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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When God Drives His Kid Back Home

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The craziest thing happened today. I’m still shaking my head.

In the absence of information about my state of health while awaiting more tests and test results (eight weeks is a long time to live with uncertainty), my impatience and my tendency to handle anxiety by gathering as much information as possible in be-prepared boy scout-fashion (because I hate nasty surprises) all ganged up on me. They convinced me to turn to the back pages of Dr. Google’s Book on Exceptional Cases.

According to him my situation is, of course, much more dire than even my unrestrained 3 a.m. insomnia-induced imagination could construe. There seem to be more websites in the UK offering information than in North America, most of them information-packed and some optimistic, but they still outline a difficult path. I was sucked into an obsession with emotionally-detached drama.

I followed links until I found support groups and personal blogs about life with the cancerous syndrome doctors think I have. Some sufferers’ blogs apparently ended abruptly months or years ago. Yikes.

I followed links, swinging from to another, that spoke of drastic surgeries and learning to live with inevitable metastasis and crushing disappointment whilst trying to appreciate the good days when they showed up – apparently less recognizable for some than others.

Then I read a blog by a cheerfully sincere writer who included a list of links to other sites in the margin, mostly medical sites with information containing the latest research on treatments and dietician’s advice. I wasn’t expecting to see anything with spiritual content but the name of one blog stood out to me. “My Simple, Yet Supernatural Life.” Out of curiosity I clicked on it.

Imagine my shock when the first thing I saw was a photo of a book I contributed to that was just released in June! There it was with my name on the cover – Charis Psallo – along with 27 other writers.

Whaaat??!!! It looks just like my copy!!

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The writer of this blog was Holly Cusato, a co-author who was also asked by Praying Medic to write her story about hearing God’s voice. I hadn’t met her yet. (I have now!)

God Speaks is about how different followers of Jesus from different backgrounds and traditions and styles of worship have learned to hear God for themselves. I am very grateful to Praying Medic for inviting me to submit an essay describing my experience of learning to pay attention to the unexpected ways God speaks to me. Resisting the urge to compare my beginner status to other people who amaze me, I sent him the essay two years ago.

The day he contacted me to let me know it was going to be released that week is the day the surgeon told me I had cancer. That morning I read an email confirming an open door to an opportunity I saw in a dream. Other significant emails correcting information about lies we had long believed arrived on the very same day as well. I’m learning to pay attention when similarly themed events line up like a well-timed chorus-girls’ kickline. Do you see it? Pay attention, Charis.

So, here I was this afternoon, wandering away from God’s promise that he’s got this and arming myself with Dr. Google’s earth-bound facts to load the yeah-but hope-blasting unbelief cannon when Abba, my ever-lasting-kindness Heavenly Father ever so lovingly hijacks my computer and drags me back from National Health Service research papers to land me on a page with a reminder to pay attention to His voice – using my own writing about paying attention to his voice. Like I said, the craziest thing. The angels must be laughing.

He’s like a father who drives around town looking for a kid who has been out too late with the wrong crowd. When he finds her he kindly, but sternly drives her home with a reminder of who she really is by quoting her own words from previous conversations the whole way.

 

Lord, you amaze me. You have my attention. My eyes are back on you. I know you love me. The adventure continues.

And thank you, Holly! Her blog is here. https://supernaturallifeblog.wordpress.com/2017/06/17/god-speaks/

Links to God Speaks here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B071H3GNVZ

and in Canada, here: http://amzn.to/2tVoGQR

Tightrope

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Can’t pretend that I am blind
Can’t go back and erase the mind
Naivety and wide-eyed wonder are far from me
But at least now I see
It’s like I’m walking on a tightrope
Stretched across the universe
Way too high to go back from where I came
Overwhelmed at the miles I’ve yet to tame

-from Tightrope by Misty Edwards

When I started writing this blog I thought it was about having an outlet for creative expression and sharing, in a grandmotherly way, how the Lord has enabled me to grow and change. I didn’t know it would be about the faith walk in real time. I’m not done yet. I’ve got a long way to go.

I was happy to share insights and personal victories – after I could see the outcome when the mess was tidied up and the embarrassing trip through doubt and emotional upheaval faded in the rear-view mirror.

Then, in the spring of 2013, it looked like our healthy, athletic son-in-law was going to die. I was going to wait before saying anything. I said I was worried that it might look like I was using a crisis to gain attention. The truth is I allowed doubt to creep in. I wanted to make sure everything turned out well before I posted. But I felt the Lord saying that faith is acting as though it is well with my soul before facts anyone can check are evident. I took the risk of increased transparency. (Love is Louder)

When I participated in helping my daughter and son-in-law write a book about the miracle God did, it meant letting go of precious privacy for all of us. Were we willing to tell the story to strangers and let them into dark rooms where we cried and begged in moments of doubt? They decided the story was not theirs alone and invited the world into the bigger story of God’s goodness and intent to bless many more people. Yes, it was worth it. (While He Lay Dying)

A few weeks later we faced another crisis. Our eldest son and his family faced challenges when floods hit, destroying much of their town and turning their property into a new lake. I learned from the experience earlier that year that God trusts us with his blessings, so long before we saw restoration, while the family was still in the Canadian version of a refugee camp, I wrote a blog post about the future of High River. (High River’s Higher Calling) The post had several thousand Facebook shares, was picked up by news services and spread much more widely than I anticipated. This word of hope is still the post with the highest number of hits.

Gradually I am learning to let concern for what impresses readers about me take second place to what impresses God about me. Trust. Trust (or faith) and talking about his goodness as if it were a real thing – because it is. Even when we can’t see it yet.

As an ice-breaker, I ask people this question: What’s the worst movie you have seen and why did you hate it? We often ask about favourite books or songs or movies and sharing those things helps us to understand each other better. But sharing the things that provoke us to righteous indignation and creative rants sometimes reveals hearts’ passions on a deeper level.

When someone asked me this question I knew the answer immediately. I could think of three films that thoroughly irked me and made me want my time and ticket money back. With little effort, two more came to mind. All were nominated for Academy Awards. All of them featured talented actors, brilliant cinematography, amazing costume and set design and all the production skills of top-notch artists. All of them carried the message: ABANDON HOPE. What a waste of resources!

The secret shame became public. The fall-out of a crime lingered for generations and attempts at atonement failed. Grief was insurmountable. Terminal loneliness and disconnection returned. The hero’s pointless death led to the memory of the faint chorus of a jaded ancient king: Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.

I want to scream! Quit trying to drag me into your hopelessness that offers a cruel kindness in place of love, where worry dons the thin costume of fragile, short-lived happiness, and despair suggests resignation to death is the only solution to the problem of pain!

I want stories of hope. Real hope in real life circumstances. Real hope that doesn’t hide under a veneer of re-written fictional happy endings. Real hope that doesn’t rely on fallible humans or systems. Real hope that looks physical reality in the face and says, ‘My God is bigger.’ Real hope that says, ‘Because he lives, I can face tomorrow. Because he lives the child I carry can have a future. Because he lives this marriage can be saved. Because he lives depression will lift. Because he lives goodness is still a weapon against evil. Because he lives I’m no longer a slave to fear.’

I want stories of hope that can say, with authentic candour, ‘This sucks, but Jesus has come to show us what his Father is really like by destroying the works of the devil.’

Then I hear my Heavenly Father say, “So write them yourself. Tell people I’m good. But be authentic, not nostalgic.”

Misty Edwards writes songs that touch my heart in the middle of ‘this sucks.’ One that means a lot to me right now is called “Tightrope.” In the song, she talks about ‘the mystical in-between,’ that place where we know God is doing something in our lives, but we don’t know what. It’s that place where putting one foot in front of the other is the only choice because we’ve come too far to go back, we have too far to go to sit down and we have to keep moving if we don’t want to fall.

Hanging there in space, my toes gripping the rope
The only hope
That golden thread that got me here
Will be the same
That brings me to the end

I know, I know You’re with me
You surround me, You surround me
Your invisible hand is around, around
In this uncomfortable in-between
Where I’m too far in to turn around now
Too far to go to sit down now…

So at the risk of looking like I am attention- or sympathy-seeking, or trying to get as many numbers as I can muster on a prayer petition to influence God (when I truly believe the faith-filled prayers of a little child have as much influence as an entire denomination’s membership) let me be authentic about this uncomfortable place on the tightrope.

A few weeks ago I had a CT scan to rule out any lasting problems with surgery I had in February. Everything was fine in that regard, but the scan revealed a mass in my abdomen that was not fine. After tests, the surgeon told me I have cancer.

At this point I don’t know how serious it is, if it has spread, or what kind of treatment I’ll need, although there is evidence it has been there for a long time. Today I start a series of invasive scans and scopes looking for other sites which, quite frankly, I don’t look forward to.

Like Misty (who is a cancer survivor) I know God surrounds me. He gives me dreams, songs in the night, and encouragement through friends, books, podcasts and most of all his love letters. He’s not surprised and I know he’s got this. But it’s still scary.

I feel like there is an attack on hope in this world, and cancer is a symbol of that attack. The word itself carries dismal forebodings.

I have seen marvelous things with my own eyes, things I never thought I would see – the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. I also long to be in Paradise with the Lord. For those who love the Lord and are called according to his purpose every ending is a good ending, but I think I still have things to do here.

I welcome prayer, but if you pray for me can I ask that you attach it to a prayer for hope for yourself, your community, your country, our world?

When I run out of words I paint my feelings. In the interest of keeping it real, I painted a woman on a tightrope who is just an average-type woman with an unimpressive average shape because this battle is about hope for everyone. She’s coming from a place of darkness and moving toward the light of hope.

And this is the walk of faith in real time.

Infuse

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I pray that God, the source of all hope, will infuse your lives with an abundance of joy and peace in the midst of your faith so that your hope will overflow through the power of the Holy Spirit.

(Romans 15:13 The Voice)

When I see different thought streams start to converge and ideas come together I feel excited. I want to talk about them – a lot. I’m a verbal processor and for some reason I can I hear my thoughts better when I bounce them off people.

This can be wearing on friends, I know. To spare them from a barrage of words and ideas which I may discard the next day, I intentionally spend most of my time alone. Sometimes I journal. Sometimes I ruminate. But nothing works as well as a listening ear. Fortunately my husband understands. He’s a verbal processor too.

I’ve learned not to take him seriously until he comes to some sort of conclusion and he does the same for me – most of the time. Both of us have to keep apologizing because when we’re on a roll it’s hard for people who think hard before they speak to find a gap in the conversation large enough to stick a sentence in.

I’m learning to be a better listener and to ask better questions and honour long silent gaps in a conversation. I’m also learning to bracket interesting tangents my friends may inspire and come back to them later. But it’s not a consistent habit yet. It still takes conscious effort.

There are other areas of my life the Lord is working on. It’s like an episode of a TV show about hoarders. He has moved into the central living room of my life and the hearth of my heart, but the outer rooms are still being cleared.  Some of them are still piled with superfluous stuff like habits and unexamined ideas I’ve collected from garage sales. My intent was to re-purpose them into something, if not beautiful, then at least useful. Yeah. I know. That never really happened. Clutter. Toss it.

Changing annoying habits based on stupid ideas is a lot easier in theory than in practice. As long as I am concentrating on eating only healthy vegetables, for example, all is well. If I’m watching an exciting movie and an open bag of potato chips just happens to perch itself on the coffee table, I can crunch through a couple of handfuls before I even notice. And I don’t even like potato chips.

Change starts with an idea, but remains merely theoretical without practice.

Lately the Lord has been bringing opportunities to put into practice the things he has been teaching me, like listening more, and responding with a positive, trusting attitude when he sends prompts to engage his promises. It’s a chance to live in an abundance of peace and joy and overflowing hope. Alas, my response is not yet automatic when I am reading the instructions for preparations for another scope or scan, like I was doing this morning. I tend to catastrophize.

I need a better thought.

Sometimes I need to let new ideas infuse themselves into my life before the actions they inspire show up in all my words and actions. Like the process for making a proper cup of tea the process for heart-change cannot be rushed. I need to let it steep for a while. I need to listen and re-listen and meditate and study God’s words before they start to infuse every part of my life.

How to meditate? Someone told me once that if you can worry, you can meditate. Instead of mulling over the eternal ramifications of what can go wrong, try looking at what can go right, at what God has promised you, the dreams he placed in your heart, the way he has, by his grace, brought you this far. Rest in his presence and enjoy his company.

I just looked up and saw a post-it note I plastered to the edge of the shelf above my computer a few weeks ago. It says: Your God is present among you. Happy to have you back, he’ll calm you with his love and delight you with his songs. (Zephaniah 3:17)

Time to listen to his choice in music.

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