Monday, August 10, 2015

comfort in suffering

Psalm119:49-56 Zayin
Remember your word to your servant, for you have given me hope. My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life. The arrogant mock me without restraint, but I do not turn from your law. I remember your ancient laws, O Lord, and I find comfort in them. Indignation grips me because of the wicked, who have forsaken your law. Your decrees are the theme of my song wherever I lodge. In the night I remember your name, O Lord, and I will keep your law. This has been my practice: I obey your precepts.

The first thing that stands out to me here is "comfort in my suffering." Because in this world, we have suffering - that is just the way it is. Our ability to bear our suffering, carrying it like a hiker's giant backpack, is what I am interested in studying. I want the joy, the peace, the beauty of one who adeptly carries her suffering. Oh, I have prayed for God to take my suffering away - many times. Begging him with promises like, "I'll be able to help others more without this burden," and even accusations like, "There is no good purpose in such suffering - it only mocks me!" When we don't understand why we have to carry such an unnecessary burden, we begin to question God - to question his goodness. We become Eve in the garden, desiring to take what is necessary to make our life good, even if God has said no. We get tunnel-vision, like Eve did, focussing in on that one piece of fruit, blind to the orchard overflowing with good things that surrounded her.

There is also a flavour of Psalm 73 here. A little taste of "I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked." I have always been able to relate a little too well to this Psalm. It often does seem as though others receive the answers and things they are going after. My desire for instant gratification envies them. I want, I need, I desire, but I am always telling myself to push those things down the list. At the top of the list is God. I want a relationship with God that is real. I need him to speak to me. I desire Him more than things. And this is my choice, and I don't regret that choice. Until, in the moment of wanting something tangible, something that everyone else seems to have easily, I begin, like the Psalmist, to weaken. By the end of the Psalm, however, he remembers that it is his own choice - that he is delaying gratification for some things so that he can have better things.

All this brings me right back to John 6. (I think everything brings me back to John 6, because it's my favourite). Jesus has just fed the five thousand with the 5 loaves and 2 small fish. Then he seemingly disappeared. The crowd must have really searched for him, because they knew he didn't get into the boat with his disciples, yet they ended up finding him on the other side of the lake. They began to question him about how he got there. Jesus could see in their hearts. He tells them, "You're not looking for me because you've pieced together who I am; you just want more miracles." Oh, he knows our hearts - so bent on instant gratification of whatever takes our fancy. My prayers reflect this sometimes. I pray, "God, I just want to know you more. But, there's this thing. This thing I've been asking you to take out of my life, to heal, to fix. Please, just so I'll know you love me, just so I'll know you really hear me, fix this." I just want instant gratification. I just want a miracle. But Jesus tells the crowd, "Don't strive after temporary things, but for things that will endure to eternal life." And they ask him how to work for what God requires. He says to them, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent." I feel like he's really telling them (and me), "You don't believe." But they completely miss the point and continue pressing him for a miracle. They completely ignore what he did for them yesterday, essentially saying, "But what are you going to do for me today? I'll believe if you give me a miracle." O, stubborn heart of mine, so filled with the 'wisdom' of this crowd; how many times have I acted out this sentiment - What will you do for me today?

So, here's the punchline - the message God had for me down this winding rabbit hole: it is what Jesus answered the crowd that day. He said, "I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." He is saying: I am right here! I'm right in front of you! You are asking for a miracle, you want food...I am the bread of life.

And that's what he's telling me. I've been asking for answers for immediate problems. I've been asking for miracles. Meanwhile, I have the Miraclemaker right here! How can I ask for bread when I have the Bread of Life right in front of me?!

So, going back to Psalm 119, my comfort in my suffering is this: Jesus, the Bread of Life, right here, right now, every day.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

on shame

From my journal - contemplating and rejoicing in Psalm 31

Why does shame weave itself into the fleshy fabric of those who are innocent? How can I break the bonds of shame? It has become part of me - interwoven with the cells of my body and soul. I cannot cut it out. Surgery, to remove a mass is possible, but not an interwoven layer of skin. It covers me. It has become part of who I am. A redeemer is no surgeon. He does not cut what should never have been there. He uses it to form something beautiful. He steeps it like tea - adding grace and his own love - to grow compassion. A redeemer never cuts away and replaces - he transforms what is there, making it beautiful.

The shame that should belong to the abuser, the oppressor, attaches itself firmly to the victim. It is part of who she is - even when she doesn't remember why.

Why shame for the victim? Why does the oppressor go free?

Thursday, May 21, 2015

oh kneel me down

I love New Year's Resolutions. Not ones like: "lose 10 lbs" or "give up chocolate." I like to set goals - or hopes - or dreams with a plan. I like to contemplate the last year and make some adjustments in my daily habits for the new, fresh year. January, 2015 was no different. As I reflected back on the year (and years) previous, I was impressed with the level of self-discipline I had learned. However, no amount of trying, depriving, or praying had achieved my one big desire to find a solution to my health problems. I have many digestive issues. I have tried everything (it feels like, anyway) to "fix" these issues - to find a cure - even a diagnosis. I have had limited success. Each new thing I try, gives me a measure of success for a time - each with a promise of full healing that never really happens. Oh, I have learned a lot and surprised myself with my own ability to stick to impossible eating plans. But, more than all of my efforts, I have asked - I have begged God to heal me. He has given me so many amazing gifts in the last 3 years. He told me to ask for big things and then delighted in giving them to me. But not healing. This year, when I brought it up again as part of my New Year Requests, He told me, very clearly: "You have tried everything to make this go away. You have asked me multiple times to heal you. And your pain persists. If you have tried for 3 years and it is still here, then maybe it's a gift from me. For 2015, your goal should be to embrace your pain - not just accept it - embrace it." And so, that is my big year-goal. I am not there yet. The other night, after eating broccoli, my insides felt like they were on fire. I tried to tell myself: "This feeling of pain is love. It is a gift." But I struggle with this. Right now, all I can muster is an acceptance that I will have bad pain days. I am learning to release the stress of trying and trying to fix my problem. It is, however, only May. I'm hoping by December to be honestly thankful for the gift of my pain. The closest I have come yet to embracing this is embodied in the words of this song (God brought these lyrics to my heart again and again over the last few weeks):

Oh kneel me down again
here at your feet
Show me how much you love

Oh Spirit be the star
that leads me to
the humble heart of love
I see in you

(Humble King - Vineyard)

Maybe my struggle is to bring me closer to the Humble King. Maybe the pain is what kneels me down at his feet. How can I not be thankful for anything that leads me to His humble heart of love.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

ode to coffee - and mothers

During a time I gave up coffee for a week (and anything except tap water), I discovered two things. First, I have a caffeine addiction; I had no awareness of this – I just drink it because it’s socially expected and I like the warmth. And second, I love coffee (and tea) way more than I thought I did. As I brewed pots of it to serve in the shop, the aroma nearly knocked me over. I was prompted to pen this poem professing my love of coffee. However, this being the week before Mother’s Day, and the fact that my Mom is away on a trip, I found that my poem was also a declaration of the consistent joy brought to me by my mother.

Ode to Coffee – and Mothers

You wake me up each morning

~ the instinct you have taught me well.

As we converse, I enjoy your sweet presence

~ your aroma calls up feelings of comfort because of your daily presence in my life.

Some days I sit and enjoy your essence without distraction

~ sometimes I need to grab an infusion of your calming goodness as I rush through my day.

The joy and energy I receive from you lingers, fuelling me

~ I do not need to drink it in continually, for your peacefulness has long-lasting effects.

I cannot imagine my life without the spirit of beauty you wrap around my being

~ if I had to give you up for a week, it would only be bearable because of our anticipated reunion.

I love you because you make me a better person 

~ I'm addicted to you.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

give me boldness

Peter and the other apostles had been warned, with many threatenings, not to teach in Jesus' name. Immediately they got together with their companions to pray. I would think they would pray for God to overthrow this evil political system and grant them freedom to teach about Jesus. God is a God of justice and freedom. They could have prayed for fairness and peace - for their path of public ministry to be smooth and glorious. They carried a glorious message about the lovely Son of God! Their prayers shock me and accuse me. I am far too obsessed with the easy life. They prayed for boldness. They remembered how the rulers were gathered together against Jesus - and yet it was "to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done." They fully accepted their current circumstances as part of God's plan. Were they more valuable than Jesus, whom God allowed to suffer as part of His plan? No, they did not even consider that. They reminded themselves of God's ways, of His power over all things, and committed themselves to His plan. And prayed for boldness to speak in Jesus' name in the face of danger, suffering, and death. That's the faith I want. The faith to accept negative circumstances as part of God's plan and trust that He will not require me to suffer more than is necessary to accomplish His plan. I want to be so committed to His plan in my life that avoiding pain or suffering is not my first prayer - instead praying for boldness and strength and endurance - trusting that God has the other details sorted out.

Monday, February 9, 2015

a Nova Scotian Psalm

O God, your love for me is higher than the Bay of Fundy tides;
It stretches out before me and endures like a Nova Scotia Summer evening.
Your mercies are fir trees - green and alive in every season;
Growing together, thick - my days a forest of your love.
Your ways are the crashing ocean waves on the rocks of Peggy's Cove;
Beautiful and dangerous; peaceful and powerful - spraying my face.
Your steadfastness is as certain as the changing seasons;
You provide for me as surely as you paint the leaves each September.
Your love for me runs pure and sweet like the sap of the maple tree;
In the Spring, after a frosty night, I am certain of it's flowing goodness.
Your goodness to me is exquisite and varied, as the evening sky;
When I notice, it takes my breath away with its expanse and detail.
You, O God, are the soul-stirring view from the Cabot Trail;
One glimpse of you leaves me changed forever.

Monday, January 19, 2015

more to be desired

I plot and I save
I scrimp and I plan
I anticipate
I long.
I fly hundreds of miles
To enjoy Your creation
To relax
To spend quality time
To soak up some rays
To de-stress

I enjoy and relish
I linger and exhale
My muscles lose their tension
And toes wiggle in the sand
Sun shining bright
Bathing my soul in peace and tranquility
I experience all I've been missing out on
It is enjoyable
It ends
I return to my life

I realize
A light shines in my awareness
This tangible is all peripheral
You give true joy
Lasting joy
One glimpse of You is more peaceful
More powerful
More to be desired
Than a week of sun in the dead of winter
And glimpses of You can happen anywhere

King David said it best:
"Whom have I in heaven but You?
And earth has nothing I desire besides You"
Psalm 73:25