Tuesday, May 29, 2018

my blue tears

For about 2 weeks I've been captivated by a song. I searched Apple Music and found 2 versions of it. It's a song I remember from my childhood, sung by Dolly Parton. I think it's the harmonies that get me. So, I've been playing it over and over and singing it when I'm alone in the car. It's called My Blue Tears. These are some of the lyrics:
"Fly away from my window little blue bird
Fly as far as you can away from here
And let not your song fall upon my ear
Go spread your blue wings and I'll shed my blue tears..."

Then the other morning I was doing my hair in the bathroom. My parents were making their breakfast and chatting in the kitchen. (My parents live with me - this has been a beautiful gift from God to my family and I love it!) Then I heard my mom exclaim, "Oh! What was that?....Look! There are more of them. 2..3...4. Four blue jays, and listen to their racket." I wasn't paying a lot of attention. We get a lot of birds in our yard and we love to watch them. Blue jays in particular can be aggressive, so I wasn't surprised to hear her say they were being loud and boisterous. Later, when I came down the stairs, she was telling Ash, my oldest daughter, "A bird hit the window this morning. It was a loud thud."

We continued with our morning. Ash was getting ready to come to work for the day because it was Victoria Day and a holiday from school. Mom and Dad were getting ready to go visit my grandmother in Truro. While I made my breakfast, Ash was playing some music. One song reached deep in my heart and I said, "I love that song - it gets me right there," pointing to my heart. It was "The Story" by Brandi Carlile. Some of the lyrics are:
"All of these lines across my face
Tell you the story of who I am
So many stories of where I've been
And how I got to where I am
But these stories don't mean anything
When you've got no one to tell them to
It's true, I was made for you.."

At one point in the morning, I really don't remember exactly when, I scrolled through Facebook. I noticed a post that was some pictures of a place that holds some deep hurt for me...pictures of a place where my childhood trauma happened. Even as I saw the pictures, I remember thinking, "This probably isn't a good idea. You should be careful." But I also realized I was having no reaction whatsoever. So I didn't think much of it. I just assumed the pictures hadn't affected me.

Not too long after that, as my parents were heading out to get in their car, my mom came running back in. She was visibly upset. "Ash, come look!" she said. Ash and I came running. "It died." Mom said. "And the other birds were crying. They were mourning." And we saw it lying in the front flowerbed. It was a gorgeous shock of blue in the brown mulch. All three of us teared up at the sadness of the 4 blue jays, crying out in grief at the loss of this bird. Ash, in particular, loves birds. She feels a connection with birds and is always telling me about the birds she sees as she goes about her days.

After Mom and Dad left, Ash and I lingered over the grief of this blue jay. Ash mentioned that a bird flying into the window is an omen of death. She was worried it meant something. She was especially worried for Nana, who is 94 and has been experiencing mini-strokes lately. I pointed out that it could be an indication of "death" that isn't a physical death. We pondered it in silence awhile. Truly it was the squawking grief of the other blue jays that affected us most. We were sad for them.

But the responsibilities of the day called to us, and I hopped in my little blue car to drive in to work. I was looking forward to the quietness of the 25 minute drive. I had started listening to an audio book the day before and looked forward to hearing more of it. It was "Rising Strong as a Spiritual Practice" by Brene Brown. More than just a self-help book, this one digs deeply into the truths behind the way we react to our world. I love learning about the underlying realities that live just below the surface of human nature.

When I got to work, everything started to fall apart. I felt an overwhelming, billowing dark cloud slowly settle over my self. I became irritable and difficult as I interacted with Colin - my safest person, my husband. I lashed out at him and tried to understand my reactions. I struggled and thrashed about, trying to pinpoint the reason for my hurt. I wondered why I had ever trusted him. Maybe this was what it was like when couples "fell out of love." How could I be building a life with someone who really just looked at life so differently than me? Were we always this incompatible? It's interesting, the stories we make up when things don't make sense.

However, as the afternoon progressed, I began to feel the rawness of personal hurt in a way that I could recognize. I've felt this particular dark cloud before. When? What was this feeling of deep regret, of deep shame, of deep grief? I felt I couldn't handle even the tiniest stress; that any drop of discomfort would push me over the edge. I was thinking all this as I stood in the kitchen at work, chatting with Ash. I was absently watching a blue jay on a branch outside the window. I pointed it out to Ash, not even remembering the blue jays from the morning. As Ash looked where I was pointing, I had a revelation. "I know what's wrong with me!" I said. Ash looked back at me, puzzled. I had just made the connection between the Facebook post I had looked at, and my horrible mood. I remembered when I had felt this way before. It was after I had written extensively about my trauma. And, like this time, my panic and anxiety and overwhelming grief hadn't hit me in the moment, but afterward. It was as though my emotional and psychological reaction was delayed. Ash looked at me, aware of something I hadn't noticed. She said, "You realized that right after you saw that blue jay." And, suddenly I remembered the blue jay from the morning. I wondered if the "omen of death" had been for me - and, if so, what was going to die.

Knowing the source of my darkness helped a lot. But I felt raw for the rest of the afternoon. I don't often get to work with Ash and the timing seemed perfect that she was there to carry the day with me. She knows about my trauma and I could share with her and wonder about the blue jay aloud. She is a very spiritual person and felt, as I did, that there was meaning in the events of the morning. But neither of us could pinpoint what was happening.

Ash and Colin both left before I did, and when I hopped in my little blue car to head home, I was excited for some time to reflect and to listen to some more of the audio book. I stopped for gas before heading to the highway. As I pulled out of the gas station, I noticed 2 of my dashboard lights on. One of them was my emergency brake light. I checked, though, and my emergency brake wasn't on. My car does sometimes go through oil because it's about 9 years old. But the oil light wasn't on, so I decided to just get home. Dad, a mechanic by trade, could check it out for me there.

It was a warm evening and I had the air conditioning on full, the cd player running, and I set my cruise control for 115 km/hr. I listened happily to my audio book for a number of kilometers. Brene Brown began to talk about a subject that often makes me uncomfortable: forgiveness. As someone who has experienced childood trauma of the extremely difficult sort, I think people are often pushed too quickly and too easily into forgiveness. It is my conviction that forgiveness is the fruit of healing - not a goal on its own. But Brene had something to say about forgiveness and I wanted to know what she had found. She researches the ways we all experience things and tries to find the underneath truths that are constant for us all. What she said hit me like that blue jay hit the window. She said, "For forgiveness to happen, something has to die." She went on to explain what that can look like in different situations. It's not just the Christian narrative of Jesus dying so we can have forgiveness with God. But it's the deeper truth that lies beneath - a truth that bears witness in each of our souls. And I began to wonder what it is that has to die in my experience. What is it that I need to say goodbye to? What do I need to grieve and mourn and let go, that I'm holding on to? I thought about little me. I thought about all my memories of my childhood from before the trauma. I love that girl. She had such confidence and such a sure easiness about her. She was spunky and fun. And I thought about when that changed. I thought about when that girl died. She died in that place of trauma. She died in a place of fear, frozen in place by the horrific truth that sealed itself away in her brain. And I had never buried her. I had left her in that place of torment. I pictured Mack from "The Shack," going on the long trek to recover the body of his little girl, his Missy. He had wrapped her rotting body in white linen and spices, and carried her back. Then he had laid her in the arms of Jesus. Jesus had laid her in a gorgeous coffin - one he had hand carved for her in love. They had buried Missy's body in the garden that was Mack's soul.

And then, just after hearing about what is necessary for forgiveness to happen, my car stereo died. It just stopped playing and I couldn't get it to turn back on again. I wondered if God was just giving me some silence to think about forgiveness. I started to pray out loud. I said, "God, I'd like to give her to you. I have been trying to pull my little self - the me I remember from before the horror - through to now, but I think you're telling me to let her go." Then my speedometer started going wonky. I was still cruising along the highway at the same speed, but the needle of my speedometer was almost spinning, going up and down on its own. I decided to pull over. Maybe there was a weird electrical issue and I just need to turn my car off and then on again (like a cell phone or computer.) However, when I tried to restart my engine, all I got was clicking sounds. My little blue car had died. I called Colin. He and Dad would come rescue me.

As I sat there waiting, the flood of tears let go. I realized what God had been orchestrating all day. He was gently showing me that, like the blue jay, and like my little blue car, my little self had died. I would have to grieve her loss. I would need to pick up the pieces of my life and move on without her.

I realized I needed to bring little Jojo to Jesus. I needed to lay her in His arms so she could be buried in the garden of my soul. I am not her. She died in that place. She used to be mine, but she died. I need to grieve and mourn, like the four blue jays, and then fly off to find my life without her. And I remembered Missy, from The Shack, in paradise, running in fields of flowers. I pictured fields full of tulips. I know Jesus will give little spunky Jojo a beautiful home until we can be reunited.

The next morning I wrote about learning to let her go. This is what I wrote:
And I cried out to God, “How do I grieve the death of myself?”
And I realized I had asked the right question.
And I realized I had asked the right person.
“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
For forgiveness to happen, something has to die.
What has died?
What is it that I need to bury and grieve?
It is me.
Blonde, spunky, and sure of the world.
Happy, loved, and sure.
This girl is no longer.
She needs to be laid in the arms of Jesus.
I cannot leave her in that place.
The means of her death cannot be her eternal resting place.
She must be buried - wrapped in cloth and laid in the earth.
She will awake in paradise.
She runs free in fields of tulips.

She is with Jesus.

And I was overwhelmed that the God of the Universe cared for me so much.
He indeed, moved Heaven and Earth to further my healing.
He used the death of a blue jay, the death of my car, and an audio book -
all intersecting to reveal to me my next steps.

And, in the end, I realized I had found forgiveness.
Not the forgiveness I thought. I have no desire to forgive him ever.
Maybe that will show up some day and surprise me.
But for now, I have found forgiveness for myself.
I hadn't even realized I needed that.

Rest well, my little blue jay.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

desires and vultures - psalm 103

A couple of years ago, I attempted to memorize Psalm 103. I just loved the poetic and beautiful way it read aloud. As I thought deeply on the first 5 verses, trying to memorize them, I fell even more in love with this Psalm.

Verse 5, in particular, caught my attention. In the NIV, it reads:
"Who satisfies your desires with good things
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle's."
I like to read it:
Who satisfies my desires with good things
So that my youth is renewed like the eagle's.
I've lived much of my life being afraid of my desires - trying to control them and push them down inside, like garbage in an overflowing wastebasket. It wasn't until, about 6 years ago, I began to see how God could (intends to!) use my desires to guide me and give me an abundant life. I started to see my desires as little diamond-studded signposts, guiding the way to where my true heart could intersect with God Himself. Instead of fighting for control over my desires, I found freedom in seeing them as guiding lights. I began bringing my desires to God, asking him to show me what they were trying to tell me. And this verse - this reference to my desires being satisfied, thrilled me. Because I had come to realize that it's not my desires that are evil or harmful. What brings discord and loss to my life is the attempt to satisfy my desires with the wrong things. And right here, at the beginning of Psalm 103, God assures me that I'm not responsible for changing or stuffing down my desires. But he promises to satisfy them with things that are good. Healthy, lovely, helpful things. And this has given me a level of peace that I hadn't before experienced. Each time I found myself leaning toward something that I knew was sinful or harmful, I asked myself, "What is the root of this desire? What is it I really want that I'm trying to satisfy with what is evil?" And then I would bring that root desire to God, asking him to satisfy it with something holy and good. The answer was never instant or miraculous in an outward way. But, slowly, as I continued to bring my desires to God, I found I was changing. My heart began to find satisfaction in wholesome and beautiful ways. And the slow miracle of God's goodness began to become seedlings in the soil of my heart.

And I thought that was enough. But the verse doesn't end there. It promises that my youth (or strength) will be renewed like the eagle's. I wanted to know what the psalmist was saying here. It is very poetic, but I believed there was more than poetry here. I began to read commentaries and looked closely at the words in this verse. One thing I discovered was that the word "eagle" here could also be translated as "vulture." And, actually, the vulture has been revered in many cultures. While we, in the west, honour the eagle as a powerful bird that rides the wind and self-sufficiently kills what it needs for food, many other cultures have admired the vulture's ability to "eat death" and receive life from what would kill others. Vultures actually perform an essential service to this earth. The vulture will eat carcasses of animals who have died from disease. They are able to receive nourishment from diseased bodies of animals that have succumbed to death without being susceptible to the disease themselves. This prevents the disease from being spread to other animals that would eat it, or from having the bacteria spread into the water as the diseased animal decomposes.

I wondered on this for a long time. And then, as God began to bring life from the "death" in my life, I realized the powerful intention of this promise. God is telling me in this, my now-favourite verse, that he will give me strength and nourishment from the death in my life. I can live without fear of evil that comes my way because God is only going to use as food for me anyway. The vulture is a powerful picture of the way that God makes us immune to the disease and death that surrounds us - instead giving us life as a result of death.

And so, this verse now reads for me like this:
Who satisfies my desires with good things
So that my strength is renewed like the vulture's.

And this two-fold promise makes me fearless in the midst of fear.

Yes, like the vulture, I am learning how to "eat death" and receive nourishment from what would have killed me in the past. Things that should spread disease and infect my life with sickness, are now being redeemed by the One who promises to renew my strength like the vulture's.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

I am 2017

I am 2017. Three hundred and sixty-five days. Fifty-two weeks. Twelve months.
And I am laden with gifts. Weighed down with blessings and grandeur.
Like a favourite aunt’s over-stuffed suitcase. Brimming with potential.
But these gifts are wrapped up in ugliness. Covered with the stiff paper of effort.
Ribbons of pain, trailing, curling, forming bows of agony.
Without an honest heart, these gifts will only be hate-filled horror.
Because the beauty of these gifts comes in the seeing - in the eye-opening truth.
Truth must be carefully hunted, mined like diamonds.
My gifts are the ugliness inside hearts brought to fruition.
They are the completion of the unswept dirt lazily accumulated in souls.
The frayed and untidy edges of ideology unravelling rapidly.
The full nightmare of some unnoticed hate-seeds left lying in the soil of the mind.
How? How can these terrible things be gifts? Presents? Favours?
Although, in truth these things have been seen unfolding in me.
And it has been believed that the urgent, necessary task was opposing hate,
Of being distanced from evil, of sorting each other into boxes labeled “good” and “bad.”
The foremost belief has been that a full war on hate would win the day,
That a belief in good would protect from the insidious evil running rampant;
And that the arrogance required to judge others would not contaminate the innocents.
No, this is not what is required. These are not the necessary tasks.
To unwrap my gifts unharmed, an inward looking, soul searching is required.
The heart. The mind. The very self. The hidden places. The unnoticed spaces.
Searching, sweeping, lighting, weeping, dusting and taking out the trash.
Finding and removing any particles of lazy hate. Of unchecked arrogance.
For my gift is knowledge. Knowledge of the power and danger of hate.
In all its ugliness and shame. In its greed and gross injustice.
So, before opposing this in others, before taking a noble stand with the weak,
Search within. Do an internal inventory. Seek out hate lurking unnoticed.
I’ve shown what it looks like, blown up. Diligently uncover it within,
And cast it out, ruthlessly turning over tables. Whip in hand, strong words firing.
This is not a time for gentleness. It is time to face the ugly truth.
And in the end, this ugly gift becomes freedom, truth, love.

Against these three, no hate will stand.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

on grief, from Psalm 59:10

When I am feeling heavy the weight of sorrow
When my heart is tossing to and fro
When there seems no end to my flood of grief -
Powerful and surprising in its surging
It encompasses me like a thick fog
So that I cannot even see you afar off, God.

Then you will come and meet me
Yes, the Most High will come in his steadfast love
Even to this broken heart
His whisper of hope I will feel on my skin
His gentle presence will surround my desolation
I will wait for you, O God
I will praise you in the midst of my grief.

Friday, April 14, 2017

the passion

Passion   pash-un    noun

1.
any powerful or compelling emotion or feeling, as love or hate.
2.
strong amorous feeling or desire; love; ardor.

Word Origin:

1125-75; Middle English (< Old French) < Medieval Latin passiōn- (stemof passiōChrist's sufferings on the cross, any of the Biblical accounts ofthese (> late Old English passiōn), special use of Late Latin passiōsuffering, submission, derivative of Latin passus, past participle of patī tosuffer, submit;

1 Corinthians 13:1
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not PASSION, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not PASSION, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned,[a] but have not PASSION, I gain nothing.

This morning, on the day of the Passion of the Christ, I am reminded of the similarities between the word passion and the word love.  I realize that these words are not interchangeable, and that the origins of the word passion have to do with suffering - specifically Jesus' suffering. But the link between these two words is undeniable, and there is a lesson hidden there for us. True love bears the cost of loving - it is willing to suffer for its own existence. Love is closer to passion than we often allow. Love is no meek and mild thing. It is willing to fight. Love suffers long. Love is never safe.

Somehow, we have swallowed the lie that the best thing we can give our loved ones is safety. Our entire world has become consumed with providing everything that is SAFE for our children. In the Broadway musical, Hamilton, there is a song sung by new parents to their young daughter, Theodosia. One of the lines says, "I'll make the world safe and sound for you." The entire song captures the feelings of every new parent. A feeling that is born out of the best intentions. "If I sacrifice everything and work hard, I can give this amazing human being the very best life. I'll fix the world so they can have a life of comfort."

What we don't realize in that moment is that a life of comfort will never satisfy. It only robs us of our true self. If I tell my children "everything they need to know" and discover for them "the best way to live a happy life," they will never find joy in it. It becomes a prison. We were created to explore, discover, and take risks.

At the same time, any church that claims to "have all of the answers" and tells its congregation, "Come learn from us - we will teach you what to believe and how to live," destroys the very life it is trying to save.

Passion requires risk. Passion ceases to exist without the potential for hurt and suffering. Why do we think we should protect against the potential of suffering when God does not? God did not spare his own Son. He does not spare our suffering either. He knows the potential for suffering is required for passion to exist.

Eugene Peterson, in his book, Run with the Horses, writes about a Czech philosopher, Vitezslav Gardavsky, who said, "The terrible threat against life is not death, nor pain, nor any variation on the disasters that we so obsessively try to protect ourselves against with our social systems and personal stratagems. The terrible threat is that we might die earlier than we really do die, before death has become a natural necessity. The real horror lies in just such a premature death, a death after which we go on living for many years.

Passion requires courage, It requires risk. In honour of the One who lived with ultimate passion, embrace something dangerous today. Take a risk. Be vulnerable. Live uncalculating. Unleash your heart. Ask God to show you the desires he Himself has put within your soul. Find a church that inspires you to the search. Listen to people who push you to greatness. Nothing is safe. Life is meant to be lived passionately. God is meant to be pursued relentlessly. Reject ideas that put God in a "safe box." Spend time with those who will include you in their Great Pursuit of Him!

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.