Why I Write

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I open the file. I re-read the last chapter I wrote. I stare at the empty white screen. I close the file.

Why am I doing this?

I can’t answer. I can’t remember. I doodle excuses.

I ask friends. Why do you write?

They give answers. The responses look familiar. I`ve probably said the same things in the past, but none of them fit the curves and angles of my own puzzle pieces now. Saying right out loud that I have lost sight of joy in the process releases a barrage of comments from the trolls in my head.

Who do you think you are?
Who would want to read your stuff anyway?
Seriously? You’re no expert. You’re not qualified.
What makes you think you will live long enough to finish this?
You are old. You are sick. Why put this pressure on yourself? Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you die.

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The trolls make me cry. They hurl lies wrapped in scraps of truth the way they have done for decades of my life.

I am tired and in pain, but one candle flickers in my darkness. I remember the written words of the lamenting prophet Jeremiah, with whom I have had a love/hate relationship since I first slammed his books shut –then opened them again.

I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.
(Lamentations 3:19-23 NIV)

I go to bed. I dream.

Two doctors behind a counter review my complex case. They seem optimistic and excited. One asks if I have ever worked on a research project. I tell them I helped with a project that examined why a person’s voice changes when they have a cold. (I haven’t actually done this, but I used to teach singing in real life.)

I tell them our findings. Beyond problems with producing a steady sound with inflamed vocal folds that don’t vibrate properly, sinus congestion and swelling of the throat tissues reduces the capacity for resonating space.

(This was something I was careful to teach. Produce the sound in such a way that relaxed natural resonance can do the work of projection for you. That way you will not strain and cause tension or muscle fatigue to fight you. Resonance needs space surrounded by a solid surface to produce a pleasant full sound. Think of the difference between the constipated duck sound of a trumpet mouth piece alone and the resounding fanfare sound when the horn is added. Then I joked to my students that good singers have resonance where ordinary people store parts of their brains they never get around to using anyway.)

In my dream, the older doctor comes around his desk and sits beside me in a fatherly way.

“It appears that your illnesses and challenging circumstances of late have led to apathy – a-pathy, no passion. You’ve experienced a reduction in the space where passions thrive and where your “voice” is produced. The result? A lack of compassion for others,” he said, treating me like an intelligent adult. “You need healing to create larger capacity to contain God’s love so that it can resonate in you before you release the sound.”

He patted my shoulder as he rose to his feet. “In other words, you don’t need to strive. Let resonance work for you.”

He stood up and handed me a file. “We would like you join a research project. When you get home try to team up with Gideon,” he smiled. “He knows something about fear and the stress of trying to work in confined space.”

I wake and write the dream down.

 

I am stunned. He gave me the answer to the question of why writing fails to flow lately. A lack of compassion. I’ve written here about thinking, acting and feeling in alignment with God’s thoughts, actions and emotions. Jesus, who demonstrated what God the Father is actually like, wept with compassion.

The dream doctor suggested a research project? But I am tired, so very, very tired. Mundane, but necessary tasks take twice as much time as they used to. I’m not volunteering for much lately. I don’t have the energy to take up causes when I’m using up my limited supply to try to keep a check on my own symptom and side-effect tainted emotions. More than ever I am aware of the long-term damage of lies I have believed as they surface in unguarded reactions. I need to concentrate on thinking differently but my brain wants to slide into default grooves.

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“I feel weak,” I tell God. “Frazzled.”

I hear his voice urging, “Now, in this place of weakness, it’s time to learn to access the grace I promised to supply. My power is made perfect in weakness.”

I pray and read about Gideon emerging from his wine-press pit of fear (story in Judges chapters 6 to 8). Three sources “just happen” to show up where I can’t miss them – in an email, on a CD on the shelf beside me, and in a friend’s Facebook post. All three talk about finding opportunities in places of confinement like Gideon’s. The key to moving into wider spaces, they say, is using the promises God has given us as weapons.

While Gideon still cowered, the angel of God told him that he was the mighty warrior who would lead his people into freedom.

Promises are found in passages of scripture that have grabbed our attention at various times in our life. Promises can be revealed in insistent phrases in songs; in co-incidences and repeated themes in books, films, sermons, podcasts, and random circumstances; in friends who are sensitive to the prompting of the Holy Spirit; and in that still, almost silent Voice that speaks in our hearts when we are at peace enough to hear it. Promises resonate in our hearts.

Jesus had emotions – strong emotions. “The passion of Christ” refers to his motivation for going to the cross. What made him angry? What triggered his expressions of elation? What broke his heart and made him cry? I am looking again.

Why do I write? I’m starting to remember. It’s not about praise, or recognition or material gain. Not anymore. I write because God loved me enough to bare his heart of compassion and to give what was dearest to himself to demonstrate his love.

When I submit to him by allowing him to cleanse and heal my heart, when I quit insisting, like a toddler, that I can do it myself, I begin to understand his motivation. I come into alignment with his thinking, feeling, and acting. I start to be moved by the things that move him.

Why do I write?

Love. Resonating love.

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Bold

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I become bolder as I grow older — about things that matter.

“You could have a greater following if you didn’t talk about the, like, God stuff, you know,” people have told me.

I know. I know people regularly follow then unfollow me. But I also know some people read what I write because honesty and the faith journey in real time matters to them as well.

As I grow older some things become less important. I let them go. Most couple’s squabbles are not about destinations; they are about the fastest, most economical, or most enjoyable methods of getting there. Does it really matter? I’m letting go of discussions of methods and looking more toward the drive to understand where and to whom I am being drawn.

I read, with some amusement, an impassioned plea from a young woman with a keen sense of fashion right and wrong. She begged older women with less-than-pretty feet not to wear sandals that exposed thickened cracked heals or obvious veins. Our feet offended her sense of aesthetic at the sidewalk café.

She also advised against the donning of bold colours that drew attention to crepe-skinned necks or sagging upper arms or aged-spotted hands.

There was a time when I would have surrendered to her sensitivities and clad myself in sombre tones and closed-toed sensible footwear. Then there was a time when I would have worn scarlet and tangerine and royal purple accessorized by jeweled flip-flops just to annoy her. Either way it doesn’t matter anymore. Both were reactions to someone who has not yet had the time to develop deeper values.

She may care. I don’t.

Am I mellowing or just realizing that the time left to me is more precious than ever? As the attributes that once gave me identity and place in a competitive society fade I realize how flimsy that identity was. And the place moved like shifting sand.

There were times when I walked boldly across a stage with my head held up and my tummy sucked in. I mainlined applause. I felt confident. For a while. But it was always a race to keep up to changing standards I never understood. “Do this and you will be good enough for us to love,” turned out to be a lie, because as soon as I did it another requirement popped up.

When I was a teenager I joked that our family motto was, “What will people think?” The joke was on me because the question voiced itself continually throughout my life as I tried to guess what was required to be accepted by people whose values, I finally realized, I did not admire.

A kind of freedom envelopes those who find their confidence in a firmer foundation. I have messed up too many times in my life to believe that I am always right or that this is the final resting place of most of my opinions. But this I know: the One who began to transform my life is still editing the poem, the masterpiece He already sees. That’s where my confidence lies. In the Master Creator.

Like the brilliant flowers in the garden, I can wear whatever bold or subtle colour God has created — and he thinks it’s lovely. I can be quiet. I can be loud. The only rule is the rule of love – for God, for others, and for myself. And it all originates with Him.

We have full confidence in Jesus Christ. Our confidence rises as the character of God becomes greater and more trustworthy to our spiritual comprehension. The One with whom we deal is the One who embodies faithfulness and truth — the One who cannot lie.

~A. W. Tozer

 

Everything Photographic: Adjusting to Change

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I stayed in bed longer than I should have. I felt tired before I even started the day. Everyone has pet peeves – those particularly irritating circumstances custom-designed to decimate your personal peace. For me the most vexing problem, the one that magnifies the list of weaknesses personality tests use to identify my type, is when something I rely on doesn’t work. I hate it when a device breaks, or when someone fails to deliver on a promise.

Breakages seem to come in clusters in our house. My travel camera died in the middle of catching perfect light on a patch of pink yarrow. My computer sluggishly obeys requests then stubbornly freezes several times in an hour. The dishwasher merely rearranges detritus on cups and plates, and the rocking ceiling fan (in the middle of the hottest smokiest August I can remember) threatens to fly off its moorings and decapitate someone, probably me, since I’m the only one sitting under it.

It seems like every morning my body develops a new idiosyncrasy that will now require special attention to keep it moving. Come to think of it, this old flesh is acting like my old car that needs me to hold the steering wheel at a precise angle before the ignition key will work. Note to self: Remember to stretch the kink out before putting weight on that leg.

I stayed in bed longer than I should have because I lost my peace and I know I need to find it before I get up and rain gloom and misery on everyone. As Lena sang, “Stormy Weather, just can’t get my poor self together. Keeps rainin’ all the time.” Except it’s not raining in B.C.. That would be an improvement.

Part of the problem was that I read too many negative, blame-casting, fake/not fake/what-is-truth? uncovering and catastrophizing posts, tweets and blogs before I fell asleep the night before. It’s not just my stuff that doesn’t work. Many of the institutes I have relied on most of my life are broken. (I told you I feel out-of-sorts when things I rely on don’t work – and there’s a lot of stuff out there that is not working.) It doesn’t take a prophet to see that no matter what happens in the future it will require a major adjustment to change.

When I am flopped on the bed like a beached whale held fast by the inertia of my own weighty negativity I don’t have the energy to face more adjustments, whether it’s replacing old technology, or changing mindsets about how all levels of government should operate, or how churches should organize — or how both can function with accountability and integrity.

I’m tired.

Like millions of others I see so much that is broken, but I don’t know how to fix it. It’s easier to moan, roll over, and pull the covers over my head than it is to get my focus back on God through thankfulness and praise. I know I need to let him reassure me with his shalom kind of peace (nothing broken, nothing missing, everything I need.) I can’t do that with my head wrapped in a pillow of fear.

Help, Lord.

That’s when this photo came to mind. I found it earlier this week while sorting through the unsorted. I saved the pictures I thought I should take if the fires come any closer and we are put on evacuation notice like the town down the road. The photo of the old abandoned building in Edmonton spoke to me.

Ernest Brown must have been proud of his building on dedication day in 1912. Its windows overlooked the river valley in the brand-new city of Edmonton. He was the photographer in town. He offered “Everything Photographic.” In those days photographic equipment was something few people possessed. Even fewer possessed the the skill to use it. Ernest understood the technology and the artistry that went into creating a prized photo. His business took off. He was a success.

Then the first world war happened. When it was over people who were reeling from loss and disillusionment no longer had money for luxuries like photographs. Ernest went bankrupt. The only thing he could take with him when the bank foreclosed were his negatives. Later those negatives became historical foundation pieces in several museums. He was the man who documented an unprecedented era of growth while his own world shrank.

I took this photo of the old Brown building with my digital camera. I did not need to buy film, or paper, or developer from a photography shop. I don’t think Mr. Ernest Brown could have imagined the advancement in amateur and professional photography we see today. Would I want to go back to the days when I spent my entire allowance on developing one roll of snapshots? No. I probably delete that many duds without remorse every time I download my camera. Imagine trying to describe to Ernest a phone that not only takes photographs but sends them instantly around the world? Unbelievable!

Here’s the thing, times have changed, and times are changing. When the “Everything Photographic” sign went up people depended on one expert and his employees to provide photographs. Now, 106 years later I can do everything he did and more, all by myself. Change means letting go of something – and it’s not always by choice. Sometimes the gap, the in-between time, the liminal space before we see something better, is bigger than we anticipate. We can choose to respond to disappointment with bitterness or cynicism if we want, but that is not the way of peace.

God is not worried. I do believe he hears his people’s cries and he is exposing all this dysfunction because he has something better ahead.

This is why the Scriptures say:
Things never discovered or heard of before,
things beyond our ability to imagine —
these are the many things God has in store
for all his lovers.
(1 Corinthians 2:9)

The Lord answered my prayer for peace. He gave me a lens change. A line from a Kristene DeMarco song began to play in my head.

Let me show you what I see
You can’t dream too big for Me
So get up, get on your way
We’ve got things to do today

Fear not
If I could say it any louder, I would.

I got up. I did things. Writing this blog was one of them.

Looking At the Yesterdays

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For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be a godly person. Yet when I look at the yesterdays of my life, what I see, mostly, is a broken, irregular path littered with mistakes and failure. I have had temporary successes and isolated moments of closeness to God, but I long for the continuing presence of Jesus.

I want a lifetime of holy moments. Every day I want to be in dangerous proximity to Jesus. I long for a life that explodes with meaning and is filled with adventure, wonder, risk, and danger. I long for a faith that is gloriously treacherous. I want to be with Jesus, not knowing whether to cry or laugh.

~Mike Yaconelli

Looking back I can see the path of my spiritual journey. It looks like a haphazard trail created by a person lurching from crisis to crisis interspersed with resting places called “Good Enough.”

It’s a looking back kind of day. My Daddy died on this day three years ago. I call him Daddy today because the space between now and the day he took his last breath is like a vista where time is less sequential and light shines on foreground, midground, and background equally. Today I can look up to my confident Daddy standing in the field at the same time as I look down on my confused father lying in the hospital bed.

My Daddy always told us stories, but he didn’t leave the good enough safety of a job he hated to become a writer and professional story-teller until he was nearly sixty. He said his tales of a Saskatchewan boyhood had just enough truth in them to make them believable but enough fiction to right the wrongs of people broken by hardship. He wrote and published his stories, saw his book become a best seller (by Canadian prairie province standards), then settled in a cottage called Good Enough that looked out on the past. The future caught him by surprise. It’s hard to re-write the future.

Sometimes I envy those who are content to stay as they are, where they are. But I also feel a need to run from those who shrug and say, “It is what it is.” I joke about my addiction to potential and tendency to collect more artistic “raw material” than I will live long enough to use, but I don’t want to look into my grave and ask, “Is that all there is?” I know there is more for us both here and beyond the horizon.

I have taken up residence in places called Good Enough for long stretches in my life, but eventually I catch a glimpse of the future me — the way God sees me outside of the sequence of time – and I long for more. It’s a holy discontent that wants to partner with God. I hear him whisper, “Come away with me and I will show you things you never knew before.”

The advantage of having a diagnosis of cancer is receiving the fulfilment of David’s prayer in Psalm 90: Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. Cancer is not a death sentence that people without cancer do not also have. It’s like a mileage sign post to give you a heads up that you will be approaching an exit ramp sometime in the future — but not yet.

God’s not finished with me yet. When I look at my yesterdays I know that’s who I was but it is not who I am going to be. I am still changing. Like Mike Yaconelli, I feel that holy discontent rising up. The desire to be in dangerous proximity to Jesus and whatever he is doing is growing again. I hear Holy Spirit say, “Get your coat. Let’s go. There is more.”

Known

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To realize we are not lost in a massive crowd, to realize we are thoroughly and intimately known by the most powerful Being in the universe and to know that he still loves us is the source of all joy.

The Psalmist wrote:

“Lord, you know everything there is to know about me.” (Psalm 139:1 TPT)

Falling in love is a risky undertaking. The truth is that the romantic idea of falling love is often more about seeing ourselves as attractive and lovable than developing an altruistic love for another person. Attention from someone we don’t respect fails to carry much authority, but when a person we admire tells us, through word or action, that we are worthy of attention our sense of value goes up in our own eyes.

In the process of falling in love we gradually expose more of our heart’s vulnerabilities as we search for acceptance. It means lowering defences and possibly giving another person all the ammunition they need to hurt us. Some people feel the risk is too great, especially if they have known betrayal before. Mutual vulnerability is a kind of insurance, but no guarantee against deceit or exploitation.

At breakfast this morning my little granddaughter and I talked about what makes a good story as we munched our crunchies. All the princess stories, she pointed out, go mostly sad-scary-happy or sometimes scary-sad-happy. Sometimes she wants to stop reading the story during the scary part, (we’re reading The Secret Garden together). Happy-sad-scary stories are really bad, but who remembers happy-happy-happy stories?

Many stories of true love start with a misunderstanding of the nature of the other person. There’s a scary part. But…Mr. Darcy is wonderful after all! It’s the stuff of novels — especially paperback romances. The brisk woman in the foreman’s hat proves witty, warm, and kindhearted! The lone guy on horseback hides a poetic soft side under a tough exterior! Sad-scary-happy!

What if our guardedness keeps us from learning to clear up lies we have been told about someone? What if we have been told lies about the character of God? What if we bail at the scary part?

We miss the opportunity to be known and to see ourselves through the eyes of the One who loves us perfectly. If we dare not risk posing the trust question to our Creator for fear of condemnation or rejection we miss the chance not only to know Him, but to know ourselves.

Falling in love with God is becoming open and vulnerable to the only person in the universe who can show us how to fall in love with ourselves – the way He sees us in the future as well as the present, with acceptance and the power of grace to become so much more than we are now.

My word for the photographic meditation exercise yesterday was “known.” I have learned that God is the initiator. He loved us first. He has always known us. There is nothing in our hearts that shocks him. He risked everything to show us his amazing love. He made the first move.

He says, “This is Me, naked and vulnerable on a cross out of love for you.”

Our part is to respond by taking the risk of saying, “Just as I am…this is me. Do you love me or am I just another stone among billions?”

He answers, “Yes. You. I love you. Just as you are. With an everlasting love.”