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)

Defying Disappointment

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It’s a dangerous business, this truth-telling.

Sometimes the truth can shake our world so much that we long to return to the way things were before. Sometimes, truth be told, we don’t want to know the truth. Our versions of reality may have many fault lines, but at least we know how they work. We can get by. Sort of. Most of the time.

And then we can’t.

Truth crashes the party and ruins everything. At least that’s what it feels like.

When a messenger bearing truth points a finger at the rickety ramps and bridges and shelters we’ve built on a false foundation it’s easy to hate that uncompromising finger. We blame the messenger, because, well, it’s got to be somebody’s fault, right?

I’ve been on both ends of this conversation. I blew the whistle and it resulted in a big mess. A falsely serene lifestyle came at the cost of a child’s innocence. She was tormented not only by a perpetrator, but by the denial of people who were supposed to look after her. I knew what it was like to cry and not be heard. I decided to listen to the child and take her seriously. All hell broke loose, but I’m not sorry.

I also know what it is like to have a truckload of unwanted facts dumped on my head when I didn’t think I possessed the necessary resources to cope with the consequences of acknowledging them. It felt like an enormous earthquake that shook the foundations of my life. Like many truths this one’s roots tangled with other roots. Pulling it up unearthed even more sordid stuff I had managed to block out of my memory.

I dropped into a pit of despair where a sense of trust vanished like a vapour. When I eventually revealed details to people in a position to make a difference, they reminded me that “love covers a multitude of sins,” and urged me to “forgive and forget.” It took a while to realize that the person who betrayed my trust also betrayed theirs. Public admission of that fact would totally mess up their lives too.

As another muzzled victim said, “With genius you forgive a lot. The organization needed him. Their reputation and income depended on maintaining the status quo. Administration decided loss of integrity was the cost of doing business and you and I, my dear, were delegated to the expenses paid column.” It  felt like a second betrayal.

Betray is an odd word. In modern usage it carries two opposing concepts. The root word comes from Latin word, tradere, meaning “to hand over.” When someone who is part of a group reveals secret weaknesses that expose vulnerabilities to rivals they may be called “disloyal” and receive the label “betrayer.” Yet, interestingly, when someone intentionally abuses power to use or mislead others within the group, they can also be accused of an act of betrayal.

Whether the bearer of truth is seen as the betrayer or the betrayed depends on the point of view of the people affected. It’s actually a subjective label based on who stands to benefit.

I felt horribly alone and came undone for a while, but God provided resources as I needed them. With the help of kind counselors, a supportive husband and friends, books, and a growing sense of Jesus as a brother who had suffered everything I had but still loved enough to give his life for the world, my soul was restored and rebuilt on a better foundation. When I understood that my needs were going to be met by the One who loves me perfectly and who forgave me too, I could begin to take my hands off the throat of those who betrayed me. I could hand my cry for justice over to the One whose end goal is always restoration. I could also speak the truth openly without carrying shame that was not mine. The process taught me about the goodness of God and his relentlessly kind and freeing love.

Memories of this time in my life came back in the context of a powerfully emotional dream I had earlier this week. I believe the Lord wants me to share it because it’s about the times we live in.

I saw a line strung between two poles. Old blankets and sheets hung on the line like laundry, but they were so heavy the poles started to be pulled over by the weight.

I heard, “Don’t hang more curses on this line. It is already under enormous strain. Be careful with your words.”

I watched the line stretch almost to breaking, then I heard, “They will blame the messenger for this. They will turn on the ones who dared to speak the truth.”

I suddenly felt overwhelmed with despair, disappointment, and fear. It was as if I felt the suffering of thousands of people who just realized they had been betrayed. I experienced a deep shaking, at first in my chest, and then all around me like the foundations were sinking in a way I have seen in films about massive earthquakes.

“What is this?” I asked.

“A shaking. A tidal wave of disappointment.”

The combined powerful emotions and physical sensation of not feeling the ground under me was extremely upsetting.

“What should I do?”

“Shift your focus. Turn the tide by focusing on God and thanking and praising him for all he has done for you.”

I woke up and did just that. I didn’t have to think or compose thoughts or sentences. Praise flowed from my lips. I was still shaking, but the feelings lifted. I realized then the strong emotions were not merely mine. I was feeling empathy for the suffering of others without hope.

When I picked up my phone to check the time I saw a shocking message. A tsunami warning had been issued moments earlier. A major earthquake shook the plates near Alaska and instigated the necessity of a warning of a possible tidal wave for the central coast and islands of western Canada.

I watched and prayed for the rest of the night. My prayer consisted mostly of praise to the One who calmed the sea. I thanked him for everything I could think of. Eventually, even though several of my friends on the coast were evacuated to higher ground during the night, the all-clear sounded and they returned to safe dry homes. I believe this was a confirmation that the message was not for me alone.

I’ve been pondering the experience. I’m very serious about the strength of the emotion of this dream and the attention-grabbing statement: A tidal wave of disappointment.

I sense a shake-up coming. Every day we hear reports of resignations and allegations of corruption and institutional complicity exposed by those brave enough to speak up. People have known about these open secrets for years, so I have to ask, “Why now?”

I wonder if the spiritual atmosphere is shifting in response to the prayers of many for light of Christ to shine in dark places. I wonder if this is the beginning of a reformation and restoration of solid foundations and an answer to the humble cry for justice. Judgment starts in the house of the Lord, so it doesn’t surprise me at all that some of the first places to be exposed are religious institutions that have abused power.

Abuse victims are not the only ones affected by betrayal of trust. When families, friends, co-workers, and colleagues are confronted with a different reality than denial has constructed it’s earth-shaking. The Bible says a brother offended is harder to be won than a strong tower and the list of offended brothers and sisters is reaching a breaking point.

I believe we are in a season when many evils are coming to light – in ourselves, in our families, in churches, and in communities right up to world government systems. Even the earth itself groans as the shifting moves foundations. After all these years I am not surprised when people respond with denying or minimizing or blame-shifting when confronted by the seriousness of the discovery of corruption in their midst. In a sense we have all been complicit in a corrupt system ever since our first parents decided to defy their maker. Our first response is often to block out the light that reveals things we don’t want to see. It takes time and courage to do the right thing because we need to be able to have faith when we know this is going to be messy.

But here’s the thing, God is good. He does supply the resources we need to heal. We will see them when we shift our focus from our own short-sighted devices to the God who loves and makes provision for our growth by giving us the right tools at the right time.

If you wonder why you have known both the despair of disappointment and the joy of restoration in your life, perhaps you are one of the healers God is preparing for such a time as this. Like their lord, Jesus, safe people have learned how to suffer and still be able to love. They know the power of love to cast out fear, no matter the circumstance. Sons and daughters of God who know they are loved perfectly by Him have no need to exploit others. They know Jesus came to set the captives free.

Watch. Worship. Be at peace. His plans for you are good.

Hope thou in God for I shall yet praise Him, my glory and the lifter of my head.

Oranges!

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It’s winter.

We have oranges.

“So?” you may ask.

I asked the same question when the Lord kept drawing my attention to the bowl on the kitchen counter.

I realized, as I peeled a huge navel orange, that my grandmother, living with her malnourished family in two thin-walled granaries pulled together on the frozen prairie in the 30s, would have seen these colourful globes on her table as a miracle.

I realized, as I pulled the juicy segments apart, that unlike my friend, who is now on tube feedings, I can eat oranges.

I realized, as I bit off a piece and the wonderful scent filled my sniffer, that unlike another friend, whose sense of taste has been distorted by chemo, I can taste oranges.

I realized, as I cleaned sticky orange juice off my fingers, that unlike a new Facebook contact, I can afford to buy a bowl of oranges grown in some semi-tropical climate and flown (in the sky!) to my grocery store in Canada. My medication costs under $2500 per dose and is covered by our healthcare. The same drug, at the same dosage, costs over ten times as much in her country and is only partially covered by medical insurance with extremely high premiums.

“So?”

So, there is always, always, something to be thankful for. I see it now.

Thank you, Lord!

 

 

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.