Sunday, January 25, 2015

Hoeing the row

Maybe it's the long stretch of winter that lasts from November to May here in the Maritimes. Or maybe it's just the way my mind works; I don't know. 

I've been thinking about gardening. Don't get me wrong; I don't want to start gardening. I've just been thinking about the process ... working the soil, planting the seeds, watering during dry times, thinning out the plants, and beginning to harvest (which should tell you what kind of gardening I mean - since the only kind that makes any sense to me is planting seeds that will eventually turn into food). 

And then there's my least favorite part - possibly everybody's least favorite part - weeding. 

Weeds happen. They spring up unbidden like some ancient curse (oh wait - they ARE some ancient curse ... I seem to remember that being part of the package in Genesis 3...) And it seems you just get rid of one batch and the next one pops up. It's so discouraging. Yet it's necessary to keep the weeds down because they will choke the plant or the crop, stunt its growth and there will be far less in the harvest.

Some weeds are mistaken for the real thing. I remember a particularly insidious kind when I was growing up - my mother called them "wild beans" - they had leaves like young bean plants and they were the climbing variety so they'd climb up the stalks and choke out the bean plants (and whatever other plants were around). If left long enough, they'd choke out the plant so much that it would shrivel and wither away. 

Photo "Home Gardening" courtesy of
winnond at
The only way to fix it was to hoe the row - take a hoe to the side of the garden row, loosen the dirt around the weed's root - and lift the root out of the ground. Then it could be unwound from the plant. Breaking it off above ground only made it stronger... and the root being gone wasn't enough to stop the choking (since the plant kept growing and would choke itself on the stem of the dead root.) 

I see things like that happening in the church. People start believing things that sound like they should be in the Bible (some folks actually believe that they ARE in the Bible) ... but they're not. In fact, these sayings are part of a doctrine that appeals to the sense that we humans have that we have to have control over our destiny, that we can do something to make God like us better, that what Jesus did on the cross wasn't enough and that we have to add our good deeds to it in order to be accepted by Him. These are things like, "Cleanliness is next to godliness" and "God helps those who help themselves." 

I'm sure that Jesus would have had a couple of things to say about those two sayings. Things like, "You obsess about the exterior! First clean the inside of the cup. Then the outside will automatically be clean." Or, "Apart from Me you can do nothing." 

These beliefs about cleaning up our act and then approaching God, or about God expecting us to do what we can before we ask His help - these are contrary to the scriptures. 

First, we can never clean up our act enough on our own to please Him. And we don't have to (that's His job! He's already done it!) Jesus died for us while we were still His enemies and He takes our "yes" and makes us into completely new creations. 

And second, when we try to do anything in our own strength, we ultimately fall flat on our faces. The lesson I've had to keep learning over and over is that it's better to ask Him first and rely on His strength because if left to my own devices, things will fall apart ... and quickly! 

So I pick up the hoe, I weed out all my efforts to "live the Christian life." And I simply enjoy Him. There's nothing complicated about it. The more I let go of my own efforts and trust what He has already done for me, rest on that finished work, appreciate the grace, the love, the goodness, and the forgiveness that has already been lavished on me, the more full of gratitude and joy I become. The plant will grow - automatically. 

And it will bear fruit. The more gratitude and joy happens in response to what He's already done for me and in me, the more that people around me are going to notice. Most people know when someone is acting. It won't be a set of put-on masks or platitudes. It will be real. It will be vital. It will be something that people can understand. And maybe, just maybe they'll begin to believe that He has done the same for them too. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

David's Dead Dog - or - Ripples of Grace

He was damaged goods - the only survivor of a failed empire. In the great escape when his grandfather and father died in battle and the new king came to power, his governess dropped Mephibosheth, and he was injured - crippled for life. He was only five years old at the time. His older brothers were all killed in the people's zeal to eradicate all traces of his grandfather's kingdom.

Servants carried him to safety and he lived a quiet, unassuming life, far from the public eye. He stayed out of harm's way as the battles for the control of his country raged near and far. He contributed nothing to the war effort - he could not. His life depended on staying safely anonymous. 

And he thought he did. 

Then, the tables turned - he received a summons to appear before the king. "This is it," he must have thought. "I'm dead meat." 

But the king did something totally unexpected, way over the top. "Your father was my best friend. I want to make sure you never want for anything. So I am restoring your grandfather's land back to you. It's yours," King David told him. "Your grandfather's servant Ziba will look after it for you, it's all arranged. And as often as you like, every day if you want, you can eat with me and my sons at my own table in the palace." 

David was within his rights to have Mephibosheth - and his son Mica - killed. Yet because of Mephibosheth's father, Jonathan, David chose to be generous to this young man. You can read the story for yourself in 2 Samuel 9.

"Who am I," Mephibosheth marveled, "that you would look at a dead dog like me?" He was keenly aware that he was a cripple. He KNEW that he could contribute nothing to the king's wealth or power, that he was actually a drain on the king's resources. 

Photo "Nicely Arranged Table" courtesy of marin at
But David was true to his word - he restored all of Saul's lands and appointed Ziba and his sons to look after it, and Mephibosheth? 

Mephibosheth ate - sumptuous fare beyond what he could imagine- every day in the private residence of the king. He was waited on hand ... and foot. He became a treasured part of the family. 

And he knew it. Never again did he ever have to ask King David if it was okay for him to walk into the palace. He just walked in. The right was already his. It was a done deal.

And he never - ever - forgot what the king did for him. He never took it for granted. He had a new life. He had a new start. His son Mica had a future. Gratitude was his daily companion. He grew to love the king.

Gratitude, love, and devotion are always the natural response to grace.

And even when David messed up big time, and eventually had to go on the run again (this time from his own son) Mephibosheth remained faithful, loyal to his benefactor. In fact, he made a vow that he would not cut his hair until the king returned to his home from being in exile. 

In the meantime, Mephibosheth's servant Ziba lied to David, saying that his master had designs on the throne. David believed him and gave Saul's lands to Ziba. But Mephibosheth stayed at the palace. He had been given that right, and it was never taken away.

After Absalom's death and David's return to the palace, Mephibosheth was able to tell the king the truth - that he had never wanted to return to the monarchy - that Ziba had lied.

David didn't go back on his word to Ziva - he just said that now Ziba and Mephibosheth would be co-owners of the property (remember that in those days, land was wealth...)

But this time it was Mephibosheth's turn to surprise David. "Let him have it all," he said. "I just want to stay with you."

"I just want to stay with you. Yes, Ziba wronged me, spread lies about me, and stole the inheritance you gave to me, away from me. But as long as you and I are together, my king - that's all I really want."

If we'd been able to ask Mephibosheth how he was able to let go, why he was so devoted to the king, I'm sure he would have said, with a shrug, "He rescued me." In other words, "He had every right to have me killed but he showed me mercy instead. I already have everything I need with him; why would I hold onto something else? I hold no ill will toward Ziba - I just want to be with the one who chose me." 

That's how grace works - from the top down - from the inside out. It creates ripples that touch everything and everyone with whom we come in contact. It remakes us. It transforms who we are, how we think about ourselves, and inevitably how we think about the people in our lives.

Life eternal - and grace so big - what's not to love about that?

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Until Morning

This week has been a sad one. 

Two wonderful ladies I've known for a very long time both passed away this week.

The first was one of the first women to take me under her wing when I first started exploring the world of the Spirit-filled life, about 32 years ago. Jean was ... unique. There was such an inner thrill in her - and it didn't take long to figure out why. Her joy when she sensed God moving in someone's life just bubbled out of her like large bubbles coming up to the surface from deep inside. Her passion for people to be free, her perseverance and power in prayer, and her willingness to do whatever God said, when He said, for however long He said, was phenomenal. 

The thing I'll miss most about her, though, is the way she would give what I came to call her "holy hugs."  She'd wrap her arms around me and start to pray in the Spirit ... then she'd sense God's presence and she'd start to chuckle, a low, deep sound that reminded me of toffee cooking on the stove. She'd squeeze tighter as her joy just overflowed; I couldn't help but be touched. 

The same thing would happen when she hugged others as well. Her joy was contagious; people couldn't help but be affected. 

When I heard that she had passed away this past week, I felt sad - not for her but for me. She is happier, freer than she's ever been. But down here won't quite be the same without her.

Photo "Lighthouse At Sunset" by
Serge Bertasius Phtography at
Then, this morning, I learned that the second lady had passed away last Friday. I've known this woman for even longer than I knew Jean. 

Elma and her late husband were what I think of when I use the term "salt of the earth." Generous, giving, and accepting, she was in the running to become my mother-in-law at one point (yes, I dated her son for a while) and although nothing ever came of it, I always felt privileged to have met her and her husband, and held a special place in my heart for their whole family. 

She and her husband were so kind to me when I was pregnant with Arielle - and so sick I could barely drag myself out of bed, much less care for a toddler. When I was at my lowest ebb (hours away from being hospitalized for severe dehydration) they came over here and looked after our oldest, did housework and never expected any payment at all.... while I sat on the sofa and cried with mixed helplessness and gratitude. It was just what they did. They did what they could to bless people. And it worked. We were blessed ... beyond belief.

Our girls considered them their honorary grandparents. There was just something about Elma - sweet and humble and gentle, soft-spoken but yet respected (out of love) by her children. 

I will miss her.

Whenever someone passes away who is a believer, especially if that someone is special to me or to my loved ones, I have a habit of drawing something on that date on my calendar - the outline of a setting sun on the horizon. It reminds me of the old gospel song, "Sunset" - the chorus of which goes, "God paints the clouds in the evening sky to show me the way to the palace on high, and stars mark the pathway lest my feet should roam; it's Sunset, and I'm going Home." 

The promise of Heaven is not a hope-so-maybe kind of hope. It's a "know-so" kind of hope - a calm assurance that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. I know that Jean and Elma are there - enjoying the bliss of being face-to-face with Jesus. They are in that Never-ending Day - where there is no darkness, no pain, no sorrow, no separation. 

Good night dear ladies. Rest well - enjoy - and I'll see you in the Morning.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Very. Present. Help.

"God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in time of
trouble." - Ps. 46:1

There are a lot of things that have been changing in the last while. People I care about have moved away, others have passed away, more and more as time goes on. These are people that have helped to shape who I am, have taught me important things about how to look at life, how to lean on God. The sense of loss is very real.

My personal life is changing. I have left one school in order to apply for another school which will give me a better degree so that I can launch my second career. It will take much longer than I had hoped. 

Photo "Footprints On The Beach Sand"
courtesy of foto76 at
In a lot of ways, much of the future is literally up in the air. I don't know how much longer my job will last. I don't know whether my chosen school will accept me. There are unanswered questions in the area of my daughter's health, and her future. There is still no closure after my other daughter's death - I'm still paying on her (totaled) car because the health insurance claims apparently have not finished yet and because she didn't life-insure the loan, wanting to "save Mom money." 

It feels sometimes like the ground is giving way underneath of me. I can look down at the crumbling earth ... or question why I feel so alone sometimes ... or I can look up to find out (to my amazement) that He has already been carrying me. The whole time.

When the bottom drops out, His arms - that have been holding me from the beginning - keep me from falling into the vortex. 

In the middle, right in the very middle of the tumult... His peace opens up an eye in the storm. I can still hear the winds howling, but with Him, it is calm. Paying attention to Him centers me. There, leaning into His heart, listening to Him sing, I find His rest has already made a place for me. 

He is my help. He doesn't just GIVE help, He IS help.

He IS here.

He is not just here, not just present, but VERY present. 

Anything, everything I need - He IS. Love, grace, acceptance, pardon, peace, rest, joy, power, provision, health, ... it's impossible to exhaust all that He is. He is MORE. Limitless resources, limitless grace, love without boundaries. 

What more do I need?

Friday, January 9, 2015

Beside Still Waters

For over a week I struggled with it. Every night (it was way worse at night) I'd awaken in the wee hours of the morning, feeling like I was drowning, unable to breathe because of the liquid in my throat and the back of my nose. Swallowing fiercely, snorting, swallowing some more, gasping for breath in between, I'd eventually get up and cough up unspeakably gross blobs of green into the sink, rinse them down the drain. 

When I finally got prescription medication for it, (the doctor thought it was bacterial) I took one - actually, 60% of one - dose of the prescription-strength cough syrup she suggested. It contained hydromorphone - a narcotic-based cough suppressant, as well as a very strong antihistamine (to quell the production of mucous). That was the worst night because there was absolutely NO moisture in my throat, not even the normal kind, and I awoke at 1:30 a.m. with a raging sore throat and no way to moisten it, afraid to take any other medication because I'd been warned against mixing them. (That was the last night I took that particular cough syrup!) 

I did take the antibiotics but they didn't seem to help. Ah, so it's viral and will just need to run its course.

And what a miserable, long course it has been. I've been home for a full two weeks of work.

To top things all off, I ran out of sick leave over a week and a half ago. The leave I have to take now is precious vacation time. It is limited. 

I've run the full gamut of emotions during this sickness - just plain fatigue, yes, but also frustration at not being able to sleep, frustration with myself that I can't fight this thing as quickly as I want, anger that nothing seems to help, sadness and helplessness that my body just can't get out of its own way, anxiety over what I'm going to do about my vacation leave, whether I will have enough, and the list goes on. 

Times like this cause me to question why such things happen. 

Well, it's been a stressful year, no doubt about that. And stress impacts the immune system. The house has had to remain closed in these frigid cold temperatures; that doesn't help. And someone, somewhere, decided it was a good idea to "tough it out" and go to work or to church or to a doctor's office, and in so doing, spread their germs for me to catch. 

I know this in my head. My heart, though, is another matter. All I want is for someone to make the hurting stop, to spoil and look after me, to listen to me when I need listening to, and to show me that I am loved. 

But He HAS already. He HAS shown me that He loves me - what more could He have done but to die for me?  He DOES listen to me. He dotes on my every word, whether spoken to Him directly or not. And He has unleashed an army of antibodies in my body to fight the internal battles I can't consciously fight. 

I listen to some worship music. I pray. I centre myself, breathe deeply ... (medication helps some) and remind myself that He looks after me whether I feel it or not. He constantly prays for me. He continually looks out for my welfare; I need to accept that and rest on it. 

"He leads me beside still waters." (Psalm 23)  I remember that sheep will not drink from moving (troubled) waters. The water must be still. Then the sheep will drink.

He stills the waters. He speaks peace. "I am here." 

Ah, there He is ... the Good Shepherd. The One who gave His life for me. He is here. All the questions melt away. 

I can drink. I can rest. 

Photo "Portrait Of A Baby Sheep In The Farm"
provided by ponsulak at

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Before they call

I had to go to a walk-in clinic today. 

I won't go into the ordeal that led to my getting a prescription. On the contrary, I'll talk about an experience that I had at the pharmacy afterward.

I had called our pharmacy and it was closed, so I had to use the one right next to the clinic. I took my information and the prescription to the desk and got registered as a customer. Fifteen minutes, the lady said. I budgeted on 20 or 25, just in case. I went to sit down; there was a waiting room for the pharmacy customers (a great idea by the way). 

I was feeling pretty miserable. (Well obviously because I was at a walk-in clinic on a Sunday!) I sat down and began to wait. The radio was playing in the background and a song came on the radio that always made me cry - and sure enough the tears started to flow. At that very moment, a young family came into the waiting room to sit and wait for a prescription for the child - a little boy about 18 to 21 months old.

Now, I am used to really active kids and part of me - the not-just-introverted-but-sick-too part, the part that wanted quiet - just cringed. Not another ordeal to go through, I thought. I can't take any more of this. 

But the little boy saw me with tears still on my cheeks from the song I'd been listening to. He watched me as the song ended and I reached up and wiped the water off my face. And when he saw me looking at him, he flashed the most adorable smile my way and looked away shyly when I smiled back. 

He never cried, never fussed, not once. His mom had gotten him a stick of cheese and a tub of yogurt to eat, and she let him have each piece of cheese before he even knew he was ready for it. He didn't have a chance to get upset. She was at his elbow, anticipating his needs before he even knew he had them. 

Photo "Smiling Toddler Holding Rattle"
courtesy of stockimages at
I watched this beautiful dance of love and provision in amazement. The amazement grew as I learned that he had an ear infection and a congested cough - and was there for prescriptions that would get rid of them. That kid should have been screaming his head off. But he was happy because his mom knew just what he needed, how his mind worked, even to the point of showing him the container when he wasn't sure about the Greek yogurt - and he tried some - and he liked it! Then when he was done, she left him with his dad to finish up the tub and soon re-appeared with a "treat" - a package of little cracker-sandwiches. He was delighted!

The whole time, he was placid, happy, extremely well-behaved. And the wordless "smile game" that he started with me continued this entire time. His mom caught him doing it ... and she leaned in and smiled at him, asking him, "Are you flirting?" in mock disapproval. He just reveled in the attention his mom paid to him. 

So did I. 

I was telling someone about this afterward, and she said to me, "That would make a great blog post." 

And you know, I think it does. 

What I saw today in that waiting room was a love relationship built on learned trust. That little guy knew he was loved. He knew it - not because of anything he did but because it was true. And in that relationship his mom and dad paid attention to his needs and met them - sometimes before he even knew he had them. That's like the relationship that we have with God. 

He has provided everything that we need to live, to truly live. And before we can even think of what it is that we need - it's there. It's already there. He does that. He dotes on us, loves to meet our needs, and looks after us when we don't even know what we want. 

Like today. I was beyond myself, out of my depth, and here was this small child that I thought was going to add to my stress. I didn't know that I needed that little guy to remind me that God was looking after me. But I did. And before I knew, God knew. Because He loves me.

It doesn't have to be any more complicated than that.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Lessons from butterflies

I had the opportunity to use the word metamorphosis today, (the process by which a caterpillar becomes a butterfly) which got me to thinking about that process, and about butterflies in general.

As I pondered this wonder of God's creation, I began to understand some lessons about life and faith that parallel the life cycle of this common - but usually welcome - insect. Some of them might seem pretty basic, but bear with me.

All butterflies start out as caterpillars. Even though their destiny is to fly, butterflies begin life from eggs laid by adult butterflies, and you'd think that the hatchlings would resemble - at least somewhat - the finished product. 

Photo "Monarch Caterpillar" courtesy of
Lisa McDonald at
They don't. They're fat, squirmy, earth-bound critters that think of nothing but eating the next piece of greenery. And the next.

Just so, the expression "God has no grandchildren" can apply here. Just because you are a child of God doesn't mean that your children are. They must each come to faith the same way - through a personal experience of rebirth by the Spirit of God. Every single person is a born sinner.

The caterpillar's entire existence is geared toward consumption. It consumes food almost all of the time! Its entire focus is downward, toward the business of survival: the next bite, the next leaf, the next plant. Yet even this limited existence serves a purpose - it will help the caterpillar have enough physical resources (or building blocks, if you wish) when it eventually has to stop eating and form its cocoon, or chrysalis. Every experience in our lives, even the ones we've had prior to becoming Christians, has the potential of being a tool to help us or to help someone else later on.

When the time is right, the caterpillar knows. Each individual caterpillar knows when it is ready to enter the next stage of its life - the transformational stage. It doesn't know that this is what will take place. It just knows that it needs to go to a protected spot and do something other than eat. No other organism can make that decision (if you can call it that); the little critter just KNOWS. The Holy Spirit is the only One who can bring someone to Jesus. All the "witnessing" in the world, all the singing, programs, manipulation or whatever you can name, will not bring even ONE person into the Kingdom of God. That moment is holy; it belongs to God and to Him alone... and it is extremely personal.

Once the process starts, there is no going back. Driven by forces of instinct, the caterpillar envelops itself into its cocoon ... and a process begins that is irrevocable. There is only one possible outcome: a butterfly will emerge. Let's also keep in mind that the caterpillar is not aware of the changes that are happening. It can't see what it's becoming. These two thoughts give hope to those of us who have no idea what God is doing in us, can't see a clear path, and wonder if anything is even happening. God will finish what He started, and He will make something beautiful come out of what seems like chaos, even if we don't have a clue what that something beautiful is.

Everything the caterpillar is, is fundamentally changed.  Many people are not aware of this, but the process of metamorphosis changes the caterpillar into a gelatin-like soup of cells and organic molecules. In essence, the caterpillar is de-constructed down to the level of the cells themselves. It ceases to be what it was ... and it is then re-created into the form of a butterfly. Over the space of a few weeks, (which in most species is a significant portion of its lifespan) this old creation is re-created into something it has never been before. This reminds me of the verse in 2 Corinthians 5 that talks about us being new creations in Christ Jesus: "...the old is past; the new has come!" (vs 17)  While we may not feel regenerated, we are. While we may not feel holy; God declares us as such - in fact, the courage of Scripture says, "He has made Him [Jesus] to be sin for us, [He] who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him [Jesus]!!" (vs 21)

It takes as long as it takes. The process of realizing all the facets of that new life, that new nature, might take a while, but it happens. And although - for the chrysalis - it might happen in a cluster of chrysalises, each process is individual, and it will take as long as it takes. The same is true in the spiritual realm. While it is true that we need others in the body of Christ, the most important relationship there is happens in the secret place, where the Spirit of God transforms us from the inside out.

This is not the time for pouring into someone else's life. Starting to "minister" too soon is one of the top reasons that I've seen that explains why people in ministry burn (or fizzle) out. I sometimes remind myself that Paul the apostle had to go to Arabia for 3 years and "unlearn" all of the mind-sets that he had as a Pharisee before he could be used by God in the Church. 

Photo "Monarch Butterfly" provided by
Liz Noffsinger at
When it's time to emerge, it's time. After the butterfly is fully formed, it is time to come out of the cocoon. This is not a comfortable process, and nobody can help with it, or the creature will not be able to fly properly or reach its food source, and will therefore starve to death. The struggle of emerging from the chrysalis is essential, as is the resting period following it. Only then can the necessary internal juices flow into the wings and harden them; at first the wings are soft, wet, floppy, and small. The waiting allows the power to transfer from within to where it is needed. 

The shell that was so important before, the boundary of the transforming creature's world, has already served its purpose after the wings harden. It can be discarded. There are no limits now. The butterfly is free, learning to ride the air currents and feed on totally different food, covering more distance in one minute than it did for its entire existence before beginning the process. 

It will act like a butterfly because it IS a butterfly. A caterpillar can no more act like a butterfly than a pig can act like an eagle. And it would be ludicrous for a butterfly to act like a caterpillar. That isn't what a butterfly is anymore. 

This is a metaphor, a picture, of the completeness of our transformation as believers, whether we are aware of it or not. I won't belabor the point by drawing the obvious parallels; I will only say that they are there - and that God will do what He said He would: in gazing on His glory, we will be transformed - just like a butterfly is transformed - into the image of Jesus by the Holy Spirit who lives within us (2 Cor 3:18). And where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom (vs 17).