No Platitudes, Please

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“Hope means hoping when things are hopeless, or it is no virtue at all… As long as matters are really hopeful, hope is mere flattery or platitude; it is only when everything is hopeless that hope begins to be a strength.”

~Gilbert K. Chesterton

It’s hard to know what to say sometimes, when things go horribly wrong. And yet we feel the need to fill in the silence by saying something, anything. I wonder if more pain is inflicted when, in the absence of hearing any wisdom from above, we fill the blank with our own words. It’s not that bad. Look on the bright side.

Sometimes it is that bad. Sometimes darkness threatens to smother us. Sometimes evil appears to triumph.

You can’t forgive pain you haven’t acknowledged. You can’t heal what you won’t diagnose. You can’t rebuild until you assess the damage.

Hope, real hope, doesn’t mean averting your eyes. Hope, real hope, means looking right at that pain, that threat, that diagnosis, that shattered home, that failed dream, that loss, and sitting in the silence of the shocking aftermath.

Hope means choosing, in time, to rise in the place of hopelessness, to set your face like a flint, and come, just as you are, into the Presence of the Holy. Hope means you can say, ‘Nevertheless.’

‘I am tired. I am hurting. I am frail. Nevertheless, I will not let my faith be shaken to the point where I refuse hope. Nevertheless, I will call upon my You, Lord, for You are my light and my salvation. You are my strength. You are my God. I trust You. I believe Your promises. I believe in You.’

The Lord is my help

I will not be confounded,

So I have focussed my face like a flint.

I’ll not be ashamed.

Lord, I come  — just as I am.

~ Fernando Ortega

 

When Through the Woods…

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Frost sparkles on my neighbour’s roof this morning. Usually I sigh and complain about the first frosts that signal the end of summer. But this year I say thank you.

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It rained yesterday, a cold rain that makes you wish you had put on another layer before walking to the mailbox. But for this I am also thankful.

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This morning the skies are clear except for a thin line of dark smoke drifting north from the forest around the lake. I can see the snow on the mountains.

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The wildfires that prompted so many people in this province to flee their homes are starting to die down. The cooler temperatures and rain bring relief. They are moving back.

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I love this place, these woods, these mountains, these valleys. I know that fire is one way the forests are renewed, but I mourn for their loss. I mourn for the lost summer days spent inside hiding from the smoke.

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Somehow my appreciation for the areas that survived increases though. In the way antiques and ancient artifacts gain value merely by surviving,  the old growth forests become all the more precious to us.

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Today I am thankful, thankful for green things, for quiet forests with their deep mysteries, thankful for beauty which survived and beauty that will be restored.

forest green 3 DSC_0137 Thank you, Lord.

To the Ponds

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He lets me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still and quiet waters.
(Psalm 23:2 Amplified)

I once considered joining a volunteer online group. They seemed to eager to accept me, then told me that attendance in person was required at monthly meetings at various locations. The closest meeting was in Vancouver. I said I couldn’t afford to fly and driving, especially in the winter, was not practical. The leader of the group responded that she looked at a map and Vancouver was not that far from where I live in the Kootenays in south east British Columbia. It shouldn’t take more than 3 hours.

Well, maybe — if you had a straight road with no speed limit like the Autobahn. It’s actually a ten hour drive in perfect weather with no construction, and more like a two day drive for me, considering the way I stop for photos and restrooms. I tried to explain mountain topology to her. We have really big hills and really deep valleys and a lot of going-around-the-mountain curves, but she had already decided I was exaggerating the amount of time it took and that I would not be a good candidate.

Whew. That rejection was a relief. I agreed that I was not a good fit and wished her well.

I thought of that incident when I drove that route recently. Ice and snow were not problems this time, but wildfire smoke was. I was tired and my eyes and throat burned. As we dropped into the valley where Castlegar is situated at the convergence of the Columbia and Kootenay rivers, I decided I needed a break and some place to walk around. This town needed exploring beyond the usual pit stop gas stations and fast food restaurants just off the highway. I headed in a direction down a street that was new to me. When I saw a sign that said “To the Ponds” I followed it.

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Wow! I never knew this place existed. I’ve been driving past it for years! In a park on the edge of the wide fast flowing river the land has been sculpted into three current-less pools surrounded by sandy beaches, green lawns, and flower beds. I wandered around and read a sign that told the story of the town and the large number of people who drowned trying to cross the river at this point as they rushed to the Wildhorse Creek goldrush very close to where I live. If I remember correctly (and I admit my memory for numbers is poor) 86 people died in that season.

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Now here, beside the place where so many had died in the rapids, was a place of rest. Here in this deep valley where I would soon be on that steep road climbing out the other side, three pools of still water beckoned me to come aside and be refreshed.

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I memorized the twenty-third Psalm for a choral speech arts competition when I was in elementary school, when the Bible could still be taught as literature important to our understanding of cultural references. I remember Miss Brown directing our classroom group, mouthing the words and alternately speeding up and stretching out the words with hand gestures.

He leadeth me beside the stiiill waaaters…

I thought about Miss Brown and the rich heritage she gave us. I was thankful, all these years later as I rested beside the still waters in the valley that had seen so much death. I thought about my life and the faith journey that is taking me through another scary valley involving doctor’s appointments and scans and procedures and trying different medications that only seem make life more complicated.

In the midst of the rush to get home I felt the Lord showing me that he has prepared a place of refreshment right here in the middle of my valley. Yes, the rapids still roar, but the water diverted from that river fills the first pool and it’s overflow fills the second, and the third. In the middle of stressful days I can come to Him, my shepherd, my pastor, and let him lead me to a place of peace he has prepared in advance. I can stop rushing and striving and be still in my soul.

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Psalm 23 is a warring psalm that teaches us that rest and trust is a mighty weapon against the enemy that comes to steal, kill, and destroy. There is gold on the other side of this valley.

Even though I walk through the [sunless] valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me.

The Climb

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When I was a child we often spent summer vacation in the Okanagan. Warm evenings on the beach, and hot days picking ripe cherries and peaches growing in orchards full of giving trees. Mmmm. You could reach up, pick the fruit, and bite in as the juice ran down your chin! For a girl from the prairies who had seen snow in every month of the year and who had only ever picked crab apples from a tree, it was heaven.

I must not have been the only one to feel that way because members of our family have moved to the area — and I get to visit them. One of them lives on the shores of the lake below the vineyards and wineries on the mountainous hillsides.

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While we stayed there we needed to drive into the city several times. We planned for the extra time it takes to drive on roads that definitely do not pay attention to the route a crow would choose. The lanes wind through orchards and vineyards include steep inclines and hairpin curves. I watched the compass on my dashboard switch between opposite directions several times before I reached the highway on the other side of the hill.

I learned to drive on Alberta country roads laid out in a grid that headed north, south, east, or west without hindrance. Rivers and correction lines were the only diversions. Roads in the mountains straighten out only long enough for prairie drivers to speed up for the half kilometer-long passing lane.

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The hairpin turns in Lake Country caught my attention. It felt like the path in my life lately where I have been making progress moving in one direction, then suddenly circumstances force a sharp turn and I am headed in the opposite direction. Gathering/divesting. Constructing/deconstructing. Extending latitude/enforcing boundaries. Making connections/breaking off connections. Gaining health/losing health. Learning/unlearning. It looks like vacillation, like I can’t make a decision and stick with it.

So what’s going on here, Lord?

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Then I notice that although a hairpin road takes me in the same direction from whence I came,  it now takes me higher. The territory is familiar, but the view is slightly different. I have a better perspective. I can see farther. I wonder if this is a place and time in the journey where God has called me to come up higher, but the direct approach is too steep.

Just before he was led away to be crucified Jesus told his disciples, “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.”

What was about to happen was a reversal of the direction they were expecting. It was illogical. From their perspective, before the Holy Spirit had come in power, it made no sense.

Sometimes the faith life is realizing logic that functions only in our limited perspective is not reasonable. It’s realizing that aligning with greater perspective — God’s perspective — necessitates change. And change again.

In his kindness, the Holy Spirit gives us a vision of the way things could be. We set our hearts on the dream God planted like the orchards in the sun – and then he puts us on a road that appears to be going in the opposite direction. What?

Sometimes following Jesus results in miraculously rapid acceleration. Sometimes learning to follow him means steadfast unwavering marathon-endurance running with eyes fixed on the goal. Sometimes learning to follow means willingness to make sudden  changes in direction that may not make sense to us.

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Not everyone is at the same point on the road, but wherever we are in this journey we remember that Jesus is walking it with us. He promised he would never leave us or forsake us. Even when it doesn’t make sense. Yet.

 

When Kindness Isn’t Kind

 

“PRAISE GOD! I’M FREE!” he shouted as he leapt onto the grassy bank from the back seat of my car.

poke kids fighting IMG_0047My grandson threw his arms in the air and did an enthusiastic Pentecostal two-step right there. I laughed, but I understood the feeling.

I took my young grandchildren to the splash park this week. We had a marvelous time and I was impressed with how well the children got along and looked after each other.

Then we drove home.

Securing three car seats in a space usually taken by jackets and stuff that won’t fit in the trunk of my car was a challenge, but we did it. It meant my grandson was squished in the middle seat between his sisters though. Opportunity for boundary violations abounded. All three took advantage of those opportunities.

Finally, after a useless lecture on the dangers of escalating a conflict with over-reaction, I put on my stern voice.

“No! You may not poke each other! If you continue this I am stopping the car right now!”

That was a useless threat thirty years ago and its effectiveness has not improved, but you know, tradition.

Finally I commanded, “I want you to do one kind thing for each other, right now!”

That’s when the kissing started. Big sister planted a sloppy wet one on brother’s shoulder. His eww inspired another then another. He leaned away but that put him in range of little sister who covered him with similar passive aggressive affection. The girls giggled. He protested. Loudly.

Ten blocks to go. Nine… eight…

Later, as I was telling his Dad about my amusement at his son’s actions (the joyful exclamation part, not the misbehaving part – that’s between us) I remembered times when I was equally as happy to be freed from the “kind” ministrations of people with a self-serving agenda. False kindness can be like sending truckloads of used junk to disaster areas that have no place to put it as an excuse to clean closets and feel good about ourselves at the same time. Perhaps well-meaning, but not well thought out.

Boundary violating kisses I have known often started with:
~I’m telling you this in love.. (because even I realize the action is not exactly communicating “love”).
~I have a ministry opportunity for you…
~This worked for me so it will obviously work for you…
~I know you have a weight problem, but I made these cupcakes just for you…
~I read this on paranoid tendencies.com and you need to implement the findings immediately…
~Thus saith the Lord, if you do not heed the advice of this, his servant, it will not go well for you…
~This is what you need to do because, in my opinion, this is how a good Christian dresses, or worships, or prays, or votes, or diets, or donates, or handles Hallowe’en…
~I’m just protecting you. These are the teachers/preachers who disagree with me or give me an icky feeling. Shun them.

One day I finally realized I was free to jump out of the confines of that harassment. “Praise God! I’m free!”

Kisses can be loving and kind. Sometimes these were about good things the speaker learned and wanted to pass on. He or she meant well, but, it was still a bit self-serving. It’s difficult to untangle a desire to help from a desire to be in control. I’ve done it too – and suffered the consequences. When you remove people’s power to self-govern they tend to express exasperation in unexpected ways. We with a yearning to teach also need to learn to share knowledge and still honour people’s ability to think and decide for themselves. One size does not fit all.

I have noticed in the scripture that Jesus responded to individuals differently. He didn’t heal the same way every time. He didn’t use the same tone of voice with everyone. Even now he speaks to his beloved according to their needs and temperament and meets them where they are.

Maybe a brother or sister needs a kiss. Maybe they need to be noticed and a friendly poke or a holy kiss, or a culturally appropriate side hug is the perfect response. But maybe they need respect and space to work it out with the Lord on their own. Maybe they need freedom.

You are perfectly free to ignore this if it doesn’t minister to you. Just sayin’.