting surgeon recommended against surgery, for several reasons. There are some things I can try to lessen the pain, but it looks like I need to learn to adapt to disability.

Today I was aware that hope has been deferred for many of us for all sorts of reasons. I wonder if the way we process disappointment says a lot about the way we grow or fail to grow in faith.

Like a lot of people, I’ve felt like I’ve been stuck in a perpetual spring/not spring, forward/backward cha cha dance of hope almost fulfilled/hope definitely not fulfilled lately. Sometimes the dance is exhausting. I have been guilty of sitting down, not always to rest in the Lord, but to put myself into some sort of trance-like endurance plod that looks less like producing potential springtime buds of manifesting promise and instead settling apathetically under the snow for another stretch of dull dormancy.

David, the harassed young psalm writer, often composed verse about seeing the fulfillment of God’s promises snatched away. From the perspective of hundreds of years later it would be easy to skip the agonizing equivalent of some guy singing the blues and go directly to the ecstatic King dancing with such joy that his underwear showed. But the bit in between is important.

The bit in between is called process and that’s where God likes to meet us. It’s that liminal space neither here nor there where we don’t know if we should try something else to force the promise into fulfillment, or if we should just find a way to protect our hearts from the thing we most want to avoid – disappointment. It’s that place where we realize that change in us is more important than change in our circumstances.

This morning, I remembered today is the anniversary of the day our son-in-love was supposed to die. One of the doctors treating him said, “If that guy lives it will be the biggest miracle I have ever seen.” After a week of seeing amazing answers to prayer it looked like it was all over, but God stepped in and reversed the natural order of things. Bruce lived. The creator breathed new life into his ravaged body. The miracle wasn’t instantaneous, but his extremely critical condition from sepsis and multiple organ failure changed direction and proceeded toward full healing much more rapidly than any professional medical expert could have predicted. The doctor had to admit it was a miracle. All this occurred as thousands praying for him dared to trust God in the face of disappointment and in defiance of the odds.

That, I believe, was the real miracle. People across the country and around the world dared to trust again and look for God’s intervention. They chose hope.

Psalm 13

I’m hurting, Lord—will you forget me forever?
    How much longer, Lord?
    Will you look the other way when I’m in need?
 How much longer must I cling to this constant grief?
    I’ve endured this shaking of my soul.
    So how much longer will my enemy have the upper hand?

 Take a good look at me, Yahweh, my God, and answer me!
    Breathe your life into my spirit.
    Bring light to my eyes in this pitch-black darkness
    or I will sleep the sleep of death
.
 Don’t let my enemy proclaim, “I’ve prevailed over him.”
    For all my adversaries will celebrate when I fall.

 I have always trusted in your kindness, so answer me.
    I will spin in a circle of joy
    when your salvation lifts me up.

 I will sing my song of joy to you, Yahweh,
    for in all of this you have strengthened my soul.
    My enemies say that I have no Savior,
    but I know that I have one in you!

We are hurting, but our dancing day is coming. In the meantime, we are learning to lean on the One who loves us so much He gave everything to see us stand on wobbly legs and hear us sing in a wobbly voice, “I trust You, Lord. I know You are strengthening my soul. I trust Your timing. You are and always have been good. Breathe Your life into us.”

Planting

And don’t allow yourselves to be weary or disheartened in planting good seeds, for the season of reaping the wonderful harvest you’ve planted is coming! 

Take advantage of every opportunity to be a blessing to others, especially to our brothers and sisters in the family of faith!

Galatians 6:9 TPT

When I gathered scarlet runner bean pods from the garden as I cleaned up in the autumn, I tossed the seeds in a little blue plastic bowl. I set the bowl on a glass-top table. The pink colour and the way the light shone through the bowl appealed to me, so I snapped a photo with my phone. Today I noticed it again as I searched for something else. It caught my attention and reminded me of the scripture above.

I don’t know about you, but I am getting very tired of inconsistent guidelines around controlling the spread of the virus. People are sharing more about the negative consequences of lockdowns. Beyond the stresses of lost businesses and separation from friends and family are very real and very serious health consequences. I know people who have lost children to despair, overdose, and suicide. I know people whose friends or family members have died because of untreated depression and delayed diagnosis and treatment of other serious illnesses like cancer. A different disease has been prioritized. At least that is what it looked like to me as I fretted over more heart-breaking news this week.

This week I went on an all-day rant. What I have discovered is that when I focus on the negative, I open the floodgates to more negativity, both from myself and others who cross my path. Peace was missing. Don’t hear what I am not saying. I take the virus seriously and I mourn with those who have lost loved ones to it. I’m not denying that reality, but in the process of venting my frustration I was losing focus on another higher reality. I don’t have an answer, but I know that when we reach the end of our ability to fix things, God is there waiting for us to turn around and cry out to him.

He reminds us not to grow weary of talking about and demonstrating his goodness. Seeds of anger and frustration at unfairness lead to crops of more ire and jealousy of those who don’t seem to be suffering as we are. Seeds of kindness, reminders of God’s lovingkindness, in contrast to the desire of the enemy of our souls to promote pain and chaos and division, sprout into growth that reaps a harvest of fruit.

Paul wrote to the Galatians to be careful what they planted. He talked about fruits produced by selfish interest. They included anger and jealousy. In contrast, those who are Christ-centered and led by the Holy Spirit plant seeds that produce love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

I lost it (and thankfully deleted most of the rant before posting in a public place). I was tired and angry and reacting instead of responding. There’s a difference between tiredness that comes from caring deeply about other’s pain and helping to carry their burdens and emotional exhaustion because caring is an inconvenient infringement upon my personal peace and prosperity. I was angry because I didn’t want to have to deal with the pain and sorrow of injustice. In his gentleness, the Lord reminded me that as righteous as the outburst may feel, “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:20)

We do have a choice (and this is a message to myself). Don’t allow yourself to be weary or disheartened by taking your eyes off the Saviour. Keep planting love, joy, peace…

Arise, My Soul

Awake, O my soul, with the music of his splendor-song!
Arise, my soul, and sing his praises!
My worship will awaken the dawn,
greeting the daybreak with my songs of praise!

Wherever I go I will thank you, my God.

Among all the nations they will hear my praise songs to you.

Your love is so extravagant it reaches to the heavens,
Your faithfulness so astonishing it stretches to the sky!

Lord God, be exalted as you soar throughout the heavens.
May your shining glory be shown in the skies!
Let it be seen high above all the earth!

-King David in Psalm 57 TPT

Look

I will say to the prisoners, ‘Come out in freedom,’

    and to those in darkness, ‘Come into the light.’

They will be my sheep, grazing in green pastures

    and on hills that were previously bare.

(Isaiah 49:9 NLB)

Sometimes we are not aware of how dark things have become until the light breaks through. Just as our eyes adjust to the darkness, our souls can start to accept a dim view of things as normal life. “It is what it is,” some say. When the light first shines we turn our heads because it hurts. We no longer have the capacity to accept the brightness of Jesus’ face. It frightens us. It requires adjustment.

God sent his Son to set the captives free. Dare to lift your eyes. There is abundant life and freedom in the light of his glory and grace.

O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s light for a look at the Savior,
And life more abundant and free!

Refrain:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

Through death into life everlasting
He passed, and we follow Him there;
O’er us sin no more hath dominion—
For more than conqu’rors we are!

His Word shall not fail you—He promised;
Believe Him, and all will be well:
Then go to a world that is dying,
His perfect salvation to tell!

-Helen H Lemmel