If I fly into the radiant sunset, you’re there waiting!
(from Psalm 139 the Passion Translation)
If I fly into the radiant sunset, you’re there waiting!
(from Psalm 139 the Passion Translation)
I came home from my walk yesterday with apples in my pockets and a rant in my mouth.
“I can’t believe these people!” I told my husband. “There are half a dozen fruit trees in this neighbourhood that haven’t been picked! I tell you, if your apples are hanging over the fence and if you haven’t picked them by the day the first winter storm is predicted, I’m taking some.”
I tossed him a cold crisp MacIntosh. “Here. It’s delicious!”
He looked at me with the suspicion of a man who remembers what happened the last time a woman offered him stolen fruit.
“And plums!” I added. “There’s a tree down the alley that is still loaded with Damsons. They could at least let some homeless people or single moms or some folks from the food bank with ladders come onto their property and fill up their boxes. It drives me nuts when perfectly good food goes to waste!
And this happens every year. And then the bears follow the scent into town in the fall and the deer are gorging on mushy fallen fruit and pooping everywhere and then the cougars show up and get shot because they scare parents and dog owners. Aaargh!”
I grew up on the Canadian prairies where the weather was too harsh for most fruit trees. Heaven, in my child’s mind, was filled with luxurious fruit you could simply reach up and take. Maybe it still is. But having fruit trees is like having pets. You’ve got to look after them. “Steward them” in Christianese.
I went over to the window to arrange my over-the-fence apples and take photos of them, because that’s what I do when the light is good, and I heard my Lord’s voice.
“I know how you feel.”
“I have made provision for you that you have failed to grab.”
“I don’t get it.”
“Exactly. You need to extend your faith a little to get it, but it’s there.”
Well. That shut me up.
I’ve been feeling inadequate for a task I believe the Lord has been asking me to do for ages. I’ve let opportunity after opportunity pass by like the seasons as I wait to be endowed from on high with inspiration, creativity, and resources.
What does extending faith look like?
It looks like getting out a ladder and reaching for provision unnoticed in the everyday. It’s refusing to let another season pass ignoring what you already have access to. Don’t take it for granted. Don’t be distracted. Don’t be lazy. Go for it! Then share.
I hear You.
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.
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?
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
For as the earth brings forth its sprouts,
And as a garden causes the things sown in it to spring up,
So the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
To spring up before all the nations.
(Isaiah 61:11 NASB)
In this portion of the journey, when steps forward and steps backward start to resemble a cha-cha more than a foot race, I sometimes wonder what is going on. As I write this people the insurance company sent are in my house packing up stuff that, only four months ago, finally had a place. Now, after the flood, it doesn’t. Again. After all that is salvageable leaves in a truck headed to a storage facility, the deconstruction people come to tear out walls I just painted and flooring we just laid. This week I rushed about trying to figure out what I might need in the next few months that I should store in bins in corners of the house that is still habitable. I was going a little nuts.
It felt like I was wallowing in hope deferred.
Then a friend (Godsend that she is) asked me if I would join her and paint during the worship portion of a conference. I was apprehensive about doing what I do in front of real live people (as opposed to anonymous readers). I am so done with performance and stage Christianity, but I decided that hiding is not much better. Besides, I needed to get out of the house – and they let me sit in a corner of the auditorium.
The first night I painted light streaming through the woods as the Lord spoke to me about shifting atmospheres in a way that brings light to dark places, but the idea for this painting, started the second day, formed before the first was even finished. I saw the red umbrella as a symbolic covering like the covering given by the blood over the doors at Passover and the covering given by Christ’s blood. I saw a break in the clouds. I saw a pass in the mountains with a rainbow of promise over it.
I was also aware of the unseen shadowy valleys between happy greening hills covered with the yellow sunflowers of spring and the places where winter is reluctant to let go of its hold.
As I finished details that indicated a shifting atmosphere the phrase came to me: Promise IS breakthrough.
The answers God has provided to problems friends and family and people I am praying for around the world already exist. God, in his great mercy, takes us through hills and valleys and seasons of sun and storm to prepare us for the rigors of abundance, influence, and authority, but he promises breakthrough.
This weekend I heard, “Know who you are. Know whose you are. That’s your protection, your covering. Lift your eyes and see God’s plan. Quit hiding and move. This is going to be good.”
“Well,” she said, standing in the middle of a pile of what we might call reduced circumstances, “I guess this is my new normal.”
My friend was too tired to fight the injustice that brought her to this place. In a way she accepted it as her lot in life, as a fulfillment of predictions spoken over her in the past. Teachers, social workers, and bosses didn’t always wait to be out of ear shot before they said things like, “She’ll never amount to much,” or “What do you expect from someone with her background?”
I tried to encourage her, but My words slipped past her ears as if she assumed they were meant for someone else, someone more worthy of love and respect. She shrugged and went back to unpacking her baggage.
I was thinking about the word “normal” yesterday. Her normal. My normal. God’s normal. How does our acceptance of limited expectations become normal? What if we have glimpses of possibilities that are beyond past experiences? Does seeing potential wreck our concept of normal?
Yesterday I was lying in bed exchanging text messages with my eight-year old granddaughter who is currently with her family in Africa. I wondered what my grandmother would have thought if she had seen this possibility when I was an eight-year old. A phone with no wires, that could send and receive voices, text, photos, and even video of a new house on the other side of the world in a few seconds? Impossible!
In an old trunk I’ve stored a letter my grandmother received from her mother in Ontario. Grandma’s child had died tragically in Saskatchewan. Her mother’s written words arrived weeks after the funeral. In comparison, my granddaughter was telling me about her new surroundings and their arduous two day trip from western Canada to South Africa. On the same day. As she ate breakfast. I love listening to her.
Then my wifi cut out.
We have been having problems with it lately because of the floods. I felt angry and frustrated with such unreliable service – a service that has only been available to me since I acquired a cell phone. It’s not that I feel entitled to a method of communication we never dreamed of when I was a child, it’s that I feel disappointed by the loss of a means of communication I now know exists. My sense of normal has been changed by knowledge of a device that only existed in the future of the girl I was when I talked to my grandmother as I wrapped myself in the cord attached to the telephone in the hallway. She never even dreamed of such a thing as she told me about how she used to send letters to her mother in a cabin in the bush thirty miles from the nearest road. “Normal” changes with visions of possibilities.
I was thinking about this when a line from a song began playing in my head. The song, as is often the case with songs God uses to communicate with me, came out of the blue and was one I haven’t heard in years. The line that kept repeating was, “Promises, promises, My kind of promises…”
I did an internet search and found the lyrics by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, which are, in part:
Oh, promises, their kind of promises, can just destroy a life
Oh, promises, those kind of promises, take all the joy from life
Oh, promises, promises, My kind of promises
Can lead to joy and hope and love – and love!
I asked the Lord why he was bringing this to my attention. I always thought promises were good things, but he began to remind me of bad promises that had been spoken over me the way curses had been spoken over my discouraged friend.
I promise you there will be punishment when we get home.
I promise you that no one will ever love a fat girl.
I promise you that you will never have friends because you don’t know how to be a friend.
I promise you that no one remembers who came in second.
I promise you that you are only as good as your last performance.
I promise you that when those people learn you are just a poor girl from a poor family they will drop you so fast…
I promise you that no one cares what you have to say. You’re just a woman. Shut up and follow the rules.
I promise you God has no time for people like you who still sin and don’t earn his favour.
I wasn’t expecting a rush of these memories. Some of these “promises” I walked out on years ago. Some still sting.
I had to ask, “What are Your promises, Lord? What do you see instead? What possibilities do you want to show me that change my sense of ‘normal?’”
He is changing me. He is replacing old expectations of limits with new possibilities. He is saying, “Believe this and not this.”
So much of this journey is about learning to let go, to unlearn, to press on in the absence of the familiar, to absorb and be infused with the “insteads” that Jesus announced when he read his mandate aloud to a people living in resigned disappointment. From Isaiah 63:
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.
Who does Jesus say you are? What are the promises he has spoken over you? What possibilities is he showing you that you never dreamed of before?
Ask him about your new normal. He loves that question.
But on this humbled ground, a tiny shoot, hopeful and promising,
will sprout from Jesse’s stump;
A branch will emerge from his roots to bear fruit.
And on this child from David’s line, the Spirit of the Eternal One will alight and rest.
By the Spirit of wisdom and discernment
He will shine like the dew.
By the Spirit of counsel and strength
He will judge fairly and act courageously.
By the Spirit of knowledge and reverence of the Eternal One,
He will take pleasure in honoring the Eternal.
He will determine fairness and equity;
He will consider more than what meets the eye,
And weigh in more than what he’s told.
So that even those who can’t afford a good defense
will nevertheless get a fair and equitable judgment.
With just a word, He will end wickedness and abolish oppression.
With nothing more than the breath of His mouth, He will destroy evil.
He will clothe himself with righteousness and truth;
the impulse to right wrongs will be in his blood.
(Isaiah 11:1-5 The Voice)