Window of Hope

In a recent post on the subject of time, I mentioned that I don’t like dusting or vacuuming, and I explained why. Lest readers should think that I have an aversion to all housework, let me say that there are at least two duties which I don’t call chores: some people find it unbelievable that I actually enjoy doing laundry (especially when I can use my two pulley lines without their loads being attacked by that nuisance of a plum tree, planted by someone in the past who obviously wasn’t thinking about the fact that living things tend to grow!); and even more incredible to many people is my insistence that I enjoy washing dishes (I had admitted more than once that if I had to give up one household appliance, it would be the dishwasher, and now that mine has been broken for nearly a year, I honestly don’t miss it). Why do I enjoy what is drudgery for others? I think it’s because when I finish, I can see what I’ve done (which isn’t always the case with dusting and vacuuming): nothing in the laundry basket, everything (yes, even our underwear) neatly folded and put away (I have a friend who teases me about being so fastidious); and though I usually let the dishes air dry and return to them later, in the meantime I appreciate a clean table, counter and stove. I think doing laundry and dishes appeals to the more orderly side of me, and it gives me a sense of accomplishment – maybe even hope of one day being a Proverbs 31 woman!

I’ve enjoyed doing laundry since I started doing my own when I lived on campus, but enjoying doing dishes has been a long process. I started off, as many do, about three years of age, standing on my little chair, proud as punch to be a helper. That feeling wore off rather quickly, when helping became a twice-a-day routine; later, there was often a wrestling match between my sister and me to see who would wash or dry, and though she was five years younger than I, she was by that time stronger, so guess who never got to choose! We do grow up, and for years I did dishes just because they needed to be done, and because my conscience and upbringing wouldn’t let me close my eyes on a messy kitchen.

Things have changed. Between God and my kitchen window, my perspective on doing dishes has totally changed. I love what I see as I work at the sink: green mountains, lacey white in winter, the neighbour’s red maples in summer, tall pines where birds nest and find shelter, roofs with frost on them in the spring and fall that tell me when to plant or harvest, our lilac and raspberry bushes, my husband’s trademarks – the satellite dish, the whirligig on top of the garage and the sturdy fence (each picket wearing a fluffy white toque after a snowfall): I see in each and all of these the munificence, the lavish generosity of my Creator. I hear His still small voice in the fog when it shrouds the tallest mountain: “You can’t see the mountain, Nyla, so how do you know it’s there?” He doesn’t need to say more: I know the mountain is there because I’ve seen it before, and I know He is with me because I’ve experienced Him before. Blessed assurance that lifts the fog, removes the shroud, sets my spirit free.

When God changes us, the results are noticeable and enduring. He has used my kitchen window to so radically change my attitude toward doing dishes that sometimes, when my thoughts are crowded and shrouded by stress (anxiety, fear, etc.), I find myself going to the kitchen and checking for dishes to wash! If He can produce such a change in my approach to a task as menial as washing dishes – a change I didn’t even know I needed or had ever asked for – what change would He produce if I asked for one, and what change that I’m not even aware of might He be producing in me right now?

Creator and Sustainer of of all that is good, we welcome the changes You birth in our lives. Window of Hope, we look up and out with expectancy.

Time

I’ve always considered myself to be a time-conscious and time respecting person. It’s a love affair that goes back to my childhood. My dad was never late for church and always early for work; dear mum was always running to get everything done, always the last one out of the house, and always a bit out of breath when she slid apologetically into the waiting car. I preferred Dad’s way, but then, he was my hero and, in my star-struck opinion, he could do no wrong.

Putting people in categories is always risky, but I’ve been thinking about three general categories of people. First of all, there are those who, for lack of a better word, I call “timeless.” They are the ones, somewhat like my mother, who are always running late and always out of puff. They can’t (yes, the word is can’t) manage time because they understand neither time nor their own limitations. They suffer from constant frustration, and they frustrate the people around them.

Incredible, but true, I fondly recall being in our kitchen and cocking my head in wide-eyed wonder at the rhythmic ticking of the pendulum clock that hung in the neighbours’ kitchen at a distance measured by the compound size of our huge vegetable garden and their fenced cow pasture. Oh, the stillness of the dog days of summer! A similar clock now adorns a wall in my kitchen, where I enjoy watching my grandsons listen wide-eyed to its musical chimes. In my family, we got our first watch the Christmas we were in grade six. I was privileged to receive a second one, a nurse’s watch, a few years later. When I left home to go to university, my dad gave me a double-bell Big Ben wind-up alarm clock that had a loud tick and a much louder alarm. I loved it and kept it long after it had stopped working. After graduation, when I moved to another province and came home for Christmas, how proud I was to present a hand-painted Swiss cuckoo clock to my overwhelmed parents! During our forty-plus years of marriage, my husband has celebrated several special occasions by giving me beautiful and practical watches, which I prize. Last year, in deference to my milestone age, my son and his family blessed me with an antique pendulum chime clock that sounds as old as it looks, reminding me of my all-time favourite movie, A Christmas Carol. Inside my husband’s wedding band is a verse of Scripture, “When the desire cometh it is a tree of life.” Years ago, we purchased a grandfather clock kit, which to our chagrin still hides in the original boxes in various rooms of the house; a veritable tree of life it will surely be when one day we stand and gaze at that fine piece of craftsmanship and revel in the resonance of each solemn strike.

Enough of my reminiscing and romanticizing about timepieces! Let’s talk about itself time. As I said before, I’ve always considered myself to be a time-conscious and time respecting person, so you can imagine my reaction when a friend unblushingly declared to my face that I procrastinate: the barb dug in like a tick, and though it didn’t give me some psychological or spiritual version of Lyme Disease, it got my attention then, and still does from time to time. Yes, I must admit, if you’re talking about chores I don’t enjoy, like dusting or vacuuming, I am guilty of procrastinating, but, without looking for excuses, I think I may suffer from some form of childhood PTSD induced by dusting my mother’s many ornaments every week and getting an electric shock every time I used our old vacuum cleaner! In all honesty and unabashed self-defense, I choose to extend grace to myself and recognize that I work hard at prioritizing, at determining, according to the Oxford Dictionary, the order for dealing with a series of items or tasks according to their relative importance. I don’t apologize for giving more time and energy to God and people than to things that have much less eternal value.

Then there are those who live by – and expect everyone else to live by – an adage that promotes perfectionism, workaholism, and, over time (though I’m not a doctor), various physical ailments : “Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.” I don’t want to burst anyone’s bubble – or maybe I do – but that little bit of folk wisdom is not in the Bible; it is attributed to Benjamin Franklin, a man of great repute, to be sure, but certainly not God! It’s a wonderful saying if applied in small doses, but can otherwise leave self, family and friends in an oppressive cloud of fatigue and high stress.

Finally, there’s the category where I fit best. I’ve learned through time and illness that I must pace myself, so I’ve invented my own truism: “Don’t do today what should be left until tomorrow!” In other words, “Prioritize! Don’t kill yourself for things that can wait, that have no eternal value: better to go to bed and sleep; you’ll have more energy and strength and a better attitude tomorrow.” Call it procrastination, if you like, but until I get a better understanding of time and how it relates to the unique blessings and challenges of my life, I choose category three. I choose grace.

I’ve been reading short biographies of 50 People Every Christian Should Know by Warren Wiersbe. Let me share this quote from time-conscious Alexander Whyte (1836-1921):

We have plenty of time for all our work did we husband our time and hoard it up aright. We cannot look seriously in one another’s faces and say it is want of time. It is want of intention. It is want of determination. It is want of method. It is want of motive. It is want of conscience. It is want of heart. It is want of anything and everything but time.”

Understandably, we tend not to like barbs or ticks; and with the Apostle Paul, we may even kick against the pricks, but I speak from experience when I say that – timely or not – barbs, ticks and pricks have a way of getting our attention. Shall we embrace them as friends?

Grey Hair and Grace

You can call it pride, if you like, and I won’t attempt to deny or excuse it, but don’t be surprised if I counter with something like, “Everybody is subject to pride in one way or another. I don’t think there are any exceptions; if nothing else, we’re proud of not being proud!” So, here’s my story…

About thirty-five years ago, when I had but a few unnoticeable grey hairs, I told myself and anyone who asked me that, in the interest of integrity and facing reality, I would never color my hair. Still sporting a head of light brown hair at that point in time, it was easy to believe and fearlessly quote Proverbs 20:29 which boldly and unequivocally states that gray hair is a crown of glory.

A few years later, I wasn’t so sure about wanting a “crown of glory” right away, so I started coloring my hair. My son was little, and he would remind me when it was time to have it done.

Over the years, I’ve waffled between coloring and going grey, examining the effects portrayed in photos and admiring other women’s unselfconscious acceptance of their side of the waffle; I’ve finally decided, in the interests of integrity and reality (together with rising salon prices that made me cringe), to give up my preferred light brown hair and go with my grey crown. I’m trusting God for the glory part, because I don’t always see what He sees!

I may be struggling with the connection between grey hair and glory, but thanks to a recent aha moment, I can now embrace the connection between grey hair (and other signs of aging) and grace. My journal entry puts it this way:

Yesterday I understood that my grey hair and my aging body are a blessing: You, Lord, are reminding me that life is short and I need to live fully. In fact, I’m more worried about living than dying: What am I going to do with the time I have left? How am I going to live today?

How gracious God is in not allowing us to find the fabled fountain of youth! How gracious to set signposts along life’s way! Grey hair, spare tires, sagging skin, crooked fingers and toes…. May we receive the aging process as the blessing God intends it to be, and with gratitude – and, if necessary, grit – may we live fully to the glory of His Grace.

I Will

As is often the case, I awoke with a few words of a song running repeatedly through my mind:

Yes, I will

sing for joy

when my heart is heavy

Unable to sing the rest of the song because it was new to me, I turned to my friend YouTube, and watched the Official Lyric Video by Vertical Worship. What captured my attention was the words, “I will,” and as I listened again later in the morning, a chain of associated thoughts flooded my mind.

I thought of a popular saying in education: “It’s not about your IQ; it’s about your will.” How true! A person can be very intelligent, but if they have no willpower, they will go nowhere in life; yet people with low intelligence quotients have been known to lead very successful and influential lives through sheer force of will.

Then a familiar portion of Scripture came to mind (Matthew 8:2-3):

And a leper came to Him and bowed down before Him, and said, “Lord if You are willing, You can make me clean.” Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.

The leper made a clear distinction between what Jesus could do and what He would do. There was no question in his mind that Jesus could heal him, but he didn’t know if He would, because, as we learn elsewhere, Jesus didn’t come to do His own will, but to do the will of His Father.

Finally, the last link brought understanding : Life isn’t about what we can do; it’s about what we will do. God has blessed us abundantly with gifts both natural and spiritual, and most of us can do much more than we are willing to do. Forgive us, Lord. Teach us to say, “Yes, I will.”

My Vessel

Photo by Kevin Malik on Pexels.com

I was cleaning my office when I came across this little poem. I had forgotten even writing it, but it speaks to me again now, and I think it merits a post of its own.

My Vessel

I created you 

I did not create you
                 to be empty
I created you
               to be filled
I did not create you
                     to remain full
I created you
                       to be emptied
So I can fill you again
                      to empty you
                              to fill you again...

You are my vessel

Traffic

It was Sunday morning. My husband would have been leading the pre-service prayer meeting, but he was sick, so I, rather unexpectedly, stood in his place.

Instead of the usual share time, we began with just being silent before God while I caught my breath and tuned my heart to hear what He was saying to us. My attention was drawn to Psalm 46:10, familiar to all of us as “Be still, and know that I am God…,” but I remembered and read it from Eugene Peterson’s startling and stunning translation in The Message:

“Step out of the traffic! Take a long,

loving look at me, your High God,

above politics, above everything.”

Thoughts came to mind of my son’s comments about dealing with rush hour traffic for an hour and a half each day – his weariness, his frustration with other drivers. And then I thought about how important it is for him when he arrives home at night to intentionally close the door and leave the traffic outside.

Traffic: we all deal with it no matter where we live. Traffic got me out of bed with a racing heart this morning. Surprisingly, I was able to trace the call to an apologetic worker at Tim Horton’s somewhere on the other side of the continent! Traffic: another good meal gets cold because a dear friend or family member calls at the wrong time. Traffic: children at the door for suckers when I’m making dinner, and no one to blame but myself, because I encourage them to come! Traffic: the dog squeezes by me, runs to the neighbour’s yard, and excitedly disregards my commands to sit, stay or come. Traffic: my husband is making his coffee in the corner where I need to grab the vanilla to make French toast. Traffic: another email to answer. Traffic: waiting for a reply to an urgent text message. Traffic….

Your traffic may not be the same as mine, but I’m sure you get the drift: as long as we are living, breathing and conscious, traffic is – and always will be – an unavoidable and challenging part of the ebb and flow of everyday life, and we all have our own ways of trying to cope with it. As for me, though I often get weary and frustrated with the traffic that threatens to run my life, I have found no better way of coping than intentionally doing what we prayerfully did that Sunday morning as we stepped out of the traffic and took a long look at our High God.

The brief hour together turned into a very refreshing reminder of things I thought I knew – until the Holy Spirit gently whispered, “Remember, Nyla, you are sometimes traffic for others.” Keeping that in mind could arm me with a whole new coping skill!

Showing Tolerance

This one is fresh from the oven! Because it could make both my husband and me look bad, I have to write it before I persuade myself that I shouldn’t. I hope it brings a smile and maybe even a little glimpse in the mirror.

It was Sunday morning. I had prepared my Sunday School lesson and snack the night before, so I had some time to read and reflect before getting ready for church. I’d been reading Ephesians, and chapter 4 was next. I made brief notes on what caught my attention: Paul was imploring the believers to walk in a manner worthy of their calling, to live every day “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love.” Though I certainly can’t boast that I’ve mastered them, humility, gentleness, and patience were standards familiar to me, so without hesitation I recognized their importance and kept reading; showing tolerance, on the other hand, brought me to a screeching halt. I know I’ve read it many times – in various versions and translations – but this Sunday morning, it was like the font was larger, the words were in bold, and the ink was still wet. I knew God was speaking, and I continued listening as I left my quiet place….

Picture this….Less than an hour later, it was time to leave for church. The car was warming, and I, in full winter garb, was standing on the landing of our split entrance. My husband, almost ready to go, was in the basement, looking up, when he asked me if his shirt looked okay. I said it was fine. He obviously didn’t hear me (the fan must have been on), so he asked again. I lifted my voice a little and gave the same answer. When he asked the third time, my capacity to show tolerance was utterly exhausted, and I lifted my voice and yelled….And off to prayer meeting we went!

I haven’t been able to shake it: Paul’s directive to show tolerance has been with me all day and has led me to some introspection and to consider the difference between tolerating and tolerance. To tolerate is to allow something (one dislikes or disagrees with) to exist or occur without interference; quite frankly, I think I’ve done my fair share of that in my day! Tolerance, on the other hand, is the ability to endure pain or hardship (and those things that I dislike or disagree with). I think the little Sunday morning incident with my husband amply proves that my tolerance level is rather low, but Paul’s words push my self-examination even further: he wasn’t telling the believers to simply have endurance, to have the ability to endure; he was calling for them to show endurance. What will that look like as I continue learning to walk worthy of my calling? I don’t like it, I’m not proud of myself when I fall down, scrape my knees, bump my head, or cry crocodile tears, but I’m not going to give up!

By way of postscript and food for thought let me share what Chief Master Sgt. Steve McDonald of the U.S. Air Force wrote on the subject: “I see tolerance as the process of acceptance without compromise whereas toleration is acceptance with compromise.” How does that grab you?

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Parable of a Ship

I had good reason to be proud and confident that day as two hundred and seventy-six souls (among them sailors and a centurion with his soldiers and prisoners, one of whom was named Pau) climbed the gangplank to settle in for a voyage to Rome. I was engineered and crafted in Alexandria, that bustling Egyptian port city, second only to Rome in wealth and importance in the entire Empire. Make no mistake, I was engineered and crafted to sail….

Sailing was slow and difficult for a good many days, and then it became dangerous: “Did I hear you clearly Paul? Did you warn the crew and the centurion that if they continued sailing, there would certainly be damage and great loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of the souls on board? Did you say I could be damaged? Did you say I could be lost? No! Not me, Paul! I’m strong! Sailing is what I do! I’ll weather the storm! You’ll see!”

The majority ruled. They ignored Paul’s advice. Before long, I was caught in a wind so violent I couldn’t face it, and things went from bad to worse. The crew undergirded me with cables, let down my gear, and left us to the mercy of the wind. The next day they started throwing the cargo overboard, and the following day my tackle suffered the same fate. No sun. No stars. No small storm. No hope of being saved. Paul stood up, and I heard him say, “You should have listened to me…Yet now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship.” – “Thanks for the heads-up, Paul!”

Finally, on the fourteenth night, soundings indicated we were approaching land. Fearing that we might run aground, sailors cast four anchors from my stern and tried to escape in the lifeboat, but Paul insisted that they remain in me, and he encouraged everyone to eat so they would have strength for what lay ahead. In the morning, they saw a beach and promptly cast off my anchors and left them in the sea; they loosened the ropes of my rudders, hoisted my foresail – and ran aground! I was stuck! The waves began to break my stern! Paul commanded that “those who could swim should jump overboard first and get to land, and the rest should follow, some on planks and others on various things from the ship. And so it was that they all were brought safely to land.”

With a deep sense of fulfillment and a heart full of gratitude, this broken and contrite Alexandrian ship, engineered and crafted to sail, bowed low in the unrelenting wind and waves; my “planks and various things” had helped the two hundred and seventy-six souls, committed to my trust, reach a safe harbour.

(See Acts 27 and Psalm 51:17)

”But the father said…”

When our son and his wife came home for Christmas, we offered them our bed, which they graciously and unselfishly refused, the result being that they tried three other arrangements and had four sleepless nights! Our daily efforts to persuade them were to no avail.

The familiar story of ”The Prodigal Son” has been one of my cherished treasures since I first understood the significance of the opening line: ”A certain man had two sons…” Oh the relief, the burden that lifted from my heart when I realized that, though I could easily see myself as either the reckless runaway or the sulky stay-at-home, the story is really about the father and his forgiving, wooing love that compels him to go out to each son! That certain man is my Heavenly Father, and I cannot count the times He has come out to receive and reason with me!

Treasures tend to increase in value, and this one, as it captures me with another precious truth, is no exception. When the reckless runaway and impoverished keeper-of-swine turned his self-pitying thoughts toward the incomparable prosperity of his father’s servants, rising from humiliation hence to walk in humility, he formulated and promptly followed a plan: “I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.’ “

Home he went…. Picture with me his rapidly changing expressions of shock, amazement, astonishment, bewilderment, incredulity… when his father didn’t even let him finish his practiced speech! He got as far as saying he was no longer worthy to be his father’s son; he didn’t get to offer himself as one of the hired men. No! I see the father’s hand shoot up to silence him, and the story takes an abrupt turn: ”But the father said….” We know it well: ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate’… and they began to celebrate.” They did what the father said, and what intrigues me is that the reckless-runaway-keeper-of-swine-returning-penitent obviously cooperated in every way.

When the father told his slaves to bring the best robe and put it on him, he let them do it; he let them put a ring on his hand, and he let them put sandals on his feet. He didn’t argue or pull away; he didn’t grovel in humiliation, or feelings of unworthiness, or low self-esteem; instead, with the slaves, he received and honoured what the father said; the father called for celebration of his return, and celebrate they did – father, slaves and son together!

What happened when the father went out to plead with the angry brother? The young man had things to say – good things about himself, bad things about his brother and, above all, accusations against his father – and his father didn’t stop him. Instead, when the son had finished his speech, the father lovingly reminded of his place and role in the family, “Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.” And there the story ends. Did the angry son receive and honour what his father said? Did he go in and celebrate, or did he live and die angry? We’re left to ponder and draw our own conclusions. As for me. I look at the father with each of his sons, and I embrace this treasure: those who are truly home, who fully enjoy the benefits of home, are those who live by what the Father says. And just for the record, I’m absolutely sure my son and his wife would have slept a whole lot better in our bed! Sometimes we just have to humbly accept what is offered….

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Rest

A conversation between God and me, as recorded in my journal…

Me: Lord (Master), how do you want me to structure my life? You have heard me say to my husband lately that I feel that my life has to fit around him and his unpredictable schedule, around the new puppy, around the church, around online Bible study, even around a family and ministry in Guinea. It feels like I have no life – no time to relax and enjoy, no time to do a puzzle or photo albums, no time to read. Is recreation important to You?

God: Remember the rest I have prepared for the people of God. It is not My plan for your life to be burdensome. Remember what I said: “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

Me: Rest! That’s what I need! Rest for my soul, for what makes me me. Maybe I don’t need rest from the things that make me weary, but rest in the middle of them.

God: I am your rest. Recreation is important, but to get recreation, you will have to drop what you can’t hold – like having your arms full of soccer balls; the only way to receive another is to let one go from your arms. Hold onto Me, and don’t be afraid to let go of things that are robbing you of the life I have for you.

Me: Lord, I feel so vulnerable. I ask for your protection as I return and rest and find strength in quietness and confidence in You (Isaiah 30:15). As I learn to structure my life around Your rest, some things will have to go…