Yet

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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

In the seven years since I started this blog I have changed.

My understanding of who God is and who he sees me as continues to grow.

Sometimes he shows me an exciting aspect of his character that fits with another piece of the puzzle I cherish.

Then the storm comes.

In the storm nothing makes sense. Until it does.

Like the girl hanging onto the railing in my painting, I can only hang onto the one sure thing I know — that God is good. In the storm, this is the most secure place in the world.

Since starting to write this blog I have seen miracles I had never dreamed of seeing. I have seen marriages restored, emotions healed, and broken trust mended. More than once, I have seen people rise up from their deathbeds and go home from the hospital to lead happy healthy lives.

I have also seen marriages disintegrate, walls go up, and emotions overwhelm. I’ve seen friends and family members die, some in joyful anticipation of seeing Jesus’ face and some with curses on their lips.

I have faced the reality of my own mortality and gained a sense of the impermanence of life here while appreciating it all the more.

I have seen gains, and I have seen losses. I have laughed and I have wept. But God has never abandoned me in the storms. He has only pulled me closer, even when I couldn’t feel him in the maddening maze. When the clouds broke and the sun came out I knew that experience established truth more deeply than any amount of study could.

Here I am. Seven years later. Still clinging by faith to that railing, in storm and in fair weather. With more assurance than ever, with greater confidence than before, I can say God is good.

Praise Every Morning

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It was warm enough to take my coffee out on the deck early this morning. I sat quietly and thanked the Lord for his goodness.

This is the first morning I’ve had a chance to sit in my own garden after a trip to the cancer center for a six month check-up.

Good news! No evidence of new tumours.

It’s a new day and I am deeply grateful.

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This I recall to my mind,
Therefore I have hope.

The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease,
For His compassions never fail.

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They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.

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Mine is the sunlight! Mine is the morning
Born of the one light Eden saw play!
Praise with elation, praise every morning;
God’s recreation of the new day!

(from Morning Has Broken by Eleanor Farjeon)

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In Appreciation

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And suddenly it’s springtime in The Rockies. The flowering almond is again flowering.

Thank you, Lord.

I appreciate your faithfulness, season after season.

I will betroth you to Me in stability and in faithfulness. Then you will know (recognize, appreciate) the Lord [and respond with loving faithfulness].

(Hosea 2:20 Amplified Version)

Defying Disappointment

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It’s a dangerous business, this truth-telling.

Sometimes the truth can shake our world so much that we long to return to the way things were before. Sometimes, truth be told, we don’t want to know the truth. Our versions of reality may have many fault lines, but at least we know how they work. We can get by. Sort of. Most of the time.

And then we can’t.

Truth crashes the party and ruins everything. At least that’s what it feels like.

When a messenger bearing truth points a finger at the rickety ramps and bridges and shelters we’ve built on a false foundation it’s easy to hate that uncompromising finger. We blame the messenger, because, well, it’s got to be somebody’s fault, right?

I’ve been on both ends of this conversation. I blew the whistle and it resulted in a big mess. A falsely serene lifestyle came at the cost of a child’s innocence. She was tormented not only by a perpetrator, but by the denial of people who were supposed to look after her. I knew what it was like to cry and not be heard. I decided to listen to the child and take her seriously. All hell broke loose, but I’m not sorry.

I also know what it is like to have a truckload of unwanted facts dumped on my head when I didn’t think I possessed the necessary resources to cope with the consequences of acknowledging them. It felt like an enormous earthquake that shook the foundations of my life. Like many truths this one’s roots tangled with other roots. Pulling it up unearthed even more sordid stuff I had managed to block out of my memory.

I dropped into a pit of despair where a sense of trust vanished like a vapour. When I eventually revealed details to people in a position to make a difference, they reminded me that “love covers a multitude of sins,” and urged me to “forgive and forget.” It took a while to realize that the person who betrayed my trust also betrayed theirs. Public admission of that fact would totally mess up their lives too.

As another muzzled victim said, “With genius you forgive a lot. The organization needed him. Their reputation and income depended on maintaining the status quo. Administration decided loss of integrity was the cost of doing business and you and I, my dear, were delegated to the expenses paid column.” It  felt like a second betrayal.

Betray is an odd word. In modern usage it carries two opposing concepts. The root word comes from Latin word, tradere, meaning “to hand over.” When someone who is part of a group reveals secret weaknesses that expose vulnerabilities to rivals they may be called “disloyal” and receive the label “betrayer.” Yet, interestingly, when someone intentionally abuses power to use or mislead others within the group, they can also be accused of an act of betrayal.

Whether the bearer of truth is seen as the betrayer or the betrayed depends on the point of view of the people affected. It’s actually a subjective label based on who stands to benefit.

I felt horribly alone and came undone for a while, but God provided resources as I needed them. With the help of kind counselors, a supportive husband and friends, books, and a growing sense of Jesus as a brother who had suffered everything I had but still loved enough to give his life for the world, my soul was restored and rebuilt on a better foundation. When I understood that my needs were going to be met by the One who loves me perfectly and who forgave me too, I could begin to take my hands off the throat of those who betrayed me. I could hand my cry for justice over to the One whose end goal is always restoration. I could also speak the truth openly without carrying shame that was not mine. The process taught me about the goodness of God and his relentlessly kind and freeing love.

Memories of this time in my life came back in the context of a powerfully emotional dream I had earlier this week. I believe the Lord wants me to share it because it’s about the times we live in.

I saw a line strung between two poles. Old blankets and sheets hung on the line like laundry, but they were so heavy the poles started to be pulled over by the weight.

I heard, “Don’t hang more curses on this line. It is already under enormous strain. Be careful with your words.”

I watched the line stretch almost to breaking, then I heard, “They will blame the messenger for this. They will turn on the ones who dared to speak the truth.”

I suddenly felt overwhelmed with despair, disappointment, and fear. It was as if I felt the suffering of thousands of people who just realized they had been betrayed. I experienced a deep shaking, at first in my chest, and then all around me like the foundations were sinking in a way I have seen in films about massive earthquakes.

“What is this?” I asked.

“A shaking. A tidal wave of disappointment.”

The combined powerful emotions and physical sensation of not feeling the ground under me was extremely upsetting.

“What should I do?”

“Shift your focus. Turn the tide by focusing on God and thanking and praising him for all he has done for you.”

I woke up and did just that. I didn’t have to think or compose thoughts or sentences. Praise flowed from my lips. I was still shaking, but the feelings lifted. I realized then the strong emotions were not merely mine. I was feeling empathy for the suffering of others without hope.

When I picked up my phone to check the time I saw a shocking message. A tsunami warning had been issued moments earlier. A major earthquake shook the plates near Alaska and instigated the necessity of a warning of a possible tidal wave for the central coast and islands of western Canada.

I watched and prayed for the rest of the night. My prayer consisted mostly of praise to the One who calmed the sea. I thanked him for everything I could think of. Eventually, even though several of my friends on the coast were evacuated to higher ground during the night, the all-clear sounded and they returned to safe dry homes. I believe this was a confirmation that the message was not for me alone.

I’ve been pondering the experience. I’m very serious about the strength of the emotion of this dream and the attention-grabbing statement: A tidal wave of disappointment.

I sense a shake-up coming. Every day we hear reports of resignations and allegations of corruption and institutional complicity exposed by those brave enough to speak up. People have known about these open secrets for years, so I have to ask, “Why now?”

I wonder if the spiritual atmosphere is shifting in response to the prayers of many for light of Christ to shine in dark places. I wonder if this is the beginning of a reformation and restoration of solid foundations and an answer to the humble cry for justice. Judgment starts in the house of the Lord, so it doesn’t surprise me at all that some of the first places to be exposed are religious institutions that have abused power.

Abuse victims are not the only ones affected by betrayal of trust. When families, friends, co-workers, and colleagues are confronted with a different reality than denial has constructed it’s earth-shaking. The Bible says a brother offended is harder to be won than a strong tower and the list of offended brothers and sisters is reaching a breaking point.

I believe we are in a season when many evils are coming to light – in ourselves, in our families, in churches, and in communities right up to world government systems. Even the earth itself groans as the shifting moves foundations. After all these years I am not surprised when people respond with denying or minimizing or blame-shifting when confronted by the seriousness of the discovery of corruption in their midst. In a sense we have all been complicit in a corrupt system ever since our first parents decided to defy their maker. Our first response is often to block out the light that reveals things we don’t want to see. It takes time and courage to do the right thing because we need to be able to have faith when we know this is going to be messy.

But here’s the thing, God is good. He does supply the resources we need to heal. We will see them when we shift our focus from our own short-sighted devices to the God who loves and makes provision for our growth by giving us the right tools at the right time.

If you wonder why you have known both the despair of disappointment and the joy of restoration in your life, perhaps you are one of the healers God is preparing for such a time as this. Like their lord, Jesus, safe people have learned how to suffer and still be able to love. They know the power of love to cast out fear, no matter the circumstance. Sons and daughters of God who know they are loved perfectly by Him have no need to exploit others. They know Jesus came to set the captives free.

Watch. Worship. Be at peace. His plans for you are good.

Hope thou in God for I shall yet praise Him, my glory and the lifter of my head.

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)