Love in the Deep

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Choose love not in the shallows but in the deep.

~ Christina Rossetti

Falling in love, as wonderful as it feels, is mostly about the way someone makes us feel. Love is not limited to romance. An uplifting sense of approval prompts us to carry our heads higher when a person we admire offers praise – or better yet, asks our advice. Feeling loved allows us to see ourselves through the eyes of another and enjoy the view. Awakening to love returns us to the place of early childhood. Babies receive love but they don’t extend love very well. There is more.

My neighbour taught me a new word this week. Firgun. In contemporary Hebrew it means the opposite of Schadenfreude – that perfect word describing the guilty pleasure we experience when seeing someone we dislike humiliated. Schadenfreude may occur when the… ah… um… person who just sped past us on a dangerous curve is now parked on the side of the road in front of a vehicle with flashing lights. That shamefully satisfying feeling is Schadenfreude,  not firgun.

Firgun is simple unselfish pleasure that comes from seeing another person receive something especially good, even though we ourselves may have been overlooked for a similar honour or windfall. Firgun is rejoicing with those who rejoice. Firgun is jealousy-free genuine joy. Firgun is mature love.

Years ago, on a hot summer day I joined my sweet friend in a cool private swimming pool. We had it all to ourselves and happily wallowed in the shallow end to cool off. I didn’t know she couldn’t swim. She didn’t know the pool had a deep end.

She took a step over the line that marked the beginning of the plunging floor. When she couldn’t touch bottom she panicked and flailed about so dramatically I thought she was joking. She wasn’t. I could still touch bottom so I reached out to grab her.

My kind, sweet, caring, gentle friend nearly drowned me.

She pulled me into the deep end with her and tried to push herself up with hands on my shoulder and head. That pushed me under. The problem was that she wouldn’t let go of my hair as she strove for air.

Finally I broke free, swam to the edge, got out of the pool, and, when I was on solid ground, extended the pole that hung on the fence.

We both lived, but she avoided me for a while. I knew she couldn’t help it. Desperation drove her, but the feeling of being held under the water until I feared blacking out stuck with me for a long time, too. She had not been in a position to be considerate of my needs and without anything to stand on I became just as vulnerable.

A verse in the Old King James translation of the Bible talks about provoking each other to excel in doing good. A more contemporary translation says this:

Discover creative ways to encourage others and to motivate them toward acts of compassion, doing beautiful works as expressions of love. (Hebrews 10:24 TPT)

Healthy competition inspires by demonstrating what is possible. I’ve seen too many people, including couples who have sworn to love each other and friends who have known each other for years, engaged in unhealthy competition that looks more like a desperate attempt to keep heads above water by pushing the other one under.

Sometimes we can depend on another person to carry us in a way that makes us turn them into an idol who will eventually disappoint. Sometimes our desperation turns them into someone we treat as expendable in the face of our overwhelming need. In desperate times we can cling with such ferocity to a human source of support that we nearly drown them. Sometimes we are the ones who need to disentangle and leave before we can help.

I’ve been thinking about why love is so hard. I wonder if reaching out to love other people when we don’t feel loved ourselves is like being pulled into the deep end against our will. Love has to be a choice or it is not love.

Love in the shallows (and I’m not just talking about couple love here) becomes love in the deep only when we no longer cling to another mere person for approval or for our sense of identity. Love in the deep is love that gives, because it has learned how to receive from the source of love and has something to give.

Mature lovers know that even in the deep they can be grounded in rest and on the firm foundation of  Jesus Christ’s love. They also refuse to let themselves become a god to anyone else and instead help them to connect to God themselves. They can stand firm and extend His love like I extended the pole to my struggling friend.

How do we know the difference between mature love and self-serving love? Firgun. Can I be genuinely happy for another person’s healing, or financial gain, or  recognition without triggering my own sense of lack? Does their success give me pleasure and release a flood of praise to the Giver of all good things? For close family and friends perhaps, but for most people, on my own,  no.

I can’t give what I have not received. But when I am in Christ and he is in me? Then I can remember that the love the Father has for the Son includes me. When I center my life in Him, and focus on who He is, His grace empowers me to do the creative good works he designed for me. He will show me how to become a mature lover of others without drowning in old pain. He makes me into a giver with firgun.

A Season of Testing

 

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The last of the lilac blossoms fade and scatter outside my window. I love lilacs. Their scent is wonderful, if you are not allergic to them – and I’m not. For some people, lilacs can trigger memories of glorious spring and the approach of summer freedom. For others, lilacs annoy the unconscious brain with recollections of hay fever and the approach of long hot hours picking strawberries, followed by picking rocks, picking tobacco and picking fights with other tired irritated pickers.

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Not everyone loves the smell. My friend was devastated when her neighbour hacked off the branches of a mature lilac bush between their properties just as blooms emerged. To one who loves lilacs and waited the whole winter through for their appearance it felt like witnessing a murder, or at least severe persecution. To some, lilacs are an aroma of hope-filled life and to others, an aroma of foreboding death.

The neighbour must have experienced serious nasal congestion to follow through with such an act, but, if I think about it, I have also been driven to desperation by head colds that went on for weeks and kept me from sleeping like a bad conscience. If I knew being around lilacs provoked my miserable reaction I might make a midnight foray with a hatchet myself. I don’t know. I’m not in her bedroom slippers. It just felt sad.

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Lilacs also remind me of year-ends tests. I remember sitting under the lilac bushes in the back yard while cramming for a high school math exam. That image might define mixed emotion for me. Frustrating formulas and fabulous fragrance at one picnic table.

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The association between lilac season and tests continued for many years. Dates for Royal Conservatory and Trinity College of London singing exams often showed up at the same time as a bower of mauve blossoms over the venue’s door. The fragrance wafted through an open window in the waiting area. I think one of the songs may even have been ‘Lilacs” by Rachmaninoff.

I remember waiting for my grandfather to pick me up after completing an exam that I thought went quite well. I sat on the steps outside the building, cradled clusters of flowers in my hands, and breathed deeply. Lilac blossoms also smell like relief.

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When I became a music teacher, I rushed past the lilacs to fit in an extra lesson or a make a rehearsal with the student and accompanist. I never realized until then that external exams were tests for the teacher as well. Her, or his, professional reputation could hinge on how well somebody else performed. Sometimes smiles and encouraging, cajoling words hid a desire to use stronger modes of motivation on students who didn’t take practice (and my ego) seriously enough. When I finally had time to appreciate my favourite flowers most of the petals flitted on the breeze and showered down on the grass like confetti at a fairy wedding.

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Now I have time to sit in the garden and enjoy, but the scent still carries the undertones of test papers and pencils and nervousness. I used to encourage students by telling them, “Tests can reveal areas that need improvement, but mostly they prove that you have learned what you set out to learn this year. I have just heard you sing this song perfectly. As far as I am concerned you have already passed the exam. All you need to do is show up at the right time and right place and get credit for your hard work. No matter how you do in the examination I will still be here for you. I have faith in you.”

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This past year has been a season of testing for me. I’ve discovered a lot of areas in my reactions to hard questions and frustrating puzzles that need improvement. Sometimes I wished I could hack it all down and make it go away. There is so much more I need to know, but I have also learned that many concepts that seemed sound in theory have proven to be sound in practice.

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It’s like I’ve been sitting at that picnic table in my parents’ garden, feeling the pressures of remembering and applying what I read and heard and studied and even wrote about.

It’s been like walking, with great fear and trembling, into an empty concert hall where an examiner seated at a table waits sharpened pencil and exam form.

It’s required thankfulness and remembering that in the middle of testing, I am surrounded by the beauty and fragrance of Jesus who gave himself for me.

It’s still recalling the encouragement of the Holy Spirit who said, “You can do it. I’m not leaving.”

It’s receiving the approval of my heavenly Father who gives the gift I have always longed for – his unfailing love.

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And continue to walk surrendered to the extravagant love of Christ, for he surrendered his life as a sacrifice for us. His great love for us was pleasing to God, like an aroma of adoration—a sweet healing fragrance. (Ephesians 5:2 TPT)

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Praise Every Morning

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It was warm enough to take my coffee out on the deck early this morning. I sat quietly and thanked the Lord for his goodness.

This is the first morning I’ve had a chance to sit in my own garden after a trip to the cancer center for a six month check-up.

Good news! No evidence of new tumours.

It’s a new day and I am deeply grateful.

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This I recall to my mind,
Therefore I have hope.

The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease,
For His compassions never fail.

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They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.

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Mine is the sunlight! Mine is the morning
Born of the one light Eden saw play!
Praise with elation, praise every morning;
God’s recreation of the new day!

(from Morning Has Broken by Eleanor Farjeon)

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This, That, and The Other

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This.

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That.

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The other.

It’s no wonder, that God’s anxiety therapy includes a large, delightful dollop of gratitude. The anxious heart says, “Lord, if only I had this, that, or the other, I’d be okay.”

The grateful heart says, “Oh, look! You’ve already given me this, that, and the other. Thank you, God.”
~Max Lucado

 

Following the Sun

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Happiness is untested delight. Joy is delight tested.
~ Jack Hyles

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The sunflowers are back in the Kootenays. Yes, I know they are really called arrow leaf balsam root but locals call them sunflowers because they follow the sun.

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I love this time of year! My friend told me they were in bloom. I’m grateful I felt well enough this weekend to hike up to the first butte where they are known to congregate.

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It’s been a year of testing, a year with moments that would not usually fit in the delightful category. And yet there is joy in the midst of challenge. I am learning to choose to notice the delight God takes in his creation, for example.

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I am learning that joy is not dependent on circumstances. Joy rises above mere logic and statistics of probability.

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Joy, real joy, is knowing that the Source of joy is trustworthy.

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Joy is seeing the big picture and knowing that in the end all will be well.

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The road between here and there can be steep, trying, and even painful, but in the end, all will be well. Our heavenly Father sees the beginning from the end and the end from the beginning. His love wins.

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This is the season of new hope, freshly sprung and following the sun.

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Hope. Spring. Eternity.

God is good.

Immense

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This is a big country. I stopped by a field on the Cowboy Trail in Alberta on my way home this weekend. I am overwhelmed by the immensity of the sky and land I can see from one spot in one place on one road. I cannot comprehend the size of this province or this world, let alone the universe.

I’ve met some extremely intelligent people in my life. I love scientists. Many of them have spent a lifetime learning all they can in a field the size of a clump of clay. Even astrophysicists who look at the big picture and gaze into the sky beyond the sky admit that all their accumulated knowledge is humbling. Questions multiply like the expanding universe. The more we know the more we have to admit we just don’t know.

The same difficulty is seen in developing wisdom on how to rule a nation or get along with other countries. If two people, who care deeply about each other, cannot agree on the best way to earn a living, clean the house, raise a child, or even the best route to drive to the grocery store how can we trust a few people in positions of power and who despise each other to make wise decisions for all of us?

When I read the news and sense the current atmosphere I feel frightened. Sometimes I know too little; sometimes I know too much. The problems are too complex to figure out all by my little self.

Someone reminded me of a story the author of ‘The Hiding Place’, Corrie ten Boom, wrote. She lived in difficult times and sometimes felt overwhelmed. Her father reminded her that when she was a child and excited about going on a train trip with her Papa he didn’t put her ticket in her hand until it was time to actually get on the train. In the same way, God often doesn’t give us the grace to handle a problem until we need it.

I was overwhelmed with anxiety as I faced another medical scan on Friday. I wrote about it here in Real Time. I clung to Corrie’s story, trusting God to hand me a ticket when I needed it even though I was shaking so badly when I arrived at the hospital I could barely hold a pen to sign the permission paper. I wanted to cry. While the nurse started an I.V. for the contrast I wished for a power failure or something — anything– to give me an excuse to escape the place.

Panic attacks attack reason. It magnifies annoyances and projects them on the screen in the mind as terrifying monsters. The night before I convinced myself I could endure ten minutes in the tube. I had serious doubts about lasting twenty minutes. Then I was told the test would take sixty minutes.

The doctor had given me pills to take to calm anxiety, but, like last time, they weren’t helping much. When my name was called I felt like I was marching to my doom, or at least an embarrassing display of illogical immaturity.

And then it happened.

My heavenly Father handed me my grace ticket. The technician told me this MRI machine was significantly larger than the one I was crammed into last time. I felt peace flow over me.

I got on the less narrow bed, closed my eyes, and entered the place where God promised to meet my every need. I thanked him for his goodness. I chose to find delight in him by picturing his beautiful creation. I sang a song of praise. Soon I was in an orchard grove feeling the soft grass bed and warm dappled sun on my skin like I did when I was a child. Then I was in a cool pool of blue water like a mountain lake feeling Holy Spirit’s hands underneath me like he was teaching a child to float. My part was to be still and trust. I felt his smile.

It didn’t feel like sixty minutes. It felt like I was in that place where time didn’t matter. I felt immense peace as wide as the Alberta sky. When the technician told me they were finished, slid me out and helped me to my feet I knew I had experienced the strength that comes from resting in the Lord in more than a theoretical way. If you have never suffered from anxiety attacks this won’t make sense to you, but to me it felt like a miracle.

We all face uncertainty and fear, some of us more than others because of personal history, or loss of physical or mental strength, or seemingly overwhelming circumstances. I know I’m not the only one who is sensing an atmosphere of increased anxiety in the world. Many people, especially children and young people, are experiencing high levels of anxiety like never before. I do believe we need to turn to God in humility admitting that we need help.

I am learning that if God says he’s got this, he’s got this. Even when the atmosphere fills with threatening clouds the warmth of his love can shine through. We have the freedom to ask, then quietly trust like a contented child at rest on a mother’s lap.

Lord, my heart is meek before you.
I don’t consider myself better than others.
I’m content to not pursue matters that are over my head—
such as your complex mysteries and wonders—
that I’m not yet ready to understand.

I am humbled and quieted in your presence.
Like a contented child who rests on its mother’s lap,
I’m your resting child and my soul is content in you.

O people of God, your time has come to quietly trust,
waiting upon the Lord now and forever.

(Psalm 131 The Passion Translation)

Thank you, Lord. You are so good.

Real Time

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It’s 3:30 a.m. Instead of sleeping I am here, on the computer. I’m also eating some ridiculously expensive fat-free, dairy-free strawberry rhubarb ice cream which I stashed in the corner of the freezer for an auspicious occasion.

This is not an auspicious occasion. I can’t get back to sleep after I woke from a nightmare about being sealed in an MRI tube by people who lied to me about how long the procedure would take, and then forgot I was in there.

Fear is custom-designed.

Being stuck in an MRI machine that is several sizes too small happens to be a fear designed for me.  I have a scan scheduled for later this week. It doesn’t help to know doctors are looking for evidence of metastatic cancer in my liver. This is the faith journey in real time.

It would be so easy to say, “I am struggling with fear.” We often hear that expression, but when I hear someone say, “I am struggling with jealousy,” or “I’m struggling with pornography,” I want to respond, “No, you’re not. You are choosing to surrender to obsessive resentful thoughts about your colleague. You are not “struggling.” You are giving in to self-indulgent lustful curiosity via photographic image.”

It’s easy to be smug when other people’s temptations are not tempting to me. But I face my own temptations. The Bible says don’t you go accusing God of tempting you. Temptation only latches on to weird stuff you are already hoarding in the basement of your heart and secretly nurturing with strawberry rhubarb ice cream.

When you are tempted don’t ever say, “God is tempting me,” for God is incapable of being tempted by evil and he is never the source of temptation. Instead it is each person’s own desires and thoughts that drag them into evil and lure them away into darkness. Evil desires give birth to evil actions. And when sin is fully mature it can murder you! So my friends, don’t be fooled by your own desires! (James 1:13-16)

The first step to getting free from “the struggle” is to admit that it is there. The root of my fear is the lie that my heavenly Father is distracted by more attractive, more important, more rewarding relationships with his other children. Sometimes I feed that nasty monster in the basement bits of bitter memories of being forgotten and ignored and misdiagnosed and mistreated before. That’s when the devil and his minions say, “Oh. You’re bitter and scared. We can help you with that.”

The thing is, being mistreated and forgotten was not my heavenly Father’s doing in the first place. That was a result of the brokenness of people with their own ways of coping with pain caused by the one who comes to steal, kill and destroy. God was the one has consistently got me through those situations. He’s a good, good father. Jesus came to show us what he was really like – and I can’t imagine Jesus sealing me up in a noisy metal tube and leaving me there.

He delights in us. He wants relationship. Like the Lover in the Song of Songs he invites to come away and walk with him in a flowered spring orchard like the one I saw in the Okanagan this week.

The Bridegroom-King:
Arise, my dearest. Hurry, my darling.
Come away with me!
I have come as you have asked
to draw you to my heart and lead you out.
For now is the time, my beautiful one.

The season has changed,
the bondage of your barren winter has ended,
and the season of hiding is over and gone.
The rains have soaked the earth
and left it bright with blossoming flowers.
The season for singing and pruning the vines has arrived.
I hear the cooing of doves in our land,
filling the air with songs to awaken you
and guide you forth.

Can you not discern this new day of destiny
breaking forth around you?
The early signs of my purposes and plans
are bursting forth.
The budding vines of new life
are now blooming everywhere.
The fragrance of their flowers whispers,
“There is change in the air.”
Arise, my love, my beautiful companion,
and run with me to the higher place.
For now is the time to arise and come away with me.

(Song of Songs 2:10-13)

Okay. I’m putting away the ice cream now and choosing to evict the lie. I choose instead to be thankful for modern medical procedures that can give assurance that liver cells are doing what liver cells were intended to do or can diagnose hidden nastiness before it gets out of hand. I am thanking the Lord for his promise to never leave me and to heal not only my body, but my wounded heart. I’m choosing to give up the struggle and surrender to his love by putting my trembling hand in his big strong hand. He’s got this.

Don’t worry or surrender to your fear. For you’ve believed in God, now trust and believe in me also.  – Jesus (John 14:1 TPT)