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Archive for January, 2020

I think we all celebrate the end of the struggle … but, after the celebration …

now what?

How long does the celebrating last? days? hours? minutes? seconds? I guarantee, the celebration doesn’t last as long as you might think.

In talking about The Scaffolding of our Quest, I shared the following verses:

  • “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deut. 6:4-5).
  • I am the Lord your God…you shall have no other gods before me.” (Deut. 5:6-7)

In the video, below, you will hear,

  • “he (God) should be your first relationship that you cannot neglect”

In talking about Mountain Climbing Tales, I shared the value of of how telling the story of our mountain climb might be what another needs to hear to help them survive their own mountain.

In the video you will hear,

  • “a lesson learned should be a lesson shared”

As I was starting to write the blog series about what we do after climbing the mountain, after walking through the valley, after the struggle, I watched the following video, smiling broad as I heard each point … for they were so similar to what I was thinking, where I was heading.

Today, this is what I am sharing. After the struggles, the now whats, even after the exciting seasons in our lived there is a point where, once it is over we are all faced with what to do with our sixteenth second.

“Have no regrets in the sixteenth second.”

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When we moved to British Columbia I was introduced to mountain climbing … okay, not like real mountain climbing, with ropes and crampons and carabiners … more like a hike, with a backpack, water, snacks and a camera.

Growing up on the East Coast of Canada I had encountered rolling hills that showcase the beauty of autumns foliage and the great big sky. Here on the Pacific Northwest one often only has to open their door to be reminded of their grandeur and how they hog the horizon.

It isn’t until you have encountered a real mountain that one learns to climb.

Lately I have been writing about what to do once a season of wandering, of climbing steep and rugged mountains in the form of struggles, sorrows and other difficulties, through a series starting with now what.

Once we have managed to get to the other side of the mountain climb, it is tempting to keep moving forward and not ever glance back at the climb that you survived.

But, that climb of ours might be just the story of encouragement that a fellow mountain climber might need to hear. Our sorrows and struggles might just be the hand on the small of the back of one who believes that they simply cannot go on.

When I look at the past few years in my life and the lives of those closest to me, there is a trail of hurt, life-altering illness, job loss, depression and instability that touched every area of our lives. I have referred to that season as annus horribilis (as QEW did in 1992) or horrible year, but it would be more accurate to refer to it not as one year, but years.

As I look back at that time, I could have lived in fear … for the possibilities for hope were nowhere in sight. Yet, during that time, I was surrounded by a bubble-wrap-like peace … a peace that surpasses human understanding.

Was I secured because of my closeness to God? was it because I am always faithful to him? A resounding, NO.

That peace was beyond my knowledge, beyond my means, beyond my deserving … or, more accurately, my lack of deserving. It was and is a peace that is available to all. I was, quite literally, at the end of myself, my abilities, my knowledge.

It was because there was nothing within me that could do anything, that I had just trust the only one who could.

There were no voices in the middle of the nights, no message in the clouds, no ghostly touch on my shoulder … just peace … that surpassed my understanding.

I would be driving to work, or laughing with a student about a math problem, or cleaning the toilets, or making dinner and I would stop, amazed that I was still standing, still breathing, still functioning. Chaos was swirling around me, from every side, and yet … I felt peace.

Don’t get me wrong, I also shed buckets of tears, I lost my temper with loved ones, I resented individuals and I begged for mercy … yet, I felt peace.

My very real mountain taught me how to climb. Though I did not ask for it, did not want it, would not like to ever climb it again … I learned, oh how I learned.

Sometimes we climb great mountains and never fully understand why they were put in our way, why we were forced to sacrifice so much. Maybe it was so that we could know peace that is beyond our understanding, so that we can share that peace with others, just heading up the mountain.

“Then you will experience God’s peace,
which exceeds anything we can understand.
His peace will guard your hearts and minds
as you live in Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 4:7

Even when I don’t see it, You’re working
Even when I can’t feel it, You’re working
You never stop, You never stop working
way maker
miracle worker
promise keeper
light in the darkness
my God, that is who you are

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It was quiet … too quiet … something was missing.

I love a snow day … alway have, always will. The buzz of colleagues and friends texting, listening to weather reports, watching for emails, scrolling through social media for posts declaring that Mother Nature, local meteorologists, school administrators … God himself has hit the pause button for the day.

This particular day, though sweet, was quiet.

I spent time writing, shovelled snow, bid hubby farewell as he ventured off to work. It was so quiet … I started a jigsaw puzzle, listened to an online sermon, the news, music.

Then I saw it,

and I knew what was missing.

My dad.

He loved snow. When they would have snow days at the school in his community, he would email, message or post weather reports to me (always along with an invitation to move back to the East Coast, from the West). When I would have snow days, he would send celebratory messages as well.

This particular day, I felt the disquieting quiet of his absence from life … another loss that follows death.

So I rose from my seat and sought my recipe book.

Just a week prior I found a cherished poem from my dad to one of my own kids, along with his (famous) biscuit recipe.

He wrote poems, my dad. Little story-telling rhyming verses … just like his mom did. They were so common throughout my life … now I wish I had kept them all, so that I could pour over them, laugh and weep through them.

you never know what gift is precious until the one who gave it is gone

I gathered the ingredients that he always used (including the terribly unhealthy Fluffo shortening that he said was imperative) and set myself to work, following each direction, hearing his advice between each line of the recipe … throwing in a few tears for good measure.

I rolled out the dough, careful not to handle it too much. I cut out each biscuit, the final bit of dough formed into the coveted ‘hot dog’ (that everyone fought for, because it was the biggest). Then, into the preheated oven they went, until the tops were starting to brown, but only just a bit.

I took a picture to share with my family, who would fully understand …

Then I ate one … and whispered,

happy snow day, dad.

Snow days and the changes that follow death … they are part of life, a life that was so good it leaves quiet pauses.

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now what?

Two simple words. How do they sound?

now what?
said in anger, bitterness … to someone who has caused hurt?

now what?
said to oneself … in search of what to do next?

now what?
said in sadness, loneliness … feeling directionless?

now what?
said in hyperactive anticipation, ready for anything?

You and I might be saying in one, all or another way. In the process of life there are numerous now what? moments of question, pondering. When the storms and struggles, when we are climbing the mountains, walking through the valleys the words now what? might roll off our tongues daily.

But what about after the climb, the struggle, the wandering is done? When we have reached the end of the hard road and we can, once again take a deep, lung-cleansing breath.

If, the best view comes after the hardest climb … if we have entered the promised land after our wandering … if we are finally able to rest …

now what?

In my original post, now-what, I spoke of how my recognition that the climb through a struggle was complete left a lull, a void where the struggle had been. I mentioned that this lull left me feeling fearful, unsure of what might fill it.

To be so very honest, I wondered what struggle was around the next corner.

If we look back at Deuteronomy 8 we read that Moses told the Israelites to “eat and be satisfied” (v. 10). Basically, Moses was telling them to take some time for self care. Look after their basic needs … food and drink, get some rest, make yourself at home.

Then he says,
“Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day (v. 11) … otherwise … your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery” (v. 14).

Moses makes emphasis of this message not to forget the Lord your God. He reminds them of how God has provided for their very survival for these forty years. It is by his hand that they were kept safe, fed and led to their Promised Land. Moses tells them that once they have a home, earn a living, grow and purchase food … they will begin to think “my power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me” (v. 17).

It is not different today, for you and I as we rest from our previous battle, struggle and prepare to stand on our own two feet …

we need to know what we are standing on

Are we still standing on the promises of God? or are we relying on our own strength? Are we remembering our God? observing his commands? laws? decrees?

You see, whatever is around the next corner is nothing … who we hold on to in the good times is as important as who we clung to in the bad times.

The same one who held our hand, wiped our brow, and boosted us up the steep incline, as we summited the steep mountain, to see the beauty all around us wants to go with us as we begin our descent.

Whatever follows our struggle, whatever is next, we need to stand on God’s promises, because he has proven to us, in our struggles, that he will never leave us.

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Moses wrote Deuteronomy as a speech to the Israelites, including the history of their struggle prior to and during their time in the desert.

The Israelites are at the end of their wandering through the desert … forty years of wandering. Now they are about to receive the promise of their very own home, flowing with milk and honey.

Their hard struggle is almost over and they are about to see the most spectacular view … the Promised Land.

Forty years of wandering …

How old were you, forty years ago? How old will you, your child or grandchild be in forty years?

When Moses is speaking to the ‘wandering Jews’ he is not necessarily speaking to the same audience that viewed and experienced the plagues in Egypt. This audience is the children and grandchildren of those who fled Egypt, walked through the dry bed of the Red Sea. It is a new generation of wanderers.

How about your wandering? Has it been a multi-generational season of struggle and difficulty? Maybe a lifetime? Could it be a generational curse such as substance abuse (and it’s affects)? poverty? illness? fear? Or has the length of your struggle been ‘just’ a few months? a handful of years?

I remember someone talking about waiting for hip surgery. As they waited (years) they began to compensate for the hip that needing replacement, by putting more weight, more pressure on the ‘healthy’ one. Once they had the surgery, they were then put on a wait list to have the other hip replaced, for it had become weak under the stress of the compensation made for the other one.

The thing about struggles is that we compensate for our weaknesses. They have affected you … maybe in ways that you do not even know, leaving invisible (or visible) scars and bruising.

You have been living, like the Israelites, on an adrenalin high. Your body chemicals have kept you going … or they went on hiatus, leaving you to feel like bowl of jello … without the bowl.

Moses reviews the history of their wandering, pointing out where their parents and grandparents went wrong (remember the golden calf) and challenging them to be different … for they would get to receive the promise made between God and their ancestors. He tells them that their wandering has had a refining purpose.

You have been refined through your struggle, your wandering. You have developed muscle and strength that could only have been gained through your experience. The effort was not without gain.

He tells them, in Deuteronomy 8, what to expect in their promised land … for he will not enter those gates with them. He whets their appetites for all the good that awaits … on the other side.

Anticipation for the end of the journey has been created … then they, like we who have come to the end of our struggle, will ask … now what?

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After the storms have passed, after we have summited the mountains? Then … do we dare to ask now what?

I suggested we read Deuteronomy 8. I read it, then I listened to it … a couple of times. It amazed me what I heard that I missed when I was reading the words quietly to myself.

Deuteronomy is a book that instructs us about work and rest, relationships, leadership and justice. An interesting combination of subjects that impact all of our lives.

There are two messages or themes in Deuteronomy:

  1. “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deut. 6:4-5).
  2. I am the Lord your God…you shall have no other gods before me.” (Deut. 5:6-7)

We need to keep these in mind as we read the book, as we read chapter 8.

When we go through difficult times we often cling to God, to his word. It is when the struggles are the most intense that we cry out to him, recognizing how helpless we are without him. It is easy and natural to love him with our everything, to have no other gods. Though this is not always the case, for when we struggle the most is often when we cry out why God?

then again, maybe asking God why is a sign that we love do love him alone, for he is who we ask, confirming our trust of him.

God has broad shoulders … he can carry such heavy questions … it is not a sign of spiritual weakness to ask God the tough questions. He wants us to ask, to cry out, to wag our finger at him … because he knows our thoughts already and he knows the heart behind them.

So, we haven’t really gotten into Deuteronomy 8 yet (this is how my brain works), but we know two important themes for all of Deuteronomy:

  1. “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deut. 6:4-5).
  2. I am the Lord your God…you shall have no other gods before me.” (Deut. 5:6-7)

This is the beginning of our search for an answer to now what? after the tough mountain has been climbed, now what?

Keep reading Deuteronomy 8. Try listening to it.

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The best view comes after the hardest climb …

I was sitting recently, reflecting on the hills, the mountains of the recent years. Of having stumbled in the valley. Now, having reached the end of those valleys, having reached the summit of the mountain climb I have seen the most beautiful views … the sweat and tears still not yet completely wiped away.

For a moment there was a lull … an awkward silence …

So, I filled the void with whispered thanks … thanks for the companionship, thanks for the peace that passed all of my human understanding, thanks for reaching down a hand to lift me up, for pushing me further when I cried that I couldn’t do it anymore.

God saw me through the steep climb up the mountain, through the wandering in the valley, through the hot, dry desert.

I, most sincerely, was thankful, filled to the brim with gratefulness, gratitude.

But …

it was back … the lull, the pause …

and fear crept into the corners and crevices, whispering

now what?

For a moment the beauty of my mountaintop experience was shadowed by the absence of a goal, a destination … a struggle that comes with a rush of adrenalin that makes blood pump through our veins, dilates our pupils … reminding us how much we need help … God.

So …

now what?

That’s my question, the one that I am wrestling … wrestling like Jacob wrestled with God … with himself.

For the next while, I am going to process my now what question, my wrestling match, and I am going to share here what I am learning, the process that God would seem to be leading me through.

But I have to be really, really honest … I don’t read the last page, the last chapter of a book … nor do I know where this process is going to end up.

But, I know this … I am trusting God to reveal his will, his plan … I also know that God goes before, behind and alongside of me, of us.

So, in this lull in the storms of life, I am looking up, with wide-eyed anticipation and trust.

If you’d like to come along, let’s start by reading Deuteronomy 8 … maybe there is an even better view up ahead.

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