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What or who do we rely on?

Our human existence is one of reliance.

We are born helpless, crying out for someone to meet our every need from food, to protection, to direction. As we grow into independence, what we really do is transfer our reliance from mother/caregiver to friends and lovers, spouses and even to our own children. In later years many revert to their newly born state of helpless reliance …

human life is the ultimate chiastic structure, where the beginning and ending mirror each other, both symmetrically moving to and from the mid point with similar characteristics

For any human to think that independence is actually possible, is fooled.

As a newborn, our dependence is based on the choice and will of another. Often this is similar as we age toward the end of our earthly existence. In the realm of cause and effect, so much of life can be shaped by on whom this dependence, this reliance falls. Into adulthood we choose on whom to rely and we must rely cautiously, as these individuals are also powerful in influencing our life to come.

In the book called Letters to an American Lady, CS Lewis wrote:

“… the thing is to rely only on God …

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble,” says the Psalmist (46:1).

Jeremiah (29:11) tells us that “he has plans for us.”

Moses tells us in Exodus (14:14) that “he will fight for us.”

Isaiah (41:13) reminds us that “he is the one who helps.”

Again the Psalmist (118:8) says, “it is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man.”

God is our constant. The one who is with us even before the wool has been cast on the needles of our pre-birth existence. It is he who is right beside us, all the days of our life. It is he, whose face will see when the breath of our life has exhaled it’s last. On him we can rely.

CS Lewis continues:

” … the trouble is that relying on God has to begin all over again every day as if nothing had yet been done …”

God has always been, will always be right at our sides, yet our reliance on him is like our human reliance on water. It is said that depending on a few factors (such as age, gender, health, etc.) a human can live only about three days without water. Our very life is dependent on it. For the sake of our very life, we must have water.

Our reliance on God is similar. We must rely on him daily, newly every day. Not relying on our connection to him yesterday to live our life today, but deeply connected, consciously rooted to him each day.

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
    whose trust is the Lord.
He is like a tree planted by water,
    that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
    for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
    for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

Jeremiah 17:7-8

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The clock glowed 5:00 in the dark bedroom. Not a sound from hubby beside me, or the Wonderdog in his bed at the foot of our bed. Yet, my heart’s beat was pounding in my ears. The sleep cycle of my day was done, whether I wanted it to be or not.

As expected, the change in my breathing from slumber to awake alerted the dog that it must be time to start the day, so as I exited the room, my shadow followed closely behind me.

Dark.

The house was dark, even in the familiar descent down the stairs all that was familiar was covered in almost complete blackness.

We walked outside into the cold air, my skin immediately contracting from the chill, the Wonderdog immediately in need of just the right slice of grass to let loose his waterworks.

Coffee was brewed, the dish on the floor filled with kibble, we ascended the stairs to the cozy chair, the light box turned on and laptop in my hands, to tap out the wonderings in my early morning mind.

Immersed in my tapping until suddenly I turned towards the window. Sure enough the blackness was fading, lightening the sky with ombre blues.

I smiled.

Though it is lovely to see the sun setting later in the day, it is it’s earlier rising that thrills my solar-powered self the most. This morning light fuels me with a foundation of light for whatever the rest of the day might hold.

It is the foundation of hope that returns, day after day, year after year. Yet, it is in spring that we are reminded of the hope that rises early, like the sun in spring.

Yet hope returns when I remember this one thing: 
The Lord’s unfailing love and mercy still continue, 
Fresh as the morning,
as sure as the sunrise.”

Lamentations 3:21-23

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I love the image of the sign (left). The more I look at it, the more I nod in agreement with what it is communicating,

It makes me think of the story of Job, his friends and God.

Job’s love and commitment to God was exemplary. As a matter of fact, the text says he was blameless. God offered him up to Satan himself, as one whose inner love for his God would not be swayed by outer devastation.

gotta say, this premise always make me feel such angst

So, Job lost everything … children, livestock, crops, health. All he was left with was his wife, his friends and God (who seemed to be silent).

As Job sat on his dung pile, scraping the sores of his skin with clay shards, weeping, agonizing, listening for the voice of God … the only sound was that of his wife (who suggested he curse God and die) and his friends.

Now his friends had probably been with him all of his life. It was in Uz (possibly in the area of modern day Syria or Jordan) where they had probably played as boys. These friends had watched Job grow up. They knew that he was a good man, who treated people respectfully, who had conducted business fairly, who was truly blameless. They knew him.

This background may have built the foundation for false assumptions. Assumptions such as God blessed Job because Job was blameless. They undoubtedly had developed the misconception that God blesses the good, and therefore, curses the bad.

And that was their point of attack. Rather than lament with Job, they blame him.

The three accused Job of some type of sin that he needed to admit and repent of so that he would again receive God’s blessing. They believed (as so many of us do at times in our lives) that there is a formula for success and if Job was in the midst of curses, there must be something in his life that is wrong/sinful.

Once they have spoken their encouragement to Job, then God speaks to Job … and I am pretty sure that God is wagging his finger at him, but then he addresses Job’s friends and their judging of how God decides who is blessed and who is cursed:

“After the Lord had finished speaking to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “I am angry with you and your two friends, for you have not spoken accurately about me” (Job 42:7)

Our job, as was Job’s, is to be faithful with what God has given to us, be it people, possessions, passions or power. Our job is to love God, to love others. God will look after judgements, blessings and curses.

He will sort’em out later.

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As I opened the blinds the quarter moon shone clearly. A further glance and sure enough, the stars were shining brightly.

A clear moon and stars in this Pacific Northwest part of the Earth can only mean one thing … the temperatures are dropping.

The house feels the chill this early Sunday morning … yet, I cannot bring myself to turn my light therapy box (a great help these past two dark winters when SAD (seasonal affective disorder, better known as it’s dark outside and I am solar-powered … help!).

The light of the moon and the stars brightens my mood naturally.

Yet, this clear sky, it comes at a cost … it is cold outside. The meteorologists are predicting an arctic airflow coming from the North East … meaning bone-chilling cold as well as winds that deliver a chilly punch.

It reminds me of Ecclesiastes 3. The list of life’s opposite realities. This list of a time to … is a list created by the reality of living in our sin-filled world. This is the list that God did not create, was not the life that He designed, but the reality formed in the pit of sin. He did not create us to die, to war, to weep … yet these are the dark and stormy nights of life as we know it.

Verse 11 of that chapter reminds of his love for humanity,

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart …”

Which reminds me of Augustine’s well-known declaration, “O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”

In Longfellow’s poem, The Rainy Day, he describes (so very well … I think he must have lived it) the struggles of the cold, and dark, and dreary (day, how) it rains, and the wind is never weary. The final verse of his poem, though, reminds us of the reality of these dark cloud seasons :

Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall


We may currently live in the dark and cold, but when these cold winds blow in, the moon and stars shine all the brighter … reminders to us of what is to come, of the hope that still exists.

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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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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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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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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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