Living in the Light

From my kitchen window, I saw the foxglove plant my sweet friend Diana gave me. It was still on the deck with a collection of other bedding plants waiting for the weather to warm up enough to plant it. The low evening sun lit its petals with fire. I just had to hobble out there with my camera to capture it. I joke that I need a sign on the back of my car that says, “This vehicle brakes for lighting conditions.”

Sometimes backlight turns objects into dark silhouettes and sometimes, when the subject is transparent, more is revealed than we could see before. This time I was fascinated by the little spots like a cobblestone path leading deeper into the heart of the flower. I snapped the photo, then covered the flats of bedding plants with a plastic tarp.

I haven’t planted them in the garden yet for two reasons. 1) It’s been unseasonably cold with frost appearing in unexpected areas the last few nights and 2) because a few days ago, while attempting to cover up the few snapdragons I did plant last week, I fell and undid a lot of physiotherapy on my legs and back.

I only meant to slip outside quickly and put a sheet over the snapdragons and pansies before going to bed. Not wanting the taller flowers to be bent by the covering, I tried to push a stick into the soil for the sheet to rest on. The stick broke and I lost my balance. When the shock wore off, I assessed the situation. I had twisted every joint and muscle on my left side in an attempt to avoid impaling myself on the broken stake as I went down. I knew instantly I had torn more cartilage in my already damaged knees and it felt like I had sprained an ankle. It was dark and cold. I had no jacket or sweater. The walker I know I should keep nearby for balance because of my knee problems was inside. I was lying like a beached whale in a muddy flower bed with only crushed snapdragons for support. I couldn’t get up. My husband was inside, in his office with the door shut, and my neighbours’ lights had been turned off for the night. No one could see me or hear me.

I prayed my most frequently used go-to prayer. “Oh God!”

Eventually I rolled out and somehow got up on the lesser damaged leg. I yelled again and my husband heard me while turning off lights before retiring. He managed to help me up the three impossible stairs to the hallway where I could ride the rest of the way seated on the walker. I couldn’t put any weight on one leg at all for a couple of days. The rest of my body reminded me of the indignity it had suffered as well. I felt so stupid.

For the past few days I’ve been showing up like a silhouette in the sun to most people, which is easy to do when we are still mostly on lockdown. What injury? Nothin’ to see here. I am definitely not looking for sympathy, but neither have I admitted why I haven’t left the house lately. So here is my transparency. You may notice I’ve got spots.

Sometimes I need help and it’s hard to admit. I want to be the one who helps others, not the one who needs someone to pull me out of the mud, but the Lord reminds me that mutual submission means saying both “Let me help you,” and “I need your help.” It may be more blessed to give than receive, but only those who know how to receive learn how to humbly give in a way that lifts people up and doesn’t put them down for the absence of judgment that got them into a mess.

Some people say that talking about an illness or injury is somehow showing a lack of faith or being negative. My response to that is, “It will be interesting to see how God uses this experience.” Faith in real time means talking about real problems and real answers to prayer. By the way, I can now put some weight on my leg and maneuver around one level of the house and, most importantly, get to the bathroom on my own. (Praise God!) Healing is happening.

To friends who prayed, washed my muddy floor, and asked if I wanted more snapdragons, thank you. To my husband who is always there (as long as he hears me) I love you. To my physiotherapist who has been working hard these past weeks to get me moving, sorry about that.

Good News

I had good news this week! More of that later. Other people also told me their good news today. 

I had breakfast with friends at a restaurant this morning. It is the first time we met over coffee and variations on an egg theme since our worlds shrunk eight months ago. I sat near the middle of the table (with distance between settings of cutlery and cups, of course.) That meant I was part of two, and sometimes three conversations taking place on either side.  

We are friends. We know each other’s histories and struggles. I joked that when we were younger, conversations in this kind of setting tended to be about comparing childbirth experiences, balancing work and home responsibilities, and diet and exercise plans. Now we compare surgery stories, and talk about adult children’s work, grandchildren’s and nieces’ and nephews’ adorableness, and which vitamins or herbal supplements “they” say will keep us going. 

We did cover all those things, but we are all women who have lived through difficult circumstances we never foresaw when we first enjoyed getting away on a Saturday morning. Among us there have been some devastating life events such as the death of children and spouses, betrayals, divorces, financial losses, long hospitalizations and recoveries from accidents and illness, and many hopes deferred. But there were also stories of God’s provision in our lives. This was not a churchy testimony meeting. This gathering was just a group of friends talking about real life and the goodness of God. 

I took advantage of my seat in the middle and listened to stories of what has happened since we last met. One beautiful woman spoke excitedly about doctors agreeing they had no explanation for her husband’s remarkable recovery from an illness that brought him entirely too close to death’s door. She knew it was Jesus’ doing. Another friend spoke about a wonderful encounter with Jesus that healed deep wounds – in the very place the original trauma occurred. Another, who had lost functional eyesight, is now able to see. One who was unable to leave her house for months because of severe pain now walks without a limp. Some who feared not being able to survive the crisis financially reported with joy and relief that God has taken care of them.  

My good news? I was able to share that I finally had the tests and scans that were postponed last spring due to the hospital’s preparation for the onslaught of crowds of covid-19 patients that, thank God, never happened here. I felt that in this season the Lord wanted to show me he is my keeper and that his provision of peace and patient endurance were available if I wanted to pick it up. (A little background. I was told after surgery for stage 3b cancer three years ago, that although the primary tumour looked like it was low-grade, it was acting aggressively and these kind “always return with a vengeance.” Due to mix-ups and pandemic protocol, postponement meant 18 months between “keeping an eye on it” procedures that are part of my palliative care plan.) 

Worry and a tendency to catastrophize have dragged my faith into the ditch since I was a child. This time holding on to hope while waiting was not as difficult as it used to be. I am learning that the Lover of my soul may take me through valleys on this journey, but he is trustworthy in his methods and his timing (and that the valley is where the feast is kept.)  

This week I finally received the overdue medical report: No demonstration of metastatic disease. Thank you, Lord!

Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble, but don’t be afraid. I have overcome the world.” In other words, “I’ve got this.” 

We can ask God to show us his true nature and tell him that we want him to help us become more like him, but we can’t tell him how to do it. When he asks permission to work in our lives, he doesn’t say how he’s going to show us aspects of himself we haven’t understood before or how he’s going to transform us into the people he knows us to truly be. When we say yes to God, we surrender the right to write the script. After a while we can begin to recognize challenging circumstances to be the opportunities for change (some of us sooner than others. I have been a slow learner.) 

All the mature women I met with today can tell you the journey with God took them in directions they never would have chosen. Every one received answers to prayer in different ways and in different lengths of waiting time, from seconds to decades. Every one of us can tell you we are still mid-crisis in some area with problems that, on our own, we don’t know how to fix, but every one of us will also tell you that God is good, and that the good news, the really good news, is that he loves us so much that he sent his son to show us how much. 

This is the best news ever. Hang on to it. You are going to need it.

Just to Be Near You

O God in Zion, to you even silence is praise!
You are the God who answers prayer;
all of humanity comes before you with their requests.

Though we are overcome by our many sins,
your sacrifice covers over them all.
And your priestly lovers, those you’ve chosen,
will be greatly favored to be brought close to you.
What inexpressible joys are theirs!
What feasts of mercy fill them in your heavenly sanctuary!
How satisfied we will be just to be near you!

You answer our prayers with amazing wonders
and with awe-inspiring displays of power.
You are the righteous God who helps us like a father.

Everyone everywhere looks to you,
for you are the confidence of all the earth,
even to the farthest islands of the sea.

What jaw-dropping, astounding power is yours!
You are the mountain maker who sets them all in place.

Psalm 65: 1-7 TPT

I am learning that prayer is not a work we do to impress God. Prayer is not duty. Prayer is not telling God what to do as if he is our servant. Prayer is definitely not manipulating God with fine flattering speeches or dramatic displays of emotional super-religiosity. These things may impress the people around us, but they do not impress God.

What impresses God is faith — believing he is who he says he is and trusting in his love.

Prayer is daring to come close to God in faith and humility and naked honesty. Sometimes, when we pour out our hearts, words flow. Sometimes we sit in silence not knowing what to say. In these moments, the Holy Spirit speaks our hearts when we can’t. In these moments the Holy Spirit speaks to our hearts in the sounds of stillness.

Prayer is just being near him and knowing that no matter what, he loves us like no one else ever can.

Leave No Unguarded Place

Caesarea Maritime G_7428 vaulted ceiling ch crop

I woke up with a verse of a song playing in my head.

Leave no unguarded place,
No weakness of the soul,
Take every virtue, every grace,
And fortify the whole.
From strength to strength go on,
Wrestle and fight and pray,
Tread all the powers of darkness down
And win the well-fought day.

It’s from the hymn, Soldiers of Christ Arise, written by Charles Wesley. His brother, John, is famous for leading a well-known spiritual awakening, but it’s Charles’ verses that come to memory for me.

I looked for a video performance of the song but none that I saw had the tone of gentle encouragement I felt when I heard this part of it in my spirit. Some of them used photos of modern military and others featured large choirs and brass fanfares.

None of them felt right because “wrestle and fight and pray” doesn’t take place in the middle of patriotic hoopla for me. The battle, for me, takes place mostly in my bed at night when I wrestle with doubt, fight fear, and pray from a position of being very aware of weakness. The only strutting involved is when I am trying to walk the cramps out of my legs, and technically, that looks more like lurching.

I don’t feel particularly virtuous when I am complaining about pain. I don’t feel particularly strong when worries attack without the defenses of daylight logic camouflage. My prayers contain no self-conscious public speech-making bravado. Mostly they are moans, for myself, for my family, for my friends, for my country, for this world where the powers of darkness, in a variety of costumes, seem to be clog dancing on the face of those suffering injustice.

And yet, I hear the voice of my Lord saying, “Get up. Put your armour on.”

In his kindness, Holy Spirit first points out places in my heart that need to be fortified with his love, joy, peace, patience kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control. Then he reminds me of his lavish, empowering grace.

He reminds me that when I fall, I don’t have to go all the way back to the beginning. My new starting point is where I left off last time. I am learning that I can fall, admit it, and get up to fight from strength to strength with his weapons — and aim them at the real enemy, not the hostages.

The process involves acknowledging the unguarded places in my soul where lies about who God is and who I am in Christ have slipped in unnoticed. One common unguarded place is unforgiveness. Another is complaining. Someone told me that complaining is the worship language of hell and not to be surprised by who shows up for a pity party.

Wrestling, puzzling, pondering draws us closer to God. Sometimes trust means moving in obedience without any more insight than knowing he is good and he’s asked me to get up and pray.

Sometimes one crumb leads to another on the path to closer relationship. As I was pondering this song another came up:

Spirit of God, descend upon my heart;
Wean it from earth; through all its pulses move.
Stoop to my weakness, mighty as Thou art,
And make me love Thee as I ought to love.

Hast Thou not bid me love Thee, God and King?
All, all Thine own, soul, heart and strength and mind.
I see Thy cross; there teach my heart to cling:
Oh, let me seek Thee, and, oh, let me find!

Teach me to feel that Thou art always nigh;
Teach me the struggles of the soul to bear,
To check the rising doubt, the rebel sigh;
Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer.

Teach me to love Thee as Thine angels love,
One holy passion filling all my frame;
The kindling of the heaven-descended Dove,
My heart an altar, and Thy love the flame.
-George Croly

poppy fire ch DSC_0177

Today is Pentecost. The Holy Spirit came in power on a Pentecost day to enable the followers of Jesus to go from strength to strength. They couldn’t do it on their own.

Sometimes the next step is simply a practical one. While he fried up bacon and eggs, my husband patiently listened to me verbally process the significance of the music in my head and its metaphorical meaning.

“By the way,” he said, when I paused to take a sip of coffee, “You left the back door open last night.”

Note to self: check the doors before going to bed.

A Season of Hardship

snow ranch bw ch

It snowed again. It’s hard in this season when one day is full of the promise of spring and the next throws us back into more time of waiting. Yesterday I worked in the garden, waving to neighbours as I cleaned up dead branches and winter debris, and made plans for planting. Today I’m back in the house, in isolation, wondering when this cold, lonely season will end.

Weather forecasts from several sources differ only slightly on when the weather will warm up again. Forecasts about when voluntary and increasingly forced isolation will end vary much more widely. Health and economic experts seem to be at a loss themselves. Many people are asking, “What is actually going on?”

It’s hard when you don’t know what is happening.

The followers of Jesus must have been at a loss themselves the day after the Messiah died. Only a few days earlier, songs of joy and elation rang out in the streets. Now Jesus was dead. How crushed their hopes! The greatest disappointment in history! They could not see what was being accomplished during that time. From the vantage point of isolation in hiding from fearful opposition they had no idea what was actually going on.

I don’t know what’s going on right now. I don’t know which experts to believe, which news sources are fake, which are reliable, or who is exploiting whom in this situation. It appears many people are suffering physically and financially as the whole world cries out for deliverance from this evil.

This much I do know. God hears and he can take what was intended for evil and turn it to the advantage of those who trust him. He can also use it to reveal himself to those who deny who he is.

Wait, my soul. Take courage. Wait and learn. Remember the Father’s words.

How compassionate he will be
when he hears your cries for help!
He will answer you when he hears your voice!

Even though the Lord may allow you
to go through a season of hardship and difficulty,
he himself will be there with you.

He will not hide himself from you,
for your eyes will constantly see him as your Teacher.
 
When you turn to the right or turn to the left,
you will hear his voice behind you to guide you, saying,
“This is the right path; follow it.”

Then you will see your idols as they are—unclean!

(Isaiah 30:19b-22a TPT)

Under the Weather

dark valley summer rain ch rs IMG_2744

To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.
-Karl Barth

The expression feeling under the weather means feeling unwell. It comes from a nautical expression. If a sailor on a ship felt sea sick due to rough weather he was allowed to go below deck until the storm was over or the ship sailed out of it or he developed sea legs.

The storm most of us find ourselves in right now with the threat of the covid-19 virus and the financial repercussions of efforts to mitigate the spread, have left many feeling sick with anxiety.

When people are overwhelmed with waves of anxiety crashing down on them they react differently than they normally would. They say or do things that escape normal healthy inhibitions. There is grace for that.

Sometimes it’s better to take a break and metaphorically go below deck to find a less stressful place and wait out the chaos. Sometimes I have to quit watching the news or listening to social media squabbles because they upset me. I’m liable to lash out in a way that embarrasses me in the way suddenly vomiting in a crowd is embarrassing.

Some people are called to hands-on-deck practical action – and for those people I am extremely grateful. Some of us are called to a quiet place where we can re-focus and listen to God’s heart for us. It’s only then that we battle, not from a place of fear, but a place of rest and confidence that God is still for us and still good.

God is not tethered to the timeline like we are. He sees the storm, but he also sees the resolution of this atmosphere of fear-inducing disorder.

It’s okay to take a break when you need to go below decks. Rest. Drink in God’s love. It’s the thing that casts out fear. Worship and give thanks, as you wait for the peace that passes understanding that Jesus promised. When you are full and can give out of the overflow, rise up and do the things that are consistent with being the person God sees when he looks at you. If you don’t know who that is, now is a good time to ask.

So now we come freely and boldly to where love is enthroned, to receive mercy’s kiss and discover the grace we urgently need to strengthen us in our time of weakness.

(Hebrews 4:16 TPT)

 

 

 

Struggling Against the Wind

painting-jesus-storm ch dsc_0460

 

Late that night, the disciples were in their boat in the middle of the lake, and Jesus was alone on land. He saw that they were in serious trouble, rowing hard and struggling against the wind and waves.

About three o’clock in the morning Jesus came toward them, walking on the water. He intended to go past them, but when they saw him walking on the water, they cried out in terror, thinking he was a ghost. They were all terrified when they saw him.

But Jesus spoke to them at once. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Take courage! I am here!” 

Then he climbed into the boat, and the wind stopped. They were totally amazed, for they still didn’t understand the significance of the miracle of the loaves. Their hearts were too hard to take it in.

(Mark 6:47-56 NLT)

The disciples were in a storm struggling against the wind and waves. Everything in their evidence-based experience told them this was bad. Very bad.

Jesus saw their struggle.

If this pandemic experience had happened earlier in my life I would probably have felt overwhelmed with anxiety. It’s a sign of how much the Lord has healed my heart that even though I am in the high risk for complications category in several ways should I come into contact with the virus, I have more peace now than I’ve ever had before.

Like the disciples in the boat, my experience tells me this is bad. But unlike the disciples at that time, my heart has been softened by seeing Jesus do the unexpected. Sometimes the scary ‘what-ifs’ break through, but most of the time I can trust that no matter what, God still loves me and still loves and cares for the people I love.

I had no grid for God’s intervention back in the years of anxiety and depression. I struggled against the wind, but all I saw was the waves. Like Jesus’ friends, I interpreted anything supernatural as something even scarier than the storm.

Jesus didn’t shame them for what they felt. He responded to their cries. “I’m here!”

He had compassion and showed them what it was like to be at peace. He demonstrated authority over not only  chaos in the physical atmosphere, but in the spiritual atmosphere as well. He put himself in the same position they were in and the wind stopped.

During a time of turbulent emotions stirred up by fear and illness, I painted a prayer of wanting to see Jesus in the emotional storm that raged around my heart. I had almost forgotten about it until I read this story in Mark today.

In a dream this week, I waited and waited in a church hoping for an encounter with God. When I could no longer stay because the last person turned off the lights and indicated he wanted to lock up, I went out into the dark rainy night. To my surprise, Jesus was waiting in the parking lot for me. When he touched my hand all fear was gone.

He wasn’t in the decently-and-in-order building with its platform and neat rows of seats. He was outside in the storm.

Perhaps that is where he is waiting for you.

 

 

Finding Peace in the Middle of a Contentious Atmosphere

pond frost ch rs DSC_0627

I fell for it. I didn’t really notice until I asked myself why I felt so agitated. I heard myself snap at my husband over some trivial matter. Later he (and a few others) had to listen to my rant about the way corrupt people with money and power are lying to the vulnerable and gullible. I picked up the nastiness in the atmosphere and, forgetting to get cleaned up after reading about systemic corruption in my country, I ran with it and added to the division.

I lost my peace.

One of the most important things I have learned in the past few years is that when I pray I need to remember who I am, to rest from striving and have confidence in the One to whom I pray — and to tune into His peace. In His presence I am content to trust. Covered by His righteousness, surrounded by His love, and secure in His goodness I can join in the way Jesus prays for a situation.

On my own I become angry. I rant about injustice, cover-ups, the abuse of power, the manipulation of people through fears and half-truths. On my own my best efforts contribute to the kind of division that delights the enemy of our souls. My own emotional reaction doesn’t work.

I thought about attitudes that counter anger and contention. I thought about peace and contentment as neutralizing weapons. But first I had to get cleaned up.

The essence of confession is this: Oh God, I was wrong. I’m sorry.

I was wrong to pick up the weapons of the author of contention. (I once heard in a dream, “You can contend without being contentious, you know.”) I was wrong for applying outrage instead of stepping into the place of confident security in The Truth and The Way.

My scheduled reading yesterday in Psalm 94 made me stop and think. So much of the upheaval we are experiencing comes down to the question, “Who is in control?”

You will be relieved to know it’s not me, nor can I tell God what to do. I can confess, get cleaned up, and step back into alignment with him though. Thank you, Lord, for forgiveness.

The scripture says the purposes of God are not achieved by the anger of man. My dearest brothers and sisters, take this to heart: Be quick to listen,[o] but slow to speak. And be slow to become angry, for human anger is never a legitimate tool to promote God’s righteous purpose. (James 1:19, 20)

Prayer is more powerful than any demonstration of anger. God’s plan of revenge is first a heart transformed by love, but he will not tolerate forever those who hurt his children.

The Lord has fully examined every thought of man
and found them all to be empty and futile.

Lord Yah, there’s such a blessing that comes
when you teach us your word and your ways.
Even the sting of your correction can be sweet.

It rescues us from our days of trouble
until you are ready to punish the wicked.

For the Lord will never walk away from his cherished ones,
nor would he forsake his chosen ones who belong to him.

Whenever you pronounce judgments, they reveal righteousness.
All your lovers will be pleased.

Lord, who will protect me from these wicked ones?
If you don’t stand to defend me, who will? I have no one but you!

I would have been killed so many times
if you had not been there for me.

When I screamed out, “Lord, I’m doomed!”
your fiery love was stirred and you raced to my rescue.

Whenever my busy thoughts were out of control,
the soothing comfort of your presence
calmed me down and overwhelmed me with delight.

It’s obvious to all; you will have nothing to do
with corrupt rulers who pass laws that empower evil
and defeat what is right.

For they gang up against the lovers of righteousness
and condemn the innocent to death.

But I know that all their evil plans will boomerang back onto them.
Every plot they hatch will simply seal their own doom.
For you, my God, you will destroy them,
giving them what they deserve.
For you are my true tower of strength,
my safe place, my hideout, and my true shelter.

(Psalm 94:11-23 TPT)

 

mountains sun snow contrast ch DSC_0153