Pure Imagination

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A hand-painted ceramic plaque hung, at various times, on various walls in our house. I was always surprised when it appeared in the bathroom or kitchen after previously filling a blank space in the hallway or dining room. Maybe Mom was trying to remind us of the message written on it. To be honest, my reaction was usually, “Yeah, I know. I should spend more time in Bible study. I should pray more. I should pay more attention in church. I should try to appreciate family devotions in the morning. I should stop groaning when it’s time to stop having fun and settle down and get serious for ‘the devotional’ at youth group. If I did I might be a nicer, less anxious teen, or at least less moody.”

After Mom died and Dad moved into the senior’s facility I took the plaque off the bedroom wall and brought it home with me. I think it’s in the memorabilia trunk that’s in storage until our house is repaired.

I thought about it when a song started playing in my head the other day. I have been praying for peace. Distractive worries have messed with my ability to concentrate lately. The words in the simple repetitive chorus were:

Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee.

I’m learning to pay attention, and I know the Lord is reminding me of Isaiah 11:26 for a reason. I decided to meditate on it. First I looked it up in several translations. Then I checked the meanings of key words in a Hebrew lexicon. I found a great deal more hidden in the short passage than an annoying wheelbarrow load of ‘should.’

Keep

‘Keep’ comes from the word that means to protect, shield from danger, surround with a blockade, watch, or guard with fidelity. Natsar describes a security detail like the secret service agents we often see guarding VIPs in news stories.

Perfect Peace

‘Perfect peace’ is written in the original language as shalom, shalom. Double shalom. Shalom is more than a greeting or wish for peace without conflict. Shalom calls for everything to align in perfect harmony to bring about physical and spiritual well-being. Nothing missing, nothing broken, nothing in the way. We have no word in English for a concept of peace this big, so most translators just call it ‘perfect.’

Mind

The word translated ‘mind’ in the olde King James Version means much more than the organ that analyzes and stores sensory input. Yetser refers to a framework, a construct, a mindset if you will. It’s the control center that addresses why we choose to believe and act the way we do. More than that, it means imagination, like the purpose that exists before a creator’s hand forms an object, or writes a description of a character in a work of fiction, or makes a grand gesture in a dance.

Before I started writing today’s entry I had an idea. I collected information, I mused over illustrations from my life, I found photos, I made notes and formed a loose outline. I wasn’t sure how it would turn out but, in essence, the words you are reading here formed first in my yetser – my imagination.

Imagination can be in vain and lead us in a destructive direction when it is not connected to God’s truth, but the Creator of the universe created us to be creative, not merely to follow directions as if we were assembling furniture from a Swedish big block store. If the most important thing in life is what we think about God, imagination is central to spiritual well-being – shalom.

Stayed

I learned the word ‘stayed’ represented the concept of being sustained, supported, upheld, propped up, borne, established, rested, braced, set, revived and refreshed. Camak carries so much more meaning than ‘stay’ (which reminds me of the plastic whalebone ‘stays’ in my grandmother’s formidable corset – the device which restrained Grandma’s ample flesh with the message it could go no further than the boundaries they defined.)

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Yesterday I planted tomatoes which, up until now, have happily resided at Casey’s Greenhouse. I prepared and enriched the soil, then placed them in holes I dug for them in my garden beds. I put stakes and wire cages around them to prop them up and protect them from the wind and, I hope, stray balls when the grandchildren come to play. These varieties can grow heavy fruit; they need support.

My hands were gently tying the stems when the song containing the verse began to play in my head again. Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee. But now I understood it better. I want my tomatoes to grow. I did all the work. Their job is to receive water and sun and soil nutrients and produce fruit. I thought about my Heavenly Father as my protector, my propper-upper, my provider.

tomato cage 1 IMG_7902Unlike passive plants, we have the choice to stay or walk away. We can easily fill our imaginations with dismal forebodings, angry reactions or alternative coping strategies. We can choose to give away our authority to other voices with other plans. God has given us the right to reject his embrace.

I remembered a time when I felt supporting arms upholding me and bracing me in a tough time. Our son-in-law was in the intensive care unit. His condition was so dire surgeons decided the risk of moving him across the hall to the operating room was too great. In a last ditch effort to stop the hemorrhaging in his lungs and to remove more infected fascia from his leg they prepared to operate in right there in his room.

A nurse with tears in her eyes called for his wife, parents, and brother. We all knew by the atmosphere this was to give them a chance to say goodbye. I watched my dearly loved daughter walk down the hallway in a daze. My knees buckled and I slid down the wall I had been leaning against. I had been brave all week but now I sobbed.

We had seen miraculous answers as people prayed day and night. We saw blood circulation restored to his feet as children prayed for his toes. We saw thousands of people respond to a call to pray in unity. And now this.

He was bleeding out and in danger of throwing clots at the same time. He was on 100% oxygen. He couldn’t breathe. He was dying.

I felt so abandoned. So helpless. So weak. I was embarrassed by my inability to keep it together. I wanted to be strong for others, but I wasn’t.

Then two of our daughter and son-in-law’s friends came out into the hallway and stood on either side of me. I didn’t want to be touched but they lifted me to my feet. Each one held an elbow and literally held me up, sustained, supported, propped up, bore my weight, and held on until I felt steadied.

I remember telling Debbie that I knew God was doing something, but at that moment it was just too hard. She and John Murdo comforted and encouraged me. They reminded me of God’s faithfulness no matter what happened.

Some months before he was in a coma, our son-in-love told me about meeting an amazingly accurate prophetic guy. Shawn Bolz told Bruce about the plans God had for his life – and those plans did not include dying at a young age. He said he had never said that to anyone before but the Lord impressed on him that he needed to know.

My daughter and I knew we had to take those prophetic promises and go to war with them. Feeling stronger now I marched up and down the hall in the opposite spirit that prevailed in the hospital wing. I sang praises (softly -–this was a hospital). I sang in English and I sang in the Spirit, something I had always kept very private. I know people passing by must have thought I was insane, but I didn’t care what they thought. This was war. I was standing on those prophetic promises. My imagination chose to see them being fulfilled. My trust in God’s goodness grew with every lap.

My eyes were closed a lot of the time and I was so focused I didn’t notice the hospital halls filling with people who had come to pray that Good Friday morning. Many more in the ICU waiting room, including my husband, had already been there for hours. Hundreds more prayed in churches and home groups when they received text messages. Then thousands around the world joined. We declared he would live.

He did.

On Easter morning he responded to his name and opened his eyes briefly. On Pentecost Sunday he walked into church a whole man with no loss of limb, or brain damage, and with better kidney and lung function than before he became ill. God had a plan and it included miraculous revival.

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I was listening to an album by Selah on my iPod as I finished working in the garden and recalling that day. The song medley, “Standing On the Promises/Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” began to play.

“What are you saying, Lord?” I asked.
“Put the pieces together.”

I rewrote the verse on Mom’s plaque in my own words.

You, Abba, my Father, will faithfully guard and surround with shalom, shalom, those whose mindsets and imaginations are planted, sustained, upheld, supported, braced, embraced and borne by You, because they trust You. They stand on your promises. They lean on your mighty arms – and You provide everything they need to produce abundant fruit.

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Anxiety: a poor use of space

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“We must learn to cast off our anxieties because we have so many of them. The world destroys spiritual life by generating constant anxiety. Jesus said that the life of the gospel is choked out by the cares of this world. We know this to be true yet we are more chained and tethered to the world than ever before in the human race.”

-John Ortberg

I’m still cleaning out corners of the garden. The old dead growth needs to go. I need the space for healthy plants.

I’m still cleaning out corners of my mind. Old ways of thinking need to go. I need the space for healthier thoughts.

 

 

Making a Comeback

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“If a man just stops to think what he has to praise God for, he will find there is enough to keep him singing praises for a week.”
-Dwight L. Moody

Two years ago the leaves on our double flowering plum suddenly started shriveling up. Within a week most of them had fallen off. Many of the trees on our street suffered the same fate. Leaf miner bugs staged an invasion while we were out on the porch enjoying our ice tea.

We sprayed and fertilized and watered, but it was too late. It was a sad sight. On her way to her car after a visit, my friend Rhonda stopped and held the tip of a barren low-hanging branch in her gentle hand. I knew she was praying for the tree’s recovery. Rhonda is sensitive to nature. She could feel the tree’s pain and she had compassion.

Last spring the tree sprouted leaves, but there were no blossoms. My husband suggested cutting it down, but I couldn’t bear to let go as long as long as it still lived.  I pruned it back and fertilized hoping for revival even as more leaves browned and blew away.

plum tree under vertical ch rs MG_7846This morning as I look out the window above my desk, branches decked in beautiful pink blossoms wave in the breeze. I can’t see them hiding in there, but I can hear the birds singing. Buzzing bees don’t even trigger my fear of them because they are far too busy with flowers to notice me.

The thirty-five-year-old double flowering plum made a dramatic comeback this spring. We marvel in the show because we feared we had lost her.

This week also marks the fourth anniversary of our son-in-love returning home from the hospital. He was miraculously healed after doctors gave him a 0% chance of survival from flesh-eating disease. We thought we had lost him too. But God had other plans, and we still marvel.

To be honest, this has been a year of set-backs. Half of our house is still uninhabited and awaiting restoration after heavy snow-melt floods destroyed the renovation work barely finished. Just when I thought my nagging health issues had finally been dealt with, the tests say ‘not so fast.’ This will require more treatment and more recovery time.

You may be in a season of hope deferred as well.

One thing I have learned in my life: Complaining attracts spiritual forces who are quite willing to help you with dismal projections and align to undermine hope. Praise attracts the angels who live in the atmosphere of worship of the God of Love. They align to bring about God’s purpose – reconciliation between the Father and humankind and restoration of all creation.

Today the plum tree is vibrant with petal colour and birdsong and the hum of honey-makers. Today I have a reminder right outside my window that God is still in the restoration business and there is always, always something to be thankful for.

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A Different Kind of Savings Plan

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My little flock, don’t be afraid. God is your Father, and your Father’s great joy is to give you His kingdom.

That means you can sell your possessions and give generously to the poor. You can have a different kind of savings plan: one that never depreciates, one that never defaults, one that can’t be plundered by crooks or destroyed by natural calamities. Your treasure will be stored in the heavens, and since your treasure is there, your heart will be lodged there as well.

(Luke 12:32-34 The Voice)

God’s version of prosperity may be bigger and more freeing than you think.

And very different.

 

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