Beauty and Time

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We’ve been overwhelmed with grief;
Come now and overwhelm us with gladness!
Replace our years of trouble with decades of delight!
Let us see your miracles again, and let the rising generation
See the glorious wonders you’re famous for.
Oh Lord our God, let your sweet beauty rest upon us, and give us favor.
Come work with us, and then our works will endure,
And give us success in all we do!
(Psalm 90:15-17 TPT)

Can I be honest? This has been a tough year for a lot of us. The details are not necessary. I find that listing them often leads to a you-think-that’s-bad kind of discussion, and your challenges are much more real to you than mine are. Let’s just say that for months I have not been able to get outside as much as I like to.  This week, in a lull between storms, I am making an effort to go to the places around our valley that refresh my soul.

Autumn is my favourite season in the mountains. I feel a bittersweet urgency to soak up as much colour as I can before the snow arrives. Yesterday beside the quiet turquoise water of a local lake I wanted to cry for the overwhelming beauty and the overwhelming sense that this time will soon pass — sooner for me since I face another surgery and hospitalization in two weeks and will be inside again.

The circumstances of my life this past year have made me aware of entropy and mortality and that most precious of entities – time. This week two events in which we were blessed with the gift of more time caught my attention.

One, which you may not be aware of (which is just as well) was another prediction of the end of time, supposedly on September 23rd.  It failed to materialize – or dematerialize depending on your eschatology. It would appear we have more time.

The other began with a phone call from my brother. His son was in an accident. My nephew’s neck was broken. Badly broken. Please pray. We prayed. Many people prayed.

I don’t know how my nephew managed to pull himself out of the wreckage with a shattered C7 vertebra without damaging his spinal cord and becoming a quadriplegic. I think that was the first miracle. I do know that I am deeply grateful to skilled surgeons and medical engineers, and the God who placed talent and drive in them to find solutions. They replaced his broken vertebra with an artificial titanium model, stabilized his neck with a plate, and twelve hours later he was walking. To me, that was the next miracle. He was given more time. He has grown up hearing the stories of what God can do, supernaturally and through people with skills. Now this young man of the next generation has seen them for himself.

Years ago, my uncle was teaching his fiancée to drive when they ended up in a similar roll-over. His neck was also broken. He died. My mother was a young teen at the time. Since she had no mother and her father was an alcoholic, her brother was one who cared for her. Her grief at his loss lasted a life-time. Knowing what could have been makes the gift of time for my nephew all the more wonderful.

I’ve seen miracles and I’ve seen tragedies. I’ve seen amazing fulfillment of promises and I’ve seen heart-breaking disappointment. I’ve seen the big C Church rise up in unity to be what she was called to be, and I’ve seen it drop down in petty conflicts and compromise with the world’s way of doing things to lose its influence for good. But I have seen enough to know there is more.

When I see miracles like my nephew walking or my friend’s marriage restored or lives changed when people realize how much God loves them, I know there is more. The church is not yet the glorious spotless bride of Christ ready for the wedding feast. I sense time passing and feel an urgency to be more than we have been.

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My prayer today is the same as the psalmist’s.

Let us see your miracles again, and let the rising generation
See the glorious wonders you’re famous for.
Oh Lord our God, let your sweet beauty rest upon us, and give us favor.

 

 

 

 

No Platitudes, Please

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“Hope means hoping when things are hopeless, or it is no virtue at all… As long as matters are really hopeful, hope is mere flattery or platitude; it is only when everything is hopeless that hope begins to be a strength.”

~Gilbert K. Chesterton

It’s hard to know what to say sometimes, when things go horribly wrong. And yet we feel the need to fill in the silence by saying something, anything. I wonder if more pain is inflicted when, in the absence of hearing any wisdom from above, we fill the blank with our own words. It’s not that bad. Look on the bright side.

Sometimes it is that bad. Sometimes darkness threatens to smother us. Sometimes evil appears to triumph.

You can’t forgive pain you haven’t acknowledged. You can’t heal what you won’t diagnose. You can’t rebuild until you assess the damage.

Hope, real hope, doesn’t mean averting your eyes. Hope, real hope, means looking right at that pain, that threat, that diagnosis, that shattered home, that failed dream, that loss, and sitting in the silence of the shocking aftermath.

Hope means choosing, in time, to rise in the place of hopelessness, to set your face like a flint, and come, just as you are, into the Presence of the Holy. Hope means you can say, ‘Nevertheless.’

‘I am tired. I am hurting. I am frail. Nevertheless, I will not let my faith be shaken to the point where I refuse hope. Nevertheless, I will call upon my You, Lord, for You are my light and my salvation. You are my strength. You are my God. I trust You. I believe Your promises. I believe in You.’

The Lord is my help

I will not be confounded,

So I have focussed my face like a flint.

I’ll not be ashamed.

Lord, I come  — just as I am.

~ Fernando Ortega

 

Faith Knows

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The mountain, seen dimly through the haze of summer wildfire smoke, is no less solid than the mountain seen in cool crisp detail on a clear spring morning.

The promise of God, seen faintly through the haze of seasonal untamed pain, is no less solid than the promise seen in the clear still glory of His Presence.

Faith knows.

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.

 

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.