Hidden Beauty

For the Scriptures tell us:

Whoever wants to embrace true life

and find beauty in each day

must stop speaking evil, hurtful words

and never deceive in what they say.

Always turn from what is wrong

and cultivate what is good;

eagerly pursue peace in every relationship,

making it your prize.

(1 Peter 3:9-11 TPT)

I’m a stomper. When my anger is triggered by injustice toward myself —or especially toward vulnerable children— I go outside for a stomp. I go out whether it’s raining, or snowing, or if I’m in pain and limping heavily as I shove my walker through four inches of gravel. (Really! Who advertises handicap accessible trails then covers them with thousands of little wheel grabbing rocks?)

I don’t take my camera with me on these jaunts because I am busy composing defensive responses to obtuse accusers (absent from my side but repeating insults in my head) or writing imaginary posts to corrupt authorities (who will probably remain totally unaware of my important opinion) I’m too busy to notice anything photo-worthy. I’m snapping, but not in a sensitive creative way. Sometimes I walk away from a tense situation to avoid saying something to someone I will later regret.

I didn’t realize until these past few days of rumination following an excellent seminar on healing traumatized churches led by Ron Wean of Florida, that my habit of stomping out my rage is a way of getting out of the fight mode of the infamous flight/fight/freeze trilogy of survival responses to trauma (or the triggers of unprocessed memories of trauma stored in the body). Movement renews connection with the body and the logical/creative brain God gave us. I know I’m back when I can feel more than my own emotional pain and can see more than dark ugliness.  The expression, “blind rage” was probably created by someone who was familiar with it.

I’m not anti-emotion. Not at all! Anger can be a useful emotion. It lets us know that all is not well like the check engine light on the car dashboard. The discomfort of angry feelings can let us know that something is not right in ourselves. It can motivate self-examination and change. Anger modified by self-control has been behind many reforms from freedom from slavery to the end of entrenched genocide. We are told: “In your anger, do not sin,” (Ephesians 4:26) and “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” (Romans 12:9) I’m not talking about becoming an emotionless doormat. I’m talking about choosing to not return evil for evil (with compounded interest) or seek revenge.

This morning I read this scripture passage in 1 Peter about finding beauty. I had never noticed before that speaking hurtful words in retaliation and neglecting to pursue peace can keep us locked in a world without beauty. Beauty remains hidden in the places where ugliness and darkness demand all the attention. 

I thought that an intentional search for beauty would bring peace, but what if it is the other way around? What if a lack of peace hinders our ability to see beauty? What if peace improves our vision?

What if the pursuit of peace means letting go of wrathful words and unconscious tit-for-tat exaggerations and lopsided partial truths formed whilst in survival mode? What if the pursuit of peace means leaving our own devices and turning to the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, who entered our trauma out of love and compassion to bring us his peace, the peace that passes understanding?

Lord, remind us to turn from what is wrong and cultivate what is good. Open our eyes to see beauty again as we pursue peace in every relationship. Heal our hearts and renew a right spirit within us.

Let the Healing Streams Abound

Plenteous grace with Thee is found,
Grace to cover all my sin;
Let the healing streams abound;
Make and keep me pure within.
Thou of life the fountain art,
Freely let me take of Thee;
Spring Thou up within my heart,
Rise to all eternity.

-From “Jesus, Lover of My Soul” by Charles Wesley

One of the most painful moments in my life was when a person I admired announced they had no more grace for me. An annoying trait, that no doubt needed correction, inspired them to dump a load of dis-grace on me instead. I was devastated.

Trauma has roots like weeds that crop up in a garden bed far from the original invasive plant. I felt shame and ran when the flight option in the flight/fight/freeze trio of survival actions seemed most attractive. It took a while to realize that the original painful weed of rejection had spread to this corner of my life, its subconscious presence undetected for many years. I heard it sing a minor key lament from long ago, “Jesus is disappointed with you.”

Growing up in a competitive world where only the best smiled for the camera while the rest slunk out the door for the eliminated, harsh words felt like familiar shameful judgments of disgrace. I wept bitterly. The “NOT GOOD ENOUGH” stamp of disapproval showed up again on the bottom of my application for acceptance.

It was a horrible time and a good time. God can use anything and this time he used a person who also struggled with shame to point out that I was knocking on the wrong door. You can’t give what you have not received or received only in measured installments. I wanted another struggling sojourner to give me what only God could supply. That wasn’t going to work. I needed to find the source.

“Ask me,” he said.

“Ask you for what?” I mumbled, head hanging low.

“Ask me about my grace.”

“I don’t deserve your grace.”

“True. No one does. That’s the beauty. You can’t earn it. Failures only need apply.”

I did ask, and since then I’ve learned that my response to God’s empowering grace can be greater than a grudging, “Thanks for not hitting me when I deserved a good smiting.” It’s now “Thanks for showing me the way you see me and giving me the resources to become that person.”

Thank you, Lord, for grace that is plenteous and greater than barely sufficient grace, or scratch and dent grace for the less deserving, or grace that offers anonymity as a cover for permanent stains on the soul. Thanks for accepting me just as I am. Thanks for grace that heals and purifies and rises up to all eternity.

Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.

I was looking for something to watch on TV. I needed a break from the world’s problems, and I just wanted an hour or two of uplifting entertainment, something to make me smile and feel good inside. Years ago, a counsellor told me, “You are entirely too sane. A little fiction-inspired denial might help to lighten things up a bit.”

I have access to multiple streaming services, but I couldn’t find anything that would “lighten things up a bit.” I love a good film, but these didn’t hold out the beauty I was looking for. Instead, I ended up entertaining myself by listing themes from trailers and the blurbs on trending movies.

Have you paid attention to the themes of films lately? When I was depressed, I used to watch a lot of TV. My standards were not high. When things were really bad, I could lose hours to the weather channel. Whether TV-watching was a cause or effect of the depression, I don’t know, but I haven’t paid nearly as much attention to television or popular films since being set free from the pit. 

I looked more closely at the offerings. The same kind of stuff kept coming up. This survey is not remotely scientific. It’s just what I noticed today. Most themes could be reduced to a few broad categories:

Dark secrets: Someone is lying to you.

Someone is trying to steal from you.

Someone wants to use you, or your loved one, for their own power or pleasure purposes.

Off-world or external forces beyond your control are bent on your destruction.

So much for escape from the news cycle.

Responses to disappointment and pain included: the celebration of absurdity; angry humour; creative revenge and one-upmanship pay-back; exploration of the dark side; not-so-noble means to earn public approval; accumulation and protection of wealth and the spending thereof; escape through mood-altering chemistry: and sexual hedonism involving every possible option but a happy marriage.

I’m sure there are films with themes of nobility, altruism, forgiveness, hope, and physical or emotional or spiritual healing, but they weren’t in the first forty on the “trending” list.

As my little granddaughter observed, good stories need problems. Understood — and a well-developed villain is often the character that keeps us coming back. I only looked at the written and visual enticements intended to draw us in like a carnival barker’s call today. I hope many of the issues in the storylines were resolved and brought great relief to the audience before they trundled off to bed. I just didn’t feel like taking the risk that the offered solutions came at the expense of bystanders. I decided not to saturate myself in despair as was once my habit.

As I thought about it, the word saturate reminded me of this advice to new believers meeting together in Philippi long ago:

“Don’t be pulled in different directions or worried about a thing. Be saturated in prayer throughout each day, offering your faith-filled requests before God with overflowing gratitude. Tell him every detail of your life, then God’s wonderful peace that transcends human understanding, will guard your heart and mind through Jesus Christ,” Paul wrote.

“Keep your thoughts continually fixed on all that is authentic and real, honorable and admirable, beautiful and respectful, pure and holy, merciful and kind. And fasten your thoughts on every glorious work of God, praising him always.” 

“Put into practice the example of all that you have heard from me or seen in my life and the God of peace will be with you in all things.” (Philippians 4: 6 -9 TPT)

I’m not looking to escape, Pollyanna style, the reality that evil exists everywhere in the world. I can see that level of reality in my own dishonorable responses to fear that is the result of continually hearing the message, “Be afraid. Be very afraid.”

I choose to fasten my thoughts on every glorious work of God. It might seem boring to thrill-seekers, but my wanderings and simple photos of flowers and mountains and sky are reminders to me of a greater reality, the one in which the Creator and Lover of my soul says, “Trust me. I’ve got this.”

I’m shutting the TV and the computer off and going outside now.

Oh, and in other news, the orchards are starting to bloom.

I Can’t Stop Thinking About Your Goodness

This morning I am going through photos I took in the garden next to our condo this week. I procrastinated again and the warm sunlight disappeared behind rain clouds before I ventured outside. I didn’t have high expectations for results. The contrast between bright colour and muted dark tones surprises me.

I was listening to Lauren Daigle’s “Remember” as this photo of a two-toned tulip popped up. This line from the song stood out to me: “Even when my eyes could not see, you were there, always there with me.”

I was reminded yesterday that this week marks fourteen years since I was healed of cycles of depression I thought would never end. The bouts in hellish darkness had become more frequent and were lasting longer. Medication helped, but I needed a lot to keep functioning in public and to keep hiding the condition of my soul from people who stigmatized and rejected those of us who walked a path they couldn’t understand, but they needed constant adjustment. I was taking drugs to counteract the side effects of the side effects of other drugs I needed to counteract side effects. Sometimes they threw me into the other ditch with short bouts of hypomania, inevitably followed by the need to make apologies for overconfident promises made that I couldn’t keep later when a crash returned — just as inevitably.

I am enormously grateful for doctors and medicines that kept me going, but I was told my condition was chronic. I would always be dependent on chemical means to chase despair and suicidal thoughts away.

I didn’t want more treatments! I wanted to be healed!

I prayed for years to be released from the prison of depression. Like the Psalmist I could say, “How long?”

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?

 Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
 and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

 But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.
 I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me.

Then one day, when I least expected it, I met the Healer. He set this captive free. I am no longer on antidepressants or mood stabilizers and have had no recurrence in fourteen years! Like this flower God gave me a garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. How can I help but praise him?

Today I am singing, “I can’t stop thinking about your goodness!”

For those of you asking, “How long, Lord?” keep trusting. Keep seeking the Lord. Someday he will tell us why it took so long. If you have lost sight of hope, ask the Lord to send burden-bearers who will carry faith and hope for you until you can hold it in your own hands again. In the darkest hours He still loves you, even when you can’t see it or feel it.

Running Into the Wind

There is something about the crocus flower that symbolizes eagerness to me. They remind me of my childhood family walking over hills covered with last years dry grass and through thickets of gray branches to reach a trail that was still edged with melting snow. I remember the cold wind rushing down the mountainside making jackets billow and long hair whip around in every direction.

If we had been hiking in the late autumn, after everything with colour had blown away, we would have complained about how nasty that cold Alberta wind could be. But in the spring, the same temperature and the same stiff breeze felt wonderfully warm. We tucked hats and gloves into deep pockets and ran into the wind, our arms raised high as if to catch all the promises of spring in our hands.

A south-facing hillside showing off crocus flowers bobbing their heads in the breeze was our reward and evidence of better times and brighter days ahead. Yes, there would be disappointing blustery snowy icy days before winter fully released it’s grip, but the season of growth and harvest approached.

After this latest season of Lent and a time of allowing myself to be aware of the darkness Christ came to illuminate, the week after Easter feels like receiving the freedom to run toward the gifts He promised. One of those was the presence of the Holy Spirit who walks beside us and never leaves. He tells us through Paul:

Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy.

(1 Corinthians 14:1 NIV)

Crocus flowers are like fuzzy purple floral forerunners who respond to the season change before the other flowers. That’s what New Testament prophecy makes possible –being the first to see what others miss in changing times and responding to it in faith.

Teach me your ways, Lord. Show me your paths. Lead me in the way everlasting. Let me run into the wind with joy.

Expansion: Get Used to Different

I will pursue your commands,
for you expand my understanding.
 (Psalm 119:32 NLT)

Sometimes I think about what life was like when my grandparents built their first houses on the Canadian prairies. They had to be adventurous people. Breaking ground that has never been broken before is a daunting task. I think about both my grandmothers preparing meals for large families and threshing crews without modern appliances or even a grocery store nearby.

I wonder if they were suddenly transported to today, a hundred years in their futures, if they could comprehend cooking a quick dinner in the microwave from a recipe I searched for on my cell phone. I wonder if they would understand a fraction of the material my thirteen-year-old granddaughter learned in science today or the games my twelve-year-old grandson played on his computer this afternoon. Instead of my spinning wheel I could show them the shirt I bought this morning. It’s made from recycled plastic bottles.

Yet I wonder if we, ok I, went back a hundred years, if I could understand their willingness to go beyond the bounds of the familiar, and seek a better life for themselves and their children. Both my grandmothers remained faithful to God in challenging circumstances, both saw many changes in their lifetimes. Both had a vision for the future and a willingness to expand their horizons (which were literally much broader on the prairies.)

I wonder if God has much more for us to understand about him, and the world he created, and who he created us to be in that world. I wonder if we will not be able to understand without taking the risk of making changes.

There is a line spoken by the actor representing Jesus in the popular episodic series, The Chosen. It stood out to me when the smiling, kind Son of God said, “Get used to different.” It was a pay-attention moment.

Throughout history, the stress of change and upheaval has often been the way God has moved to expand our understanding. He’s doing it again. Get used to different. Your understanding may be his next expansion project.

Creative Meditations for Lent, Prompt Word: Expansion

Nourishment

Nourishment

I sat beside one of my grandchildren. She was busy eating vegetables with what seemed like great enthusiasm.

“Wow, you must really like vegetables,” I said.

“Not really,” she said, grabbing another piece of celery. “Daddy said I could have a piece of cake if I ate my veggies. That piece was really good, so now I’m eating more veggies so I can have another piece of cake.”

“Hmmm. Veggies as a confectionary offset. Is it kind of like buying a carbon offset and paying someone to do a good environmental deed for you when you want to burn a lot of fossil fuel in your private jet or yacht on your way to a climate conference?” I asked.

“What? I don’t have a jet!”

“Yeah. Neither do I. It’s not really my problem is it?”

She finished munching and ran into the kitchen with her plate.

The idea of doing a good deed to pre-atone for a self-indulgent act is not new. In fact, one of the things that provoked the time of societal upheaval in sixteenth century Europe was the sale of indulgences (yes, that’s what they were actually called). According to the people hawking them, buying an indulgence could take years off your time in purgatory. (Exactly how many years off or exactly how long a sentence in Purgatory was expected to last was little hard to pin down). Overzealous salesmen caused several deep thinkers to say, “Hey, wait a minute… That means the rich can get away with more…”

I thought about times when I partook in plain healthy spiritual nourishment without savouring or appreciating its subtle ungarnished goodness because I wanted to get on to something more exciting. I remembered sitting through obligatory ‘devotionals’ at youth group meetings where all the cute guys were because, well, you know, cute guys.

I thought about years of attending church services and that feeling of relief when it was over. I loved the sense of freedom when the religious obligation thing was done, and the rest of the week was mine to enjoy. I kind of left God behind in the building with the guilt accumulated in the previous week.

After a few years, I started to think, “Hey, wait a minute…” Churchianity wasn’t doing it for me. I wanted to encounter Jesus and find out if he meant what he said about grace and healing and knowing the Father’s heart of love and acceptance into his family and being transformed. There were better places to find good entertainment and frankly, the service clubs did a better job of serving. The unspoken rules were getting to me. What was I doing here? Either God was real, or he was not. I had to find out.

I returned to the simplicity of the stories of Jesus on earth, some of it in his own words. The good healthy, nourishing truth of Jesus’ words had more spiritual vitamins and minerals than I knew. Time spent reading the words of Jesus himself for myself was well worth the effort of establishing a healthy discipline of seeking him first. God encounter experiences came later.

Some times a loving Father gives us treats. Sometimes he reminds us to focus on the essentials first.

Creative Meditations for Lent, Prompt Word: Nourishment

Alignment: What’s Your Point?

Creative Meditations for Lent, Word Prompt: Alignment

I thought the illustration for today’s Creative Meditations for Lent word would be easy. Alignment. Of course, I want to be aligned with God’s purposes. I want to hear his heart and direct my energies to serving him by doing the works he created me to do. How can I illustrate that? I could draw a picture of two people running together toward a goal, or take a photo of machine parts in alignment working together, or maybe I could find an older photo of railroad tracks going in the same direction.

I began to think about what it means to align with God’s intent and purposes. (My husband says God is a good listener, but he doesn’t take advice well. We could save ourselves a lot of bother if we just knew what he was up to.) But I kept getting interrupted, first by grumbling and trying to use a straight iron to fix a haircut that is much shorter than I wanted, then by a meeting, then by an appointment with the dentist and a little shopping while I was in that part of town, then by some rabbit trail research, then by a nap, then by a chat, then another meeting, then a little browsing through YouTube and Twitter (dangerous diversion, that), then writing and deleting a long reactionary post on a topic which I finally admitted I knew too little about to venture an informed opinion, then by cooking supper and tidying up, then by doing a last minute favour for someone that only took an hour or so, then stopping to pick up something at the store that I forgot to get earlier before coming home and talking to my husband about his day, then fixing myself a bed-time snack. Now the day is nearly done and the thing I set out to do this morning is not nearly done.

I realized how easy it is to fritter away time, and the older I get, the more whatever time I have left increases in value. I felt the Lord ask, “If your desire is really to get in line with my purposes, why are you letting all these other things distract you?”

I wonder if the devil can’t convince us to take part in outright rebellion if he just gets us to fail in our purpose by throwing interesting and often pleasant distractions in the way. I really should be working on my book. Oh look! A shiny!

What’s my point? I want to say “yes” to God, to be in alignment with him. But saying yes to him means saying no to other things. Even voluntary creative meditations require focus. My pencils are all lined up and ready to go, but they won’t produce anything useful without my intent to align with God’s intent. Alignment is not so easy.

Healing

Lord, I will exalt you and lift you high,

for you have lifted me up on high!

Over all my boasting, gloating enemies,

you made me to triumph.

O Lord, my healing God,

I cried out for a miracle and you healed me!

Psalm 30:1,2 TPT

Doctors said my condition was chronic and that I would be on heavy-duty medication for the rest of my life, but God healed me. I was diagnosed as bipolar. I knew hypomanic mountain highs for short periods of time, but I spent years of my life in the darkness of valley lows.

I’ve experienced a lot of painful physical problems in my life —broken bones, many kidney stones, and multiple surgeries for a variety of problems including cancer. Nothing has been as painful as depression. Not even close.

I like to go up into the forest to pray. One day I went up there to pray for my daughter and son-in-law. They were at an event where people were being miraculously healed, or so my daughter told me when she phoned from another part of the world to give me a play-by-play description of what she was seeing. Can I tell you how far this was out of my comfort zone? I was afraid they were getting involved in some sort of cult. That’s what I was praying about. I prayed they would be protected from deception. I was not at all filled with faith for healing. Instead of getting them out of that situation, God healed me.

I heard a voice say “Run!” I argued (how crazy is that?!) that I couldn’t run because of an inflamed ligament in my knee and because I had asthma and left my inhaler in my other coat pocket. Exercise always set off an attack. The urge to run wouldn’t leave, so I sheepishly ran a little way, grateful I was alone because it wasn’t pretty. I could breathe easily and had no pain. I was shocked! I ran all the way back to my car, a distance of about six city blocks. No knee pain, no wheezing. Then I felt the shadows lift off my mind. I felt joy, sweet, calm, non-manic joy.

Over time, I realized that the depression that lifted that day was not coming back. I started reducing some of the meds I had taken for years. Under a psychiatrist’s supervision I eventually got off all of them, including two to control side effects of the other five. The only one I kept taking was a medication for low thyroid.

I’ve been told that no one comes off of medication for mental illness after that many years without some negative effect to cognitive function or going into another tailspin. I’ve been free for fourteen years. Now I experience a normal range of emotions appropriate for the situation.

Since then, I have prayed for people and seen God heal them of various problems. Four times I have seen patients who were on their death beds in hospital recover within days and get up go home.

This question always arises when I tell people my story: What about the ones who were not healed? My answer: I don’t know. I just know that people who pursue God see more healings than people who say, “It is what it is,” or “Healing doesn’t happen anymore. That was just for Jesus and the disciples.”

I have been healed of other problems and still have some conditions that are not yet healed. I know how much it hurts to be blamed for having an unhealed disease. “You don’t have enough faith. You must have unconfessed sin or ‘a root of bitterness.'” “You must be benefitting from the attention or something.” “You said, ‘I have cancer” so you just cursed yourself with your words.” Ouch! Mercy, people, please!

God is God and I am not. Experiencing Him and learning more about His character gives me a deep desire to know Him. It makes me want to have more encounters with the One who heals and gives me a longing for deeper understanding.

Meekness means praying, “There are so many things I don’t understand, Lord. But I know you are good, and your love is perfect. Teach me.”

Flow

On the final and climactic day of the Feast, Jesus took his stand. He cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Rivers of living water will brim and spill out of the depths of anyone who believes in me this way, just as the Scripture says.” (He said this in regard to the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were about to receive. The Spirit had not yet been given because Jesus had not yet been glorified.) 

(John 7:38, 39 The Message)

Creative Meditations for Lent, Prompt word: Flow