Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Big Picture

I've been meaning to blog about The Big Picture ever since Mallory surprised us by showing up one day in June.  Every time I see him I'm reminded again that there's a really big picture.  I desperately need that reminder from time-to-time!

Of course, this story doesn't start that day.  It's hard to figure out quite where Big Picture stories start.  I suspect it's something like, "Before the foundations of time..."  My awareness of this particular story started when I was sixteen.  As is always the case with Big Picture stories, I didn't have a clue that day or, in fact, for many years.

I certainly wouldn't go so far as to say I was a normal sixteen-year-old (whatever that is), but I did struggle with the same things lots of teens struggle with...zits, body image, homework, wondering if I had what it takes, would anyone ever choose to love me, the usual.  I was living in Nova Scotia and one of my aunts was living in British Columbia.  She sent me a cassette tape.  Yes, a cassette.  Not an eight-track, though I did have some of those too, just a regular little ol' cassette.

It was a homemade one with a sticker label that said, "From Brian and Mallory With Love."  It wasn't from them directly to me.  It was just a cassette that a couple of people had made and their friends had enjoyed it so much they made a bunch of copies.  My Aunt thought I would like it and I did!  The songs spoke to my heart.  The guitars were beautifully played and the vocal harmonies were extraordinary.  One of the voices often sang a clear, higher harmony so I assumed Mallory was a girl, like the Mallory on Family Ties.

I played that tape all the time.  Especially when I was trying to sleep at night.  I struggled a lot with anxiety and sleep seldom came easily.  That cassette calmed me.

Because this is a Big Picture story, I have to fast-forward a decade.  Ten years in which I finished High School, went to college, got engaged to a guy that I didn't marry, moved across the country...and then met Brian.  Who sang and played the guitar beautifully.  He had a friend named Mallory.  Mallory was a guy but not the guy who sang the high parts on my tape.  That was Brian.

I married Brian and Mallory sang at our wedding.  Just as God knew I would.  I don't think He just knew, I believe He planned it "before the foundations of time..."  When I was sixteen and tormented by anxiety and couldn't sleep and played a cassette to calm myself He knew I was listening to the voice of my future husband.  He had a Plan.  A really good Plan.  I think He smiled over those moments with the same kind of delight I feel when I plan treats for my kids.

Now I can see that part of The Big Picture. It's really beautiful. It was His plan along I just couldn't see it.

Today is part of a Big Picture too. Strands of a tapestry are being woven together.  The strands are all I can see at the moment.  I have no idea what the final picture for this chapter is going to look like.  Many of the strands are really, really lovely, my favorite colours.  I can easily see those hues coming together in a way that makes my heart burst with joy.

There are a few though that aren't very pretty.  In fact, when I look at those ones I don't like them at all.  I've seen some pictures woven in those colours and they're ugly and make me feel sad.  Some days feel like they are dominated by those ugly threads.  My stomach gets all queasy and I can't think straight.  Grief and fear are paralysing.  What if...  What.  If.

In desperation I seek the eyes of the Weaver to whom I've entrusted my life.  His eyes are beautiful.  So beautiful.  I'm transfixed, but it's different than being paralysed.  His gaze fills me with peace and calm.  His love starts to soak into the pain and fear.  If I stay there long enough, it fills me with courage and I can move again, breathe again.  He makes beautiful, glorious pictures. Even out of really ugly colours.  He weaves in grace and redemption and they become masterpieces.

This seeking of His eyes...  Sometimes it requires fierce determination.  It's an act of war.  A refusal to believe the lies that His love and grace aren't big enough.

Again, today, I will release the strands I'm clutching. He promises to take them and make something that will take my breath away.  I'm looking into His eyes.  The love in them is making me sing a song.

It's a song I learned from a cassette a long time ago.

Brian and Mallory in June ~ I wish I had a picture of them recording their album!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Please Stand By

Sometimes God speaks to me audibly.

I'm not saying that the woman in the Costco self checkout is God--He'd use better grammar ("Your savings is..." *shudder*  I've seriously thought of writing to the corporation)--but Monday I heard him speak to me through that voice.  (It's surprising how often He uses imperfect vessels.)

Whenever possible I use the self-checkout.  It's just so hard to be patient while someone else is pokey and packs the hamburger buns on the bottom.  Yes, I say something about the buns (much to the horror of my children, but seriously!), and, no, I don't have control issues, just an appreciation of things done well.  However, it is inconvenient when there's a glitch.  Like on Monday when I swiped a shirt and placed it on the belt.  Wouldn't take.  I tried again.  And again.

"Help is required for this item.  Please stand by.  Help is on the way."  Thankfully, her grammar was correct at this stressful moment.  The only way I was going to leave the store with that shirt (half price and a lovely shade of blue!) was if I waited.  Waited for help.  Help that was apparently on the way.

That's when I laughed out loud.


Help is required for this item.

Please stand by.

Help is on the way.

That thought which had been pinging around in my head all morning...  How could I solve that particular problem?  I could...what if I...or maybe if I...  "I" was part of every solution I could imagine.  Yet clearly help was required for this item.

Please stand by, Michelle.  Help is on the way!

I don't always wait well (see above regarding self checkout).  I frequently wear myself to a nub trying to solve problems.  Sure, action on my part is usually required, but I'm a hamster on a wheel when I think I'm the source of the solution.

"Be still in the presence of the Lord and wait patiently for him to act.  Don't worry..."

"I waited patiently for the Lord to help me and he...heard my cry...lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire..."

"No one who waits for you will ever be put to shame."

Wait.  Patiently.  Don't worry.  Worry causes mire in my brain.  While I waited for the that moment of stillness...that stillness I frequently avoid though my impatience...truth surfaced.

God was definitely speaking to me in that annoying and often grammatically incorrect android voice.  Help was required.  In that moment I determined to "stand by" and believe that "help is on the way."

That was five days ago...  At least half the solution has unfolded.  I have every reason to believe that if I continue to stand by, all the help I need will arrive.

It's kinda peaceful.

Psalm 37:7; 40:1-2 NLT
Psalm 25:3 GN

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Happy Birthday, Friend!

I'm a planner and an organizer.  I'm the CEO of a small but forceful organization and most decisions require the consideration of a minimum of five people's schedules.  Even though today is ONLY midway through summer, I must make some decisions about the kid's schedules for the winter.  Trying to consider every eventuality and how we can make everybody's everything jive just about pops a muscle in my brain.  And then there's a nagging anxiety that I'll have forgotten something that will make us crazy trying to deal with all winter...

That anxiety makes it a good time to ponder the coolness of God's kindness toward me.  On this day many years ago one of my very best friends was born.  My kids get the biggest kick out of considering our age difference and what that looks like at their ages in relation to other people they know.  "That would be like me being best friends with _______ !!"  (Incidentally, it is the same age difference between my husband and I, but I'm the younger one in that scenario.)

On this day ever-so-many years ago, I was planning how I would celebrate my eighth birthday; reading my first full-length novel, Treasures of the Snow; biking to my friend's house; weeding the garden with my mom; maybe going to the beach.  It was the year I switched schools and encountered God in a way that marked me forever.

All the while, unbeknownst to me, clear on the other side of the country a baby girl was born.  I wouldn't meet her for more than twenty years.  What is so cool to me is that away back then God knew the plans He had for us.  I know it was with delight that He planned the ways we'd just "get" each other.  That our husbands would be bemused but relieved that we make sense to somebody.  That our kids would be friends.  That we'd both say yes to Him in ways that bring a little bit of heaven to earth.  That He planned everything just right so that we would lend each other strength and a whole lot of happiness.  It gave Him great joy to plan it all out for us!  And we had no idea...

There's no limit to the goodness in our Father's heart toward us!!  Celebrating all this goodness makes my heart so happy--and a little bit less anxious about planning my future. I get so furrow-browed over trying to figure everything out, but who knows what other happy surprises He has up His sleeve for me?

I will be your God throughout your lifetime--
until your hair is white with age.
I made you, and I will care for you.
I will carry you along and save you.

Isaiah 46:4

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Destiny Focused

Every year I print my blog posts for a few seniors I love.  Next to my Mom and Dad, Hanny and Otto may be my biggest fans.  If I had a million Hanny and Otto's, my husband could retire.  So, they were checking up on me to make sure I've been writing and I had to confess that I haven't been...  I had a couple speaking events in May that consumed my creative energy and then June ran me over as it usually does, I'm trying to write papers for a course I'm taking and then it had been so long since I'd blogged...where to start?  So I stayed stuck.  I wanted to write.  They told me that wasn't okay, that there are people who need to read what I write, they would pray, and I'd better sit down and prepare to write!

You get a bit of expectation when people like Hanny and Otto pray so I was waiting for it.  Sure enough on Wednesday I hit the web looking for pictures of our new little Prince George...and BAM!

American relatives recently grilled me on "the whole monarchy thing" and I really don't think I enlightened them much.  I told them how I love the Queen's Christmas message and how my heart shivers when she prays for us, her subjects.  How I respect her so much and how she believes her role is God-given and a serious responsibility.   I'm not sure I have an opinion on the future of the monarchy, but I do have an opinion on the disrespectful ways people express their opinions...

Anyway, Wednesday...snooping for royal baby pictures.  You know what I saw?  The same thing I've seen three times over.  I could relate to the look on Kate and Will's faces.  Their titles make no difference in that moment of wonder.  Kate's face told the story I know:  her world has been turned upside down by a squalling bundle.  A chunk of her heart will forever roam the world outside of her body.  Will, bursting with pride and protective joy, encircling wife and baby.   The wonder and the joy of it all is akin to ache.

And the little Prince!!  He's yummy!  A squishy little guy.  And completely oblivious.  He doesn't care that there are a million camera lenses aimed at him.  He's just snuggled up with his mamma.  He'll squawk when he's hungry...and stink when he poops.  In fact, he's not a whole lot different than the thousands of other babies born that day.

Except for his destiny.

And that was my ah-ha moment.  Knowing destiny makes all the difference.

It's what makes the difference in how we spend our time.  The risks we take.  The choices we make.  Knowing our destiny inspires us to push forward.  It lends courage.  It makes the opinions of others matter less.

Nehemiah had the destiny thing nailed.  Even though he was terrified, he boldly asked for the impossible.  Why?  Because God had put plans in his heart for Jerusalem.  He knew they weren't just his own good (crazy?) ideas.  He knew they were God's plans.  It seems everything that could go wrong did go wrong, but Nehemiah was undeterred in his vision.  He was scoffed at, insulted and assaulted.  His enemies went to ridiculous lengths to distract him but he remained calmly focused.  "I am in engaged in a great work, so I can't come.  Why should I stop working to come and meet with you?"

This great work of Nehemiah's?  It involved laying one stone on top of another, refusing to stop until it was done.  Moment by moment unremarkable, yet worthy of opposition and epic in it's completion.

You know the plans God has put in your heart. Maybe you're afraid to start or even to admit you know.  Maybe you've believed the lies and insults of jealous and small-minded people.  Maybe you feel you've disqualified yourself along the way.  Maybe in the one-stone-after-another monotony you've forgotten that each stone is part of an epic destiny.

It's time to silence the devices.  Extinguish the flashing screens.  Be still and know that He is God and He's created you with a destiny. What 'great work' is He calling you to?

"I am the Lord and there is no other.  I publicly proclaim bold promises.  I do not whisper obscurities in some dark corner.  I would not have told the people of Israel to seek me if I could not be found..." 

Are you seekking?  Does the answer sound too good to be true?  Bigger than you? His plans usually do.

I know the plans He's put in my heart though I might be afraid to spell them out for you.  I have wavered and I have floundered.  Felt disqualified by weakness rather than empowered by grace.  Been cowered by taunts and afraid I'm getting it all wrong. But I'm picking up the next stone and praying you will too.  Hopefully you have a Hanny and Otto to cheer you along to your glorious destiny.

I knew you before I formed you in your mother's womb.  
Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you... 

You saw me before I was born...every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.  

The Lord called me before my birth; from within the womb he called me by name.  
He said, "You are my servant...and you will bring me glory."

"I, the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel,
have made you glorious."

Nehemiah 2 & 6
Isaiah 45:18b-19
Jeremiah 1:5
Psalm 139:16
 Isaiah 49:1 & 3; 55:5b

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Where the Grass is Greener

We sat across from each other over coffee and crumpled, crumby napkins, catching up.

She told me how long her evenings had been with her hubby working extra hours.

I tried to feel compassionate but was mostly wondering how she could complain...after all she has three solid days of solitude every week. What I wouldn't give for that!  I'm certain if I had 21 blessed hours of peace and quiet I could leap over tall buildings in a single bound.

I felt horrible immediately.  If we had to pick challenges, I'd keep mine over hers any day.  Yet there I was peering over the fence at her presumably greener grass.  Because we have that kind of friendship, I confessed.  She 'fessed up too.  Apparently she'd been thinking my grass was looking pretty sweet.

The seductive allure of that emerald green grass on the other side of the fence.

I heard a message last summer about longing for your neighbor's greener grass, and how our own would be greener if we'd take care of the weeds.  My head assented to the sound logic, but my heart was heavy.  I know better than anyone else just how weedy my lawn is and how hard I've worked to eradicate all the nasties.  How many times I've been certain that I finally annihilated one only to find it as hardy as a wretched dandelion.  Exhausting.

There is, however, a place where the grass is green beyond my wildest dreams.

This green meadow is not of my own making.  It's a place discovered while following the Shepherd.

When I follow Him I have everything I need.  He lets me rest in those green meadows.  There He renews my strength.

He leads me in the paths of righteousness.  He wants to.  He's a shepherd.  He leads me into righteousness--it's not the result of my own efforts.

The key to greener pastures is not in seeking weeds, but in seeking the Shepherd.  If you see a weed, by all means, ask the Shepherd how He wants you to deal with it.  Otherwise, let's keep our eyes on the Shepherd and our ears tuned to His voice and follow.  If you feel lost, find His voice in a favorite Psalm or begin to worship, giving thanks in all things.  This will lead to pastures so green you'll never long for the turf on the other side of the fence again.

The Lord is my shepherd;
I have all that I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows;
he leads me beside peaceful streams.
He guides me along right path,
bringing honour to his name.

My cup overflows with blessings.

Psalm 23:1-3, 5b NLT

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Dance on Your Disappointment

Monday we stood on the dusty roadside of a mountain pass peering under the open hood of our van.  Acrid, too hot scent stinging our noses.  An irregular knocking filling our ears.  Only one set of eyes knew what they were seeing, but five hearts were sinking.  We were supposed to be off on an adventure, having a change, a rest.  The only wise choice was to turn around and try to get back to the nearest town.

Naturally, there were tears and questions.  The little one leaned against me with a small sob and said, "We've had a lot of disappointments lately, Mommy."  I knew she was thinking of the Big Disappointment which was now about six weeks past but still fresh in our hearts.  Then she asked how I could bear this one.  The simple answer was, "I know He loves me."  Deeper than that, I had an epiphany right there in that melting mountain pass--I'd claimed Hope Territory in the time of the Big Disappointment.

We'd gone more than three months with mom, the heart and soul of the family, out of commission.  Quiet Christmas sans turkey dinner, limping along through the basics, postponing holidays, and continually praying for healing.  Into the fourth month and there was a cancellation, they would take me in for surgery.  Hope rose.  Only to be crushed after hours of waiting.  I'd have to be bumped to another day...a month away.  We cried together, feeling quite like we'd been taken out at the knees.  The long struggle had worn on us all.

I'd been sixteen hours without food, water or medication while waiting for my surgery.  With all those needs finally met, I slipped into the blessed relief of sleep while my family cuddled together with a movie.  A few hours later I returned to cognizance with one urgent thought, "You need to dance on this disappointment."

What a silly idea!  And not because, as my curly-haired family frequently tells me, I dance like a white woman.   Physically, I was no condition to dance and who dances anyway when they haven't got a clue how they're going to get through another month of this?  But I know that Voice and I've learned it's worth listening to...

So I found the song that said what I needed to say and I played it.  On repeat.  Loud enough to saturate my senses. And I sang and sang and twirled around as best I could until hope rose.  I sang and twirled some more until I was bursting with hope.  When I finally flopped down breathless I still didn't know anything, but I knew that I knew that I knew that God loves me and that nothing is impossible for Him.  I knew that as long as I could dance on my disappointment, thereby declaring my confidence in His goodness, He would make something glorious out of this whole big mess.  For me and for my family.

Navigating disappointment isn't easy.  It's important to be honest and process our sadness.  But we can't live there.  Disappointment pulls with a tremendous gravitational force, trying to hold us down.  Self pity encourages us to put down roots in that place.  Disappointment is a place to go through.

We can, in fact, be "perplexed, but not in despair...cast down, but not destroyed."  Whether your setback is great or small, I encourage you to dance.  Dance on your disappointment. 

Dance.  As though your life depends on it.

What joy for those whose strength comes from the Lord,
who have set their minds on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem
When they walk through the Valley of Weeping
it will become a place of refreshing springs.
The autumn rains will clothe it with blessings.
They will continue to grow stronger, 
and each of them will appear before God in Jerusalem.
Psalm 84:5-7
2 Corinthians 4:8-10

Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Basis of Hope

She told me.  Right to my face.  She suspected that cheerful, hopeful people couldn't possibly be very intelligent.  Really smart people comprehend the full ramifications of the dire straight that is the state of our universe.  And it's impossible to be very hopeful or cheerful when you're so fully informed.

I laughed.  I really did.  I couldn't help it!  Maybe I didn't try, I don't know.  It's just that this joy is irrepressible.  Which probably confirmed her point.

It really is foolishness to believe that the impossible could be possible.  To have hope when there's no hope of our circumstances changing.  When the prognosis is bleak.  When the relationship has been fragmented for years.  When we've failed repeatedly to change.

It's utterly foolish to believe that a crushed lifeless body, devoid of heartbeat for three days, could live again.  Yet it happened.  It's been historically validated and it's power is still evident in our lives.  Even death is impotent in the presence of the Spirit of the Almighty God!

We have this hope that is an anchor for our souls...

Oh, this hope we have!  It's so much more than a lackadaisical, Pollyannic good cheer.  Much more substantial than the vapor that is the power of my own positive thinking which burns away quickly in the heat of the marathon.  This hope we have is based in the resurrection.  Every promise we've been given is backed by the same power that raised Jesus from the dead!  This same power lives inside you who are called by His name.
Hebrews 6:19