Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Do the Juncos Know It's Ash Wednesday?

Do the juncos know it's Ash Wednesday, flitting from willows to crusted snow, seeking the half buried seeds? Their diet is unchanged today, and their winter foraging, their flight and fight for survival, goes on.

And yet, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. This I share with all creatures, those who dance in the cerulean heavens and those who seem intent on bringing hell to earth.

I sip my bitter coffee, this small denial, offer it up in fasting and prayer. No sugar. No sweetness on the tongue for forty days. In its absence I remember those who struggle for bread, let alone sugar, who struggle for life in the looming of death, for hope in the heavy drifts of despair.

I am one person, one graced by hope, one surrounded by beauty so myriad I almost feel guilty. I am one who falters on the pilgrim path, all too aware of my own tendencies to sin and selfishness. I am one who wonders how best to spend this life and the inheritance given, how to direct my energies into the howling vacuum of need at my fingertips.

And so I fast. And so I pray. And so I live Lent remembering that all I am is marked by this smudge of a cross, the unlikely mark in which all things must find their definition, in which my own life is defined and made clear, and is made somehow more than the sum of its dust.

The best way I know to reshape this life with all its passions, to order its loves to a fitting end, is through prayer. This is my prayer: form me into a woman who prays, for whom prayer is second gifted nature. For the one who prays seeks the face of God, from whom all blessings flow, from whom love bleeds out to join with human suffering, from whom all creatures live and move and have their being. And in the seeking, perchance to find, perhaps to see - aye, here's the rub! - and in seeing to be seen. For You are El Roi, the God who sees.

And Your gaze is my undoing, and my repentance, and in my repentance my remaking.

Remake me to be worthy of the shape of the cross. Remake me into a fitting vessel of love. Remake me so all my sweetness is found in the beauty of holiness.

Remake me so that in praying for those nearest and those distant I may be formed into your answer. Give me courage to be your arrows, flung into the heart of my aching prayers.

The juncos dash for the seeds, and there is a merry desperation in their movement. One flits, hovers near the window, flings a glance with its shining black eye to my strange indoor world. I suppose it's safer in here. But there are seeds to be had in the snow, with a little digging, and the slow but steady increase of the sun's reach, and the whole free sky.


Saturday, 14 February 2015

The Armour of Marriage

Does the knight in shining armour still hold up as a model for marriage? Here are my thoughts on this over at Fun+Faith: The Armour of Marriage

And because none of this is possible on our own, here is Part II:

I could arm him with my love, my assurance that he is worth fighting for. I could strategize ways to protect his soul from the blows of life. I could be strength in his weakness. For better or worse, I had the honour to guard his heart as I did my own.

Become his armour.

In resolving to preserve and protect his worth, I am fighting for our relationship, rather than against it. Instead of plundering love for myself, I am putting it out there as his shield, and that ends up making us both stronger. We are in this together. We can face the battles of life, yes, even the weak points and wounds of marriage, because love is our armour, and he is arming me as I am arming him. I can lay aside my fear of being left out in the cold, because when he fails me, as I know he will, I am still covered. And when I fail him, as I know I will, he is still covered. There is a Love greater than anything we can fabricate for ourselves. It is what always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. God’s love never fails. It is our perfect armor.

And so the little knight in shining armour stands as my commitment to be his armor. He doesn’t stand alone, but in the strength of our sacred covenant and of a greater Defender. We stand together. We fight together. That little knight is a reminder to both of us that the only way to victory in marriage is through the sacrifice of love. 


Monday, 9 February 2015

Stories of Hope: Alison Gibson

This is part of the series "Stories of Hope," in which ordinary people share how hope makes them live differently. To read the introduction, click here. If you have a story of hope you'd like to share, why not send me a message?

Alison Gibson is one of my dearest friends. We grew up in the same small town in the Northwest Territories - her mother was my kindergarten teacher! Our slightly different ages meant that we didn't actually spend time together in our youth, but all these years later we have settled not five minutes from each other here on Prince Edward Island. I'm thankful for her friendship and her insight into life lived with God, and life lived with hope. She says, "hope is about Jesus, not about me!"

The word "hope" can be thrown about recklessly. I do it all the time. "I hope it is sunny tomorrow." "I hope Sobey's has butter on sale soon." "I hope that warning light on the van doesn't mean anything serious."

I have hoped more desperately for many things, things that truly mattered to me. Two years ago, when I was almost 11 weeks pregnant I hoped that the signs of miscarriage were wrong. I have hoped through 14 years of marriage that my husband would be healed of the mysterious illness that plagues him. I have hoped for relationships to be mended, for stress to decrease, for more time, for more money when income and expenses just didn't balance out. I have hoped for stability and a 'home' for my children through many moves across 3 countries and 3 provinces.

None of these hopes is wrong, but as the circumstances of life play out there is inevitably grief and disappointment when some hopes are not fulfilled, if we have set our hearts on them. As if this isn't hard enough, like the grief over a baby I will never hold, I have discovered that even a hope fulfilled can feel... empty. If I hope for years that I will one day have a 'home' and then finally arrive, only to discover that the home has its flaws, what then? If I hope for the new job, the new baby, the husband, the holiday and then those things happen, or they come and go, and I still feel a gnawing discontent, what then?

In all earthly, human hope like this there is a sense of waiting. This is the hope that says, "One day... If only...." But there is another hope. This hope is a gift from God. The waiting is completed in Christ Jesus. As the Israelites in the Old Testament hoped for deliverance, they looked to the day prophesied when the Messiah, the Saviour would come. All would be different then. If only He would come! As Christians this side of the resurrection, we look back on hope fulfilled. We can live in the present of hope fulfilled.

We need this true hope. It doesn't fade. It isn't swayed by the winds of circumstances. It is always fulfilled. Not later. NOW.

We almost need a different word for this kind of hope. Hope that is so real it supports us. It is not a mild mannered hope. It stands defiantly against the suffering thrown at us. It is a bulwark standing firm against the enemy attack.

How do we live in hope, immersed in a place of contentment? Romans 5 says, "Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us."

We have a choice when suffering hits us. We can choose to walk through the suffering with God and allow Him to shape us through it, or we can struggle on in our own strength. True endurance is not picking ourselves up time and again when we get knocked down. It is continuing to believe that God is good. God is faithful. God is our ever present help in times of trouble. If we choose to seek God in times of suffering, we encounter a shift in perspective. We begin to hope less for our own comfort and hope more for the glory of God to be revealed in our lives.

My hope can be summed up in one word. It is always fulfilled. It is sustaining. It is true. It is eternal. It is "Jesus."

But how I hear you say. There is only one answer that I know of. No shortcuts. It is to look for the presence of God in all your circumstances. He is there, but you need to see Him. Praise Him. Thank Him. Listen for His voice.... and crucially believe that He is good even when everything around you feels so, so bad. His presence changes everything.

I am writing this the day before the 2 year anniversary of my baby, at 12 weeks gestation, being born. When I was having labour pains, lying alone and afraid in the spare room of the house we were living in, I cried out to God, "This hurts so much, but the pain is for nothing!" God answered, "The labour pains speak of life. Your baby is not dead, she lives with me."

That same day, as the labour pains progressed, I prayed about the baby I would never meet this side of death. I believed God had said the baby was a girl but prayed for a name. I wanted the baby to have a name that meant "love" for I already loved her so much! I thought that later, I could search for such a name. A few hours later, my brother was praying for me over the phone and the name "Amanda" flashed into my mind. When I looked it up, I found that it means "She who must be loved." God himself had named my baby.

Do I continue to grieve? Yes. I have experienced deep sorrow. Yet somehow, God's voice spoken into the darkness brings assurance. I have thrown myself into God through this pain and He has answered. If tempted to doubt His goodness, I read Scripture that speaks otherwise. I pray with a soft heart.

When I first went to emergency at the start of the miscarriage, I continued to "hope" the baby would live. I prayed desperately, "Lord, let her life make an impact and glorify God."

This prayer has been answered... in the true hope that has been birthed in me. Jesus' presence changes everything.

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