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)

It’s A New Beginning

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This morning, about the time I was being rescued by the man with the shovel and bucket of kitty litter, the earth passed the point of increasing darkness.

Right about that time, my tires gained enough traction with the help of the kitty litter to overcome the frustrating inertia of being high-centered in the middle of our street. Right about that time, when I began to feel freedom from the clutches of ice snow and started instead to move the direction I intended to move, something shifted.

The Earth.

Winter solstice happened today. In the Northern hemisphere that means from this day the hours of daylight (or seconds of daylight, if I don’t want to annoy detailed-oriented readers) increase instead of decrease.

The hardest part of northern winter for me is not the cold or snow. It’s the darkness. Every year, on this day, I celebrate a new beginning. I know New Year’s day is not here yet, but for me, this is the sign of a new year.

Change! The bright day will soon be longer than the dark night.

These lines from a song by Stuart Townend are my holiday carol today.

Your mercy reached into the darkest night to find us,
Your blood has freed us from the curse of sin that bound us,
Your truth delivered us from all the lies that held us down
When we were overwhelmed.

Oh, out of the darkness You rescued us,
You have rescued us.
Oh, into the light of Your love for us,
Lord, You rescued us.

Here we stand, held by grace,
Knowing every day
Is a new beginning.

His light broke through the darkness and he led us out in freedom from death’s dark shadow and snapped every one of our chains.
(Psalm 107:14 The Passion Translation)

It’s dark outside as I write this, in late afternoon, but rejoice! The light is growing brighter and brighter! God promised.

And He never lies.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Where Can I Hide?

 

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Have you heard the expression, “I was so embarrassed I could have crawled into a hole?”

I learned to hide when I was a child. I didn’t play hide-and-go-seek. My game was just called hide. Some kids hide to avoid punishment. I hid to avoid the look of disappointment on adults’ faces. Whether it was true or not, I felt I could never measure up, that I was not good enough, or pretty enough, or smart enough, or talented enough, or hard-working enough.

I hid so well that a science teacher once insisted I was not in his class when my parents went to a meeting to check on my progress. I was in his class. Second row from the window. Fourth seat. I’d been there all year. I was hiding in plain sight. I just knew how not to attract attention. I felt weak in the subjects of math and science. I didn’t want him pointing that out.

Those feelings chased me into adulthood. Periodically, I strived to find recognition, then, accosted by my weaknesses and fearing the look of disappointment again, I vanished into busyness, or study, or books containing stories of other people’s more interesting lives. I stood behind a window where I could see out but no one could see in, because I knew how to stay in the shadows.

One day a little boy arrived on our doorstep. He clutched a plastic garbage bag containing everything he owned. The exhausted social worker who nudged him into the house had “packed” for him. This little boy (I’ll call him Davey) showed me what attempts to hide must look like to God.

After a few weeks of living with us, Davey began to relax and play like the other children. Eventually, like all children do, he pushed the rules. Something broke, something spilled, someone cried – the usual stuff that happens in a house full of kids. When the mini-crisis settled we realized Davey was gone.

We searched, we called. We called loudly, gently, insistently and desperately. We searched places everyone in the house and in the neighbourhood had already searched. The sun was setting and the wind was turning cold. I checked the basement one more time before calling the police and the social worker to report a missing child. In the corner of the utility room, behind the furnace, a corner of plaid shirt moving ever so slightly caught my eye.

“Davey?”

Silence.

“Davey, I know you are there. Come out now.”

The space was so small I couldn’t get close to him.

“Davey, I need you to come out now so I can make sure you are okay.”

Silence. Then a faint whimper.

“Don’t hurt me.”

My heart broke. He didn’t know us well enough to trust that we would not beat him. He stood motionless all day in a hot, dusty, spider-infested corner because he feared our reaction. That’s what experience taught him before he came to our family. Only kindness demonstrated consistently by someone who genuinely cared about him could change his ideas about his value and the existence of a safe place.

I watched another wee young lad learn that shame didn’t need to keep him from his daddy. He loved being outside and he played with the intensity of an athlete developing strengths and pushing the limitations of his body. The problem was that he frequently pushed the limits of how long it would take him to take a break from play and run to the bathroom. One day, as his daddy and I chatted we realized he had also disappeared. I started to panic.

“Don’t worry,” his father said. “ I know where he is.”

I followed him down the hallway to the bedroom.

“Come on out, son,” he said, sticking his head in the closet. “Let’s get you cleaned up.”

When the little boy messed up (and from the smell we knew he had messed up badly this time) he slipped away and hid from the one person who loved him most and the person who was prepared to clean him up, give him new clothes, and send him out for a fresh start. His daddy was dedicated to preparing him to become all he was meant to be. He wasn’t going to give up on him. The child didn’t need to hide.

I realized that fear of disappointing my heavenly father had also marred my relationship to him. I was afraid of him. I was afraid of harsh punishment. I was afraid of abandonment. I hid. I hid from him rather than face possible rejection. I didn’t think he would have grace for me.

How that must have hurt him. I didn’t understand who he really was.

David, the singer/song-writer and soon-to-be king, wrote about realizing that hiding from God was not only useless, it was impossible.

Where could I go from your Spirit?
    Where could I run and hide from your face?

God is not repulsed by our smelly messes. That’s a lie that those who have rejected God out of fear that he will reject them have been feeding us since the first time we understood that we did something wrong. The truth is God comes looking for us.

There is no place we can go to hide from his Spirit. This is absolutely not in a God-is-going-to-get-you-you-miserable-sinner way. This is in a way that understands our weaknesses and offers to clean us up and give us direction and a fresh start. He’s a good, good father.

If you fear responding to God’s call for a closer relationship because you are afraid of disappointing him, or that there is harsh punishment awaiting you, someone has been lying to you. That is not who he is. Jesus came to show us what he is like. He is relentlessly kind and has always planned to adopt you. Your relationship doesn’t depend on creating an illusion of sinless acceptability. He already knows everything about you and your stinky messes and he still loves you! He wants to be close to you.

Take the risk of rejecting the lie. Come out of hiding and let yourself be loved. You are the one he hopes for. He longs to be your good daddy — the perfect father who will never hurt you — because he loves you.