Even When Bad Things Happen

I am thankful for Facebook. There. I said it. (I’ll skip the ubiquitous qualifying note here because this is about what I am thankful for.) Today I am simply thankful for the “Memories” feature. I keep a journal, but not like my dear aunt who kept daily records of weather, newsworthy events, and activities that included extended family members. Someone needed to keep track of my adventurous Grandmother’s whereabouts.

I write in my journal about ideas, dreams and visions, observations, questions, word studies, encouraging sayings, potential projects, scripture passages that catch my attention, prayers, and concerns (aka obsessive worries). Some days I write nothing. The blank page may be the consequence of busyness or idleness – or worries on repeat. It may be because I am avoiding processing something that messes with my theology or reveals lies I have told myself. Consistent with my meandering ways, my journal is like a disorganized collection of sticky notes inside a cover. Sometimes I post these thoughts somewhere in a gesture meant to ask readers, “Do you know what I mean? Am I the only one?”

Facebook Memories organizes my random posts by date. I can see where I was on the journey in mid-July from year to year. It allows me to check progress and notice patterns. I am surprised by how often the same topics appear around the same time of year. What truly surprised me this week was how often I have faced serious challenges (aka utterly terrifying Oh God Oh God Oh God days) in mid-July. It’s like my personal Tish B’av, the traditional time of disastrous occurrences in Jewish history.

Stories from the past fourteen years that showed up in Memories this week:

  • My friend’s child was killed when a tire blew on their vehicle while the family was on vacation.
  • In the midst of helping my father downsize for his reluctant move to an assisted living suite, I received word that my husband was extremely ill with a pancreas that was digesting itself and he would need to be flown to another city for emergency surgery.
  • A friend of a friend lay dying in hospital from sepsis. He wasn’t expected to make it through the night.
  • My daughter-in-law posted a photo of muddy belongings removed from their flood-ravaged house and piled in the street for removal by dump truck.
  • I was making the rounds between radioactive claustrophobia-inducing scans and specialist surgeons and anesthetists in different cities finding out that the “little tumour in my tummy” was going to be much more complicated to remove than I was first told.
  • I was recovering from surgery on my toe which, bizarrely, was more handicapping and painful than the cancer symptoms at that moment.
  • My friend’s child’s heart stopped on the operating table while undergoing surgery for severe lung infection in a country on the other side of the world. Doctors revived him, but his prognosis was very poor.
  • My two precious grandchildren and their equally precious parents parted for their new home on other side of the continent. I did not know how long it would be before I would see them again.
  • We spent a traumatic day in yet another hospital watching my husband’s younger brother suffocate to death from lung cancer.
  • My friend was in constant agony after an accident five years earlier. After begging him for help, a surgeon was willing to try one more thing.
  • I was in the fourth month of a five-month long “atypical” headache. It left me unable to travel or do much of anything but learn to moan quietly.
  • Injury to my knees and arthritis in multiple joints made it difficult to live in our house with stairs or tend the garden or go for hikes in the mountain forests I loved. We knew we needed to move, but I couldn’t work longer than ten minutes at a time to downsize and prepare the house for sale. The task felt overwhelming.

As I looked back, this part of Psalm 34 came to mind: “The Lord is close to all whose hearts are crushed by pain, and he is always ready to restore the repentant one. Even when bad things happen to the good and godly ones, the Lord will save them and not let them be defeated by what they face.

July may be my traditional disaster month, but it is also the month of learning dependence on God and watching him come through for me — and the people I love. Remembering how God came to our rescue after the event is so much easier than feeling the shock and pain of the moment when bad news plops itself on the doorstep.

Sometimes answers to prayer come quickly. Sometimes it takes so long it feels like God’s whereabouts are unknown and I can’t call my aunt to tell me where he is now. Sometimes the challenge itself is an answer to prayer because we’ve gained skills and the ability to endure through perseverance and deeper faith in God’s faithfulness. Sometimes the situation is the means to open our eyes to how God sees us and his confidence in us. Sometimes challenges result in better definitions of success than we assumed before.

  • The friend of a friend with sepsis, the child on life-support, and the woman with severe back pain were all healed within days. My husband’s dire condition suddenly improved and he didn’t need surgery after all. The problem never came back.
  • With a lot of work and help from people who demonstrated practical love, our son’s family’s house was restored to better than new condition within two years.
  • The tumour in my gut (and other places the cancer had spread to) were removed without complication and there has been no progression for five years. The toe is still attached and doing its job. The doctor prescribed a medication that successfully prevents the headaches from starting.
  • Our grandchildren and their mother visited us this week after 941 days of separation.
  • Many wonderful friends stepped in to help us move. We sold our house before it was even listed to a couple who will continue to fill it with songs of praise to a good, good Father.
  • A man I met from a country where Christians faith death from persecutors daily said, “You Christians in North America sing about the joy of being with Jesus and meeting him in Paradise, but none of you seem to be willing to go there. We rejoice for those who now know what eternal life looks like from a higher place. My father, my friend’s son, and my brother-in-law were trusting Christ to be their saviour. I believe they are all happy and healed in the presence of the Lord. I’ve learned that God heals the broken-hearted and grants peace.

The life of a Jesus-follower is not always easy. He said we could expect the same kind of reception he had. We can also expect the teaching and discipline of a good Father who knows the difference between love and indulgence. If we want Jesus’ peace that passes understanding, there will be times we have to relinquish the right to understand.

I’m facing challenges again in this month of July, 2022. For the sake of privacy of others involved I will just say this much: I agree with Paul’s prayer for myself, for my loved ones, and for you: “… I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:5 – 6 NIV)

Yet when holy lovers of God cry out from all their troubles

The Lord is close to all whose hearts are crushed by pain,

and he is always ready to restore the repentant one.

Even when bad things happen to the good and godly ones,

the Lord will save them and not let them be defeated

by what they face.

(Psalm 34:17-19 TPT)

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.

Refine

Jesus leads us into a place of radical grace where we are able to celebrate the hope of experiencing God’s glory.  

And that’s not all. We also celebrate in seasons of suffering because we know that when we suffer we develop endurance,  which shapes our characters. When our characters are refined, we learn what it means to hope and anticipate God’s goodness. 

And hope will never fail to satisfy our deepest need because the Holy Spirit that was given to us has flooded our hearts with God’s love.” (Romans 5:2-5 The Voice)

One of my photo editing programs has a “kaleidoscope” feature. A photo processed through this app seldom resembles the original, but it’s fun to play with. I tried processing a photo I took of rubble from a building leveled by fire. The result caught my attention because I could see what looked like areas of engraved gold and silver set in a polished stone tile. That would be a luxury on the floor of any palace.

How precious are the foundations laid for us by saints of the past whose lives were refined by the fires of tribulation.  It’s a lot easier to appreciate the refining process in the after picture than in the middle-of-the-disaster picture. It’s easier to sing, “Refiner’s fire, my heart’s one desire is to be holy,” than it is to recognize a refining process, let alone cooperate with it. Yet suffering leads to endurance and to character. The ability to hope and anticipate God’s goodness lays a precious foundation for the next generation – especially in the middle of what looks like a disastrous mess.

Creative Meditations for Lent, Word prompt: Refine

Green Pasture

After 35 years in the same house and 36 years in the same town, we are preparing to move to another city. It’s a time of simplifying, downsizing, and saying goodbye to hobbies and activities we no longer have time or energy for. For someone who has been addicted to potential for so long, letting go of unfinished projects feels like a loss.

There is the furniture I meant to refinish. Over there the bins of fabric I meant to turn into something useful take up more space than I will have in the new apartment. I have canvasses and frames I bought from an estate sale still sitting in the basement. And books! Books I meant to re-read, books I meant to loan to someone who doesn’t realize they need to read it, books with useful information I meant to write about, books that my mother gave me from her childhood when she was learning English. I no longer have room in my life for all this stuff.

Grieving is involved. So is gratefulness.

The piles of stuff to sell, give away, and trash are evidence that God has provided well for us. We have more than we need. I am learning to trust in Him for the future instead of my boxes of “potential.”

I keep coming back to Psalm 23. I love Rutter’s setting. The Lord is my shepherd, therefore can I lack nothing. He shall feed me in a green pasture…

One day, when I was a very young child who refused to eat her peas, my frustrated young father said, “I can’t even afford to feed you!” As an adult I understand now that his angry tone had much more to do with a sale that fell through than my burdensome existence, but it became a defining moment in my life. I never wanted to cost anybody anything. I learned to make do, to recycle before recycling was trendy, to pinch a penny so hard you could hear it scream for mercy. Worrying about swings in the market became the habit of the child of a man whose income depended upon sales commission. Resting in the Lord, financially speaking, has been a challenge.

This week I discovered, among the boxes full of paintings that I stashed away, a little 8 x 10 canvas with my first attempt in oil. It’s labeled simply “Green Pasture.” There was something about its simplicity on a stack of too much stuff that caught my attention.

God is letting me rest in a green, growing, nourishing place. He provides, because goodness is his nature. He is the good shepherd, therefore I lack nothing. I am not a burden to him. He is not on a budget or worried about the economy. He says “Trust me. I’ve got this.”

Sometimes you need to let go of your grip on the past before your hands are free to reach for the future.

Rutter: The Lord Is My Shepherd – YouTube

Overflowing With Kindness

You’re kind and tenderhearted to those who don’t deserve it

    and 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 145:8,9 TPT)

When Martha complained to Jesus that her sister was not helping with the serving and doing what women were expected to do, he confronted her with this: “Martha! Your anxieties are distracting you from what is really important!”

Sometimes we are so anxious about what might happen we forget that when we invite him in, the Saviour is right here in our hearts. Even though we are anxious about tomorrow his goodness surrounds us today. When we set down our worries we can see beauty again.

Filled

Maybe this hurting world needs to be inspired by recognition of the pleasures of goodness instead of the consequences of sin, and news of works inspired by faith instead of efforts based on despair and resignation.

Maybe it’s time for a shot of goodness right into the heart of darkness.

“With this in mind, we constantly pray that our God will empower you to live worthy of all that he has invited you to experience. And we pray that by his power all the pleasures of goodness and all works inspired by faith would fill you completely.”

(2 Thessalonians 1:11,12 TPT)

There is more.

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)

Show, Not Tell

Bull Mountain DSC_0469

We got out of the house and went for a drive yesterday. It reminded me of Sunday afternoons when I was a child. With my parents, grandparents and two little brothers squeezed in the Oldsmobile (the youngest on Mom’s lap!) we headed for the countryside with no particular destination in mind. If the snow had melted, we headed west to the mountains. If not, Dad pointed the car south toward ranch country so Grandpa could see the fields and horses.

Yesterday, my husband and I headed toward the Steeples Range. Apparently, a lot of people had the same idea and since we were being careful to maintain a distance in this time of viral threat we took the road less travelled. After turning down Bull River Road we came to the base of Bull Mountain.

The snow is melting in the valley and the blandness of this season without winter whites and blues or summer greens or autumn golds feels like spending time with loved ones in moments when they are not dressed up to their best standards. But the beauty of the heights  is still there.

This morning I read this:

The four corners of the earth were put in place by you.
You made the majestic mountains
that are still shouting their praises to your name.
 
Breathtaking and awesome is your power!
Astounding and unbelievable
is your might and strength when it goes on display!

Your glorious throne rests on a foundation
of righteousness and just verdicts.
Grace and truth are the attendants who go before you.

O Lord, how blessed are the people
who experience the shout of worship,
for they walk in the radiance of your presence.
 
We can do nothing but leap for joy all day long,
for we know who you are and what you do

(Psalm 89:12-16 TPT)

Today marks exactly seven years since the beginning of seeing a miracle. On this day my husband drove our son-in-love to the hospital with what he thought was the flu and a pulled hamstring. Within a few hours he was in surgery. That night doctors and nurses struggled to raise his blood pressure as he nearly flat-lined three times.

It was the beginning of a miracle, but it didn’t feel like it. It felt like the spirit of death crashed our party wanting to steal, and kill, and destroy. (Real time blogs from that season start here.)

The thing is, if you want to see miracles you will find yourself in situations that call for them, because as much as we honour and appreciate the skills of highly trained medical people, even they acknowledged this disease was beyond their ability to stop.

We can read about God, debate about God, fight over our ideas about God, but we don’t know God until we walk through a storm with him. Not until we find ourselves in a position of being out of control despite our best efforts, can we begin to understand the majesty of God, who is greater than any impossible situation.

Paul, the great intellect and apostle wrote, “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.” (1 Corinthians 2:4 NIV)

Editors advise writers to show, not tell. I can tell you who God is for me, but until you have actually experienced his kindness, goodness grace and no-nonsense justice it’s all a nice story.

Because I’ve seen the goodness of God I can say, “We can do nothing but leap for joy all day long, for we know who you are and what you do.”

If you find yourself in a place where you feel out of control and out of ideas, cry out to God. Let him show you who he is.