The Lord is in This Place

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The sun was back yesterday. I left my work sitting on the desk and headed for the hills,  continuing my Kootenay back roads exploration. Half the leaves on the plum tree blew away during the night, reminding me we have no idea what tomorrow will bring.

I am thankful for this day, these moments.

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As I stood on a road lined with colourful trees and listened to the birds and felt the refreshing breeze a song began to play in my head – This is My Father`s World. But not the first verse. A later verse. I still knew it!

This is my Father’s world. O let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world: the battle is not done:
Jesus Who died shall be satisfied,
And earth and Heav’n be one.

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I guess the events of this past week with violence in Las Vegas and in my husband`s hometown of Edmonton, and the sadness of seeing people in positions of power who refuse to listen to each other were still heavy on my heart.

I looked up the lyrics to make sure I remembered them accurately and I was surprised to learn good old Maltbie Babcock wrote more verses than the ones I knew – the verses I sang in elementary school choir when such things were still allowed.

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This is my Father’s world, dreaming, I see His face.
I ope my eyes, and in glad surprise cry, “The Lord is in this place.”
This is my Father’s world, from the shining courts above,
The Beloved One, His Only Son,
Came—a pledge of deathless love.

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This is my Father’s world, should my heart be ever sad?
The Lord is King—let the heavens ring. God reigns—let the earth be glad.
This is my Father’s world. Now closer to Heaven bound,
For dear to God is the earth Christ trod.
No place but is holy ground.

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Today I walked on holy ground in His Presence.

In His Presence. That`s where I belong.

To the Ponds

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He lets me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still and quiet waters.
(Psalm 23:2 Amplified)

I once considered joining a volunteer online group. They seemed to eager to accept me, then told me that attendance in person was required at monthly meetings at various locations. The closest meeting was in Vancouver. I said I couldn’t afford to fly and driving, especially in the winter, was not practical. The leader of the group responded that she looked at a map and Vancouver was not that far from where I live in the Kootenays in south east British Columbia. It shouldn’t take more than 3 hours.

Well, maybe — if you had a straight road with no speed limit like the Autobahn. It’s actually a ten hour drive in perfect weather with no construction, and more like a two day drive for me, considering the way I stop for photos and restrooms. I tried to explain mountain topology to her. We have really big hills and really deep valleys and a lot of going-around-the-mountain curves, but she had already decided I was exaggerating the amount of time it took and that I would not be a good candidate.

Whew. That rejection was a relief. I agreed that I was not a good fit and wished her well.

I thought of that incident when I drove that route recently. Ice and snow were not problems this time, but wildfire smoke was. I was tired and my eyes and throat burned. As we dropped into the valley where Castlegar is situated at the convergence of the Columbia and Kootenay rivers, I decided I needed a break and some place to walk around. This town needed exploring beyond the usual pit stop gas stations and fast food restaurants just off the highway. I headed in a direction down a street that was new to me. When I saw a sign that said “To the Ponds” I followed it.

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Wow! I never knew this place existed. I’ve been driving past it for years! In a park on the edge of the wide fast flowing river the land has been sculpted into three current-less pools surrounded by sandy beaches, green lawns, and flower beds. I wandered around and read a sign that told the story of the town and the large number of people who drowned trying to cross the river at this point as they rushed to the Wildhorse Creek goldrush very close to where I live. If I remember correctly (and I admit my memory for numbers is poor) 86 people died in that season.

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Now here, beside the place where so many had died in the rapids, was a place of rest. Here in this deep valley where I would soon be on that steep road climbing out the other side, three pools of still water beckoned me to come aside and be refreshed.

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I memorized the twenty-third Psalm for a choral speech arts competition when I was in elementary school, when the Bible could still be taught as literature important to our understanding of cultural references. I remember Miss Brown directing our classroom group, mouthing the words and alternately speeding up and stretching out the words with hand gestures.

He leadeth me beside the stiiill waaaters…

I thought about Miss Brown and the rich heritage she gave us. I was thankful, all these years later as I rested beside the still waters in the valley that had seen so much death. I thought about my life and the faith journey that is taking me through another scary valley involving doctor’s appointments and scans and procedures and trying different medications that only seem make life more complicated.

In the midst of the rush to get home I felt the Lord showing me that he has prepared a place of refreshment right here in the middle of my valley. Yes, the rapids still roar, but the water diverted from that river fills the first pool and it’s overflow fills the second, and the third. In the middle of stressful days I can come to Him, my shepherd, my pastor, and let him lead me to a place of peace he has prepared in advance. I can stop rushing and striving and be still in my soul.

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Psalm 23 is a warring psalm that teaches us that rest and trust is a mighty weapon against the enemy that comes to steal, kill, and destroy. There is gold on the other side of this valley.

Even though I walk through the [sunless] valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me.

Seeds of Light

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When the preacher said,“You may kiss the bride,” the man I was marrying took advantage of that permission as if he had been waiting his whole life for this moment. He went for an enthusiastic, but unrehearsed kiss – at least unrehearsed as a staged event for the benefit of the public. We hadn’t worked out which way our heads were supposed to tilt and our glasses clashed together and sort of tangled. When all was said and done we both had a wonky view with spectacles askew.

“Amateurs,” professionals in the audience twittered.

That we were. What did we know about love or commitment or anything, really? Vows are always a gamble when you have no idea what you’re getting into. But that’s the point, I suppose. Vows are about faith and a promise to try to stay in the process as the story plays out.

At another wedding, when the groom kissed his bride, a curious new nephew seated among the host of dearly beloved in the pews popped up with a question obviously weighing on his innocent mind, “Is he planting the seed now, Mommy?”

The rest of the witnesses twittered over that precious moment too.

I’m not sure what Mommy told him. No, not now, but then again, something important was being planted at that moment. A little bit of true love in the form of a promise that could either take root and grow beyond any definition of love that seemed grand enough at the altar or could shoot up quickly only to wither in hearts that proved too hard after trampling or too distracted by competition to water and nurture its growth.

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This morning I read about God sowing seeds of light.

Listen you lovers of God, hate evil;
For God can keep you from wrong
And protect you from the power of wickedness.
For he sows seeds of light within his lovers
And seeds of joy burst forth for the lovers of God!
So be glad, and continue to give thanks,
For God’s holiness is seen in everything he does.
(Psalm 97:10-12 The Passion Translation)

I was wondering what seeds of light and seeds of joy looked like in real life when a friend phoned. She’s a novelist of a different philosophical/religious persuasion than I am, but we learn from each other. Her character (and she is the master of creating fascinating characters) had taken the story in an unanticipated direction. (Writers will understand the demands of characters who, it seems, have developed an independent will.) Without giving too much away, he was faced with a dilemma over whether or not he (having done some very bad things) should accept a bargain of severe torment in the next life in exchange for the ability to relive one perfectly beautiful moment in this life. She wanted to know if that was consistent with Christian thought.

I explained that the picture she had of eternal punishment was the whole reason why Jesus came. He came to demonstrate his Father’s true nature in demonstrations of love and mercy and especially grace. He came to save us, not to condemn us. He didn’t come to bring judgment that requires us to pay for our sins (because who can possibly do that once the final tally of eternal repercussions has been made?) He came instead with a gift of grace that empowers us to become who we were meant to be before we comforted ourselves with the lies of the devil. He came to change the path we were on by changing our hearts to line up with his love for us and for others.

You’ll have to wait until the book is published to see where the character decides to take the story after our discussion, but she made me think (as she often does). What was this one perfect experience he had? (No, of course she didn’t tell me. I need to wait for the book too.)

Many people whose lives have been a collection of traumatic disappointments can still hold memories of perfect moments they knew illustrated the way things are supposed to be. I wonder if those moments, are the seeds of light.

Whether we experience them in nature, or relationships, or art, or music, or a perfect hand in poker, they are moments when Jesus plants a bit of himself in our hearts in the form of joy, or hope, or peace, or a sense of it’s-gonna-be-okay promises. The world can try to stomp out those tiny seeds of light, but somehow, hidden in the darkness they continue to glow. If they didn’t, we would not wish that things could be better, for we would have no concept of better.

A kind person shows us what kindness is and that kindness exists. Once we know that there is such a thing as love, the loss of it seems unbearable. Seeds of light, in the process of growing, irritate the heck out of it-is-what-is complacency, because they give us glimpses of something more. Before they pop through the soil in a dazzling display of pink blossoms (or green beans, depending on your preference) their powerful little earth-moving tendrils rearrange our foundations in a way that takes studied effort to ignore sometimes. They provoke a holy discontent. What if those seeds are watered and nurtured instead?

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When John, Jesus’ beloved friend, told the story of life on the road with the lover of his soul and the other disciples, the Holy Spirit inspired him to include this observation:

Life came into being because of him [Jesus] for his life is light for all humanity. And this living expression is the light that bursts through gloom the light that darkness could not diminish. for his life is light for all humanity. And this living expression is the light that bursts through gloom the light that darkness could not diminish. (John 1:4,5)

All life begins with a seed, a hope, a promise, an idea, an implanted word from the Living Expression that existed before time.

The Father is preparing a perfect bride for his son. Christ’s reward is the bride – the ones he came to save. In other words, you. And because of his promise, like a kiss on the day we choose to trust him, joy, inexpressible and full of glory, bursts forth in the lovers of God.

I will never leave you or forsake you.” – Jesus

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Like a River Glorious

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Like a river glorious is God’s perfect peace,
Over all victorious, in its bright increase;
Perfect, yet it floweth fuller every day,
Perfect, yet it groweth deeper all the way.

Stayed upon Jehovah, hearts are fully blest
Finding, as He promised, perfect peace and rest.

-Frances Ridley Havergal

Today I am thankful for female hymn writers of the past, women who, like Miriam the prophet, found a way to raise their voices in praise through song.

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