New. It Has Begun.

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Made for spirituality, we wallow in introspection.
Made for joy, we settle for pleasure.
Made for justice, we clamor for vengeance.
Made for relationship, we insist on our own way.
Made for beauty, we are satisfied with sentiment.

But new creation has already begun. The sun has begun to rise.
Christians are called to leave behind, in the tomb of Jesus Christ, all that belongs to the brokenness and incompleteness of the present world …

That, quite simply, is what it means to be Christian: to follow Jesus Christ into the new world, God’s new world, which he has thrown open before us.

– N. T. Wright

Eternal Light

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I haven’t painted anything for nearly a year. Sometimes I take out a canvas, put it on the easel and ask, “What should I paint?” I stare at it for a while. I go through my idea file of photos looking for something that inspires me. Then I pack everything back in the closet and go fold laundry or check Facebook again.

It’s kind of like spending an hour looking for just the right Netflix show to accompany a nap on the couch and then, failing to be enticed by yet another description of the protagonist’s discovery of a “dark secret,” turning the TV off and going back to work without the satisfaction of either a movie or a snooze.

Ususally I am energized by creative endeavours, but I’ve been slacking off writing lately too. I’m trying to discipline myself to make more progress on a big project, but it feels like I’ve been on a long climb for a long time.

It’s a strange place. The air is thinner here. My steps are slower. My stride shuffles rather than bounds. I measure progress on the novel by paragraphs completed instead of chapters. I measure personal progress in terms of surviving another day without letting fear or irritability dominate…too much.

I’m not depressed. I’m well-acquainted with what depression feels like. This is more like the fatigue that comes from working on a restoration project that has no end in sight — or climbing a mountain that is a lot higher than it seemed when the trek started.

Nasty side effects of medication I’m told I need keep me house-bound more than I like, even as an introvert. After four surgeries (one which was only the removal of a big toenail, but hey, that took a disappointingly long time to heal), my body is going to need time to fully recover. I understand that.  But I’m tired of being tired.

This week, friends issued an invitation for artists to come and paint during an evening dedicated to worship. Burn 24-7 calls for no agenda but focus on God and his goodness. People who attend are free to worship in whatever way the Lord leads them. Some sing. Some dance. Some wave banners. Some sit quietly. Some paint.

I’ve heard this type of art experience labeled prophetic art. Others call it worship art. One of my friends calls the finished pictures “painted prayers.” Any of those terms work for me. I decided, despite not feeling well this week, that I needed to go. I need to worship.

As I packed my tubes of paint and checked the condition of brushes I asked the Lord what I should paint. I had no idea. When I have painted at events like this before I often don’t know what’s going to happen until the music plays for a while. Nothing profound came to mind, but when I got there I realized that part of a choral song called Lux Aeterna had been playing in my head all day. The English translation is, “May light eternal shine upon them, O Lord, with Thy saints forever, for Thou art kind.”

I remembered a day almost a year ago when I walked through the tall cathedral of autumn-gold trees by the Elk River in Fernie, B.C.. We stopped for lunch on the way to an appointment with the surgeon who would remove the tumour from my abdomen. Fear almost won that day. I wanted to run in the opposite direction. I was afraid I would never see my favourite season again.

And now as summer becomes autumn, the trees along the path once again turn to gold. I am still here. My Lord still holds my hand and walks with me just as He promised.

I decided to paint my favourite cathedral – the forest. With the words “eternal light” still in my head I painted a prayer for that light to continue to shine in the scary shadowy places in my heart. I painted the celebration of another season of colour, and then I painted myself as a much-loved child holding the hand of the Lover of my soul. He leads me toward glory in the comfort of His friendship and humble majesty.

I can’t explain it, but there is something about an atmosphere of dedicated prayer and worship that makes painting faster and easier. Except for a few touch-ups this painting came together in one session.

I sat back and looked at it. “What are you saying today, Lord?” I asked.

This is the scripture passage that came up when I searched my Bible.

For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:17.18 NASB)

He is kind. He is forever kind. He promised to never leave.

The journey continues.

Within

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She suffered a lot those last few years. My mother told me she survived the long, dark, sleepless nights by remembering and reciting passages of scripture. Think what you will of a person who wants more than scientific facts about the disease process and research into potential treatments (that still need more development). This is where what you have come to know about who God is plays out. In the dark. In pain. Alone.

My mother found great solace in her Saviour. “Jesus? Oh, he’s wonderful!” she said with a smile on one of the worst nights of my life when I took her to the hospital for the last time. He was with her on those dark nights. Moments before she left us her face lit up like a delighted child on Christmas morning. She saw someone, someone she knew, and she ran to him.

After she passed away, I helped my father sort through her belongings. In the drawer I found scraps of paper wound into tiny scrolls. Each one contained a Bible verse of promise. I keep them in a treasure box now. She was a poor woman by most people’s standards, but she left me a wonderful inheritance.

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The real treasure, the little scrolls tell me, is not in a box, or even in a book. The real treasure, the secret treasure of the ages, the treasure of greatest value now lies within us when Christ enters our lives.

There is a divine mystery—a secret surprise that has been concealed from the world for generations, but now it’s being revealed, unfolded and manifested for every holy believer to experience.

Living within you is the Christ who floods you with the expectation of glory!

This mystery of Christ, embedded within us, becomes a heavenly treasure chest of hope filled with the riches of glory for his people, and God wants everyone to know it!

(Colossians 1:26,27 TPT)

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Whether we are healed physically in this dimension, or move on to a greater one (which we all do eventually) we can live in hope. We are continually flooded with the expectation of the riches of his glory because we abide in Christ and Christ is embedded within us.

Christ in you, the hope of glory.

The greatest treasure. Ever.

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Unpicked

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I came home from my walk yesterday with apples in my pockets and a rant in my mouth.

“I can’t believe these people!” I told my husband. “There are half a dozen fruit trees in this neighbourhood that haven’t been picked! I tell you, if your apples are hanging over the fence and if you haven’t picked them by the day the first winter storm is predicted, I’m taking some.”

I tossed him a cold crisp MacIntosh. “Here. It’s delicious!”

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He looked at me with the suspicion of a man who remembers what happened the last time a woman offered him stolen fruit.

“And plums!” I added. “There’s a tree down the alley that is still loaded with Damsons. They could at least let some homeless people or single moms or some folks from the food bank with ladders come onto their property and fill up their boxes. It drives me nuts when perfectly good food goes to waste!

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And this happens every year. And then the bears follow the scent into town in the fall and the deer are gorging on mushy fallen fruit and pooping everywhere and then the cougars show up and get shot because they scare parents and dog owners. Aaargh!”

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I grew up on the Canadian prairies where the weather was too harsh for most fruit trees. Heaven, in my child’s mind, was filled with luxurious fruit you could simply reach up and take. Maybe it still is. But having fruit trees is like having pets. You’ve got to look after them. “Steward them” in Christianese.

I went over to the window to arrange my over-the-fence apples and take photos of them, because that’s what I do when the light is good, and I heard my Lord’s voice.

“I know how you feel.”
“What?”
“I have made provision for you that you have failed to grab.”
“I don’t get it.”
“Exactly. You need to extend your faith a little to get it, but it’s there.”

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Well. That shut me up.

I’ve been feeling inadequate for a task I believe the Lord has been asking me to do for ages. I’ve let opportunity after opportunity pass by like the seasons as I wait to be endowed from on high with inspiration, creativity, and resources.

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What does extending faith look like?

It looks like getting out a ladder and reaching for provision unnoticed in the everyday. It’s refusing to let another season pass ignoring what you already have access to. Don’t take it for granted. Don’t be distracted. Don’t be lazy. Go for it! Then share.

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I hear You.

 

In Expectation

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You know every step I will take,
Before my journey even begins!

(from Psalm 139, The Passion Translation)

I don’t like nasty surprises. I like to be prepared for every possible contingency. That’s probably why I pack too much when we travel. Preparation for potential disaster requires imagining oneself in a place of desperate need and thinking about the provisions one might lack.

The problem is that for some of us it is easy to go there first and remain in the potential gloom of life in Mudville Flats. We expect multiple failures that require multiple back-ups.

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I am realizing I need to prepare for hope fulfilled as well. When my friend was healed of stage four cancer she was suddenly faced with the need to find employment. She was well. She didn’t need to be on assistance anymore. She could work. Hope fulfilled caught her a bit unprepared. A happy problem, but a problem nevertheless.

When I heard that surgery to remove the malignant mass in my abdomen was scheduled for mid-October I started mourning. When I had major surgery in February I couldn’t walk very far for weeks afterward. About twenty years ago I spent six weeks in a hospital and missed the autumn season entirely. I accepted the patient’s paper I.D. bracelet on a warm summer day and when I was released I walked out into a harsh winter blizzard. I lost a season. I didn’t want that to happen again.

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I love autumn in the Rockies. I love the gold and bronze and scarlet colours and the crisp cool lavender skies. I am enthralled by shimmering trembling aspen leaves responding to the breeze with a nervous rustling paper-sounding twitter. The first whiter than white snowfall on the mountain peaks always surprises me with its brilliance even though I’ve seen that glimpse of glory many times.

As we drove toward the big city hospital in Alberta I feared I was going to lose autumn again.

We stopped to eat lunch in the park by the Elk River in Fernie, British Columbia. I went for a walk with my camera while my husband rested in the car. After a while he became concerned. I had still not returned. I didn’t want to leave. I walked and walked – in the opposite direction of the parking lot.

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I really didn’t want to leave.

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The river walk was painfully beautiful. I was honestly afraid I would never see such beauty again. What if this day was my last glimpse of the season I love so much? What if I never kissed my precious grandchildren again or spent another evening around the table with my adult kids and their spouses, laughing until we couldn’t breathe? What if the dear man who is the love of my life had to return to an empty house alone? What if this was the beginning of the end?

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I didn’t want to get in the car and go check into the impersonal hospital with its equipment-cluttered halls and other people’s lives’ all-night noises. I wanted to turn around and go back and walk the road I’ve been on all these years, only this time fix all the blunders and stupidity and hurtful ways with the hard-earned wisdom I lacked the first time.

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I kicked a pile of gold leaves and heard my Lord speak in a voice softer than a whisper.

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“What if it’s not?”
“Not what?”
“What if this is not the end? What if this is a new beginning? What if I am awakening in you the dreams you abandoned by the side of the road when life became heavy? You’ve prepared for hope deferred. What preparations will you need to make to prepare for hope fulfilled?”

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Fear of disappointment is our greatest fear. Here, surrounded by beauty, I felt overwhelmed by the fear of lack of provision of beauty in my life. I was confronted by the lover of my soul and urged to look at a lurking belief that God could cut off the flow of his goodness.

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The showering leaves created a path that looked like street of gold at my feet. Even if I die His goodness will not end. Jesus said he was going to prepare a place for us, a place where we could be with him, always and forever. If I stay, there is more beauty to behold. If I pass on to the next stage of eternity, he, the Creator of the Universe, is preparing even greater beauty to surround my heart.

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I’m home now. It’s been twelve days since I donated those nasty tumours to the pathology lab. I walked out (unassisted) into the warm sun only three days later. We drove home to B.C. through a howling gale the next day. A week later I took a short walk around my neighbourhood.

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Ten days later I walked around my favourite little lake at the foot of the towering snow topped mountains. I absorbed the wonderful autumn colours reflected in the lake, the warm scented breeze, the sunlight playing with the trembling aspens and I thanked God for his goodness.

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Yesterday I met a friend walking his dog in the green belt by the creek. I was on my way home from an hour and a half walk and taking photos, following the light like I love to do. I had just gone down a steep hill taking a route I hadn’t planned to take because I didn’t know I could.

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We spoke about our pain and disappointment at the loss of a mutual young friend who died of cancer on Monday. In response to prayer we had seen him defy all the predictions. He walked away from the suggestion of hospice care to recover and go back to work over a year and a half ago. We saw a miracle! We believed he was being healed. Then suddenly he became very ill again. We don’t understand.

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We spoke about my surprisingly rapid progress in getting back on my feet. He seemed surprised to learn that I had part of the small bowel, mesentery, and half a colon removed less than two weeks ago. When he asked about my prognosis, I told him the surgeon warned me the cancer can return, in an even more dangerous form next time, and that chemo doesn’t usually work for this kind.

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I also told him that an internal medicine specialist said, “I think you’ve had this for a very long time. It is so difficult to diagnose. You are accustomed to adjusting to poor health. Neuroendocrine tumours put off hormones and chemicals that mess with every system in your body. I think there is a chance, that when you have recovered from surgery, you will feel better than you have in years. You may have to adjust to having good health.”

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He prayed for me as we walked together. In the midst of our sorrow for the loss of our friend (who we realize is truly reaping the reward Christ earned by living fully in God’s presence) John declared, “We expect God’s goodness. We choose hope.”

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And that, right there, was an example of God caching a provision in advance that I would need on a path I hadn’t known I was going to take.

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But He did. He’s good that way.

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The journey continues.

First Things First

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“The prayer that begins with trustfulness, and passes on into waiting, will always end in thankfulness, triumph, and praise.”

~Alexander MacLaren

There was a time in my life when it seemed I had far more wedding and bridal and baby shower invitations than available babysitters. We all knew that such events included obligatory traditions as well as some pressure to meet expectations for originality. Do it this way, but differently. I began to wish my friends, and then my friends’ children, would just announce elopements and spawning events with photos on Facebook. I preferred emailing a gift card and skipping the whole toilet paper and clothes pin games and the dressing up for awkward speeches and plastic cup toasts thing.

Now I’m older. Funeral announcements have gradually outnumbered wedding and baby shower invitations. I realize I undervalued the opportunity to celebrate beginnings. I wish I had connected with joy more.

There can be joy in the midst of sorrow when we know someone is now in the presence of the Lord, but we can’t deny the existence of sorrow. Call it a “Celebration of Life Party” if you like, but funerals are sad events. Some funerals are sadder than others. Loss is loss, even if it’s the loss of someone who didn’t stir feelings of fondness. Sometimes the saddest loss of all is the loss of opportunity to build a better relationship.

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The undeniable fact about death rituals is that they can permit and perpetuate really bad theology – what we think about God. And since what we think about God is the most important foundation in our lives, funerals and “comforting words” in the reception line have a way of forcing us to realize this is where the rubber meets the road, philosophically.

Group mourning rituals can be very similar to weddings. We still have the do-it-this-way-but-differently pressures when arranging a funeral, but with much less time to prepare, an undefined budget and no RSVP list of attendees. Maybe that’s why many people still feel the need to hire an ordained hatch, match and despatch specialist, even when church attendance occurred less frequently than visits to Santa in the life of the honoree. Some clerics are very good at nurturing and comforting in times of need. Some others? Well, not so much.

One of the saddest remarks I heard at a funeral was from a person officiating who said, “Our hope is that our friend made a good enough impression on God that someday he will be allowed to come back and help clean up the earth.”

My heart ached. But I could not judge. For many years I said I believed in God’s grace, but in practice my actions showed I believed in the necessity of making a good impression on God, so he would have mercy on me and not toss me into the trash heap of discardables on judgement day.

God has given me long time-outs on this journey. I’ve had chances to scrape off performance-based religious burrs collected along the way. I still do keep running into residual ideas still clinging to my own previously unexamined places, but I realize for many people thinking about talking to God is like preparing for a make or break interview. Prayer feels like having to make a good impression on God, so he will act in one’s favour. Sacrificial acts of piety and charity carry what we hope is a suitably subtle label: God, please note. (And a sigh: I hope I’m doing this right!)

~~~~~~~

I find myself again idling at a rest stop along the road as I recuperate from surgery this season. I find stuck to myself the remnants of an uncomfortable feeling that I’m not doing enough. I should be writing something deeply profound, or at least organizing my sock drawer. Is rest self-indulgent? What if I fail to impress? Will I will be forgotten?

My heavenly Father heard my questions (before I voiced them) and that’s when Holy Spirit showed up in a new translation of Psalm 139 that attempts to include emotional communication. It’s so rich, a gift of gold light showering down like the autumn leaves.

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I plan to feel and rest my way through meditation on this psalm. How profound is the concept that our Creator knows us down to the cellular level and still loves us? How can we possibly think we can impress (or fool) someone who knows our thoughts before we do, someone who is not bound by our chronological sense of time, and who still persists in trying to communicate his love?

At first, immersing myself in Psalm 139 felt like giving into a tendency to be self-indulgent and self-centered. I was taught that being a Christian means putting Jesus first, others second and yourself last. (We even had an acronym for this approach – “J,O,Y”) The work ethic is strong in my culture; a sense of accomplishment is a highly polished trophy passed reluctantly from one hard worker to another.

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Here, in this psalm, the Holy Spirit tells us that before we did anything, thought anything, or were aware of anything worthy of approval, we were the object of his unceasing kind thoughts and the source of his joy. We see ourselves as having value because he first loved us. We love him because he first loved us. We love others because he first loved us. First things first.

Since we can’t give what we have not filled up on, there are seasons when we need to take time to soak in his love like a baby floating in amniotic fluid. Times of rest are like celebrations of joyful new beginnings without the budget restrictions and societal expectations.

I’m learning to celebrate this time of re-alignment by soaking in these words.

Lord, you know everything there is to know about me.
You’ve examined my innermost being
With your loving gaze.
You perceive every movement of my heart and soul,
And understand my every thought
Before it even enters my mind.
You are so intimately aware of me, Lord,
You read my heart like an open book
And you know all the words I’m about to speak
Before I even start a sentence!

-from Psalm 139, The Passion Translation

There is more of God’s love, always more love, than we dare to think or imagine.

 

 

 

 

No Platitudes, Please

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“Hope means hoping when things are hopeless, or it is no virtue at all… As long as matters are really hopeful, hope is mere flattery or platitude; it is only when everything is hopeless that hope begins to be a strength.”

~Gilbert K. Chesterton

It’s hard to know what to say sometimes, when things go horribly wrong. And yet we feel the need to fill in the silence by saying something, anything. I wonder if more pain is inflicted when, in the absence of hearing any wisdom from above, we fill the blank with our own words. It’s not that bad. Look on the bright side.

Sometimes it is that bad. Sometimes darkness threatens to smother us. Sometimes evil appears to triumph.

You can’t forgive pain you haven’t acknowledged. You can’t heal what you won’t diagnose. You can’t rebuild until you assess the damage.

Hope, real hope, doesn’t mean averting your eyes. Hope, real hope, means looking right at that pain, that threat, that diagnosis, that shattered home, that failed dream, that loss, and sitting in the silence of the shocking aftermath.

Hope means choosing, in time, to rise in the place of hopelessness, to set your face like a flint, and come, just as you are, into the Presence of the Holy. Hope means you can say, ‘Nevertheless.’

‘I am tired. I am hurting. I am frail. Nevertheless, I will not let my faith be shaken to the point where I refuse hope. Nevertheless, I will call upon my You, Lord, for You are my light and my salvation. You are my strength. You are my God. I trust You. I believe Your promises. I believe in You.’

The Lord is my help

I will not be confounded,

So I have focussed my face like a flint.

I’ll not be ashamed.

Lord, I come  — just as I am.

~ Fernando Ortega