Bloom Anyway

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Looking back, I am unimpressed with the amount of time I spent trying to impress people who didn’t impress me. Sometimes you just need to bloom where you are planted while the storm rages.

It always blows over eventually.

People who manipulate with fear and intimidation are often fearful and intimidated themselves.

Confident peace is a weapon they don’t understand. It frustrates them.

Bloom anyway.

Fear and intimidation is a trap that holds you back.
But when you place your confidence in the Lord,
you will be seated in the high place.

(Proverbs 29:25 TPT)

Real Time

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It’s 3:30 a.m. Instead of sleeping I am here, on the computer. I’m also eating some ridiculously expensive fat-free, dairy-free strawberry rhubarb ice cream which I stashed in the corner of the freezer for an auspicious occasion.

This is not an auspicious occasion. I can’t get back to sleep after I woke from a nightmare about being sealed in an MRI tube by people who lied to me about how long the procedure would take, and then forgot I was in there.

Fear is custom-designed.

Being stuck in an MRI machine that is several sizes too small happens to be a fear designed for me.  I have a scan scheduled for later this week. It doesn’t help to know doctors are looking for evidence of metastatic cancer in my liver. This is the faith journey in real time.

It would be so easy to say, “I am struggling with fear.” We often hear that expression, but when I hear someone say, “I am struggling with jealousy,” or “I’m struggling with pornography,” I want to respond, “No, you’re not. You are choosing to surrender to obsessive resentful thoughts about your colleague. You are not “struggling.” You are giving in to self-indulgent lustful curiosity via photographic image.”

It’s easy to be smug when other people’s temptations are not tempting to me. But I face my own temptations. The Bible says don’t you go accusing God of tempting you. Temptation only latches on to weird stuff you are already hoarding in the basement of your heart and secretly nurturing with strawberry rhubarb ice cream.

When you are tempted don’t ever say, “God is tempting me,” for God is incapable of being tempted by evil and he is never the source of temptation. Instead it is each person’s own desires and thoughts that drag them into evil and lure them away into darkness. Evil desires give birth to evil actions. And when sin is fully mature it can murder you! So my friends, don’t be fooled by your own desires! (James 1:13-16)

The first step to getting free from “the struggle” is to admit that it is there. The root of my fear is the lie that my heavenly Father is distracted by more attractive, more important, more rewarding relationships with his other children. Sometimes I feed that nasty monster in the basement bits of bitter memories of being forgotten and ignored and misdiagnosed and mistreated before. That’s when the devil and his minions say, “Oh. You’re bitter and scared. We can help you with that.”

The thing is, being mistreated and forgotten was not my heavenly Father’s doing in the first place. That was a result of the brokenness of people with their own ways of coping with pain caused by the one who comes to steal, kill and destroy. God was the one has consistently got me through those situations. He’s a good, good father. Jesus came to show us what he was really like – and I can’t imagine Jesus sealing me up in a noisy metal tube and leaving me there.

He delights in us. He wants relationship. Like the Lover in the Song of Songs he invites to come away and walk with him in a flowered spring orchard like the one I saw in the Okanagan this week.

The Bridegroom-King:
Arise, my dearest. Hurry, my darling.
Come away with me!
I have come as you have asked
to draw you to my heart and lead you out.
For now is the time, my beautiful one.

The season has changed,
the bondage of your barren winter has ended,
and the season of hiding is over and gone.
The rains have soaked the earth
and left it bright with blossoming flowers.
The season for singing and pruning the vines has arrived.
I hear the cooing of doves in our land,
filling the air with songs to awaken you
and guide you forth.

Can you not discern this new day of destiny
breaking forth around you?
The early signs of my purposes and plans
are bursting forth.
The budding vines of new life
are now blooming everywhere.
The fragrance of their flowers whispers,
“There is change in the air.”
Arise, my love, my beautiful companion,
and run with me to the higher place.
For now is the time to arise and come away with me.

(Song of Songs 2:10-13)

Okay. I’m putting away the ice cream now and choosing to evict the lie. I choose instead to be thankful for modern medical procedures that can give assurance that liver cells are doing what liver cells were intended to do or can diagnose hidden nastiness before it gets out of hand. I am thanking the Lord for his promise to never leave me and to heal not only my body, but my wounded heart. I’m choosing to give up the struggle and surrender to his love by putting my trembling hand in his big strong hand. He’s got this.

Don’t worry or surrender to your fear. For you’ve believed in God, now trust and believe in me also.  – Jesus (John 14:1 TPT)

Like a Baby

Baby Solomon

But in the depths of my heart I truly know
that you, Yahweh, have become my Shield;
You take me and surround me with yourself.
Your glory covers me continually.
You lift high my head when I bow low in shame.

I have cried out to you, Yahweh, from your holy presence.
You send me a Father’s help.

Pause in his presence.

So now I’ll lie down and sleep like a baby—
then I’ll awake in safety, for you surround me with your glory.
 
Even though dark powers prowl around me,
I won’t be afraid.

(Psalm 3:3-6 The Passion Translation)

Breathe

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The devil is a terrorist.

My friend, Jeff, pointed out yesterday that while the motivating force behind heaven’s actions is love, the motivating force behind the powers of evil is fear.

The world is saturated in fear. We are easily manipulated by fear. All stress is fear based and asks “What if [insert nightmare here]?”

Graham Cooke points out that fear is a low-budget item for the enemy of our souls.  But God’s love? Love is costly. And He was willing to pay the price.

The devil is nasty. Terror is custom-made; it hits where you are most vulnerable. Many of our friends, some of our family have experienced these kind of sneak attacks lately. I have too.

Jeff pointed out that those who have turned to Christ learn to thrive instead by breathing the joyful, peaceful atmosphere of heaven like breathing through an oxygen mask. If you panic, if you pull your mask off you will immediately breathe in the poisonous atmosphere of fear that saturates the airwaves.

When we keep our focus on Christ we build a relationship with him. When we express thanksgiving for what he has already done, praise him for his character and attributes we are taking time to breathe the cleansing pneuma of the Holy Spirit.

When we cry. “Abba! Father!” and rest our weary heads on the chest of the One who loves us most the atmosphere changes. It expands from the kind offered via oxygen mask that falls down in emergencies to fill entire bio-domes where the Kingdom of heaven is being established in a community and where Christ’s love is at the center of all our actions.

Love casts out fear.

At the moment I am conscious of the need to firmly hold that mask of thanksgiving and praise and trust close to my face and to reject clouds of toxic fear swirling in the atmosphere. The joy of the Lord is my strength. I am loved by the Creator of the universe. I’m no longer a slave to fear. I am a child of God.

No matter which way the storm winds blow I am still a much loved child of God. If you want to attack me, you’re going to have an encounter with Him.

John, the disciple who knew he was loved, wrote:

Delight yourselves in God, yes, find your joy in him at all times. Have a reputation for gentleness, and never forget the nearness of your Lord.

Don’t worry over anything whatever; tell God every detail of your needs in earnest and thankful prayer, and the peace of God which transcends human understanding, will keep constant guard over your hearts and minds as they rest in Christ Jesus.

 

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Dinosaurs of the Plasticine Era

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A new Facebook friend made a comment this week about how she, as a sensitive person, cannot watch horror movies. I can’t either.

I liked it better when the dinosaurs looked like they were from the Plasticine Era. This CGI stuff is just getting too real. Horror movies with their detailed scales and teeth, gallons of fake blood, strings of artificial mucous, creepy music and over-the-shoulder shots are abhorrent enough, but what really unsettles me is psychological thrillers. The grandmother/therapist/best-friend/baby did it? You can’t trust anybody! Paranoia on a stick. Why would anybody feed themselves this stuff?

Well, I did, or used to. My brother and I snuck out of our rooms after our parents were asleep to watch “The Outer Limits” or “The Twilight Zone.” We kept the volume on the TV so low we had to lean in to hear. The buzz of the old set added to the flickering light ambiance of tension — and the fear of being caught. After the show I would tiptoe back to bed and lie awake all night, planning what I would do if aliens landed in the backyard. For months I ran past lamp posts or neon signs that made that same buzzing noise, fearing I was being followed by something equipped with a death ray.

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Nowadays, if the boys ask me to watch a horror or action flick with them I usually turn them down. I think even chick-flicks should come with emotional content warnings. My empathic tendencies have been traumatized by too many.

You see, I’ve discovered prayer doesn’t work in a movie (except to mercifully let the thing end or break the projector or something.) If I was running from a monster, scaled or coifed, I would be praying, “HELP!” or at the very least “OhGodOhGodOhGodOhGod…” (How do people cope without being able to call on him?)

But God doesn’t respond to lies. He’s not afraid of computer-generated dinosaurs. He never falls for clay or cartoon creatures. He knows the hunter never shot Bambi’s mother because Bambi’s mother was never in danger. She was not real. Bambi was not real. Godzilla is no threat to Bambi either. Asking God to respond and save us from imminent hypothetical danger is like my two-year old granddaughter hiding behind my legs and squealing that her brother is going to gobble her up – with a plasticine monster.

“You’re okay honey,” I assure her. “It’s only a pretend monster.”

This got me thinking about how the Holy Spirit responds to fears that have us quivering behind locked doors as we read scary predictions in the media, both broadcast and social.

He doesn’t.

Sometimes I cry out for deliverance and there is silence. Sometimes, when I join Chicken Little’s persuasive campaign and yell, “The sky is falling,” the Lord hands me an umbrella.

“Will this protect me from the falling sky?” I ask.

“No. But there will be rain later – the same kind of rain that has been falling off and on for centuries. Get a grip, girl.”

I have noticed that Jesus never allowed himself to be caught up in hypothetical questions. “What if…” His answer? “I will never leave you.”

It’s not that bad stuff never happens to good people. The devil still prowls around messing things up. You still reap what you sow. Corrie Ten Boom told the story of how, as a child, her father never burdened her with the responsibility of carrying a train ticket until it was time to get on the train. I think grace for trials is like that. The Lord will hand us our grace ticket when we need it. There is no provision in advance for “what if” questions because there doesn’t need to be. Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil, but there is no provision of supernatural intervention in a situation that we created in our own fear-based mind.

“Lord! Help me! I am under attack! The devil’s got me in his sights! What’s that strange buzzing sound?”

“You’re okay, honey. Shut the TV off and go back to bed. And quit watching that junk. It’s time to rest.”

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If you go down to the woods today…

Photos: From the woods

So there I was with my camera set up for a great shot when I saw the leaves in the lower left corner of the frame move.

I stopped and watched.

They moved again. They definitely moved, and whatever it was that caused the bushes down by the edge of the water to shake was much larger than a cat, or beaver, or even a coyote.

Quietly I replaced the lens cap, picked up my camera case and stepped back.

Then I heard it. A growl.

Considering the amount of time I spend wandering around in the woods, it’s quite remarkable I had only run into bears three times before (other than the side-of-the-road tourist stoppers in the National Parks) On one encounter my husband was hiking with me and twice I was alone.

The first time I heard that growl, which is definitely not a cow’s, on the other side of a huge boulder I made a hasty retreat. Say what you like about playing dead or walking slowly, I moved –and my plump little arthritic cocker-poo flew past me and jumped through the car window with speed and agility she hadn’t demonstrated in years. Fortunately the car was close by, and the window was open.

The second time a concerned armed man greeted us at the end of the trail and asked if we had seen the wounded bear. We had been talking about smelling something very strong, just like the bear cage at the zoo, that seemed to come from under a little foot bridge as we crossed over it, but thank God, he must have been too wounded or frightened to come after us.

The third time I was shooting waterfalls from a narrow guardrail-less wooden bridge and had just returned to my car at the end of the bridge when a silver tip grizzly came charging out of the trees. He seemed as surprised as I was and took off running into the bush on the other side. From the safety of the car I could appreciate his speed (as fast as a galloping horse) and his glistening fur in the evening light. (My camera was already zipped in the case, of course.)

Last October, on that day in the woods, I was, again, alone.

We live in bear country. We all have bear stories, and some of us even have cougar stories. (I’ve only seen tracks –in front of our house.) In the autumn the bears are desperate to put on weight before the snow falls and can be more aggressive, but most of the time if you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you.

Most of the time.

I headed back to the car, about half a kilometer away, pacing each step deliberately and calmly, willing my breathing to slow down.

More growling.

I considered throwing my camera equipment down to distract it and to give me time to run to the car –then I remembered my car keys were deep inside the bag.

More growling. Very, very close by.

I rummaged in the bag and felt some nail clippers. I suppose I could have offered it a trim or maybe asked if it had any thorns needing removal.  I rummaged some more –as I walked with great self-control toward the road– and felt the edge of the tiny wound-up metal measuring tape I keep on my key chain. A meter later the jangling keys followed.

More growling. It sounded like it was right beside me and I saw the bushes shake again.

“Ah, forget it!” I said and ran.

I clicked the door opener the whole way to the car and when I finally got there jumped in and locked the doors –because everybody knows a grizzly can open an unlocked door, right?

I didn’t see anything.

My heart was pounding, but I could still hear it. The growl was louder than ever…

That‘s when I realized it was my own stomach making all the noise. I should have eaten breakfast.

A deer stepped into the clearing from behind a trembling bush. I laughed all the way home, but I didn’t go back into the woods that day, or the next.

Some pretty scary posts have been showing up on Facebook and blogs and emails lately. I can’t even vote in that big election to the south (which seems only to mark the beginning of the next campaign) and yet up here in the Canadian Rockies I still receive a barrage of fear-based propaganda. Some of the comments are from very frightened people who have bought the message that the country is on the brink of disaster. They were ready to run a lot of conscience-based red lights to free themselves from this “certain threat” including restricting other people’s freedom. Fear does strange things to otherwise nice people.

It was as though they are willing to throw away a very expensive camera case full of gear to save themselves from a growling stomach.

Is the threat real? It sometimes is. (Maybe it would be wise to examine the motives of the people publishing this stuff?)

On the other hand, I have a delightful little grandson who could do with a bit more fear in his life. When he yells, “Catch it!” I have a split second to turn and get my arms in position before he flings himself off stairs and concrete walls or any other prominent high place. His daddy is a strong athletic man with lightning-quick reflexes who delights in this Pink Panther game with his two-year old Cato. His granny? Not so much. Is his trust in his father a beautiful thing?  Yeah. Should that trust be transferable? Not always.

Life without proper fear can also endanger us. Fear is a strange thing. Misplaced, it makes us run from growling stomachs; ignored, it leaves us unprepared for an encounter with an actual wounded bear on the trail.

Bears are real. Every year we hear stories that didn’t turn out so well. Loss of freedom and the existence of hidden corruption is real. Every year we hear of countries where people are imprisoned or slaughtered for their beliefs or otherwise treated unjustly by those who hunger for power.

I read an odd scripture verse today: Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” (Exodus 20:20)

Don’t be afraid because the point of this exercise is to make you afraid. Huh?

Again I find myself caught in the crossfire between camps. One side says fear is a sin and perfect love casts out fear. The other says the fear of the Lord is a necessity because it is the beginning of wisdom. Online concordances list page after page of verses each side can lob at the other. Study of original Hebrew and Greek words doesn’t even help. They are used interchangeably.

Fear God/Fear not

Both are true.

This conversation written by C.S. Lewis in the Narnia story helps me (a bit):

…Aslan is a lion–the Lion, the great Lion.” (Aslan symbolizes Jesus Christ in the books)

“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he–quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver, “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King I tell you.

Through faith in Jesus Christ we have access to the very throne of God, but it means cuddling up to some extremely high voltage, a privilege never to be taken lightly.

Because God is good we can dare to fling ourselves into his arms fearlessly. We need not be in dread that He will drop us. We don’t need to violate his ways to attempt to fix things by our own desperate efforts. But a good healthy respect of the dangers of flinging ourselves anywhere outside of his ways and his priorities also protects us from the consequences of  ill-conceived plans.

There are bears out there. But there is also a good King right here.

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