Robed

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Everything in the department store that had been such a part of my life growing up was discounted. Changes. The store was closing. I had time between appointments in Calgary so I dropped by the mall for the close-out sale. I left the North Hill neighbourhood long ago and unexpected memories hit me as soon as I passed the bus stop outside the door. As I picked up a few items (in what my mother would have called the foundation department) I had a flashback to when my friends and I spent our emerging freedom hanging out at the mall.

Fashion is about change. The marketing and design managers probably switched the fitting rooms’ location many times over the intervening decades, but suddenly I heard the laughter of teenage friends as we tried on clothes.

“Does this suit me?” the girl who used to be me asked, checking herself out in the three-way mirror.

“No! You look like a missionary!” Ruth blurted.

She tried on a clinging satin dress with a plunging neckline. “How about this?” she asked, trying to keep a straight face.

“Now you look like a tramp!!” Lois answered, feigning shock. “Your mother would hate it! Yes! Get it!”

They giggled and gave the next girl their judgment as she struck a pose in garments decorated with dangling price tags they ignored. It’s like the girls put on a new identity with every new item of clothing.

We came from a culture where the standards of modesty made it difficult to find fashions that fit everyone’s criterion. Our mothers often sewed our clothes themselves. My grandmother called mini skirts “worldly.” When my mother, who learned English from reading Dickens novels, joined me in the fitting room she would say, “It behooves one to dress in a manner more befitting to a girl with higher standards. This is unbecoming.”

Unbecoming. I did not like the word unbecoming. She used it when my summer shorts were too short, or when I didn’t sit like a lady, or when my voice was too loud, or when my silent sulking fits had all the subtlety of a this-week-only salesman with a megaphone. She was right of course, most of the time, which is why she was so annoying. “This is not the direction I have in mind for you.”

I’ve been meditating on the connection between righteousness and peace this week. I looked up antonyms of the word righteousness because sometimes considering the opposite meaning helps me understand – and I’m trying to see beyond the negative parameters of rule-following that make me want to run in the opposite direction. One of the words listed caught my attention. Unbecoming. I can almost hear it in Mom’s voice. Then I read this passage about being clothed with righteousness.

I will rejoice greatly in the LORD,
My soul will exult in my God;
For He has clothed me with garments of salvation,
He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness,
As a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the earth brings forth its sprouts,
And as a garden causes the things sown in it to spring up,
So the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise
To spring up before all the nations.
(Isaiah 61: 10, 11 NAS)

Unrighteousness is a destructive attitude. It does not help us to become. It does the opposite; it unravels the beauty God intended for us to walk in. There is a great deal more to righteousness than obeying rules. In fact, clothing ourselves in manufactured rules of conduct that change behaviour but not the heart may not be befitting at all. When we choose to follow the folly of false distractions we fail to choose life. We un-become.

We can choose instead to let wrap Jesus wrap his robe of righteousness around us. Our own home-made efforts embarrass by comparison. They are also unbecoming because they do not represent grace-empowered transformation that enables us to blossom and be all God intended. Righteousness is right thinking, coming into alignment with the Creator’s plans for us (the one who loves us perfectly, understands the future and our potential perfectly and is much better at this than our moms who had their own agendas mixed up in their motives).

A line from an old song comes to mind, “Dressed in His righteousness alone, faultless to stand before His throne…”

 

 

 

 

A Season of Testing

 

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The last of the lilac blossoms fade and scatter outside my window. I love lilacs. Their scent is wonderful, if you are not allergic to them – and I’m not. For some people, lilacs can trigger memories of glorious spring and the approach of summer freedom. For others, lilacs annoy the unconscious brain with recollections of hay fever and the approach of long hot hours picking strawberries, followed by picking rocks, picking tobacco and picking fights with other tired irritated pickers.

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Not everyone loves the smell. My friend was devastated when her neighbour hacked off the branches of a mature lilac bush between their properties just as blooms emerged. To one who loves lilacs and waited the whole winter through for their appearance it felt like witnessing a murder, or at least severe persecution. To some, lilacs are an aroma of hope-filled life and to others, an aroma of foreboding death.

The neighbour must have experienced serious nasal congestion to follow through with such an act, but, if I think about it, I have also been driven to desperation by head colds that went on for weeks and kept me from sleeping like a bad conscience. If I knew being around lilacs provoked my miserable reaction I might make a midnight foray with a hatchet myself. I don’t know. I’m not in her bedroom slippers. It just felt sad.

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Lilacs also remind me of year-ends tests. I remember sitting under the lilac bushes in the back yard while cramming for a high school math exam. That image might define mixed emotion for me. Frustrating formulas and fabulous fragrance at one picnic table.

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The association between lilac season and tests continued for many years. Dates for Royal Conservatory and Trinity College of London singing exams often showed up at the same time as a bower of mauve blossoms over the venue’s door. The fragrance wafted through an open window in the waiting area. I think one of the songs may even have been ‘Lilacs” by Rachmaninoff.

I remember waiting for my grandfather to pick me up after completing an exam that I thought went quite well. I sat on the steps outside the building, cradled clusters of flowers in my hands, and breathed deeply. Lilac blossoms also smell like relief.

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When I became a music teacher, I rushed past the lilacs to fit in an extra lesson or a make a rehearsal with the student and accompanist. I never realized until then that external exams were tests for the teacher as well. Her, or his, professional reputation could hinge on how well somebody else performed. Sometimes smiles and encouraging, cajoling words hid a desire to use stronger modes of motivation on students who didn’t take practice (and my ego) seriously enough. When I finally had time to appreciate my favourite flowers most of the petals flitted on the breeze and showered down on the grass like confetti at a fairy wedding.

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Now I have time to sit in the garden and enjoy, but the scent still carries the undertones of test papers and pencils and nervousness. I used to encourage students by telling them, “Tests can reveal areas that need improvement, but mostly they prove that you have learned what you set out to learn this year. I have just heard you sing this song perfectly. As far as I am concerned you have already passed the exam. All you need to do is show up at the right time and right place and get credit for your hard work. No matter how you do in the examination I will still be here for you. I have faith in you.”

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This past year has been a season of testing for me. I’ve discovered a lot of areas in my reactions to hard questions and frustrating puzzles that need improvement. Sometimes I wished I could hack it all down and make it go away. There is so much more I need to know, but I have also learned that many concepts that seemed sound in theory have proven to be sound in practice.

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It’s like I’ve been sitting at that picnic table in my parents’ garden, feeling the pressures of remembering and applying what I read and heard and studied and even wrote about.

It’s been like walking, with great fear and trembling, into an empty concert hall where an examiner seated at a table waits sharpened pencil and exam form.

It’s required thankfulness and remembering that in the middle of testing, I am surrounded by the beauty and fragrance of Jesus who gave himself for me.

It’s still recalling the encouragement of the Holy Spirit who said, “You can do it. I’m not leaving.”

It’s receiving the approval of my heavenly Father who gives the gift I have always longed for – his unfailing love.

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And continue to walk surrendered to the extravagant love of Christ, for he surrendered his life as a sacrifice for us. His great love for us was pleasing to God, like an aroma of adoration—a sweet healing fragrance. (Ephesians 5:2 TPT)

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This, That, and The Other

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This.

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That.

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The other.

It’s no wonder, that God’s anxiety therapy includes a large, delightful dollop of gratitude. The anxious heart says, “Lord, if only I had this, that, or the other, I’d be okay.”

The grateful heart says, “Oh, look! You’ve already given me this, that, and the other. Thank you, God.”
~Max Lucado

 

Immense

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This is a big country. I stopped by a field on the Cowboy Trail in Alberta on my way home this weekend. I am overwhelmed by the immensity of the sky and land I can see from one spot in one place on one road. I cannot comprehend the size of this province or this world, let alone the universe.

I’ve met some extremely intelligent people in my life. I love scientists. Many of them have spent a lifetime learning all they can in a field the size of a clump of clay. Even astrophysicists who look at the big picture and gaze into the sky beyond the sky admit that all their accumulated knowledge is humbling. Questions multiply like the expanding universe. The more we know the more we have to admit we just don’t know.

The same difficulty is seen in developing wisdom on how to rule a nation or get along with other countries. If two people, who care deeply about each other, cannot agree on the best way to earn a living, clean the house, raise a child, or even the best route to drive to the grocery store how can we trust a few people in positions of power and who despise each other to make wise decisions for all of us?

When I read the news and sense the current atmosphere I feel frightened. Sometimes I know too little; sometimes I know too much. The problems are too complex to figure out all by my little self.

Someone reminded me of a story the author of ‘The Hiding Place’, Corrie ten Boom, wrote. She lived in difficult times and sometimes felt overwhelmed. Her father reminded her that when she was a child and excited about going on a train trip with her Papa he didn’t put her ticket in her hand until it was time to actually get on the train. In the same way, God often doesn’t give us the grace to handle a problem until we need it.

I was overwhelmed with anxiety as I faced another medical scan on Friday. I wrote about it here in Real Time. I clung to Corrie’s story, trusting God to hand me a ticket when I needed it even though I was shaking so badly when I arrived at the hospital I could barely hold a pen to sign the permission paper. I wanted to cry. While the nurse started an I.V. for the contrast I wished for a power failure or something — anything– to give me an excuse to escape the place.

Panic attacks attack reason. It magnifies annoyances and projects them on the screen in the mind as terrifying monsters. The night before I convinced myself I could endure ten minutes in the tube. I had serious doubts about lasting twenty minutes. Then I was told the test would take sixty minutes.

The doctor had given me pills to take to calm anxiety, but, like last time, they weren’t helping much. When my name was called I felt like I was marching to my doom, or at least an embarrassing display of illogical immaturity.

And then it happened.

My heavenly Father handed me my grace ticket. The technician told me this MRI machine was significantly larger than the one I was crammed into last time. I felt peace flow over me.

I got on the less narrow bed, closed my eyes, and entered the place where God promised to meet my every need. I thanked him for his goodness. I chose to find delight in him by picturing his beautiful creation. I sang a song of praise. Soon I was in an orchard grove feeling the soft grass bed and warm dappled sun on my skin like I did when I was a child. Then I was in a cool pool of blue water like a mountain lake feeling Holy Spirit’s hands underneath me like he was teaching a child to float. My part was to be still and trust. I felt his smile.

It didn’t feel like sixty minutes. It felt like I was in that place where time didn’t matter. I felt immense peace as wide as the Alberta sky. When the technician told me they were finished, slid me out and helped me to my feet I knew I had experienced the strength that comes from resting in the Lord in more than a theoretical way. If you have never suffered from anxiety attacks this won’t make sense to you, but to me it felt like a miracle.

We all face uncertainty and fear, some of us more than others because of personal history, or loss of physical or mental strength, or seemingly overwhelming circumstances. I know I’m not the only one who is sensing an atmosphere of increased anxiety in the world. Many people, especially children and young people, are experiencing high levels of anxiety like never before. I do believe we need to turn to God in humility admitting that we need help.

I am learning that if God says he’s got this, he’s got this. Even when the atmosphere fills with threatening clouds the warmth of his love can shine through. We have the freedom to ask, then quietly trust like a contented child at rest on a mother’s lap.

Lord, my heart is meek before you.
I don’t consider myself better than others.
I’m content to not pursue matters that are over my head—
such as your complex mysteries and wonders—
that I’m not yet ready to understand.

I am humbled and quieted in your presence.
Like a contented child who rests on its mother’s lap,
I’m your resting child and my soul is content in you.

O people of God, your time has come to quietly trust,
waiting upon the Lord now and forever.

(Psalm 131 The Passion Translation)

Thank you, Lord. You are so good.

In Days of Preparation

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We, and thousands of others, have changed our travel plans this week. Our intent was to drive to Edmonton, Alberta today to help an elderly relative. The flashing red weather advisory on the site I checked suggested we reconsider. Another winter storm is coming.

But it’s supposed to be spring, right?

Edmonton has apparently set a new record for the most number of consecutive days when the temperature has gone below freezing — a dubious achievement. The Cowboy Trail in southern Alberta (between here and there) could see more than 20 cm. of snow with high winds and white-out conditions. I’ve been caught in those blizzards before. We’re staying home.

I have developed a tradition in years when I’m longing for spring and it feels more like January 106th than April 16th. I go to the place where people are busy making preparation for warm sunny days in the garden, a place where it is already spring. I go to the greenhouses at our local nursery.

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Yes, it’s too soon to buy plants, but the place is full of activity. Shipments of luscious greenery arrive from the coast, workers in the perennial house sort pots of tender shoots, and new staff clean shelves and learn where the fertilizer, whirl-a-gigs, and watering cans go.

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As I walked between the aisles of charming English daisies, eager purple pansies, and beguiling begonias, it struck me that all of this preparation was being made in faith that spring and summer will arrive eventually — and the staff had better be ready for the rush.

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Living by faith means making preparation for promises fulfilled. It is easier to complain about freezing temperatures than it is to clean the garden shed or sharpen the hoe or start seedlings inside, but if we really believe something is coming, change is about to happen, and hope deferred will grow into the flowering tree of desire fulfilled, we will make preparations.

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Faith without works, if not dead, is at least dormant. Frozen. Under 20 cm. of snow.

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Beth Moore said it:

How often we expect big things from God without preparing for big things from him.”

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Hopeful people see the flowers in the greenhouse and admire them before their time, knowing that soon the promise of spring will become visible reality in our neighbourhoods.

People of faith also make preparations for change. They walk in the place where it has already happened in their hearts. Get ready. This may involve shoveling fertilizer and kneeling in the dirt first, but it’s going to be good.