Sunday, November 1, 2015

Peace Like a River

“I’ve got peace like a river, I’ve got peace like a river, I’ve got peace like a river in my soul.”

I taught this song to kids at Vacation Bible School many times. I don’t think it is actually Biblical… there is talk of Living Waters that truly satisfy, and still waters in the Psalms. But the image I had was of a slow and lazy river. Warm. Safe. But thoughts of peace are tumbling out of my mind… Peace. River.
But rivers rage. They change with the seasons. In the winter the Peace River is frozen. Jagged and jutting. Not like a skating rink. It froze mid-thought, struggling. It is angry to me. Not peaceful.

In the spring the rivers do rage, they rise and dislodge the accumulated debris and driftwood on the banks. And the river is rough, dark, swirling and dangerous. But the shore is clean. Fresh. The rocks are smoother and softer, the way a glacier imperceptibly crushes the rocks smooth, over millennium.

But deep in the river, far below the surface, below the undertow, this turbulence and chaos is not felt. At least I don’t think it is. To find the peace of the deep river, to be submerged in it, to feel both the intense weight of it and the weightlessness, those logs and rocks on the surface from far upstream, the ones you can’t see or feel anymore, you need those to be dislodged, little by little. If they aren’t dislodged season after season, but build, they collide and collect, connect and tangle, and dam up the river. The flow is stopped. The dam creates a pool, and the pool is so gentle, placid, it is so calm and serene, and it feels like the peace we crave, but it is artificial, temporary, the calm before the storm. The pressure builds and the dam breaks and each piece of debris slams into our lives, too many pieces at once, and we are overwhelmed. It hits so hard and unexpected that we don’t know if we can swim. And we fear all the water and debris, and we desperately want to get to shore.

But is there ever truly peace on the shore?

 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.  But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,”he said, “why did you doubt?”
Matthew 14.27-31

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Redemption - Experiencing the Lower Case "R"

God is still in the business of healing and deliverance. Every day. Forgiveness, salvation and redemption are the things of His kingdom. No miracle is too big or too small.

I think I am finally beginning to understand redemption. I get capital “R” Redemption – Jesus dying for me on the cross – but small “r” redemption has never really made sense to me. When people spoke of it, I suppose I didn’t really believe them. Or Him. Okay, so something good came after something bad. But the bad thing still happened. I thought of the times I took my children to get their vaccines. A few painful jabs in the arm, with that unmistakable smell of hospital… They were too young to understand the protective benefit they were receiving, so how did we try to ease the pain? The public health nurse gave them a sticker. A sticker?! There is no way any of my kids would tell you that any sticker, even a Transformers one, was worth the experience of a sanitizer-smelling stranger stabbing them in the arm with a needle, their own mom an accomplice. But that was my view of redemption. A Dora the Explorer Band Aid stuck on a broken heart.

I remember reading about a couple whose infant had died. The father said that “God redeemed their loss.” What on earth could that mean? It sounded like the kind of ridiculous believer-speak of fundamental televangelists that freaked me out. God could bless them with a hundred other children, but they could never replace the unique life that was lost. At best they might be a distraction from the ache. But redemption? No way.

It’s not like when your car gets stolen, and your insurance pays for a new one. It’s not like replacing your old phone, or a sock with a hole in it. Cars, phones and socks can be replaced. Not children. I always hated the end of Job. (Well, I didn’t really like any of it, but the end was the worst.) “The Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; and he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand donkeys. He also had seven sons and three daughters.” Job 41.12-13. Yeah, so he had twice as many animals as before. Great. But ten of his children died! So God gave him ten new ones? The new kids are indeed a blessing, but how on God’s not-always-so-green earth does that make up for the loss of ten beloved lives? How is this redemption?

But wait, don’t I believe in the God who can do “infinitely more than we can ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3.20)? That means I need to really trust that He can do things that I think are absolutely impossible. Like redemption.

Yesterday I experienced, for the first time that I recognized, the miracle of small “r” redemption. And to me it feels no less remarkable than capital “R” Redemption. (And resurrection is incredibly remarkable to me.) In a situation that has caused pain and anger, fear and shame for over twenty years, God worked a miracle. Out of that suffering He blessed me with compassion, forgiveness, and healing. He didn’t take the awful thing that happened away, but He took away its power, its ugliness. This is not like  I dropped my ice cream cone so God gave me a new one… The memory is not gone, but it is changed. He delivered me from the bondage I was stuck in. I think that is redemption. Yes, there have been many tears, but they became cleansing. Yes, I was clean, finally clean and whole after so many years of feeling dirty and broken.

I was never able to figure out how to put this burden down in my own strength, but Jesus stretched out His arms and took the burden from me, and now I feel light, like I can’t even remember what it felt like to carry it for so long. And now I sound like one of those over-the-top over-zealous TV preachers, but how can I not speak the truth? It all sounds crazy when we don’t believe, but when you experience it for yourself there is nothing crazy about it… it’s crazy how wonderful it is, but not that kind of weird crazy  that is just so, well, weird. And hard to trust. I know it sounds crazy. So did the Apostle Paul: “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (I Corinthians 1.18) I know that power, and I know it is God.

God heals bodies and hearts and minds and memories. I think I used to believe that was true for others, but maybe not for me. I knew Jesus could redeem me from my sins, but it never occurred to me that he could redeem me from someone else’s sins. But He has. I have this beautiful treasure chest that He gave me, but I kept putting all kinds of junk in it – a beautiful and incredible vessel filled with pain and ugliness, sin and rot. And I forgot my Father had the key! He opened the chest, took out all the crap, and filled it with Himself. God delights in surprising me, lavishing His love on me, showing me that I am indeed His beloved daughter.

I still don’t like the story of Job much. But I now see that the redemption Job received from God was not donkeys or camels or children. It was an overwhelming revelation of how much God truly loved Him, and knowing, really deeply knowing the depths of His love for us is a miracle. (And I have to trust that those children are with God now… that God is not bound by my limited sense of justice or heaven or anything.)

I used to think of redemption in economic terms – you take something that is inherently worthless, like a gift card, merely a piece of plastic, and trade it for something of value, something that is worth something to you. But God’s redemption is far beyond that. He doesn’t just redeem worthless things, He redeems awful things, painful things, evil things.

It sounds crazy to a lot of you, I know, I can hardly believe it myself. God re-routed my neural pathways, rewrote my operating code, took out my heart of stone and gave me a heart of flesh. He pruned off my rotten branches, and promises to tenderly feed and water me with His Body and His Word. None of these analogies really work, because this is a case of what is impossible for man is possible with God. (Luke 18.27) 
Healing. Forgiveness. Salvation. Deliverance. Redemption.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” John 14.26-27

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” Isaiah 43.1b

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Weep, Pray, Love.

I am heartbroken. I just want to weep before the Lord for all the pain I see around me. I asked for this – I prayed that God would break my heart for what breaks His – and I know this is just a very small taste of the pain He feels for His children. There is so much suffering – in my immediate surrounded there has been terrible tragedy – the death of a young child in an accident, the deterioration of my father with Alzheimer’s, teenagers struggling with depression & self-harm. Cancer, incest, abuse, addiction and racism. I spent last weekend with Indigenous people desperately seeking reconciliation, mourning their murdered and missing sisters. So many broken hearts that need mending.

Casting the circle wider, our whole world is in pain. War and persecution, famine and drought, slavery and sex trafficking. So much evil. So much horror.

There are so many issues to address, wrongs to right, rants to rage, and prayers to cry.  There is the failing of our churches, families, schools, social services, governments, our First World greed, over-consumption, and apathy, our arrogance, our hate, our indifference. There is so much pain.

With all this pain we need hope. With all this pain we seek to understand.

I want to help, to hold on, to lift up, to love.

But do I need to understand?

“You don’t understand” whether spoken out loud or in my heart, was probably one of my top ten phrases as a teenager. We do seek to be understood, and that doesn’t change much as we get older. But what we truly need is to be loved. I truly believe that “Nobody understands me” is the heart’s cry of “nobody loves me.”

In reacting to someone in an emotional crisis, I think we generally fall into two camps – “I understand” or “I don’t understand.” When I am in the first group I feel compelled to explain to you why I understand your pain by sharing my own experience of pain. I essentially offload my own baggage, and don’t really help you carry your own. One day it might be helpful and healing to sit down with me and have a conversation about how I dealt with my particular loss, but as a first response I do not need to prove that have my own pain. I don't need to prove I’ve gone through a trial of my own.

Telling my story of pain does not help to validate your feelings. My advice may not be welcome. Every situation and person is unique.

A brave woman in my community has dealt with this as she comes to terms with the loss of her young son. She contrasts helpful people who lend support with those people who add to her “boulder of grief” with their own story of pain:

“It is very encouraging, like a handful of balloons, to tell me "so-and-so also experienced the loss of [insert person/relationship here], but this is how they got through it." It is the opposite to share details of accidents, deaths, and trauma, even if the intention is trying to be encouraging by comparing my situation with theirs. (Though how it is supposed to help me deal with my own grief by simply knowing others have experienced similar or "more horrific" losses, I am not certain.)

When I am on the “I don’t understand” side of things, I can’t relate to your experience – I haven’t had cancer, I haven’t lost a child, I am not a widow or a refugee. So I am afraid of saying the wrong thing, afraid of making things worse, so I avoid you. I assume I have nothing to offer and back away from you. I don’t get it, so I must not be qualified to offer up any help in your time of need. What on earth could I say to a woman whose husband cheated on her, or a mother who had a stillborn child? I have more questions than answers. I am afraid that my words would be hollow or inappropriate. I become awkward and distant. I don’t understand.

But my friends, God does not ask us to understand, He asks us to love. We’ve all gone through stuff and we have our own unique joys and pains. If I think I understand your pain, I need to love. One day there will be time for stories, time for questions, but today is the day to love. If I don’t think I understand your pain, I need to love. I may not have a clue about what you are experiencing, but God does, and God loves you. God knows each of us more than we can imagine. He knows the number of hairs on our heads. He knew us before we were formed in our mothers’ wombs. He created our DNA. He gave us our gifts and dreams. We need to celebrate & honour each other by listening to and loving each other.

You don’t have to prove that you understand, or wait until you think you understand. This is a broken world in need of blessing. Listen & love.  

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” John 13.34