Speaking the Truth in Love

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But what I would like to say is that the spiritual life is a life in which you gradually learn to listen to a voice that says something else, that says, “You are the beloved and on you my favour rests.”… I want you to hear that voice. It is not a very loud voice because it is an intimate voice. It comes from a very deep place. It is soft and gentle. I want you to gradually hear that voice. We both have to hear that voice and to claim for ourselves that that voice speaks the truth, our truth. It tells us who we are.

~ Henri Nouwen

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!!

God speaks

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 writing or publishing anything  about the situation. 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. I joined them. 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.

A Song in the Night: Hearing God’s Voice Through Music

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You shall have a song as in the night when a holy feast is kept. (Isaiah 30:29 Amp)

Years ago my Mom gave me a plaque with the meaning of my name and this verse printed underneath. I think names are important and I’m grateful that my parents chose “Song of Grace” as mine. I think the verse was also prophetic as I have learned to pay attention to songs in the night.

The first time I realized God could use this way of communicating was after I prayed asking for wisdom. Someone wanted me to support them by taking up their cause. To be honest, taking up a cause without knowing all sides of the story has landed me in more troublesome murky water than just about any other action. I cared about this person and her desperation, but something didn’t feel right. For two days I asked, “Lord, what should I do?” For two days I had no further information and nothing to indicate a direction. I just had an annoying song stuck in my head. Specifically one line of a song.

This song was from a list of approved selections for early grades Royal Conservatory voice exams. I’m pretty sure you would never hear it pumped through the speakers in the mall or playing on a top ten radio station anywhere. I taught it to young singers as an exercise in musical story-telling, but I hadn’t thought of it in ages. It told the sad tale of a boy named Gilbert who mistook a strange lump in the bog for a rock. The very strange green lump was actually an alligator. The story did not end well for Gilbert.

While my husband and I were driving in the country I starting singing the line out loud in the car. “If you should spot an alligator sleeping, let it be.”

“I don’t know why this silly song is stuck in my head. I keep hearing it,” I said to him. At that moment I heard, “So pay attention,” in my spirit.

Then it struck me. I had been repeatedly asking a question and repeatedly getting an answer, but I didn’t hear it because I wasn’t paying attention. I wasn’t paying attention because I wasn’t expecting to hear. I took the risk of saying no to involvement in the situation – which turned out to be dramatically more complicated than I had been led to believe. What I had received via that song was a word of wisdom.

music books ch IMG_8288I have music in my head all the time. My life has been about music and even after retirement, I can’t bear to part with music books that fill shelves and bins in my house. At this very moment, I can “hear” the background music of a humorous Youtube video I just watched. Obviously, this carries no profound meaning. Singers can tell you how music they are trying to memorize disrupts sleep when it plays over and over as they toss and turn. That’s not what I’m talking about, nor are the kids’ songs you play in the car so often you don’t have to hit any button to start them up.

The songs I’m talking about often come out of nowhere, songs I haven’t heard since the seventies, songs my mother used to sing, songs from hymnbooks now boxed and stored in the shed behind the church building. Sometimes I hear songs I swear I’ve never heard before and sometimes I know I have heard these insistent songs before, perhaps even recently, but they are in a language I am not familiar with and I have to do an internet search for a translation. Sometimes one line from a song I am familiar with will repeat in my dreams like the ground bass in Pachelbel’s Canon. It underscores an entire night’s sleep.

God speaks in many creative ways. Because he is the creator of creativity he awakens creativity he placed in us. When our eyes and ears are opened we perceive his communication via his people in art, music, poetry, calligraphy, photography, dance, gardening, decorating, clothing design, food preparation, architecture and many other ways. Not all people hear the same way. Concrete practical thinkers need direct black and white communication with pre-connected dots. Artsy types float in metaphor. God smiles at your unique make-up.

Sometimes artists don’t even realize they are conduits. They don’t know why they used that word, or painted that colour, or added that variation. It just felt right.

For some time now I’ve had a song playing in that insistent way that I can’t shut off. I don’t recall hearing it anywhere recently. Certain lines kept playing on repeat, especially at night.

Love. Love will keep us together.
When those guys start hanging around talking me down
Hear with your heart and you won’t hear a sound.

Just stop! Stop!
‘Cause I really love you. Better stop! Stop!
I’ll be thinking of you
Look in my heart and let love keep us together – whatever.

I wondered why this song. Then I found out. I thought I was finished with a year of treatments and surgery dealing with health issues, but I’ve just received more discouraging news. More to investigate. More treatment modalities to explore.

I began to let my imagination be distracted by the voices of dismal forebodings clamouring in the back of my brain, those carriers of worry, shame and despair that taunt with, “Did God really say…? Where is he now? Does he really love you or has he abandoned you in the dark with pain that will only get worse? Where are your ‘God is good’ stories now?”

I don’t think Neil Sedaka had this interpretation in mind when he wrote the song, nor did the Captain and Tenille (or the guy with five ukeleles) intend it to carry a message of hope, but God used it.

ive got thisHe says, “Stop! Stop letting your thoughts run away with you. Take those thoughts captive and counter them with who I really am. I want to show you an aspect of myself you can only see in the middle of these circumstances. Stop it, because I really do love you. Look in my heart and let my love for you keep us together, whatever happens, wherever this part of the journey leads. I’ve got this.”

The next day lines from another song started playing in my head. A Stevie Wonder song:

For once, unafraid, I can go where life leads me
Somehow I know I’ll be strong.
For once I can say, ‘This is mine! You can’t take it!
As long as I know I have love I can make it!’”

He’s got this. Therefore, I’ve got this.

Sunday night I heard another song in an orchestral arrangement. I knew it was a Stuart Townend composition but I couldn’t recall a single word. It took me all morning to find it because all I had was the tune and how do you google a tune? But I did find it. It’s about hope. And for some reason one of the first photos in the Youtube version I clicked on was one of mine! I don’t mind my work being used this way (although it is polite to ask). When I saw it I exclaimed, “What? Are you kidding me? This is mine!”

 

 

And in my heart, where I was listening and paying attention, God said, “Yes. Hope. This is yours.”

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Am I Hearing You Right?

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While there are birds, birds to fly…

I heard that Mother Teresa said “I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish that He didn’t trust me so much.”

I’m no Mother Teresa, and I already know that God will give me things I can’t handle. I also know that he gives me things that He can handle if I learn to do only what He asks and let Him do the heavy lifting. (“Will You Be My Alligator” link here.) But sometimes I wonder…

I didn’t feel like driving to Alberta again yesterday when I have so much to do at home. But the Lover of my soul knew I needed a break, so I ended up going. I spent the time in the car talking to God, pouring out my feelings to Jesus, and sitting quietly with Holy Spirit. I have evidence of transformation in my life because I have much more peace than I used to when my list of concerns to pray about gets longer and longer. But still I wonder if I could have done things differently (or sooner), if I said something I ought not to have said (or failed to say), if I am following the right path or if I have missed some crucial heavenly download somewhere. Am I doing this right?

Change is messy, I know, but it looks like I may have to exchange my rubber boots for hip waders soon. I cried out, “Lord! I really need to hear your voice about now! Just talk to me! What should I do?!” (I may have raised my voice.)

I was listening to music on my phone as I drove. (Gotta love a car with a USB port.) Road conditions demanded my attention so I left it on shuffle. The songs played in random order. Most of the music on my phone is a peaceful worshipful style aimed at reducing stress in city traffic. My other more eclectic collections are on a road trip sticks or CDs.

A song came on just as I asked my question. I tell you the truth. I do not recall ever hearing this song before or downloading on my phone. It was in a large, but inexpensive collection of classic jazz tunes I bought a few months ago, but I had only listened to a few familiar favourite songs on it.

This is what I heard: Trust in Me.

I think I have a new favourite.

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“While there’s a moon, a moon up high…”

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