The Road Back: Psalms of the Sons of Korah, Part II

All your waves and breakers have swept over me.

Thinking about hidden stories to be found in the genealogies of the Bible that I once thought boring (Part I) made me think about my own. Unexpectedly, I discovered research that someone else had done on my family’s ancestry. What a thrill when I opened a page full of the symbols of royal heraldry! Some ancestors were leaders and innovators and heroes. Some were not. I also found despots, drunks, and deadbeat dads.

Children are more perceptive than we realize. I picked up a sense of shame when I was a kid. Over time, I gathered clues to the unspoken story that leaked out in photo albums, overheard conversations, and hints like the fact my grandfather forbade the mention of his father’s name. Recently, with the help of archived newspapers online, I discovered the family fortunes took a drastic downturn after an incident of criminal negligence that resulted in the death of mothers, children, a fiancée, and shop workers heading home on Christmas eve. My great grandfather failed to attend to a safety matter on a tram system in a large eastern city. He was drunk. The family lost their big house, their wealth, and their status. Old photos no longer featured my grandfather as the child dressed in velvet and ruffles. He became the dirt darkened boy clad in worn overalls. Instead of the elegant brick house, his mother stood in front of an unpainted shack. Her husband was not with her.

My great grandfather’s father was the illegitimate son of someone with money in England who paid for him to go away. Like many others whose mere existence was an embarrassment, he was given cash and passage to the colonies when he was old enough. He wasn’t a good father either. When his wife died, he gave his children to someone else to raise.

We all carry inherited shame since our first forebearers chose to believe the serpent’s lies. Some are more aware of rejection and the mark of shame than others. In shame/honour societies like the culture of Biblical times, being kicked out of the tribe is the ultimate punishment. Until recently, western culture has been based on guilt and forgiveness. A person who has broken a law can be redeemed after anything from issuing an apology, or making restitution, to a fine, or serious jail time. It’s possible to come back after “paying his debt to society.” In a shame/honour society, there is no forgiveness, no yellow ribbon ‘round the old oak tree. There is only shunning.

One way to tell if you are still operating under the guilt/forgiveness system is if you find yourself being dismissed or “cancelled” and respond with, “But I didn’t do anything wrong!” In a shame/honour society you don’t have to be guilty of breaking any law to suffer rejection; you merely need to have said or done something that identifies you with other rejects. In this system once a person has “lost face,” especially in public, there is no coming back. In this system the outcasts didn’t just DO something wrong; they ARE something wrong – and so are their families and their dog.

But God’s plan for the outcasts is different.

Sometimes victims of injustice form new tribes like David and his Mighty Men – re-echoed in the story of Robin Hood and his Merry Men. Those who band together often maintain a common sense of being shamed, but still long for vindication and restoration. Perhaps this is why the Sons of Korah still carried their identity as the descendants of a traitor. Perhaps David learned something from being on the run.  In the rocky terrain of the desert he took physically gifted rejects from society and turned them into a band of warriors fighting for justice. Perhaps this is why, after his vindication, he took a band of artistically gifted poets and musicians and gave them a public position back in the tent of worship.

But it takes more than a new job and fancy clothes to change how a person sees themselves. Psalm 42 reveals that the Sons of Korah still struggled with discouragement and shame and depression. This psalm is a cry of longing for personal revival. It begins:

 As the deer pants for streams of water,
    so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
    When can I go and meet with God?
My tears have been my food
    day and night,
while people say to me all day long,
    “Where is your God?”

Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Step one on the road back to a closer relationship with God is admitting that all is not well with one’s soul. It’s responding to the question “How’s that workin’ for ya?” with an honest assessment of, “Not very well. In fact, not well at all. I am consumed with longing to stop hiding in shame and walk with God again.”

Verse 4 says:

These things I remember
    as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go to the house of God
    under the protection of the Mighty One
with shouts of joy and praise
    among the festive throng.

We can be doing all the religious things but still feel like we’ve lost something. The joy of the Lord may feel illusive. We don’t want to stay like this.

Then the Sons of Korah take another step. They recognize their poverty of spirit but dare to hope. There is a moment between overwhelming waves of emotions of loss and despair when we start to take charge of them by declaring a truth we may not yet feel.

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.

But the struggle is real. It’s a life and death back and forth battle in the heart between old lies and new truths.

By day the Lord directs his love,
    at night his song is with me—
    a prayer to the God of my life.

I say to God my Rock,
    “Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about mourning,
    oppressed by the enemy?”

The psalm ends with an act of faith by choosing to do what God has made them for and a repetition of the declaration.

Then I will go to the altar of God,
    to God, my joy and my delight.
I will praise you with the lyre,
    O God, my God.

 Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.

The journey back has begun.

By day the Lord directs his love. At night his song is with you, even if you can’t quite hear it yet.

I Can’t Stop Thinking About Your Goodness

This morning I am going through photos I took in the garden next to our condo this week. I procrastinated again and the warm sunlight disappeared behind rain clouds before I ventured outside. I didn’t have high expectations for results. The contrast between bright colour and muted dark tones surprises me.

I was listening to Lauren Daigle’s “Remember” as this photo of a two-toned tulip popped up. This line from the song stood out to me: “Even when my eyes could not see, you were there, always there with me.”

I was reminded yesterday that this week marks fourteen years since I was healed of cycles of depression I thought would never end. The bouts in hellish darkness had become more frequent and were lasting longer. Medication helped, but I needed a lot to keep functioning in public and to keep hiding the condition of my soul from people who stigmatized and rejected those of us who walked a path they couldn’t understand, but they needed constant adjustment. I was taking drugs to counteract the side effects of the side effects of other drugs I needed to counteract side effects. Sometimes they threw me into the other ditch with short bouts of hypomania, inevitably followed by the need to make apologies for overconfident promises made that I couldn’t keep later when a crash returned — just as inevitably.

I am enormously grateful for doctors and medicines that kept me going, but I was told my condition was chronic. I would always be dependent on chemical means to chase despair and suicidal thoughts away.

I didn’t want more treatments! I wanted to be healed!

I prayed for years to be released from the prison of depression. Like the Psalmist I could say, “How long?”

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?

 Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
 and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

 But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.
 I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me.

Then one day, when I least expected it, I met the Healer. He set this captive free. I am no longer on antidepressants or mood stabilizers and have had no recurrence in fourteen years! Like this flower God gave me a garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. How can I help but praise him?

Today I am singing, “I can’t stop thinking about your goodness!”

For those of you asking, “How long, Lord?” keep trusting. Keep seeking the Lord. Someday he will tell us why it took so long. If you have lost sight of hope, ask the Lord to send burden-bearers who will carry faith and hope for you until you can hold it in your own hands again. In the darkest hours He still loves you, even when you can’t see it or feel it.

Pressure

But we have this precious treasure [the good news about salvation] in [unworthy] earthen vessels [of human frailty], so that the grandeur and surpassing greatness of the power will be [shown to be] from God [His sufficiency] and not from ourselves.

We are pressured in every way [hedged in], but not crushed; perplexed [unsure of finding a way out], but not driven to despair; hunted down and persecuted, but not deserted [to stand alone]; struck down, but never destroyed; always carrying around in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the [resurrection] life of Jesus also may be shown in our body.

(2 Corinthians 4:7-10 Amp)

There’s nothing like pressure to reveal weakness. I was very tired recently and grumbled loud and long about not being able to stay home and rest, but despite my physical weakness God used me to encourage someone when I grudgingly went out. It always surprises me when that happens. I guess part of me still thinks that helping someone is the result of my pseudo-superhero strength of character and somewhat flimsy appearance of righteousness. It’s not. It’s definitely not. Thanks for the reminder, Lord.

People given to shows of religiosity sometimes forget that it is God working through them that makes a difference in the world. I think God uses fragile people to carry his message of salvation because he needs us to quit making objects of worship out of anyone but Himself. It happens so easily. And then our “idols” fall because either the elevated person or his or her worshippers need to be reminded that God alone deserves all the praise.

The truth is our bodies are weak and our egos are fragile. Jesus knew what it was like to live in a body subject to fatigue. The night before he was crucified, he experienced physical weakness under huge pressure. “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak,” he conceded when his disciples couldn’t stay awake to pray with him in the garden. He understands.

Paul told the believers in Corinth that sometimes life could be tough. He and his companions had questions. They were pressured and perplexed like we sometimes are. They were hunted, persecuted, and struck down, but they were not crushed, not driven to despair, or deserted, or destroyed because God was their source of strength. He was doing something wonderful through them. These “fragile vessels” carried the living resurrected Christ. How amazing! Substance before style! It’s so opposite of the way the world operates with its public relations media machines and style before substance.

Our weaknesses keep us from claiming credit when the credit belongs to God. He is teaching us to trust him under pressure. “Under pressure” is where the rubber meets the road.

Carrying the precious message, “Christ in you, the hope of glory” is about His sufficiency and not ours. Soli Deo gratia.

Creative Meditations for Lent, Word prompt: Pressure

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.”

Marvel

“When I consider your heavens,
    the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
    which you have set in place,
 what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    human beings that you care for them?”

-Psalm 8:3,4

I marvel at God’s handiwork from the most miniscule particle to unimaginable distances in space. I am fascinated by the power of the sun’s explosions and the sensitivity of tiny cilia in the inner ear. I marvel at his strength and his gentleness. God’s omnipotence is so perfectly under control that the most vulnerable person, broken by the cruelty of the world, can come to him, lean her head on his chest, call him “Abba,” and know she is perfectly safe.

One

Word prompt for today’s Lenten meditation: One

What image could possibly describe something so unique –so holy– as the concept of oneness and perfect unity? “Holy” means set apart. God is holy. The only God. Wholly other. Unique. One.

As I meditated on this I kept going back to the source of all life, the moment when God, in perfect unity, spoke, “Let there be light.”

If we can’t fully understand the power of perfect unity in the Godhead, how can we understand how One so holy makes it possible to be in Christ and He in us? What kind of power is released when we are perfectly aligned with him and therefore with others who live and move and have their being in the Three-in-One?

It’s a mystery.

Any single image will be totally inadequate, but I thought about light and refraction and how prisms show us the diversity of colours within light. The sun shining on crystal in a local shop window display caught my attention. Many facets, one Light.

“I am not praying only for these men but for all those who will believe in me through their message, that they may all be one. Just as you, Father, live in me and I live in you, I am asking that they may live in us, that the world may believe that you did send me. I have given them the honour that you gave me, that they may be one, as we are one—I in them and you in me, that they may grow complete into one, so that the world may realize that you sent me and have loved them as you loved me.” – Jesus, recorded by John the Beloved in chapter 17 of his record of life with the One in human form, Phillips translation 

Bring Your Melody

Spring snow

Let the entire universe erupt with praise to God.

    He spoke and created it all—from nothing to something.

 He established the cosmos to last forever,

    and he stands behind his commands

    so his orders will never be revoked.

 Let the earth join in with this parade of praise!

    You mighty creatures of the ocean’s depths,

    echo in exaltation!

 Lightning, hail, snow, clouds,

    and the stormy winds that fulfill his word—

 bring your melody, O mountains and hills;

    trees of the forest and field, harmonize your praise!

(Psalm 148:5-9 TPT)

When I find myself wanting to respond in anger to those who would call evil good and good evil, the Holy Spirit, who sees from the beginning to the end and back, reminds me to change my focus. He tells me to look up and bring my melody to join with the parade of praise creation sings every day.

It’s a matter of perspective. He’s not worried. He’s got this.

Can You Hear Me Now?

ear phones IMG_1427 (3)

Yesterday I wrote about my struggle to choose to do what is right and place my trust in the One who has always cared for me. Only yesterday. (Here.)

Less than an hour after I got home I took a phone message for my husband from a shop in town where we take our car for servicing. When he came home he returned the call.

“We won something,” he said. “Bluetooth earphones.”

“Wow! I don’t remember entering a contest. Did you?” I asked.

“No. Apparently we were entered automatically the last time we took the car in.”

When I was finished with my meeting he presented me with two sets of Bose earphones – one for each of us. A couple of years ago I tried out a similar pair. I loved them, but there was no way I could buy such an extravagant thing for myself.

Eagerly I hooked them up to my phone (My kind husband gave me a new one when his crashed. He took my old one since I’m the one who fills up the memory space with music and photos.) I recently I compiled a list of songs of praise. They were in no particular order. When the ear phones came alive I heard Selah singing “Standing on the Promises.”

Standing on the promises, I cannot fail when the howling storms of doubt and fear assail.

This was followed by Lauren Daigle singing “Everything.”

Even the sparrow has a place to lay its heads so why would I let worries steal my breath?

When “Total Praise” by Richard Smallwood starting playing I cried happy tears.

Lord, I lift up my eyes unto the hills knowing my help is coming from you.

In less than an hour after I chose to obey and go pay what I felt was an unfair bill, I received not just one unexpected gift, but two! If God can provide something that I desired but thought was out of reach, he will surely meet all our needs.

Yes, Lord, I can hear you. I lift my hands in total praise to You!

Foothills nr Turner Valley ch rs 2 IMG_5680_edited-1

This morning my husband is catching up on emails surrounded by a symphony playing Beethoven (at a volume perfect for him.) He told me he felt like the Lord was saying, “I’m giving you back the gift of music, which you have forgotten.”

My Tower of Rescue

crowsnest light dark ch rs DSC_0017

I thought, briefly, about bopping her on the nose. Had I not been aware that doing so would have proven her right about my lack of holiness, I may have thought about it more seriously.

A woman, who will remain nameless, dropped by my house to comfort me after I broke my leg. Opening night for the opera, in which I had a lead role, was in a few days. There I sat with my leg propped on pillows and encased in a cast of a different sort.

“Do you know why God did this?” she asked.

“God broke my leg?”

“He broke your leg to teach you to praise him.”

I don’t remember if I smiled politely or returned blank-faced stunned silence.

“You are not using your gift for his glory,” she added. “You are using it for your own praise. That is why he broke your leg – to teach you to praise him.”

“Well, thank you for stopping by…”

Even before she drove away, I started shaking. A part of me didn’t believe her, but a part of me did. I was afraid God was disappointed and angry with me because I did something wrong again. What if I was being punished? Spending the next painful weeks and months praising God was not an appealing plan in those days. Heartfelt praise didn’t exactly pour from my lips at the thought of God going around breaking legs to make us acknowledge his supremacy. That sounded more like the modus operandi of mobsters.

The problem was that I didn’t know what praise was, and worse, I didn’t know who God was, although at the time I thought I did. I’d been going to church all my life and even aced some seminary courses. Frankly, my faith was less faith than duty.

I thought visible praise (that would satisfy my visitor) meant repeating, “Praise the Lord,” and “Hallelujah,” interspersed with the occasional “Glory!” from some deep-voiced extrovert in the back row in one of those churches where people didn’t gasp at irreverence of such things. In other words, an introvert’s nightmare.

When I confided in some churchy friends that I was struggling with a lack of sleep and the stresses of caring for sick, squabbling children, they responded with, “Praise the Lord, Charis!” as if it was a magic formula that would make everything all better. I wondered if God even cared. I was pretty sure they didn’t.

I finally reached a breaking point. If God was love, I wasn’t seeing it. If Jesus’ burden was light, I wasn’t feeling it. If the gospel was good news, I wasn’t hearing it. I walked away.

Over the next few years I let go of the image of God as an impossible-to-please task master who needed me to be the kind of salesman whose life depended on talking up a disappointing product.

Amazingly, God never walked away from me. Instead, as I unlearned, he showed me what was missing in my experience of him. Since then, he continues to teach me one step at a time about who he is. Many of the circumstances I’ve found myself in are not about punishment or condemnation; they are a holy set-up to see something about him I could not see before. Each crisis is an invitation to come one step closer.

Last week I heard a line in a song: “Way-maker, miracle worker, promise keeper, light in the darkness. My God! That is who you are.”

In my spirit I heard him ask, “Who am I to you?” I began to write.

You are my saviour hero
my confident security
my righteousness
my healer
my keeper
my hope
my peace
my comforter
my encourager
my source of creativity
my source of identity
Lover of my soul…

The list, easily two pages long, flowed while the song played. Each one of these aspects of God I had read or heard about, but it wasn’t until he showed up in a real-life situations that I understood them. They are part of who he is and he wanted to show me through relationship. I realized my list was worship. Each word on the page was praise. It was spontaneous. It was unforced and sincere. It was heart-felt. It was about him and not another “supposed to.”

I love David’s psalms because he doesn’t put himself in charge of God’s public relations. His emotions are honest. He had a promise that he would be king, then he faced situations that made him despair of even surviving the next night. Psalm 18 is his victory song in which he writes about who God was to him after all he had been through.

Lord, I passionately love you and I’m bonded to you,
for now you’ve become my power!
You’re as real to me as bedrock beneath my feet,
like a castle on a cliff, my forever firm fortress,
my mountain of hiding, my pathway of escape,
my tower of rescue where none can reach me.

My secret strength and shield around me,
you are salvation’s ray of brightness shining on the hillside,
always the champion of my cause.

All I need to do is to call to you,
singing to you, the praiseworthy God.
(Psalm 18:1-3 TPT)

Did God break my leg to teach me to praise him? No. My leg broke because I was wearing high heeled dress boots on sheer ice. But he was patiently waiting right there, with me in the circumstance, which was actually more about the pain the visitor stirred up in me than a shattered tibia. Looking back, I can see God encouraging me to let go of the false image I carried around. I needed to see him in Jesus, the one who came to show us what the Father is truly like.

The journey continues.

My question for you. What aspect of himself does God want to show you now, in your current circumstances?