Honeysuckle

I passed by this honeysuckle bush growing over the limits a dilapidated unpainted fence tried to set around a sad-looking house. I snapped a photo with my phone and thought about the contrast.

Sometimes the flowers that bloom in overgrown, untended yards surrounded by broken fences and derelict vehicles are all the more beautiful for their powers of endurance.

It amazes me that some of the sweetest, most beautiful, most caring people I know have grown up in foul, ugly, uncaring environments.

The grace they exude defies all predictions of perpetual victimhood. Like the garden flowers in the back alley, they are givers because they know how to receive from God when others have let them down.

Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.

I was looking for something to watch on TV. I needed a break from the world’s problems, and I just wanted an hour or two of uplifting entertainment, something to make me smile and feel good inside. Years ago, a counsellor told me, “You are entirely too sane. A little fiction-inspired denial might help to lighten things up a bit.”

I have access to multiple streaming services, but I couldn’t find anything that would “lighten things up a bit.” I love a good film, but these didn’t hold out the beauty I was looking for. Instead, I ended up entertaining myself by listing themes from trailers and the blurbs on trending movies.

Have you paid attention to the themes of films lately? When I was depressed, I used to watch a lot of TV. My standards were not high. When things were really bad, I could lose hours to the weather channel. Whether TV-watching was a cause or effect of the depression, I don’t know, but I haven’t paid nearly as much attention to television or popular films since being set free from the pit. 

I looked more closely at the offerings. The same kind of stuff kept coming up. This survey is not remotely scientific. It’s just what I noticed today. Most themes could be reduced to a few broad categories:

Dark secrets: Someone is lying to you.

Someone is trying to steal from you.

Someone wants to use you, or your loved one, for their own power or pleasure purposes.

Off-world or external forces beyond your control are bent on your destruction.

So much for escape from the news cycle.

Responses to disappointment and pain included: the celebration of absurdity; angry humour; creative revenge and one-upmanship pay-back; exploration of the dark side; not-so-noble means to earn public approval; accumulation and protection of wealth and the spending thereof; escape through mood-altering chemistry: and sexual hedonism involving every possible option but a happy marriage.

I’m sure there are films with themes of nobility, altruism, forgiveness, hope, and physical or emotional or spiritual healing, but they weren’t in the first forty on the “trending” list.

As my little granddaughter observed, good stories need problems. Understood — and a well-developed villain is often the character that keeps us coming back. I only looked at the written and visual enticements intended to draw us in like a carnival barker’s call today. I hope many of the issues in the storylines were resolved and brought great relief to the audience before they trundled off to bed. I just didn’t feel like taking the risk that the offered solutions came at the expense of bystanders. I decided not to saturate myself in despair as was once my habit.

As I thought about it, the word saturate reminded me of this advice to new believers meeting together in Philippi long ago:

“Don’t be pulled in different directions or worried about a thing. Be saturated in prayer throughout each day, offering your faith-filled requests before God with overflowing gratitude. Tell him every detail of your life, then God’s wonderful peace that transcends human understanding, will guard your heart and mind through Jesus Christ,” Paul wrote.

“Keep your thoughts continually fixed on all that is authentic and real, honorable and admirable, beautiful and respectful, pure and holy, merciful and kind. And fasten your thoughts on every glorious work of God, praising him always.” 

“Put into practice the example of all that you have heard from me or seen in my life and the God of peace will be with you in all things.” (Philippians 4: 6 -9 TPT)

I’m not looking to escape, Pollyanna style, the reality that evil exists everywhere in the world. I can see that level of reality in my own dishonorable responses to fear that is the result of continually hearing the message, “Be afraid. Be very afraid.”

I choose to fasten my thoughts on every glorious work of God. It might seem boring to thrill-seekers, but my wanderings and simple photos of flowers and mountains and sky are reminders to me of a greater reality, the one in which the Creator and Lover of my soul says, “Trust me. I’ve got this.”

I’m shutting the TV and the computer off and going outside now.

Oh, and in other news, the orchards are starting to bloom.

Running Into the Wind

There is something about the crocus flower that symbolizes eagerness to me. They remind me of my childhood family walking over hills covered with last years dry grass and through thickets of gray branches to reach a trail that was still edged with melting snow. I remember the cold wind rushing down the mountainside making jackets billow and long hair whip around in every direction.

If we had been hiking in the late autumn, after everything with colour had blown away, we would have complained about how nasty that cold Alberta wind could be. But in the spring, the same temperature and the same stiff breeze felt wonderfully warm. We tucked hats and gloves into deep pockets and ran into the wind, our arms raised high as if to catch all the promises of spring in our hands.

A south-facing hillside showing off crocus flowers bobbing their heads in the breeze was our reward and evidence of better times and brighter days ahead. Yes, there would be disappointing blustery snowy icy days before winter fully released it’s grip, but the season of growth and harvest approached.

After this latest season of Lent and a time of allowing myself to be aware of the darkness Christ came to illuminate, the week after Easter feels like receiving the freedom to run toward the gifts He promised. One of those was the presence of the Holy Spirit who walks beside us and never leaves. He tells us through Paul:

Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy.

(1 Corinthians 14:1 NIV)

Crocus flowers are like fuzzy purple floral forerunners who respond to the season change before the other flowers. That’s what New Testament prophecy makes possible –being the first to see what others miss in changing times and responding to it in faith.

Teach me your ways, Lord. Show me your paths. Lead me in the way everlasting. Let me run into the wind with joy.

Dark

Even when I don’t see it, You’re working.

Even when I don’t feel it, You’re working.*

Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things. (Ephesian 4:9,10 NASB)

*From “Waymaker” by Osinachi Kalu Okoro

Creative Meditations for Lent, Prompt word: Dark

Expansion: Get Used to Different

I will pursue your commands,
for you expand my understanding.
 (Psalm 119:32 NLT)

Sometimes I think about what life was like when my grandparents built their first houses on the Canadian prairies. They had to be adventurous people. Breaking ground that has never been broken before is a daunting task. I think about both my grandmothers preparing meals for large families and threshing crews without modern appliances or even a grocery store nearby.

I wonder if they were suddenly transported to today, a hundred years in their futures, if they could comprehend cooking a quick dinner in the microwave from a recipe I searched for on my cell phone. I wonder if they would understand a fraction of the material my thirteen-year-old granddaughter learned in science today or the games my twelve-year-old grandson played on his computer this afternoon. Instead of my spinning wheel I could show them the shirt I bought this morning. It’s made from recycled plastic bottles.

Yet I wonder if we, ok I, went back a hundred years, if I could understand their willingness to go beyond the bounds of the familiar, and seek a better life for themselves and their children. Both my grandmothers remained faithful to God in challenging circumstances, both saw many changes in their lifetimes. Both had a vision for the future and a willingness to expand their horizons (which were literally much broader on the prairies.)

I wonder if God has much more for us to understand about him, and the world he created, and who he created us to be in that world. I wonder if we will not be able to understand without taking the risk of making changes.

There is a line spoken by the actor representing Jesus in the popular episodic series, The Chosen. It stood out to me when the smiling, kind Son of God said, “Get used to different.” It was a pay-attention moment.

Throughout history, the stress of change and upheaval has often been the way God has moved to expand our understanding. He’s doing it again. Get used to different. Your understanding may be his next expansion project.

Creative Meditations for Lent, Prompt Word: Expansion

Healing

Lord, I will exalt you and lift you high,

for you have lifted me up on high!

Over all my boasting, gloating enemies,

you made me to triumph.

O Lord, my healing God,

I cried out for a miracle and you healed me!

Psalm 30:1,2 TPT

Doctors said my condition was chronic and that I would be on heavy-duty medication for the rest of my life, but God healed me. I was diagnosed as bipolar. I knew hypomanic mountain highs for short periods of time, but I spent years of my life in the darkness of valley lows.

I’ve experienced a lot of painful physical problems in my life —broken bones, many kidney stones, and multiple surgeries for a variety of problems including cancer. Nothing has been as painful as depression. Not even close.

I like to go up into the forest to pray. One day I went up there to pray for my daughter and son-in-law. They were at an event where people were being miraculously healed, or so my daughter told me when she phoned from another part of the world to give me a play-by-play description of what she was seeing. Can I tell you how far this was out of my comfort zone? I was afraid they were getting involved in some sort of cult. That’s what I was praying about. I prayed they would be protected from deception. I was not at all filled with faith for healing. Instead of getting them out of that situation, God healed me.

I heard a voice say “Run!” I argued (how crazy is that?!) that I couldn’t run because of an inflamed ligament in my knee and because I had asthma and left my inhaler in my other coat pocket. Exercise always set off an attack. The urge to run wouldn’t leave, so I sheepishly ran a little way, grateful I was alone because it wasn’t pretty. I could breathe easily and had no pain. I was shocked! I ran all the way back to my car, a distance of about six city blocks. No knee pain, no wheezing. Then I felt the shadows lift off my mind. I felt joy, sweet, calm, non-manic joy.

Over time, I realized that the depression that lifted that day was not coming back. I started reducing some of the meds I had taken for years. Under a psychiatrist’s supervision I eventually got off all of them, including two to control side effects of the other five. The only one I kept taking was a medication for low thyroid.

I’ve been told that no one comes off of medication for mental illness after that many years without some negative effect to cognitive function or going into another tailspin. I’ve been free for fourteen years. Now I experience a normal range of emotions appropriate for the situation.

Since then, I have prayed for people and seen God heal them of various problems. Four times I have seen patients who were on their death beds in hospital recover within days and get up go home.

This question always arises when I tell people my story: What about the ones who were not healed? My answer: I don’t know. I just know that people who pursue God see more healings than people who say, “It is what it is,” or “Healing doesn’t happen anymore. That was just for Jesus and the disciples.”

I have been healed of other problems and still have some conditions that are not yet healed. I know how much it hurts to be blamed for having an unhealed disease. “You don’t have enough faith. You must have unconfessed sin or ‘a root of bitterness.'” “You must be benefitting from the attention or something.” “You said, ‘I have cancer” so you just cursed yourself with your words.” Ouch! Mercy, people, please!

God is God and I am not. Experiencing Him and learning more about His character gives me a deep desire to know Him. It makes me want to have more encounters with the One who heals and gives me a longing for deeper understanding.

Meekness means praying, “There are so many things I don’t understand, Lord. But I know you are good, and your love is perfect. Teach me.”

Run

As for us, we have all of these great witnesses who encircle us like clouds. So we must let go of every wound that has pierced us and the sin we so easily fall into.  Then we will be able to run life’s marathon race with passion and determination, for the path has been already marked out before us. We look away from the natural realm and we focus our attention and expectation onto Jesus who birthed faith within us and who leads us forward into faith’s perfection. (Hebrews 12:1,2 TPT)

Over the years I have seen many sincere Christians in positions of influence who started well (some amazingly well) but who tripped and fell along the way. Nearly every incidence involved some sort of false idol adopted to comfort an old unhealed wound. Nearly every public figure I know who has fallen lost sight of Jesus and began to compare themselves to other runners. They lost their focus. None of them planned for things to go that way, but the pressures of ministry and the desire to maintain a good appearance or material security put enormous pressure on an unhealed wounded heart. The result was sin like an Argentinian gaucho’s bolo that wrapped around their legs and brought them down –face first.

How do we run this race set before us? First, we need to admit our woundedness and seek the Lord’s healing. We may fall and rise and fall and rise again, but with healed hearts, with passion and determination, and with focus on Jesus Christ, faith gains strength and speed.

A cloud of witnesses who longed to be where you are right now is leaning over heaven’s balcony and cheering you on. Run!

Creative Meditations for Lent, Word prompt: Run.

Watch

You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore, let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober. (1 Thessalonians 5:5,6 NKJV)

Frequently when the Bible uses the word watch, it means to be awake, vigilant, and attentive. Paul wrote these words to the believers in Thessalonica about discerning the times they were living in. He reminds them that no one knows when Christ will return, but they are capable of discerning the significance of what is happening around them if they watch.

Watching to understand the times requires us to see with lenses that are not tainted by our own fears, doubts, and priorities. We need to see the way Jesus sees, through his eyes. We need to pray the way he is praying, with his thoughts.

There are so many distractions and flashing messages right now saying, “Look here and not there!” We need the lens of hindsight, the lens of foresight, and especially the lens of insight. These lenses are available to those who ask and are awake, walking in the light, seriously wanting to understand, and paying attention.

Ask. Watch. Pray.

Creative Meditations for Lent, Word Prompt: Watch