Into the Hidden Places

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I watched two people play statistics wars. Both debaters adamantly claimed ownership of diagrams and charts that backed their positions. Now I’m not a scientist, but I live with one. I’ve been around academics long enough to recognize poor research protocols and an apples and oranges argument. I’ve also learned it’s pointless to say anything to people who have their minds made up, academics included.

I walked away to make coffee when a line from Simon and Garfunkle’s song, The Boxer, began to play in my head.

All lies and jests, still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.

When my coffee was ready, before I even started my Bible reading for today, I remembered this verse from my childhood:

You desire truth in the inward parts.

The Passion translation phrases it this way:

I know that you delight to set your truth deep in my spirit.
So come into the hidden places of my heart
and teach me wisdom. (Psalm 51:6)

Deceit is deceiving. No one believes a lie or jest intentionally, but very few ask to have falsehoods they believe publicly exposed. Gullibility feels like a character flaw, like a failure to fact check with the right fact checkers backed by the right authorities. With playground taunts still ringing in their ears many people will double down before admitting error.

Sometimes we absorb untruths because we need them to fit into a construct that allows us to feel less insecure. Sometimes we believe lies simply because we trusted the wrong people. Is that not the theme of millions of stories since the Garden of Eden?

Still thinking about the song (and about them and the lies they believed) and how that fit in with the verse about truth, the Lord arrested me with, “Let’s talk about some truths I’d like to set in your heart. There are some things that need displacing.”

He’s kind like that. He doesn’t talk about my stupidity for believing a falsehood, he talks about a truth that is lacking, a gap in my understanding temporarily filled in by something else. Cooperating with the process is called transformation.

Earlier this week, while I listened to some uplifting worship and encouraging speakers, I tried to paint my feelings about this time of isolation I find myself in.  It feels like the Lover of my soul is asking me to come away with him and simply sit quietly in this prepared time and appointed place. I do believe we are stepping into a new era and this long pause is a gift to reflect on embarrassingly wonky values and  ideas I’ve accepted that need to be replaced with truths before we journey on.

A little defensively I ask, “Who can I trust anyway? What is the truth?”

“Me,” he says. “In answer to both questions. Let’s start with how much I love you — and how much I love them — because you don’t really believe me yet.”

 

 

 

 

Struggling Against the Wind

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Late that night, the disciples were in their boat in the middle of the lake, and Jesus was alone on land. He saw that they were in serious trouble, rowing hard and struggling against the wind and waves.

About three o’clock in the morning Jesus came toward them, walking on the water. He intended to go past them, but when they saw him walking on the water, they cried out in terror, thinking he was a ghost. They were all terrified when they saw him.

But Jesus spoke to them at once. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Take courage! I am here!” 

Then he climbed into the boat, and the wind stopped. They were totally amazed, for they still didn’t understand the significance of the miracle of the loaves. Their hearts were too hard to take it in.

(Mark 6:47-56 NLT)

The disciples were in a storm struggling against the wind and waves. Everything in their evidence-based experience told them this was bad. Very bad.

Jesus saw their struggle.

If this pandemic experience had happened earlier in my life I would probably have felt overwhelmed with anxiety. It’s a sign of how much the Lord has healed my heart that even though I am in the high risk for complications category in several ways should I come into contact with the virus, I have more peace now than I’ve ever had before.

Like the disciples in the boat, my experience tells me this is bad. But unlike the disciples at that time, my heart has been softened by seeing Jesus do the unexpected. Sometimes the scary ‘what-ifs’ break through, but most of the time I can trust that no matter what, God still loves me and still loves and cares for the people I love.

I had no grid for God’s intervention back in the years of anxiety and depression. I struggled against the wind, but all I saw was the waves. Like Jesus’ friends, I interpreted anything supernatural as something even scarier than the storm.

Jesus didn’t shame them for what they felt. He responded to their cries. “I’m here!”

He had compassion and showed them what it was like to be at peace. He demonstrated authority over not only  chaos in the physical atmosphere, but in the spiritual atmosphere as well. He put himself in the same position they were in and the wind stopped.

During a time of turbulent emotions stirred up by fear and illness, I painted a prayer of wanting to see Jesus in the emotional storm that raged around my heart. I had almost forgotten about it until I read this story in Mark today.

In a dream this week, I waited and waited in a church hoping for an encounter with God. When I could no longer stay because the last person turned off the lights and indicated he wanted to lock up, I went out into the dark rainy night. To my surprise, Jesus was waiting in the parking lot for me. When he touched my hand all fear was gone.

He wasn’t in the decently-and-in-order building with its platform and neat rows of seats. He was outside in the storm.

Perhaps that is where he is waiting for you.

 

 

Hope: Child-like Expectation

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Some people love routine. If asked what they are doing at 2:15 p.m., Wednesday, February 19, 2021, they can tell you. Because it’s a Thursday. At 2:15 p.m.. Assuming no unforeseen circumstances interrupt the schedule, they will be doing what they always do on Thursdays at 2:15.

I hate routine. It feels like prison to me. I don’t even like taking the same route to the grocery store twice in a row.  Loss of efficiency is not so much a factor as lack of expansion.

Lately I fell into a routine. It’s not a good sign. My routine involved a prolonged daily stop at Procrastination Station. I’ve been neither exploring nor creating. Worse, I realized I’ve hunkered down, “waiting for the other shoe to drop” as my pessimistic former self would say. Other people can accomplish more when routines make sure they remember to remember, but when I choose routine, it’s because I lack energy for growth and I am protecting myself from disappointment.

I prayed about this as I stared at another blank page, bereft of creative energy. I realized that loss of wonder is connected to loss of hope. Loss of hope, for me, darkens and curls the pages of my story when I allow cares of this world to overshadow the goodness of God. Recently I’ve I allowed myself to become burdened by cares for my divided country, cares for my friends’ predicaments, and especially cares for my family’s pains, feeling a responsibility to do something about situations outside my purview. It hasn’t been working.

This past weekend, I agreed to paint at a gathering of believers as they played and sang worship songs. I had a few ideas for a subject, but none really moved me. Then, a couple of hours before gathering up my art paraphernalia to toss in the trunk of the car, a photo of my little granddaughter showed up on Facebook Memories. She was beside the street in bare feet, waiting excitedly for guests to arrive for a birthday party.

She waited in expectation of something good about to happen. I thought, Wait a minute…hope is expectation of the goodness of God. I need to paint this. I started it on Friday evening. What I didn’t know then was that the speaker’s theme on Saturday evening would be “Child-like Expectation.”

I had asked the Lord where I went off track. This weekend, I felt him saying it was when I lost the perspective of a child. When I forgot that I am a child of God I gave up wonder. When I neglected to cling to the hope –the expectation– of seeing the goodness of God in the land of the living, I took my eyes off Jesus and began to shut down creatively.

My hope is not in what I can do. My hope is in who God is. I am not a person left alone to figure it all out all by myself. I am a child of the King and I have the best Dad in the whole wide world.

“Learn this well: Unless you dramatically change your way of thinking and become teachable, and learn about heaven’s kingdom realm with the wide-eyed wonder of a child, you will never be able to enter in.” – Jesus

(Matthew 18:3 TPT)

 

 

 

Holy Ambush

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“Holy Ambush” Painted September 14 and 15 during worship services.

I love the story of the woman at the well. I’ve written about her before (here).

Jesus sent his disciples ahead so he could wait to talk to someone who was the wrong sex, the wrong ethnicity, the wrong religion, and had the wrong social standing, according to contemporary religious types.

She had her defenses up. But when she was honest with this strange man who broke with all social convention, he was open with her. He spoke plainly to her about who he was. After that encounter, she became a woman of influence.

I painted Jesus waiting for her. I usually avoid painting representations of the Messiah. There is already a very long history of artists imposing their culture on the stories told in the Bible. How does one paint someone who was both God and man? And did they really dress like Medieval peasants at that time? The metaphors nature provides are safer and less likely to attract critics whose minds snag on possible historical anachronisms.

At the end of the first worship session all I had on my canvas was something that looked like the background for the flannel board lesson my grandmother used to teach at Happy Hour Bible Club on Thursday afternoons after school. The problem was that I didn’t know what this story was going to be about. The creative imagery screen in my mind was playing a test pattern. I was blank.

I thought about sneaking all my painting paraphernalia out the side door and taking my regular seat at the next service. I worried that I was falling into the old performance trap. It would be better to admit I had no ideas than to forge on trying to look good because I enjoyed the compliments I received before. Been there. Have you seen my T-shirt collection?

Then the speaker began to teach about honesty and the Samaritan woman. The part of the story that struck me this time was that Jesus, who listened to his Father, probably knew she would be coming to the well alone. He sent the disciples ahead because this encounter would be way out of the box for them.

Then he waited for her.

Sunday morning I put the painting, such as it was, back on the easel and began to paint the picture I now had in my head. I know that 2000+ years ago Jesus wasn’t mostly white like me. He didn’t speak English, and I’m pretty sure he didn’t wear jeans. But when he invites me to sit and be open and honest with him, he speaks my language. He understands my landscape and my culture. He knows me and my history and all my shame and that wretched fear of rejection. He offers more love and acceptance than I ever hoped for.

He still waits to reveal who he really is to those brave enough to respond honestly to him. The rejected, the overlooked, the ostracized, the marginalized? They are the ones to whom he reveals his true self first. It’s a holy ambush.

I Will Remember

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This is how I fight my battles. I paint my prayers. I started this piece at class on Monday eve, but it was not right. Too dark. I worked on it some more this evening.

Since Easter I have been running into the word “Remember.” Jesus’ last supper with his disciples was important. When you are on your way out you tend to make sure you talk about the things that matter most. He talked about remembering his broken body and spilled blood every time we take bread and wine together. He washed his friends’ feet as a demonstration of a servant’s attitude, but also as a reminder, especially to Peter, that we cannot do this on our own. We need Him. We must let him help us before we can help others.

We also need to let other disciples help us and admit when we are weak. This is about family and relationship and the giving and taking goes both ways. On Sunday I was on the prayer team and prayed for others. Tonight I am praying for my sixteen-year old granddaughter who is an exchange student in France. We just learned she is in hospital after a head injury.  I am also asking friends to come alongside and pray for her and for her parents and brother and us, her grandparents who are all a continent and ocean away.

This is my painted prayer. Bread, wine, water, basin, towel, candle. “Remember.” I remember all he has done for us and I praise and thank him. Jesus is the light of the world. God is love. He is faithful.

Arks

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“Ark” From last night’s prophetic art class.

One of the things our instructor talked about yesterday was the Hebrew word for ‘ark’ and how the same word was used for Noah’s massive structure and the little floating woven box that held three-month old Moses. She mentioned discovering in her word studies that some Semitic scholars say the word for ark, tevah or tebah, can also mean word. It is possible to see the metaphor of The Word as a salvation capsule in a hostile environment.

I didn’t have any ideas in advance about subject matter for a painting. I stared at the blank canvas longer than usual. Earlier in the day I read articles about child sex slaves in North America. I’ve seen enough in my life to have no doubt that there are evil people in this world who traffic children. What pains me most is knowing there is a shockingly large market for such unspeakably horrible dark drives – and I live among the customers. Abuse is lucrative.

My heart despairs when people deny, or look the other way, or shrug at evidence of deep-rooted corruption that allows such things to flourish. But, to be honest, sometimes it’s just too much for me too. I don’t want to know. I don’t even know how to pray. I feel overwhelmed, and when I feel overwhelmed I forget to look to God. I let despair get to me and I shut down.

I was offline as far as spiritual sensitivity was concerned last night. Our teacher talked about Moses’ basket so eventually I started painting a basket in the water like the old Sunday school pictures. Mostly I was just trying to keep it from looking like a floating hamburger. The result failed to impress me. I threw it in the backseat of the car and drove home.

Today I began to think about how Moses was born in a time when slavery was normal. There was an attack on the next generation with orders for midwives not to allow male babies to survive birth. Gendercide and infanticide was accepted  policy. Life was cheap. Just like now.

But God was making preparations for deliverance. His way required the co-operative intervention of women who disobeyed the law to allow a baby to live, a girl who used ingenuity to preserve a child’s life, a woman who gave up a child to keep him safe, and a woman who adopted and raised a foreign slave’s child to become part of the royal house. They all took risks.

God had a plan for fulfilling promises to his people that started years before they could see it. The plan looked completely different than anyone expected and even then it took a generation for them to let it change their thinking.

I wonder if God has been preparing people in the isolation of tebahs and palaces and deserts long before now. I wonder if we will recognize God’s ways when he responds to our cries for freedom and justice. And cry we must.

Confident Vulnerability

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I heard a young woman say, “I guess if I’m going to be a writer, I’m going to have to develop a tougher skin.”

I used to think that way, chiding myself for being too sensitive, apologizing for getting my face in the way of someone’s hand. Then I stopped. Well, at least I decided it was time to change my mind on that subject.

“The world doesn’t need more tough-skinned people,” I told her. “Look around. There are plenty of tough-skinned writers here. You can tell by the number of people scurrying for cover when the tough ones start hammering on their keyboards.

The world needs more courageously tender people. The world needs more risk-taking, gentle, loving people whose fearlessness comes from a deep relationship with God. They know his love for them never fails. He is always for them. The result is betach – confident security. People who know they are loved unconditionally can afford to be vulnerable.”

Hmm. I think I need to put that on a sticky note above my desk.

Yet

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Yet, in the maddening maze of things,
And tossed by storm and flood,
To one fixed trust my spirit clings;
I know that God is good!

– John Greenleaf Whittier

In the seven years since I started this blog I have changed.

My understanding of who God is and who he sees me as continues to grow.

Sometimes he shows me an exciting aspect of his character that fits with another piece of the puzzle I cherish.

Then the storm comes.

In the storm nothing makes sense. Until it does.

Like the girl hanging onto the railing in my painting, I can only hang onto the one sure thing I know — that God is good. In the storm, this is the most secure place in the world.

Since starting to write this blog I have seen miracles I had never dreamed of seeing. I have seen marriages restored, emotions healed, and broken trust mended. More than once, I have seen people rise up from their deathbeds and go home from the hospital to lead happy healthy lives.

I have also seen marriages disintegrate, walls go up, and emotions overwhelm. I’ve seen friends and family members die, some in joyful anticipation of seeing Jesus’ face and some with curses on their lips.

I have faced the reality of my own mortality and gained a sense of the impermanence of life here while appreciating it all the more.

I have seen gains, and I have seen losses. I have laughed and I have wept. But God has never abandoned me in the storms. He has only pulled me closer, even when I couldn’t feel him in the maddening maze. When the clouds broke and the sun came out I knew that experience established truth more deeply than any amount of study could.

Here I am. Seven years later. Still clinging by faith to that railing, in storm and in fair weather. With more assurance than ever, with greater confidence than before, I can say God is good.

Even the Nights Are Better

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Another painted prayer from last weekend.  As I met with friends who also feel an urge to pray for our city, our valley and for our country, I kept hearing the phrase, Even the nights are better.

We talked about our experiences. Most of us are familiar with night seasons. Some in our group wake during the night hearing a call to pray for someone or something that burdens their hearts.  For others, struggles with pain of all sorts seem more intense at night; loneliness, loss, and physical pain arise in the darkness. Circumstances that confront us with the unknown can take us to a place where the façade of being in control impresses no one. But everyone agreed, the night season has its beauty.

In that quietness, in that place void of daytime distractions, we can learn to enter another type of rest — that is, when we stop protesting long enough to hear to the still small voice that whispers comfort.

While the band played and the people sang, I picked up my brush and quickly painted the picture in my mind. It reminded me of the beauty of the night season when the Lover of my soul, my Keeper, my True Hope comforts me with his songs and when I can respond to him with my own.

Yes, Lord. In your presence, even the nights are better.

 

Yet all day long God’s promises of love pour over me.
Through the night I sing his songs,
for my prayer to God has become my life…

So I say to my soul,
“Don’t be discouraged. Don’t be disturbed.
For I know my God will break through for me.”
Then I’ll have plenty of reasons to praise him all over again.
Yes, living before his face is my saving grace!

Psalm 42:8, 11 TPT