Simple Things

These are the days we long for in November.

When the sun sinks below the horizon at 4:30 in the afternoon and the pale winter sky turns inky black, I always remember this season with daylight hours that stretch past my bedtime. Last night I looked to the west and was shocked to see the remnants of a gorgeous spring sunset still making their mark well past 10pm.

We made it.

I remember getting up with my babies for nighttime feedings and taking a peek out the window as I came back to bed. I was always hoping to catch a glimpse of that heart-stopping silent summer lightning, but often it was the hue of the sky that surprised me. The sun was below the horizon but its rays reached above, changing the ordinary black of night to an exquisite shade of greenish blue. The horizon was already glowing even though the clock glared 3am.

We used to stay up all night around the campfire and watch the sky change. Where I live there are weeks in summer where it never officially reaches night. We have all the twilights — civil, nautical and astronomical — but no actual hours of complete darkness. It has something to do with the angle of the sun below the horizon, and it feels magical. Sitting around the glowing coals of a dying fire, you knew what time it was simply by looking to the east. When you could see the edge of daylight, it was time to say goodnight with a full heart.

Yesterday I dug my hands deep into some dirt and mixed it up so I could give a plant a new home. The mud squished through my fingers and I felt like a little kid again. It had been so long since I worked the dirt with my bare hands, mixing and squeezing and feeling the cold wet earth covering my skin. Gloves and tools are my usual practice, but this barehanded soil turning was the very thing I needed. I remembered I was still wearing my wedding ring. I once heard of a woman who lost her precious diamond band deep in her garden one year and decades later it was found and returned to her. Wrists-deep in sticky muck, I quickly pulled my hands out and checked to see if the ring was still there. Phew. Although lined with black, it remained steadfast around my dirt-stained finger. As I finished transplanting the herb, the scent of fresh soil filled my senses and my heart swelled.

Long, warm nights and dark, gritty earth — these simple things are wonderful gifts from a good Father. I don’t have to rush to the store to stand in line six feet apart hoping to grab the last one. I don’t have to work extra hours to save up my pennies so I can finally buy them for myself. These gifts are free.

I’ve been reading and re-reading Ephesians in the past few months. I still can’t quite figure out why the Lord has me in that book, but I can’t seem to leave it alone. I’m discovering so much truth resonating in my heart and mind that I just want to go back and savour it again. This week, I’m captivated by Ephesians 2:8-10:

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (NIV)

We’re just coming through a season where the only thing we could do was stay home, which is really hard for a person who is naturally drawn to action. I love getting things done. In fact, when I realized that my particular areas of church ministry may not be able to move forward for quite some time to come, I felt a strong sense of loss and discouragement. But what will I DO Lord? I cried out in desperation. Verse 8-9 kept coming to my mind: “…it is by grace you have been saved, through faith… not by works…”

Just as there is nothing I can do to conjure up a lovely, long summer evening or cause the sun to warm the soil for great growth, there is nothing I can do to secure my spot in God’s Kingdom by hustling harder and faster in my work.

All I can do is fall on my knees and accept this great gift freely given to me.

Jesus, have Your way in me. Work this truth down from my head into my heart – that when I put my faith in You, I can be confident that the work is already finished. The price has already been paid. The gift is free! I am Your handiwork, made by You to live the life you have called me to live, with works prepared long ago for me to do — not because they are my salvation, but because You are.

What a wonderful gift from a good Father.

My container one year.

Something To Hold On To

Raise your hand, or rather blink twice, if you’re tired.

Like, deep-down-in-your-bones tired.

Under normal circumstances, when a crisis hits we ride the wave with a surge of adrenaline. Things tend to settle down and we find our feet again, bumped and bruised but still standing.

These are not normal circumstances. We’re facing a global situation with no quick and easy answers.

Some areas are loosening restrictions, but this pandemic experience has changed things. I find myself noticing whether or not the characters in the fictional television show I am watching from decades ago are appropriately physically distant from one another. And I’m annoyed when I see an out-of-province license plate, even though there is likely some pre-lockdown explanation. Is that person wearing their mask correctly? Did I just hear a sneeze in the grocery store? I’m temped to criticize everyone and everything around me, to become suspicious and fearful, to look for someone to blame.

Up until this point, the novelty of it all made it interesting. We know we’re living in an historic event – a different sort of 9/11 moment. We can feel it changing the world around us as we watch, wide-eyed. Science fiction movies feel more realistic than what’s unfolding before our very eyes, and we can’t look away. Adrenaline pushes us out of bed in the morning and through the day to maximize this newfound “free time”. We’ve  jumped into a juggling act of working (if there is work at all) and schooling (if there are children) multiple children from home. We can do this, right? Yeah! Go team!

We have Zoom meetings, Youtube church, porch visits if everyone is healthy, monitoring for symptoms and cleaning surfaces we never imagined cleaning, sifting through free online resources, grocery store navigation, mask-making, bread-baking, veggie-growing and the dull ache that comes from adjusting to a new normal forced upon us by an invisible enemy.

Fast forward nearly 60 days.

Less smiling on the street, less grace in the line-up. We are battered by the rough-and-tumble news headlines. The novelty has been replaced by gloom. We miss each other. We need each other. We are sad for the things we’ve had to miss and we miss having things to look forward to. We need healthy food, good sleep and lots of exercise. We need hugs and love and care. We need to gather with other Christians and sing of the goodness of God in worship together. We need to visit our grandparents and let our kids visit theirs. We need a good cry and a lot of prayer. And while some of these things are impossible at this time, we long for their return.

In the waiting, I am finding I like to fill the time with work, coffee, walks, television, movies, cooking, conversations — all good things. But as the weeks roll into months, I am realizing that adrenaline and activities will not carry me through this pandemic. Positive thinking and favourite songs aren’t quite cutting it. I need something that will truly make a difference, something life-giving, something to satisfy my weary soul.

Colossians 3:1-4 popped into my head this week.

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (NIV)

As a follower of Christ, I have been raised with Him. My life is hidden with His. He IS my life! There is something more to hold onto, or rather, be held by.

What a relief to know that I don’t have to try harder or be better at all the things on my to do list.

To rediscover that my hope is not based on my circumstances.

To see God’s faithfulness in the midst of my personal uncertainty and the global anxiety that attempts to rule my day.

The words of Psalm 62:5-8 wash over my heart, bringing clarity and encouragement:

“Yes, my soul, find rest in God;
    my hope comes from him.

Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
    he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.
 
My salvation and my honor depend on God;
    he is my mighty rock, my refuge.

Trust in him at all times, you people;
    pour out your hearts to him,
    for God is our refuge.”

Will we accept the invitation found in these ancient, beautiful words? Find rest in God. Trust in Him at all times. Pour out your heart to Him. Written thousands of years ago, they pierce the darkness of this season with the Light of the World.

Thank You Jesus that You have brought us eternal encouragement and good hope! (2 Thessalonians 2:16)

river refuge

A river refuge