When It Hurts

boy fist pain when it hurts ch rs bwDSC_0111

Sharing the sufferings of Christ involves the experience of the deep emotions, agony, and passion he continues to experience for the least, the last, and the lost by his indwelling Spirit. All followers of Jesus were once least, last, and lost. When we forget that, we stop feeling.

– Dr. Mark Chironna

Why I Write

rope and pails ch bw IMG_4053

I open the file. I re-read the last chapter I wrote. I stare at the empty white screen. I close the file.

Why am I doing this?

I can’t answer. I can’t remember. I doodle excuses.

I ask friends. Why do you write?

They give answers. The responses look familiar. I`ve probably said the same things in the past, but none of them fit the curves and angles of my own puzzle pieces now. Saying right out loud that I have lost sight of joy in the process releases a barrage of comments from the trolls in my head.

Who do you think you are?
Who would want to read your stuff anyway?
Seriously? You’re no expert. You’re not qualified.
What makes you think you will live long enough to finish this?
You are old. You are sick. Why put this pressure on yourself? Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you die.

two eyes reeds bw sq 027 bw

The trolls make me cry. They hurl lies wrapped in scraps of truth the way they have done for decades of my life.

I am tired and in pain, but one candle flickers in my darkness. I remember the written words of the lamenting prophet Jeremiah, with whom I have had a love/hate relationship since I first slammed his books shut –then opened them again.

I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.
(Lamentations 3:19-23 NIV)

I go to bed. I dream.

Two doctors behind a counter review my complex case. They seem optimistic and excited. One asks if I have ever worked on a research project. I tell them I helped with a project that examined why a person’s voice changes when they have a cold. (I haven’t actually done this, but I used to teach singing in real life.)

I tell them our findings. Beyond problems with producing a steady sound with inflamed vocal folds that don’t vibrate properly, sinus congestion and swelling of the throat tissues reduces the capacity for resonating space.

(This was something I was careful to teach. Produce the sound in such a way that relaxed natural resonance can do the work of projection for you. That way you will not strain and cause tension or muscle fatigue to fight you. Resonance needs space surrounded by a solid surface to produce a pleasant full sound. Think of the difference between the constipated duck sound of a trumpet mouth piece alone and the resounding fanfare sound when the horn is added. Then I joked to my students that good singers have resonance where ordinary people store parts of their brains they never get around to using anyway.)

In my dream, the older doctor comes around his desk and sits beside me in a fatherly way.

“It appears that your illnesses and challenging circumstances of late have led to apathy – a-pathy, no passion. You’ve experienced a reduction in the space where passions thrive and where your “voice” is produced. The result? A lack of compassion for others,” he said, treating me like an intelligent adult. “You need healing to create larger capacity to contain God’s love so that it can resonate in you before you release the sound.”

He patted my shoulder as he rose to his feet. “In other words, you don’t need to strive. Let resonance work for you.”

He stood up and handed me a file. “We would like you join a research project. When you get home try to team up with Gideon,” he smiled. “He knows something about fear and the stress of trying to work in confined space.”

I wake and write the dream down.

 

I am stunned. He gave me the answer to the question of why writing fails to flow lately. A lack of compassion. I’ve written here about thinking, acting and feeling in alignment with God’s thoughts, actions and emotions. Jesus, who demonstrated what God the Father is actually like, wept with compassion.

The dream doctor suggested a research project? But I am tired, so very, very tired. Mundane, but necessary tasks take twice as much time as they used to. I’m not volunteering for much lately. I don’t have the energy to take up causes when I’m using up my limited supply to try to keep a check on my own symptom and side-effect tainted emotions. More than ever I am aware of the long-term damage of lies I have believed as they surface in unguarded reactions. I need to concentrate on thinking differently but my brain wants to slide into default grooves.

meme not IMG_8539 frazzled goose sq

“I feel weak,” I tell God. “Frazzled.”

I hear his voice urging, “Now, in this place of weakness, it’s time to learn to access the grace I promised to supply. My power is made perfect in weakness.”

I pray and read about Gideon emerging from his wine-press pit of fear (story in Judges chapters 6 to 8). Three sources “just happen” to show up where I can’t miss them – in an email, on a CD on the shelf beside me, and in a friend’s Facebook post. All three talk about finding opportunities in places of confinement like Gideon’s. The key to moving into wider spaces, they say, is using the promises God has given us as weapons.

While Gideon still cowered, the angel of God told him that he was the mighty warrior who would lead his people into freedom.

Promises are found in passages of scripture that have grabbed our attention at various times in our life. Promises can be revealed in insistent phrases in songs; in co-incidences and repeated themes in books, films, sermons, podcasts, and random circumstances; in friends who are sensitive to the prompting of the Holy Spirit; and in that still, almost silent Voice that speaks in our hearts when we are at peace enough to hear it. Promises resonate in our hearts.

Jesus had emotions – strong emotions. “The passion of Christ” refers to his motivation for going to the cross. What made him angry? What triggered his expressions of elation? What broke his heart and made him cry? I am looking again.

Why do I write? I’m starting to remember. It’s not about praise, or recognition or material gain. Not anymore. I write because God loved me enough to bare his heart of compassion and to give what was dearest to himself to demonstrate his love.

When I submit to him by allowing him to cleanse and heal my heart, when I quit insisting, like a toddler, that I can do it myself, I begin to understand his motivation. I come into alignment with his thinking, feeling, and acting. I start to be moved by the things that move him.

Why do I write?

Love. Resonating love.

girl fishing sq DSC_0464 - Copy

 

 

Broken: All I Had to Offer Him…

broken window IMG_3182

Have you heard this one? How many counsellors does it take to change a lightbulb?

Only one.

But the lightbulb must really want to be changed.

broken fence snow IMG_3141

One of the words suggested for a photographic meditation in the season of Lent is “broken.” Contrary to my usual practice of looking for beauty in the midst of the ordinary, I looked for the less-than-lovely. For the sake of this exercise I gave myself one hour to photograph only the broken.

broken fence IMG_3150
I love photography because it has trained me to pay attention to the goodness of God, particularly his creativity and generosity in nature. I have changed. I used to be overly aware of disorder. Seeing only the broken took no effort, and the loss and heartache it symbolized began to feel overwhelming.

broekn truck IMG_3137

This is not the way it was meant to be.

Yesterday we gathered with friends to study the book of Matthew. The more time I spend reading about Jesus’ words and actions the more ideas and practices I realize I need to unlearn in the quest to know him. I’m trying to imagine what it was like for him to live in a broken world among broken people when he was the only one who understood the way it was meant to be. He knew what was in people’s hearts, and yet he loved them. He did what he did for the joy set before him – for the hope of establishing a new normal.

yoke rings hooks IMG_3179

This passage touched my heart:
Jesus walked throughout the region with the joyful message of God’s kingdom realm. He taught in their meeting houses, and wherever he went he demonstrated God’s power by healing every kind of disease and illness.
When he saw the vast crowds of people, Jesus’ heart was deeply moved with compassion, because they seemed weary and helpless, like wandering sheep without a shepherd. (Matthew 9:35, 36 TPT)

broken gasoline jugs IMG_3175

I thought about the type of compassionate responses offered to broken, weary, helpless, people falling through the cracks in my own country. We offer borrowed money to feed, drugs to numb, unrestrained sexual pleasure to distract, adversarial court procedures that throw gas on broken relationships to pacify, and physician-assisted death for those who have lost hope for themselves or their offspring still in the womb.

strip joint IMG_3125

Compassion without hope can be a cruel kindness.

broken pane IMG_3183

Many religious folk have lost hope as well. They may raise funds to offer material relief, or pray that a person will be comforted in their incurable condition, but they seldom act with the type of merciful power Jesus demonstrated. They would never admit it, but their responses to broken people are not much more effective than the Pharisees who saw doubling down on the rules as the way to prevent hopeless suffering. They take a stance at the other pole on the cruel kindness playing field. They see the world in terms of “us and them.”

sink taps bw old IMG_3163

Later, Jesus went to Matthew’s home to share a meal with him. Many other tax collectors and outcasts of society were invited to eat with Jesus and his disciples.
When those known as the Pharisees saw what was happening, they were indignant, and they kept asking Jesus’ disciples, “Why would your Master dine with such lowlifes?” (Matthew 9: 10, 11)

broken crutches IMG_3122

Jesus told them, essentially, that if they thought they held the copyright on normal, they wouldn’t value what he had to offer.

“…Healthy people don’t need to see a doctor, but the sick will go for treatment.” Then he added, “Now you should go and study the meaning of the verse:
I want you to show mercy, not just offer me a sacrifice.
For I have come to invite the outcasts of society and sinners, not those who think they are already on the right path.” (verses 12 and 13)

Earlier in Matthew we read about the narrow road to knowing who Jesus is and the significance of what he has done for us. It starts with step one, “Blessed are the poor in Spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

broken blue door IMG_3134

Being poor in spirit means admitting that our methods of coping with brokenness are not working. It means we recognize our powerlessness. It means looking at the mess we think “is what it is” and recognizing our inability to conceive of how effective God intended us to be. My own heart is convicted.

It means admitting, like the old Gaither song says, “All I had to offer Him was brokenness and strife.”

It means turning to The Great Physician and asking him to heal us, body, soul, and spirit.

frosty fencech rs DSC_0080

It means that we who make excuses about living in a way that does not demonstrate the way Jesus said the Holy Spirit would empower us to act, also need to admit our poverty,  and turn to follow him more closely. Sharing his heart means not only feeling the deep compassion he feels for the broken, but also aligning with him to do something about it.

If we really want to be changed The Great Counsellor is willing.

he makes all things new poster ch sq

A Good and Spacious Land

meadow forest lake pond field grass ch rs IMG_7928

I will gladly rejoice because of Your gracious love
because You recognized the sadness of my affliction.
You felt deep compassion when You saw the pains of my soul.

You did not hand me over to the enemy,
but instead, You liberated me
and made me secure in a good and spacious land.

(Psalm 31:7-8 The Voice)

There’s a difference between sympathy and compassion.
Sympathy says, “Aw, you poor thing. That’s too bad. You really have it hard. But I guess it is what it is.”

Compassion says, “I see your pain. I know it’s hard, but I will walk with you until you see “the instead.”

Jesus Christ goes beyond powerless sympathy. He has suffered everything we have and knows what it feels like, but he goes beyond sympathy to compassion that brings us into wide open meadows of freedom.

He came to set the captives free, not to merely sympathize with their pain.

Moving Steadily Forward

fisher-muddy-lane-be-sq-ch-2-dsc_0233_edited-1

Injustice infuriates me. I hate it when the wicked prosper at the expense of the weak. I’m so tired of seeing demonstrations of the abuse of power in the media, in education, in scientific research, in religion, in families, in politics, in… well, in every sphere of life.

With the Psalmist I cry out, “How long, Lord? How long?”

Lately I have been drawn to Psalm 37, as my agony increases over the abuse of women, and especially children, who are victims of sex trafficking. I’ve known about it since I overheard people I worked with say that part of the cost of getting a producer to consider their project involved buying a boy for his use for the night.

They laughed.

I cried.

Now even more is coming to light despite many cover-ups. Sometimes this world is so ugly. Why do the wicked prosper?

I am reminded of William Wilberforce, who spent his whole adult lifetime working for the abolition of slavery in Britain. Sometimes change is a very slow process, at least by our concept of time, but what an example of endurance and perseverance!

In the late 1800’s and into the 20th century American doctor, Kate Bushnell, and her colleagues worked tirelessly to expose government sanctioned sex trafficking in the brothel camps provided for British soldiers overseas. Later she uncovered similar practices in logging camps and mining operations in North America. With day by day dogged determination she pursued and shamed authorities until laws and policies and were changed.

Sometimes it feels like a dreary long road, but David understood when he wrote: The steps of the God-pursuing ones follow firmly in the footsteps of the Lord. And God delights in every step they take to follow him. (Psalm 37:23)

In the end Kate Bushnell realized that real change required more than revised laws and policies. She saw that what was required was a heart change. Without it the demand for human beings who could be used and dominated continued. It’s not just a matter of prosecuting the people who sell captives, it’s a matter of changing the hearts of the apparently massive number of people who pay to use them. And those people are often also slaves – slaves to lust. Many, many people are realizing they are held captive by an addiction to pornography and illicit sex and cry out for freedom themselves.

A heart change is what God promises when people turn from their own ways of coping with personal pain and disappointment or feeling out of control and instead trust in Jesus Christ.

This is what we pray for. Freedom for all captives and an awakening of the realization that our hearts can only find healing and restoration in the heart of the One who created us for greater things. An awakening to new life as the Holy Spirit moves through our land.

So we press on, day by day cultivating faithfulness, trusting His promises, walking in his path and praying without ceasing.

So don’t be impatient for the Lord to act;

Keep moving steadily forward in his ways,

And he will exalt you at the right time.

And when he does, you will possess every promise,

Including your own inheritance.

You’ll watch with you own eyes

And see the wicked lose everything (verse 34)

But the Lord will be the Saviour of all who love him.

Even in their time of trouble

God will live in them as Strength.

Because of their faith in him, their daily portion will be

A Father’s help, and deliverance from evil.

This is true for all who turn to hide themselves in him!

(verses 39 & 40 The Passion Translation)

Save

Save