Promises, Promises, My Kind of Promises

My beautiful picture

“Well,” she said, standing in the middle of a pile of what we might call reduced circumstances, “I guess this is my new normal.”

My friend was too tired to fight the injustice that brought her to this place. In a way she accepted it as her lot in life, as a fulfillment of predictions spoken over her in the past. Teachers, social workers, and bosses didn’t always wait to be out of ear shot before they said things like, “She’ll never amount to much,” or “What do you expect from someone with her background?”

I tried to encourage her, but My words slipped past her ears as if she assumed they were meant for someone else, someone more worthy of love and respect. She shrugged and went back to unpacking her baggage.

I was thinking about the word “normal” yesterday. Her normal. My normal. God’s normal. How does our acceptance of limited expectations become normal? What if we have glimpses of possibilities that are beyond past experiences? Does seeing potential wreck our concept of normal?

Yesterday I was lying in bed exchanging text messages with my eight-year old granddaughter who is currently with her family in Africa. I wondered what my grandmother would have thought if she had seen this possibility when I was an eight-year old. A phone with no wires, that could send and receive voices, text, photos, and even video of a new house on the other side of the world in a few seconds? Impossible!

In an old trunk I’ve stored a letter my grandmother received from her mother in Ontario. Grandma’s child had died tragically in Saskatchewan. Her mother’s written words arrived weeks after the funeral. In comparison, my granddaughter was telling me about her new surroundings and their arduous two day trip from western Canada to South Africa. On the same day. As she ate breakfast. I love listening to her.

Then my wifi cut out.IMG_7057 cell phone

We have been having problems with it lately because of the floods. I felt angry and frustrated with such unreliable service – a service that has only been available to me since I acquired a cell phone. It’s not that I feel entitled to a method of communication we never dreamed of when I was a child, it’s that I feel disappointed by the loss of a means of communication I now know exists. My sense of normal has been changed by knowledge of a device that only existed in the future of the girl I was when I talked to my grandmother as I wrapped myself in the cord attached to the telephone in the hallway. She never even dreamed of such a thing as she told me about how she used to send letters to her mother in a cabin in the bush thirty miles from the nearest road. “Normal” changes with visions of possibilities.

I was thinking about this when a line from a song began playing in my head. The song, as is often the case with songs God uses to communicate with me, came out of the blue and was one I haven’t heard in years. The line that kept repeating was, “Promises, promises, My kind of promises…”

I did an internet search and found the lyrics by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, which are, in part:
Oh, promises, their kind of promises, can just destroy a life
Oh, promises, those kind of promises, take all the joy from life
Oh, promises, promises, My kind of promises
Can lead to joy and hope and love – and love!

I asked the Lord why he was bringing this to my attention. I always thought promises were good things, but he began to remind me of bad promises that had been spoken over me the way curses had been spoken over my discouraged friend.

I promise you there will be punishment when we get home.
I promise you that no one will ever love a fat girl.
I promise you that you will never have friends because you don’t know how to be a friend.
I promise you that no one remembers who came in second.
I promise you that you are only as good as your last performance.
I promise you that when those people learn you are just a poor girl from a poor family they will drop you so fast…
I promise you that no one cares what you have to say. You’re just a woman. Shut up and follow the rules.
I promise you God has no time for people like you who still sin and don’t earn his favour.

I wasn’t expecting a rush of these memories. Some of these “promises” I walked out on years ago. Some still sting.

I had to ask, “What are Your promises, Lord? What do you see instead? What possibilities do you want to show me that change my sense of ‘normal?’”

He is changing me. He is replacing old expectations of limits with new possibilities. He is saying, “Believe this and not this.”

So much of this journey is about learning to let go, to unlearn, to press on in the absence of the familiar, to absorb and be infused with the “insteads” that Jesus announced when he read his mandate aloud to a people living in resigned disappointment. From Isaiah 63:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.

Who does Jesus say you are? What are the promises he has spoken over you? What  possibilities is he showing you that you never dreamed of before?

Ask him about your new normal. He loves that question.

dancing fushia garment of praise

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Anger as a Gift of Grace

 

Sometimes, like storm clouds that roll in in the middle of a perfectly lovely day, my anger seems to come out of nowhere and crashes and booms in the most embarrassing way. I don’t want to feel it!
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Yesterday’s blog on angry critical words as verbal assault weapons stirred up discouraging feelings for some people who wrote to me privately. I realize we need to talk about the other part about the words that flow out of our heart without piling on more “shoulds” What do we do with feelings of anger?

I get really mad at myself when I lose my temper. I’ve heard it said that depression is anger turned inward and perhaps that is true, but you don’t want to be in the line of fire when it’s turned outward. What do we do with anger when it boils over and spoils our carefully constructed version of ourselves? What do we do with feelings that fuel not-nice verbal assaults aimed either at ourselves or at others?

The Bible tells us, “In your anger do not sin.

What?!?

For a long time I didn’t realize that God gave us a sense of anger or righteous indignation or personal miffification (my word) for a good reason. Anger is like the indicator light on the dashboard of a car that lets you know there is a problem with the engine. When my dad taught me to drive he emphasized the necessity of paying attention to the dashboard information. Don’t let the RPMs get too high and never, never ignore the low oil warning. Stop and deal with it right away.

Anger can be a gift of grace. Anger allows us to admit there is a problem. Who we blame for the problem is the problem.

Anger is a secondary emotion. It’s like a warning light that lets us know something is wrong inside somewhere. Yes, there are false alarms and overly sensitive alarms sometimes. No one is thrilled to see the warning light suddenly glowing red. One time it cost me $87 to find out that I had only turned the gas cap one click instead of three after I followed my dad’s advice and drove directly to a mechanic’s shop when the engine light turned on. (That triggered my personal anger indicator light.) It’s tempting to ignore warnings after such events, but ignoring them can lead to nasty or expensive consequences later.

I’m suffering from ignoring a warning I was given a few weeks ago. It was just a toe. My doctor said I needed to have minor surgery to deal with an over zealous toenail that turned on me. When he mentioned recovery time I thought about my busy schedule and procrastinated. Last week I ended up having to get antibiotics to deal with  painful infection. My toe (little thing that it is) screamed at me like a street full of car alarms set off by an rebellious teenager at 3 a.m..  Yesterday, my adorable three-year old granddaughter was asserting her newly discovered independence over whether or not she needed to wear a hoodie (which she calls a “heady”). In the  process she expressed her opinion with a vehement stomp. Unfortunately my toe was under her stomp.

Now I love this child dearly but had it not been for the grace of the Lord in teaching me a bit of self-control by this point in my life I could have let loose some pithy words that carry emotional weight.

When we lose it and our tempers over-ride the mouth gate control, or when other people unload their verbal semi-automatic assault weapons on us, it is often because issues were not dealt with while they were still minor. Sometimes minor offences fester like a sore toe we have ignored for too long. Woe betide the one who brushes against a sensitive spot.

Some of the things we ignore are minor wounds that occur when people make demands that require us to give more than we think we can afford. This can feel like someone is stealing our time, attention, money, dignity – all sorts of things. One of the hardest I find to deal with is the implication, “You are a Christian. You are required to love and forgive so I expect you to forgive me immediately no matter what I do.”

Gayle Erwin talks about the problem of relating to people who say, “So you want to be a servant. Well, I’ve always wanted one of those.” There is a difference between being a servant of God and a servant of a person who wants you to indulge their selfishness. Since when does love mean enabling poor choices?

Boundaries discussed and established early in a relationship can help avoid misunderstandings later. Love must be voluntary in order to be love. If I lay down my own needs to meet yours it must be because I choose to, and not because you have removed my options. The joy of giving is stolen when it is coerced.

Sometimes ultra-sensitive unhealed wounds caused by painful past events are protected by anger. (I wrote about that here.) Prickly people use anger to keep anyone from getting too close. Right now I am very wary of anyone who comes too close to my toe. This has nothing to do with you but if it looks like you might drop that armload of firewood I might yell at you to back off.

There are many triggers for anger – fear of lack, fear of being out of control, fear of being left out or unloved, fear of being deceived or taken advantage of. (There are also physiological conditions that produce feelings of irritation and anger.) I’m not going to join the accuser of the brethren here. He has enough helpers on the internet. But sometimes the accuser is owned himself when God allows satan’s nastiness to point out an area that is not working for us. Sometimes unpleasant feelings of being overwhelmed by anger, like feelings of pain,  can be the thing that points to something God intends to heal next. If we seek the Lord to understand the reason behind our upsetting reaction he will be there waiting.

Yes. I need healing -inside and out. But who doesn’t in some way? The humble person who is aware of their weaknesses as well as their strengths, who knows their need for grace, who has known what it is to be forgiven, is in a place to offer that same grace when they see someone else boil over. They get it.

I’m making an appointment with my doctor to address the problem with my toe when I get back home – but I’m also praying for divine intervention in seeking healing not only for my toe, but for other little wounds of the heart I have ignored for too long.

If you find yourself in a place where you realize you need healing for something, but are not sure what, don’t be afraid to ask God. He loves you dearly and he is relentlessly kind.

 

 

 

Amazing Love

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We’ve often heard the buyer-beware expression, “If it looks too good to be true, it’s probably not true.”

That expression is not always true.

Darkness is all around us in this world. We read about it every day, and for those of us who have known loss and deep depression it feels like darkness has saturated every cell of our being. It wraps itself around our thoughts and imprisons our dreams. Sometimes it’s been so long we stop looking for the light. Sometimes we chase something that appears to be light, something that soothes our pain for a while, but it only leads to a path of even deeper darkness – if that’s possible. We come to distrust flickers of light as cruel illusions.

There is no greater depth of darkness than loss of hope.

I know. I was there – for far too long.

But I had friends who were relentless. They had light and love in their lives and I resented them for it. That light didn’t go out when their circumstances were bad. They had a weird kind of joy even in tears and brokenness. I dared to raise my eyes to the source of light that shone in them.

Charles Wesley wrote these words:

Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray—
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

My chains fell off! My heart was free!
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

He understood the risk of trusting something that seemed to be too good to be true. What? How can it be?

And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain—
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

Oh, my God! You did that for me? Can it be?

You matter. He knows your name and every detail of your life down to the number of hairs on your head. You are not an accident. Darkness cannot put out the light. In the battle between light and dark, light always wins. There is no such thing as a flashdark – only a flashlight.

Jesus is the light of the world. This is amazing love!

Baptizing Babies in the Birdbath

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Baptizing Babies in the Birdbath

We were baptizing babies in the birdbath,
me and Beats,
plastic pouty babies
with hard dimpled bellies
and yes or no eyes.

I baptize thee, Betsy Ann Wetsy
(in my most Godly voice)
I baptize thee
in the name of the Father,
(pouring water over sculpted hair)
and of the Son,
(swishing clicky head in basin)
and of the Holy Ghost,
(pressuring bad bubble spirits out of
off-center hole in bum)

There.

Having fulfilled requirements
for all our grandparent’s denominations
I held Betsy by rigid foot
and rained blessings
on the sidewalk.

Um, said Beats.

Um.

You blasphemed.
You said Holy Ghost.
You committed the unpardonable sin.

Um.

My life for yours, Betsy.
You take that kind of risk sometimes
for babies you love
when you don’t know all the rules.

When I was a child it was easy to believe that God was angry with me for doing something I didn’t know was wrong. I don’t know where the idea came from, but I know that it was strong enough to leave me fearful that come the great judgment day I would be rejected for failing to keep all the rules and having unconfessed sin in my life (because I didn’t know it was a sin.)

This poem seems light-hearted, but it is about a real experience. I was about five-years old. Beatrix and I had just come from enduring another sermon we didn’t understand. (My grandson defines a sermon as “when people talk about God but don’t let you ask questions.”) All we picked up was that there was an “unpardonable sin.”

For years I didn’t have the heart to tell Mom and Dad that all their efforts to send me to Sunday School and Bible clubs and camps were in vain because I was already damned.

It took a long time before I realized that Jesus is the perfect image of the Father. He absolutely loves children – and adults. He doesn’t set them up for failure. He didn’t come to condemn, but to rescue us and restore our relationship with a loving Father.

I needed to let go of the lie that God is angry and capricious and impossible to please before I could see his eyes of love for me. It wasn’t easy; I struggled to let go of the only security I had known – keeping rules and striving to be good enough. But setting out on a journey to search for the real God has been so worth it. He healed my heart, took away my fear, and created in me a place to hold on to his love.

I decided to post this poem today because I know there are others who, for whatever reason, have the same picture of God – and you are tired and depressed and ready to let go. You’ve tried about as hard as you can try. You’ve gone through rituals and attempts to meet man-made requirements but are still afraid it’s not good enough.

I met someone who was old and ill. He was busy “covering all the bases,” going through all sorts of religious rituals and donating to several denominations. I saw in him the same old familiar fear. What if I am too bad for God to accept me?

I told him all God required of him was to let Jesus do what he came to do – love him just as he was. He found it hard, but the last time I visited him he sang, with steady voice, an old Kris Kristofferson song.

Why me Lord what have I ever done
To deserve even one of the pleasures I’ve known
Tell me, Lord, what did I ever do
That was worthy of you or the kindness you’ve shown

Lord help me, Jesus, I’ve wasted it so
Help me Jesus I know what I am
But now that I know that I’ve needed you so
Help me, Jesus, my soul’s in your hand.

I believe Jesus heard him.

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Victory Over Fear

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“Our first place of victory [over fear] is in believing the truth concerning our relationship with God. Paul tells us that, “having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:1). We reject the lie that insists God is our enemy. We come to believe He is our Helper in the healing of our souls!”

-Francis Frangipane