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Unknown Artist – Germany 1560s

I realized the problem … me.

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

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

Then it hit me … I am the problem …

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

An hour later … call not made.

The next morning … call not made.

That afternoon … call still not made.

Three days late … notta!

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

“But, it’s not rocket science.”

“How hard is this?”

“It will take mere minutes.”

… all my thoughts in response to this … nothing.

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

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

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

The Matthew Henry Commentary on this parable states:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, what does this communicate to us, today?

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

it is okay
to sit on a dung heap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just … don’t rush.

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

… the patience of Job

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

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

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

Why was Job sitting on a dung heap?

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

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

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

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

More on what the dung heap teaches us next time.

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

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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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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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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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Don’t fight fire with fire

Live by the sword, die by the sword

or, my personal favorite,

Don’t feed the monster

These idioms are all variations of one of the easiest Proverbs (for me) to say, but doing it, living it’s wisdom is so … unnatural.

A gentle answer turns away rage,
but a harsh word stirs up anger.
Proverbs 15:1

Why is it so hard to just be quiet? To speak gently?

Why is it so easy to respond quickly and harshly?

Our tongue, it’s sharp! Sharp like a sword!

Proverbs 12:18 reminds us, “there is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”

Man, when you look at the power we have through our words as either wounding or healing … I kinda shake in my boots, because I don’t want to wound … I just … forget to pause before speaking, or I retaliate when another’s words have hurt me, or … I just don’t take my words captive and so they allow me to implicate myself.

There is such responsibility in our words!

Matthew 12:36-37 tells us, ” … on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Though I have so not mastered this (ask my family, they will confirm the practise I still need to apply), I think it’s all about pausing before we speak. For, even when daggers are thrown our way, our responsibility is for how we respond, what we say … not what is said to us.

Respond gently … motto of the day (week, month … life).

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Do you bear the burdens of others? Do you hear the stories, the struggles and the heartaches of others and wear them like a heavy coat? When the conversation ends, do you walk to your car carrying the substance of the conversation with a friend or family member, like carrying the weight of a massive suitcase? Does your mind whisper groans to heaven … interceding for others? Do you awaken the next day exhausted, for wrestling with thoughts overburdened by another’s … burden?

Are you a burden-bearer?

That has been my week … or so. My heart so full of the stories of others that focus on my daily tasks resembles that of the animation of the speed of the Road Runner escaping Wile E. Coyote.

To process my heavy heart for one individual, I began to write them a letter. Then I realized that it could be written to all of them, for the hopes and prayers, the groans and the whispers are so similar, because when downcast hope is what we need most.

So, this is my burden bearer perspective, for those whose story is hard, from someone who is sharing your load.

I hope you know that I listened, to every single word, every pause, every tremor in your voice. I heard it all, felt it all. My heart has been living outside of my chest, beating in time to yours. When we parted I took your story home with me, carried it while I drove, while I cleaned my house, on my walk that evening, then I took it to bed … the only time I let it go was when I put it in the arms of Jesus … over, and over and over again. I want to do something to fix your story … to erase, re-write, to intervene … but I, in my human state can’t do that, I can only help you carry it … carry it to Him.

Here is what I know about Him …

He knows. He knows what is going on in your life. He knows the loss, the loneliness, the feeling of being lost. He knows your story and he knows how you got to this chapter … the mistakes made, the injuries inflicted, the dark valley you are walking through. He also knows how this story can end, how it will end.

He’s not going anywhere. He will never leave you (even though he will never force you to love him back). He is right beside you, ensuring that you are never alone. Yes, you might feel alone at times (right now), but he’s with you, closer than a a sister or brother.

He has a purpose for your life. It begins with each breath inhaled, exhaled … repeat. Some days just getting yourself out of bed is so hard, just breath through it. Some days it can seem that you are making one step forward, then two back … Put one foot in front of the other, inhale … exhale … repeat.

He loves. That is what he is, the personification of love … limitless, unconditional, always within reach. He loves you. Just as you are, in the middle of your story, as you sit on your dung heap … he loves you.

St. Augustine has said of the Psalms, “if the psalm prays, you pray; if it laments, you lament; if it exults, you rejoice; if it hopes, you hope; if it fears, you fear. Everything written here is a mirror for us.”

Weary, lonely, burdened one, with so much load to carry … know that you are not carrying it all alone. There are those who love you and who are bearing your burden with you and there is a God, the creator of heaven and earth and everything in them, who wants you to know how very loved you are … right this moment.

inhale. exhale. repeat.

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One of the things that drew me to the church we now call home is the time in the service when a person emerges before the congregation and offer up the prayers of the people.

Prayers are offered for our immediate church family as well as the church worldwide, the community in which we live as well as the global community. For ministries in our church, the people who perform the ministries as well as those who benefit from them. Thanks for who God is, for the life we have been given, for the opportunities to be his hands and feet are spoken. Acknowledgement of our need of him, his wisdom, his eyes, his grace.

I am so thankful for the importance placed on corporate prayer that covers people, places and happenings both near and far.

The other day I felt like I had lived a day of prayers of the people.

There was beauty and appreciation for the life I have been so fortunate to live. The people who have added to my life, the activities, the work, the world in which I live.

Then there were the joys of others, prayers answered in the most spectacular of ways. Events that enfolded in a such a way that one could not help but acknowledge that God had his hand in the the details.

There were tears too, for hurts and struggles and disappointments in the lives of others. People who were experiencing fear, loneliness, heartache … pain. People who I could only help by laying their burdens at the feet of the only wise God.

Lord, hear my prayer …

These words are often prayed in corporate prayer and I have begun to use them as I pray.

We see these words at the start of Psalm 143, one of the penitential psalms.

It is not a demand, but a question, a request.

These four words remind us that it is we who are the ones asking to be heard, asking for help, for mercy.

The Matthew Henry Commentary, for this verse says,

“We have no righteousness of our own to plead, therefore must plead God’s righteousness, and the word of promise which he has freely given us, and caused us to hope in.”

We are never enough on our own, but through the blood of Jesus we can speak to the God of the universe, making our supplications to Him. It is an act that is an honor and a responsibility.

When we lift up our prayers to God nothing is news to him, for he is all knowing. Yet we lift them up as an offering, as an act of complete trust … trust that he can and will oversee the cries of our heart, trust in the process that he chooses.

Lord, hear our prayer.

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Apparently, when one is applying to the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University, not only does one need to provide proof of academic success, references and an application fee, but also a couple of essays.

One of those essays is to answer the question, why Stanford? That is a pretty predictable essay subject, but the second is a bit more unique …

what matters most to you, and why?

Their website says they want applicants to “write from the heart”.

It got me to thinking, what does matter most … to me?

It would be easy to speak of my life because of my acceptance of God’s love in my life, for where would I be otherwise?

I could speak of my (just about) thirty one year marriage to my husband, his love and constant support of me and my crazy ideas.

My three adult kids … my greatest creations.

The love and continuity of my parents.

Or the entertainment value provided by my brothers.

My job is satisfying and challenging.

Friends are the sugar and spice of daily life.

But then there are the flowers that provide beauty, the sunrises that give hope of a new day, the sound of the waves crashing at the shore, the relaxation and comfort found in the wet nose of an animal companion, the joy of a good story (in written or video form), clean sheets, the sound of a soft summer rain, warmth of the sun on your skin, the smell of the first coffee of the day …

It is almost more satisfying to write the list that to come to a conclusion. To write such a list is to realize that it has no end … for to write what matters most reminds us that our lives are worth living, that we love and are thankful for so many gracious gifts in our lives.

Go ahead, try it … begin to consider what matters most.

I think you will see that we have been given much to be thankful for in our life … from the giver of good gifts.

“Every good and perfect gift is from above,
coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights,
who does not change like shifting shadows.”

James 1:17

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