Scrambled Eggs? Well, it’s not what I’d hoped for but if you have ever attempted to name a website or blog, you’ll understand. Whatever subliminal urge prompted that name, ( the breakfast dishes abandoned on the counter ) it was accepted and I embraced it. Mine. It feels appropriate and freeing. I can discuss anything under that rubric.
So, who am I and why am I here? I am the second eldest of six, widow of one, mother of three and grandmother of eight. From childhood I believed my name did violence to my character. Lois – stodgy and serious where I was quick and funny. And Ann – without an e. Dead boring. But immaturity aside, the significant journey of my life has been discovering who I am as Lois, daughter of the Most High King, created in his image to reflect his glory and to serve his purposes in advancing his kingdom on earth. Boring? How could life anywhere in proximity to the very creator of the universe be less than amazing!
Life holds so many delights, a dizzying, dazzling panorama of joys to experience: family, food, friendships, gardening, birds, and poetry are a few of mine. ( Yes, I know, there’s pain too.)
But the primary passion of my life would have to be seeing captives set free.
Hence my appearance here. We were created by God for freedom, love, joy and peace – all within the context of relationship with him and our fellow man. Just a brief glance around shows how few lives are thus characterized. The words themselves almost seem a mockery of 21st century reality.
Although born into a home where faith was scorned, I found myself believing in God from childhood onwards. To my unjaded eyes the order and wonder of the natural world not just spoke, but had stamped on every surface, Handmade by God. How could anyone think otherwise? Indeed. My poem ‘Believing is Seeing’ in the Poetry category speaks of this journey.
I’m new at this. I hope to improve the site as I get more familiar with the format and the possibilities. Right now it’s under construction and I’m working on the foundation. I’m excited for the adventure.
The well known Canadian professor Jordan Peterson, famously challenged young people, (who have been inundated since childhood by media, educators and politicians focussing on every flaw and weakness in the history of Western Civilization), with the statement, “Clean your room.” He helped thousands of them discover that maturity, self-worth and hope come from taking responsibility for your own life before striking out to change the world. Or as Charles Spurgeon so eloquently put it: “To attempt national regeneration without personal regeneration is to dream of erecting a house without separate bricks.”
Justice is a huge and contentious issue. People have studied for decades, written books, spoken to thousands, been persecuted and jailed for the cause of justice. I have done none of those things. Who am I to say anything on such a complicated issue? * But I tend to subscribe to both the ‘all I really need to know I learned in kindergarten’ and the ‘keep it simple, stupid’ theories. So, here goes.
On several occasions, over the course of ten years, I was able to visit Burundi, a small and very poor African country, where injustice abounds. Systemic injustice. Where people are hated, often killed for the tribe they were born into, where there is almost zero chance of improving your lot in life, no matter how hard you work because the very laws are rigged and crooked, where the government is utterly corrupt and there is nothing the oppressed poor can do about it. The result of this injustice is soul crushing, heartbreaking poverty.
When I think of governments systems that have murdered innocents by the million, governments that have divided and destroyed families, corporations that use, abuse and discard people to incease profits – I get angry. I long to see justice. Just a cursory glance at the annals of history reveals that there has always been injustice and oppression. According to the prophet Jeremiah, the heart of man is deceitful and desperately wicked, Jeremiah 17: 9 – 11. One man can cause harm; give that man unlimited power and he can wreak havoc.
I am by nature phlegmatic. The amount of raw emotion in the Psalms has sometimes seemed over the top to me – especially the imprecatory ones that call for destruction of the enemy. To feel anger is an appropriate response to injustice. I have experienced injustice and anger rose up within me and a desire for vengeance along with it. What helped restrain that is God’s wisdom in James 1: 19 & 20, “The anger of man does not accomplish the righteousness of God.” I know that to be true – and yet at times it leaves me feeling unsatisfied. What then does accomplish the righteousness of God? How do we bring about justice?
As a Christian, I believe God is both good and sovereign. How then does evil boldly stalk the earth? Does God see? Does He care? Although it would be easy to be cynical about the subject, evil exists because God gave man free will. We all choose evil – regularly – of our own free will. Psalm 73: 1 – 10. Corrupt politicians frequently pass oppressive laws to maintain power and enrich themselves. Business leaders overlook inhumane work conditions. People exploit and abuse women and children. We all, by sins of commission or omission, choose evil
When I examine my own heart, I realize that I, myself, am frequently guilty of the very offense of which I am accusing someone else. God looks past the actions – He peels back the layers to discover the motive – and when I do the same with my own heart I am often sobered by what I find there. Then, at that point, I cry out for mercy for myself, for the grace to forgive others and for the power to change – to grow in love.
If you don’t know your own heart to be equally guilty, I suggest you may need a better mirror. The word of God is a good one. All the virtue signalling in the world cannot atone for the evil in our own hearts and the resulting behavior.
Does this mean we ignore injustice, sweep it under the carpet till we break our necks on the mound? No, of course not. God hates injustice. But He, and He alone, sees the whole picture. The call on our lives is to follow God wherever He leads. If it is to Sub Saharan Africa to stand against the on-going slave trade, to India to help serve some of the 160 million ‘untouchable’ Dalit people or to inner cities in the US, where fatherlessness and inadequate schools fail to prepare young people for productive lives, to any and every place where injustice exists, we are called to care, to love, to speak up for the oppressed. There is no shortage of injustice for us to deal with. Our hearts, households, neighborhoods and work environments are good places to start.
Remove God from the equation – try to achieve perfect justice and equality – the utopian dream – and the most common result is chaos and destruction. God’s law, as revealed in His word, is designed to bring justice and harmony in every area of life – personal, family, church, business, government. A godless 20th century saw more death and injustice in the name of justice and equality than any previous century. Ideas have consequences: bad ideas have victims.
If our cry for justice does not deal with our own hearts first, but sends us rushing headlong into vengeance to correct the wrongs of the past, we may end up pulling not only our own houses down around our heads, but our whole civilization. In the short term, God has dealt with the sin problem on the cross – long term – there is a day of judgment coming.
Cry For Justice
When the clamor of the battle,
sounds and resounds in my mind,
whisper your name in my heart.
When darkness overwhelms me
and I can’t find your face,
breathe on the flickering flame in my heart
When the stench of death obscures
the fragrance of your presence,
let my praise rise as incence.
When sin destroys my appetite,
Lord, be the bread of life for me.
Let me taste and see that you are good.
Where the enemy assaults and wounds,
bring healing and restoration,
by your Spirit.
Lord, if you were not our strength,
if you were not the one who makes us stand,
we would fall.
Rescue the opressed,
Rout the enemy.
Tread him down in your anger.
As for me,
in your blood bought victory.
I will stand
God is a holy and righteous judge, and eventually, we will all stand before Him. The wrath of God is not a popular subject in 2020 – we prefer to believe that God understands, that He overlooks sin, but the wrath of God is every bit a part of His character as the love of God. He hates sin and injustice and He is not mocked. I will be eternally grateful that Jesus paid the price for my sin on the cross. In all this, I can find no better words than these by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
Though the mills of God grind slowly,
Yet they grind exceeding small;
though with patience he stands waiting,
With exactness he grinds all.
I was working recently with several other women, helping to weed a friend’s large but overgrown garden. As we each attacked a section, restoring it to beauty and order, I remembered this song I’d learned in childhood, “Jesus Bids Us Shine…you in your small corner and I in mine.” That’s where justice starts. And just now I remember another childhood favorite, “Jesus Loves the Little Children …red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight…” Those two simple children’s songs, songs that I learned in kindergarten, contain a world of wisdom, truth and, if we practiced them, hope for our fractured communities.
It’s taken me a long while to get this written and if any of you are wondering why I would bother or even consider doing so, two reasons. First, I can’t help but wonder how couples are faring during this challenging time, how increased proximity, possibly homeschooling and job loss – and financial stress, plus fears of illness are affecting people. And, second, if you are spending even a minute of your precious time reading this, I want to do you the honor of being as forthright and honest as I can be. So I shall share my failures, fears and idolatries. And the fact that there is hope. If anything I have learned along the way can help, encourage or at least offer hope then my pride is a small price to pay. I have a favorite verse from 1 John 1. 7 that states, “If we walk in the light…we have fellowship with one another. If we say that we have no sin we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.”
These poems, just a few taken from the folder titled ‘The Difficult Years’, were written in the middle of the struggles and challenges of my marriage – in the muddy, muddy middle of repentance, healing, and restoration. They reflect the emotions I was experiencing and the narrative I believed. For too many years I let myself be ruled by and interpreted life through the lens of rejection, fear and insecurity. I cringe when I read some of my old journals: I don’t like that person – small wonder my husband didn’t. But, I am not that person anymore
At the tender age of 18, I made vows – the official church vows – the scary, are you kidding me, almost impossible ones. I was aware of the gravity of them – I thought I was mature. And although I took them seriously, reading, rereading and meditating on them regularly, determination alone did not make it easier to keep them. The same way knowledge of the law itself has never been able to make people holy, determination was not enough to make me whole or healthy. All my striving could not overcome my inherent flaws nor topple the idols that demanded obeisance.
Youth and beauty were played early.
Empty handed I fight to win your love.
I think the cards are marked.
Are aces high or low?
I cannot win this game.
No one told me
that the rules had changed.
Are jokers wild?
Nothing up my sleeve -
I played every card I had.
I took a few tricks,
but I never knew the trump.
At forty, the masks are flung down.
Life no longer smiles sweetly, lies lightly
of joys to be won;
dandled delights are revealed…
“Made in Japan.”
Origami – rain sodden,
sun bleached, foot trodden.
And my heart, in the gutter,
Product of a dysfunctional family, I married with a host of weaknesses and shortcomings and my husband had a few of his own. How lovely it would have been if somehow we could have worked through these together, supporting one another in our attempts at growth instead of blaming and withdrawing, or rejecting and controlling. Neither of us had the foundation, the skills or the character qualities necessary to complete what we had started. The fault lines barely visible at the start, gaped wider with each tremor and eventually, after 42 years, became terror inducing chasms.
This is not something I am proud to publicize. Only God knows how painful those years were, but I don’t resent them nor am I bitter about any of it. The monsters hiding under the bed had to be confronted, the wounds healed, the idols cast down. For close to a decade I worked through the issues of my sin and brokeness and when I came out the other side I was not the same person. It must have felt like a bait and switch scam to my husband. He’d quite liked the girl he married.
The beauty of Christianity is its redemptive narrative. The story of the poor orphan child who is discovered to be the lost or kidnapped child of the king is a familiar one. We love it. When I found myself to be that child with a new and powerful identity, I was filled with faith, hope and the courage to face the giants as I confronted them. This song is one I sang over and over again during those years.
Like all journeys mine was not straight forward – there were wild curves, cliffs and washouts. Deeply ingrained habits of thought and reactions to be overcome, fears to be faced down. I was being stretched so much there were times I thought I’d snap – but a lovely line from a Rilke poem often sustained me, “…with each disclosure you encompass more and she stretches beyond what limits her to hold you.” If that’s what it took to become more Christlike – well, it was a small price to pay.
If I sink my roots in this softening sod,
will your pulse throb in my veins,
sap green shoots pierce my heart’s shroud?
What are the odds on one timorous,
tremulous, querulous bud,
cajoled by arbitrary April,
surviving the North winds blast?
And if indeed the sun should shine,
where is the guarantee, where is it written
that the requisite showers will follow?
Which is worse – thirst
But even if
earth, sun, rain,
are faithful, there remains,
more faithful seems than they,
the North wind.
I wish thick clouds would shroud
the siren sun and leave me in the dark.
As I matured in my faith and my understanding of God’s love, I began to understand that my security and safety did not depend on my circumstances and that my worth was based on my identity in Christ, who had loved me enough to die for me. Through AA, a series of counsellors and many faithful friends, I began to work through my ‘stuff’ and by God’s strength and power was restored to some semblance of wholeness. Still flawed but, amazingly, loved and forgiven.
Not The Stepford Church
I used to have a picture of the perfect family;
smiling Daddy, smiling Mom, smiling progeny.
My husband would be perfect in a three piece navy suit,
working hard from nine to five, bringing home the loot.
I’d look like Martha Stewart in a spotless home,
serving perfect scrumptious dinners out of pots of polished chrome.
Aside from being brilliant and spiritually astute
our children would be respectful, musical, hard working, athletic,
honest, compassionate, responsible, patient and cute….
in little matching three piece suits.
And to complete this lovely scene, on Sunday morning we’d be seen
reverently praying, singing, hearts at peace and all serene.
Sitting with the other saints, row on row of smiling faces
perfect Christians, polished Christians barely needing any grace.
Now we’d have it all together - every person knew their role,
and maintaining this illusion was my all consuming goal.
But His kingdom ain’t for fakers, perfect folk need not apply.
What the Father’s heart is seeking is the broken hearted cry.
With great love the Father broke me, stripped me bare of my disguise.
Though I shrunk from this exposure, love was shining in His eyes.
How on earth could I smile brightly? How could I hold up my head?
My life in ruins all about me. How I wished that I were dead.
In the dark hours of that long night, tossed by waves of doubt
He has taught me I can trust Him, that His love is always near.
Death of hope, death of dreams, death of pride and reputation,
From the ashes of our lives God intends to build a nation.
I hope you’ve read this far. I would hate to leave you in some of those dark, despairing places. But I recall the Psalms and how often King David cried out in grief, anguish, anger and despair to the Lord – and then a few lines later is proclaiming his absolute confidence in God’s goodness. That is my testimony. Single, married, divorced, widowed – He has been faithful, good and gracious through it all. I expected condemnation and rejection from God for my failure – He lavished his love on me in amazing ways.
Divorce may be commonplace but it is a gut wrenching experience. It took me 5 years to even use the word – to apply it to my life. I still hate it. God hates it. Marriage and family are his idea, the foundation of a healthy society and one of the most important metaphors He uses for his relationship to us – so it’s important to take it seriously. People and relationships are worth fighting for. God is in the restoration business and can do wonders.
I fully believe that given the power of grace there is hope for every situation. I am amazed that anyone can hold their marriage together without the many means of grace He has given us – forgiveness, repentance, humility, his word and his spirit. I have seen several marriages restored and reclaimed from the brink of destruction – and some, sadly, that have not. I know of many, many successful marriages (though not a one that has been without challenges) so I ‘ll leave you with another song which I hope will encourage you.
I bless you and pray each one of you will know his love, grace and amazing power. As He promises in Isaiah 61.3, He gives us – beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heavieness. http://blb.sc/003N2x
I used to aim high. I enjoyed a challenge. Knitting? Here’s a funky Kafe Fasset sweater with 20 different colored yarns. Sewing? Yves Saint Laurent has some great patterns. Hey, Martha Stewart’s wedding cake only takes a week to make. And I did manage to accomplish some of the challenging things I attempted, (the cast-off sweater recently became a funky cushion).
Likewise when I became a follower of Christ. Who were the heroes? George Mueller, Jim Elliott, Francis Schaeffer? I read their biographies and fully expected my life to bear similar fruit. I was deeply disappointed when it did not. I was neither a great preacher, evangelist nor theolgian. In fact, I was having trouble being a halfway decent wife, mother and friend. This despite reading everything I could lay my hands on, seeking, studying and striving. (The unrealistic expectation I had of others, especially family, I’ll leave for another post).
It was years before I realized that God created me to be – me. In His hands my gifts, my passions, my personality dovetailed to glorify Him. The God whose creativity birthed the diversity of the universe – just think for a moment on the glorious array of birds, fish, flowers – that same God – created me – you – them – in His image – and He delights in us. (And like any father is most happy when his children get along.)
There has been so much freedom and joy in that revelation. After a lifetime of feeling that I didn’t measure up, wasn’t good enough, had no worth or value, couldn’t get it right – to discover that what God really wanted was for me to be me, created in His image, was a huge relief. Lots had to get stripped off and chipped away to get to that place. The masks discarded, idolatries cast down and a new identity – in Christ – embraced.
This title ‘Naked and Unashamed’ is a phrase describing Adam and Eve in the garden before the fall, from the book of Genesis.
Naked and Unashamed
The pieces are falling in place.
This morning, I remembered what Robert said that chill fall night
we huddled on the mountain top, looking for Andromeda.
I followed the directions, “About half-way between
the last star in Cassiopeia and the upper-left star in
Pegasus,” and he could see it easily.
He said. “Don’t try so hard. Don’t look straight on.
It's just a blur. Look left or right, you’ll see.”
I cursed the old binoculars, the cold that made me shake,
but never my intensity, my need.
It had been my idea.
It wasn’t fair.
I sighed, “Eureka!” this morning in the shower.
Because something is niggling in the corner of my spirit,
and I think that it is you.
I have been trying to find you for ever so long,
reading books, learning rules, being ever so good.
Practicing my righteousness before men.
And you weren’t there.
But something is niggling
in the corner of my spirit
and I think that it is you.
This morning, I thought I heard you laughing.
You weren't holding a subpoena,
or a copy of the law.
Your arms were open wide, to me
your foolish girl,
and I’m sure that you were laughing.
Do I sound like I think I have it all together? I sure hope not – because I don’t. Half the time I can’t find my glasses and lies still come at me daily. But, bottom line, I know my Father’s love. I am forgiven, accepted, loved, strengthened, at peace – and above all, grateful to be in Christ.
My aim these days is love – still high, but by His grace, a possibility.
My earliest childhood self awareness was realizing that I could gain attention by making people laugh – a helpful trait in a large family. I like playing with words and sounds and I have a quite a collection of silly verse – usually written for birthdays or events. There’s even a password protected folder entitled Not Politically Correct which I may publish when I get really old to shock my grandchildren. “Grandma!!!”
Years ago my husband gave me a book of verse by Robert Service and I thought it would be fun to attempt a ballad along the lines of “The Cremation of Sam McGee”. (I don’t fish -so I may have some details about the subject wrong.) Apparently Mr. Service could pump this kind of thing out easily and I agree with his assessment – that it’s not really poetry, merely verse. I did add an epilogue full of deep thoughts.
There are fish you should steer clear of;
there are some fish you should shun.
There are fish that darn near break your heart.
This fish was such a one.
I knew he was endangered,
but my days and nights were haunted
with desire that made me disregard
the rulebook that I flaunted.
I tried every bait and every lure to get him on the hook.
I watched the experts carefully; I studied every book.
This fish was wise and wily. Why, he made me look the fool.
He played me for a sucker in our twenty-year long duel.
We fought it out for decades to see who'd be the winner.
I knew the day would come when I would have that fish for dinner.
'Cause you all know I don’t back down. Did you ever see me beat
by any critter, big or small? I don’t know the word defeat.
But this old guy, well I guess to him I'll have to tip my cap.
It started at the fishing hole when I woke up from my nap.
I’d had a beer or maybe two, to quench a powerful thirst
and then I stopped to eat my lunch, a sandwich, liverwurst.
My line was dangling in the river, floating kinda lazy.
I slept a bit — the sun, the drink, the sandwich made me dazy.
Then the reel was spinning wildly, the rod near bent in half.
I woke up fast — the fight was on! I shouted out a laugh.
I could almost see the picture with this monster at my side,
the biggest cod in fifty years and me puffed up with pride.
We had us quite a battle but I’d hooked him hard and good,
and I reeled him in with strength and skill till I had him where I stood.
I just bent down to net him when I heard a dreadful yell.
“You touch that fish and you will spend eternity in hell!"
"I've worked for three long years on this. The subject of my thesis
is The Survival of the Macculochella Ikei Species”.
Well I nearly lost my lunch at that. I turned and there she towered –
five foot tall and flaming mad. Hey, you guys know I’m no coward.
I can stop a bear with a dirty look, a cougar with a knife.
(Once or twice I’ve nearly won a battle with my wife.)
But in this wee thing I met my match, the reason ain’t too strange.
She was holding up a shotgun and I was in her range.
She glared at me like the enemy, an evil incubation.
“What we got here,” she said to me, ”is an awkward situation.”
“I'd hate to have to injure you, but I will unless you vow
to leave off fishing the Maccullochella Ikei species NOW."
I tried to bargain with her but she simply shook her head.
"There ain't no way you can have him – I'd rather see you dead."
"You know that they're included on the endangered species list”
And I knew my name weren’t on it - so how could I resist?
I shook my head at the irony, then I swore to quit the chase.
That crazy kid just stood there, with a smile upon her face.
It broke my heart to see her with that wild triumphant grin.
It broke my heart to know there was a fight I couldn't win.
With trembling hands I cut the line but I don't know what to think.
I swear as he swished away from me that I saw them share a wink.
I wondered if that clever fish had somehow tipped the scales -
if there'd been some fishy deal cooked up to make a fella fail.
Is it possible, I wondered, for a fish to hatch a plot?
Can they ever be that clever - do they have that sort of thought?
I cry to I think that I almost won our battle fair and square.
I cry to think I've been beat by a girl. You know that just ain't fair.
Then it hit me really hard like a shot to my solar plexus –
the only fight I ever lost was the battle of the sexes.
Do you think that I've gone soft, a sloppy sentimentalist?
These tears are for my daughter — that crazed environmentalist.
Speaking of fishing, several of Christ’s disciples were fisherman. Jesus called them from mending their nets and said, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men,” Matthew 4:19. Having had my life so transformed at the age of twenty -five, from darkness to light, depression to joy, anxiety to peace, I longed to see others set free from those bleak places. I’d wanted to be that – a fisher of men.
My experience of fishing was that it was mostly a solitary activity. When you went fishing you used bait – something to lure the fish into taking the hook. But though I have shelves full of books on apologetics, (making a case for Chritianity) I am really lousy at arguing a case, almost any case. I get flustered and never say whatever it would take to convince someone of the truth of Christianity. The class clown rarely goes on to be a lawyer.
Lure and bait are not words of integrity – both have implications of trickery – the con, not the real thing.* So imagine my joy when I learned how first century men fished – and I saw this in action in twenty-first century Africa. The men went out at NIGHT with lamps that they hung over the water! If there were fish around they would swim towards the light and into the nets. Fishing that way, pit lamping, is illegal in Canada – it’s hardly sporting when the fish can’t resist the light. Who can? There’s a whole world of difference between just being light – in any given situation – and attempting to ‘hook’ someone with bait.
Jesus called himself the light of the world and these days are every bit as dark as the days he lived in, under Roman occupation. “The people who lived in darkness have seen a great light,” reads Matthew 4:16. The Wuhan flu, isolation, financial stress, potential economic collapse and violent unrest in much of the world leaves many in a legitimate place of fear and uncertainty. It seems a rational reaction and foolish not to be afraid.
Yet, in God’s word, we are called repeatedly ( at least 300 times) not to fear. God is not surprised by any of this. He is still in control and his plans will not be thwarted. Let’s go about our daily lives and reflect His glory. Let your light shine as the days grow darker. If we shine they will come.
* Writing this made me think of real ‘cons’ and my favorite con-man movies. I lost my copy of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels – a movie that made me laugh until I cried. So your freebie for reading this far is a link to ten of the best ever con movies. If lockdown is keeping you home, a good laugh may be just the thing to boost your immune system. But, (and here’s a reverse example of bait and switch) if you are looking for longer lasting joy and peace, I suggest Jesus. He’s the real light in a dark world.
Hi. It’s been awhile and a few friends have wondered what’s happening. Well, it’s spring and how can I be inside writing whilst up to my elbows in dirt? One glance at the touchscreen on my laptop would trigger any virologist these days. Though apparently bacteria in the soil is good for the immune system – so I am staying healthy – outside in the dirt.
I am popping in briefly today to introduce a young poet, Anna Elzinga, whose extended family I have known for more decades than I care to admit to. Her proud grandma, MaryAnne, posted this poem on Facebook. I was stunned by the images Anna’s writing conjured and I feel confident her writing will impact many. I’m sure I’ll never view a mountain the same way.
This is the brief bio she sent:
Anna has been writing stories since she was seven, but has only recently discovered her love for writing poetry. She has enjoyed learning and improving her craft over the last couple of years. She writes from her forest home in the Kootenays where she lives with her husband, Casey. Much of her writing process consists of staring out the window at the stunning Steeples mountain range.
You stoic priestess
wrapped in your untarnished
robes of snow
bathing your feet in
jade lakes of galacial
with the pines as your
and the pallid
skies your altar
What secrets do you know?
has the sharp wind
whistled to you
in your sun haloed temple
so close to heaven?
you sage, seraphic mediator
your rocky switchbacks
like pilgrim roads anointed
straight to the blinding face
Isn’t that lovely! I have a few more of hers that I’ll include in a future post.
Anna’s grandparents, Ray and MaryAnne, are dear friends who spent 17 years in Bujumbura, (a small African country which nestles between Congo and Tanzania), where I visited them several times. Ray climbed Mt Kilamonjaro when he turned 60 so just for fun I’ve included a touch of Africa. The video triggers lots of great memories.
Like all families, mine had its share of secrets, some of which I became aware of as I grew up. As I journeyed with other people in the recovery process, I recognized how destructive secrets can be as often people were left wondering why they struggled as they did and what the roots of their issues were. It’s hard to make sense of the picture when you are missing some of the pieces.
Honesty and vulnerability + repentance and forgiveness = fellowhip and freedom. You’ll notice there is no room for shame or guilt in that equation; those were nailed to the cross 2000 years ago.
I bought a house 4 years ago after living in my last home (with its lovely gardens) for nearly 40 years. The new house was workable but it was the location, on the side of gently rolling hills, opposite a rugged rocky cliff, with views of both valley and lake and the nearby orchards and vineyards that captured my heart. As soon as I stepped on the property, I said in my heart, I want to live here. And with a little help from my friends, I do.
When I look back now at the before pictures I am stunned at my willingness to take on the task. The nearly 1/3 acre yard was simply an undifferentiated mess of weeds masquerading as grass. As we were remodelling the first summer there was no time to landscape. The next year a good friend offered to help with hardscape and with one pass of a backhoe (and 2 weeks work) gave it structure, shape and a way forward.
I had never worked in rocky soil before – every attempt to dig was met with a resounding clunk and jarring resistance. So it’s been small mountains of wood chips, manure, compost and top soil, and four years on the soil is rich and friable (in places).
I wrote this poem about the struggle of life taking root in rocky soil when I was dealing with some of the stumbling blocks in my life. I am going to visit Harvey and Karen’s farm this weekend so I thought I’d post this in honor of their incredible hospitality, generosity and decades of hard work that cleared a place for life to thrive. And boy has life thrived – with three kids and sixteen grandchildren almost within a stone’s throw! On behalf of many, I bless you both.
STONEBOATPart I Harvey
I was city born and bred –
didn't know a heifer from a steer -
but every spring we visited
Harvey's farm at calving.
He’d make us sweat,
had no use for slackers,
There'd come a day, perhaps,
"Too cold to plant, too wet to plough,"
and he'd get out the old stoneboat
and hook it to the tractor.
We kids would shuffle after
with crowbars and raw hands.
It almost seemed that's all
that low field grew.
He said, "Frost heaves and erosion
work 'em to the surface," and "Root crops
don't grow so good in rocky soil."
and "You could break a plough on them stones."
He said he used the stones
for fences and foundations.
Part II Dad
If I could spend an hour with him
I'd ask him why
but since I can't,
The rock had been there longer than the farm.
Too big to shift,
(big as a shed my sister said),
and every year
they ploughed, sowed and harvested around it.
Perhaps the furrows -
farther and farther off true,
bothered him. He liked
the symmetry of straight,
the purity of parallel.
Perhaps the inefficiency annoyed him,
farther and farther off true.
And perhaps it was just a practical joke –
the sly fun of watching the farmer's face
when he got home from town.
Whatever the reason, Dad
dug a hole and buried it.
I wonder if it ever surfaced,
what grew there,
and how well.
Part III Reunion
every time we get together:
at every family do.
The aunts are
in the kitchen slicing peaches,
on the porch shucking corn
someone drops a word
and conversation falters.
A quick glance round the room,
a who knows what inventory,
an arched brow,
a tilted head,
an imperceptible nod.
“Look at these carrots, Martha.
Ain’t hardly fit for pigs.”
And the ghosts of Christmas Past
are howling still.
The master storyteller Jesus began a parable with this lovely line – “A sower went forth sowing seeds”. God as gardener is one of the most common metaphors in the Bible. As a gardener, made in His image, aside from the sheer joy of working in the soil, my main goals in gardening are beauty and harvest. Likewise God is looking for a harvest of righteousness and beauty in our lives.
When I look at my life I realize there have been examples of all 4 types of soil that Jesus was discussing in that parable: impenatrable, rocky, weedy and receptive. As gardeners of our own souls we can make the choice to get rid of rocks and weeds, we can ‘break up our fallow ground’ – we can make the choices that allow our hearts to be fertile ground for seeds to grow.
If you have a few minutes here is a lovely reflection on God as gardener by Jill Carattini, a writer at Ravi Zacharias Ministries. I just heard that Ravi went home to glory today. I can only imagine the reception he will get there. I doubt there was a square foot of fallow ground in his life.
I lived in my last home for 38 years – and I delighted in my kitchen. It was a place to nurture friends and family – to feed body, soul and sometimes spirit – to create community. There’s something about sharing a meal that knits people together: our common humanity expressed in hunger, shared pleasure in food and setting, and proximity – our feet under the same table. All these serve to break down barriers and forge bonds. Lonelieness is epidemic in our culture and community is the cure.
When I downsized four years ago I had to leave the buffet and china cabinet behind (ouch) but fortunately the table – which can expand to fit six comfortably, eight snugly and ten intimately! – made the cut. That table has its own story (I love things with stories) – I acquired it in 1973 in a trade for my trusty little Volkswagon beetle – but that’s another story for another time.
Financial wealth had never been a value of mine – I recognized early that none of the important things could be bought with money and wearing oneself out to attain it meant you had to be willing to sacrifice the really valuable things. But beauty comes close to being a necessity. Simple beauty – a line of poetry – a rose bud – a perfect omlette, a trusted friendship (which has sometimes, like the omlette, required breaking a few eggs). So, while not rich I have been grateful for what I have and have never in any way felt less than both wealthy and privileged.
I have wealth that others only dream of –
a kitchen where nobility may dine.
Warm red quarry tiles underscore the scene,
a worn table nestles between corner windows
where morning's gold pours in.
The treasures on the shelf befit royalty;
a feather (He sees the little sparrow fall),
a perfect, filigreed, Chinese Lantern,
a thumbnail of emerald moss,
half a robin’s egg - just because.
Wildflowers on the table whisper,
“Welcome.” Coffee is on.
Won’t you stay?
Yesterday a king came to tea.
And the fact is, He did. Regularly. In tears, in joy, in struggles, sorrow and laughter. I worked though many difficult issues at that table, fought many battles ( and surrendered – not always graciously but ultimately gratefully) – confronted many enemies and discovered many life altering truths. I look at it now, scratched and scarred – the original French polish a distant memory – it’s a pretty good life metapor. The challenge continues – to make my heart a welcome home for the king.
I’ve just discovered and am loving this group, Sounds Like Reign.
Incredibly, Jesus says to the church in Laodicea, in Revelation 3:20, that He stands at the door and knocks, and if they open it, He will come in and dine with them. Imagine the conversations around that table!
Recently a friend and I were discussing how our childhoods and our fathers had shaped our lives. Our homes couldn’t have been more different. She was the daughter of missionaries, raised in a legalistic home – whereas I grew up in the frequent chaos of parental alcoholism. Her father had been distant, distracted, difficult to please – she felt she never measured up. So she found herself struggling with the most common image of God in the Bible: Father. She was burdened always with a sense of unworthieness in her attempts to relate to Him.
Though far from perfect, in the midst of a party- central-anything goes home, my father somehow managed to convey love and strength to me. I always found it easy to relate to God’s fatherhood. On the other hand, I did have trouble navigating a relationship with Jesus – the man – when I hadn’t always felt accepted or safe with men. And as for the Holy Spirit – well that took some understanding. Holy rollers were the subject of many a joke in my home.
Two of my grandaughters enjoy writing and I thought it would be fun if we each wrote a poem on the common theme of remembrance. It was not quite fair, I have so many more decades to work with than they do – but this was the first memory that came to mind; it had loomed large in my early life .
I remember the scene, I remember the fears,
Then the horrible howling complaint of the gears
As in anger she swiftly departed.
I remember the comforting scent of your skin,
The mingled aroma of Old Spice and gin
As I sobbed in your arms brokenhearted.
I remember your 'hush' as I leaned on your chest
The sigh as you put my anguish to rest,
And the image of God you imparted.
I’m not sure what God makes of gin – but Jesus’ first miracle was turning about 120 gallons of water into wine. My parents had been alcoholics for years and I had been married for 7 years when they turned their lives over to God. They both quit drinking instantly and finally with no apparent symptoms of withdrawl. A minor miracle before their children’s astonished eyes.
The change in their lives was so pronounced, sincere and sustained it forced me – and several siblings – to examine the truth claims of Christianity by reading the Bible. Though I had always believed God existed I’d never given a thought to either His holieness or my lack of it. To my shock He was much more than a celestial Santa Claus or a feel good force. As CS Lewis wrote, “A young man who wishes to remain an atheist cannot be too careful of his reading.”
Although I’d never been an atheist, I wasn’t enamored of the idea of being a fanatical Christian. I had rather liked my benign imaginary God who made no claims on me. The word God carries some large implications…which is perhaps why so many avoid it, preferring to focus on the here and now, as if by denial you can delete Him. As the old joke goes, ‘The trouble with God is, He think’s He’s God.’
One of the signposts that points to the trinity of God is the bold statement that God is love. For if God is eternal, outside of time – then, before time – before the universe existed, He could not have been love without there being an object of love. Love does not exist in a vacuum. But the God of the Bible is both relational and loving and the picture of Father, Son and Spirit loving and honoring one another eternally is beautiful. Out of that love and relationship flows both creation and the hope of family. Although I don’t completely endorse its theology, the novel The Shack by William Young does a wonderful job of portraying that relationship.
A big part of my spiritual journey has involved growing into loving and being loved by all three members of the Trinity – for which I am glad – it was always a tad uncomfortable not trusting the one who had redeemed you from death and the power of sin. And I can’t imagine trying to live a life pleasing to God without the help and strength of the Spirit.
If, like my friend, you have found yourself hurting and unable to relate to one of the members of the trinity – it’s quite okay to approach God from a different angle until those issues can be resolved, that pain healed.
I like to hang out on Twitter. Yes, it’s a madhouse, but there are some sane people to follow. What I’ve noticed though is the number of people who are very afraid right now. Especially when it comes to issues like financial security and the well being of those they love.
I experienced fear as a debilitating force in my life for years. It wears many masks and can even hide behind a few others (denial for instance). One of the exercises I completed in the 12 Step Program is to identify how much you are controlled by various habits and emotions: anger, resentment, lust among many, and to rate their impact on your life on a scale of 1 – 10. Good thing I’d used a pencil. I was confident fear wasn’t much of a problem for me but as I started getting healthier I realized what a huge impact fear was having on my life.
It seems right and sensible to be afraid when there are so many things we are powerless over – which is why the command not to fear is stated over 300 times in the Bible. Fear is a big enemy and I’m so grateful to have been (mostly) set free of it.
The opposite of fear is not, as you would assume, courage, but faith. If I have to depend on my own resources I’d be foolish not to be afraid. But when I trust that there is a sovereign God who loves me as He loves every human on this wild and crazy planet then I can rest. Do I think that means I may not face great hardship – not for a moment especially in this moment. I feel like the whole country is collectively holding its breath waiting for the other shoe will drop. As it will.
But these two things ground me: God’s ultimate goodness and God’s sovereignity. I haven’t always liked what God has allowed into my life. In hindsight I can always see the purpose – which has always been for my good.
This poem is dedicated to two groups: the golfers who have struggled like I have with the chasm on the 7th hole at the Royal York and any of you who might be wrestling with some fear in the current circumstances.
The Seventh Hole
On the first six holes my club carves a carefree arc
that sends the ball skyward in an echoing parabola.
All the truths I’ve learned are proved. Physics –
elementary physics. Distance equals rate times time,
give or take a few degrees.
I rely on these rules like old and faithful friends.
The seventh hole starts at the top of a small steep hill,
an easy par three - a hundred fifteen yards
if the pin is forward.
You tee off
on the lip
of a chasm
to the green
hanging on the opposite lip.
No room for error here, nor mercy for the faint.
The chasm foils me every time.
between me and the smug green –
its greedy gullet
sucks the ball out of the air -
The chasm is a constant.
It’s no surprise to find it here;
it crops up everywhere.
I have seen it in my dreams,
just as daunting, taunting –
You can’t get there from here.
Fear skews the equation,
exerts a negative force that nullifies the rules.
Rate times time plus fear goes nowhere.
David’s stones would have landed,
lamely, at Goliath’s feet.
The laws engraved on my hands
and etched on my mind are impotent
in the face of my foe.
A greater power than fear must rule me.
Love Himself must come and free me.
I absolutely love this image. The jeering giant, the mocking masses and the boy with nothing but belief in a powerful God. The contrast in size, strength and light – wonderful.
If you find yourself struggling with fear right now there are many on-line Bible apps and a search for ‘fear not’ might be helpful. To quote an old expression, “He’s as good as his word”.
I think right about now many of us could stand a bit of comic relief. Once, in a writing course, the instructor handed each of us a page that she had just RIPPED out of a dictionary . Really! Our assignment was to find a word new to us and write a poem about it. I was glad to find one I could have fun with. I love playing with words and creating a bit more laughter in my world. (And now I’m having fun with adding color to my blocks.)
Natez: a new noun I now know is plural.
You find them in places both urban and rural.
They differ in color in shape and in size
As much as our mouths or our noses or eyes.
Historically natez have had a rough time,
Most often ridiculed, rarely sublime.
Natez have oft been the butt of rude words.
There is something about them that's slightly absurd.
In Africa's heat and along the Euphrates,
You're likely to see a plethora of natez.
But here in the north where the weather is chilly,
The exposure of natez is just downright silly.
Some natez are rounded; some natez are flat.
Some dimpled and darling, some pimpled and fat.
Some natez quiver and some natez quake.
If you take them out dancing they shimmey and shake.
Some natez are naughty, most natez are not.
Most natez behave in the way that they ought.
Some natez are subject to lingering stares,
And some are the object of withering glares.
When you are playing a game you can say to your maties,
"Come on you guys let's go out and kick natez."
Though I suppose in Quebec it would be only fair -
Donner un coup de pied a la derriere.
A peach can be natiform, so can a plum
That's simply to say it is shaped like a bum.
My discourse on natez is over - I quit
And on my own natez I'm happy to sit.
Now here’s a chance to take a fence if you are thus inclined.
I’m sure a writer more clever than myself could find a way to spiritualize buttocks. I think I’ll just laugh.
* A friend just called me to say she’d love to use this as a Scrabble word but couldn’t find it in her dictionary. It’s in my Oxford as nates – and I’m not sure from which version the desecrated page was taken. How horrid to think the whole poem should legitimately be corrected. I’ll let it stand – imperfect like its author.