Mysteriously Complex

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The experts disagree. Strongly.

“Your case is complex,” one of them told me this week. “I would definitely not follow the advice the other specialist gave you if it were me. But it’s up to you.”

If people who have spent years studying medicine disagree on how to proceed, how on earth am I supposed to decide which expert to “unfollow?”

I cried out to God on my long drive home from the cancer clinic yesterday. I feel overwhelmed, like I have been falling through cracks named “rare” and “exceptional” for too many years. From the time I was born my body chemistry never completely fit the charts that define “norms.” Too much of this, too little of that, and in spite of a life time of funding the diet and exercise industry, I walk around in a model that is, embarrassingly, entirely the wrong size and shape to buy clothes off the rack in fashionable shops for “normal” people.

I saw an oncology dietician today. “Complex,” she said. “Your case is complex.”

When I told a friend in the medical field about my treatment options she said, “It’s certainly complex.”

“I’ve heard that word a lot this week,” I said with a sigh.

Complex. Why is this so complex, Lord? Why is my body so weird? Making a wrong decision on treatment plans could have dire consequences down the road. I know you didn’t make the cancer cells. There’s no aberrant cell division in heaven, so it’s not your plan to have these invaders in me. I know you have a better plan, but I have no idea what to do now. I’m scared.

I’ve been meditating on Psalm 139 in The Passion Translation for some weeks. This is where I am now:

You formed my innermost being, shaping my delicate inside
and my intricate outside,
and wove them all together in my mother’s womb.

Yeah, yeah, that’s nice. Insert stock photo of pretty baby here.

Then I read this. Verse 14:
I thank you, God, for making me so mysteriously complex!

I read it again. And again. And another time.
I thank you, God, for making me so mysteriously complex.

That’s in there? Complex? Seriously?

Be thankful? How can I do that? How can I be thankful for a complex body that mystifies the experts? How can I be thankful when I feel so angry? (Am I allowed to admit that emotions like anxiety and anger sometimes crawl out of the ditch to dog your steps on the faith walk in real time?) Show me how to be thankful, Lord, because I’m not feeling it.

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I stopped to take photos on my way home, because that’s one way I worship. Worship shifts my point of view and gets the focus off myself. I choose to focus my camera on trees and mountains and fields instead. I take time to appreciate God’s handiwork because he said was pleased with it himself and worship is about appreciating God and paying attention to the things he appreciates.

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The scenery along Highway 22, the Cowboy Trail in Alberta, fascinates me. The road runs through a sparsely populated part of the country where the landscape transitions from prairie to mountains.

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High winds provoke ever-changing cloudscapes and patterns of light and shadow on the rolling hills.

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Winter blizzards often alternate with warm chinook winds here. The season can change within hours. It’s white. It’s brown. It’s barren. It’s lush. It’s hot. It’s cold. It’s smooth. It’s rugged.

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It’s complex.
It’s marvelous.
It’s breathtaking.

 

David wrote in Psalm 139:

Everything you do is marvelously breathtaking.
It simply amazes me to think about it!
How thoroughly you know me, Lord!

As I edit photos today I hear His voice. If you can appreciate My handiwork in this vast countryside, can you appreciate the way I created your body? I know every cell. Can you trust me to show you what to do to heal it?

 

The wind picked up as I drove down Highway 22 yesterday. I mean really picked up. My car rocked from side to side from the buffeting force of the gale. I had to grip the steering wheel tightly, and aim it at about one o’clock, or maybe 1:30, to keep going straight toward the mountains that mark the beginning of the narrow opening in the Rocky Mountains called the Crowsnest Pass.

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A song I had downloaded on my iPod began to play.

Fear not
If I could say it any louder, I would

Remember all I told you, remember all I said
When the questions start arising, keep your eyes fixed straight ahead
Hold on tightly to the promise, hold firmly to the truth
That I love you, oh I love you.

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He’s got his diagnostic finger on that trust issue again. So, in the middle of the buffeting of circumstances I choose to hold on tightly to his promises and trust him and keep my eyes fixed straight ahead. He made me  and he loves me. That’s good enough reason to say thank you.

I played the song on repeat as I kept my eyes on the morphing, moving clouds on the horizon.

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When life piles up and you’re feeling overcome
Stand still and believe, I won’t let you drown
When a cry’s in your throat, watching all the waves below
Lift your eyes to the sky and trust that I won’t pass you by

Fear not
If I could say it any louder, I would

Fear not!
If I could say it any louder, I would!

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Thank you, Lord, for making me mysteriously complex. Your love conquers fear.

Now turn up the bass as Kristene sings.

 

 

 

And In Kindness You Follow Behind Me

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I ordered a grilled chicken salad with dressing on the side.

“I don’t eat chicken,” she said firmly.

I knew my new acquaintance was not a vegetarian. She had just ordered a steak before passing the menu back to the waitress.

“Is it the taste or the texture?” I asked.

“Neither,” she said. “When I was a child I was chased by a psycho chicken and I have never liked it since then. I can still see that mad hen with those crazy googly eyes, flapping and squawking and nipping at my little bare legs. I couldn’t have been more than three. Scarred me for life.” She snapped a bread stick with vehemence.

Now I happen to think roasting a googly-eyed bird in a pan ringed with some nice farm fresh vegetables could have been a way to exercise suitable revenge toward a chicken that ruled the roost fifty (I looked at her again as she guzzled her drink), make that sixty years ago, but here a long-dead crazy fowl affected my dining partner’s menu choices all these years later.

I shouldn’t have laughed at her, even silently. A few days later I caught myself crossing the street to avoid a German Shepherd dog behind a wire fence. He wasn’t barking or showing any aggressive tendencies. I just don’t like them since I felt the teeth of one sink into my leg and drag me across the back lane when I was a young child. Eventually I overcame my fear of dogs and enjoyed faithful pets who curled up behind my knees on the couch when I needed the comfort of a companion, but I never considered owning a big dog, especially a German Shepherd.

This week, a number of friends and acquaintances wrote “Me too” on their public social media posts. Female celebrities have admitted to feeling powerless, or scared, or deeply offended when they were treated dishonourably by sexually aggressive men in positions of power. This seems to have triggered a tipping point and given permission to thousands of women (and some men) to admit publicly, some for the first time, that they also carry scars for life as the result of events in the past. Thus the “Me Too” campaign.

I’ve written about my own “me too” before. But since I have a decidedly stubborn anti-trendy streak and I also know what it is like to not be heard, this time I chose to simply listen. Sometimes it feels like girls who escaped being treated as sexual objects, even at a young age, are in the minority in this culture. Some women who posted may have had experiences that might seem to pale in comparison to those who have been seriously abused, but they need to be heard too. I’ve also heard the stories of betrayed boys and victims of female perpetrators.

I know people who have walked away from head-on collisions at highway speed. I also know of a person who became a quadriplegic as a result of falling out of bed. Damage is not always related to intent. The justice system, which tends to measure consequences on the basis of physical trauma, has difficultly understanding that psychological wounding is more commensurate with types of relationships and the level of betrayal involved than photographable bruises. It’s a complex issue.

Some people can walk away from incessant sexual harassment and outright assault relatively unscathed and others have known deep life-long trauma from an incident that seems no more serious to the rest of us than being chased by an annoying chicken. On the other hand, some “perpetrators” who unintentionally caused great pain are not so much wicked as clumsy and ignorant. It’s complex.

My point is that we see a lot of lonely walking wounded struggling on a challenging path everyday. Some hide the scars better than others. Some are brave enough to seek healing. Some need hope that healing is possible.

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I was thinking about this as I meditated on Psalm 139 in the Passion Translation this week. When I read this verse I couldn’t breathe for a moment.

You’ve gone into my future to prepare the way,
And in kindness you follow behind me,
To spare me from the harm of my past.

I’ve written before about Christ preparing a way before us. I enjoy the imagery of being surrounded with loving protection. To “abide in Christ” is one of the greatest privileges of relationship with him. I can see him walking before, behind and beside, but I see it as a place, a spot on the road of this journey. I hadn’t really considered that not only does he move in space to protect me, but he moves in time to plant provisions like clues in a treasure hunt in my future. But this! He goes into my past to guard me from its negative influence as well.

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The Bible tells the stories of many people whose pasts could have defined them, setting limits on their futures: a youngest forgotten son, a rejected woman, a bereaved mother, a slave-labourer, an abducted child, a sex-slave, an emasculated spoil of war, a boy from a town with a poor reputation…

A therapist once asked me, “Why are you doing so well?” It seemed an odd question considering where I was sitting at the time – in the office of someone professionally trained to help people who were not doing well. I must have looked puzzled.

“No, seriously,” she said. “People who have stories like yours usually exhibit more serious permanent psychological damage. I want to know why you are not worse.”

I thought for a moment.

“Because from the time I was very young I have known that Someone walks with me, Someone who has suffered everything I have, and still loves, Someone who values me and sees me for who I really am and will help me walk away from my past,” I told her.

And in that moment I heard my Lord speak through my own voice. Jesus has already been in my future. He walks beside me in my present and he goes back into my past to break the curse of negative expectations and keep them from sinking their teeth into me and dragging me back there.

He heals and surrounds me in both space and time – and he is willing to do the same for you.

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The journey continues.

The song “You Surround Me” has been playing in my head.

You Surround Me (live from Dublin)
Karen Padgett, Daphne Rademaker and Brian Doerksen

Gaelic lyrics and translation included

Tá tú thart orm (You’re all around me)
Tá tú i gceartlár mo chroí (In the centre of my heart)
You surround me Tá tú thart orm (You’re all around me)
You indwell me Tá tú i gceartlár mo chroí (In the centre of my heart)
You surround me

You surround me Tá tú thart orm (You’re all around me)
You indwell me
You’re beside me Tá tú ag mo thaobh (You’re at my side)
Ever present always near

You’re the whisper Is tú ag cogar (You whisper)
Calling my name gently Ag glaoch m’ainm (Calling my name)
Love eternal Grá go síoraí (Love eternal)
Reaching to me jealous for me Ag faire orm (Watching over me )
Go héadmhar dom (Jealous for me)

I will stay with You forever
Arm in arm we’ll walk together
You will never let me go

I can’t live my life without You
My whole will to live is for You
You’ve awakened me to know

You surround me You indwell me
You’re beside me ever present always near

You’re the whisper calling my name gently
Love eternal reaching to me jealous for me
Is tú ag cogar (You whisper)
Go sámh m’ainm (My name gently )
Grá go síoraí (Love eternal)
I can’t live my life without You
I can’t live my life without You
I can’t live my life without You

A Dhia fanfaidh mé leat choíche (God I will stay with you forever)
Lámh ar lámh le chéile (Arm in arm together)
Ní scaoilfidh tú mé riamh (You will never let me go)
Ní fiú ní fiú mo bheatha gan tú (My life is not worth it not worth it
without You)
Thug tú cúis ‘s ciall dom’ shaoil-se (You gave meaning and sense to my life)
Mhúscail tú mo chroí (You awakened my heart)

 

No Regrets

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I can’t remember a trial or a pain
He did not recycle to bring me gain
I can’t remember one single regret
In serving God only, and trusting His hand
All I have need of, His hand will provide
He’s always been faithful to me.
(From He’s Always Been Faithful by Sara Groves)

Sometimes when I run out of words, someone else will sing them for me.
I’m grateful to my daughter-in-law for introducing me to the music of Sara Groves. In my time of wordless worship, in the dark of night, I heard a voice sing the words I was searching for.

Thank you to both Sara and Sarah.

 

It’s Not the End of the World

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Two years ago, after the roads were re-opened, we drove home through a valley burned by a devastating fire.

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The formerly lush green landscape consisted of ash and blackened tree trunks at the time. It looked and smelled like death – the death of a forest, the destruction of homes, and the loss of wildlife.

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This week we passed through the same valley. In the place where ash and charred debris once covered the forest floor, wild flowers and green grass sprang up in an unrestrained chorus of colour under the old black stumps.

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Children in the campground squealed with delight when their moms said they could play in the cool water on the river’s edge. The smoke smelled like sweet barbeque sauce this time.

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Five years ago a microburst wind downed hundreds of trees in our area. Century-old fir trees leaned on telephone wires and giant blue spruce snapped like twigs, crushing cars and houses and garages as they fell. It was a disaster at the time. I mourned over the loss of our big shade tree. It used to cover nearly half the backyard and was a perfect place for tea parties and splash pool swimming with the little ones. When the trunk split in the wind and the tree tipped precariously over the garden we had no choice but to cut it down.

Today, if you wander around town, there are few signs of the storm that ravaged our neighbourhood that day. Roofs have been repaired and trees replanted. I now have two May trees springing up from the healthy root system the old tree left.

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Sometimes after a devastating loss, we feel like things will never be the same, and the truth is, they are not. tree crash IMG_8683But things would have changed had the disaster not occurred, just more gradually. When people visit a town after moving away the first thing they notice is all the changes. There’s a parking lot where the hardware shop used to be and the public works department cut down the big willow down by the park because its roots were getting into someone’s plumbing. But there’s a new wing on the hospital now – and a new recreational climbing facility by the soccer fields. We’ve adjusted. They haven’t.

People lived through both disasters (and a few more I haven’t mentioned). It could have been a lot worse. It was not the end of the world. We felt relieved that we had survived, then came the clean-up and labour-intensive rebuilding. Work crews restrung power lines, tromped through broken homes, cleared trails and rebuilt bridges for months.

Sometimes loss clears the way for something new, something different or even something better. When an old forest burns, it opens up the forest floor to light where seeds, long dormant, can grow again. When my big shade tree came down I had more light so I planted a vegetable garden. We ate some of the tomatoes today.

I was thinking about unwanted change as I looked at photos I took in the fireweed- covered Kettle Valley last week.

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I had good news and bad news after specialized medical scans in Kelowna (which was the purpose of our trip.) The good news is that although there is more than one tumour they are in the same area and the doctor thinks the cancer can be treated with surgery alone. It has not spread to major organs! It is treatable! Thank you, Lord! This is not the worst case scenario. This is one of the better scenarios!

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I felt so relieved and grateful that it took a couple of days to realize, hey, wait a minute… The good news is that I get a free complimentary appendectomy with the removal of parts of my body I’ve thus far been rather attached to. Removing this bit means that bit and that bit won’t have adequate blood supply anymore, so they have to go too. That doesn’t feel like good news today. This will be the third “…ectomy” this year. It feels like autopsy by installment. It’s like being rescued from a burning building or yanked out of your car before a falling tree smashes it like a coke can. It’s a much better than the alternative, but still, when the dust settles, something hurts.firewee vertical ch rs IMG_8517

Don’t get me wrong. I am very grateful that the outcome of the tests was not as bad as feared. But can I admit I’m tired of loss? I’m tired of the work of restoration. Our house has still not been repaired after the flood in March. I don’t want to take more time to recuperate. I’m finally able to get out for a walk in the woods after two surgeries earlier this year.

The hardest part for me is needing to ask for help. I’m the one who comes to the rescue when other people need me. I don’t like needing. I don’t like asking. I don’t like depending. I don’t want to have to trust someone else’s judgment. I want to do the driving.

God is still working on my heart. I whine, then I realize that if I want Jesus’ promised peace that passes understanding I need to give him my right to understand.

I look at our restored city with streets lined with young trees and rain bouncing off sturdy new roofs. I see the ash in the valley replaced with wild flowers and horses and cattle grazing in the newly fenced fields. I see tomatoes and beans and peas growing in my backyard where there was too little sun to grow before. I see change that came about in a way nobody wanted but they appreciate now. There is joy in the journey.

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Again, I have to say, Lord, help me to see from your perspective. I’m going to keep asking for total healing, but I choose to co-operate with you, however you want to do this. I would rather have an instantaneous healing miracle but if surgery is the way you are going, well okay. Let’s do it. I am thankful for physicians with skills. Because you have shown me over and over again that the gold lies on the other side of the valley of shadow, because letting go of my own plans allows your brilliant purpose to shine in dark places, because you have kept your promises and always been faithful (even when it didn’t look like it at the time). I trust you. You give love, joy, and peace. I know you will provide everything I need when I need it.

It’s not the end of the world, but even if it were, you would still be there with your arms open wide.

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You point the way to limitless possibilities.

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And thank you for fireweed. It’s beautiful.

 

Save

There’s More

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When I was a young girl my parents gave me a white leather-bound Bible for my tenth birthday. On the dedication page they wrote: “Our prayer for you – Psalm 91″

Years later I decided to record a list of scripture verses that have stood out to me, that got me through tough times, or spoke to me about my relationship with God. The 91st Psalm was one. I realized this psalm was part of my inheritance and had been for a long time. I took time to study it and meditate on it daily, mining it for riches I had previously overlooked. It became precious to me. In time I moved on to other personally meaningful passages.

This morning I awoke with a line from a line from song recorded by Selah playing in my head. “When I feel like I can’t go on You deliver me. When the road is winding and way too long, You deliver me…”

What does “deliver” actually mean? Maybe I shouldn’t make assumptions. I learned the word “deliver” used in many translations of the Bible can come from more than one word in the Hebrew language. One means to transport like delivering a prisoner to a jail. One means to snatch away, rescue or provide a means of escape. (That’s the meaning I was assuming.) Another can mean to rescue but it can also mean to arm, equip, invigorate or make strong.

Psalm 91 uses two different words. The third verse talks about being delivered from a trap. This is the “plucked out/escape” word, natsal. The other word, chalats, shows up in verse 15. The Passion Translation recognizes the difference. Instead of saying you will be taken out of the situation it says, “You will find and feel my presence even in your time of pressure and trouble.”

Yesterday I was looking at photos I took on the drive home from a hospital a day’s drive away. I spent two days there undergoing specialized tests looking for more cancerous tumours. That’s a scary prospect.

Most of the time I am at peace, but sometimes I feel stressed. Driving up the steep Kootenay Pass on the side of the east side of the mountain with no guard rails between us and a sudden drop of hundreds of feet was one of those moments. I don’t have any photos. There is no place to stop.

I didn’t really want to stop. I just wanted to get out of there.

We parked in a wide lot when we reached the top and I walked around beside the little lake up there. Pacing helps me regain calm.

I took this photo from inside a cabin beside the road. When I looked at it this morning I felt I saw in the picture an open-door invitation to step out of the confines of my own thinking into a greater concept of what safe and secure deliverance means. It could mean being rescued from a situation or it could mean being armed and invigorated in preparation for a greater victory right in the circumstance.

God is creative and not reactive. The road up the mountain is the same road whether a guardrail is visible or not. I don’t know the results of the tests yet. From here the view is a bit scary, but he provides shelter and rest stops along the way. Whether he rescues me from this circumstance or equips me for battle and wider definition of what victory  and holding ground looks like, he has assured me of his presence. He’s got this and he’s not leaving.

After all these years there is even more to be learned from this precious psalm.

For here is what the Lord has spoken to me:
“Because you have delighted in me as my great lover,
I will greatly protect you.
I will set you in a high place,
Safe and secure before my face.
I will answer your cry for help every time you pray,
And you will find and feel my presence
Even in your time of pressure and trouble.
I will be your glorious Hero and give you a feast!
You will be satisfied with a full life
And with all that I do for you.
For you will enjoy
The fullness of my salvation!”

Psalm 91:14-16 The Passion Translation

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