Shake It Off

wind hair child ch bw

Can we talk?

There are times on this road when we run into ambushes and a hail of arrows comes out of nowhere. Accusations. Misunderstanding. Jealousy. Lies. Slander. Outright hatred.

The thing about an ambush is that it is meant to catch you off-guard with your shield down. That’s why the source of them is often a shock. David wrote in Psalm 55: “If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were rising against me, I could hide. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship at the house of God, as we walked about among the worshippers.

I sometimes wonder if this close friend was Jonathan.

It’s happened again. I spent another restless night vacillating between what-did-I-say incredulity and forming I-should-have-said arguments with someone who was not even there. My actions were completely misunderstood and the fiery darts aimed at my head remind me of the time I accidentally leaned too close to the Bunsen burner in chem class. Ka-ploof!

I’ve said a lot of stupid things in my time. I’ve been guilty of monopolizing a conversation, of not taking enough time to understand another person’s point of view before responding, of trying to fix people who believed I was the one who needed to be fixed. I deserved a blast of “correction” in those circumstances. But this time my attempts to respond to a cry for help and to extend love stirred up a pocket of hatred which, although it comes from a source totally unrelated to me, is now aimed at me like I personally started World War II. And World War I. And the Black Plague.

I realized I was falling into the trap of being defensive, and entrenching myself in a position which is not what I really believe about who I am nor about who the other person is. I poured out my heart to the Lord.

“Remember what I told you? ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.”

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

So what do I do about this pain?

The first thing I saw this morning when I checked my messages was a short video by Tera Carissa Hodges posted by a friend. She was sharing something God showed her in the incident after Paul was shipwrecked on an island. While gathering firewood a poisonous snake latched onto his hand. The people’s reaction was that he must have been an evil person after all and this was something he deserved. “Karma”, if you like. In dream symbolism a snake can represent aggressive lies.

He shook it off. The poison had no effect on him. Instead the people marvelled and responded to the good news of the Kingdom of God revealed in Jesus. She entitled the video “Shake it off.”

Those were the words that stood out in answer to my question:  Shake. It. Off.

Sometimes I walk around with those stupid arrows of cruel words stuck in me for far too long. I watch little children at the beach smash each other over the head with little plastic shovels. They cry, they forgive, they shake the sand from their hair and get on with life. Ten minutes later they are building something fabulous together — or somebody’s mom steps in.

Have you been unfairly attacked by someone close to you when you thought you were in a safe place?

Shake it off. God has plans even for this. You are his beloved child.

And I would write 500 blogs

The Desk
The Station Master’s Desk

Wow! The little counter over on the left says this is my 500th blog entry. And I was worried I would have nothing to say after the first month.

I never knew, when I dared to overcome my technophobia to find an outlet for my poems, paintings, photos and musings, that God would have so much more to teach me than overcoming fear of computerese. I sometimes questioned the wisdom of writing about events of this annus horibilis before there was any evidence of it becoming annus mirabilis. And who knew it was going to be an annus horibilis anyway?

What if things don’t work out? What if I die of ovarian cancer? What if the depression comes back? What if our miracle grandbaby doesn’t make it to term? What if our son-in-love dies of necrotizing fasciitis? What if our son and his family never recover losses from the flood? Maybe I should wait before I write about them, to make sure God answers our prayers.

Then it occurred to me that I am not in charge of God’s P.R.. This is what it is like to walk in faith, not knowing how the cliff-hanger ends. (And honestly I did not make this stuff up. It has been a horrible time -and a miraculous time.) I have also noted that my anxious questions starting with “what if” seldom come in God’s tender voice.

So to celebrate 500 posts I have chosen not the five most popular blogs but five with the most meaning to me -some of them written in blood and some of them written in tears of joy. Five, because the number 5 is symbolic of grace, and Charis, my chosen name, means grace in Koine Greek, the language of the New Testament. (Psallo means song, and since I have lived a life full of songs it seemed appropriate.)

Right off the bat I’m going to cheat on my own rules because these two posts are part of one story that cannot be separated (and I can do that -my blog, my rules, and my bending of rules) This is about how God took something utterly horrible and turned it into something miraculously wonderful. These were written during the time many excellent doctors expected our son-in-love to die from multiple overwhelming complications after contracting an extremely severe case of flesh-eating disease. He has been restored to full health and the story is just too too too good not to tell over and over -so it goes first. Love is Louder and Love is Louder part II

Love is Louder

Love is Louder part II

For the second I am going back into history. After spending decades drowning in soul-crushing depressive mental illness, I was raised up out of the depths. Bluer than Blue

Bluer than Blue

One of the hardest parts in co-operating with Jesus’ healing work and recovering from the prison of the past is the struggle with forgiveness. Letting Go is a poem about stepping away from practised anger and entrenched bitterness.

Letting Go

Red Button, Yellow Button is one of my favourites because the older I get the more I appreciate the insightful wisdom of children before we educate it out of them.

Red Button, Yellow Button

Finally, Night Vision, because Jesus Christ is the Lover of my soul and my greatest desire is to know him and live in his presence.

Night Vision

So now the beautiful, sorrowful, joyful, frustrating, exhilarating journey continues.

Trail, acrylic on canvas
Trail, acrylic on canvas

To borrow from The Proclaimers I would like to make a proclamation of my own:

But I would write 500 blogs

And I would write 500 more

Just to be the one who wrote 1000 blogs

To tell you God is good.

And yes, He will restore.

Presumption

Building up
Building up and knocking down

I’ve been cleaning house in preparation for Christmas.

OK, the truth is I needed to mail some presents and by the time we dragged out the boxes of tree decorations and cards with mismatched envelopes and holly jolly wrinkled wrap the place was a disaster. I had to get Grampie to move the portable table saw and the camping equipment out first to get at it and that led to a multitude of forgotten junk, old toys and sports equipment from years past spilling out of the tiny storage room under the stairs as well. I had no choice; there was no hiding this stuff. Some thingys had been there so long we forgot we had them and had gone out and bought new thingys when we needed them. Six air mattresses. Really?

So I have been cleaning and sorting and hauling stuff to the thrift shop.

In the middle of my trying to pare down Grampie brought home a big box of wooden blocks he found at a going-out-of business sale. Since we have four grandchildren under the age of three and a half — soon to be five grandchildren– the purchase of blocks does make sense. They love to build to build castles and high towers. Well, some like to build up –and some cannot resist knocking down. They don’t always have the same plans. The little boys especially presume the whole point of building blocks is the satisfying crashing sound they make when they plow through a structure in their stocking feet. That’s when we need to talk about understanding that we need to find out if the other kid wanted their tower knocked down or not. Pay attention. Listen. Usually an adult suggests a plan and gets the kids working together on a project. When it’s done they can all knock it down.

As I was cleaning and sorting, looking for a place to put them, it seemed like a good time to do a little spiritual house cleaning too, what with all the reminders of advent and John the Baptist and repentance and preparing the way and all that, so I asked the Lord to show me any hidden sins –you know, like in the song, “Create in me a clean heart, Oh Lord, and renew a right spirit within me, and see if there be any hurtful way in me.”

Sigh. Dangerous prayer. When I decided to deal with the obvious, other junk I had forgotten about just kept pouring out of my heart closet.

OK, the need to confess sins of omission and sins of commission I understand; some hidden ones in my blind spot became painfully obvious too. Not fun, but God is quite willing to forgive when we are willing to agree with him and it feels good to be clean. Then I ran across this verse about presumptuous sins.

Who can discern his errors?
Declare me innocent from hidden faults.
 Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
let them not have dominion over me! (Psalm 19: 12, 13)

I asked a few people who seem to be a little further ahead on the road than I what they thought it meant.

A kind, wise woman answered, “The sin of presumption is thinking  Jesus came to fulfill our plans rather than that He came to equip us to fulfill his.”

I like this. I need to remember to ask God what His plans are before I go barging through something he is building up -or before I scramble to fix something he is tearing down. I need to ask him what his priorities are, then take the blocks he gives me and work alongside him. Like my husband says, “God’s a good listener, but he doesn’t take direction well.”

Sorry, Lord. Thank you for forgiving me.

Fix my eyes

Photo: the upward road

Today as I awake to Pentecost Sunday I feel like blind Bartimaeus.

I sit by the roadside.

I’ve tripped again.

I cry out, “Jesus, son of David have mercy on me!”

I feel like I am an annoyance and embarrassment to everyone around me,

but I don’t care.

Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!

Master, this is what I want:

I want to see You.

I see all the needy people around me.

I see my inadequacies.

I see my sin.

How can I help anyone on this journey when I keep falling down myself?

Master, fix my eyes that I might fix my eyes on You!

Surrounded then as we are by these serried ranks of witnesses, let us strip off everything that hinders us, as well as the sin which dogs our feet, and let us run the race that we have to run with patience, our eyes fixed on Jesus the source and the goal of our faith. Hebrews 12:1

At a standstill

I was praying:

Lord, I don’t get it! I just don’t get it!

This world is such a confusing place and threats have come from all directions and in my zeal I’ve done some stupid things.

I’m sorry.

I’ve come running to you and asked for forgiveness, like you said.

I’m trying to follow you, to stay close to you, to listen to you, but I feel like I don’t have a sense of direction.

I know you have been helping me grow spiritually but now I don’t know what I’m supposed to do next.

I’m at a standstill.

I feel hemmed in.

Stifled.

I feel like I don’t have a vision for the future.

It’s as if there’s a kind of darkness around me.

What is this place?

Then I heard Himself speak in my spirit: Under my wings.

Photo: Canada geese by the lake yesterday

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
 I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
    my God, in whom I trust.”

Surely he will save you
    from the fowler’s snare
    and from the deadly pestilence.
 He will cover you with his feathers,
    and under his wings you will find refuge.

Psalm 91:1-3


Your mission, should you choose to accept it

Photo: The Mission

Your mission, should you choose to accept it

The woman told me to be careful because there were nails sticking up in some places, but that most of the floor boards that could break had been replaced.

“That was a classroom,” she said, stepping over a pile of debris, “And this is the room where kids went to die.”

“What?” I said.

“Mostly T.B., but other stuff too. The other children weren’t supposed to know, but they did. Kids who went in this room just disappeared.”

She was showing me the old residential school on the St. Eugene Reservation. This was years before the Band’s greatest source of shame and sorrow transformed into their greatest asset.

Much has been written of the horrors of the residential schools in Canada where First Nations children were removed, sometimes forcibly, from their parents and placed, not always gently, in dorms and classrooms where they were raised by people who couldn’t speak their language or understand their culture or who had even had children of their own. It is our national tragedy, our national source of shame.

It would be easy to hate the perpetrators of this cultural fiasco, but many people, misguided though they may have been, thought they were leaving their own comforts behind, living in the wilds to try to improve the lot of children who were not educated to cope with European ways.

Alas, one may leave one’s comforts behind, but one’s discomforts and old wounds come along. This is why we call it baggage. Our methods of coping with baggage are the chief source of collateral damage to succeeding generations.

Some of the people who found their way to teach in isolated residential schools were pure evil, no doubt.

I think many others meant well, after all this is how many Europeans treated their own children. They still do. We still romanticize the boarding school concept in books like Harry Potter. Missionaries’ children are still routinely flown off to walled English-speaking compounds in another country to be raised by people who have sacrificed the comforts of their own homelands to raise other people’s children.

Many refugees of institutionalized European upper crust bullying continue to bully as adult leaders in government institutions and multinational corporations. Some guilt-proofed adult children of the foreign fields, who felt they mattered less than the people their parents were trying to reach, still bear scars as well –even though their substitute parents meant well.

I think it may actually be easier to forgive someone who drives over your foot intentionally than someone who drives over it accidentally. If a person you love and respect drives over your foot accidentally, then expresses how terrible, awful, horrible, miserable and wretched they feel, the victim can forget that they were the victim in the effort to comfort the driver. Some people think forgiveness is saying, “That’s okay. It was no big deal,” when it was a big deal. Whether your foot is crushed accidentally or intentionally you still have pain and you still limp, and if that injury is never given proper attention and healing you limp for the rest of your life.

Then there is the matter of what to do with the anger.

If only everyone who hurt us was the picture of pure evil we could aim all our screaming, kicking and ranting at them. This is why novels have villains. Oh how we love to hate a well-constructed villain. But what do we do with a best friend who drove drunk just that one time? How do we remember a teacher who said one stupid, cruel thing that devastated us for years? How do we forgive a parent who was usually kind, but in a war-time flashback saw us as the enemy? How do we forgive and yet still acknowledge the tremendous pain that resulted from these choices?

Forgiveness is complicated, but ignoring pain causes us to take it out on the next generation. Unresolved anger hides in our suitcase ready to lash out at any curious child who opens it.

The First Nations people on the St. Eugene Mission have done the most remarkable thing. They have inherited the rights to the old mission property, one of the most beautiful places in the world, on which sits a big old stone building that had a room where kids went to die. They have taken the most painful memory of their people’s history and transformed it into a luxury hotel. Some people see only the beautiful setting. Some people see only the memory of horrid pain, but these outstandingly gracious people see both. The object of hatred, the old residential school, has been reborn as a source of education (no denial of pain) and of hospitality (reaching out). They have opened their doors to the world.

What an example. When I took this photo yesterday as I stood on a hill over the Mission it was as if I heard: Yes, you have pain, you have anger, you have scars. You have been hurt by people who meant well, but who had never dealt with their own pain. You have a choice about what you do with that thing in your life that sits like a big red-roofed stone building in the middle of an otherwise beautiful inheritance. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to make something useful, beautiful, and hospitable of your inheritance, both good and bad.

God bless the Ktunaxa.

Historic St. Eugene Mission church in winter

Letting Go

And Forgive Us our Debts

Nothing left to give.

Look into my empty sack,

my empty jar.

See my cold black torch.

How am I to live?

I cannot pay back what I owe

‘til I get payback for my lack.

And they took it.

They squandered it.

They spent my joy on riots.

They spent my innocence on games.

They threw my peace on the bonfire

and danced around it.

Let go

I’ve squeezed my eyes until they bled,

I’ve held my breath

until my heart pounded on death’s door —

still I cannot disappear

into the disheveled dirt bed

And here you are

–and you want more.

How dare you?

How dare you, God?

How dare you?

How dare you shove

your saber hand into my chest

and divide spent spirit from sullied soul

to reach the hissing python.

Let go

I can’t let go!

It’s only anger —

it’s only hate

that coiled around my crooked spine

enables me to stand up straight

and curse them!

Let go

Aren’t you gentle Jesus

meek and mild?

Go take your love to some purer child.

And stop that!

You’re hurting me!

Let go

They poached my song!

They caught my rhyme!

They raped my soul!

They took my time!

They grabbed my mind

and jammed it on a fearsome pike –as a warning.

They took my gates forever.

I’ve damned the light

and sealed the sash

with dark green plastic meant for trash.

What good are thickened walls of stone

when the door’s been burned to ash.

Let go

The bill’s right here;

I have kept track.

My hands will tighten ‘round their necks.

My hands are strong —

they’ll not be slack

‘til I get everything I lack.

Give it back!

Give it back!

Give it back!

Let go

You let go!

I’m offended by this “loving hand”

that feels more like a gunshot wound.

Let go

I can’t let go!

I won’t let go!

I don’t want to let go!

They owe me!

Let go

Help me.

Let go

You know if I let go it will kill me.

I know

It’s hard.

I can’t fill your hands until you empty them.

Who is going to help me?

I am.

(This poem was written about one of the toughest steps in healing from chronic depression  –forgiveness. To me forgiveness is about letting go of legitimate debts owed me and allowing God to supply my needs.)