Our daughter is about to leave for full-time missions. It may sound silly but I smiled as I pulled the stale waffles out of the refrigerator. They are summer memories of three of our adult children in the kitchen eating one of their favourite foods.
We were saving them to toast, but forgot them in the back of the top shelf. Now I fear they may choke the toaster.
As I dump them out of their plastic storage bag, I can hear my daughter downstairs, stuffing her duffle bag full.
What have we gotten rid of in our lives in order to pour into our children, the very best of all He is?
Life is full of object lessons. Life is a series of getting rid of the garbage and filling our souls with nutrients.
“Train up a child in the way he should go…..” Prov. 22:6
Ephesians 4:22 – 24, setting aside the old life and being renewed.
Grant my children godly discernment and wisdom to know not what, but whom to hold onto.
My workweek was experientially rich. I could say “rough”, but I am going to choose the word “rich”. In my line of work debriefing is mandatory. In most cases a debrief means communication between two people in order to process confidential and often challenging information. This communication practice, in my work setting, is to help me process what I’ve heard, and to help me leave the information in God’s capable hands.
This week I didn’t get the chance to debrief so I wrote instead. As I wrote down each experience a new realization came to the forefront of my mind. Sometimes, even when we are able to debrief with someone we are often still left with an unexplainable unsettledness deep inside. Why?
Even when the hearer is listening, a part of the speaker’s heart is never heard. I am not saying those whom I have talked to in the past have not heard me. I am not saying those who have talked to me have not been heard. I am realizing that as mere human beings, we are incapable of doing what only God can do. We cannot hear the heart. We hear sound bites only.
As I watch my adult children growing and learning and developing in their unique vocations I see a similar frustration across the board. We are family. We have genetic commonalities, personality similarities. Our faith heritage contributes to the way we experience this world as well. But despite our kinship, as we come together to share our deepest concerns, there can still be unseen tension. This tension or inner frustration isn’t because we don’t love each other. It exists because we cannot hear one another’s hearts like only God can.
No matter how much we love each other, there is a limit to our hearing and our understanding. I often think of this song lyric “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen, nobody knows but Jesus….”
If I could give my husband anything, if I could give my children anything, if I could give my friends anything – it would be these words:
When no one understands debrief with God – He hears your heart.
Better still, before we look for someone to understand – go to God first.
I often imagine myself as one of the first disciples Christ called…drifting into shore in a fishing boat, and finding a stranger waiting there. Hearing him speak my name as if He’s known me my whole life, calling me to follow him and leave everything behind.
How is that different than Christ calling someone to faith today? We don’t get to see him in the flesh, but we can hear him, and we know He is alive and well.
And here’s something even more mind blowing to consider, was Christ not calling us at the same time He called his first disciples? It just took a few more years for our ears to hear him. “Simon/Peter, Andrew, James, John………Cindy” (Matthew 4:18-22). Was He not calling us before the earth was formed (Ephesians 1:4)?
Many times when I face challenges and expect Christianity to be easier, I think of Stephen (another of Christ’s disciples), full of the Spirit, speaking to the crowd with such passion and love. He died that day, stoned to death, but saw Christ, standing at the right hand of God – waiting for Him in the sky (Acts 7).
How is my responsibility any different than Stephen’s? I too want to be ready to speak when the Spirit leads. Should I expect a safer outcome?
What does it mean to be called? What does the Bible say about the chosen children of God? John 1:12, Romans 8:19, Galatians 3:26
These word pictures and questions inspired me to write a song for our Church’s One Hundred and Twenty Fifth Anniversary, June 24th, 2017 at First Baptist in Olds, Alberta.
I could have written something about God’s faithfulness and our church’s longevity, however I thought it prudent to celebrate the privilege of being chosen, the cost of being a follower, and the joy of being an active part of the body of Christ.
I saw the lovely trio skipping down the street one Saturday morning. More like the little ones were skipping, while dragging their mom along behind. I’m not sure how we struck up a conversation. She was asking for something in particular and I must have thought I could help. I set a time with her to come by her place.
She had given me her number and I called first. The morning it worked for me to go for a visit the sky was overcast and grey. Most of the snow had melted but the earth looked like a dirty carpet. I could hear the brittle ice snap, crackle and pop under my shoes as I approached her building.
I rounded the corner in the sidewalk, and thought I saw God’s little angels painting the earth white again. They were dressed in nothing but summer lace crinolines and black rubber boots. They were hopping on the tiny patches of ice left over from yesterday’s melt, and giggling with glee each time a new crack cried out. They didn’t notice me at first, but I saw the door to their apartment wide open, flapping in a north wind. I could see their breath crystals in the air, and I could see mine.
Quickly, but gently I introduced myself and scurried them inside. Thankfully they remembered my face from our previous brief encounter. Their mother was on the phone, standing at the end of the stairwell. I could hear her deflecting verbal punches from who knows who on the other end of the line.
I glanced to the right where nothing but a large mattress lay on the living room floor. My eyes dared glance to the left where a years worth of dishes and dried food decorated the kitchen counter. Their Momma looked up from the phone, smiled and waved me in to sit down.
I can’t remember what it was I was doing there, but the memories of that morning never fade, and the words we shared gave more insight into her world. Here is the second verse to yesterday’s song “All We Need”.
Winter’s arrived, I find her girls out in their dresses
The look she wears can make you question how she stresses
She married far too young and craved herself a family
Only to starve to death from the silence inside
She’d never harm a flea, but she’ll break on empty
All she needs, all she needs is to be loved.
It’s not the first time I’ve heard it
It’s not the last time I’ll see
It is the all too familiar – calamity.
Where do we find this kind of love?
How do we grow this kind of love?
How can we be this kind of love?
All we need, all we need, all we need is to be loved.
Once songs were chosen and emailed off to the different worship team members, I sat at the breakfast table and wondered “what next God?” Every day is an open window, a portal to new lessons waiting to be learned.
By the end of the day I wasn’t sure what it was I was supposed to learn. “I may have been better off staying inside with a closed door.” I muttered under my breath.
But there in the middle of an absent answer – was the answer itself. Every phone call, every errand ran, every conversation had been riddled with obvious pain. Maybe it wasn’t obvious to everyone, but I could feel it. I could hear it in their voices. I could see it in their body language, like a crippling disease. As I witnessed and embraced my beloved (those who Christ has blessed my life with) I too felt my bones weaken, and my spirit faint, and knelt to hand my anguish over to God. Prayer was the lesson. Prayer was the answer that always leads to action.
For the addict whose name was the same as a biblical warrior – I prayed for the Holy Spirit to intervene, so that he too could march around his walls of Jericho, and conquer his demons once and for all.
For the mother, I thought of Jochebed, Moses’ mother and how she too had to let go of her son unwillingly, and watch a stranger raise him. I asked the Holy Spirit to comfort her, and remembered Romans 8:26 “In the same way the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.”
And for a friend who is always struggling to make ends meet I thought of the Israelites wandering in the desert, afraid for how they were going to find food and water. God had given them manna with instructions on how to collect it and use it to keep their bodies fueled, but in their disconnect they squandered it and the food spoiled. Their wandering cycle lasted for 40 years and many died on the way to the Promised Land. I prayed for my friend, for the power of the Holy Spirit to help her look up and take hold of God’s provision, and so break the generational cycle, which threatened to end her life and the lives of her children, and their children.
And for me, I cried out to God that I would get up off my knees and act out His compassion, as Christ and the early church exemplified (Acts 2:43-47).
As I wondered just how much we should give, and where the balance should be the words “poured out” tumbled out of my mouth.
Isaiah 53:12b “…..because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”
Let us be quick to pour out what He has given us, and be slow to consider ourselves.
My mother use to sing to me every morning, “Good morning Mary Sunshine, what makes you wake so soon…..”, and I carried on the tradition. Music has played such a large part in our lives. We’ve gone from singing in the kitchen and playing “name that tune”, to four part harmony after dinner, to my children falling asleep to my late night songwriting escapades. As our children got older they dug out their Dad’s record collection, and listened to him rave about rock concerts.
As our mealtime songs progressed I got the idea to record some of them on my phone, which then birthed the idea of possibly writing them in a songbook for toddlers who don’t like to eat (which is just about every toddler on the planet), because there is just too many things to do other than sit still and eat.
Spending time with my grand-children over the holidays has really got the creative juices flowing, even changing diapers this morning proved to be inspirational. When my grand-son Thorin kicked and squirmed and sent a turd rolling off of the change table I couldn’t help but think of “On top of Spagetti”, where someone sneezed and sent the meatball rolling. I know the correlation is a bit of a stretch, but I can see Robert Munsch pulling off a run away turd story rather nicely.
But perhaps I will instead……
Looks like my New Year will be full of some exciting writing challenges!
They opened a black rod iron gate that faced the street, and in we rolled with our suitcases trailing behind, over the threshold into our home away from home, through a meeting room with white stacked chairs, and into a courtyard full of foliage.
To the right is where a vehicle was parked each night, with two side doors, one for the vehicle to come and go, and one for us to enter and exit every day. To my left was a corridor where the men turned to their sleeping quarters, one big room with four bunk beds and three singles. These areas were tucked under the upstairs living quarters.
We women were instructed to go straight ahead and further in, past the parking on the right, and the men’s quarters, a counter and bathroom on the left – towards an outdoor washing station (where we would get our clothes washed throughout the week). The station was a flat stone surface where our friend would roll and knead the clothes with lye soap and water.
A few steps in towards the washing station was where the courtyard opened to El Salvador’s sky, with a myriad of tropical plants and vines. A sharp right past the greenery and a stand alone corner bathroom, and up three stairs. Another right turn up six or seven more steep steps, at least for we short ones. There was a railing I could hang onto, but I did so carefully so as not to disturb the precious vines clinging to the same. I noted how my friends, who were taller, seemed to take the stairs so effortlessly, and how I sometimes had to take two hops for every one, especially at the end of the day.
I loved how the stairwell shared the outside cinder block wall, and every time I reached the top I would pause and look out at the carpeted hills of green, and the place across the side street where a woman ground corn by hand. This spot also became Martin’s secret espionage station, where he would lie in wait to pummel our unsuspecting friends below with water balloons (all in good fun).
At the top of the stairs lay a row of three bedrooms, a bathroom, and then a fourth bedroom, each with single beds and bunks. The previously open eve of the roof had been sealed, perhaps to keep humans and bugs apart, or to keep us dry? Rumour had it the gecko’s liked to visit, but I never saw one. My roomy found one in the sink one morning and decided he got there first, thus her decision to brush her teeth in the shower. We were told about the gigantic bugs that resembled grasshoppers, and one of those clung to the outside of our bedroom door for most of the week. I named him Jiminy Cricket, but he never once mentioned Pinocchio.
The first couple of nights, when I awoke to use the bathroom, I would click on my flashlight and try to unlock our door as quietly as possible. I would then tip toe down the outdoor corridor hoping not to see the rumoured midnight cat robber, who came looking for bread. I’d reach my destination, jump inside and lock the door behind me, and then remind myself to breath. Every once and a while I would scold my brain for entertaining thoughts of some critter hiding behind the shower curtain.
At first, the thought of a nocturnal cat thief, snooping for bread, didn’t fizz me much, but we were soon told the said “cat” may not be your average house hold variety, but a jungle one instead? Someone may have been pulling our legs, but my quiet bathroom exits became louder in order to frighten any real threat away, hoping to keep any jungle cat from pulling my real leg.
I loved waking up to the sound of the rooster’s crow, even though their singing began around 3:00 a.m. Yes, there were several of them. Perhaps they were singing the traditional El Salvadorian welcome song? And then there were the birds that came to dance on our roof around 6:00 a.m. Perhaps they were concerned we may sleep in?
The clothes drying on the lines criss crossing the courtyard, and our railing every morning reminded me of my childhood, hanging out clothes on the farm. My eyes always drifted over the walls of the compound to a collage of red pines on yonder hill, and a ribbon of road that wound off into the distant jungle. It made me wonder what lie beyond, and conclude how big the world really is, and reel at the great deal of detail God put into Creation.
My home away from home reminded me of how much God truly cares about you and me.
“But ask the animals and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky and they will tell you; or speak to the earth and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.” Job 12:7-10
Some how the words “thank you” don’t quite say enough to God and our El Salvadorian hosts.
I never thought I’d go, and now I’m memorizing every face and every street in case I don’t get back, so I will not forget.
The bus climbed the green filigree mountain, up and over the winding road into Victoria’s town square. I marveled at how the driver magically maneuvered around each narrow street corner. We were living in a movie. We had entered an enchanted fairytale, surrounded by Spanish adobes, and ornamented arches with scrolled barred window frames. I felt like Lucy stepping through the wardrobe’s portal into the land of Narnia.
In Victoria, El Salvador
we found something better than a fantasy novel full of talking animals in a frozen forest. We met family in a tropical jungle of bamboo and bananas, oranges and lemons, flowers and chickens. We played with children and attempted to learn the women’s tortilla technique. We shared stories wrapped in two different languages, sweating under November’s heavy hot sun.
We built houses together, pointing, laughing, digging and pounding. We walked to tasty rice and bean breakfasts, and scrumptious Pupusa dinners in the yellow restaurant where San Salvador’s volcano can be seen smiling through the mist from the end of the street.
We prayed, and worshipped together bringing glory to the Father, and fire to our faith. We fell in love with kindred spirits and trusted when we had to tear ourselves away that one day we would meet again, whether here on earth or in eternity.
Gracias, Gracias, Gracias, to everyone of you. Many of your names are written in the Lamb’s book of life, and also on our hearts.
There had been many embraces but none like goodbye....(our team just got back from building houses with Shelter Canada in Victoria, El Salvador area).
Even the El Salvadorian sun bent low over the white Cathedral’s spire for a closer look. The fumes from the breakfast fires, the burning garbage and endless truck exhaust no longer hovered overhead, but crowded in my last pockets of air for the departure ceremony.
I knew we had come to lift them up, but now their arms opened wide and lifted me, and pulled me close, face to face for one last slow dance. Arms wrapped firm but gently, pausing intentionally for the rhythm of our hearts to synchronize, for our gratitude to turn to salt and run together in one mighty river of life down our cheeks.
And then instinctively my eyes squeezed shut imprinting their faces on the pages of my memory – family forever – until we meet again, precious brothers and sisters across the miles.
*Not only will our team continue to pray for our brothers and sisters in El Salvador, we will remember their faces – the face of Christ. Many thanks to Shelter Canada for the opportunity they have provided for teams to build houses in El Salvador. Many thanks to Olds Baptist church and our community for the prayer and financial support, and many thanks to our team leaders.
Everyone is changing their mind, or getting on the band wagon, or losing conviction, or…..and the list goes on.
So she wrote her little song on a cold winter’s day, tucked the tears in her heart, sent the music to play. To fly to Jesus like a bird on the wind, He’s coming again someday.
She knows they have their reasons for drifting away, ’cause she’s caught herself in seasons of dry bones, but a change of heart is different than changing your mind, and the road ahead looks more and more alone.
So she strums her little song on a sweet summer’s night, holds His promises close, as her whispers take flight. They fly to Jesus like a bird on the wind, He’s coming again someday.
And she contemplates the choices, the give and the take. She’s no stranger to the voices man is prone. She’ll change her mind on coffee, but anchor her heart on the only One who’s going to lead her home.
The hours are fleeting, the daylight is but a glow on the sea. And there’s a meeting she’s keeping, she sings – He’s coming for me.
So she sings His mighty song on the battlefield line, with His sword in her hand and a victory cry. They fly to Jesus like a bird on the wind, He’s coming again someday.
And she mourns the soldiers falling, the left and the right. She hears the scoffers calling to her soul. But her heart is pressing forward and leaving behind, each word that stands against the truth she knows.
The other day my daughter and I were praying, and some of her words reminded me of how I usually pray at the piano and write… Above is a word picture of a songwriter’s heart contemplating the signs of the times, and the affects thereof.
And scripture tells us…
And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray.For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray.And you will hear of wars and rumours of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet.For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places.All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.
“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake.And then many will fall awayand betray one another and hate one another.And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.But the one who endures to the end will be saved.And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole worldas a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:4-14 ESV).