Then Shall the Eyes of the Blind Be Opened

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Following up on a reminder to remember, let me tell you this story.

“What would we do if that happened in our family?” my son asked. A book he read for a school assignment upset him. It was the story of a girl who became blind.

“First we would cry,” I told him. “Then we would make adjustments and help her to live life as best she could.”

That was an inadequate answer. I had more to learn. A few weeks later our daughter, his younger sister, went blind.

A case of pink eye, combined with side-effects of medication for another condition and the use of contact lens I told her not to wear, but should have confiscated, turned into a raging infection. I didn’t realize how serious it was until one morning, a couple of weeks before Christmas, she screamed that she couldn’t open her eyes because of pain. We took her to the hospital still thinking she was overacting a bit when the ophthalmologist told us she was admitting her. She had “fried her corneas” and faced serious scarring that meant she would probably lose her eyesight permanently.

The doctor was not nice about it. She yelled at us in the hallway in front of patients and staff, berating our parenting ability and accusing us of negligence. I was terrified and filled with guilt. Not only could my precious child go blind, but it was my fault!

The next few days were agony for all of us. Our daughter was placed in a small windowless room near the nurses’ station on the children’s ward. Anyone who visited her was also essentially blind, since any light caused her great pain. Every hour, day and night, a nurse entered and administered painful drops, which, we didn’t know at the time, she was allergic to. Her condition deteriorated.

“First we cry,” was entirely inadequate for the situation. “First we weep and wail and throw up,” was more like it. Of course, we tried to not let her see – or rather hear – our reaction. We tried to maintain a positive attitude around her, even when the doctor told her there was no way she was going home for Christmas. She would be spending it in the dark, stuffy room.

Of course, we prayed, but it was more and more difficult to maintain any kind of faith with every new negative report. But God…

“There was someone in my room last night, Mom,” she said when I came in early in the morning.

“It was probably a nurse, or hospital staff,” I said.

“No. I always know when the door opens because the light in the hall hurts and besides, they always talk to me. This felt different. The door didn’t open. It was just there. I felt, I don’t know, a presence.”

I assumed painkillers caused her to hallucinate.

Then the doctor came in. She was shocked. Our daughters’ eyes were much better. There was no sign of infection and inflammation and swelling were fading. She remained in hospital a couple more days to make sure, but she came home for Christmas.

Today she is a teacher and artist – a professional photographer who depends on keen eyesight. She was told she would never be able to wear contacts or have laser surgery for near-sightedness, but that prognosis was not fulfilled either. Now, she doesn’t even wear glasses. When doctors predicted her husband would die of necrotizing fasciitis, she had faith and hope beyond any logical scientific limitations. An encounter with the Healer opened her heart to possibilities she never imagined. It opened our hearts as well.

Here is where I was wrong. I told my son that if such a thing ever happened in our family, we would try to find ways to cope. Even though I grew up in the church and heard all the stories in the Bible about how Jesus healed people, I didn’t know he still heals. The best we could reasonably expect was help in learning to cope.

I know, the first yeah-but that comes to mind is the question about why many people who pray are not healed. I don’t know. All I know is that people who believe The Healer is part of who God wants to show himself to be for us see a lot more miracles and healings than people who have lost hope. People who rejoice in his goodness are free to live in hope – and hope frees us to live without limits.

God is good.

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Surface

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It wasn’t the kind of day when people think about going to the lake. I heard no boats, or children’s laughter, or squealing teens in the middle of a splash fight. I smelled no sweet  poplar sap or tangy sauce from smoking barbecues. The quiet off-season offers a different perception.

Someone suggested creating a photographic meditation during the Lent season as a preparatory discipline for Resurrection Sunday. If this were a religious requirement to add to a to-do list in order to appease an angry or narcissistic god, I would not participate, believe me. This is voluntary. I respond to this appeal to worship creatively. I make no promises about blogging the process daily. Not everything on the journey is for public consumption, but I will share my thoughts today.

Today’s word is surface, and yet, divergent (maybe even contrary) thinker that I am, I find I find myself drawn to go beyond the obvious and look for objects below the surface.

In a discussion with the religious “experts” of his time, who accused him of breaking the law by healing someone on the day of obligatory rest, Jesus said this:

“My message is not my own; it comes from God who sent me. Anyone who wants to do the will of God will know whether my teaching is from God or is merely my own. Those who speak for themselves want glory only for themselves, but a person who seeks to honor the one who sent him speaks truth, not lies. Moses gave you the law, but none of you obeys it! In fact, you are trying to kill me.”

The people who couldn’t hear pushed back.

The crowd replied, “You’re demon possessed! Who’s trying to kill you?”

Jesus replied, “I did one miracle on the Sabbath, and you were amazed. But you work on the Sabbath, too, when you obey Moses’ law of circumcision. (Actually, this tradition of circumcision began with the patriarchs, long before the law of Moses.) For if the correct time for circumcising your son falls on the Sabbath, you go ahead and do it so as not to break the law of Moses. So why should you be angry with me for healing a man on the Sabbath? Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly. (John 7:16-24 NLT)

Look beneath the surface.

We took a course on parenting teens. The teacher urged us to engage with our kids when emotional issues arose so we could understand the beliefs they held “below the water line.” The example he gave was of a girl who was desperate wanted to make a cheer-leading team and devastated when she didn’t.

After a heart to heart talk, the mother learned her daughter had accepted some lies about herself. Making the squad would squash her fears that inadequate attractiveness, or athletic talent would hinder her acceptance by people in her world. Under the water, lying unseen, was the shallow belief that her worth, her safety, her happiness, depended on what people thought about her and not on what God thought or could do. She was on the verge of making dangerous choices based on an unexamined false assumption.

The example prompted me to examine unconscious beliefs in my own life. One of the questions coming out of that experience was, “Why have I placed the approval of  humans (who can be very disappointing) ahead of the approval of the One who loves me perfectly and so selflessly that he was willing to give his only Son to demonstrate that love?”

In the altercation with the religious experts Jesus says it is possible to see below the surface. Their motive was not based on love. His was.

Jesus’ demonstration of love changed everything. God’s new covenant was not a reform school arrangement with punishments for breaking rules meant to clue rebellious kids into the fact that they are not actually in charge. God’s new covenant is based on responding to his love. Since you can’t say yes to love if you can’t say no, freedom is an essential part of this arrangement. Grace offers freedom. Grace is a terrifying concept to religious experts who are themselves motivated by fear of punishment.

Solomon, the king who was granted wisdom in response to his request to rule well, wrote:

There is a way which seems right to a man,
But its end is the way of death.
(Proverbs 14:12 NASB)

When we are being rational we use reason. When we rationalize we try to give actions, which seem right to us, the appearance of reason. We can be quite convincing — especially to ourselves. Sometimes our “appearance of reason” involves false ideas about God.

How can we know what lies down there? First, by admitting there is stuff down there. Second, by asking for help.

I keep coming back to Psalm 139. The psalmist sings about being intimately known by the Creator from his first moment of existence. It ends this way:

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way.

Jesus is saying, “Look beneath the surface.” The surgeons who removed the nasty malignant tumour in my guts in October would not have been able to do so if I not had the guts to subject myself to diagnostic scans or to sign consent forms. I admit it was a struggle to trust them. It hurt. But now it is done and I am healing well.

In this season of preparation I am asking the Lord to help me see beneath the surface and lead me in his way of thinking.

Change my heart, oh God. Make it ever new. I give consent.

And I don’t say that lightly.

Learning How to Fail

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My granddaughter and I were talking about the challenges she faces going to a new school in a new town in September. She’s an excellent student but worries about keeping up her grades. I told her that once when I was her age in a new school, I got 4% on an algebra test.

I felt so devastated when I received my paper back with that incredibly horrible verdict not only including an exclamation mark, but circled in red, that I slipped out the side door at the next break and ran home, tears streaming behind me. I thought I was the biggest idiot on earth. Who gets 4%? Not even the goofy guys at the back of the remedial math class got 4%! I wanted to quit school.

One – or maybe two – “fluish” days later, when I finally dragged myself back into the classroom and had the nerve to ask the teacher why I had done so poorly, he explained I actually only made one mistake, but I made it 24 times. (I did receive credit for the first non-computation question.) He showed me that I needed to invert something in a different place and on my next test I had a much better mark.

I still remember how difficult it was to walk back into that room and ask for help. My report cards always said “conscientious worker.” I had never failed a test before. I didn’t know how to handle failure.

A few years ago I met a brilliant science teacher who inspired many students to go on into even more brilliant careers in science.

“What’s you secret?” I asked.

“I make sure they fail,” he said.

“But you teach the brightest and best students in the district!”

“And that’s why I give them a test early in the year that they are guaranteed to fail.”

“That doesn’t sound fair,” I protested with a little sympathetic whine wheedling into my voice.

“Oh, it’s not fair. I intentionally give them a test on a chapter they haven’t covered. I base questions on misleading or incomplete information. I load it with trick questions and unclear directions and then I arrange for dramatic distractions to invade the classroom and tell them to put down their pens and hand in their work before they have had time to finish. It’s definitely not fair.”

He smiled, looking proud of himself.

“At the end of the day I place folded sheets of plain paper in front of each student,” he said. Their test grade is written inside — a failing grade. I then dismiss the class and rush to an “important meeting” which involves a location where I cannot be reached until after the weekend.”

“Why would you do that?” I asked.

“To give them time to let that failing grade do its work. Because this test is not about the material. This test is about tests. This test is about learning how to fail the way a martial arts student first learns how to fall. This test is about teaching high achieving students who have probably never failed an exam in their lives that resilience is more important than a perfect academic record.”

“How do they react to that?”

“Usually poorly. On Monday morning the helicopter parents are circling the principal’s office, the budding law students are lining up with prepared arguments, and the discouraged students, at least the ones that show up, drag themselves into the classroom to the tempo of a death march.”

“Poor kids.”

“Not at all. I hand out their written tests, and lecture them on failure and recovery as a necessary part of success.”

“You don’t let them re-write for a better grade?”

“No, of course not. It’s a stupid test. I invite them to re-write the test – but not the answers. I tell them to re-write the questions. Learning is about asking better questions. The test I gave them had unanswerable questions. I tell them to ask better questions – then I show them how to look for the answers to the test they designed.”

 

I realized that what this master teacher gave his students was an opportunity to develop perseverance and endurance in a new atmosphere of confidence free from the fear of failure. I also realized he was not the first person to teach this. James wrote about it in the Bible.

Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.

If you don’t know what you’re doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You’ll get his help, and won’t be condescended to when you ask for it. Ask boldly, believingly, without a second thought. People who “worry their prayers” are like wind-whipped waves. Don’t think you’re going to get anything from the Master that way, adrift at sea, keeping all your options open…

Anyone who meets a testing challenge head-on and manages to stick it out is mighty fortunate. For such persons loyally in love with God, the reward is life and more life.

(James 1:2-8, 12 The Message)

Are you facing a test in which there seems to be no perfect solution? Maybe the test is about more than filling in the blank with an approved answer. Maybe it’s about developing enduring faith and the confidence to follow the trail of better questions.

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Hands-off Parenting

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“If knowing answers to life’s questions is absolutely necessary to you, then forget the journey. You will never make it, for this is a journey of unknowables – of unanswered questions, enigmas, incomprehensibles, and, most of all, things unfair.”

– Jeanne Marie Bouvier de la Motte Guyon

I often hear God speak to me through reading fictional stories in books and watching films in a way that methodical Bible study can’t. It’s helpful to have developed the fine art of bone-spitting because sometimes the precious morsel that nourishes me is buried in distraction.

As I lay in bed, too sore after surgery to sleep anymore last night, I watched a British movie, Housewife, 49. The film tells the story of a woman whose role as an attentive mother was no longer required. The problem was that her sons had grown up and she was learning the art of hands-off parenting just as World War II was breaking out over their heads where they lived near the shipyards in England. She suffered from severe anxiety.

Her story is one of gradually rejecting the defining edges of the box others put her in. She discovered, under duress, she was capable of more than she knew. The crisis came when her beloved son, who up until that point served in a relatively safe post close to home, wanted to volunteer for a much riskier assignment.

It’s one thing to learn to trust God to guide your own life through unforeseen twists and turns in the road. It’s another to take your hands off your children and let them take risks when you have first-hand experience of seeing the negative consequences of  decisions made by friends and family over the years. You have read a lot more news stories and bailed out a lot more people from wrecks along the way. It’s so hard not to try to convince your adult children to play it safe.

In the film our heroine (for she was truly that) discovered that much of the frustration in her life had been because of her husband’s need to keep her shut up in the house like Peter the Pumpkin-eater tried to keep his in a pumpkin shell. He finally confessed it was his fear for her safety that motivated his actions. But it was those actions that increased her anxiety and feelings of meaninglessness.

She realized she could not impose her fear on her son, even if the consequence was his death on the battlefield. She let him go.

I’ve had to make those letting go decisions with my own kids. More than anything in the world I wanted to be a mother. I enjoyed being a mother. At one point you could say I was a professional mother, filling in and taking foster children into our home until their mothers could care for them again. But there was always a time to let go – and it was always before the road ahead was smooth and predictable.

My daughter moved to a Caribbean Island to take a teaching position. I still have a photo of her the day she left smiling in anticipation of “awesome year in the sun.”

It was not awesome. She was in two seriously life-threatening-sized hurricanes in the first month. Her job was not as advertised, everything she owned was stolen from a storage facility at home, including tax information and personal diaries. She nearly died of sudden hemorrhage and experienced emergency major surgery in a tiny six-bed hospital that did not provide linens or food or fly swatters. That’s where she was told she had a condition that meant she would be unable to have children. The man she loved told her he was marrying someone else. She became homeless because of greedy developers, and one day, while out jogging, was chased by a pack of wild dogs with evil intent.

I had a lot of questions about why God didn’t give my precious girl an awesome year in the sun. I was reluctant to do any letting go for some time after that.

A few years later she went through a really tough time. Nurses brought her into a room in the ICU to say goodbye to her husband who lay dying from flesh-eating disease. I was with her at the time and was amazed at her faith and ability to praise God in the worst  circumstances.

He didn’t die. He was miraculously healed and now they and their three miraculously conceived children are on another adventure. People asked how she had such faith and she pointed back to her time on the island, particularly the moment when she faced the wild dogs knowing she was defenseless and there was no one around.

She heard a voice that said, “Stop!” She obeyed, stopped running, turned and faced the dogs. Instead of lunging at her throat they dropped their heads, whined, and disappeared into the undergrowth. She met the God who is her keeper on a hot dusty road that day.

Parenting adult children means taking our hands off so God can put his hands on. God has no grandchildren. They need to know for themselves that he is their God, and not merely the God of their parents. They need to know he will take them farther along the road than we have gone.

It’s been a struggle. Hands-off doesn’t mean heart-off. If my kids or grandkids need me I am willing to drop everything and go. I pray constantly, but I am still learning that prayer for family means standing in the gap without standing in the way.

God is God and I am not. He is much more capable of loving them than I am.

When they became parents, our kids all invited us back into their lives. They’ve included us in business and creative partnerships and encourage us to be active influencers in their children’s lives. They are all competent experts in their own fields and we frequently consult them. I love them very much and am proud of all of them – and their spouses. If we were not related it would still be an honour to know them. God is good.

Our daughter and her husband wrote about his miraculous recovery. It includes chapters by one of the attending physicians who verifies the medical aspects of the story and their bishop who gives insight into the spiritual implications of the events. Details, photos and videos here: While He Lay Dying

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Prayerness

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His Daddy asked each of the children to tell him three things they liked about Mommy so he could write it in her birthday card. I like this habit they are developing in the children. On birthdays now, even for the adults, we go around the table and everyone expresses something they see in the person of honour – a character quality, an improvement or a promising bit of potential. One of the observations our four-year old grandson wanted his Dad to write down as a message to Mommy was, “I like your prayerness.”

I love it. Prayerness. Prayer is not just something you do; prayer is a state of being.

Why did I choose one of my photos of fire today? Lately, with all the extreme cold of winter, some people are experiencing furnace problems. The pilot light (flame) has gone out. The furnace won’t work. Some of our friends depend on wood heat. If they sleep too long without stoking the wood stove the fire goes out and the whole thing has to be re-kindled and built up again.

Prayerness, a constant state of being in connection with God, the source of all light and power, essentially keeps the fire burning. It keeps our hearts from growing cold. That’s why we are told to pray for those people who are a source of annoyance (or worry) in our lives – because you can’t maintain the warmth of caring without prayer. We become cold-hearted, detached. Without prayer we rely on our own resources, which have a shelf-life. With prayerness we don’t have to go looking for Jesus when we have a question or a crisis. We’re already connected.

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.

(Romans 12:12)

I love it when a four-year old preaches.

This Little Light of Mine

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I’m not a big fan of Hallowe’en.

Perhaps it goes back to being a parent of kids with food allergies and being what we called then “a health food nut” (before it became trendy).

Perhaps there is some latent childhood guilt about the way my brother and I planned our routes like those clocked shopping spree wins in the supermarket. (They don’t have those anymore, do they?) Two totally full pillowcases each was our usual haul. (Hey, we were good.)

Our costumes then were always homemade, often out of stretchy crepe paper, and had to fit over a parka. Decorations were something, often unidentifiable, made out of construction paper at school and taped to the window. Our loot bags, often drool-stained, were the pillow cases Mom had already rejected for regular use. No adults accompanied us; they would only slow us down.

Our parents didn’t freak out about Hallowe’en. Mom commandeered the apples in our bags for pies, so she was okay with it. They steered us away from the parts of the occasion that mentioned evil or the occult, but by the time my kids wanted to go out things changed.

Then the night of mocking our fear gave way to fear. Fear of razor blades in apples, poison in popcorn balls, drugs in cookies… fear of pedophiles… drunk drivers… actual satan worshippers…

As I walked around the stores this week and saw the decorations around the neighbourhood, I realized much of what this All Holy People’s Evening (the meaning of the word Hallowe’en) has morphed into is actually an expression of things we fear – the opposite of all that is holy. In the way Medieval Carnivals were parodies of religious and cultural restraints, when for one day a year folks felt free to turn their society upside-down, I wonder if Hallowe’en has become the day to remove restraints on expressions of what folks fear?

The fear of death has always been with us, but I’ve noticed some changes in the past few years. Hallowe’en is getting darker. Fewer Dorothys and more wicked witches.

The obsession with zombies lately tells me people are afraid of going through the motions, but feeling dead inside – living, but not alive.

Perhaps this thing with vampires is a clue to a fear of having the life sucked out of one, and then feeling helpless to curb cravings left in its place. What if we also become both victims and perpetrators? What if we become someone who uses other people in a way that leaves them feeling so hopeless and needy that even death is not an escape?

I wonder if a bad guy costume (the pirate, the axe murderer, the monster, the seductress) is about fear of a person’s inability to control the darkness in their own hearts.

I wonder if ghosts and ghouls and witches and wizards are about a fear of the supernatural and the misuse of things we can’t explain or control?

I wonder if underlying all this is our deepest, darkest fear – the fear of disappointment in God, the fear that he is not there for us, the fear that we somehow have to get through the perils of darkness all on our own? (The lack of good father figures in popular children’s stories and films may be another clue to this common fear.)

Fear attracts more fear and more darkness, I’m sure of that. I understand people who want nothing to do with a celebrations of death and darkness and evil and choose to boycott the whole thing. I know some folks who shut the lights off and go down to the basement for the evening. As a person who has had to fight fear and anxiety much of my life I admit I ran scared of the fear of the taint of possible demonic ugliness myself for a while. I had seen too much to dismiss its existence.

But I am reminded that there is no such thing as a flashdark. Light dispels darkness, not the other way around. We can curse the darkness, or we can light a candle, and if the evil one tries to blow it out, we light another one, and another one and another one. Perhaps it’s time to redeem the time.

I read about a prayer request today. It was that time when Paul asked the people in Thessalonica (who were prone to listening to fearful tales that they had missed Jesus’ return)  to pray for him and his friends, that they may be delivered from wicked and evil men. He held out a torch of light to them when he assured them God was faithful and was willing to strengthen and protect them from the evil one if they looked to Him and just asked.

“May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance,” he said. Knowing the perfect love of God is the only antidote to fear and anxiety.

So this is the little light I try to let shine: Jesus loves you. This I know.

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:4,5)

On All Hallows Evening my house is the one with the candle in the window. It’s a symbol of hope. You are welcome to come to my door. It will be open. I will be waiting and praying for you.

On earth as it is in heaven. Deliver us from the evil one. For Thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory.

Forever.

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