Have you ever noticed that crises don’t have the decency to line up and come single file, waiting patiently until the previous demand has been met?
It’s snowing – again. During the unusually big dump, three weeks ago, I met this guy digging out not only the access to his carport, but a neighbour’s place as well. Then he went on to help clear the way for a midwife who lives down the lane before she returned from night shift at the hospital.
“The important thing,” he told me between shovelfuls of snow, “is to not let it pile up on you.”
“But it’s still snowing!” I said, as my blue toque turned white with accumulated fluffy stuff.
“I know. But if I waited until it stopped the task would seem overwhelming. So I work, take a break, and work some more.”
He tossed another shovelful on a snow bank taller than he was.
“Just keep at it,” he grunted.
I admit he demonstrated a better work ethic than I often do. Sometimes I look at the task ahead of me and feel so overwhelmed I quit, hoping a miraculous event will clear the path like a sudden thawing chinook wind (which we don’t get on this side of the Rockies.) At the moment I feel buried under inertia.
But the man with the shovel reminds me to persevere.
So first I respond to obligations and crises, then clear my desk, file my notes, answer my emails, take a break, clear my emails, edit my photos, take break, and write my stories – one sentence a time. I toss words on the page like tossing shovels full of snow on the spot I hope will transform into a garden someday.
It feels overwhelming but maybe, someday, there will be a book where once nothing existed but blank whiteness.
There are no thoughts in my head. Well, none of any significance anyway. I keep a list of blog ideas for days when nothing floats to the surface of the puddle of potential that is my mind. But nothing on the list grabs my attention.
There are no emotions in my soul today either. I don’t feel good, I don’t feel bad. I’m not particularly up, down or sideways.
My body feels tired, but not sick. I’ll get going eventually. The highway is closed due to a commercial truck spill so there’s no use rushing. I’ll take my camera and my music and probably enjoy the day as I drive to Alberta again, but there’s time for another coffee.
Then it dawns on me. A year ago this week my Daddy died. I’ve done okay this first year as an orphan. My heavenly father has indeed been the perfect father for me. My earthly father was old and tired and in pain. He missed my mom and he wanted to be with Jesus. I wanted him to go.
Our Jewish friend told us they mourn a death with rituals for a week, then again at three months and at a year. Then they are done and get on with living. We tend to plow through until we can’t plow anymore.
Perhaps the Lord is telling me I’m under no obligation to be “on” for myself or anyone else- or even for him. It’s okay to just stop here for a while.
I was tempted to go on a rant about a certain religious hypocrite who builds his own power base by preying on vulnerable people’s spiritual longings. I fussed and fumed for a while and decided to re-post this instead. I need the reminder. Consider this an open letter to myself — but contrary to the entire concept of open letters, the person to whom it is addressed has actually read it.
I hope to keep this blog a bash-free zone, not that it comes easily to me. Change will require effort. I have been known to wield an acid pen and in the past have taken far too much delight in humour that comes at the expense of another’s dignity. Sorry ‘bout that.
I just read this: Now if you feel inclined to set yourself up as a judge of those who sin, let me assure you, whoever you are, that you are in no position to do so. For at whatever point you condemn others you automatically condemn yourself, since you, the judge, commit the same sins. God’s judgment, we know, is utterly impartial in its action against such evil-doers. What makes you think that you who so readily judge the sins of others, can consider yourself beyond the judgment of God? Are you, perhaps, misinterpreting God’s generosity and patient…
When I was a wee little girl I sat on my Daddy’s shoulders as he ran and my mother screamed. He had been a competitive sprinter and he didn’t hold back. I thought sitting up there was the greatest feeling in the world.
Today I believe he knows freedom from an old man’s body and the chains of dementia and is again running as free as the wind.
His health was declining. He was becoming more child-like and he spent a lot of his time staring out the window, longing to see Jesus face to face and be reunited with Leah, the love of his life. But he told me he was afraid of pain and the process of transitioning beyond this physical place. Yesterday morning I was listening to a new recording by Josh Groban of the song “Bring Him Home” and turned it into a prayer that God would take my Daddy home, without pain, in his sleep.
My heavenly Father heard and answered, just the way he did when I prayed for Him to take Mom home. In the afternoon I got a call that when my sister-in-law went to check on him at noon she found he had passed away in his sleep. He had a recording of “How Great Thou Art” made at an anniversary party for him and Mom playing on repeat in the background.
God is good, full of mercy and very, very kind. Precious in His eyes is the death of one of His own.
I will miss him, and the conversations that never happened, but in the light of eternity, it will only be a short time before I see him again.
My Dad was a writer and a story-teller. A month ago I snapped photos of him telling one of his many tales of a Saskatchewan boyhood.
Many people will remember him for his writing and story-telling in schools and theaters and old folks homes.
I will remember being carried on his shoulders, sitting higher and moving faster than anybody else in the crowd because my Daddy was the fastest, handsomest, greatest Daddy in the world.
When my uncle from Saskatchewan came to visit I took him to one of my favourite lookouts to see the mountains. I asked him what he thought. He thoughtfully stroked the stubble on his cheeks that reminded me of the stubble covering his flat fields after harvest.
“They’re okay I guess, but they kind of block the view, ” he said.
A talented musician I once worked with told me she had a similar reaction. She grew up in The Netherlands and although she had seen pictures of mountains she never actually climbed even a hill until a visit to Scotland when she was eighteen.
“The mountains in Canada make me feel claustrophobic,” she said. “I miss the sky.”
I must admit that when I take trips back to the prairies I appreciate the sky and the marvelous sunsets, but I feel so exposed. My Dad joked that on his childhood farm he could see the train coming two days away and it was this environment that necessitated the invention of the outhouse.
Communication involves so much more than the facts of terrain and topology. Words and images don’t always contain the same meanings to different beholders.
I loved the annual “Missionary Convention” at my church when I was a kid. The missionaries on furlough brought costumes and articles from far away exotic cultures and told stories of eating local comfort foods that made kids raised on Jello and Wonder bread gag. I remember one guy telling us the problems he had translating the Bible into the language of a society whose only previous outside contacts had been oil and mining company workers and anthropologists. He wondered how to translate, “Behold the lamb of God.” Somehow “Behold the fuzzy creature of God” didn’t seem appropriate. “Behold the little pig-sized animal covered with curly whiskers like the ones on Jake the geologist’s face” seemed too cumbersome to repeat more than once. He finally went with “Behold the piglet of God” because these people raised pigs and often took the little ones into their homes as pets. He knew that word could be shocking in other cultures, but it conveyed the meaning of something innocent, valued and loved. A lamb, in a way, was like their piglet, but then again, not really. There are limits to how far an analogy can go. Sometimes you need more than one.
Jesus told stories to explain a kingdom outside the experience of the people who gathered around him. “The kingdom of God is like a pearl. It’s like a coin. It’s like…”
“The disciples came up and asked, “Why do you tell stories?”
He replied, “You’ve been given insight into God’s kingdom. You know how it works. Not everybody has this gift, this insight; it hasn’t been given to them. Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears. That’s why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight. In their present state they can stare till doomsday and not see it, listen till they’re blue in the face and not get it. I don’t want Isaiah’s forecast repeated all over again:
Your ears are open but you don’t hear a thing. Your eyes are awake but you don’t see a thing. The people are blockheads! They stick their fingers in their ears so they won’t have to listen; They screw their eyes shut so they won’t have to look, so they won’t have to deal with me face-to-face and let me heal them.”
(Matthew 13: 10-15 The Message paraphrase in modern clichés)
God still speaks to us today in stories and similes that come from our own cultures. His language is not always English nor any other spoken language. He can speak through nature and pop music and babies and even international politics – and many other ways that connect us with his heart – but most people don’t hear because his imagery means little without a desire to understand the story-teller. His language is relationship. He is the Word.
I’ll be honest and say that I enjoy poetry and I write poetry, but I don’t read a lot of it. It’s work and I want to know the poet has something of value to say before I invest mental energy in interpreting the imagery. You can’t read poetry (except perhaps limericks) without taking time to ponder over what the writer is trying to communicate. Taking time to listen to God develops eyes to see and ears to hear what the kingdom of God is like, but more importantly what the Lover of our Soul is like.
“But you have God-blessed eyes—eyes that see! And God-blessed ears—ears that hear! A lot of people, prophets and humble believers among them, would have given anything to see what you are seeing, to hear what you are hearing, but never had the chance.” (verses 16-17)
“Oh Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder consider all… I see… I hear… Then sings my soul, my Saviour God to Thee.” (How Great Thou Art)
We wondered what our wee granddaughter was talking about when she asked a question about “skin people.” Her story books were full of talking fur or feather people, she explained, so she wanted her mommy to know she was talking about other kinds of people who look like us.
“They’re called humans, Honey,” her mommy answered.
The next day, within the hearing of other shoppers she asked, “What are those humans doing over there?”
More than one head turned.
I realized that many children’s stories meant to teach a moral lesson use personified critters –clever foxes, wise owls, sneaky snakes, innocent baby bears. It’s easier for authors to frame a story when you are in control of the rules in the fictional world simple characters live in. It works. Kids love it, and there are fewer stupid human tricks for us to explain.
Lately, she’s been asking me to tell her stories about me or her mommy or my friends. At nearly six-years old she has become a student of skin people nature, which can be pretty baffling at times.
Since we were discussing birthday plans I told her this true story about my friend and a birthday cake. There were two people who loved to play jokes on each other. One year “Dolly” decided to play a big trick on her friend, “Burt.” She hired a baker to decorate a cake made up of doggie biscuits frosted together (because he had already played a joke with doggie biscuits on her). From the outside, the birthday cake looked fantastic. Then she dropped it off at Burt’s house. He wasn’t home, so his wife took it gratefully and said she would give it to him later.
After a few days she had not heard anything from him and wondered if his feelings were hurt, so she phoned him.
“The cake was amazing,” he said. “Wow. Thank you so much!”
“It tasted good then?”
“Marvelous!” he gushed. He paused and then said, “I’m sorry, Dolly. I have to I have to tell you what happened. I was tired when I got home so we put it in the freezer and thought we would bring it out when we had company. But last night my wife suddenly remembered she promised to supply the cake for a birthday party for a person at the Old Folks Home. It was too late to order one and yours was beautiful so she brought it down to them this morning.
“Oh No! Did they give the dog biscuit cake to the old person, Nana?” granddaughter asked.
“Well, Dolly called the baker and asked him if he had a cake in the shop she could have and he did. So she hurried over there and bought the cake and rushed to the nursing home with it. She ran into the kitchen and asked the cook if Burt’s cake was there because she wanted to trade it for a fresher cake, but the cook said the cake was already in the dining room for the party. Dolly ran to the dining room.
“Don’t cut that cake!” she yelled.
“Why not?” everyone asked.
Just then Dolly’s friend Burt came in the room and everyone laughed and laughed because they were all playing a joke back on her. Burt knew the cake had dog biscuits inside and he told everybody he was playing joke on Dolly. He already had another one there for the party.
“Why was it funny?” my granddaughter asked.
“Why did she make a cake of dog biscuits? That would taste yucky. That could hurt his feelings.”
“How did Burt know there were dog biscuits inside? Why did he tell his friend he was giving it to the old person? Wasn’t that a lie?”
“Why did the lady forget to order the cake? Didn’t she write it on a calendar?”
“What bakery did Dolly go to?”
Well, I thought it was funny. My next story will start with “Once upon a time there were three bears…”
Skin people communication is so complicated. Friends who understand each other can share practical jokes and laugh at the re-telling for years. Let-your-yea-be-yea-and-your-nay-be-nay people will ask, “Why would you give me a dog biscuit cake? Why would you dishonour me this way?”
Nothing is more shaming than being told your attempts at communication with people you care about have been interpreted in the opposite way you intended – especially if they wait for years to tell you that they have only been smiling politely and they have found you offensive all this time.
Sometimes in our attempts to make connection too much is assumed. It’s like we have only a partial picture of this skin person and they are much more complicated than we think because unlike illustrations of fur and feather people in story books they keep bouncing out of the frame.
The moral of the story: Never assume you understand skin people. Never assume skin people understand you.
There is a strain of loneliness infecting many Christians which only the presence of God can cure. –A.W. Tozer
I don’t remember where I heard this said about people in the arts who venture into the public eye, but it stuck with me: Artists want to be noticed, musicians want to be heard, actors want to be loved, and writers want desperately to be understood.
It takes a certain amount of courage to venture into a field that exposes one’s inner thoughts and then depends upon the approval of strangers to make a living. I suppose the same could be said for other fields requiring vulnerability, from stripping to politics to scientific research. Even accountants and morticians need approval to keep their jobs. But some people have a greater drive to make connections. Some people are more acutely aware of loneliness.
Writers strive to find a dozen ways to phrase a thought hoping to find the one that brings a response to the question, “Do you know what I mean?” Ya know?
Yet even the most successful artistic people in the world can have a profound sense of loneliness. Sometimes a success backfires and arouses jealousy. Have you noticed how the critics are drawn like moths to the flame of a book or article that gains popular approval?
I absolutely love how Lara Merz responded to an interview question about how to handle negative reviews: “I would say try not to take things too personally, especially if the reviewer is someone you are not in relationship with. There is something about honesty from a loved one or deep friend who cares about who you are, and who you are becoming that is often worth taking heed to, but strangers are trickier because we know nothing of who they are, how healthy they are and the why the book was pushing buttons. Buttons get pushed for many reasons and most of them have very little to do with what pushed the buttons, but rather why there are buttons there in the first place.”
For approval junkies like me criticism can be devastating, because I have buttons. The truth is we all have buttons. Until we are perfectly healed and know we are deeply loved by God we are all offendable and will take off (or bite back) when we feel threatened. Maybe that’s the definition of maturity – having fewer and fewer buttons.
The healing strength of approval and connection that comes from friends and spouses is beautiful but in a way tasting that love can create an even greater awareness of loneliness. Sometimes we find ourselves tempted to compromise on values to maintain those connections. A lot of people use service to the needy as a means to overcome loneliness, hoping dependency on the care-giver will create a strong bond. And I hate to break this to those of you who are in search of the perfect mate. It is possible to be profoundly lonely in even the very best marriage.
There comes a time when we have to admit that our most loyal fans, our closest friends and even our faithful lover do not understand us. When we accidentally touch one of their buttons they will also fly away emotionally. My point is that there is only one reliable source of approval, and that is from the One who created us to be who we are and notices, hears, loves and understands perfectly.
There are some who are called to walk closely with the Lord. Part of their training necessarily involves rejection, and it will occur again and again until they understand that God is jealous for their attention, their love. They cannot give unselfish love until they have received unselfish love from the only One capable of giving it and who heals their hearts.
If you find yourself in a lonely place, pay attention to the quiet. It’s Jesus calling.