In Hidden Places

Out on a hike in early spring, few signs of life are emerging. Purple crocuses are the first to peek their heads out of the ground, searching for sunshine. Rustling in a syncopated rhythm, the long, flat, brown grass dances in the breeze. Trees reach to the sky, slowly awakening after this long winter’s nap, though not quite prepared to unfurl their leaves in the chilly wind. 

The kids bound down the trail and slide into a small grove, eyes wide, drinking in the sights of the peaceful wood. If you held out a bit of bread you could share it with the resident chickadees, who would happily land on your hand for a small crumb. My eyes travel up to the tippy tops of the tallest branches, across and then down the rough bark, looking for anything unusual or interesting to share with my co-adventurers.

There it is. Down at the bottom, where the tree meets the bed of dried grass, a green beacon in a sea of brown: a patch of moss thriving in the golden glow of spring sunshine.

Growing in the hidden places.

Equipped to do so, too. Some types of moss still grow underneath the snow, with remarkable built-in protections like an antifreeze and sunblock of sorts when the weather is too cold and the sun is too bright.

Four small heads lean in close to see the emerald and lime hues sparkling in the light. This remarkable little plant is often overlooked in favour of blooming flowers and budding leaves, especially in warmer seasons. It is epitome of grit, flourishing in places other plants are simply not capable. Moss has been found in some of the harshest environments on the planet, with evidence of one type that went dormant for 400 years before springing back to life.

After a minute or so, the kids jump up and continue on with their adventure, climbing over logs and scampering through the brush, but I linger behind to snap a photo before catching up with their fast little legs.

The photo was forgotten until just a few days ago when I nearly scrolled past it looking for something else. My mind returned to that early spring hike on the sleepy hillside. During what has been a particularly challenging week, this unsuspecting patch of moss is a gift to me, a picture of fortitude and tenacity, reminding me of the One who equips us to grow in hidden places.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

2 Corinthians 4:7-18 NIV

Tenacity.

For the Tough Days

There is something that grieves me so deeply I am rendered immobile with sorrow if I dwell on it too long. It’s a situation I have no control over; in fact, I am simply a spectator. I have reasoned, begged, pleaded and prayed – and the situation remains the same. The pain that comes with this kind of experience is something I simply cannot explain. Is God really good? Yes. Can I understand why He allows this to continue? No. My heart takes comfort in knowing that one day all will be made clear. And yet, it is so difficult to watch. This morning I am thinking about the different Scriptures that help me focus on Him while the storms are raging.

Each heart knows its own bitterness,
and no one else can share its joy.
Proverbs 14:10

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
Psalm 34:18

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
1 Peter 5:7

Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:8-10

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.
2 Corinthians 1:3-7

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 15:13

Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Let His Word wash over your weary heart today and carry you through.

Morning skies (image: mine)

If Ever

This morning as I was thinking about the current state of the world, the words of an old hymn popped into my mind: If ever I loved thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.

My generation is living through its first lengthy world-altering crisis. Two years of fear, distance and polarization with no definite end in sight can feel overwhelming. Some say “this too shall pass”, but from our current vantage point it feels like putting the pieces back together will take a lifetime. We are the generation that believed that if we just worked hard enough and did all the right things, we could control the outcome of our lives. And now we are living the endless reality that things beyond our control can upend our plans in the blink of an eye, not just personally, but collectively, thanks to an historic global event.

Fear is sneaky. It whispers in our ears in the dark of the night and screams headlines from our newsfeeds. It warns us of our limitations and finite knowledge, wrapping its frigid fingers around our hearts, squeezing the hope right out of us. We are acutely aware that we can’t protect our kids from everything. We watch our loved ones face great difficulty and weather our own unexpected situations, fully grasping that life is a vapour.

Psalm 13 has always been a great source of comfort for me in dark times:

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
    Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
    and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

David is clearly in a state here. We have a deeply personal prayer filled with desperate language. And then, somehow, in the midst of all the talk of being forgotten by God, wrestling with thoughts, waking day after day with sorrow permeating each part, feeling defeated and overcome by enemies, the psalm ends like this:

But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me.

A sharpening of focus reveals where our hope can truly be found. The grief of loss is a slow burn that may not ever be extinguished this side of heaven, but we can learn to say “I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation” because of Jesus. He is that beautiful gift of hope for a world reeling in panic and confusion. He is unfailing love. He is our salvation. Romans 5:1-8 is a solid reminder of the truth that God has not left us alone to wander through this life with dread in our hearts.

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Amen and Amen! Friends, we have nothing to fear. Let us learn to sing the Lord’s praise in the face of uncertainty, for He has been good to us!

My Jesus, I love thee, I know thou art mine;
for thee all the follies of sin I resign;
my gracious Redeemer, my Savior art thou;
if ever I loved thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.

I love thee because thou hast first loved me
and purchased my pardon on Calvary’s tree;
I love thee for wearing the thorns on thy brow;
if ever I loved thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.

I’ll love thee in life, I will love thee in death,
and praise thee as long as thou lendest me breath,
and say when the deathdew lies cold on my brow:
If ever I loved thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.

In mansions of glory and endless delight,
I’ll ever adore thee in heaven so bright;
I’ll sing with the glittering crown on my brow:
If ever I loved thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.

(Canadian William Featherston penned the words to “My Jesus I Love Thee” somewhere between the ages of 12 and 16. He died at the age of 26.)

Blue skies in January

Morning Light

Golden October, when the weeping birch leaves whirl to the ground in a fiery yellow dance. Their ragged edges make them stand out among the rest of the round-edged, decaying leaves of the other trees of the neighborhood. They are one of the last to say goodbye to fall and embrace the cold to come. 

Everyone is ready now for the snow to fly.

Last night I looked out the window and couldn’t see across the street. Never late. That first impressive snowfall of the season usually blows through sometime in October. It won’t stay, not this early, but we’ll take it anyway, even if the kids need snowsuits under their Halloween costumes.

The morning after a snowfall has a quiet, icy beauty like no other. The temperature plummets in the clear, cold air and as the sun dawns on the world, the edge of the western sky is painted in a pastel pink and purple hue. The sun rises late this week but in a few days we’ll turn our clocks back and have our morning light again, although it comes with late afternoon darkness. Always a jarring reality to contend with but I’d rather have the morning light.

And morning light always comes. The simple rhythm of the day is soothing in the midst of changing seasons. Regardless of what it may hold I know that morning light dawns again tomorrow, a whisper of God’s grace each day. There’s not a day that goes by that the sun doesn’t rise. God’s loving care is woven into the very creation of day and night. His grace is closer than we imagine. And when put our faith in Jesus and open up His Word, we experience an even greater hope than creation alone can inspire.

1 Peter 5:6-11 has my attention today: 

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.

Humble ourselves. Cast all our anxiety on Him. Resist the enemy and stand firm in the faith. The God of all grace will restore us and make us strong.

This from the Apostle Peter, a person who walked with Jesus every day. He saw His miracles, watched Him die and rise again, experienced His restoration and forgiveness, and obeyed Him in breaking tradition to visit, eat with and baptize the first Gentile Christians. According to church history, Peter was martyred during the Nero’s persecution of Christians in Rome.

Whatever you are facing today, you are never alone when you are in Christ. He is the Bright Morning Star (Revelation 22:16).

To Him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.

Image: Stocksnap

Berry Watch

We’re on “Berry Watch” this week.

Last year we had only a handful in total, but after thinning out the oldest branches early in the season, our single bush seems to have survived the relentless heat and is bursting forth with berries. We’ve been checking back morning and evening to see which ones have ripened enough for picking and eating. I’ve taught the kids which to take and which to leave a little longer as we work together to fill a small container, give it a rinse and enjoy.

Each year without fail, whether a little or a lot, this bush bears fruit. Mid-July comes along and we get to see how much will actually be harvested, and how much will be enjoyed by the birds that call our neighbourhood home. Some years we end up with enough to make a little jam, but most years it’s just enough for a taste.

Our little apple tree, on the other hand, hasn’t been so faithful a fruit-bearer but we haven’t quite been ready to give up on it. It came to us second-hand, wind-whipped, then heavy-laden with an unexpected snowfall just three days after being planted in the yard. I pruned that one a little too much one year and it has taken nearly four years of patient watering and feeding but, with great joy, we have counted a dozen or more little apples on its branches ripening in the sunshine. I’ve marvelled more than once this year at its resilience, carefully watching to be sure the birds haven’t helped themselves to the precious few that cling to its branches.

One had a great start, planted young in good soil and watched over all along. The other was a transplant, overcoming imperfect conditions and care to bring forth fruit in its season.

I can’t imagine a greater picture of God’s loving care for each one of us as we remain in Him. And I’m amazed that it’s right in my own back yard!

Makes me think of Jesus’ words in John 15:1-8 (NIV) —   

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

Regardless of how you got your start, stay faithful to Jesus and let Him bear His fruit in your life!

Coming along nicely

Hidden Treasure

My dad texted me a photo this week of a little piece of paper he found in one of his boxes. In a jumbled mix of classic kid printing-style uppercase and lowercase letters, though remarkably neat, I had written:

“ThE LORD iS MY HELPER.”

The note underneath said “Hebrews 13:6, by Stephy, Age 4 1/2”.

It’s not a distinct childhood memory for me so it was amazing to see that little piece of paper still intact so many years later. A memory verse from Sunday School, I’m sure. This morning I turned to the reference in my Bible to see the words in print.

So we say with confidence,
“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. 
What can mere mortals do to me?”

A small note next to the last line directed me to Psalm 118:6-7. Not even five years old, writing ancient truths on something ripped from a notepad printed for children, with a picture of two little girls playing tennis in the bottom corner. At the time I couldn’t comprehend the treasure these words held, but they are words that have continually point me to the true Source of Life through every valley, on every mountain, regardless of my circumstances.

The seeds of truth planted in childhood have pressed their roots deep into the soil of my heart and I can see the fruit of the faithfulness of God’s people as I now encourage my own children to commit Scripture to memory. I know I’m giving them one of the greatest gifts that was ever given to me – the opportunity to fill their hearts with this very same life-giving truth. God is the ultimate Gardener. He not only prepares the soil but plants the seeds, takes care of the weeding and pruning, and brings forth gentle, breathtaking growth in willing hearts.

I may not see what God is doing. I may not know how He is working. But I recall the words of Isaiah 55:8-11 and the walls of my heart are fortified against the daily battering ram of fear and discouragement.

“ ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,’
declares the Lord.

‘As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,

so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.’ ”

Don’t give up hope – it’s not the end. The Lord is our helper, we will not be afraid.

Beautiful words.

Such a View

We honeymooned on Maui.

It was late when we landed, nearly midnight by the time we loaded our suitcases into our rental car and set off on the 40 minute trek down a winding road to the piece of paradise we’d call home for the next week. The car headlights revealed rocks, palm trees and the yellow lines of the road as travelled down the unfamiliar route surrounded by thick darkness. Being in a new place, we inevitably got lost for about fifteen minutes. Prayers and frustration abounded – but thankfully our exit finally appeared and we found the condo tower.

I was exhausted, relieved and ready to go to sleep.

The next morning we decided to hop into the car and do some sightseeing. Retracing our steps towards the city, my jaw dropped. Like Dorothy opening the sepia-toned farmhouse door to reveal the technicolor land of Oz, our back-tracking drive held the most breathtaking views I’d ever laid eyes on.

As we drove the very same twisting highway in blackest night just hours before, we were oblivious to the stunning scenery that was there all along. But now we could see. Our highway ran along the coast, revealing small beaches and groves of trees in between vistas of wide open, sparkling green-blue ocean stretching out as far as the eye could see.

I had no idea that the darkness was hiding such beauty.

We live in a culture that prizes comfort and convenience regardless of the cost. Suffering is seen as unnecessary and pointless. But in my experience, my own suffering has often sent me sailing into the love of the Saviour who also suffered, knowing that He has already been through it all and stands in victory over sin and death.

Is it possible that the dark nights of our souls are the very things that Jesus uses to reveal His beauty to our hearts? I can’t pretend to understand why certain things happen. I’ve recently read through the book of Job and it’s unsettling to realize that God is God and I am not. After all Job went through, losing everything and having friends who constantly blamed him for his suffering, he stood firm and refused to curse God. He questioned the Lord and the Lord answered with “where were you when I laid the foundations of the world?”.

God revealed Himself in Job’s suffering. He showed His authority and sovereignty over all creation.

Job’s response to God is astounding. You’ll read it in Job 42:2-6 —

“I know that you can do all things;
no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know.

“You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.’
My ears had heard of you
but now my eyes have seen you.
Therefore I despise myself
and repent in dust and ashes.”

My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you. Job remembered that God is God and he is not.

Consider that for a moment. Our ears can hear of God, but when we finally see Him, it’s a whole other thing.

We’re driving down the highway in utter darkness – and dawn breaks to reveal the majestic ocean view we’d been missing all along.

When Job saw God face to face, his reaction was to repent.

The suffering we are facing in our lives, the things that feel so difficult and unfair, the things that we can’t imagine anything good coming from – those things we desperately want to erase or undo – they are terrible. They are heartbreaking. They are the valley of the shadow of death. And they are also the places where God is present and moving. The places He is revealing Himself in unexpected and surprising ways. Through the most difficult seasons of our lives, we see His face.

I have long thought that we need a solid theology of suffering if we’re going to remain faithful to Christ in this sorrow-laden world. A popular version of Christianity teaches that suffering is exclusively a result of our sin and the devil. Another acknowledges it as a byproduct of a fallen world, with no real purpose or meaning other than to be patiently endured until it’s our turn to catch that train to Gloryland. Some feel that if they entertain the thought of suffering they will somehow bring it upon themselves, and others cannot reconcile the idea that God is good and bad things still happen.

But even in this uncomfortable topic, there is truth to be discovered.

“Christianity teaches that, contra fatalism, suffering is overwhelming; contra Buddhism, suffering is real; contra karma, suffering is often unfair; but contra secularism, suffering is meaningful. There is a purpose to it, and if faced rightly, it can drive us like a nail deep into the love of God and into more stability and spiritual power than you can imagine.” (Timothy Keller, Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering)

Jesus, let that be true of me. Let me see Your face in those places that are so painful and difficult. You are my Redeemer. Thank You that Your Word reminds me of who You are!

“I know that my redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand on the earth.” (Job 19:35)

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20)

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18)

Help me not to waste the hard times, Lord. Give me such a view of You that it lifts my soul out of the pit of despair and wraps me in the arms of the God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3).

Ocean View

Our ocean view (Maui)

Even There

There are so many times when we just don’t have the words to pray, so many moments where we are heartbroken and don’t know how to let it out.

I love the book of Psalms for its honest treatment of the human experience and interaction with God. I’ve often found that as I linger among its chapters and verses, soaking in the language of poetry with all its imagery and metaphor, my heart is allowed to breathe. The prayers I didn’t know how to pray are written out before me. I’ve been revisiting Psalm 139 recently and I’m sharing it with you in this space, in light of everything we’re facing globally, in our communities, and in our own hearts.

Psalm 139 (NIV)

1 You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.
2 You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3 You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
4 Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.
5 You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.

7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

13 For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them,
    they would outnumber the grains of sand—
    when I awake, I am still with you.

19 If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
    Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
20 They speak of you with evil intent;
    your adversaries misuse your name.
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
    and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
22 I have nothing but hatred for them;
    I count them my enemies.
23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

As Christ-followers, may we lean into God’s Word and find the truth we so desperately need, in all seasons and circumstances. May we learn to abide in Jesus and discover that He is our true source of life. And may we allow the Holy Spirit to work in our hearts to transform us from the inside out, bringing His life-changing, eternal hope to our families, churches, communities and the world.

Psalm 139 in my well-worn study Bible

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

Puzzle Pieces

Six years ago, we started a 1000 piece puzzle.

Our then-3 year old daughter had a newfound love for the L. Frank Baum classic, “The Wizard of Oz”. One Sunday afternoon, we popped in the DVD of the 1939 MGM re-telling and she was instantly captivated by the fantastic technicolor land, loveable iconic characters and irresistible soundtrack.

Her eyes grew large when the Wicked Witch appeared and her smile grew even larger when Scarecrow did the silliest of dances. She dressed up as Dorothy every day and would only speak to my husband if he responded in the voice of either the Tin Man, Cowardly Lion or Scarecrow.

Her love for the movie coincided with its 75th Anniversary celebration and we soon found ourselves in possession of a 1000 piece Wizard of Oz puzzle.

Neither of us are puzzlers.

And yet, there we were, with high hopes that we could actually finish this insurmountable task. We spent two winter evenings trying to put the pieces together. Of course when you have toddlers and preschoolers around you just know if you leave a big puzzle on the dining room table the pieces will grow legs and walk quietly into all the nooks and crannies of your house. So we purchased a felt roll, tucked in the pieces we had managed to fit together (the edges and Dorothy and Tin Man’s face), put the rest of the pieces back in the box and stored it on the top shelf of the closet.

It gathered dust while life went on. We eventually found the time to complete a few other puzzle projects, although only in the past two years, so with renewed confidence and extra time in our schedule we pulled out our very first thousand-piecer for another go.

It was a very slow start.

Last weekend I dumped the pieces out onto the table and tried to fit a few together. It was not very encouraging. Slowly, though, more and more of the image began to take shape. I began to feel hopeful we would eventually see this full picture, and it would be even more beautiful because of the work and time we had poured into putting it together.

We’ve bravely left the puzzle in the middle of the table this time, extra pieces sorted and stored in plastic containers on the piano, hoping that any milk spills or potato chunks will be caught before doing permanent damage. One morning at breakfast I lifted a loose piece and showed it to my kids as they ate their oatmeal. A few more parts of the picture were assembled, but we still had a long way to go.

“Where do you think this one goes?” I asked, holding the piece between my finger and thumb.

They shrugged and munched away.

I began to think out loud. “This is kinda like our life. We can only see this little piece of it. We only see what’s right in front of us today – the things happening in the world, the stuff on our to-do list. This puzzle piece looks like it’s part of the yellow brick road or something, but I can’t tell exactly where it goes in this puzzle. We know all the pieces fit together to make a picture because we can see the picture on the box, but if we just look at this piece or that piece or this pile of random pieces, it seems impossible to think it will ever look like that.”

My captive audience listened.

“We only see a part of what God is doing right now, but God sees the whole picture.”

“Yeah, you’re right Mom,” my 7 year old said with wide eyes. She’s always keen to talk about spiritual things.

We went on with our day, but the puzzle is still on the table. It’s not quite finished yet. I’m learning when it comes to puzzling, the darkest pieces are the hardest to fit together.

In the middle of this pandemic-stricken world, I quickly forget that there is a bigger picture. I forget that God is still God, and we cannot see everything that He sees. I desperately need the reminder that I can trust Him, even when things seem like they could never, and possibly will never be a beautiful picture.

My small piece of the puzzle isn’t the final work of art.

Job 38:4 has been coming to mind recently:

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
    Tell me, if you understand.”

The Lord’s words to Job are striking the depths of my heart in these trying days. As we head toward the darkness of Good Friday and the wonder of Easter Sunday, I am praying that I will remember the invitation from Isaiah 55:1-9 (NIV) —

“Come, all you who are thirsty,
    come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
    and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
    and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
    listen, that you may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
    my faithful love promised to David.
See, I have made him a witness to the peoples,
    a ruler and commander of the peoples.
Surely you will summon nations you know not,
    and nations you do not know will come running to you,
because of the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel,
    for he has endowed you with splendor.”

Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways
    and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
    and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

puzzle pieces

A piece of the puzzle (Thomas Kinkade/Wizard of Oz/Ceaco)