Only a few weeks ago, this patch of lavatera flowers springing forth like a delightful fountain of pink joyfulness was a barren patch of dirt.
I didn’t plant them, nor did I water them. I saw them growing in the community garden next to our building. A gardener who rents the plot planted them in amongst practical and edible kale and beans and tomatoes. These flowers don’t have 300 uses like the peanut or end up in a myriad of product like corn. Their only role is to simply be beautiful and to lift the spirits of those who pass by.
I am learning to stop and appreciate beauty when I see it. I also appreciate those who develop varieties of plants suitable for local environments and resistant to pests and disease. I appreciate the tillers and planters and waterers. I love the ingenuity and creativity of inventors and developers.
I most appreciate a God who created beauty to inspire us to create beauty. I appreciate soaking in the beauty of his presence when it serves no other purpose than show me I am loved and that a good Father loves to give good gifts.
When affliction comes (and he said it would) a patch of pink flowers, rising up from the soil that lay dormant for so many months, can remind us that God is good. Beauty says hope restored is a tree of life.
I am thankful for Facebook. There. I said it. (I’ll skip the ubiquitous qualifying note here because this is about what I am thankful for.) Today I am simply thankful for the “Memories” feature. I keep a journal, but not like my dear aunt who kept daily records of weather, newsworthy events, and activities that included extended family members. Someone needed to keep track of my adventurous Grandmother’s whereabouts.
I write in my journal about ideas, dreams and visions, observations, questions, word studies, encouraging sayings, potential projects, scripture passages that catch my attention, prayers, and concerns (aka obsessive worries). Some days I write nothing. The blank page may be the consequence of busyness or idleness – or worries on repeat. It may be because I am avoiding processing something that messes with my theology or reveals lies I have told myself. Consistent with my meandering ways, my journal is like a disorganized collection of sticky notes inside a cover. Sometimes I post these thoughts somewhere in a gesture meant to ask readers, “Do you know what I mean? Am I the only one?”
Facebook Memories organizes my random posts by date. I can see where I was on the journey in mid-July from year to year. It allows me to check progress and notice patterns. I am surprised by how often the same topics appear around the same time of year. What truly surprised me this week was how often I have faced serious challenges (aka utterly terrifying Oh God Oh God Oh God days) in mid-July. It’s like my personal Tish B’av, the traditional time of disastrous occurrences in Jewish history.
Stories from the past fourteen years that showed up in Memories this week:
My friend’s child was killed when a tire blew on their vehicle while the family was on vacation.
In the midst of helping my father downsize for his reluctant move to an assisted living suite, I received word that my husband was extremely ill with a pancreas that was digesting itself and he would need to be flown to another city for emergency surgery.
A friend of a friend lay dying in hospital from sepsis. He wasn’t expected to make it through the night.
My daughter-in-law posted a photo of muddy belongings removed from their flood-ravaged house and piled in the street for removal by dump truck.
I was making the rounds between radioactive claustrophobia-inducing scans and specialist surgeons and anesthetists in different cities finding out that the “little tumour in my tummy” was going to be much more complicated to remove than I was first told.
I was recovering from surgery on my toe which, bizarrely, was more handicapping and painful than the cancer symptoms at that moment.
My friend’s child’s heart stopped on the operating table while undergoing surgery for severe lung infection in a country on the other side of the world. Doctors revived him, but his prognosis was very poor.
My two precious grandchildren and their equally precious parents parted for their new home on other side of the continent. I did not know how long it would be before I would see them again.
We spent a traumatic day in yet another hospital watching my husband’s younger brother suffocate to death from lung cancer.
My friend was in constant agony after an accident five years earlier. After begging him for help, a surgeon was willing to try one more thing.
I was in the fourth month of a five-month long “atypical” headache. It left me unable to travel or do much of anything but learn to moan quietly.
Injury to my knees and arthritis in multiple joints made it difficult to live in our house with stairs or tend the garden or go for hikes in the mountain forests I loved. We knew we needed to move, but I couldn’t work longer than ten minutes at a time to downsize and prepare the house for sale. The task felt overwhelming.
As I looked back, this part of Psalm 34 came to mind: “The Lord is close to all whose hearts are crushed by pain, and he is always ready to restore the repentant one. Even when bad things happen to the good and godly ones, the Lord will save them and not let them be defeated by what they face.”
July may be my traditional disaster month, but it is also the month of learning dependence on God and watching him come through for me — and the people I love. Remembering how God came to our rescue after the event is so much easier than feeling the shock and pain of the moment when bad news plops itself on the doorstep.
Sometimes answers to prayer come quickly. Sometimes it takes so long it feels like God’s whereabouts are unknown and I can’t call my aunt to tell me where he is now. Sometimes the challenge itself is an answer to prayer because we’ve gained skills and the ability to endure through perseverance and deeper faith in God’s faithfulness. Sometimes the situation is the means to open our eyes to how God sees us and his confidence in us. Sometimes challenges result in better definitions of success than we assumed before.
The friend of a friend with sepsis, the child on life-support, and the woman with severe back pain were all healed within days. My husband’s dire condition suddenly improved and he didn’t need surgery after all. The problem never came back.
With a lot of work and help from people who demonstrated practical love, our son’s family’s house was restored to better than new condition within two years.
The tumour in my gut (and other places the cancer had spread to) were removed without complication and there has been no progression for five years. The toe is still attached and doing its job. The doctor prescribed a medication that successfully prevents the headaches from starting.
Our grandchildren and their mother visited us this week after 941 days of separation.
Many wonderful friends stepped in to help us move. We sold our house before it was even listed to a couple who will continue to fill it with songs of praise to a good, good Father.
A man I met from a country where Christians faith death from persecutors daily said, “You Christians in North America sing about the joy of being with Jesus and meeting him in Paradise, but none of you seem to be willing to go there. We rejoice for those who now know what eternal life looks like from a higher place. My father, my friend’s son, and my brother-in-law were trusting Christ to be their saviour. I believe they are all happy and healed in the presence of the Lord. I’ve learned that God heals the broken-hearted and grants peace.
The life of a Jesus-follower is not always easy. He said we could expect the same kind of reception he had. We can also expect the teaching and discipline of a good Father who knows the difference between love and indulgence. If we want Jesus’ peace that passes understanding, there will be times we have to relinquish the right to understand.
I’m facing challenges again in this month of July, 2022. For the sake of privacy of others involved I will just say this much: I agree with Paul’s prayer for myself, for my loved ones, and for you: “… I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:5 – 6 NIV)
Yet when holy lovers of God cry outfrom all their troubles
The Lord is close to all whose hearts are crushed by pain,
and he is always ready to restore the repentant one.
Even when bad things happen to the good and godly ones,
the Lord will save them and not let them be defeated
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.