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Archive for January, 2021

Shhh!

Sometimes we need to just get quiet, get past the

how are you?
I am fine

automated conversation.

Sometimes we need to sit, face to face … well, before Covid … sigh.

Ok, sometimes we need to sit, separately, yet heart to heart. We need to move on to the intimate version of the same question …

how are you … really?

One word … just one word changes how one’s heart hears the heart of the one asking the question. That one word says,

I have time.
I have space.
I want to know.

It says,

I care.

We all need to know that someone cares beyond just making the noises, going through the motions. Kind sometimes isn’t enough. Sometimes we need to be kind and to care for others too.

January is one of the dark months and, for some, it can, for some, be a season of being chased by the dark dog. Not a real black dog, but one which can take over more than just a house, it can take over a person’s life.

Just this past week in Canada, there was a mental health awareness campaign called #bellletstalk. People spoke about mental health issues, money was raised. Those are good things to do to show awareness, but there are 364 other days in the year, days when we can make a real difference in the lives of those closest to us.

Here is the thing. Though we all know the heart’s delight when someone shows such care to us, we don’t always show such care to others. We forget, we are in a rush, we have hearts and heads full of our own stuff.

But, what if we were intentional once a day to look into someone’s eyes. I mean, with our masks, eyes are really all that we see. Look into their eyes and say, how are you, really? Maybe with someone at work, someone at school, someone in your household, in your bed. Maybe send a message, a text, an email, a good ol’ fashioned letter, saying, I was thinking of you. How are you, really?

Dive below the surface. Show someone that,

I have time.
I have space.
I want to know.

Ask the question,

how are you … really?

It says,

I care.

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Christmas is nothing compared with January … when it comes to cravings.

Carbs are my weakness in the deep dark of winter. Popcorn, rice, oats, potatoes, scones … lay a carb at my feet and it will soon be inhaled.

I wish I craved something else … vegetables, exercise … time with God.

Actually, in my carb-craving season, if I pause (and I often don’t) from inhaling this sustenance that doesn’t sustain, if I take just a moment to ask myself the question,

what am I really hungering for?

I find myself sitting quietly, until my soul reaches for something that truly nourishes and I enter into intimate communication with God.

It is as though I reach for the wrong daily bread.

Temptations lose their power
When Thou art nigh
I need Thee,
O I need Thee
Every hour I need Thee
O bless me now, my Savior
I come to Thee

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Dead … in the deep, dark midwinter it seems that everything is dead.

Grass does not grow, trees and plants sit in the ground lifeless, even the tiny creepy-crawly and flying creatures have gone into hiding. It is just all dead.

This season can make a soul feel lifeless, purposeless, dead.

As I walked the Wonderdog, on a bright and cool day recently, I noticed white color in amongst the dull greenery in the flowerbeds in front of a building we were approaching. I smiled and paused to drink in the beauty of these winter flowers that I loved in our previous garden.

 Hellebores seem to begin to bloom here in the Pacific Northwest about the same time as everything else dies or moves into their winter sleep. They are also known as Christmas or Lenten Rose. A legend is told of a poor traveller to Bethlehem, at the time of the birth of Jesus. This traveller sobbed, for they had no resources to get a gift to give. As their tears fell to the ground, these beautiful flowers grew immediately, providing a gift for the new born King.

Right now most of the plants lie dormant. They are sleeping there … in the waiting. But in the weeks to come they will come alive again, bursting with the life from the dead seeds. When they rise from the ground, bud on the branches, flower on the bush, they will be doing what they were created to do …

“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.”
Psalm 150:6

The thing is, whether spring or summer, blooming or sleeping, working or waiting … in the working, in the waiting, in the blessing, in the breaking, in the dying, the rising … we are all to praise the Lord.

If you’re still alive and breathing
Praise the Lord
Our Father finds
The child inside
We left for growing old
Awake, awake, awake my soul

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And this is how it begins …

I haven’t told anyone this before, but I’m going to tell you now …

I wish someone had told me, though I am not certain that I would have listened or believed it to be true. Maybe that is just how it is when life is experienced with both the sun and rain on our skin?

So, what I am about to tell you … it’s true … I have the bumps and bruises and emotional muscle development to prove it. Hum … that sounds rather dark and twisty. Don’t worry, the bumps and bruises can be reduced if you listen to what I am going to tell you …

but, I also know that when someone tells you something, something which requires a change within, well … people don’t often listen because experience is a much more profound teacher than advice (at least it has been for me).

So … take this under advisement …

Here it is …

there is no formula for success in life

Ok, so maybe I have hinted at this before, but this time I am focusing on this message, I am imploring you to consider how this might affect your thinking, your planning, your expectations in life.

Social media is full of should, always, never. Certainly there are things and events in our lives that these words are accurately used.

Humans should drink water everyday.

If you drop a marble from your hand, it will always fall.

You will never leave a beach without sand sticking to you.

Much of real live life, though, is lived with grey matter, with special circumstances, with choice. It is the power of choice that most often wrecks havoc with the if-then expectations in our daily living.

We humans think that if we study hard we will get a high mark in our course … but, studying is only part of the picture. Ability is the other piece that affects the outcome. We think that if we dote on our spouse, they will always love us. We think that if we raise our children a certain way, they will be successful. We think that if we eat healthy and exercise regularly we will live long and healthy. We think that if we pour into our loved ones, they will be there for us when we are elderly.

There are no guarantees of success!

There are no formulas!

Okay, I hear you thinking, but if we follow God, surrender our lives to his will, raise our children to follow him, obey his commands …

But … even as you are thinking those thoughts (thoughts that I, myself had thought in younger years) there are faces and names and situations that don’t fit this Christian formula that we have held tightly too.

Maybe we have held that formula, that ideal, more tightly than we have held onto God himself? Maybe the formula has become our god?

It is said that expectation is the root of all heartache, sorrow, evil, disappointment, suffering. If God is who we follow, then trust, not expectation, must be our guide. If I am trusting my God in the process, then I need to trust him with the timing.

Through the ‘failures’ of life’s formulas, there is one thing we can be completely confident of :

I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord.

Psalm 27:13-14

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A loved one said something to me that I received as I might receive a blow to the gut. She spoke her understanding of who I am as a compliment. Though I know that she wasn’t intending it to be hurtful that is exactly how I heard it.

So, what was said to me that got my knickers so knotted?

“But you are resilient”

I do not remember what words I said, but I can remember the frustration rising up within me.

As I look back now I understand that it was said with affection and appreciation. But, at the time, I heard it very differently. I heard what sounded like, “you were born resilient.”

Resilience is like elasticity of emotional response. It is to keep going even when faced with obstacles. It is to spring back up after being beaten down. It is looking for the light in the middle of the darkness.

“Positive people also have negative thoughts.
They just don’t let it control them.”
-unknown

Though the experts on resilience seem to be split on whether resilience is a natural trait or a learned one, I would say it could certainly be natural … but that doesn’t mean that it develops without effort.

Resilience is born out of bruises, failures, bad news, hurts, heartbreaks, tears and sorrows. It is an emotional muscle, one that must be exercised to grow.

It is an act of self survival, not born out of Pollyanna positivity, but from a personal awareness of the dark that exists and the peril that is present.

It is because of this awareness of disaster that could follow, that one practises resilience, rising from ashes, eyes focused on the light, the good, the positive … as an act of self-survival.

If, when we are faced with the tough stuff of life, we spend too much time within our dark problems, our struggles then we will be accepting the darkness they bring as part of our identities … we will be claiming victim as part of our name.

We all have dark and sad and tough events and things done to us that we did not bring on ourselves, but we all have the choice in how we respond to these dark and twisty events and realities.

Acknowledge your pain
(cry, mend the wounds)
then,
get up,
dust yourself off,
adjust your crown
and keep on keeping on.

You and I are children of the King … we may be afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed (2 Corinthians 4:8-9) and we can do all things through Christ because he gives us strength (Philippians 4:13).

We don’t walk through our lives alone.

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Just writing the word dreaming makes my mind begin to sing that The Mamas & The Papas 1970s hit California Dreamin’ (and now yours is too).

Maybe not California, but I have had my fair share of travel dreams in recent months. It is hard to dream of travel when you don’t know when it will be wise to do so again.

In these pandemic days (and nights) dreaming is a key to unlocking our unfulfilled wishes from travel, to physically attending church, to dinner parties, to greeting family and friends with a hug.

Hum … those dreams sound rather different from what we might have been dreaming a year ago, before the pandemic required changes in our daily lives.

I was thinking of dreams the other day. Dreams that were, at one time, hopes for my life.

When I was in high school I dreamed of being an adult, having a job, getting married, having children. As time moved on I dreamed of seeing new sights, owning a home, having a pet, travelling with our kids. Then came the years of what I would call the more dreams … more income, more house and yard, more travel, more things. As I look back at those years I see cracks that had results that put previous dreams in peril.

We do have to be careful about what we wish and dream … for we are revealing our hearts in our desires.

The other day I realized my dreaming for the future had slowed from earlier years. Mine is not a stage in life for attaining, reaching as in earlier years. Yet I realized that I was missing the joy and anticipation, the forward-thinking that comes from dreaming.

“‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.” Acts 2:17

I want to grow old dreaming dreams. I want to awaken in the morning with hopes and goals, with a direction to be working toward. I want the prayers of my lips to be whispers of the desires of my heart, staying close to God, so that my desires line up with His.

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Precept Upon Precept

Sometimes an image will make me think, give me ideas or inspire me in some way. Such was the case when I saw the image to the left.

It could be used to illustrate many things, but when I saw it my first thoughts were regarding education.

Both ladders are heading in the same direction, they both appear to be reaching the same heights. The one on the left has a person at the top, with many little steps to reach the destination. The one on the right has a person at the bottom, unable to reach even the first rung of the more spaced apart rungs.

Immediately I realized how perfectly it illustrates that a teacher providing many, smaller, incremental steps to an academic goal can mean that the goal is accessible to more learners. Less are left behind, all able to move forward … maybe not in the same timing, but the goal is attainable for most. This is best teaching practise.

Accessibility to all, is the model of the teaching of Jesus himself.

When Jesus spoke to the crowds, he did so as when he spoke in the temple … through parables. He did this because a parable is a story, weaving a message through relatable events, items and experiences. Most of his listeners understood vines, differences between wealth and poverty, familial relationships. So that is the subject matter through which he delivered his messages.

Though not all listening might have had full understanding of his message, all could listen along, gleaning nuggets of truth and instruction along the way.

Then, because there were easy to understand parts of the story, people could re-tell what Jesus had said and if one call retell a story, they have mastered the message.

Jesus did this because he wanted people to know that his story, his lessons were for all people, from the oldest to the youngest.

For it is precept upon precept,
precept upon precept,
line upon line,
line upon line,
here a little, there a little.”
Isaiah 28:10

The writer of Isaiah is speaking here of children and how to teach them.

The Matthew Henry Commentary, on this passage says, “Teachers should accommodate themselves to the capacity of the learners, give them what they most need and can best bear, and a little at a time.” This is how we need to share the Good News, just as it is how we need to educate learners in school.

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A few days ago I was organizing photos of 2020.

I found myself smiling as I noted that through January and February I had taken ten photos. In March I had taken thirty-three. The numbers remained high throughout the rest of the year.

There were photos of birthdays, nature, a bathroom reno, short local trips in summer, the Wonderdog … but there were also pics of my self-haircut, me sitting at my desk during online schooling, zoom pics and so many morning sunrises that I would text to my mom.

This Covid pandemic has changed our world, how we live but also how we think about things in our lives.

The small amount of photos at the start of 2020 illustrates to me how I was thinking before the pandemic in my collection. I was busy, going and doing. No time for taking pictures.

When I think of those first two months of 2020 I hear John 13:7 echoing in my mind :

you don’t understand now
what I am doing,
but someday you will

Those two months were before change became the new normal. They were the days of innocence, in a way. Days that were self-driven, self-focused.

Then the calendar turned to March and as the second week enfolded, we were faced with change … cancellations, closures and limitations on the daily, the hourly.

It was quiet, so quiet. The streets were not longer bustling with morning and afternoon traffic. The calendars were not longer directing our waking hours.

As I was organizing and editing images to move off my computer I was struggling to know which photos were worth keeping and which were unimportant. I deleted few, for each one held significance for me, of this year. Each one helped tell the story of 2020.

At the beginning of the year, I might not have saved an image of a cup and saucer I wanted to buy, but it’s message was part of my (our) 2020 year story. As are the ones of a vase of iris’ daily blooming, the many selfies of the steps of my self haircut, or the sunrise photos I would take to send my mom. All of them, together, wordlessly speak the history of my 2020 year.

Let’s back to John 13:7, “you don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.”

Peter had just refused Jesus desire to wash his feet. Peter, instead, wanted to wash the feet of him. Jesus, though, had a plan behind his act of hygiene for his followers. He needed them to see and understand that as followers of Christ, they (and we) could only be cleansed by his act of humility. That they (we) cannot accomplish this (or anything) on our own. This foot washing was a hint of the coming cross and how he, Jesus, would take away, would cleanse the sins of the world, through his humility.

If I have learned nothing in 2020, it was that prior to March, when the pandemic shut down our lives, we were primarily doing things in our own will. Busily working to do the will of God … but often on our own steam, in our own strength, prioritizing things as we saw fit. We spent so much time doing in our churches, in our communities, with others. Then we were forced to be face to face with the ones who God put most intimately into our lives … maybe God had a bigger plan? a different plan?

Maybe our social distancing was to remind us of our first loves? Of our relationship with God, our relationships with our spouses, our children, our parents?

In the Pulpit Commentary, on John 13:7 (including a few more verses), we read a re-wording :

If you refuse this manifestation of humble love from me, if you put your own pride between yourself and me, if you disdain this act of self-surrender, claiming to understand me and our mutual relations better than I, you have no part with me. This is a symbol of my love to you, and of what is to be your love to one another”

I truly feel that this pandemic has been an opportunity to re-set our lives, on what is important. On the value of humility, community. On the place of Jesus in our lives. On living and walking, not as we have always done, but how he desires. Remember, we only see in part, a few pics … he’s got the whole album in view!

We may not understand what he will do with this pandemic, but he does … and that is enough for me.

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Anyone else feeling that the start of 2021 to be discouraging?

Anyone else shaking their head?

Anyone else feeling defeated already?

Anyone else feeling that the noise, the chatter of everyone around them, is so loud all you can do is be quiet?

I had to pull myself together recently, as I felt that the darkness in our world was overtaking me, pulling me down into a pit of despair.

I don’t think I am alone in that despair.

What are we to do we do when we encounter despair, disappointment, sin and evil?

There are those who must declare, shout out, announce their every thought for all the world to hear.

I am not one of those people.

I need to feel the sorrow, the loss, the tragedy. I need to take it in and turn it over, and over and over again.

I need to weep in the sadness of in inhumanity of humanity. Allowing that sadness to become part of me.

I need to pray … groaning to God, who I acknowledge must ache far more than I. It is only in conversation with Him that comfort and answers are found.

In Augustine’s writings in The Confessions, he pleads, “Bend down to my soul’s ear, O Lord; open it, and tell my soul: I am your salvation.”

Augustine’s concern is not his own silence, but his perceived silence of God. He begs for God to take the Q-tips to his own soul’s ears (something no doctor would advise) and clean them out so that he might hear the message that God seems to be hiding from him. Augustine is looking for what we humans all long for at one time or another …

a message in the stars,

a rainbow in the sky,

an audible voice from his God.

He demands to hear from God, what his soul is already fully aware of …

that he’s got this

Whatever this is …

And so, while I listen for the voice of God, while I am quiet so that I can hear his voice in my soul …

I am quiet, but not blind.

“Be silent in the LORD’s presence and wait patiently for him.”
Psalm 37:7 

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“If you want to change the behavior of a student, you must first convince them, real or perceived, that you like them”

Those were the best words of advice I ever received as an educational assistant … and I have found them to be true!

No amount of negative reinforcement, tokens, nagging, consistent messaging, interruptions, trips to the principal, calls home, withdrawal of personal attention, privileges, or possessions has had a more substantive beneficial effect in working with students than this intentional expression of unconditional appreciation for them.

Effective? … yes!
Guaranteed desired results? … no …

Since I am human, since the students are human … well, we have this ‘benefit’ of free will and we just don’t always choose to say, and do, and think rightly. So, guaranteed positive results … nope, but it’s pretty effective.

The other thing is that the advice needs an edit, because liking people is hard. Sometimes liking is even humanly impossible. So, I prefer the quote to be edited by substituting ‘like’ for ‘love’.

“If you want to change the behavior of a student, you must first convince them, real or perceived, that you love them”

Some might say, well if liking is hard, loving would be even difficult … true … and not.

When I say you need to convince someone that you love them, I don’t mean with my or our capacity to love, because that is just not enough. I mean with the love that is only present because the Spirit of God is within me.

Last week I was reading a sermon of Martin Luther King Jr., which he preached in 1957, at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, titled, Loving Your Enemies. In it he said something about this act of loving that got my attention :

Agape (love) is something of the understanding, creative, redemptive goodwill for all men. It is a love that seeks nothing in return. It is an overflowing love; it’s what theologians would call the love of God working in the lives of humans. And when you rise to love on this level, you begin to love humans, not because they are likeable, but because God loves them.

MLK Jr.

To love someone … a student, a child, a parent, a sibling, a wife, a husband, a neighbor … with the unconditional love of God is to open the door to the amazing, redemptive work of God in that relationship. It is to prepare the way for changes, for miracles.

Sometimes the miracles happen in the one to whom I am making effort to offering the love of God, but always, always the changes, the miracles happen in me. I cannot offer hate, I cannot think ill of, I cannot be disinterested in someone who I am loving through the spirit of God.

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