Saturday, March 18, 2017

think on these things

We all want to believe that our lives are mostly propelled by good - that the fuel that motivates our actions and decisions is ultimately beautiful and wholesome. We know the power of positive thinking. We are familiar with Philippians 4:8

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

And so, we recoil from the idea of meditating too much on our own failures - our own ugliness. We convince ourselves that this couldn't possibly be a healthy practice, that we must focus on the positive and the holy, in order to be holy.

James 4, however gives us a glimpse into a healthy attitude of searching our own hearts. James provides a call to sober connection with our faults and failures - an exposure of the wounds of our own sinfulness. I have been struck lately by James 4:8-10

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

How do I integrate this into the regular cleansing routines of my life? Just as my body, my hair, and my clothes need regular cleaning, so my soul requires that necessary attention. And just as I learned, in my early years, to take responsibility for the cleanliness and health of my person, so must I learn to care for my mind and soul.  Sometimes a meditation on what is not lovely is exactly what I need. But routine and self-discipline will be necessary, for it does not come naturally to face my failures and sins. It is not appealing or exciting to gaze on the ways I have been selfish and greedy. Just as it is not glamorous or stimulating to scrub away the dead skin that has accumulated on the bottoms of my feet. But it is done for the benefit that comes after. No one can deny the glorious feeling of crawling into a freshly made bed with smooth, clean feet. This is the motivation of self-examination for sin. It is the blessing of what comes after - that precious closeness with God when I know I have hidden nothing from Him or myself. Only what is exposed and acknowledged can be cleansed. And such a cleansing! He is a most gentle and fragrant soul-cleanser.

God has given me many, many good gifts. One of the most powerful is the understanding that He is good. This confidence creates a safe place for me to expose my weakness. I bring my shame and, instead of punishment or condemnation, I receive healing, cleansing. I have found that the only cure for shame is exposure to a safe source (with thanks to Brene Brown.)  It is true that we must expose shame to heal it. To hide or ignore shame is to give it free reign in our lives. It will indeed cripple us. But to expose shame makes us very vulnerable. Only someone who loves and respects us can facilitate diffusing our shame. That's the best description of God I know.

I hope to integrate the practice of soul-scrutiny into my regular self-care routines. Have a shower. Have a time of confession and grief. Brush my teeth. Have an honest moment of self-examination. Fold some laundry. Examine my heart for ugliness hiding in the folds of the lovely and good.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

teach me

He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”

I've chosen Matthew 13:33 as my "passage for the year." Throughout 2017, I will refer back to this verse for re-focus, for contemplation, and for encouragement. 

I've chosen this passage because it is so filled with mystery and wonder. Who is this woman? What is this leaven? How is the leaven hidden, and why?

This week, I had a moment that brought me right back to this verse. (and I expect I'll have many more of these moments before the year is over.)

Two young women came into my shop. They both ordered vegan cheesecakes and tea. When they were finished eating, one of them came up to pay. I was overwhelmed when she left me a $9.70 tip. It was just so incredibly generous and unexpected.

And that made me think of God's generosity. It is always amazingly, unexpectedly, more than what we would think. It was such a simple gesture - money - but given in a simple, honest manner. And it made me think of God.

After the girls left, as I cleared their table, I was filled with one prayer. "Teach me. Teach me to be generous like you, God. Teach me to be like you. Teach me to practice simple actions that point people to a generous Creator."

And, of course, I began to think of my chosen passage for the year. Perhaps, the leaven is generosity, kindness, love. And perhaps, the woman is all of us - any who choose to be her. And perhaps, the leaven is hidden in plain sight - in the ordinary, everyday moments of our lives.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Will The Real God Please Stand Up

I’m so tired of holding it all together, God
Of this charade
This pretending I’ve got it made
But this God-card that’s being played isn’t You

I’m so tired of binding up my own wounds
Bandages trailing, blood dripping, smile slipping
I convince myself that You’ve healed me
That this hurt hasn’t reeled me back on my heels
That I’m not limping and wincing and crumbling to the ground

I’m so tired of trying to BE YOU, God
Of creating my own miracles
And bringing grace to my own days
I’m tired of the burden of doing Your work
Telling others You’ve got my back
Telling myself I feel no lack, all the while picking up the slack

I’m so tired of making You into who I think You should be
With smoke and mirrors so that no one will see
The entire facade is really me

But I know You’re so much more than I’ve allowed You to be
So this is me
Admitting my need
A new creed
My soul will be freed, and my wounds will bleed and bleed
Until You show up - in truth

I’m done pretending it’s all ok
I’m done with this “Christian” way
I’ll stay broken until You heal me


Thursday, December 22, 2016

the gift

So, last week I fell on the ice and really did a number on my shoulder. Apparently, it's not broken. But I've been wearing it in a sling and the pain is persistent and exhausting. 

I've been sure from the beginning that God had a gift for me in there somewhere. I've been (desperately) trying to figure out what it is - sometimes finding a purpose helps so much with pain. It's not just the pain that's hard to take - everything takes me twice as long to do. And this time of year is difficult anyway - cakes to cut and decorate, presents to buy, house to decorate, the list is endless. And Colin has been working 13+ hour days for weeks. 

I just felt like God picked the worst time of year to teach me...what? Compassion? I tried using the pain and inconvenience to remind me to pray for those suffering from psychological pain on a daily basis. Surely, that is more debilitating than a busted shoulder. And that was good, but I felt I was forcing it. God's gifts are never forced. I guess I just wanted to run and meet him at the gift.

Last night, He woke me in the night to reveal my gift. So like Him - it's been 7 days since my fall - after 6 days of "work" I got to unwrap the gift.

In the quiet of the midnight hours, with the moon shining in my window from behind some wispy tree branches, I awoke and thought about the evening we had had. Ash would fly out to Thunder Bay in the morning, so we had planned a family Christmas evening. Colin and I both worked until 6, so he picked up Thai food on the way home and I grabbed Laurie some Wendy's (her choice: she doesn't like Thai). By the time we got home, it was after 7, so we hurriedly opened food packages and sat down to eat together. 

Laurie and Marcella had cleared the table of my wrapping mess - I had hastily wrapped Ash's presents in the morning before taking the kids to school and heading to work. But there was no fanfare - no softly glowing candles or pretty Christmas music playing. But there was joy. The kids all laughed and shared memories. We all laughed about the way an adult friend had recently pronounced "meme" and the kids rolled their eyes in glee. 

Then, without clearing our dishes, we went downstairs and turned on the fireplace. Nothing was picture-perfect! I have no decorations up in the family room. The gifts had been somewhat wrapped. There was a pile of unfolded laundry on one end of the couch. The carpet needed to be vacuumed. Some DVD cases lay on the floor. But the room was warm with love (even between the 3 teens) and we laughed and teased as we exchanged gifts. It was one of the most enjoyable "Christmases" I have had.  Ash bought me a book of 6 Mi'qmaw stories - a very thoughtful gift that I'm really excited about. The kids exchanged cute little gifts that reflect their likes. 

Then, Ash went to pack, Colin went to bed, Marcella and Laurie helped me put the dishes in the dishwasher, and we went to bed.

What God revealed to me was this: in the past, I would have brought a storm cloud of frustration to that little scene. Self-loathing that I couldn't get things together and make it perfect. Regret that we were missing out because nothing looked like pictures out of a magazine. I wouldn't have been able to enjoy the beauty of it, AND I would have robbed a little of the joy all around, because of my expectations. My failure, again. But this year. This year, because of my injured arm, all of my expectations are scaled way, way back. I can't do as much as I usually can. I can't even really do my own hair. It's only the basics until this thing heals. 

And that is the gift of this busted up shoulder. Permission to enjoy the beauty without feeling the failure. Peace and joy and laughter without frustration and disappointment and regret. 

Sounds like Christmas to me!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

an advent prayer

Prepare our hearts, O Lord, for the realization of all of your promises. From the words of the prophet, Isaiah, give us joyful expectation of Your glorious gifts.

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (7:14)

O, God-With-Us, we cry to you in praise and utter relief that You have come, hiding your great and terrible glory inside human flesh. Flailing and helpless, you subjected yourself to our weakness, truly entering the deep places of need where we find ourselves.

The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy,
    he is the one you are to fear,
    he is the one you are to dread. (8:13)

God, replace our fear with a holy fear. Give us the honourable dread of You in place of all the ways we carry gnawing worry and anxiety today. We bring to you our worries, our fears, our absolute terrors. Open our hands and give us in their place the only fear that calms and heals - fear of You. 

The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned. (9:2)

At this sparkly, awe-filled time of the year, open our eyes to see Your true light. Give us such a glimpse of Your glory, that our faces will shine with the light of Your presence. Cause your light to dawn in this dark world through us, God. You have chosen to place your Spirit in temples of flesh and blood. We cannot comprehend such honour - help us to carry Your light to the hurting. Give us Your compassion for the broken.

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (9:6)

Truly, we need You, God, in every area of our government. We cry to you, the perfect Counselor, the bringer of peace. Guide those in places of power in this country. Give them hearts of compassion and a mission of peace. Touch all of our hearts with the knowledge that You alone are our Mighty God. Our hope is in You alone.

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
    from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
    the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
    the Spirit of counsel and of might,
    the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lordand he will delight in the fear of the Lord. (11:1-3)

This Promised One, this Hope of the Nations....Jesus, our great deliverer, truly knew delight in You, O God. And delight is what He brings to us. True joy. May the joy of the angels, who proclaimed His birth, fill our hearts as we anticipate the coming King of Kings. Lord Jesus, cause the true delight and joy of Your presence to overflow and fill this place. Send us out with sparkling presents of joy for all of Your broken and hurting people.

Come, Lord Jesus.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

peace, hope, and joy

As I bustle about during this hectic month of advent, Christmas words keep popping up everywhere. Words like Peace, Hope, and Joy. Glittering and full of goodwill - these words cause feelings of happiness, a promise of better things to come. And I love it. I feel the wonder and beauty of the season, sharply contrasted with the bustle and glaring ugliness of greedy shoppers. The ethereal glory of twilight, laughter, and sparkling lights adorns the, already gorgeous, ideas of Peace, Hope, and Joy. 

And Peace, Hope, and Joy will always lead me to Romans 5. Could there be a more beautiful outline of these three sisters?

If it's possible for you, I encourage you to read it aloud:

Romans 5:1-11

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

As I read through this passage, it was the last verse, verse 11, that really caught my attention. I mean, after all of the amazing gifts that are outlined in verses 1-10, how could verse 11 boast, "more than that.."?? And what is the "more than that"? At first glance, I thought the words "rejoice in God" were describing how we feel about this "more" and that it was in the verses to come. Upon closer inspection, the Rejoicing IS the More Than That! It hit me like a powerful wave at the beach. What could be a purpose high enough to be the punctuation mark at the end of a sentence filled with God's love and Christ's death for us? It would have to be the very presence of the Holy One Himself. I could not help but think of the tabernacle God had the Israelites build and carry through the wilderness. It was incredibly precise and burdensome. Why would they go to all that trouble? What could be worth that? Let's read about it in Exodus:

Exodus 29:35-46
35 “Thus you shall do to Aaron and to his sons, according to all that I have commanded you. Through seven days shall you ordain them, 36 and every day you shall offer a bull as a sin offering for atonement. Also you shall purify the altar, when you make atonement for it, and shall anoint it to consecrate it. 37 Seven days you shall make atonement for the altar and consecrate it, and the altar shall be most holy. Whatever touches the altar shall become holy.
38 “Now this is what you shall offer on the altar: two lambs a year old day by day regularly. 39 One lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer at twilight. 40 And with the first lamb a tenth measure of fine flour mingled with a fourth of a hin of beaten oil, and a fourth of a hin of wine for a drink offering. 41 The other lamb you shall offer at twilight, and shall offer with it a grain offering and its drink offering, as in the morning, for a pleasing aroma, a food offering to the Lord. 42 It shall be a regular burnt offering throughout your generations at the entrance of the tent of meeting before the Lordwhere I will meet with you, to speak to you there. 43 There I will meet with the people of Israel, and it shall be sanctified by my glory. 44 I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar. Aaron also and his sons I will consecrate to serve me as priests. 45 I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. 46 And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God.

Wow! The entire purpose of all the hassle of the Tabernacle, of all the sacrifices, of all the incredibly difficult rituals, was to experience God's presence!! Yes, it's that amazing. And we get to rejoice in God every day because of all of the other gifts of Romans 5. Yes, experiencing God's presence is the only thing that could ever be termed More Than That as compared to all the gifts we have been given in Christ.
And that does make my day merry and bright. It gives me peace, hope and joy.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Glory to God in the Highest

I've been getting into the Christmas spirit a little early this year.

I'm tackling an attempt at writing a Sunday School Christmas Play, one where all the children are angels, watching the Nativity story unfold from afar. This has me researching and contemplating the story a little early (it's only October, afterall).

Mary has caught my attention. Her response to Gabriel, to God is the most beautiful and relevant thing I've read in a while.

I've had a Psalm 142 kind of month. (highlights: v.1 "I cry aloud to the Lord...."; v.6 "Listen to my cry, for I am in desperate need...") I mean, every aspect of my life was touched by tedious, overwhelming bad stuff. There have been lots of things to be thankful for - there always are if you look for them. But, my month has been a doozie!

Reading about Mary, as she responded to the news that would change her destiny forever, gave me hope. Sure, she had just found out she would be the mother of the promised Messiah, that she was above all women, blessed. But she surely would have known that her life would never be the same - that she was kissing her imagined future goodbye. Yet she trusted God. She believed that His future for her would be better than any she had imagined for herself. And she said,

"Let it be to me as you have said."

And this has become my prayer. I hold my hands open to God and repeat it aloud. I say it under my breath when I'm feeling overwhelmed for the 6th time since breakfast. I breathe it. I'm learning to live it. I want to sing it. I want it to burst out of my life like applause.

Let it be to me...

This week I took Ash to an orthodontist appointment. Ash has no simple need for straight teeth. He needs so much work. This year he will have bone graft surgery to put some bone from his hip into his jaw so they will have somewhere to put implants. The end results will be wonderful - Ash will have back molars for the first time since he was 6. Imagine chewing all your food with only your front teeth. This surgery, and all of the appointments surrounding it, is necessary. Ash can't even remember what it's like to really chew food. But the pain is so intolerable. And the prospect of the surgeries that he will undergo this year - he's really overwhelmed at the thought of it. The timing is terrible. Ash is in grade 12 and really wants to go to university next year to study forensics. But to do that he has to do well in his final High School year.  He is also dealing with side effects from the hormone therapy he needs. The dental surgeries seem to be just too much. Every appointment means he is missing school that he has to get caught back up on.

So this week, when he came out of the orthodontist office almost in tears, I had the difficult job of reminding him that all of this pain, all of this difficulty, is actually a gift! A gift because he will be able to really eat and enjoy food. Even though he is on soft food for the next 5 weeks, and has a couple of surgeries looming that will require liquid-diets, it is all for his good. He can't even imagine how thankful he's going to be that he had the opportunity for all of this work. The pain will be behind him and he will enjoy the results every day, three times a day.

And I heard God speaking to me through my own words to Ash. "I have a plan," He whispered.

I was able to sing, like Mary, "Let it be to me as you have said." Because I trust that every moment of pain is for a purpose of good. Good that is more amazing than I can even imagine.

I know someday I will "taste and see that the Lord is good," but for today it is enough to know He chooses my pain with care - planning for me a future of blessing I cannot imagine.