My Tower of Rescue

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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?

The Kite and the Hero

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I was about eight-years-old when the boys down the lane said they were going to beat me up for breaking their kite. It was a flimsy kite, one of those corner-store balsa wood and tissue paper assemblies with a picture of some serious stars and stripes American guy in a tall hat, who pointed his finger accusingly at a girl who didn’t know enough to stop running when the thing dive-bombed into the ground.

I had begged them for a chance to fly it and when they told me to grab the string and run, run, run, I did. Then it crashed and I apparently dragged it through the construction debris scattered in the empty lot. I saw one of the boys punch his friend in the arm for being so stupid as to let a girl try to fly the kite. It was a boy’s toy after all.

Then they threatened to punch me unless I paid for it. Both of them.

I slipped by all the grown-ups in the living room on the way to find the piggy bank hidden under my bed. I was crying, but I knew enough not to bother anyone with my problem. Their tone was serious and I was afraid if they found out I had broken something else there would just be more trouble. I was used to not being noticed –because I knew how not to be noticed. It was my fault, after all. I did break the kite. I would have to look after the problem myself.

My uncle was standing in the hall when I came out clutching my precious coins.

“What’s the matter?” he asked.

He noticed. I was afraid, but I choked out the story of how the boys told me to hold the string and run and not look back, but then the kite broke and now they were going to beat me up.

“Let’s go,” he said. “I’ll walk behind you.”


“I’m going with you. I want to talk to those guys.”

My uncle was barely more than a teenager, but he was a hockey player, a defenceman. In this part of the world that carries a lot of weight. For one thing, he was nearly a foot taller than everyone else in the family. For another, he was known to spend an inordinate amount of time in the penalty box, which seemed quite all right with everyone who went to cheer at the games.

I walked bravely down the lane with my uncle backing me up. I had never really noticed how magnificently tall he was before. The boys were confused when they saw him. I don’t know whether they wondered if they should run or ask for an autograph. I kind of hoped Uncle would throw some of that influential weight around and knock them over.

Instead he grunted, “How much was that kite?”

“A buck,” one of them said, looking up, way up.

Uncle took out the wallet that hung from a chain attached to his back pocket and handed him a dollar bill.

“And how much did that one cost?” he asked the boy who held an intact version of the one still in the middle of the crash site.

“Seventy-five cents,” he answered, suddenly struck with an uncharacteristic streak of honesty.

Uncle handed him 75 cents and said, “Give her your kite.”

He did so.

“If you ever threaten a girl again you’ll answer to me,” he growled. When they took off running he grinned.

I walked home with my money in one hand, my kite in the other and a new admiration for my uncle in my heart.

Have you ever had a week when the same topic, or the same book or the same quotes keep showing up in unusual places? I keep running into Psalm 18, about how God defends his loved ones. I know that means I need to pay attention, that there is something about Himself I haven’t truly understood before that the Lord wants to show me. I was meditating on this Psalm when the memory of this incident with the kite came back. Our Defender not only walks with us, he covers our debt, he gives us what we never earned and he brings us safely home. God is good that way. He is my hero.

I have a harder time picturing Him in skates and a jersey though. But who knows…

I love you, Lord;
you are my strength.
The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior;
my God is my rock, in whom I find protection.

(Psalm 18:1,2)



The Power of Gentleness

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You have given me the shield of your salvation,     

and your right hand supported me,     

and your gentleness made me great.

(Psalm 18:35)

He could have blasted us right out of our seats if he wanted to. Instead he sang with the most exquisitely sensitive pianissimo. He made us want to lean forward and be willing to strain to hear every note. I was privileged to hear a recital given in our small local theatre by one of the world’s greatest tenors. These guys have  powerful voices that can easily carry over a large orchestra with significant brass sections. I have heard that the easiest way to obtain tickets to hear him in Bayreuth in Europe is to inherit them, but he often does concerts in the type of small remote Canadian town he grew up in, in town halls with less than perfect acoustics and accompanied by pianos usually banged upon by reluctant nine-year old recitalists. God bless Ben Heppner for honouring his roots. Every once in a while that voice would totally fill the room and ring with the power and beauty that made him famous, but it was the still small perfectly controlled sound that impressed me. Such musicality. Power under control. Gentleness.

Somehow gentleness becomes greatness only when it is connected to power.

I once watched a young singer walk away from a music competition looking very discouraged. I knew he didn’t understand the reason for the judge’s harsh critique so I spoke to him, hoping to encourage his pursuit of developing a considerable talent. (Alas, I have witnessed far too many judges who seem to feel their role is to cut down the field to the very best of the very best, rather than encourage all young musicians to enjoy music and to aspire to be the best they can be.) The baritone had a powerful voice that could shake the rafters, and like many young singers who discover they have a range and a power that is the envy of the less endowed, he was tempted to sing “blastissimo” to show it off, even though the song he sang was about wooing a young maiden.

After chatting and telling him I admired his voice he asked me what I thought of his performance. I told him I was indeed impressed with his obvious strength and then winked and said, “A woman may be very impressed by your muscles, but you will win her  heart more thoroughly with gentleness and self-control than with your fists. ”

I guess I spoke his language, because he then went on to give me entirely too much information about his love life, which essentially can be boiled down to, “My girlfriend admires my body-builder physique and that I can protect her from any guy in the bar, but she says it is my gentleness in bed that pleases her most.”

He understood the advice instantly -and went home to work on his dynamic range. A comment about the spirit of gentleness on an earlier blog reminded me of this conversation (and set me to blushing again) but there is a strong connection between power and gentleness.

Power is task oriented and gentleness is relationship oriented. Power gets the job done, but gentleness demonstrates love and uses no more power or strength or authority than is necessary. Gentleness includes consideration of another person’s sensitivities and weaknesses as well as their strengths. A good daddy applies a different level of gentleness when cuddling his baby boy than he does play-wrestling with his four-year old or teaching his adolescent self-defence skills, but all of them require a restraint of the kind of power that would show up should an evil person threaten his child.

We all long to be protected, but we also need to know we are safe. Gentleness is not wimpiness. The juxtaposition of the symbolic language of violence in Psalm 18 gives all the more strength to the phrase, “Your gentleness has made me great.” The Creator of the universe could blast us right out of our seats with a whisper, but he knows that we are as frail as a woodland rosebud. He cradles us, provokes us, and trains us with no more power than is essential to help us develop every talent he has given us to be the people he intended us to be. He sets the example for how leaders in the church are to teach, encourage and correct, with a spirit of gentleness based on relationship -and backed by authority and power in Christ Jesus.

His gentleness makes us great.