Mighty Hero!

Have you ever found yourself in a place where you’ve felt utterly unqualified for the task before you?  A job or challenge that seems just too daunting and takes you out of your comfort zone?  Maybe you have a boss that continuously adds to the, “…and duties as assigned” section of your job description.  It can leave you feeling frustrated, vulnerable and afraid.  It can be tempting to give into fear and instead of stepping out and trying, you retreat and do nothing.

I’m in a bit of a season of seeing the mountain as insurmountable, myself as an ant compared to the giants I’m facing, and I’m definitely not in my comfort zone–anything but.

I think it was because of a devotional that I’d read, but I found myself pouring over the story of Gideon in the Old Testament.  I’m typically not an OT kinda girl; I find the words of the prophets and judges hurt my brain, but this time around I had an “ah ha” moment.

Back story:  Israel was worshipping Baal–this didn’t exactly put them in God’s good books. In anger, He turned them over to the Midianites who were bullies.  Everything that the Israelites had, the Midianites took. The Israelites would grow a crop and the Midianites would come along and harvest the spoils long before those who had toiled the land could reap the rewards.  Israel was starving to death but because the people were out-numbered and afraid, they simply hid and waited for death.

One day, Gideon is busy secretly threshing wheat at the bottom of a wine press (to keep it hidden from the enemy) when he hears, “Hey! Mighty hero! The Lord’s got your back!”  Not realizing that he’s actually speaking to Angel of the Lord, he whines, ‘Well, if that’s the case, why is all this happening to us?  What about all the miracles we heard about in Egypt–why is he handing us over to the Midianites now?’  The Angel went further to tell him to  ‘Go with the strength you have…..I am sending you!”   Still, Gideon continues, ‘Our clan is the weakest in the entire tribe of Manasseh; and I am the least in my entire family!’  (my paraphrasing of Judges 6:12-15)

The story doesn’t stop here.  Gideon discovers that he’d actually been talking to the Angel of the Lord and thinks he’s done for, but he’s actually commissioned with a pretty daunting task–taking on the Midianites.  Before the battle is fought, God has to deal with more of Gideon’s insecurities and quite frankly, his audacity.  The Angel of the Lord commands him to take down the Asherah pole that his father, Joash has erected.  He does it at night because he’s afraid to be seen doing it in daylight.  All goes well; his father tells the disgruntled tribe that if they have a problem, they can take it up with Baal.  After dodging death at the hands of his clansmen, Gideon was clothed in power by Spirit of the Lord.   Despite this, Gideon still wants God to prove that He is Who He says He is and will do what He says He will–not once–but TWICE.  God patiently indulges him and confirms his assured victory for the umpteenth time with the ol’ fleece on the threshing floor test.  God then makes Gideon pare down his large army of thousands, to a mere three hundred men.  When the night of the battle finally occurs, God says to Gideon, ‘Go for it.  I’ve given you the victory, now go claim it.  But if you’re afraid, take your servant with you, sneak  into the camp and listen to what they’re saying.  You’ll know for sure that you’ve got this when you hear what they’re saying.’  Turns out Gideon is afraid and goes into the camp with his servant and as was foretold, he hears the very words assuring him of his impending victory.  Then he moves.  He is obedient to everything the Lord has told him to do and victory comes swiftly and sweetly as promised.  (Paraphrasing from Judges 6,7)

So what does this story reveal about you and I?

We can read about Gideon’s poor self-image, his fear, and even his boldness to test God over and over, all the while shaking our heads, but are we really any different?  When we know we’ve heard from God but He’s asking us to do something that we don’t want to do, are we not like Gideon, asking for confirmation–a sign that we’ve really heard correctly?  When He centres you out for a mission, are you the one discrediting your own talents, abilities, telling Him He’s got the wrong guy/gal?  Or do you decide that it wasn’t Him at all, it was just a crazy thought that drifted in your consciousness so you dismiss it?

What strikes me about this whole encounter is that before Gideon even knew that he was mightyherogetting his marching orders, God was already speaking identity over him.  He didn’t say, “Hey, Gideon!” he said, “Mighty hero!”  He didn’t say, “I will give you strength,” he said, “Go with the strength you have.”  Even though Gideon argued with the Angel, crying, “I am the least in my entire family!”  God still saw his potential.  He had no doubts because He knew who He’d created Gideon to be. Despite being from a tribe that had deserted the teachings of Moses and was worshipping a false god, Gideon was still God’s first choice to showcase His glory.

God calls,  ‘Hey! Creative Artist!!’ and you say,

Who, me?  I didn’t even go to art school; I’m like the worst artist ever!”

The Father responds, ‘Create with the talent and gifting in you, sweetheart.’

Are you looking at all the mistakes you’ve made, your status, or lack, and deciding that they disqualify you for a blessing?  You’re not that powerful, sunshine.  The Israelites seriously disqualified themselves, but still God wanted to bless them.  Look at how many times Gideon showed fear.  God didn’t turn away in disgust.  He actually knew that he would be afraid, and he worked that into the victory.  He knows when we’re afraid too, and He doesn’t turn away; he works it into our stories too. ‘The only caveat is that He wants the glory.  He will often take away your army, your resources, and comforts so all you have to rely upon is Him, as He did with our mighty hero.  Just as He knew who He created Gideon to be, He knows who He created you to be.  He will work all things for good for His glory.  He did it before and He’ll do it again.

Yes and amen.

A Wink From Heaven

I consider myself  to be somewhat of a minimalist. I’ve learned that stuff doesn’t make me happy–at least not for very long.  Perhaps this mindset was born out of necessity.  Growing up one of seven children,  I rarely asked for things.  We were taught that even if you didn’t have the best, you could at least look your best.  Clean clothes, tidy appearance, even in hand-me-downs– we learned to pull it off.  I may not have had everything I wanted, but I had what I needed. I carried this mindset into adulthood, determining that as long as it looks clean and tidy,  my home was something I could take pride in.

In the middle of Thanksgiving weekend, I was working on the clean and tidy bit. Sitting on a footstool eye to eye with the kitchen cupboards in my little apartment, I willed myself to get a move on. I find the best way to get through the onerous task of housework, is to combine it with one on one talk-time with God.scrubbing  I sighed as I considered the worn cabinet doors that hung crookedly on ageing hinges. As I scrubbed away at them, I told God that in the big scheme of things, I guessed it really wasn’t a big deal.  What really mattered was what was behind the cupboard doors– food –proof of His provision.   I thanked Him for what I did have, and for the contentment He provided in the seasons of not having.

With my tunes cranked I found my groove, going from one room to the next, singing along with the music with intermittent snippets of conversation with God. Within a couple of hour or so, I was finished and reasonably satisfied. My cupboards were still looking a little bedraggled, but they were clean and I was able to check off something else on my ‘to do’ list, giving me more time to enjoy the long weekend.

On the following Tuesday I was at work when my cell phone rang.  I didn’t recognize the number, and since personal calls were a no-no, I quickly hit decline.  Later when no one was around, I listened to my voice mail message. It was my landlady.  I anticipated some type of irritation; what else could a call from ones landlord be about?

To my surprise, I heard the following:

“Monica, you are  such a good woman and I want to do something for you. I’d like to send the carpenter to re-surface your cupboards; hang new doors. Bathroom vanity too.  You deserve something nice.  Would tomorrow be ok?  Let me know; God bless!”

I just sat there smiling stupidly at my phone.  I wasn’t thinking about how my landlady wanted to do something for me, but how God did.  He was just using her to pull it off. Remembering my nonchalant conversation on the footstool a few days prior, I just shook my head in amazement. I hadn’t even been asking for anything, and here He was, blessing my socks off!

winkI have an acquaintance that would call this a wink from heaven; basically God’s way of letting us know that He’s heard our prayers.  This makes me wonder how many times do we talk or pray to God, wondering–perhaps even doubting– that He’s even listening?  To be honest, my “conversation” was actually more of a monologue; I don’t even recall pausing to tune in to what God wanted to say.  God is always willing to talk to us; His communication style is uniquely designed to match ours– if we take the time to listen .  We seem to forget  (at least I do), that the One Who knitted us in our mother’s womb is always with us.  Psalm 139 assures us that He has thoroughly examined us and knows our hearts (verse 1) and that He knows what we’re going to say, even before we say it. (verse 4).

I think what blessed me the most, was that I wasn’t even asking for anything; I was merely expressing gratitude for what I did have.  This lead me to another nugget of wisdom. Sometimes we compare our earthly father’s ability and desire to provide to that of our heavenly Father’s.  Perhaps our earthly parents couldn’t give us everything we needed or wanted, and sometimes, they just chose not to.  Through that lens, we tend to see God the same way; His giving and withholding of gifts and provision are done arbitrarily.

Long ago I was asked why I never asked God for (material) things.  I thought it would make me look greedy and very un-Christian-like.  After all, we’re cautioned to ‘Seek His  Presence, not His presents.’   Since that day I’ve learned that He actually wants us to ask for what we need and even what we want.  That doesn’t make God a genie in a bottle or Santa Claus;  we don’t always get what we ask for, or when we ask for it.  Sometimes we get a ‘ no’,  and often times it’s a ‘no, not yet.’  But Father truly does know best.  He examines our motives and considers the outcome of having that particular thing/job/relationship at that particular time.  I believe that when we don’t get what we pray for, it’s not just an arbitrary ‘nope’.  God is much better at knowing what will bless us and what will be our downfall.  As Bill Johnson (Senior Pastor of Bethel Church–Redding Ca.) says,

“God only says ‘no’ when saying ‘yes’ would violate your purpose.”

 

 

There are things for which I am still contending and waiting and it’s still  a process of trusting that Father really does know best.  The reality is locked up in my brain; it just has to make it the eighteen inches to my heart.  But as I cook in my kitchen looking at my bright and cheerful new kitchen cabinets, the truth of His unfailing faithfulness is steadily making the journey southward.

Yes and amen.

 

 

 

 

The Stories of Our Lives

The following story is a piece that I wrote over twenty years ago,  published in the  Canadian magazine, Long Term Care . As I re-read it, it occurred to me that after all the time that has passed,  neither my opinion, nor my passion for caring for seniors has changed.  As I too have gotten older and as they say, “a little long in the tooth”,  I have been building on my own arsenal of stories; some good, not-so-good,  some hilarious and some downright heart-breaking.  Revisiting this piece has reinforced the importance of story-telling, of getting to know what really makes a person tick and allowing ones past to shape, or at the very least, influence their future. It has catapulted me into a new–or rather an old vision for how I see caring for an ageing population.

OpenBook

I think,” Laurence begins, “That the trick to keeping your reader interested is to begin with something that catches the attention immediately.”

Laurence is talking about the book he wants to write–his autobiography.  He has lived one hundred and two-year and believes his life has been interesting enough that someone might like to read about it.  I sit perched on his window sill, listening to his stories; sometimes the same ones over and over again.  His stories never fail to intrigue me; I think he has a best-seller, and I tell him so.  We discuss the particulars of the book; what to include, what to omit, what might be of interest, and which demographic to target as potential readers.  I am not Laurence’s editor,  but rather his friend and therapy assistant in the long-term care facility where he lives.

Perhaps if my boss should happen by, I might be reprimanded for “just sitting there” and “not being productive.”  It’s funny how you can feel guilty for spending time with a resident that doesn’t involve some purpose readily apparent to an onlooker.  In these days of classification for provincial funding, it seems that everything you do has to translate into a dollar value; it has to be a recognized aspect of the resident’s care plan –something to be marked “completed” on their chart.

Not much wonder that there is no time for story-telling.  If it meant that I didn’t have the time to stop and listen to the remembrances of my residents, I really don’t know if I would want to continue doing this job.  I love a good story and for me, the best ones don’t end when you close the book, but rather when you release the hand or give the hug.

I have been transported to times and places that only my imagination would have allowed me, save for my resident’s memories. Gladys took me to the backyard of her newlywed home where she frantically buried the rice pudding that didn’t quite turn out.  She didn’t want her husband to find out that she wasn’t the cook his mother was.  I was enthralled as Katie triumphed over her wicked step-mother.  She met her Prince Charming and went on to become “Aunt Katie”, a radio personality to hundreds of faithful child listeners.  I wept with Laurence as he returned to Vimy Ridge , eighty years after the Great War to say a final farewell to his slain brother.  And finally, I witnessed the courage of Kay, who kept death at arm’s length so she could experience the joy of becoming a first-time grandmother. 

These are more that amazing stories.  They are the teaching tools that these people use to show me what really matters to them.  When I listen, I am healing wounds–perhaps not the kind that require bandages, but the kind that need to be left open to air.

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We manage behaviours when we validate a person’s past.  We promote independence when we acknowledge a person’s previous accomplishments and skills, helping them to set goals reflective of their desire to restore dignity. Through mindful and intentional listening we learn what our charges really want and need–and in doing so, perhaps learn what really matters .  I know my life will never be the same having travelled through the memories of these insightful teachers.  

I am busy living out my own life stories.  One day I may know Laurence’s happiness when someone comes to perch on my window sill and listens to my stories–maybe even more than once.

 

So here I am some twenty years later.  Dancing to Despacito with Violeta, a fiery four- foot- eight doll from Uruguay because her husband of sixty-nine years can’t/won’t get up and dance with her anymore. James is showing up for my exercise class despite his painful joints because he’s determined to break out of the nursing home to live independently.  And while Earl’s favourite line is “I don’t like it!”  repeated no less than three times with every mouthful of food I try to give him, we’ve still discovered that we were born in the same city, he had a dog named Pat, and he loves chocolate ice cream.

 

Yes and amen.

 

Finishing Well

finish-line

 

On my second to last day on the job, I came upon Ms. Ruby* who was anxiously trying to get out of her wheelchair.  In the twelve years I had worked in this place, I can honestly say I had never had a conversation with her.   She was going to be 104 on her next birthday and I assumed her secret to longevity was simply staying away from people-she was not a talker and with her no-nonsense look, she an ability to send people from her room faster than a bullet leaving a gun.

“What is it Ms. Ruby; what do you need?” I asked.

“My bed.  I’m tired.”

I gently placed her tiny frame on her bed and helped her to lay down yet she remained anxious, again trying to get up.

“I need to read a chapter.  Get me my book, I gotta read a chapter.”

I reached for the only book on her table, her Bible.  Milky white cataracts had replaced Ms. Ruby’s once sharp eyes, and I knew she couldn’t read it herself. Surprisingly she accepted my offer to read to her and settled back onto the bed.  Holding her hand in mine until she relaxed, I marvelled that her dark skin was soft like that of a newborn.  Strange that after twelve years, I was just now seeing the “softer” side to this centenarian, I thought.

“How about a Psalm, Ms. Ruby; Psalm twenty-seven?”

“Ah, yes,” she smiled at the ceiling.

I began to read and was instant moved as Ms. Ruby began reciting the psalm along with me practically word for word.  When we got to the forth verse I was in tears.   I struggled to continue, but with a strong voice she continued from memory.

MsRuby“One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life , to behold the beauty of the Lord and to enquire in his temple.   Oh yes, Lawd!”   A wide grin spread across her face as her unseeing eyes gazed towards the heavens.

I was finally able to rejoin the recitation and I couldn’t help but think that God had planned this grand finale Himself.  One of my favorite psalms, steeped in promises of God’s goodness and faithfulness,  recited by a woman who like the author, was someone after God’s own heart and who would no doubt finish well as the author had.

Peace, Be Still

Three words.  Peace. Be. Still.

Enough to calm a storm and put a few frightened disciples at ease,  these are the words that I breathe.   In….peace…..And out…..be still…..

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I don’t know what you, the reader, are going through right now, but for me and others near and dear to me, it’s been a season of white-knuckling it to stay in the boat.

In my first week in a new job, my manager announced to the entire staff in a group email, “Monica will be filling in for me while I’m away on vacation and will be happy to help in any way she can.”  Huh?   Monica would simply have been happy to know beforehand.  But instead of going into panic mode, I decided to meet the challenge head-on and use it as an opportunity to prove my competence and integrity as a leader.

The first days had been anything but promising.  Rumors of how long this one would last had already been whispered around the department and I was asking myself the same question in light of the hopeless atmosphere in which I found myself.  Still,  I was determined to be like Caleb; one of the ten spies who chose to be strong and courageous and see hope and victory while the others saw defeat.  Like the ancient Israelites, I was viewing the giants blocking entrance to the supposed promised land.

As if this transition wasn’t enough to throw me off course, the winds changed direction; this time coming from the west.  My children who had left Ontario for the promise of new beginnings and adventure in British Columbia, were being hit by the gale-force winds of deception, betrayal, and loneliness.  More bad reports from the remaining eight spies.  Pftt.

Add to this a random shooting in a part of our city that left two dead and thirteen injured, a friend in California who was forced to evacuate her home because of the devastating fires, and another acquaintance whose son is on life support following what should have been a routine surgery, I was left feeling like the disciples in the boat, shaking Jesus awake, demanding,  Don’t you care if we die?!

Turns out, He does.

The first life-preserver was tossed into the female staff locker room of all places.  I was just about to walk out when one of the staff members of whom I was “in charge”  stopped me to announce that she needed the following day off.

“I need to be off Thursday–possibly Friday,” she began, tears rimming her eyes.

“Okay….?”

“My husband and I are going for IVF.  I’m scheduled to have my eggs harvested,”  her lips trembled and tears began to flow in earnest along with the stress that each tear contained.

“I’m a praying mama,” I heard myself say, much to my own surprise.  “Would it be okay if I pray for you?”   Not answering in words, she put her arms around me and tears fell upon my shoulder as I spoke life over her barrenness and asked God to open her womb to receive a baby.  At the writing of this post, it’s too early to say what the result will be in terms of a little one entering the world, although thus far, things seem to be going in a positive direction.  Regardless of the outcome, I do know a seed of another kind was planted.  New rumors are being spread about me, and as spoken of in a previous blog,  Reputation vs. Character I’m totally okay with that.

From the west, the winds of reconciliation have been blowing.  Once determined that she didn’t need a mother–specifically me– my daughter called me in tears.

“I’m so sorry mum,” she sobbed.  “I got a taste of how badly I have treated you and when I realized how much I must have hurt you, I felt awful!”

“I’ve already forgiven you,” I assured her.

“Yeah, I know you’re all over this forgiveness stuff, but I just needed to say it.”

Sweet.

While I haven’t stepped into the fullness of my Promised Land, this is a good start.  Like the disciples of Mark 4:39 this season has been about trusting God in the storms, and there have been many, it would seem.  In all of it I’m realizing that there is nothing I can do in my own strength.  There are no variables that can be manipulated in any of the situations that I, or those I care about find ourselves in; there is no “Plan B”.  I either place my trust in God or I don’t.   Over and over again, I’m discovering that the best strategy it to take shelter in the secret place.  Sometimes it’s a time of quiet reflection, meditating on His promises with hope and renewed faith.  Other times it’s more of a battle; contending through declaration and decrees of what He has already promised. In the midst of it all, I choose to remember the story of some new believers in the middle of the sea with a storm blowing around them while their only Help slept, seemingly oblivious.  When He awakens to their cries, He simply raises His hand to the wind and commands, “Peace–be still!” and the winds stop immediately and peace is restored.  He asked them then, as He asks us now, “Where is your faith?”  If we truly believe that He is in us and we are in Him, we  can raise our hands to the storms around us and make the same command, believing as Hebrews 13:8 says:

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. 

As I’m learning daily to put my trust in Him, He has shown infinite patience with me in the process, reminding me that I am His kid and He loves me Today I went to the post office to pick up a prize I had won in a group on social media:  20180728_182506.jpg

Coincidence?  I think not.

I’d like to think that I am the shell nestled in the centre of this art work.  A little ragged from being tossed about in the sand of affliction, but smoothed by the waves of His mercy washing over me again and again.

 

 

Yes and amen….

Finishing Well

On my second to last day on the job, I came upon Ms. Ruby* who was anxiously trying to climb out of her wheelchair.  In the twelve years I had worked in this place, I can honestly say I had never had a conversation with her.   She was going to be 104 on her next birthday and I assumed her secret to longevity was simply staying away from people-she was not a talker and had an ability to send people from her room faster than a bullet leaving a gun.

“What is it Ms. Ruby; what do you need?” I asked. “My bed.  I’m tired.”  I gently placed her tiny frame onto her bed and helped her to lay down, yet she remained anxious, again trying to get up.  “I need to read a chapter.  Get me my book, I gotta read a chapter.” I reached for the only book on her table, her Bible.  Milky white cataracts had replaced Ms. Ruby’s once sharp eyes, and I knew she couldn’t read it herself.  I offered to read for her and to my surprise, she agreed, settling back onto the bed.  I held her hand in mine until she relaxed.  Her dark skin was soft like that of a newborn and she relaxed into the mattress as softly, I caressed the back of her hands. “How about a Psalm, Ms. Ruby?” “Ah, yes,” she smiled at the ceiling.  MsRuby I began reading and then Ms. Ruby began reciting the psalm along with me almost word for word.  When we got to the forth verse I was in tears.  Moved by witnessing this side of Ms. Ruby and her love and passion for the Word, I struggled to continue.   But with a strong voice Ms. Ruby continued from memory:

  “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life , to behold the beauty of the Lord and to enquire in his temple.”

 ” Oh yes, Lawd!”  With a toothless grin, she smiled towards the heavens. I was finally able to rejoin in the recitation and I couldn’t help but think that God had planned this grand finale Himself; sweet words from King David spoken by a woman who would no doubt finish well as the author had.

Yes and Amen.

*Ms Ruby’s name was changed to protect her privacy.

Whether to the Left or to the Right

RightLeftI’m in a season right now where I have no flippin’ clue where I’m headed.   It’s like hopping in the car with a full tank of gas, no GPS, armed only with instinct and faith.

Let me explain how I got there:

A number of years ago, a resident in the nursing home where I worked sensed a dissatisfaction and sadness within me.  She knew it had nothing to do with her or any of her fellow residents, but saw it for the workplace frustration that it was.   She would comfort me with one of her bear hugs, but would still implore me not to leave her.  To put her at ease, I assured her that I wouldn’t leave until she did.  We joked that hers would be a more permanent move, even laughing about it.  But this past December, she made her move surrounded by her family and my own words came rushing back to me in an instant.  I had inadvertently created a self-fulfilling prophecy with my promise and a restlessness settled in almost immediately.  I had to prepare to live up to my end of the bargain.

I had been told that seeing the number “1” in multiples signified transition and transformation and all of a sudden, I was seeing this number everywhere.  When I looked at the clock and it would be 11:11.  A glance at the microwave while heating something up would show there was 1 minute and 11 seconds remaining.  Even my health tracker would announce that I had walked 11,111 steps and had been active 111 minutes.  Coincidence?  I think not.  The past year has been all about transition.  But with transition comes trust, and with trust, tests.

We can easily say we trust God when there’s nothing we’re contending for, but when the smooth sailing is replaced by choppy waves and dark clouds, we discover where we’ve truly placed our trust.   While journalling one morning, God showed me a picture of a sapling when it’s first planted. tree-stake-400x600 On either side are guiding wires and stakes to ensure it grows straight, leaning neither to the left or the right.  When the tree becomes strong enough and its roots are firmly attached to its foundation in the earth, the stakes and guiding wires are removed.  I didn’t even need to ask God was He was getting at with this image.  I already knew that He was warning me that my “supports” were about to be pulled.

The whole idea of actually leaving a job of twelve years where I had become comfortable in a dysfunctional sort of way left me second guessing.  Should I?  Is it really that bad?  I have friends here.  I have Christian friends.  I love my residents and they love me.  Then one day while flipping through my old journals, I read an entry where I had quoted from the movie, Queen of Katwe:  

Just because a place is familiar doesn’t mean you still belong there .”   

A day later. The leader of my cell group was speaking to us on being authentic Christians and the challenges of showing love in the workplace.  He said, “Sometimes the most loving thing we can say is goodbye…”  With this confirmation, I had made my decision.

Here I am a couple of months later in my new job.  I like to say, same church, different pew  because the work is essentially the same, but the culture of this new community is so different.  I know that I made the right decision, but admittedly, there are times when I long for the familiarity of the previous twelve years.  Like an abused woman who struggles to leave her abuser;   I’m strangely drawn to the predictability regardless of the pain involved.  In those times I just stop. Even in a stairwell, I’ll stop and get in God’s face:  Show me something.  Throw me a bone.  I need to know why I’m here.  What’s Your plan for me in this place? I trust You, but I can’t see anything yet…    Isaiah 30:21:

“Your own ears will hear him. Right behind you, a voice will say, ‘This is the way you should go’ whether to the left or to the right….”

This is a season when I’m really learning to trust in many areas of my life. When I look with natural eyes at change, lack of change or any period of waiting, it’s easy to become impatient or discouraged.   I’ve discovered that my view of having my supports–environment , friends and culture removed, couldn’t have been farther from the truth.  In this place of vulnerability, He is revealing Himself as the only support I truly ever had.  In the meantime, I’m leaning in, trusting Him to show me which way to go and grow.

Yes and amen.

Reputation vs. Character

In the last while, I’ve had plenty of opportunity to reflect on the difference between these two concepts- reputation and character.  During a season of transition that seems to have stretched on forever, I’m slowly coming to the same conclusion as John Wooden, who penned the following adage:

“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.  The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching”

It’s very easy to fall for the desire to be a people pleaser, especially in the workplace.  Eight hours out of five out of seven days are spent with co-workers and employers; more time is spent with them than family in some cases.  In a sense, they can become like a second family, albeit a dysfunctional one in many cases.  We fight and we make up.  We laugh and we cry.  We gossip and sometimes we’re fodder for the gossip mill.  Some relationships are strengthened by overcoming differences while others remain strained, never to be repaired by human efforts.  As emotional beings, we find ourselves striving to be liked and seeking the approval of others.  But when going with the flow and adopting workplace norms begin to chip away at your true identity, it’s time to take a step back. This is what has led me into the season I now find myself.

Choosing to please people more than God was eroding my foundation, making me cynical and sapping me of my joy.   I was forfeiting my character in favor of my reputation. These things ought not be so.  Blogger Donald Miller says,

“God rewards character, not reputation.  To care about your reputation means you care more about public opinion than the opinion of God”

I don’t want to desire man’s approval more than Gods.   I am acutely aware that in some circles I don’t have a good reputation.  I’ve been accused of being too outspoken, too abrupt, and quite frankly, too Monica.  But as Wooden says, your character is who you are when no one is watching.  God is always watching, and He’s assured me that He has seen my true character when no one else has and He is pleased.   If God is for me, who indeed can be against me? Instead of allowing my reputation and the opinions of others to define me, I’ve allowed God to use it all as the sandpaper to smooth out my rough edges. That’s how God builds our character–He truly is a master Carpenter.

As I write this, God is reminding me of a time in my childhood when I was running through the neighbour’s barn and I tripped.  My outstretched palm landed on the sharp edge of a molasses tin lid, splitting my hand open. Bleeding and crying, I ran to the house.  The farmer took me into the bathroom and sat me on the toilet seat.  Grasping  my little hand in his much larger weather -beaten one, while holding a bottle of iodine in the other, he warned,  “This is gonna hurt, hon.”

Howling and squirming, I tried to break free of his grasp as he poured the orange liquid onto my wound.  And then it was over.  The bleeding had stopped, the wound was cleaned and patched with a fresh a bandage.  It had still stung, but I had survived the ordeal.

Screenshot_20180623-204908_Google.jpgEven as big kids we squirm and cry  when God wants to heal our wounds. ‘No, it’s gonna hurt!!’ We insist.   But He loves us too much to leave us with gaping wounds.   We condemn ourselves for our perceived flaws but God convicts and corrects our character so we can better reflect His glory.

So in this season of change and transition, I have allowed the Father to tend to some open and tender wounds.  Some of it has hurt–a lot in fact, but I’ve learned to trust Him.  He knows me better than I do, and in the season of leaning and learning, I have discovered that I am much more confident in who I am, and more importantly Whose I am.

Yes and amen.

 

 

 

The Secret Place

When I was a child, there was a field behind our house where the earth had yielded what I called, The Gigantic Rock.

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When the busyness of growing up in a house with seven kids got to be too much, I would wander through the field picking clover , nibbling on the sweet tubular flower until I reached this huge stone. Climbing up, I’d just sit, looking out over the fields listening to the breeze rustle in the long grass. Sometimes hours would pass by, just thinking, talking to myself, and imagining what life held in store for this youngest of five girls.

My mom once commented that when she’d go to the back door to call me in for dinner, instead of looking for me in the obvious places like the swing set or the garden, she’d first look up to the sky and find me perched high upon a branch of the huge maple tree in the back yard.

“What are you doing up there?”

“Nuthin’,” I would truthfully call back. I was doing nothing. I was simply being.

Perhaps my penchant for solitude and contemplation as a child was preparing me for learning to hear from God as an adult. I didn’t have such spiritual awareness at the time, but I can’t help but think now, that the first dreams I had sitting in the trees or on the gigantic rock were really Him whispering purpose and destiny into my young life.

Now, some forty years later, I struggle to justify just being. In a world where our worth and value is determined by what we accomplish and how productive we are, both in the workplace and in the home, it somehow feels self-indulgent to take time for yourself.

But I need that time. It’s not simply time by myself, for myself, but to talk to God and more importantly–hear from Him. I need that one on one time to know His voice so I will recognize it in the busyness of the rest of the day. John 10:27 says:

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me.” (NLT)

I want to be like the sheep. When I don’t know where a situation is headed, or when things aren’t happening in the way or at the speed I anticipated, I want clear direction from the One Who knows the beginning from the end.

The bible speaks of a secret place. In the psalms, it is referred to as more of a spiritual place of rest:

“He that dwells in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty” (Psalm 91 KJV).

In that secret place where it’s just Him and me, I can be vulnerable and honest in a way that I cannot with another human being, no matter how close the relationship. There are no efforts to mask the parts that I want hidden from the world. It has been said that if we want God to show up for us in public, we must show up for Him in private and that means being transparent and honest with Him. It’s not like we can hide anything from Him anyway, but He wants us to be able to articulate our truth openly and honestly no matter how messy.

In Matthew 6:6 we are given a more physical example of the secret place:

“But when you pray, go into your private room, shut your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (CSB)

Although a prayer closet, or a war room as the movie of the same title depicts, is not necessary in order to have time in the secret place with Abba, having a consistent place dedicated for meeting with Him creates an open invitation for Him to show up. That space becomes sanctified and wholly set apart for that one purpose. For the longest time, I seemed to encounter God in my kitchen while listening to worship music as I cooked. As weird as it seemed that He would show up there, it kind of made sense too; all through the bible are accounts of fellowship with Jesus that took place over a meal.

Resting in the Lord is not a passive activity but it’s rather actively tuning into the heartbeat of God. In his book, Abba’s Child, Brennan Manning re-tells the story of an older gentleman nearing the end of life. Manning had gone to visit and pray with him and he noticed a chair already placed beside his bed. Assuming the chair was placed there for his visit, he was surprised when the dying man told him that the chair was actually for Jesus. He told him that he had placed it there so he could envision Jesus sitting there as he poured out his heart to Him. When the man died, his daughter found him with his head resting on the seat of the chair– on Abba’s lap. What a profound image of tenderness and intimacy this story creates.

Recently becoming an empty nester–again (sometimes they come back!) I was faced with the decision of what to do with a newly vacated second bedroom. This was a no-brainer. I knew exactly what I wanted to do, and like a teenager giddy with the anticipation of having her own dorm room for the first time, I began moving furniture. Book shelf, recliner, guitar; only those items that would make this space simple and sacred would make the cut .

I am very intentional when it comes to this space. Some might think I’m a little weird, but I don’t see this room as mine, but rather Abba’s. I enter the room like I’m the one being invited in. It is wholly set apart for His purposes– for studying, journaling, reading the Word, and most of all, just being in His Presence. No cell phones allowed. It’s difficult to explain, but when I’m in His space, it truly feels different from the rest of my home. Some days, I go in feeling exhausted and beaten up by the day. I simply curl up in the easy chair and pour out my heart and frustrations. Other times I sit in silence, like the days on the gigantic rock or up in the tree. And I wait. And I listen. It’s an exercise in patience sometimes, but I feel that is what God is really trying to cultivate in His children–the ability to wait and keep a good attitude while doing so. Psalm 37:7 reminds us.

“Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for Him to act.” (NLT)

I continue to let Abba have His way in this space. Choosing to submit that little room to His purposes will produce sweet fruit and yield a bountiful harvest; it’s all in the waiting.

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In the meantime, I have borrowed from the story in Abba’s Child. Another chair sits across from mine for Jesus to have a place to sit during our chats.

Yes and amen.