Sunday, August 06, 2017

Journey of Faith

From the archives, originally published August 6, 2015


A friend asked this question and I thought it deserved a thoughtful answer.

Everyone has a 'journey of faith'. What is yours and my narrative? 
Describe it, with intellectual honesty.


My journey of faith is like a very long hike, following my guide, Jesus. The path sometimes feels like a scramble up a very steep, unstable slope. Rocks are falling from those who are ahead of me, and other times, these same folks reach back to lend a hand up and guide me to the best path around dangerous obstacles. I regularly consult the trail map (the Bible), travel with or simply confer with other followers of Jesus for the best routes and look for cairns left to mark the way. The path sometimes requires me to look down at my feet so I don't trip up and sometimes I look up to see my final destination.


There are many beautiful things I explore along the way, places and ideas I discover, I sometimes walk alongside others or stop for refreshment with a large group, and other times, I travel alone. The backpack of resources, memories, and burdens which I carry sometimes gets heavy. I have discarded some things along the way which I've outgrown, were mislabeled or weren't helpful any longer and I also picked up other resources along the path.


At times, I've relaxed beside quiet water, kicked off my boots, reflected on my journey so far, or even taken a nap. While the quiet moments of non-movement restore my soul, staying too long in one place on the faith journey is not healthy.


It's dangerous to travel alone. This mistake has cost me some painful tumbles in steep places where traversing alone was fool-hardy. There have been times my Guide, Jesus, has cautioned me not to go a particular route, but he won't stop me if I'm determined to go there. I've lost my sense of direction more than once when I didn't follow the One with the compass.


Ultimately, the majority of this interactive, dynamic, ever challenging journey involves steady, plodding, step-by-step movement toward eternity. Eugene Peterson calls this "a long obedience in the same direction."


Just like an aircraft has a flight path to which the pilot constantly must make course corrections to stay the course, my faith journey requires me to  keep in step with the Spirit, my eyes on Jesus and my heart fixed on the goal: the presence of God.


Sometimes this is obscured by cloud or darkness or my own blind determination to be self-sufficient. Sometimes I lose the path and need time to find it again. In those times, the voice I most long to hear is my Guide whispering "This is the way, walk in it." Sometimes I don't hear anything and then, I have to choose to continue walking, not doubting in the dark what I was shown in the light.

For we walk by faith and not by sight.


Do you have a different analogy for your faith journey? Share your thoughts in the comments here.




Photo credits: personal collection

Friday, July 14, 2017

The Stone and Bear



Two objects sit side by side next to my prayer chair.

The first is an ironwood carving of mamma grizzly, fishing with cubs; purchased from artisans in Mexico long before the ironwood tree became a protected species. Ironwood is similar to ebony: dark, dense and very hard; its grain is very straight. Carving it takes significant time and effort.

The second object is a rock (removed with permission), from the rubble of the carving at Crazy Horse Memorial on Thunderhead Mountain in South Dakota. The memorial statue was begun in 1948 and, though far from completion, the sculpture's design calls for final dimensions of 641 feet (195 m) wide and 563 feet (172 m) high.

As I consider these two apparently dissimilar objects side by side, I think of the miraculous nature of how they were shaped over time. Both objects exist because a sculptor conceived a design. The ironwood bears are shaped by hand with tools; the mountain is being reshaped with explosives, jack hammers, heavy equipment and a jet torch to finish the surface of the carving (a process called spalling).

How do these two pieces relate to one another? First they are both related to sculpture, made from hard material, organic and/or mineral. They reflect the work of sculptors, craftsman, and laborers. Their shaping has taken much time. In the case of the bears, much wood was removed. The rock from the Memorial sculpture represents how they are literally removing much of the mountain.

As I view the two pieces together, I am reminded of Jesus' words,

...if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, 
you can say to this mountain, "Move from here to there," 
and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.
Matthew 17:20 NIV 

That sounds like a miracle.

I struggle when thinking about miracles. Especially ones Jesus said I can perform. I struggle with wondering how best to pray for my brother who is in critical condition and worsening. Often we think "miracle" only when the change is significant and instantaneous. Yet, consider physical healing. While immediate healing is spectacular, God also designed our bodies to heal themselves over time. Is that not also just as much a miracle?

My husband and I have both had knee surgeries. In faith, we entrusted ourselves to the hands of the surgeon. In faith, we do the therapy and rehab exercises. In faith, we get out of bed every morning and put weight on those joints. All this effort yields results over time, but in his current condition, my brother can't do anything to help his body heal. We know eventually our bodies will fail and die. We trust, in faith, that our complete and ultimate healing comes in the Resurrection. As Jesus promised,

I am the resurrection and the life.
The one who believes in me will live, even though they die;
and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.
Do you believe this? John 11:25-26 NIV

Yes, I do.

Long ago, my brother entrusted himself to the Lordship of Christ. He has ministry and relationships that would be left keenly grieving his departure. So now, how do I pray? Thy will be done? or Lord, we need a miracle? Or both?

And then, in the waiting, how should I live, here and now? This life, over time, shapes and sculpts us all. Some of us, due to the circumstances and environment of our lives, become hardened like the ironwood, perhaps even the granite or limestone of the mountain. But the Sculptor takes his tools and begins to chip away or blast off those parts that do not fit into his design. When we think we're finally there, out comes the rasp and file or the jet torch to smooth and finish the rough places.

Part of the beauty in this refinement comes as we begin to accept that certain things, people and parts of ourselves are being stripped away or reshaped.  God begins and completes the work in us (Phil. 1:6), but for those things which hinder, we must willingly release, purge or discipline in ourselves. And our challenge is to "count it all joy" and persevere on the projects and responsibilities we have before us.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses,
let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.
And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, Hebrews 12:1

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,

whenever you face trials of many kinds,
because you know that the testing of your faith
produces perseverance. James 1:2-3

As good stewards of both ourselves and our calling, we can set ourselves to chipping away at these weights that hold us back, rock by rock. Whether through refining fire, the valley of the shadow of death, or witnessing miracles and mountain top transfigurations, we learn to yield to the greater design and, in faith, say to the mountains in front of us or within us, "Move!"

Whether we become a mountain-sized memorial, a coffee table carving, or just a cup to serve a refreshing drink of water; we can trust the bigger picture held by the Sculptor of our heart.

But he knows the way that I take;
when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.
Job 23:10

Never ever stop expecting the miracle.





Picture: personal collection


Sunday, June 25, 2017

Why We Can Rest in All Circumstances

 
"To rest is to give up on worrying and fretting and the sense that there is something wrong with the world unless we are there to put it right." ~David Whyte

Recently, several people who have read blog posts from the archives, indicated that the words found here were a source of encouragement to them. This always reminds me that the purpose of this blog is to share how God is working and moving in my life. I can say with the apostle Peter, who declared to Jesus, "Lord, to whom would we go? Only you have the words of eternal life!"

So, my words, as such, are really not important. What is important is the story of God in our lives, which we can only express through our words. I believe when we share our stories, each of us gains a broader and deeper understanding of who God is and how those who diligently seek to know God will be rewarded.

I recently shared part of my story for Hope150, in conjunction with Canada's 150th Birthday celebrations. It involved revisiting a time when I had lost hope, then found it again in Christ. I found shame rising, even though I had dealt with all those emotions in counseling and in a peer-support recovery group. I had also dealt with the questions surrounding the poor choices I'd made and how that impacted those close to me.

I again realize these are questions that cannot be answered and cannot be changed. I have to leave each one at the foot of the cross and again asking God's covering of grace over the past and the strength of the Holy Spirit to move forward in obedience to the tasks in front of me today. It's a regular battle to let the past stay in the past, to be reminded that I cannot change anything that happened, that I can and must move forward in God's grace.

I expressed my feelings about this to my husband, and he gently suggested that "perhaps it's time to start telling a new story;" to tell the current story of God's work in my life and heart. It was a timely and appropriate challenge.

There's no other human being who is a witness to my life more closely than this man. He sees the ups and downs and he's a big reason why my paradigm has shifted significantly regarding my co-dependent tendencies, aka: my need to be needed and my compulsion to fix other people or situations. I'm grateful to know, as he lovingly reminds me, and as David Whyte affirms, that the world will go on even if I am not there to fix it.

My husband's influence has brought much healing, love and rest into my life. We are now both retired, and though that was initially disorienting, it is still good. We enjoy the freedom of working at our own pace on projects of interest to us, individually and together. We enjoy waking up slow over a cup of coffee and having meaningful (or goofy) conversations about all sorts of topics. We enjoy traveling, primarily by car; reading silently alone or out loud together; napping when the urge hits, in the recliner or the hammock (weather permitting); going to the gym and running errands in the middle of the day instead of on Saturday when everyone else is out and about.

So, the regular stress of working full time is gone.

Lest you envy us, please remember that we have paid our dues, so to speak, both having "worked" with our families from our youngest years and up until the time we entered our lengthy, demanding, full-time careers. We are grateful for the decline in pressure as our bodies begin to decline in physical capacity.

And lest you think life is all unicorns and rainbows, the other day, when I was still reeling from the adrenaline rush and emotional roller coaster of being interviewed, I was abruptly snapped back to reality by a very unpleasant encounter with an angry person. This is not something I want to relive or repeat.

Finally, we are not immune to disease. I am receiving regular updates regarding a brother who has now been in ICU for two weeks since a sudden acute illness required major surgery. We've been walking alongside a dear friend whose daughter has cancer and another friend who just lost his mother. I'm not yet pain free from knee surgery in March. It's draining, when every night one's sleep is interrupted by pain or discomfort. This is the reality of life. Many have it worse. I pray the Lord will increase my faith and stamina through whatever level of difficulty I have been asked to bear.

So, even in retirement, the challenge to live in the power of the Holy Spirit continues, and the clash seems to be escalating with the world, the flesh and the devil making an all out attack on my desire to follow the call to obedience and holiness. But there is no need to be afraid.


Jesus said, "In this world you will have trouble, but be of good cheer! I have overcome the world."
Then he adds, and I close with this for you to meditate upon: "Lo, I am with you always." We can rest in that, always, in the middle of any storm.







Picture 1: Surveyors Lake, Kikomun Creek Provincial Park, BC, from my personal photos.
Picture 2: Quotefancy, accessed online June 25, 2017
Picture 3: @UpperRoom, accessed online June 25, 2017




Thursday, June 22, 2017

My Story of Hope














In collaboration with #CanadaHope150, many people are sharing their stories of hope. A brief summary of my life (an interview with Les Moore) will be aired tonight, June 22, on AM700 The Light (CJLI) at 6:45 p.m. For those who aren't local, listen online at http://cjli.streamon.fm/. If you miss it tonight, it will be posted on the www.hope150.ca website in a few days.

This is not really about me, but rather it is the story of how God has carried me throughout life, in joy, in despair and everything in between. We are transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit in us. Sharing these stories with each other helps us see all the ways God heals, encourages, strengthens and leads. As followers of Jesus, we are not exempt from anything. What matters is our response to what happens and learning to trust God when we walk through trauma or through the valley of the shadow of death, or when we are in despair. There is always hope. The Lord is holding you even if you can't sense it. Hold on.

"Lord, to whom would we go? Only you have the words of eternal life."
-the Apostle Peter (John 6:68)

Calgary area friends, be sure to attend the Hope 150 celebration on Canada Day at Shaw Millenium Park. Go to www.hope150.ca for more info and more stories of hope!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Not Your Grandma's Choir


Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, 
flight to the imagination and life to everything. — Plato

Of all the things I've done in life, singing in a choir has been the most satisfying. I've sung in many choirs, under directors/conductors of all abilities, covering all styles, from classical oratorios, to broadway, opera, and contemporary and most everything in between. I've been challenged, I've been bored, but mostly I've just been happy to sing.

I've directed three different adult choirs--one for six years--and various ensembles, youth and children's choirs. But I enjoy singing most of all. And the music I most enjoy singing are songs of testimony, encouragement, eternal truth, and transcendent songs of adoration to our great God. These renew my mind, my spirit and my hope, get my eyes off the "waves and wind" and onto the Solid Rock.

Oh, sure, it's nice to think of the days when I've done solos, and though that's an earthly honour, it's still not as soul-satisfying as raising the roof and dancing in my home church with thousands while we celebrate victory in Jesus.

And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane 
by those who could not hear the music.  — F. Nietzsche

We wrapped up our church choir season today. While it's nice to have a break from the weekly rehearsals, I know I'll miss the music soon and will start counting down to September's start-up. Even more, I will miss the choir family--these beautiful souls all making beautiful music together, praying together and serving in humility with genuine joy.

It's an honour to harmonize with them about things that will still matter an eternity from now. I am so grateful for this gift.

Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music
is the greatest treasure in the world. 
— Martin Luther


Photo 1: Screenshot of First Alliance Church Choir from weekend service live-stream, May 21, 2017.
Photo 2: Saviour Oratorio, performed with NWSC, photo by Greg McCombs, April 12, 2017.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Preaching is Easy but Practicing is Hard



I am the daughter of a preacher man who was also a mechanic, a poet, a musician and inventor. There's much more, but the story of my relationship with him (as I saw it and how it continues to impact me) would take an entire memoir to explore. This is not unique among daughters, but I must work out of my own experience, gleaning what is helpful and leaving the rest. Here's one piece.

After our father's death in 2002, my oldest brother began the process of gathering dad's poems for publication. Due to a series of unfortunate events, it became increasingly clear that it would not be possible to publish these in a traditional book format, so I agreed to post them online in blog format where they would be accessible and searchable by keywords to anyone from anywhere at no cost.

I started transcribing and posting them in 2014 but soon set the project aside. Out of sight, out of mind. Recently, I'd been praying about how to meaningfully and productively focus my time, now that both my husband and I are retired and home "full time." One day my nephew, Ted, contacted me about a particular song my father wrote, and asked whether the publishing project was finished. That was the motivation I needed to resurrect the project, so over the last month I have been back at it.

Why was it a struggle to do the work? This question bugged me for some time. It really doesn't take long to type out a 4-8 verse poem. It would often take longer to pick out a suitable photo to go with it and to format the text for publication. When I finally realized what the reason was, it was something I didn't expect: the toll it took on my emotions. Being a poet myself, I had to curb my desire to change dad's punctuation, style and/or word choice. I much prefer free verse over metered rhyme, which was my father's primary style. There are also a few lines which I would rather edit or delete; ones which I might not necessarily agree with, ones that reflect his opinion, or discuss the cultural norms and traditional roles of men, women and children the '50s and '60s. I have refrained from doing so, as these are his poems, not mine.

Many of these poems were songs we sang as a family during our 18 years of touring. Some are tied to particular memories, not always joyful. On occasion, a particular poem will send me back in time and I felt like a child again, receiving my father's training, instruction and/or reproof; regarding things I sometimes rebelled against (inwardly) at that time. These feelings would begin to rise again. My father was human and had eight children in tow. Sometimes it was hard for him to keep us in line. Sometimes his poems felt like sermons, like dad was trying to get me to stay in line.

The penny finally dropped. When I read and transcribed my father's poems, it felt like my father was preaching at me all over again, even after being gone for 15 years.

In reality, it wasn't that at all. He was probably about the age I am now when he wrote many of the poems. As I thought it through and prayed it over, I realized in his poems he was actually preaching at himself. He, like I, struggled with submission to God's will, with authenticity, with making life, faith and conduct align. He was immensely challenged by the trials he experienced: the loss of a son, rejection by certain friends and family members, a church split, controlling his temper, providing for his family, facing the challenges of the changing culture and yet, he also modelled his spiritual poems after the psalmist, often ending them with a declaration of trust in God's faithfulness, goodness, and sovereignty.

So today, as I transcribed another poem, I was reminded that the one true thing I know about my father is that he was resolved to do God's will, and he sincerely did what he determined in his heart (after prayer and soul-searching) seemed to be the right and most God-honoring thing to do. Did Dad always get it right? Likely not. Will I? Definitely not. He preached easy, he practiced hard. I am my father's daughter, I am much the same.

So, I'll leave you with today's poem, one that illustrates how preaching is easy but practicing is hard. The key to peace in the middle of it all? Accepting God's will. This poem can be either preaching or prayer, depending on the day.

Click here to read: Accepting His Will



Photo Credit: Deposit Photos #13157334, standard license

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Re-membering Saviour: The Story of God's Passion for His People

First Alliance Church Choir and Orchestra with New West Symphony and Chorus
Directed by David Klob and Humberto Vargas
April 12, 2017 - Calgary, Alberta, Canada


Last evening was the second of two concerts of the oratorio work, “Saviour: The Story of God’s Passion for His People” by First Alliance Church Choir and Orchestra with the New West Symphony and Chorus. It was one of those events that becomes a lifelong memory, filled with transcendent music and the over-arching themes of God's love, mercy and faithfulness in the face of human rebellion, alienation and sin.

An event like this engages over 140 musicians and technicians coming together to deliver a profound and satisfying project with excellence and joy. The 1,500+ people who listen from the auditorium also enter in, creating a sense of unity and ensemble which I have not yet seen duplicated in any other forum. The lobby remains crowded for a long time after the concert; people lingering, visiting, in no rush to end the evening, communing with friends and sharing our individual impressions and experience from this worship experience.

Another musician on the west coast, singer-songwriter Carolyn Arends, shared a comment on her Facebook page from someone who attended one of her concerts this week, and it echoes what I saw happening for us last night. His feedback was, “Thank you. That was so connecting. I came here scattered - just disconnected from running around doing work and life - and now I'm leaving here integrated again.”

We left as an integrated whole last evening. We were many individuals coming together, and though each one of us had our own voice, our own part, and they were all different – together we were unified in harmony. As Ephesians 4:3 urges, we worked diligently over three months of preparation and during two performances to “keep the harmony of The Spirit in the bonds of peace.”

Ann Voskamp reminds us of a deeper truth that comes when we unite in worship of our Lord: that our “dismembered” and scattered parts are actually “re-membered” and made whole again.

“…all the brokenness in the world begins with the act of forgetting — forgetting that God is enough, forgetting that what He gives is good enough, forgetting that there is always more than enough to give thanks for. “

She goes on to remind us though we forget, though we're prone to chronic soul amnesia, God never forgets us, never abandons us, never gives up on us. He has written us, our very names, on the palm of his hands, written even me right into himself -- though we forget, God re-members us, puts us and the broken bits and members of us back together again.

As an individual, one who is part of a great whole, part of the re-membered body of Christ, part of this ensemble of musicians who lift our limited voices in gratitude and unity to pray:
Dear Lord, Thank you, that "we are re-membered in You --- You who engrave Your love letter to us right into Your skin.... right into Your beating heart. In the name of the only One who ever loved us to death and back to life again... In Jesus' name... Amen.”




Concert Photo Credit: Greg McCombs, used with permission
Scripture Photo Credit: accessed via Ann Voskamp Facebook post