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Archive for the ‘WONDER’ Category

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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You read that title right … there are good things that have come from this Covid 19 pandemic.

Call me Pollyanna if you wish, but my mind seeks to see the good in the bad as it’s method of processing, accepting and moving on from the dark and nasties of life.

The thing is, as I went back to work last week and prepare for the start of a new school year in the week to come, it hit me that there are at least three good things that have come from the Covid 19 pandemic.

The first is hand washing. Not only are we washing our hands, but there are reminders everywhere of how and how long, ensuring that we are not just dipping our hands in water and then drying them. This simple and quick act of protection will probably also help to reduce the spread of viruses beyond Covid 19. According to the CDC, hand-washing alone can reduce respiratory infections by 16% and this practise can reduce the spread of other diseases as well.

The second is that people will not just be encouraged, but will be expected to stay home when sick if one is feeling unwell. Working in a high school I have had the experience of what we call ‘typical’ students cough or sneeze directly towards my face … yikes! Yet, I have also had the experience of working alongside colleagues who have decided to work while sick, spreading their viral germs through the air and on every surface from the photocopier to the door handles. I have to say I actually feel more confident returning to school, with this new social, school and workplace change in thinking to feeling unwell.

The third is the bubble. In North America (and all around the world), we were encouraged to stay home, within our household bubble. Our families were forced to spend time together. Now, Pollyanna-like I may be, I do recognize that this was not a good or safe reality for some, where households are the most dangerous and harmful places to be. But, for the majority, we were involuntarily brought together, under one roof. During this time people learned how to cook their dinners, how to play board games, do puzzles, watch movies, how to garden, go for daily family walks and bike rides. We learned what together means, we might even have learned who lives under our roofs.

There are many unfortunate and even tragic results of the Coronavirus, but I do hope that these three have positive changes in our thinking and in our communities, long term.

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I love looking ahead, anticipating the next long weekend, school break. This forward thinking provides a goal, a desired ‘carrot’ at the end of the week or season. It also helps me to not take my job too seriously, to not allow it to come before the more important things in life … worship, family, friends.

This summer I have been stalked by a message, that I realized I’d been hearing without listening when I heard these lyrics in a song:

“Keep me in the moment
‘Cause I don’t wanna miss
what you have for me”

Something about the first line … keep me in the moment … it stirred something visceral within me, as though those words were intended specifically for me.

To keep, or stay in the moment is to not look forward, or back with longing, but to be completely in the now, the present. It is to fully attend, to be mind, body and soul in the present task, with those present.

It is in the attending, the being fully present that we see the purpose, the learning, the value of that time, that moment. We learn the contentment of leaning on God.

As I look to the fall, to the return to work in a high school, in this season of Covid, I know that I need to focus on the very moment I am in, giving my full energy and attention to this moment.

“This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

Psalm 118:24

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Fred Rogers: There’s no normal life that is free from pain.
Lloyd Vogel: How do you deal with it?
Fred Rogers:  … play the lowest keys on a piano all at the same time.
Lloyd Vogel: Do you ever talk to anyone about the burden you carry?
Fred Rogers: Bong! [imitates hitting the piano keys again]

That is my one of my favorite scenes in the movie A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. It is a reminder that there are ways to deal with pain and burden without hurting someone else or yourself … we just need to find what works best for each of us.

This movie tells of the research done by author Tom Junod for an article in Esquire magazine, which resulted in research and redemption in the author himself. Watching such a movie is a mood reset for me.

What do we do … how do we handle the deepest pains in our lives? Do we drain a bottle of alcohol? dive into the cupboards for carbs? pull a Mt. St. Helens on those around us? go for a run? kneel down low and lift our burdens high? or play the lowest keys of a piano all at once?

It is good to ask ourselves this question, searching for what our most natural response to pain, to burden, anxiety. Pain and burdens are real and we have to find ways to deal with the real.

I have had times when I felt like a pressure cooker, ready to explode in tears or anger or a disquiet that made me vibrate all over. I am, most naturally, one to seek our the carbs … as if a tummy full of yeast and sugar is gonna lighten my mood (or my weight).

When I am thinking clearly but the weight on my shoulders heavy, I sit down in the dark and turn on a story that explodes with positivity, redemption, light … it’s like playing the lowest keys on a piano all at the same time.

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As I opened the bedroom door I was temporarily blinded by the light shining through my office window, illuminating that room and the hallway.

A bit startled by the abrupt visual awakening at such an early morning hour (due to the need of the Wonderdog to go out), I squinted, raised my hand to shield my eyes.

Once the startling awakening subsided, I was able to take joy in this fleeting gift of light beauty to start my day. What a lovely way to start the day … walking into the light.

That dazzling early morning moment stayed with me all day long, bringing a smile to my face as I remembered the joy of my entrance into a new day.

It was startling, unexpected, overwhelming, heart-stopping.

All words that also fit those moments in our life when we are walking with God, our very own sunshine-maker … and we know it. Moments that are gifts to us, that keep us spiritually afloat when the waves of life rise threateningly.

These are the moments that linger … like that gleaming morning light that greeted me one morning.

In Deuteronomy 6:12, Moses tells the Israelites,

“be careful that you do not forget the LORD,
who brought you out of Egypt,
out of the land of slavery.”

This warning is valid, because we humans are quick to forget the blessings, the gifts, the good times and where they come from. When times get tough we are often quick to pull out the woe is me complaint.

In the Bible, memorials (usually with stones) were created so that people would not forget the faithfulness of God in a difficult time or situation. These memorials are also a testimony to others, showing evidence of the presence of God in our lives.

I just took a picture, saved it on my phone, then told my sunshine story here to you … and you.

Be careful that you do not forget …

“The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;  his mercies never come to an end; they are new  every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
Lamentations 3:22-23

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Carlie Mackesy

It arrived!

I opened the door to see that familiar brown cardboard box, wrapped in black tape, at my doorstep.

Just two days earlier I had ordered a little gift … just for me. A simple hardcover book, filled with few words, simple sketches, yet the images and words had been boosting my mood all summer long on the Instagram account of the author.

The book title, sounding more like a children’s picture book … The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse, is like taking a meandering walk with a young child, still inquisitive about absolutely everything, still unguarded, willing to ask the tough questions … willing to share their deepest thoughts.

It is pure delight!

I think what drew my attention to the work of this man was that it’s message is simple, vulnerable, positive … real.

I think too that it was like a mirage in the desert … for this summer, this year has been dark, depressing filled with hate.

It is too easy to sit on the dung pile too long.

Eventually, we all need a ray of sunshine, a light at the end of the tunnel … a little positivity to shine a light in the news of a dark world.

Through the beautiful simplicity of real and vulnerable words, my heart was lightened, hope restored.

“My dear, In the midst of hate, I found there was, within me, an invincible love. In the midst of tears, I found there was, within me, an invincible smile. In the midst of chaos, I found there was, within me, an invincible calm. I realized, through it all, that…In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back. Truly yours, Albert Camus”

“They dare to be vulnerable,
which makes them closer.”

Charlie Mackesy

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