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 amazingly 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.”

 

 

Motivation

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I walked by the off-leash park the other day. I watched the dogs for a while after their owners released them. Some stay close to the gate at first, but they soon run for the open field. They expressed such joy in freedom.

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I’m thinking about “motivation.” It’s the word suggested for meditation today in the Lenten Snapshot challenge I am following. At first I thought about taking photos of the obvious, symbols of motivations for doing what I don’t want to do, like scales or a boot to the rear. But I tend to look for something different, so I began to think about my motivation for extending myself to do what I actually do want to do and don’t have to do.

In the past few years my motivation has changed. I used to base my actions on wanting to please God, please my family, and not annoy my neighbours too much. That meant subjecting myself to other people’s standards, and to some extent, “God’s standards” as defined by other people’s standards (aka their interpretation of the Bible.)

My friend helped me realize that my quest has changed. We were discussing why I can’t seem to make progress on the novel I’ve been writing (mostly in my head) for years.

“You realize this story is about you,” she said.

“Of course, I do. I only know what I know –or think I know– and that is going to come out.”

“Your heroine was born in a prison, right?”

“Yes. And then she ends up in a cloistered convent against her will and eventually tries to escape.”

“You are the one who was born in a prison and kept in a kind of convent, you know. You were cloistered by legalistic religion. You are the both the writer and the reader. You hit writer’s block when you changed your audience to a demographic that would be marketable. You need to free yourself from asking ‘What would please this audience?’ and get back to writing your way out of convention to the place of your own freedom.”

I doodled on the paper in front of me because that’s what I do when I’m thinking.

“You’re good,” I told her. Believe it or not, I ran out of words.

She put her finger on an inconsistency in my life, a misalignment. My motivation used to be guessing at what other people wanted and then fulfilling that need to make myself useful, and thereby avoid rejection. I’m changing. I am looking for freedom.

My motivation is changing. This verse to “the foolish Galatians,” who were trying to gain sanctification by going back to earning approval via the old covenant laws, inspires me to do what I do, to worship, to paint, to take photos, to write, to walk in the countryside, to sit around the table talking to kindred spirits. The Passion Translation (which I am calling the emotional content version) puts Galatians 5:1 this way:

Let me be clear, the Anointed One has set us free—not partially, but completely and wonderfully free! We must always cherish this truth and stubbornly refuse to go back into the bondage of our past.

I took photos as I walked around another park yesterday (aptly named “Idlewilde”). Winter snow and ice still cover the hills and lake. Trees rest in a dormant season that seems particularly long this year. But I find freedom in what I see. I see rest.

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I am more motivated by freedom from performance-based Christianity, freedom from trying to meet expectations that do not come from my loving heavenly father, freedom to be a human being and not a human doing, freedom to rest and know I am loved perfectly by the One who created all this.

I hear him say, “Be still. Cease striving. Know Me. Know that I am God. I will be exalted in the earth. I will be acknowledged by the nations. You are not in charge of fixing the world, nor my P. R.. You only have to extend the love you have known by the power of the grace you have been given.”

He takes off the religious leash and says, “Now run, girl. Run.”

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Irrelevant

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To be a Christian who is willing to travel with Christ on his downward road requires being willing to detach oneself constantly from any need to be relevant, and to trust ever more deeply the Word of God.

– Henri Nouwen

The scent of autumn leaves reminds me of growing up in the foothills of southern Alberta. Unlike other areas of the country where the fall is a gradual transition from the heat of summer to the cold of winter, the season change on the edge of the Rockies comes with sudden expected, yet unexpected changes. It’s like the weather is playing tennis and constantly challenging the other player to guess which way it’s going to go.

Autumn in the foothills tends to arrive with a thud. On a Tuesday – or a Friday just before a long weekend when the first sleet blows around your head as you are filling up the gas tank for a trip to Grandma’s house. An hour later the world shifts from gold and orange to white and grey as the snow takes aim at your windshield.

There is something about the anticipated suddenness that makes sweet days full of rich colour and warm breezes that smell like tea leaves all the more precious. I always feel a sense of urgency to get outside and breathe in the vibrancy of change in the autumn. Come away. Remember this moment. It may have to hold you for a while.

A common theme in my dreams is a knock on the door and an invitation to come away. Sometimes I’m told to pack my bags and get to the airport. One time I dreamed I was in a cabin near the mountains when I heard the knock on the door. When I opened it I saw a man on horseback. He held the reins to another horse, saddled and waiting for me.

“Come away with me,” he said. “I have something I want to show you.”

It always takes me a while to figure out that the person who beckons me is Jesus. He looks different, but he always feels kind and safe. In this particular dream we rode all day to a high place on the edge of a cliff where we could see for miles and miles. In real life, I was becoming bogged down in the details of dailiness. I needed to come away to see the bigger picture – a grander vista that included a sense of time beyond my own house.

Sometimes, no — usually, in the come-away dreams the timing is sudden and inconvenient. I’m not ready. I don’t want change right now, thank you very much. I’ve settled in. My things are scattered around in places I can’t remember and packing my bags is stressful. I don’t know where I’m going or what I will need.

I’m learning to pack lightly. Last time I was told to leave my books behind. Another time I was told to leave my all-season clothes behind because new clothes would be provided when I arrived at the destination.

“Where is the destination?” I asked.

“You’ll see.”

I had another get-ready-for-a-trip dream recently. I don’t want to go. I’m comfortable here in this place in my life. I’m gathering ideas to write about in my journal. I think they’re relevant. People seem to like them and I receive encouraging feedback.

Today I am packing for a real trip and I don’t know what to take and what to leave behind. The flowers are still blooming in my garden in B.C. but the forecast is for snow in southern Alberta and the mountain passes tomorrow so we are leaving early. The season is changing sooner than I anticipated. I’m scheduled to have surgery for cancer at Foothills hospital on Friday. That means parting with bits of my body that up until now have been quite relevant to me. This trip is more challenging than some. I would much rather ride beside Jesus on a white horse than on a white gurney.

“Come away with me, ” he says. “I have something I want to show you.”

This much I know. He has always been kind. I have always been safe with Jesus, even in some very scary circumstances. I have always (eventually) been grateful for the things I have learned on this life journey. There is still so much to learn about who God is and about who I am and why I am here.

I hear a knock on the door. I don’t know how long I’ll be gone. Maybe a few hours, maybe a few years. I don’t know. All I know is that the voice I love is calling and I must go.

 

When God Drives His Kid Back Home

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The craziest thing happened today. I’m still shaking my head.

In the absence of information about my state of health while awaiting more tests and test results (eight weeks is a long time to live with uncertainty), my impatience and my tendency to handle anxiety by gathering as much information as possible in be-prepared boy scout-fashion (because I hate nasty surprises) all ganged up on me. They convinced me to turn to the back pages of Dr. Google’s Book on Exceptional Cases.

According to him my situation is, of course, much more dire than even my unrestrained 3 a.m. insomnia-induced imagination could construe. There seem to be more websites in the UK offering information than in North America, most of them information-packed and some optimistic, but they still outline a difficult path. I was sucked into an obsession with emotionally-detached drama.

I followed links until I found support groups and personal blogs about life with the cancerous syndrome doctors think I have. Some sufferers’ blogs apparently ended abruptly months or years ago. Yikes.

I followed links, swinging from to another, that spoke of drastic surgeries and learning to live with inevitable metastasis and crushing disappointment whilst trying to appreciate the good days when they showed up – apparently less recognizable for some than others.

Then I read a blog by a cheerfully sincere writer who included a list of links to other sites in the margin, mostly medical sites with information containing the latest research on treatments and dietician’s advice. I wasn’t expecting to see anything with spiritual content but the name of one blog stood out to me. “My Simple, Yet Supernatural Life.” Out of curiosity I clicked on it.

Imagine my shock when the first thing I saw was a photo of a book I contributed to that was just released in June! There it was with my name on the cover – Charis Psallo – along with 27 other writers.

Whaaat??!!! It looks just like my copy!!

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The writer of this blog was Holly Cusato, a co-author who was also asked by Praying Medic to write her story about hearing God’s voice. I hadn’t met her yet. (I have now!)

God Speaks is about how different followers of Jesus from different backgrounds and traditions and styles of worship have learned to hear God for themselves. I am very grateful to Praying Medic for inviting me to submit an essay describing my experience of learning to pay attention to the unexpected ways God speaks to me. Resisting the urge to compare my beginner status to other people who amaze me, I sent him the essay two years ago.

The day he contacted me to let me know it was going to be released that week is the day the surgeon told me I had cancer. That morning I read an email confirming an open door to an opportunity I saw in a dream. Other significant emails correcting information about lies we had long believed arrived on the very same day as well. I’m learning to pay attention when similarly themed events line up like a well-timed chorus-girls’ kickline. Do you see it? Pay attention, Charis.

So, here I was this afternoon, wandering away from God’s promise that he’s got this and arming myself with Dr. Google’s earth-bound facts to load the yeah-but hope-blasting unbelief cannon when Abba, my ever-lasting-kindness Heavenly Father ever so lovingly hijacks my computer and drags me back from National Health Service research papers to land me on a page with a reminder to pay attention to His voice – using my own writing about paying attention to his voice. Like I said, the craziest thing. The angels must be laughing.

He’s like a father who drives around town looking for a kid who has been out too late with the wrong crowd. When he finds her he kindly, but sternly drives her home with a reminder of who she really is by quoting her own words from previous conversations the whole way.

 

Lord, you amaze me. You have my attention. My eyes are back on you. I know you love me. The adventure continues.

And thank you, Holly! Her blog is here. https://supernaturallifeblog.wordpress.com/2017/06/17/god-speaks/

Links to God Speaks here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B071H3GNVZ

and in Canada, here: http://amzn.to/2tVoGQR

What if your weakness is your super-power?

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I’ve been helping friends write resumes. I’ve also been talking to friends who are looking for reliable employees. Frequently, friends who are writers (or want to be writers) ask me to read their articles and books-in-process. Others are looking for recommendations for reading material. Busy, busy, busy.

I can lose embarrassingly large huge chunks of time following links on social media. At the moment it takes over an hour to keep up with my Facebook feed in the morning (and you know I don’t limit myself to a morning perusal). Daily, I am notified of the arrival of possibly excellent blogs I probably won’t have time to read if I want time to write anything myself.

I was the kind of kid who read everything – cereal boxes, instruction manuals, and terrifying lists of side-effects tucked inside packages of tablets. I read quickly and constantly, but even I am overwhelmed by the barrage of words coming at my eyeballs lately. Like the employers who spoke to me this week, I sometimes look for reasons to scroll past and go on to the next thing. Disqualifiers. (A note to my young friends: potential employers do look at your social media party pictures and rants about unfair teachers, over-sensitive co-workers, and unreasonable cops. Just sayin’.)

The problem is that hasty judgments can be misleading. Sometimes I need to go back and look again because sometimes I have been very wrong. I know this because I have felt harshly judged and dismissed myself. That may be who I was then, but it is not who I am now.

Lately, I have been listening to the stories of people I admire, people who have developed proven character and live lives that effectively communicate the love of God and his ways. These are people who mentor the young, heal the sick, speak the truth, serve the poor, and encourage the stumbling to pick up their feet. I am amazed at how incredibly unqualified some of them would have appeared to be if I had known them twenty years ago.

This week I have also read critical dismissals of people I have learned carry a depth of understanding the shallow, fearful, and defensively religious don’t recognize. I have heard posters say they have nothing to learn from anyone who is a single parent, too young, not academically-inclined, divorced, physically weak or ill, not endorsed by an institutional church, endorsed by the wrong institutional church, unpolished, too slick, female, unattractive, fashionable, unequally yoked to an unbelieving spouse (or a spouse who voted differently), “obese” (seriously? maybe a little husky) or, in the case of a fine writer, dead.

When I listen to the stories of people I admire, both living and dead, I am impressed by the fact that nearly all of them originally presented with disqualifiers for ministry. She failed the same grade three times, she lived with an alcoholic for forty years, he drank for forty years, his wife divorced him, she failed the physical for missionary service, he was attracted to the same sex, he couldn’t carry a tune, she fainted if she had to speak in public, he lost years to depression, she was seduced by a pastor, he was diagnosed with autism, she had a criminal record, he was drowning in debt.

The Bible records many stories of those who were uniquely unqualified for the roles God gave them. We read about prostitutes, collaborators, murderers, convicts, fraud artists, and cowards rising up to become God’s secret weapons. The abandoned, abducted, emasculated, robbed, wounded, harassed, orphaned, and misunderstood eventually found themselves in positions of power and influence only God could arrange.

God’s tendency to use the weak to confound the mighty is not new, yet it is consistently surprising.

Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God.

God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself. Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin. Therefore, as the Scriptures say, “If you want to boast, boast only about the Lord.”
(1 Corinthians 1: 26-31 NLT)

When I am tempted to dismiss someone for lack of obvious potential, I have to look at the bitter, depressed person I was twenty years ago and remember how the grace extended to me made change possible. I am grateful for those who saw more than my list of disqualifications and offered encouragement in dark days. They saw potential when I did not. I am thankful that even now God doesn’t define me by my weaknesses.

When I listen to the stories of people I admire I realize the common element is that these are people who experienced the power of transforming grace in their lives. It is difficult to give what you have not received. They extend grace because they have known grace. Weakness was their superpower because the lack of personal qualifications for the job allowed God’s grace to multiply beyond anything they could imagine.

Is the job God is offering you beyond your ability? You’re hired!

Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Save

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Overwhelmed

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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.

Just keep at it.