Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things. (Ephesian 4:9,10 NASB)
There are so many ways I could go with the word carry. Carry out, carry through, carry on, carry over, carry away, carry around… What I hear in my heart is a line from a song by Selah called “Audrey’s Song.” The part of the song I keep hearing is “I will carry you.”
The song is sung by a mother to her child in the womb. Doctors told the parents that the baby had anomalies incompatible with life and recommended abortion. Instead, the they chose to love their child and honour the life she had, how ever short it would be. (Warning, it’s a tear-jerker.)
I Will Carry You (Audrey’s Song) by Selah from the album “You Deliver Me”
There were photographs I wanted to take
Things I wanted to show you
Sing sweet lullabies, wipe your teary eyes
Who could love you like this?
People say that I am brave but I’m not
Truth is I’m barely hanging on
But there’s a greater story
Written long before me
Because He loves you like this
I will carry you
While your heart beats here
Long beyond the empty cradle
Through the coming years I will carry you
All my life
And I will praise the One Who’s chosen me
To carry you
Such a short time
Such a long road
All this madness
But I know
That the silence
Has brought me to His voice
And He says … I’ve shown her photographs of time beginning
Walked her through the parted seas
Angel lullabies, no more teary eyes
Who could love her like this?
I thought about others in the faith who died young. I have often wondered why Jesus chose James, along with his brother of John – the other half of the sons of thunder— and Peter, to be his three closest companions. Jesus would have known that James wasn’t going to live long. King Herod had him “put to the sword.” In a manner all too common in political machinations, when he saw favourable numbers in the local population’s response to his handling of the disruption caused by these Jesus followers, Herod decided to kill some more of them. Peter was miraculously delivered from prison, but James hadn’t been. James was killed.
Why would Jesus invest so heavily in someone who wouldn’t be around very long? Who can say James’ life was of less value than the life of John who lived to a very old age? Jesus obviously loved him and could have rescued him. James obviously had faith and he was surrounded by the same faithful people who prayed for Peter to be released.
Somehow, we have adopted the idea that a successful life is a long life, that people ought to be valued for accomplishments, or at least potential accomplishments. Baby Audrey lived outside her mother’s womb for only two hours, but I believe God saw her life was as valuable and he loved and appreciated her as much as a 100-year-old woman with many accolades.
God loves us for who we are. He loves us because he loves us. Nothing we do or don’t do can make him love us any more or any less. Can we also take the risk of loving someone who may be leaving life on earth shortly? Being separated from a loved one is extremely painful, but not eternally painful. I admire those who can risk the pain of loss and love freely, carrying another person in their heart because they know they are loved by Love Himself.
He will carry them too.
Why the photo of spring flowers on the windowsill? These words in 1 Peter inspired me.
“Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.
For, ‘All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.’”
And this is the word that was preached to you. (1 Peter 1:22-25)
Not everyone is there yet, but many health officials around the world are starting to talk about life post-pandemic. I don’t think we are prepared for this any more than we were prepared for the unlabelled corona virus when it first spread across our continent. It may take a while to let go of the sense of being on high alert that has ruled our decisions for the past how many? … too many months.
I’m choosing to write about what I think we may see shortly because I feel qualified. I’m a triple vaxxed, law-abiding, “extremely vulnerable” senior who is ready to move on. I’m in the category of people all these measures were supposedly taken to save and I say thank you and I say enough now. It’s time to start thinking about approaching this differently. In my life I’ve seen financial reversals, tornados, floods, wildfires, near-death experiences, and the post-crisis crises with PTSD symptoms that inevitably played out later.
We have been focussed on survival because we needed to be. We are now accustomed to seeing signs on doors and walls reminding us to mask, distance, and isolate. We’ve heard public service announcements on every speaker reminding us that danger lurks everywhere. As images of hundreds dying in the hallways of hospitals popped up on our screens, we needed to be aware of how our choices affect other people – and how other people’s choices affect us.
Some people were better than others at adapting and not letting the fear get to them, but we all face another big adjustment soon. Even countries that enforced extremely controlling regulations are beginning to admit that the current highly contagious, but less lethal variant means the virus cannot be by eliminated like smallpox was. The health minister in my province, Dr. Bonnie Henry, has said, “We have to change our way of thinking.”
The reality is we are now dealing with a virus that is still very serious to some but merely disrupting and unpleasant for most. The time is approaching to come out of our caves and learn to live with it in our midst like we live with the flu and the common cold.
When the day is finally here I expect there will be a time of celebration for those of us who survived. But there will also be shock and mourning as we start seeing the devastation both the disease and measures taken to stop it have caused around us.
Every day we have seen statistics on case numbers and deaths. What we haven’t seen are daily statistics on businesses lost, case numbers on anxiety and depression, suicides and accidental overdose, bankruptcies and homelessness, and numbers on massive increases in personal and national debt.
We have not yet reckoned with the number of people in mourning for those who died, marriages that have crumbled under the stress, school-aged children who have missed quality education or opportunities for training in extracurricular sports and arts programs, and university students who failed to make important social connections on campus as they instead watched zoom lectures alone in the basement.
For many struggling people, savings for retirement or higher education or down payments on first homes have slipped away and left only a vague memory. Trust in institutions and authorities has similarly faded as questions arise about whose best interest motivated decisions. Some of the mess we will see when our eyes adjust to sunlight ain’t gonna be pretty.
Recently, I have become aware of so many people who have mourned the loss of loved ones during lockdowns without hospital visits to say goodbye, funerals to honour, or the person-to-person comfort we once knew how to give. Some have told me they still need closure. As well as a time of celebration I think we are going to need a time of mourning for those lost not only to the pandemic, but those lost to the consequences of lockdowns, travel restrictions, and quarantines.
We haven’t begun to count the cost of delayed medical diagnosis and treatment. My own scans and appointments with my oncologist and other specialists were delayed by up to nine months –and this was at a time when our local hospital had few, if any, covid cases. I’m good enough for now, thanks for asking, but I know whereof I speak. The wait wasn’t easy. Others have suffered much more than I have. My daughter grieves for a friend who died of cancer that was diagnosed far too late due to postponements.
I believe that our whole country, as well as most others, will soon face a time of mourning if they haven’t already. Not everyone will experience the stages of shock, denial, anger, depression, and acceptance at the same time, nor to the same degree, but we might see a lot of people experiencing feelings of anger or depression at the same time. Tread gently.
My own anger was triggered the other day by the sight of dirty discarded masks in a parking lot. It took me a while to realize it wasn’t about the stupid masks. It was about what they represented – all the inconvenience, fear, feeling unheard, and feeling pushed into choosing sides when I could see more than one side. It was about living in unnatural isolation and loneliness without seeing my sons and daughters-in-law or some of my grandchildren for over two years. It was about not being able to say goodbye to friends. It was about the pain of trying to communicate in a cyberworld with people who could be nastier than I ever realized. It was about too much and too little.
It was about grief. I cried and eventually found peace again. Who knew the sight of a muddy mask in the gutter could evoke so much emotion?
Some people are experiencing the first exciting glimpses of hope that this war may soon be over. Many others are already experiencing the anger stage of grief and are standing up and shouting “Enough!” I am one.
Someone told me that anger is a secondary emotion. It’s like a fix engine light on the dashboard of vehicle. It doesn’t tell us what exactly is wrong, just that something is wrong. Something is not working. Ignoring anger, stifling it, or legislating it away will not work. We are going to have to work through this emotion stuff or we risk even greater division, distrust, and more demonstrations of deep pain than we have thus seen.
Historically, the years after pandemics have involved great upheaval. Anger after tragic loss seeks someone to blame. People will start looking for those responsible for “poisoning the well” like they did after previous plagues. Those who could be in the line of fire may try to redirect blame or even become persecutors of scapegoats themselves. It could turn nasty.
OR people can make one more big voluntary sacrifice of personal rights. After the reckoning and counting the cost, we can choose to extend forgiveness. We can move toward reconciliation. Reconciliation goes beyond forgiveness. Reconciliation requires transparent honesty and the willingness to seriously listen to folks from on all sides, but I believe it is possible.
So, what am I saying? Love.
Love is what I am saying. Love is the way out of this mess.
We have got to get our love on. Without love we aren’t going to make it through this next phase intact.
Whether you believe Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God, a prophet, or just a good teacher, his teaching of love instead of hate, forgiveness instead of revenge, kindness instead of greed, and hopefulness instead of hopelessness is the only thing that will revive our souls and allow us to live in the light again.
When I was in Jr. High I sang a duet with a classmate for the opening of Confederation Park in Calgary. (He later became a “Crazy Canuck” skier and won the World Cup Ski Championship – how Canadian!) Some of the songs we sang came back to me today, especially the concluding line of the Canada Centennial song by Bobby Gimby. My prayer is that soon we will grieve the loss, heal the rifts, and sing,
Merrily we roll along, together all the way! Ensemble!
Sometimes it takes me a while to figure out where my emotions are coming from. I agree with people who say we ought not to be led by emotions, but I don’t discount them. God created us with emotion for a reason. Jesus demonstrated a full range of emotional experience, and demonstrated their rightful place. Like the Psalmist I have been asking my soul, “Why are you downcast? Why are you disquieted?”
Grief has roots that tangle under the surface. You can’t tug on one without unsettling memories of other losses and separations. This time of pandemic-led physical separation, although not permanent (we hope), is also stirring up feelings of old losses. I miss my loved ones. I miss my friends. I miss my freedom. I know we shall soon meet again, but these nebulous emotions all end up in the same pot like some strange concoction of lament that ignores reason. It feels like grief.
I’ve been feeling a bit down and unusually nostalgic the last few days. Old movies, old songs, old photos, old recipes, and even old cars make me laugh, but also shed tears. This morning, it being Mother’s Day, I thought about my mother, who passed away eleven years ago. I wish I could sit in her kitchen and tell her about my day. I read many posts from motherless children and childless mothers on Facebook, so I know I am not the only one who is aware of the ambivalent feelings this day evokes.
Then I remembered this week also marks the anniversary of separation from my Dad as well.
Time shrinks and stretches with age, moreso without the usual daily landmarks that keep us oriented. What day is it? Has it been three or four years since I received the call that Dad died in his sleep? The fence needs painting again. Didn’t I just do that? Was it really almost sixty years since Daddy took the photo of Mom serving Kool-aid to the pretty little girls in their birthday party dresses? The house I grew up in shows up on Google maps. It is dwarfed by the trees my brother and I planted as seedlings we received at school. When did that happen?
Part of prayer is paying attention to the stirrings in our hearts as we lean in to hear our heavenly Father. God often speaks to me through music. As I asked him to bring clarity to this messy emotion a song started to play in my mind. It is Brahms’ setting of John 16:22. In English it reads:
“So will you also pass through a time of intense sorrow when I am taken from you, but you will see me again! And then your hearts will burst with joy, with no one being able to take it from you!” (from The Passion Translation that seeks to include emotional content)
These were Jesus’ words to his friends before he was taken from them. We know the next part of the story – that he conquered death and appeared to them again before ascending to his place with the Father. He told them, on that same evening he gave the warning, that something better was coming. He was sending the Holy Spirit to advocate, teach, comfort, and empower in his place.
We have the advantage of living on the other side of the cross. We know loss here and now, but we also know that Holy Spirit will never leave. He reminds us of the promise that is for both here and now and even more in the future: “Then your hearts will burst with joy with no one being able to take it from you!”
Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.
When I awoke this morning, I watched gently falling snow transform my garden into a winter wonderland. By the time I showered, dressed, tied back hair desperately in need of a good cut, and made a thermos of hot coffee, snowflakes had morphed into rain. A giant serving of mushy porridgy slush replaced fresh deer tracks on a blanket of white on the street. Wet blobs of snow dropping from branches reminded me more of the glistening on the face of a toddler in need of a tissue than an invitation to a sleigh ride in the lane. Clouds seemed to slouch lower in the valley.
A day that started with Christmas card-worthy potential, photographically speaking, turned into a dull lull on this the shortest, darkest day of the year.
I decided to stay home. I put my camera away and instead plunked myself down to check out social media feed. Socializing there appeared to be as messy as the streets outside. Messier. The minions whose job it is to set up miscommunication, offense and division apparently have been busy.
Troubles. Conflicts. Obfuscations. Insults. More dismal predictions. Hope sliding into the ditch.
Sadness wrapped itself around my heart. I stared out the window and remembered another soggy winter day like this one. I know I took photos. I looked for them.
On that day I trudged through the woods looking for something out of the ordinary when I saw something out of the ordinary. Off the main path I caught the glint of a golden Christmas bobble hanging on a little tree.
People sometimes chop down little trees to take home for Christmas, but who decorates a tree and leaves it in the woods? When I asked around later, I learned some local people do this in memory of loved ones who no longer join them at the festive table. The forest provides a quiet place of remembrance for them to go. It felt like finding unexpected gold in the tearful territory of grief.
I’ve been meditating on Psalm 50 lately. I somehow feel it is important for the times we live in. In this psalm God tells his children he is about to deal with their lax attitudes toward sin. Perhaps the time has come to “have a little talk with Papa” and for an adjustment in attitude. The psalm begins with images of the beauty of his creative expression in nature and desire to communicate with us, but soon becomes somber.
“Do I need your young bull or goats from your fields as if I were hungry? Every animal of field and forest belongs to me, the Creator. I know every movement of the birds in the sky, and every animal of the field is in my thoughts. The entire world and everything it contains is mine. If I were hungry, do you think I would tell you? For all that I have created, the fullness of the earth, is mine. Am I fed by your sacrifices? Of course not! Why don’t you bring me the sacrifices I desire? Bring me your true and sincere thanks, and show your gratitude by keeping your promises to me, the Most High.” (verses 9 to 14 in The Passion Translation)
Then this golden invitation and promise (I hear it in a loving, gentle, yet firm Father’s tone): “Honor me by trusting in me in your day of trouble. Cry aloud to me, and I will be there to rescue you.” (verse 15)
He also speaks to the downright wicked, those who disregard his words and think they can continue to get away with crimes against humanity. It includes serious warnings not to mess with him or take him for granted.
“The sins of your mouth multiply evil. You have a lifestyle of lies, devoted to deceit as you speak against others, even slandering those of your own household! All this you have done and I kept silent, so you thought that I was just like you, sanctioning evil. But now I will bring you to my courtroom and spell out clearly my charges before you. This is your last chance, my final warning. Your time is up!” (verses 20 -22)
It ends with another appeal and a promise.
“The life that pleases me is a life lived in the gratitude of grace, always choosing to walk with me in what is right. This is the sacrifice I desire from you. If you do this, more of my salvation will unfold for you.”
There it is, like an unexpected beautiful tree of remembrance of a loving relationship hidden deep in the woods on rainy day. This is what his heart desires.
“A life lived in the gratitude of grace.”
This is not about behaviour, or rules, or sacrifices. The way out of the mess we find ourselves in is to renew our relationship by turning to our Maker with gratitude, by receiving his empowering grace to be all he sees when he looks at us, and trust in him in the day of trouble.
He is our hope. He has a plan for our good, because he is good and because he loves us more than we can ever imagine.
The old carol says: “Long lay the world in sin and error pining, ’til He appeared, and the soul felt its worth.”
I held the hand of an elderly friend after she learned her disease was in the final stages. She asked me to sing for her.
“What would you like me to sing?” I asked.
All the Way My Saviour Leads Me,” she answered, without hesitation. I sang.
All the way my Savior leads me, What have I to ask beside? Can I doubt His tender mercy, Who through life has been my Guide? Heav’nly peace, divinest comfort, Here by faith in Him to dwell! For I know, whate’er befall me, Jesus doeth all things well; For I know, whate’er befall me, Jesus doeth all things well.
After the second verse she said, “It’s true, you know.”
She smiled. “Sing that verse again.”
All the way my Savior leads me, Cheers each winding path I tread, Gives me grace for every trial, Feeds me with the living Bread. Though my weary steps may falter And my soul athirst may be, Gushing from the Rock before me, Lo! A spring of joy I see; Gushing from the Rock before me, Lo! A spring of joy I see.
As I looked through a cache of photos I took of a winding country road near Turner Valley, Alberta a little while ago, I thought of her. It wasn’t until her home-going celebration that I included the last verse. With tears rolling down my cheeks I sang:
All the way my Savior leads me, Oh, the fullness of His love! Perfect rest to me is promised In my Father’s house above. When my spirit, clothed immortal, Wings its flight to realms of day This my song through endless ages: Jesus led me all the way; This my song through endless ages: Jesus led me all the way.
It was as if all nature was proclaiming with her, “It’s true, you know.”
All the Way My Saviour Leads Me, lyrics by Fanny Crosby
Another painted prayer from last weekend. As I met with friends who also feel an urge to pray for our city, our valley and for our country, I kept hearing the phrase, Even the nights are better.
We talked about our experiences. Most of us are familiar with night seasons. Some in our group wake during the night hearing a call to pray for someone or something that burdens their hearts. For others, struggles with pain of all sorts seem more intense at night; loneliness, loss, and physical pain arise in the darkness. Circumstances that confront us with the unknown can take us to a place where the façade of being in control impresses no one. But everyone agreed, the night season has its beauty.
In that quietness, in that place void of daytime distractions, we can learn to enter another type of rest — that is, when we stop protesting long enough to hear to the still small voice that whispers comfort.
While the band played and the people sang, I picked up my brush and quickly painted the picture in my mind. It reminded me of the beauty of the night season when the Lover of my soul, my Keeper, my True Hope comforts me with his songs and when I can respond to him with my own.
Yes, Lord. In your presence, even the nights are better.
Yet all day long God’s promises of love pour over me. Through the night I sing his songs, for my prayer to God has become my life…
So I say to my soul, “Don’t be discouraged. Don’t be disturbed. For I know my God will break through for me.” Then I’ll have plenty of reasons to praise him all over again. Yes, living before his face is my saving grace!
“There are ideas in our hearts, there are wishes, there are aspirations, there are groanings, there are sighings that the world knows nothing about; but God knows them. So words are not always necessary. When we cannot express our feelings except in wordless groanings, God knows exactly what is happening.”
“Oh, when we are journeying through the murky night and the dark woods of affliction and sorrow, it is something to find here and there a spray broken, or a leafy stem bent down with the tread of His foot and the brush of His hand as He passed; and to remember that the path He trod He has hallowed, and thus to find lingering fragrance and hidden strength in the remembrance of Him as “in all points tempted like as we are,” bearing grief for us, bearing grief with us, bearing grief like us.”