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Archive for September, 2020

Going Solo

For those of us who tend toward processing our thoughts on the inside, quiet is always a healing, refreshing, nourishing place to be. It feeds us, re-energizing us for the ‘peopling’ that is, inevitably, to come.

That can be a tough reality for those close to us who tend toward a more extroverted manner of thinking and living. It just doesn’t make sense that one would want to be alone and silent when one could speak thoughts before they even develop in the brain (I might be seeing this from an introvert perspective).

Of course few of us are completely one or the other. Most of us have times and seasons, situations and places where we cross the invisible line into the realm of the ‘other’ person.

For instance I am very comfortable speaking in front of a large group of people, yet, in most circles of three or four, I usually take the place of listener. Yet, put me into my ‘Fanboys’ (a pet name for ourselves) foursome and I can talk as much or as little as the rest. Time, place and the individuals involved make a big difference in my ability to be silent or gab.

There are many times when those of us who tend towards introvert can feel that we need to speak up to seen, heard. For some our silence can leave others to feel that we are disinterested. Others can feel as though they will be overlooked for professional promotions if they do not ‘become’ a loud and proud leader among their peers.

Yet, I feel affirmed in my seeking of silence when I look at the Bible. When I read of Moses not wanting to be God’s mouthpiece, so God provided Aaron. Or how the apostle that Jesus loved, John, was most definitely an introvert. Then there is Jesus … whether he tends toward that of introvert or extrovert, I am empowered and encouraged when I read of how he would go off, alone when the crowds got to be just too much.

“When life is heavy and hard to take,
    go off by yourself. Enter the silence.
Bow in prayer. Don’t ask questions:
    Wait for hope to appear.”

Lamentations 3:28-29

“Only in fellowship do we learn to be rightly alone and only alone do we learn to be rightly in fellowship” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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We’ve all heard them, maybe even spoken of ourselves (as the child or the parent). Idioms that communicate that a child is so very similar in looks, behavior or attitude.

“Well doesn’t she just take right after you”

“That apple didn’t fall far from the tree”

“He’s a chip off the old block”

Genetics are an amazing thing. Yet, there is also the question of nature or nurture?

As a Christian, we might even look to the negative attitudes, habits and behaviors as generational curses … leaving us a little less personally ‘guilty’ for the nasties that we bring to life.

Yet, in Ezekiel 18 we are reminded”

“The child will not be punished for the parent’s sins, and the parent will not be punished for the child’s sins. Righteous people will be rewarded for their own righteous behavior, and wicked people will be punished for their own wickedness.” (v. 20).

In this account we are reminded that God does not see us through our families, he sees us, our choices, our actions and attitudes as individuals who are free and responsible to make our own choices … even when we have been nurtured a certain way.

If we grow up in a home where physical abuse happened, it is our responsibility to not continue inflicting pain on others (seek counselling).

If we grow up in a home where we saw substance abuse, we must do whatever we can to avoid that substance (join a 12-step program for loved ones of substance abuse users/addicts).

If we grow up in a home where passive aggressive behavior was the norm, choose to live differently (learn to be assertive (not aggressive), to speak what is on your mind, stop reading into the motivations of others).

As I read back, those suggestions might sound far easier, far more simplistic than the reality is for those living in tough situations, with not the best role models.

Then there is the parent or grandparent who inflicted the pain … is there any hope for them?

Ann Voskamp tells a story that kind of stopped me in my tracks:

“I knew a guy who said: “Dad – I need you to say that I’m enough …”

Sometimes what you want most is your father/mother) to give you the greatest gift: For them to believe in you.

But his father turned to him and said – I can’t. Because my own father never said it to me.”

What your father (mother) never gave you, may be because it was something he/she never had.

This can be an unspoken bond with the one who has wounded you? You both carry the same wounds.

You can’t deeply love your parents – until you grieve the deep wounds of their life.

Even now, we could be the ones to say what every parents long to hear: “I love you and nothing you’ve ever done or ever failed to do will change how I forever love you.

I’m not ashamed of you but I acclaim you, for the battles that count as wins because you kept getting up again.”

https://annvoskamp.com/2020/06/what-all-our-hurting-hearts-need-most-this-fathers-day/

In this world where we encourage the elimination of toxic people from our lives, we forget that our scars can be the ointment that heals others … and that can be the miracle cure for our own. For our scars may, indeed, be very similar … originating from a common source.

We need to remember that God does not look at us through the sins of generations before us, he sees us for who we are as his child. It is how we choose to live that we are responsible for. And it is his favor, his grace that moves us beyond our nature and our nurture.

Fight the tendency to follow in your father’s or mother’s dirty footprints. Live differently! But also keep the door open to finding a new family path, by being the one who nurtures healing.

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Driving to work the other day, singing along to a worship song, words leapt out at me:

May His favor be upon you
And a thousand generations
Your family and your children
And their children,
and their children

As the words settled in my mind, my grandmother came to mind.

A woman of faith, who lived a very real, intentional, consistent life. She worked hard, played hard and knew when and how to rest. She loved her family, would go to the ends of the earth for any one of us. She never allowed our poor behavior, immaturity or way we chose to live impact her unconditional love for us.

But … she did not leave this world under any illusion that all of her loved ones chose, or would choose to follow her God.

I am certain that her greatest hope would have been that her family walk with God … her children, and their children, and their children and their children …

We all have loved ones who have not accepted Christ as their redeemer, or ones who have chosen to walk away from the gift of grace … the favor that is offered. We all have ached for the peace that they do not even know is missing in their life. This desire for their lives is a good one, perhaps the best anyone can hope for another.

Yet, if we sing the words of this blessing we can feel as though our loved one, as though we have been overlooked by God, missing out on his favor, his grace for life, everlasting.

One thing that my grandmother taught me, that is still resonating in my mind and heart, is to trust God. Or, as Corrie Ten Boom said,

“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God”

So, we trust God, who loves our loved ones even more than we do. And we hold on to his promises, knowing that though with man this is impossible, with him all things are possible (Matthew 19:26).

“Let this be recorded for a generation to come, so that a people yet to be created may praise the Lord.”

Psalm 102:18

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It has been over six months since I last stood in a sanctuary with my church family and worshiped in song … and I miss it.

There are local churches which have started meeting again for worship in the safety of small groups.

For me, church has little to do with the place.

I am not even sure if I am interested in going to our church service ‘live’ when that day does come. Sure it will be nice to be back in our church place, but … there will be a limited number of people (seated in our family/bubble/cohort units), socially distanced from others.

I can listen to a sermon and tithe online. I can pray wherever I go and I am learning to sing in praise and worship in my vehicle, but …

there is nothing better than sitting, standing, singing, praying … elbow to elbow, with one’s church family. Then there are the greetings of vocal and physical warmth … the hugs and pecks on the cheek. The whispers of weeping and rejoicing.

It is the shared intimacy of Christ in us. We are each other’s because we house our saviour … we are his church, and he holds residency in us.

It’s not so exciting to consider being physically distanced while in the same room. Yet, let’s not rule this out too quickly.

It is also good to remember that going to church, to worship together, is about us, the believers, the followers, the Christ in us people. We go there to worship, to be fed by the teaching, to practise the sacraments, to care for one another.

It is in our going out that is our calling … it is the great commission.

In the meantime everywhere we go, whoever we speak to, how we do our jobs, how we treat our neighbors, our families, even our enemies … how we are seen to be worshipping our God in our daily lives, as the outpouring of God in us … that is our grandest call to worship

Don’t you know
that you yourselves are God’s temple
and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?

1 Corinthians 3:16

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Unknown Artist – Germany 1560s

I realized the problem … me.

It is something that had been gnawing at my for quite awhile. I couldn’t figure out why my advise wasn’t being taken … I mean, I do know things.

It wasn’t like this was the first of our three adult kids to ignore my sage advise, my words of wisdom. But … this time is was really contributing to my knickers being tied up in a knot.

Then it hit me … I am the problem …

It was a simple thing, a parental ‘letting go’ of control of an area of one of our kid’s lives. An appointment had to be made, so I said, here’s the number you need to call and make an appointment asap.

An hour later … call not made.

The next morning … call not made.

That afternoon … call still not made.

Three days late … notta!

The procrastination to make this simple appointment was getting under my skin.

“But, it’s not rocket science.”

“How hard is this?”

“It will take mere minutes.”

… all my thoughts in response to this … nothing.

Then it hit me … when I was that age, I hated to make telephone calls to doctors, dentists, hairstylists, businesses. I would avoid it at all costs. Actually, I still hate doing it … I don’t have good rationale for my avoidance, it’s just an area that I can procrastinate with natural flair. Except that, I have mostly overcome it, managed to accomplish such tasks with little procrastination.

So, I started to look at other areas of our (adult) kid’s lives that made me kinda crazy. The things that had me shaking my head most often were the areas that, at a younger stage of my own life, I struggled with. Whether it was getting enough sleep, spending/saving money, time management, or … making an appointment, it is the things I struggled with that I am less gracious or understanding about in my kid’s lives.

This realization had me thinking about the parable of the unforgiving debtor/servant (Matthew 18:21-35). A man had a debt he simply could not repay the king, so he begged for mercy … for time to repay it. The king not only let him go, but forgave his debt. The man then went, straight away, to find one who owed him money and he demanded it immediately. This indebted man also begged for mercy, for time, but he was thrown in jail. When the king heard this story he was aghast. So he had this man thrown into prison (after a good tongue lashing).

The Matthew Henry Commentary on this parable states:

“Though we live wholly on mercy and forgiveness, we are backward to forgive the offences of our brethren.”

Though this story deals with debts, which my own story does not, it also deals with learning about grace and mercy.

In my life, I have had to learn from my own successes and (maybe more-so) mistakes. I have had to pay the price (literally) for debts unpaid, for late nights, for poor time management, for not making an appointment. These experiences have helped me to learn and grow.

But, I cannot expect my kids, who are still in the early stages of learning and growing, to have mastered the same level of learning as I. They too need to learn from their experiences and that means making their own mistakes along the way as well.

They, like me, will learn best from their own successes and errors. I hope that I can view their struggles … the ones I have learned from … with eyes of grace and mercy.

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I love mysteries. British crime dramas are my favorite shows to watch, for I love to see how the brief references to people, items or activities at the beginning give hints to where the mystery will travel.

When I read the Bible, I do so with a similar mystery-hunter mindset. I am constantly trying to pay attention to the broad strokes as well as the tiniest of details … for, I believe, if it is important to God that it be included in the narrative, then it must have significance to me today.

This summer I have been considering the trials of the Prophet Job, but I have been obsessed with his dung heap.

There he is, just outside the village gates (presumably down wind), sitting on a pile of … crap, scraping the crusts off the painful sores that cover his body. It is not just his body that aches, for he has lost his livestock, his servants and all of his children … the heap of dung is a representation of his life in this part of his story.

So … why was it so important that we know that Job is sitting on a dung heap?

I think part of it is time and setting. This dung heap would be like the village dump for … feces. It would be brought just outside the town and burned, providing a way to eliminate smell and bacteria from the living areas of the community.

but, I think there might be another reason why it was mentioned … and this might be where there is application for us today.

It is here, on the dung heap, that Job mourns his losses, where he scraped his sores with pottery, where he received three friends, where he replied to his wife’s encouragement to “curse God and die” with, “shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

I find it interesting that Job, a wise man, a Prophet, a righteous man, is sitting on a dung heap … in emotional and physical pain, front and center for all to see his response to pain.

So, what does this communicate to us, today?

I think that there is something important that we can learn from Job on his dung heap:

it is okay
to sit on a dung heap

In Job’s story, he literally sat on a dung heap, where he mourned, wept … where he wallowed in his sorrows for a time. It is one of the most real, authentic examples in the Bible of acknowledging how one feels when in the depths of despair. In this Job shows us that even a godly and righteous man can have time wallowing in self-pity.

In our society and maybe especially in our Christian circles, we do not look at a metaphorical sitting on a dung heap as an example of how a person should live. We encourage moving on, taking the high road, pulling ourselves up by our boot straps. In other words, we emphasize outward recovery, before allowing the bleeding to stop first.

Yet, there is a purpose in tears, in mourning and even in self pity.

Did you know that when humans cry for emotional reasons our tears are not just composed of water and salt, but also hormones and toxins that have accumulated due to emotional stress. When we cry, we are ridding our bodies of these, while at the same time the process of crying stimulates our bodies to produce endorphins … the Dr. Feel Good of hormones.

 After studying the composition of tears, Dr. Frey found that emotional tears shed these hormones and other toxins that accumulate during stress. Additional studies also suggest that crying stimulates the production of endorphins, our body’s natural pain killer and “feel-good” hormones.” Interestingly, humans are the only creatures known to shed emotional tears, though it’s possible that elephants and gorillas do, too. Other mammals and also salt-water crocodiles produce reflex tears that are protective and lubricating.

Grieving is the process towards acceptance of broken attachments. We must go through the grief (not around it) to reach that acceptance and then to learn how to live without those we had attachments with.

Self pity can be a most beneficial act of self care. It can also be the most authentic way to healing. It is healthier to move through emotions than to jump over the less appealing ones. The pain is there, whether you ignore it or walk through it, but if you ignore it, it will remain … unnamed, unhealed, like a full suitcase that has never been unpacked. Name the authentic emotion you are feeling and feel it fully.

Job felt his pain. He wallowed in it, agonized over it.

And, once through it, God reminded him who Job was, who God is … It was then that Job was ready to move off the dung pile.

So, if you are sad, have lost something or someone near to you, if life has not turned out as you hoped … sit awhile on the dung heap. Shed the tears you’ve been bottling up. Weep for yourself awhile.

Then, turn your face to God and have him remind you who you are, in him.

Just … don’t rush.

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“Job” (the first Job painting)
by William Orpen

… the patience of Job

an idiom birthed in the strength of an Old Testament prophet who refused to curse God and die.

I have been pondering Job over the past few months … pondering his time of sitting on the dung heap.

The image (above) of Job on his dung heap, naked and (with the image of a man walking away) alone spoke loudest to me of all the paintings of him by all the greatest painters. Painted by Irish painter William Orpen before or around 1900. Later he was dispatched as an artist to the Western Front in WW1. His paintings (and poem) inspired from his visit to the site of the Battle of Somme resonated with me as I looked a this image of the prophet Job, alone after the ravages of the war he was forced to fight.

Why was Job sitting on a dung heap?

Actually, some versions say he was sitting on ashes, not a dung heap. From my research it was both. The solid waste of animals would be taken to a select spot just outside the village, where it would … bake in the sun and eventually would be burnt (no doubt to eliminate smell as well as bacteria). It is there, on this ashy dung heap, where those who were undesirable outcasts (economically, socially or physical conditions) would sit and beg.

It would seem that Job had lost just about everything in his life … his livestock, servants, children and his health. His body was covered with sores. His only relief was scraping his sores (releasing the painful pressure, perhaps) with a broken piece of clay. His wife had told him to curse God and die. His friends inquired of what sin he had committed.

Job’s is the story that, perhaps, provides the theme of the children’s story “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day”.

Job’s is the story that, perhaps, provides the theme of some of the seasons in the lives of us all.

More on what the dung heap teaches us next time.

In the meantime, click here and read Job 1-3 … it’ll just take a few minutes (and that’s coming from one who reads so slowly). This will help to prepare us for the dung heap.

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Sacrificial Love

Sacrificial love … sound so good, so appealing.

It sounds like what we all could use, what we all desire.

When we are the recipient of sacrificial love, we know that we are being loved … really loved. When someone sacrificially loves us, they give us more love than we deserve, so much more than the giver has that they give to the point it hurts … and then a bit more.

Being the recipient of sacrificial love is the dream of us all. Being the giver … that is not the stuff that dreams are made of, is it?

Those of us who choose to associate our lives with Christ are called to emulate him, to live as he lived, do what he would do. That is a high calling, not for the faint of heart.

John 13:34 tells us to love one another as Christ has loved us.

Philippians 2:3 tells us to regard one another as more important than ourselves.

We see this in examples such as when someone enters a burning building to rescue another … being willing to put their lives at risk for the good of another.

We also see this in examples of people not responding to hateful comments thrown at them with equally hateful words and attitudes. People who have stuck with someone who has illness or aging related issues and cannot reciprocate the love. Those who do not give up on love, but keep loving even when there is no payback.

This is the example we are called and have committed, to follow. To love sacrificially is to show love and grace when the other person doesn’t deserve it, when we don’t want to.

Sacrificial love is the highest degree of allowing Christ to live in us, to work through us … because it is love that is not about ME.

Yet … to love another, truly sacrificially … the rewards are so much greater.

What is gained from loving sacrificially is not what the other person does for or gives to you, but the great gain is in the sacrifice that you give to the other. It is in sacrificing for another that we truly understand what it is to emulate Christ, to walk in his way.

So, our gain in loving another sacrificially is that we know, without a doubt, the presence of Christ in our life … because we have done what is most difficult as human beings … given up my rights, needs and desires for another’s good.

St. Francis said, “O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be loved as to love…….. It is in giving that I receive.”

Or, as Mark 10:45 reminds us,

For even the Son of Man
came not to be served but to serve,
and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

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Back to school is always a paradox of excitement and anxiety. This year, this 2020 September … in the midst of a pandemic … there might just be more anxiety than excitement.

Returning to work in a secondary school, last week, I found myself less anxious as I leaned into the F-word that needs to be the focus of the school year … flexibility. I also gained strength by praying … for the administration, for colleagues, for the students and their parents.

Prayer is our best back to school tool. It reminds us that we are not in control, but we know who is and that he doesn’t leave us in our time of need, our time of anxiety.

Prayer gives us a place to speak our fears, to name them, to be real.

Prayer gives us an amen … meaning ‘so be it’ or ‘truth’. It is the release of our burden … not just the giving of our worry and concern to God, but trusting him with our prayer (ie. not taking it back).

So … let’s pray for this school year:

God,

We come to you, acknowledging that you are God … we are not, Coronavirus is not … only you are God and you are God over everything.

God our kids (we) are starting a new school year and we confess that we might be allowing worry to control us. We confess that we have given far too much attention and time to social media and it has left us anxious, even hopeless. We confess that we often look first to those in government, in education to calm our fears. Lord we give the things that cause us to be anxious to you. We seek you first for confidence, for protection, for comfort.

We also seek your leading, for some are unsure about their return to school. There are staff, students, or family members at home with compromised immune systems, or pre-existing conditions that make us unsure about the wisdom of returning to school. Please, Lord, guide and lead those who are unsure. Lead them to their physicians who can help them make the best decision for themselves, their children and those they love. And Lord, if they choose to not return, help the rest of us to embrace them in their personal decision.

There is such anxiety about the start of this school year, Lord. There are those who may be frozen with fear. Bring them reminders of peace and comfort. Bring your people to them, to embrace and encourage them where they are, but also who will walk them through the fear to a place of ease.

May we, who follow you, hold tightly to you, so that we can be beacons of your love to those around us.

Thank-you that you give to us a spirit of power, and love, and a sound mind … those are your gifts to us (the evil one brings fear). With our sound minds we can make the decisions that are best for those we love. With the power from you, we can be confident in our decisions. With love we can make decisions based on what is best for not just we and those we love but for those around us … and in doing so, we are your hands and feet.

May we encourage those who are returning (or have already returned) to work in classrooms. May we hold up in prayer to you those who will be cleaning, teaching, administrating, assisting students in our schools. May we be like Aaron and Hur for Moses, holding his hands high in the midst of Joshua’s battle … holding school staff up to God as they battle for educating in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic.

God, we give this school year to you. We give the families represented, the school staff, those who sit in tall buildings making decisions about education and safety … to you. And we walk in faith that you will not leave us alone in the path ahead of us.

Amen … and amen.

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