Of a soul’s winter …

Deuteronomy 11_14a

I’ve been living in the land of winter. Paradoxically, it’s beautifully green outside my windows at the moment. I mean my soul has been in winter. It has been barren. Tired. Worn out. Grief stricken. Bereaved. Heart sore. Dismayed. I have trundled on. Feet frequently filled with lead. More hopeless than hopeful. More worn than I would like.

Winter has been hard. The grief has been bigger than I could understand. It’s been cumulative. A cousin. Two uncles. A mentor. A grandmother. A friend. A season of passing that I could not have anticipated. And I played at every one of those services. I think part of winter sits there. When you’re “on” for the event to remember, you are not allowed to grieve with everyone else. You have to keep it together because, in a moment, your service with be required. It’s not bad, it’s just hard. You park it because you must. And I’m not certain if I haven’t parked some of that grief permanently. Put it in the cupboard and stacked the boxes around it so that it can’t come out.

Winter has not been bad. I’ve been richly blessed by winter. I have discovered things I love – curling. (Slightly more than love – a little overzealous about it, perhaps). I have discovered the land of God’s blessing. If there is any sort of takeaway for me from this winter of the soul, it is the affirmation and deep awareness of God’s goodness in my life. The overarching goodness. It’s not situational, although situations bear testimony to it. It’s not causation-al, although God’s goodness has caused me to be more grateful than I have been in the past. It’s a foundational reality. God is good. Therefore His goodness can be found all over the place. Not just in the “good” stuff that happens to me but everywhere and all the time. That’s been an essential learn.

Winter cannot be rushed. As I’ve spoken about the winter of my soul with others in my circle, they have wanted to move me to spring or summer NOW! I’m convinced winter doesn’t work like that. It comes in on quiet cat’s feet and settles in kind of like the snow that blankets the landscape in these parts every year. And just like the snow melts and disappears in its own good time, the winter of my soul lifts and shifts. I’m not sure how I will know that my winter has ended, but I think I will. I actually don’t want it to leave before it is meant to do so. To rush it away is to miss the lessons of it. To rush it away is to run from the hard parts of it. To rush it away is to miss the truths of God’s character that are found in it. There are lessons I’m experiencing and learning that I cannot find in any other season of the soul. To rush past them is to miss God’s character and beauty that I cannot find in a different season.

In some ways, I wonder if the renovation of my house has not been part of a “springlike” beginning. It’s been hard. The packing. The moving. The losing. The giving away. The finding. And yet, all through the renovation there are signs of God’s hand. The timing of things happening. The weather outside that prompted work inside. The time in July as opposed to the frenetic of June when it could not have happened. The new that has come. New floors, new paint, new baseboards, new furniture arrangements, new. The desire to spend time in my space. The satisfaction with quiet. The leaves rustling in the open windows. The settled-ness as each box has been unpacked and a home for its contents found. Much of it is old – same furniture, same rooms, same stuff that was put in boxes. And yet it’s new. Different. Hopeful.

… then I will send rain on your land in its season … Deuteronomy 11:14a

The rain is only sent when it is meant to be sent. God has known exactly what season I’ve been in. It’s been no surprise to Him. He has been there in it and through it all along. The change in season will only come in His good timing. So I rest in the goodness of God. It’s the best place to be.

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When a reno and grief meet …

Psalm 42_5 (MSG)

It’s been sitting in the cupboard for years. A book meant for baby pictures. Purchased with hope and expectation that someday I would be the mom who would be filling it. Someday has come and it seems to also have gone. The book still sitting in the cupboard. My arms have been filled with other peoples’ children – ones I love and delight in – but they all go home to their own houses for night.

 

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. Psalm 42:5 (NIV) 

Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul? Why are you crying the blues? Fix my eyes on God – soon I’ll be praising again. He puts a smile on my face. He’s my God. Psalm 42:5 (MSG)

It’s all been stirred to the surface. The longing. The ache. The topsy-turvy that is a reno. Everything in boxes. Things found. Choices made – to keep, to chuck, to give away. For some items, the choice is simple. It turns out, other choices are complicated. Emotions raw and right on the surface.

And in the ache and the myriad of choices that go along with a reno, the unchanging reality of my God has been present. He knows the aches of my heart. The longings that have never gone away but remain in their present state unfulfilled. Because He is incapable of worry, these longings do not cause Him worry. Instead, He acknowledges them and validates me in the middle of them. I am not a mom, but I have been well loved by many kids this year and we have all grown together. Mom-like moments found all over the place.

He knows the reasons it’s taken so long to get to a reno. The reasons that I never thought I’d be in the same place for this duration of time. But while I wonder and stew about those same reasons, my God is the God of peace who is with me regardless of circumstance. He is with me in spite of circumstance. While I may have wanted other life events to have resulted in a move, He has been with me all along. He is present – not matter what – He is present.

So, I choose to be grateful. For the home I have. For the provision from His hand that is resulting in this reno. For the reminders of His faithfulness. For the proof that He is the only One who can truly fulfill me. For the reality that life sometimes is not what we hope for, but it is in His hands. For the evidence that His hands are big and that they are able to hold my joy, my pain, my grief, my laughter and everything else. For His presence – more needed that I can ever explain. For hope. Because it’s right there, closer than I think, and it’s found in Him!

 

Vertical Worship’s Yes I Will

Of tears and kitchen sinks …

Psalm 27_13-14

I stood at the sink. Hands wrist deep in suds. Tears streaming down my face. Heart conflicted. On one side, grace, mercy and blessings beyond measure. On the other, grief, pain, dreams unfulfilled. There was no choice but to wrestle with them both.

 

I am still 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 (NIV)

I’m sure now I’ll see God’s goodness in the exuberant earth. Stay with God! Take heart. Don’t quit. I’ll say it again:  Stay with God. Psalm 27:13-14 (MSG)

 

I poured out my heart. The longings that are not buried as deep as I think they are. The dreams of my soul that are rarely admitted out loud. The heart-soreness that is skin deep and always present. It all came gushing forth. Not in bitterness but just statements. Not in questioning His presence but in the wonder and hurt of pain. I am so grateful I have a God who listens.

I laid my heart bare.  I needed the reminders of who my God is.

He is good. Full stop. No change. Regardless of circumstance. Even with the current state of my dreams and longings, He is good. His goodness does not ebb and flow but rather it is constant.

He is faithful. Full stop. He does not change His mind. He does not tire of me. He does not throw up His hands in despair over me. He is there in every part of the journey. The parts I love and am proud of and the ones I’d rather hide away in the darkest of cupboards.

He is present. Full stop. I might pick the spots where I show up. My God is not like that. Instead, He is there for all of it. A constant presence. With me in all of it – the tears both happy and joyful. The happy bits and the ones filled with sorrow. He does not come and go at will. He is with me.

Through tears coursing their way down my face, I chose to speak the truth of who my God is. I needed to hear myself say it. He is the One I need. I crave His presence. I am desperate to experience His ongoing faithfulness. I hunger to see His goodness. Somehow, speaking the truth over my life altered my perspective.

The pain of the unfulfilled is still there. But even more than that, my God is there. At times I have great confidence in His presence and provision. Sometimes, that foundation has gaping holes and water rushes in. But I know the sandbags of God’s goodness are there. Shoring up the weak spots. Preventing the water from spilling over even more. His goodness is on display if I am persistent enough to look for it. To pursue it. It requires a “don’t quit.” Admittedly, I would like to quit. The middle is hard. It is uncomfortable. It hurts. But my God understands the middle parts and the pain. He is good. He is faithful. He is present. I need no more, no less.

 

Pat Barrett’s Sparrows and Lilies

Life and love …

 

Psalm 103_17a

We recently gathered to celebrate a life. Ninety-six years of living – childhood, family, brothers and sisters, work, war, marriage, children, grandchildren, great grandchildren. It was a life well lived. Full of adventures and experiences. Laughter and tears. Games and night lunch with ginger ale. Late evenings with bedtime stories read out the bottom of the glasses (bifocals were a complete mystery to me). A life characterized by the Fruit of the Spirit. Precious memories tucked away in hearts.

 

As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children – with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts. Psalm 103:13-18 (NIV)

As parents feel for their children, God feels for those who fear him. He knows us inside and out, keeps in mind that we’re made of mud. Men and women don’t live very long; like wildflowers they spring up and blossom, But a storm snuffs them out just as quickly, leaving nothing to show they were here. God’s love, though, is ever and always, eternally present to all who fear him, Making everything right for them and their children as they follow his Covenant ways and remember to do whatever he said. Psalm 103:13-18 (MSG)

 

I am so glad God is my Father. He understands and know me better than I know myself. He’s watched my life from before my birth. He knew my unique-nesses even before I discovered them. Each one a testament to His creativity and His imprint on me.

He knows my life is short. Time flies by faster than I understand. Little ones are now half grown. Other littles now step back into my life as taller-than-me adults with an eye on their professions, a step closer to “all grown up.” It flies. I often wonder where it’s gone and could I possibly get a few of those moments back.

I am struck by the comparison of life with the flowers. They bloom wild and proud in all sorts of out of the way places. A striking beauty in something so dainty. Completely changing a landscape from stark and barren to plentiful and lush. They bring their beauty with them. A bouquet a centrepiece, foliage on a mantel. A delicate fragrance filling a room. But all too soon (at least at my house) it’s gone, faded, wilted.

Life can be just like that. It’s full of vim and vigour. Plenty of activity and things to do. People to see and be with. Changes spring up where they are least expected. Getting older. It is a part of the experience that seems wonderful when you are less than 10 and altogether different after 40. Illness. The cold that will not go away. Surgery. Cancer. The complications of old age. None of these are a desired part of the journey of life. But they sweep through. Changing our perspective. Hopefully, pushing us deeper into Jesus. Reminding us that good health is a remarkable gift.

Death. That uncomfortable ending. Grief. Tears flow. Sorrow. It hurts. My Father knows my days. He has given me each one. He knows when they will draw to an end. Each step on the journey of my life a part of His plan. My Father has it all held in His hands.

One thing remains constant in all of it – the love of my God. It’s deeper than I can understand. It surrounds, filling in the places in my heart where I am weak and burdened. It is that hug at just the right moment. The whispered words – I love you. It cannot be outrun. There is no end to it. It goes on and on and on. It cannot be gotten rid of. My choices cannot remove it. God’s love sticks. It is with me. How precious! How marvellous! The Maker of it all loves me!

I am grateful beyond measure!

A different kind of Mother’s Day

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It’s my toes, well the pinky toes, that are the most obvious link between us. (That seems like the strangest line I’ve ever written.) But if you were to look down at my feet you’d find that my pinky toes don’t point up to the sky but off to the side as if they missed the memo about where they were meant to be looking. They’re also the most obvious physical link to my grandmother.

There’s other connections as well.

The woman was competitive. Even in her 90’s there was no game that she didn’t play to win. She was known to play 6 games of Yahtzee at once. At once! I struggle to play one game of Yahtzee at time, but 6 for her was no big deal. The best way to spend time with her and have a good conversation was at the table in her house, cards in hand, chatting away with a little trash talk mixed in for good measure. And lucky, she always seemed to have all the luck. She didn’t mind reminding you about that either!

The woman loved Jesus. She faithfully read her Bible. As her eyesight failed, others read for her. As her hearing left her, we all read it slowly and louder than we thought we should. She never stopped wanting to learn about her Lord. Faithful church attendance was an essential part of her life. If she could be at church, she was. Part of her walk with God was to read the Daily Bread. Those Devotionals were an important part of her day. More than just routine, each time we sat down to read it, there was a connection with family and her Heavenly Father.

She was an ardent Blue Jays fan. I’m not really into baseball. There’s other sports that I’m much more passionate about, but my grandmother passed on the love of sports to me, too. She had her favourite players. She knew about things like strikes, outs and balls. Home runs made her smile. I can only imagine what she would have thought had she been able to actually go to a game.

She loved her garden and had an eye for beauty. Flowers were her joy and delight. The more the better. The more vibrant the colours the more fantastic. It was only right if her house was in the middle of a bower.

She loved her family! There were lots of us. 11 children. Spouses. 36 grandchildren. Great grandchildren. Great-great grandchildren. She saw 5 generations unfold before her eyes.

This year she celebrated a Mother’s Day none of us anticipated. She celebrated with Jesus. 96 years were given to her on earth and they were full. Work, a husband, children, moving, a Centennial project, a child buried in infancy, grandchildren, more moves, games, laughter, tears, the death of a spouse, two grandchildren and two sons-in-law, health, sickness – these were all part of that journey.

On Mother’s Day she was more home than ever before. She saw Jesus’ face. Her journey on earth finished – her ardent desire for more than a year.

No one saw it coming. The night before, she read the Daily Bread and played Chinese Checkers with family. All seemed fine. At some point in the night, she was ushered into the presence of Glory. She is exactly where she wants to be. We mourn. She does not. We grieve. She rejoices. We don’t wish her back. There’s just a hole there now that’s Grandma shaped. We will celebrate her. A life well lived. A woman at home with her Saviour – the best kind of Mother’s Day she could ever have imagined.

Each tear …

each-tear

There was a service today. A memorial for one who lived life full. Who loved travel and adventure. Who had a crazy sense of humour and deep and abiding passion for God and His people. Her arms were always open and hugs were just part of spending time with her. She love worship and her flags waved often as the words were lifted before the throne.

Her life was celebrated. Tears. Laughter. Joy. Pain. Precious words and memories shared.

I couldn’t help it. The tears leaked out. Those she loved and who loved her are left behind to ache.

Another service is on the horizon. Another who has entered Jesus’ presence. This goodbye has been long. What was once a vibrant mind and body was slowly stolen by Alzheimers. Where joy and vibrancy used to dwell, silence slowly took over. Where eyes once twinkled over a snarky comment or a great joke a gradual dullness invaded. Her home going is the last goodbye, one that has been coming for a while. I anticipate another round of tears. It simply cannot be helped.

I sometimes feel that my tears are a waste. The tear ducts work well. That’s been duly noted on multiple occasions. But the demonstration of that emotion seems like something I would love to be able to control a bit more effectively. However, that doesn’t seem to be God’s intention for me and my tears.

Psalm 56 has been one on which I’ve felt hung up. What, God, do you have for me in that Psalm? David’s a little vengeful at times. He’s plenty accusatory. He reminds himself on multiple occasions that God’s worthy of his trust and that He is the One who is in charge. And then today, on this day when my eyes feel swollen and tired, the Psalm hits home.

Record my lament; list my tears on your scroll – are they not in your record? Psalm 56:8 (NIV)

You’ve kept track of my every toss and turn through the sleepless nights, Each tear entered in your ledger, each ache written in your book. Psalm 56:8 (MSG)

The aches are part of this life. As much as I do not wish to experience them, they are part of what living is all about. Yes, there are joys – moments of sheer delight. But pain and its accompanying hurts and griefs is a distinctive part of the journey too. God’s love is demonstrated again to me in the ways that He pays attention to the tears that I cry. They are not in vain. They are not purposeless. Instead, they remind me that my God rejoices with me but He also aches with me too. This is the God who pays more attention to me than I can ever understand. Each tear is entered in His ledger…

How long?

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How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? Psalm 13:1-2

We all have a “how long” question for God. I have met questioners wondering about jobs – how long until I have a job again? Other questioners have wondered about home – how long until I feel safe and I can move home again? Many question about their health or the health of someone they love – how long until my loved one is well? Others are in the thickness of grief – how long will it take for me to get used to this new emptiness in my life? Others are in a place of anticipation – how long until this baby arrives?

I have wrestled with God over a “how long” question for most of my life. It was the kind of question that caused my faith to waver, my heart to doubt and my identity to be hijacked. My “how long” has centred around my marital status – how long until I get married? And the question burned into the heart of who I was. Every bridal shower was an exercise in stiff upper lip. Every wedding invitation with my name and a plus one felt like a stab to my heart. Every wedding was salt in the wound stinging with intense ferocity. It seemed that I went to a lot of weddings. At each one, I pasted a smile on my face and asked the question “How long until its my turn?” “Why haven’t I met the person for me?”

Look on me and answer, O Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death; my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall. Psalm 13:3-4

Those questions became so deeply a part of my personhood that it rocked my relationship with God. My prayers felt like they hit the ceiling. It seemed that spending time in God’s Word was an exercise in futility. I had become an expert in the stiff upper lip and the everything is fine facade. But inside I was torn to shreds and absolutely nothing was right.

Then a pastor dared to ask me the question that began to turn my life on its head, “Might it be an unanswered prayer that has left you feeling disappointed with God?” True to form I burst into tears. This was absolutely the case with me. I had become to be defined by my “how long” question and because God had not answered to my satisfaction therefore it was His fault. I did not doubt that He existed, but I was deeply disappointed in Him. He hadn’t lived up to my ideas of His provision and therefore He was grossly inadequate. I lived in the place of the overcome and all those married around me seemed to live lives full of rejoicing and happiness.

But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation, I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me. Psalm 13:5-6.

I don’t know exactly when it all changed for me. I don’t know exactly what words were shared with me that changed my perspective. I haven’t stopped asking “how long” questions because they are all around me and they affect those I love in deep and profound ways. In fact, I ask along with them. But somewhere along the journey that is my relationship with Christ, my “how long” question was gradually replaced and has even felt like it has been deleted.

And no, I’m not married. My single status hasn’t changed at all. But my attitude towards my single-ness has changed. For too long in my life, I attached my identity and my worth to the label of single or married. In my mind, single was an absolute failure. Married was the benchmark.

Instead, my faithful Father has been revealing Himself in the middle of my journey. It is not about being single or married at all. For me it has been about my identity. Yes I am single. But more importantly, I am a beloved, beautiful daughter of Christ. One who has had her sin washed away by the precious blood of Christ shed on the cross for me. One who is loved with a deep and abiding love. One who has been forgiven much and is called to live a life of deep devotion to Jesus. One who has discovered that obedience to my Lord is more important than anything else. One who knows with certainty that Jesus speaks to me and desires for me to listen and engage in conversation with Him. One who knows that nothing else is as important as the relationship I have with my heavenly Father. I have learned to trust that the Lover of my soul has known me intimately all along. His love is unfailing and therefore my heart can rejoice exactly where it is.

For me, that means my heart rejoices in the midst of my singleness. And I choose to sing. I choose to find the joy. I choose to see the blessings that my life offers me. I choose to be grateful for the experiences that continue to be poured into my life. No matter what, my God is so good to me. His goodness will never end.

At some point, I am sure another “how long” will surface in my life, but I choose to fix my eyes on the Father who walks with me. He knows my “how long” better than I ever will and He will never leave my side.

How Long – Al Gordon

How Long Oh Lord (Psalm 13) – Brian Doerksen