Breathe Your Life Into Us: Strength to Trust After Disappointment

Sometimes the gap between a promise given and a promise fulfilled is excruciatingly long.

I grew up in a part of Canada where signs of spring could suddenly be buried under snowstorms riding on cold winds harsh enough to take your breath away. I see yearly disappointment has struck the prairie provinces again this week.

Last week we were told that churches could open at limited capacity for Easter. Many of my friends and our brave spiritual leaders, and worship team members eagerly made plans for a special time together after months of isolation. Today new announcements squashed that hope. Due to another increase in cases of the virus no indoor religious services will be permitted at all anywhere in this province larger than a lot of countries.

For several months I have had severe pain in my legs and have had trouble walking or sleeping. One day, my doctor phoned to say the latest scans revealed the cause and although I would need surgery, there was hope the problem could be fixed. He called back three weeks later to relay that the consulting surgeon recommended against surgery, for several reasons. There are some things I can try to lessen the pain, but it looks like I need to learn to adapt to disability.

Today I was aware that hope has been deferred for many of us for all sorts of reasons. I wonder if the way we process disappointment says a lot about the way we grow or fail to grow in faith.

Like a lot of people, I’ve felt like I’ve been stuck in a perpetual spring/not spring, forward/backward cha cha dance of hope almost fulfilled/hope definitely not fulfilled lately. Sometimes the dance is exhausting. I have been guilty of sitting down, not always to rest in the Lord, but to put myself into some sort of trance-like endurance plod that looks less like producing potential springtime buds of manifesting promise and instead settling apathetically under the snow for another stretch of dull dormancy.

David, the harassed young psalm writer, often composed verse about seeing the fulfillment of God’s promises snatched away. From the perspective of hundreds of years later it would be easy to skip the agonizing equivalent of some guy singing the blues and go directly to the ecstatic King dancing with such joy that his underwear showed. But the bit in between is important.

The bit in between is called process and that’s where God likes to meet us. It’s that liminal space neither here nor there where we don’t know if we should try something else to force the promise into fulfillment, or if we should just find a way to protect our hearts from the thing we most want to avoid – disappointment. It’s that place where we realize that change in us is more important than change in our circumstances.

This morning, I remembered today is the anniversary of the day our son-in-love was supposed to die. One of the doctors treating him said, “If that guy lives it will be the biggest miracle I have ever seen.” After a week of seeing amazing answers to prayer it looked like it was all over, but God stepped in and reversed the natural order of things. Bruce lived. The creator breathed new life into his ravaged body. The miracle wasn’t instantaneous, but his extremely critical condition from sepsis and multiple organ failure changed direction and proceeded toward full healing much more rapidly than any professional medical expert could have predicted. The doctor had to admit it was a miracle. All this occurred as thousands praying for him dared to trust God in the face of disappointment and in defiance of the odds.

That, I believe, was the real miracle. People across the country and around the world dared to trust again and look for God’s intervention. They chose hope.

Psalm 13

I’m hurting, Lord—will you forget me forever?
    How much longer, Lord?
    Will you look the other way when I’m in need?
 How much longer must I cling to this constant grief?
    I’ve endured this shaking of my soul.
    So how much longer will my enemy have the upper hand?

 Take a good look at me, Yahweh, my God, and answer me!
    Breathe your life into my spirit.
    Bring light to my eyes in this pitch-black darkness
    or I will sleep the sleep of death
.
 Don’t let my enemy proclaim, “I’ve prevailed over him.”
    For all my adversaries will celebrate when I fall.

 I have always trusted in your kindness, so answer me.
    I will spin in a circle of joy
    when your salvation lifts me up.

 I will sing my song of joy to you, Yahweh,
    for in all of this you have strengthened my soul.
    My enemies say that I have no Savior,
    but I know that I have one in you!

We are hurting, but our dancing day is coming. In the meantime, we are learning to lean on the One who loves us so much He gave everything to see us stand on wobbly legs and hear us sing in a wobbly voice, “I trust You, Lord. I know You are strengthening my soul. I trust Your timing. You are and always have been good. Breathe Your life into us.”

Fog

I love the mystery of foggy days. Since we see neither what lies ahead nor what lies behind, fog provides a space for just being. Fog can feel like a misty wall that turns acres of woods into a room of one’s own where time slows down and thoughts and feelings can be as imprecise and yet as real as an expressionist painting.

I hate the impediment of fog when I am in a hurry with places to go and things to do. A familiar road morphs into something strange and an unfamiliar highway provokes the kind of apprehension a horror movie director communicates with an over-the-shoulder shot. Is there a jack-knifed logging truck around the next bend? Cue the ominous music.

This time of uncertainty we live in reminds me of fog. The solitude we introverts usually enjoy is losing its romantic edge. I am ready for it to lift and leave a world of invigorating sunshine and sparkling frost on the trees instead. I long to get out on the highway to visit people dear to me in places beyond restricted borders.

How long will it be? When will the lockdowns and impediments of virus mitigation be over? With all the political chaos and hate-filled mixed messages we hear all around us, what kind of world will we see when the fog of propaganda war lifts?

I read a quote by Corrie ten Boom yesterday. She and her father and sister were sent to concentration camps for sheltering Jews during the second world war. Corrie was the only one to survive. She wrote: Faith is like radar that sees through the fog — the reality of things at a distance that the human eye cannot see.

Perhaps God is giving us this time to consider who he is and who we are and who or what we place our faith in. Perhaps we are not as in charge as we like to think. Perhaps he has a plan that relies on his goodness and his desire to kiss a guilty world in love. Maybe it’s about finding faith in his faithfulness and learning to see through his all-seeing eyes.

As I sit here, frustrated that my plans have been stymied by circumstances beyond my control, I am left with this conclusion. God is God and I am not. He has always been faithful to me. His love is unconditional. I hear him ask me to stay a little longer for a state of the relationship type chat. He asks if I trust him even when I cannot see though the fog. In other words, do I love him?

In this place, in the present in his presence, I let go of my need to figure everything out and sing:

I love you, Lord
And I lift my voice
To worship You
Oh, my soul, rejoice!


Take joy my King
In what You hear
Let it be a sweet, sweet sound
In Your ear
.

(Words and music by Laurie Klein)

Just to Be Near You

O God in Zion, to you even silence is praise!
You are the God who answers prayer;
all of humanity comes before you with their requests.

Though we are overcome by our many sins,
your sacrifice covers over them all.
And your priestly lovers, those you’ve chosen,
will be greatly favored to be brought close to you.
What inexpressible joys are theirs!
What feasts of mercy fill them in your heavenly sanctuary!
How satisfied we will be just to be near you!

You answer our prayers with amazing wonders
and with awe-inspiring displays of power.
You are the righteous God who helps us like a father.

Everyone everywhere looks to you,
for you are the confidence of all the earth,
even to the farthest islands of the sea.

What jaw-dropping, astounding power is yours!
You are the mountain maker who sets them all in place.

Psalm 65: 1-7 TPT

I am learning that prayer is not a work we do to impress God. Prayer is not duty. Prayer is not telling God what to do as if he is our servant. Prayer is definitely not manipulating God with fine flattering speeches or dramatic displays of emotional super-religiosity. These things may impress the people around us, but they do not impress God.

What impresses God is faith — believing he is who he says he is and trusting in his love.

Prayer is daring to come close to God in faith and humility and naked honesty. Sometimes, when we pour out our hearts, words flow. Sometimes we sit in silence not knowing what to say. In these moments, the Holy Spirit speaks our hearts when we can’t. In these moments the Holy Spirit speaks to our hearts in the sounds of stillness.

Prayer is just being near him and knowing that no matter what, he loves us like no one else ever can.

Ultimately

“While the earth remains,

Seedtime and harvest,

Cold and heat,

Winter and summer,

And day and night

Shall not cease.”

Genesis 8:22

A hundred-year old record was broken here this week. A record for cold. The leaves, many of which are still green, froze solid on the trees. A bird, seeking warmth, flew into the house via the chimney. My husband’s search for warm gloves turned up eight meant for the left hand and one for the right. It looked like the right failed match any of the lefts.

We weren’t ready for this.

Many miles away this same cold front is dropping snow on massive wildfires that surround a city. A friend posted photos today of steaming earth where threatening flames roared the day before. She joyfully expressed thankfulness.

Sometimes it’s hard to understand what on earth is going on. While I mourn the death of the last of my pretty little flowers, I rejoice with my friend for answered prayer and preservation of something much bigger.

Today this passage in Genesis showed up where I was not expecting to see it. I appreciate the reminder. While we need to change our exploitive ways and take responsibility for tending the earth and its resources well, ultimately God is the one who created its intricate workings. He is the one who holds it all together. He’s got this.

Fully Where I Am

“When I trust deeply that today God is truly with me and holds me safe in a divine embrace, guiding every one of my steps I can let go of my anxious need to know how tomorrow will look, or what will happen next month or next year. I can be fully where I am and pay attention to the many signs of God’s love within me and around me.”

– Henri Nouwen

The smoke has cleared and I was feeling well enough to get out of the house and drive to one of my favourite quiet places, little Munroe Lake. This area suffered the ravages of wildfire a few years ago. I enjoy the contrast between old growth on one side of the lake and new growth on the other.

Circumstances in my life require letting go of things I used to be able to do without much planning or thought. Mourning is involved any time we let go of the old to make room for the new, but we can’t get a grasp on the future when our hands are desperately hanging on to strands of the past.

This new terrain is giving me a greater appreciation for stillness. It is reinforcing the importance of something the Lord has been teaching me for many years: trust.

How will things look in the next few months or years? I don’t know, but the words of an old song by Ira Stanphill play in my heart:

Many things about tomorrow
I don’t seem to understand
But I know who holds tomorrow
And I know who holds my hand.

I Do Declare!

As for me, I will always have hope;
    I will praise you more and more.

My mouth will tell of your righteous deeds,
    of your saving acts all day long—
    though I know not how to relate them all.


 I will come and proclaim your mighty acts, Sovereign Lord;
    I will proclaim your righteous deeds, yours alone.

Since my youth, God, you have taught me,
    and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds.
 

Even when I am old and gray,
    do not forsake me, my God,
till I declare your power to the next generation,
    your mighty acts to all who are to come.

(Psalm 71:14-18 NIV)

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)

Secreted

I like to keep up with current events. I’d like to say it’s so I can pray, but perhaps a lot of motivation for reading and watching media comes from a strong dislike for nasty suprises and a need to be prepared. But sometimes it’s too much – the anger, the accusations, the division, the manipulation. I feel myself being sucked into mob mentality that makes perpetrators out of victims and bystanders.

Then I realize that with freedom comes responsibility. I am responsible for paying attention to the condition of my heart. I need to get away from news and opinions and seek God in the quiet place where voices speaking from limited understanding (including mine) are hushed.

This morning I woke up feeling like I had been in a battle all night. In spite of the restlessness in my soul, the song playing in my heart was a verse from Francis Havergal’s Like a River Glorious:

Hidden in the hollow of His blessed hand,
Never foe can follow, never traitor stand;
Not a surge of worry, not a shade of care,
Not a blast of hurry touch the spirit there.

Stayed upon Jehovah, hearts are fully blest
Finding, as He promised, perfect peace and rest.

I sat down at the computer and read the scripture suggested for today in The Book of Common Prayer. This verse stood out to me.

In his shelter in the day of trouble, that’s where you’ll find me,
for he hides me there in his holiness.
He has smuggled me into his secret place,
where I’m kept safe and secure—
out of reach from all my enemies.
Triumphant now, I’ll bring him my offerings of praise…

(Psalm 27:5,6 TPT)

Under the shade of the mountain ash tree in my garden, I notice how fragrant lilies of the valley secret themselves among dark sheltering leaves. They are not worried.

Thank you, Lord. I hear you.

Breathe On Me

wind in the willow painting

I did something stupid last night. I was so hungry I ate something that I knew might be risky for someone with my health challenges.

In the middle of the night I woke up feeling short of breath. Of course, with all the warnings going around, I immediately feared I had suddenly come down with covid19. Then I remembered eating a bowl of gluten-free cereal. My body protested. It doesn’t like any grains. So much for sleep.

“I can’t breathe,” I panicked.

As I sat on the edge of the bed and consciously practised the deep breathing methods I taught my singing students for so many years, I remembered how often I have heard this phrase recently. I can’t breathe. “I can’t breathe” is the cry of people critically ill with the virus that has filled so many with fear. It’s the cry at many demonstrations protesting racism. I’ve seen it on shirts, heard it in chants, and listened to people who tell me they feel so stifled, restricted, constricted, and encroached upon by current circumstances it feels like they can’t breathe.

Then there were memories of that traumatic Good Friday our son-in-law was not expected to live. He had sepsis and was on a respirator. He was hemorrhaging into his lungs.

“He can’t breathe on his own,” the doctor said. “We want to send him to a bigger hospital but he’s on 100% oxygen now and they won’t take him on a medivac flight.”

I don’t think a person can be in a more dependent position than to need a machine operated by a respiratory technician to breathe for them. Thousands joined to pray for him and God responded with a miracle. On Pentecost Sunday he walked into a gathering of some of those praying people with perfectly healthy lungs — and all his limbs intact.

In Hebrew, the Holy Spirit is called Ruach HaKodesh. Ruach means breath or wind. Kodesh means holy. It’s the breath of God that made humans come alive. Jesus breathed on his disciples when he imparted the Holy Spirit to them and when the Holy Spirit came in power to the 120 people gathered in an upper room, he entered as a mighty wind.

“I can’t breathe,” I prayed in the dark. “I’ve lost my breath. I need you, Lord. Breathe on me.”

Eventually peace entered the room and I began to breathe normally.

This morning, a song by Marty Goetz played in my head. It’s a prayer for the holy Breath and Spirit Wind of God to come in power and fan the flame that once burned more brightly.

I don’t think I am the only one in the strange circumstances facing us these days to feel that now is a time to acknowledge our need for help and to humbly acknowledge our dependence on Ruach HaKodesh to be our breath. This is also my prayer.

Blow, Spirit, blow. Come and fill this weary soul. In your mercy send a holy wind. Until you do, I’ll wait for you to breathe on me.”

Self-propelled

IMG_4421 bicycle bw

A bicycle will get you there.

So will a jet — but much faster.

Wait.

I woke with two songs in my head today. One is The Boxer by Paul Simon. The other is Take Courage by Kristene de Marco. That’s an odd combination.

It’s a puzzle. I feel like the Holy Spirit is dropping breadcrumb hints. I follow. They lead to Jesus Christ, and the pandemic response, and the week between Ascension and Pentecost.

Before he left, Jesus told his disciples it was to their advantage that he leave. That must have been confusing. After he rose from the dead, he told them to wait to be empowered from above.  That must have been even more confusing. He had just come back. Something was coming that could not be explained with words common to their experience. They couldn’t understand. All they could do was trust and do as he said.

The Boxer, I realized as I listened again this morning, is about three responses to stress: flight, avoidance, and flight. The boy flees to the city. He succumbs to loneliness and takes comfort in loveless sex. The boxer, “in his anger and his shame,” fights on without success.

Take Courage talks about responding to stress with courage, steadfastness, and trust in a time of waiting when we don’t understand.

Today I heard the cry of more leaders in Christian ministries who are fleeing, self-medicating, and fighting not so gainfully on. All lament they feel like failures. All of them want very much to love others, relieve suffering, fight injustice, and make a difference in the world. They put in maximum effort, but they are exhausted, disappointed, broken.

One burned-out pastor, after receiving an invitation from his board to resign for failing to “put more bums in seats,” told me that with the current way most church structure operates, clergy are more like butlers than family members. They are there to work day and night for the betterment of the family, but when they themselves are tired, hurt, or losing hope, they learn they were never considered part of the family after all. They were hired help.

If you look around, it’s standard practise in many places to fire pastors when they are down. Perhaps there is more to loving each other than what we accept as “standard.”

There’s a reason why Jesus said to wait for this whoever-it-was to show up. The Holy Spirit would be their destiny, their comfort, their strength. He would teach them, reminding them of what Jesus told them. He would convict, he would transform, he would empower. Unlike Jesus in physical form, he could be everywhere and with everyone at once.

Without an external source of power, a self-propelled bicycle cannot go the distance. Without God’s grace to be who he empowers us to be, we all eventually become like the exhausted, disappointed, disillusioned character(s) in The Boxer.

In the Liturgical calendar, we are in the time between the Ascension (when Jesus was taken up in a cloud to sit the right hand of God) and Pentecost (when the Holy Spirit came in power). Many of us are sensing a shift in the spiritual atmosphere. Something is different. God is doing something, but what? I don’t know.

What I do know is that when we attempt to save the world through our own efforts we are in danger of breaking down. We need the Holy Spirit to lead, teach, convict, comfort, and empower. Waiting on the Lord requires steadfast trust as we lean in to hear the One whose promises never fail.

I am angered by lies and injustice and suffering all around. I am even more angered by my weaknesses. I want to do something – anything – to help. But I’m tired and in pain and struggling to understand truth in a barrage of “misinformation.” When I pray for wisdom, I hear, “Wait.”

So I wait.