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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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The practises of Sabbath have been different during these months of working collectively to help hinder the spread of the Coronavirus.

No more do we head to our local meeting places of faith families, where we gather together to worship in prayer, song, reading the Word of God, giving of our tithes and being encouraged in our faith through all of those shared practises as well as through the sharing of a message that encourages us to hold close our relationship with the God of creation.

My Sabbath today has had a fine start.

Sundays are a backwards day for hubby and I, as I oddly sleep later than he, who rises to prepare for a full day of work. This is my solitary day … a day I am completely aware of and immersed in the presence of God in every area of my life.

My call to worship began when I awoke to staring from my bedside, the Wonderdog eager for an invitation onto the bed for snuggles.

After a leisurely awakening, the morning ablutions for my fur friend and I, I was off on my weekly trip to a small grocery store, just after it opens … still quiet, barely a shopper to be seen.

I listened to songs of faith.

Enjoyed a hot steaming cup of coffee while wrapping a gift for a new delivered one, unable to contain whispered prayers of thanks.

Listened to a podcast about the Christian faith that stimulated curiosity to go into the word.

Poured myself a cold glass of cranberry juice, spread fresh strawberry jam with a hint of lemon, on a scone (not a typical breakfast, but … the Sabbath should be a sweet day).

Filled the Wonderdog’s treat toy with his favorite mixture, then out to our small patio.

A gentle breeze brought scents from my hydrangea plants (once blue, that are now pink), and other floral perfumes from the neighborhood.

Though this patio, this property does not provide the peaceful quiet of our previous acreage, peace lives here, in the contentment of the provision, in the peace that passes my human comprehension.

I sit in my chair, sip from my glass, breath in the scents, smile at my sleeping Wonderdog, hear the sound of texts arriving from my sweetest loves.

I pray, words of thanks, or appeal for the needs of others, I seek wisdom and comfort from the scriptures.

No benediction … the Sabbath goes on.

“Then he (Jesus) said to them,
“The Sabbath was made for
humankind,
not humankind
for the Sabbath.”
Mark 2:27

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As a child I loved it when my mom would hand me what was once a tidy ball of yarn that had gotten loose in her knitting bag or scattered across the floor. She would ask me if I could untangle it for her. Or my grandmother would do the same with a necklace, whose chain had knots.

I would eagerly take on these problems, these messes and straighten out what was knotted. It was a game, a challenge for me where I usually had success and I loved it.

Problem solving has become my life. I have used this skill in my profession, helping students learn in unique and creative ways. In the running of a home, utilizing form and function. In childrearing … in so many ways. In helping in so many situations and circumstances.

Give me a problem, a puzzle, a challenge, a mystery. Invite me into your struggle, your situation, your sorrow. Let me untangle that knotted mess of yarn that is that part of our life.

What I am not good at is acknowledging when I cannot solve the problem, when the mess is tangled beyond my problem-solving capabilities.

Recently I ran into a snag … problems that I simply could not untangle. This failure of ability (for it was not a failure of desire to solve the puzzles) was getting to me. I looked at it from every side, tried to see if moving things would help. Yet, I was quickly faced with the reality that all problem solvers hate to face …

the tangled mess was out of my ability to straighten it out.

This self-acknowledgement wore on me, for that which I love to do and do well, I was powerless to accomplish.

Besides, I am a follower of Christ, a believer in the power of Christ in me … I mean doesn’t Matthew 7:7 say “ask and you will receive” … and Mark 11:24 says, “whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you”?

Of course I am taking those one-liners out of the context of the Word, as a whole … rubbing my Bible-Genie making my one wish. But, what I ask is so desired, so good, so sincere …

Then I saw an image. It was the one at the top of this page. It was the mess of the first screen that got me … as soon as I saw it, my eyes did not see a pile of letters, but a pile of yarn, twisted and knotted … a problem waiting to be solved.

That was the problem I was dealing with.

Then the reminder … the God-response … not the I love you, for I simply do not have the capacity to not know that God loves me, or others. It was the two words,

I know

He knows.

He knows the knotted, tangled, ugly messes of our human lives. He knows that situations that break our hearts, that mess with our confidence, that even make us question if we are still in his will.

He knows.

“Be still, and know that I am God”
Psalm 46:10

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Ever been mad? Like so upset and angered that your heart was beating so violently that you could feel your entire body vibrate?

My grandmother, in times like that, would have said that she was so angry she could spit.

We have all had such an experience of emotion. We have all been, at some point, angry enough to spit.

There was such a time that is still restlessly settled in my mind. I remember the feeling that my heart might just beat right out of my chest. I remember the pounding of emotion and blood flow in my head. I remember the combination of anger and sadness and despair and defeat.

I remember the words of the text that sent me reeling … words that communicated

one step forward, two (dozen) steps back.

History invades the present, darkness falls on rising sun, temporarily eclipsing the light.

The inky intent of sinful man is always to blot out the light.

I was searching, seeking for light … as if crawling in desperation for understanding of the whys, for hope to come from the shadows.

what more can he say,
than to you he hath said,
to you who for refuge,
to Jesus have fled

The words stopped my obsessing, my perseverating over the ache in my gut, my heart. What song were those words from? Why did it enter my conscious?

How Firm a Foundation … words penned over two hundred and thirty years ago … words and a message with lasting power. As I read them I was reminded that my physical and emotional shaking were not more than skin deep … for my foundation is deeper still, firm in the care of my Savior.

Then, the words of the prophet Nahum (1:7):

“The Lord is good, He is a fortress in time of distress, and He protects those who seek refuge in him.”

Reminders of my firm foundation, the fortress around me, the prayers of those who are faithful …

the anger fading with the rising light of Christ’s love and promise.

Not today Satan.

“That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.”

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Do you know how to pray? Where does faith come in? What about doubt? Is it okay to pray for miracles?

When I encounter someone with a prayer request, I immediately offer to pray, then, when I begin to actually speak to God, when I enter consciously into his presence … I stutter with my words.

Perhaps it is because, in coming to him, I recognize how much I need him, how great he is, this one to whom I bow my head.

I have a friend who is struggling in a marriage of abuses and unresolved traumas of the past. When I pray for her, I long for marital healing, for a rebuilding of this broken relationship, for miracles.

Yet, I also have a friend who never received such miracles. Recently we re-connected and she caught me up on the end of that marriage. She said, of the separation, the struggles with that marriage, it is exceedingly more wholesome than the way it was. No miracles, no reconciliation … yet she now has peace.

My brother is now undergoing treatments for cancer. The prognosis with treatment is good … the effects of the treatments are horrific. When I pray for him, I long for miraculous healing, that the effects of the treatments would not cause the damage and pain anticipated.

How are we to pray? What do we say, what do we not say? Are miracles on the table? How about … selfish requests? Do I have enough faith? What about my doubts? Does God alter what the natural world, his plans because we pray?

do you know how to pray?

The Bible has a number of recommendations:

  • ask and be thankful (Philippians 4:6)
  • confess your sins, pray for each other (James 5:16)
  • God will hear our prayers (Jeremiah 29:12)
  • pray so you’re not tempted (Matthew 26:41)
  • call on his name and be saved (Acts 2:21)
  • forgive others (Mark 11:25)
  • pray in secret (Matthew 6:6)
  • confess sins (1 John 1:9)
  • devote yourself to prayer (Colossians 4:2)
  • be faithful in prayer (Romans 12:12)
  • believe and don’t doubt (James 1:6)
  • with confidence (Hebrews 4:16)
  • pray without ceasing, rejoice, give thanks (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Then we get thrown off by verses of such black-and-white absolutism …

“I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (John 14:13).

So … we ask and God gives?

Well … yes … and no.

It is blind hope to read this verse and see only the part we want … I will do whatever you ask in my name. What follows is really the main point … so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You see we do not pray to God, except that it comes through his Son. It is the blood of Jesus that has made us right with God, therefore it is through him that God hears our prayers.

Lovely, isn’t it?

Sure it is, until we pause to think about what we are praying for and through whom our prayers pass.

Ellicott’s Commentary speaks to this verse in a reckoning manner :

“The prayer of Gethsemane—“If it be possible, let this cup pass from Me: nevertheless, not My will, but Thine be done,” should teach what prayer in the name and spirit of Christ means. We commonly attach to our prayers, “through Jesus Christ our Lord.” We do not always bear in mind that this implies an absolute self-sacrifice, and is a prayer that our very prayers may not be answered except in so far as they are in accordance with the divine will.

When I think about prayer, really think about it, I come to one conclusion … I pray because it is the only ‘help’ I know. There is nothing I can do to change circumstances.

So I offer up my requests, in faith, along with my praise and thanks, trusting the only wise one will either change the circumstances I pray, or that he will change my heart to be more like his own.

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Though the Easter weekend has past, somehow it could almost feel like it never happened.

I have to admit that I didn’t do too well with my lenten sacrifice. I had intended that each day I would read a number of chapters in John, starting with the death of Lazarus and going to Jesus’ arrest in the garden. Despite having the time, with self isolation and social distancing becoming a reality, contemplative reading was not something I have done much of these weeks.

The one lenten practise I did maintain was a frequent, silent praying of what is known as the Jesus Prayer,

Lord Jesus Christ,
Son of God,
have mercy on me,
a sinner.

I put an image of it on my phone’s home screen, so I saw it every time I went to turn my phone on (and man, have I turned it on often during these days of Covid 19 updates and breaking news).

I have been constantly reminded, in the lead up to Easter, who I am in relation to Jesus. What he has done for me.

Then Easter, during this season of Covid 19, came … and went. No crescendo of voices on Easter morning, no large family gatherings, no face to face Easter embraces and greetings of “He is risen” to respond, “He is risen indeed.”

Yet …

The words of song, the words of an ancient creed, have been mulling in my mind for weeks …

The first writing of the Apostle’s Creed was in 390AD …

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of the saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

In this time of Covid 19, in the light shadows of the Easter weekend, we are called to the question,

what do I believe?

And the words of this Creed echo in my mind, in my heart. For this is what I believe is the essential belief of we, the Easter people. The people who follow, not blindly, but in faith of the one who died for our good … both here on Earth, but even more so, for the eternity that awaits us all.

So, my soul sings what I believe, reaching a solo crescendo … one reached by millions of followers throughout the ages.

We all have to answer the question of Pilate,

“What shall I do, then,
with Jesus who is called the Messiah?”

And I believe what I believe
is what makes me what I am
I did not make it
no, it is making me
it is the very truth of God
and not the invention of any man
I believe it

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When the day is as dark as night.
Give thanks to the Lord.
When the pieces of life are strewn near and far.
Give thanks to the God of gods.
When the silence is deafening to your ears, your heart.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords …

His love endures forever.

When anger, and sadness, and fear dominate.
Give thanks to the one whose love endures.
When pain is inside, outside, everywhere.
Give thanks to the one whose love endures.
When the answers are no, nothing.
Give thanks to the one whose love endures …

forever.

To him who shows us wonders,
who showed his majesty in his creation,
who showed his wisdom in all that he made,
who showed his details in the little things of all that live,

only his love endures forever.

To him who is still leading his people through
the wilderness, the storms, the mountains and valleys …

forever.

“He remembered us in our low estate
His love endures forever.
and freed us from our enemies.
His love endures forever.
He gives food to every creature.
His love endures forever.

Give thanks to the God of heaven.
His love endures forever.”

(Psalm 136:23-26)

*a re-writing of Psalm 136 … a collaboration between the Psalmist and I

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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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Esther by Minerva Teichert

I remember being a little girl and hearing the story of Esther and thinking how lucky she was to be chosen as queen.

She has been called the reluctant, unexpected and chosen queen (among others). She was not, by birth, in line to be royalty, but she was chosen.

Esther was a Jew, living in Persia, with her relative Mordecai, because her parents had died.

Let’s stop here.

This was a tough reality for Esther, who was orphaned, by her parent’s deaths. We do not know how old she was, or what caused their deaths, but this young woman had been left alone by this tragedy, saved by her relative Mordecai who adopted her. This is not the road to royalty that anyone would want to walk.

Then the king (Xerxes), got rid of his queen, Vashti, because she refused his request to dance at his party for his drunken friends (keep this character in mind, later). His advisors wanted to make sure that this would not become normal wife behavior, so they had him issue a command,

“every man is master of his own house; whatever he says, goes.” (Esther 1:22 MSG)

(boy did he get a surprise when he chose Esther!)

Then they gathered “… beautiful young (virgin)) women into a harem (for the king to choose a new wife from)” (Esther 2:3)

Let’s ponder this …

These woman did not choose to enter a beauty contest, they did not choose to compete for the position of queen … she was apprehended, a prisoner, who would be chosen by the king after he would have done a test run on her (aka had sex with her, or also known as, raped her).

This is not the road to royalty that anyone would want to walk.

Then came the events initiated by Hamen, who was eager to eliminate the Jews.

Mordecai advised Esther, “don’t think that just because you live in the king’s house you’re the one Jew who will get out of this alive. If you persist in staying silent at a time like this, help and deliverance will arrive for the Jews from someplace else; but you and your family will be wiped out. Who knows? Maybe you were made queen for just such a time as this.” (Esther 4:13-14)

Esther sent back her answer to Mordecai: “Go and get all the Jews living in Susa together. Fast for me. Don’t eat or drink for three days, either day or night. I and my maids will fast with you. If you will do this, I’ll go to the king, even though it’s forbidden. If I die, I die.” (Esther 4:15-16)

She was ready to obey, but wanted to ensure that she was fighting for her people, with her people behind her. Her wisdom and leadership were shining in her decision-making.

What followed was her appearance before the king (at the risk of losing her life, for doing so), dinner parties for the king and Haman, then her standing up to Haman, by sharing with him how Haman was plotting the destruction of Mordecai, Esther and her people … all while risking her very life.

This is not the road to royalty that anyone would want to walk.

Yet, through all of these struggles, through all of these horrific events, Esther walked the bumpy road she was forced to walk … in complete respect and obedience for the advice of her adopted relative, Mordecai.

(“she continued to follow Mordecai’s instructions as she had done when he was bringing her up” Esther 2:20).

Then she gets the honor due her … right?

Mordecai the Jew ranked second in command to King Xerxes. He was popular among the Jews and greatly respected by them. He worked hard for the good of his people; he cared for the peace and prosperity of his race.” (Esther 10:3)

The book of Esther ends with the above verse. It’s about … Mordecai! Sure he would seem to be a wise and virtuous person but … the book is called Esther!

She lived her life out as a trophy wife to a rich king, whose wisdom and personality equal that of a gnat.

This is not the road to royalty that anyone would want to walk.

Yet, this is the type of road that many walk. We all know far more Cinderella’s whose prince never comes, children are never granted, life is hard, poverty extends for their lifetime and yet … they walk, head held tall, because they know that they are royalty, that they are children of the Prince of Peace … and that peace that passes understanding is the crown that is unmistakably atop their head.

For the road to royalty is not about the road you walk, but about who is your King.

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Just the other day I knew it was really coming.

As I drove around the corner and down the hill the valley was blanketed in fog … autumn morning fog.

It was beautiful! On that overcast day, the shadows replaced the clarity of the mountains, hid the lower part of the road, allowing only towers and mountaintops to be visible. The scene was one of black and greys, of varying degrees.

Autumn fog is hauntingly attractive. It also makes me desire a cozy blanket, a hot cup of refreshment, my wonderdog and a book on my blue sofa by the window.

Autumn fog settles on me like a weighted blanket, whispering ‘slow down … take more time … just listen.’

I like to think of this whispering fog as a reminder that even when my view is obstructed, when I am confused and unaware of what is ahead, I can rest … I can still relax, be refreshed. I can be confident and content that what is unseen by me is being looked after.

When I see that blanket of fog, I hear the words of Paul say,

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1)

That fog is like the unknowns of my life … what will tomorrow bring? how will heath play out in the future? will my children have happy and productive futures? will they seek God? … and so many more humanly unanswerable questions.

But, like the giants of the Old Testament, named in this chapter … Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Isaac, Moses and more … I have available to me faith in a God who has it all covered, like a blanket of fog on the valley. It is faith in him that allows me (us) to rest, to have confidence, in what we hope for … assurance in what we can not see.

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