Carefree in the Care of God

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I looked out the window above my computer. This is what God’s voice sounds like — the rush of wings. This is what God’s voice looks like — birds feasting on berries in a mountain ash tree on a cold Canadian winter morning.

I was worrying. I went to the pharmacy this morning, expecting to pick up a prescription. It’s a unique medication formulated for a unique condition. (My case is “complex,” the doctors say, nearly every time I see them.)

The dear people who faithfully count out my pills told me they were just informed that the medication was on back-order and the company didn’t expect to be able to send any in the dosage I require until July. They seemed as shocked as I was.

This is not a medication one can suddenly stop taking without dire effect. I have an eight day supply left. My pharmacist is working to find a solution.

I was sitting here at my desk not feeling frantic with worry, but somewhat perturbed with worry when I heard a rush of wings and saw a flock of birds swoop past my window. The breeze they stirred up shook the panes slightly and immediately caught my attention.

In unison, they flew away, circled around the neighbourhood, then flew back. Then they flew away again. When they returned, they landed on the mountain ash tree, full of red berries ignored by other over-wintering birds and hanging from branches too high for the deer to reach.

It’s like a feast of unique red fruit was prepared months ago during the long hot days of summer and now, it beckons. A table spreads before them in the winter wilderness of snow and ice.

I suddenly remembered Jesus talking about his heavenly Father providing for the birds. All morning, well all week, really, I have teetered on the teary brink of feeling like I felt so often during my childhood — unnoticed, unimportant, out of step, and out of season in a wrong place/wrong time sort of way.

The unspoken question as faint as a birdwing fluttered in my heart: Do you see me? Do you care? Will you look after me when my own responses to “take care of yourself” are not enough?

The birds whooshed away and whooshed back a few minutes later. I watched. I listened. I heard.

“Take the carefree birds as your example,” He said to my heart. “Do you ever see them worry?”

“They don’t grow their own food or put it in a storehouse for later. Yet God takes care of every one of them, feeding each of them from his love and goodness.

Isn’t your life more precious to God than a bird? Be carefree in the care of God!”

(Luke 12:24 TPT)

He’s got this.

 

Trespassing By Permission Only

Wait… what?

Every time I pass this sign on an empty lot I shake my head. “TRESPASSING BY PERMISSION ONLY”

Wait… what?

If you have permission to trespass are you not still trespassing? Is trespassing not a boundary violation thus implying a, you know, violation?

Is this permission to trespass like the greasy grace I hear people talking about, the definition of grace that says sin has no consequences because everything past and future has been forgiven? I met a person who insisted that any effort to live a righteous life rejected the grace of God and proved they had a works-based picture of salvation. She left a broken relationship debris trail in her wake.

Is this a trick or a Mission Impossible set-up? We want you to go do this thing, but should you be apprehended we shall disavow any knowledge of you or permission given. Intrigue may be the stuff of fascinating film plots, but it’s not the stuff of a lifestyle of integrity that earns respect or votes in the next selection of committee chairperson.

Is this a case of the owner of the property and the administrator of the property disagreeing on who is in charge? I’ve had supervisors like that. Boss #1: All forms must be submitted in triplicate, no exceptions. Boss #2: Ignore that policy. It takes too long. One copy is good enough. Here’s an impossible pile of work for you to complete by closing today. It feels like being free to choose your executioner.

Is this the kind of rule that does not apply equally? I know people who think traffic rules apply only to stupid people with slow reaction time, and they, being neither stupid nor slow, are not subject to laws that impede their agenda. Drive the legal speed limit in the left lane and they will let you know which category they consider you to be in. I also know people qualified by knowledge and hazmat suits who dare to go where others do not, but are they trespassing by permission, or those ordained by legal authority are they boldly re-taking polluted territory?

Is this a rule that is actually a valid rule or did someone assume they could stick up a sign any old place and claim squatters’ rights the way an intimidating person with a snarling dog claims a patch of pavement in a part of town Mama told you to avoid? Jesus was not afraid to confront demonic squatters who claimed ownership of suffering souls. “He is mine!” they cried. “No, he is not. Get out!” he said firmly. They left and he destroyed their signs.

Is this the kind of law that made sense in a different time and a different culture but is a source of humour now? We laugh at some ancient rules still on the books for lack of a good clean-up. They may have been based on consideration or expediency at the time, but no longer apply. In the town of Saywhat, Saskatchewan, it is illegal to tie your hog to the statue of the mayor on Tuesdays. Is it always better to remain single or was that advice given for a time of severe persecution in the first century in Thessalonica? Must a woman be silent in the presence of all men forever or was Paul’s advice to Timothy meant to be a temporary measure to establish some kind of order in a place that had no grid for freedom with consideration?

Is this the kind of sign that indicates a significant change in the way we assumed God works? I sympathize with Peter, a life-time rule-keeper, who was given a repeated vision of formerly forbidden food before realizing God was asking him to take the good news beyond boundaries he had always known. How would I respond? I would hope that I had the discernment to be very sure this was God speaking to me, but I would probably want more than three repetitions, an audible voice and a committee knocking at the door.

If I think I have heard the voice of God telling me to trespass, either the boundary is not really a boundary, or it is not really the voice of God.

Or does this sign merely snag the attention of picky people who think too much? Maybe I just need to see it as a reminder that gracious people can glance at a sign, smile, and say I know what they meant. Good enough.

 


Thinking of Everything

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“Why am I the one who has to think of everything?” a young mother asked. “My husband’s idea of preparing for a trip is carrying the suitcases out to the car.”

I smiled. I remembered this. One day my father-in-law announced he was taking us to the fair. We would be gone all day. His intent was for us to stay late and watch the fireworks. After telling us to hurry up he put on his baseball cap, grabbed his keys and went out to the car.

Eventually he came back in to see what was taking so long. I happened to be feeding and dressing three little kids (two still in diapers), gathering supplies for the day and putting them in backpacks and diaper bags. My mind was whirling as I made preparations that necessitated asking myself the question, “What could go wrong?” so I would know what to bring.

Dad was going out of his way to do something kind for us. He was a natural optimist and couldn’t understand why I was fretting. This was supposed to be fun.

There is something about being responsible for others that turns many of us into worriers. Perhaps it is because we feel like we have to think of everything or we could find ourselves caught in a blizzard in a swim suit and flip flops and fresh out of diaper rash cream for the baby. Maybe that’s how I got in the habit of starting my day with thinking about what could go horribly wrong. Thinking about what could go amazingly right is postponed for a later hour after lists are made and items checked off. Sometimes I never get around to that thought until I tumble, exhausted, into bed at night.

I’m trying to change.

Now, before I  get out of bed, I intentionally direct my thoughts to thanking God for answered prayer and the potential of the next day. I intend to not allow negativity to squash my joy before the day even begins. Then I lay my plans before him and let him know they are subject to change as he leads.

It’s often a mental wrestling match on the level of those grunting men of massive girth who throw chairs and put headlocks on referees. Change, real change, deep down heart change, doesn’t come easily for someone like me.

Early yesterday morning, I drove home from a doctor’s appointment in another city. It’s an eleven hour trip there and back. Instead of “trying to think of everything” in preparation for surgery next week I decided to focus on the goodness of God and how he has brought me safe thus far. I put on some good music and sang along.

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One of the things I am thankful for is that my commute is through some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. The glowing sun rose over my shoulder to the east, lit a winter field at rest to the north and touched the mountain peaks to the west with gentle pink light. The air was frigid, but inside my little subcompact cocoon the heater hummed away and kept me warm. I put iPod music on shuffle and watched the day come to life.

Then a song from a new album I bought before I left home began to play. “You’re going to be okay,” the singer assured me. I heard God’s voice in the music.

I have no idea how this is going to go. But I am going to be okay. The Lover of my soul thinks of everything.

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At each and every sunrise you will hear my voice
As I prepare my sacrifice of prayer to you.
Every morning I lay out the pieces of my life on the altar
And wait for your fire to fall upon my heart.

(Psalm 5:3 TPT)

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Everyday It’s a Getting Closer

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Discouragement has been trying to sneak into my heart lately. I bar the doors and it makes faces at me through the windows. I shut the curtains and it sticks out its tongue on the news reports. I flip through Netflix and see it dressed up as reason or compassion or as humour – in black of course. I shut the TV off and discouragement pops up on my phone. Even in-person conversations take a sudden tilt toward you-think-that’s-bad.

Here’s the thing. You can’t escape discouragement when you’ve allowed it to have a camping spot in your head.

We had a problem with mice in the house once. While we were on vacation they got into the pantry. Screaming may have been involved when I opened the doors. I set traps, cleaned up and stored everything in plastic bins after that, but they would still show up. (More screaming.) We called for help.

The exterminator searched all around and found we had a spilled bag of grass seed in the garden shed near the back door.

“There’s your problem,” he said. “They eat in your garden restaurant then come into the house to keep warm. They only need an opening as big as their nose to squeeze through. Get rid of what they are feeding on and they will go away.”

It was one of those moments when I heard God speaking with the accent of a pest control expert.

Get rid of what they are feeding on and they will go away.

I said this to someone else yesterday and heard God’s voice in my own.

Get rid of what discouragement is feeding on and it will go away.

What’s it feeding on? Words that don’t include His perspective. I call them Helena Handbasket speeches. Sometimes I listen to them and sometimes I make them myself.

“But the situation looks dire, Lord.”

“Come up here and see the big picture,” He says.

“How? I mean really. HOW?”

This morning I woke from a dream about  friends who were were shutting down a coffee shop kind of place. Business was too slow. A handicapped person came in looking for someone to talk to, then a shy older woman, then a child who offered to share her candy with the lady. All the while the shop was being readied for closure with chairs stacked on tables being pushed against the wall.

They made one more pot of free coffee for the people who had wandered in. While they set a couple of chairs back at a table more people showed up. They needed more tables and opened another section. More and more people were suddenly there. The thing they all seemed to have in common was loneliness and feeling like they didn’t belong anywhere and were out of place in time. Some even wore clothes from earlier decades.

The child sharing her candy had only meant to give it to one person, but it was passed around in a bowl and like the fish and barley loaves the disciples saw multiply as they passed baskets around, the candy in the dollar store crystal dish never ran out.

I woke up with a song in my head that I never paid much attention to before. I didn’t know more words than I needed to google it. A Buddy Holly song? Seriously?

 

“Why this one, Lord?”

“You asked for my perspective.”

These Helena Handbasket voices that make dire predictions? Well yes, there is a right and left perspective, neither of which can offer solutions, but there is also an up and down axis. And that is a game changer.

At one point in the dream a man who had been a addict ran out into the street from the now busy cafe and said, “People say change is not possible. I tell you it is! I am free and more people are being set free every day!”

Every. Day.

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Weeding Out the Noise

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When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, Your consolations delight my soul.

(Psalm 94:19)

I took a different path from my usual road-less-travelled route in the forest. I was talking to God about some of the many concerns on my heart, one of them being as essay I promised someone on “hearing God’s voice.” I explained to God that it’s rather embarrassing to talk about hearing his voice if I can’t hear it. I haven’t heard much from you lately, Lord, in case you haven’t noticed.

Then the thought came, “Meditate on scripture.” OK. Which scripture?
“Be still and know that I am God,” came immediately to mind.

That’s one I chose to meditate upon a few years ago – because it was short and easy to memorize. Was that thought just from me, because that verse was  familiar, or was it from God? There was no audible voice answering my question. I don’t know. This is frustrating.

My meditation didn’t last a full minute before I was back obsessing about whether or not I said the right thing, or if I remembered to pray for everyone on my list, or why so many jets from the south seem to be flying over our remote valley lately, or if I left that important prescription I can’t find in the bottom of a shopping bag, or if I got the garden planted in time and ISIS! Oh, God, your people are being slaughtered! How do I pray about this?

It can be very noisy in my head.

I came around the bend near the meadow by the second lake and saw a group of people down in the grass looking like they were searching for something. I asked someone what was happening and a woman explained to me that they were digging out noxious and invasive weeds.

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“Dalmatian toadflax and St. John’s wort mostly,” she told me. “There’s a bit of knapweed which of course is noxious, but today we are mostly concerned with other invasive weeds. St. John’s wort has its uses but it doesn’t belong in this environment and will soon take over if it’s not rooted out.

I went away thinking about them. In nearly thirty years of walking in these woods I have never run into any sizable group of people doing anything but walking dogs and giving visitors a tour. I’ve seen evidence of bush parties, but never evidence of parties of environmentalists digging invasive weeds out of the meadow. I felt I needed to pay attention.

I walked down another shaded trail thinking about invasive weeds and remembered some one-issue people I’ve known. I began composing a blog in my head about the way some people with a cause based on a perfectly good justice issue, or an over-looked aspect of theology, or an unmet practical need in the world “invade” an environment so that other people’s favourite causes are not given space.

I decided to sleep on it and woke with a song in my head that I have not thought of in many, many years.

Lord, I have shut the door, Speak now the word
Which in the din and throng could not be heard;
Hushed now my inner heart, whisper Thy will,
While I have come apart, while all is still.

“What are you saying, Lord?”
“It’s not about them.”
“Huh?”
“It’s about you. Your thoughts are like noxious and invasive weeds. Some are just bad, and although many concerns are useful in their place, when your anxious thoughts invade our quiet place you can’t hear. Be still and know that I am God.”

Psalm 94:19 came to mind: When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, Your consolations delight my soul.

It’s not that I don’t need to pray about these things; I do! It’s when they, and the fear attached, invades my inner heart, the place where I have invited Christ to dwell, that they multiple and drown out his voice – his consolations. God is speaking all the time but unless I learn to be still, I’ll have trouble hearing him – and even when I do, I may make the mistake of thinking it’s for them and not me.

Sometimes hearing God’s voice is not only about making connections, it’s about learning to turn down the volume on noxious and invasive noises and root out obsessive thoughts that invade the sacred space so his consolations have room to thrive.

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