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.
Plenteous grace with Thee is found, Grace to cover all my sin; Let the healing streams abound; Make and keep me pure within. Thou of life the fountain art, Freely let me take of Thee; Spring Thou up within my heart, Rise to all eternity.
-From “Jesus, Lover of My Soul” by Charles Wesley
One of the most painful moments in my life was when a person I admired announced they had no more grace for me. An annoying trait of mine, that no doubt needed correction, inspired them to dump a load of dis-grace on me instead. I was devastated.
Trauma has roots like weeds that crop up in a garden bed far from the original invasive plant. I felt shame and ran when the flight option in the flight/fight/freeze trio of survival actions seemed most attractive. It took a while to realize that the original painful weed of rejection had spread to this corner of my life, its subconscious presence undetected for many years. I heard it sing a minor key lament from long ago, “Jesus is disappointed with you.”
Growing up in a competitive world where only the best smiled for the camera while the rest slunk out the door for the eliminated, harsh words felt like familiar shameful judgments of disgrace. I wept bitterly. The “NOT GOOD ENOUGH” stamp of disapproval showed up again on the bottom of my application for acceptance.
It was a horrible time and a good time. God can use anything and this time he used a person who also struggled with shame to point out that I was knocking on the wrong door. You can’t give what you have not received or received only in measured installments. I wanted another struggling sojourner to give me what only God could supply. That wasn’t going to work. I needed to find the source.
“Ask me,” he said.
“Ask you for what?” I mumbled, head hanging low.
“Ask me about my grace.”
“I don’t deserve your grace.”
“True. No one does. That’s the beauty. You can’t earn it. Failures only need apply.”
I did ask, and since then I’ve learned that my response to God’s empowering grace can be greater than a grudging, “Thanks for not hitting me when I deserved a good smiting.” It’s now “Thanks for showing me the way you see me and giving me the resources to become that person.”
Thank you, Lord, for grace that is plenteous and greater than barely sufficient grace, or scratch and dent grace for the less deserving, or grace that offers anonymity as a cover for permanent stains on the soul. Thanks for accepting me just as I am. Thanks for grace that heals and purifies and rises up to all eternity.
This morning I am going through photos I took in the garden next to our condo this week. I procrastinated again and the warm sunlight disappeared behind rain clouds before I ventured outside. I didn’t have high expectations for results. The contrast between bright colour and muted dark tones surprises me.
I was listening to Lauren Daigle’s “Remember” as this photo of a two-toned tulip popped up. This line from the song stood out to me: “Even when my eyes could not see, you were there, always there with me.”
I was reminded yesterday that this week marks fourteen years since I was healed of cycles of depression I thought would never end. The bouts in hellish darkness had become more frequent and were lasting longer. Medication helped, but I needed a lot to keep functioning in public and to keep hiding the condition of my soul from people who stigmatized and rejected those of us who walked a path they couldn’t understand, but they needed constant adjustment. I was taking drugs to counteract the side effects of the side effects of other drugs I needed to counteract side effects. Sometimes they threw me into the other ditch with short bouts of hypomania, inevitably followed by the need to make apologies for overconfident promises made that I couldn’t keep later when a crash returned — just as inevitably.
I am enormously grateful for doctors and medicines that kept me going, but I was told my condition was chronic. I would always be dependent on chemical means to chase despair and suicidal thoughts away.
I didn’t want more treatments! I wanted to be healed!
I prayed for years to be released from the prison of depression. Like the Psalmist I could say, “How long?”
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death, and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.
Then one day, when I least expected it, I met the Healer. He set this captive free. I am no longer on antidepressants or mood stabilizers and have had no recurrence in fourteen years! Like this flower God gave me a garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. How can I help but praise him?
Today I am singing, “I can’t stop thinking about your goodness!”
For those of you asking, “How long, Lord?” keep trusting. Keep seeking the Lord. Someday he will tell us why it took so long. If you have lost sight of hope, ask the Lord to send burden-bearers who will carry faith and hope for you until you can hold it in your own hands again. In the darkest hours He still loves you, even when you can’t see it or feel it.
Doctors said my condition was chronic and that I would be on heavy-duty medication for the rest of my life, but God healed me. I was diagnosed as bipolar. I knew hypomanic mountain highs for short periods of time, but I spent years of my life in the darkness of valley lows.
I’ve experienced a lot of painful physical problems in my life —broken bones, many kidney stones, and multiple surgeries for a variety of problems including cancer. Nothing has been as painful as depression. Not even close.
I like to go up into the forest to pray. One day I went up there to pray for my daughter and son-in-law. They were at an event where people were being miraculously healed, or so my daughter told me when she phoned from another part of the world to give me a play-by-play description of what she was seeing. Can I tell you how far this was out of my comfort zone? I was afraid they were getting involved in some sort of cult. That’s what I was praying about. I prayed they would be protected from deception. I was not at all filled with faith for healing. Instead of getting them out of that situation, God healed me.
I heard a voice say “Run!” I argued (how crazy is that?!) that I couldn’t run because of an inflamed ligament in my knee and because I had asthma and left my inhaler in my other coat pocket. Exercise always set off an attack. The urge to run wouldn’t leave, so I sheepishly ran a little way, grateful I was alone because it wasn’t pretty. I could breathe easily and had no pain. I was shocked! I ran all the way back to my car, a distance of about six city blocks. No knee pain, no wheezing. Then I felt the shadows lift off my mind. I felt joy, sweet, calm, non-manic joy.
Over time, I realized that the depression that lifted that day was not coming back. I started reducing some of the meds I had taken for years. Under a psychiatrist’s supervision I eventually got off all of them, including two to control side effects of the other five. The only one I kept taking was a medication for low thyroid.
I’ve been told that no one comes off of medication for mental illness after that many years without some negative effect to cognitive function or going into another tailspin. I’ve been free for fourteen years. Now I experience a normal range of emotions appropriate for the situation.
Since then, I have prayed for people and seen God heal them of various problems. Four times I have seen patients who were on their death beds in hospital recover within days and get up go home.
This question always arises when I tell people my story: What about the ones who were not healed? My answer: I don’t know. I just know that people who pursue God see more healings than people who say, “It is what it is,” or “Healing doesn’t happen anymore. That was just for Jesus and the disciples.”
I have been healed of other problems and still have some conditions that are not yet healed. I know how much it hurts to be blamed for having an unhealed disease. “You don’t have enough faith. You must have unconfessed sin or ‘a root of bitterness.'” “You must be benefitting from the attention or something.” “You said, ‘I have cancer” so you just cursed yourself with your words.” Ouch! Mercy, people, please!
God is God and I am not. Experiencing Him and learning more about His character gives me a deep desire to know Him. It makes me want to have more encounters with the One who heals and gives me a longing for deeper understanding.
Meekness means praying, “There are so many things I don’t understand, Lord. But I know you are good, and your love is perfect. Teach me.”
A bench down by the water is a good place to contemplate. Today’s prompt word reminded me of an old hymn by Frederick W. Faber. Here are some stanzas:
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy, Like the wideness of the sea; There’s a kindness in God’s justice, Which is more than liberty.
There is welcome for the sinner, And more graces for the good; There is mercy with the Savior, There is healing in His blood.
For the love of God is broader Than the measures of the mind, And the heart of the Eternal Is most wonderfully kind.
Part of the Apostle’s Paul prayer for us in the letter to the Ephesians was this: And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. (Eph. 3:18 NLT)
I saw this section of fence while out on a walk. It’s been neglected for a very long time. No one tended to it by painting it or mending it, yet it still stands, held together by roots and branches. It’s still there, but it is shattered in places and vulnerable to the attack of weather, lichens, insects, and age. It reminds me of a broken heart held together by coping methods, but not by love. It’s still standing, beautiful in an interesting way, but decaying.
When Jesus read out his personal manifesto (recorded hundreds of years earlier through the prophet Isaiah) in the synagogue in Nazareth, he told the people one of his purposes was to bind up the broken-hearted. Why bind? Why not heal instantly like he did for the blind and lame?
Through the prophet Ezekiel, God chides the shepherds of Israel for healing people superficially and failing to “bind up the broken-hearted.” I wonder if it’s because the process of shattering our hearts requires process to heal. Wounding through episodes of neglect, rejection, abuse, betrayal, disappointment, and loss (and all the other consequences of living in a fallen world) happens over time. Someone told me once that if the damage occurred in relationship, healing needs to occur in relationship. Jesus offers that kind of loving relationship that wraps the heart in swaddling bandages to keep it protected while healing.
The compassionate are continually wounded by not only assaults on their own hearts, but by what they see and feel around them when people they care about suffer deep wounds. Sometimes, it’s all too much. They “fall apart.” Without the arms of their Saviour holding them together and binding up their own wounds, and strengthening them with empowering grace, they would succumb to false comforts that would use them and leave them vulnerable to the elements of fear, hate, despair and apathy.
Jesus came to bind up the broken hearted – if we will let him.
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
Isaiah 61:1-3 NIV
Creative Meditations for Lent, Prompt Word: Broken
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!
It’s strange the way darkness displaces a little more light every day in the north. I’ve been so busy I didn’t notice the dawn slowly shift from behind the eastern mountains to rise, lazily, beside the ridge of hills much further to the south. Yesterday I needed to turn on my headlights at 3:30 in the afternoon. How did it get so dark so fast?
I have a light on my desk that imitates sunlight. It produces “lux” sufficient to cheer my writing space, but little more. If I were to aim it out my window into the blackness it would scarcely draw the attention of anyone stumbling in the dark street. It’s enough to change my room but not enough to make an impact beyond it.
One of the best opening sentences of any novel (prove me wrong) is Dickens’ “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” Today I feel if I wrote, “It was the darkest of times; it was the brightest of times.” many of you would understand.
I don’t want to be accosted by the news anymore. It’s not just a matter of avoiding the pain of another disaster, another riot, another variant, another death count, another public breach of trust, another grab for power in the guise of “public service.” (“No one jostles for the position of servant,” Gayle Erwin reminds us). I don’t want to pay so much attention to the news on any media because it involves so many people promoting problems by yelling higher and louder than they did the last time their attempts at playing God didn’t work. Very few are listening. Animosity escalates. Our best efforts are not enough. And it’s getting dangerous to say so. How did it get so dark so fast?
I had a vision the other evening. (Take it or leave it. I’ve stopped apologizing.) I saw crowds of people coming from all directions toward a small circle with light emanating from the center. Tired bodies were dressed in dark clothes. Everyone had slumped shoulders and moved without swinging their arms. Some shuffled along as if in pain, but they were all drawn by curiosity to see this strange light. Some pushed their way to the front. I was one of them.
The light emanated from a baby in a manger. I watched him turn into a boy discussing matters of importance with religious leaders baffled by his enlightened insight. He grew into a man creating with carpenter’s tools in his hands. I saw him touching, healing, teaching, caring, and leading as crowds of followers grew. With every action the light around and within him shone brighter. The whole story was told in light I can’t explain. Then I saw him being taken away and murdered on a cross. His body was left in a sealed tomb. The light in the circle suddenly died.
A moan went up from the crowd. It was as though their greatest fear, the fear of disappointment, had been realized.
Then the light walked out of the grave and expanded as he rose until it was too bright for the onlookers to see. The light rose to fill the whole earth. It spread in ripples, and as it did tens, then hundreds, then thousands spontaneously fell to the ground and bowed in worship. I looked and saw costumes and masks drop. I saw ceremonial and honorary robes of all kinds fall to the ground as people bowed in humble adoration.
I realized that Jesus Christ was at the center of all of this. I watched as a chalice appeared where he stood and became a fountain. Out of him flowed light, hope, healing, forgiveness and love, pure love in the form of blood. It was as if many people were overwhelmed by his presence and, really seeing him for the first time, knew he was the answer to the darkness within themselves.
I saw selfish ambition, mockery, slander and mischief slink away as if they found the light too painful to bear.
Later that night, as I walked home under dark clouds, I thought of all the Christmas songs that talked about waiting in darkness and about the baby who came to bring light into the world. On the first day of advent an obscure verse from the ancient hymn “Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel” played in my heart.
O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer Our spirits by Thine advent here Disperse the gloomy clouds of night And death’s dark shadows put to flight. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel.
Emmanuel means “God with us.” Before this happened I had been praying about how to pray in these dark days. I believe God was showing me the importance of keeping Christ at the center of everything I do. I pray for new life to spring up as his light shines in the darkness and makes an impact beyond my own little corner.
After Paul the apostle came down from his intellectual discussions with philosophers on Mars Hill (which impressed only a few people) he ended up in Corinth. He wrote this about the experience with the people there: My brothers and sisters, when I first came to proclaim to you the secrets of God, I refused to come as an expert, trying to impress you with my eloquent speech and lofty wisdom. For while I was with you I was determined to be consumed with one topic—Jesus, the crucified Messiah.I stood before you feeling inadequate, filled with reverence for God, and trembling under the sense of the importance of my words.The message I preached and how I preached it was not an attempt to sway you with persuasive arguments but to prove to you the almighty power of God’s Holy Spirit.For God intended that your faith not be established on man’s wisdom but by trusting in his almighty power. (1 Corinthians 2:1-4)
My eloquent speech and lofty wisdom plus ten dollars will get you on any subway in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. But the Holy Spirit? His signs point to the Light. As circumstances become darker, the light shines brighter and brighter. This time we’re in? It may be the darkest of times, but it is also the brightest of times. Consider the Light.