Above the Fray

This morning I heard two gentlemen on a park bench. It was hard not to hear them. They were conversing with the volume of the newly hard of hearing.

“You know, I have never paid much attention to American politics, but now it’s my whole damn life!” said one.

I’m not one to stick my head in the sand. I watch and listen and keep up with current events outside my own country. I try to treat people with different opinions with honour, even when I am becoming increasingly aware that some people hate me simply for my beliefs.

I do understand the man on the bench though. It reminds me of the old westerns where everyone in the saloon is keenly aware of tension rising at the poker table. Stakes are high and bystanders are quietly checking the exits and looking for cover.

Sometimes it feels overwhelming and sometimes it’s hard not to be dragged into the prevailing atmosphere of fear, anger, confusion, disappointment, and division. Then I remember my focus needs to be on my good, good heavenly Father who knows the whole truth. In him I am secure.

For no matter where I am, even when I’m far from home,
I will cry out to you for a father’s help.
When I’m feeble and overwhelmed by life,
guide me into your glory, where I am safe and sheltered.

 Lord, you are a paradise of protection to me.
You lift me high above the fray.
None of my foes can touch me
when I’m held firmly in your wrap-around presence!

(Psalm 61: 2,3 TPT)

The Comfort of Your Love

Lord, even when your path takes me through the valley of deepest darkness, fear will never conquer me, for you already have!

You remain close to me and lead me through it all the way.

Your authority is my strength and my peace.

The comfort of your love takes away my fear.”

(Psalm 23:4 The Passion Translation)

One of the greatest pains in life is to be rejected, shunned, ignored — cancelled. The desire to belong can be so great that sometimes people will defy their own conscience to maintain connection.

When my mother decided to follow the path that led to a closer relationship to Christ, the consequences were harsh. Her family accused her of dishonouring them. They treated her as though she were dead. It took tremendous courage to risk offending people she loved, but Jesus was calling her and she chose to listen to his voice. Years later, one at a time, most family members reached out to her again, but at first she walked the deep sorrowful path of rejection choosing to believe God’s promises led to greater hope.

When Mom was old and close to dying, she told me that knowing that Jesus would never leave was the greatest comfort in her life. She had found his promises to be true. His love was accepting and unwavering. While the people she loved most turned their backs, He never did. The comfort of his love took away all fear of walking through dark places. She was not alone.

Surrender Anxiety

Steeple snow wire fence ch rs IMG_6382

“I can tell when you’re worried,” my friend said. “You repeat yourself. A lot.”

It’s called ruminating. Ruminants are animals like cattle and deer which bring up the substance of their last intake to chew over again. Rumination in humans means obsessive worry about something, going over and over the details in your head.

Have I told you this before? Sorry if I have, but it helped me understand something. I heard a podcast speaker (I think it was Bill Johnson) say, “If you can worry, you can meditate. Meditation is like worry, but with better subject matter.”

The first time I tried to meditate on scripture I chose a verse in Psalm 46. “Be still and know that I am God.” To be honest, I chose it because it was short. I didn’t feel like memorizing anything longer, which might explain initial results.

I heard, “Be still,” in the exasperated whisper of an adult to a child who wouldn’t sit still in church. I viewed “and know that I am God” through the lens of a squirmy child who was bored out of her mind as she sat on a hard pew with nothing to do but wonder what would happen if the dead fox decorating Mrs. McSomebody’s coat collar suddenly came back to life. (In the fifties trauma-induced weirdness in the adult population was as common as, well, accessorizing with dead animals.) I think I was poking it when I was told to “be still!” The consequence was that, yet again, I missed knowing God.

I tried pondering different translations. That helped. One version said, “Cease striving, and know that I am God.” Meditating on those few words took years. Who knew? It turns out that worrying, ruminating, and striving were kind of a package deal with my temperament. Personality tests didn’t give me much hope of unplugging myself from that slot.

Finally, I realized that knowing who God is means unlearning ideas that hold me captive and unable to change. Unlearning requires meekness – the humility to know that I don’t know and the courage to know that by grace I can know. Learning who God is basic to learning how he sees me. Being still and ceasing striving now means letting go of defensiveness and giving up attempts to earn God’s love. On my own, trying harder will never be “good enough.”

And that’s the beauty of it.

God, you’re such a safe and powerful place to find refuge!
You’re a proven help in time of trouble—
more than enough and always available whenever I need you. (verse 1)

Today I read another translation. Apparently, I am not finished meditating on the simple easy-to-memorize verse. The Passion Translation reads, “Surrender your anxiety.” When Jesus said he gives peace that passes understanding, it’s not an invitation to get back on the worry track for a few more laps. Peace that passes understanding comes as a result of surrendering anxiety that rises from not understanding. Here comes paradox again. Loss is gain. Surrender is winning.

Not that I haven’t noticed before, but this time I was struck by the importance of context. “Surrender anxiety” is nestled in a Psalm about the kind of  divisive war-threatening conflict and climate disrupting-level natural disasters we see around us now.

When the nations are in uproar with their tottering kingdoms,
God simply raises his voice
and the earth begins to disintegrate before him.
Here he comes! The Commander! (verses 6 & 7)

He’s messing with my theology again. Disintegrate?

Then I remember Jesus talking about tearing down and building up. He told people, who asked for a sign, if they tore down this temple (he meant his own body, but they didn’t know yet) he would raise it up again in three days.

Everyone look!
Come and see the breathtaking wonders of our God.
For he brings both ruin and revival. (verse 8)

Sometimes learning means unlearning first and sometimes building firmer foundations means tearing down wobbly bases first.

Sometimes we don’t have the means to correct problems ourselves because we have a death-grip on tainted assumptions and tottering institutions. We call it loyalty, but loyalty to whom? What if all this upheaval is about more than setting up another temporary camp that allows us to survive until the next crisis? What if God wants us to come to the end of our do-something-do-anything suggestions and let him reveal more of himself to us? What if he has a better plan? What if he wants to replace striving with thriving or coping with character?

What if  anxiety (which is actually lack of trust) acts as a barbed barrier that keeps us from going where he wants to take us?

He’s the one who makes conflicts end
throughout the earth,
breaking and burning every weapon of war.
Surrender your anxiety!
Be silent and stop your striving and you will see that I am God.
I am the God above all the nations,
and I will be exalted throughout the whole earth.

You Can’t Make a Story Without a Problem

DSC_0328 (2)

I checked the weather report before I left to drive to Calgary. Mixed cloud and sun with occasional showers. Perfect.

DSC_0292 (7)

I like driving the Cowboy Trail when the weather is unsettled. The road runs north on the east side of the Rocky Mountains from the Crowsnest Pass. Light constantly changes in these conditions. Vistas are never quite the same. Cloudscapes and sunbeams arrange patterns of shadow and sun on the hills, telling a different story with every shift of wind. The photographer waits, anticipating drama – a story told in darkness and light.

DSC_0342 (3)

As part of my continuing story, this trip involved another trek to see specialists in a larger center about my complex health challenges. It’s one of those battles raging between good days and bad days, like plot shifts set in an ever changing landscape of unexpected symptoms.

DSC_0281 (5)I thought about the elements of story (a long road with few services leaves ample time for thought.) Even my little granddaughter had it figured out by the age of four.

“Every story has to have a good guy and a problem,” she said, drawing an exceptionally long-limbed princess on the first page of a storybook we decided to create one rainy afternoon. “Sometimes it has a bad guy, but it doesn’t have to. You can make a story without a bad guy, but you can’t make a story without a problem. Now what is our problem going to be? Maybe the princess has nobody to play with?”

A fellow writer had this to say about a memoire she was asked to review: “I’m happy for the writer. She’s had such a lovely life, but I feared falling into a never-ending sleep of the mostly dead before reaching the final chapter. Nothing out of the ordinary ever happened to her – no disasters, no life-or-death crisis, no betrayal, no wayward children, not even a single regret worthy of a flight to a priest in another town for a trembling ten minute confession. I’ve had a hellish life myself. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but at least it wasn’t boring. I can’t relate to this book. What should I say? Reviewer dies from toxic dose of niceness?”

Jesus understood the power of story. “It’s like this,” he said, communicating a complicated concept people by referencing something familiar.

“It’s like a Father who had two sons, but the youngest one…”

“It’s like a rich man who went on a journey and trusted a manager to look after his business while he was gone, but…”

DSC_0317 (3)

I watched the clouds along the highway and hoped for a place to stop where the views were best. A couple of times the clouds dropped their loads and the rain was so heavy I had to pull over to the side and wait them out. My windshield wipers couldn’t keep up. I could see nothing. But stories are like that too, especially our own, especially in the middle of a you’ve-got-to-be-kidding downpour.

DSC_0309 (2)

It’s hard, on the underside of a deluge, to remember that God is in the story with us. In fact, he has gone to some lengths to arrange circumstances that will give us stories.

Everything we think we know about him is merely theory until we experience him in the storm. Everything is dull until we see the light flooding the plain with hope. Every seed is dormant until awakened by the rain.

DSC_0297 (3)

I could pray for a nice life without stress, without doubt, without the need for divine intervention.

I could, and I have, but one night, in a dream, the Lover of my soul came to my door and called my name. When I opened to it, I saw him astride a beautiful white horse. He held the reins of a saddled bay and said, ”Come on! I want to show you something.”

We’re still writing our story together. It’s been an adventure, even when the skies have been cloudy all day, because, well, when that sun breaks through, it’s glorious.

DSC_0353 (3)

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”– Jesus
(John 16:33 NIV)

DSC_0338 (3)

Reverence

Fisher clouds ch rs close up DSC_0187 - Copy

Hiking – I don’t like either the word or the thing. People ought to saunter in the mountains – not hike! Do you know the origin of that word ‘saunter?’ It’s a beautiful word.

Away back in the Middle Ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going, they would reply, “A la sainte terre,’ ‘To the Holy Land.’ And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers.

Now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not ‘hike’ through them.”

-John Muir

The mountains are my Holy Land. I go there to pray and rest in the presence of the Lover of my soul. It’s holy because He is holy.

Great and Mighty Things

Kootenay river autumn ch rs DSC_0616

I waited for the perfect day to follow a trail down to one of my favourite places. That day came this week. I love this spot by the Kootenay River on a cool still autumn morning. I didn’t want to leave.

It doesn’t always look like this. Some days low grey clouds hide the mountains and barren trees bend in cold wind. Some days deep snow can block the roads or combined heavy rain and churning dirty meltwater can flood the river valley. On those days we enjoy the warmth of a fireplace and the benefits of clean hot water in the bathtub and computer networks that allow us to get our work done.

Sometimes leaving the comfort of home feels scary, especially in the autumn when bears are desperate to put on weight before hibernation. We don’t see them every day, but simply knowing that they are out there is often enough to keep people at home.

Leaving the confines of the familiar requires courage.

I’m doing something I haven’t done before. I am aware circumstances can change suddenly and that there are territorial threats out there. What if I make a mistake? What if I’m wrong? What if I wander into something I can’t handle? Maybe I should just go back to doing what I have always done in the confines of structures that tell me what to think and how to feel. Maybe I should be content with listening to experts tell me who God is to them and what they require of me to fit in.

Kootenay river shore ch rs DSC_0738

But what if I miss seeing his majesty for myself? What if playing it safe means missing moments like this moment down by the river? What if staying behind locked steel doors means I miss the spiritual equivalent of this view, this peace, this sense of his presence?

Faith, like a seed, ventures to grow. And today conditions are perfect.

Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know.

(Jeremiah 33:3)

kootenayu river mountain reflect autumn vertical ch rs DSC_0518