And In Kindness You Follow Behind Me

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I ordered a grilled chicken salad with dressing on the side.

“I don’t eat chicken,” she said firmly.

I knew my new acquaintance was not a vegetarian. She had just ordered a steak before passing the menu back to the waitress.

“Is it the taste or the texture?” I asked.

“Neither,” she said. “When I was a child I was chased by a psycho chicken and I have never liked it since then. I can still see that mad hen with those crazy googly eyes, flapping and squawking and nipping at my little bare legs. I couldn’t have been more than three. Scarred me for life.” She snapped a bread stick with vehemence.

Now I happen to think roasting a googly-eyed bird in a pan ringed with some nice farm fresh vegetables could have been a way to exercise suitable revenge toward a chicken that ruled the roost fifty (I looked at her again as she guzzled her drink), make that sixty years ago, but here a long-dead crazy fowl affected my dining partner’s menu choices all these years later.

I shouldn’t have laughed at her, even silently. A few days later I caught myself crossing the street to avoid a German Shepherd dog behind a wire fence. He wasn’t barking or showing any aggressive tendencies. I just don’t like them since I felt the teeth of one sink into my leg and drag me across the back lane when I was a young child. Eventually I overcame my fear of dogs and enjoyed faithful pets who curled up behind my knees on the couch when I needed the comfort of a companion, but I never considered owning a big dog, especially a German Shepherd.

This week, a number of friends and acquaintances wrote “Me too” on their public social media posts. Female celebrities have admitted to feeling powerless, or scared, or deeply offended when they were treated dishonourably by sexually aggressive men in positions of power. This seems to have triggered a tipping point and given permission to thousands of women (and some men) to admit publicly, some for the first time, that they also carry scars for life as the result of events in the past. Thus the “Me Too” campaign.

I’ve written about my own “me too” before. But since I have a decidedly stubborn anti-trendy streak and I also know what it is like to not be heard, this time I chose to simply listen. Sometimes it feels like girls who escaped being treated as sexual objects, even at a young age, are in the minority in this culture. Some women who posted may have had experiences that might seem to pale in comparison to those who have been seriously abused, but they need to be heard too. I’ve also heard the stories of betrayed boys and victims of female perpetrators.

I know people who have walked away from head-on collisions at highway speed. I also know of a person who became a quadriplegic as a result of falling out of bed. Damage is not always related to intent. The justice system, which tends to measure consequences on the basis of physical trauma, has difficultly understanding that psychological wounding is more commensurate with types of relationships and the level of betrayal involved than photographable bruises. It’s a complex issue.

Some people can walk away from incessant sexual harassment and outright assault relatively unscathed and others have known deep life-long trauma from an incident that seems no more serious to the rest of us than being chased by an annoying chicken. On the other hand, some “perpetrators” who unintentionally caused great pain are not so much wicked as clumsy and ignorant. It’s complex.

My point is that we see a lot of lonely walking wounded struggling on a challenging path everyday. Some hide the scars better than others. Some are brave enough to seek healing. Some need hope that healing is possible.

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I was thinking about this as I meditated on Psalm 139 in the Passion Translation this week. When I read this verse I couldn’t breathe for a moment.

You’ve gone into my future to prepare the way,
And in kindness you follow behind me,
To spare me from the harm of my past.

I’ve written before about Christ preparing a way before us. I enjoy the imagery of being surrounded with loving protection. To “abide in Christ” is one of the greatest privileges of relationship with him. I can see him walking before, behind and beside, but I see it as a place, a spot on the road of this journey. I hadn’t really considered that not only does he move in space to protect me, but he moves in time to plant provisions like clues in a treasure hunt in my future. But this! He goes into my past to guard me from its negative influence as well.

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The Bible tells the stories of many people whose pasts could have defined them, setting limits on their futures: a youngest forgotten son, a rejected woman, a bereaved mother, a slave-labourer, an abducted child, a sex-slave, an emasculated spoil of war, a boy from a town with a poor reputation…

A therapist once asked me, “Why are you doing so well?” It seemed an odd question considering where I was sitting at the time – in the office of someone professionally trained to help people who were not doing well. I must have looked puzzled.

“No, seriously,” she said. “People who have stories like yours usually exhibit more serious permanent psychological damage. I want to know why you are not worse.”

I thought for a moment.

“Because from the time I was very young I have known that Someone walks with me, Someone who has suffered everything I have, and still loves, Someone who values me and sees me for who I really am and will help me walk away from my past,” I told her.

And in that moment I heard my Lord speak through my own voice. Jesus has already been in my future. He walks beside me in my present and he goes back into my past to break the curse of negative expectations and keep them from sinking their teeth into me and dragging me back there.

He heals and surrounds me in both space and time – and he is willing to do the same for you.

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The journey continues.

The song “You Surround Me” has been playing in my head.

You Surround Me (live from Dublin)
Karen Padgett, Daphne Rademaker and Brian Doerksen

Gaelic lyrics and translation included

Tá tú thart orm (You’re all around me)
Tá tú i gceartlár mo chroí (In the centre of my heart)
You surround me Tá tú thart orm (You’re all around me)
You indwell me Tá tú i gceartlár mo chroí (In the centre of my heart)
You surround me

You surround me Tá tú thart orm (You’re all around me)
You indwell me
You’re beside me Tá tú ag mo thaobh (You’re at my side)
Ever present always near

You’re the whisper Is tú ag cogar (You whisper)
Calling my name gently Ag glaoch m’ainm (Calling my name)
Love eternal Grá go síoraí (Love eternal)
Reaching to me jealous for me Ag faire orm (Watching over me )
Go héadmhar dom (Jealous for me)

I will stay with You forever
Arm in arm we’ll walk together
You will never let me go

I can’t live my life without You
My whole will to live is for You
You’ve awakened me to know

You surround me You indwell me
You’re beside me ever present always near

You’re the whisper calling my name gently
Love eternal reaching to me jealous for me
Is tú ag cogar (You whisper)
Go sámh m’ainm (My name gently )
Grá go síoraí (Love eternal)
I can’t live my life without You
I can’t live my life without You
I can’t live my life without You

A Dhia fanfaidh mé leat choíche (God I will stay with you forever)
Lámh ar lámh le chéile (Arm in arm together)
Ní scaoilfidh tú mé riamh (You will never let me go)
Ní fiú ní fiú mo bheatha gan tú (My life is not worth it not worth it
without You)
Thug tú cúis ‘s ciall dom’ shaoil-se (You gave meaning and sense to my life)
Mhúscail tú mo chroí (You awakened my heart)

 

River Walk, Canmore, Alberta

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Our hearts bubble over as we celebrate the fame
Of your marvelous beauty; bringing bliss to our hearts.
We shout with ecstatic joy over your breakthrough for us.
You’re so kind and tenderhearted to those who don’t deserve it;
And so very patient with people who fail you.
Your love is like a flooding river overflowing its banks with kindness.
God, everyone sees your goodness,
For your tender love is blended into everything you do.

Psalm 145:7-9 TPT)

Runoff

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It’s runoff season in the mountains. This time of year pretty little streams can turn into aggressive torrents churning up mud and rock as they rush down to the valley on their way to the sea. If heavy rains coincide with melting snow this season can be messy, and even destructive and dangerous. I am tempted to complain. Loudly.

I went for a walk along the creek that flows near our house. I could actually hear rocks tumbling in two giant culverts that directed rushing water under the bicycle path. The banks of the creek are unstable and some trees no longer grip enough soil with their tangled roots to stay upright. Even in places that looked dry, my feet sank ankle deep in the soft saturated lawn in the park.

We are reading reports of massive flooding all over the southern portion of the province of British Columbia well as many other places in Canada. In some areas, homes, and shops are inundated. Hillsides slip slide away and roads and bridges are washed out. Traffic is chaotic. Our own home is still drying out from the last messy melt and repairs may take months.

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Yesterday, as I walked beside the muddy pounding waters flowing from the high mountains, I heard the word “abundance.” I saw the creek overflowing its banks and spill out into the playing field where kids’ soccer lessons should be starting soon. They will be disappointed. How can this be abundance when it feels like loss?

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ft steele winter eve chI remembered that the first European settlers who came to this area followed the stories of the discovery of gold in Wildhorse Creek. It was the violent spring run-off currents that washed the precious metal down from the treacherous terrain above. After prospectors and entrepreneurs filled their pockets with gold dust and nuggets they sent for their wives and children. Along with families came the merchants and services that families need. Roads and train rails reached the area. Towns sprang up – then churches and schools and eventually arenas and shopping malls and an airport with a runway big enough to accommodate international flights.

 

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I thought about some of the large successful ranches in the interior of B.C. Arable land is a valuable and relatively sparse in this province of massive rocks reaching to the sky. Many rich valleys which produce abundant harvests and feed sheep and cattle were, at one time, flood plains. Like the people who live along the lower Nile River, we have come to depend on soil nutrients carried by occasional flood water and the rain and melted snow that refills lakes, aquifers, and reservoirs.

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The bigger picture I think the Lord is showing me is that we may pray for prosperity, but we don’t always recognize it when it comes because our concept of prosperity is all about current comfort. It seldom includes the well-being of generations we probably won’t meet let alone planning for decades ahead. Perhaps abundance includes more people than we think.

kin park flood IMG_7624I wonder if the same thing happens when we are tempted to complain loud and long about uncomfortable circumstances in our lives. We don’t always see them as gifts that can benefit our great- great- grandchildren. We tend to be short-sighted and don’t enjoy setting aside our convenience for a greater purpose – especially one that is not obvious. We don’t realize that traits like steadfast courage, resilience, diligence, unashamed hope and trust in God’s goodness developed in times of “just too much” can be the greatest inheritance we can pass on to future generations.

Yes, there are disasters orchestrated by the evil one who intends to harm us, but God can still turn plans meant for our harm into better plans meant for our benefit. It’s his specialty. He’s done it many times. He will do it again. Just watch.

Yet, in the maddening maze of things,
And tossed by storm and flood,
To one fixed trust my spirit clings;
I know that God is good!

– John Greenleaf Whittier

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Too Good To Not Be True

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With my whole heart, with my whole life
And with my innermost being,
I bow in wonder and love before you, the Holy God!
Yahweh, you are my soul’s celebration;
How could I ever forget the miracles of kindness you’ve done for me?
You kissed my heart with forgiveness, in spite of all I’ve done.
You healed me inside and out from every disease.
You’ve rescued me from hell and saved my life.
You’ve crowned me with love and mercy and made me a king.
You satisfy my every desire with good things.
You supercharged my life so that I soar again
Like a flying eagle in the sky.
You’re a God who makes things right,
Giving justice to the defenseless…

(Psalm 103:1-6 The Passion Translation)

There are passages of scripture some of us have learned are part of our inheritance. We keep running into them  at crucial moments in our lives. They show up when we most need them. Psalm 103 is one of those passages for me.

The irony is that the Lord brings it to my attention when I feel least likely to be able to declare it without engaging a considerable amount of faith. Circumstances would seem to point in another direction.

But we live by faith and not by sight.

So today I stand and declare: You supercharged my life so that I soar again like an eagle flying in the sky!

It’s about His faithfulness. Therefore I have hope, the evidence of things not seen.

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Coming in the Opposite Spirit

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I’m wrestling with an attitude problem. No, it’s not the attitude of a surly teenager at the breakfast table, or a disgruntled boss who seems impossible to please, or even the doom and gloomer media riding their own tidal wave of predicted disaster into my house. It’s my own surly attitude that wants to roll up in a ball under the duvet, shun expectations, and type nasty you-think-that’s-bad responses on my cell phone.

Ongoing health problems and extreme cold have kept me housebound for most of the past two months. I realize I need to do something to break the pattern of negativity and low expectations that I have been allowing to creep in like the cold of another frozen grey day.

I’ve heard people use the expression “coming in the opposite spirit” to describe an attitude that does not succumb to the prevailing spiritual atmosphere. This is an attitude that chooses to focus on whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable and responds to evil with good.

An example of this is found in 1 Peter 3:9:
Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.

On a day when I woke up sensing an atmosphere of darkness, coldness of heart, and dismal forebodings, I choose to come in the opposite spirit. I’m going to do this metaphorically here.

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The opposite season of year from today is mid-July. I went back to a file of photos labeled July, and chose some of them to post. Then I found some music from a delightful British Gardening show that carries good memories for me. This is the atmosphere I am creating on my blog today. This afternoon I think I shall peruse some online seed catalogues and make plans for the future.

Lord, to my heart bring back the springtime.

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Glimpse

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When I’m walking on ice I keep my head down. A broken arm and a broken leg taught me the wisdom of minding my step. My legs and ankles tense up as I carefully find the least slippery route, often on the edge of the path where dead thorn bushes poke through the snow.

One day I was walking through a shadowy part of the forest on an ice-covered trail when I caught a glimpse of the sky in a tiny puddle. I had been concentrating so hard on not falling that I lost sight of the rest of my surroundings. The reflection reminded me to look up.

When Moses asked to see God he was permitted to see only a glimpse from inside a cleft of a rock. The aspect of himself God chose to show was his goodness, and only a fraction of that lest Moses be overwhelmed.

Sometimes seeing a glimpse of God’s goodness, or grasping a few words from the love song he sings over us in the night, or hearing his voice in nature or scripture or right out loud, causes us to feel amazed – and then frustrated that we can’t hear more.

Those who have had encounters with who God really is are often wrecked for trudging through a cold, grey, sinful, sorrowful world with an it-is-what-it-is attitude. Now they long for more – because they have had a glimpse of more.

Frustration is a sign that God is about to increase our capacity to receive more. We wonder why we feel so uncomfortable. We can walk away at that point, or we can look up, preparing for the enlarging aspect of himself he intends to show us next. It may not be the one people around us may seem to be experiencing though. He knows who we really are too.

Isaac Watts, who wrote Joy to the World, understood.

Let every heart prepare him room and heaven and nature sing…

There is more.

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