Dark Woods

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“Oh, when we are journeying through the murky night and the dark woods of affliction and sorrow, it is something to find here and there a spray broken, or a leafy stem bent down with the tread of His foot and the brush of His hand as He passed; and to remember that the path He trod He has hallowed, and thus to find lingering fragrance and hidden strength in the remembrance of Him as “in all points tempted like as we are,” bearing grief for us, bearing grief with us, bearing grief like us.”

~ Alexander MacLaren

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.

 

Promises, Promises, My Kind of Promises

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“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.

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