Look Who’s Here!

 

Blooming by my front door this morning.

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Melting ice down at the creek yesterday.

 

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The same gentle warm sun that streams through my window has been gently coaxing changes in the neighbourhood. Gentle awakenings. Yes.

I’ve noticed that gentleness is on the list of the fruit of the Spirit and brutal candor is not. Why is that, I wonder. What’s with this frying pan to the face school of prophecy? If Holy Spirit takes the time to melt our hearts with patience and kindness and speaks truth to us in a gentle way that melts away lies we have believed and replaces them with courage to take the risk of blooming, shouldn’t we do the same for each other? Gentleness is not weakness; it is patient power under control.

I read this quote by Stephen Crosby the other day. “If people are going to reject the gospel we carry, let them reject it because they are rejecting a love they cannot process or handle at the moment, not because of an idiot with a Bible and the interpersonal skills of Attila the Hun.

Yes, there are times, when for the sake of protecting the vulnerable we need to be more blunt and even aggressive, and there are folks for whom subtlety is a faintly detected jet trail flying miles overhead. Jesus spoke gently in powerful parables, but sometimes he confronted religious pseudo-experts directly and plainly, but only when they blocked the path for everyone else. Allowances need to be made, but if smacking people upside the head with words – however true – becomes your go-to means of communication (because you “don’t have time to say this nicely”) and fact-delivery continually trumps loving encouragement, don’t be surprised when your garden of friends in May looks more like a frozen creek in January.

Just sayin’.

(File under: Things I have learned the hard way.)

A Foretaste

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“Watching and waiting,
looking above,
echoes of mercy,
whispers of love.”

(from Blessed Assurance by Fanny Crosby)

My husband said, “Let’s go!” So we went.

I wasn’t expecting it at all, but he said he could take a few days off and unseasonably warm weather on the left half of the continent made a road trip in February feasible. We looked at a map and determined the closest place with sandal-worthy temperatures was Northern California.

The first thing I saw when we got out of the car after two and a half days of driving was a tree in bloom.

A few days before we left I kept hearing and seeing the word “adapt” in a dream. Frankly, I started bracing myself for another challenge. What now, I thought. I realized instead, as I was looking for sandals and summer clothes to quickly toss in a suitcase, that “adapt” this time meant adapting to a pleasant surprise.

We’re home now, after a wonderful ten days in a different world with sun and palm trees and spring flowers. There is ice on the sidewalk here and work piles up again. It will be another three months before my plum tree is in bloom, but I feel like I had a foretaste of what is to come.

He does that, my Abba God. It’s a kind of now and not yet gift. He allows us to experience a taste of what He has planned, a remembrance of the future. And it gives us hope.

Hope is vision-led endurance.

Thank you, Lord.

Thank you.

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The Hope of Glory

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Saints of old the promise heard

and clung to the prophetic word.

For so long, by faith perceived,

the hope was given

and by faith received.

And they believed.

They believed.

They believed

in Christ in you,

the hope of glory.

I’ve been thinking of the people who were mentioned in the book of Hebrews as examples of great faith. They were also examples of great imperfections and the Bible doesn’t gloss over that. What strikes me this time is that none of them lived long enough to see the plan of God play out in the time and place they journeyed through. Faith is actually easier for us because so much more has been revealed to us than they had access to at that time.

My grandparents left everything behind seeking a better future for their children in a new land. They struggled to survive and never saw the promises fulfilled in their shortened life-times. How could they, who never had a washing machine or indoor plumbing, ever have imagined that one of their grandchildren would be on the team of engineers that invented the Canada Arm on the space shuttle – a crucial part of the exploration of the skies? But still they sacrificed to bring it about.

I wonder if I have faith to believe for prophecies beyond my life-time. There are bright and beautiful promises I can see from here, but I don’t know the timing or exactly how they will play out. This I know, the saints before me received hope by faith and it was accounted to them as righteousness. They walked in the hope. By faith I walk in the promise of hope that the light will grow brighter and brighter and the glory of Christ in my children’s children’s children will shine with a brilliance beyond my greatest imaginings.

Save

Watch

God’s first language is not English, nor is it Greek or Aramaic or even Hebrew. His first language is Himself and glory is however He chooses to express Himself.

He speaks in the vast expanse of space, he speaks in the tiniest particles of earth. He speaks in light and sound. He speaks in pictures. He speaks through flesh and blood. He once spoke to me through a prairie chicken.

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I was driving home on a dull November day when I felt the urge to pull off  at a provincial campground. I felt like the Lord was saying, “Stop at Lundbreck Falls. There’s something I want to show you.” I hadn’t stopped there in years, and I totally doubted the urge but I thought I might get a good photo there. I could use a good stretch. So I stopped. The light was all wrong and the waterfall was in deep shadow. I walked around and wondered what that was about, because I was trying to listen to the Lord.

Truth is I barely shut up enough to listen. You see a few days earlier someone who told me they were a prophet said I was going into a “winter season.” I’d been in a winter season for years, thank you very much. I was just waking up the reality of the love of God in my life, starting to feel close, and was learning Holy Spirit wants to communicate with all his children.  I complained loud and long that I didn’t want to go into another winter season.

So there I was on a dark November day walking in an empty campground, nearly back at the car, complaining about the approach of winter, when a grouse suddenly appeared on the road ahead of me. There were no other birds about. He marched right up to me, turned his back and splayed his tail feathers in a grand TA DAA movement. Then he puffed his throat and did an entire spring mating display just for me. I wanted to grab my camera from the car, but I was afraid he would leave, so I watched until he marched toward the shrubbery.  Only then did I only grab it.  I was flattered and thanked him, but explained he wasn’t really my type, then drove home, pondering.

Later while praying in the woods I came around the corner to see a crocus blooming on the trail. A spring flower. Not unheard of, but highly unusual. I asked, “Are you saying something, Lord?”

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“Spring. Between you and me, it’s spring.” I love his sense of humour and that he can speak through a prairie chicken and a fuzzy purple flower. And that whole year it was spring between me and Jesus (and I learned to test the words of prophets). It was like falling in love for the first time. He was showing off with his kindness.

He also speaks in English, Greek, Aramaic, Hebrew, Chinese and Ktunaxa. The Bible is indeed “a more sure word” even if it doesn’t contain every word. If you are not familiar with it, you won’t recognize his voice in other ways, and he doesn’t contradict the written word. It’s a familiar voice. He also often speaks (or sings) to me through music of all genres.

As I have been thinking about the days leading up to the story told in While He Lay Dying, I know He gave us some very clear heads-ups that he was in this event. The most obvious to me came through music. My friend, Valerie, introduced me to Taizé music only a few days before we left for our granddaughter’s birthday in Lethbridge Alberta. I had checked out a few of these songs on YouTube. I like songs with a ground bass that allow for improvisation over top (like Pachelbel’s Canon) so these simple tunes interested me. Later in the week one of them started playing in my head repeatedly. That’s not unusual for me. I have music in my head all the time. But this one wouldn’t stop. It was driving me nuts! It played in my sleep. It played over top of other music when I tried to listen to something else. On the drive to Alberta it was so loud and insistent in my head I had a hard time carrying on a conversation with my husband. It played all night before Bruce went to the hospital, and all through the next day until we received word on Sunday morning that he had crashed and was on life support. Then it stopped.

I cried, “Oh God! What are we supposed to do?”

That’s when a friend phoned and said, “You know, I think we are supposed to stay with him around the clock. I think we need to watch and pray.” Their pastor told my daughter, “We are going to stay and pray with him 24/7.”

Then I understood the reason for the song. A watch can be a military defense, or a close observation. This time it was both. The Lord had been telling me all week we needed to stand and contend for his life through prayer, but also to watch. Watch what God could do with the most horrendous circumstances. Watch. Because this was going to be good.

And it was. Very, very good. My daughter and son-in-love tell the story in While He Lay Dying.

Glimpse

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The dark clouds hovered over the mountains as we drove home today. I was a bit disappointed because I was hoping to catch some of the colour which is quickly being dispersed in the autumn winds. Every once in a while the sun would break through and catch the tip of larch trees, or a stand of aspen, but there was a lot of shadow. I was coming up Steamboat Hill when I looked over my shoulder and caught a glimpse of the sun’s glory on the Kootenay River.

There is something about the clouds parting on a dark day that reminds us that there is more to life than sorrow and disappointment and fear. It’s like prophets who catch a glimpse of truth in the midst of dark times and tell us that God is not afraid. He has a plan for our lives.

God, who gave our forefathers many different glimpses of the truth in the words of the prophets,

has now, at the end of the present age, given us the truth in the Son.

(Hebrews 1:1)

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A Thin Silence

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I can’t hear normally right now. A nasty cold has tormented my sinuses for almost a month and has now taken up residence in my ears. For several days my left ear has not been giving my brain the usual messages. Voices on the phone sound like they are coming through a kazoo on the other side of a heavy door. I can’t hear the sound of my feet on the trail, or the wind in the trees. At the same time normal noises are painfully loud.  I avoid nerve-jarring distorted noise at the level of normal conversation, and run from loud sounds that feel like a slap to the ears, yet I strain to hear the quiet things, like the little ping that tells me I have a message on my cell phone. I feel like I am shut up inside my own head (where the sound of chewing my breakfast crunchies is like giant aliens devouring some hapless metropolis in a sci-fi flick.)

What an odd and uncomfortable feeling – especially for someone whose lifestyle has focused on hearing the fine nuances of music for so many years. It’s taking its sweet time clearing up, this wretched infection, but in the meantime maybe there is something to be learned (or un-learned) even in this.

I thought about Elijah’s still small voice experience again today. After a tremendous victory on Mount Carmel in which the Lord rained down fire, and sent the rains at his request, he ran from the ugly threatening voice of the King’s wife. He ran all the way back to the place where Moses has his trumpet blast and fire on the mountain experience.

There he came to a cave and lodged in it. And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and he said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 

He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” 

And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.”

And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind.  And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.

And after the fire the sound of a low whisper [or a sound, a thin silence]

And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.(1 Kings 19, 11 -13 ESV)

I think it was straining to hear a soft voice today that reminded me of the story. When I looked up the Hebrew words describing this “still, small voice” I found it was stiller and smaller than I thought. It was still like a calm sea after a storm. It was small like a particle of dust, less than a hair’s breadth, barely perceptible — except to a prophet who recognized it.

David wrote that the voice of the Lord thunders. Sometimes we can hear Him loud and clear. Moses and the children of Israel certainly did, and it scared most of them half to death. But sometimes his voice can only be heard in thin silence.

In thin silence there are no other sounds competing for attention. No other voices playing anything-you-can-preach-I-can-preach-louder – and which then add electronic amplification.

In thin silence we are forced to lean in closer, to wait for a particle of sound, the Voice that speaks in stillness.

Come Up Higher

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I have a confession. I live in the mountains, and I love them, but I am afraid of heights. I’m a valley dweller. I prefer to look up at lofty mountain grandeur. Looking down makes me feel, well, uneasy, to say the least.

Some people who come here from sea-level cities also find themselves a little out of breath, even in the valleys, but for different reasons. It takes a while to adjust to the altitude. On the other hand, when we visited the Dead Sea area in Israel, which is well below sea level, I was amazed at the way I could scramble around on the rocks without becoming tired. My body had been trained simply by living on a higher plane.

Many of our friends are mountain climbers, including several who climbed Crowsnest mountain recently (the one pictured here.) My brother is a well-known climber who lives near Banff. I’m content to admire their drive, look at their photos and listen to their stories.

One story my brother tells is about the time he paired up with another climber to scale one of the highest mountains in the province on one of those rare days when its peak was not in the clouds. His friend had climbed many times before, but not quite that high, and not quite that fast. Neither of them expected that he would get altitude sickness. My brother said his friend began to act as if he were drunk. That’s when he knew he needed to help him back down -very carefully. The descent took longer than expected and they had to bivouac on the side of the mountain overnight. That means they secured their sleeping bags to stakes pounded into the sheer face of the mountain and tried to get some sleep -whilst one of them was exhausted and the other was impaired. Fun times.

Like I said, I prefer valley living. But in our spiritual lives sometimes God calls us to come up higher and see things from his perspective. Jesus took Peter, James and John on a mountain climbing trip when he wanted to let them in on some inside information.

“Come up here,” He told John later in a vision on the isle of Patmos, “I want to show you something.” And he did.

Mountain top experiences can be a little disorienting. Not only are we not accustomed to the perspective, we are not used to the altitude. It takes some time to adjust. We are meant to live at altitude -after all Paul tells us in Ephesians that we who have been adopted into the family of God are seated in high places with Christ. He calls us to come up higher and get his perspective, but sometimes it’s a little disorienting for valley dwellers. Sometimes we feel out of breath, our ears feel the pressure, our brains can’t keep up; some people feel downright panicky or sick for a time. The climb to higher ground can be frankly uncomfortable and even scary, so the Lord provides resting places along the way where we can take time to adjust, but soon he calls us to keep moving to higher ground -because he has something to show us we could not see any other way.

I want to live above the world,
Though Satan’s darts at me are hurled;
For faith has caught the joyful sound,
The song of saints on higher ground.

from “Higher Ground” by Johnson Oatman

Prepare the Way

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I found one!

The first lone crocus I saw this year was not in a forest clearing but in the middle of a construction zone. At the end of every winter I go out looking for signs of life. I have a lot of photos of crocus flowers in my stash because they give me such hope. When I was a child I picked bunches of them to bring inside, but they soon flopped over the side of the jam jar. A wild crocus is not easily domesticated; it is meant to be out in the dead cold field poking its optimistic head through patches of snow. It is a forerunner of better things to come.

I was thinking about forerunners the other day, those people who can see what is coming next before anyone else does. Hawk-eyes, scouts, prophets, innovators, preparers-of-the-way. In the art world Van Gogh was one of these. In his lifetime he never sold a painting, never received recognition, never found a place where he “fit.” That boy was “different.” It wasn’t until many years later his paintings sold for millions. Forerunners don’t run to be popular.

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John the Baptist was a forerunner. He was also “different.” He didn’t have a complete picture of the One who was to come, forerunners seldom do, but he knew with certainty in his heart that there was a change coming, and his assignment was to prepare hearts for change. Like a farmer who prepares the field for planting he set about  tearing out obnoxious weeds that had been there so long folks had accepted their presence as part of the landscape. He preached the message of repentance. Repentance is not the same thing as penance, (trying to make up for wrongs done by some sort of demonstration of self-administered punishment or public humiliation, although, for some making public apologies and announcements of plans to repay what they stole may be an indication of their intent to change.) Repentance often involves grief, but primarily repentance (metanoia in Koine Greek) means change. Repentance is admitting our thinking has been off and coming into agreement with God that we have missed the mark he set (hamartia, the Greek word for sin means just that -missing the mark.) Repentance means having a better thought and adjusting our aim. Repentance means leaving the past behind and doing things differently.

The basic mission of forerunners like John is to poke a finger into embarrassingly sensitive, and often hidden, parts of our lives and ask the question, “And how’s that workin’ for ya?”

There are forerunners amongst us now, folks with an antsy sense that change is imminent, but who don’t know exactly what that change will look like. They go through life awkwardly, never really fitting in anywhere, annoying themselves and others with their inability to find contentment with accepted ideas and practices that don’t quite line up with both the Holy Spirit’s whisperings and with Scripture. They are not easily domesticated, and often pop up in places where  dormancy is “normal.” They stand out because they are different and the light shines through them in colours we haven’t seen for a long time.

Yet somehow we are drawn to them. They are messengers of hope.

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