Thursday, March 26, 2015

Ears to hear

A number of years back, I started to lose my hearing. 

I wasn't aware of it. It happened so gradually that I had no idea that my hearing was deteriorating. Unknown to me, my world was getting smaller and smaller. It wasn't until my left ear started hurting that I realized that there was something amiss. I thought I had an ear infection or something. 

I went to see a doctor. He took a conical instrument with a light at the tip, and looked through it into my ear canal. He pulled a bit on my earlobe as he did, and a sharp stab of pain struck me where his instrument was inserted. I winced.

Photo "Cupping Ears To Hear" courtesy of
David Castillo Dominici at
www.freedigitalphotos.net
"Ah," he said. He took out the instrument. "You have a buildup of wax in your ear," he explained. "Normally I would flush the ear out, but it's been there for a while and has gotten very hard. So if I flushed it today, it would hurt a lot and could damage your ear canal." 

"So what do I do?"

He smiled to himself. "Olive oil," he stated, in a matter of fact tone.

Seeing my quizzical look, he said, "Get an eyedropper and a bottle of olive oil. Fill the eyedropper with the oil and lie down on your good ear. Squirt the olive oil into your bad ear, and let it sit and soak in for at least 20 minutes. Then you can get up, and the oil will drain out. Have a paper towel or something ready to catch the drips. Soak it like that three times a day for two weeks. It will soften the outside of that hard wax, over time. Then come and see me again, and I'll syringe out that ear." 

I did as he instructed. The olive oil went in and after the initial coolness, it got hot because the blood vessels were so close to the skin inside my ear. I couldn't hear a thing except that sound you get when you are underwater - that, and the sound of my heartbeat. 

I had to remain perfectly still when the oil was in there, or it would leak out. I used the opportunity to pray, to meditate, or to connect with my husband, depending on the time of day. After my 20 minutes, I'd stand up and let the oil drain out into a paper towel or a tissue. 

I knew that I was doing this to get rid of some obstructions I'd allowed to build up in my ear - and the spiritual application of my predicament (and of my healing process) didn't escape me. Much of my meditation time during those two weeks was spent pondering how the oil was a symbol of the Holy Spirit, and how soaking in His presence softened those hard things that got between me and my ability to hear His voice. And how that process took time - time that was no hardship for me to make because I wanted to spend time with Him. 

I thought about the water that would eventually flush out those obstructions - water being a symbol of the Word of God. I spent considerable time looking forward to my appointment with the doctor - and thanking God for the lessons He was teaching me about how the Spirit and the Word work together. 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The two weeks passed, and I was once again in the doctor's office. I explained to the receptionist why I was there and waited for my name to be called.

When the doctor walked into the exam room, he tried to make conversation. "Got some wax in your ears do you?" 

"Whaaaat?" I asked.

He snickered. "Oh, I see. 'Get on with it,' right?"

I grinned. 

He told me how to hold my head, and then held a plastic container under my earlobe next to my neck. He had filled a large syringe with warm water and he started to squirt what felt like a great deal of water into my ear. I felt a lot of pressure, and then a shifting within as pieces of wax were forced out of my ear canal. It felt weird, but (thanks to the oil) there was absolutely no pain. He helped me drain the remaining water from my ear ... and as the last water bubble burst, a most peculiar thing happened.

I could hear, clear as a bell: in fact, better than I had in months

"How is it now?" the doctor asked. 

"Hey, don't shout," I quipped. He chuckled. 

After the appointment, my husband and I walked down the street, each lost in our own thoughts, enjoying the warm sun on our shoulders. It was summertime; the sun was out and the day was pleasant.

My pace slowed. And I stopped ... and lifted my head. Something was different. REALLY different.

I could hear birds.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Starsong Serenade

Can't you hear it?

Listen to the morning stars singing together. Know that He orchestrates them; each one emits its own pure tone, each one different. He didn't have to do that; He could have just made them to be pure light - but no - He created such detail, such mystery, such imagination, just so we could discover it and be awed by the fact that not only did He create it to do that, but He created us to be able to detect it. 

Hear it in the awkward flight of the bumblebee, tumbling from flower to flower, the impossible on the wing - an aerodynamic incongruity that should not be able to fly ... but it does. 

See the colours He has built into the rainbow - and the intricate structures of the human eye to be able to see them all - and more besides. He didn't have to do that. But He did. Why? because He wanted to bring us pleasure. 

Photo "Lightning" by
Suvro Datta at
www.freedigitalphotos.net
Hear the symphony of life, the majesty of the mountains, the roar of the surf, the crack of thunder, the howling of the hurricane, the scream of triumph of a horse running free, the cry of the eagle in the pure joy of flight. 

It all is part of His serenade. His love-song. His call to intimacy. 

"Come away with Me, My love," is His call to lean all of our weight into Him, to hear His heartbeat cozy by the hearth, while the fire snaps and crackles in the fireplace. To whisper words of adoration and desire for connection in deeper and deeper ways.

The Serenade is a call to spontaneous intimacy, a wooing like no other, a plea to let Him love us, to ravish our hearts with His passion for us. 

Can you hear it? It's not a guilt trip, it's not a prescribed set of rituals, it's not a call of duty. It's the Master beneath our window singing to us, an invitation to the finest and best romance in the universe. 

He loves us. And as we realize just how much, we are more and more radiant with the knowledge of His love. We don't have to work at it; we just open ourselves to His attentions. And He so LONGS for us to do just that.

We respond to His advances. And we let Him carry us to heights we've never known - but He knew

In fact, He created those heights with us in mind: seated with Him in heavenly places. Not to lord it over others, but so that He could pour out His love so much that we can't help but be filled to overflowing.

So listen. Hear. Know. Embrace Him.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Rescued

Last Thanksgiving, a four-month-old black-and-white kitten entered our lives. 

He was a rescue. Quite literally!! His mother - as near as we can tell - had been a feral cat and had abandoned him in the situation in which he found himself; she was unable to extricate him. And little wonder: trapped in a snowmobile engine at the age of about 6 or 7 weeks, a woman found him when she went to check on her vehicles. She heard his cries and tried for over a day - nearly a day and a half - to get him out of the engine. He was trapped, stuck inside the fan belt quite likely, and all her efforts to reach in and pull him out were fruitless. Covered in grease, stuck solid, and terrified, every effort she made only traumatized him even more. Finally she called the PEI Humane Society who sent an animal control worker to the scene. She was able to get him free in very short order, and took him back to the shelter to have him cared for, fed, cleaned up and (hopefully) put up for adoption.

It was not to be. The kitten bounced back from his injuries and ate well enough, but he was terrified of anyone bending down over him to touch him, pet him, or (God forbid) pick him up - to the point of hissing and growling at people. This did not bode well for him, so at that point they decided to have him fostered at the home of the animal control worker who'd found him.

He got along well with her animals (a dog and two cats, including one of the kittens she was fostering from the shelter) but he remained skittish and wild around people. In time, he and his foster brother were brought back to the shelter; the brother was adopted within a few days but ... nobody wanted this little guy. He'd hang back in his cage, avoid eye contact, shy away - definitely not your typical sociable kitten. The shelter workers worked with him for weeks trying to get him to accept being handled. He stopped growling and hissing but he was extremely skittish and shy still. 

By the time he was 3 months old, my daughter had noticed his online profile. She took an interest in his case - and even went to see him a couple of times. There was an instant connection. He didn't warm up to her but she felt a sort of kinship from the very first moment she touched the glassed in portion of his cage and he touched the other side with his paw.

From that moment on, she kept trying to convince herself that she couldn't have fallen in "love at first sight" ... but the more she tried, the less it worked. By the end of the second visit, the Saturday of the 2014 Thanksgiving weekend, she had herself convinced that he would be adopted by someone else, and she was grateful for the few photos she'd taken of him. He was barely four months old.

That night, I had a chat with my husband privately about this kitten. I outlined how our daughter felt, mentioned that we had been willing to have three cats in the house if our older female cat had returned (she didn't), so he agreed that it was a good idea to get this cat. I went on the website and applied to adopt him, using our daughter's name and email address. 

The next morning, we were all sitting in the living room. Our daughter had already checked the shelter's website and seen that the kitten's profile had disappeared from it, and she was grieving not being able to see him again, when she received an email from a worker at the shelter who was extremely thrilled that this kitten would go to "such an excellent home!" (We'd gotten two previous kittens from them in the past year so they knew us.) The worker wanted us to go in the next day and bring the little guy home. Our daughter was totally floored. She never expected anything like this. The expression on her face was similar to someone being told that someone had bought a ticket in her name in a lottery, and her number had been the winning one. Disbelief, happiness, gratitude, relief and more flooded her face. 

When the little guy first came to us, he was incredibly skittish. It took a shelter worker five full minutes to get him into the crate we'd brought! We put him (cage and all) into our daughter's room and allowed her to be the one to let him out ... behind closed doors of course. 

She let him come to her on his own terms. It took nearly a week for him to allow her to touch him. She worked really hard those first couple of weeks to convey to him that this was a "safe place" ... and we were amazed at how quickly he responded.  It wasn't the food, or the coaxing, or anything else that brought him out of his shell. 

The rescued one - at 7 months old.
It was the love. He learned early on in the relationship that she LOVED him. And there was a large part of him, deep down, that responded to that love - a shriveled bud that began to blossom into a beautiful flower. 

In his kitty heart, she had rescued him out of what his life had been, and taken him to a place where he felt secure, safe, protected, and cared for. And above all, he felt loved.

And he loved her right back. He still does. Yes, he will allow us to touch and pet him sometimes, and he enjoys being around us - but it's different with her

Every morning, after he has had his breakfast (I feed the cats in separate rooms so we know who's getting how much) I let him out of his room and the very first thing he does is head for our daughter's room. Not sauntering - no - he rushes to her room, squeaking a little meow as he runs. If she's in her bed and is awake, he jumps up beside her and rubs up against her face with complete abandon. The sound of her voice speaking to him thrills him and he begins to pad excitedly ... prancing in delight. She strokes him and his tail lifts up and the tip curls back and forth in extreme happiness. He stays with her until she gets up. Throughout the day he can be doing something else ... and as soon as she gets up and moves around, he is right there. At her side. He wants to be wherever she is.

It never gets old. 

Why would it? She rescued him. She loves him. How could he ever take such love for granted? How could he ever forget how she saved him? how much she has changed his life?

He reminds me that it isn't what we "do" for Jesus that matters; it's what He did for us. It's HIS love that made life, living possible. It's HIS love that compelled Him to make a way for us. It's HIS generosity and goodness that has changed us, transformed us, made us new. 

I watch this cat and I see love and gratitude reflected back toward the one who saved him, the one who loves him. 

And it helps me to remember what's really important.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Rooftop Vision

Sometimes I let my spirit rest in God's, and He takes me places. I just think about one word - say, Grace - and then, like an eagle, I launch off the side of my comfortable cliff, away from the nest. After a few flaps, I catch a warm updraft and I just hover for a while to see where He will take me. 

Today, He took me to a rooftop in Joppa where a man named Peter was having a vision that would change the scope of the 1st-century church (Acts 10). 

Photo "Village Beside Mountain"
coutresy of arkorn at
www.freedigitalphotos.net
Three times (in Biblical symbolism, three means completion) a tablecloth is lowered from Heaven with all kinds of "unclean" animals on it: pig, lobster, camel, rabbit, raven, seagull, and more. (see the full list in Leviticus 11). A voice comes from Heaven, "Rise, Peter, kill and eat." 

"No, Lord," Peter protests. "Nothing unclean has ever entered my mouth." The Voice responds, "What God has cleansed, do not call common or unclean." 

Peter learns, through the course of events, that the Master is talking about His desire to take the message of the Gospel to the Gentiles, and he is convinced to go with Cornelius' men to proclaim the Good News to those with whom he would never have even dared eat before. 

His world was changing. It would never be the same.

I'd read the story so many times before. It was and is familiar to me and I thought that it was a great historical account that signaled the opening of a door into a new world, the fulfillment of God's promise to Abram, "In you all the families of the world shall be blessed." (Genesis 12:3). 

"Why here? What is it that You want me to see?" 

"A new creation." (2 Cor 5:17). 

"Yes, Lord, when I was born again, You made me into a new creation."

"I cleansed you. Past, present and future, you are clean."

"Yes, I know.... Yes, thank You Father.... "

"So ... YOU are included. I wasn't just talking about food or race or customs when I showed Peter the sheet. Don't call yourself common or unclean. I see you as clean because of Calvary; that is the beginning and the end of it."  

....... "Oh." 

"Rest here. Know My love."

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Type A Torture

First-year business students study the difference between the Type A and Type B kinds of managers. Type B managers include their employees in decision-making, encourage growth and creativity, and develop relationships with their employees. They do this, not to have something to hold over their employees or even to make them more productive, but to learn what things are important to them, to learn what tools they need to do their jobs and to feel safe while doing them. Employees will just about walk through fire for a Type B manager.  They'll go above and beyond the call of duty because they know that their manager cares about them and will support them no matter what.

Type A managers, on the other hand, are more goal-oriented. They push their employees for results and they're frequently saying that whatever the person is producing is not enough, that they need to do more, produce more, go faster, work better. They're all about following the rules and cracking the whip, and more often than not, throwing their employees under the bus if they mess up. That sort of approach may get results, (fear works) but employees are not likely to go the extra mile for a Type A manager and will only do the bare minimum. 

Once in a while, a Type A manager will say that he or she is "for" the employee, but it's a means to an end. They say "thank you" because those words are proven to give the message to employees that they are appreciated and the studies all say that people who feel appreciated are more likely to do things for you. They will even say that they "care" - but it's all for the greater purpose of increasing the efficiency of the unit, or the division, or the company. 

There are Type A managers in just about every organization and the church is no exception. I can't count the number of times that that horrible word "should" has been used like a club on people's heads to batter people with guilt and shame. And it's incredibly easy to do. SO incredibly easy. All one has to do is hold up some sort of standard of perfection, and then get insecure people who don't know their own worth to react, jump when one says jump, "repent" and vow to do better. I've seen it over and over and over again. The sad part is, the message people get is that they have to produce that desired end result and THEN God will come through. Or accept them. Or let them get into Heaven.

It's sickening. 

God knew we could not keep the law or be holy or be perfect; that's why Jesus came!! Adding in the requirement to keep the law after knowing the benefits of Grace is a little doctrine the apostle Paul fought all his life - it's called Judaizing (not to be confused with Judaism). And it is right out of the Pit of hell. The entire book of Galatians is written to counter this most dangerous of religious beliefs. Paul got into the biggest "Christian argument" of his life with someone who was heading down that path - the apostle Peter! "I withstood him to his face," Paul writes of that experience. 

I'm not saying by all of this that we shouldn't be living holy lives or that we shouldn't be spreading the gospel. Far from it!! However, let's be clear about how this happens.

WE don't do it. HE does. 

Let's look at some basic, wonderful truth and use it to counter the guilt-and-shame trips we've been taken on for years. 

Photo "Jesus Christ Over Rio De Janeiro" by
xura at
www.freedigitalphotos.net
Because of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross, He regenerates every person who believes (puts their whole weight) on Him. In other words, He recreates us into brand new creations. The old has [already] passed away; the new has [already] come! (2 Cor 5:17) Every sin we have ever committed or ever will commit is ALREADY forgiven!! (John 5:24, Colossians 1:22, Hebrews 10:12-14). 

This means (stay with me) that once we are Christians, God sees us just the same way, with the same degree of righteousness, as He sees Jesus. He has made Jesus to be sin for us, He who knew no sin, so that we could be made the righteousness of God IN HIM. (2 Corinthians 5:21) 

We are holy automatically because He is (the real meaning of 1 Peter 1:16 is "You will be holy because I am holy...") - there is no need to TRY to be holy (we will FAIL if we TRY. Human effort will ALWAYS fail!) This is a walk of FAITH, not a walk of EFFORT. The more we realize what He has already provided for us (and Love tops the list by far!), the more we are aware of just how much was accomplished for us at the Cross, just how free we really are because of His love, the more grateful to Him we will become and the more naturally His character will shine through us as we walk in that glorious truth!

Can't we see that we've gotten it backwards and upside-down this entire time? Asking God for what was already ours to begin with, begging God to forgive us for things that have already been forgiven to the max long ago, even striving (in our own strength, no less) to do things that He has already provided the power to do through us just through knowing Him more deeply and becoming more aware of His love for us? How much bondage the church has suffered! how much "Type A torture" we have been through needlessly! 

You know what? Given the choice between life or death, I think most of us would choose life. But I'll tell you something that dawned on me a few years back: it takes half a second to die for your faith. A bullet through the brain or the heart and death is instantaneous. A scimitar (curved sword) in the hands of a skilled swordsman can behead a person in under a second. No, it's not "hard" to die for your faith. It might not be a pleasant prospect (the act of dying that is) but death only takes a moment.

But this is the challenge: it takes a lifetime of moment-by-moment realization of His love for us to live out our faith - not in shame or guilt for how we're not doing it right, or fervently enough, or loud enough, or whatever the Type A folks say we're not doing right. The Christian life was meant to be joyous and free - Jesus said that He'd come to give us life, and not just life, but life more abundantly. (John 10:10) Living in the constant knowledge that I am accepted in Him, that He loves me unconditionally, that all of my sin and baggage and sickness is demolished in the Cross - that is truly living. Truly living is nothing more than living Him.

This is why Paul said, "For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." (Philippians 1:21) That's all the Christian life is. It's Jesus. It's Him constantly loving us, constantly empowering us, constantly directing our paths. It's Him, always and ever ONLY Him. Because He is all we need. 

He. Is. All. We. Need. And He loves us.
Joy trumps torture.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Love Wins

I was reading a fellow-blogger's post this morning and it brought tears to my eyes to see God's love in action because she included a video that demonstrated how it works so very well. (Click the link I've embedded in the bold print in the first line of this paragraph to read her post and watch the video.) 

Truth be told, just like my blogger friend, I am tired of "settling" for a version of God that says, "He is Love BUT..." And of course, after the BUT there are a whole host of exceptions that are supposed to prove the rule. They don't. 

Photo "Fountain" courtesy of dan at
www.freedigitalphotos.net
Either God is love or He isn't. Either He wants the best for me or He doesn't. It's that simple. It's that clear-cut. I open my heart before you today, having seen some pretty awful stuff in my life. Child abuse, peer bullying, abuse of authority in school, the workplace, and the church, addiction, grief, and the constant self-questioning and God-questioning that comes in irrational, vicious shouts from my own monkey-brain. 

Yet I believe, even in spite of all of that, that God is love, that God loves me. That He loves everyone. That Jesus is the perfect representation of who God is.

No ifs. No buts. Unconditional love. No darkness, no shadow of turning, as James puts it. No holds barred. Passionate, pure, unadulterated love, completely independent of my response.

And love wins. 

It wins when I sit in the dark on a winter's morning and wonder how I'll get up off the edge of the bed and get going on the day. It wins when I see the ones I love in physical and psychological pain. It wins when I fear what the next person will say or think. It wins when my heart breaks in grief. Love wins when the doctor says there's no hope. It just does. 

Because He is there. He loves. He cares. He wins. Every time.

Sometimes I don't have the faith it takes to move the mountains in my life. Then I realize it's absolutely not about how much faith I have or don't have, but where I put it: in Him. I don't need to embrace Him (although I do, and I love to) because He is already embracing me. He's got me. He's got my back (and every other part of me). I don't need to stress out. He's there, and He loves me. His love doesn't depend on my performance. It doesn't work like that. He delights in me. I make Him sing! (Zephaniah 3:17)

Can I relax in that? Dare I believe that He is that good? If I did, what would that look like? Perhaps it would look like my friend's favorite video. Perhaps it would be slightly different - but I can guarantee that people's lives would be irreversibly impacted, starting with mine

I'm only beginning to grasp the unconditional love of God; the more I do, the more I am persuaded that His love doesn't look anything like what we've become accustomed to in the western church. And because of this meditation I've been doing on Him being love, the more I am inclined to think that we've gotten the Christian life backward. We don't obey to receive His blessing at all.  He blesses us because He loves us far beyond our capability to receive ... and it is from the overflow of that love that we can't help but want to share the good news that is Him - the good news of Love coming down - the good news that there is nothing or no-one that can withstand Him. 

Because He is Love. And Love wins.

Friday, February 27, 2015

A God Thing

It's been a hellish week. Never mind the relentless cold, wind and yo-yo weather of Maritime winter. Never mind the mind-numbing routine of eat, work, eat, sleep and repeat. It's been especially stressful lately, and nowhere has it been more stressful than in our daughter's struggles with the health care system and the disability insurance process. 

She's been on disability insurance for two years after an accident in which she dislocated her kneecap ended eventually in first one surgery, and then another, with very little improvement. 

About 5 months ago, her insurance company told her that her DI benefits would run out at the end of February 2015 because the rules were changing from "unable to do former job" to "unable to do ANY job." She's spent the last five months gathering information about all her other disabilities, not just her knee (which is the reason we have a handicapped parking permit). The list is ... daunting: everything from TMJ disorder (that jaw thing) to problems in her neck, shoulders, and back, to psychological difficulties like PTSD and panic disorder, to migraines and multiple chemical sensitivies, to a possible carpal tunnel syndrome. Not to mention that her body is a human barometer and she has pain whenever there are storms on the way. And there have been a LOT of storms.

The last month, she's been complaining of more muscular and joint aches, more headaches, and more panic attacks. The stress of the upcoming insurance deadline (February 2015) was weighing heavily on her, and it had become so much a part of her everyday life that she wasn't even aware of it. This past weekend, her beloved iPhone (that never left her side) bit the dust, and she spent six hours dealing with sales people and insurance people while still grieving the loss of her daily companion. She did get a new phone (though not an iPhone since the newer models don't meet her criteria) but the process of change AND being around people that long AND having to talk to strangers on the phone ... gave her a panic attack when she got home. 

There have been construction workers in the house this week with jackhammers. Jackhammers. The cats have been terrified and she has been jittery and uneasy. Talk about stress.

Today, she'd gotten back from her weekly counselling session and a few errands in town, when the phone rang; it was her insurance company. They had rendered a decision on her disability insurance. 

It was favourable. They had concluded that she met the criterion of "not able to do ANY job" and her benefits would therefore be extended. 

Photo "Opening Door Knob" courtesy of
sixninepixels at
www.freedigitalphotos.net
Her financial situation immediately looked a whole lot more rosy. The pressure of wondering how she was going to pay her way ... lifted.

Moreover, the insurance company is committed to providing everything she needs to become functional again. Everything. Prescriptions, travel to and from out-of-province appointments, physio, therapy, whatever she needs.

Instantly, the weight of all that hidden stress lifted from her shoulders, her back, her neck, and her jaw. 

I found out about the phone call when I phoned home from work to check on how the morning went. As my husband explained everything to me, my eyes started filling with tears because I knew how much of a relief this would be for her. How much she would feel vindicated! How much she would relax and focus on looking after herself.

It was like opening a door.

It was definitely what I call "A God Thing." Only God could have worked it out, in a time frame that would mean no interruption in benefits, for maximum stress reduction, just when she needed it most, and she knows it. She knows it. 

I know it too. This is her time.

For far too long she has been suffering, hiding, pretending not to exist. For far too long she has settled for the leftovers, not spoken up for herself, thinking that "nice guys finish last." For way too long this child of God has accepted defeat. Now it is time to start walking in victory. Now it is time to heal. Now it is time to begin to live instead of just exist. 

And I, as her mother, am in a position to be able to do support her and to be one of those who will speak healing (and not judgment) into her life: body, soul and spirit. The tide is turning; I can sense it. It's the beginning of a new way of living, of thinking, of praying, of believing for me. Of believing that God's will isn't some namby-pamby wishy-washy bunch of platitudes like 'if it's His will.' It's time to really believe and declare that He not only wants to makes something beautiful out of her life, but that He WILL do it. 

I look forward to seeing more and more "God Things" happen ... because I know that He loves beyond anything that any of us could imagine. 

Just wait.