November Afternoon, Elizabeth Lake

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November twilight. The sun disappeared behind the hills by 4:45 in the afternoon today.

Haze from controlled burns faded distant colours. Now is the time to clear debris when the risk of forest fire is low.

Nearly all the birds have left the sanctuary. Only the crows remain, singing like an enthusiastic unpaid third-rate band willing to work for exposure.

Snow briefly gave a preview of winter’s intent, then melted in the sun. Some still hides in the shade.

Thin ice covers Elizabeth Lake like a sugary crème brûlée crust. A foot would easily break through and the mud underneath the shallow water is still soft enough to capture a shoe. On the water’s edge, kids smash the surface with sticks to see how far cracks will travel. Most of their make-believe spears pierce the ice and get stuck in the mud. Someone hollers that his feet are wet. He runs home.

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And then, before the sky is even dark, the moon glows in anticipation of its watch.

It feels like the sun is giving up on the day too soon. It’s hard to watch the ending of growing season full of colour and life, but there is still beauty in nature at rest — a subtler beauty, but still beauty.

 

 

Thank you, Lord, for every sunset because every sunset brings the promise of sunrise.

Remember

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“I need to worship because without it I can forget that I have a Big God beside me and live in fear.

I need to worship because without it I can forget his calling and begin to live in a spirit of self-preoccupation.

I need to worship because without it I lose a sense of wonder and gratitude and plod through life with blinders on.

I need worship because my natural tendency is toward self-reliance and stubborn independence.”

~John Ortberg

Tested, Flawless, Faithful: The Joy of Mary

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I love Mary’s prophetic song, often called The Magnificat. I love it so much that one day while I was listening to Bach’s setting of her words recorded in the book of Luke I was so overcome with joy I had to stop the car and get out to walk around a park beside the highway and give God my praise.

There’s a story behind this. One day, about ten or eleven years ago, after I decided to pursue a goal of knowing God better, I suddenly felt very drowsy. I took a nap on the sofa. Immediately I was in a dream.

In the dream I was struggling to speak. I felt the pressure of words building up inside me, but my lips were sealed. I could only communicate with my eyes. I looked to people begging for help, but they couldn’t understand me. I went out on the front lawn and collapsed with the effort of trying to speak. It felt like I was in labour.

A man who I know to be very skeptical about spiritual experiences beyond decently and in order pew occupation walked up to me and asked in a taunting tone, “So, do you have a prophetic word for us?”

The words burst out of me.

“In the future we will venerate Mary more.”

I was shocked. Why would I say that? I am fascinated by Reformation history and I was all too aware of the division caused by misdirected worship of Mary that replaced the centrality of Jesus Christ in some places. What an odd thing for me to say.

I was suddenly wide awake. I couldn’t have been asleep for more than a few minutes. I went back to work in my office and heard my daughter playing a podcast in the next room. The speaker asked, “Where are all the Marys? Where are the women who will lay down their lives to carry the Word to the poor in spirit? Where are the women who are willing to labour and give birth to God’s plans for revealing his goodness on earth? Where are the Marys who put Jesus Christ first no matter the cost?”

I had never heard of this speaker before, but the timing was so remarkable I had to pay attention. Like Mary I needed to ponder what this meant.

I looked up the word venerate. It means to honour and very much respect a person. It doesn’t mean turning them into God.

I grew up in a home divided by religion. My mother was disinherited when she married my father who came from a different expression of Christianity than the one that was assigned by her ethnic culture. The pain of that rejection led to defensiveness and I heard all the arguments from the time I was young.

Sometimes reacting to a practise that heads toward the ditch in one direction results in a practise that lands us in the other ditch. In my culture the place of Mary was downplayed. Her name only came up at Christmas. We did not venerate her as an outstanding person full of grace or the most blessed among women. I needed to pay more attention to her.

I realized that many prophets are entrusted with the task of delivering words, but she delivered THE WORD, Jesus Christ himself. She also prophesied when she sang:

My soul is ecstatic, overflowing with praises to God!

My spirit bursts with joy over my life-giving God!

For he set his tender gaze upon me, his lowly servant girl.
And from here on, everyone will know
that I have been favored and blessed.

The Mighty One has worked a mighty miracle for me;
holy is his name!

Mercy kisses all his godly lovers,
from one generation to the next.

Mighty power flows from him
to scatter all those who walk in pride.

Powerful princes he tears from their thrones
and he lifts up the lowly to take their place.

Those who hunger for him will always be filled,
but the smug and self-satisfied he will send away empty.

Because he can never forget to show mercy,
he has helped his chosen servant, Israel,

Keeping his promises to Abraham
and to his descendants forever.”

I studied The Magnificat. Mary, at a young age, had an understanding of God’s plan! She knew about his heart for the poor and humble. He shared his secrets with her and she treasured them. She knew that she was participating with God in the creation of something wonderful and that eventually all generations would call her blessed because of it.

My favourite song is probably Bach’s Quia Respexit. It’s as if I hear Mary saying, “He has noticed and respected little old me. Wow! In the future all generations will honour me by calling me blessed.” (My own extremely loose translation.)

So, I was driving down the road pondering the dream and the podcast as I listened to Et Exultavit Spiritus Meus (my spirit exalts in God my Saviour) and Quia Respexit (the object of respect) when it hit me. She got it! She and her relative Elizabeth, two mere women, understood that God was sending his salvation long before anybody else. (It’s makes me wonder what their mutual grandparents were like.) They were the first to recognize that this was the biggest event in the universe since creation.

That’s when I was overwhelmed with Mary’s joy. I felt her aha! moment.

A few days ago I took a photo of a Christmas ornament hanging on a tree. Something about the light caught in the shiny metal caught my attention. Metal is refined by fire. The deer represents the most humble and innocent of forest creatures. To me the photo speaks of the truth of promise, pure, tested, flawless, and ever faithful. It shines in those who humbly give themselves to the Lord so that his will may be done on earth as it is in heaven.

I read this last night:

But the Lord says, “Now I will arise!
I will defend the poor,
those who were plundered, the oppressed,
and the needy who groan for help.
I will arise to rescue and protect them!”

For every word God speaks is sure and every promise pure.
His truth is tested, found to be flawless, and ever faithful.
It’s as pure as silver refined seven times in a crucible of clay.

Lord, you will keep us forever safe,
out of the reach of the wicked.
Even though they strut and prowl,
tolerating and celebrating what is worthless and vile,
you will still lift up those who are yours!

(Psalm 12:5-8 The Passion Translation)

I honour and respect and am in awe of Mary the mother of Jesus.

Mary was the first to carry the Word, but the promise did not end with her. There are more Marys out there. Are you one?

Mercy Poured

Go warn the children of God of the terrible speed of mercy.

~Flannery O’Connor

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“Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters;
And you who have no money come, buy grain and eat.
Come, buy wine and milk
Without money and without cost [simply accept it as a gift from God].

“Why do you spend money for that which is not bread,
And your earnings for what does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good,
And let your soul delight in abundance.

“Incline your ear [to listen] and come to Me;
Hear, so that your soul may live;
And I will make an everlasting covenant with you…

(Isaiah 55:1-3a Amplified)

After the Rain, After the Flood

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Can I be honest? I am disappointed. Not devastated, but disappointed.

Only four months ago we finally finished a big renovation project. My Dad, who perfected the art of frugality, left me a little money after he passed away. We used it to do long needed repairs to our house and to completely re-finish the lower level. It’s taken nearly three years, but by Christmas it was finally done and I loved it. Our son spent many long hours away from his own wife and children to use his creative carpentry skills and give me the home I always wanted.

And now? Now, like many people in our town, I stand in my own house in rubber boots and wade through water that ought not to be inside our beautiful warm home with its new flooring and freshly painted walls and white trim. Water swirls around the new freezer and washer and dryer.

I’ve not been writing much this week because I have, with friends, been pumping water out the back door for seven days. When the huge dump of snow we had this winter began to melt, it had no escape route. Many of the houses in our town are filling with icy cold water flowing into low places and bubbling up from sewers. It seems the only place the water has not ventured is into the room with the drain installed in the floor to deal with such things.

Wonderful friends jumped in to help last Saturday. Then one by one our friends jumped out to bail out their own homes when the water reached them. Some of them are now in  deeper water than we have been. One brave guy came over and emptied an 1100 square foot pool with two shop vacuums all by himself – two days in a row! I am so grateful. But it filled up again within a couple of hours.

My husband’s mother is ill and needs help, so he flew up to her place in Alberta on Sunday. I am here. I’m still supposed to take it easy after surgery last month but there is really not much choice but to bend and lift and bail and do the best I can.

It’s not enough. There is really nothing I, or anyone else, can do. I have to let it go.

My Facebook friend has been posting pictures of the horrendous flood in Peru, where he lives in Lima – without access to water, ironically enough. Another friend posts photos from a famine in Africa and another pictures of the destruction in the Middle East. My problem is pitifully insignificant in comparison. No one has died here. It’s just property damage.

Yet as I heard a young woman say, “If you have no right to be sad because someone has it worse, you have no right to be happy when someone has it better.” Feelings are feelings. Like the feeling of thirst the feeling of disappointment carries no shame. It’s what I do with that disappointment that matters. If I fail to hold these things in an open hand and give my right to own nice stuff back to God it could congeal into bitterness. I’ve known that heavy entrapment before. I lost years to it.

The night before my husband first stepped on an unexpectedly cold soggy rug in the middle of the family room I had a dream. In this dream I was driving on the top of a snow-covered dike that ended near the river. I needed to turn around, but the trail was very narrow and a deep pool of water surrounded the dike like a flood plain. I almost made the turn, but then my car began to slide into the water. I knew there was nothing I could do. I felt annoyed and resigned, but not particularly upset or panicky.

As my vehicle began to sink I knew I had to give it up. (I love my little Honda Insight). I exited through the window and swam toward the snowy dike. By the time I touched the shore it had become a solid rock beach. People who hadn’t been there before waited with warm blankets to cover me. I saw men attaching cables to my car and salvaging it before it was completely submerged. Someone behind me, wrapping a warm hand-made quilt around my shivering body, whispered in my ear, “This looks very dramatic and like it’s a big deal, but it’s not. You’re going to be okay.”

~~~~~~~~~~~

My feet are wet and cold. I watch the water lap up against the new library shelves. They are already warping. It’s only stuff, I know that. But it’s a loss, and I’m sad. And that’s okay.

In January I asked the Lord to give me a word about what aspect of himself he wanted to show me in this season. In a vision in the night I saw the word “berit” written in the sky. I wrote it down and looked it up in the morning. The first article I found said it was a form of the Hebrew word for covenant promise – a one way promise from God that is not conditional on his people conforming to a code of behaviour to bring about fulfillment. It’s simply part of his faithfulness to keep it.

rainbow square mountain pass IMG_9852 chSomeone asked me if I’ve seen any rainbows lately, considering all the rain that was melting mounds of snow. I remembered seeing this word written in the sky. In Genesis a rainbow is a berit. I saw a literal word of promise taking the place of a rainbow in the sky.

You know, it shouldn’t surprise me that as I write this I am remembering that today is the anniversary of the day our daughter was told she couldn’t have children. It’s also her daughter’s birthday, the first of three miracle babies.

Today is also the anniversary of a terrible day when our son-in-law crashed after surgery for flesh-eating disease. The doctors didn’t think he would live. On this date a year after that he and our daughter celebrated his miraculous better-than-before recovery by going on a mountain bike adventure.

Shortly after that our son and family experienced a flood far worse than this one. Their house sat in a lake of water and they were displaced for months. This week marks the completion of the restoration of their house to better-than-new condition, it’s sale, and the beginning of a new project.

I guess if you want to see miracles you’re going to find yourself in situations that call for them. I am disappointed, yes, but not beaten down, not without hope, not without other treasures. We have wealth in caring friends, in family, in the laughter of grandchildren. We also know that God never allows something to be removed without replacing it with something better. I am anticipating that he will do it again.

A song has been going through my head this week. One line in particular seems to be on repeat:

After the rain
After the flood
You set your promise in the sky…

God is good. Still good. Always good.

Though the fig tree should not blossom
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls,
Yet I will exult in the Lord,

I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
The Lord God is my strength,
And He has made my feet like hinds’ feet,
And makes me walk on my high places.

(Habakkuk 3:17-20 NASB)

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Thirsty

A kind person told me that feeling an emotion is like feeling thirsty. There is no shame in feeling thirsty. You might consider if anything unusual caused your thirst, or if you need to drop everything and get a drink, or if you can wait until the next convenient time to deal with it. Seldom do people say, “I’m so sorry. I really shouldn’t feel thirsty. I don’t know what’s the matter with me.” Thirst is.

We might consider the cause of an unexpected emotion, but we have the choice to deal with it right away or wait until the next convenient time –but we can’t ignore feelings forever. There is no need to say,”I’m so sorry. I really shouldn’t feel this way. I don’t know what’s the matter with me.” Feelings are.

Today I feel emotionally thirsty. I’ve been in a time of giving (freely and with joy because I absolutely love the people who needed my help) but today I am feeling tired and a bit, well, prunish. There are scattered piles of requests for attention all over my house. The urgent has been attended to, but I’m not putting this off anymore, so dust, emails, laundry, lesson plans, and call back messages, if you will excuse me, I’m going to go soak in the love of Jesus now.