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.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

the seeker

She ran. Heart pounding, she searched for the sign and clutched the paper tighter.  The sun was down, the sky still remembering its day, put on its nightdress.  Panting, eyes scanning, she paused to take in the street.  The old, weather-worn buildings pressed tightly together as if to show the street where to go.  This had to be done tonight. Relief for the pain consumed her every thought.  Turning the corner, she raised her eyes and skimmed the store fronts. There it was - the little Rx symbol. Adrenaline gave a surge of energy and she bolted for the shop. The bell jingled loudly, but she hardly noticed as she strode toward the counter at the back.  She held out the paper, crumpled in her desperate grasp. He looked up, smiling at her warmly. She stopped. His eyes were the most piercing blue she had ever seen. She had to look away - there was something unnerving about those eyes. Unnerving, and yet amazing.
"Can I get this filled right away?" she mumbled, looking down. Gently, he took the sweaty paper from her. She could see the one word as he lifted it - "Revenge" it read, coldly.
"I'm sorry," he shook his head, "I can't give you this." Fear flooded her, and anger.
"Why not?" she raged, "I deserve it! It's on the paper!"  He looked at her sadly, kindly.
"This isn't something we dispense here."  Her shoulders slumped. She had been through so much; now this. She could feel the desperate hope just slipping away and she panicked at the thought of remaining as she was. She looked up, her eyes pleading with the stranger. He had set down her paper and reached to touch her hand. There was something comforting in his manner.
"Please," she said.
"I only dispense one thing here," he spoke softly, "but it will cure all sicknesses."
She was frustrated. She must have accidentally come to one of those quack-shops. "We can cure anything," they always boasted. Everyone knew they only made things worse. People who got addicted to the quack cures lost everything in the end.
"Oh, thank you," she pulled away. She had to get out of here. Turning, she wondered if she would find the right shop before closing time.
"This is yours," he held out her paper. "I hope you find what you're looking for. You have been searching for a long time." His expression lacked pity, but she could feel the empathy in his words.

Spirit of the Living God

Swirling, whirling, soon discovering
Above the waters, Spirit hovering
Living, moving, power thrumming
Song of nature singing, humming

Voice and Word and Spirit dancing
Never aimless, nothing chancing
Intently, steadily, world creating
Full of patient, active waiting

Powerfully, and from nothing, forming
Surely dwelling, filling, swarming
Breathed by God, igniting man
Diligent, creative artisan

Breath of everything we see
Now becomes a guarantee
Sealed against Redemption's day
Hidden in these jars of clay

Friday, April 15, 2016

desire of all nations

Haggai 1:3 - 11

Then the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?”

Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.”

This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build my house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,” says the Lord. “You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?” declares the Lord Almighty. “Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with your own house. 10 Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. 11 I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the olive oil and everything else the ground produces, on people and livestock, and on all the labor of your hands.”

Chapter 2:1 - 9

 on the twenty-first day of the seventh month, the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: “Speak to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, to Joshua son of Jozadak,[a] the high priest, and to the remnant of the people. Ask them, ‘Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing? But now be strong, Zerubbabel,’ declares the Lord. ‘Be strong, Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the Lord, ‘and work. For I am with you,’ declares the Lord Almighty. ‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.’

“This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the Lord Almighty. ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”
In our passage, the prophet Haggai is calling the Jews to come return to their spiritual heritage. They would have to leave their comfortable lives and face opposition as they worked to restore their place of worship. It was a physical enactment of a very common spiritual happening. And right in the middle of this call to return to God, we find this title, “Desire of All Nations.” It speaks of all good things – good that comes to people of all nations who turn their hearts to receive Jesus.
At the beginning of his prophecy, Haggai tells the Israelites, “You work for your own wealth and comfort, but have nothing to show for it.” How this could be said of the nations today! – whose majority work and struggle, but it is the top 1% who reap the wealth.
Haggai reminds them to “come work for what is truly important. This is not a time for you to dwell in paneled houses, while God’s house lies in ruins.” This is where it gets personal for me…How much time and effort go into my physical pursuits, while my spiritual health suffers?
“Work!” Haggai tells them, and reminds them of their covenant after God brought them out of Egypt. It was a promise that God would be with them – the promise of His presence. And now they had neglected the place of His presence. Where is the symbolic place for the presence of God in your life? For me it is an early morning quiet. A cup of tea with the God of the universe. You’d think this wouldn’t be an easy thing to neglect. But physical comforts are compelling in the early morning. I can relate all too well to these Jewish Exiles.
Then, through Haggai, God tells them, “I will shake all nations, so the desire of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory.” And, yes, the desire of all people, of all time and place, would come – born of a virgin, wrapped in swaddling cloth; born to redeem all people of every nation, every tongue.
But also, the desire or treasures of every nation would come into this new temple – the temple that is Jesus’ body – the body of Christ. Jesus said, in John 2, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” And so he did, bringing into the temple treasures of all the nations. We are those treasures that God has brought into His temple through the shaking of heaven and earth.
Revelation 7:9 reads: “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
Have you ever imagined what it will be like? To worship as one with all of the beautiful cultural gifts of the nations? I have an Irish heritage and, even though we didn’t listen to Celtic music when I was a child, or explore Irish culture at all, there is a part of me that thrills at the sound of traditional Irish music. It is part of who I am. I can’t wait to join in worship with the rhythms of the redeemed from Botswana, or the throat singing of the Mongolian mountain people. The musical gifts represented by every nation, every tongue, every tribe, are ancient gifts given by the Creator. They speak to our soul on a level we can’t yet articulate. But in Heaven, we will join the everlasting song in praise to the Lamb who was slain. It is a song that has been in our hearts, thrumming through the universe itself before the foundation of the world.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

broken vessels; cracked, chipped, and worn pots

What our souls believe:
To be happy, we must polish up the vessel that is us - certainly fix any crack, repair every chip - become new. To be fulfilled, we need to find some amazing thing to do with that polished, painted, beautiful pot - on display for all to see.

What is true:
To be happy and fulfilled, we must be gentle and loving with ourselves - cracks, chips, and all. And we must be brave and kind right in the middle of our brokenness...not waiting until the cracks are filled; not waiting until we can be on display. Truly, we must love ourselves - really respect and care for our own selves when it is not apparent that we are worthy of care. For our worthiness is sure - it is not based on beauty or usefulness. The love we must have for our own selves is not a feeling (arrogance), it is a verb. When we refuse to lovingly show kindness and acceptance to our own souls, it is the ultimate betrayal.