And Then…

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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.

(Psalm 42:11 NIV)

Seeing the Gold

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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.

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The old carol says: “Long lay the world in sin and error pining, ’til He appeared, and the soul felt its worth.”

Come, Lord Jesus. Be born in us today.

 

 

 

All the Way

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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.”
I did.

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

Even the Nights Are Better

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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!

Psalm 42:8, 11 TPT

Wordless

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“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.”

-Martyn Lloyd-Jones

 

Dark Woods

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“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.”

~ Alexander MacLaren

Precious, Sacred

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In the stillness of the midnight
Precious sacred scenes unfold.

Grief reminds me of plants in the same pot with tangled roots. We find a single loss is seldom single. To pluck one is to pull up the others.

My husband’s mother passed away this week. Seven times now we have been asked, “How aggressive do you want to be in treating this illness? The prognosis is very poor and anything we do now beyond comfort measures will simply prolong suffering.”

It’s a horrible question to have to answer. No matter what you do, other family members will be hurt by the decision. Where is the hope in uttering the answer that cannot be avoided?

No one told me this. The older you get, the more funerals you go to, and every one of them is attached to the grief for other people for whom you have grieved.

And yet we do not grieve as those without hope. For those whose hope is anchored in Jesus Christ, this is not the end.

 

The night before my mother-in-law passed away was the shortest night of the year. This is the photo I snapped before going to bed. Perhaps it is a reminder that in the great scheme of things, night passes quickly in the light of eternity. There is always, always something to be thankful for. God is still good.

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This is the photo I snapped when I took my coffee out on the deck the next day. Joy comes in the morning.

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Then Bursting Forth In Glorious Day

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I lost a friend today. I was shocked when I heard the news. She was a relatively new friend, someone I was getting to know and appreciate, but we had many mutual friends. Our most important mutual friend was Jesus Christ.

She prayed for me when she learned I had cancer, when I went through surgery, when I started treatment and when I learned the disease was in remission. She was often there beside me praying because that’s what she did.

I was the one who was sick. I never expected her to be the one who went to dance in the glory of paradise first. She left mid-conversation. One moment she was here and the next she was stepping through gates of splendour. I’ll bet God called her by his own name for her since she was not fond of the one she bore here.

I met a man from a part of the world where people in his family of believers were often killed for their faith. He said, “You North American Christians sing about heaven, but nobody seems to want to go there. It is not so with us. We do not fear death. To be with Christ will be a wonderful thing.”

Now my friend is seeing this wonderful thing. I grieve for and with her much-loved family and friends, but I rejoice for her. We have lost her for now, but not forever.

We sang this song together only a few days ago:
Then bursting forth in glorious day
Up from the grave he rose again
And as he stands in victory
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me
For I am his, and he is mine
Bought by the precious blood of Christ

No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From life’s first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny
No power in hell, no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from his hand
Til he returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I stand

(from In Christ Alone by Stuart Townend and Keith Getty)

You are truly shining in the light of his glory, Margo. Dance, girl, dance.