Even When Bad Things Happen

I am thankful for Facebook. There. I said it. (I’ll skip the ubiquitous qualifying note here because this is about what I am thankful for.) Today I am simply thankful for the “Memories” feature. I keep a journal, but not like my dear aunt who kept daily records of weather, newsworthy events, and activities that included extended family members. Someone needed to keep track of my adventurous Grandmother’s whereabouts.

I write in my journal about ideas, dreams and visions, observations, questions, word studies, encouraging sayings, potential projects, scripture passages that catch my attention, prayers, and concerns (aka obsessive worries). Some days I write nothing. The blank page may be the consequence of busyness or idleness – or worries on repeat. It may be because I am avoiding processing something that messes with my theology or reveals lies I have told myself. Consistent with my meandering ways, my journal is like a disorganized collection of sticky notes inside a cover. Sometimes I post these thoughts somewhere in a gesture meant to ask readers, “Do you know what I mean? Am I the only one?”

Facebook Memories organizes my random posts by date. I can see where I was on the journey in mid-July from year to year. It allows me to check progress and notice patterns. I am surprised by how often the same topics appear around the same time of year. What truly surprised me this week was how often I have faced serious challenges (aka utterly terrifying Oh God Oh God Oh God days) in mid-July. It’s like my personal Tish B’av, the traditional time of disastrous occurrences in Jewish history.

Stories from the past fourteen years that showed up in Memories this week:

  • My friend’s child was killed when a tire blew on their vehicle while the family was on vacation.
  • In the midst of helping my father downsize for his reluctant move to an assisted living suite, I received word that my husband was extremely ill with a pancreas that was digesting itself and he would need to be flown to another city for emergency surgery.
  • A friend of a friend lay dying in hospital from sepsis. He wasn’t expected to make it through the night.
  • My daughter-in-law posted a photo of muddy belongings removed from their flood-ravaged house and piled in the street for removal by dump truck.
  • I was making the rounds between radioactive claustrophobia-inducing scans and specialist surgeons and anesthetists in different cities finding out that the “little tumour in my tummy” was going to be much more complicated to remove than I was first told.
  • I was recovering from surgery on my toe which, bizarrely, was more handicapping and painful than the cancer symptoms at that moment.
  • My friend’s child’s heart stopped on the operating table while undergoing surgery for severe lung infection in a country on the other side of the world. Doctors revived him, but his prognosis was very poor.
  • My two precious grandchildren and their equally precious parents parted for their new home on other side of the continent. I did not know how long it would be before I would see them again.
  • We spent a traumatic day in yet another hospital watching my husband’s younger brother suffocate to death from lung cancer.
  • My friend was in constant agony after an accident five years earlier. After begging him for help, a surgeon was willing to try one more thing.
  • I was in the fourth month of a five-month long “atypical” headache. It left me unable to travel or do much of anything but learn to moan quietly.
  • Injury to my knees and arthritis in multiple joints made it difficult to live in our house with stairs or tend the garden or go for hikes in the mountain forests I loved. We knew we needed to move, but I couldn’t work longer than ten minutes at a time to downsize and prepare the house for sale. The task felt overwhelming.

As I looked back, this part of Psalm 34 came to mind: “The Lord is close to all whose hearts are crushed by pain, and he is always ready to restore the repentant one. Even when bad things happen to the good and godly ones, the Lord will save them and not let them be defeated by what they face.

July may be my traditional disaster month, but it is also the month of learning dependence on God and watching him come through for me — and the people I love. Remembering how God came to our rescue after the event is so much easier than feeling the shock and pain of the moment when bad news plops itself on the doorstep.

Sometimes answers to prayer come quickly. Sometimes it takes so long it feels like God’s whereabouts are unknown and I can’t call my aunt to tell me where he is now. Sometimes the challenge itself is an answer to prayer because we’ve gained skills and the ability to endure through perseverance and deeper faith in God’s faithfulness. Sometimes the situation is the means to open our eyes to how God sees us and his confidence in us. Sometimes challenges result in better definitions of success than we assumed before.

  • The friend of a friend with sepsis, the child on life-support, and the woman with severe back pain were all healed within days. My husband’s dire condition suddenly improved and he didn’t need surgery after all. The problem never came back.
  • With a lot of work and help from people who demonstrated practical love, our son’s family’s house was restored to better than new condition within two years.
  • The tumour in my gut (and other places the cancer had spread to) were removed without complication and there has been no progression for five years. The toe is still attached and doing its job. The doctor prescribed a medication that successfully prevents the headaches from starting.
  • Our grandchildren and their mother visited us this week after 941 days of separation.
  • Many wonderful friends stepped in to help us move. We sold our house before it was even listed to a couple who will continue to fill it with songs of praise to a good, good Father.
  • A man I met from a country where Christians faith death from persecutors daily said, “You Christians in North America sing about the joy of being with Jesus and meeting him in Paradise, but none of you seem to be willing to go there. We rejoice for those who now know what eternal life looks like from a higher place. My father, my friend’s son, and my brother-in-law were trusting Christ to be their saviour. I believe they are all happy and healed in the presence of the Lord. I’ve learned that God heals the broken-hearted and grants peace.

The life of a Jesus-follower is not always easy. He said we could expect the same kind of reception he had. We can also expect the teaching and discipline of a good Father who knows the difference between love and indulgence. If we want Jesus’ peace that passes understanding, there will be times we have to relinquish the right to understand.

I’m facing challenges again in this month of July, 2022. For the sake of privacy of others involved I will just say this much: I agree with Paul’s prayer for myself, for my loved ones, and for you: “… I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:5 – 6 NIV)

Yet when holy lovers of God cry out from all their troubles

The Lord is close to all whose hearts are crushed by pain,

and he is always ready to restore the repentant one.

Even when bad things happen to the good and godly ones,

the Lord will save them and not let them be defeated

by what they face.

(Psalm 34:17-19 TPT)

Honeysuckle

I passed by this honeysuckle bush growing over the limits a dilapidated unpainted fence tried to set around a sad-looking house. I snapped a photo with my phone and thought about the contrast.

Sometimes the flowers that bloom in overgrown, untended yards surrounded by broken fences and derelict vehicles are all the more beautiful for their powers of endurance.

It amazes me that some of the sweetest, most beautiful, most caring people I know have grown up in foul, ugly, uncaring environments.

The grace they exude defies all predictions of perpetual victimhood. Like the garden flowers in the back alley, they are givers because they know how to receive from God when others have let them down.

The Problem With That Is…

What has happened to create this doubt is that a problem (such as a deep conflict or a bad experience) has been allowed to usurp God’s place and become the controlling principle of life. Instead of viewing the problem from the vantage point of faith, the doubter views faith from the vantage point of the problem. Instead of faith sizing up the problem, the situation ends with the problem scaling down faith. The world of faith is upside down, and in the topsy-turvy reality of doubt, a problem has become god and God has become a problem.

-Os Guinness

Against Such Things There Is No Law

“I hear it all day, Grandma,” my grandson said with the same tone of exasperation I’ve heard in my own voice. “Tommy*, don’t run. Don’t run. Don’t run!” He rolled his eyes. “I hear it at school. I hear it at daycare. I hear it at the pool. I hear it at the mall. I hear it everywhere. Tommy, don’t run!” He put his hand on my arm and looked deeply into my eyes. “It haunts my dreams, Grandma.”

He was so cute, I wanted to smile, but I chose instead to treat him with the same respect all people deserve and listen.

Oh, honey, I hear you. I know God created you to be a runner. You just have to move. It’s hard for you, I know.

I’m on the other end of the age scale, but my dreams are haunted by admonishment and reminders of restrictions other people want to put on me too. Don’t sing. Don’t dance. Don’t laugh loudly. Don’t think for yourself. Do as you’re told. Don’t associate with the wrong people. Be aware of every possible thing that could offend or disturb anyone, anywhere and don’t offend them. Oh, and remember that those who have no problem giving offense are often the most easily offended. Keep your opinions –and especially your odd sense of humour– to yourself. Be quiet, be quiet, be quiet!

I hear you, my boy, because there is never an end to people who want to place restrictions on your desire to run, to dance, to sing, to laugh, to talk and to just be free. But here’s the thing: Their rules and regulations and protocols have holes. Big holes. They can’t keep out the light. They are defenseless against goodness and peace. Kindness leaks across property lines. Gentleness dismantles barbed wire. Joy makes them jealous. Peace irritates them no end, and love, well love elevates restrictions to a higher court where the judge is the one who made you. All of this equipment is available to you if you follow Jesus. He’s gone ahead of you and will show you where he stashed them, if you ask.

So you shine, boy. Run the race that is set before you and eventually the critics and accusers will either have to join you or be left behind.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22, 23 NIV)

*Not his real name

Cherish Wisdom

Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you;
    love her, and she will watch over you.
 The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom.
    Though it cost all you have, get understanding.
 Cherish her, and she will exalt you;
    embrace her, and she will honor you.
 She will give you a garland to grace your head
    and present you with a glorious crown.

Proverbs 4:6-9 NIV

Pressure

But we have this precious treasure [the good news about salvation] in [unworthy] earthen vessels [of human frailty], so that the grandeur and surpassing greatness of the power will be [shown to be] from God [His sufficiency] and not from ourselves.

We are pressured in every way [hedged in], but not crushed; perplexed [unsure of finding a way out], but not driven to despair; hunted down and persecuted, but not deserted [to stand alone]; struck down, but never destroyed; always carrying around in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the [resurrection] life of Jesus also may be shown in our body.

(2 Corinthians 4:7-10 Amp)

There’s nothing like pressure to reveal weakness. I was very tired recently and grumbled loud and long about not being able to stay home and rest, but despite my physical weakness God used me to encourage someone when I grudgingly went out. It always surprises me when that happens. I guess part of me still thinks that helping someone is the result of my pseudo-superhero strength of character and somewhat flimsy appearance of righteousness. It’s not. It’s definitely not. Thanks for the reminder, Lord.

People given to shows of religiosity sometimes forget that it is God working through them that makes a difference in the world. I think God uses fragile people to carry his message of salvation because he needs us to quit making objects of worship out of anyone but Himself. It happens so easily. And then our “idols” fall because either the elevated person or his or her worshippers need to be reminded that God alone deserves all the praise.

The truth is our bodies are weak and our egos are fragile. Jesus knew what it was like to live in a body subject to fatigue. The night before he was crucified, he experienced physical weakness under huge pressure. “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak,” he conceded when his disciples couldn’t stay awake to pray with him in the garden. He understands.

Paul told the believers in Corinth that sometimes life could be tough. He and his companions had questions. They were pressured and perplexed like we sometimes are. They were hunted, persecuted, and struck down, but they were not crushed, not driven to despair, or deserted, or destroyed because God was their source of strength. He was doing something wonderful through them. These “fragile vessels” carried the living resurrected Christ. How amazing! Substance before style! It’s so opposite of the way the world operates with its public relations media machines and style before substance.

Our weaknesses keep us from claiming credit when the credit belongs to God. He is teaching us to trust him under pressure. “Under pressure” is where the rubber meets the road.

Carrying the precious message, “Christ in you, the hope of glory” is about His sufficiency and not ours. Soli Deo gratia.

Creative Meditations for Lent, Word prompt: Pressure

Truth

Truth, real truth, total truth is like a burning laser light. Most of us can’t handle the truth.

When the prophet Isaiah encountered God in a vision, he encountered Truth. He cried out, “Woe is me for I am a man with unclean lips.” The blindingly holy light of truth revealed that he (like most of us) had spoken things that were untrue. I wonder what would have happened if God had not ministered mercy by sending an angel to purify his lips with a hot coal. I’ve also noticed that sometimes truth leaves scars.

Here’s the thing. Truth without love is harsh. Very harsh.

Have you ever watched two people fall in love? When most couples go on a first date, both put great effort into creating a good impression. The truth is, they don’t always look this good, smell this good, or act so thoughtfully. They keep some important information to themselves and may add a sheen to unavoidable details if they want a second date. As time goes on, they begin to test the interest level by gradually revealing minor unappealing aspects about themselves to see if the other will stick around. Love grows in an atmosphere of safety and acceptance. More truth can be told. Sadly, some people keep up a false image until the effort half kills them and everything falls apart. The truth will eventually come out.

Many of us are still vainly attempting to impress God while concealing aspects of ourselves that trigger shame. Hiding stuff doesn’t work. He knows. That fact alone sends millions into metaphorical sewing of fig-leaf wear whilst hiding in the shrubbery like Adam and Eve.

For those who don’t read social cues well and are whole-truth-and-nothing-but-the-truth tellers, this whole dating thing is a mine field.

“You told her she needed a better deodorant?” I exclaimed with shock when my neuro-divergent friend told me about meeting a girl he liked. “I was only telling her the truth. I care about her. She should know.”

My explanation to him involved caring truth-telling about the way neuro-typicals perceive information. (At least I hope he perceived it as caring.) He was telling her the truth, but how was she to know he cared? How did he demonstrate that? Telling her she needed better deodorant could have felt a bit hurtful even if it was true. Most people can’t handle the truth, especially truth about themselves. Truth must be wrapped in communicated love, or it feels like a frying pan to the face and that’s the end of that.

Before Jesus was taken away to be killed, he told his friends, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.”  (John 16: 12,13)

The disciples were not ready to bear all the truth Jesus wanted to tell them. Jesus is The Truth, but he is also Love. Love doesn’t lie, and Godly truth gives us only as much truth as we can handle. He understands out frailty, but he also wants us to grow. Without a solid understanding of who God is, and that his lovingkindness and mercy endure forever, all of us, including the extremely narcissistic, tend to mix our truth medicine with a spoonful of denial, if not a cup of outright fantasy. Maturity is being able to appreciate the whole truth without being blown away by it. We need help getting to that point, but God provided for that too.

J.B. Phillips phrased it this way in his paraphrase of Ephesians 4:11-16

His “gifts to men” were varied. Some he made his messengers, some prophets, some preachers of the Gospel; to some he gave the power to guide and teach his people. His gifts were made that Christians might be properly equipped for their service, that the whole body might be built up until the time comes when, in the unity of the common faith and common knowledge of the Son of God, we arrive at real maturity—that measure of development which is meant by the “fullness of Christ”.

We are not meant to remain as children at the mercy of every chance wind of teaching and the jockeying of men who are expert in the craft presentation of lies. But we are meant to hold firmly to the truth in love, and to grow up in every way into Christ, the head. For it is from the head that the whole body, as a harmonious structure knit together by the joints with which it is provided, grows by the proper functioning of individual parts to its full maturity in love.

The Holy Spirit guides us into all truth, but patiently, not by dumping it all on our heads all at once. He is kind. Sometimes it’s a wonderful warm experience and sometimes it feels like receiving a father’s concerned discipline, but it always carries the scent of merciful lovingkindness.

Like many aspects of spiritual maturity, the ability to comprehend truth and see the way God sees is a process. I am learning that being Christ-centered and acknowledging Jesus in everything means becoming as intentional about a deepening relationship as he is.

It’s all about getting to know him.

Creative Meditations for Lent, Word Prompt: Truth