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Archive for November, 2020

Approximately one hundred and sixty years ago, Emily Dickinson wrote a poem illustrating hope as a bird.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -

That perches in the soul -

And sings the tune without the words -

And never stops - at all -



And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -

And sore must be the storm -

That could abash the little Bird

That kept so many warm -



I’ve heard it in the chillest land -

And on the strangest Sea -

Yet - never - in Extremity,

It asked a crumb - of me.

This metaphorical description of hope is as “the thing with feathers”, a “little bird” whose song is heard sweetest in the midst of the storms of life.

It is one of Dickinson’s most popular poems and I expect it is because the truth of her descriptive words resonate in the hearts of those who read it.

Hope … that ethereal quality that is available to us all, that gives sustenance to unfed souls, that keeps us vertical when we think we might drop and that never asks anything in return.

The apostle Paul said, “hope is as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Hebrews 6:19) and that it “does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us” (Romans 5:5).

Today, this first Sunday of Advent, 2020, we need this hope. We need to be reminded that it flutters all around (and even, in) us. It will not disappoint. And this year, this pandemic year, hope is sweeter than ever.

In the book of Isaiah (40:31), is another feathery metaphor of hope :

“those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

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Yesterday, all of the children from the elementary campus of the school where I work, were out on the track, singing and being filmed for the Christmas presentation. This year their presentation is being filmed, to be broadcast for loved ones to see, from their homes, workplaces, or seniors facilities.

The Christmas concert will be different, because of the pandemic … but the concert will still happen … the children will still sing and dance and recite and act, the loved ones will still smile and laugh and beam with pride … different, but will still happen.

Listening to the radio the other day, I heard the comment that “the churches are closed, but the bars are still opened” …

and I shook my head.

Where we live, smaller, live church services have halted again (as Covid numbers, particularly as hospitalizations have increased significantly). This is a disappointment for those who were so thankful to be able to worship together, but …

this going back to online only church services does not mean that the churches are closed.

There is a passage, recorded in Matthew, that confirms how very open churches can be … if we personally know who has built the church.

Jesus is chatting with his disciples. He asks them first, “who do people say I am?” (v. 13) The disciples respond with John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the other prophets. Now … Jesus knew what others said, because he knows all. I think what he is doing here is, as always, is teaching the disciples an important truth.

The passage continues with another question:

Then he asked them, “Who do you think I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “The Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
“God has blessed you, Simon, son of Jonah,” Jesus said, “for my Father in heaven has personally revealed this to you—this is not from any human source. You are Peter, a stone; and upon this rock I will build my church; and all the powers of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven; whatever doors you lock on earth shall be locked in heaven; and whatever doors you open on earth shall be open in heaven!”

Matthew 16:15-19

The answer of Simon Peter,

“The Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

You see, the disciples were his disciples. They walked and talked and ate and slept with him. They were his people … and he was their teacher. They had a personal relationship with Jesus. The others, the people who Jesus first inquired about, they just knew OF him, the disciples KNEW him. Theirs was a personal association.

Jesus then goes on to speak of building his church on this rock, but I (and many commentators) don’t think that Jesus is referring specifically, or just, to Peter … but to all who can answer the question,

“Who do you think I am?”

with the words of Simon Peter, with the words of one who knows him intimately, personally :

“The Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Churches who are built on the bedrock of the intimate knowledge of who Jesus is, as “the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” they are not closed, but always opened …

and all the powers of hell shall not prevail against it.”

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If, like me, you didn’t grow up with an understanding of the church calendar (other than Christmas and Easter) you might not realize that the church equivalent to New Years happened this past weekend.

Sunday, November 22, was the Feast of Christ the King. I admit, I had never heard of it until last year, when the pastor spoke about it and his own excitement for this date rubbed off on me.

In the aftermath of World War I, Pope Pius noted that, while hostilities had ceased, true peace had not been restored to the world and the different classes of society … he maintained that true peace may only be found under the Kingship of Christ as the “Prince of Peace.”

holycommunion.org

Thus, the Feast of Christ the King.

Despite the desire for peace through the kingship of Christ, today we still live with the peace-less divisions within classes, genders, ethnicities, economic groups, etc.

We are still in need of the Prince of Peace, Christ the King.

As I looked into the Feast of Christ the King celebration for this past weekend, the gospel passage that was read was Matthew 25:31-46. This passage is that of The Sheep and the Goats, but I would call it Jesus is Gonna Set Religious Peeps, like us, on our Bottoms.

So, as with much of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is flipping the traditional understanding of religion, redemption and of himself as Messiah on the poor religious leaders.

He tells a story, not just a fanciful, fictional tale, but a prophesy of what is to come. It is a story that should reverberate in our minds and hearts even today, causing us to shake in our boots, as we consider how to care for others.

He speaks these words, communicating that if we want to serve him, we do so by serving the least in our communities, “for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’” (v. 42-43)

The people were aghast, shocked with Jesus’ words, for they had not starved him, let him go without drink, not welcomed him, left him unclothed or without a visit.

It wasn’t that something wrong had been done, but that what was right (in his eyes … helping “the least of these”) had not been done.

It wasn’t a sin of commission (doing something wrong) but a sin of omission (not doing what is right).

Jesus calls us to see him as king, as the prince of peace and we are to be his agents of peace in this world, on his behalf but also recognizing that we are responsible to love him, but loving the least.

This reminds me of a curious verse in the beloved Christmas carol, O Holy Night :

Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother,
and in his name all oppression shall cease,
sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
let all within us praise his holy name.

Christ the King, the Prince of Peace … for the slave, the oppressed … a most modern (timeless) carol.

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I thought that I was done with this subject … then … more words flowed out onto the screen. I guess the ripples are still in motion …

It is akin to floating, or maybe I just long to feel the motion of the ripples on the water. I long for peace …

Nope, that doesn’t do …

Most of time I live and move through my days as always, then something jogs my memory, or I bump my knee and like the pain of an old injury resurfacing, I dissolve in a puddle …

No … still inadequate …

I’ll see him in one of my kids and I almost burst with a combination of joy and sorrow …

Nope …

How does one describe walking through the first 365 days without a loved one? How does one, adequately, define the experience of great loss? How does one say, at the same time … the pain of loss is always there and life goes on? How does one meander through year one with everything the same, yet every first a reminder that everything is different?

Short answer …

I don’t know.

This experience of year one without my/our dad, my mom’s husband, the next generation’s grandfather, a friend, neighbor, cousin does not make us experienced, experts. It just leaves us longing for what was, for time snuffed out.

Not only do we feel the void his death has left, we feel and know that it has changed us, our relationships with each other, for his empty space has removed scaffolding in our relationships with each other, causing us to either be stubbornly unmoved (a fallacy, as Seismic Shifts move us all) or completely unmoored, bounced around by every wave, every ripple.

Every ripple … the ripples of his life, breathless for almost a year, are still moving.

I saw it when my younger daughter filled my kitchen with biscuits from his biscuit recipe, when my nephew worked in his garden in spring and when my niece showed up to help clean his garden as summer was fading. I see it when my older daughter calls her grandmother to check in on her, when my son wrapped his arms around me, offering wordless comfort as I melted into a puddle. In how all the grands love their dogs and cats.

I saw it in the stubborn, in the drop everything and run, in the sadness and the frustrations and the avoidance techniques of my brothers … of myself.

He is in our risqué humor, our desire to help each other, our love of music and movement, in the colors of fall and the earliest maple syrup and pussy willows in spring. He is in the late night game, the local hockey team, eyes closed, but don’t you think about turning the channel. He is in the beauty and fluttering of a hummingbirds wings, the enjoyment of an ice cream cone or a meal surrounded by one another. He is in the contradiction of our striving and contentment. He is laughing … that deep belly laugh that often ended in him coughing up a lung. He is on the swing in the cool of a summer evening, reminiscing with our mom.

 “In the Ramtop village where they dance the real Morris dance, for example, they believe that no one is finally dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away—until the clock he wound up winds down, until the wine she made has finished its ferment, until the crop they planted is harvested. The span of someone’s life, they say, is only the core of their actual existence.”

Terry Pratchett – Reaper Man

Dad,

the water still ripples.
the clock is still wound.
the wine is still ripening.

and dad … the crop you planted … it’s growing strong,
and the bounty of it will never come to an end.

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It was a Thursday morning, just like today.

Just like today, the sun shone brightly that day, after days of grey and gloom and rain.

At a glance, one might say that it was the calm after the storm … for me, a year ago, it was the beginning of the storm after the calm.

Twelve months later it is still a mix of calm and storms, everyday life and everything is changed, laughter and tears, stability and wobbling.

Twelve months of grief for my dad, followed by grief for his sister and her husband, a cancer diagnosis and treatment for a brother, the diagnosis of chronic disease for a daughter as well as illness for another, the loneliness of our mom and a world pandemic to round it all out.

Grief doesn’t happen in isolation. Life, with it’s joys and horrors just keeps happening, with little concern for our pain and processing.

There have been times when I have felt, metaphorically, buried alive with grief, disappointment, fear, tragedy and sorrow. Days when I got out of bed, but stayed on my dung heap from morning ’til night. Days when I didn’t have anything left to give … to anyone, even myself.

And the one who I had previously gone to, when there was no other … he was gone too. And I felt it. I felt the vacuum of his absence, the loss of the undergirding he had always provided.

And what have I learned?

  • I have learned that life is short … too short for regrets, excuses. We have today, this moment … that is all we know we have.
  • I have learned that speaking of your pain validates the pain felt by another.
  • I have learned to say I love you instead of good bye … to family, to friends … it will one day be too late to speak them, don’t save them like fancy china … throw them around like confetti.
  • I have learned to lean into my sadness, to cry when the tears surface, to say the words, “I am sad today,” to feel the feels of grief.
  • I have learned that it’s okay to take a break from helping others … saying no or not volunteering to help someone else is okay when your cup is empty.
  • I have learned that even helpers need helpers … from my husband, to a couple of friends, to my counsellor … these people have been the ones throwing me flotation devices when I was taking on water.
  • I have learned that even though I have struggled to write during this year, I have managed to continue to practice this daily discipline.
  • I have learned (again) that God never leaves us in the valleys of life, including grief … and he shows himself in people and wonders that can only be of him.
  • I have learned that grief is not something one can go around, but we must go through it.

It has been a year … started with a beautiful, sunny morning and ended the same.

Though the void left behind will never again be filled, I am hoping that this sunrise was the calm after the great storm.

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I am reading along in the Bible and …

WHAT DID I JUST READ?

The Lord spoke to Moses, as one speaks to a friend.

Exodus 33:11

Moses is having a one-on-one session with God … nothing too wild or crazy about that … then there is that line that makes my head shake.

I read it again … and again.

God

Creator

Redeemer

Judge

Master

Healer

Almighty

Most High

Shepherd

… friend?

I can easily see God as the warm and welcoming (and disciplinarian) father, who loves, comforts and leads my life. To see him as a friend … that is not so easy to comprehend.

I immediately sought out understanding from various Bible commentaries, most of which seemed consumed with the ‘face to face’ part … as though the physical position of God (did he appear in human form? did Moses see the face of God? how could Moses still be alive if he saw God’s very face?).

The physical was not where my amazement and imagination took flight, it was the relational. The very God of creation spoke to Moses, as one speaks to a friend.

This exchange occurred not long after God’s own people, the Israelites … tapping their toes and thinking that Moses was taking too long up Mount Sinai getting God’s top ten commandments, had a golden calf constructed so that they could have a shiny new god to pray to.

And what did Moses say to God? He intervened for those impatient, ungrateful Israelites. Moses even had the nerve to ask God to accompany them on the rest of their journey.

Moses was growing into the leadership position that God had ordained for him! His confidence, not in himself, but in the plan of God was firm.

“The Lord spoke to Moses, as one speaks to a friend.”

Now, take note (as I did) that it was God who spoke as a friend, not Moses. God set the pace. God was experiencing and wanting Moses to experience something unique, different from so many others.

Was God delighting in the faith of Moses? In his leadership abilities? Or was God delighting in his heart … was Moses heart transforming into a heart like God’s?

Kinda makes you want a heart like that … as one after the heart of God.

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In the Pacific Northwest it is storm season. The torrential rains and the strong winds appear usually from November to December. Some years the impact is barely noticeable, whereas other years they provide enough impact for headlines such as STORM OF THE DECADE (or CENTURY).

While listening to the weather forecast this morning I heard about successive storms expected to hit our coast over the next few days …

and I got so excited!

Just like last evening, while out with a friend for a walk and coffee. When we started walking back to where our cars were parked (three or four blocks away) the heavens opened up and lightening flashed brightly in the distance. We sought temporary refuge under an awning, enjoying the light and sound show until the rains eased.

It was spectacular.

Just like the ones to hit our coast, just like all such storms, it eventually passed.

The next morning I awoke to a bright sunrise … the calm after the storm.

Storms in our lives … the kind that flatten us, leave us with more questions than answers, the kind that can skew our hopes and throw our future plans and dreams up in the air … those storms aren’t as delightful or entertaining as a thunder and lightening night sky performance.

Yet, like thunder and lightening, like wind and rain, these storms of life come and they eventually touch us all.

I don’t have wise and life-changing words for such storms. I cannot say that the loved one will be healed, that the money will be there, that the stress and anxiety of your life will dissipate.

I can tell you, from my faith and experience of the storms of life and of the God of all … you are not alone. Even when it may feel that you are out to sea in a dingy, paddling with all your might (or curled in a ball in fear) … you are not alone. He is with you.

When you pass through the deep, stormy sea, you can count on me to be there with you. When you pass through raging rivers, You will not drown. When you walk through persecution like fiery flames, you will not be burned; the flames will not harm you.

Isaiah 43:1-2

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“Just linger for a moment or two” I heard myself say. “Carole, you’ve gotta learn to linger.”

Five years ago, life was different.

Our oldest daughter was preparing to her first apartment, next daughter was living at home while studying at a local university and our youngest was still in high school, where I worked. We lived in a large home, on a sizeable property that demanded of us constantly. Hubby worked nowhere near just a forty hour work week as a pastor in a local church and his job trickled down into seen and unseen responsibilities for myself. It was our first year in a few with no International students as part of our home and family.

I was tired, perpetually tired.

It seemed that I was constantly in demand, in motion. I was either cooking, or driving, or working, or weeding …

and now …

life is different.

Our oldest two daughters are out on their own, our son still mostly living at home, sometimes working out of town, currently working locally. I still work the same hours, but it’s different. Hubby no longer working over full time as a pastor, now working a couple of part time positions. We sold our large property for a townhouse close to everything.

Life is … simpler, quieter, less demanding.

But, learning to linger … it does not come natural after years of living based on the urgent. The growing pains from a life of busy to less slow are very real.

In my adjustments to this new way of life and living, I am beginning to learn to linger … but it is a learning, a process of slowing oneself down.

It means pausing to smell the flowers, to listen, to ponder, to wonder.

It also means pausing in my day and lingering in the awareness of the presence of God. To put the book, the phone, the keys down … maybe even closing my eyes, and letting God know that I know he is right there, with me.


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At the funeral of Sister Margaret Lowe, 1918

Today, as Canadians, we remember those who gave their lives and youth in service to their country, their communities and to the pursuit of peace in other countries, around the world, in various conflicts in odd … virtual services of remembrance due to the pandemic.

It is not something I can personally understand, the idea of leaving the safety of my home, family and community to travel into an unfamiliar place filled where one’s life could be snuffed out at any time.

I wonder if I would be so selfless.

Military members and numerous volunteers have been, and continue to be so selfless.

One group of individuals who have given in times of conflict and world struggle are nurses.

Predominantly (but not exclusively) women, these nurses who cared for the wounded in field hospitals and even close to the front, risking and even losing their lives in their service.

Days that were long and resources that were often short was their wartime nursing norm. In a place of the horrors, fear and death all around them, they had to have steady hands, clear minds and the ability to dole out what must have seemed a daydream … encouragement and hope.

There are countless stories of servicemen in WW1 and WW2 who credit their lives to nurses who cared for them after injuries. They tell of having rediscovered their desire and purpose for living from the steady, patient and encouraging voice of one at their bedside, in their darkest hours.

This current pandemic is a close-to-home reminder of the selflessness, commitment and sacrifice of those who serve their communities as nurses.

As I bow my head, this Remembrance Day, my thoughts will be specifically, of those who gave in wartime as well as those who continue to do so.

They were young, as we are young,
They served, giving freely of themselves.
To them, we pledge, amid the winds of time,
To carry their torch and never forget.
We will remember them.

We will remember them.

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I think that one of my favorite chapters in the Bible is John 15. It begins with the vine and branches, migrates into how the world hates the disciples and ends with the work of the Spirit. Though they may have three different titles, they are all about abiding.

Charles Swindoll says that to “abide” with God (the vinedresser) is being at home with him. I love this translation for it feels warm, connected … it feels like a choice.

Indeed, abiding is a choice.

Often the verse of focus is John 15:5 :

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you are at home with me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing …”

But verse 8, where Jesus says how it will be known if we are at home with him is equally important :

“This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

An apple tree cannot produce oranges, A grape vine cannot produce tomatoes. And a branch that is intwined with others, but not attached (not at home with) the vine, produces nothing of the fruit of that vine.

Though we may produce fruit in our lives, it is only because we are attached to the vine … at home with God.

I was remembering recently at time when, as a teenager, I met someone, who was sure he knew me from somewhere. He asked where I worked, and I told him I worked at Tim Horton’s. His eyes lit up, as he then named the location where I worked. He said that he went there frequently and always knew I was a Christian because of how I treated the customers.

As I remembered that story I found myself wondering … is whose I am still evident to a stranger? Can strangers identify me by the fruit of how I live my life? can family and friends?

is it obvious that I am at home with Christ?

I can only hope that the fruit of my living is Him. This comes only as I allow Him to produce the fruit of my connection to Him.

There are many who claim that name of Christ, but the fruit of their lives does not indicate that they are at home with the Lord. Our fruit is in what we say and also in what we do. We know this, because we can easily see the contradictions in their lives.

The most evident fruit of the spirit of God is love … if what we see from ourselves or others who claim the name of Christ is not love … they are not at home with Christ.

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:35

“God didn’t want me to do more for Him.

He wanted me to be more with Him.”

― Bruce H. Wilkinson, Secrets of the Vine: Breaking Through to Abundance


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