Praise Him Still

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When the morning falls on the farthest hill,
I will sing His name, I will praise Him still.
When dark trials come and my heart is filled
With the weight of doubt, I will praise Him still.

For the Lord our God, He is strong to save
From the arms of death, from the deepest grave.
And He gave us life in His perfect will,
And by His good grace, I will praise Him still.

-Fernando Ortega

 

For Grace to be Grace

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“For grace to be grace, it must give us things we didn’t know we needed and take us places where we didn’t know we didn’t want to go. As we stumble through the crazily altered landscape of our lives, we find that God is enjoying our attention as never before.”

– Kathleen Norris

Mercy is great, but mercy is not grace. Mercy unhooks whatever barb we have caught ourselves on. Mercy disengages the power of expected consequences that make us pay for our naivety or stupidity or even outright rebellion.

Grace engages the power to become more than our naivety or stupidity or rebellion would allow. Grace empowers us to become something entirely new, entirely different – entirely holy. Grace draws us into the Presence of the Holy where nothing will ever be the same.

Without grace frontiers are formidable walls. With grace we can say with the Psalmist:

For by You I can run upon a troop;
And by my God I can leap over a wall.

(Psalm 18:29)

I Am Telling You the Truth!

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I’m home now, resting after major surgery in another city. I can’t bend over to pick up anything I’ve dropped or lift anything heavier than a jug of milk for the next few weeks. Sitting for more than the length of a quick meal is still uncomfortable, but couch time with a pile of good books and a remote in hand is actually a guilty pleasure – with a built-in excuse.

It’s raining. The streets are glare ice and our home and garden are still under several feet of saturated snow after the heaviest snowfall in decades. I don’t plan to go anywhere and thus far the house remains mostly dry inside.The storm of the last week is over. My husband is back at work and there is time to think.snow-day-cars-img_6641

Before we left, on the one day the roads were in good condition before the second storm hit, someone asked the question, “In your reading of Jesus’ words lately what stands out the most?”

I recently watched the film “The Gospel of John” which uses the scripture as the entire dialogue of the screenplay. What I heard Jesus say over and over again was this: I’m telling you the truth. In the olde King James version I grew up with he said, “Verily, verily.” In the original language of the Bible he said “Amen, Amen…” When amen was said at the end of a statement it meant “I agree.” When Amen prefaced a statement it meant, “I’m about to say something important.” When a word was repeated it meant “I am about to say something truly important. I’m serious here, folks.”

In the gospel of John alone Jesus says amen amen before a statement at least twenty times. I asked myself why.

This week I discovered what it is like not to be taken seriously about an issue that was important to me. Two days after being released from the hospital after major abdominal surgery I suddenly doubled over in severe pain. I’ve had this kind of pain before. It felt like I was passing a kidney stone. I was staying in a small town about an hour out of the city resting up for the next part of the trip home. I slowly crawled up the stairs on hands and knees and asked to be driven to the hospital emergency room since our host could get me there faster than an ambulance.

Kidney stones hurt. When your belly has just been cut open, things moved and removed, and then sewn back up, kidney stones really, really hurt. The power words I have been saving up for moments of high drama seemed inadequate. And “Verily, verily, I hurteth,” was not going to cut it.

I told my driver to move her car out of the ambulance bay to a parking spot because I thought I would be okay walking to the triage desk myself.

Wrong. I clung to a wall trying not to pass out from pain. The lady behind the desk ignored me. Another patient in the waiting room ran and brought a wheelchair, but then I just sat there in the middle of the hallway unable to propel myself. Eventually my driver came back and pushed me up to the glass door in front of the triage desk. After waiting a period of time, which probably felt longer than it actually was, a person took my information.

“On a scale of one to ten with ten being the worst pain you…

“Ten!!!” I gasped.

“Take this paper to the desk [way over there] with your health insurance card, fill out the admissions form, and have a seat in the waiting room. We’ll call you,” she said.

I had just come from one of the finest surgical centers in the country. I had a team of nurses and technicians who cared for me around the clock, helped me breathe, helped me sit up, put on my slippers and helped me go to the bathroom. They even flushed for me. Now I sat in a hard plastic chair, squirming, shaking and sweating, wondering if lying on the floor would be a better option. They didn’t call me for nearly two hours. (Thank God prayer was more efficient and the pain level had lowered by then.)

They didn’t believe me.

When drug addicts become known at the larger city hospitals they start hitting the smaller outlying health services seeking relief from withdrawal. The people at this hospital didn’t know me. Perhaps they thought I was drug-seeking. They had seen it before. Perhaps they didn’t believe me because they didn’t know me or my character.

It wasn’t until late in the evening, when the pain subsided and after my family helped me back into bed at home, that the emergency room doctor called and said the x-rays proved I was telling the truth. That’s when he asked if I needed pain medication.

Now my news was not good news. Unlike Jesus I was not there for anyone’s benefit but my own. But in that experience I felt what it was like not to be believed despite the best evidence I could produce.

Today I watched the film again. In this part (midway through this scene) Jesus tells them who he is. He reminds them of the witness of John the Baptist.

They do not believe him.

They shrug as if saying, “Yeah. We’ve seen people with selfish motives before. We’ve heard lies before. We’ve been deceived and disappointed before.”

Jesus says over and over “I am telling you the truth!” Then he says something which cuts to the heart of their disbelief.

I’m telling you the truth! I can only do what my Father tells me. You don’t know me because you don’t know my Father!

These were the religious experts, the ones who told everyone else who God was and what he wanted. What a politically incorrect, offensive statement in that place, at the heart of religious government!

cards-img_6814I have a drawer full of greeting cards ready to send in polite acknowledgement of special occasions. People also send them to me. Some are carefully chosen after reading dozens in the store display, but sometimes they just come from a box bought at the dollar store because you need to stick a card (that a kid will never read) on a birthday gift. Sometimes I read the gospels and skim over the verily, verily passages like I am reading a stack of birthday or get well cards full of sentiments written by card designers who don’t have a clue who I am. Thank you. That’s nice, Jesus.

But do I really hear him? He looks me in the face and asserts with a strong tone:

I am telling you the truth,” Jesus replied. “Before Abraham was born, ‘I Am’.”

I am telling you the truth: those who hear my words and believe in him who sent me have eternal life. They will not be judged, but have already passed from death to life.

I am telling you the truth: I am the gate for the sheep. All others who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Those who come in by me will be saved; they will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only in order to steal, kill, and destroy. I have come in order that you might have life—life in all its fullness.

I am telling you the truth: those who believe in me will do what I do—yes, they will do even greater things, because I am going to the Father.

I am telling you the truth: the Father will give you whatever you ask of him in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name; ask and you will receive, so that your happiness may be complete.

Do we truly believe Jesus is who he says he is? Do we treat his statements like nice sayings in a greeting card? Do we truly believe he is telling the truth?

Winds of Change

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My grandson was showing me photos he had done for school when I saw the light change outside on the snowy lawn in my peripheral vision. I checked the sky.

“Grab your camera!” I said. “And your boots and jacket. Let’s go.”
A strong wind resisted our efforts to open the front door.

“Where is the closest open field?” I asked him when he got in the car.
He took me there. This is the result.

Chinook arch at sunset in Alberta.

I grew up in Calgary. I knew what an arch of clouds in the sky coming from the mountains in the west meant. It meant a break in the weather. It meant sudden unseasonably warm days right in the middle of winter.

To some weather-sensitive people chinook winds bring changes in barometric pressure that provoke migraines and achy knees, to some they create a mess of melting show and piles of slush on the road, but as a child I knew they brought streams in the gutter to sail our clothespin boats, the ability to run around outside without a hat or scarf or sometimes even a jacket and a sense of profound unexpected positive change.

I was able to visit Calgary this week. The purpose of the trip was not a thrilling one; I had to see a team of medical specialists at the hospital who debated the best next course of action in treating a resistant condition. That part wasn’t fun, although I was amazed and impressed by the efficiency of the system. My doctor referred me on Thursday, I was given an appointment on Friday and by Tuesday I was shlepping around from the exam room to the labs to the consultation room. I am so appreciative of good medical treatment. I thought of my grandmother and how much things have changed since she died at 42 because the family didn’t have money for an operation, and of my son who is still waiting for OR time for his surgery.

But the other part of the story is that the tests were not pleasant, every treatment offered comes with risks and side-effects and the prospect of more pain and recovery time on the couch, and there is no clear advantage of one over the other so the decision is up to me.

When my husband and I walked out to the parking lot I realized I didn’t need my hat, or mittens or my jacket. It was one of those southern Alberta miracle days after a chinook blew in and raised the temperature to sunny spring day levels. It was a break from the expectations of January weather in Canada.

I think the Lord breaks up the heaviness of praying for situations that weigh on our hearts with moments of unexpected fulfillment of promises ahead of time. It’s like the finger of God poking through. Moments of the manifestation of the Kingdom of heaven on earth. Yes. It exists. Here. Now. In this moment. But someday this warm sunlight will not be an occasional thing. It will be the norm.

We have hope, therefore we can sing, “To God be the glory for the things he has done.”

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Shaped

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God gives us the vision, then he takes us down to the valley to batter us into the shape of the vision, and it is in the valley that so many of us faint and give way. Every vision will be made real if we will have patience.

-Oswald Chambers

How have your experiences in the valley shaped you for living in higher places?

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The Sun is Coming Back!

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I picked up a nasty case of the flu this week. My health has improved so much in the last few years that I am rather impatient with illness now. I’m reminded of what life used to be like when I just accepted sickness as “God’s will for my life,” never considering that maybe it wasn’t.

I used to take pride in myself as an overcomer, pushing through pain to accomplish something greater than expected – under the circumstances. Then one day, after someone asked what it would cost me to be well, I realized an overcomer needs things to overcome to preserve their reputation. I was subconsciously creating a place for chronic sickness as part of my identity. Quite frankly, I enjoyed a lifestyle that drafted caretakers and gave me an excuse to remain uncommitted to future projects. I was insulted by the question, but oh, it was a good one. That was a humbling moment.

Am I a healthy person now? Healthier, yes, but I still wait on the Lord for a number of things that are still disordered. But I’ve passed the postulated sell-by dates more than once and have seen some chronic conditions go away. In November hearing loss in my left ear was restored after kind people prayed for me. (Thank you, Lord!) Now it’s wonky again because of a block of mucous that feels like it takes up more space in my head than my brain, but this too shall pass.

I was thinking about set-backs and the number of dear people I know who have felt the disappointment of set-backs in all sorts of areas in this past year, or even this past month. Then I decided to come against the woe-is-me stuff in a different spirit. I started thinking about gains for which to be thankful.

Here’s one. I just checked. Since December 21st the valley has gained 9.13 more minutes of sunlight a day. For me that’s like the Dow Jones surging upwards for ten days straight.

I’m recycling a photo today because I haven’t been outside for a while. But hey, the sun is coming back, and I rejoice in hope.

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