Oh Thou In Whose Presence My Soul Takes Delight

Only a few weeks ago, this patch of lavatera flowers springing forth like a delightful fountain of pink joyfulness was a barren patch of dirt.

I didn’t plant them, nor did I water them. I saw them growing in the community garden next to our building. A gardener who rents the plot planted them in amongst practical and edible kale and beans and tomatoes. These flowers don’t have 300 uses like the peanut or end up in a myriad of product like corn. Their only role is to simply be beautiful and to lift the spirits of those who pass by.

I am learning to stop and appreciate beauty when I see it. I also appreciate those who develop varieties of plants suitable for local environments and resistant to pests and disease. I appreciate the tillers and planters and waterers. I love the ingenuity and creativity of inventors and developers.

I most appreciate a God who created beauty to inspire us to create beauty. I appreciate soaking in the beauty of his presence when it serves no other purpose than show me I am loved and that a good Father loves to give good gifts.

When affliction comes (and he said it would) a patch of pink flowers, rising up from the soil that lay dormant for so many months, can remind us that God is good. Beauty says hope restored is a tree of life.

The song in my head today:

Surely Good Mrs. Murphy Shall Follow Me

When I was a child I wondered who good Mrs. Murphy was.  My teacher was named Mrs. Murphy and she was good, at least she was good to the kids who knew the right answers to her questions. She was not as kind to the naughty boys at the back of the classroom, but she didn’t follow them around, as far as I knew. Still we sang in Sunday School, “Good Mrs. Murphy shall follow me all the days of my life,” so there had to be a good Mrs. Murphy somewhere.

It wasn’t until I read the words in the Bible for myself that I realized I had misheard. “Goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” I still didn’t understand what it meant, but it let Mrs. Murphy off the hook.

I misheard a lot of things about God when I was young. Sometimes I heard clearly but the speaker “misspoke.” I also skipped over a lot of things I heard and read, but since I had little experience, they remained in a file of “nice sayings” stored on a dusty shelf in the recesses of my brain. Later, when life tests showed up, I needed to dive into that file and learn what they were truly about.

Today I was reminded of my frustration two years ago. I have trouble walking very far, but I have improved a lot. Two years ago, I could hardly walk around my own house. I have always loved walking in the woods and often rambled in the countryside and through the streets of our town looking for beautiful things to photograph. Photography has been a way of intentionally looking for beauty in a world where we are confronted with so many demonstrations of the lack of goodness and mercy between people.

We live in a different city now. Spring arrived about a month sooner than I have been accustomed to. I can’t walk as far as I want to yet, but I can walk. For that I am very thankful. This week, I visited a local garden originally planted by a woman from Scotland over a hundred years ago.  

As I stopped to appreciate every sign of colour and new life, I felt peace. I felt my spirit rest in the goodness of the Creator of beauty and the love of beauty he placed in the heart of a young woman far from everything that was familiar to her.

A song is playing in my head today:

I love You, Lord
Oh Your mercy never fails me
All my days, I’ve been held in Your hands
From the moment that I wake up
Until I lay my head
Oh, I will sing of the goodness of God.

I have looked back over the years of my life and seen “Good Mrs. Murphy” guarding my steps. It turns out Mrs. Murphy is actually my Father, my Friend, and my God.

I Can’t Stop Thinking About Your Goodness

This morning I am going through photos I took in the garden next to our condo this week. I procrastinated again and the warm sunlight disappeared behind rain clouds before I ventured outside. I didn’t have high expectations for results. The contrast between bright colour and muted dark tones surprises me.

I was listening to Lauren Daigle’s “Remember” as this photo of a two-toned tulip popped up. This line from the song stood out to me: “Even when my eyes could not see, you were there, always there with me.”

I was reminded yesterday that this week marks fourteen years since I was healed of cycles of depression I thought would never end. The bouts in hellish darkness had become more frequent and were lasting longer. Medication helped, but I needed a lot to keep functioning in public and to keep hiding the condition of my soul from people who stigmatized and rejected those of us who walked a path they couldn’t understand, but they needed constant adjustment. I was taking drugs to counteract the side effects of the side effects of other drugs I needed to counteract side effects. Sometimes they threw me into the other ditch with short bouts of hypomania, inevitably followed by the need to make apologies for overconfident promises made that I couldn’t keep later when a crash returned — just as inevitably.

I am enormously grateful for doctors and medicines that kept me going, but I was told my condition was chronic. I would always be dependent on chemical means to chase despair and suicidal thoughts away.

I didn’t want more treatments! I wanted to be healed!

I prayed for years to be released from the prison of depression. Like the Psalmist I could say, “How long?”

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?

 Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
 and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

 But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.
 I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me.

Then one day, when I least expected it, I met the Healer. He set this captive free. I am no longer on antidepressants or mood stabilizers and have had no recurrence in fourteen years! Like this flower God gave me a garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. How can I help but praise him?

Today I am singing, “I can’t stop thinking about your goodness!”

For those of you asking, “How long, Lord?” keep trusting. Keep seeking the Lord. Someday he will tell us why it took so long. If you have lost sight of hope, ask the Lord to send burden-bearers who will carry faith and hope for you until you can hold it in your own hands again. In the darkest hours He still loves you, even when you can’t see it or feel it.

Cherish Wisdom

Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you;
    love her, and she will watch over you.
 The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom.
    Though it cost all you have, get understanding.
 Cherish her, and she will exalt you;
    embrace her, and she will honor you.
 She will give you a garland to grace your head
    and present you with a glorious crown.

Proverbs 4:6-9 NIV

Living in the Light

From my kitchen window, I saw the foxglove plant my sweet friend Diana gave me. It was still on the deck with a collection of other bedding plants waiting for the weather to warm up enough to plant it. The low evening sun lit its petals with fire. I just had to hobble out there with my camera to capture it. I joke that I need a sign on the back of my car that says, “This vehicle brakes for lighting conditions.”

Sometimes backlight turns objects into dark silhouettes and sometimes, when the subject is transparent, more is revealed than we could see before. This time I was fascinated by the little spots like a cobblestone path leading deeper into the heart of the flower. I snapped the photo, then covered the flats of bedding plants with a plastic tarp.

I haven’t planted them in the garden yet for two reasons. 1) It’s been unseasonably cold with frost appearing in unexpected areas the last few nights and 2) because a few days ago, while attempting to cover up the few snapdragons I did plant last week, I fell and undid a lot of physiotherapy on my legs and back.

I only meant to slip outside quickly and put a sheet over the snapdragons and pansies before going to bed. Not wanting the taller flowers to be bent by the covering, I tried to push a stick into the soil for the sheet to rest on. The stick broke and I lost my balance. When the shock wore off, I assessed the situation. I had twisted every joint and muscle on my left side in an attempt to avoid impaling myself on the broken stake as I went down. I knew instantly I had torn more cartilage in my already damaged knees and it felt like I had sprained an ankle. It was dark and cold. I had no jacket or sweater. The walker I know I should keep nearby for balance because of my knee problems was inside. I was lying like a beached whale in a muddy flower bed with only crushed snapdragons for support. I couldn’t get up. My husband was inside, in his office with the door shut, and my neighbours’ lights had been turned off for the night. No one could see me or hear me.

I prayed my most frequently used go-to prayer. “Oh God!”

Eventually I rolled out and somehow got up on the lesser damaged leg. I yelled again and my husband heard me while turning off lights before retiring. He managed to help me up the three impossible stairs to the hallway where I could ride the rest of the way seated on the walker. I couldn’t put any weight on one leg at all for a couple of days. The rest of my body reminded me of the indignity it had suffered as well. I felt so stupid.

For the past few days I’ve been showing up like a silhouette in the sun to most people, which is easy to do when we are still mostly on lockdown. What injury? Nothin’ to see here. I am definitely not looking for sympathy, but neither have I admitted why I haven’t left the house lately. So here is my transparency. You may notice I’ve got spots.

Sometimes I need help and it’s hard to admit. I want to be the one who helps others, not the one who needs someone to pull me out of the mud, but the Lord reminds me that mutual submission means saying both “Let me help you,” and “I need your help.” It may be more blessed to give than receive, but only those who know how to receive learn how to humbly give in a way that lifts people up and doesn’t put them down for the absence of judgment that got them into a mess.

Some people say that talking about an illness or injury is somehow showing a lack of faith or being negative. My response to that is, “It will be interesting to see how God uses this experience.” Faith in real time means talking about real problems and real answers to prayer. By the way, I can now put some weight on my leg and maneuver around one level of the house and, most importantly, get to the bathroom on my own. (Praise God!) Healing is happening.

To friends who prayed, washed my muddy floor, and asked if I wanted more snapdragons, thank you. To my husband who is always there (as long as he hears me) I love you. To my physiotherapist who has been working hard these past weeks to get me moving, sorry about that.

Let All Creation Rejoice

Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;

    let the sea resound, and all that is in it.

Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;

    let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.

Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for he comes,

    he comes to judge the earth.

He will judge the world in righteousness

    and the peoples in his faithfulness.

Psalm 96:11-13 NIV

Rejoicing seems counterintuitive in a world where nothing seems certain, where everything is changing, where good is called evil and evil good. The darker things become, the more people fear the unfamiliarity of light.

John the Beloved wrote in the introduction of his book about the life of Jesus Christ on earth, that Jesus was the Light. He also wrote that, faced with the light, many people preferred darkness, because they clung to their false comforts, self-serving actions, and mindsets that didn’t include God.

Rejoicing, giving thanks, and worshipping the Creator turns our eyes on the One who loves perfectly, the One who is faithful and gives grace extravagantly.

We often think judgment means only condemnation. Of evil, yes, but judgment also means assessment, reward and/or redirection. Christ came to bring life, abundant life, and to re-set our fear-filled mindsets to peace and joy in restored relationship with our heavenly Father.

I saw the sun shining through a flowering bush in my garden that has suddenly woken to life in this new season. My soul rejoices in the God of creation who makes all things new. He comes to show us a better way, a brighter way, a beautiful way.

It’s a new day. It’s a new era. Can you see it?

And though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.” ( from This is My Father’s World by M.D. Babcock)

Planting

And don’t allow yourselves to be weary or disheartened in planting good seeds, for the season of reaping the wonderful harvest you’ve planted is coming! 

Take advantage of every opportunity to be a blessing to others, especially to our brothers and sisters in the family of faith!

Galatians 6:9 TPT

When I gathered scarlet runner bean pods from the garden as I cleaned up in the autumn, I tossed the seeds in a little blue plastic bowl. I set the bowl on a glass-top table. The pink colour and the way the light shone through the bowl appealed to me, so I snapped a photo with my phone. Today I noticed it again as I searched for something else. It caught my attention and reminded me of the scripture above.

I don’t know about you, but I am getting very tired of inconsistent guidelines around controlling the spread of the virus. People are sharing more about the negative consequences of lockdowns. Beyond the stresses of lost businesses and separation from friends and family are very real and very serious health consequences. I know people who have lost children to despair, overdose, and suicide. I know people whose friends or family members have died because of untreated depression and delayed diagnosis and treatment of other serious illnesses like cancer. A different disease has been prioritized. At least that is what it looked like to me as I fretted over more heart-breaking news this week.

This week I went on an all-day rant. What I have discovered is that when I focus on the negative, I open the floodgates to more negativity, both from myself and others who cross my path. Peace was missing. Don’t hear what I am not saying. I take the virus seriously and I mourn with those who have lost loved ones to it. I’m not denying that reality, but in the process of venting my frustration I was losing focus on another higher reality. I don’t have an answer, but I know that when we reach the end of our ability to fix things, God is there waiting for us to turn around and cry out to him.

He reminds us not to grow weary of talking about and demonstrating his goodness. Seeds of anger and frustration at unfairness lead to crops of more ire and jealousy of those who don’t seem to be suffering as we are. Seeds of kindness, reminders of God’s lovingkindness, in contrast to the desire of the enemy of our souls to promote pain and chaos and division, sprout into growth that reaps a harvest of fruit.

Paul wrote to the Galatians to be careful what they planted. He talked about fruits produced by selfish interest. They included anger and jealousy. In contrast, those who are Christ-centered and led by the Holy Spirit plant seeds that produce love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

I lost it (and thankfully deleted most of the rant before posting in a public place). I was tired and angry and reacting instead of responding. There’s a difference between tiredness that comes from caring deeply about other’s pain and helping to carry their burdens and emotional exhaustion because caring is an inconvenient infringement upon my personal peace and prosperity. I was angry because I didn’t want to have to deal with the pain and sorrow of injustice. In his gentleness, the Lord reminded me that as righteous as the outburst may feel, “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:20)

We do have a choice (and this is a message to myself). Don’t allow yourself to be weary or disheartened by taking your eyes off the Saviour. Keep planting love, joy, peace…

With One Voice

I lost the tag that told me the name of this little rose bush. It blooms just as happily without it. I’m fascinated by flowers of different colours springing from the same root. It brings me joy.

Unity is not uniformity, but neither is unity a random occurrence, without anything in common. I have known groups formed around the concept of unity that were so accepting of almost any idea they no longer have anything in common. That’s not true unity any more than response to a man-made rule that forces everyone to dress the same and act the same is true unity.

Unity in the spirit is about receiving from and responding to the same source, the way these lovely roses receive nutrients from the same root and yet each bloom expresses itself in a different way.

Unity is more than having faith in whatever. Unity is having faith that is connected to the One who is faithful. True unity is about being and rooted and grounded in the Creator’s love.

“Now may God, the source of great endurance and comfort, grace you with unity among yourselves, which flows from your relationship with Jesus, the Anointed One. Then, with a unanimous rush of passion, you will with one voice glorify God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

(Romans 15:5,6 TPT)