Against Such Things There Is No Law

“I hear it all day, Grandma,” my grandson said with the same tone of exasperation I’ve heard in my own voice. “Tommy*, don’t run. Don’t run. Don’t run!” He rolled his eyes. “I hear it at school. I hear it at daycare. I hear it at the pool. I hear it at the mall. I hear it everywhere. Tommy, don’t run!” He put his hand on my arm and looked deeply into my eyes. “It haunts my dreams, Grandma.”

He was so cute, I wanted to smile, but I chose instead to treat him with the same respect all people deserve and listen.

Oh, honey, I hear you. I know God created you to be a runner. You just have to move. It’s hard for you, I know.

I’m on the other end of the age scale, but my dreams are haunted by admonishment and reminders of restrictions other people want to put on me too. Don’t sing. Don’t dance. Don’t laugh loudly. Don’t think for yourself. Do as you’re told. Don’t associate with the wrong people. Be aware of every possible thing that could offend or disturb anyone, anywhere and don’t offend them. Oh, and remember that those who have no problem giving offense are often the most easily offended. Keep your opinions –and especially your odd sense of humour– to yourself. Be quiet, be quiet, be quiet!

I hear you, my boy, because there is never an end to people who want to place restrictions on your desire to run, to dance, to sing, to laugh, to talk and to just be free. But here’s the thing: Their rules and regulations and protocols have holes. Big holes. They can’t keep out the light. They are defenseless against goodness and peace. Kindness leaks across property lines. Gentleness dismantles barbed wire. Joy makes them jealous. Peace irritates them no end, and love, well love elevates restrictions to a higher court where the judge is the one who made you. All of this equipment is available to you if you follow Jesus. He’s gone ahead of you and will show you where he stashed them, if you ask.

So you shine, boy. Run the race that is set before you and eventually the critics and accusers will either have to join you or be left behind.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22, 23 NIV)

*Not his real name

Freedom

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
[
    he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
    and the opening of the prison to those who are bound…

Isaiah 61:1

Not all captives are bound in chains. Not all prisoners are held behind bars. Jesus came to set us free from many things that keep our hearts and minds oppressed. Shame is one.

Guilt is feeling like I did something wrong. Shame is the sense that I am something wrong. To be shamed is to be rejected. Christ did not come with more condemnation, more impossible standards, more reminders that we don’t measure up. He came to reconcile us to the Father, and to set us free.

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. John 8:6.

Creative Meditations for Lent, Word prompt: freedom

Look

I will say to the prisoners, ‘Come out in freedom,’

    and to those in darkness, ‘Come into the light.’

They will be my sheep, grazing in green pastures

    and on hills that were previously bare.

(Isaiah 49:9 NLB)

Sometimes we are not aware of how dark things have become until the light breaks through. Just as our eyes adjust to the darkness, our souls can start to accept a dim view of things as normal life. “It is what it is,” some say. When the light first shines we turn our heads because it hurts. We no longer have the capacity to accept the brightness of Jesus’ face. It frightens us. It requires adjustment.

God sent his Son to set the captives free. Dare to lift your eyes. There is abundant life and freedom in the light of his glory and grace.

O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s light for a look at the Savior,
And life more abundant and free!

Refrain:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

Through death into life everlasting
He passed, and we follow Him there;
O’er us sin no more hath dominion—
For more than conqu’rors we are!

His Word shall not fail you—He promised;
Believe Him, and all will be well:
Then go to a world that is dying,
His perfect salvation to tell!

-Helen H Lemmel

The Torch: Be Yours to Hold It High

When I was a young bride far from my family in the days before easy communication, four elderly women who lived together in a heritage house  extended themselves to become family. Rhea and Kathleen, the sisters who inherited the house, showed me how to can fruit, and frame artwork.  They invited us to important events and introduced us to influential people. Dorothy, a retired college principal, recommended excellent books and engaged us in thought-provoking conversations. Mavis, a retired English nanny, became my much-appreciated resource when our first baby was born. I loved these women.

Something made me wonder though. They were outstanding women of character, intelligence, and grace. Old photos showed them as once attractive, fashion-conscious girls and young women. Why were they all single?

Finally, I asked Kathleen, “Did you ever think about getting married?”

“Of course,” she said. “But my young man died in the war.”

“Oh Kathleen! I’m so sorry. I never knew. What was his name?”

“I don’t know,” she shrugged. “He died before I met him.”

She told me this with the mischievousness of someone who had lighted upon an answer that served her well for many years. There was also a sting of truth to it I had not considered before.

Her sister explained, “When we reached the age to consider marriage, we realized many of the young men we had known never came home after the first world war. There was a severe shortage of men. Frankly, neither of us met anyone who shared our interests and passions and we didn’t care to compromise. Between our careers and caring for our parents as they grew older, we filled our time well enough and were content. We learned how to create family in other ways.”

Each Remembrance Day we honour those who fought for freedom from oppression. We sing songs, recite poems, lay wreaths, and invite school children to submit artwork and essays to express thanks to those who served in the military. This year, as I remember the old house and the ladies who showed us how to celebrate each day as a gift, I would like to honour those who bore the heavy burden of war as bereaved parents, widows, fatherless children, and young women whose lovers died before they had a chance to meet. They were the ones who picked up the torch and held it high.

To you from failing hands we throw

    The torch; be yours to hold it high. 

– John McCrae

Then I Recall

Sometimes I hate the nastiness and dismal forebodings on social media and think about leaving. Then, on a day like this, it gives me a beautiful gift. I check the memories feature often. It’s like my own snapshot journal.

When I feel like I haven’t made any progress on this journey, it reminds me that in many ways I have grown. It also reminds me of many things for which I am thankful. When I see photos of my children and grandchildren and read funny things they said, I think about the insight and maturity they have gained. When I see old conversations with friends, I remember how valuable they are to me.

This week I saw reminders of the marvellous goodness of God.

Nine years ago, my husband drove himself to the emergency ward of our local hospital (because he would) and was admitted with a life-threatening illness. Tests revealed a blockage and extremely high pancreatic enzyme levels. That useful, actually essential, organ was sort of digesting itself, painfully.

I was in another city helping my father prepare for a move into a senior’s lodge when all of this happened. Dad never threw anything out and I was hip-high in the sorting process when I received a call that my husband was in a crisis situation. The decision had not yet been made whether to do emergency surgery in the hospital in our town or to fly him to a major hospital in the city where I was helping my father.

After a tense time of waiting for news, I left Dad in the middle of chaos and jumped in the car and drove through the night to my husband’s side. I prayed the whole way, of course. Surgery kept being delayed for one frustrating reason or another, but by the time a spot was available in the O.R., his tests came back showing unexpected improvement. After a few days of observation, they sent him home. He didn’t have surgery. The problem never returned. He’s out jogging as I write this.

Seven years ago, a friend’s husband was in critical condition in the ICU. His body, overwhelmed with infection, became septic. Doctors didn’t expect him to make it through the night and called the family in to say goodbye. Many friends prayed for him. God gave him his miracle. He walked out of the hospital a few days later.

He had more underlying health problems that challenged the family for a time, but he received the gift of a transplant and has his life back. His wife posted a photo of him a few days ago. He was up on scaffolding putting new siding on a house. There is no doubt that although medical care was wonderful, when the professionals could do no more his life was in God’s hands.

Another picture from a year ago showed my friends’ precious little boy in the hospital. He was on life support. His heart stopped during surgery. Surgeons managed to start it again, but his little body was overwhelmed by infection. The doctors could do no more. His broken-hearted parents said goodbye — but God responded with a miracle.

This week, his mom posted a video of him riding his balance bike on a mountain bike trail. He is bright, adventurous, and full of energy.

I never noticed before that these events happened on the same date.

Can I admit how easily I forget, in times when answers don’t come quickly and I’m feeling worn down, how, in the past, God gave us a miracle or strengthened us to do what we didn’t think we could do? How easy it is to look at the waves in the storm and forget how the Lord took us by the hand and lifted us up last time.

The crowd of ex-slaves that Moses was to lead to the promised land had trouble remembering the goodness of God’s dazzling miracles that set them free, but had no trouble stepping back into the attitudes of previous victimhood. Minds remain in slavery much longer than bodies. It seems the way out of the expectation of disappointment requires deliberate focus on God’s goodness to get out of the hole, an expression of gratitude to stay out, and obedient trust to move on.

Thanks for the reminders, Lord. You give us the freedom to choose to remain as victims or to step into freedom. You are truly the God who extends your hand to save and deliver. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

And I said, “This is my fate;
    the Most High has turned his hand against me.”
But then I recall all you have done, O Lord;
    I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago.
They are constantly in my thoughts.
    I cannot stop thinking about your mighty works.

O God, your ways are holy.
    Is there any god as mighty as you?
You are the God of great wonders!
    You demonstrate your awesome power among the nations.

(Psalm 77:11-14 NLT)

Precedented: How to Be a Rebuilder

building fire burn leamington ch crop IMG_8748 sq

The situation we find ourselves is not new. I learned recently that my ancestors came from the small town in Europe where the first peasant uprising in the 16th century led to riots, death, and destruction. Systemic injustice builds until something breaks. History teaches us the dangers of looking the other way.

God doesn’t look the other way. In plain and blunt words, he told the people, through the prophet Isaiah, their show of religion that made no difference in their treatment of each other disgusted him.

We would do well to pay attention. From the Voice translation, an extract from Isaiah 58:

Eternal One: They pretend to want to learn what I teach,
As if they are indeed a nation good and true,
as if they hadn’t really turned their backs on My directives.
They even ask Me, as though they care,
about what I want them to be and do, as if they really want Me in their lives.

People: Why didn’t You notice how diligently we fasted before You?
We humbled ourselves with pious practices and You paid no attention.
Eternal One: I have to tell you, on those fasting days,
all you were really seeking was your own pleasure;
Besides you were busy defrauding people and abusing your workers.

Your kind of fasting is pointless, for it only leads to bitter quarrels,
contentious backbiting, and vicious fighting.
You are not fasting today because you want Me to hear your voice.

What kind of a fast do I choose? Is a true fast simply
some religious exercise for making a person feel miserable and woeful?
Is it about how you bow your head (like a bent reed), how you dress (in sackcloth), and where you sit (in a bed of ashes)?
Is this what you call a fast, a day the Eternal One finds good and proper?

No, what I want in a fast is this:
to liberate those tied down and held back by injustice,
to lighten the load of those heavily burdened,
to free the oppressed and shatter every type of oppression.

A fast for Me involves sharing your food with people who have none,
giving those who are homeless a space in your home,
Giving clothes to those who need them, and not neglecting your own family.

Then, oh then, your light will break out like the warm, golden rays of a rising sun;
in an instant, you will be healed.
Your rightness will precede and protect you;
the glory of the Eternal will follow and defend you.

Then when you do call out, “My God, Where are You?”
The Eternal One will answer, “I am here, I am here.”
If you remove the yoke of oppression from the downtrodden among you,
stop accusing others, and do away with mean and inflammatory speech,

If you make sure that the hungry and oppressed have all that they need,
then your light will shine in the darkness,
And even your bleakest moments will be bright as a clear day.

The Eternal One will never leave you;
He will lead you in the way that you should go.
When you feel dried up and worthless,
God will nourish you and give you strength.
And you will grow like a garden lovingly tended;
you will be like a spring whose water never runs out.

You will discover there are people among your own
who can rebuild this broken-down city out of the ancient ruins;
You will firm up its ancient foundations.
And all around, others will call you
“Repairer of Broken Down Walls” and “Rebuilder of Livable Streets.”

(Isaiah 58:2-12 The Voice)

Looking Back: Fake News and the Right to Think for Myself

rear view mirror ch rs DSC_0215

I grew up with someone who lied – a lot. She lied when it was not in her best interest. She lied when it was in no one’s best interest. She lied when her story could easily be disproven. She lied when the mood was light and when the mood was serious.

She also told the truth – a lot. She sometimes told the truth when most people would have exercised more discretion, but she could be incisive. She also had many valuable skills and taught me practical, useful knowledge I am grateful for to this day.

People she upset labeled her a compulsive liar and broke off relationships. Folks inclined to be more gracious added, “Sally’s* version” with a wink to the end of any information they passed on from her.

When I asked about family history she related, my uncle said, “Well now, you know how she had trouble getting her story straight,” he said, adjusting his dusty cowboy hat. “But you know she meant well.”

We all learned she couldn’t get a story straight — eventually. The problem was that sometimes she told the truth. Important truth. Truth that required response.

I couldn’t trust what she said, but I couldn’t afford to dismiss her either. The major complicating factor was that I loved her dearly and knew that she loved me and did her best to care for me. I knew she had a good heart and would never intentionally hurt anyone, but the lying did hurt a lot of people, myself included. Kind, responsible family members cleaned up more than a few messes she left in her cheerful wake. They shrugged and privately gave me a more accurate version later.

It wasn’t until after she died that I read an article explaining the complicated, frustrating behaviour of the person that was part of my childhood environment. A disorder resulting from head trauma, or brain damage before birth, or as a result of advanced age, can cause a person to “confabulate.” Often, as in my caretaker’s case, parts of one story mix with the details of another story without the speaker being the least bit aware of blatant inaccuracies. Sometimes their brain will fill in forgotten memories with memories from another time, or a work of fiction, or even from another person’s story. In all innocence they trust their mind to give them accurate information and are hurt when you accuse them of making it up.

Sally sincerely believed she was telling the truth. Since she showed some other traits of learning disabilities, such as being almost illiterate, I began to understand. She was not intentionally lying after all. She would stick to her story even as people stared at her, slack-jawed at the audacity of her whoppers. She cried when they rejected her.

She could say, for example, “School is closed today because some bad kids stole a backhoe and burned it down when they hit a gas main.” The actual story was that school was closed because workers accidently hit a water pipe when they were working on the building extension. The part I needed to know was that my school was closed that day. The school that burned down was her school, half a century earlier. Sometimes it was like she saw a version of events through a distance-distorting rearview mirror and temporal space anomaly at the same time – but the essence was still there.

More than once I was embarrassed when I passed on a confabulated story. More than once I struggled with anger for believing all of it. In the years when I developed, like most teens, a radar for hypocrisy, I was not very respectful. I didn’t want to be seen with her. As an adult I honoured her and even enjoyed her, but kept a skeptical distance. She died more than thirty years ago and as I write this, tears fall because I know she loved me more than anyone before or since. I would love to hear her ridiculous synopsis of the six o’clock news about now, because as off-base as it could be, there was always an essential truth I needed to know in there somewhere.

Growing up in that environment taught me an important lesson. I cannot assume a report is entirely true. I cannot assume it is entirely false. The balance of accurate facts and misplaced facts cannot always be determined by the teller’s motives. We are all broken people in some way and our stories are filtered through experience, lack of experience, biases, selfish motives, altruistic motives — and even brain damage. I may not agree with Dr. House in the re-runs I’ve been watching that “everyone lies,” but I don’t believe everyone tells the whole truth and nothing but the truth either. God only knows what the whole truth looks like, but I want to hear what people have to say anyway.

Whether it’s the government, or social media sites, or heresy hunters who want to clamp down on sources of “fake news” or “bad teaching” or “uncertified medical opinions” and thereby determine truth for me, I want to shout no!

When someone tries to keep me from seeing the work of a writer, or a speaker, or photographer, or film maker because their narrative doesn’t fit the desired grid, I feel insulted. To eliminate sources “experts” consider fake is to imply there are some they consider to always be perfectly accurate.  I have to question their motives.

If I let another source do the critical thinking for me, I’m relinquishing a hard-earned skill and the opportunity to ask questions, spit out the bones, and humbly accept correction when I have swallowed something without exercising proper discernment. Worse than that, it means giving up access to important information that could be in there somewhere that I need to pay attention to. Creativity begins with thinking outside the box.

I believe we can ask God for wisdom and discernment. I believe we can pray for His light to shine in dark places and expose intentional lies and evil motives. I believe information should be as accurate as possible and age-appropriate when presented to children. I believe positions of trust require scrutiny and accountability. Justice must be seen to be done when trust is intentionally broken.  These things are important. But I also believe God gave us brains for a reason. Without exercise, they will atrophy.

I’m not a child anymore. Give me the freedom to think and discern for myself, please. I know how. Sally taught me.

*not her real name

Ain’t No Grave

Moyie cemetary DSC_0618

A song has captured my attention. It’s not even my style. It reminds me of “Oh Brother Where Art Thou” style of dancin’ and stompin’ or “The Beverley Hillbillies” theme song style of pickin’ and grinnin’. I’m from a different culture. But I keep listening to it because I hear an essential satisfying message that sits well in my soul.

There’s more than one way to be dead. There’s John-Brown’s-body-lies-a-mouldering-in-the-grave captive to physical weakness dead. There’s I-owe-my-soul-to-the-company-store captive to hopelessness dead. There’s nobody-knows-the-trouble-I-seen (or caused) captive to shame dead.

Molly Skaggs sings, “Shame is a prison, as cool as a grave. Shame is a robber and he’s come to take my name.”  She also sings, “Love is a resurrection,” and “Love is my redeemer, lifting me up from the ground.”

Telling a person their messed up choices are going to kill them, or shame is robbing them of their potential and they need to repent and come to Jesus is like telling a mummy in a sealed tomb to unwrap themselves and step out of the sarcophagus. If you could see him, the mummy would be rolling his eyes, if he had them. He would if he could, but he is not able. He’s kind of tied up right now.

Jesus came to set the captives free and to give new life. It’s his kindness that leads us to change. The ability to change is a gift of empowering grace that comes from God’s love which is greater than our greatest weakness, the most hopeless situation we find ourselves in, or the most shameful thing we have done.

Some well-meaning Christians believe they’ve got to convince people that something is a sin so they can repent, clean up their act, and come to Jesus. John the Beloved told us Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world, but that the world, through him, might be saved. When we focus on sin we assume the sinner is unaware of his or her sin. Even a child knows the difference between right and wrong and understands regret. Only the Holy Spirit can convict us of sin without burying us deeper in condemnation.

We forget many people are coping as best they can within the limits of the size the graves of shame, hopelessness and loss of true identity restrict them to. Demanding repentance is demanding they pull themselves out of that hole. They would if they could but they are not able. Bootstrap transformation has never succeeded in the long run. This is what Paul called being dead in transgressions and sin.

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ… (Ephesians 2:4-6a NIV)

Jesus went through hell for you. He said he’d rather die than live without you. So he did. Then he walked right up to the devil, and said, “I’ll take those now,” as he grabbed the keys to death and hell. He conquered death just to show how much he loves you.

Jesus said, “I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” (Revelations 1:18)

He came to set the captives free – by his grace. It’s the gift of God offered to those who accept it. It’s his kindness that leads us to change.

Jesus, if you walked out of the grave I’m a-walkin’ too!

Okay, now I’m stompin’.